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What I Learned (or Learned Again) on My Winter Vacation

February 14, 2006

1. There’s an observation deck at the airport in Minneapolis. After the problem we had the last time we came through MSP on our way west, we’d booked a long layover on this trip and actually had time to relax and explore between flights. After we calculated our sleep numbers at the Select Comfort kiosk by the D gates, I noticed some stairs nearby with a sign reading “Observation Deck” hanging above them. I was a little surprised that the stairs weren’t chained off, but they weren’t, so we headed up and watched planes take off and land for a while. It felt very retro, a throwback to a time when air travel was exciting and glamorous. As and added bonus, airport CNN had not penetrated that space.

2. Just because a mountain doesn’t rate high on “best ski resorts” surveys doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent place to ski.At the beginning of the week, we tried two new to us places, Tamarack and Brundage. Tamarack is pretty much new to everyone, as it only opened last winter. Most of the base facilities are still in temporary structures that look a little like miniature circus tents, and the sounds (and smells–mmm, diesel exhaust) of construction fill the air on weekdays, but the skiing was wonderful, with varied terrain and so few people, even on the weekend, that we often had runs all to ourselves. Mr. Karen was amazed to find some of his tracks through the trees undisturbed after two days. We can only hope that the experience is still good after the resort matures. Brundage, in contrast, is old school, with only one lodge that’s been there a while and just a few lifts, but the slopes were great and the snow was good and the lift lines were nonexistent.

3. And vice-versa. Also known as the Vail syndrome. We spent the last half of the week near Sun Valley, which is famous. It’s actually two mountains: Dollar, which is essentially a beginner hill, with no trees to scare a person, and Baldy, which has plenty of trees, but per the trail map Sun Valley does not encourage you to ski in them, preferring that you stay with the crowds on the hardpacked runs. Unlike Tamarack and Brundage, I have no desire to return to ski here–though the food was excellent, both at the mountain and in town (Ketchum).

4. Paying $69 a day for a lift ticket might get you marble bathroom stalls, but it’s no guarantee your gloves won’t fall in the toilet. Okay, my gloves didn’t actually fall in the toilet, but they very well could have, because the very fancy facilities at Sun Valley lacked baskets to put things in while one does one’s business. Perhaps I was supposed to have my lady’s maid hold my accessories for me?

5. Crosswalk flags are funny. They’re even funnier after a glass of wine. We’d wondered what the safety orange flags waving from the light poles at corners were for until we walked past one intersection that explained they were for pedestrians to use to signal drivers when crossing the street and detailed the five-step process involved. After that, knowing we were allowed to move them, we took it upon ourselves to use our walks to and from dinner to redistribute flags from poles with too many to poles with too few. Drivers did indeed stop and wait for me to cross when I had the flags, perhaps because the maniacal giggling I was seized with whenever I grabbed a flag or two or three made them wonder what I might do next–best to wait and see.

6. Snowshoeing is fun, except when you miss a turn on the trail and think you might be eaten by wolves before you find your way out. Because the skiing in Sun Valley didn’t excite us enough to do it for a third day, we instead went to Galena Lodge and rented snowshoes. I’d never tried it before, but found I quite liked it, even though it was good exercise.We first did a 2.5 km trail rather disturbingly called the “Psycho Ridge Loop”. Having survived that, we moved on to the 5 km Tilt-a-Whirl, which was aptly named, as it went up and down and then up again and down again. It was on this one that I missed a turn–evidently someone else had, too, because I was following their tracks until they stopped. And okay, I wasn’t really worried about being eaten by wolves, because we only had to hike back up a little ways to pick up the trail again.

7. Idaho gets freakin’ cold. Minus 20 F? When the sun has been up for a few hours already? That’s what the thermostat in the rental car read the morning we drove back to Boise to fly home. Yikes.

8. If Northwest Airlines breaks your skis, too bad for you, because their policy says they’re not liable. It doesn’t matter if you followed the advice on their website and packed them in a hard-shell case. It doesn’t matter if they managed to jam the baggage belt with that case, perhaps mistaking it for one of the hard-shell golf bags that they’ve started to send down to the regular carousels. Okay, so I don’t know that they actually did jam the belt with my Sportube, but the belt was jammed per the baggage office person I talked to and my bag now has two big gashes right through the plastic and some mighty big dents that it didn’t have before, so something sure went wrong somewhere. I did get $50 in travel vouchers in compensation for the damage to the bag when I went to the office to register a complaint after the bag finally showed up an hour and half after we landed, but I didn’t think to unpack it right then and there so it wasn’t until we got home that we discovered the binding on Mr. Karen’s powder skis was broken. They must have exerted some kind of big force on that bag, that’s for sure. Several phone calls, an e-mail, and a return trip to the airport later, we’ve still got a ruined bag, broken skis, and $50 in travel vouchers.

One thing I did not find out: Why these planes were flying so close together. Refueling? Impromptu air show?

The rest of the pictures start here.

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