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Breckenridge

Started: 2020-01-18 17:42:42

Submitted: 2020-01-19 00:06:42

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits Breckenridge for two days of skiing

After spending Christmas in Walla Walla with my family, Kiesa and I left our kids with my parents and drove back to Seattle. I initially hoped that I might be able to stage a family trip to somewhere warm and sunny in the week containing New Year's Day, but Kiesa had to work all week to switch the library to go fine-free. So instead I decided to go somewhere cold and sunny -- Summit County, Colorado, to be precise -- to go skiing.

I left Seattle on Monday morning, the 30th of December. I was not the only person carrying a ski bag through the airport; I saw several ski bags -- including mine -- being loaded onto my plane. (I have never before actually seen my own luggage being loaded from the baggage cart onto the baggage conveyer to be loaded into the plane's cargo compartment.)

My plane left the gate on time but was delayed on the taxiway for almost an hour due to fog reducing visibility on the runways. I took the opportunity to start reading Through Firey Trials by David Weber, then spent much of my downtime over the following week reading the book. This was one time when the book's resemblance to a doorstop came in handy, as I was never bereft of reading material.

My plane did eventually depart Seattle. Two hours later I looked out my window as we began our descent into Denver and saw Longs Peak poking above the clouds in Rocky Mountain National Park; then I watched the Boulder County foothills slide past before giving way to the plains north of Lyons, pocked by patches of wind-blown snow, before landing in Denver.

After landing, I got to use the fancy oversized baggage carousels specifically designed for skis. I picked up my rental car, then drove towards Denver and stopped for a very late lunch at a Chipotle in a strip mall on the north-east corner of the interchange between Peña Boulevard and I-70. After four years living in dense urban areas where all of the available land had been developed at least once, it was new and surprising to me to see the empty lots awaiting development.

After lunch I drove west on I-70, into the setting sun and into rush-hour traffic through and past Denver. The sun set by the time I reached Golden and began my climb into the Rocky Mountains. The road stayed clear and dry through the Eisenhower Tunnel, then down the long grade into Frisco.

(This, of course, is the cute Colorado mountain town Frisco, not the diminutive (and, arguably, derisive) nickname for San Francisco. (Or, Google tells me, the city in Texas.))

There was snow on the ground in Frisco and the night air was frigid. The sky was clear and the waxing moon hung above the frozen town. (I couldn't remember the last time I had seen stars.) It was only a couple of degrees above zero Fahrenheit, and I could feel the hair in my nose freezing when I stepped outside. This was a bitter bone-chilling cold; but I found it familiar from the time I lived in Colorado, and therefore somehow comfortable.

Colorado SuperChair at Breckenridge
Colorado SuperChair at Breckenridge

On Tuesday morning, the 31st of December, I drove to Breckenridge to ski for the day. In advance of the ski season, I bought a four-day Epic Pass, giving me access to any Vail resort for a total of four days. I kept the ski pass in my jacket pocket; the ticket checkers at the ski lifts waved their hand-held ticket readers in my general direction, the reader beeped twice, and they waved me through. (I don't know for sure but I would guess that the first beep was to indicate that it had read an id number off the pass, and the second beep was to indicate that it had in fact verified that I had paid for my day of skiing. I am now wondering about the system design of a ski pass system like this, which seems like it might make an interesting NALSD interview question.)

I spent the first part of the morning skiing blue cruiser runs on Peak 8, getting my ski legs back on my first time skiing this season. When I arrived at the mountain the upper mountain was closed, probably due to wind; after an hour I noticed that the top of Peak 6 was open, so I headed over there to ski the wide-open bowl above treeline. The snow was good packed powder, and dropping into the bowl to the north of the lift was glorious (though the traverse out was not entirely fun).

Top of Peak 6 at Breckenridge
Top of Peak 6 at Breckenridge

I stopped to eat my lunch at the warming hut on Peak 6, and when I headed back outside the lift line was much shorter than it had been. I wondered if everyone else had just gone to lunch; and then when I got to the top of the lift I realized what had happened: the wind had picked up, and the windchill turned the cold day frigid. I beat a hasty retreat to Peak 8, where the geography of the mountain protected the lifts from the worst of the wind. I skied the lifts 6 Chair and Imperial Express at the top of Peak 8 until they closed.

Top of Peak 8 at Breckenridge
Top of Peak 8 at Breckenridge

At the end of the day I took the long winding easy "4 O'Clock Trail" to the bottom of the mountain, which terminated in a concrete underpass under the road, a short walk from where I'd parked at the gondola parking lot. (Or, really, it was more of a "hobble", since I was still wearing ski boots; though I have enough experience walking in my ski boots that I can maintain an easy gait even though my ankles are locked into place.)

I ate supper in Frisco, then sat in my room at my b&b in Frisco waiting for the stroke of midnight, Mountain time, signaling the start of a new year and a new decade. I had thought that I might be able to find a New Year's fireworks show, but the town of Breckenridge had canceled their show due to environmental concerns (a stance that was received poorly in the print and online media I ran across discussing the cancellation). I was too lazy to drive to Copper Mountain for their fireworks show, since it wasn't at midnight anyway, so I stayed in my room and set up xdaliclock to show the current date and time so I could watch the year roll over at the stroke of midnight, accompanied by a special New Year's playlist I created.

And then the clock rolled over, just as my perfectly-timed playlist started playing "Auld Lang Syne". The zeros lined up in the year again (and we're now closer in time to the year 2038, when the 32-bit Unix epoch overflows, than the y2k problem in 2000). I sent a tweet at the stroke of midnight in my own local time zone, in honor of the New Year's Eve I spent on-call for App Engine three years ago when the social network running on my platform enjoyed the expected spike in load when everyone sent their messages at midnight in their own local time -- and I spent an entire afternoon and evening staring at graphs on my laptop trying to figure out what I could do to my service to help it handle the load.

(This is maybe the point when I would consider everything that's happened in my life in the last decade -- which is considerable, but arguably smaller than previous decades -- but I'm going to do my own end-of-the-decade recap in September, when my personal decade rolls over.)

I took New Year's Day off from skiing; I found a local coffee shop to sit and write my blog post about Christmas while snow fell softly on Frisco's Main Street. In the afternoon, in a break in the snow, I drove to Silverthorne to visit the Columbia outlet store and bought a fleece sweater and a fleece vest, both at significant discounts below the regular retail price.

Snow in Frisco
Snow in Frisco

On Thursday I returned to Breckenridge for another day of skiing. The resort was reporting seven inches of new snow in the last twenty-four hours, more than had been forecast, so I made an effort to get to the bottom of Peak 8 as early as I could; I was standing in line before 09:00, before the upper mountain was open (though two of the lifts had started turning at 08:30).

Colorado SuperChair at Breckenridge
Colorado SuperChair at Breckenridge

At my b&b in Frisco I could hear the avalanche charges; when I got to the top of the lifts I could see Ski Patrol working their way down the ridge in the bowl under the T-Bar setting off avalanche charges. From far away the charges sounded like "whump-thump", with the echo immediately following the charge; from closer, the charge sounded like an explosive crack, and if I was looking in the right direction I could see the tiny cloud of smoke and snow kicked up by the charge.

Snow falling on the Colorado SuperChair
Snow falling on the Colorado SuperChair

The new snow covered everything, covering all of the terrain and making all of the trails harder. Powder snow looks beautiful but it's hard to turn: the snow piles around the skis making precise control impossible. I rode the front of Peak 8 for a couple of runs, as I worked on my powder skiing technique. Even on blue cruiser runs the thick snow would leave me tired by the bottom: I had to work harder to point my skis in the direction I wanted them to go, and the snow wasn't yet evenly packed as I skied across snow that had been packed down and new fluffy snow. But still the snow was delightful and the skiing amazing.

After an hour the upper mountain opened, and I joined the crowd on the T-Bar at the top of Peak 8 as the mountain was getting tracked up. By the time I got to the top most of the new snow had been skied on; I ended up crossing the T-Bar lift line to drop into Cucumber Bowl (right where I'd seen Ski Patrol performing avalanche mitigation earlier in the day). I picked an untracked line and dropped into the bowl, making wide sweeping turns to mitigate my speed down the steep slope. The snow was deep enough that I couldn't see my skis in front of me: all I could see was my boots plowing through the unbroken snow, supported mysteriously by skis somewhere under the surface. This was my one chance to ski untracked powder and it was worth it.

The skiing was a bit more rough for the rest of the day. The snow conditions were changing rapidly as people kept skiing on the snow. I ended up on Peak 10 for a couple of runs, then made my way back to Peak 8, before finally calling an early day when clouds rolled in and visibility dropped enough that I had trouble seeing the details of the terrain in front of me, regardless of whether I was wearing googles or not.

After a great day of skiing in Breckenridge, I spent one more night in Frisco before heading down the mountain to return to Seattle.

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