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The Start of the Season 9 November 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing, Travel.
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Of course we were wearing onesies. Of course. 

I think we can consider the season officially started, so long as you ignored the opening of Wolf Creek, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland, but no one really counts those since they’re not real mountains. The ski season hasn’t truly begun until some mountain owned by a publicly traded company or a private equity firm gets into the game. Those are the folks who know what skiing’s all about, so I’ve decided to write a season-opening haiku in their honor.

Keystone and Copper:

keeping investors happy.

How? More yard sales, please.

I spent too long on that.  In any case, Copper mountain and Keystone have both opened their white ribbons of death, so if you still haven’t bought a pass and want to base your decision purely on on the one run that’s open right now, get the five mountain from Vail Resorts. Keystone’s top-to-bottom runs, serviced by two lifts, will make it worth your while. After that, well, I don’t know. This is the first year I’ve held the Copper/Winter Park pass, so it’s tough to say where you’ll get the most value down the road. But you’re concerned about skiing Right Now, right?

In other news, it looks like Winter Park’s opening early; they say it’s because so many folks were asking them for it at, of all places, Denver’s Ski Expo last weekend. Plan on heading there this Saturday, Nov. 12 if you prefer crossing Berthoud, rather than Loveland, Pass to get to some mediocre skiing. On the other hand, maybe you ought to check out Wolf Creek, which received almost three feet of snow over the weekend.

And in still other news, if you haven’t bought a pass already or if you do have a pass and simply oodles of money to spend too, you should check out the Monarch season pass. Even if you’re not planning on skiing there, the $339 you’ll pay for it gets you three free days at a gaggle of ski resorts including… Revelstoke, Powderhorn, Sunlight, Loveland, Red River, Angel Fire and several more. You’ll also get a free unguided day at Silverton as well as half price skiing at Taos and Alta, two of the best mountains in America. The rep at the ski expo suggested that next year will feature even more deals, so check Monarch’s website in late spring/early summer next year to get the best deals.

That’s all for now, but if any of you have experience writing profile pieces for magazines, let me know. I’ve told Powder that’s the plan for Tuesday, but I’m not sure I have any idea what I’m doing.

Best Spring Break Ski Resorts for Families and College Students 8 March 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Skiing, Travel.
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Full disclosure: I hope this doesn’t come off like I’m shilling for a client. I mean, I am, but it’s because together we’ve created something really cool about a sport we love, not because it helps pay the bills.

If you’re just here looking for the Top 10s without the narrative, scroll down a little bit.

Way back about this time two years ago, my college buddies and I were headed up to Killington, VT for a spring break ski trip. We’d decided on the destination after several hours (or maybe it was days) of research on my end that focused on a few factors, namely price, proximity, and the the number of hot women who might also be there. Hearing that Killington offered all three, we laid down the $500 or so for five days of skiing and lodging, then put down another $50 each for beer because that’s how a trip with your frat works: five days, eight guys, $400 worth of beer—and, as it turned out, no women save for the two Peruvian lifties who went home to Rutland after hearing enough from all of us.

We could have done better, though, if we’d had the right info. Not that Killington was bad, of course, but what if we’d known the best spring break ski resorts? What if we’d known the resorts where the the bars overflowed with snow bunnies? Where was Panama Beach with double black terrain?

Recently, I set out to solve that problem along with one of our clients: OnTheSnow.com. The site’s 3.4 million monthly unique visitor give them some street cred as a big-time operator, sure, but what OnTheSnow really offers is data, reams and reams data. They collect popularity stats, user reviews, snowfall and base depth averages—more or less everything you’d want to know to make your spring break travel decision.

Together, we put it all to work and ranked the resorts to make an impartial listing free from editors’ picks and other subjective shenanigans. We’d figure out what was best based on cold, hard facts (err… and user reviews). For college students, we made a weighted average combining stats for resort page views from colleges around the country, user reviews of nightlife and downhill terrain and average March and April snowfall and base depths. Essentially, we wanted to know what was snowy, steep and sexy. We got that. Here’s the Top 10 (in alphabetical order):

Breckenridge

Heavenly

Jackson Hole

Keystone

Mammoth Mountain

Snowbird

Squaw Valley USA

Steamboat

Telluride

Vail

For families, we switched it up a little bit, dropping downhill terrain and nightlife (because both probably don’t matter to five year-olds) in favor of users’ reviews of “family-friendliness.” We played with weightings a bit, too, and that gave us the top 10 family ski resorts for spring break (again listed alphabetically)

Breckenridge

Deer Valley

Heavenly

Keystone

Mammoth Mountain

Park City Mountain Resort

Steamboat

Taos Ski Valley

Vail

Winter Park

Now, you might be wondering why no eastern or Canadian resorts show up on those lists. Where’s Whistler Blackcomb? Where’s Killington? As it turned out, none of the eastern resorts was big enough and bad enough to make the cut, though Mont Tremblant in Quebec did make the top 25, while Jay and maybe Stowe made it in to the top 50. I suspect we’ll create another category next year to give the eastern resorts a fair shot at winning something, although for what it’s worth, the rankings did help reaffirm the West as the only place to go for real skiing. As for Whistler, well, it came in just outside the top 10 for both families college students.

If you have any tips, suggestions or thought on who you think should have made the top 10 lists, drop me a line via the comments or my e-mail, provided in the “About” section.

Skiing Eldora 22 December 2010

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Nothing brings Christmas cheer like sunny skies in Denver and feet upon feet of snow in the mountains. Actually, no. I’d take some snow here, too, but at any rate, the soft flakes continue to fall in the high country—even as we speak, dear readers!—again meaning that I assembled my crack team of product testers and headed west, this time to sample the slopes of Eldora.

Please forgive me for thinking it sounds like something out of a Tolkien novel, but really… Eldora? As in, “There, beyond the last gates of the city Nederland lies the elven enclave of Eldora, a place steeped in legend and mystery.” But I’ll come off it. In reality, Eldora’s not the stuff of legends, or even day dreams for most folks. If anything, it’s convenient.

After fighting against I-70 traffic every weekend, trying a hassle-free drive instead holds some merit. And at only 21 miles from Boulder and 45 miles from Denver, Eldora offers that. You won’t get any gray hairs from that commute, and you won’t grow much older either. In fact, it almost feels like a Utah ski morning: the drive up the canyon; the sunny skies giving way to clouds; the snow piling up with elevation.

But at the end of the road, you’ll find Eldora, not Alta or Brighton. Bummer, dude.

If you liked East Coast skiing, you’ll feel at home here. Quirky, slow lifts are the norm, and the terrain never rises above treeline. If you squint, the town of Ned kinda sorta looks like Brattleboro, but not really. At any rate, seeing all this in Colorado will bring about fond or perhaps painful memories for anyone who grew up skiing the Ice Coast.

Our test day, a Sunday, fell on the second or third day of what has become a storm of epic proportions. On Monday, NOAA actually called the thing “epic,” citing “phenomenal” snow totals in an inspiring display of vocabulary. Some areas of Colorado will see eight feet when it’s all said and done—and the residents of Crested Butte and Silverton have been told to stock up on perishables. A very white Christmas indeed.

But Eldora had reported 7″ overnight, for a total of 11″ in the past 72 hours. Not bad given that the snow continued throughout the day. It felt like less than that, but whatever. New snow is new snow. We rolled up at noon and still experienced quite a bit of it. And that’s the thing to like about Eldora, I think. Or maybe the other thing, since it’s convenient, too. Hardly anyone’s skiing there, and those that do confine themselves to a few blue slopes. Even with the trees closed, we managed to find trails where we were the only ones in sight, despite the fact that this place, when fully open, comprises just 680 acres.

Eldora is a place nearly as big as the biggest, baddest resort in the East, Killington. It lies within a couples hours’ drive for a good portion of the Front Range’s four million residents, yet it lacks lift lines. Altogether, it sounds like a winning combination, and in Maine or New Hamphire, it probably would be. But here it ranks only as mediocre.

>Nearly everywhere else in Colorado receives more snow. Nearly everyone else has steeper terrain. Nearly everyone offers better lifts and more services at the base area. I can ski better trees at Keystone, better steeps at A-Basin, better snow at Vail, and I don’t have to pay that much to do it. Sure, if you ski Eldora, check out the Corona and Indian Peaks lifts. When Corona Bowl’s open, I’m sure it can be a fun little powder field, but overall it’s too small a place to keep experts entertained for too long. The lack of lift lines only creates more opportunities to lap the same terrain. Eldora isn’t a place to explore.

But at the same time, H said she got good vibes from it. Lots of positive energy there and none of the frantic powder mania at the I-70 resorts, even on a solid powder day. We found freshies at three when patrol dropped some ropes. We found more in the trees. And for that, I can appreciate Eldora, but I simply can’t appreciate it enough to choose it over A-Basin.

How much of Keystone is open by… 11 November 2010

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When does X terrain open at Keystone, Breck, Vail, etc? It’s a common enough question that I’ve decided to provide a little info for Keystone (which is celebrating a 40th birthday this year) since I know it best. More to follow when I get the time.

I absolutely, postively must ski the white ribbon of death on Keystone’s opening weekend. When should I book my flight?

- Keystone’s elevation and snowmaking capacity allow it to get started just behind Colorado leaders Loveland and A-Basin, and due to its proximity to Denver, Keystone can make a profit from day (rather than destination) skiers early on . Shoot for the first weekend in November. Keystone will be open, rocks, downed trees and all.

I hate hosting family at my place. How much of Keystone will be open by Thanksgiving?

- Typically snowmaking along with natural snowfall will make most of Dercum Mountain and North Peak skiable in time to make skiing more attractive than watching the Lions. Coverage will still be thin and North Peak’s main bump runs, Powder Cap and Ambush, will probably be closed. The groomers usually leave part of Last Alamo alone at this time of year, so if you like scary, crusty bumps head there. Otherwise go back to Dercum andlook for some short, less challenging ones just under the gondola on Flying Dutchman. For park rats, Area 51 will probably be open as well depending on temperature and where the snowmaking money is going. If you enjoy the novelty of skiing on bad snow under lights, night skiing is also an option at this point.

I cherish what little vacation time I have but place no value on an enjoyable ski experience. How much of Keystone will be open in the week between Christmas and New Year’s?

- Most of it. Snowmaking has stopped by this point, so you’ll be relying on nature to provide coverage. The Outback, with all its tree and bump runs will be open, although coverage can still be spotty since this area is left more “natural” than the other parts of the resort. You’re more likely to run into rocks and downed trees this early in the season, so proceed carefully.

For what it’s worth, though, I skied knee deep back there on Christmas Eve last year. In a good snow year, the bumps will almost all be open, except perhaps some to skiers left on North Peak. You’ll see the saplings poking through them riding the Santiago Lift. The hike-to terrain may be open, too, but ask patrol first before taking too much time on foot. Wind scours the bowls, so don’t expect to find face shots this early–or ever, in all likelihood.

I like powder. When should I bring my snorkle to Keystone?

- You have picked the wrong mountain. Get thee to Wolf Creek.

I plan on celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to our country by participating in a sport enjoyed exclusively by rich white people. What will terrain be like on MLK weekend?

- Coverage will be firming up most everywhere. The trees may still be thin, but you can explore most of the mountain with confidence. The

Your keg won't care if you don't find those hot coeds you were seeking.

tight trees in the Windows between Dercum and North Peak are at a southern exposure, so probably best to avoid them if they’re open.

I’m planning to score some hot biddies over spring break. Will there still be enough snow at Keystone for me to show off my mad skillz in March? Also, “Frat! Frat! Frat!”

- Yes. March is Keystone’s snowiest month on average. This is probably the best time to be skiing here. You will not, however, find women at Keystone, so don’t plan on presenting all the bros at the Frateau with a gaggle of snow bunnies. Only your keg will provide reliable entertainment after hours.

I am addicted to skiing Keystone. I want more! When does Keystone close?

- The second weekend in April, generally. This season, Keystone’s closing day is April 10, 2011, which  also coincides with the mountain’s deepest base of the year. Vail Resorts will tell you it has something to do with an elk migration or calving or something, and Texans will say it’s because snow can’t possibly exist into April. Vail comes closer to the truth–elk don’t appreciate spinning lifts too much–but in actuality Keystone closes because skiers lose interest. Since it’s a business, not the government, when the cashflow turns negative, they turn out the lights and everyone goes home until summer.

There’s always A-Basin, though.

Winter Park Impressions 5 April 2010

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More than a week ago, I posted photos from Winter Park on Facebook, and it’s obvious they never made it to the blog. Typically I try to do the opposite in the hopes that when you stop by for photos, you’ll browse the writing as well. Perhaps this is optimistic–but the stats say otherwise, you browsers, you. So quit looking at Facebook and drop by here instead.

To most folks in the Front Range, Winter Park sits alongside Keystone, Copper and Breck as a mountain worth a weekend visit. Vail and Beaver Creek are just too far (and too pricey), and no one stays the night to ski Loveland, A-Basin, or Ski Cooper–despite Leadville’s desperate marketing, which essentially pleads, “We were important… once. Try us again?” So for the Friday/Saturday night stay crowd, those four ski resorts round out the options, and although I haven’t skied Copper yet, I’d guess that it, too, will supersede Keystone in my growing rankings of resorts. Nearly everything has so far.

Winter Park falls somewhere in the middle: excellent terrain if snow has fallen recently. Otherwise, not much of a mountain. Of course, the same holds true for Keystone, which would benefit from additional snowfall, too–another 100″ a year might make its trees more palatable–but where Winter Park needs powder, it gets it, clocking in as one of the state’s snowiest resorts. I’ll hike thirty minutes for knee-deep steeps, and I’ll begrudge a new, slow triple chair to ski dappled glades. Winter Park makes that possible.

Divided into two or maybe three mountains, Mary Jane, Winter Park, and Vasquez Cirque, the resort more or less prevents beginners and intermediates from spending any time with experts, meaning few possibilities for the kids to ski blues while Mom and Dad ski the bumps. For anyone used to the dread of approaching one of Vail’s ten bajillion cat-tracks at mach speed, that division offers a relief.

But maybe you like ski with yours kids. Tough luck. And maybe you don’t like bumps. Again, tough luck. Winter Park’s 1975 Mary Jane expansion gave it a national reputation for moguls, so much so that finding anything else at first comes a pleasant surprise. “No pain, no Jane” go the bumper stickers around here. Of course, given the resort’s more than three thousand acres, Mary Jane isn’t the be all and end all of the Winter Park experience.

In fact, it’s rather a nice distraction from the more entertaining hike-to steeps off Vasquez Cirque (which isn’t at all a cirque, but hey). It’s impossible to avoid comparisons to Keystone, so I won’t try. The difference between the hike-to terrain at both resorts might best be summed as, “whether it’s worthwhile.” And Keystone’s typically isn’t. Hiking offers its own rewards, but the opportunity to ski a benign pitch on wind-effected crust isn’t one of them. Winter Park serves up the steep and deep on anything off the top of the Cirque. Granted, backcountry enthusiasts won’t much care for the caravan-style trek, but for everyone else, a doable hike to the steep stuff makes up for most of the money spent on the lift ticket.

The takeaway:

- Lots of snow and excellent hike-to terrain make Winter Park a good bet for the weekend crowd.

- Avoid Mary Jane unless you like bumps or trees.

- Boring groomers, so probably not much fun after five days without snow.

- Not the place to take your cousin who’s just learning to ski if you’re both looking for challenge and want to meet at the same lift each run.

Skiing the Bell Curve 29 March 2010

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I haven’t written anything in a week, I don’t think, and although I’m tempted to blame that on something in life that intervened, it won’t work. Yes, topics came to mind, and I even put down 300 words on one of them, but every effort struck me as uninspired so I carried on in the belief that if I couldn’t write something worth reading, then I wouldn’t write anything at all. It’s been too long, though. Perhaps I need a change of scenery, some sights other than these same townhouses and pines that continue to sit outside my window at work… although if the Forest Service is right, the beetle larvae will kill the trees in a couple years anyway. I guess that’s progress.

It’s not that I’m anti-townhome necessarily, but rather that The Seasons, West Keystone’s option for more discerning and spendy travelers, represents the evidently inevitable progression and dilution of skiing into just one of the many activities offered at a full-service mega-resort. Like putt-putt golf on a cruise ship. Well, no, that shortchanges the product I sell, yet it hints at the direction the sport is moving. Open the pages of Ski Magazine (Skiing’s well-healed sister publication) and you’ll notice nearly as many articles and advertisements for Land Rovers and fine dining as you’ll see for mountains and techniques. Page 42 of February’s edition highlights the ice wines of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, and although dessert drinks hold a special place in my heart, I can’t remember the last time I gave much thought to a glass of riesling while on the slopes.

In all, it is the depiction of skiing as one facet of a lifestyle complete only once accompanied by golf-filled summers and a home on a cul-de-sac, not as an individual pursuit. Notice the language involved: “I am a skier,” not “I ski,” or “I enjoy skiing.” When we talk about skiing, then, we illustrate that it defines who we are, not what we do. That a sport can figure so largely as part of an identity ensures its durability, certainly, but perhaps at the expense of progress. And while I understand that the demographic figures indicate that the Land Rover-driving, town-home-vacationing types account for nearly all the money spent around here, I will not bow to the idea that these five-day visitors in any way advance or even sustain the sport. Money cannot replace vision, and the opportunity cost of every new condo is the terrain that could have been.

Or, as is the case of Crested Butte Mountain Resort near Gunnison, the Forest Service’s decision to kill a proposed expansion will probably work in the opposite direction, forestalling construction on any new condos. CBMR’s Snodgrass Expansion would have opened hundreds of acres of intermediate terrain rounding out a resort known almost exclusively as an experts-only, so-steep-I-just-wet-myself-a-little Shangri-La.The resort’s owners had argued that CBMR would survive if the new area opened–the dearth of blue runs had pushed skiiers to tamer mountains and visits had continued to fall. Otherwise, who knew how CBMR would fare. I can guess, however. Without miles of cruisers, without Breckenridge’s benign, well-groomed reliability, CBMR will not attract the crowd that reads Ski Magazine. And it won’t attract their dollars either.

At the same, time I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the progress: fat skis and hike-to terrain, the trickle-down from the experts, backcountry explorers and young skiers unsatisfied with carving. Innovation lies at the margins, even if the money doesn’t. When the Baby boomers retire, can we place our hope there? 

I know it shouldn’t bother me that a resort might die for lack of unchallenging terrain–after all, the bell curve applies just as well to skiing as it does to everything else–but it does. The cash has settled at the top of the curve, not at the tail with the ski bums, and so long as that remains the case (that is, indefinitely), the mega-mountains will cater to the median.

Stand strong, A-Basin. Stand strong.

Loveland Pass 22 March 2010

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Nothing much to write as of late and no new snow either, so I’ve instead taken to wandering around in the mountains. Living in the high country affords opportunities to walk outside a bit after work, just another reason I doubt I’ll return to the Midwest. As I’ve pointed out ad nauseum, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy living near St. Louis, but rather that St. Louis lies much too far from most every recreational activity I enjoy.

Click any image for a larger version. It’s worth it–usually.

Not much snow in March. Boo to Ullr.

Two guys who passed me, unfazed by the receding daylight.

Two Fourteeners: Torreys in front. Grays in the back. Real tall.

A-Basin: it's all open... finally.

You've seen a similar shot before.

Zamboni Fail 10 March 2010

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Effective Immediately: The Ice Skating Pond has Closed for the Remainder of the Season

Temperatures over the last week have hovered in the forties…

…meaning: Zamboni Fail.

Apologies to everyone I told about the free ice skating. May you enjoy tubing and fudge-making instead.

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.

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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