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?