New Year, New Post, No Resolutions


First Day Hikes have become a recent tradition at our nation’s state parks. It has blossomed under the culture of #optoutside, #findyourpark, and other healthful, nature-driven hashtags. I support this philosophy, and I’ve written before about the gem of a state park, Lathrop, a short 40 minutes from my front door.

Lift 3 at the former Cuchara Mountain Resort

But sometimes the pressures of the New Year impair motivation. I spent more than a few minutes signing up for a trial of Noom today, and I’m on board with self-efficacy (love you, Bandura) and food diaries. What I can’t get behind is Noom telling me my target weight, based on my height, should be between 121-141 lbs. That’s some BMI (body mass index) bullshit. I haven’t weighed in the 140s since my 20s and I was in arguably the best shape of my life in my 30s, where I was securely stationed at 155.

Ye old ski area from the base

That, and they’ve insisted I get a scale. I don’t own a scale. Haven’t since my 30s. My last (and only) trainer Angela told me weight loss takes weeks to notice, and it will start in the upper body and work its way down. Hips are last, and depending on my half-glass orientation on any particular day, are either my pain point or what makes me special. Angela (rightfully) told me to stay away from the scale. And after serious health issues, major surgery, and a year and a half of recovery, I was ready to get my health back, which included losing weight. But I knew the latter would occur through the weight training I was doing with Angela, 2-3x a week. And it did. Within months I had to gone from 11-12 to a 10. I’ve been a 10 since my 30s, and have mostly stayed there. I will never be an 8 what with the Kardashian booty and Lindsey Vonn thighs.

The Baker Trail behind me place flattens out after a short, steep climb

Signing up for Noom felt like a dating profile experience. Lots of questions, some writing. It didn’t ask me about menopause, or if it did, I missed it. It didn’t ask me about insomnia or crushing fatigue or gout or crabbiness (hard to tell the provenance of this sometimes) or any of the other wonders of hormonal change. Nope. Noom, it seems, is about the tyranny of the mean: 141 my ass.

Aspen grove in my backyard

So instead of opting outside or finding my park or first day hiking it, I walked the dog in my neighborhood, which I do 2x a day. I’ve learned via the One Minute Workout book I’m reading that low intensity (like walking the dog) is not going to help me reach my health goals unless I’m doing it for hours. And I have neither the time nor energy for that. Some days I’m sleeping 15 hours. Did I mention I got COVID this summer? Still recovering from that too.

Finally some snow on West Spanish Peak

It’s finally starting to snow here, and I’m looking forward to some high intensity exercise like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, which I can do out my door. I’m also on the yoga kick of 2-3x a week with the amazing Adriene. She has 11 million followers for a reason. I never don’t feel peaced after 25 minutes with her.

I’m outside 2x a day, every day at 9500ft

So, the plan, which includes a bunch of things I already enjoy: eating enough carbs to exercise and think; yoga with Adriene; water, water everywhere; more intense snowsport workouts; and recommended reading: The Healing Gout Cookbook, the Menopause Manifesto, the One Minute Workout. Feel free to recommend others in the comments. Knowledge is power, and I’m not getting it from an app this time. Sorry Noom, you’re off the team.

N.B. The pix in this post are from my daily dog walks. I’m a winter girl.

White Thanksgiving


Morning flakes in the aspen grove

It’s going to be my 6th winter in the mountains of Southern Colorado. During the last 3 years I’ve been here full time and seen the fits and starts that is winter. Meaning winter doesn’t really start around here until December.

Except this year. We had a very dry fall, which is worrisome. And then we’ve had some significant white stuff in November.

Base of Cuchara Mountain Park, Thanksgiving Day 2022

And this Thanksgiving we had at least a foot of the white stuff. I didn’t have plans to go anywhere so me and the Ivory dog slept and ate rinse and repeat. We had to get out to brave the elements for our twice daily dog walk which in a foot of snow turns into a slog. A beautiful fun slog.

Bunny hop slog husky-style

Snowsnack Season



Here at 9500 feet we’ve had a few storms this fall producing measurable snowfall. Shoveling and snowsnacking are about to become routine. I wanted to share early views of winterlife from someone who lives it from November to April, full-on: wool, snow clumps, blustery wind, postcard moments, sketchy driving, and did I mention shoveling?

When I bought my (former) ski condo five years ago, many had questions:

Where’s that?

What’s there?

Why?

Other questions abounded on why I, an avid snowsports person, did not buy closer to a ski area, say like Summit County for instance. Even five years ago, the answer was “Who can afford Summit County?”

It was time to buy a place. Except for an aborted attempt to buy a condo in Denver almost 20 years ago, I have been a renter all my life. Teaching salaries and extravagant wanderlust do not translate into down payments. But five years ago I managed to find an affordable ski condo next to a closed ski area in Cuchara, Colorado. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie, Abandoned?

Winter in Cuchara comes early, stays around, and provides almost daily moments of awe.

I bought this place because I wanted the solitude, the lack of industry, the fewer people, the wildlife, the undiscoveredness. And when the pandemic first struck, I and a friend hightailed to here-nowhere. We subsisted on creativity (who didn’t), biweekly trips to WalMart, daily happy hour hikes, washing wool in the tub, three homecooked meals a day: full mountain living.

When I moved here full time 18 months later, dog in tow/friend not, many of those activities remain once the snow starts flying and the indigo sky appears the next day. Add in an energetic puppy, and voila! Instagram moments.

Chair 4 in the foreground, West Spanish Peaks behind some leftover clouds
Ivory with clouds
Early season Chair 4

Snowstorm-after mornings are a study in contrasts: beautiful/difficult, exhausted/energized, eager/dread, white/indigo, rebirth/ending, and hunkering/exploring. Cuchara is a summer destination with some diehard snowlovers who come to sled or skin up the empty ski hill when there are freshies or it’s a winter holiday. I have solitude to look forward to and loneliness to combat. I have postcard moments in the queue that make their appearance only after gearing up and shoveling. During weekday mornings, Ivory and I mostly have the place to ourselves.

Cuchara Mountain Park from the base
Geared up for the season

Did I cross-country ski or snowshoe this morning? No. Not enough snow. And when you live half the year in snow, with snow, being surrounded by snow, a solid pair of boots, some gaiters, and wool everything is good enough for a morning’s walk and some snowsnacking.

Staycation: October Golden Hour


Living in the mountains at 9500′ means being struck, enveloped, and often overwhelmed by nature’s beauty. Because I face east, I often miss out on the alpenglow and peachy goodness that can accompany sunset in these here parts. Witness tonight’s sunset below as the shadows crept over West Spanish Peak in Southern Colorado. It’s pretty nice and it never gets old. Still, the brain craves novelty, I happened to be at Lathrop State Park the other day and was blown away by the vast landscape, still-fall colors, and snow-capped mountain range. So I grabbed a friend, and we went landscape and color hunting with our cameras. Ivory pranced along.

Lathrop State Park is just over half an hour’s drive, and it boasts two lakes, horse trails, an archery range, hiking trails, a golf course, and some of the best views anywhere. A winter storm would be moving in the next day, so we wanted to catch the last color of fall before the wind whooshed it away. We started at the south parking lot and walked clockwise around Martin Lake on the Cuerno Verde Trail for three miles.

The picnicking and boat ramp areas sent us on our way.

We spied geese and ducks having dinner and coming together, as waterfowl will, to form a raft.

As we kept walking the colors got brighter.

From the north end of the lake, the snow-capped East and West Spanish Peaks came into view. We shrieked with glee.

To the right of the two peaks is the Sangre de Cristo range on the trails of the (not currently operational) Cuchara Mountain Park ski trails.

It took away Ivory’s breath too.

The alpenglow from the rocks at the north end were fun to capture.

We dallied and began running out of daylight.

The night was a good reminder to slow down and savor, click some golden hour memories, stay close to home while going somewhere different, and gain a new perspective. And bring a friend and a dog.

Blizzard Curls


Blowy and powdery at the top of the Breezeway lift at Monarch

I got waxed up in the parking lot around 10AM.

“It’ll be easier to turn,” assured my fellow boarder as he spread wax on my snowboard.

“But you might fall getting off the lift,” he warned and laughed, then, “Meet you back here.”

It was a powder Thursday in February at Monarch Mountain, just west of Salida, Colorado. It was also deathly cold, with temps on the wrong side of the integer line. I was layered in wool, fleece, then my Helly Hansen coat. After one walk to the car, I knew I needed a longer, bulkier outer layer for these conditions. I stopped by Mt. Shavano Ski and Snowboard Shop on the way to the hill for a new snowboard coat. I walked away with a Boulder Gear Serena Jacket. The description on their website is spot on–I was looking for something warm but not bulky; stylish but not poser-y; internal storage for cards and key; and a hood for dastardly windy days. Like today.

I learned to board at Monarch in the late 90’s. I had lived in Tahoe a few years earlier and tried, repeatedly, to learn how to dowhill ski on straight skis. I was an avid cross-country skier and couldn’t wrap my head, hips, legs, or shoulders around the “pizza french-fry” technique.

Blue runs off the Garfield lift

So I turned to snowboarding, graduating all the way to double-blacks ten years ago. But there have been head injuries, car crashes, and even a head-on collision with a snowboarder a few years back. Now I like to warm up on the blues, hit a few blacks, then warm-down on the blues. I prioritize empty runs, and if I find an empty run with enough challenge, I’ll start lapping the mountain.

And that’s what I did for two windy, chilly powder days at the end of February. I started on the eastern Breezeway lift, noted the empty trails on the chair ride up, and as prophesized by my parking lot friend, fell getting off the steep lift ramp. I dusted myself off, going through my top-of-the-lift ritual of tightening the Boa system on my snowboard boots, one cinch at a time. He was right, I was turning more easily, but only when I could see the contours of the trail. Which wasn’t often.

Black choices off the Breezeway lift

Blowy snow and overcast skies meant seeing the run, finding a line before you got there, was out of the question. I headed toward the fluffy bumps on Upper Halls Alley and B’s Bash, both empty but hard to see. I was being bounced around by large moguls, willing myself to find curves to turn into and keeping my tail up so I wouldn’t fall. As the days progressed, I moved west across the mountain, dodging loose trees off the Panorama lift and finding fun blues and blacks to drop into off the Garfield lift.

The uncovered parts of my face started to burn

I was having fun but I was working for it–huffing my way through invisible turns, thumping off the top of moguls, leaning back to keep speed up on the flats. My hands, face, and toes were alternating to win Coldest Part of the Body. Between the altitude (summit elevation is almost 12,000 ft.), the bitter cold, the wind, the too-tight sports bra, and the powder challenges, I tapped out after a few hours.

Great snow conditions, low light

I took my first snowboard lesson here at Monarch, and my Kiwi instructor, after watching me connect turns, noticed I was working too hard. “It’s the slackuh spawt, Tracey. You’re trying to hahd. Just point yaw shoulders and lean to turn.” Almost 25 years after that first day I was trying to point and lean, conserving energy for talking, slogging through the lift line, and driving back to Salida.

As I was trudging back to my car the second day, who should I run into? “Told you I’d meet you back here. How was your day?” We traded stories, preferred lifts and runs, and which parts of our bodies ached the most.

“It was hard to see.”

“Because of all that powder!”

True.

We dusted off our vehicles, blared the heat and music and changed into better footwear. I flipped down the visor to remove my contacts and noticed, just like after a day at the beach, that I had accumulated blizzard curls. I laughed at the hairy icicles. And my eyes had that faraway stare that comes with extreme physical exhaustion.

Skins on Backwards


Cuchara Moutain Park after a a few new inches

I am a proud member of the Great Resignation. I was working mostly from home, in expensive Denver, and big cities are no fun during a pandemic. So I moved to the Sangre de Cristo mountains where I had bought a small condo a few years prior. The condo is next to an old ski area, Cuchara Mountain Resort. The lifts stopped running in 2000 due to mismanagement, a lack of snow, and whatever else. There have been some improvements and a concerted effort to repurpose the area and maybe even open Lift 4, pictured above.

View of winter from my west-facing balcony

I bought the condo not with faraway hopes of living next to a lift-served snowboarding. I bought it for the views, serenity, and throwback feel. Runs on the lower part of the mountain are blues and greens, so I had been hiking up and boarding down. A tiring system in fresh powder.

Tips of the new setup

I was always running into someone skinning up after storms, and I thought it would be cool to explore more of the mountain with the right equipment. I met some splitboarding neighbors, so I invested in brand new Voile gear, the full Revelator setup. I figured I had at least the will power to start a new sport at 51.

Transition from climbing up to swooshing down

Backcountry snowboarding requires at least one costume change. From the car, the mohair skins adhere to the bottom, the boards split apart and change places, the bindings slide in and clamp down, and poles get extended. For the five times in my life I’ve been splitboarding, I’ve been wearing cross-country skiing gear and carrying a backpack filled with more snowboard-y mittens, helmet, and goggles. Once on top, I fold the skins, collapse the poles, and stuff all in the pack for the descent.

I’m doing (some of) it wrong

I try to get out on the splitboard in the morning after new snow, but on this Thursday it was going to have to be a happy hour skin up. I drive my car the quarter mile from my door to the ski area base of because I am not skinning up back to my front door. I’m just not.

The 90 second reward

The air was cold and windy, the light was flat and fading, and snow was getting tossed about on the lower mountain. It’s about 20 minutes to the top of Chair 4 and 90 seconds down. Gearing up and transitioning also takes about 20 minutes, so the ROI is kind of off. Today I’m focused on the single digit temps and my talkative lower back, and the complexity of my equipment outsmarted me. I put the skins on backwards and forgot to take the pole guards off. In fact, I think I’ve left the pole guards on almost every time I go out. And the clamped-down bindings looked wrong on my boots, arching over my boots instead of holding them in from the front. I was too cold to care. I trudged up.

The climb up was hard, but it’s always hard. The transition was messy, but what else is new? And the glide down was satisfying, awesome, and over too soon.

After the Storm


Castle Trail at Mt. Falcon Open Space after the storm

“I’m going snowsporting,” I told my friend as I headed out with the dog. A good 8-10 inches of the white stuff had fallen the night before, and I had six snowsports in my car, ready to swish or crunch: snowboard, splitboard, skate skis, classic cross-country skis, snowshoes, and snow cleats. Because our destination is a highly trafficked spot in the foothills of Denver, the snow cleats would be enough. In winter parlance, it was almost a bluebird day, sunny and blue skies with a few lingering clouds.

Mismatch is the new black

I assembled my adult winter garanimals: wool base layer, wool vest, snowboard socks, gaiters, duck boots from DSW, lined pants, scarf, crochet hat friendly to pony tails, $14.99 gas station sunglasses, and the ever-awesome suede yet waterproof, beaded, faux-fur-lined snowboard mittens. Instead of a fancy hydration system I had a simple water bottle holder that when unzipped, becomes a water bottle backpack. OK, maybe a little fancy. My days of GORE-TEX for neighborhood jaunts are over.

Top notch Christmas present from years ago

These mittens are old enough to have a Spongebob-themed birthday party. They’ve seen most of Colorado as well as the inside of a cedar chest while I was recovering for a few years. The thing about this particular trail in this particular bit of open space–it’s where I learned how to mountain bike. Mt. Falcon has a mix of intermediate and easy trails from the west parking lot, aka “from the top.” Once I mastered those trails, and even began lapping for the extra workout, I started riding the trails from the east parking lot, aka, “from the bottom.” From the bottom is hard-core: 2.5 miles and over 1,000 feet of climbing, some of it on loose rock. The first time I tried clipless pedals in the early aughts was “from the bottom,” and I fell going uphill just as the dropoff steepens. From the bottom rides were best done early in the morning on a weekday since the climb is completely exposed, and it gets jammed up on the weekend. At my hard-coriest, I would try to “clear” the climb (without stopping) to the top in under an hour. Always failed.

Castle Trail: Easy on top, hard party from the bottom

But as long as one is mountain biking or snow-sporting or really just enjoying themselves, one is not failing. And today was an ice-cleat dog-walking day. It had been many years since I pedaled or hiked Mt. Falcon, but I do remember mountain biking during the winter there before fat bikes were a thing. Back in the aughts.

Ivory overlooks charred remains from a long-ago fire

Many were partaking in dog-walking Saturday. Dozens of really happy Coloradoans or visitors were out, in their winter garanimals, soaking in the blue and white serene scene, with easy exercise and quality canine time. Me included. I marveled at how the morning light was bouncing off east-facing pine needles and the snowy carpet. Mountain bike memories poured forth, collapsing into one another to form a Mt. Falcon montage. One memory sticks out.

Everyone who plays in the mountains knows summer afternoon thunderstorms occur. Everyone. So get yer playin’ done by 1PM at the latest, and descend. After a fairly successful grind up from the bottom (didn’t clear but only stopped once), I caught up on water, a Cliff Bar, and socializing under a shelter. The shelter serves as an intersection of the hard-cores and the casuals, and general agreement is that everyone is out having a good time, getting their heartrate up, and earning some bragging rights. But on this particular early afternoon the sky darkened and thunder started clapping. I quickly strapped the Camelback on, clipped in, and readied for my usual 20-minute (whee!) descent in an effort to beat the lightning. Success! As I reached the parking lot, unclipped, and started mounting the bike to the car, these two dudes passed me going up.

Walker home ruins at the end of the Castle Trail, from the top

Back in the aughts I would not have been to content to leisurely crunch through three miles of mostly flat terrain to visit a hundred year old building. In the aught years I even had a Ten Sports in Ten Days series. But that was injuries, surgeries, grad degrees, exes, jobs, and reflections ago. Gratitude is the current name of the game, where I’m truly happy just to get out, collect some vitamin D, exercise the Ivory girl, and talk with other furparents.

Snowy trail
Ivory at rest

Global Pandemic Pages: Signs, Signs Everywhere There’s Signs


“(eff)ing up the scenery and breaking my mind”

Tesla, 1990
Sunny day on an abandoned ski hill

After eight surreal weeks living in the mountains of rural southern Colorado, it’s time to return to Denver. At least for a while. What’s been great: the fresh air, the limitless hiking opportunities, the simplicity of inconvenience, the mountain vistas, learning about wildlife, and cooking everything from scratch. What hasn’t been great: the small, cramped quarters of two people WFH, working from bed, doing laundry by hand, cold mountain mornings (and afternoons and evenings), and cooking everything from scratch.

Sturdy signage at the edge of the ski area

What I’ve noticed over the past two months is the amount of signage in national forest and wilderness areas. National Forest signage balances delicately between a sturdy and rural aesthetic. The signage at the abandoned ski area we’ve lived next to these recent weeks is less wayfinding, more boundary markers.

Top o’ the ski area to you

A ski area that has not experienced mechanized uploading in twenty years is bound to fall into disarray. Snowmaking equipment rusts into holes, fiberglass signs fade and degrade, chair lifts stand proudly still. As we zigzaggged our way up, across, and down ski trails, we spied signs of all kinds.

Fiberglass memories

Seeing decayed, broken ski trail signs brings out a sadness I usually do not feel when frolicking about. After all, what’s a ski area but wilderness cut up? Ski trail signs remind me that this used to be a place where families and couples bonded as they rode up together and shushed down. Sometimes when we’re happy hour hiking we’ll duck into the trees under the lifts and I look down to spot the line I would have taken. It’s at those moments that I think about how the ski area was closed more than it was open in the past 40 years. I’m heartened by the progress of the “Up the Hill” Project to reopen the bottom 50 acres to lift-served skiing in what was formerly Cuchara Mountain Resort.

The cross-country ski trails have remained accessible to anyone with navigation skills

Trail network adjacent to the ski area

In the meantime, there area dozens of miles of trails in the area and earning turns. I’ll miss the signs of the San Isabel National Forest and the wilderness areas of West and East Spanish Peak.

Trailhead to a thirteener atop West Spanish Peak

Global Pandemic Pages: Happy Hour Hiking and the Bridge to Nowhere Trail


Stormy late April happy hour hike on the Bridge to Nowhere

Those who enjoy the outdoors as a stable form of recreation will recognize the term “go-to trail.” It’s the nearby trail, somewhere between easy and moderate, that you return to when time is tight, you need something familiar, or you are not in an adventuring mood. The go-to trail is as reliable as hometown friends, non-craft beer, and the restaurant down the street. You know what to expect, and it’s comforting.

Looking up Chair 5’s path

On the Bridge to Nowhere Trail, one passes three chairlifts, and skirts along the base of the ski area, moving in a southwesterly direction. The initial climb up what was formerly a green “Walk It Out” is short and steep. We have renamed in “Walk Up It.” Walk it Out is flanked by aspen groves on either side, providing colorful surroundings regardless of the season.

Aspen in April
Aspen in fall

Predictability is key to a go-to trail, and after a few dozen times you learn elevation gain is just under 500 ft. over two miles, out-and-back. You pass the lift house of Chair 5 where the trail narrows and slowly climbs to the edge of the ski area, appropriately signed to get you back to Chair 5.

Passing Chair 5 before work
Chair 5 during golden hour

Signs abound along this abandoned ski area. Some recognizable, some washed away by time and the elements.

Chair 5 marker
Sign o’ the seasons

Then, there are nature’s signs.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Sometimes even your go-to trail holds surprises. Luckily, we ran into no one or no animal.

Junipers in spring

One delight of the Bridge to Nowhere trail is the super secret juniper garden. The homemade gin was delicious, thanks for asking.

Destination fall: Bridge to Nowhere
Destination winter: Bridge to Nowhere

Global Pandemic Pages: Magical Rock Garden


Wondering upwards

When living in the midst of the mountains and a pandemic, weekends become explore days. After six weeks of connecting to the world almost entirely by internet, my partner in crime and I have settled into a routine that appears to be working: Happy Hour Hiking after Zooming through work. We head out after 5PM not only so we can keep our day jobs, but also to avoid the unrelenting UV rays that burn and sap at 9,000 feet. Departures after 5PM still mean three hours of daylight–plenty of time for high altitude fun and necessary movement.

View of the mountains from across the valley

Weekends equal adventure time; we are weekend warriors incarnate. Most weekdays we venture out for two and a half to five miles and gain 500 feet in elevation. For this Saturday’s jaunt, which doubled as a celebration of finishing my first semester of library science school, we decided to go big: 7 miles and over 1500ft of climbing. This is an out-and-back trail a handful of miles from home. We were not going to go against Governor Polis’s safer-at-home policy. Alas, the Texas and New Mexico plates at the north trailhead meant not everyone was adhering to state policies. We had our bandanas with us, so we headed out at 2PM.

Conifers and grass tufts on the upper part of the trail. Hiking partner in blue.

The first couple of miles the trail is flanked by scrub oak with no canopy. The climb felt straight uphill. We have been averaging 22-32 minutes a hiking mile, and somehow today was no different even though it seemed steeper, relentless. After the first two miles, the flora changed to aspen and conifer and huge boulders that remind me of the glacier detritus of my New England childhood.

Lika-lichen?

Just as the trail seemed to flatten out, a side trail riddled with rocks appeared. My friend invited, “This looks pretty cool, Trace, and is probably worth checking out.” After navigating 50 steep feet of loose rock, we encountered a magical rock playground.

Boulders this way and that, striated, moss-strewn, lichen-covered. It was like a McDonald’s playground for adults with natural elements. We immediately began with what we had come for: senior photos.

Tree-leaning pose
Yearbook-ready

We snacked, marveled, frolicked, rested, breathed. The pandemic has really taught me to take one day at a time and be fully present. The magical mystery rock garden provided the perfect setting for that.

Perfect overlook into the neighboring county

We explored the outcropping and cave nearby, as pictured in the first photo of this post.

Cave resting

There’s something deliciously juvenile about being away all day, exploring, not watching the time, not glued to a screen, letting curiosity be our wayfinder. Destination: novelty and adventure.