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New Year 31 December 2009

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I’d been hunting for photos from new years past at work today and couldn’t come up with anything convincing. A shot of me in a black and white tie… Adriana with a noisemaker — that kind of thing, but nothing that really screamed New Year’s Party. Thinking about it, though, that makes sense. Over the course of the last several years, that holiday has passed without any real fanfare, a step away from the high school parties that spilled out on the street and found me at highway hotels with people I barely knew. This may be in some way tied to “growing up.” But I don’t know.

This year we’ve booked the hotel room in advance, our precaution against any idiotic ideas that might cross our minds while in Breckenridge. It won’t be an evening of wine and board games with Mike, Ben, Brian, Colleen (and was it Julie?), however, and for what it’s worth I’m not sure whether to call this year’s plans an improvement or a slide toward those high school shenanigans. Probably a bit of both. We’ve even made a ridiculous — really, it deserve ridicule — list identifying point totals for a variety of holiday encounters: negative points for ending the night in a cop car.

So that’s how things stand in the mountains. The tourists will no doubt pass out early, doped on a combination of alcohol and altitude. Or else they’ll find themselves drunker, faster, and that might allow for a bar brawl! What fun! And if it spills out onto the streets, I may earn the chance to accomplish two goals at once: participation in a bar brawl and a riot. But Breck’s too upscale, so there’s little possibility of breaking the windows to the liquor store and stealing all the Cuervo. Maybe another year.

Anyway, I’m rambling, so I’ll cut this short. Here’s hoping that you make the most of your night and your year. All the best to those of you in St. Charles, D.C. and points elsewhere.

Skiing and the Environment 28 December 2009

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The Economist discusses the environmental impact of skiing:

Jennifer Burt and Kevin Rice of the University of California, Davis, decided to examine the American system. They studied seven resorts of differing sizes close to Lake Tahoe in northern California and Nevada, all of which had most of their ski runs below the timberline. Dr Burt and Dr Rice surveyed the vegetation and soils on the different ski runs and then compared them to adjacent areas of nearby forest…What they found was that the way in which the trails had been constructed accounted for nearly all the difference in the number of plants and the diversity of species present.

More here. It’s short and interesting throughout and confirms that, yes, snowboarders are worse for the environment. No terrain parks without clearing and grading.

Christmas Follow-Up 28 December 2009

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I’d meant to write up some warm wishes for everyone a couple days ago, but Christmas came and went, mostly spent on the slopes or in the hot tub. This was as it should have been I suppose, but I’ve been owing you blog entries as well. I promise that the future will hold more skiing-related stuff, too, although for the moment at least, I hope you’ll bear with one more post outside the typical topics for this blog.

Anyway, I’d been meaning to ask a few questions about Christmas’s religious roots. Specifically, I’ve been wondering if you, dear readers, really believe that Jesus arrived in this world the son of the virgin Mary. For all the fuss Americans (myself included) make about the lights and trees and presents and family members and friends and… all of that, the actual meaning of Christmas receives relatively little reflection. Yes, I know that this is a tired theme for anyone who’s listened to the religious right, watched the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, or who followed that whole “War on Christmas” bonanza a few years back. So please trust me when I say I’m not looking to head down any of those paths, because I understand that academically most everyone knows that Christmas celebrates JC’s birth.

What I’m actually after is whether you believe that Mary carried Jesus to term as the product of divine… fertilisation(?). Evidently, 61% of Americans hold that indeed she did. Interesting. And then, to get a head start on an Easter post, do you believe that Jesus died, rose again, and later ascended to Heaven? Have you as a Christian or non-Christian ever truly thought out the ramifications of your considered responses?

I ask because I have almost always found it helpful to think through answers to questions like these since the process itself seems to clarify the issue. That is, you must say to yourself, “Yes, God grew Jesus inside Mary as part of His divine plan for humanity,” which differs markedly from, “Mary conceived a son whom church fathers believed to be God’s earthly manifestation.”   To say the former is to acknowledge the act of faith necessary. The same holds true for the Resurrection, where at the very least, evangelicals, must say, “I believe that Jesus rose from dead, appeared to thousands (and then S/Paul), and then ascended, bodily, to heaven. I do not believe that Mohammed ascended to heaven.”

At a time like Christmas when most thought turns to gift-giving and merry-making, it is best to say these things aloud. Perhaps not in public, but aloud nonetheless. Just to reaffirm or deny them. The physical action prompts the rationale and doesn’t allow for the tacit acknowledgements that cut off reflection. Try it, and maybe you’ll discover a bit more about your holiday convictions.

Lead-Up to Christmas 22 December 2009

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You’d think that ignoring the Christmas season in a resort community would be all but impossible. But strangely, we’re just days away and it still has yet to sink in. Home Alone and beer don’t lend much to the Christmas spirit when the apartment looks almost as it did when we moved in several weeks ago. What gives?

In part, I’d imagine that the Christmas season depends not only on its commercial side — the storefronts and advertisements and Christmas-themed Office episodes — but on the interplay among family and friends as well. We bake cookies, we send cards, we see friends again for the first time in months, and while skewering the consumerism that bloats the holiday always comes off as trite , I really do doubt that without the human factor we could sustain any of it. Christmas’s commercial side shapes our expectations, the movies and ads giving us the ideal forms — what Christmas should be here in the west. But we come home for holidays to connect with the important folks in our lives, not to chase baubles and bunting.

To those of you I won’t see this Christmas, then, I hope you’ll understand when I say I feel I’ve missed out. Despite the lights, despite the carols and the wreaths, it doesn’t feel like Christmas around here because for the first time in my life I know I won’t be seeing all of you over a Christmas/Holiday/Winter Break. So, Michael and Jack, if you read this blog, include some wine and chess in your holiday plans.

Deep Ecology and Reality 18 December 2009

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Like a lot folks in the enviro movement, Trevor over at Pondering the World has pulled out deep ecology to defend a relatively hands-off approach to humanity’s relationship with the natural world.     

  • We are one species among many, with equal rights to life.
  • As a member of the human species, my highest priority is our preservation.
  • As stakeholders in ecological integrity, humans should work to preserve the interdependence, richness, and diversity present in the world.
  • Only to satisfy vital needs should this preservation be sacrificed.
  • And of course, to members of the green community this line of thinking makes all the sense in the world. Who doesn’t believe after all that all species hold inherent rights to life? But whenever rights arrive on the scene, clear thinking tends to head out the door. Otherwise, rights raise sticky questions about prioritization, and while Trevor addresses the main point of concern — that humans will destroy other species to survive– it’s still difficult to pinpoint how exactly we’re supposed to resolve issues of conflicting rights. Short of making the a priori claim “humans count for more” anyway.

    At least Trevor has confronted the problem, however. More often than not, deep ecological thinking seems an outgrowth of these economically bountiful times.  We can preserve wilderness because we don’t need anything from wild areas. We can absorb the costs of barring development, but as surfaced in the debate over the Arctic Refuge last summer when we set preservation against our wallets our green-mindedness trickles away.

    The problem for deep ecology, then, lies not in a fault of reasoning but in the economy that sustains it. That economy will not last. Yes, Malthus was wrong about food production, and starvation today is the product of inefficient systems of agriculture and transportation not an overall lack of food. Yet as population continues to grow, humans will consume a commensurately larger portion of the earth’s resources, perhaps more.

    You can guess the result: as more people compete for scarcer resources, prices will rise. So while we can chat about habitat preservation as the right of the species that require it for now, I suspect that in the far future, our need for molybdenum will trump the American Pika’s right to life. At some point, we will weigh human needs and wants against almost every environmental protection. If that’s true, though, then deep ecological rights are nothing more than conveniences. The cost of  protecting these rights at the moment is sufficiently low enough to ensure their integrity. Notice, too, that deep ecological debate occurs almost exclusively among members of the developed world, although to be sure  it often spills over into normative pre(andpro-)scriptions for developing countries.

    So what does this mean for the deep ecological worldview? Mainly that it doesn’t square with reality. To invoke a right is to say “this contract cannot be broken,” but in speaking about human obligations to the environment, our species’ present trajectory guarantees that we will breach that commitment, stripping it of any value. Better then to throw out the talk of rights and instead say what we intend. That is, to place a high value on the preservation of non-human species for now while recognizing that someday we’ll probably kill every non-economically useful thing on the planet.

    Curiosity, Satisfied 16 December 2009

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    Always wondered what English sounds like to foreigners? Now you can know.

    Vail 15 December 2009

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    Like nothing on earth: one of the few slogans that stays well within the bounds of possibility.  Granted, McDonald’s “i’m lovin’ it” does too, but only “it” lacks an antecedent — like, say, avoiding McDonalds. Vail, on the other hand, is quite possibly like nothing on earth, and to say that this early in the season indicates just how awe-inspiring a place it is. Vail’s size defies comprehension: this weekend, mountain managers had opened more than one thousand acres, just one fifth of the total terrain. By comparison, the vast majority of ski hills across the country can’t claim that much territory at the peak of their operations.

    Riding the chairlift, you give up hope of taking in Vail’s vastness and instead find yourself wondering, giddily, “How do I get all the way over there?” and at Vail, “over there” typically lies several miles away. Travel several miles in any direction from St. Louis’s Hidden Valley Ski (Place?) and you’ll end up in a subdivision. In fact, you can count a few subdivisions just by standing atop Hidden Valley’s 547′ rise. But I’m being unfair. More appropriate comparisons include Whistler, Squaw Valley and Aspen, none of which I’ve skied, and none of which employee me.

    Wheeeee!

    So, anyway, Vail is real big. And more than that, it benefits from a layout that denies boredom as a possibility. Suffering from skiing ennui? Take two Vails and call your office-bound friends in the morning. 1000′ of vertical, well-designed, can inspire more excitement and leave you feeling more fulfilled than straight shots twice as long. On the front side, Vail’s typical blues and blacks meander through the woods, opening occasionally into wider fields dotted with stands of pine or aspen. Each run offers an opportunity for discovery: a glade here, a patch of powder there. To ski Vail is to explore Vail, often with the feeling that you’ve ventured out alone.

    I think I’m in love.

    Oh, and story: Descending some untracked powder in Game Creek Bowl, I realized I’d never really learned how to ski on anything but hardpack, except for that bit I’d heard about leaning back in deep, soft snow. But of course, in the heat of the moment, I forgot all that and put some pressure on my tips to induce a turn just as I’d have done on a groomer. My skis, all too happy to respond, dove into the snow. Literally. They buried themselves two feet deep, while I, immediately released from my bindings and freed of my skis began my joyous though short-lived ascent into the heavens. Like a stone launched from a trebuchet — like a human cannonball!  — I shot toward the sky, and then, upon reaching the apex of my glorious arc, began my equally-rapid return to earth and the inevitable face plant. In all, I traveled some 12 feet from my point of lift-off. Perhaps more. And for those of you keeping score at home, this marks the second time I’ve drawn hollers from the folks on the lifts, although I’m inclined to believe they were applauding the parabolic perfection of my flight. You can be the judge.


    Snoooooooowwwwww! At Keystone! 14 December 2009

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    It’s finally snowing in Keystone! AAAAHHHHHH!!!! Traction control is finally useful. Almost-bald tires aren’t.  That’s all for now. Vail report (and photos) tomorrow.

    Wilderness, Hidden Gems 10 December 2009

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    It’s occurred to me that I haven’t made you think in a while, at least not in any way that would have required you to weigh arguments and draw conclusions. In fact, intellectually, I’ve let this blog stagnate, preferring jauntier pursuits like the weather. My B, yo. Still time to fix that, though, so why not take a look at a subject near to dear to most Coloradoans? Wilderness. Of the federally-designated kind.

    Although (because I am a nerd) I find wilderness etymologically interesting, it tends to warrant more scrutiny as it has been enshrined in American law, and amidst the legalese, you find this:

    A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.

    And of course, the definition is all well and good and perhaps even lightly poetic to those of a certain disposition, but when realized, it also happens to bar most what most Americans consider staples of outdoor adventure. For example: driving. You cannot drive in the wilderness. Intuitive, no?, but since Americans spend most of their waking hours firmly ensconced in a seat of one sort or another, enticing them to enter the backcountry on foot remains a difficult proposition.

    Thus, Yellowstone, which was at one point a wild a geologically tumultuous place, but today resembles the National Park Service’s version of Disneyland, right down to the tour buses. You can buy an Old Faithful sno-globe and feed bears from your car. To be sure, the habituated bears will raid your campsite, eat your sno-globe and potentially your toddler, and must then be airlifted east to the still wild and remote Absaroka Range. But this is the way of Yellowstone, where commercialism cultivates our concept of the natural world. We have created nature, the roadside attraction.

    For the longest time, I loathed that kind of tourism, the kind that carved up what was ostensibly wild into a more palatable yet ersatz version. I cringed at interpretive signs and centers, and for three months at a Washington, D.C. enviro non-profit, I inveighed against any use of nature as “destruction.” Sure, you could don a backpack and some hiking boots without concern, but a mountain bike presented a serious threat. Moving to Colorado, however, has helped shift that perspective.

    Around here, White River Wild,  backed by my former employer, I think, has pushed to include thousands of new acres in the federal Wilderness system. In general these places have remained largely untouched and feature some of the best, most primeval (if that word can take a superlative) lands in the state. They deserve inclusion in the system, to provide a buffer against developers’ caprice. And yet in places, the proposal goes too far. It closes down mountain bike trails in favor of preservation, cuts off enjoyment of the backcountry to serve a definition drawn up before mountain bikes existed.

    Dedication to the idea of the wild — untouched, untrammeled — powerful a role as it may play for so many environmentalists, obscures that practical ramifications of wilderness’s exclusivity.  Fewer users means fewer supporters. It will be difficult to rally support for a product without value to a huge swath of the population. Regardless of whether the environmental community likes it, the median American doesn’t invest the natural world with intrinsic rights. She treats it as a commodity, which means we can ask questions like “How much would you pay to preserve another acre of wilderness.” Or more obliquely, “How expensive was your last backpacking trip?” And when we deny her access, that value drops commensurately. Why fight to save a product you can’t use?

    In Colorado, the concern is all the more immediate, and even though the state boasts a huge population of outdoorsy-types, it’s also front and center in the debate over oil shales and extraction. If the plan establishes the Hidden Gems divides the outdoors community because of ideological concerns about mountain bikes, will that fractured coalition still come together when it faces much more real threats from extraction on the Western Slope?

    NOAA, Government in General, Beaver Creek, Ski Report 7 December 2009

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    Cool stuff: More WM here in Colorado. Trevor Harrison’s in Breck and he’s got a blog.

    I take back everything nice thing I ever said about weathermen — even those conciliatory words from several days ago. In fact, my faith in government has been shaken to the core. (To those of you who knew I placed little or no faith in government from the start, let’s play the silent game. You start.) Anyway, I submit the evidence:

    Hrm!

    Agh! Politics! The blog got political! Abandon ship! Erm… anyway, aren’t counterfactuals fun? Especially those that that have been beaten to death in the media already? No doubt you’ve all seen this graph, and if you haven’t, it’s interesting enough in that gnashing-of-teeth-and-renting-of-hair kinda way. Of course government meddling produces scarier stuff, but the next graph’s the real shocker, the most damning piece of evidence I could cobble together. Take a long sad look how our government’s crack team of meteorologists has fared in predicting the weather around here:

    No snow makes ski bums everywhere cry.

    If that typeface looks a little small, I’ll help make it out for you: about 2″ of snow predicted every three hours for two days of which 0″ has materialized.

    Double-timing, no-good scoundrels staff our government. Their mendacity knows no bounds. They probably hate baby animals, too. QED.

    I know these things for a fact. The graphs prove it. But seriously, where is the snow?! Sunday, it dumped on Beaver Creek, Vail’s posh(est) resort 45 minutes west on I-70. Now certainly, there’s been talk of the company’s seeding the clouds above the its guests’ pampered heads, bombarding the storm cells with silver ions and an offering of burnt skis — that something, anything might propitiate Ullr and bring his blessing of powder.

    But it’s just that, talk. Vail already shoveled its cash into the escalators and heated sidewalks. Oh, and free, warm chocolate chip cookies for everyone, too. Over at the more pedestrian Keystone, however, nary a snowflake landed. Our $4 pitchers of PBR must inspire in Ullr a wrathful heart. Tomorrow we go in search of an appropriate microbrew.

    Abbreviated Snow Report:

    Beaver Creek: My snide remarks about The Beav’s ritziness aside, it’s the best thing out there right now. World Cup Racing over the weekend meant nothing doing over on the Birds of Prey, BC’s signature area, but I’m guessing it’ll open up soon enough, especially considering all the snow the area’s been getting. The beginner area’s convenient location at the top of mountain has left it with six or so inches in the last two days, as well, with more on the way. And don’t think that it’s just for beginners, either. Sure, Lydia, who hadn’t skied in a decade, found it pretty nice, but so did everyone else in our group. Beaver’s empty on the weekends, is the only place with real snow right now and serves free chocolate chip cookies. What’s not to like?

    Vail: Got some snow evidently. Still not a whole lot open, though. Unless you’ve got a pass, forget about it. It’s not worth the $25 you’ll pay to park and then almost $90 you’ll shell out for an early season lift ticket. And if you do have a pass, well, don’t you have some projects you can take care of around the house before the real snow comes?

    Breckenridge: Breck opened (some of) Peak 9! And hasn’t gotten any new snow! Agh! Run away! At this point, Breck is strictly for the faint of heart. Nothing here to get the braver blood flowing, although if the current storm leaves anything there, we might get some more interesting terrain open soon.

    Keystone: Still the longest runs around here and the crews have done a fine job of blowing snow every night. On the downside, they’re the same several runs that have been operating since Keystone opened, a Mike G. and Sara H. report that the weekend throngs turn the place into an icy mess.  Ski mid-week.

    Arapahoe Basin: Currently icy. No new terrain. Still beautiful, but why not drive to Loveland instead?

    Bottom Line: Burn some skis for Ullr, and if you absolutely have to hit the slopes, make the trek to Beaver Creek.

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