Illume

Monday, February 12th, 2007

While in Aspen, I was able to catch the opening of the Illume photography exhibit. It features submissions from sports photographers shooting a variety of athletes with different themes. Some of the photos are just stunning; it was a great inspiration for my own meager efforts recording my snowboarding trip to Aspen. You can see all the photos by clicking on “People’s Choice”; the stories behind each are also worth reading.

Aspen Photos

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Aspen This year’s big western trip with the King of Prussia Ski Club was to Aspen, Colorado. Best known as a playground for the rich and famous, this old silver mining town also boasts plenty of challenging skiing and riding at four mountains. You can read all about the trip in my Aspen blog entries.

View the Aspen photos

Leaving Aspen

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

We woke at 4 am to catch an early bus back to Denver and fly home. The departure got us out ahead of a storm expected to drop 2-3 inches of snow, which was both good and bad. On the good side, the 4-hour ride was much more pleasant than our epic trek coming in. Getting all the luggage in a smaller bus required sliding ski bags down the aisle, though, resulting in a mogul run of sorts to get back to the bathroom.

The Denver airport was a zoo by mid-morning Saturday, and the check-in and security lines were both long. Finishing the gauntlet, though, I was rewarded with lunch at my favorite spot in the B concourse: a Quiznos with an adjoining bar with Fat Tire on tap. The combination of such a nutritious lunch and the day’s early start guaranteed a nice siesta on the flight home.

Coming into Philly we got a nice treat; the plane banked west to line up for landing just as the red-peach sun slid below the horizon.

Buttermilk

Friday, February 9th, 2007

For my last day of snowboarding in Aspen, I headed to the one remaining mountain, Buttermilk. While generally viewed as the least challenging, it does feature some glades and a large terrain park. It’s also the host of the winter X-Games, which just wrapped up the week before our arrival. The superpipe and jumps are big enough you can see them from the highway, and proved to be quite impressive up close.

Margaret, one of the other boarders on the trip, and I took a few runs in the mini-halfpipe. It stands a modest 6 feet tall in comparison to the 20-foot tall superpipe. The amount of effort it requires just to get to the lip of the little guy really makes you appreciate what it takes for people to get 8 feet above the lip of its big brother.

We did get to see some of the pros in action; the Aspen Open was in progress with both halfpipe and slopestyle competitions to watch. The final big jump of the slopstyle was big enough to have a pickup truck parked behind the kicker with plenty of room to spare.

I contented myself with the smaller features in the terrain park, hitting a few jumps and finally getting up on a short box. For inspiration, though, I snapped a few pictures of others hitting the bigger elements.

More Aspen Eats

Friday, February 9th, 2007

A few more noteworthy meals from this trip:

The warm and sunny days have been great for lunch out on the deck. At Ullrhof’s on Snowmass, they also had the outdoor grill going with a real treat: elk sausage stuffed with jalepenos and cheddar. Real power food for riding the rest of the afternoon!

The J Bar at the Hotel Jerome has certainly lived up to it’s reputation. Even it’s more casual bar menu has some good finds. After a great burger on my day off, Mike and I returned last night for dinner. The mustard-crusted trout got nods from both Mary and our waitress, and it didn’t disappoint.

Aspen Odds and Ends

Friday, February 9th, 2007

As a snowboarder, I’m often frustrated by facilities that cater to skiers, but have been pleasantly surprised with how accommodating Aspen is of snowboarders. All the buses and gondolas have outside snowboard racks, and since it’s Aspen, someone even loads your board for you half the time. It’s a far cry from the past, when snowboarders weren’t even allowed on Ajax.

One thing I always love about being out west in remote areas far from big cities and their light pollution is how many more stars you can see on a clear night. I’ve stopped a couple of times walking home from dinner just to stare up and marvel at their number.

You can window shop for all kinds of things in Aspen: frou-frou food, equally over the top fashions, and multi-million dollar condos. Much of it reflects the money concentrated in this town, and one condo model hilariously so. The two cars parked in the driveway were a Porsche and a Mercedes, and the couple standing out front appeared to be an older man with a much younger trophy wive.

Ajax at Last

Friday, February 9th, 2007

Aspen is actually four separate areas: Ajax (Aspen Mountain), Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass. Ajax is the one that actually comes right to the edge of town; The Gant condos where we’re staying are close enough that you can hear the snowcats at night while walking through the parking lot. (The mountain is so high and close, that on our first cloudy night here, I mistook the snowcats for the moon.) Today we finally rode the gondola up to have a crack at it.

The gondola ride alone was worth it; they have new cabins this year with floor-to-ceiling windows that afford a great view of the town as you ascend and the upper expanse of the mountain as you clear the first pitch. At the top, the views continue with a panorama of high peaks and the Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands. We also met Ajax the Rescue Dog, who is constantly training by finding and fetching his tennis ball.

The runs were a mixed bag: some nice snow and heavily powdered glades countered by scratchy, wind-swept slopes. We found other cultural experiences, though. Our de facto leader, Al, led us on a trail-and-error search for a “shrine” he remembered from past visit. In the trees, we finally found it, a collection of pictures and artifacts honoring Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. Fast Eddie also discovered a bell, which he surmised is how you call the pot dealer high on the mountain…

After slogging through heavy powder on the requisite double-diamond tree run, I was exhausted. The rest of the gang was ready to move on to Snowmass and I was happy to rest on the bus for a bit. They finished a quicker lunch than I made of leftover pizza from the night before, so I was left with the dilemma of what to do with my remaining 3/4 cup of hot spiced apple cider. Taking a queue from Out Cold, I strapped on my board and rode with it in my hand down to the lift. Didn’t spill a drop!

Two more runs through the Powerline Glades and Garrett Gulch made it a day for me. That left some time to check out the shops at Snowmass, which had the exact same shirts as in Aspen, just printed with a different location. (The same trend can also be extrapolated to other resorts.)

A Day Off Around Town

Friday, February 9th, 2007

One part of snowboarding trips I’ve come to enjoy more over the years is the day off. It’s not just for the break from the physical demands of snowboarding, but a chance to explore the place I’ve come to visit beyond its ski slopes.

After “sleeping in” until 8:30, I milled around a bit on the MacBook before getting a late breakfast at Montanga in the Little Nell Hotel. The women from The Patio at the Cirque Cafe hadn’t steered me wrong with the recommendation; the goat cheese and spinach quiche was delicious and the hot chocolate decadently rich.

The town of Aspen is quite walkable, with several blocks of pedestrian malls near each other. The stores range from the typical ski and t-shirt shops to retail outposts of every high-end athletic and fashion company. There were also plenty of art galleries, and stopping in a few I found pieces to like, if not afford: near-photographic Russian paintings, modern glass and sculptures, and nude watercolors (it’s not porn when you pay $5,000+).

My late breakfast led to a late lunch back at the Hotel Jerome’s J-Bar. While waiting for one of their acclaimed burgers, Bob, Steve, and Mary walked in and over lunch told me about a path along the river they had walked. It offered some nice photo opportunities before heading back into town to finish my shopping.

Back at the condo, I reunited with the rest of the gang to catch up on the day’s stories over beers in the hot tub, gourmet pizza at Brunelleschi’s, and some pool at Eric’s.

The Patio at the Cirque Cafe

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Sometimes you really do find things when you’re not looking for them. After a great day of running glades and gullies at Snowmass, I stepped onto the patio at the Cirque Cafe to grab a beer while waiting for Mike and Al to finish their last run. Enjoying a slope-side apres-ski beer is a rare treat that I couldn’t pass up on a wonderfully warm, sunny day.

The patio was packed, so I joined two women at their table. We got to talking, and I learned that Colleen and Amber were both living in Aspen working as physical therapists and enjoying the slopes on their days off. Over a pitcher of beer and some nachos, I found out they had both moved around a bit and worked in a few ski towns since leaving the midwest. More importantly, Colleen wasted no time informing me that while she had a boyfriend, Amber was quite single.

I played dumb tourist and asked where to go in town, and after a round of well-liquored hot chocolates (Hot Travises in their vernacular), the girls offered to take me over to Sky Bar (aka 39 Degrees) in Aspen. All other motives aside, any plan to abandon the rapidly cooling apres-sunset patio was welcome.

The bus ride to Aspen featured a few extra loops and overshot stops, but ultimately landed us back at their place in town to dump various ski and snowboard gear. I then made the foolishly macho mistake of choosing to walk to the bar instead of taking the bus, which is not the best move when you’re a sea level wimp trying to keep up with two power-walking, high-altitude locals.

The bar was suitably swanky for Apsen, including a hot tub and pool for patrons of both the bar and adjoining hotel. Even in the lull between happy hour and nightlife, there was still plenty of people (and cougar) watching. After a round of martinis, some other local friends of theirs came and I got an interesting look into the life of “normal” people in Aspen. Nomadic health care workers, architects to the stars, and followers of the Aspen social scene were a few of the vignettes.

A few folks from my ski club group also trickled in, some obviously surprised to see me being so social. The other young boarder, Dan, did join us, but found more conversation with one of the waitresses. After a few more rounds, we called it a night and I happily stripped off my snowboard boots after a record 14 hour day.

Aspen Goes Green

Monday, February 5th, 2007

One of the pleasant surprises of Aspen has been how environmentally conscious the town is. The ski shuttles are hybrid buses, the lifts run on wind-generated electricity, and our condos voluntarily limit use of the wood burning fireplaces to reduce air pollution in the valley. The town itself is quite walkable, and with the above-mentioned hybrid buses, many people get around just fine without a car. Another sign on a lift tower appealed to the snow lovers’ more base instincts to slow global warming: “Winter is short enough already”.