Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The 5 a.m. snow report informed me that 16" had fallen at mid-mountain in the past 24 hours, 21" at the summit. In the past five winters I've lived here, I would have heard a similar snow report five, maybe six or more times during the course of the season. For Twenty-Ten, however, the Snow Gods have only called for it this one time, and, fortunately, I was ready.

I started snowboarding in 1992, while going to college in Washington, D.C., and since then have always managed to get a few days a year (except winters 97-99 when I moved to Florida) of snowboarding, no matter where I was living. But it wasn't until 2004, when I moved to Steamboat Springs, that I was able to start living it as a lifestyle. I had learned over the years that if you really want to be a dedicated snow rider, you must be WHERE the snow is WHEN it falls. Problem is, you might know WHERE, but you don't really know WHEN that is going to be. It's this unpredictable nature of Nature that makes the deep powder snow riding experience(s) so rare, unique and special. And when it finally happens, you can be stoked AND humbled at the chance to have been there and floated your way to ecstasy at that moment.

Yesterday, Bob and I decided that it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to close the shop for the morning and get a little skiing done. We couldn't have planned it better. I jumped on the bus at 7:58 a.m. and saw Derek a couple of stops later. We got in the gondola line, fairly good positioning, and waited in eager anticipation with alot of local faces for lifties to start loading people into the cars. The two of us got packed into a car with SEVEN other people (the capacity is 8). Nice folks, though. From the top of the ol' gondy, we raced down to Storm Peak Express, each of us taking a different lines through the trees. I have a fun, meandering line under Burgess Creek chair and through the trees that I love to take and was able to claim first tracks on it today. Huge smiles on our faces as we met up at Storm and waited with the couple of hundred other people super happy about the new snow. As we're in line, I see my roommate and his fiancee already on the chair going up, even though they left the house after me! (Found out afterwards that they had gotten on the Christie Peak Chair to get up so fast. Good for 'em! No friends on a powder day!) Derek and I were both stoked that we had switched up and were riding our powder boards (snowboards with a wide nose/skinny tail taper for better float in deep snow) because it was certainly deep enough and it made for way easy turning and catching big air. As such, we decided to launch some cat tracks, under and to looker's right of Four Points lift. We were there early enough to catch it with all the landings still very deep and soft with new snow. It felt great to sail 20+ feet through the air before landing and making huge power slashes all the way down the run. Derek, as always, was ruling it with much style, speed and power, making cat-like leaps into the air off of any sized rock he chose. We cruised up Four Points lift next and took a run down through the trees on skier's left of Rainbow, crossed Duster and rallied the next pitch down to Moonlight. Incredible, deep snow in the glades and plenty of fresh rock drops.

Now at the bottom of Sundown Express lift, we met up with our friend Maggie, and the three of us went up to find some more goods. We were talking about going over to the backside of the mountain, up Morningside lift and hiking out to The Gates. Signs said the opening of Morningside was delayed, so our trio ripped a fun, long line through Two-Thirty trees , laughing, hooping and hollering the whole way. Again, we showed love for Sundown but this time heading down High Noon, cutting over at Rendezvous and hitting up Westside trees. Another fun run so we all got back on Sundown again and went back up to check on the status of Morningside. At the top, we ran into Ross, Eric and Megan. We decided to all rally down to South Peak lift and we split into groups and took different routes to get there. It didn't really matter which way you went, the snow was top quality everywhere. I rode mostly mellow trees and a couple of groomers, then we took South Peak up to ride one of my favorite areas on the mountain, Broadway Trees. Again, steep, deep and untracked for most of my lines.

Now back at Sundown, we headed up again and once at the top, went down the other side via Hot Cakes to Morningside. The scene at Morningside was like a parking lot after concert with everyone trying to leave at the same time. There must've been 250 people there. It took a little while to finally get on the chair, but our posse made it up and decided to hit up the Chutes, instead of hiking up to the Gates.

This proved to be a wise choice. At the bottom skier's left of Chute 1, Eric pointed out a snow covered rock with a 30ish-foot drop on the other side of it into a powder field. Charging, he took a relatively straight line off the apex of the rock and flew 40-50 feet to a powder landing. Next, Derrick started a good 100 yards uphill of the rock and ripped a superstar line down to the kicker. He took flight and landed, not missing a beat. Ross was next and showed that rock how they do it in NorCal as he popped off the right side into the air. A few seconds later, he lands and rides away clean. Finally, I sack up and charge my way down. I actually thought I wouldn't hit the rock (it was big!) but I could hear all the guys cheering me at the bottom, and, well, peer pressure's a mother fucker, so... Just as I set up to ollie off the rock, I spot my landing and it looks so fresh and untouched. I pop into the air and watch that spot all the way to the ground. A wave of elation rushes over me as I ride away and that moment becomes a memory that I will never forget.

We continued from there and rode down to the short hike to the top of Pony Express. The sun came out at this point and I suddenly remembered that it was April 7th, not January 7th, as the temperature climbed quickly. The remaining four of us (sorry, Maggie!) shredded Fool's Gold and continued to the bottom of Thunderhead lift. This was my last lap, so I parted ways with the guys at the top of Thunderhead and made my way down through the trees and the snow continued to not disappoint. Ross had decided to leave, too, and I spotted him as I was coming out of the trees and he was racing down Betwixt to catch me. We cruised down Lower Concentration, trying to hit every jump and powder stash our legs would allow, before finally making our way down to Headwall and the bottom of the Gondola. High Fives were happily exchanged when we were finished (I prefer the High Five to The Pound). At this point, I was happy to go to work for a couple hours and turn wrenches. It's this work/play duality that makes me love living in Steamboat so much. Sometimes, that line is so blurry, it doesn't even exist!

It was easy to go for a run this evening after work. The sun was out and I was still high from snowboarding this morning. My legs have been feeling great lately and I must've been excited because I tried to run easy and ended up finishing 4 miles in :31.17, good for a 7:45/mile pace.

Earlier this week:

Yesterday, in the epic snowstorm, I ran with the dogs up to Second Vista. Holy shit, that was a tough run. Charging up several hundred feet of vertical in deep, punchy snow had me breathing hard and heart racing above 140 bpm. Made it to the vista in about :40, paused for just a moment and began the run down, which was every bit as tough as the run up, as my feet slid into post hole after post hole, even while wearing crampons. The footing got so bad, I was forced to walk much of it. To make matters worse, Benny catches scent of something and runs off into the woods. (Marvin stayed with me. Good, Boy!) He came home several hours later. Total run time in heinous blizzard - 1:00+, mileage - unknown, pace - none.

I didn't run last Sunday because I felt a little tenderness in my right calf, so Monday I started off my week with a road 9 miler down to Howelsen Hill and back. The cool thing about running to Howelsen is that it's a place where Olympians train. So you don't take it easy and you don't run slowly when you are going by there! I was very pleased with my effort though, as I left the house thinking I would run much less, but my body felt great, so I just listened and kept it up. (Improvement is fun!) Time: 1:15, pace 8:20/mile.

As April begins, I feel like my running is getting more consistent than it was for February and March. Actually, more than last summer when I was running strictly trails. It's helped that I've embraced the road run to get a handle on mileage and pacing. I know this will translate into better trail running.

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