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It’s called the storm track 9 December 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing.
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Snow in Denver

…and it matters. A whole lot.

Back before I understood anything at all about weather I thought that snow was mostly a matter of luck. A storm came in, or it didn’t. And sometimes it snowed in the right places. Those desperate times when the sky remained an unbroken blue dome, well, those were just fate. To my mind, forecasting was a matter of correctly predicting the next day’s high and lows as well as the snow that might or might fall. Perhaps that’s what it still means to you.

But I was wrong all around. Forecasting is also about understanding trends in the weather. Not macro-level climate stuff, but what might happen one, two or three weeks from now based on all kinds of crazy things like air masses and ocean temperatures. The storms everyone loves so much don’t just float about willy-nilly; they follow an ever-shifting highway of sorts as they cross the country, arriving from the Pacific or the Arctic (or elsewhere) then making their way across the country and out into the Atlantic, if they manage get that far. Along the way, they bring with them the characteristics of their place of origin: warm, moist storms from the Pacific that hammer Tahoe with feet upon feet of Sierra cement–Arctic storms like the most recent one that left Colorado mountains more than a foot of snow in some places and temps that barely rose above 0 degrees.

For December, Joel Gratz, co-founder and chief meteorologist over at OpenSnow.com–a site you should absolutely explore–brings us this helpful diagram:

Is it coincidence that old track resembled a frown while the new one brings a smile? Of course it is. But who cares? As Joel says, while we might not see miracles after a disappointing start to the season (read: pretty much no snow in November), this shift at least promises more frequent storms through Colorado. And although everyone loves huge dumps, building a base to ski requires consistency. The odds don’t favor another 2010/11 season around these parts, but no one can complain about a little more snow. And now at least, we’ll know where it comes from.

Winter’s Back. I’m back. Here we go. 30 November 2012

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New Warren Miller Movie Trailer 13 July 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing.
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It’s hot right now. Like real hot, but that doesn’t mean you should forget skiing. Here’s a little stoke from the latest Warren Miller trailer. Good to see that they big boys are picking up some cinematography queues from folks like Sweetgrass Productions (who made Solitaire last fall). Only three months till ski season, yo.

Colorado Burning 26 June 2012

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Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado Springs

The Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado Springs
Photo: Ray Krueger, gazette.com

As I write this, major fires burn across the Front Range, from Fort Collins to Boulder. The High Park fire to the north has consumed nearly 90,000 acres and more homes than any other blaze in Colorado history. The Waldo Canyon fire (pictured above) threatens at least 1,600 homes, and earlier tonight, residents of Boulder received pre-evacuation orders as a three-acre burn triggered by a lightning strike mushroomed to 300 acres in a matter of hours.

From nearly any high point in Denver, you can watch the smoke roll off all three of these fires. It is an impossible sight. When the wind blows the right direction, the whole city smells like a campfire. Take a look for yourself. The Colorado Springs Gazette is live blogging that city’s fire here, and the Denver Post is covering all the state’s fires (a dozen or so) here.

Prior to this, my only experience with devastating fires came four years ago as I was writing copy for the Wilderness Society. In my air conditioned east coast office, it was easy to tell folks not to build their houses so damn close to the woods. But for the time being, my heart is with the firefighters, policemen and pilots all trying to corral both people and flame. In the aftermath, maybe we can have a frank conversation about the wildland-urban interface and defensible space, but not right now, not as families pack whatever they can in the space of 30 minutes. No one wishes for that day. No want wants to see his house burn before his eyes on NBC.

So let’s take a break from the moralizing for a moment and do truly moral: finding a way to help.

For the wanderers 21 May 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Travel.
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…and the would-be wanderers. If your heart longs to explore, then you’ll find something in this video. It’s incredible

 

Cycling the plains (and why I don’t blog more often) 7 May 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Cycling.
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It’s been almost two months, now, since I last blogged. For this blog anyway. The intervening period has seen a hefty dose of draining (but fairly rewarding) work for corporate blogs more interested in talking about the benefits of natural gas driers than in rambling about the first blooms to appear on the columbines and the streams burbling with the snowmelt.

Mostly, though, I don’t write because I worry I don’t have anything to tell you folks–or those of you who remain after the hiatus. Perhaps it’s because my own work requires so much time spent reading other peoples’ writing, but I find myself caught between incredulity (how can folks post stuff so awful?) and inadequacy (how can I hope to draw readers when they could instead be reading this?). But then it occurs to me that the quality of the writing matters not so much as the joy in expressing a thought or a feeling, completely removed from the effect either may produce in others.

So I’ve resolved to no longer resolve. I make no promises and will write what I want, when I want. So starting right now, I’ll write this.

C— and I traveled to eastern Colorado last weekend—the part that most Coloradans consider Kansas—and rolled for 36 miles across the plains outside Bennett. It wasn’t our first real road ride of the season but certainly the first that felt like an escape. For the population on the Front Range, points east of DIA essentially don’t exist, and Bennett, with its decrepit grain elevator deserted park (hours: dawn till dusk), may as well sit on the other side of an ocean.

In a sense, riding out there feels like time spent on the sea. The mountains ground life in Colorado. They exist like the seaboard, the urban landscape huddling against them as they rise seven, eight, nine thousand feet higher. Lose sight of them, though, and all sense of direction disappears. The grass rolls away, wrapping around a hillock and always in danger of falling flat under the breeze. Every so often, a dry creek bed intersects the road, cottonwoods the only lasting sign of the occasional floods and the fleeting flourish of greenery that follows them.

And everywhere, there is only the breeze in your ears and the drone of the crank and the chain as the miles roll by. This is Colorado, yes, but not as you’d expect it. Not as the magazine ads depict it. But a place more empty than the mountains, forgotten after all these years spent fixated on attaining summits and conquering passes. Coming out here is a reminder in these goal-oriented times that cycling is as much about the body, the bike and the tarmac as it is about accomplishment. This summer, I’ll try to remember that.

Switzerland (Or: Why you shouldn’t build your mansion in the mountains) 12 March 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing, Travel.
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So here’s the thing about about Switzerland: sometimes, after too long spent traveling around only your own country, you’ll look at your bank account and say, “Huh, that seems like more than I usually have.” To which your frugal side will respond, “Yes, yes it is, and it’s the product of your hard work and diligence and it’ll pay for your child’s education and a downpayment and a nest egg and, and…” But then Switzerland will slink by with a  vest full of cheeses and Patek Philippes saying, “Betcha I can help you unload all that extra cash in a week.”

And of course, you’ll take Switzerland up on the offer because, well, the Alps.

For the geographically challenged, it’s a country about twice the size of New Jersey sitting pretty in the middle of Europe, between France, Italy, Germany and Austria. For the politically challenged, it’s also, you should note, not part of the EU. Why should that matter to you? Because Switzerland’s not on the Euro, and with the rest of the continent esploding and whatnot, this has made the historically safe Swiss Franc (CHF), a very, very expensive currency.

Expect to pay about $1.10 for every 1.00 CHF. That doesn’t sound bad, except everything in Switzerland costs about twice as much as it does in America to begin with. So plan on 200 CHF/night for a small hotel room, 25CHF/plate at dinner and 5 CHF/beer.

Once you get past the price, though, Switzerland is quite possibly one of the best, and certainly most beautiful, places on Earth. Folks from the Midwest tend to regard mountains as mountains. They’re big. They loom. Goats and people climb them. But spend any amount of time around rocky, pointy places and you’ll realize that not every range was created equal. The Sawatch in Colorado roll up to 14,000′ covered in talus–a fairly boring affair as mountains go. The San Juans offer a bit more relief: solid walls of rock a few thousand feet high, rugged terrain filled with lakes. And then there are the Alps, still dissected by glaciers and soaring 10,000′ above the valley floor where a cluster of chalets huddle together against  rockslides and avalanches.

The tallest peak in the Alps, Mont Blanc (which is actually in France/Italy), breaks the 15,000′ barrier, higher than anything in the lower 48. And as its name implies, the glaciers smothering its summit leave it white year-round. No one will ever confuse Colorado for this place, no matter how much Telluride may protest to the contrary.

Anyway, faced with all that, we did what any sensible Coloradan would do: we skied it.

There’s more to that than you might image. Skiing in Europe is an affair unlike anything you’ll encounter in the US. There are no “resorts” in the American sense of the word, only “areas,” which generally seem to be run by their surrounding communities. The difference is this: so long as you’re in between the ropes at an American resort, you probably won’t die in an avalanche. In Switzerland, only the groomers benefit from avy control. And that partly explains why, in the 2009-2010 season, avalanches in Switzerland claimed 29 lives, seven of them in one slide alone. During that same period, 36 people died in all of America, where the population is roughly 40 times that of Switzerland.

I suspect to Europeans, this all contributes to the danger, and allure, of skiing. You might die. You might not. In practice, though, this seems to scare the bejeepers out of most skiers, who appear too timid to tackle evenest the tamest off-piste terrain. Of course, enough of them do that you can kinda sorta tell what’s safe an what isn’t based on their tracks, but for the most part, the day after a storm offers unlimited powder runs, which are exactly what we discovered in Grindelwald. Eight new inches, bluebird skies and the Eiger (which is German for ogre, evidently) keeping a close eye on everyone below.

This was skiing as it was meant to be. The Swiss should know; alpine skiing draws its name from these mountains. Yet the country predates the sport by several hundred years, meaning the ski villages typically appeared well before their lifts. You won’t find condo towers here, or mansions, just chalets perched on the hillside as if they’d grown right out of it, clustered together so a half dozen villages might inhabit a single valley. In some sense, these villages seem as much a part of the mountains as the boulders and the trees.

We could learn from that. It’s hard to overestimate the difference this makes in the overall experience. On the slopes, skiing is skiing and it’s easy to lose track of time and place. But wander the narrow alleys of Zinal as the last hints of alpenglow fade from the peaks and it takes you back a century or more. You pass a barn, an ornate carving on a chalet twice as old as anyone you’ve ever met. This place seems right, in a way that Vail with its Disneyland decorations and too-clean shutters can never match. This is the Swiss ski experience, not reliant upon the snow, which falls now and again in Tahoe-like dumps, but on a unique mixture of mountains, towns and the occasional ski lifts that all seem to draw meaning from one another.

Give America 800 years, and maybe we’ll get there, too. But right now, in our lifetimes, there’s only one place for it: Switzerland.

I’ve moved! 13 February 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Skiing, Writing.
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Moving indeed! C--- at Steamboat

Sooo…. traffic jumped 50 percent last month, and my wonderful girlfriend C— decided it was high time this blog lived a real URL, so you can now wander Colorado with me at ColoradoWandered.com. Wheee!

Cheers,

Andy

Aspen, in one video 10 February 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing.
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Because, well, people in Aspen needed to meet a black person.

Echo Mountain — It’s a Place You Can Ski? 6 February 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Reviews, Skiing.
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Echo Mountain‘s new tagline is “Let Traditions Begin.” This can only mean that the good folks who do Echo’s marketing have never actually experienced a tradition. Or maybe they’ve never been to Echo. Whatever the case, this is a hill best experienced for several hours. So why even give it a shot? Powder… powder in a snow-starved season.

This weekend’s storm dumped a foot and a half on Denver, maybe more on the plains. From six p.m. on Thursday through noon on Saturday, it took up residence over the Front Range. Grocery shelves emptied. People parked their cars halfway into intersections. And we’re in Denver. We’re supposed to be good at this sort of thing. But across the Continental Divide, another story was unfolding: only a few stray flakes had made it over the top. For Breck, Copper and the rest, it had been a shut out.

Figures. That’s been the story of the season.

Back on the Denver side of the divide, though, the storm had dropped an almost incomprehensible mount of snow. More than four feet in Coal Creek Canyon—and at Echo, nearly 60″. On Saturday, the folks at Eldora, the only other mountain east of the divide, were beside themselves. By 10:30, the place had sold out. You might think that it’s impossible for a ski resort to “sell out,” but Eldora proved otherwise. Turns out you can only sell lift tickets if you have enough room for people to park.

So, anyway, that’s a long way of saying the conditions I’m about to describe in my review of Echo are, um, rare—and phenomenal. In my ongoing, but not very serious, quest to ski all the Colorado resorts, I’d always imagined Echo would be last since I’d heard it was nothing more than a glorified terrain park. For the most part, that’s what it is: 85 acres, consisting of three “runs.” There’s a groomer, the park, and the glades. You don’t need to worry about anything other than the glades, which when visited offered a decent pitch and thigh-deep snow. Technically, I think they were closed, but in true Echo fashion, a patroller told us on the lift, “Sure, I think it’s closed but go in there. It’s good. If anyone asks you, just say someone from patrol told you to pack it down.” We obliged.

So for the next four hours, we lapped an empty chair and empty glades. Maybe a dozen other folks took turns through the trees that day, maybe. How was this even possible? 45 minutes from Denver we were experiencing some of the deepest powder we’d ever seen, sometimes so deep we couldn’t get the speed to ski it. After tracking out one area, we traversed and cut a new path, leading to more pristine snow and more perfectly-spaced trees. Except at Silverton, could another 30-something acres be so empty, or so fun?

Probably not. And that’s also why you’re not likely to start any traditions at Echo either, which is sorta too bad since it’s likable enough. We experienced near perfection, in the middle of a season that has been seriously unkind to the state’s major resorts, and it’s for that reason alone that we stopped by Echo. The novelty of night skiing can’t possibly add much. The terrain park pales in comparison to the nationally-ranked competition at Keystone and Breck. Weirdly, the mountain requires folks to sign a waiver just to buy a lift ticket. In the Midwest, all that might make Echo the envy of the region, but here, it’s overshadowed by nearly every other resort in the state.

That’s not to say we didn’t have fun this weekend—it was a blast–but if you’re thinking about Echo, sure, go for the 55″. Just don’t stick around for the traditions.

 

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