Loveland: Thursday, Ferbruary 11, 2010

Spirits were less than flying high after the previous week’s jaunt to A-Basin. One step back, especially when it comes to me and sports, always feels like two steps back: the first one is physical, the second psychological. What if the prior week’s rollicking time at Sol Vista was the exception rather than the rule? What if I only do well on hills that aren’t challenging? Was I destined to forever board below my abilities?

The weather did not bode well for a day of solo snowboarding on the hill. Temps were going to hover in the teens, and the wind was going to be a-howlin’. I slept in until 8AM, dallied around a bit, packed more food than I could eat in a weekend (including my trusty thermos of hot chocolate which has now become a must-have for me), and strolled on up to the mountain.

I considered skipping this week’s playtime to the mountains, but a local radio station, 95.7 (The Party!), was sponsoring a hooky day. I printed out my coupon for a FIFTEEN DOLLAR LIFT TICKET.

The Party! plays the kind of music I like to dance to. Most of the musical artists they play have names that end with a “z.” Whatever. Fifteen bucks is fifteen bucks.

Promotions like The Party!’s always attract a different crowd. The ski industry folks are always whining about declining numbers: “Whaaaa…why are skier visits down AGAIN this year?” without ever looking inward, without ever thinking for a moment that a $97 lift ticket or even a $450 season pass is cost-prohibitive.

The parking lot was full of very-well matched outfits, about half of whom were ripping butts before heading out to exercise in windy, sub-freezing temperatures above treeline. There was actually a LINE to get lift tickets, and we were all waving the same inkjet-printed coupon.

I was pretty psyched. There are very few things I’m a true snob about, and snowboarding is certainly not one of those things. There was some grumbling regarding the day’s different clientele, but I love it when folks get out of their comfort zone and do something fun, different, and challenging. It’s the only way we grow, really. Otherwise, we might as well get that remote surgically attached to our hands.

To the snowboarding now: By the time I made it to the top of the next lift, Chair 2, it was about 11AM, and the corduroy was well gone. I headed toward the South Chutes, which connect Chair 2 to Chair 9 (the quad that goes up to the ridgeline) and Chair 4 (full of moguls).  The South Chutes are chock full of pine saplings, and the coverage of 35+ inches meant my board hit some rocks and trees. Whatever.

My fingertips were frozen by the time I loaded onto Chair 4, and the wind had picked up considerably. I was hoping that by moving from the South to the North area of the mountain, I would find shelter from the wind.

So, I took the Zip Trail catwalk over to Chair 8, my favorite area of Loveland. Chair 8’s trails are less well-defined, shaped instead by bowls and glades. But the wind created blinding snow, and I somehow ended up in unfamiliar territory. Knowing all I had to do was keep to the open glades, I ducked in and out of the loose organizations of trees, knowing I would sooner or late hook up with the Zip Trail.

I love Chair 8. When I had a mid-week pass at Loveland, our mantra used to be: “Chair 8 all day.”

Whiteout. Windy.  Cold. These three evils greeted me as I found Chair 8-land. My legs were exhausted, my lungs were about to bust, but hey, it was snowing lightly!

I sat on my hands on the lift ride up, wondering why three layers of gloves just weren’t doing their job. At the top, the wind whipped through my barely warmed hands and I told myself, “Head to the bottom of the lift, navigate that skinny but manageable black The Face, walk to the cafeteria, and decide whether to stay or go.

Alas, the snow gods have not been smiling on Colorado (except for the powder magnets down south at Wolf Creek and Silverton) until this past weekend. The Face wasn’t open. Yet.

No problem, I would just take the catwalk back to the area around Chair 4. I was a little concerned because now visibility was somewhere between Whiteout and Blinding White, my hands were brrrozen, and I was really tired. No rest for the wicked around Chair 8, as there are no warming huts like there are at the top of Chairs 1 and 2 and halfway down the runs off Chair 6. Nope. Nothing here but glades and bowls, which I usually love.

I got a little lost off and headed down mountain off the catwalk. The terrain between Chairs 4 and 8 can be pretty bumpy, and the snow was somewhat wind-blown, but I found pockets of powder to play in. All of the sudden my hands weren’t cold anymore, and I began to have fun. Wheeeeee! I headed down, down, down, knowing that on the other side of these trees lay the evil moguls of Chair 4 that always send my thighs screaming.

And then I got in a place I hate to be in. I looked down, and if the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland funneled down a black diamond and was full of beautifully formed but icy bumps, it would look like this. The run is called Splashdown but I renamed it, with my choppy falling leaf, Crashdown.

A group of knuckedraggers were right behind me, all of the male variety, and just as I was trying to connect my turns around these iced-over Mini Coopers, these apes on planks cut me off. I would have called them a few choice names but I hate getting beat up on the mountain.

The trees to my left were cordoned off with rope, and the wells around these majestic pines called to me, like Sirens calling to Ulysses. Beautiful but deadly. I focused elsewhere, like the 15 feet directly in front of me instead of the death traps masquerading as innocent pine trees. They weren’t fooling me.

Sometimes I get really scared when I’m out adventuring. Sometimes the panic button gets pushed down halfway, and I operate in code yellow.

I code-yellowed the rest of the way down Crash/Splash/Mash/Whaaaashdown, hooked up with the Tango Run catwalk, and beelined for the hot chocolate in the car.

I was home by 2:30.

Lift ticket: $15

Parking FREE and close, as always at Loveland


Eldora: Wednesday, January 13

One of the cheapest ways to hit the slopes in Colorado is to go with a school group. As a teacher (even part-time), this option is still available to me.

The school outing at Eldora was set for Wednesday, January 13. For kids the price was an unbelievable $14(!) and for us adults it was a reasonable $31.50.

Eldora is not along the I-70 corridor, which is where Vail, Breckenridge, Copper, and my beloved Loveland are. Eldora is located NW of Boulder, just outside the funky little mountain town of Nederland. The drive there takes you through picturesque Boulder Canyon, with its ribbons of pine and mountain streams alongside it. There’s even the Ski N Ride, the bus that runs during the season from Boulder to Eldora.

We got to the parking lot at 9:30AM, tracked down our lift tickets, and beelined for the easy, green slopes. That’s right. Even though my partner in crime for the day (the art teacher) has been skiing since he was five, this was a group outing and the bulk of the group was starting at the beginning, on the green.

As long as there’s enough slope to a run, I don’t mind the greens. Easy terrain allows me to practice my turning techniques, giving me time to think about the weight and edge transfer in my turns. After a couple of rides up the triple EZ chair and a couple of runs down Bunnyfair, our group of six headed for bluer pastures, courtesy of the Cannondale lift.

The Cannondale lift promised more blue terrain like Jolly Jug, La Belle Dame, and runs that connected to the Indian Peaks lift, including Hornblower and Corona Traverse. Jolly Jug was great: wide, open terrain with few beyond our group crowding the run.

In fact, I have never seen a ski mountain with so few people on it. Here it was, another beautiful day in Colorado: clear blue skies, shining sun, glistening snow, comfortable skiing temps, and there were maybe hundreds of people on the hill.

The art teacher and I headed over to the Indian Peaks lift, which served more difficult terrain. I was having such a good day I was contemplating doing some blacks over at the Corona lift. I was feeling good, making smoother turns that I had in years, feeling confident about the runs in front of me, and overall just really enjoying the day. We got separated on Indian Peaks after a delightfully fun and uncrowded run from Hornblower to Lower Ambush. As it was early afternoon, the runs in the shade were getting iced up.

I separated from my teacher friend and ended up on the Lower Diamond Back run instead of the Lower Ambush Run. Snow here was more granular, and trees with broken limbs and patches of dirt were new obstacles. In my effort to avoid the trees and control my speed, I spun out of control, curled up into a ball, and rolled down the hill.

Icy shavings clung to my left side. I sat there in the icy shade for a minute or so, collected my breath, and headed back down to the base. After twenty minutes of hydrating and resting, I headed back up Cannondale for the comfort of Jolly Jug. When even that was too much for my lungs, burning things, and overall exhausted body, I made for the EZ lift, where I had started the beautiful day of playing in the Colorado Rockies. No blacks for me that day.

I made some technically correct turns and called it a day after four solid hours of snowboarding.

Lift ticket $31.50 with school group

Parking FREE