Friday, January 22, 2010

Powder day bring town to Purgatory

BIG powder day at Purgatory today.

A series of fat, wet Pacific storms -- courtesy of your regional El Nino -- have pummeled southwest Colorado, and bulls-eyed the southern San Juans in particular. Those storms have (so far) left behind a shroud of some three feet of snow in downtown Durango, and kindly deposited upwards of four feet of white manna at our little local ski area.

In advance of the biggest of the three-storm whacking, the Weather Service yesterday announced a 24-hour winter-storm and blizzard warning for our little corner of the Rockies, from 6 p.m. Thursday through 6 p.m. Friday.

Accepting what that means for an area already in snowbank gridlock, around noon on Thursday Fort Lewis College, the 9R School District, the City of Durango, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and just about every other business, agency, club, group, coven, and institution canceled anything they might have planned for Friday.

And that meant ... great joy in Mudville. Or Snowville, since baseball season is still (only!) two months away. (Mud season will be coming ...)

So with a city-wide hall pass for Friday, and 18-or-so hours' notice, Purgatory today was -- not "was like," but actually was -- a grand, ad hoc, spontaneous festival for locals merrily dancing and prancing and laughing all the way through the ridiculous depths of fresh powder we all awoke to today.

Almost too much snow at first, I must say. On the first runs, it wasn't so much a great powder day as it was just a ... bizarre day -- you could barely pole through the uncut multi-foot layer of snow on the first runs. But once the thick layer was cut, the skiing was most glorious.

And the scene -- populated by college kids, high school kids, and just about everyone else you could possibly know or recognize from town -- was like the ultimate local's day: The town shut down, and everybody gathering to do what it is we most love to do.

Oh, yeah: And it dumped all day. Can you say, encore tomorrow?

Check out some images from the glory day here, and below.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Well I DO have a lot to say ...

... but when I ain't been working, I've been playing God: carving canyons and building mountains in my own backyard:

With another three to four feet predicted to be on the way, I may be a while ...

Monday, January 11, 2010

A day in the high country

Followed some maniacs on a three-hour climb up then ski down in the La Platas this weekend. Good to know I can still do it at my age.

Check out some shots here:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

All work and low snow makes Jack a paranoid ski-resort owner ...

Okay, this is getting weird.

Following Durango Mountain Resort's pulling the season pass of a nagging ski-area critic, two more bizarre cases of ski-resort dictatorship have appeared.

The first involves the firing of well-known ski writer Bob Berwyn from Breckenridge's Summit Daily News after he wrote a somewhat humorous column knocking Vail Resorts' PR attempts to exaggerate the amount of snow its Colorado ski resorts had received from early-season storms. (Read Berwyn's offending column here.)

"I sometimes wonder whether the ski industry wouldn't benefit more from being completely transparent about weather and snowfall with its customers," Berwyn concluded in his column. "but when snow=money, perhaps that's expecting too much."

"Apparently, I hit a nerve," Berwyn writes in a post on the High Country News "Goat Blog," "because Rob Katz, the CEO of Vail, called me a few hours after the column was published to complain that I had questioned his personal integrity. I told him that I've lived in the mountains for a long time and that I recognize a snow job when I see one. Katz replied that the column called into question his company's ability to work with me and my newspaper."

Seems Vail Resorts did more than just call that relationship into question. Later that week, Vail Resorts pulled advertising with the newspaper -- which accounts for a quarter of the publication's advertising.

Berwyn was then fired a week later, for reasons "not directly related to the column," his editor informed him -- in an email. The paper also offered Berwyn $3,000 to not talk about the firing, Berwyn says. He declined the hush-money.

The second example of ski-area paranoia happened last week, after long-time local singer Dan Sheridan trotted out a song from his 2003 album "Recycle" for a new year's day performance at a bar in Snowmass owned by Aspen Ski Company. The song, called "Big Money," takes a look at the effects of resort's development on the once-little mountain town of Aspen. The song ends with the chorus, “Down in the graves you can hear the miners sing/ ‘Big money ruins everything.'”

Seems the resort's leaders didn't appreciate the sociological analysis offered by the song, and fired Sheridan last week from his weekly gigs. Read an article about the firing from the Aspen Times here.

As a coda, Sheridan was hired back late last week after he agreed to not sing "Big Money" at Aspen Ski Company-owned venues.

The lessons here? Money talks. And Big Money keeps others from talking.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ski-at-home vacation

Hmmm ... last blog entry is dated Dec. 16.

Okay, so I've been away. Sort of.

Actually, we never made it away. My family and I had long been planning a two-week holiday visit to family in the upper Midwest -- a welcome getaway from our daily life here in the Animas Valley -- but the Christmas blizzard that whacked the middle of the country also nixed our planned getaway to Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

So with our plans dashed, we resigned ourselves to hunkering down here at home for our two-week break.

And we ended up having one of our greatest family vacations ever.

See, that perfect snowstorm that turned the Midwest into a scene from The Day After Tomorrow also added to the ongoing revival of Purgatory's ski season. After the thin and dry autumn, a series of light, cold, frequent, and fat snowfalls made the remainder of December a phat one for us here in the southern San Juans.

And, as unplanned as it was, we were here to enjoy it.

Enjoy it we did. Resigned to our not-so-terrible fate of being stuck at home for our holiday vacation, we passed our two weeks of freedom skiing. A lot. Damn near every day, in fact -- a string of ski days like my wife and I hadn't seen since we were ski bums in Winter Park back in the '80s. And a feat that our kids, despite having Purgatory ski passes for most of their lives, had never experienced.

And this unexpected and unscheduled ski vacation reminded me of some things that, sitting here at my desk, back at work in the New Year following our stay-cation, I now see as the greatest gifts I received this holiday:

First, I remember how much I love skiing. I mean the physical act. Oh, yes -- we already ski a lot (or so I thought), both backcountry and ski-area skiing. And, as I said, my wife and I have been getting our kids lessons and season passes since they were old enough to make a "slice of pizza" turn. And we, ourselves, deliberately built our married life around being near skiing -- that after meeting when we were both ski bums, and getting married at the base of a ski area.

But I think only this past couple of weeks' daily repetition of skiing really brought home to me how much physical joy -- sheer, wild, almost surreal joy -- I find in abandoning to both gravity and my skill at using that gravity to guide myself down mountains through snow.

Second, I remembered how much I appreciate having Purgatory ski area so nearby. Sure, it's loaded with funny and odd distinctive Purgatory quirks (Puirks?) that we all love to scratch our helmets over -- Why can't they figure out how to make liftlines work? Why don't they put up signs that say "Skip a chair" at the bottom of Lift 8, or "Make sure your chair is empty before loading" at mid-lift, so the lift-ops don't have to say those things over and over and over ... ? (More to come on that in a future post ...)

Overall, though, Purgatory is a blessing: A small, diverse ski area with good snow and a great climate. And it's a mountain built for telemarkers like us, with its broad diversity of terrain and aspects and limestone-bench pitches, and its many hidden stashes and lines that only those who ski there a lot really get to know.

Third, related to the above, this last few weeks have reminded me how thankful my wife and I are for having had those above things to share with our kids -- and the rest of our tribe of friends, and their young ski-bums-in-training. Having a place we all know, and sharing what we know and have discovered traversing this terrain over and over through an endless variety of weather and crowd conditions, binds us all -- as real "places" should.

Every day up there has its own conditions, personality, challenges, and storylines -- and those days act as threads that bind us all together. And a lot of that binding happens off the mountain -- and on the chairlifts. The lift rides on Purg -- especially on the "Backside," where lifts 5 and 8 are old and slow (and I mean that as a good thing) -- offer time rare and precious chances to rest our burning thighs while getting to just ... sit and talk. That time is something that is hard to carve at home, at work, or even when away at a family holiday vacation.

Lastly, I realized -- not "remembered" this time, but realized for the first time -- that these above things are going to play a larger role in my life. Especially after the kids leave us for their own lives out there. Sarah and I now see that skiing -- a lot, damn near every day, for as much of the year as we can muster -- is a path into that new future that is not so far away for us. And we realized that we are now looking forward to heading into that adventure, together.

And unplanned or not, those are the best holiday gifts I could've received.