Sunday, January 31, 2010

Breckenridge, CO part II: apres ski

Ahhh, the gorgeous, quaint, rustic town of Breckenridge. As they say, "The perfect ski mountain, the perfect ski town.". Let me share with you what's to do apres ski. This week was the annual Breckenridge Snow Sculpture Festival with international and local teams competing. This was pretty cool to see. Ten foot square blocks of snow being sculpted in the Main Street Park. Also, on Friday night every TV in Breck was tuned to the Winter X-games, held just down the road in Aspen. Several local athletes were competing, and Breckenridge can boast two winter Olympian this time around. So, yeah. The winter vibe was in full display on wintery store fronts, on every page of the local paper, in the conversations at the coffee counter.
As for the shops, they range from the best toy store this side of New York, to trendy boutiques, to the full service ski shops, galleries, head shops, nick-nack shops...etc. And the food, OMG! The Briar Rose (5 stars), Fatty's (nearly the best pizza I've ever tasted and a threat to North Fork in Bellingham), South Ridge (the craftsmanship, the flavors, sauces, and atmosphere make it our new favorite dining experience), The Crepe Wagon (whose strawberry shortcake crepe should be illegal), and of course Clint's, a seemingly ordinary coffee bar whose in-house baker (she is a genius) creates the finest brownies, blueberry bars, lemon muffins, and the most devine carrot cake in the world. The world! We bought a tupperware just so we could bring home a bunch of stuff. I was chanting "Carrot cake, carrot cake" on the whole flight to Denver. And not to be left out, the Town Fox (see below). Every town in Summit County has it's patron fox. We've seen them in Frisco and Keystone. I got to meet the Breckenridge Town Fox one quiet evening on this trip. He's crafty.
I can't say I'm thrilled to be home.

Breckenridge, CO part I: on the runs

Ruth and I have just return from a spectacular week+ in Summit County, Colorado. We got in six days of boarding at three mountains: Breckenridge, Keystone, and Copper Mountain. The town of Breckenridge is so cool that this trip has become an annual affair for us, something to look forward to for an entire year. Given that Big Bear is our nearest "resort", we decided long ago to explore the wider world of ski towns and the search just sort of stopped in Breck. Other ski mountains in the immediate area include Vail, Beaver Creek, and Arapaho Basin. We've found that Vail is too pretentious and the runs are not boarder friendly. Beaver Creek is a bit far from Breck, and Arapaho Basin is a locals delight, though only to be experienced when one is feeling plucky, as the "runs" are hair-raising (see "Palovachini" couloir, which I have boarded once and never again, thanks for the heads-up Ray). But the mountains we boarded last week are all stellar terrain.
As for the lovely town of Breckenridge, it is a charming, old west mining town gone skiing. Even in the finest restaurants one can tromp in wearing uggs and an old fleece. The shops lining Main street are diverse and eclectic and the service is great wherever one turns. We have become, over the years, something of the seasonal local. By that I mean that we have businesses we patronize annually, restaurants we revisit, favorite stops, and when it comes to the mountain, we know our way around without a map. These types of people are valued in ski towns because we spend money and aren't bumbling tourists, which makes our experience even better. We know where to go to get what we want and we know how to enjoy the town without being a nuisance.

Below: Breckenridge's Peak 8 (center right) from town, and Main St. from our condo.
Ruth's longest, bestest friend Michelle and boyfriend Chris came out from Columbus OH for a 4day weekend to join us at the beginning of the week. We boarded two days with them and watching Ruth try to teach newbie Michelle the ropes was both painful and amusing. Eventually I took Chris on a tour of the mountain. Michelle fell about every way one can, frequently, as if she liked being face-down in snow but by day two she was holding her own. It was amazing to watch, the combination of determination, masochism, Advil and alcohol which contributed mightily to Michelle's progression. Got to give her props for being a tuffy. After a great three days with them I was ready for Ruth and I to do Breck the way we do Breck. They went home and we went to Keystone.

The rest of our week went something like this: wake up at 06:45, start coffee, slug coffee and scarf Advil, dress, grab gear, drive to the mountain, be on the first few lifts and board our little hearts out until noon, thaw, eat, and resume process. It was a very effective routine. Most days we got in 15-20 long runs (the runs on Colorado mountains can be 3 miles long and descend 4,000 feet). We got early tracks on two powder days and made fist cuts on lots of courderoy (groomed terrain). Last Tuesday was the best day of the week, with 6 inches of overnight powder, empty runs, and broken skies. We charged that all day. In all, we had two bluebird days, two powder days, two gray days, and one really cold and windy day. In other words, a typical week in the Colorado high country.

This was the first time we tried Copper Mountain, which is just 20 minutes from Breck. We always knew we'd get there but the way we've purchased discount passes didn't work for Copper. This time we just sucked it up and went. Impressions: huge mountain with fun terrain, certainly the best views of any Rocky Mountain resort I've visited, friendly staff and great facilities, and really stupid skiers. I'm not sure what it was but the skiers there were either rude or oblivious of other people's space on runs. With a wide open run, why would you need to cut in front of people? I got pretty protective of Ruth, figuring I would get in an old-fashioned hockey fight with somebody before lunch. As it turned out, the idiots had either gone home or went to the hospital by about that time leaving us with another great day, and a good impression of Copper. We'll be back. To be fair, the ski patrol, according to locals, was finding that it had to crack down and take a more disciplinary role in the past three weeks. Below are some pics from Copper.
So, yeah. I'm bummed to be back. I don't want to be on call the next two days. In fact, I'd be okay if I never worked another day in my life. With the right amount of money I figure I'd get really good at traveling. See, this is what tropical vacations and ski vacations do for you. They quickly become your day to day reality and then...poof! It's back to the real world. Crap.
Below are some of the other photos from our days on the runs. By the way, I was boarding really well, hitting runs and jumps that I used to be afraid of. Oh, yeah...I decided it was time to get a helmet too, something about not mountain biking or dirtbike riding without a helmet. Let's see, hard snow, rocks, trees, cliffs, at 40 miles per hour, plus head injury equals...screw it, I'll take the helmet, and give me the one with headphones in the ears.
Below, me, landing a drop in that used to terrify me.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Tar Creek 01/02/10

12/10/13: The US Forest Service will be enforcing access restrictions to Tar Creek soon. TC is part of the Condor Sanctuary established as critical habitat to this endangered bird and other wildlife. Epic numbers of visitors, and the trash and graffiti they have left behind, has led to the acknowledgment by the Forest Service that access must be curtailed and enforced. For more information on the impending action visit: Tar Creek Closure.

The day after New Years, not a bad way to start the year. Jayson Scott and I hoofed it down to the bottom of Tar Creek. This was J's first time there and it was cool to see his reactions to the wonders of the lower canyon. The water is running high and is brrr cold, and the polar bear in me wasn't feeling the love. Maybe I should have said that the polar chicken in me was running scared. Anyway, it was a good day of exercise, which I needed, and the canyon is in fine form.

Below video: Lower Tar Creek Falls