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Aspen/Snowmass TR

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
Aspen/Snowmass TR, 12/29/07 thru 1/05/08

I started typing this TR last night on my laptop while watching the poll results from the New Hampshire primaries. I was just unwinding, letting my fingers have their way on the keyboard, and enjoying the memories of our trip, and before I knew it, I’d created a rather lengthy monster. I re-read it this morning, decided that there was nothing objectionable about it except for the length, and decided to post it.
Cheers all,

Howdy Bears. Following is my first attempt at a trip report for the forum, an account of our ANNUAL FATHER AND SON NINJA SKI MISSION FROM GOD. This was the first of my three scheduled trips this season, (may be able to sneak in another one if I’m lucky,) but the Ninja Mission is usually my favorite week of the year. Sorry that I don’t have any images to share, but I was too busy skiing to bother messing around with a camera.

12/29/07. 6:00 AM flight had The Kid and me looking and feeling our best All travel was uneventful. Dropped my skis off at Gene Taylor’s for a tune. Extra kudos to the folks at Taylor sports. I was just shooting the breeze with Larry & Barry, two of the boot fitters in the shop, and they invited me to bring in my boots and pop them on their Hot Form heater, free of charge. Way cool. I gladly accepted the generous offer, and by way of thanks, brought along a 6 pack for the staff. Actually, I had a cold one with the guys while re-forming my boots, so in actuality I donated a 5 pack. Grabbed a quick meal with The Kid and watched the Giants-Pats game before turning in.

12/30. Our first ski day of the season. As is our usual habit, we catch darn near the first chair on Village Express. Start the day with a few laps on freshly groomed Slot, using the Sam’s Knob chair for transit. The snow is absolutely gorgeous, and feels great beneath our skis, almost like real skiing. The day starts out extremely cold, and the winds are merciless and unrelenting. Despite the arduous bluster, we head off the Knob, and try and catch a ride up the Big Burn lift. No luck, as we’re waved off by a patroller telling all comers that the lift will be closed until further notice because of the high winds. We slide on over to the Alice Springs lift, and upon reaching the top, discover that the High Alpine lift is also closed. As it turned out, all of the lifts servicing the upper reaches of Snowmass were to remain closed for almost the entirety of that day. We satisfied ourselves by spending most of the day back in the Campground area, but grew a bit restless during the long waits on lift lines. Not to complain, after all, it is a holiday weekend, and we did have a few amusing chats with our fellow snow riders. Couldn’t honestly expect more from an area that was forced to close a good percentage of its’ uphill capacity. In an unusual move for us, we head off the hill at around 2:00 and have a more leisurely lunch than is our habit. Post feeding bloat rules out any more aggressive skiing that day, so we retire to our room for some reading and televised football mayhem. Meanwhile, just outside our sheltered enclave, snow begins to fall.

12/31. The dawn arrives with some very good news, and some not quite as good news. Very good news is that we’ve got a small Powder Day! Not quite as good news is that The Kid is going to ski school. An established aspect of the Ninja Missions entails that The Kid must spend at least one day in a group lesson. He may then opt to ski with me, or spend as many days in ski school as he’d like, (and that we can afford.) I usually invoke the ski school clause whenever there is a fresh dump. You know the adage about no friends on a powder day? It can also be extended to beloved family members as well. The Kid is 14 years old, and is well able to look after himself, get to his lesson on time, has enough class to know how to tip his instructor graciously, and knows how to get in touch with me if anything goes seriously wrong. This of course leaves me free to head out and catch all the goods that I can. Forewarned that the lifts may open a few minutes earlier than the posted times during the holiday season, I’m on the second chair, (had to fumble about to put my lift pass away or I might have been on the first,) and head on up the VE again. I again spend the start of the day making laps in the freshies off of Sam’s Knob. I make my first three runs before I cut across anyone else’s tracks. Virtually alone, I can’t believe that there are so few souls on the mountain. Hey, more fresh lines for early risers is just fine with me. The virtual silence is interrupted only by the gentle swish of my skis and by the intermittent and soul satisfying CRUMP of avy charges that emanate from The Cirque. The winds are still gusting at very high speed, and the Cirque Platter lift remains closed. All of the other lifts seem to be running, and I have an almost perfect day on the hill. It’s probably a good thing that the Cirque is closed, because I spend the day alone, and would be foolish to venture into The Cirque or Hanging Valley alone. I’ve skied there before, but am not that well acquainted with the terrain and would be better off with a more knowledgeable companion. Spent a good part of the afternoon working on my horrible bump skiing, with a few forays into the trees looking for more fresh lines.

As for The Kid: after I kissed him good-bye, he dutifully headed off to the ski school “level 8” meeting area, and made the acquaintance of a few teens between the ages of 15 and 17. This mixture of girls and boys decided to skip out on class for the day, and headed off to enjoy the powder day. Way cool. I was extremely pleased that he made some new friends, and happily granted him permission to spend the evening with his new gang. The older kids showed The Kid some of the finer points regarding hanging around in a mountain town, as they passed the New Year playing pool in a bar, and eating greasy food.

I spent the evening enjoying the company of Wigs, an old friend and Epicski.com hot-shot, along with some casual buddies from years past during a happy hour celebration of Norwegian New Years at a local watering hole. I was also fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of another Bear, Swing. By an odd coincidence, Swing, an extremely graceful skier, was one of two Bears, along with Shredhead, who had sent me PMs in response to a posting that I made prior to my trip. Alas I left home before I received either of their PMs, so it may have been kismet that led to my meeting this delightful young man. As The Kid was out carousing with his new friends, I spent the New Year with some old ones, Ismael, Queequeg, Stubbs, Flask, and the rest of the Pequod’s ships’ company in their fateful hunt for Moby Dick. All was right in my little corner of the world.

1/1/08. As adult beverages play only the smallest part of a Ninja Mission, (at least until The Kid is a few years older,) I had no piper to pay on January 1st, so was able once again to make it to the lift a few minutes early. The Kid was heading off to ski school, but we were able to make a few runs together before he had to go to the meeting area. The wind had finally quit, and we were blessed with a beautiful, blue-sky day.

I followed my intuition and at the last minute opted to sign up for a lesson. I made my way to the meeting place and when the supervisor asked what I wanted from a lesson that day, I explained that rather than receive a lot of formal instruction, I wished to have the instructor serve more as a guide than a teacher, as I would like to become more familiar with some of the gated areas, and maximize my enjoyment of the mountain. Well, with Rod C. I hit the jackpot. Along with my two new friends, Jacqua, a 40-something Brazilian wildman, and Wendy, a spunky young teacher from Southern California, we formed the entirety of the days’ “groups 8 & 9.” Following a very short assessment of our skills, Rod had us ride to the head of Powderhorn, an ambling, rollercoaster of a run that because it not been open on the previous day was still covered in fresh, soft snow. Powderhorn is designated as a double diamond on the Snowmass map, but is actually not that demanding. I believe that it was assigned the DD because it is rather long, and there is no alternative but to see the trail through to its’ terminus. No easier way out is available.

All was going along swimmingly with Rod leading his three charges through fast, sweeping turns until misfortune reared its ugly head. It seems that Wendy had arrived from the flatlands just the night before, and was not being treated at all kindly by the 10,000’ altitude. She became more than a bit ill, and at times was almost entirely overcome with nausea, lethargy, and light-headedness. It took the better part of half-an-hour of gentle encouragement, frequent stops, and slow turns to reach the bottom, where two monster-ace patrol members met our little band, and took Wendy into their able care. We actually encountered another pair of patrollers on the way down, but they were already involved in trying to assist a skier who had injured his shoulder, and triage dictated that his injury was the more drastic. This pair did however raise their companions, and arranged for an on mountain rendezvous.

After seeing that our new friend was in capable hands, Jacqua and I readily followed Rod up three lifts to reach the top of Big Burn. It was there that our day took a meteoric turn for the better. For the first time in days, the Cirque lift was up and running, and the three of us headed off for the gated areas. Rod’s years of experience on the mountain paid off immediately. He showed us various gates that we could enter in the coming days, and also pointed out a few that we would be better off avoiding. Essentially, he was providing the exact information that I wanted to gain from the lesson. He then selected what he hoped would be the pick of the litter for that day. He had us enter at the gate for Roberto’s, and his choice was dead-on wonderful. Seems that those high winds during the previous few days had driven tons of snow into this area, and we enjoyed a delightful run through deep soft snow that was only a bit broken up. At the bottom, we looked around at some of the other routs that we might have taken, and it was then that we realized how valuable Rod’s suggestion had been. Both the routes Headwall, and Possible showed a lot of rocks that had not been present on Roberto’s. We then followed a line through a sparsely gladded area, and found ourselves on what was either Wall One or Wall Two. We enjoyed a fairly steep shot of deep soft snow until near the end of the run. Then Rod had us pull a short left turn, and there below us was a beautiful short gladded shot of absolutely untouched powder that turned out to be three feet deep. Yahoo!

Because we had spent an inordinate amount of time on Powderhorn, Rod suggested that we make a substantially abbreviated lunch break, so we rapidly downed a few cups of water, ate a banana or two, and then headed out to the Cirque again. Rod suggested that we pay a visit to AMF, (which does not stand for Adios My Friend,) and enjoyed yet more, soft, deep snow. The rest of the day was spent with Rod showing his two charges some hidden tree shots, and working a bit on technique. I’ve never had a bad ski lesson, but this one was particularly enjoyable. If you’re a Bear Rod, and have read this far, thanks again.

BTW, subsequent check-in with Wendy showed her well recovered by the time she reached the base area.

The Kid’s lesson was by his account no less delightful. Several members of his new mob were in his class, and they enjoyed watching each other jump off of cliffs that I’m afraid to even look at.

1/2/08. The Kid was a bit slow to rise, and asked if he could take another lesson. I hurried over to the ski school desk, picked up his ticket, and shoved it into his paw. As my B2s are getting a bit old, I decided to demo a new pair of mid-fats. I stopped by Taylor’s and had a brief chat with P.J. a.k.a. el queso grande, and opted to try out a pair of Rossignol B78s in 174 cm. Alas my two detours cost me first chair. The lifts must have been running for a good five minutes before I got there. (Actually, I had planed for the two of us to head over to the Highlands for the day, but he wanted to ski with the same instructor and his buddies, so I decided to stay at Snowmass should either of us meet with any misfortune. I might have made first chair at Highlands as I believe that it did not open until 9:00.)

Regarding the demo skis, I’m very glad that I gave the new sticks a try. By doing so, I convinced myself to save several hundred dollars. The new 78’s are bit livelier than my old B2s, and have some more stability at speed. Still and all, their performance is not an order of magnitude greater than my current skis, so I’ll be happy to keep on loving skiing on the old Rossis for at least another season. Near the end of the day I had to be at the bottom of the hill, so took the opportunity to stop in at the Taylor shop and swap out the 78’s. I gave my candid review to P.J. and was a bit amused when he, the big cheese at the shop, confided that he too still skis on his old pair of B2s. As the Taylor demo deal is good for multiple skis during the course of the day, the folks asked if there was anything else that I wanted to try. I explained that my demo was just fine regarding anything that I would seriously consider purchasing, but they said that was cool, and that I could try anything in the shop just for kicks. I then explained that I though that it would be fun to try a pair of moderately serious ripper skis. The day was coming to a close, and all that I would be able to access would be groomers, not my usual stomping ground. In order to illustrate the type of skis that I thought would be fun, I used the example of Wile E. Coyote on a pair of ACME Rocket Powered Roller Skates. P.J. sauntered over to the rack, and handed me a pair of shiny, chrome Volkl Tigershark 12s, complete with a nifty power switch. I threw a few $ into the tip jar, and the tech guru did a quick binding adjustment. I scurried to the lift clutching these new glossy wonder-sticks, while trying desperately to fasten the boot that I removed in the shop, (Silly me. I managed to break the two outside toes on my right foot a few weeks ago, and without thinking removed my right boot to give the tech for sizing, helping to add a bit discomfort to my day,) hoping to make it to the top of the hill in time to make at least a pair of runs before the upper lifts closed. Made it to the top of Big Burn six minutes before the lift was due to close. That turned out to be absolutely no problem. Wow. These skis want to MOVE. First run I left the switch in the “off” position. Made a non-stop run of linked short turns down to the lift and still had a wee bit of time to spare before closing. On reaching the top again, I popped out of the skis and flicked the switches to the “on” position. Even more wow. They held incredibly well on the hero snow in fast, big turns. I’m curious to know how they hold on real boilerplate. Guess that I’ll never know though. As a Floridian, my rock skis are also my powder skis, and are used for everything in-between as well.

The demo fun was only part of the days’ delights. I had a special treat in store when I hooked up with my new Bear buddy Swing. He’s an energetic 22-year-old, who spent part of his younger days on the Austrian junior ski team. His mother was a world cup racer, and the boy’s got serious skills. He’s spending the season in Aspen helping to promote his family’s new line of skis, Edelweiser. Most of the time Swing skis without poles. He’s almost unbelievably graceful, and some of his moves on skis bring to mind a big wave surfer. He’s got this trick of carving ridiculous, precise arcs at high speed on only his uphill ski. Dang, but it’s hard to hate a show-off who’s so personable. The three hours that I got to spend with him on the hill were a truly memorable bit of an already exceptional trip.

The Kid didn’t fare as well as I did on this day. Only a few of his gang made it to ski school, they had a different instructor, and The Kid reported that he was more skilled than most of his new classmates. He spent a lot of time waiting around while some of the teens picked themselves up and re-gathered themselves from numerous yard sales. The lower skill set in this day’s group limited the terrain that the class could safely ski, and thus there were no cliffs to jump off of. He did like a particular tree stash that he was shown, and The Kid promised to take me there tomorrow. He also had some kind words to say about the instructors’ patience and feels good about some of the tips that he received regarding mogul skiing. He just wished that they could have spent more time skiing and less time waiting.

1/3/08. Today’s treat actually took us by surprise last night. As we were strolling around the village mall, The Kid and I ran into an old friend of mine, Steve S. Steve has been an instructor for over 30 years, the last 12 of them at Aspen/Snowmass. Steve told us that he had the next day off, and asked if he could join up with the two of us. After about ½ second of deep thought, The Kid and I told Steve that we’d be thrilled to spend the day with him. Back in our room I explained our good fortune to The Kid by equating our chance to spend the day with my friend to our playing a game of basketball at the neighborhood playground and having Dwyane Wade stop by and asking if he could play too. (The Kid is a Miami Heat fan.)

We met up with Steve just as the lifts were starting up, and we headed up to make a few warm-up laps. The wind had picked up again, and after a particularly gratifying cruise down freshly groomed Sheer Bliss, Steve proposed that we take the short bus ride over to Aspen Mountain in hopes of finding some more sheltered weather. Not being foolish enough to bicker with an experienced local, we hopped on the bus and were soon being whisked to the top of Ajax inside the Silver Queen Gondola. We were met at the summit by stunning vistas, a nearly cloudless blue sky, and a breeze that was barely stiff enough to ruffle the man-fur on some of the more elegantly dressed of our fellow skiers. As The Kid had never been on Ajax before, and my own knowledge of the mountain is minimal, we surrendered ourselves to Steve’s wisdom, and simply followed his lead around the hill. He’d ask The Kid what he wanted on any given run; cruiser, steeps, bumps, or trees, then pick an appropriate trail. The names on the trail markers came and went in a blur. With nary a moments’ wait for any lift, we put a lot of miles on our ski bases. Though almost all of the runs were short compared to those at Snowmass, there was challenge aplenty, and I was secretly glad as the brevity of most of the laps helped me catch my breath on the lifts, and thus allowed me to keep up with Steve and The Kid. The sun was shining, the snow was soft, and the company was first rate. I couldn’t ask for more.

1/4/08. Our last day on the hill. The Kid opts to sleep in a bit, so we make plans to meet at 10:00, and I arrive just as the lifts open. (What a surprise.) First few laps on Sam’s Knob are extra normal. The wind is back and the sky is overcast. Looking up towards Big Burn, the top is obscured by what else but falling snow. I gleefully make a few runs on trails that were groomed the day before, and revel in whooshing through a few inches of baby-butt soft powder on top of the smooth blue groomers. After a few invigorating cruisers, I hop into the trees seeking a few more unmarked lines. Then it’s time to go meet The Kid. By the time we get back up top, the snow has stopped falling, but there are still plenty of fresh stashes to be found in Garrett Gulch, so we mine the area for a couple of runs. I give The Kid his choice of runs for the rest of the day, and the stiff wind convinces him to look for thrills on terrain less exposed than in the gated areas. We play tag off of the High Alpine lift, venturing into Cookies for a brief dash through the trees in seriously deep snow. We fuel up at the base of Elk Camp, and it occurs to me that I’ve not yet been on this part Snowmass during this trip. This area seems much more crowded than most parts of the resort, so my initial impression is that I’ve not missed much. However, The Kid came through in the pinch. Seems that one of the cool tree runs that he visited in ski school is in the Elk Camp area, and with a rather nasty smile on his face he uttered the three most dangerous words on any ski hill; “Follow Me Dad.” Suffice to say that I did in fact make it back safely to the lift, but one particular little bit of mandatory air in moderately tight trees was a not overly welcome surprise. Of course, he immediately requested that we repeat the run. Loving father and genial fool that I am, I consent. Forewarned of the upcoming hazard to my aging bones, I opt to duck out of the woods just prior to the potentially embarrassing obstacle and endure a well-earned raspberry from The Kid. He then takes pity on his old man, and decides to spend what little time we have left by playing in the (mostly) small, soft bumps under the High Alpine lift, before catching one of the last chairs up to the top of the Big Burn once again for a long, mellow blue square cruise back to the bottom of the mountain.

Now it’s time to thank our good fortune along with friends old and new for such a glorious time that we shared together. Our Ninja Mission was once again a resounding success, and I’ll now have to rely on memories of the wonderful week that was, and dream of the ones yet to come.
post #2 of 5

Indeed, this is one heck of a trip report!!!!! Enjoyed your writing style along with the events of your trip! I'll be there soon.....

Thanks, and welcome to Epic...
post #3 of 5
Wow, hope my trip out there next month is that good.
post #4 of 5
bazzer; enjoyed reading your report, it has got my juices flowing, we fly out from the uk in the morning for aspen, and now i really can,t wait !!!!!!!!!
post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 
Hi Neilski. Trust that you have an uneventful journey from the UK. You'll be glad to know that there should be more fresh snow when you arrive. Enjoy.
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