Colorado Soul

You have to give credit to die hard skiers who are willing to get up at 4:00 AM or earlier to beat the traffic on a Saturday morning on I-70 West to get to their favorite ski area. Not really a problem during the week but as our group noticed the line of traffic coming up the mountain on Saturday, we admired the grit and determination of Colorado skiers to get their vertical. Not everyone has the opportunity to rent or own a place in the mountains and those who make the trek on Saturday morning instead of Friday night are to be admired.

After skiing for 7 days at all the EPIC areas, our group of 60+ age group guys were closing in on 300,000 vertical feet. Now to be clear, one guy raced for Dartmouth, one for Cornell, and one was the ski coach at Stowe for many years. These guys can ski for sure but Saturday morning there was a different feel to the trip seeing the new fluff of several inches in Silverthorne with the prospect of more at the top of the Continental Divide. As we put the rental truck in 4 wheel drive, we made our way up past Keystone and viewed people who were camping and starting their back country adventures along the road. Many of the staunch outdoor people of Colorado avoid the cost of a pass or lift ticket and enjoy paying for their own vertical with their own sweat and physical climbing effort. These are not the types who looked down on us while we were clomping in our ski boots at Beaver Creek after getting off the bus from the parking lot below.( They didn’t look down on us on the slopes though- that is our domain).

Working our way early to the parking lot, we were guided to a perfect place up front of a quickly filling lot next to” The Beach” where folks set up their tail gate parties ready for a sunny day in the Rockies on their day off. Our fearless leader had us up early to beat all the traffic and as we rode the first chair of the day, we were inspired by the grooming and the beauty of the morning. But what we did notice was that there was a spirit of comaraderie among the faithful that made the effort to get a close parking spot, and get on the lift as soon as it opened. Lots of “whoops” and ” yee haas” as the sunny day began. No frills at the lodge but what looked like a great skillet breakfast if you wanted to partake. Also lots of cool historical pictures adorning the walls. As we viewed the East Wall, we noticed tracks again of those who delighted in climbing for their vertical within the bounds of the ski area. We had a general tour of the area which provided a different skiing experience than we had all week. Yes there were some thin spots due to the seasonal lack of really deep snow but we successfully avoided core shots to our finely tuned skis. We are a little particular as to the tuning and waxing of our boards but most of the faithful up on top of the Continental Divide that day had no such concern. They made it here and they were going to enjoy every minute of it. Core shots to the bottom of the skis be damned.

Towards the end of the day, folks started to crank up the grills, pop the beers on the Beach and pull out lawn chairs in the parking lot. It was a festival atmosphere celebrating all that is good about skiing and making the effort to get to the mountains. These Colorado people work hard during the week and listening to their stories about how they got here from parts all over the country, you get the feeling that they came to ski. They work to ski. This was a priority in their relocation. The natives are just as zealous but they have a laid back attitude that is ….well….native I suppose.

Most of the areas on the EPIC Pass are resorts. There are a lot of tourists and folks who come to be seen. But up there on the top of the divide, there are no pretentious attitudes. Live and let live and ski to die are the mottos of the day. There are no condos, Starbucks, fur coats and boots, luxury restaurants and faux Alpine base villages.(Not that there is anything wrong with that- PC Pat!) Here is great skiing and basic needs. As we shamelessly changed our clothes at the end of the day and drank a beer in the sunny parking lot, we felt part of a larger group of fun seekers who week in and week out, seek the magic of the Rockies and the communal welcome of good turns on challenging terrain. As we made our way out of the pass at the end of the day, I felt a content, ” these are my people” feeling and reveled in the majestic views at the top of Loveland Pass. Folks- if you want the real spirit of skiing, go to Arapahoe Basin or A-Basin as it is described by the Colorado faithful. For me, a much better experience than most ski areas. Squeezing out every last flake of snow this season, I thank you for reading.

Old Friends – Familiar Haunts

photophotophotophotophoto Vail, Colorado was the very first major ski area I ever visited. Way back in high school, there was a trip and I was excited to ski the west. My dad thought it was great and that if I wanted to go, I should save my money that I was earning and put it towards the trip. Great gem of advice from my dad as usual. As a young teenager, it was exciting to get on a plane to Denver and take a bus with my friends to what I thought was heaven on earth, or so it was told to me. Rocky Mountain National Forest, Buffalo Bill’s Grave, the buffalo herd, the space like house that was used in Woody Allen’s movie “Sleeper” were all visible for the first time from the interstate and going over Loveland Pass( or through it- I forget if the tunnel was open at that time) and eventually up and down Vail pass was intoxicating. When you see the lights of Vail for the first time, it almost seems magical to a young guy and as we piled our gear into overcrowded Vail Village Inn, we hardly slept in anticipation of what would be a memorable week of skiing and sunshine.

Many years have passed and many miles skied at Vail over the years. But the sight of the clock tower and the bridge, and the walk through town in anticipation of taking the gondola to mid Vail and rushing to the other side before any crowds come is an experience that never grows old. Like my friends in the picture above. They never get old either. Art Bonavoglia, in the red jacket, is my friend for years. We have cycled together and skied together and now at 62, he is spending his third season teaching in arguably the best snowsports school in the world in Vail. Skiing a big mountain every day can do a lot for your personal skiing and although Art works hard and spends countless hours teaching, he has the ability to free ski and work with really quality trainers at Vail. You can tell by his skiing that he is taking this very seriously and is also in great shape in order to execute high level turns. You can’t get into ski shape by just skiing. You need to take the time and effort to hit the gym, run trails, ride a bike, and do whatever it takes to get aerobically, and physicaly strong. Lots of people don’t make the effort as they get older and they pay for it on the mountain.

One guy who makes that effort is Bart Raitano (the guy with the cool shades and the white jacket). Bart is ageless because he pays attention to what he eats, and is faithful on his pre-season gym time. Once the season starts, he is ready to make those beautiful turns of his and he does it over 100 days a year. Bart lives in Vail in the winter and I am lucky enough to visit him. We have been friends for years and it is comforting to know that even though Bart is older than Art and me, he can still ski exceptionally well which gives us the inspiration to keep on training and skiing because it is a sport that we can do for a long time.

Even though I know Vail pretty well, it is a great bonus to ski with guys like Art and Bart who know the mountain really well because they are locals. They know what lifts get crowded first, they know where the groomers have been, so when you ski with these guys, they pretty much set the schedule and the slope selection and we all let it rip all day long. We all have taught skiing for many years so we have a lot of interesing talks on the chair lift about technique- what works and what doesn’t( no matter what PSIA says :). We discuss the latest equipment and why we ski what we ski. All of us are current on equipment and it helps when you are trying to stay in the game. There is nothing like a new pair of freshly waxed and tuned skis on perfect western conditions in a classic area and along with bright sunshine, we were truly experiencing heaven on earth this week together.

Vail is one of those resorts that continues to grow every year and caters to a very exclusive clientel. When you ski different areas, you will notice that some areas are rustic and family oriented. Some are old school with older lifts and grooming equipment. Some are hard core areas where the expert skier is king and ammenities like world class restaurants, spas, exclusive shops, are not a priority. Vail has it all really in that it has excellent skiing and if you want that European, shopping, spa and dining experience, Vail will not disappoint. Everything there is first class and even today, I still get that feeling driving down the Vail valley that I had on that first trip from high school. There is something very welcoming about Vail in that it gave me my first big mountain experience without any pressure. I was in awe of all of the shops, restaurants,and the town itself and am still amazed at how Vail re-invents itself every year. I will say that for a guy who is used to changing his boots in the parking lot( my father in law calls us trunk slammers), it was sure nice to go to Bart’s locker room in the middle of town where the coffee, energy bars, and hospitality are ever present. People know each other and get excited about their ski day in a very gentile way. Vail takes a lot of heat from the jaded skier who sees it as an expensive rip off catering to the wealthy people who can’t ski. That criticism is a little harsh and even though I am not in the league with a lot of the locals who call Vail home, I still feel welcomed by its warmth, charm and world class slopes and grooming. The Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin aren’t too shabby either.

Short trip this time and driving out of there this morning I was a little nostalgic thinking about all the good times that I have had in that valley. Especially with these two guys who are now- locals. Lucky stiffs.

One little aside, I included a picture of a great book that every ski racer and skier alike should read. Edie Thys Morgan was a World Cup Downhiller and Super G racer for the U.S. She had the highest finish of any American in the Calgary Olympics with a 9th place in the Super G. This book records her experiences on the World Cup. She tells the reader in detail about the training, the personality conflicts, the harsh travel and weather, how hard it is to stay injury free and manage to compete at the highest level. How not to get caught in the “tuna nets” which are the nets on the side of the downhill courses that catch a racer who has made a mistake and crashes hard. This book is exceptionally well written and although the characters are fictional in name to protect the innocent, the circumstances are real and true to life. Go straight to Amazon and buy it. Trust me, you will be glad that you did and give Edie a good review too will ya? Thanks for reading and think snow.