Wednesday, January 26, 2011

MogulFULL Diamonds

It's been a long time and it's hard to know where to begin. This will be long and detailed and it will include variations of the words "ski" and "double black" and "mogul" many times. This is your decision point. Proceed at your own risk.

The day we got to Colorado, I called Erik to make plans. We had trouble making our schedules fit but he asked me to do something that completely transformed my attitude toward skiing for the week. He asked me to ski the Aspen Highland Bowl with him sometime before I left, something he'd had Ingrid do two weeks before while she was out there for Christmas. I studied it on a map and discovered that the highland bowl, the peak of which requires an 1,100 foot hike from the highest chairlift to get to, is super steep and complete with eighteen runs, all of which are double black diamonds. So began my quest to ski a double black and my endless dreaming about the deepest mysteries of the mountain.

Highland Bowl
Our first day of skiing, Sunday, was marked by a wild white-out blizzard. You couldn't see more than 50 or so feet in front of you. What a perfect day for Josh to learn how to ski! I kid. But also, it kind of was perfect because the snow was powdery so he didn't get going too fast. He face planted a lot but he also pizzaed a lot and that helped. Eventually he went inside and the rest of us had a wild day in the storm. I did one black by myself but it had been ten years since I'd been on skis and I was a little rusty. The snow was deep and fluffy and my legs were burning and it was wonderful. Legs, body and spirit happy and well worked, I fell asleep on the couch at 8:30 pm and I am not ashamed.

The next day it was cold. Really really cold. Our lift tickets went into hibernation for the day and we spent an hour skiing via the free fanny hill gondola so that Josh could get some more practice in. We went into Aspen in the afternoon and tried to have fun exploring but it was a little too painful to be outside. We met up with Erik for a little while and toured his studio, perused the insanely expensive ski shops, bought a sweet pair of vintage cowboy boots, had drinks and fromage at the historic Hotel Jerome, and went to the newly re-opened Red Onion restaurant for dinner and a viewing of the BCS National Championship game. We went home at half time and, right on cue, I fell asleep by 9 pm and slept soundly through the night.
Aspen Town
We were up and on the slopes bright and early on a sunny and freezing Tuesday morning. We all took turns skiing, reaching higher altitudes than we had in Sunday's haze. Dad and Nathan and I went up to Big Burn, the highest point in Snowmass accessible by traditional chairlift. Mom and Nathan and I went to the top of Elk Camp, from which we had a crisp purple view of the Maroon Bells. On our way down, we skied alongside the Hanging Valley Wall and it's many double diamonds. I marveled at them, took pictures, and looked them up on the map as if I believed I'd actually ski them sometime. Josh and Nathan and I finished the day on greens labeled "easiest way down the mountain" on the map. As we repeated this, we noticed how Josh had improved immensely in his three days of skiing. I got a little nervous every time he got too close to a chair lift pole but he made it down multiple times without falling-- a vast improvement! I felt pride like a mother must feel when her child learns and succeeds at something new. Of course, Nathan doesn't love Josh like I do and was a bit less entertained by multiple trips down "the easiest way down the mountain" and had to do what he could to keep interested. He took whatever little paths through the woods he could find and decided to attempt a jump that should have been meant only for those training for the upcoming X Games. I went first but I pizzaed the shit out of the downhill so I took the puniest little jump you've ever seen. We decided that my wimpiness led Nathan to be much more ballsy than he otherwise would have been. He went BALLS TO THE WALL on that jump. I don't know how it happened but he landed kinda face and hands first, legs spread eagle, and just slid down the slope that way. And, on the easy greens, entertainment was fully born. My only regret of the week is that I didn't video tape that jump. It is recorded only in the three of our memories and we are still laughing about it.
Hanging Valley Wall-- Maybe next time
On Wednesday morning, the three of us started the day off together, just as we'd finished it. Nathan decided he had to get it right and he attempted the jump again. This time, I was sure to have my camera running. The wimpiness kicked in, unfortunately, and his jump was as puny as mine had been the day before (even though he'll argue otherwise). What matters is that he didn't give up. When Josh went inside for a break, Nathan and I rode up to the Slot, our most notorious black diamond. This may have been the first black I ever skied back in 1998 and it was about to be Nathan's first as well. We skied to it's sign for a picture of him and he fell right off the bat. So we took his picture sitting down. He got up and he skied slowly and steadily. He had burning legs but he made it down and was ready for more. We went back up to the top and skied Campground. We cut off the bottom on Hustler, a supposed mogulless black. Little did we know, not all mogulless slopes had been groomed since Sunday's big storm and this huslter was very mogulFULL. This was  Nathan's first experience with moguls and, well, talk about burning legs. After the moguls, we went in to eat and veg. Of course, vegging never lasts long when you're sitting on a lift ticket that cost you $100 for the day and your day is quickly ticking away. Mom and Nathan and I went up to big burn and jumped on the new Cirque lift. This is a Poma lift on which you don't ever leave the ground but, instead,  put a little T-bar between your legs that pulls you up the mountain. We held our poles, gripped the bone chilling metal bar, and watched as we headed into this seemingly desolate abyss of blowing snow and sunshine. Turns out it wasn't so desolate. There were plenty of people at the other end. Some were all business, efficiently skiing on to the Cirque Headwall, Hanging Valley, and other double black diamonds of my dreams. Others were touristy like us, taking pictures of themselves with a John Denver quote or with the sign stating that you've reached 12,510 feet above sea level. And another was climbing, in his ski boots, up a hill in the distance to a gate with a sign we couldn't read. I didn't know where he was going but I decided to follow him. Nathan started to come with me but the altitude, the ski boots, and his tobacco poisoned lungs made him change his mind pretty immediately. I reached the gate and it was covered in signs signifying death and disaster. I had reached the edge of the ski area. Passing the gate meant entering the "back country" where dangerous (and I'm sure really crazy, awesome and spectacular) things happen. I went through and impossibly tried to document the beauty. I watched as real skiers planned their route down these untouched slopes. I never wanted to stop seeing what I was seeing in those moments. But I was being yelled at from far away, and rightfully so. I was holding up the others whose precious lift ticket minutes were also ticking away. I went down and we skied the only blue down from the Cirque. If I left right then, my trip would have been complete. But we weren't leaving and I still had to ski that double black. That afternoon, I became independent and skied some good blacks by myself. I explored slopes that my cousin told me were harder than the double blacks she'd skied. The first was called Free Fall Glades and for good reason. It was unbelievably steep and covered in moguls. I stopped one turn in to take pictures and that was a bad idea because I became even more acutely aware of my situation and my knees and hands began shaking. I put my camera away and skied. I didn't stop, I just went and by the end I felt more adrenaline than I have in a long time. I was yelling "fuck yea" and "woooooo" more from the heart than I ever have. I was so elated and tired and proud and I knew at that moment that I'd ski a double diamond before the week was through.

Thursday, we skied a half day so we had to take full advantage of our measly four hours on the slopes. Dad and Nathan and I went out and did the Slot and Campground several times over. After a while, the two of them went in to meet my mom and I stayed up top. I did my free fall glades again along with a few others in the area. I tried traversing these woods between the slopes that Katy and Tony had written about in their recent guest book entry. That was scary and not something I want to do again alone. I was riding up the lift, looking at the map and picked out a short little double black called Buckskin that started on Sheer Bliss, the run I'd be on. There were a few others before it but they'd all be longer so I should hold out for this one. Skiing Sheer Bliss, I got to KT Gully, the first of these double blacks and just kind of gazed off at the mystery. As I was standing there, a ski patrol came by and roped off the run. He then skied on to close the next one. It was 2:45 and all these doubles were being shut down for the day. Well shit, I had finally decided to go for it and now it might be too late. I hurried on and got to Buckskin before he did. I skied by the sign without even stopping to have second thoughts or to take a picture of myself with it. I just had to get in before it closed. I did get in and was immediately scared for my life. Not only was it steep as shit but it was entirely in the trees. Lucky for me, my little ski patrol friend came in to rope off the slope and chose Buckskin as his way down the mountain. I told him shakily that this was my first double black and I was fucked. He said I could either take my skis off and hike out or I could follow him down. Follow him I did and it was awesome. What a treat to have a free lesson on my first double diamond run?! My mom and I skied blues the rest of the day and for the first time that week I was so ready to be done by the end. In a good way.
Buckskin is in those trees in the center there
Friday Friday Friday. It had to come even though I hoped it never would. Though the Cirque trip on Wednesday was hard to compete with, Friday takes the cake as the best day of the week. It was just full and perfect. Nathan and I skied together pretty much all day. We stuck mostly to blacks. And we did another double black. It was called Powderhorn and it wasn't too too hard it was just really long and full of moguls. Go Nathan! This little boy who hadn't skied since he was 9, who has a completely different body than he did then, who looked awesomely ridiculous in his purple thrift store onesie and 40 year old ski mask comes into the week never having done a black and here he is finishing his first DOUBLE BLACK DIAMOND. It was great. My mom and Dad took the day off but I finished it up with Josh, who had made it onto little blues by then. Unlike Thursday, I was not ready to be done. But we were and we'll be back.

We did other things besides ski, of course, but not too many. We swam in the pool and sat in the hot tub, we drank beers that went straight to our heads, we saw a man my mom had been watching since the 1970s do magic, we had a few good dinners out, we also cooked in a lot, we went to town at the Aspen Thrift Store, we watched a lot of Friends, we took pictures and played games, and we slept a lot. The family time is valuable, the hot tub is relaxing, and the exercise is great, but the spectacular view of those mountains and the love of skiing are what will keep me going back to Snowmass. Next time I'll make sure to bring my shovel and probe.

*I never skied the Highland Bowl with Erik- all the more reason for a return trip asap!

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