Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kiwi Quest 2010 - More Planning

I'm not so good at the "blog updating" thing, am I? I see that my last post on this subject was 3 months ago...

Well, a few things have changed since then. I thought I had nearly my whole trip planned out, save for a couple of flights within New Zealand, from the North Island to the South for the GAP trip, and back. Turns out I was wrong.

On the advice of my mother, and the experience of very little flight selection with Aeroplan already, I finally booked my inter-NZ flights: Auckland to Christchurch and back. Two days later, I get a call from GAP Adventures to inform me that my GAP trip has been cancelled due to insufficient numbers of people signing up. WHAT??!! Oh crap! They offered me a spot on the same trip (see link in Sept 2009 blog entry) departing in March, but unfortunately I couldn't take it. Then they offered me a discount on any other trip in lieu of that one, but again, I couldn't take advantage. In the end, I got all my deposit and trip insurance money back without any hassle, but I was very, very sad and frustrated for the whole weekend. I was also under a lot of stress outside of this trip planning so to suddenly be nearly back at square one was very disheartening.

After a few days, I was less depressed enough to start investigating alternate South Island trip ideas. You see, I didn't want to fly for 2 days and not see half of the country I am visiting, especially since the whole country is only 268,021 km2 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand) so I was determined to find a replacement for my cancelled trip. After a LOT of research (something I'm pretty good at online), I decided to take myself on a Secret South adventure with a company called Active Earth New Zealand (http://www.activeearthnewzealand.com/secret-south.html). It ended up being a few days shorter than the GAP trip (11 days vs. 14), and cheaper too, but in the end that means I saved some money to put toward wool clothing (NZ has a LOT of sheep) and I'll have more time to spend in the North Island with my aunt and uncle. Win-win situation, I'd say!

Due to the change in length of South Island trip, and the fact that my newly booked trip departed Queenstown instead of Christchurch, this meant that I'd have to suck it up one more time and call Aeroplan again. I wasn't dreading calling Air New Zealand at all (I had booked one flight with each company for various reasons) because they had better "hold" music and I loved their accents. Aeroplan, on the other hand, has an annoying voice activated menu which means I have to speak as though the phone is simple-minded and deaf in order to be understood. I think the Aeroplan menu woman is related to Emily @ Bell, the voice menu girl that my mother loves to hate. It also meant I'd have to pay (again) to make changes to my flights, but in the end, neither call was too painful and I got early morning flights to make the most of the day at the other end of it.

I'll be headed to Queenstown the day before my trip leaves so I've booked myself a relaxing excursion to take in some of the local-ness of the country:
http://www.realjourneys.co.nz/Main/Farmexcursions/ I figure I'll save the skydiving and bungee jumping for next time. Queenstown is known as the "Adventure Capitol of the World" so I'm going to have me a grand adventure, me-style :)

I'm headed to the No PST Province in 2 more sleeps for some holiday snowboarding vacation so I'll try to update this blog a little more when I'm back. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kiwi Quest 2010 - The Beginning

It's official! After 7 years of talking about it, I'm finally headed to New Zealand to visit my uncle Ross and his wife Liz on the North Island. If the stars align themselves properly, I'm also doing a 2 week tour of the South Island with GAP Adventures: http://www.gapadventures.com/trips/south-island-sojourn/ONSS/2009/

My uncle has lived in Auckland all of my life and before that too. He's Canadian by birth but happened to get a job there before I came along so I've really only met him less than a dozen times in my life. His wife Liz is born and raised in New Zealand, a native Kiwi I guess you could call her. I met her once about 5 years ago when she stayed with me for 2 nights on her way through Toronto. I picked her up at the airport but really had no idea what she looked like so I made a big sign that said "Hi Liz". A family waiting near me had a great time with that because they had a daughter named Liz. Anyway, I was a little nervous about hosting a near stranger but we had a great time and got along well. It'll be nice to see them both again, this time in a place that they call home.

I guess you could say this trip is a once-in-a-lifetime one but I really hope it's not. Don't get me wrong, I'm super excited about it, I just hope I get to NZ more than once in my lifetime :) When I called Aeroplan to book my flights, I was quite surprised at the lack of choices available to me. I already had the GAP trip in mind which has fixed dates so I needed to work around those. I ended up with one flight choice going there, and two choices to come back. This was, in part, due to the Olympics ending in Vancouver right around the time I am coming home. Aeroplan could get me to YVR no problem, but there were no flights available out of there for another 9 days! I did consider choosing that option as I have plenty of people to stay with there, but I didn't think work would appreciate me being "stranded" in Vancouver that long. In the end, it turns out that I won't be on the North Island with Ross and Liz as much as I had hoped, but to me that just means that I'll have to come back sometime! Oh, what a delightful dilemma.

Another thing I had hoped for was to maybe get a chance to see Hawaii again with a layover there. My parents did that the last time they went to NZ but it was not meant to be for me. Instead, I've got 6 hours in Sydney on the way back, followed by 12 hours of time in San Francisco. I'm quite sure by then I'll have no idea where I am, what time of day it is, or what my name is, but I'm determined to make the most of my chances to see two cities on my list of places to visit.

Luckily for me, my dad's cousin Victor and his two boys live by Sydney. I haven't seen them since I stayed with them for a week back in 1998 when they lived in England. I figure I'll give them a heads-up and see if they'd be interested in meeting me for lunch or something. It would be great to see them again. Failing that, I could ask other people I know for random relatives of theirs for me to ring (you laugh but I've done it before), or just take myself for a wee tour. My friend Shelley has kindly lent me a guidebook for Oz so I've plenty of reading to do now.

Facebook is a wonderful thing....sometimes. I used it the other day to ask people I know on it for suggestions on what to see & do in San Francisco and I got back some wonderful ideas. I'm compiling a list of them, checking with the guidebook that Shelley lent me (she's been almost everywhere), and I'll map myself some excellent ways to pass my layover there. I figure between Red Bull and excitement, it'll be no problem to keep myself going. I got sent links to ideas, links to information (I love research!), a written walking tour itinerary, and quite a few shouts to visit the Ghiradelli chocolate establishment. Ok, twist my arm...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Home, home again

Happy Valentine’s Day! I’m spending mine on I-76 and I-80. How’s that for romance? I’m in the Central time zone now which means I’m somewhere between feed lots and corn fields in the boring flat state of Nebraska. Don’t worry, it’s not currently my turn to drive.

After a night of bad dreams for me, it was time to pack the truck, grab a jam and icing sugar heart-shaped cookie and bid adieu to the charming town of ski racks, SUVs and dirty vehicles in general. Heading down Hwy 82 back to reality, I once again admired the view of the red rock canyon walls with green trees on them and a pretty white dusting of snow which glowed in the morning sun. I still find it strange to see red earth/rock outside of Arizona and PEI but there’s lots of it near Aspen.

On the way towards the tony town of Vail, we kept passing and being passed by a girl driving a Jeep while on her cell phone. The best part was when we passed her at one point and she was still on the phone but had begun tossing an orange in the air with her left hand. I’m not sure who was driving because she was alone in the vehicle. She was last seen texting someone at a red light.

At one point through these canyons, I noticed a train pulling cars full of coal across the river from the highway. I think it was one of the longest trains I’d ever seen and it had 3 engines in the middle although part of that reason might be for all the inclines in that area. There are numerous dire warning signs about the need for chains (not enforced during our visit thankfully), locations to put on chains and stops for trucks to check their brakes. I especially liked the one sign that said something like, “If you’re a truck and your brakes fail, don’t take the next exit into town but continue instead on the highway”.

In Denver, it was time to stop at the Super Target. You might have been to Target but have you been to a Super Target? This was my first time at a Super Target and the place was HUGE! It’s got all of the regular Target goodies but also has automotive, a full grocery and other things like that. It’s kind of like shopping at a full-serve Wal-Mart or Meijer. Naturally I didn’t need anything although I did want to check the price on the Killers latest CD which I ended up buying. I think that was the least financially damaging trip to Target that I’ve ever taken but I was in a bit of a rush because it’s a long day of driving today. In Denver you can also go to a McDonald’s and rent a DVD from the kiosk just outside the front of the restaurant. I didn’t test this one but I laughed as I mentally filed it under “Only in America”.

Now it’s getting dark and we’re staying in Des Moines tonight. That’s still another state and another tank of gas away. Soon I will no longer be able to see the endless corn fields and feed lots passing by my window. No sign yet of the winter storms rumoured to be in this area save for some snow on the ground that wasn’t there a week ago.

An epic last day on the mountains

I didn’t get a chance to post this yesterday and it was an epic last day in Aspen.

To start with, the SES group had first tracks at Aspen Mountain again. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy doing first tracks even though they can be pretty hard. The run that is chosen for us at Aspen Mountain is called Copper and I love almost all of it. We go up in the gondola which is nice to sit for a bit in a sheltered spot. At the top, we go down in small groups with a few guides to keep us on the right run and to help us if we get into trouble or injured. I have no idea what angle the run is at but it sure feels steep! Maybe my photos will be able to convey it better. On a regular riding day I would warm up with a few easier runs to wake up my muscles gently but not so for first tracks. It’s like waking up and jumping into the deep end of a pool rather than wading into the shallow end gradually.

On this last day, the SES group was gathered at the bottom by the gondola, waiting for them to let us on it. There were a few other random small groups of skiers also waiting for first tracks and as one group started to load, who should be in it but Elle MacPherson. She’s a super model for those not in the know. Truthfully I didn’t even recognize her until Sean pointed her out although I’d read an article about her in an Aspen magazine just the other day which mentioned that she frequents Aspen for skiing in the winter. All I saw was a tall, thin, pretty woman posing for a photo with someone then going up the stairs to the gondolas. I saw her at the top too. Her hair was braided by then and she wears a helmet. Her group went down before ours so I don’t have an autograph. My camera wasn’t readily available at the base either so you’ll just have to take my word for the whole experience.

Once we got to the top, it was evident as we started down that there’d been about 4 inches of fresh snow falling overnight which only added to the awesomeness of the morning. The sun wasn’t quite up over the mountain we were descending down so everything looked that much more beautiful with the back lighting. Copper descends the mountain mostly through evergreen trees which were lightly dusted with fresh snow. The far side of the valley was showing some sun although our side was still in shadow so the lighting was really gorgeous. I liked the fresh powder because it slowed me down just a little but not enough to frustrate. I know you may not believe it but I’ve not really a need for excessive speed on my board. Luna likes going fast as do I but I don’t like to feel that I’m going so quickly that I haven’t got control. I can injure myself pretty well without adding too much speed to the equation. That’s when things get REALLY ugly.

Down Copper I went, stopping periodically to give my screaming leg muscles a break. I’d usually throw myself down at the side of the run when I came upon a group of carvers doing the same thing. Then I’d heave myself up again and continue riding. There’s one part of Copper, about 1/3 of the way down, which is like a chute angling steeply down between the trees. It’s not completely like peering over the edge of a cliff but it can feel like it. At the bottom of the chute, the run goes right and levels out for a long flat stretch. Flat stretches are a bit of a snowboarder nemesis. We need to have enough speed going into the flat section to sustain our momentum for the length of it. Otherwise you might see us frantically flapping our arms or wiggling our hips to try and generate more forward movement as we slowly grind to a halt. At this point, a snowboarder will usually have to take their back foot out of the binding and shuffle the board forward or take both feet out and walk to the end of the flat section where they will put the foot or feet back in the binding(s). Needless to say, it’s a waste of energy and time, not to mention an annoyance.

At the end of the straight flat section, there’s a left hand turn called Kleenex Corner. I’m assuming they named it that because by the time you get there, your legs are screaming in pain which makes me whimper or maybe it’s because if you miss the corner, you’re going over the edge and I have no idea where you’ll end up butI bet it would hurt. Go around Kleenex Corner and then you’re looking down into Copper Bowl. Don’t go over that edge right away because that section is the black diamond area. Continue along the flat part for just a bit longer and try not to think about your leg pain. Ignore the cramping in your left foot and calves. When you reach the blue area, throw yourself down and rest for a few minutes. Remember not to keep gasping as the pain diminishes. Sit there and admire the view of the town of Aspen below you. Now right yourself once more and go headlong down the last section into the bowl and out the bottom. Watch for the slight changes in terrain as you whiz along because if you wipe out, everyone on the gondolas above you will see it. Down one last hill and hit the brakes because you’ve made it back to the base and the snow ends here. Congratulations! You survived first tracks.

Seeing how perfect the conditions were and knowing what they’re like back home, I headed back up the gondola to do another run of Copper by myself. Most people might think I mean “myself” in a figurative way but I was literally alone for huge stretches of that run. At one point I was passed by four snowboards while I rested. This constituted rush hour. My first big wipe out came shortly after that break while I was descending the chute section. I was toe-edging (facing uphill while traversing across the run) when I somehow caught my back edge and found myself sliding downhill at an alarming rate. This happens to me often enough but I’m not usually doing it with my head downhill from my feet while on my back without an easy way to stop myself. Often when I fall, it’s more of a sit-down-and-slide-on-my-bum thing which enables me to dig my heels in and use Luna to stop myself. This time I had to quickly figure out a different approach, especially since I was kicking up a cloud of snow and couldn’t see anything but snow and sky. Somehow I finally stopped, righted myself and kept going. Out the chute, check uphill to my left for merging traffic, and crouch to keep speed through the flat section. So far so...WHAM!

I don’t know how it happened (this is usually the case for me when I have a good wipe out) but I probably got too flat and caught an edge because the only thing I knew was that I was doing what felt like three cartwheels in a row and I didn’t know which end was up. It’s hard to recollect later because it all happens so fast so I can only surmise based on plenty of experience. As I was still tumbling, I was passed on both sides by three skiers doing what sounded like Mach 1. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! I think the second one on my right missed me by about 2 inches. Dust myself off, check for bleeding or broken parts, heave myself upright and try to get going again. Stop for a breather at the bowl, back edge down most of it due to fatigue, minor face plant under the gondola, and I’m back at the bottom where Sean filmed my arrival, sans face plant finale thankfully.

Sean has had a sore leg while riding for most of this trip and my body was not about to let me survive another run at Copper so we headed over to Buttermilk for a break. The SES demo tents were also going to be available at Buttermilk this day and I was looking forward to trying out a carving board for the very first time. After speaking with one of the organizers and explaining my lack of carving experience, she found me a pair of hard boots (similar to ski boots) and set me up on a Prior 4WD 164cm board. The boots themselves were a bit of an adjustment for me because they’re much stiffer than my snowboard boots and I ended up walking like a robot in them. I kept balancing on my heels for some reason and nearly tipped over numerous times. Contrary to what it might have looked like, I hadn’t been drinking. Michelle taught me how to clip both boots into the step in bindings (mine have two straps that ratchet over my boots) and I trudged over to the bunny hill lift. I was a little embarrassed to be on the beginner hill because there are a lot of gentle runs at Buttermilk but I wasn’t about to go to the top of the bloody mountain until I was sure I could get off the chair lift without killing myself, never mind actually figure out how to ride this new board with new boots, a different stance and a different style of riding.

Speaking of getting off the chair lift, Sean’s new name is He-Who-Stopped-The-Chairlift-Twice. Not once but two times, the straps on his hydration pack got caught on the chair we were sitting on and the guy at the top had to help untangle him. I guess that’s the price one pays for offering to help me learn how to carve. My first run down was the expected disaster. After I finally figured out how to get my back foot secured in the binding (which took a while), I started out only to fall numerous times. It was really difficult to get up at first so Sean hauled me to my feet until I could do it by myself. I’d start out, go a little ways, and fall. Sometimes I’d manage a turn or two before falling. The hard part was that the surface I was riding on was so gently sloped that it was difficult to get momentum which made it difficult to get going or turn. The only (?) drawback to Buttermilk is that there’s no other area that’s a bit more sloped without going all the way to the top which is more sloped than I was ready to handle. My subsequent runs were better in that I only fell once each time. The girl loading us at the bottom of the chairlift was very encouraging to me although it was a bit difficult to take her seriously as her name tag said “Momma Panda”. The Powder Pandas are the littlest kids learning to ski. As I was preparing to turn at one point, some pint sized skier nearly took me out coming from my uphill in a crouch. First of all, the downhill person has the right of way. Second of all, a beginner hill is not the place to be crouching to gain speed with which to impress your instructor or friends. This was the essence of the lecture he got from Sean when we caught up to him at the bottom.

Eventually I returned the board and boots and collected Luna. Heading back up to our favoured area on the west side of Buttermilk, I filmed Sean carving a few runs as well as another carver we’d met from Virginia. My turn to do a few runs then my legs insisted it was time to go back down to the bottom and pack it in for the day. A new route down and some hot chocolate for free completed a great day on the slopes, my goggle burn notwithstanding. Back at the hotel, I finally made use of the hot tub there. This entailed marching out the front door and down the sidewalk in my running shoes and bathing suit under a bathrobe, complete with scary après ski hair. Did I mention the hotel is right on the main street of town? I’m sure all the people passing by were admiring my sexy look.

Limp and weak, I dragged myself back to the room after a while to get changed for the SES banquet dinner. They had a cool slideshow going of various carvers in action from the week which was neat to watch. The dinner was pretty good but I was disappointed not to win anything in the raffle. Yawning back to the hotel, it was time to pack everything up in preparation for an early departure in the morning. This is my excuse for not posting this earlier.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

To blog or not to blog...

I’m under orders to blog earlier in the day so that my mother can go to bed. I plead a two hour time difference.

Today was another great day out in the wild. Sean and I ended up heading to Buttermilk after a nice leisurely morning. The sun was shining, the sky was a gorgeous blue and the snow was as white as er, snow. A cloudless day and still so very few people out on the slopes! I don’t know what’s wrong with everyone but they sure as heck aren’t here. It surprises me, that in peak ski season in a well known ski place, how many vacancy signs are up at places to stay here. The guy at the front desk where I’m staying mentioned that for weekend traffic, most people in the Denver area go to Vail because it’s closer for them and they’ll spend less time in the car. He also said the economy is a factor which I figured.

Sean wanted to do some runs and have me film him on his video camera so we spent some time on a run we both liked on the west side of Buttermilk and took turns filming each other. I’ve just reviewed the footage and luckily my spill of the day was just over a rise where the camera didn’t see me. Nothing spectacular, I just want to look good on digital film. While I was waiting for Sean to come down the run, people on the chair lift overhead kept calling down to me, asking if I was ok. I’m just sitting at the side of a run in the snow. Do I really look that bad? I assured them that I was fine. Later on, Luna wanted to have some photos taken of her at the top of Buttermilk so I headed back in that direction with her. What a great day for photos! I will post some when I get back and hopefully they’ll give you an idea of how pretty it can be here.

According to the snowboard school level descriptions here, I come in at a level 6 out of 9. Not bad but I think I’ll take another lesson one day soon when I’m back on a real mountain. It never hurts to improve oneself. Today I was working on trying to get Luna more up on her edges when I make turns instead of my usual process of sliding through turns. I adjusted my toe bindings to ride right over my toes instead of their usual spot across the top of my foot which seemed to help me pull the toe side up better on heel side turns. I tried to also use Sean’s suggestion of crouching lower in my turns which seemed to help as well.

There were two additional stories for the day. One was a guy I saw snowboarding with a chainsaw as I went over him on the chairlift. True story. The other happened in the parking lot. Midway through changing out of my gear, I got in the truck and shut my door so that some yahoo on his iPhone could park next to me. He parked close enough for him to squeeze out, still yakking on his phone, but left me insufficient room to get out and finish changing. Thankfully Sean had room on his side to move his truck over.

Tonight Sean and I decided to have a real dinner instead of our usual après ski free fare although the soup did look good tonight. The meatatarian had his eye on a rib place down the street and we ended up with an assortment of ribs, chicken, smoked beef, smoked pork, corn on the cob, baked beans, coleslaw, fries, onion rings and garlic toast. I don’t think I’ll eat anything for a month now.

Tomorrow is first tracks at Aspen Mountain again then I’m off to Buttermilk again to try my hand at this carving thing on a real carving board if I can snag a demo. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Back to the blogging table

I blog all day in my head but when it comes time to put it down on the computer, I get addicted to the tv in my hotel room and motivation just isn’t there.

I had a great day on the slopes today. I started off at Buttermilk in the morning for some warm up runs. Buttermilk is one of my favourite places to ride here. It seems to be the more “kid friendly” mountain as I usually see more of them there. It has a lot of green (beginner) runs and blue (intermediate) runs whereas some of the other mountains have more difficult terrain. I had a pretty entertaining spill, luckily only one. I was slowing to pass a ski class when I caught my front edge and did a barrel roll. I finished the unexpected roll on my knees so I immediately pushed myself up again and continued riding. If you hadn’t known better, I’m hoping it looked as though I meant to do that roll. The best part of the morning and the best spill of the day award belonged to a little skier dude who was probably about 5 years old. Sean and I were walking past the bottom of the lift, headed to the parking lot, when a small group of little skiers in ski school went past us on their way to lunch. One of them must not have been paying attention because he skied right into a low fence which was probably about mid-thigh high on him. Not only did he ski into it, he subsequently flipped face first over the fence into the snow. The best part was where his skis had so much momentum that they too flipped over the fence and hit the snow above his head. His instructor came over to check on him and we kept walking, trying not to laugh too hard.

Heading over to Aspen Highlands for the afternoon, I was looking forward to riding on the last of the four mountains here. I had heard that it wasn’t as great a place because it has a lot of black diamond (most difficult) and double black diamond (expert only) runs but I still wanted to try it. The SES group was doing a group photo so Sean & I took part in that before going for a ride. I took the lift up to 9975 feet which is just over half way up the mountain. If I were asked what I didn’t like about Aspen Highlands, it would have to be the lack of signage. Thankfully I had two trail maps in my pocket. I realized that if I stuck to the runs near the lift then I could get down the mountain without straying into black diamond territory. Just to clarify, I could probably survive a black diamond run, potentially even a double black. Things would most likely go very slowly and most certainly I would fall but hopefully I’d end up alive in the end without any ski patrol interventions. Black diamond runs here are nothing like the ones at Blue. These are real mountains. As in very high and very steep in sections. There are also a lot of trees since these mountains are part of the White River National Forest.

Sean headed out on his own for a run while I had some lunch which was partially frozen from living in my hydration pack. I took the next run on my own while he rested his sore leg. Although it was getting a bit late in the day, I decided to head up to the top of the mountain so I can say now that I’ve ridden down from the top of Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk and Snowmass. Two lifts later and I was strapping my back foot into the binding in a cloud of snow. Yep, don’t think the photos from the summit are going to turn out well. There is one blue run choice to get down. The rest are black and more black. Not to mention the plethora of moguls on those black runs. Moguls are not my friend. I don’t like them, I can’t jump on them and skiers yell at me when I back edge all the way down them. Yes, it flattens them but I don’t care. It’s an act of desperation when I accidently find myself on horrible mogul runs. If I learn to ski one day, I probably still won’t try moguls. I watch the good skiers descend them in the Olympics and I picture myself trying it, only to knock myself unconscious when my knees hit my chin. Call me a pessimist but I know myself pretty well.

Off I went down the only safe choice run. Shortly I found myself travelling along a ridge which was probably about 8 feet wide. On my left was a rock wall, red in colour. On my right was an extraordinarily steep drop off which constituted a double black run. Trouble was, I couldn’t see the bottom of that run. Yikes! Continuing along, I was careful to keep my eyes peeled for the limited miniscule signage so that I would survive the experience. Eventually I found myself back at the top of the first lift I’d gone up. My legs were half dead at this point so I stopped periodically at the side of the runs for breaks. At one point while I was resting, a skier approached me to ask if I knew what run we were on. I had to tell her honestly that I had no idea and we both agreed that Aspen Highlands is one of the worst signed mountains we’d been on. I suggested she keep to the runs under the chair lift, based on my previous run, but had to admit that I had no idea where the chair lift was in relation to our current location. I never saw her again.

Ride, rest, my calves are burning, rest, ride, I think my left foot is cramped, ride, slide on my rear end after losing my back edge, rest to pretend I meant to do that, ride, ride, ride, I think my left thigh just became 3 inches shorter, rest, repeat the rest of the way down. I was surprised to see Sean filming me on his video camera at the bottom and I was oh, SO glad to have made it down intact. One more run then it was time to pack it in for the day. Enjoying a hot chocolate on the patio, I then headed back to the hotel for dinner which they serve as an après ski snack. Cheese, crackers, salami, nachos, chips, lemonade, the occasional glass of wine and soup if I like it. A little monotonous after a week but it’s included in the cost of the room and I’ve had worse.

Yesterday was my day off the mountains and I needed it. I slept in, had breakfast, watched tv, did some laundry, went to the post office, got more groceries, watched more tv, etc. You can see why I didn’t blog about it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I heart first tracks!

First tracks is awesome! This morning, the SES group got to hit the slopes at Aspen Mountain before anyone else and it was great. It was made even better by the fact that it snowed hard last night. We came down Copper run which seemed to go on forever. It had some great sections through the trees and some pretty steep parts. The good thing about needed to stop periodically for breaks was that I had a really nice view of the town of Aspen as well as the mountains around it. Each morning when I get on my board, my quads tell me that they’re tired but I try not to listen. After 3 days of riding nice long runs on real mountains, I feel like I’ve done about 10000 squats!

It was somewhat of a shorter day on the mountain today. I’m hesitant to push myself too hard because I know I fall more when I’m tired. I’d rather not test the travel insurance I’ve got. I also didn’t sleep well last night although a long nap at lunchtime today remedied that somewhat. I woke up rather late to fit in any runs at Buttermilk as planned but that’s ok. I’ve still got 3 more days of riding.

I’m staying at Aspen Mountain Lodge in Aspen and I would completely recommend it if you’re ever in the neighbourhood. It’s a really nice place, right in town within walking distance to a lot of amenities. There’s a nice breakfast buffet each morning, tea/hot chocolate whenever I want it, and the après ski is a nice free dinner each night. They offer wine and cheese, chips and dip, lemonade, soup, meat and crackers. And the best part is that it’s included in the stay. You so need to come here. There’s a lovely big fireplace in the atrium with couches on one side and the dining area on the other. Did I mention the hot tub?

Tomorrow is a day off with laundry and the post office on the menu. But until then, it’s back to the boob tube. I'm on vacation...


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Snowmass somewhat sucks

I need to stop blogging when I’m so tired.

Well, today was the SES day at Snowmass and I wasn’t completely impressed. The first problem came about when Sean and I drove up to the base of Snowmass Mountain, or at least we tried to. We made it as far as the village but couldn’t figure out how to reach the mountain itself or where to park. Finally it was realized that day skiers have to park WAY down below the village and get a shuttle up to the base. This system doesn’t work well and makes me grumpy. There isn’t much in the way of signage to indicate the day skier parking until you’re on your way back down from the village.

Again today it was fairly warm (about +8C) so the trip thus far has been like spring snowboarding in early February. I enjoy it because I don’t get so cold but it makes for some heavy sticky snow. I work on my goggle tan when the sun is out. The light was very flat at the beginning of the day so I lost most of my depth perception which slowed me down a lot. I tried riding without my goggles but for some reason everything appeared blue and still flat. Luckily the sun came out periodically through the clouds later on which improved the temp and the depth problem.

Sean was interested in the beginner’s carving clinic and I figured I’d try it on Luna even though she’s an all-around board. I did learn a bit about carving technique but sucked somewhat at the application part. I need to learn to use Luna’s edges more to let her carry me in a turn instead of tipping slightly up on edge and sliding my turns. My legs were still tired from yesterday so I sat out the second run for a snack and rest. Neither Sean nor I lasted much longer as we were already somewhat disenfranchised with the mountain.

There were some nice runs at Snowmass but the consensus is that so far Buttermilk is our preferred place to ride. There are four mountains in the Aspen area: Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands. Tomorrow we’ll be getting first tracks at Aspen Mountain, the base of which is right in town like Zermatt. First tracks means we’ll get time on the mountain before the masses, such as they are here. Again today it wasn’t terribly busy which is AWESOME!

I actually prefer Zermatt over Aspen because it’s more scenic in Zermatt and the mountains are higher. There was also more snow in Zermatt. All the locals here are talking about the lack of recent snow and the warm temps. Tonight I was pleasantly surprised to see that the snow is coming down thick and heavy which will hopefully make for good runs tomorrow.

Snowmass has a vertical rise of 4,406 feet and 36 Disneylands could fit within the ski boundaries. The base elevation is at 8,104 feet with the summit being at 12,510 ft. Aspen Mountain has a vertical rise of 3.264 feet and drops right into the town of Aspen. The base elevation is at 7,945 feet with the summit being at 11,212 feet. Aspen Highlands has a vertical rise of 3,635 feet with some of the most challenging and stunning big mountain terrain. The base elevation is at 8,040 feet with the summit at 11,675 feet. Last but not least, Buttermilk has a vertical rise of 2,030 feet and is home to the Winter X Games which we missed by about a week. The base elevation is at 7,870 feet with the summit at 9.900 feet.

I know I’m on vacation when I’ve just watched about 5 straight hours of an America’s Next Top Model marathon from 3 seasons ago without batting an eye...


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Colorado: the lip balm state

Today was the first day to hit the slopes and boy, was it worth that endless drive yesterday and the handful of sleep last night! We drove straight from our hotel near Denver to the parking lot at Buttermilk Mountain which is just outside the town of Aspen. Weird name for a mountain. I'll have to research it when I'm not about to fall asleep on the laptop.

From the parking area you can see part way up the main lift area. For a second I got scared because I thought I was looking at the top of the mountain which would have made it smaller than Blue. After securing our lift passes and SES stuff, it was time to suit up and hit the slopes. As the main chair lift (there are 3) crested the first section we thought we were about to disembark. Thankfully it went on and on and on, way up to the top, about 2000 feet higher than the parking lot. If I weren't so paralyzed with well-earned fatigue, I'd go dig up my trail map and bore you with specifics. Maybe tomorrow night.

Sean was crowing like a kid in a candy store as he looked down on all these wide open well groomed runs. Luckily the people next to us didn't seem too scared by his squeals and hoots of joy. We decided to start out in the central section of the mountain and it seemed to take an awfully long time getting down which was fantastic! For comparison, Blue has an elevation of less than 1000 feet and this is where we ride most often.

We moved shortly after to the west part of the mountain which had some really sweet runs. Normally his carving board and my all around board don't enjoy the same terrain but we were both finding a lot of territory that worked well for both of us. For me, it was odd to see so many carvers on the slopes as they are somewhat a minority in Ontario. Our whole reason for being in Aspen this week is to participate in the Summit Expression Sessions (see link below) which is all about carving. There are a whole lot of skiiers here, rather reminiscent of Zermatt in a way. What there isn't a lot of here is people in general on the slopes. It's a Saturday and there's so much open space on the mountain! After an exceptionally crowded evening at Blue on New Years, this is a very welcome change. Sunshine, temps at about +7C and hardly any people around? Recipe for an awesome day! Totally worth the goggle burn I got.

I'm about asleep so I'll leave you with some fun and interesting things I saw today:
-A sign for the new playland at the McDonald's in Rifle
-About a dozen elk at various points at the side of the road, both very stiffly dead and actively alive
-I liked going through the tunnels on the steep and winding road to Aspen. I'm not as fond of the truck runaway lanes.
-A lot of the rock around here is red which reminds me of Arizona
-Saw a sign for Exit 119, No Name 1/2 mile
-There's a GIANT hotsprings pool in Glenwood Springs that I'd love to visit sometime
-They are fond of roundabouts in this area
-I saw a woman skiing with one arm in a sling. Not sure whether to file that under "hard core" or "stupid"
-I'm in love with this area. It's scenic with lots of mountains all around, there are 4 major ski places within spitting distance and the town of Aspen is very cute. The architecture here is very nicely blended into the surroundings. What I mean by that is that you've got all different varieties of houses from endless condos/chalets at the hills to modest ones downtown to quietly monstrous ones and yet none of them scream, "LOOK AT ME!!!". They all mix well together and sometimes you don't even notice them until you're upon them. What a refreshing change!
-At the grocery store tonight, I overheard one woman discussing with a friend which part of her face she wants her plastic surgeon to take a look at. Sorry lady, that's not going to help you at all. Another woman jumped into a newly opened line (clearly marked 15 items or less) with a cart full of groceries and a dozen other people waiting.
-It's REALLY dry here and not just the earth. I was warned and Lisa was right so I'm glad I brought so much lip balm with me. It's definitely getting used.


Don't blog and drive, kids

I was warned but now I agree: I-80 W is deathly boring thus far. I’m starting this entry in Omaha, Nebraska and depending on how carsick I end up feeling while I type this, I may end it in the same state or the next one, who knows?

Nebraska is my third state of the day with Colorado still to come. While not the most epic journey in the history of mankind (yet), it has had some moments. Like the GPS telling us to turn in 237 miles...

A 5 hour departure delay wasn’t accounted for in the planning stages of this trip way back in 2008. In the end we still got to where we were staying outside Chicago last night and the board bag got built so no harm done. Maybe next time the sewing will get farmed out to the Teeter sweatshop to speed things up. Luckily there wasn’t a long wait at the border to make us even later in getting to the hotel. Upon arriving there around 1am, we were disappointed to discover that our room was on the second floor with no elevators. I say this because we lugged a bunch of heavy gear up those damn stairs that we didn’t want to leave unattended in the truck overnight. Not much point in going on a snowboarding trip if all your gear and clothes get stolen, right?

This morning after sleeping for a handful of hours, we repacked the truck (i.e. we lugged all that heavy crap back down the stairs) and hit the road for our 1000 mile journey to the as-yet-unseen state of Colorado. We won’t make it to Aspen tonight but we’ll be within a couple of hours of it. I’ve already researched all the Target locations close to Aspen.

While crossing endless brown mostly flat farming states by land, there are only so many ways to amuse oneself to stave off insanity and boredom. One of our tricks is to count abandoned broken down vehicles on the shoulders of which there are often an unusually high number in the greater Detroit area. Go figure. They manufacture cars there but they also abandon a lot of them nearby. Circle of life? I just like the irony. Like the way the wheelchair parking space at the TD bank near me is right at the bottom of the stairs. But I digress...

Earlier today near Ottawa, IL we passed a tractor trailer in the ditch which looked as though it had been dropped from a height and had exploded on impact, scattering twisted bits of metal and trailer carnage all over the ditch. It was a pretty shade of blue. No sign of the driver or of any fire. It made for a good temporary diversion. I was disappointed not to see any CSI techs working on the scene but like the Rolling Stones once said, “You can’t always get what you want”.

Sean thinks it’s very wrong to see the current outside temp at 16 degrees C in early February. That would explain the very minimal evidence of snow since Iowa. Let’s hope it’s a little cooler in Aspen or else I fear for decent snow conditions. My dad would like the fact that I’ve seen about 5 motorcycles out riding today. I think seeing giant herds of cattle grazing in corn fields is a little odd as was seeing the sheriff’s car filling up at the BP gas station in Omaha beside us. Sean recommended that I get the sexy white crew cab pickup truck with the blue flames painted on it but I declined because I’d need a ladder to get into it. It would, however, go well with the flame theme that Dr. House has on his cane. Maybe I’ll write him a letter when I get back.

Last night and this morning while I was the passenger, I kept nodding off and dozing for short periods of time. I’d wake up when my head became parallel to my shoulders because my neck would start screaming in protest. I’d dig around behind me for my travel pillow, mash it up between myself and the window then promptly cat nap again. Then it was my turn to drive but I was still sleepy. I tried a Rocket Chocolate to help me wake up a little but it didn’t last very long. Out of fear for my safety, I cracked a NOS and started sipping. If you haven’t tried NOS before, you need to try this stuff. Think of it as ultra-concentrated Red Bull. It’s bigger, the can is bluer and it has twice the amount of caffeine than Red Bull. It comes in regular carbonated cough syrup flavour and in the States you can also buy it in grape flavour which tastes just like grape Crush. A word to the wise: consume as little as needed otherwise you’ll be up until 3am or give yourself palpitations like I seem to have done today... Are we there yet?


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Forget the never ending story. Try the never ending search

To quote a song title from U2, I still haven't found what I'm looking for. To look at them, my feet appear pretty normal. I'm about a ladies size 8-8.5 (US), smallest in my family. My right big toe is a little crooked, I could use a pedicure some days and I have a freckle on both of my second toes but none of that should be contributing to my difficulty in finding the perfect pair of snowboard boots.

I bought my current Solomon boots 3 winters ago when I got the rest of my own gear. I already had my K2 board (Luna) so I picked up some boots and K2 bindings to go with it. I tried on some K2 boots for consistency but didn't like how they fit. The Solomon ones that I've got now were the best fit and I was excited to try the quick-lace (my term) system. Instead of lacing my boots up like my hiking boots where you wind the laces around the hooks on either side, all I have to do is yank once on the inner pull to tighten the inner laces, then once on the outer pull to tighten the outer laces. This is awesome for someone like me whose hands and fingers are often numb and semi-useless from the cold. I dimly remember mentioning that the balls of my feet were feeling some pressure with the boots done up in the store but the sales guy explained to me that I would buy some super inserts which would solve all my problems. Liar, liar, pants on fire but I didn't know it at the time...

After buying my gear, I didn't get much chance to do any serious snowboarding trips (unless you count a weekend at Tremblant) until last winter when some friends & I went to Zermatt in Switzerland (see 2008 blogs) for 10 days of riding. Up to that point, I'd had some intermittant discomfort if I spent long periods of time in my boots but all it took was a break in a chalet with them loosened for the duration and I was back to baseline. No big deal really. Not so much the case when in Europe. As mentioned in my Zermatt blogs, some of those runs were a couple of km long!

I never profess to be an awesome snowboarder except maybe in my own mind and even I know that's a delusion. I go for the fun and I'm as good as I am. And before you ask, No. I will not teach you to ride. Nothing personal but I don't teach anyone. You need to go sign up for a lesson with a proper instructor. You will thank me later. My first ever snowboarding experience was at Panorama Mountain Resort in Invermere, BC. I took a 3 hour lesson with an instructor and two little kids (I was in my 20s). I hadn't yet learned to wear a helmet but with painful experience, that came later. My instructor taught me valuable tips and gave me an excellent foundation of learning the basics well. Too bad he didn't teach me how to land jumps on my feet...

As I said before, my primary problem is pressure on the balls of my feet. It's relatively unavoidable, given how feet are designed and used. Toe edging on your board puts your weight on the front of your foot. I tend to do this a lot either out of necessity or habit or fear of catching my back edge and smashing my head on the ground...again. After a while, the pressure on the balls of my feet turns to prickling and burning, kind of like stepping on hot coals I would imagine. Shortly after that, I lose sensation to my toes. To some this might sound wussy but when you're spending 7 days in your boots like I did in Zermatt, it's very uncomfortable. Towards the end of those 7 days, I took to removing my boots and standing ON them (on my heels) in the gondolas, trying to make my poor feet last as long as they possibly could. As soon as we were seated on a chair lift, I'd quickly loosen my boots and try to give my feet a little extra room before the inevitable neccessity of tightening them to ride down. It even came to the point where walking in my running shoes felt like walking on needles.

So far this winter, I've tried on about 7 other pairs of boots. I have a theory that the regular lace system (like for hiking boots) might be what I need, given that it would be much easier to keep the bottom portion over the top of my foot looser while tightening the rest of the boot to keep my foot in it. In my theory, this would not compress the top of my foot so much as to cut off circulation to the blood vessels that run along the top which could be part of my current problem. It would also not push the balls of my feet so hard into the bottom of my boots says I. Strangely enough, there are fewer boots with the regular lace system these days than there are with quick lace so my choices tend to be a bit limited. And those inserts which were supposed to fix all my problems? It's been suggested to me by a boot fitter guy that they might be contributing to the problem by taking up valuable wiggle room in my boot, thus my foot gets compressed that much more. The inserts have a pad on the bottom for the ball of the foot but mine end up cushioning my toes instead because they aren't shaped to my specific foot.

I've tried the double quick-lace system where the top of the boot has independant tightening ability from the bottom of the boot which was sort of what I was trying to do with the regular laces. Too bad the double quick-lace boots were so hideously ugly that I wouldn't want to wear them even if I were a sponsored rider. They also didn't feel spectacularly better. The regular lace boots have been more adjustable than my current ones but again, I still run into the pain problem. I hear stories about people having snowboard boots that are so comfortable that they can wear them all day and then go dancing (ok, I made the last part up out of jealousy). I ask, how can I get boots like that? and I hear, you'll just know when you've found them, which is rather unhelpful. So for now I will keep searching and today at Blue I will try riding without my pretty pink inserts to see if it makes a positive difference.



Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Warm-Up

My snowboard Luna is currently enjoying her third season of life in my possession. Already she has been with me to Mt Tremblant, Zermatt, Breuil-Cervinia, Geneva (just tagging along), Blue Mountain, and yesterday to Swain in NY. For those who are counting, that's 4 countries including two in Europe and two in North America, two different provinces and soon to be two different states. The only places I've ridden without her would be Big White and Panorama in BC because I was still renting at that point. Karen's horses have passports. Why not my snowboard?

This weekend Luna and I went to NY to do some trial snowboarding in the States. The day started rather inauspiciously when I only got about 4 hours of sleep for various reasons. Then when we got to the hill after breakfast, it was about -8C but quite windy. Not exactly balmy conditions but I told myself I'd survived night snowboarding at Blue when it was -15C before wind chill. Since my body regularly has difficulty thermoregulating itself, I know how to dress for cold and this I did.

After getting the rentals and lesson set up for the other friends, I headed up to the top of the "mountain" to try a few runs with my friend Sean. Our first choice was a black diamond run (black diamond is most difficult at this place) that, strangely enough, ended in the green beginner section. Uh, okay. I'm not sure who designed that one but it seemed strange to me to have a very challenging steep run where one would probably pick up a fair amount of speed end up in a slow flatter area where you have to dodge a variety of struggling and fallen snowboarders and skiiers but whatever.

On our next ascent, we decided we'd try an area to the right that was more sheltered in the trees since we were slowly freezing to death on the glacier slow chair lift. We should have known trouble was brewing. A long flat section preceeded the start of the run. As we shuffled our way across this area, it quickly became evident that we were riding in less than ideal conditions. Both Luna and Sean's board were well waxed and tuned but the snow was akin to trying to traverse peanut butter. Luna adhered fairly well to the snow instead of gliding over it and Sean's board didn't fair much better. Normally I can shuffle Luna for a bit, gain some momentum then put my back foot up on her stomp pad and ride her a ways to get across flat sections more quickly and with less effort. This was not the case.

Finally we got to the start of the run. I strapped my back foot into my binding and headed off. Still a fairly flattish section (a plague to snowboarders or at least to me) and I was a bit worried to see numerous dirt sections. For the record, dirt and snowboarders don't mix well. These I avoided and soon picked up some more speed as the hill started to slope more. Around a tight corner, past more dirt and don't hit those icy patches! While trying to check behind me to ensure I hadn't lost Sean, I was keeping an eye ahead of me for peril and the trail. Suddenly a skiier ahead of me turned off to the left while another went straight to where I could see this run meeting another. Which way to go?

I started checking over to my left to figure out if this was a branch in the trail when the next thing I knew I was violently hurled to the ground and rolling over. OW!!! When I came to a stop, my knees, left wrist and left armpit were in serious pain and I started to cry. Yes, I cry. It really really hurt! Fortunately I knew nothing was broken. With Aspen less than two weeks away, that was my first concern. But bloody hell! Sean stopped to check on me and told me I'd hit an icy section and I must have caught my front edge. Judging by my colourful knees (see above photos) and inability to move my left arm much, I categorize my injuries as follows: bilateral knee contusions, sprained left armpit (my definition) which is probably just muscle strains in my chest and upper arm. This morning I discovered I also injured my right trapezius muscle again so my neck and upper back hurt right now, most likely from my head snapping forward when I fell. Luna's damage: zero

When I was finally able to stop crying and drag myself upright, I slowly made my way to the bottom of the hill where I quickly put myself on the DL and wrote myself a prescription to go get a hot chocolate with a side of Advil. I learned a long time ago that I should always have Advil at hand when I snowboard for days like this or the time I landed a jump on my nose by accident. Sean decided to help Scott learn to snowboard while Brett was still at his ski lesson so I took my time. Unfortunately for all of us, most of the "mountain" was very hard packed snow and numerous sections of ice along with the 20-25km/h winds which made for less than ideal conditions. We had planned to go tubing in the afternoon but after a few more runs by each of us, we packed it in, said our goodbyes and went home. I sure hope my experience in Aspen is much better!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

T minus 15 days and packing

Two weeks from tomorrow I will be leaving for a snowboarding trip in Aspen, CO. Thus far I have nothing packed. Nor do I have a packing list made although I have the intention of coming up with one by the end of this week. I know I'm bringing my snowboard, Luna, but the rest is a bit vague. What exactly is it about packing that makes me want to turn and run?
I travel now and then. Often on my own, many times with family and/or friends. Shouldn't I have some sort of insider knowledge on how to be a good packer? Natch. I can make a packing list.....when I get around to it. Heck, I can even accidently pack the packing list and spend a great deal of time trying to figure out where it disappeared to. But for some reason, the process of assembling clothes (and in this case, gear also) and lodging them in a travel container of some kind just seems so....annoying? boring? Definitely something I can do later....

I've always been a good procrastinator. I elevated it to an art form in my teens, turning a provincial 5 year high school program into 6 for me. Many a late night I had in college making endless cups of tea and chatting on MSN while furiously hoping my papers would write themselves while I slept for a few hours. One would think with all the stress this procrastinating behaviour brings about that I would finally learn to buckle down and get it done sooner rather than later but sadly, that is rarely the case.

People keep asking me if I'm excited about my impending trip yet. In a way, yes I am. On the other hand, I'm rather preoccupied with other stuff right now. If my trip last year is any indicator, I finally became truly excited about our journey to Zermatt when we stepped off the plane in Geneva. Using this as a potential forecast for this trip, I should be truly excited when I roll into Denver the night before reaching Aspen. This year I will be snowboarding again but in addition to riding Luna (my all around board), I'll get a chance to try out some carving boards. This brings a little anxiety along with the excitement.

p.s. my first two paragraphs seem destined to roll themselves into one no matter what I do. my apologies for the difficulty in reading this may present.