Departures

She strode purposefully across the tarmac toward the halogen illuminated aircraft, the wash from the propeller wrapping her coattails around her. 

Nada and I departed the house at the inhumane hour of 4:30 AM. The traffic was light on the way into Alamosa and before long, we arrived at the airport. There was a brief waiting period and then we (the 4 passengers, including myself) began moving through the security line. I, of course, got the “random” security check that resulted in a full pat down and my bag being rifled through. We began the boarding process which took all of 2 minutes. The aircraft was small but very comfortable, the seats reclining and swiveling according to the passenger’s preference. 

Flying over the East Range was beautiful. The window was rather icy, hence the slight blur.

The sunrise viewed from 15,000 feet was stunning. Mountains and valleys still hid in shadow as the first ray of dawn crept across the plains. As we soared over Blanca and the Crestone Needles, my heart gave a leap. Everything was so beautiful! 

After hitting some very rough air currents, we touched down in Denver. Ah, how I love a familiar airport! The concourses were relatively empty and gathering my suitcase from claim 1 was a rather enjoyable experience.

Knowing the length of my layover in Denver (12.5 hours), I booked a room at the Hyatt Place- a 22 minute drive from the airport. The shuttle arrived in decent time and due to my lack of attention to detail, I ended up taking the Hyatt House shuttle instead. Yes, it was a rare moment in my life. The Hyatt Place sent a shuttle round to collect me and before long I arrived at the correct hotel. Because I had booked online, check-in was a breeze and I soon, I was shown to my second story suite. 

I was rather impressed with my suite and the service.
A hot breakfast was a welcome respite.

After a hearty breakfast, the lack of sleep finally caught up with me and as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was sound asleep. My alarm jolted me awake at 4:40 PM and I used the extra time to repack my suitcase and prepare for my upcoming flight. At 5:37 PM, I hurried down to the lobby and checked out of my room. My shuttle driver efficiently loaded my suitcase and soon we were speeding towards DIA. 

Unfortunately, I did not spot the Illuminati or any aliens. Such a disappointment.

Utilizing the curbside check-in for my suitcase, I made quick work of the security lines. The train deposited me at the C concourse and I went in search of a light supper. I decided on the Timberline Grill and sampled their French Onion soup paired with a house salad.

I must sign off now as boarding begins in a few moments. See you in Detroit!

Advertisements

San Luis Valley, Tuesday 

This morning dawned with a skiff of snow blanketing the valley floor. Soon, the sounds of people preparing for the day greeted my ears. Alyssa and I planned to be at the Sunflour at 7 AM for breakfast before Alyssa was expected at work. As we walked through the door, the warm, familiar scent of bread welcomed us. I chose to eat a delectable breakfast burrito for my meal. After eating, Alyssa left for work and I meandered to the kitchen where I visited with Rhoda for the better part of an hour. Oh how I’ve missed her!

Around 9:30 AM, I ventured to Matt and Viv’s home. Over coffee, we talked about boarding, relationships, books, and more. Truly, a lovely morning!

The Windsor dining room. Simply remarkable!

At 11:30 AM, Lizzie and I met at the Windsor in Del Norte for lunch. The focacia bread was delightful-especially when paired with the lightly salted butter. We both ordered grilled salmon salads that, in a addition to the fish, contained walnuts, feta cheese, and was topped with an oil based berry dressing. Over several cups of coffee, we caught up on each other’s lives, shed tears, and laughed the better part of the meal. After lunch, we traversed to Lizzie’s workplace, the Columbine.  Marsha was arranging flowers and while she worked, we conversed for a good while. A highlight of my day! 

An approximation of the weather at Wolf Creek. I truly love boarding, but wind can make the most diehard boarder question their commitment.

I feel as though I should address the lack boarding content in this post. All last evening, I had been checking the weather reports, webcams, and snow report for Wolf Creek. The forecast was not promising. Heavy snowfall, cold temperatures, and the biggest problem- 20 mph wind with gusts up to 50 mph. All of the above mentioned- combined with the treacherous pass, made staying in the Valley seem like the right decison. I also have reason to believe that I would have been disappointed, as yesterday was truly incredible. Although it pained me to be so close to heaven on earth, I remained resolute with my decision.

When I returned to Mike’s, I packaged my snowboard and most of my gear in preparation for shipping it from Monte Vista later in the afternoon. Jace and I drove to Monte, where we visited the Post Office. After shipping my board bag, we stopped in at Big R to look for a metal container for Nada. Not finding what we searched for, we exited the building; the “country feel” clinging resolutely to my person. Dairy Queen was our next stop on the journey; ice cream was purchased and then we were homeward bound. 

The Sangre De Cristos at twilight.

A flurry of activity ensued as we prepared to depart for Mark’s. Supper was set for 6:30 PM with Mike bringing Pizza Hut carryout. Mealtime was an enjoyable affair with plenty of animated conversation and hearty laughter.

All too soon, the time of parting arrived. Now, let’s just say I’m not okay with goodbyes.  My heart felt heavy and my throat was oddly constricted as I bid farewell to my family. Hugs, well wishes, and yes, tears, all made for an emotional evening for me. Later at Mike’s as I finished my final preparations for departure, I felt more settled in knowing this High Valley country holds my heart.

Wolf Creek- Powder Days

Treasure Stoke chairlift…the Alberta face lies directly ahead.

Sorry about the previous post. I hit the wrong button and it sent the post before I was finished… onto better subjects.

I had the rare luxury of sleeping in this morning until 8:30 AM. When I finally awakened for good, I began the arduous process of gather my boarding gear and running equipment checks. Goggles, helmet, backpack, GoPro, batteries, camelbak-all systems were a go. After a hurried breakfast of cereal, we prepared to leave. Mike, Nada, and I dropped Drew and Jace off at a friend’s home and then we were en route to Wolf Creek Ski!

When passing through South Fork, the first surge of adrenaline rushed through my veins. Snow was lightly falling as we began the ascent up the pass and the further up the mountain we climbed, the snowfall and wind increased. By the time we arrived at Wolf Creek, visibility was lessening rapidly.

A view of the Raven chair from the parking lot

After we purchased our lift tickets, we hiked up to the Raven Lift-with service to the western side of the mountain. Mike showed us a neat cutoff through the trees, followed by a drop that I never really mastered. We stayed on Raven for a few runs, then traversed to the Bonanze lift. The trail we took rerouted us down toward the Treasure Stoke chairlift- service to the mid eastern side of the mountain. 

So it was a tad bit chilly at times…this is Exhibition Ridge viewed from the Treasure lift landing

Allow me to describe the conditions here briefly. At times, the visibility was less than 60 feet with high winds and heavy snowfall. By the time we would make a run down and return to the top, our tracks would be reduced to faint outlines in the snow. Truly, I have never seen such powder! It was effortless to float across the surface, the powder flying up in sheets around our boards. I got sidetracked again…

The purple highlighted trails were some of the runs we made today.

The Treasure lift services some of my favorite terrain. Home to steeps, fast groomers, and unparalleled glades, the terrain is quite varied and makes an excellent playground. Today, with the sub par visibility, the three of us stuck together on trails we were comfortable and familiar with . Once we would drop down from the ridge and the howling wind, we could see a bit more clearly. Throughout the day, we had ridden quite a few different trails that spanned the mountain. A few of my favorites were the Patina Glades, Rockin Robin, and Crow’s Nest. The tree riding, as always, was fantastic! 

Around noon, we took a break and ate lunches that consisted of Subway sandwiches and also, in my case, crushed cheezits (the result of a few tumbles). As the day wore on, fatigue set in and taking it easy seemed like a good choice. On the last run of the day, Mike and I raced to the base of Raven and, after narrowly avoiding some skiers, I pulled ahead by a luck alone. A great finish to a great day! 

As we dusted our boards off and pulled icicles out of our gear, I realized how lucky I am to have an aunt and uncle who would take time off to go boarding with me. Just a rather humbling thought…

On our drive back, we picked up the boys and listened to recaps of their days. Snowboards, backpacks, and other gear was removed from the vehicle and set in front of the fire to dry after we arrived back at home. I showered and took a power nap before we all journeyed to Mark’s for chicken pot pie soup, fluffly biscuits, and homemade donuts with coffee. The roaring fire soon lulled the boys into a pre sleep state and Mike and Nada departed for the house, while Alyssa and I made our traditional evening drive to Sonic. It was a low key evening-for which, I am quite grateful. I bid thee all a good night…

 

Another day in Paradise, Sunday

The Sangre De Cristos (aka the East Range)

Breakfast today consisted of delicious “lil smokies”, fresh blueberry muffins, coffee, and juice-followed by a dash to prepare for church. At church, we listened to an excellent message by Delbert, followed by a hearty lunch of lasagna, garlic toast, salad, and fresh strawberries over brownies and ice cream. A brief food coma ensued and before long, the boys’ energy had returned. I finished scraping down the snowboards and did a little tuning on mine. Gary Dirks had a mission report on Belize for the evening service and then the youth elected to go to Frank’s for the evening. 

So much has happened in the week since my Baker City post! 

The obvious things:

  • Anthony Lakes
  • Visiting Uncle Marshall’s
  • KAT boarding at Keystone
  • A Basin- Land of the Giants
  • The hostel
  • Breckenridge 
  • Center, Colorado 

The not so obvious:

  • Getting out of my comfort zone 
  • Being terrified on the mountain-especially at A Basin
  • Meeting some lovely people
  • Enjoying the solitude
  • Thinking through life 

Native Americans of old used to embark on vision quests to find their symbolic spirit animals and to find direction for their lives. These quests would last for days of fasting, reflection, and deep meditation. In a way, I feel as though I am on my vison quest. Honestly, when I embarked on this Odyssey, I was hoping to find Enlightenment along the way. In a way, I already have, although I think there’s more. Some of the decisions I was facing at home have fallen into perspective and the petty concerns have all but faded away. Sometimes, we just need a reality check to prioritize our lives. I know this may sound cliché, but when I am in the mountains, surrounded by God’s majestic creation, my mind seems to clarify. 

Truly, I am a different person than I was when I departed Detroit 12 days ago. The people’s lives who have briefly entertwined with mine, overcoming personal fears, and stepping far beyond my comfort zone, have all broadened my perspective-for this, I am thankful and blessed beyond measure.

Recuperation, Saturday 


The sun rose before 7 AM this morning, and along with it came the sounds of a new day. Thankfully, my head had mostly recovered, although I was feeling a bit exhausted yet. I decided to stay close to home and take it easy whilst catching up on laundry, sleep, and inventory of my gear. In addition, I needed to wax my board in preparation for Monday’s trek to Wolf Creek. Nada and I visited for a while and caught up on each other’s lives while Mike and the boys headed to hockey. 

Around 2:30 PM, I drove into Monte Vista to resupply my dwindling cosmetics and to make a quick stop at the Sunflour Café (my former place of employment). Rhoda and Mark were both there when I arrived. It was so good to reconnect with them! After a delectable slice of White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake, I got to tour the renovated kitchen. It did make me quite lonesome, I’ll admit. 
When I returned home, I began the process of waxing mine and Mike’s snowboards. I applied the wax to the boards and ironed it in, repairing damage as I went. To let the wax bond to the base of the boards, I would allow them to sit overnight.

Mark, Rhoda, and Alyssa, joined us for a fantastic meal of disco and various toppings, an apple salad, and brownies with chocolate sauce and ice cream. We sat around the table enjoying each other’s company while the conversation flowed freely. 

There was to be a pallet fire later in the evening with the Center youth. So after darkness had fallen over the valley, Alyssa and I left for school where we met up with the rest of the youth. We piled into various trucks and soon thereafter, departed for the foothills. A thin layer of clouds obscured the stars from view, as we wound along the twisting roads that soon shrank into a 2 wheel track. Higher and higher on the hillside the vehicals climbed until at last, we arrived in a sheltered cove. The boys made quick work of unloading the pallets and setting them ablaze, the heat soon pushing back the cold air. A few of us hiked up to the ridge surrounding the cove and settled in amongst the rocks, content to watch the fire from above. The valley lay to our left-yardlights glittering like fallen stars in the indigo night. All too soon, we returned to school-only to scatter like thieves in the night.

 And thus, another day passed.

Arapahoe Basin, Friday

After a hurried breakfast of oatmeal and fresh fruit at the Inn, I had a brisk walk to catch the 8:20 bus from Breckenridge Station to Arapahoe Basin (A Basin). The ticket line moved fast and before I knew it, I had arrived at the base of the Lenawee chairlift after riding up on the Black Mountain Express. Until mid morning, the conditions were a little less than desirable. A 15 mph wind paired with constant snowfall brought the temperature to a brisk 8 degrees. Around noon, the heavy clouds parted slightly and, for the first time, I could see the mountains encompassing us.

Soaring peaks surrounded the basin on 3 sides, punctuated by glades of pines and the long scars of the chairlifts. The infamous East Wall dominated the resort- towering over 13,000 above sea level on my left; the world renowned Pallavinci Chutes to my right. Every time I gazed at the East Wall, I felt cold stab of fear in my heart. Sheer cliffs and slopes angled over 50 degrees have added A Basin to some of Colorado’s most sought after extreme terrain. 

The purple routes are miscellaneous runs I liked. The red highlighted route is the Land of the Giants and the Lower East Wall run.

Due to frigid temperatures and moderate winds, I took a break in the warming hut off the Norway Lift. I had spent most of the morning riding the Norway Face and Knolls before breaking for lunch. My lunch today consisted of a rather stale Starbucks bagel that I had purchased last evening. Following lunch, I made the traverse from the Lenawee lift, over to Cornice Run where an 8-10 foot drop takes you down onto the West Wall. I made that run several times, enjoying the moment of flight before falling prey to earth’s gravity once more. The near constant snowfall kept the runs nicely covered with light, airy powder. 

Below the drop ahead is the experts only, “Land of the Giants”

As the day wore on, my gaze kept shifting to the lower portion of the East Wall. I had seen a few skiers and snowboarders brave the Land of the Giants (a rock and ice filled obstacle course) before arcing gracefully across the Lower East Wall and finally dropping down onto Wrangler. In a burst of adrenaline, I strapped in and rode Humbug to the East Wall gates. Before me lay a field of drops, ice chunks, exposed rock faces, and chutes-affectionately named Land of the Giants. As gravity pulled me downward, I realized the enormity of the situation. The field looked a lot longer from the gate than it had from the lift but before I knew what was happening, muscle memory took over. Short, choppy carves for the initial descent, then deep carves around rocks and ice, followed by a straightline across the Lower East Wall. For the finale, a descent through some moderate glades and a smooth traverse onto Wrangler completed the exhilarating run.

And then, reality struck in the form of a migraine. It happened just after my run through the Giants, my vision starting to change-everything becoming unbearably bright. Knowing what was happening, I headed down to the lodge where I rested with my eyes covered until the bus back to Breckenridge arrived. I downed some medication and dozed off on the bus. Although my day was cut short, I felt quite content with how the day had gone (albiet the feeling came later.)

Oh Pac-Man, my old friend

Alyssa, who hails from Center, had driven from the San Luis Valley to Breckenridge to meet up for supper and then to drive us both back to the Valley. Downstairs at Eric’s was our chosen meeting place and I walked there straight from Breck Station. After we said our hellos, we ordered beer batterd onion rings and caught up on each other’s lives. Soon, my Garbage pizza with garlic crust arrived, as did Alyssas’s Bacon and Green Chili pizza. Oh, how I love that pizza! We made quick work of our food, paid, and headed out to the shops along Main. It had been snowing intermittently throughout the day and toward evening, the snowfall increased; we decided to leave, but not before a stop at the beloved Stephen C. West Ice Arena. 

As we walked through the double doors, a wave of nostalgia hit me. The familiar scent of the rubber floor mats and hockey bags was reminiscent of days gone by. 

When I revisit those memories, I am sitting in the cold bleachers watching a hockey game. Below me, players in silver and purple cut across the ice in an undulating rythym in pursuit of the puck. I can hear the clank of a cowbell as a woman cheers on her husband; the slash of sticks and the buzzer signaling the end of the period. The memories shift and my family skates along hand in hand, laughing over a long forgotten joke. Why is it, that here at the rink, I feel so close to my Dad? Maybe, it is because when I walk the same corridors as he did- I feel an echo of the past. 

The road conditions had not improved much as we drove out of the city limits. We took the pass slowly, not wanting to lose control of Alyssa’s VW Beatle. Without incident, we reached Salida where we stopped for coffee at McDonald’s. After we got our drinks at the drive-thru, we realized we had a major problem. The driver’s side window was stuck wide open. Something had caught in the door and prevented the window from rolling up. Mind you, it was 14 degrees outside and we were yet an hour from home. So, over to Walmart we drove. After a dash inside to find plastic sheeting and duct tape, we sealed off the door as best we could and headed towards home. With only a few minor adjustments, we soon found ourselves speeding along southbound 285. Honestly, I was rather impressed with our aerodynamically sound plastic/taping job. It was no small relief though, as we pulled into Mike and Nada’s driveway. Before long, Mike’s arrived home from Mark’s and the house was filled with mirth as I recounted our latest adventure. All too soon, the clock hands crept toward midnight and everyone retired for the night. 

Well, that was fun

So, on my last update, I was riding the bus to Keystone. I bought my lift pass a few days ago, so that allowed me to go straight to the River Run Gondola. The gondola carried us up to Dercum Mountain where you have the option to either continue on to the North Peak and the back bowls, or you can stay on the front side of the resort. I opted to continue back towards the North Peak and after a while of trail/lift hopping, I arrived. From Dercum, I mostly lost track of trail signs but here is a vague idea of where I was most of the day.

The red routes are runs that I happened to enjoy. The purple route indicates the snowcat shuttle and the hike along the Puma Bowl Ridge.

Once I arrived at the North Peak, I joined an EpicMix (the Vail resort system of tracking runs, vertical feet, etc.) Challenge. The challenge was to accrue 29,035 vertical feet in one day at a single resort. So off I went! Determined to complete the challenge, I sought out the steep and deep runs. Thankfully, there was about 3-5 inches of fresh powder blanketing the mountain, so that was a nice reprieve on the groomers.

The snowcat shuttle. The yellow basket holds skies and boards. If you look through the cab, you can see the heated main cabin that can seat 12 people.

Around 11:30 AM, I managed to coincide my run with the arrival of the snowcat shuttle at the North Peak. The shuttle ferries skiers and boarders a mile up to Wapiti Peak, where you can drop into either the North or South Bowls. I was the first to queue for the shuttle, so I got to ride in the heated cab with the driver. Once we got talking, we figured out that both of us knew where Anthony Lakes was! Turns out, the driver was from Portland. Who knew.

The desolate, windswept ridge joining the North and South Bowls. Admittedly, the weather could have been marginally better, but any day on the snow is a good day. Elevation: 12,354 ft.

Once we arrived near Wapiti Peak, the shuttle stopped and we gathered our gear. I chose the South (Puma) Bowl while the others from the shuttle had chosen the North Bowl. Solo once more, I hiked 1/2 a mile to the drop-in line where I felt, for a moment, as though I was suspended between heaven and earth. After strapping in and tightening my pack, I sighed a prayer and turned my board downward. What ensued next was pure, undiluted joy. The powder flew up in walls around me as I flew down the Wombat Chutes, throwing deep carves into the pristine snow. All too soon, the terrain started to flatten out, forcing me to traverse a catwalk down to the Outback Express chairlift.
In my joy following my descent through the Puma Bowl, I had forgotten all about lunch. Deciding it was no longer worth it to stop, I continued building on my EpicMix challenge. On my last run, I had boarded 31,000 vertical feet-effectively completing the challenge. I was completely exhausted. Truthfully, I got on the Swan Mountain Flyer bus and rode an extra 20 minutes before I could summon the energy to stumble off at Breck Station.

Once back at the Inn, I showered and took a power nap before making my way down to Michael’s Italian Restaurant along Main Street. The food was fantastic!

Baked tortellini and shrimp in a white cream sauce, garnished with roasted pine nuts. Positively delicious.

Feeling the need for caffeine, I meandered over to Starbucks and ordered a hot Caramel Macchiato- which I then savored on my trek back to the Inn. Tonight, it’s a happening place. Travelers from around the world congregate at the dining room table, in the overstuffed armchairs by the fire, and in the commons area off the living room. Everyone is recounting their day, the stories growing taller by the minute. I dislike that my stay here grows short for I am growing rather fond of this “home.”

Tomorrow, the plan is to board Arapahoe Basin (aka “The Legend”) starting at 9:15 AM. I bid thee all a good night!