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More Snow — Finally!! January 28, 2010

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Looking up at Union Bowl (Copper Mtn) after hiking up and skiing down

The ski conditions for the first two weeks I’ve been in Colorado have been substandard.  Sure, the lifts and runs have been open, but most of the slopes have been crusty and, in many places, the ground was slightly exposed due to minimum snow bases.  I’ve heard some locals say that they can’t remember it being quite this bad during January.  However, all that started to change last week.  We’ve had several days of on and off snow showers which have added a foot of snow or more, depending on the ski resort.  What does this mean to me?  Softer falls — which is important at my advanced age.  I have much less fear of steep slopes and mogul runs when there’s powder.

Chad, my stepson, who I think wants to kill me, has been taking me down the back bowls and other expert areas.  Most of these areas are rated double black diamond — meaning expert only — which I’m not.  Double black diamond definition:  “High Alpine Adventure Terrain — rarely groomed and is designated for expert snowriders only. Expect unmarked obstacles.”  Yeah, I’m getting down these slopes — but it ain’t pretty.  I’m blaming these runs for the soreness in both my big toes, and my left testicle (don’t ask).

Tomorrow will be my 20th day in a row skiing.  There’s no question I’ve gotten more comfortable on the slopes — and maybe a slightly better skier.  However, I need a break – and I plan to take 6 days off.   Tomorrow evening I’ll venture into Boulder to watch Avatar 3D at an IMAX theater with Chad and Bonnie.  I read today that Avatar has surpassed Titantic as the top grossing film of all time.  I’ll fly back to DC this weekend to spend some much needed time with Alison.  Then I have to go to Florida for a few days (yes — I’m back working already!?).  The Florida weather should be quite the shock to my system, after spending 3 weeks in this climate.  Nevertheless, I can’t wait to get back on the Colorado slopes later next week!!

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Skiing in Colorado, Days 5 – 12 January 21, 2010

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Me and Mike Stewart, somewhere on Vail

Superglue!  That’s what Chad, my stepson, told me to put on my cracked fingers (from the cold, dry temps here in Colorado).  I thought he was on crack!  But with several fingers splitting around the nails, I was desperate.  So I went to the local Walmart, procured some Superglue, applied it to the cracks, and lo and behold it “cured” those pesky painful cracks.  I don’t think Superglue is FDA approved — so I might soon start growing new appendages — but at least I’m not dealing with cracked fingers.

I’ve had lots of company over the past week.  My wife, Alison, flew out with her nephew, Jason, and a friend of his, Josh — both UConn students.  Along with my Colorado family — Chad, Bonnie, Todd, Claude, and Jody — we had a FUN crew!!  We skied and snowboarded both Winter Park and Copper Mountain.  Ski conditions weren’t the best (we need more snow!), but we still enjoyed the slopes.  Evenings in the condo were crowded but enjoyable.  As usual, Alison cooked up some amazing grub for the crew.  Chicken enchiladas, seafood chowder, …. YUMMMM!  Not sure if the altitude here is a factor, but flatulence seemed to be the common theme among everyone….well, for the guys anyway.

Yesterday was an adventure at Vail.  I met up with a NASA co-worker, Michael Stewart (who works at Johnson Space Center), and his wife, Ladawn.  It snowed quite a bit throughout the day, plus it was windy at the mountain tops — but I really enjoyed the little bit of powder we had.  Unfortunately, the whiteout conditions forced an early exit from the slopes — so we headed to the nearest beer joint.  After a couple of brews at Bart & Yeti’s, an apres ski bar and restaurant in Vail we used to haunt back in the late 80’s, I ventured back to my digs in Frisco in my 2-wheel drive truck.  The snowy weather conditions wreaked havoc on the roads.  Even with 250+ pounds of sand bags in the bed of my truck, I was very nervous about crossing Vail pass on I-70.  All commercial trucks were being forced to place chains on their tires — so I decided to do the same (fortunately, I keep tire “cables” in the truck’s toolbox).  Anyway, going 35 miles an hour, I eventually made it back to Frisco and stopped at Moosejaw, a real local dive, to grab another beer – to personally celebrate my successful drive back from Vail (even though it’s only 25 miles away).  Though I’m not a local, I’m starting to feel like one.

Today, I finished my 12th day in a row of skiing.  I plan to make it 20 days in a row before I take a weekend break.  I’m not too sore or stiff — probably because I hit the hot tub almost every evening.  I’m trying not to think it’s because of ibuprofen, Aleve, and beer.  🙂

Skiing Copper Mountain – First Few Days January 13, 2010

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Bonnie, Todd, and me on ski lift at Copper Mountain

Days 1 to 4

My first couple of ski days were spent with Todd (my son), Chad (my stepson), Bonnie (Chad’s wife), Claude (my stepson), and Andy (Chad’s friend).  We woke up at 5am (!!)  Saturday (Jan 9) at Chad/Bonnie’s house in Boulder thinking we could beat the “weekend rush hour” to the ski slopes.  At 5:55am, we sat outside an Einstein Bagel place (6am opening).  We HAD to have coffee for the 2 hour drive — plus a few carbs (i.e., bagels) for the day’s activities.  We hit  I-70 west at 6:30am — and I was astounded at the large amount of traffic.  It truly was like rush hour in a major city.  However, everyone seemed to be on the same mission — get to the ski slopes early — and the traffic moved quite well.

It was very cold that morning — a little below zero.  My hands and feet froze while getting my gear together in the Copper Mountain parking lot — and they didn’t thaw out until we broke for lunch.  Fortunately, the temperatures climbed  throughout the day.  We skied mostly blue (intermediate) slopes in the morning given it was my first day out.  Claude and I stopped skiing before the rest of the crew – because we were both tired and — probably the bigger reason — we needed some brews.  It didn’t take the others long to join us — and we all watched NFL wild card playoff games.

Late that afternoon, we rolled into Frisco (elevation 9097 ft!!) and checked into the condo I’ve rented for 5 weeks.  It’s a corner unit with great mountain views on two sides of the unit.  Claude and I quickly went to the grocery and picked up food and supplies for a couple of days.  Oh… and beer.  Todd was the executive chef that first evening, and Claude performed in the sous chef role.  The salad and spaghetti that first evening was very delicious!  I’ve been eating the leftovers for the past 3 evenings.  Todd also cooked breakfast burritos the next morning (YUMM!) — plus, he cleaned the dishes!

We were all a bit sore the next morning (Sunday), and we hit the slopes a little later in the morning.  Anyway, it was warmer, and we skied more black (expert) runs on the east end of Copper Mountain.  The slopes started to get crusty in the afternoon — the ski resorts in the area definitely need more snow.  At the end of the day, everyone headed back to their homes for the work week.  Everyone except me.

The next two days were sunny, bluebird skies.  I skied about 4-5 hours each day.  My legs are slowly adjusting to the twisting and pounding, and the ups and downs.  No nasty falls — so far.  Going up a chair lift today, I saw a fox cross a ski run — from one wooded side to another.  I typically ski once a year, and have been skiing for about 25 years.  In all that time, I’d never seen a fox on the slopes.  The fox I saw looked healthy, and had beautiful brown fur and a big bushy tail.  Nevertheless, I kept wondering how a fox finds food that high in the mountains.   

As I’m typing this, my wife Alison, her nephew Jason, and a friend of his Josh, are traveling to Frisco to join me for the next several days.  Along with the family that was with me last weekend, we’ll have a crowd – but it should be fun!!

Go West Old Man January 8, 2010

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Foggy, icy landscape somewhere in central Kansas

OK….here’s the story.  I recently retired from NASA — the subject of a future blog (maybe) — and I’d previously decided that I was going to take a little post-employment vacation.  So what’s an old guy to do?  I decided on 5 weeks of skiing in Colorado – with family joining me during some of that time on the slopes.  And I decided to drive my Ford F150 truck from Washington, DC, to Frisco, CO — approximately 1,800 miles including stops in West Lafayette (Indiana), Topeka (Kansas), and Boulder/Denver (Colorado).  This blog is the first of several (hopefully) related to my little skiing adventure.

I’m not the most efficient packer, but I managed to stow all my clothing, gear, extra bedding, and electronics into the truck’s cab and large silver tool box.  Only my skis sat in the bed of the truck.  My Capitol Hill neighbors were very relieved that they won’t be seeing my truck on the streets for a couple of months.  They’re like “See ya!!  More parking space for us!!”    Anyway, Alison kissed me goodbye and I hit the road early on the morning of Monday, Jan 4, with 3 full days of driving ahead of me.

I caught I-70 just north of DC and quickly moved into Pennsylvania where it didn’t take long before the snow started to fall — and it didn’t stop for the rest of the day.  With all the road traffic, my windshield dirtied often, primarily due to all the road salt.  Unfortunately, the wiper fluid wasn’t spraying on the driver’s side, so I needed to make several stops to clean the windshield.  The most notable event of the day was when going through a toll booth on the Pennsylvania turnpike , I couldn’t understand why the toll lane wouldn’t issue me a ticket — until the tollbooth attendant looked at me like I was a friggin’ idiot and told me that my EZPass had already been accepted.  DUHHH!  I’m such a dumbass sometimes.  I forgot I had an EZPass squirreled away in the truck glove compartment.  Old age!?

It was bitter cold when I rolled into West Lafayette that first evening – after about 10 hours of driving.  I spent a very comfortable and warm evening with some gracious ex-NASA friends, Al and Angela Diaz.  West Lafayette is home for Purdue University (http://www.purdue.edu/), where Al serves as the Executive VP for Business and Finance.  The temps were around 8 degrees the following morning for my second day drive.  Before I left West Lafayette, I managed to find a tire store which quickly balanced my front tires – and only charged me $10 — quite a bargain!!  During the first day’s drive the truck steering wheel was shimmying a little when I exceeded 60 mph.  Most annoying, and not good for the tires.  Anyway, I was happy to get that fixed before the day’s drive.  

I saw mostly bluebird skies as I rolled through Indiana and Illinois — however, the temps were extremely frigid — 3 degrees not factoring in the windchill.  Crossing into Missouri, the Mississippi river was filled with ice.  On the western side of the river, I passed through Hannibal (http://www.visithannibal.com/), made famous by Mark Twain.  Late afternoon, I drove on the outskirts of Kansas City, and then into Topeka, where I spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express.  I used my Android phone to identify the hotel location, as well as a nearby Mexican restaurant.  And my Garmin GPS provided the directions.  Not sure how I managed before without these technologies!

Woke up to 15 degree temperatures in Topeka.  Warmer — but still!!  As I drove west, the skies were grey, and the air was surprisingly foggy.  The humidity froze on the trees, fences, etc., creating a very white landscape.  Through the haze, I saw some interesting sights, including the largest grain storage facility I’d ever witnessed (after all, I was in serious corn country) and, by far, the largest wind farm I’d ever seen.  Due to the fog I couldn’t see too far, but I know the wind farm easily had more than a hundred tall 3-bladed wind turbines.  Also, I saw lots of oil wells — which I wouldn’t have expected in Kansas.  As I drove through western Kansas, the wind started to blow 40+ mph from the north, whipping snow across the interstate.  The conditions slowed my speed and buffeted my driving.  I kept thinking about how strong and rugged the plains Indians must have been back in their heyday.

By early afternoon I rolled into eastern Colorado — the home stretch!  At the border there was a tiny community called Kanorodo — reminding me of other state border towns (e.g., Texarkana).  As I came closer to Denver, it started to snow again.  And by the time I rolled into Boulder, it was snowing very hard.  My main concern was the truck spinning out since it’s only 2-wheel drive.  My tire cables were of no help since they were safely stowed away in the tool box.  And I didn’t have any weight in the bed of the truck.  Anyway, I didn’t have any problems — and I arrived safely (yeah!!) at the home of Chad (my stepson) and Bonnie DeMoss.  We promptly drove to a nearby hardware store where I bought four 60 pound sandbags for weighting the bed of my truck.  Though Boulder wasn’t my final destination, it certainly was my primary point to be after 3 days of driving which, by the way, was the longest driving trip I’ve ever done.  For the drive back to DC in mid February, my brother in-law, Frank McNally, is flying out to Colorado to meet me, and we plan to take 2 weeks driving through the south (Texas, Louisiana, etc).

The next morning in Boulder, the temps were minus 10 degrees!!  As I lay in bed that morning, I started to wonder why I didn’t consider a month or so in the Caribbean!?  But the sky was blue that day, and as I walked to a nearby coffee shop I saw the nearby mountains covered in snow, and I quickly snapped out of any second thoughts.  I look forward to being in those mountains for the next 5 weeks.