Skiing to the Mines

Sitting here in the brand-new Nederland Community Library. A beautiful place, and the large window facing south, above the creek overlooks a scene of bleak grey and white winter. A storm has moved in, blanketing the land with snow and cold. They are saying lows of -30 degrees Fahrenheit Tuesday night, which will make for some chilly early morning dawn patrol sessions. But that's winter for you here in Colorado – sunny one day and arctic the next.

Been doing some interesting skis of late. I'm hoping to hit fifty days for the season tonight on a ski with Elaine, on track for a solid one hundred before winter is said and done. Elaine and I had a nice adventure up the east side of a mountain I have skied…oh, 500 or so times in the past ten years. But never on the east side. Lots of breaking trail through aspen groves, and then we stumbled upon an ancient mining cabin, complete with rails heading out of the dilapidated structure, off the tailing and into the abyss. We continued on, and found more and more artifacts from the olden days. The miners – the men and women – who roamed these hills at the turn of the century a hundred and ten years ago were tough old buggers. I imagine them cruising around on skis, much like we were, hunkering down for a cold winter's night. I can relate to them much better than I can to ancient Rome, the Egyptians, etc. It's a geographical relationship, borne from spending countless days wandering the hills of this place I have called home for the past decade and a half. We made our way to the top of the mountain, and then back down the way we came, across grassy slopes, wind crust and coyote tracks. It was an odd ski, but as Elaine said afterwards, maybe one of the best of the season.

The next day, it was hanging with the in-laws. Well, one in-law to be specific, as there is a significant clan of the in-laws who that would not happen with. Elaine, myself and her sister decided to head up a peak, as the winds were calm and the temperatures warm. We were missing a beacon too, so decided to make the uber-safe James Peak the call. Twas a long day, up the glacier, across the open plateau and then up the final pitch to the summit, but the views from the top made it all worthwhile. To the north, the Indian Peaks (Skywalker is looking prime), Rocky Mountain National Park, Steamboat and Wyoming. Gazing west, we saw Winter Park Resort, the divide, the Gore Range and even Mount of the Holy Cross. South, Greys and Torrey's – the grand dames of the Colorado Continental Divide – dominated the horizon, and to the east it was the flat-lands – Denver, Boulder and even massive Pikes Peak way off in the horizon. The way back down was possibly the worst snow I have ever skied – wind blown crust and ice – but it didn't matter. Good company, getting above 13,000 feet and my first raccoon eyes light sun burn of the season. As a good friend of mine once said: "Any day above timberline is a good day." I'm not sure some of the folks who lost their life up on Everest might share the same sentiment, but it is, by and large, a true statement.

Meanwhile, as the sky grows darker, the cold digs in deep. A few days of work, and then it's off to the Eiseman Hut in the Gore Mountains high above Vail to ski, hopefully, a heaping of new snow.

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