Skiing and Snowshoeing the Rocky Mountains, winter 2010/2011, Colorado

A big part of moving to a state such as Colorado, which I did when I moved to Boulder in December 2009, is to enjoy the dry, sunny, mountainous setting. For me, that means engaging in a lot more skiing. 

So my first order of business upon moving to Colorado was to buy skis. My first set for my first ski season was an old, cheap pair of used Nordica skis. But I soon realized, after skiing them a number of times, that my enjoyment of skiing demanded more quality, so the next year, I purchased an impressive set of brand new Dynastar skis, said to be versatile for all types of skiing and snow conditions.

Of course, for one to do a meaningful amount of skiing in an affordable way, one must by a discount pass. I opt for a “Colorado Pass,” which allows me unlimited skiing at Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Breckenridge. It also gives me 10 days at Vail and Beaver Creek.

I am ready for my best ski season ever…

…and as I finalize this page at the end of the ski season in April of 2011, I am quite happy to report that yes, the 2010-2011 ski season was, by far, my most rewarding, unforgettable, and most numerous (in terms of number of ski trips in one year). One happy result was that my ski abilities have improved dramatically. I am now fairly comfortable skiing black diamond moguls. Only a year ago, I had (wrongly) concluded that such ski ability would forever elude me.

Vail, Thanksgiving Week 2010

Vail14 Nov 2010.JPGI have already skied the magnificent resort at Vail (“like no place on earth” is their motto), but it is so stupendous that I leap at a chance to spend a week with my Boulder friend Pat at her time-share in the Vail Valley, even though I’m already scheduled to spend 10 days at a Vail Village condo in February 2011.

Vail is remarkable in size. On the front side, the skier finds an 11,570-foot peak elevation, a vertical rise of 3,450 feet, 193 runs, and 5,289 acres of skiable terrain. It boasts back bowls and glade runs that are said to be the best in the world. On average, Vail gets 350 inches of snow a year.

Fortunately for us, Vail gets its best snowfall ever during our Thanksgiving week in 2010. Our first day there is overcast, cold and snowy, with lots of fresh powder, but the second day features absolutely perfectly sunny and moderate temperatures. Weather could not have been more perfect. I took advantage of the fresh powder by carving black-diamond moguls and flying down the groomed slopes like a speeding bullet on my new skis, which were BEGGING me to ski them to the limit.

It turns out to be my best ski day ever.

On Thanksgiving Day, we enjoy an absolutely delicious buffet meal at Lord Gore’s at the Manor Vail Lodge in Vail Village.

This link shows photos from my second day at Vail. When it brings you to the Picasa photo album page, select “slideshow” in the upper left:

Vail, February 2011

I return to Vail a second time this season with my Florida adventure buddy. We stay at a Vail condo for seven days, thanks to a friend of mine generously allowing us to stay at his condo. In the week preceding our arrival, Vail gets almost four feet of fresh powder. The weather for us all week for our six days of skiing is also perfect: sunny, windless, and cold enough to keep the powder light and fluffy. My friend and I soon identify and repeatedly ski our favorite runs: The Wildcard mogul run at the Game Creek Bowl, Hairbag Alley, Riva Glade, Gandy Dancer, Highline mogul run, Divide glade run at Blue Sky Basin, Champagne Glade run at Blue Sky Basin, Cloud 9 cruiser run at Blue Sky, the Grand Review glades (next to the Grand Review blue run) at Blue Sky, and the glades flanking the Orient Express lift on both sides in China Bowl (including Shangri-La Glade).

Beaver Creek, Thanksgiving Week 2010

Beaver Creek skiing was wonderful, but because it was so early in the season, a large percentage of lifts and runs were closed, so my taste of it was less than representative.Beaver3 Ck ski resort Nov 2010.JPG

For the first time in my skiing career, I started seeking out ungroomed, black-diamond mogul runs. Being at the resort early in the season, I found that Beaver was an excellent place to become more comfortable with such runs, as the moguls were relatively small in size. In combination with my new Dynastar skis, I had enough comfort to confidently take on quite a few of these previously scary runs. In the past, by contrast, I dreaded such runs. They were too exhausting and too nerve-wracking.

After negotiating several black diamond runs, I decided to give my quadriceps a break by making the blue “Latigo” run my last of the day. Being a groomer this day, I found myself hurtling down the slope at blinding speed that felt as if I was flying at about 150 miles per hour. The Dynastars were loving the speed, and I found myself joyously shouting “YES!!!” as I raced to the bottom.

One important problem I noticed at Beaver Creek, particularly in comparison with Vail, is that the lifts are noticeably slow and quite prone to stopping. Indeed, at Vail a few days earlier, my morning was able to fit in 8-10 runs. At Beaver Creek, by comparison, I was only able to fit in 6 or 7 runs.

An oddity of the Beaver Creek ski mountain layout that I’ve not seen before: At the main mountain summit, nearly all runs are green beginner runs. Quite unusual. 

The Beaver Creek ski resort had gotten rave reviews from friends, so I was eager to try out the resort for the first time. The summit elevation reaches 11,440 feet with a vertical rise exceeding that of Vail (4,040 feet). Skiable terrain here is 1,815 acres covered by 149 named trails.

This link shows more photos from my day at Beaver Creek. When it brings you to the Picasa photo album page, select “slideshow” in the upper left:

Breckenridge, December 8th

My last ski experience at Breck is 5 years ago (2005). My memories of Breck are fond, so I’m eager to visit again. Sure enough, Patty and I immediately find joy on the slopes. We start off on a black-diamond glade run, and the fresh 10 inches of powder that have fallen over the past 24 hours feels oh so silky smooth. Ahhhhhh

Breck3 Dec 2010.JPGThe weather on this day is nearly perfect. But while the snow is good, I am reminded of my previous experience at Breck, where I am disappointed to notice that the “blue” runs are more like beginner “greens” due to their relatively mild pitch and large width. Even many of the “blacks” at Breck ski more like “blues.” Indeed, many of the “black” and “blue” runs finish, for much of their length, as designated “bunny greens.”

In defense of Breck, however, I should note here that my skiing on this day is early in the season, and Peak 10 is not yet open. Here, one finds quite a few “black” runs that appear, from a distance, to be rather demanding. Also, unlike in 2005, I decide the wind is too fierce to ride the T-Bar up to the heavens, where one finds a large number of “black” runs downslope from North Bowl. My favorite runs on this day are the blue Northstar (a relatively steep, high-speed blue) and the black American run.

The summit elevation reaches 12,998 feet with a vertical rise of 3,398 feet). Skiable terrain here is 2,358 acres covered by 155 named trails.

Interestingly, Breck boasts the chairlift (Imperial Express) with the highest elevation – 12,840 feet – of any lift in North America.

This link shows more photos from our day at Breck. When it brings you to the Picasa photo album page, select “slideshow” in the upper left:

In early January, my girlfriend and I spend a wonderful two days at the Lodge & Spa at Breckenridge, an outstanding, affordable bed & breakfast featuring superb rooms with a gas fireplace and spectacular views of Breckenridge mountain, two outdoor spas, a nice breakfast buffet (included with the modest room cost), and a short van ride to the slopes. My two January days at Breck are both quite good. The first day was a bit chilly and windy, but the second day made up for it, weatherwise. This time, I find the weather conducive to my riding the “expert-only” T-Bar up to the clouds, and rocket down the Pika run.

Arapahoe Basin (“A-Basin”) December 28th

After weeks of trying, I finally find someone in Boulder to offer me a ride to ski one of the “I-70 Ski Resorts.” As an aside, given all the skier-related traffic clogging I-70, and the many car crashes along that treacherous stretch, it is disgraceful that there is no convenient, affordable public transit to these ski slopes.

Our day of skiing is outstanding. Superb weather, dry and fluffy powder, and some fun ski runs at this resort. A-Basin, I learn, has a selection of relatively wide, mostly tree-less (A-Basin is mostly above tree line) intermediate “blue” runs, a large number of rather narrow advanced “black diamond” runs, and very little in between. So narrow are many of the black runs here that I would be tempted to call them “double-black diamond” (extreme) runs. I also noticed that A-Basin does not seem to provide much in the way of trail maps. I saw none at the ski lifts where they are ordinarily found. For the first time ever, I ended up skiing without a map. Furthermore, the trails and lifts could have been better signed.

The summit elevation reaches an impressive 13,050 feet with a vertical rise of 2,270 feet). Skiable terrain here is 900 acres covered by 105 named trails. It’s relatively high elevation means the resort tends to open early in the ski season and stays open relatively late in the season.

All in all, A-Basin is a worthy place to ski, but there is room for improvement.

This link shows a photo movie of my ski day at A-Basin:

Keystone, January 8th

Having largely retired in 2007 at age 47, I have grown into a habit of leveraging my more flexible schedule to skirt around the crush of weekend warriors heading out for their weekly snippet of adventure. Unfortunately, I was having quite a bit of trouble finding a ride to the ski slopes this season, so when I attend a Boulder ski meetup at Rio Grande Pub, I leap at an offer to carpool to Keystone on Saturday – particularly because I had not yet been to Keystone in over five years. While the skiing and weather turn out to be wonderful at Keystone, the traffic on I-70 is so bumper-to-bumper – both in the morning heading west and in the evening heading east – that I vow to never again ski the I-70 ski resorts on a weekend ever again. It is disgraceful that the state of Colorado and the ski resorts don’t provide even the most basic level of public transit to the slopes. Nearly every day during ski season, I-70 is a crush of slow-moving cars and numerous car/tractor trailer wrecks. The drive to the slopes takes twice as long as it should, and tempers flare with skiers IMG_6949-1.jpgstuck in traffic (many of whom will undoubtedly decide to never again drive to the I-70 slopes.

Obvious solutions include the installation of a train along the I-70 corridor, as well as installing a time-sensitive electronic tolling system so that one pays more for using the highway at high traffic volume times. See, for example, my essay on the need for tolling.

The summit elevation reaches 12,408 feet with a vertical rise of 3,128 feet). Skiable terrain here is 3,148 acres covered by 135 named trails.

Eldora, January 20th

Made my first-of-the-season to Eldora on Thursday. Deepest powder I've ever skied in. Felt like I was skiing on clouds. The powder allowed me to fly through moguls like an expert (because the powder was "forgiving" my mediocre mogul skills). My most confident day ever on the slopes. Handy that I Eldora Ski Resort Jan 2011.JPGam able to reach this ski resort by walking 10 minutes to a bus stop and taking a free, 40-minute bus ride to the resort.

The summit elevation reaches 10,800 feet with a vertical rise of 1,600 feet). Skiable terrain here is  680 acres covered by 81 named alpine and Nordic trails.

This link shows more photos from my skiing at Eldora. When it brings you to the Picasa photo album page, select “slideshow” in the upper left:

A short video showing me skiing the Muleshoe Run at Eldora:

Dom skiing the Cascade Run at Eldora:

Dom skiing the Corona Run at Eldora:

Emerald Lake6 Snowshoe RMNP Jan 2011.JPGSnowshoeing to Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, January 29th

Rocky Mountain National Park provides a paradise for snow shoe enthusiasts in winter months. One especially impressive example is the short and highly rewarding trail to Emerald Lake. On a Saturday morning,  I join a sociology professor friend who asks me to join him to snow shoe to this jaw-dropping venue. The hike is full of scenic splendor. While the Rockies are exceptionally postcard-stunning in the summer, when they are graced with white snow, their grandeur is simply astonishing, sharp and unforgettable. Indeed, I find myself so wowed by the snow-capped mountains around us that I decide to break a “rule” I have about adventures: Life is too short and there are too many things for me to see in the world for me to repeat an adventure. But I find myself insisting that my girlfriend Ann join me. Not only do I repeat this adventure, but I do it the very next day, no less. A sure sign that this is a “must” for those who snow shoe.

How impressive is Rocky Mtn National Park? Nearly one-third of the 265,770 acres within the park is above the treeline (found at 11,400 feet). The Park holds 72 named peaks above 12,000 feet in elevation (the highest being Longs Peak at 14,259 feet). The Park is split by the Continental Divide. The Park contains 359 miles of trails, 150 lakes and 450 miles of streams.

This link shows a photo movie of our hike:

Snowshoeing South Boulder Creek, James Peak Wilderness, April 17th

So Boulder Ck17 snowshoe Apr 2011.JPGLate in the snow season for 2010-2011, I sign up for a group snowshoe hike on South Boulder Creek in the James Peak Wilderness. My expectations are low. After all, how good can snowshoeing be in mid-APRIL?

It turns out to be my best snowshoe experience EVER.

We hike for four miles on top of South Boulder Creek. Shockingly, not a single time during our 4.5-hour hike do any of us in our group go crashing through the snow into the ice-cold creek water rushing below us for those 4.5 hours.

The snow and snowshoeing are magical. Approximately six feet of relatively fresh snow covering the creek we trudge over. A winter and creek wonderland of gorgeous snow mounds and  virgin snow.

This link shows a photo movie of our hike:


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