10 Inches? Maybe I Should Stick My Tongue to a Pole (Not That Kind, You Perv)

In addition to everything else, I’m pretty sure I have mild Asperger’s. I wouldn’t wear pants when I was a kid because they made my legs itchy, and certain kinds of long underwear and other clothing materials are still a clear, “Hell, no!” I don’t eat bread because I loathe the texture. I can listen to the same song on repeat for hours on end. Most damningly of all, it took me an inordinately long time to figure out certain social graces, and those only when my mother yelled at me that I was not supposed to, say, stir my tea while a waiter was telling us about the dinner specials. Even now, I’ll say or do something in a public setting that’ll result in me going, “Oops. Hope I’m allowed back into that establishment!” three hours later.

I also have a few obsessions that are apparently not shared by enough of the general population to make me anxiously page through revisions of the DSM when they arrive. One of those raisons d’etre is my combined love of maps and the US roadway system. Sure, maps are probably popular enough, but my inability to go past my RTD bus system map on the wall without perusing the route of the 83L to the point where I forget that I was initially walking past that wall to go to the bathroom…well, even I’d have to admit that it’s probably not what a mental health professional would deem typical behavior.

It’s been enough to strike terror into the hearts of those around me. On Monday, I took a bump clinic at Vail to see if I’d learn anything different from what I’ve been getting from Beaver Creek’s clinics. As far as the skiing goes, I now have a whole host of new techniques to try and balance with what I’ve been (re-) learning. As far as relating to others is concerned, I have learned that I am an intractable nerd.

“Don’t go over I-70,” I warned a classmate at lunch when she was discussing the best way to get from Vail to Winter Park in the raging snowstorm that had set in for the day for her certification exam the next day. “You’ll have to go over Vail Pass, which sucks, then the approach to the Eisenhower–actually, on the eastbound side, it’s the Johnson–Tunnel, which sucks harder, THEN Berthoud Pass, which will simultaneously suck and blow.”

My poor classmate’s face was now a shade of minty green. Our instructor frowned and pulled out her phone. “Hmm, surely there’s got to be a better way,” she murmured as she pulled up Google Maps.

“Not really. You can get off at Route 9 in Silverthorne and head north to reach US-40, at which point you’d just turn right. Can’t miss that one, since that’s where 9 ends. Still have to do Vail Pass, which is CDOT’s favorite part of the highway to close, and there’s one bridge ten miles north of Silverthorne that’s a straight sheet of ice…You have fairly new tires, don’t you?”

My classmate’s face was the color of the neon sign at one of our state’s numerous medical marijuana facilities. The instructor was shooting suspicious glances my way.

“Or, you could backtrack to 131 in Wolcott and avoid Vail Pass…but then you’d have to go over Rabbit Ears Pass, which is where I spun out one time when conditions weren’t even this bad.”

“Here’s what Google Maps pulls up,” the instructor said hastily, showing her phone to my classmate. The site’s first suggestion was I-70 to Berthoud Pass, a.k.a. my worst nightmare on a snowy day. Option # 2 was I-70 to Route 9 to US-40 with the icy bridge. The third option I’d suggested wasn’t even on the list.

Once we’d reached a grim consensus that Option # 2 was the least awful, the man next to me flashed me a look of wide-eyed admiration. “How do you know so much about the roads up here?”

I shrugged sheepishly. “Uh…I’ve lived in Colorado most of my life? You, uh, just kind of figure out alternate routes to places after a while.”

I neglected to mention that I could spend and have spent hours in the car with my Rand McNally road atlas poring over its guide to Colorado’s highways. He really didn’t need to know that I’ve gotten so caught up in that on occasion that I’ve forgotten what I was doing in the car to begin with, which might’ve been starting it to go to a doctor’s appointment that I’d had to wait three weeks for.

Luckily, I have other obsessions that keep me relatively healthy. I don’t know how my intrepid classmate fared on either the drive or the exam, but I do know that the snowstorm that was causing her so much grief deposited ten inches on Beaver Creek over the course of that day and night. Thanks to a friend who let me stay at his house so I didn’t have to brave Vail Pass myself, I awoke bright and early and eager for fresh tracks.

Larkspur Bowl was a breathtaking sight to behold at 8:45. I’d had, however, two encounters with fresh powder in recent weeks that left me bracing myself for the prospect of getting snow in every orifice I had and maybe some new ones besides. Not to mention that Larkspur Bowl was where, according to family legend, my dad had the wipeout of his life on a powdery day fifteen years ago. The bowl was all tracked out by the time he found his skis, poles, goggles, and hat, he said proudly, but those ten turns leading up to the yard sale were totally worth it.

As it turned out, my inner Cassandra needed to go pouting back to her temple. I had two runs in which I got to make beautiful first tracks, and I was able to find little stashes throughout the morning to claim as my own. To top it off, the stormclouds had briefly cleared away, leaving the fresh snow to dazzle beneath bright sunshine and bluebird skies.

Tony Montana would be so jealous.

Tony Montana would be so jealous.

I spent three hours skiing my ass off (almost literally. I’m able to fit into jeans that were a bit snug before ski season started) before my leg muscles turned the consistency of unrefrigerated Jell-O shots. It was only with effort that I was able to turn my legs at all on the last groomer down to my locker, but it was well worth it. My faith in first tracks has been restored long enough for me to find a new way to lose my shirt, skis, poles, etc. after the next big storm.

In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to find a profitable use for my detailed knowledge of Colorado combined with doom-and-gloomery. Maybe Fox News Denver is hiring.


Real Skiin’ at Dizzying Heights

The snow’s kinda sucked this year. After so much promise dangled in front of our collective, fleece-encased faces when Loveland and A-Basin revved up their first chairs in mid-October, the Frost Giants looked at all our eager faces, pointed, and shrieked with laughter.

That finally changed two weeks ago when the Rockies started getting some love from the storms boiling in from the Pacific. 24-hour snow totals topped eight inches at my beloved Loveland several times, and Vail Resorts even put out a Tweet boasting that it was “puking snow” at Breckenridge. The image brought back more Sunday-morning college hangovers than joyful memories of cutting first tracks in champagne pow, which might’ve helped push me to bypass the Vail Conglomerate for Loveland. I’m just saying that if there are any Vail Resorts employees who agree that one of the world’s most successful ski resort management companies could use a new social media coordinator, I humbly submit my resume. Like most skiers, I will work for a ski pass and a chili stipend.

At any rate, the snow finally inspired Loveland to open up some real terrain, and on Saturday, Ethan and I went up Chair 8 to check out the ski area cut off from the ski area. Seriously, I’ve heard this chair and its terrain described as being like having your own private ski area, and it’s so remote, the analogy works. One of the methods of returning to the main ski area involves walking through a tunnel under the interstate.

The main advantage to coming back here, however, was that once the initial fuss died down and people trickled back to the main base for lunch, it was like having a mountain all to ourselves. And this was a real boon, because there was powder in them thar hills! A bit of traversing across the main black runs and into some widely spaced trees, and we were able to make fresh tracks, our skis swishing softly through feet of velvety snow. For runs on end, the snow gleamed pristinely in our field of vision, yielding smoothly as we cut turns into it and stopped to admire our footwork as well as how clearly we could view that work.

Of course, as the Grateful Dead cheerily point out, every silver lining has a touch of grey, and on this day, that came in the form of Chair 8 itself. It’s never reassuring when the chair lurches to a dead stop feet short of the top and you hear the liftie shouting into his radio, “I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but I’m just gonna run it anyway!” This is the sort of thing that makes one liable to burn rubber (or whatever they’re using to wax skis these days) as soon as your feet touch snow again.

The frequent stops and starts get even more interesting when at least one member of your group gets vertigo and starts breathing audibly through his facemask. It’s even worse when you’ve ridden up so many chairlifts with your vertiginous father prior to this that your own learned reaction to a stopped chair at least twenty feet above the ground is to hyperventilate and feel a bit queasy yourself. This is further not helped when you look up at one point to discover an electrician sitting atop a tower, fiddling with wires, and then hearing him say on his radio, “Hmm, I just put the blue wire back in place here. I’m not sure if it’s connected to the main power source, though.”

But if you ask me, the snow back there is totally worth being a human guinea pig while the staff figures out what’s wrong with a chairlift that’s racked up a few years. I’ve heard that putting lavender oil in your garments helps push down symptoms of vertigo. I plan to soak Ethan’s facemask in it. Even if he does sneeze himself off the chair, the snow beneath it should be soft enough.


The Power of Pink

This post has nothing to do with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which ends today. I completely support BCAM; my stepmother is a survivor. She, however, has gotten rather fed up with the awareness movement and turns away in disgust at those little pink ribbons.

In her honor, I will definitely say that breast cancer research and treatment might have come a long way, but there’s still much work left to be done. If you haven’t gotten tapped out already, here’s where you can help.

The rest of my somewhat irreverent post about pink has nothing at all to do with breast cancer or any other type of cancer or illness (although I feel compelled to mention that I have had Type I diabetes for years and am pretty well tired of it, so here’s that link, too). It has everything to do with my distaste for the color itself.

I am not a girly-girl. My boyfriend jokes that since I already have the Subaru, the flannel, and the key-ring beer opener, all I need is the girlfriend. I take out the trash after being asked at least ten times and see nothing wrong with socks on the coffee table. True to stereotype, I shun all that is floral or that ranges anywhere below a solid red on the shade scale.

This has been an issue in the past. Last Christmas, my boyfriend’s mother gave me a fleece vest as a gift. It has incredibly thick, soft fleece and fits right in with the rest of my no-nonsense cold-weather wear…or it would, if it weren’t garishly, eye-gougingly pink.

“I noticed you never seem to wear anything that color,” she explained when I forced myself not to shield my eyes. “I thought I’d expand your wardrobe a little.”

There would be a reason I don’t seem to wear anything that color, I thought about saying. I politely thanked her instead and made plans to toss it in the donations pile. There are too many people going without any no-nonsense cold-weather wear, pink or not, so I figure I can at least put my unwanted excess to some good.

But I had to face my aversion head-on when I needed to purchase new ski boots. It’s pretty difficult to find boots that are stiff enough to hold a skier upright when the slope is steep and the powder is deep and also wide enough to accommodate fat feet. Most boots with a generous width are designed for raw beginners or, at best, those just moving past the “Pizza, French Fries” stage of the game.

Fortunately, Nordica seized on an underserved market and decided to make boots that offer the perfect fit for those of us who almost don’t need skis to stay on top of the pow. After trying on a few different styles, I went with the Hot Rod 8.0W (yep, that’s W as in “wide load,” at least as far as feet go). It was the perfect intersection of fit, stiffness, and price.

Only problem: the ones they had in stock were pink. With little flowers on the outside.

I was so happy to find boots that didn’t cut off circulation but wouldn’t leave me flying out of them when I caught an edge, leaving me headfirst in a snowdrift with my socked feet vibrating out me behind me like a Warner Bros. cartoon character, that the color didn’t really sink in until I put them on at the slopes.

After all, these were new boots, and new boots are a literal pain. Walking in them hurt. Skiing in them hurt. On top of that, any confidence I had built up from last year in my no-nonsense, Darth Vader-esque solid black boots was gone, washed out the window using a mauve dye with a shiny pink metallic finish for the buckles.

However, after eight break-in sessions, my new boots and I have declared a peace treaty. Walking in ski boots still sucks–it always will–but I know what settings to put the buckles on for groomers, and last Wednesday gave me a pretty good idea where to clamp them down when conditions are steep and deep.

And, with the reacquisition of the knowledge that I am a sexy, sexy beast on skis, a shining example to all who bow down before me when they catch an edge, intentionally or not, I have also come to accept (if not embrace) the color of my boots.

No more will I ski up to a lift that services advanced and expert runs only and be greeted by, “Hey, man. [Pause, double-take] Oh, shit! You’re not a man!” No more will I have to reassure myself that those runs still are, by and large, a sausagefest, and that I look like an androgynous marshmallow under my heavy ski gear regardless. Nope, now I can take to the chutes and bowls and listen to guys’ genitals withering up and dropping off in envy as I whiz past in my gloriously pink Hot Rods.

Of course, the genital withering took place whenever I skied past in my Darth Vader boots. I’m just that awesome, no matter what colors I’m sporting.


EPIC POW!

In the first week of last November, Ethan and I went hiking. It was a beautiful, 70-degree day, and we worked up a good sweat. Two days later, it was snowing. Such is the state of affairs in Colorado.

This year, the first storm hit two weeks earlier. Monday’s high was 78. I wore short sleeves to work. When the sun set on Tuesday night, the temperature dropped to nearly freezing and a persistent rain fell. By 11:00 p.m., it turned to snow.

The storm hit the entire state. Given that Loveland had just opened its third run, we weren’t going to go skiing. Yes, there was the promise of fresh powder. But none of the bowls would be open. Since we already had quite a bit going on Wednesday afternoon, we were content in the knowledge that this was only a foretaste of epic gnar-shredding to come.

Then Wednesday morning arrived. Snow piled up outside our window. I checked the snow report on my phone. Loveland had ten inches. Even one to two inches is enough to invoke what my father and uncle call Powder Rules during the regular season (back before we had the kind of skis that were made to handle powder, my cousin and I couldn’t understand why it was worth getting up at 6 to hit the first chair). I turned to Ethan, who was solidly asleep.

“So, I know Loveland’s still only got three runs open, but ten inches!”

He groaned, trying to shake me off. When I continued poking him, he gave a wicked grin and said, “You can stay right here and have ten inches.”

I looked at him wide-eyed. “Really? With who?”

“Touche,” he sighed. He blinked at the ceiling for a few minutes. “I thought you had tutoring today?”

“I could call in with powder flu.”

He blinked some more. “You really want to go, don’t you?”

I nodded, waiting for him to talk me out of it.

“Okay. Let’s go.” He threw off the covers and started pulling on his long underwear. I got dressed and checked CDOT’s road information site.

“Huh,” I said as Ethan brushed his teeth. “‘Eastbound I-70 closed at Idaho Springs due to overturned vehicle and numerous accidents.’ That sounds great.”

“What about westbound?”

“Still open.”

We looked outside. It was still snowing gleefully here in Denver, and cars were honking and sliding in our flatter-than-a-pancake part of town. We’d be idiotic to push ourselves up multiple miles of 6% grades when we didn’t need to.

Ethan finished brushing his teeth. I got our gear into the car.

Predictably, the ride was miserable. We bumped over a highway in which at least one lane was little more than ice with occasional gravel thrown in for a wonderful paint-scratching combination. Cars got angry with my cautious driving and shot past me,  only to wind up overturned on either side of the highway a few miles later. After a while, I stopped clenching the wheel white-knuckled.

“This is getting to be kind of fun,” I mused to Ethan as we passed a truck that didn’t look so much jackknifed–rather, it appeared to have gone to another dimension and been spit back out as barely assembled components.

Finally, we got to Loveland and geared up. I went to take the skis off the rack. I’d locked them in while we went to get breakfast, but now, I couldn’t get them unlocked. The locks had frozen.

“Shit,” I murmured as I tried each lock three times. I was already sweating, and we hadn’t even hit the runs yet. I looked at Ethan. “You got a lighter?” I asked, though I knew neither one of us smoked.

He didn’t dignify my question with a response, but he did go over to two other guys who’d just pulled up and asked them the same question. Seems everyone with a ski pass except us smokes something, and he soon returned triumphant. A few seconds of holding the lighter up to the ski rack as though we were trying to commit arson, and the skis were free.

So to summarize: a grand total of three available runs, an unpleasant drive, frozen ski locks, and temperatures that were genital-retreatingly cold. Was it worth it? you must doubtlessly be asking.

The answer: Hell yes! It was the first time I’d been able to ski anything that soft and technically challenging in months. The feeling of deep snow beneath skis is a tough one to explain to all but the most devoted pow-hounds, but it’s like what I imagine gliding through champagne froth would feel like.

We got in seven runs before succumbing to screaming quads–turning in deep snow makes for one hell of a workout. We got back to the car, where I’d left the ski rack open. I unlocked the car so we could put our gear in the trunk. The trunk, however, wouldn’t open.

Both Ethan and I pulled and pulled and pulled. We brushed snow away from the edges, figuring they must have frozen. Finally, I gave up and decided to go in through the backseat. But that door wouldn’t open, either.

No way in hell all the doors froze, I reasoned to myself. Then I had a thought. I walked around the back, past Ethan, who was was gasping for breath after struggling valiantly to open the trunk. I reached the driver’s door, which was already open, and hit the unlock button.

“Try it now,” I told him. He fixed me with the most incredulous stare he could manage, then burst into maniacal laughter.

We loaded up the trunk and started back down to Denver. The roads, after all morning and the better part of an afternoon being plowed, were considerably better than they had been the other direction. And though I do not look forward to future drives over packed-down ice, yesterday did get me completely fired up (more so than my ski rack was, even) over the prospect of epic powder days to come.