To Pass Or Not To Pass

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Less is more. I’ve always been a big fan of “less” but lately I’ve been hearing that phrase more and more from the people closest to me.

This ski season has been described by all the powers-that-be in the forecasting, data research and ski industry, as solidly average and officially been anointed a success. We’ve had average snow as defined by weather researchers, the piste has been covered for the most part, hordes consistently flocked to the resorts and our economy here in Colorado has been mostly smiles. As a guy who works in math as my primary means of income, the term I would use to describe this season would be “expected results”.

Going into this season I had high hopes for yet another above average season, just like the two prior to this one, but I’m greedy like that. Endless powder days, fresh lines aplenty and a season pushed well into June (and even July!). And indeed, others in my greater circle of acquaintances shared that anticipation and talked of all those big days in the backcountry ahead and how every weekend we’d be out early and home late. But once the season kicked off, those things changed.

As normal, I spent the first month or so skiing inbounds, getting the legs tuned just waiting for the backcountry to set up. That stoke and talk of all the backcountry powder lines ahead built to a crescendo and when it was finally time to pull the trigger and pack up the beacons, probes and shovels…the people I thought were in (based on all their big talk), were all of sudden suckling the teats of excuses and were perpetually unavailable for backcountry adventures (but up for resort days). It’s always hard in the backcountry so while it was marginally disappointing at first, it was somewhat expected and certainly not the end of the world.

I have to admit that my patience, will and desire to ski inbounds has been reduced to a flicker. With resorts merging, pimping and gobbling each other up at a frantic pace to see who can be the biggest, sexiest and most expensive, I honestly don’t feel they care much about me or anyone else as a skier anymore. Ski resorts are businesses and understandably are all about rankings in ski magazines and bottom lines on income statements. It’s to the point where I’ve really had to start to thinking about how much I want to spend my money to purchase a pass and commit to them for another season. Isn’t the point of spending your money that you get something in return?

Looking back, this failure to launch by the people who I quasi-counted on was a good thing. It forced me to reach out to a different set of friends, some I hadn’t known as well (until this season that is), and ask if I could tag along on some of their outings. In doing so, I also inadvertently reconnected with old friends who I hadn’t seen in a while and discovered just how much our ideals and thoughts on life had merged. Perhaps this was actually meant to happen?

The more time I spent with these people, the more I started hearing just how the mayhem, expense and aggravation of skiing at resorts had soured them, how they now found themselves earning their turns every weekend and how they’d really reconnected with the soul of skiing. The one thing I also started hearing more and more was that the option of NOT buying a pass to a resort for the next season was being discussed. Two friends in particular have already committed to eschewing a pass next year and will be sticking solely to the backcountry…no pass for the first time in 25 years.

My good friend Jason was here last weekend from Montana on the way back up to his guiding gig in Alaska. I always have a good time talking with him about life because we share the same views on simplicity. He does have a little street cred in that area since he quit his job as a PhD researcher at a high profile university a few years ago to pursue a simpler life as a guide and artist.

Anyhow, we spent a day climbing and skiing in the backcountry in some of the places introduced to me this winter. As always, we found our way into long, protracted conversations about simple living, appreciating life at a slower pace (as we slowly huffed and puffed our way up the skin track) and how conversations like the one we were having were by far the best part of backcountry skiing. Yes, the powder turns in the backcountry are simply fantastic and the feeling of satisfaction of climbing to get those turns is unequalled, but having the time and quiet format to connect with friends on a deeper level, maybe even suffering a little together in a spectacularly beautiful setting, well, that’s the real reward.

On our ski down, Jason and I stopped at an old mining cabin to get out of the wind, take some photos, chat and have a bite to eat. After that we skied a bit more, took some more photos, sat in the snow and chatted for a while, climbed a bit more, skied some more and we even got a little lost and wound up with a mini adventure bushwhacking to get back to the drainage leading to my truck.

In the end we only skied about 2,000 vertical feet in four hours, earned some thoroughly thrashed quads, worked up a massive appetite, didn’t see another person the entire time and I think I can speak for Jason and say we had one of the best days ever on skis. Best of all, a day in the backcountry will cost me a little gas money and about $15 for an IPA and a burger at the local brewery. Cost of a single day lift ticket at Vail, parking, an Epic Burger and a beer, $200. I’ll let you do the math on this one.

The spring-season-pass-sale-silliness has begun here in Colorado and for the first time in a long, long time, I find myself debating whether to buy one at all. If I don’t purchase a pass for next season, I probably won’t be skiing over 700,000 lift served vertical feet which seems to be a benchmark good year for a committed season pass holder. Instead, it’ll probably be more around 100,000 self-propelled vertical feet like this season.

I’ve had such an amazing year in the backcountry this season and I owe that solely to everyone who shared those cold early morning climbs, heart and lung pounding ascents and those long, meaningful conversations. I honestly can’t say that about my brief time spent at resorts.

Climb high. Ski hard. Live simply.

Pro Leisure Tour

11081246_10153218779327813_5019464102701438782_n

Sometimes the correct answer is to throw some gear in the truck, throw out any notion of a firm plan, tell no one what you’re doing, turn the key and see where your internal compass takes you.

The result is a pace of life defined solely by our own rhythms, finding yourself delightfully lost out in some big country, embracing random encounters with old friends and new ones alike, absorbing some magical campsite sunrises/sunsets and restoring the term “simple” back into the daily vocabulary.

Less is more.

Never Work A Day In Your Life

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There’s a saying that goes something like, “If you do what you love then you’ll never work a day in your life”. I like it. However, I’d be willing to bet if you took a survey of the average person they’d probably not fall into the “never worked a day in their life” category. I myself actually like my job for the most part, but if things were a little different I don’t think it’d surprise anyone if I didn’t show up every day just for the fun of it.

This makes sense when you consider why billions and billions of dollars are spent every year on vacations where people can be pampered, coddled, catered to and served so they can feel as far away from work as possible. There are resorts here in Colorado with valets who will dry and warm your boots after a day of skiing, then have them waiting slopeside the next morning so you don’t have to lug around your equipment. You can ride a heated gondola equipped with WiFi so you can check in on Facebook and tweet out to the world where you are! You can expect a valet to help you step off that gondola safely once you reach the top of the mountain and hand you your skis. Refreshed, you can then head out to ski a prepared piste that has taken hundreds of man hours to groom to perfection so you can be as comfortable as possible and never have to work too much and enjoy your time away from the grind of daily life. At one resort, there are even chefs waiting at the base area with warm chocolate chip cookies and a cup of mulled spice cider to welcome you back to the warm bosom of luxury, comfort and relaxation.

My preferred way of detoxing from work in the winter season is ever so slightly different. The process for me is turning up early at some trailhead on a cold morning, hopefully pulling on non-frozen ski boots after having accidentally left them in the back of my truck. At the same time, I’m usually hopping around on one foot trying not to step in the snow with my bare socks. After that, I slap the skins on my skis, debate for the umpteenth time whether I’m dressed too warmly, take the last sip of lukewarm coffee from my thermos then head off to climb uphill for the next 1-3 hours…then stop five minutes later to shed a layer because I’m too hot.

Once I’m where I want to be, I’ll begin stripping the skins off and hope the wind doesn’t blow them away or wrap them around my head like flypaper. Once that’s sorted out, I’ll take a drink from my half frozen water bottle, maybe I’ll frustratingly gnaw on a frozen Clif Bar for a  minute or two, snap a photo then proceed to ski back down to my truck. Sometimes if the conditions warrant, I’ll put my skins back on and repeat the process.

Someone once asked me why, in a state like Colorado, with hundreds of high speed chair lifts at my disposal within an hour drive of my house would I chose to suffer (their words) for only one or two runs. I’m constantly reminded that those chair lifts can transport me dozens of times a day to the top of a mountain and I could probably ski ten times the amount of vertical I’d get in the backcountry without really having to work at all!

The short and long answer is, “I love it”.

I took a day off from work this week and headed out with a friend to climb up a peak adjacent to the mega-resort of Breckenridge. Even on a Tuesday, the highway up from Frisco was clogged, the free lots were in complete choas, the shuttle busses were packed to the gills and people around town were too busy relaxing away from their everyday lives to pay attention to crosswalks or acknowledge another human being. Ah yes, the whole town was set abuzz as a new stress free day of standing in lift queues awaited. So hilarious.

The little trailhead where we parked was directly across the valley from Breckenridge Resort, maybe five or six miles away as the crow flies, but seemed a million miles away from the hubbub of town. There were four, maybe five cars there and most everyone already there said hello to us when we pulled up. Of course there is the compulsory five minutes of playing with everyone’s dog when they too come over to welcome us. And as each of those people set off for their own adventures, they would flash a genuine smile and exclaim, “have a fun day!”, then be on their way.

This day was my good friend Carin’s first in the backcountry. Without a bit of trepidation, she jumped out of my truck with an ear-to-ear smile and immediately started packing her gear. Her general stoke is always fun, but that day it was downright contagious! Of course being a beautiful bluebird Colorado day with no wind and having a fresh layer snow, we already had the recipe for an amazing day.

Among other things, Carin teaches spin classes at her home in Vail (altitude 8,500 feet) and I would definitely consider her generally “uber fit”. I’m not exaggerating here. She also races mountain bikes and is a stout whitewater kayaker on top of that. But climbing up the side of a mountain with skis strapped to her feet and a pack on her back soon began calling her out a little, as it does everyone.

This is usually the part of the programme where most people cease loving it and it starts becoming a job. Not Carin. You could see her mind cranking away trying to figure it all out (steep climbing with skis on isn’t exactly a unicorn picnic). She would ocassionally comment on how her quads were getting thrashed but would always follow up the comment with how it would definitely make her stronger for other things. Not once did her enthusiasm crack!

We toiled away until we reached the high point of our ski tour. When she looked around to see the view, she was literally almost brought to tears. Yes, I’d made the plan for the day, had chosen the location and had driven us to the trailhead, but she earned 100% of that view with the big effort she put in. It makes such a massive difference in the meaning of that stuff when you’re fully invested.

Skiing the backcountry is straight up harder than skiing a nice prepared piste inside a resort. As we were preparing to start back down, Carin voiced her concerns about being able to find the flow and balance on her board with the added weight of her backpack as well as the variables of the terrain. I of course eased her nerves by telling her not to worry because everyone falls. Oh, I also reminded her to keep a keen eye for buried stumps, logs, rocks and that she might also want to avoid tree wells…you know, the stuff that will help put a person at ease so they can relax.

As she started down I could see in her body language she was anxious about making that first backcountry turn. But true to her spirit (and of course my awesome words of encouragement), she reigned in the fear, fully committed to the turn and ripped a spectacularly beautiful arc in the deep snow. When she looked back up, the huge smile on her face told me she was undeniably hooked. Of course the whooping screams of delight as she was about mid turn sort of clued me in well before that!

We skied our way down through an amazingly beautiful glade to an old mine where we’d agreed to stop and regroup. She was literally still sliding toward me when she asked if we should do another lap. I actually had to laugh out loud before I quickly agreed! Once again, without mention or concern of the hard work ahead, she quickly set to prepping for another climb up.

When you can spend a day with the people closest to you doing the thing you love, you’ll truly never work a day in your life and can also consider yourself the luckiest person on the planet. I have to say I’ve been pretty lucky to have been happily suffering with those people in my life over the last few weeks…and you know who you are.

Climb high. Ski hard. Ride long. Live simply.

Check In or Check Out?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

During the past two winter seasons here in Colorado we were situated solidly in the storm track and seemingly every weekend got exponentially better and better for those of us who love skiing powder. It was so consistent and so good that instead of “spring skiing” in May we were still skiing legit powder of the knee deep variety until almost Memorial Day. Well, so far this year our seasonal snowfall has been classified as “average” according to the National Weather Service and other such agencies who track all kinds of fun weather related statistics. After being spoiled for two seasons, average now seems anything but.

It took me all of about about two days of standing in those long lift queues, endlesly waiting to ski the hardpacked piste, surrounded by people more concerned with “checking in” on Facebook, updating their status or checking on their Epic Mix apps than actually skiing, before I started thinking of better ways to spend my time.

From that point, I started spending most of my weekends climbing well before daylight to the high point of my favourite little resort, whereupon I could watch the sun come up then ski back down on empty trails and actually enjoy making turns without fear of other people crashing into me. After that, maybe I’d do a couple of lift assisted runs then head home around mid-morning. Every once in a while I’d get a wild hair and decide it was time to ride lifts all day again…and that fantasy would generally last about two hours.

As slow to come along as it was, the backcountry here in Colorado finally shaped up to a reasonable level. Instead of fighting those crowds (and traffic), I started spending most of my weekends with one or two friends touring quiet valleys and skiing the glades off the surrounding ridges. As usual, besides the lack of crowds and general anxiety, the backcountry has lots of benefits our society sort of forces us to ignore.

My wife has a job which requires, or at least “expects” her to sort of be in communication range about 95% of the day, including late into the evenings sometimes. I guess you could say she finds herself “checking in” quite a bit. While her job does have the benefit of being a rather fairly compensated position, the balance of pay and “time” sometimes gets a little tilted to the negative side and the stresses of it start filtering out the important experiences of life.

The funny thing about employment is we work our entire lives to accumulate money and material things and theoretically, the more we work, the more we have…and I use the word have loosely because those things actually own us! What our app-oriented, faster-is-better society fails to capitalize on is that we were all born with a wealth of currency in the form of time. We are conditioned to work ourselves to death, literally sometimes, frantically climbing the waterfall of accumulating money and material things. And although we know it all too well, we will NEVER be able to keep pace with the materials things we “need” because marketing firms will spare no expense to insure we are always insecure with what we currently have. The sad thing is we will let the balance in our “time account” go bankrupt while we try.

Last weekend Donna and I went out for a backcountry ski day to a place a friend recently turned me onto. She skis very well, but is still rather new to the backcountry and isn’t yet overly comfortable with skiing the oftentimes variable conditions. However, she’s learning quickly and getting more comfortable every time out. That said, we chose this place because it has a relatively mellow tour into a beautiful valley and features some low angle glade skiing as to keep things on the low-anxiety side of things. There is nothing really all that easy about backcountry skiing to begin with, so finding places that are skill appropriate for the people in your group is always the first key to having a good day. It’s also key to maintaining a firm level of marital bliss…just sayin’.

So we set out well before daylight to hopefully get ahead of the I-70 weekend traffic. After 20+ years of living in Colorado, it’s still shocking to me that no matter what time you leave, it’s never a relaxing drive into the mountains around here. Anyhow, we initiated the alpine start and arrived to the trailhead right around daybreak, where much to our delight we found we were the only car there. One car in the parking lot where we were, yet, literally three miles away there were thousands upon thousands of people piling into the expensive pay lots at a major resort…and of course “checking in” on Facebook to make sure everyone knows it.

As I mentioned, the ski tour up this valley is rather mellow. It follows an old mining trail through a dense pine forest before eventually breaking out at tree line into an incredibly beautiful and majestic bowl rimmed with jagged peaks above 13,000 feet. On this day the cloud deck was low and it was snowing lightly so the highest of the peaks were hidden, but there was still no denying the magic of being in a place like that and having it all to ourselves.

About the time we reached tree line, Donna stopped for what I assumed was a little oxygen break given we had been traveling at a little above 11,000 feet for a while. That was partially true, but what made me more happy was I discovered she had stopped to listen to the absolute quiet, something I myself cherish when I’m climbing alone at a resort or skiing the backcountry. You could even hear the light snow as it drifted down onto our nylon packs. We just stood there for a bit and let the energy of the place seep into our soul…and stresses of our everyday lives drain out.

We’ve been out skiing a few times together this year, mostly inbounds, but this was the first time I’ve actually seen her relax and actually take the time to enjoy the experience instead of starting the day anxious about fighting the crowds, the traffic and the general lunacy of what we’ve come to accept as acceptable. I think she clearly saw why I choose to ski in these places despite the hard work it takes to get to them.

Backcountry skiing is hard, especially if you don’t do it often. Regardless, I could see a distinct energy about life in her I don’t see all that often during the work week. She seemed less stressed and was willing (with encouragement) to fight her way up some steeper sections of the skin track to reach a flat spot on the adjacent ridge where we’d start our ski down. It definitely got her out of her comfort zone a little but the positives of being there and experiencing kept nudging her appreciation of life upward as the weight of everyday life lifted. Skiing at a resort seems to congregate and intensify people’s everyday stresses, where skiing in the backcountry seems to give you enough room to dissipate that stuff and see a little more clearly.

Once we reached the high point of our tour, it didn’t take much more than a cursory glance around that cirque to realize just how special it was to be in a place so beautiful and not have another person within miles. Instead of spending our currency of time being surrounded by hordes of oftentimes rude people on a crowded piste, we had invested our time in getting to a place that allowed us to relax and earnestly experience our surroundings and fill our souls…exactly what skiing is supposed to be about. Most importantly, we got to share that investment of time together and make another deposit into our “joint experience account”.When everything is said and done, all we’ll ever have in our lives are our experiences. It’s why I choose my time investments and who I invest them with very carefully these days.

It wasn’t exactly the powder day we hoped for, but we had a wonderful ski down despite the challenging variable conditions. Progress and growth of any kind is oftentimes a process of two steps forward and one step back. Skiing in the backcountry will definitely teach a person patience, humility and how to take broader strokes to the way you see things. You have to work through the tough times, trust the process and keep trudging down that road of self discovery. In the movie 180 Degrees South, Yvon Chouinard spoke of doing anything that involves discovering something spiritual about yourself by saying, “if you shortcut or compromise the process in any way, you’ll be an asshole when you start and you’ll still be an asshole when you finish”.

I saw some more big progress in Donna’s backcountry skiing and I know for sure she built another good layer of confidence in herself to tackle things that aren’t always very straightforward. I think that revelation came after the exhausting part of trying to get up after a fall or two in baseless snow…but it did come. Next time we go out I know she’ll grow yet again…we all do. I can’t help but think every day out there will help her compartmentalize those stressful days in her work life and keep them from filtering the amazing experiences we’ve had and will continue to have.

We didn’t “check in” that day like the thousands of people were doing just a few miles away, but we did manage to “check out” for a little while, which we tend to find a lot more appealing. It’s also nice to enjoy our long time home here in Colorado the way it should be enjoyed. It’s especially enjoyable to share those experiences with the ones you love.

Climb high. Ski hard. Ride long. Live simply.

I Used to Live Like That…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2014 has been a fun year, but an interesting one at the same time. This year has been one of those where I’ve really focused on my penchant to do the things I love…and do them a lot. Sounds simple but sometimes things aren’t always as simple…as just being simple.

I’ve worked really, really hard in the past few years to not let this unnecessarily complicated world creep into and complicate my own simple little world. Complications, most often the totally self-imposed ones, tend to put too many filters on the things we’re really looking for in life. That said, I decided long ago when it comes to living my life, I’ll only “shoot life’s photographs with a basic lens”. No filters to obstruct or alter the view, just enjoy what I have here in my hand…like it is…for what it is.

The downside to living this way is that very, very few other people are dialed into that way of life. Ringing up a friend to go out for a ride or a ski at the last minute, or even a few days’ notice, is no longer that simple. There are so many distractions tugging at (tugging = cluttering) people’s lives anymore it’s almost impossible to get more than a few uninterrupted seconds with anyone, much less a full day. For a world that professes to be connecting itself through technology, it’s actually isolating people like never before. 

This silly phenomenon of being pulled in so many directions renders people’s lives so complicated that simply saying “yes” or “no” becomes a big, scary commitment. When that happens, having to decide on only one thing or another immediately kicks in a person’s FOMO Syndrome — Fear of Missing Out. It’s like having those 976 cable channels and flipping through them constantly looking for the perfect show to dedicate your precious time. You never really slow down or stop long enough to see if you would actually like what you’re seeing! It definitely keeps you busy, but in reality you become a slave to the promise of something better.

This year found me doing more than an inordinate amount of things solo. This has been my biggest single year on a mountain bike with a total of 189 rides, yet I’ve ridden less than 16 times with others. Would I have preferred to ride more with others? Hell yeah I would’ve because I definitely went to some cool places, saw some amazingly stunning scenery, rode some incredibly beautiful singletrack and truly enjoyed the natural beauty of an autumn season here in Colorado not witnessed in the 20+ years I’ve lived here.

The upside to this is when I do these things solo, I can move at my own rhythm. I can get up at those ungodly hours in order to be at a trailhead as the sun rises, or in some cases like when skinning at a resort, get there long before daybreak and spend my time climbing by moonlight or by headlamp. I know these “alpine starts” aren’t for everyone, but I personally find watching the sun break over the horizon to be like nature’s metaphorical permission slip to fashion the day, and in fact the life ahead, into exactly what I want it to be. 

Equally, during the warmer months, I love being at some trailhead super early in the morning to get my mountain biking kit organized for a long day of singletrack, knowing that when that sun finally does come up and I clip into my pedals, whatever else is happening in the world simply won’t matter for the next few hours. 

There were definitely times when I was nervous going out on my own because of the remoteness or rough nature of the terrain where I was headed, but when the choice is to go it alone or not go at all, I’ll go every time. Life is too precious to wait around on others to get their complicated lives sorted out in order to make a simple decision…and sometimes they can’t get it sorted out and are paralyzed into complete inaction anyhow. Sadly, it has sometimes become easier just not to ask at all.

The classic Meyers-Briggs personality test has me equally pegged as an “I” and an “E” (Introvert and Extrovert). My full attribute profile says I’m an ENFP (or INFP 50% of the time). I’ve taken this test a zillion times and been “ranked” right down the middle when it comes to that first attribute every time.

I guess this explains why some days I’m perfectly content being all alone skinning up to some high point in the mountains and can sit patiently for a very long time while I wait on the sun to arrive. There are other times however when I would truly enjoy the company of a good friend, someone to share in the hard work it takes to get where we’re going, share in the magic of a new morning or share in the silent contemplation of what good and amazing things the world and our future has in store for us as we go forward. 

Recently I spent yet another solitary early morning skinning up Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. When I got to Lenawee Ridge (the high point of the resort), I scuttled into the patrol headquarters building (PHQ) to warm up for a minute or two before skiing back down prior to the lifts opening for the day. 

Inside PHQ I found Kent and Doris, a couple I’d met a couple of years ago and whom I fortunately now see regularly throughout the season here at the Basin. If I’m correct, Kent is 77 years old now and Doris his junior by about 10 years. They typically skin up the mountain more than 120 times a season so are kind of local legends in these parts! And don’t be fooled by that 70+ age category because they can still CRUSH you going up AND coming down! 

Not only is it awesome to get up there first thing in the morning and see them chilled out and relaxed, drinking from their small thermos of coffee, reading the day’s paper and ALWAYS smiling, it’s even more awesome and inspiring to see people who love life and cherish its simple gifts as much as they do. In a world of all the false heroes found in pro sports figures, politic nutcases (ugh) and all those other celebrity goofballs, I find Kent and Doris to be the true heroes of life. They 100% “get it”.

Anyhow, as I was packing away my skins, gnawing at my frozen Clif Bar and changing out of my sweaty jacket, we found ourselves discussing how few people were out on the mountain on such a spectacularly beautiful morning. We concluded that being around a holiday, hangovers were probably the culprit for the low turnout. We agreed we were happy to have abstained the night before and were able to enjoy another beautiful sunrise in relative peace — which had just brilliantly started to peek over the surrounding ridges. This is when Kent randomly blurted out something which both warmed my heart and re-affirmed my own lifestyle choices. He said, “I used to live like that… living hard, living complicated, but one day a long time ago I decided I could either do that, or I could become an athlete and spend the rest of my life getting out to places like this and enjoying life’s simple pleasures”. 

Prophetic words spoken from on high…literally…like at 12,485 feet above sea level high!

I do love getting out and adventuring with friends because I really, really do love sharing life’s stoke with the people I care most about. However, when people’s lives get so complicated and bogged down in minutia they can’t make simple time for others, or even make a simple yes or no decision, I’m glad the “I” in my Myers-Briggs profile can kick in and I can easily just go.

Looking back, I’ve had a great kick at it in 2014 and have certainly finished strong this December with another backcountry hut trip with Donna and some good friends. And now that the snow has finally come in earnest, I’ve also been able to get out into the backcountry a couple of times and enjoy some fun-filled days of powder skiing away from the crowded resorts. Most importantly, I’ve had some fabulous simple holiday time with my little family here in Colorado as we close out the year. 

Climb high. Ski hard. Ride long. Live simply.

We All Have Our Place.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just as this past ski season kicked off, my wife quit her job at the behemoth ski company she was employed with and away went my free season pass.

Immediately, with that change in her career path, I was cast into the mind numbing abyss of deciding which pass to get. If you’re not from Colorado, it may be hard to understand the full gravity of this situation, but deciding where to direct your ski alliances is a huge deal. People can actually lose friends over this kind of stuff.

Among the considerations a person must ponder when choosing a pass are things like quality of terrain, length of typical season, typical lift queue waits, price of pass, availability of free parking, snow fall averages, drive time to and from, cost of après activities and most importantly for me, choosing the clientele who I’ll be sharing the piste with. With this abrupt change in Donna’s career, I was faced with having to do this in a matter of hours, not the typical months of intense contemplation, meditation, divine intervention and rigourous vetting amongst peers and spiritual advisors.

Caught off guard and needing to make a quick decision, I used my default position and ended up with the “general ski area coverage” pass where I could ski the resorts in Summit and Eagle Counties I was already familiar with. This “general” pass was priced at a vastly reduced rate from the rack rate of the “full ski area coverage” pass — the one I’d had for free for several years. The only real difference was the full pass would’ve given me a few more days at the most popular resorts (read:crowded) and access to places like Verbier and one or two in Austria where I’d honestly never go to in a typical year.

I’d never really paid much attention to the cost for all those “extras” since it had been free. Now I can kinda see that buying that “full” pass is tantamount to buying all those sexy bells and whistles on a fancy car, you know, the ones you never use. Like insisting on the uber off-road package on that monster SUV when it’ll never be driven off the tarmac.

In hindsight, I now realize making that un-researched, snap pass decision may not have resulted in the best choice for me in terms of maximizing the skiing experience for the price of the pass. What can I say, the snow was already falling and I buckled under the pressure of the moment.

For the fist time in several years, without the decision being made for me where to ski, I started viewing my desired skiing experience in an entirely different way. I also began to realize I’d had a somewhat subconscious pressure to go to certain resorts and sadly, in some way feel that I needed to “fit in”. The fact of the matter is I most oftentimes felt completely out of place.

However, throughout this season, I found myself migrating most weekends to the places I felt most comfortable — A-Basin and the backcountry. This despite having access to some ridiculously posh resorts. In changing the way I viewed my ski days, I no longer felt the need to rally at 04:00 on a Saturday morning to beat the I-70 traffic and secure one of the three available free parking spaces. I no longer felt compelled to ski early and hard so I could get back in the car early enough in the day to beat the traffic home. I realized everything associated with my ski experiences for the past several years had become frantic from start to finish and more times than not, a day with my friends which was meant to be fun and enjoyable was anything but.

So, when the time came this spring to buy my pass for next season, the choice was pretty clear. As clear as the decision was on the surface though, I still needed to look at the tangibles from the previous season(s) and see what fell out. Don’t judge, this is what we do in Colorado.

According to my detailed collection of datum, I spent more than 83% of my inbound skiing days at A-Basin. There are no luxury hotels adorning the Basin (no hotels period), no swanky overpriced restaurants, no valet parking and consequently they don’t have lift queues so long they’re visible from outer space like many of the other mega resorts.

Best of all, I found I could leave my house later in the morning, pick up my people, drive at a VW Vanagon-esque pace in my Tacoma, arrive unstressed, still park for free (it’s all free at the Basin) and still get in more quality skiing in a given day than I ever did at the places promising me an experience of a lifetime.

On the intrinsic side of my analysis, the thing standing out most in my mind is I truly feel at home at the Basin. You can always find a host of incredible skiers ripping up some impossibly terrifying terrain, always find good music by local artists and always find a fairly priced craft beer along with some tasty food. Best of all, you’ll always find people smiling and laughing. It’s all about the vibe at the Basin.

It’s impossible to stroll through the parking lot or along The Beach and not strike up a fun conversation with a stranger. You’ll likely be offered a beer or brat from the grill or cooler located behind someone’s awesome VW bus, Tacoma, Subaru Outback or some other backcountry worthy rig. Simply enjoying the vibe of the Basin is almost as fun as the skiing itself! This in exact contrast of the mega resorts because grilling and tailgating is generally frowned upon or simply not allowed. And let’s be honest, most of the clientele at those mega resorts aren’t into tailgating.

With all these multi-resort passes being offered, the whole experience is starting to feel a little too much like Facebook. Collecting more and more “friend resorts” that I don’t really like or would never hang out with in real life (Verbier, etc) really doesn’t juice me up all that much so why in the world would I want to pay for it? For me, I want quality, not quantity.

As you’ve probably guessed, next season my allegiance will be solely with the Basin. I love the terrain, love the people who also call A-Basin home and love that I can slow it down and savour every aspect of the experience without sacrificing one shred of the quality. Some people call the Basin a cult. If so, so be it, but I love parking next to a old VW Vanagon loaded with boats, mountain bikes, skis and people who will talk to me and won’t look down their nose at me because I have duct tape on my  kit.

Oh, and with the cost of the season pass at about half of what I’d pay for those multi-resort passes, I can still feel good about dropping a little cash love at places like Loveland, Taos, Crested Butte, Whitewater (BC), Monarch or any of the other local areas who are dedicated to keeping it real.

Find your passion. Find your place. Find your people and live your life the way you want, not someone else’s version of it.

It’s okay to be different.

Excuse Me While I Walk Down Memory Lane.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A few nights ago I was down in our basement getting some gear collected up and organized for an upcoming road trip and while doing so, I came across a plastic bag filled with a bunch of colourful papers. I have several bins filled with various maps near where I picked up the bag so I just assumed it was probably more maps that needed to be filed away.

When I first picked up the bag I knew immediately it wasn’t maps of any kind because there was nothing that felt thicker and bulkier, such as a folded map would feel. Also, even though the stack of paper inside was about a centimeter or two thick, it weighed next to nothing. Since I was already sitting on the floor and was in one of those “clean out and throw out kind of moods”, I decided to dump the contents out, inspect what I had, and toss anything extraneous.

I didn’t exactly dump the contents, but I grabbed the stack of paper and before I could even get it out of the bag, I realized what it was. My well-worn ZipLock baggy was filled with a plethora of receipts, bus transfers, visas, immigration papers, peeled beer bottle labels and a surfeit of other things from a long trip around Southeast and South Asia that Jason and I did a couple of years ago. For shorter trips I usually just stick such things in my travel books, but two months away required a large ZipLock! This was certainly the type of stuff that would mean absolutely nothing to anyone but me…and it really does mean the world to me.

Most surprisingly was how I felt a warm blanket of comfort come over me when I saw the immigration/visa papers from Bangladesh, Nepal and India and various other “official” papers from other countries. It’s ironic that I should feel comfort and warmth because at the exact time of acquiring and filling them out, I was ANYTHING but warm and comfy! I think stressed, adrenaline stoked and overwhelmed are the better descriptors.

I found myself sitting in the floor of the basement for quite some time reading absolutely everything on the papers, even looking through the Hindi, Bengali, Nepalese, Thai and Korean writing. Though I couldn’t decipher the words written in the native languages, seeing the letters actually comforted me. It reminded me of all the amazing, caring and beautiful people we encountered along the way. Regardless of how frustrating, tiring or completely overwhelming a day may have been, there was always a caring local face somewhere to welcome us in with a friendly “sawadee”, “namaste” or “tashi delek” — and always have a cup of tea for us. And though sometimes we didn’t understand most words past the initial greeting, just seeing their smile and hearing their friendly voice would make us feel safe and “at home”. As a surrogate until I can get back, I go to our local Asian market regularly just to see the writing, here the languages and wrap that warm blanket of international travel around myself if for a few minutes.

Anyhow, other than some various visa or immigration photos, there was not a single other photograph in the stack. However, as I sifted through the papers and receipts, my heart and soul was taken right back to those border immigration queues, random cafés, terrifying bus rides, chaotic markets, maybe a particular beer with another traveler from another country, some picturesque teahouse in the Himalaya or a sketchy hostel in Kathmandu where we’d spent a sleepless night. Each slip of paper and receipt was a key opening a gigantic box of memories.

I’m really not a souvenir type guy, basically because I like to travel with only a backpack and usually don’t have the room, nor the desire, to lug a bunch more crap around for weeks on end. When I do buy things I usually bring something very small back for family and close friends in the form of a trinket from a local market or something made by some random artisan. For myself, besides taking photos, I tend to keep little things like receipts or bus tickets because obviously I like the way they spark memories. Maybe they won’t seem relevant at first, but just as it proved itself out a couple of days ago down in my basement, when I least expect it, they’ll pack an enormous opportunity to take me back to the places, people and things I loved about a trip — or was stressed to max about.

This little walk down memory lane also comes just at the right time since we’re starting our initial planning for another headfirst jump into a land of loony markets, strange (but delicious) foods, chaotic bus terminals and more languages we have absolutely no command of. And you can bet I’ve got my high-tech ZipLock baggy ready to collect a few more of these little aide-mémoires.

But first this little road trip…..

Be simple. Have fun. Travel far.

It’s More Than Just My Bike

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here we are still in the midst of one of the best ski seasons Colorado has seen in a long time, yet, this week I found myself atop my bike cranking away and dreaming about the warm summer months. I’ve by no means hung up the ski gear, far from it, but this week I sort of needed my go-to session for clearing my mind. Some people would say I’m in an enviable position, some I’ve heard call it the scariest time of their lives. The position I’m in is trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life.

It seems as though I’ve been doing that for a long time really and always sort of suffered from a little “Life A-D-D”. From early on I remember daydreaming with childhood friends about one day being doctors, lawyers, policemen, architects and various things.  Those early career ideas were indeed the seeds many of my friends wound up sewing.

I remember my personal choices were either to be a rubbish collector or a world adventurer — or both. I was always fascinated by the fact the rubbish collectors got to ride around all day, every day on the back of that truck and actually got paid for it! And to be an adventurer. traveling the world, discovering new things, eating strange foods, speaking different languages, well, yeah, that speaks for itself.

As it turns out, I never found myself on the back of a garbage truck (not legally anyhow), though I still think about it when I see the guys come through the neighbourhood each Tuesday. Rather, after a circuitous route through several study/career choices during university, I landed in the financial and mathematical world. Now, since graduating university, every aptitude or career development “test” I’ve taken has revealed that finance and math are the careers I am least suited for based on my personality traits. So much for those guidance counselors. Oh, and just in case you’re curious, Myers-Briggs has me pegged as ENFP with the “E” occurring equal times with “I”. I’ve taken this hundreds of times over the years and it’s always the same.

Regardless, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a long and mostly enjoyable career with the same company. Because of that longevity and corresponding build up of holiday time off, I’ve also managed to regularly go cavorting about the globe, sometimes for very long stretches of time. I think they’d balk at calling it sabbaticals, but it’s sort of what I call them. I think two months away from my office at a given time qualifies? So at least that part of my early career dreams came to fruition.

I’ve ridden bikes for, well, forever. My first love was an orange Huffy Dragster, complete with sissy bar and ape hanger handlebars — a true muscle bike of it’s time. Not caring that it wasn’t really an offroad designed machine, I still jumped every earthen undulation, curb or homemade ramp in the greater Desert Southwest. It was my ticket to freedom and I was 100% ready to “buy the ticket and take the ride” (that’s a Hunter S. Thompson quote by the way). Over the years I would graduate to more sophisticated bikes such as triathlon bikes, touring bikes, racing bikes, etc and eventually I found my true love when mountain bikes came into fashion. A bike was so simple yet was the perfect foundation for countless adventures in my life.

A few years ago I decided that instead of buying another bike, I was going to build one from the frame up. I think I basically realized that I’d ridden bikes for a long time and knew quite a bit about them, but I’d never really gotten to know one from the ground up. So, I bought a frame based on what I wanted and set about researching each and every piece, part, nut and bolt.

Though I had a huge resource of friends who race professionally or have built bikes before and I could have easily tapped them for knowledge, I wanted to learn this stuff on my own. I wanted to know why some things worked and why others didn’t. I’ve always believed experience is the absolute best path to knowledge. It’s not always the easiest, but it’s the best. That said, I scoured the internet researching every single component, looking for the best deal and practicing patience until I could find exactly the right combination of performance and price. I wanted even the tiniest of pieces to mean something and have my time invested in it. Eventually I had all the parts neatly laid out in our basement and was ready to start assembling.

Some things wound up being easy, as expected, and some things wound up challenging me a little more than expected. Undeterred by the challenging bits, I patiently went through the trials and errors until I figured out why things weren’t working and more importantly, why they did. I think what surprised me in this process was the sheer number of components and considerations I’d never really contemplated before. Building my bike from the ground up helped me understand the relationships of ALL the components.

Eventually, I rolled the bike out of my basement, clipped into my pedals and took her out on her maiden voyage and I’m happy to report it worked flawlessly. And best of all, when something breaks now, I know I can fix it myself without having to rely on anyone else.

I’ve since ridden thousands of miles on that bike. And while those miles are only a fraction of the total miles I’ve ridden in my lifetime, they are by far the very best miles. I’m invested in every pedal stroke now. Every time I grind my way up some long singletrack trail to a ridge high here in the Rockies and am rewarded with a mind blowing view, I know it was a result of my time, patience and desire to be 100% invested in the things I want in my life AND the life I want to live. There is nothing more rewarding.

Now that I’m starting to consider where my next chapter in life will take me, I sort of feel like I did when I brought my bike up from the basement the first time. I knew I’d done things to the best of my ability but there’s always that question of whether it was good enough. Will I take one pedal stroke and the crank fall off? If it does I’ll get out my wrenches and tighten it up. Will the gears shift properly?  If they don’t, I’ll adjust them. Will the tubeless tires hold air? If not, I’ll put some more sealant in them and be on my way. The bike I built has taken me places I never imagined, no reason I can’t trust that the life I’ve built won’t do the same.

I suppose the only way to know is to get in the saddle, start cranking and see where it takes me.

Going It Alone When You Need To

1457560_10152084391627813_972321946_n

I once asked my good friend Liz Clark http://www.swellvoyage.com/ if she ever found herself afraid when she was alone in the middle of the ocean, forced into a difficult situation or when she realized she was literally, all alone. Her answer was quite simple, but left a deep and impactful impression on me. She told me she was “often scared, but never afraid”.

I’ve thought about this a lot, not because I find myself in tenuous or life threatening circumstances very often, but more so in the context of how I live my life.

I think everyone probably has an ideal life they envision for themselves. Having gazillions of dollars and the house on the hill, living out of a backpack while indefinitely roaming the world (guilty), solving one of life’s great mysteries or even just a notion of being able to truly live in the moment with a life full of simple pleasures (again, guilty).

While we all have dreams of what we want life to be, there oftentimes seems to be a cavernous disconnect between having the dream and executing the steps to actually living that dream. Maybe part of that is being afraid to take the first step due to fear of failure. Those fears naturally come from many sources such as negative peer pressure, societal pressure, religious pressure, monetary pressure and probably more often than we’d like to admit it, our own internal pressures.

What makes it worse is that our society relentlessly pounds on us to be insecure. Think not? Listen to any advertisement and they’ll tell you how the car you’re driving is not as good or safe as it could be so you should buy theirs. Your current product doesn’t do what theirs does so you are grossly inferior to your peers. The list of examples is literally infinite. With so much constant negative stimulation, I think sometimes we probably lose confidence in ourselves to make and trust our own decisions.

I love to ski, mountain bike, trail run and climb. There was a time though when the numbers game of the these disciplines dictated how I pursued them. I felt constantly pressured to reach and maintain certain benchmarks or risk not being included in the micro-society of each of those things. After a short amount of time, the initial lure of spending time feeding my soul was replaced with having to compete to maintain. I sadly began to lose sight of the true heart of the things I love. I fortunately reversed that situation long ago and now do all these things simply because I love them.

I have a few friends who understand the value of just being outdoors and enjoying the gift of where we live, the value of spending time with each other and the importance of living according to the rhythms of the earth. They aren’t afraid to not be the best, the fastest or the burliest. They enjoy life because of the true gift it is and find importance in time shared with likeminded people who are perpetually looking to feed and expand their soul through simply living and experiencing.

One day last season I met my friend Jesse, an incredibly good athlete, for a day of backcountry skiing near his home in Vail. The snow and weather were both amazing and the day was near perfect for ringing up “big numbers”. Because of the relationship Jesse and I have, I think we knew from the start that that was not the day for “big numbers”. Instead, we spent most of the day talking while we casually climbed, took lots of “philosophy breaks” when necessary and never once felt compelled to ski harder or think about one other thing than the very moment we were in. Though we climbed and skied a lot, we enjoyed the day simply because we put all of life’s constraints, expectations, distractions, inhibitions and limitations aside and let life happen at its own pace. So simple, and to this day, it was likely one of the best days I’ve ever had…on or off the snow.

It’s unfortunate we can’t always have those people in our lives readily available 24/7 to share in life’s natural rhythms. And it’s even more unfortunate that most people won’t, or aren’t willing, to go find those rhythms on their own. If everything is not perfect, or have all the proper restrictions and constraints in place, well, then the entire outing is a bust. Sound familiar? When is the last time you just did something and did it without having one restriction or expectation? How many times have you said, “I’m going to do this thing and I’ll just see where it takes me, however long it takes?”

And then how many times have you said, “Good grief, it’d be a helluva lot easier if I just did this by myself”.

It can be a daunting task to do anything alone, especially when it comes to things like  adventuring or putting yourself into an uncontrollable situation when traveling internationally. But as Liz said, it’s okay to be scared, just don’t be afraid. And looking back, every time I’ve been in situations where I found myself alone and a little uncomfortable, I’ve learned more about myself than at any other time in my life. Personal growth and confidence never come from living safely.

When I do find myself going it alone, I always cherish the time to think about why I’m there and  slow down to look at the natural beauty around me instead of getting into that “mach it from the car” mentality. I love climbing on my skis in the frigid, wee hours of the morning to a high ridge where I can sit and watch the sun rise and know there is a world of endless possibilities out there waiting on me. I then love skiing down by myself at my own rhythm, savouring each and every turn to the fullest extent, as if it may be the last turn I ever get to make. I love climbing on my mountain bike and finding that perfect pace between physical desperation and euphoria, eventually arriving at a point where the world falls away in every direction and I know in my heart I can conquer whatever life throws at me. I love living at my own unfiltered pace and having the time to appreciate being small in this big world, embracing the imperfections, being a little scared, and even a tad out of control at times — and to realize that that’s okay. Scared, but not afraid.

I’ll always treasure those days with friends like Jesse, but fortunately I’ve learned to never be afraid to just go it alone when all the clutter and distractions start getting in the way of how I want to live my dream.

Walk confidently along the simple road.

I Love It When Everyone Around Me Is Happy

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because the backcountry is a little scary right now with incredibly sketchy avalanche conditions, I, along with my good friends Jill and Jason, headed up to Arapahoe Basin to ski some of the best inbounds conditions of the season, maybe even of the last couple of seasons. We knew it would be good, but we honestly had no idea it would be that good.

The three of us being avid backcountry skiers, who truly enjoy working hard for our turns, showed up early (well before the lifts opened) and quickly set off climbing toward the Continental Divide. I know I speak for the three of us when I say that despite the hard work, there is something centering to the soul about being in the mountains as the sun comes up, being with the people you care most about and detaching from all the stimuli that tends to clutter our everyday lives. And when you can climb with your favourite people for long periods of time and never have to say a word to say everything that needs to be said, you know you’re in exactly the right place, doing exactly the right thing with exactly the right people.

After initially skinning up and skiing back down, we quickly decided the day’s conditions were just too good to make it a one and done type day so we jettisoned our packs back at my truck and hopped on a lift to whisk us to the highest point of the resort. If you’ve never skied The Basin, it’s pretty close to magical to stand on Lenawee Ridge, right on the Continental Divide at over 12,400-feet and look around at 360-degrees of awesomeness. To be there when the sun comes up, even better.

The Basin is not a Vail, Aspen or Telluride, though I honestly find it far superior. There are no fancy restaurants, no world class hotels and certainly no fur coat-clad tourists. What they do have though is incredible terrain, good food at a fair price in a cozy and fun little lodge and sun-loving locals who love to ski and go there to…well…ski. Because people genuinely love the funkiness, simplicity and overall groovy vibe of The Basin, they tend to host a battalion of fervent loyalist, like me.

Anyhow, as quickly as the lift would get us there, Jill and I were skiing Montezuma Bowl off the back side of the resort, a mind blowing place known for steep lines and deep snow! As usual, the stoke was high and people’s exuberant “yee-haws!” were echoing around the place as they flew off steep drops and plowed through deep powder stashes! Taking note of all this while riding the lift back to the ridge, Jill just blurted out, “I just love it when everyone around me is happy”. Yeah, me too, and happy they (we) were.

I learned a long time ago that simple most always means more. If I just take time to look past the hype and frills (promised or otherwise) to see what the true heart of something is, it will tell me everything I need to know. That applies to ski resorts, jobs, cars, houses, people and life itself.

I’m so fortunate to know what I love and have a few good friends around me to share the same stoke.

Keep it simple, keep it fun.

http://www.arapahoebasin.com/ABasin/Default.aspx