Sunny and Dry

IMG_1159Colorado is in some sort of crazy weather pattern.  As nasty, cold and snowy as it has been back east, we have been ridiculously warm and dry.  We enjoyed the sunshine tremendously as we sat in the bleachers watching the Alpine World Championships.  Vitamin D, anyone?

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Truly fab and preferable to shivering, toes frozen, next to a race hill during a blizzard.  Been there, lived that.

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Now that the ski racing world has left our valley, we look around and notice that the snow is melting away and leaving us with brown dirt everywhere, rather than the pristine white we love so much during the winter months.  The bit of snow we got over the last couple of days was just a tease.  The sun is back, melting it all away.  We look at Boston and think, we’ve got use for all that snow, send it this way!

An up-side to all this warm sunshine and dirt:  maybe we’ll get to stay here this summer.  Typically, I start to get a little cabin fever (or is it valley fever?) as we slog our way through March.  By that point, I’m over winter, the tourists, the dirty car, the muddy boots and wet floors.  My better judgment goes out the window and I start to plan a whole bunch of trips for the summer.  I map out travels to the beach, the lake, anywhere that feels better than the end of winter here. By June, I always regret that I scheduled all those trips away from here.

Memories of Summers Past in Our Lovely State

Memories of Summers Past in Our Lovely State

Summer in Vail is pretty spectacular:  warm days, chilly nights, biking, hiking, fishing, golfing, concerts, evenings on the deck.  Let’s hope that this streak of warm, sunny days is enough to hold my March madness at bay.

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Doing Crazy

I forget how weird we are. At dinner the other night, our friends in Denver were remarking, again, on the monumental choice we made by moving to the Valley four years ago.  You’ve heard about people who sell everything and become RV nomads, with kids in-tow?  Or the executive who, after getting out of the slammer for insider trading, is now happily mowing lawns in New Jersey?  To the folks who knew us way-back-when, we’re like that.  We might as well be living in a shack on a Chilean beach, our hair in dreads.


shack-164044_1280Surf Shack Equivalent to Our Mountain Life


Flashback to 2010.  We lived in Denver in a suburban McMansion.  I had a high-powered, high-stress career.  My husband had a successful consulting business.  My kid, in 6th grade, was fairly normal.  He loved sports.  His two main passions were ski racing and lacrosse, and he was drowning in one of Colorado’s best private schools.  Balancing his already demanding training and travel schedule with the aggressive curriculum was next to impossible for him.  Our choices seemed to be to take him out of racing, his true love, so that he could focus his energy on surviving school, or to move him to Vail where the ski academy would let him continue to race in a more supportive environment.

We couldn’t take away his true love.  We jumped, with both feet.  There was no halfway.  We enrolled him in Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy.  At the time, it had four classrooms crammed into a corner of a middle school in Minturn, Colorado.  He was ecstatic.  We were terrified.  Were we letting our kid become a ski bum?  Had we destroyed his future by over-indulging him in pursuit of a nearly impossible dream?

Our friends and colleagues in Denver looked at us in horror when we shared our news.  What the hell were we thinking?  Vail is where they have their vacation homes.  They come up for a weekend here and there.  Do people actually live there?  Can they converse?  Do they have all their teeth?  Yes, yes, and mostly.

We settled into a community of people who were as certifiable as we were.  Some even crazier.  Some moved half of their family here, one parent in Vail and the other back east, making the money.  Some gave up their professional jobs in Elsewhere, USA and became ski instructors and bus drivers so that their kids could live here and pursue their passions.  Some, like us, teeter between Denver and here.


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Together, we live a vagabond life in the winter, following the race circuit, dragging around tuning benches and six pairs of skis, standing on the side of a mountain in a blizzard watching the kids battle the hill.  In the summer, we send them off to places like Oregon, Chile and New Zealand to continue to ski.  Living in Weirdo Land, I forget how strange we are, until we see our friends from Before and they say things like “monumental choice” when referring to our decision to move here.

We gave up a lot, but we also got a lot.  We got a kid who found his right place in the world.  We got a family that spends time together and shares experiences that most people don’t even dream about.  And, big bonus, we got to live in a place that is spectacularly beautiful.

Yes, we’re weird. And it’s all good.

 DSCN0210Ski Bum or Beach Bum? Same Difference.


Jolly Ole Extreme Limits

How did you spend Christmas this year?  The Valley’s Christmas present was day after day of really nice snow, and we headed to Beaver Creek to play in it for a few hours.  Eventually, our kid took us over to the Stone Creek Chutes.  You powder hounds will recognize this as the extreme terrain that runs next to Rose Bowl.  Steep, with tight trees and deep snow, it is beautiful and, I would guess, never crowded.  I’m guessing because I had never skied it before, and because, during our somewhat-longer-than-normal visit, we didn’t see another soul.

I have skied steep and deep, and trees, and chutes.  Rob and I can get through just about anything, perhaps not with grace, but we can do it.  But on Thursday, we found our limits.

My ski popped off immediately after I dropped into the chutes.  Fortunately, my kid was just below and rescued me — I had a tough time just standing up, let alone getting the ski back on.  Undeterred (well, we had no choice but to continue down — once you’re in, there’s no other way out), we continued to make our way.  I got myself stuck in amongst a bunch of trees.  As I searched for an escape, I heard my boys talking.  Ok, so one was talking, the other was sort of barking that I needed to get over there to help.  Ha!  I could barely move.  How did they think I could maneuver my way to where they were?

Worried that someone was hurt, I shimmied through some aspens and subsequently tumbled/rolled/slid down the hill a few feet, losing another ski in the process. I could see the binding sticking up just 15 feet above.  Trouble was, I couldn’t move without my ski-less leg sinking down into the oblivion of snow below me.  There I stood.  Everyone seemed to be ok.  Apparently Rob had taken a tumble as well and was having some trouble getting his skis back under him.  Riley managed to climb up, get him re-situated, and guided him to the bottom.  He yelled back telling me to stay put, he would come back around and get my ski.

There I stood on the snow-covered hillside.  All was still and quiet, other than the giant snowflakes falling around me.  Peaceful.  Beautiful.  And, my mom-brain muttered, potentially deadly.  Mom-brain can go from this-is-fun to this-can-kill-you in about a half a second.  But I reminded Mom-brain that all was well, plus my phone had coverage back there and, worst case, ski patrol would eventually find me.  Riley, sweet boy, phoned from the lift:  “Are you ok?  I’m heading back up.”  Good grief. I felt sorta stupid, but proud of my growing-up kid.  He was awesome — calm, knowledgeable, kind. He didn’t once make fun of how horribly inept Rob and I were.

The next day, we returned to Beaver Creek.  Riley made laps on Stone Creek Chutes with his friend, looking like this (you can’t see the smile but it’s in there):

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Rob and I stayed out of the chutes, looking like this:

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all the while trying not to think of our baby careening through the trees and jumping off of cliffs on that beautiful (and, Mom-brain thinks, danger-laden) snowy mountain side.  We all have our limits.  I’m pretty sure Rob and I found ours.  Riley is still pushing his, smiling all the way.

Where Else Would We Be?

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Surefoot Holiday Classic race at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs last night. We stood with friends in the side-blown, ice-pelleted darkness and watched 90 “men” fight down a slalom course that developed into a feet-high rutted luge adventure. Those who survived the first run got to do it again. I think the athletes had fun. Lifetime memories.

The Goose Is Getting Fat

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Living in a resort town, you would think that we get the Christmas bug early. Vail’s lights are up well before Thanksgiving (maybe they never take them down, now that I think about it) and Santa comes to Beaver Creek the Friday after Turkey Day to help kick off the season. He and a few of his elves have even been known to parachute into Copper Mountain’s village at night, complete with twinkling beacons so we can see them in the frozen sky.

And yet, every year since we have lived here, Christmas has a way of sneaking up on me. What is it about this place? Maybe because it gets dark really early, so in the evenings I just want to curl up on the couch rather than make Christmas cookies. Today, as my cart bumped past couples and families stocking up for their ski vacations at the grocery store, it hit me. Christmas is fast approaching and I’d better get my jingle bell groove on.

You can’t miss our welcomed visitors in the grocery aisles, poor saps. Their distinguishing characteristics include:

  • a full family shopping together (this never happens in non-vacation life — think about it)
  • extended relations and/or friends trying to decide what kind of coffee to buy (“I won’t drink Starbucks, it’s against everything I believe in,” as his friend looks at him with disgust “Seriously?”)
  • carts full of everything necessary to make a pancake breakfast, including a spatula
  • looks of complete defeat, accompanied by, “I cannot find the olives anywhere
  • women in mink coats pushing grocery carts down the cereal aisle (Yes. It’s true.)

As we get closer to December 25, we who live here begin to drive a little more defensively, particularly in those pesky round-a-bouts which befuddle our visitors. Generally, drivers who are new to this grand invention of traffic control either careen around them as fast as possible while their passengers assume the head covered tornado drill position (“Hang On!”); or they slowly creep around it a few times, hazard lights flashing, while other cars dodge in front and behind. We also find ourselves looking the other direction as we back out of our parking spaces because the vacationers can’t seem to get the fact that it is a one-way lot. They cluelessly drive past, going the wrong way in their rented Suburban, Starbucks in one hand and iPhone in the other.

But we love having them here, even if we do have to adjust our shopping schedules and our expectations for the availability of parking spaces. They bring the holiday spirit with them. They remind us that we get to live in a place where other people would rather be. They have counted down the months, weeks, days, hours and minutes until they could breathe our thin air.

So, as we duck our heads to avoid the skis swinging past us in the Village, let us all be grateful for the reminder that the holidays are upon us and we are pretty fortunate to get to spend them in such a fabulous place. (And don’t forget to pick up some eggs and bread before the shelves are bare.) Cheers!


Photo from Amazon.com, American Greetings Christmas Jumbo Holiday Gift Bag, Santa Parachuting. Yes, this can be yours for just $11.09 with Amazon One-Click(R). Act now!


In Snowy Love

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The snow is here.  Smiley Face.

Starting in August (no joke — I have a friend’s Facebook post to prove it), people around here anxiously await the arrival of snow, crossing all of their fingers and toes for huge quantities of the fluffy, white stuff.  They love it so much, they give it cute nicknames like POW POW and gnar gnar.   Champagne powder.  White gold.

Growing up in the mid-west, I hated winter.  It equated with a grey, damp cold, the sun hiding behind thick blankets of clouds for weeks on-end.  Every so often, I had to chisel through inches-thick ice to get into my car.  Yuck.  I was not a skier.  I was not a snowmobiler.  There was nothing to redeem the downer of all seasons.  In college, my roommates and I escaped the nasty weather and went to Florida for spring break.  Even though it was 60 and cloudy, we stripped down to our suits, our white skin blinding the coat-wearing retirees walking the beach.

Upon moving to Colorado, I found that winter could be something other than horrible.  For one thing, the sun shines more in the month of January here than it does the entire year in Michigan.  Even if it snows for a couple of days, warm rays break out afterward and make the whole white wonderland sparkle.  Once exposed to skiing and snowshoeing, winter took on a whole new meaning.  I started to like it.  I may still have some preference for summer, but a blue sky day skiing powder is definitely up there on my list of the best ways to spend a day.

And so, our warm and dry Autumn this year was a little concerning.  As road bikers gleefully pedaled along Highway 6, I heard myself saying some surprising things like, “Boy, when are we going to get a good storm?”  And then the cold came.  Ridiculous, nasty, January-worthy, single-digit, brrrr.  That cold was not welcome.  Not the sort of storm I had in mind.  And then the snow came.  And it came in feet.  Just in time for Vail’s opening weekend.

Sunday was a rare day off from race training for my son, and we headed out for some quality family time on the slopes.  Riding up the chairlift between my two guys, the snowflakes fell thick and heavy and plentiful.  Heading down the hill, the Kid ducked into the trees and as my hubby and I found our ski legs again, a grin spread across my buff-bundled face.

The snow is here!

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Extreme Just Isn’t Enough

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At a surprise party for a good friend this weekend, we chatted with a younger guy who has small children and heard his story about a road biking accident that side-lined him for a year due to a messed up shoulder.  He told us that, before the crash, he had been pretty intense in his riding, getting up at 3:30 to bike 60 miles before work while his infant daughter was still waking up every two hours in the night.  He recognizes now that he had been pretty dumb.  Training loses much of its effectiveness if you’re not getting enough rest, and I’m guessing the rate of injury also goes up significantly.

I wondered why he felt compelled to ride in the middle of the night on no sleep with a baby girl at home. He is a software engineer, not a professional road biker.  What is it that made him decide that a twenty mile ride after work wasn’t enough?  Then I thought of a group of mountain bikers my hubby and I encountered on a dusty road outside of Vail a few weeks ago.  They were fighting up the hill, some doing better than others, but these were not elite athletes.  The couple in the back looked miserable, angry and ready to keel over.  What made them think this was a good thing to be doing?   We have plenty of good trails around here that are better suited to their ability level.  I’m noticing a trend not just in our Happy Valley, but in other parts of the country:  people pushing themselves in activities beyond the point of rationality.

I admire people for testing their limits and living life to the fullest, but it feels like a lot of folks have taken it just a bit too far. Have the cocaine addicts of the 80’s raised a generation of adrenalin junkies?  Have we become such a competitive society that working out in the gym just isn’t good enough, and instead it has to be cross-fit intense six days a week?

It used to be that the average population participated in biking, hiking, climbing and other sport endeavors as fun activities.  This was a way to get outside, get some exercise and enjoy our world.  Every so often, someone would become a “mountain climber” rather than a mere hiker, and they would scale the more difficult routes up 14er’s with crampons and pick axes.  The more adventurous few within that group went on to climb Everest.  Today, hiking has been taken to new extremes.  It’s not enough to scale all of Colorado’s highest peaks over a summer.  They climb four of them in two days, running up the rocky slopes.

For runners, it’s no longer a sufficient challenge to run a marathon.  Now it has to be an “ultra” marathon of 100 miles.  Through the mountains.  At night.

Alpine skiing is not just a fun day on the slopes.  People brag about skiing every extreme hill in the resort three times in one day.  Or hitting it hard, rope-drop to sun-down, skinning up from the bottom each run rather than riding the chair lift.  Yeeeeaaahhh Baaabbbyyy!  Or they head for the back country where the terrain is more “intense” and they risk their lives with increased avalanche danger.

People want to be Ninja Warriors, Cross Fitters and Mud Runners.

Live on the edge or don’t live at all.  Go extreme or go home.  Really?  Raising an athlete in this environment is a challenge.  We try to teach him to respect his body and its limits while pursuing excellence.  We find that our parents’ adages just don’t cut it.  “If Jenny jumped off a cliff, would you follow her?”  Here in the Vail Valley, the response is generally, “Hell, yes!”  Hmmmmm.  Let’s try that again.  . . .