Monday, January 31, 2011

Adventures in Steamboat

Ok, now I'm totally spoiled.

I've just returned from a most excellent long weekend in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  I had two great days skiing pow at Steamboat.  The snow was everything I'd always heard about, and more!

Look out - the Oregon girls have arrived in Steamboat!

Two years ago, when I first visited Steamboat, the snow was really hard and icy - just like what we have here in the Cascades. I was really disappointed. But on this trip, Steamboat redeemed itself big time! We got snow every day - the light, fluffy powdery type. And, after skiing in it, I now know why everyone makes such a big deal about the snow in the Rockies. It is absolutely wonderful!

Everyone is all smiles before our first day of skiing

My adventure began when I boarded a plane with five friends bound for Steamboat Springs. My friend Kim's sister, April, and her boyfriend, Howard, own a vacation home in Steamboat. Howard and April generously invited all of us to stay at their home for a long weekend. They didn't have to ask me twice - I never turn down a chance for a ski vacation!

Theresa is in powder heaven

The first day was spent getting settled, buying groceries, renting skis (we found it was much cheaper to rent demo skis in Steamboat instead of paying the airline's baggage fees) and, most important of all, buying wine! We stayed in a huge, beautiful vacation home right across the valley from the Steamboat ski area. This house had a awesome front-row view of Steamboat mountain from the living room window.  We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset, and after dark watched the lights of the grooming machines on the mountain, prepping the slopes for the following day.

Can Kim's smile be any bigger?

The next morning, we all suited up and headed for the slopes! It was a really cold day, and we had to dress differently than our normal Oregon skiwear (which is Gore-tex and more Gore-tex).  Instead of dressing for a warm(er), wet day, I had to prepare for cold and dry weather.  I put on all the layers I had and wore my warmest mittens. 

My assessment of the snow

We bought our lift tickets ($98 for a day ticket! Eeeek!!) and boarded Steamboat's gondola for a trip up to the slopes. Kim and I decided to take our group over to the Sunshine Express lift. We had mixed skiing abilities in our party, and remembered from our last trip that this area was a good place for skiers of all levels.

Love the Western themed signs

The slopes were graced with 7 inches of fluffy, new snow.  Us girls spent the morning, swooshing through some of the finest powder I've ever skied. It was pure heaven!  I felt like I was floating. The snow was so light, it flew up into our faces giving us all powder mustaches. Many whoops, woo-hoos, and shouts of glee could be heard in the vicinity of our gang.

Kim goin' for the face shot

Kim and I were planning to get the girls settled, and then go seek some black diamond runs. But were were having so much fun skiing with our friends that we ended up spending all morning making laps off the Sunshine Express lift.

Tamie and Theresa take a break from the action

But it was a really cold day, and soon our feet and faces were freezing. Our tummies were grumbling. It was time for a break to warm up and eat lunch. After consulting our trail map many times, we finally figured out the correct combination of ski trails and chairlifts that would get us back to the top of the gondola to meet up with April. Steamboat is a huge ski area, and unlike many places I've skied, there is no one run that will take you everywhere on the mountain. Finding your way is an exercise in navigation!

The girls head down a beautiful forested trail

After dropping some more cash in the cafeteria, it was time to head out again.  Vicky and April decided they'd had enough skiing and took the gondola back down to the base area.  Theresa and Tamie still wanted to ski, but not anything difficult, so they decided to buddy up.  This left Kim and I free to explore the steeps of Steamboat.  I really wanted to ski in Morningside Park, so I convinced Kim to head over there.

Kim and Vicky on the chairlift

Morningside Park is the "back side" of Steamboat.  There is lots of tree skiing and one lift to haul you out of there.  The visibility was a little tough at the top, but once we got down off the summit, and into the trees, things improved greatly.  The snow was really deep and not too chopped up.  I had fun ducking into the trees, but Kim being the saner of our duo, opted for the security of the trails.

Tamie and Theresa on the lift
After a few runs in Morningside Park, it was time for more exploration.  Kim and I tried a couple of runs off of the Storm Peak Express chair.  Kim wanted to head over to the Pony Express lift, but it was getting late, and Kim's legs were telling her she'd had enough, so we headed back to the top of the gondola to look for Tamie and Theresa. 

Lunchtime in the lodge

About the time we reached the gondola I got a message on my phone. The other two girls had decided to call it a day, and were on their way back to the base area.  Kim and I made one more run, and then Kim decided to join them.  I wasn't ready to quit, so I made a couple of laps on the Thunderhead Express chair.  About this time the sun came out, and I was treated to a wonderful view of the valley below.

Group photo at the top of the gondola

After a couple of runs, it was nearing 3:30 and the snow was getting really bumped up.  My legs didn't have it in them to keep mogul-hopping (and I wanted to save something for tomorrow) so I decided it was time to call it a day.

"Woo-hoo, I'm in Steamboat!"

But I wasn't going to ride the gondola down.  No way!  (Death before download, I say!)  So I consulted my trusty trail map (well worn by that time) and took the Valley View run from the top of the gondola all the way down to the base village.  The views were wonderful.  Of course, I just had to take a couple of "Kodak moment" breaks during my descent.

Lovely aspen trees

I met up with the girls at the base village, and we headed back to the house.  April and Howard's home has a nice hot tub on the deck.  April is such a good host, she shoveled all the snow off of the hot tub so it was ready for us when we arrived.  I had a good soak, a glass of wine, and watched the sunset cast a beautiful aplenglow on the mountain.  A perfect end to a great day!

My view as I head down towards Steamboat base area

And there was more to come.  A big storm was forecast to roll in overnight and this storm was supposed to drop a substantial amount of snow.  Winter storm warnings were being issued, and the Denver crowd was warned to drive up Friday night ahead of the storm.  Sitting in the hot tub that night, gazing at a clear, star-filled sky, it was hard to believe there would be a foot of snow by morning.

Steamboat's famous gondolas

But when we awoke the next morning, there was a thick white blanket on the ground.  The sky was overcast and the snow was coming down.  It looked like another good powder day.  But it was stormy and we knew it would be windy with poor visibility on the mountain.  But we had traveled here to ski, and ski we would!

Our view of the ski area from April and Howard's house

On this day, it was only Tamie, Kim and I that wanted to ski.  The other three girls opted to go snow shoeing (which sounded fun, but I love skiing too much and besides, it was a powder day).  When I went up to the ticket window to get my lift ticket, I was informed that three of the lifts weren't operating due to high winds.  I thought about it for a moment, and then gulped and gave the lady my credit card.  I hoped I was making the right decision and not wasting my money!

Day two found me in deep pow!

Tamie (wisely) decided to ski on her own, and not join Kim and I.  Kim wanted to try the runs off of the Pony Express lift, since we hadn't been there yet.  Luckily, that lift was not closed, so Kim and I consulted our trail map, planned our route, and pointed our skis towards the Pony Express.

Kim's hair turned white with frost

At the top of the lift, there was hardly any visibility.  The wind was blowing and snowing hard, and it was really foggy.  We chose a run, and let gravity take us downhill ("skiing by Braille" as I call it).  Once we got into the trees, the snow got really, really deep.  It was lots of fun to rip through!  Everyone around us was whooping and hollering.  We were all having a good time.  Kim and I had no idea where we were going, but we followed some of the other skiers, and ended up back at the lift.  Time for another trip up and more pow!

Beautiful frosted aspen branches

Kim and I had a most excellent morning, exploring the trails off the Pony Express.  The snow was fabulous and I skied my heart out.  The lift lines weren't too bad and we got used to the low visibility at the top.  But about 11:00, Tamie called to say she had stopped for lunch and if we wanted to meet her, she was at the top of the gondola.  Kim was getting tired, so we decided to head back that way.

April and Howard's wonderful house
Once again, Kim and I consulted the well-worn trail map to plan our route back.  But we got on the wrong lift, and it deposited us all the way on top of Storm Peak.  There was absolutely no visibility on the top of Storm Peak.  Again, we got out the map, and decided on a run that we thought would get us back to the lodge at the top of the gondola.  It was hard to see where we were going, but we headed off in the general direction of the run, and let gravity take us downhill.

Just chillin' after a hard day's skiing

The run we took was great!  It started out as a wide open bowl (as far as I could tell anyway) with wonderful pow.  It then led us into a nice glade.  Once we reached the trees, the visibility got better.  But we were in the middle of a forest, and didn't know which way to go.  I began to follow tracks from other skiers, thinking they had to lead somewhere.  We skied for quite awhile, and the forest didn't end.  By now Kim was getting tired and had to stop often. 

Spectacular sunset over Steamboat Springs

So there we were, lost in the trees of Steamboat!  Kim was really getting worried, and I must admit, I was a little concerned too.  I had no idea where we were, or where this treed glade led to.  But I decided to just keep skiing downhill.  We were in the middle of a ski resort, civilization couldn't be too far away!  Then we heard voices, and saw people skiing through the trees.  We followed the people, and lo and behold, they led us out of the forest and to the edge of a main run.  Yahoo!  Saved!  Kim and I skied down to a lift that we knew would take us to the lodge.  However, by the time we reached the lodge, over an hour had passed, and Tamie, probably tired of waiting for us, had headed down to the village.
Colorful evening sky

Poor Kim was totally shot after our little adventure, and decided her skiing was done for the day.  We had a bite to eat, and then Kim headed down to find Tamie.  I wanted to ski just a little bit longer, so I took a couple runs off of the Thunderhead lift.  But it didn't take long, and my legs let me know they were done.  So I found Valley View Run again, and had nice slow trip down to the bottom.

What a great couple days of skiing!  And Steamboat Springs is such a beautiful place.  I didn't want to leave.  April was staying in Steamboat for the month, and it was really tempting to extend my vacation a couple of days to keep her company.  But sadly, work and  home was calling, so I packed up on the fourth day, and bid the town goodbye. 

Thanks April and Howard, for inviting us to such a wonderful place.  I enjoyed skiing and hanging out with all you girls - Kim, Tamie, Vicky, Theresa, and April - it was lots of fun.  Let's do it again next year!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Favorite Ski Trail Names

Every ski area I know assigns a name to each of their trails.  There are lots of conventions used in naming runs.  Some are geographical, some are historical, some are named after famous persons, and some are totally unimaginative (take the bowls off of Mt. Hood Express at Meadows, One Bowl, Two Bowl, Three Bowl get the idea).  There are a lot of "strong" names, such as Thunderbird, Olympian, Powder Keg, and Show-off.  There are some silly names, which are usually green runs on the bunny hill (like Marshmallow and Buttercup).  And then there are some names that make you say "what were they thinking?" (For example, Dentist's Way)

Some ski trail names that rate among my favorites:  Chunky Swirly at Mt. Hood Meadows.  It's very fitting, because this run is usually bumped up and it trips up a lot of beginning and intermediate skiers.  You always see lots of bodies sprawled across it's slopes.  Oh Shoot at Mt. Hood Skibowl.  Although I've never actually skied this run, some day I want to!  And White Lightning at Schweitzer.  The name makes you feel super-fast as you blast down it's slopes. I like the run too, one of my favorite long steep trails.

But my two favorite trail names (so far) are..... (drumroll)....... number 2......

Wingles Wiggle at Timberline.  The name just makes you laugh!  And yes, it can be taken many ways. 

But my most favorite trail name is....... (another drumroll) ......

Kathy's Yard Sale at Schweitzer.  The first time I saw this trail sign, I almost died laughing.  Who hasn't done a yard sale at least once in their skiing lifetime?  I'm sure there's a great story behind this name, and someday I'd love to hear it!

Have any of you seen a great ski trail name?  Please comment on this post and let me know your favorite. Give me the name of the run and the ski area where it is located.

Happy skiing!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Powder Day

This ski season started out with some nice sunny bluebird days.  These days are nice for views and photo-taking.  But my favorite days to ski are powder days.  Powder days are usually stormy with low visibility.  But there is nothing better than shushing through fresh snow that is falling so fast it fills in the trail behind you.  First tracks every time!

New snow!  Happy, happy, happy!

Last Sunday, Kim and I arrived at Meadows to find it snowing and blowing.  There was already a foot of snow on the ground.  It was gonna be a good day!

Beautiful snowfall

Kim spent the morning with her daughter, so I headed for the bowls off of Mt. Hood Express.  The snow was knee-deep powder in some places.  I had the most excellent runs. 

The snow was really comin' down

It snowed heavily all morning, and the wind was blowing strong.  I went over to ride the Vista lift, and saw there wasn't a line.  After riding to the top, I found out why.  It was really, really windy and cold.  I headed back to MHX and the bowls.

Afternoon clearing at the Shooting Star lift

Kim put her daughter in an afternoon lesson, so she was free to ski with me.  We headed over to Shooting Star to check out their runs.  About this time, the snow let up and we even got a little bit of clearing.  Although it was nice to have the visibility, I would have loved to see more snow falling.

Kim tryin' the powder on Columbia

The snow was pretty tracked out by afternoon.  But we found little areas that still had powder pillows.  We skied down Apollo (and there were no snow snakes!) and then I got Kim to ski down Columbia.  The snow was good, although the lift ride up was a wee bit nippy.

Bottom of Heather Canyon

Heather Canyon was looking good.  I asked a couple guys on the lift what Heather was like and they said it was great.  I skied over to the edge of Twilight bowl and looked down.  The snow was cut up and a little bit bumpy, but it looked soft and totally skiable.  Kim was a little skeptical, but in the end, she decided to follow me into Heather.

The snow was great!  We had a good run down to the bottom of Moon Bowl.  Then we hit the runout to the lift.  It was a bunch of icy moguls.  Ugh! 

Kim trudging up the hill to the Heather lift

At the bottom of Heather, there is a long, flat runout and a small hill you need to climb in order to get to the lift.  To get up this hill, you have to tuck it before the bottom of the canyon, and scream across the runout as fast as you can.  I forgot that this was only the second time Kim had ever been into Heather Canyon and neglected to remind Kim about this.  So she ran out of momentum halfway up, and had to shuffle and pole the rest of  the way.  Ooops, sorry Kim!  Luckily she's still my friend.

It was a great day.  I skied lots of pow, and enjoyed every minute of it.  Good thing I got my powder fix, because the next weekend the weather did a total 180.  It was super warm and rainy for the entire weekend.  Ugh!  No skiing for me.  Guess I'm stuck looking at these photos and dreaming of another powder day. 


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Love Bus Rides Again!

During the months of January and February I look forward to Thursdays.  Every winter for the past 10 years, I've joined a midweek bus that travels up to Mt. Hood Meadows for a day of skiing.  I shuffle my work, sweet talk my bosses, and save up my vacation days to make this happen.  It is so worth it!

Passengers on the "Love" bus

If you ski, you probably know most ski resorts are crowded on weekends.  If you work, that's usually the only time available to get up on the mountain.  But if you can swing it, midweek ski days are the way to go.  Empty slopes, short or nonexistent lift lines, and lots of runs make it worth burning a vacation day.

Linda and Dixie, our "Bus Moms"

Dixie Love is the advisor for our bus.  We are the "Love" bus!  She's been running the Mt. Hood Meadows ski buses for many, many, many years.  Linda, Dixie's sidekick and friend, helps out with marketing, serving the food and drink, and ticketing passengers.  Dixie runs a tight ship (bus), but she does a wonderful job and we all love her.

Some of my bus friends - Linda, Linda, and Judy

Most of the people that ride the ski bus are retired.  There's a few lucky younger folks, like myself, that either have flexible work schedules, or take vacation days.  The retired people on the bus are amazing.  Most of them are super fit and good skiers.  Very inspiring!  I hope I'm still riding the bus and skiing every week when I'm in my sixties and seventies.

More bus friends, Doug and John

The other great thing about the ski bus is we're well fed.  Each week, the passengers take turns bringing food.  We have breakfast in the morning on the way up to the mountain, and snacks in the afternoon for the trip home.  Dixie brings coffee and hot water for tea to go with our breakfast, and offers pop with the afternoon snacks.  However, most of us bring our own liquid refreshment to enjoy on the ride home.  Bottles of wine are uncorked and passed around to share.  It's a merry atmosphere on the bus after a day of skiing.

Unusual cloud over Mt. Hood

The past week the weather was warm and rainy in town.  As the bus was heading to the mountain that morning, some of us were discussing the possibility of a rainy day skiing.  One man said the snow phone reported "heavy mist" (aka - rain).  It didn't look good.

More of the "Love Bus" gang
When we arrived and emerged from the bus, the first thing I noticed was the really warm temperatures.  Oh-oh this was definitely not good!  The mountain was obscured by a large foggy cloud.  Looked like rain.  I decided I wouldn't need all my warm layers, but I'd for sure need my most waterproof gear.

The "Love Bus" gang at lunch
I buddied up with some of my fellow "Love Bus" riders, Linda, Linda and Judy.  Yes, we have an abundance of "Linda's" on our bus.  I think we had six Lindas on board that day.  Maybe we should rename ourselves to the "Linda" bus!

Me and my shadow

The first run down, I realized the warm weather had softened the snow to a nice consistency.  It was totally skiable - very much like spring corn snow.  Maybe today wouldn't be so bad after all.  The clouds and "heavy mist" seemed to be abating.  About an hour later - to our happy amazement - the sun came out!  Spring skiing in January!  Who would've guessed?

Cool clouds form at the top of a run
I had my tele skis that day.  When skiing on my tele boards, I usually take several breaks per run to rest my burning quads.  But the ladies I was skiing with were die-hards.  They didn't stop much!  I wore myself out trying to keep up with them.  With no lift lines (the threat of rainy weather had scared everyone away and the place was a ghost town) there wasn't much opportunity for a break.

Look ma, no people!

Close to noon, my companions decided to head in for lunch.  By then, the snow was so nice, I decided to take another run or two.  On my next run, I found out the wonderful sunshine was not our friend anymore.  The sun was so warm that the snow was turning sticky and grabby.  It was really like spring skiing now!

A toast to a great day of skiing

So I went in for lunch to rest up and fortify myself.  I found most of the "Love Bus" crew gathered around a table in the upper floor of the lodge.  On most Thursdays, we have our pick of tables for lunch.  Another great benefit of mid-week skiing.

After lunch I really wanted to go back out and continue skiing, despite the sticky snow conditions. If the snow and weather conditions aren't good, some bus riders will stay in the lodge for the afternoon. But since I take a day off work to go skiing, it's got to be really bad before I'll do that. So I strapped on my skis and headed for the slopes.

The Love bus gang, enjoying apres-ski

And I had a great afternoon. I learned quickly that if I stayed on the runs in the shade, the snow was just fine. The crowds were even smaller in the afternoon, so there was never a line at any of the lifts.

Dixie and Lisa share a laugh

I saw the Meadows ski photographer set up on the Apollo run.  This run is an "easy" black diamond run, and would've been no problem had I been on my alpine skis.  But I had my tele skis that day, and I'm not real good on black runs yet with my teles.  I did want to get my picture taken doing some tele-turns, though, so against my better judgement, I headed down Apollo.

Apollo was all bumped up with moguls, as per usual.  My first run I was kind of nervous, made a couple of good turns at the top, and then made some terrible flailing turns.  I stopped next to the photographer and teasingly told him I was psyched out by his presence.  The photographer encouraged me to come back and try again, and said "just ski right by me - pretend like I'm not here."

Arrghh!!  Doug does his Captain Hook impression

So up I went, and traveled back down to the top of Apollo.  I sat at the top of the run, and let a large group of people ski by me.  I wanted the photographer to have a clear shot when I came skiing down.  Finally, the coast was clear.  I started down, making good turns, and trying to tune out the camera.  I got into a rhythm and the turns came easily.  The snow was still good, and slid effortlessly under my skis.  I was feelin' like a pro!  I swished up to the photographer, and yelled a "woo-hoo" as I passed by.

And then I'm not sure what happened.  I think it was another snow snake (I'm convinced they all hang out on Apollo!).  The next thing I knew, I was on my back, skis pointing uphill, in an uncontrolled slide.  That nice sun-warmed snow was really slippery, and I had a hard time swinging my skis around into a downhill position to stop myself.   When I finally arrested my slide, I looked up at the photographer and said "I hope you didn't get a picture of that!"   But of course he did, and when I looked at my photos online the next day, he had one shot taken right at the moment of impact.  The image caught all the snow flying up as my body hit the ground.  It was actually kind interesting.  But not interesting enough to buy!

Enjoying a little vino on the ride home

About 3:00, I'd had enough, and I decided to head into the lodge.  Most of the bus riders were gathered in the bar, enjoying a liquid libation after a day of skiing.  I joined my fellow bus-mates at a table.  The Linda's and Judy told me they'd witnessed my great fall as they were riding up the lift.  There are no secrets at Meadows!

Howard, our bus driver extraordinaire

Our bus driver is the best.  His name is Howard Hugger (yes, he fits right in with the "love" bus theme!)  Howard has been our driver for the past several years. He always helps load your skis into the bus, helps carry everyone's stuff, has the bus waiting at the front of the lodge and lays out our ski bags at the end of the day.  He gets us safely up the mountain and then home again.  And he is a really, really sweet man.

Tired, but happy, the "love" bus riders piled into their seats, broke out the wine, and enjoyed the trip home.  This is the very best part of riding the bus - not having to drive home! 

I'm so happy it's ski bus time again.  I had a great first day and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next seven Thursdays.  Here's to Dixie and the "love bus" crew!  Ride on!