Trip to Snowmass, December 28, 2020 - January 2, 2021
December 28, 2020
Safe and cozy in the “Comfort Inn” of Carbondale with the kids - (Orion, 14, Phoenix, 13). They are still asleep, though it’s already 7:30 am. I am looking, with longing, at the fresh snow outside the window.
Since we are set up to ski here for four days, I am not feeling rushed. We are lucky to have some new snow as it’s been pretty dry in Colorado this whole month. I hope the fresh snow will increase the number of runs we can explore. I think some of the steeper runs may not be open - something Orion was discouraged about - but here we are. The fact we are here at all, even during a pandemic, is amazing.
Anyway, we drove here yesterday, leaving Boulder at 9:30am since we were concerned that the expected snow along I-70 might give us some problems. However, it wasn’t bad at all, and we were in Carbondale by 1:15, way too early to check into the hotel. We had to wait until 4pm to do so. While it snowed outside, I got the kids some food at ‘Fatburger”, some coffee for myself at Bonfire Coffee, then headed back to the hotel parking lot. I left the kids to watch videos in the car while I took a lovely snowy walk along this property called the Spring Creek Ranch, which sits alongside the Roaring Fork River, directly opposite the hotel.
Finally we checked in and moved into our new temporary home: a small but clean spot that we scrubbed with clorox wipes before doing anything else. I talked to Dave and Elizabeth on the phone. Normally we would stay with them, but of course this year it is out of the question; they are especially wary, since there appear to be a lot of Covid cases in Garfield County. Still, we are being safe, and besides getting a negative Covid test before we left, we brought two pans of our own food, which Paige made for us - Mac ’n Cheese, and Enchiladas - plus lots of other stuff. I think we can remain fairly isolated. I was able to borrow an electric teapot from Kenny (I forgot to bring ours). He and Karla are down in Gunnison right now, but he told me how to get into his place.
Other than that, I was worried about my ears on the trip up here, since I started bad ringing in consonance with the overcast skies and falling snow; yet my hearing has been adequate, and my right ear has not ‘closed’ up as it did two weeks ago. I am being more religious about using Punarnava (an Ayurvedic herb that works as a diuretic), as I think that is key. So far, so good.
December 30, 2020
I’ve been up since about 4am with very bad ringing in my right ear. I believe that this is due to the extreme cold and now-clearing weather; whereas yesterday, low clouds clung to Snowmass Mountain and snow fell for most of the day, I believe today will be sunny. What that also means is that my ears are ringing anew, as they do with every change in the weather. The thing I am most worried about, a closure of my right ear and attendant dizziness, has not happened yet, but I am on edge that it might.
As indicated yesterday, we were fortunate to get to the base of the Two Creeks lift by 10:15. After shelling out $30 for parking, we made our way up to the snowy heights. Unfortunately, but as expected, the crowds were there, too, and I was bummed when we had to wait so long on the Alpine Springs lift to get to High Alpine. Yet once we were there, we had great powder skiing. The kids are now adept at most everything I can ski - finally! - and all was glory and endorphins, minus our chance to get up to the very highest reaches of the mountain, which, due to scant snowfall so far this season, has indeed remained closed. Oh well! It seems the children are pretty happy to be here, and that makes me happy.
Four days of skiing started to seem like a very long time, given the sense of inertia and malaise I seem to develop when standing in a long ‘Disney-like’ line; yet, I know Paige is really benefiting from our absence. At one moment, when we were on the Elk Camp Gondola, Phoenix face-timed her, and we all said hello to her (and Rio) while encased in the gondola’s bubble. She was making juice and doing prep school work.
One funny moment that revealed my ineptitude - when we decided to take the gondola to get back to the car, we found the entrance line, but what I first thought was the place to enter the line turned out to be reserved for the ski school, and we were turned away; the next place I attempted to get on turned out to be the very front of the line; I was turned away again by the gate-keepers who said, “Go to the back of the line, welcome to Snowmass” which turned out to be a LONG way back. Chagrined, we retreated to our proper place in line and had to shuffle along, just like at Disneyland, for 30 minutes before finally being able to get on.
After eating lunch back at the car, the remainder of the day was spent on the Elk Camp side of the mountain, where we skied this one patch of trees about 5 times. The kids loved that one, with it’s more gentle incline, yet numerous powdery pathways.
Near the end of the day the clouds began to lift, and we were treated to a sublime view across the valley; the landscape came alive with late afternoon light. Just to be there revealed the glory of the natural world, and our place in it, on skis, sliding down fresh powder: what a realization. Phoenix insisted on skiing with his jacket unzipped, allowing the snow to cling to his cotton sweatshirt. As a Dad, I took issue with this; but my concerns were discounted, and he remained happy.
Well, at least we had no injuries and I was able to tolerate, even ignore, at times, my tinnitus. At the day’s end we retreated back to the hotel and I drank a beer and got exceptionally sleepy. We went for a hot tub/swim at 9pm, after I had already taken a short nap. The hot tub feels great after skiing. (It was ‘by reservation only’ meaning we got the pool area to ourselves).
So today, we repeat the process. I will attempt to adjust my attitude and meet the crowds with calm measure.
December 31, 2020
7:52am. Kids still trying to sleep. Since they are sharing a bed, I occasionally hear disgruntled protests regarding how they are sharing or not sharing the sheets appropriately. I slept a little better and longer last night, yet my ears still ring loudly and persistently.
We had our 2nd full day of skiing at Snowmass yesterday. It was sunny with blue skies; not a cloud in the sky, but very cold. We had a meager breakfast of oranges and muffins and finally got up to the area about 10:45. We had less time to ski overall, but we had a terrific 1st run in the Burnt Mountain Glades above the Elk Camp lift; an area we had to hike up to, but resulted in much powder and a long descent.
January 1, 2021
Well, 2020 has ended, a year of confusion and disfunction on many levels. Here we are, skiing in a pandemic, on a mountain that received almost 15” of snow in spots; and for three days now my children and myself have explored the vast expanses of Snowmass. We have been lucky to keep discovering pockets of powder nestled in the trees or at the edges of slopes. For all the momentary inertia of a long line of skiers, there is also the brilliant interplay of light and shadow and color, as the pristine snow is framed by the mountains and sky, and the moguls beckon one turn after another.
Yesterday, our third day on the mountain, we started again as I mentioned with a hike to the top of the Burnt Mountain Glades, and then a run towards the elusive and aptly named run called “Rio” which allowed us, once again, to float down huge pillows of powder into a steep bowl. We also discovered that the ridge known as the “Headwall’ which we had thought to be closed, had now opened up, and we explored that after lunch after making our way back up the entire mountain. The Headwall had plenty of snow, and proved to be challenging. Phoenix fell forward while descending the top steep part, captured by Orion on his GoPro head-mounted camera. He was ok, but had cold hands, since he hadn’t been wearing his gloves. We took a long time to navigate ‘Wall #1’, below the headwall, and after finally making it back to the Elk Camp area, Phoenix announced he wanted to go back to the car. He had some blisters on his feet, and was definitely tired out, so we sent him back. Orion and I did one last hike back up to the Burnt Mountain glades; only to find them closed; yet still had a good run out on ‘Long Run’, also accessible from there.
Days pass quickly up on Snowmass Mountain because it is so spread out, and to get to certain areas you have to navigate the right number of lifts. Through all this, my right ear was ringing awfully - I even felt a little dizzy by the end of the day. The whole day, I could hardly hear anything out of that ear. Scary, and sobering. It takes all I’ve got to try and ignore this huge field of static emanating from my ear.
Well, by 3:30 we had decided that we had had enough; on the ‘Long Run’ out, Orion had to stop and rest because of a bad side ache, because he drank so much water. However, he has accessed new levels of energy and expertise, as well as enthusiasm for skiing; it’s remarkable that we are where we are, after all those years of skiing the bunny hill at Eldora. Orion claims that the Headwall is his most favorite thing ever. Phoenix, by contrast, shares neither his energy level, nor his desire to ski as much as possible; I was acutely aware that Phoenix’s energy level and enthusiasm was flagging, and it proved to be difficult to ‘balance’ this difference between them; for instance, Orion kept skiing faster through the trees, while Phoenix lagged behind; so I had to keep yelling for Orion to slow down and wait, which frustrated him.
Oh well. Phoenix’s quietness was replaced by more goofiness later in the evening, after we had made our 4th pool visit of the week.
After this third day of skiing, we went by to see Dave and Elizabeth and Shaun. We stood outside their house, talking through our masks; Elizabeth said that ‘we were like two ships passing in the night’ referring to how this pandemic has caused us to necessarily avoid each other, as compared to every other year we’ve ever visited, when we stay with them. Hopefully, this year is the exception. Shaun was talkative; he is applying to schools in Japan. We learned that Sophie had just arrived from Gunnison, so we drove over to Kenny’s house on 3rd. St and I gave her the drawing I did of her and Bob (the father of all three of them - Sophie, Kenny and Dave. Bob died of Covid in March) from the photo I took of them 7 years ago at Chapman campground. Sophie has become even taller, and is in her last year of high school; quiet and observant as usual. With both of her parents now passed, she had come to visit her brothers and cousins and I was glad I threw that drawing in the car, in the hopes there would be a way to get it to her.
I’m feeling like skiing for four days in a row is perhaps too much, but we will try it again today, although we may not make it up there until around noon . Kids still asleep, and it’s almost 8:30.
January 2, 2021
It’s 5:45 pm on a Saturday evening, and we’ve just returned home after leaving Carbondale, where I had a sweet walk with Dave up on Red Hill. He came by the hotel at 8am, right as the sun had finally crested the mountains behind Basalt, illuminating every tree branch with a silver filigree, shining down valley and lighting up the Roaring Fork River, burning off the ammonia from cattle and other livestock. Dave and I walked from the hotel towards this bluff that overlooks the valley; it was an especially beautiful time to be walking up as the recent snow coated the iron-red boulders and trail, forming a deep color contrast that paired beautifully with the expansive views across to Mt. Sporis.
It was great to spend time with Dave. Ordinarily we would be staying at his house, but this time is unlike no other in recent memory.
Back to our final, fourth day of skiing at Snowmass. Just getting up there again, preparing lunches and getting all our gear in the car felt suddenly routine, as anything might feel after four days of repeating the same motions. I felt that Phoenix’s silence and lack of emotiveness might portend a shift in the way our day unfolded, and I was correct: by the time we had made it up to High Alpine via Two Creeks and Alpine Springs, and were negotiating the choppy powder under the lift line, It was clear he was not going to last long, judging by the growing distance between him and Orion, who seemed to speed up at the front as he continued to fall behind, because of the pain in his toes. (When bandaging his blistered toes that morning, I had the distinct impression that such a remedy would prove futile, and indeed it was; now, at the top of Snowmass, I had to figure out how best to address his need to stop skiing and Orion’s need to ski harder and faster, which of course included another trip down “Headwall” which was still open). Phoenix firmly resisted any notion that he would take part in such escapades. “I’m not skiing Headwall again”, he announced.
It became clear that I needed to get him back to the car to wait the afternoon out, even though it was only 11:30. Fortunately, he agreed, and at the top of High Alpine I loaded his jacket up with lunch, hot tea, and the car key, and pointed him towards the long catwalk known as ‘Turkey Trot’ along which he could reach Two Creeks and the safety of the car; eat, look at his phone, and wait for me and Orion to arrive.
Orion was excited to get right back up on the Headwall, not once but twice; the second time we did the chute next to the Headwall called ‘Roberto’s’ which was scraped down to the rocks, and required a fair amount of side stepping, all of which Orion loved, and I tolerated. “Dad, I love this part of the mountain best because it’s steep and wild and there’s all those great places to ski”. Indeed, after the initial steep precipice, the possibilities of powder-laden tree skiing appeared everywhere. Once we got down to the lower reaches, I convinced him to sit and eat lunch in a sunny spot, away from the crowded balcony of the lodge. Soon we were spotted by a pair of Canada Jays who came by to see if we had any handouts: the crumbs falling from Orion’s sandwich enticed them to come perch first on our ski poles, then to the top of Orion’s legs, eventually scoring some crumbs.
We tried to do the Headwall a third time, but by the time we got back up to the entrance gate, at 2:45, it was closed. We opted for a final run down the moguls and trees of ’The Edge’, then skied hard and fast down the long, groomed ‘Bull Run’, then connected to ‘Creekside’ all the way to the car.
What was becoming routine up on the mountain became equally so once back at the hotel, and we once again consumed Paige’s meals (but with a new addition for the kids of chicken nuggets, in an effort to provide more variety and protein). I practiced guitar, drank a beer and at salty pretzels, and was soon feeling worse than ever, with ear ringing so severe that I could never really fall asleep, gathering only a few hours of fitful dreams before getting ready to see Dave in the morning.