Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Vail Powder Day

This is a long post about a great day. After a near miss with another nasty head cold last week, I finally let myself outside for vigorous recreation on Sunday. There was a good bit of new snow; 13" at Vail, for example, where I was headed.

The Start

I hit the snooze button(s) and overslept an hour and 15 minutes, which is unforgivable, and left by maybe 8 AM. Surprisingly, the drive up to Vail was painless, like springtime when many people have switched to golf, mountain biking, etc. There was a slight backup due to people exiting at East Vail, but that was it.

Being late, I ended up parking on the side of the road at the tail end of West Vail, and riding the milk wagon of a transit bus to seemingly every condo in the Vail Valley before getting to the Village.

But again, my fault for being late.

This is the view east up the valley while riding the Vista Bahn chair lift, the point at which any frustrations begin to melt away:

On The Hill

A view of a very small slice of China Bowl from the top of Vail Mountain:

The reported 13" of snow must have fallen partly during the prior ski day, because there was not a lot that was untracked; it was more like they got 4" after closing. No matter.

Below is a view over China Bowl to Blue Sky Basin on the green hills in the back:

Of course on a busy day, the bottleneck can be the lift lines. Below is the line at the pommel lift to Inner Mongolia Bowl.

At the top, I took my skis off and started to hike up the hill so I could could get a few extra powder turns. Twice now when I've started hiking I've heard pointed comments about risky behavior, as if I'm going to head out the backcountry gate with no avalanche gear. Maybe I should wear a sign: "I'm not going out the backcountry gate".

I walk uphill at a pretty good clip with my skis on my shoulder and passed a couple people (trail running comes in handy). No competitiveness here! It feels good to be able to hoof it like that at 11,700 feet; it's a good conditioning test.

Here's a shot of Mount of the Holy Cross with a bit of the ski slopes visible in the front. I like that slope angle:

Looking back uphill, my tracks are in there somewhere:

Man, I love the views from the Back Bowls. White frosting:

At one point I stopped in the trees in Siberia Bowl and got this tiny window through to the open slopes from the snowy woods:

I didn't realize these trees have some nice (gladed?) open lanes in them:

Well, I guess "open" is a relative term. Let's just say I've skied to the left of this, which is a wide-open meadow, and to the right, in which the trees are very close together, but I somehow missed the middle. Here, there are good places to turn all the way down, if you can make turns within about 15 feet on a steep bumpy slope.

I'm getting a bit more used to controlled risk in several areas: getting air over bumps and other small features, taking moderate drops and not worrying about it (bindings still on DIN 7) and just generally letting the skis ride on advanced slopes.

The Paradox

In so doing, I come up against one of the paradoxes of skiing, and of sports in general: that relaxation affords control.

By adopting a relaxed stance with feet together and letting the skis flow, you remain in a balanced position over the center of the foot, and you can weight the downhill ski into the top of a bump, or change direction quickly. It's counter-intuitive and I still fight it a bit, but "it" is gradually winning.

Some nice bumps in Siberia Bowl:

If my stance is relaxed, I can round a bump, stop at the top of it, or just ride over it, it doesn't really matter.

I was standing safely back from the edge of the cornice while taking the previous photo, and didn't notice until I got my pictures home that the guy next to me caused part of the cornice to collapse with his ski (see shower of snow to the right):


It's only about 10 feet down max, but if you fell wrong it could hurt. I dropped down at the end where it's only maybe a 7-foot steep slope, no jumping necessary.

I skied until "last call" and ski patrol had roped off entry to the bowls.

I made my way down to Vail Village, taking any soft moguls along the way, carefully avoiding the occasional nasty bulletproof skid slope, of which there were many.

If you don't ski or ride you may not realize that the slopes typically get more scraped (and slippery) the farther downhill you go, because everyone has to funnel down to a few narrow exit points near the lodges. Some areas simply get worn out and scraped to a nice white marble texture by natural wear and tear, and by people trying to slow themselves by skidding.

The Walk

Last time I was here, I enjoyed my run through the wintry trails of the Village, so I decided to skip the bus and walk a bit.

When I got to Lionshead, I heard my bus was on a 30-minute schedule and was reportedly still packed. Since I didn't have running gear and I like to do stuff a bit off the beaten path (so to speak) I decided to walk to West Vail to my car. It would be my "run" for the day. I'd walked to Vail Village in the opposite direction before, and it wasn't that terrible, about 3.5 miles total.

Along the way, I saw an amazing sky, which I might have missed taking the bus. The blue layer of clouds was lit from above by the setting sun, like a science fiction flick where a fleet of spaceships was hovering above the clouds. There were different shapes and lighting in all directions:

The verdict: my touring boots are not exactly hiking boots, but they're survivable. My feet had some near-blisters during the last 1/2 mile, my shoulder was a bit tender from having my heavy ski setup on them, and my left hip didn't like the gait apparently required by my ski boots. Ah well, practice makes perfect.

The Drive

I drove over to Edwards to the Gore Range Brewery for dinner and to wait out the ski traffic.

Alas, when the traffic cleared up after 8 PM, there was a tanker rollover accident near Georgetown, closing I-70. The recommended detour route was via Fairplay, about 2 hours extra driving! Luckily, I-70 opened back up just as I reached the detour turnoff point.

When I got to Bakerville, I split from the line of slowly-moving, impatient tailgaters and took the service road all the way ahead to Silver Plume all by myself, saving about 20 minutes. The wreck was on westbound (uphill) I-70, right on the hill west of Georgetown; a tank truck on its side and half off the road. Yikes.

I have to admit the fickle nature of ski traffic wears on me, and when I get home at 11 PM, utterly spent from hours behind the wheel, I sometimes wonder if some day I will decide it's not worth it. I could have skied closer to home -- like Loveland or Eldora -- and possibly avoided a couple of hours of driving.

However, at this point I'm going to say... a powder day at Vail is still worth it.


  1. Beautiful pictures. Vail is one of my favorite places in the world. Do you ever ski with anyone?

  2. Thanks. I go on group ski trips now and then, but in general I enjoy skiing alone. I'm all about the activity, and I get a ton of skiing done that way.

  3. Ted - Yes, nice day :) Just need to make it on a weekeday now and then.