Sunday, February 24, 2008


Well, it’s been five days since we picked Caroline up from Planet Honda the second time, and she’s still running OK. Our fingers are crossed that her stalling problems are fixed. Yesterday, she passed a major test when Sarah drove safely to Denver to pick up her parents and sister, who flew in to visit us for the week.

So where did we leave off… On Tuesday, we woke up at 5:30 AM to pick up Caroline. The reason we woke up so early is because our friend Sergey was in town, and we wanted to meet up with him to go skiing. He’d flown in on Sunday for his annual family ski vacation, and when we chatted that day, he said that he was going to try to get to Keystone for night skiing. What a coincidence – as we were talking to him on the phone, we were sitting in one of the lodges at Keystone! We’d driven to Keystone in our rental car to ski for the day. So we decided we’d try to meet up later in the afternoon when he arrived.

Unfortunately, around 3:00 it started turning colder, and we realized that Dercum Mountain, the only part of Keystone that’s open for night skiing, was really icy. So we left for greener pastures – that is, happy hour victuals of tacos and beer. Sergey did eventually make it to Keystone with his sister, but not for a few more hours.

So we made new plans to meet up Tuesday at Vail. At that time, we were hoping to pick up our car on Monday and have the whole day to ski at Vail on Tuesday, but the second round of repairs took all day on Monday. So we woke up at 5:30 on Tuesday and drove to Golden, where we picked up our car without further incident. We dropped off the rental car in Frisco and were at a free parking lot in East Vail before 10:00.

We walked from the parking lot to the bus stop, and who did we find there but Sergey and his family! Apparently, they were staying at a condo in East Vail. What a coincidence! Not only were they staying by our bus stop, out of all the bus stops in the Vail area, but they’d also gotten a late start on their day, so they were waiting for the bus when we arrived.

So we rode the bus over to the mountain and skied with Sergey and his sister for most of the day. The day was bright and sunny and warm, with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. We hadn’t had much new snow recently so the back bowls were icy and chunky, but then we did several runs in Blue Sky Basin, which was fantastic. The snow on runs like Lover’s Leap and Steep and Deep was soft and fluffy. Sergey did some jumps and caught one unintentionally when he flew over a snow-covered boulder. Both of his skis and his camera went flying, but he laughed and put everything back together.

Many of the runs in Blue Sky Basin are pretty thick with trees, and it was on one of those runs that we lost Sergey’s sister! We all took different paths through the trees, but at the bottom of the trees, there was a wide-open area where all the paths converged. Both of us and Sergey made it there and waited for a long time, but Sergey’s sister never showed up. We went down to the lift that we were planning to ride next, and she wasn’t there either.

Now we were worried – she should have come out of the trees where we were waiting, but if she had somehow bypassed that spot (unlikely, we thought), she definitely should have made it to the lift. Sarah stayed at the lift in case she showed up while Sergey and Brian went back up to search through the trees. They slowly skied through but didn’t find her. At the bottom of the trees, where we had waited before, they called Sarah, who said that she hadn’t shown up at the lift either.

Now it had been about an hour since we’d seen her, and we were starting to get worried. Could she have run into a tree? The section of trees where we’d lost her wasn’t very steep, so it seemed unlikely that someone could get up enough speed to do serious damage, but we couldn’t rule it out. We were debating calling ski patrol when Sarah called to say that she had just arrived at the lift. Whew, what a relief! Apparently, she had managed to bypass the place where we had waited for her and got down to the lift, where she decided to take another run. By the time we got to the base of the lift, she was already riding it, so we just missed each other.

After that excitement, all of us did another run together, and then we (Brian and Sarah) skied together for the last 1.5 hours or so of the day. At the end of the day, we met up with Sergey again and went to a Mexican restaurant for chips and drinks. We hung out for several hours as Sergey kept buying rounds – first tequila shots, then a pitcher of margaritas. It was so much fun to see him, ski together, and chat over drinks – our first visitor in Colorado! We’ve had a great time here, but we’ve been each other’s only company for most of the time we’ve been here, so it was great to see a friend.

After the excitement of seeing Sergey, the rest of the week was anticlimactic. I guess each time we started the car and managed to drive more than a quarter mile without it shutting off was exciting in its own way, but nervous excitement isn’t quite the same. In any case, the days continued to be clear, and Wednesday we woke up to a beautiful sunrise:

We prefer to snowboard when there’s some new snow on the ground to ease the pain of falling, so on Wednesday we skied for the fifth day in a row. By Thursday morning, we still hadn’t gotten much in the way of snow, but we wanted some variety, so we snowboarded. It turned out to be a great choice – ther was actually had a thin layer of new snow, and it snowed during the day.

Friday we snowboarded again. This time, Sarah surprised Brian by actually seeking out moguls! She typically prefers to ride the blue runs, not even the blue-blacks (a designation meaning “advanced intermediate” that we’ve only seen at Breckenridge). Today, though, she decided to ride black run after black run. She fell a few times on each run – at one point, she said she had set a record for most falls on one run. But quickly, she was consistently linking several turns before each fall. It was a good day to learn because the moguls were soft so falling didn’t hurt. In fact, it wasn’t until the second-to-last run of the day on a plain old blue run that she had a somewhat painful fall – she caught an edge and landed flat on her belly, knocking the wind out of her for a second.

The other excitement on Friday was the North American Open, a freeskiing competition. Friday was the qualifying round for Saturday’s slopestyle finals. Rather than having the skiers do official runs and get scored by judges, the competition organizers chose a “jam session” format for the qualifying round. This basically meant it was a free-for-all. Skiers could do as many runs down the course as they could during the time allotted, and the ones that impressed the judges would be invited back to the finals.

The result was an extremely entertaining competition. The course consisted of five elements – a rail, three jumps, and another rail. By the time a skier was on the second jump, another skier would already be on the first rail, so there would frequently be two skiers jumping at once. Some skiers did coordinated “circus” runs, where two skiers might jump simultaneously, or three or four skiers would jump in very quick succession. The tricks were fantastic – double back flips were pretty common, and there were even attempts at double front flips. Skiers were doing 720s and 900s all the time, with some 1080s mixed in.

To prevent collisions, Breck had a flagger stationed at each jump, and when the landing for a jump was blocked by a fallen skier, the flaggers would raise a red flag. Once the course was clear, they’d raise a green flag. Fortunately, there weren’t any serious injuries during the time that we watched. At one point, the red flags were up for about five minutes, but eventually the injured skier walked off.

Another time, a skier did a clean double flip on the second jump and then took off to do another one on the third jump. Somehow, as he took off, one of his skis went flying off! At that point, he was committed to the jump, so he had to execute it and try to land as best he could on one ski! We were sitting up higher on the course, so our view of his landing was blocked. The red flags came out for only a few seconds, though, so he must have been OK.

Yesterday, Saturday, we went back to Breck, this time on skis. We did a few double-black runs, which varied from hard and icy with huge moguls to soft and fun. At 12:30 we headed back to the terrain park to watch the slopestyle finals. 32 guys and five girls had made it into the finals. Each got three runs, which would be judged, with the best score counting. We watched the first round, and it was fun, but nowhere near as exciting as the jam session’s non-stop action.

After our ski day, we headed home, and Sarah left to pick up her family at the Denver airport. Fun – more visitors!

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