Yep, this is the place where the big planes fly right over the beach and scatter onlookers like a sudden gust of wind ruins your freshly-raked pile of leaves every fall. More importantly, though, it’s the only place I’ve ever been where you can score beachside shrimp doughnuts. And trust me, you want to be beachside on St. Maarten, and you want a plate of shrimp doughnuts.
From Tom’s Baby (the gold one, not the ski run) to the Devil’s Crotch (the ski run, not the other one), Breckenridge is a fascinating, fun time no matter how you approach it. I’ve written about the town and its surroundings a few times. Here’s the latest.
(Hint: Yes, the Mohawk Lakes Trail is magnificent, but it’s not my absolute favorite nearby hike. That one is a secret, and you’ll have to ply it out of me with some Breckenridge Bourbon.)
I have a bottomless well of stories from my adventures — and, probably more entertaining, my misadventures — along The Colorado Trail. Here’s a quick introduction.
Get Started on The Colorado Trail
Until I started maintaining this website, with this collection of my favorite articles, I didn’t realize how many stories in this vein I was actually responsible for. Not a bad gig, I guess. Anyway, check this one out. I’m blown away by the fact that a pub where people had a pint of ale before they boarded the fucking Mayflower still exists in London. Seriously.
Maui is gorgeous and unique. Haleakala is cool. The Road to Hana is epic. The jungle is lush, and the beaches are lazy. But if you really want to know how I feel about Maui, try to say that shave ice is the same as a snow cone. Just try.
I didn’t think the last day of the Ski All Colorado adventure would go like this. My plan was to hit Arapahoe Basin late in the season — April 24, in fact, my birthday — and, being my birthday and late in the season and the final stop on the Ski All Colorado tour, I intended to spend more time partying than skiing. To that end, my ski wife (Heather) had reserved the best A-Basin “Beach” spot months ahead of time to accommodate our revelry. (Thank you very much, ski wife. That means more to me than you probably know.)
The best way to describe skiing in shorts is to say that it’s similar to skinny dipping. Both are liberating and exhilarating. In the water, you’re acutely aware of the fact that no material stands between body parts you’d rather not have nibbled on and sea creatures that might enjoy nibbling on them. On the snow, you fully understand that for your uncovered lower limbs, every turn, every bump, every unseen crusty patch and powder pocket could spell icy disaster. That’s the thrill. Going for it anyway is the freedom.
Part 1: The Phone Rings
When we started this endeavor, one of my goals was that Dade and Roan not miss any school to make it happen. As I wrote back on November 16, 2015, it’d be easy to find the time to ski everywhere if we just said fuck it and took the boys out of school for two days here, three days there, whatever. But I didn’t want to do it like that. Except for Vail.
“Dad, check it out,” Dade said. We had barely been off the Silver Queen Gondola long enough to snap our requisite Ski All Colorado selfie, and we certainly had no idea where we were going. “That guy’s setting up a hang glider or something.”
“Let’s take a look,” I said, and led Dade, Roan, and Tyler down the upper portion of Walsh’s run at Aspen Mountain on Sunday, March 20, 2016. Maybe 25 yards or so beyond the entrance of Walsh’s, the mountain plummets at a fairly drastic downhill angle. It plummets so drastically, in fact, that, according to the trail map, this spot is one of the area’s two paragliding launch sites.
It’s funny how sometimes you don’t recognize a near-perfect day until you’re telling the story later, and while recounting in glorious detail all the satisfying triumphs and humorous exploits, you suddenly have to stop mid sentence because you realize, “Goddman, that was a great fuckin’ day.”
I fancy myself a bit of an amateur photographer, and I’ve always been a big fan of the medium. I’m a professional writer, though, so I take some degree of exception to the phrase “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” Give me those thousand words and I believe sometimes I can paint the picture better.
This is not one of those times.
Heather had been waiting all season for the Ski All Colorado crew’s Snowmass excursion, and after the Sunlight snafu, the only option was to plan it to fit her schedule. So Saturday, March 12, 2016, it was. (And I’m pretty sure she still dumped a bunch of paperwork on her assistants, or maybe just ignored it all until Sunday afternoon.)
You may recall Heather grew up around these parts. Even more pertinent to our day at Snowmass was that she spent a couple seasons working here — which, admittedly, is a point of envy in our relationship. I can probably count my life’s true regrets on one hand, but near the top of the list is the fact that I didn’t head to the hills to be a ski bum after school. Heather did, and on this particular day, I was looking forward to vicariously reliving some of those glory days.
Except … shit changes in 20 years!
On Sunday, March 6, the end of a four-day weekend that had already included Telluride, Silverton, Purgatory, and Hesperus (and four hotels in four nights), we drove north from Durango to the town of Silverton. It’s a cool little place, a former silver-mining outpost, and if you turn right on East 14th Street, you’ll end up at the Kendall Mountain Recreation Area, which, during winter months, has a chairlift cranking and a couple dudes hanging out in the ticket “office.”
And, on that particular Sunday, a dad and his two boys wrapping up a pretty monumental Ski All Colorado weekend.
I got a text from my good friend, Mike, a couple weeks ago. He was on one of his crazy bike-ride adventure races (you’ll get to know him better in a few posts). He’d probably been up for 72 hours straight and had pedaled uphill both ways from Tijuana with a donkey riding shotgun or something like that. I don’t know. Anyway, he was on his bike and he was down around Durango. I can’t remember the message exchange verbatim, of course, but I think it went something like this:
Mike: Hey, did you ski Hesperus?
Let’s straighten this out right away: As far as I’m concerned, it’s Purgatory. That’s the name that always sparked my skier’s interest growing up, and, now that I’ve finally been there, that’s the name I’ll use going forward thank you very much. Sort of like I’ll always call Mile High, Mile High, no matter who pays top dollar to put their name on it.
Okay, so, Purgatory …
There were eight of us standing on the ridge contemplating our next move. At Silverton, you contemplate your next move, and you ski in groups of eight. Along with a guide, who is a certified ski patroller, licensed avalanche guru, and all-around mountain badass. Courtney was ours, and he had already entrusted Dade to lead a portion of our initial hike. So the day was off to either a really cool start or we were headed straight for disaster. Anyway, there were eight of us (plus Courtney) standing at about 12,500 feet on March 4, 2016. We were at the top of a run called Nightmare. (And when I say “run,” here and elsewhere in this piece, please understand I mean that very loosely.)
“Why don’t you lead us off, JB,” Courtney said. “Take it to the road.”
I looked toward the road. He had pointed it out a few minutes earlier. It wasn’t close. At all. “You want me to ski all the way to the road?”
“Yep, just take it to the road.”
Okay … Continue reading
You know the ghost hobo in The Polar Express? He shows up at opportune moments to help out our skeptical protagonist and waxes eloquently on a variety of subjects, ranging from girls to Santa to whether or not seeing really is believing. If you know me at all, you already understand he’s my favorite character in the movie. To my delight, we met Telluride’s version on March 3, 2016.
Howelsen Hill Ski Area is the town of Steamboat Springs’ other snow sports center. (For those of you who are local or just enjoy being perfectly technical, I know it’s officially the City of Steamboat Springs, but come on …) Howelsen is right behind downtown and it’s small. And I’d venture a guess that very few visitors ever ride its exhilarating Schnackenberg Poma Lift (seriously, that’s gotta be the steepest surface lift around) or make a single turn on its Upper Face, Town View, or Ridge Run trails.
Howelsen Hill, however, is very popular with folks who play in the snow for precious metals. The western front face is North America’s largest natural ski jumping complex, a collection of ramps that have served as training facilities for some 79 Olympians, who have competed in more than 130 Winter Games.
We, of course, are not Olympians. Apparently, though, we are in gold medal contention for good karma.
During the last five or so ski seasons, Steamboat has become our home-away-from-home mountain. There’s not much I don’t love about both the community and the hill. And Michelle has some fairly deep family roots there. As in, her grandfather’s grandfather founded the place. As in (part two), the family home Uncle Jim so generously allows us to occupy was one of the first buildings constructed back when the town was just getting started. (Seriously, you should see the early pictures of the house with nothing around it for miles.)
So, you may be thinking I married into the family for the ski accommodations. That’s only half the story. There were Broncos season tickets involved, too. But we’ll stick to the skiing here.
For a split second, I thought catastrophe had caught up to us. Dade was doing a 360 off a bridge that exits from the Westside Glades at Echo Mountain. When he first said he was going to do it, I knew catching the handrail with his ski tips was a potential problem, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want the ramifications of all that to creep into his psyche. (No need to call social services; when he proposes truly boneheaded ideas, I’m the first to say, “Seriously?” with my best bewildered dad-face.)
After a three-week interlude to accommodate teenage social calendars, a Broncos’ Super Bowl victory, and a Texas hog hunt, our handwritten schedule indicated it was time for “Aspen Weekend #1.” With four gonzo mountains up around Hunter’s old neck of the woods, we were going to need two weekends, and February 20 to 21 was going to be the first.
Right up until it wasn’t.
They say there are no friends on a powder day. But when Beaver Creek reported 13 inches of fresh snow on January 31st, the boys and I had a lot of them. Shawn and Spencer, Chance, and Ben; Dave and Jen with Connor and Boden; and lone-ranger Tyler all met us on the mountain. Which is cool, because I’d always rather ski with friends than alone (unless you’re keeping me from cashing in on all that powder).
The challenge with that many people, of course, is that on the hill, like in life, there’s no damn way everybody wants to do the same thing. An exception to this basic rule of humanity is if somebody in the group is in the middle of a quest to ski every Colorado resort during a single season. If you run into that group with that guy, he’s automatically the default guide and everybody will ski wherever he damn well pleases. Mainly because it’s his party, and he’ll ski where we wants to.
There’s a scene in every Warren Miller movie (every Warren Miller movie I’ve watched at least) when the cameras capture rookie snow-sporters struggling a bit with their gear and the conditions. It’s mom and dad trying to carry an entire family’s worth of boots, skis, and poles up to the ticket counter while little Jimmy and Janey wander aimlessly in their overstuffed winter attire. Or Aunt Shirley trying to negotiate an icy walkway in boots while cradling skis and poles in the crooks of her elbows. Or Cousin Frank fully clicked in to his bindings 10 yards too early and slipping helplessly backward from the lift.
Needless to say, disaster ensues. As does laughter.
Before I get started, I’d like to make note of something: Peter and Sasha, and Heather, joined us for our January 23, 2016, expedition to Winter Park. If you’re wondering what the big deal is, you haven’t been following along, and need to go back to the Hungry for the Wolf and Elephant Balls installments. The short version, though, is that I led the kids to a 15-foot-high cliff at Wolf Creek and snubbed their mom en route to Sunlight. And yet, here they are! Because, hey, we’re skiing, so we’re all good! And Heather and I even had our own missing-gear adventure (I’m equal opportunity).
[You know the drill. This continues from Road Warriors Part 2. Read that first.]
7:24 a.m. Monday, January 18, 2016. On the road again, 90 minutes from Monarch. I was a little concerned about this portion of the trip. The last couple evenings hadn’t exactly been full nights in terms of sleep. I know I didn’t really want to be up and moving already; I assumed the boys felt the same. But we were all excited about finishing up the weekend hat trick. And we had a box of Teddy Grahams. So things were good.
[This post picks up right where Road Warriors: Fury Road left off. So, you know, if you haven’t read that one yet, you’re only cheating yourself.]
4:54 p.m. January 16, 2016. We made great time from Ski Cooper to Crested Butte, where we met up with Rob, Stacey, Aidan, and Colin in the hot tub at the Grand Lodge for a couple pre-dinner beverages. A cold Jack and Coke always tastes great. But there are certain times when a Jack and Coke tastes especially delicious. And one of those times is right when you sit down in a hot tub after waking up early and driving for four hours and then skiing and eating lunch on the lift and listening to kid jokes and then driving another three hours so you’re ready for the next stop on your Ski All Colorado odyssey. Yep, that’s one of the times when there isn’t anything fucking better than a cold Jack and Coke.
6:34 a.m. Saturday, January 16, 2016. Dade, Roan, and I pulled out of the driveway en route to Ski Cooper. We were 30 minutes behind schedule. Michelle was originally scheduled to roll with us, but she couldn’t stomach skipping the Broncos’ game, a divisional playoff against the Steelers, on Sunday. She kissed us goodbye and we hit the road.
6:58 a.m. By now, we were officially stuck in traffic somewhere between Green Mountain and Floyd Hill, and my trusty CDOT app was showing yellow, red, and black all the way through Eisenhower Tunnel. Oh well. As I’ve explained to the boys, “you gotta pay to play.” Earlier in the week, Dade had asked me to pack some old school rap music for the road. Creeping along I-70 seemed like a good time to introduce him to Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Bring the noise!
10:34 a.m. Arrived at Ski Cooper. Yep, it was a four-hour drive, but …
Via text message, Heather told me that we had to ski Defiance. That Zephyr was her favorite run. And that Dade would want to do the Elephant Jump. She knew all this because she grew up in Glenwood Springs, and, by her own description, “lived” at Sunlight. She told me via text because I had failed to let her know we were heading to her childhood stomping ground on January 10, 2016 (dammit!). She told me some other things, too — or, rather, called me some other things — but I’m sure you’re more interested in the skiing so we’ll move on to that.
“What’s the lunch situation?” I asked the night before we arrived at Powderhorn. We pack a mobile refrigerator (aka our Yeti) for every trip, and can lay out a pretty tasty breakfast and lunch spread — and host a solid après affair — from the back of our rig, but I wasn’t sure if we should pre-make sandwiches or plan for a high-noon tailgate on January 9, 2016.
“We bring our lunch and just leave it in the lodge,” Drew said. “No locker needed.”
And that pretty much sums up the vibe at Powderhorn. It’s a friendly mountain where everybody knows your name … and nobody will steal your PB&J.
When this ski odyssey comes up in polite conversation, my elevator speech always starts with “The boys and I …”, which inevitably prompts the same initial follow-up questions: Doesn’t Michelle like to ski? Is she as good as the boys? Yes, she does. No, she’s not. (Still, she’s better than she admits, and better than she often attempts.)
Her carving abilities, though, have no bearing on how much each of us like to have her around on the hill — even after she’s done her three or four Bissell School of Leisure Skiing runs and has retired to an 11:00 a.m. après spot in the lodge tavern. Or, maybe it’s because of that. We always know where to find her, and we always know we’ll have a seat. Either way, Dade, Roan, and I were very excited when Michelle announced she would make her first ski-all-Colorado appearance on our December 30, 2015, visit to Eldora.
From about 1986 to 1989, roughly my junior high school years, Breckenridge was my home mountain. My mom would drop me and a friend or two off at the Peak 9 parking lot in the morning and pick us up there at 4:30 p.m. We spent many of the hours in between looking for good jumps along Peak 10’s Cimarron. These were the days of spread eagles, backscratchers, and, my personal specialty, daffys — but not of purpose-built terrain park convenience. So once we found a decent kicker, we’d commence to pull lap after lap on the Falcon SuperChair, logging countless vertical feet on the same trail, in order to practice our Hot Dog-style moves one jump per run at a time. Next thing you know, it’s late afternoon and mom’s waiting. It was a simpler age.
Simple, however, is not how I’d describe our day at Breckenridge on December 28, 2015. For starters, I forgot our skis.
“I’ve got some words for you,” my good friend Tedford said. He was in the middle of helping Peter and Sasha (his kids) and Dade and Roan click out of their bindings and hug the mountainside so they could scramble across and down the 15-foot-high cliff I had led them right to. “But I don’t think they’d be appropriate for your fucking blog!”
Psych. We don’t have one.
I guess if we had absolutely nothing else going on in our lives, we could plan to go to X resort this weekend, Y hill next Saturday, and Z in a couple weeks. But even then, what if by next Saturday, Y’s snow sucks and Z just got dumped on? Plus, there are certain places where we’re hoping to ski with certain people. We’ll do our best to accommodate that because it’s all part of the story, and mixing in friends along the way will make the stories better. So, our strategy is to stay as fluid as possible, and just keep checking them off the list.
Which brings me to … the list.
On Wednesday, November 25, 2015, we started our all-Colorado ski trek at Keystone. The original plan was to hit Breckenridge (and stock up on Mary’s Mountain Cookies for the holiday weekend), but Keystone had more terrain open — and, most importantly, more terrain that we actually wanted to ski open. We’ll get to that. First, we need to discuss a significant philosophical moment that took place before we even buckled our boots.
Skiing at every Colorado downhill operation in a single season really doesn’t have to be all that big of a challenge. There are plenty of people who notch more than enough days to cover the lot. In other words, I want you to know that I don’t consider myself some sort of hero taking on a seemingly impossible task that will culminate with the morning talk show circuit.
Let’s face it, all I’m really doing with this self-guided snow odyssey is giving the boys and myself a great excuse to have … yep … the best ski season ever.
But I do want it to be more than that. Like I said earlier, I want to operate outside of ordinary. I don’t want to just pull the boys out of school for as many days as it takes. I don’t want every trip to include ski-in/ski-out accommodations and a hot bowl of chili at the end of the day. I want it to be a little uncomfortable (at times). I want it to be more adventure-like. So I’ve established a couple rules — and might add or delete as the winter rolls on.
You probably guessed that there’s actually more to this Colorado ski odyssey than just “I love to ski.” And you’re right. In the pie piece of my life labeled “recreation,” I like to believe I operate somewhere in the fringe of adventure. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never call myself an adventurer. I’m not scouring Snake Island for hidden loot or hiking the length of the Amazon River or charting a course to the South Pole. But I have been scuba diving with bull sharks and backpacking along the Colorado Trail for more miles than are comfortable.
I’ve also taken a couple pretty serious survival courses, and in addition to the fire-making, shelter-building, and map-reading skills I learned, I discovered — oh, on about day four — that I simply don’t like to be away from, and out of contact with, Michelle and the boys for long stretches of time.
I had a chance to speak with a handful of Colorado’s craft brewers to learn a bit about how and why they got started, and what it takes to keep going.
Craft Sector Blueprint
A trip to Colombia had always been on my list. I’m not exactly sure why. I’d like to say it was all because I studied Gabriel García Márquez in grad school. But it probably had just as much to do with watching Scarface at an early and impressionable age. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter. What does is that the place made an impression all its own on me.
Want to write about booze again? Yes, I do.
A youth lacrosse tournament in a cool mountain town? You bet.
If you live in Colorado, you know all about pine beetles. If you’ve visited Colorado recently, you probably noticed big swaths of dead pine trees mucking up our otherwise beautiful mountainsides. That’s thanks to the pine beetles. All that dead wood has to go somewhere, so the Azure Furniture Company started making it into cool, unique furniture.
CompanyWeek is a solid local website that focuses on businesses around Colorado. How are they doing? What are their issues? What do they need? A while back I got to cover the Women’s Bean Project for them.
Right after the spirits story appeared on Confluence Denver, the editor asked if I’d like to cover Tender Belly, a local high-end bacon (and other pork products) distributer. And that was pretty much the best back-to-back freelance stretch of my professional career.
Confluence Denver is a cool, weekly e-pub that highlights the people and organizations around town who are helping the city move forward and continue to be the only place in the world I want to live.
When the Confluence folks asked me if I wanted to write about some local spirit makers … well, I almost dropped my cocktail.
Honestly, I wasn’t all that excited to go to Cancun. Everybody goes there. But you know what, there’s a reason everybody goes. It really is gorgeous. And it really is a good time.
This is a story I did 18 months or so after Katrina, when it was time to get people going back to the Big Easy to have some fun.
The goal is to carve turns, bounce down the bumps, and hopefully glide through some fresh powder at every Colorado ski hill over the course of the upcoming 2015/2016 season. Before you start checking them off in your head, yes, every ski hill in Colorado. And yes, I have thought about that one. More on this later.
The main reason is simple: I love to ski. It’s my spiritual place. A day on the slopes — hell, even just a couple hours — is time away from thinking about anything else. Bombing down Resolution Bowl means I’m not worried about a work deadline. And I can’t be contemplating family finances while navigating the Chutes. Whether you’re on a green cruiser or a double-black-if-I-fall-here-I’m-in-big-trouble trail, you have to be fully in the moment. And that’s peace.