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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The memories function on Facebook made me realize recently that snowboarding on Thanksgiving Day had become somewhat of an unofficial annual outing for me. Back in the aughts it was one of the few days the restaurant I worked at was closed, so we all headed up to Loveland Ski Area or Copper Mountain for some early season no frills fun. There were always between half to a full dozen of us, casually swishing about the mountain, grabbing a bloody at lunch, then heading down the mountain for Turkey dinner or a long nap. Continue reading “Thanksgiving Snowboarding”→
Two months since my last post. Damn. I got a new job, and although it’s awesome, it’s taking up some serious time.
Spring Break is next week, and I’ve got a solid 12 days off. Three to four of those days will be spent on schoolwork, and the other either finding some R & R relaxing and pounding my body back into shape. I’ve been watching weather patterns all season even though we’ve had an anemic snowseason here in Colorado, there are other awesome snowboarding destinations less than 10 hours away. To wit: Utah, New Mexico and yes, even northern Arizona. (OK, a little more than 10 hours away.)
I opened my season at Wolf Creek in October, and I very may well end my season there. On Wednesday, March 28, Wolf Creek is running its Local Appreciation Day and selling lift tickets for $33. If there’s new snow, I’m beelining my way down there. I’ll be watching powdermeister Joel Gratz’s OpenSnow for accurate forecasts.
If snow is not forthcoming to Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, or Wyoming (hello, Grand Targhee!), then I’m off to the Four Corners area for some mountain biking, hiking, and sleeping among the snakes and scorpions.
A little bit of snow in Vermont and the Pacific Northwest means the rest of us are suffering with 2-3 foot bases at our local ski hill, hardly enough to justify a $50+ lift ticket. Or in the cases of the chic resorts here in Colorado, $100+ (really, Aspen? really, Vail?) Vail is sporting 19 inches at the time of this posting, which means each inch of crusted-over snow costs about $5. That’s expensive.
But temperate temperatures means that the tough start looking beyond the ski resorts for winter fun. No, I’m not talking about quick getaways to Mexico. I’m talking about making the most out of winter, right there in your own backyard.
Some of the more hardcore among us are up for adventures like mountain biking on snow (done right here at Rabbit Mountain a few years ago). But for the rest of us mortals, having sports we can out (almost) out our front door will keep us healthy and happy until the snow dances kick in.
Road trips rock. Even Hollywood knows that. Pile all the hot folks into the classic convertible, have them eat gas station food, camp out in the desert (even though they didn’t pack sleeping bags), and run into all sorts of trouble on their way to their destination. For Hollywood, it’s about depicting the journey as the destination.
For snowboarding powder days in October, it’s about the destination.
It was Friday, October 7 and I was all packed for Moab. I had neat piles of boxes and bags in my kitchen. I had slept four hours a night for two nights, going over maps, cooking food, double-checking my toiletry bag. I hadn’t been to Moab since Thanksgiving 2008, and I had been missing it sorely. I was psyched to go. Mountain biking is my first love, after all.
But somewhere around Thursday night I had heard it was dumping at Wolf Creek, my favorite ski area. The knot-nag in my stomach was telling me I had committed to Moab and needed to push powder pipe dreams out of my head. I was going mountain biking, not snowboarding that weekend.
But then plans fell through. At 7pm on Friday, I was no longer going to Moab for the three-day weekend. I was free to go to Wolf Creek. I went to bed at 8pm (not hard, as I was working on maybe 10 hours of sleep for two days) and set my alarm for 4am. Two hours of cleaning and a little repacking, and I could be at the lifts by 11am and board until 4pm. Five hours of boarding powder for $33.
But the thing about snow dumps on your favorite ski area is that they’re not very cooperative with your driving schedule. And so it was, early Saturday morning on October 8 that I drove right into a snowstorm. It wasn’t snowing heavily and the conditions were not white-out, but the roads were icy. Driving on unplowed, icy, snowy, and dark roads is something I’ve done (a lot) and something I hate. I drove with an envy for the other, paved side of the road that only extreme dieters can understand. I white-knuckled it in places, slid a little here and there, and arrived at Wolf Creek by 11am.
Temps were warm, maybe upper 30s and I wondered if I hadn’t overdressed with three layers on the top and two on the bottom. My first run was off the Bonanza Chair, a long, winding, easy-peasy run that’s good to warm up on. It’s called the Great Divide and it’s a great introduction back to snowboarding after a three-month hiatus. But the trail was longer than I or my legs remembered and somewhere, about three quarters of the way down, it burned, burned, burned. That IT band, it burned, and the calves followed suit.
The iron deficiency thing I have kicks in just over 10K feet, so I was huffing and puffing like an emphysemic wolf at the straw house. I chilled out for a few minutes at the lodge before I headed over to the the Treasure Chair, where I would stay for the rest of the day. The Treasure Chair had the powder. That’s the beauty of Wolf Creek–the more eastern you go, the further away you get from the main lodge, the more powder you can find. And I found it by ducking into the trees along the Tranquility run. I was swishing and laughing, all by myself, forgetting that it was October, that I had driven five hours to get there, that I hadn’t sleep much that week, and that I was 41 years old. I forgot all that and used my x-ray vision to find more untracked powder even though it was getting on in the afternoon.
I found an open field of untracked powpowpow, which had what looked like pieces of straw sticking up. I leaned back on the board with my weary-heavy legs and shifted my weight back so I could literally surf over the snow. That feeling of gliding over snow is what makes skiers turn into snowboarders. Snow-surfing is surreal and full of quiet, save the the board fwapping over the straw in the field. I went back for more. And again.
Exhausted by 3:30, I called it after about 10 runs. I had packed my New Mexico maps just in case I wanted to duck south and do some mountain biking. I knew I wanted to mountain bike Penitente Canyon on Monday, but I love northern New Mexico I dream about it. Often. So I headed to Chama.
The drive down the mountain to Pagosa Springs is ridiculously scenic, so I pulled over, with a dozen other cars, to the overlook to click and capture some magical moments:
I took highway 84 down to Chama, New Mexico, home of the famous Cumbres and Toltec scenic railroad that winds through the countryside/mountainside just like back in the days of old. I was hoping to stay in Chama and ride my mountain bike nearby the following day, but there was no room at the Chama Inn. Or the Chama Motel. There were no beds on which to rest my weary head.
So I parked in town, watched the sunset, then drove north through another snowstorm.
The unbelievable opportunity I had on October 8 to go snowboarding in six inches of powder at Wolf Creek is still resonating in my addled mind. My favorite part was the sunshine and the clouds and the cold and the hot and the vibe and the folks and the excitement that snowboarding season is coming…slowly maybe, but coming.
For those of you chomping on the ski pole or last year’s mittens, read my ditty about what early season skiing conditions are like and what to know and do when hitting the ski run before Thanksgiving. What to expect when skiing or snowboarding in October. Hurry, there’s less than two weeks left.
The snowmaking guns and Mother Nature have conspired to make snow conditions favorable enough where Arapahoe Basin, a staple of the Summit County, Colorado skiing and snowboarding scene, will open tomorrow for the season. It’s a pretty early opening and comes on the frozen heels Wolf Creek’s opening this past weekend.