Cold smoke returns

There is something quite satisfying about getting in a morning ski and then coming home, starting a fire in the woodburning stove and watching the temperature rise inside as it plummets outside. A Canadian cold front has moved into the Rocky Mountains. It was 28° at 9 am, and it's 19° now. It's supposed to get chillier still as the day progresses, sub-zero tonight. Elaine has a bit of a cold so it's a perfect day to burn wood, watch movies, play board games, read and relax, while watching the snow drop down.

Cold smoke has returned to Colorado. The last storm we had was bizarre – wet snow from California, the famous Sierra Cement that we almost never get here. It's fun to ski simply because of sheer quantity, but it's not as much fun as the light and effortless Colorado typical snow, dried by deserts and 1,500 miles of inland travel. Our snow poofs when you ski it, you float, and it leaves a plume behind you as you slash and dash through it. Hence the name "cold smoke."

I've been going out on my Ski Trabs a bit. A racing set-up ski made deep in the Alps in Bormio, Italy that I use primarily for spring ski mountaineering adventures. Today I was reminded why. They go up fast – usually – but the skins are a bit skinny and I was sliding all over the place today. It was a challening 2,500 vertical up today as a result. The light snow on top of windcrust provided little traction. And then on the downhill, well, it's just nice to have something more there. They are, in effect, almost too light. It was the wrong ski in the quivver for the day. But it was still just fine. More and more I've come to realize that backcountry skiing is a nature experience more than a turn experience. Actually I think I've always known that – for me the adventure aspect trumps the perfect turn every single time – but it's been driven home more lately. The soft snowfall in the woods, the silence, the stark valleys, the howling winds. If you get in good turns, well, that's a bonus. But if you don't, you still have the time out there, working your muscles and lungs, the peace, the soul. Give me a good adventure, a howling ridgeline, a dramatic peak, a hefty bushwack over the perfect turn anyday. It's simply a matter of wanting to feel alive.

At the shop I work at, I notice we sell a lot of heavier gear. And I assume this is mostly for folks who enjoy the down. I find it a bit ironic, because 95% of the time backcountry skiing is spent going up. But then I thought about it more…maybe these folks are just the ultimate zen person, they've mastered letting go completely. They don't care how long it takes to go uphill. In the big scheme of things, does it matter if it takes an hour or an hour-fifteen? Nope, and actually the latter person gets to spend less time in the office or indoors and more time skiing. It's not about how long it takes to get there…it's about actually being there.

B.C., dogs and nordic

You can't help but go into the mountains sometimes and be awestruck. Today was one such day. Elaine and I were heading up for a little afternoon backcountry ski session when, we noticed, on the divide, a fractureline. Absolutely sheer. It was a cold prep, as it always is at this particular trailhead, the hole in the mountain where the train goes through, but once we got in the woods it was spectacular just how much snow there was. A fresh two to three inches that in the woods skied more like seven. We passed a foursome on nordic fish scale skis…walking and looking rather disgruntled. Up still, just me and Elaine, gabbing away about this and that, until the trail turned left and I started breaking the route uphill. Not sure exactly where we were, until we saw the cliff wall and recognized it. Up still, to the high lakes, when there it was. The entire side of Frosty had ripped off. Biggest avalanche I have ever seen in my life. Thank goodness (I hope) nobody was in that thing when it went, because they would not be here to talk about it now. That said, I would have loved to have seen it from afar. Nature's power, nature's stage. Overall though, a stellar day. Sleeping in, backcountry skiing, sauna, yaak momo, all with the most amazing bad ass woman in the world, my wife. The guy at the Nepalese restaurant said to Elaine and I…"You like the yaak? You must have been a Sherpa in another life."One of the best compliments I've gotten.

This has been the winter of backcountry. 29 days on the skis so far, a ski trab fast session tomorrow will be thirty. Oddly enough, not much of that has been on nordic skis. I had planned to do a bunch of nordic this summer and fall, but the truth is that when I wake up, and our sweet dog Stella comes over to say good morning, I don't have the heart to leave her behind. And alas, our nordic center at Eldora does not allow dogs. They are quite strict about this rule, and if they don't enforce it, much of the customer base will. I once snuck one of our old dogs on the trail, but was lambasted by a rather prominent member of the Boulder nordic skiing community for "runining the trails." Hoity toity in my opinion, and not necessarily the way to get new people into the sport. I still remember that morning well, and it dawned on me that nordic skiing in general was a bit too uppity for it's own good.

When I coached nordic I tried my best to kill that attitude. Our kids raced in pajamas and we would go on adventures all the time. Each kid got three skis – one classic, one skate, and one rock. The rock skis were essential, as they would allow us to go places no other nordic kids would. While the BNC was doing intervals, we'd be exploring, and hopefully instilling a love for the sport that most just don't get. I was reading something Bjorn Dahlie wrote, where he said…they key to success…is to get out there. It's not a job…it's a passion. Not that we didn't work hard, because we did. We'd do intervals and all that jazz, and when it came time to perform, we came in third place in states, boys and girls, behind Aspen and Vail, teams with far more experience and far more dollars. It was fun beating up on the establishment from Steamboat and other such places, and doing it with our own style. More importantly, our kids were having more fun, and I hope, unlike most high school sports, nordic skiing becomes a lifelong passion for them because of it.

Back to the point at hand. I believe Eldora should modify its dog policy. The current policy is both draconian and ridiculous. Hell, you're not even allowed to have dogs in the parking lot at Eldora.  It's not the staff's fault – the folks at the nordic center are AWESOME people and they have looked into this issue but they've got their hands tied by beaurocratic policy. I'm not asking for the whole area – it's true that dogs do impact the trails and not everybody likes dogs. But that doesn't justify a resort-wide ban.

There are always, of course, alternatives, and I believe Eldora holds many of it's hardline positions because it is, in effect, a monopoly (and on that note, it's a bit ridiculous that their season pass prices are what they are. Even more perplexing is why a C.U. student, who maybe has lived in the area for a month and is well funded by money from home, gets a pass for sub-$150 while a high school student who has lived here his or her entire life and makes $7.50 an hour at B&F has to pay the normal price? It is a Nederland mountain afterall. Taking care of locals, especially the local youth, should not be optional). West Magnolia would make a beautiful nordic area and would certainly provide an inviting alternative. Wooded, fairly level, and it already gets a fair bit of recreation. A snowmobile and a groomer, and a volunteer base could make it a stellar nordic area. Get the local town of Nederland behind it, an alternative to the corporate leadership that runs the little hill that almost could. The Nederland Nordic Council to get it off the ground, mountain style. And yeah, we'd have a dog track. It's not impossible. Not even a little bit.

Nederland could easily be a nordic skiing mecca. But as long as the sport is presented as an elitist thing, it's going to stagnate. The local nordic shop down in Boulder does a nice job and is run by good people, and they fill a niche of high end equipment, but there needs to be something in between. Some people don't want to spend $1,000 on nordic gear, and they don't really care what kind of grind they have on their skis. The problem is, in my opinion again, that, as long as people associate the sport as something relegated to the elite, it's going to run into a road block. I was fortunate enough to grow up in Norway, a country that knows a thing or two about nordic skiing, and it was not this way. It was the people's sport, something you'd do after Sunday church, at night after school or work, and it didn't require a $1,000 gear set-up with a ZR1 base grind to do it. I'm not saying we need to become Norwegian, because we don't. But we do need to make it the people's sport again. Many Americans have dogs, and they like to do things with their dogs. Nordic skiing is a wonderful – if not the best – activity for this. Nordic ski areas should accomodate this desire, not as an exception like Devil's Thumb (many people make the 75 mile trek here simply because they allow dogs) but as the rule.

In the meantime, it's the backcountry. Or the free and exceptional trails in the Brainard Lake area. For me, leaving the four legged friend behind just isn't an option. Skiing is a sport that should bring families together, not divide them.

Eldora should examine their dog policy on the nordic trails and change it to be more accomodating to our four legged friends.

Loveland Pow

A super fun day skiing up at Loveland, and a rather eclectic cross-section of the Nederland population as the group. Myself, Elaine, a girl Mariah who goes to Montana State and used to be on the nordic team, Mariah's dad who is an engineer and Tom Plant, former owner of the Acoustic Coffeehouse, State Representative and current environmental advisor to Governor Bill Ritter. The traffic was heinous, and Tom had some big meeting at the capital, but still managed to get in a couple runs before heading back down the hill. That's my kind of politician. For the rest of us, it was a leg sapping day of heavy powder skiing with tons of laughs and exclamations. We jumped some cliffs, we all took some diggers and we barely survived the last couple of runs in the effort to get last chair. It's very cool how people from all walks of life can feel the same sensations when skiing. It's a good sport in that manner.

One of the coolest things I've witnessed lately is how people are coming around with Elaine and I. Mariah's dad in a joking moment said, "you must get a similar awkard pause that lesbian couples get when they say they have a kid." Indeed we do. But those pregnant pauses aside, things are coming around.  This is how I see it. If I treat Elaine like shit…lay it on me. Crucify me with everything you've got. I deserve it. But base it on reality, not silly rumors and superstitions. All we really want is to be treated with the respect that any other couple gets. Nothing less, nothing more. Same as anybody else.

Over it

As some readers may know, there was a lot of drama in my personal world the past couple years. And while I've tried to keep it private – because honestly that's where it belongs – sometimes snippets creep out here. I was struggling with it, and this seemed like a good place to vent at times. In retrospect, I wish I had maintained complete public radio silence on this issue. Live and learn.

There has been a feeling of content the past month though. All those first year anniversaries are done, and now it seems like my wife and I can just go about the business of living. This is life, and love it or hate it, it's not changing. Happiness – true happiness – is mine for the first time ever. I suppose if some can't accept that, they were not really friends to begin with.

It's done. 2011 is around the corner. A ski day tomorrow. Christmas presents, honeymoon planning, etc. Life is in front of your face, here, now and everything else is fading to silence.

Break trail

The early bird catches the worm, and the early bird also gets to break trail for everybody else through a foot and a half of fresh. So it is. Headed up to the old ghost town yesterday in the dark amid a swirling, "Shining-esque" snow storm. Zero tracks on the road, and even the truck was unable to make it all the way up to the very top. No matter. Tossed on the skins, and headed up road, and then broke trail for everybody else. It's good, I like the workout. Was contemplating setting a vertical wall straight up the face, just to mess with folks, but in the end settled for a track with a number of switchbacks. This was out of necessity, as my heart was about to explode out of my chest with the vertical wall through a foot and a half of fresh theory. Headed up to an aesthetic point, and then pointed them down on the most blatant run in the area, to hopefully leave folks cursing a bit.

Later this morning, off to Loveland to ski the divide for day 27, and then possibly, if things clear out, day 28 will be a nighttime backcountry skin/ski with Elaine under the amber moon of the solstice/eclipse event tomorrow night.