Upon returning from a really nice trip to the west coast to spend some time with mom, Elaine and I have returned to our home in Eldora, Colorado to find 28° temperatures, a stiff blowing west wind, and a couple of inches of snow on the ground. And so, once again, the ritual of starting up another ski season begins.
2014 started with a long fall, and then a stellar two weeks in December where it never stopped snowing. We followed a lot of animal tracks west this month.
This is an exciting one for us. While last year was certainly of high quality in many ways, the truth is I still felt quite limited from knee surgery on my ACL that took place in late-May of 2014. Combined with the passing of my father, and it's safe to say preparations for the 2014-15 winter was not what we normally do. It left me slightly stressed all winter long. We did a lot of nordic touring, in part because snow quality was so-so, but also because it was easier on the mind. Bottom line – it's safer to ski up and down 4th of July Road a bundle of times than it is to ski West Ridge full bore. As such, that's what I, and in turn, we, did.
Heading on up west somewhere on the three-pin leathers and Nansens! Early season bliss!
The year culminated with a stellar trip to Norway where we skied some 200 km from the little village of Hjerkinn to Lillehammer, and I have to say that was one of the finest winter adventures I've ever enjoyed. I'll recap it here on this blog later. We completed the 42 km Alley Loop in sub-three hours and Elaine won the Eldora Nighthawks Overall women nordic series. It was, by all accounts, a stellar nordic year. On the flip side, the Elk Mountain Traverse was a serious dud, mainly because I wasn't mentally ready for skiing down the backside of Crested Butte in the dark with 500 crazies. Visions of collisions and popped ACL's danced through my head, and that's no way to race. Bottom line, I was scared and mentally honest. We got down the valley, had a good heart-to-heart, and decided this wasn't the time. It was one of those gut feelings and I've learned over the years to trust those a lot. In the end, not a bad year, but not a great year. It seems strange to say 150 days on skis is a "low" year, but, well, it was the 2nd lowest total we've achieved since we've been married. Numbers don't tell the whole story, but they do tell part of the story.
New Years Eve midnight ritual ski. It was so cold Elaine's hair froze white.
Things are feeling a lot better going into 2015-16. It's been a wonderful summer, highlighted by a 500-mile hike along the Continental Divide Trail from Wolf Creek Pass to Eldora. What a gorgeous trip, a life-changing trip in some ways. Be wary of going too deep into the Wilderness, lest it become tough to come out again. We've both been suffering from a fair bit of that on our return to civilization. Nevertheless, we got a good fitness bump on an solid summer base. I'm pleased to say I felt zero pain in my knee, so it's all systems go moving into this coming year. Dryland has been going well, with a bunch of roller skiing, running, nordic bounding, ab work and hiking with heavy packs. Physically and mentally, we're ready.
Had the privilege of skinning up A-Basin with Elaine and her NCAA Division One athlete sister Rose, who rows (not Rose) for the University of Washington rowing varsity team, pretty much the best team in the USA.
As far as goals for the upcoming season…well, we'll see how that plays out. We've both caught the nordic bug hard, and I'd tentatively like to see what I can do in the 30 km Stagecoach Classic in January. Classic is my better event, and it's going to be a lot of fun trying to hone those skills and seeing where the chips fall. I think a return to the Alley Loop is likely. We'll do some A.T. races, some nordic races, but mostly just adventures in the mountains, far from lycra and race courses. As far as the Elk goes, well I think we're ready to give it a break for a few years. It's become a rather popular bucket list item for folks – ala the Leadville 100 – and I tend to feel that when things become bucket list races it's time to do something else. It's been a good run, a few surprising podiums even, a lot of joy and a lot of suffering, but it's time to let the passion and stoke for that event rebuild. Elaine wants to do the Power of Four and see if she can suffer less than the first go around, so I have little doubt we'll be lined up at the start of that pain fest, and I have little doubt she be might be towing me at some point up the last climb! Beyond that, we'll see.
Norge, har du mit hjerte…
I've found the best cure for post-adventure depression is planning a new adventure, so took advantage of the app Hopper and booked cheap tickets to Oslo at the end of March (TIP: most of the U.S. probably thinks going to Norway in the winter would be akin to sitting next to somebody who has the Ebola Virus in a gondola…tickets are less than anywhere else in Europe). Gary Neptune told us the place would get in our blood and become an annual addiction, and he might damned well be right. Our main goal for this trip is skiing across the Hardangervidda. The Hardangervidda is a couple hundred mile long massive, vast, barren plateau that was actually the filming ground for the snow scenes in Empire Strikes Back. It's the home of the largest reindeer herd in the world. It's also the number one training ground for polar exploration skiing, and Elaine and I would like to dabble in that someday.
It was the year of learning to groom!
We have nearly three weeks scheduled in Norway, and it doesn't take three weeks to ski across the Hardangervidda. We're looking at bringing our AT gear and making some turns above the Arctic Circle near Tromso in the Lyngen Alps. I have this fantasy of our AT gear, camping gear, a canoe and a tent and basically padding the coast from inlet to inlet looking for mountains in the Lyngen Alps to skin up and then ski back down. Elaine is terrified of the water, but she loves powder, so we'll see which one will win out. This is an area I've always wanted to ski ever since seeing that segment in that Warren Miller film, and there is no time like now. And then, it's home to Colorado for May and June, the two best months for ski mountaineering.
A day after the Elk. Down but far from out.
One of the highlights for me is working in an awesome ski and mountaineering shop in Boulder and it gets us so stoked to kit folks out with perfect gear for winter adventure in the mountains. It's funny, some people think working in a gear shop is a slacker job, but to me it's about making people happy and making the best days of their year that much better. We love it, and it's what we like doing, critics and low pay be damned. A few years ago I was able to eliminate my personal debt (save that fucking student loan). We live pretty simply, don't party or go to concerts, don't own a credit card, don't spend a nickel on alcohol so are able to spend our money on our real vices, good ski gear and traveling to cool mountains. We're exceptionally fortunate to work the same schedule in the same place, which saves us commuting money and gives us lots of quality time off together. And, contrary to what some might think, we don't get sick of each other the more time we spend together. Just the opposite actually.
Intergalactics were chaotic this…wait…every year. No shenanigans whatsoever at this event.
Back to tonight. Damn, it's snowing out, and I'm tempted to take my rock skis out for a pre-work tour. We'll see. It will probably be a hike. I still remember skinning up Caribou a few Octobers back and post-holing and scraping our shins in a talus field and banging our knees on rocks there was so little snow, and that experience has haunted us to this day.
But soon. I can't wait for that first carve on a A-Basin groomer, diving that edge in, feeling that swoosh at the apex and rebounding to the next turn. I can't wait to put on the nordic skis up at Bruce's Trail on Rabbit Ears and just feel that first damn glide. That burning sensation in the lungs, that cold that engulfs the body after an awesome day of cross-country skiing just before the sunsets. That's in the next week or so. I get giddy thinking about it.
This will be my 40th season of skiing (95% of my life) and I feel like I'm nine years old. It never gets old, and the excitement builds each year more and more.
I can't fucking wait.