December 11, 2002
I said there’d be a trip report, and a trip report there shall be. What there will not be are more pictures, because the pictures are at home, and I am here at the office, and if I do not write this now in my usual lunchtime writing slot, it may not get written at all today and then I’ll be the biggest Holidailies slacker of them all and my stocking will be stuffed with coal this year. Besides, most of the photos we took with the digital camera are the same as the one I posted last night: me standing in the snow and grinning maniacally before taking off down the slopes again. I do not have any shots of me standing in the snow looking concerned about getting down the next pitch, since at those times Mr. Karen knows better than to ask for the camera and giving it to him is not something I’m thinking about.
If I had pictures from Thursday night, they’d be of me looking stressed and frazzled. I had to leave the office earlier than usual in order to make it through rush hour traffic to get to the airport in time for our flight, and that’s always a recipe for anxiety. But it’s a recipe I keep choosing to make, because leaving after work means being able to spend the first night in Denver getting acclimated to the altitude and being able to spend more time on the slopes the next day. We tried something new this trip and checked in on the Web and printed our boarding passes the night before, and that worked out very well. It was one less thing to do at the airport, and we found there was a separate line for people with Internet boarding passes to check luggage, which saved us even more time because that line was very short (though once more people start using this option, I expect that advantage will disappear).
Friday we skied at Keystone, our usual choice for day one of a Colorado trip because they have night skiing and knowing we can extend the ski day into darkness means we don’t have to get up really early to try and be there when the lifts open. No sense starting out a trip tired, after all. Except we when got there this year, signs were posted at the ticket windows saying there was no night skiing. Grumble, grumble. More grumbling when we got to the hill and found the gondola wasn’t running, leading to a long line for the chair lift next to it. Riding up, we could see that the snow cover wasn’t that great on that side of the mountain. Grumble. When we skied down to the next chair and found a sign that said it was servicing only black (expert) runs, I was even more discouraged, because I am not an expert skier. Still, we got on the chair because it was the best of the options available at that point, and given enough time, I can get down black runs. Once at the top, we found that the warning at the bottom was exaggerated. The blue (intermediate) runs off that lift were open, they just weren’t in the best condition. After skiing a few laps there, we took a chance and did a green (beginner) run down to another lift. This one had an even sterner warning about the terrain being recommended for experts only. Based on our good experience ignoring the previous sign, we boarded this lift and found the best skiing of the day. The snow was in better shape than any we’d found elsewhere and there were a lot fewer people around, no doubt because they’d all been scared away by the sign at the bottom. We skied in and out of the trees until that lift closed and we had to return to the other side of the mountain. By the time it became clear that there was indeed going to be night skiing, we’d worn ourselves out and were ready to click out of our bindings, have dinner, and drive to our primary destination, Steamboat Springs.
The overall snow conditions at Steamboat weren’t much better than they’d been at Keystone. Riding up on the lifts, we could see way too much brown in the landscape: rocks and twigs and the bare ground and water flowing over creek beds. So much for our good snow karma of several years back, when we’d gotten powder days as early as Thanksgiving weekend. Still, we managed to find a lot of fun runs in the three days we were there, especially in the trees, where the snow gets less sun and less traffic and thus stays in better condition. I amazed myself by doing black runs even when Mr. Karen wasn’t around to encourage (and save) me. I mostly managed to stay out of trouble, too, although there was one dicey moment when I followed Mr. Karen on a traverse across a slope that just kept getting steeper and bumpier; I knew I couldn’t get down it, but I wasn’t sure I could turn around and ski back out, either. Seeing Mr. Karen have trouble reversing direction didn’t help my confidence at all, but I did manage to follow him back out and through the woods below, including the part where we had to cross a stream, and through the steep twig forest below that. It wasn’t my favorite run of the trip, that’s for sure, but I was nowhere near having to sit down in the snow and cry the way I had during one particularly traumatic run early in my ski career.
I woke up with a sore throat on Sunday morning and was hoping it was just due to the dry air, but by Sunday night I knew I had a cold. If Monday hadn’t been the last ski day of our trip, and if the lift ticket weren’t already paid for, I might have lazed around in a Sudafed-fueled haze, but I didn’t. I hit the slopes, literally in a couple instances. Going down a blue run I’d done without incident in the days before, my brain recognized that a particular bump was going to be trouble, but I couldn’t react fast enough to either avoid it or recover from hitting it wrong, and I tumbled and slammed my head against the hard pack before sliding some yards down the hill and ending up tangled up with one of my own skis that had popped off early in my fall. It must have looked impressive, since it caught the attention of a teenaged boy skiing the same run and he went so far as to stop and check whether I was hurt. Mr. Karen caught up with me then, which was a good thing, because without his gentle advice I’d probably still be struggling to get my ski back on, my foggy brain unable to remember that it’s much easier to click into a binding if the ski is on the uphill side. I was very glad I was wearing a helmet; a similar fall a few years ago, in my pre-brain bucket days, led to a nasty and prolonged headache, but this time I felt fine afterward (well, as fine as a person who’s zipping around in the cold and blowing her nose every two minutes can feel).
Though our main focus was getting maximum value for our lift ticket dollar, we did manage to save enough energy to visit Strawberry Park Hot Springs one night. Reading the brochure, just getting up there seemed like it would be a risky ordeal, what with the warnings about the winding, unpaved road and four-wheel drive or chains required and recommendations that you really should just take a commercial shuttle instead of trying to drive yourself. Here the lack of snow came in handy, and our little rental car made it up just fine without any special equipment (though we did have chains with us, just in case). Mr. Karen had been to the hot springs on a trip he took with a couple of his buddies last spring, and he’d described the experience so I’d know what to expect, but being there was still very disconcerting for me. I like to be able to see where I am and who else is around, and that’s just not possible after dark there. Even though it’s just a short drive from town, the springs complex felts very isolated and the only light came from the little admission house and the flashlights we brought, which, out of respect for the privacy of those people who chose to take advantage of the “clothing optional after dark” clause, we could only shine at our feet to light our path. We changed into our swimsuits and slowly made our way to the closest pool. We could hear voices of other people all around, but really and truly could not see them. It wasn’t until we made our way down the steps and across the pool to our own piece of wall that I started to relax, my fear of accidentally grabbing a naked stranger instead of a rocky handhold not having come to pass. Even after my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see only hazy shapes through the steam to go with the voices and splashes coming from the people closest to us. I needn’t have worried about feeling fat and lumpy in comparison to beautiful young naked women; no one could see enough to make that assessment. Though I’d still like to go back someday in the daytime so I’d know where I was, being there at night took the focus off how I looked and onto how I felt, and that’s hard for me achieve a lot of the time. I’m glad we went, and I hope we get to go back on future trips. I might even get brave enough to overcome my natural shyness and go nude the next time, after checking to make sure it’s not a full moon, of course. Not only would that add a little thrill into my suburban lifestyle, but it’ll make getting dressed in the cold after leaving the pool that much faster, so it’s practical, too.