Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The clock's ticks for thee

If you aren't sure whether you want to run the Pikes Peak Ascent or Marathon --whether it's worth it to plunk down $65 for months of grueling training just to suffer up the mountain on race day no matter how fit you are -- you have tonight to decide. Sign up starts tomorrow at 7 a.m.
Click here for the link to registration: Ascent Marathon

Need some convincing? I've run it every year since 2002 and I love it. Read my account from last year here.

Warm weather is bringing the green

Keep your eye out for wildflowers in the next few weeks, particularly if we get some moisture. In my downtown yard yesterday, I noticed the first green buds of crocuses, daffodils and tulips.

Colorado Springs Open Space Tax survives!!!

For three years Colorado Springs' TOPS tax to fund open space and trails has been in a death struggle with anti-tax zealot and county commissioner Douglas Bruce. His argument: the extension of the tax, which was passed 2 to 1 by voters in 2002, wasn't presented to voters as a tax and violated his baby, the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR). Now the law is going forward, as The Gazette reported today.

For Colorado Springs, this is
HUGE. Buying choice bits of land and making them open to the public forever has lasting results, as anyone who has ever walked through Garden of the Gods can attest. But the results aren't just aesthetic. Many people believe preserving these open spaces is vital to the continued growth of the economy. After all, people and businesses don't move to Colorado Springs because of the sophisticated nightlife or the arts scene. They move here because it is beautiful. And if we as a community can preserve that, then we'll make this that much better of a place to live.

The next likely purchases on the TOPS roster are
Section 16, which is currently being leased by the city from the state, and the top of Cheyenne Mountain, which would connect with Cheyenne Mountain State Park to make one heck of a trail system.

I, personally, could see some purchases of lush green ranch land down along Fountain Creek in the future. Where else are the big open space opportunities?
Tell us where you'd like to see the city spend its money.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Ready for corn?

There it was, on the Colorado Ski Country USA Web site - a surface conditions report that wasn't all powder or packed powder. As the temperatures rose today in the high country (it was 51 degrees in Vail at 4 p.m.), the ski report changed for what seems like the first time this season. Sure, the packed powder's still there, but it's been joined by hard-packed (at Howelsen and Winter Park) and soft-packed (at Monarch and Powderhorn).
For those of you who like to talk the talk, here are some other surface condition terms to know:
Loose granular: loose sugary snow.
Frozen granular: Frozen sugary snow, kind of chalky.
Wet granular: Soft snow wet from warm temperatures, rain or humidity.
Spring conditions: Mix of snow types from icy in the morning to slushy in the late afternoon.
Windblown: Powder or granular, blown into drifts.
Corn: Large, loose crystals that freeze at night and soften during the day.

Snowcats out, lynx hiding

Fans of Tucker Mountain at Copper will either be thrilled or a little disappointed by the Forest Service's approval for an expansion plan there. The Associated Press reported Monday that the agency's approval of a six-year-old plan will allow more snowmaking, more trails and a new chairlift on Tucker Mountain, that would serve an area that has been served by Snowcats. It will be easier to get to the great powder up there, but there could be crowds.
Environmental groups have opposed the lift, saying it will harm lynx habitat. The strangest part of the story? The Forest Service says not to worry - the animals can use the area when skiers aren't around, and can hide when the slopes are crowded.

Headed south? Bring rock skis

Taos Mountain, the skier-only resort known for steeps has had one of the worst snow seasons in its history.
The snow report today: 0 inches in the last 24 hours, 0 inches in the last five days. 27-inch base mid-mountain.
Taos has had to cancel competitions. And many of its runs have grass and gravel competing with the snow.

Snow magnet Wolf Creek is also having a dire year.

What gives?

It's La Nina, an area of warm water in the south Pacific that messes with our weather.

Traditionally, La Nina brings dry weather to the southern Rockies, wetter weather to the northern Rockies and more high winds than usual.

I guess this isn't technically outdoor recreation oriented, but I like this story because of what it says about the world: even in the era of Google Earth there is still a lot to be discovered out there.

A story from the A.P. this morning said archaeologists discovered an ancient Egyptian temple to the sun under an outdoor marketplace in Cairo. Initially, I thought this might be a fairly minor discovery, but descriptions say diggers found "a royal head weighing two to three tons and a seated 5.1 meter (16.7 foot) statue were also found, with cartouches, or royal name signs, of Ramses II on the side of the seated statue."

Even in a very sandy country, how do you misplace a 16.7-foot statue? It boggles the mind. What else is out there?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Another skier vs. tree. Victor: tree

According to the AP, a 28-year-old Illinois man slammed into a tree along Peak Eight's Four O'Clock run on Sunday and died from head injuries Wednesday. He wasn't wearing a helmet.

We often talk about the danger of extreme sports, but in skiing, at least, deaths tend to occur in the least extreme places. Four O'Clock is a green run.
Last week, a fellow died on a nearby blue run.
No one has died this year on black runs, on Breck's crazy huge jumps or in the half pipe. Go figure. Maybe we should all start skiing the expert runs.

New All Terrain Park ski area opening

Echo Mountain Park, a collection of snowy halfpipes, jumps and rails built on the defunct Squaw Pass ski area looks like it is actually going to open after a few false starts.
First the youth-focused big air park said it was going to open in December, then January, then February. It got to the point where people started joking that it's called "Echo Mountain" because you hear the same thing from them over and over.
"We've been working through the bumps and bruises of construction," said Jesse Harvat, an Echo employee.
Now the magic date is March 10 for the general public, or March 4 for $99 Access Pass holders.
Cost for a day pass will be around $35.

Even if you don't huck mondo air in baggy pants, this is a remarkable shift in the ski industry. For the last 30 years, big resorts have been gobbling up the business and little mom and pop places have shut down across the state. Of the 150 ski areas that at one time or another graced the hills of Colorado, only about 25 are still open. There's even a Website devoted to these "lost ski resorts."

But the growing niche market in terrain parks means little places that don't have a lot of vert or snow can compete by being closer and cheaper. Echo Mountain is a half hour from Denver on a hill near Evergreen.

Like all cultural novelties, this jib revival happened in California first.Two small, struggling resorts, Mountain High near Los Angeles and Boreal Ski Area near San Francisco reinvented themselves as stunt-friendly terrain park destinations in the late 1990s. Since then, they've grown into huge magnets for the youth scene.

Even smaller ski hills in the Midwest have been able to up the excitement, and ticket sales, by adding terrain parks. "A lot of people will be watching this very closely to see if it works," said Charles Goeldner, professoror emeritus of ski marketing at the University of Colorado. "They may be able to work in this niche. On the other hand, all of the major resorts have added extensive terrain parks, so there is real competition."

Does this mean other small, long-closed ski areas, such as the ones around Pikes Peak might have a chance at a new life?
Pat Pfieffer, a long-time Colorado Spring resident who owned part of the Pikes Peak Ski Area between 1964 and 1968 said it will be tough. "It's a great idea, but even when Pikes Peak had snow-making in the 1980s, they couldn't stay open."
Still, a few years ago, it would have been easy to write off the idea of Echo Mountain Park, and recently, the area fired up its new three-person lift and started blowing snow.
The buzz about this place has been constant.
Now we'll see if the paying customers come.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bargain day

If you've got a Gems card, you're in luck. With the card, you can get a lift ticket for $34 at Monarch on Sunday (regular price is $49).
If you don't have a card, ask along a friend who does - he can buy two extra tickets at the discounted price when he buys his.
Why you should go: Monarch has a 66-inch base.

Like the freeway

Tuesday, in three hours of skiing at Breckenridge, three different guys ran into me. All three were out of control, careening down the trail in white-out conditions. By the last collision, I was done. I packed up my stuff and headed home. The next day, when I told people about the crashes, I got the same reaction every time: "Were they snowboarders?" As a matter of fact, they were all on skis. I was starting to think the image of the renegade snowboarder was so last decade, but I was proven wrong. Even though the designated bad boy of the U.S. Olympic Team this year is a skier, (Go, Bode) there are still people who think that boarders are everything that's wrong with snow sports. I don't think we can blame boarders for everything bad at ski resorts anymore than we can blame SUVs for everything bad on highways. If we could just figure out how to put a rear-view mirror in our goggles, we'd be all set.

NPR: Not Powder-savvy Radio

I woke up this morning to what may have been the stupidest ski/snowboard story I have ever heard on the radio.
NPR had this story:
Morning Edition, February 23, 2006 · Studies show that winter sports can be particularly dangerous for the occasional participants. Injuries and fractures are high among skiers and snowboarders who visit the slopes only a few times a year.

It basically started out with reporter Allison Aubrey talking to two SPORES (silly people on rental equipment) about how dangerous the radical sport of snowboarding is, and how much youngsters don't care. It would have been an acceptable story in 1995, but there is nothing particularly new and dangerous about snowboarding. If you are writing about safety in winter sports, you'll find that skiing is just as dangerous. Worse yet, Aubrey filed her story from Washington, D.C. We can only assume she drove a few hours to the tiny hills in West Virginia to do her reporting. Writing about skiing in West Virginia is like writing about the beach in Colorado. Bad idea.

OK, sure, NPR doesn't get out to the West very often. Pretty much just for wildfire stories. And when they do, the stories often lack subtlety, so we can't expect any of them to know anything about ski culture, but the story was so rambling and hackneyed that I sort of came away thinking Aubrey just did it so she could try snowboarding for a day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Groups sue over drilling leases on South Shale Ridge

An area that some call Colorado's Bryce Canyon is the focus of a lawsuit brought against the BLM by the Colorado Mountain Club, the Sierra Club, and just about every other major wilderness advocacy group in the state yesterday.

This is one more in a growing number of disputes that come down to natural gas extraction versus preservation of roadless areas on public lands.

The gist of the suit, according to a release from its filers, is this:

Citizens and conservation groups have long contended that South Shale Ridge’s multicolored canyons, wilderness qualities, unique hiking opportunities, wildlife habitat, and sensitive species require protection. Beginning in 1987, BLM’s original management plan for South Shale Ridge came under fire because it failed to properly account for the area’s wilderness, recreational, and biological values. In 1998, BLM initiated a multiyear review process led by citizens, stakeholder groups, and agency professionals. BLM’s findings, published in 2001, recommended that South Shale Ridge be reconsidered for protection as a Wilderness Study Area. The BLM then publicly committed to amending its 1987 plan to account for and properly manage the area’s wilderness features.

For years there has been strong, consistent public support for protecting South Shale Ridge from industrial development. In 2004 nearly 9,000 citizens sent comments urging BLM to protect the area for its wilderness, recreational, and biological values. Yet in November 2005 BLM leased almost the entire area for oil and gas drilling without putting measures in place to protect these values, including measures to protect the area's rare plants as part of an updated resource management plan.

Earthjustice, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Mountain Club, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, and the Center for Native Ecosystems filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Denver to compel BLM to keep its promise and protect this area’s wildlife and natural beauty from oil and gas development.

To learn more about the area (from a wilderness point of view) click here.

Riding into the future

Imagine a city made for bikes. Members of the Pikes Peak Area Bikeways Coalition have. These bike advocates have been working for more than three years to improve cycling in the region. Sure, we have an ever-improving trail system and the Velodrome. When it opens, Cheyenne Mountain State Park has a great technical trail for mountain bikes (pictured here) designed by riders themselves (Medicine Wheel), and a freeride area is in the works for Red Rock Canyon Open Space (also being built by Medicine Wheel).
But cyclists want more. Hear about their plans and their dreams at a meeting of the coalition Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at REI, 1376 E. Woodmen Road.

Thinking of running the peak? You have a week to decide

Registration for the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, which climb the area's top mountain in late August, starts next Wednesday, March 1 at 7 a.m. Last year the Ascent filled up in less than three days. So even though the race is way off in the distance, you gotta make up your mind now.

The registration fee is $65.

You can register here.

A first sign of spring

Yesterday I was strolling through Shooks Run Park with my greyhound, Stella, and saw the classic harbinger of spring, the Robin.
Now, I know Robins stick around all winter. They don't migrate to distant climes like our resident hummingbirds and hermit thrushes, but I also know that I almost never notice them until spring, when they pair up and make their beautiful dawn serenades.
So, I took it as a sure sign of warming that I saw two robins in a Chinese elm tree, enjoying the afternoon sun, perhaps contemplating the first steps of pairing to build a nest.
We'll keep our eyes open for other small signs of the end of winter as the weeks go by.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Slopes not jammed

On big ski weekends, I-70 can turn into a parking lot because of traffic. Not this weekend. President's Day weekend, usually the busiest three-day period of the year for ski resorts, was a little quieter because cold weather scared everyone away. The Denver Post reports 4,000 fewer cars each day through the Eisenhower Tunnel compared with last year.
Those who went were treated with warm, sunny days and basically empty slopes. I skied both days in Summit County and didn't wait in a line once!

If you do ski at Vail, watch out because the cops are spending their days off doing volunteer patrols on the mountain, according to the Aspen Times. What are they looking for? Speeders, of course, plus fights, drugs, and rope ducking. Have you ever gotten that itch when a cop pulls you over to just step on the gas and see if he can catch you? I have to say, the itch would be that much more itchy on skis.

Monday, February 20, 2006

After the Bode build-up, the Bode bash...

The hype over U.S. downhill skier Bode Miller has been building for months because, well, the people who have the job of writing about the Olympics need good stories and he sure looked like one: a bad boy who plays by his own rules and still manages to win time and again.
But when the bad boy doesn't hold to that one-sentence label, it becomes time for the label makers to tear him apart: case in point, Sunday's New York Times front-pager "Hitched to Miller, U.S. Skiing Slips Off Course"
It starts:

Bode Miller released an autobiography last year, "Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun."
It is catchier than "Fifth Place, Disqualified, Did Not Finish."

And goes on to say:

United States ski team officials did not discuss Miller's latest failure. Over the years, they have tolerated his wild-child act, especially after his many successes last season. But with the team having disappointing results, Miller's collapse has cast a malaise on athletes who had hoped to challenge the vaunted Austrians for dominance in Olympic Alpine skiing.

A week into the Alpine competition that was supposed to set Miller up as the most decorated American Olympic skier ever, he has finished fifth in the downhill, blown a large early lead in the combined when he straddled a gate and skidded off the racecourse in one of his best events.

"We're all having our problems, not just Bode," Daron Rahlves, another multiple-medal contender for the United States who has been shut out here, said Saturday. Rahlves finished 9th Saturday and was 10th in the downhill. "I didn't feel I had it today. I don't know what's going on exactly. It's kind of strange."

Miller's failures have been amplified by his apathetic, almost bored, postrace reactions and numerous sightings of him in the few nightclubs of this small village in the western Italian Alps. Publicly, United States ski team officials have generally not commented on Miller's performances on or off the slopes. But Miller, who won two silver medals at the 2002 Winter Games, was the face of the team and was expected to lead the American skiers to their stated goal of eight Olympic medals.

They have instead won one medal, a gold earned by a little-known 21-year-old, Ted Ligety.

In Miller, the United States ski team finds itself hitched to a mercurial contrarian who has always said he does not value medals or victories, but the team did not know that Miller would pick this fortnight to prove that he meant what he said.

Ouch! Will this all change if Bode wins in his last chance to grab a medal?

Alps update

And we've been gloating about our snow this winter. Gazette photographer Mark Reis is in Italy covering the Olympics. He has lived in Colorado for 20 years and skied that long, too. He says he's never seen it snow like it did yesterday in the Italian Alps - three feet in a few hours.
- Deb

From toilet bowl to Snowbowl

You gotta feel sorry for skiers in Arizona. The Arizona Snowbowl, one of the state's most popular ski areas, hasn't even opened for the season. The drought that has turned Arizona into a dust bowl this winter has left Snowbowl season ticket-holders waiting, waiting, waiting.
Granted, snow is unpredictable at the Snowbowl, (pictured here in better times) but there have been some snowy winters there in the past. Still, it makes sense that Snowbowl officials went to the Coconini National Forest authorities for permission to make snow. Nobody is arguing with that move.
What they are quarreling about is this: The ski area wants to use treated wastewater from Flagstaff for the snowmaking. Area Indian tribes protested, saying the plan will taint one of their sacred mountains, but a federal judge upheld the Forest Service decision. The tribes and environmental groups have said they will appeal the ruling.
- Deb

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Well, you thought it was cold in Colorado

A friend who works on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire sent this e-mail. Jeez Luise!

"The caretaker in Tuckerman Ravine fell on the ice that passes for
snowpack and put an ice axe through his face. So I am doing his job for
the weekend. Here is the weather report I posted this morning. The
context for this report is that at 7am the previous day it was 41 and
raining. To its credit this weather does keep away the bugs and the

If you can't make out the handwriting in the above weather report, it says

"Tonight: Freezing fog. Windchill -80. Immed. Frostbite on exposing skin!"

Don't be fooled, it's warm in the mountains

I just finished skiing a few runs off the T-bar at Breckenridge. It was sunny, calm, and 24 degrees!!!
That cold arctic air is sitting on the Front Range, but it ain't up here. If you were planning on skiing this weekend, then decided to stay indoors, come on out. The snow is good and the weather is balmy.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Challenge issued

You think you know snowboarding? You don't know snowboarding. That's what Seth Wescott, gold-medal winner in the snowboardcross at the Olympics, says. Wescott says "those kids" who can slide on rails don't really know how to snowboard. Now, snowboardcross...THAT's snowboarding...and THAT's a challenge. - Deb

Holy moly! New ski route on Maroon Bells!

As Lou Dawson pointed out on his blog, Wildsnow.com, Chris Davenport, who is trying to ski all the fourteeners in one winter, just dropped an insane line on Maroon Bells. He called it "one of the most intense ski days of my life." I can see why.

The Aspen Times has the story and pictures.

Happy Trails: a look at this week's hike

We zoomed in from space through the cool satellite images in Google Earth to give you an better idea of this week's hike at Spruce Mountain. Above is the birds-eye view. Below are some pictures from on the ground.
And hey, did you know you can look at lots of classic Happy Trails online for free? Click here to see them. Like this feature? Let us know by commenting below.

It's cold and snowy out early this morning. My downtown house has about a 1/2 inch of new snow.
Colorado Ski Country U.S.A., the collective cheerleader for the Colorado ski resorts, is calling this "Colorado powder day #57."
Apparently they've been counting. But a look at the ski resorts shows that most only got one inch last night. Monarch got 2 inches. Does that really count?
I say, you have to have six inches before you can claim a powder day. You have to have 10 or 12 inches before you can skip work. And you have to have 20 inches to claim it was "epic" or "bottomless" or that you had "face shots all day."

But, there is more snow on the way, and the base of the mountains, after a good dose of the white stuff on Wednesday and Thursday, is quickly improving.

Just remember, this is President's Day weekend. Big crowds. My only advice to beat them is to get to the ski hill as soon as it opens. You can enjoy at least an hour of uncrowded skiing.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Psyched about the Games

Why I like the winter Olympics: They have an appeal that transcends age or experience. Even people who have never been near a ski hill or a luge run or a halfpipe can get excited. My parents, 70-something retirees who live in a small town in northwest Iowa (certainly not a mecca for winter sports), have gotten caught up in the snowboarding events at this year's games. "Did you see the halfpipe competition?" my mother asked me on the phone the other night. "Those snowboarders are unbelieveable." Now, to understand how amazing that conversation was, you have to know that my mother has never seen a snowboard in person and has never even visited a ski resort. She was a pretty good ice skater in her day, and one time, about a decade ago, I taught her to cross-country ski. But she's watching boarders complete 1080s and appreciating the effort. "If you liked the halfpipe, you can't miss the boardercross," I told her. She'll be watching.
- Deb

Yet another Skier vs. Tree

Yet another male skier on an intermediate run hit a tree and died yesterday. This one was on Breckenridge's Sawmill Run (a blue), though information from patrol suggests he was flying down an adjoining black before he crashed. He died of massive chest trauma. That makes the third skier vs. tree death in Colorado this year.

In Wyoming, three skiers met the same barky end in just over a week in late January. Only one was wearing a helmet. While it doesn't appear a helmet would have saved the Monument man who died at Breck, experts say helmets can save lives.

The bottom line in skiing and boarding is, you run into a tree at high speed, you lose, the tree wins. Call it revenge for all the logging we've done in the last 100 years.

Here's where safety studies may help. There are at least a few things one can do to help prevent serious injury or death.

First: Wear a helmet. Head injuries make up 75% of ski trauma deaths, according to a University of Wisconsin study. The study found universal helmet use could stop a fifth to a third of deaths a year. Not that a helmet will always save you, but short of body armor, or an air bag, it might be the best thing.

Second: Chill out. Especially on fast, icy snow.

Granted, skier trauma deaths are very low, only about 3 per million skier visits, so I'm not saying everyone should wear a helmet (let the helmet industry say that). But, if you ski fast, if you like to catch the freshies on the edge of the run, and especially if you are a male younger than 35, it might be a good idea to strap on the lid.
If you're looking for cheap ones, try here or here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Light show

A new book arrived in the mail today. Mike Lynch's "Colorado StarWatch: The Essential Guide to Our Night Sky" features constellation charts, star maps, diagrams, illustrations, and photos of astronomical phenomena like the aurora borealis (northern lights). I last saw the lights when I was driving down the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska late on a January night. They shimmered in shades of green and yellow, so bright they illuminated the forests of black spruce that crowd the highway. We learned later that we were lucky - the optimal months for lights viewing in Alaska are in March and September. There are also reports of the lights in Colorado every year. In 2000, the Perseid meteor shower was joined by a burst of the lights. Stargazers found bright red, green and blue curtains engulfing the summit of Hahn's Peak near Steamboat Springs. Have you seen the northern lights on any of your Colorado adventures? Let us know where.
- Deb

Cube or cake?

We introduced you to the Gumby-esque Olympic mascots a few days ago. They are Neve, a "gentle, kind and elegant snowball" and Gliz, "a lively playful ice cube."
Journalist friends who are covering the Olympics get the snowball thing, but some think Gliz looks more like a "lively playful urine cake." I don't think that's what they were going for.
- Deb

Inversion alert!

It's cloudy and yucky in Colorado Springs today, but it's sunny on Pikes Peak. Take a look at the summit cam!

Looking for Colorado's Classic Peaks? Lower your sights.

Gerry Roach, who has climbed just about every mountain in Colorado and written several swift-selling guide books on the state, has a list of "classic peaks in Colorado" on his Web site.

He only includes one 14er, Snowmass Mountain.. The others are all 13ers or 12ers that few people climb.

Of course any "best peaks" list will always be either incomplete or overindulgent, but I could name ten peaks off the top of my head, starting with Mt. Sneffels, that are classics and don't make this venerable mountaineer's list.

Chime in with your favorites and we'll get a better list going!


Don't duck... or you're in trouble

Colorado is raising the fine for ducking a boundary rope at a ski resort from $300 to $1,000, according to the A.P.
The new fine is not as big of a hike as it sounds.
It's the first time the fine has been raised in 25 years. Back in 1980, a ticket to Breck was less than $19. Now it's $75 -- quite a markup. A $300 fine in 1980 was really worth, according to the inflation calculator, about $761.90 in today's dollars.
Even so, this law was clearly passed to use as a deterrent, so hapless monkeys don't get lost in the woods just off the slope, like they have an number of times this year.
Almost all resorts have backcountry gates a skier can pass through to get to out-of-bounds areas legally. If you don't use the gates, you probably deserve any fine you get.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Skins up, skis down

Let's see... you're at Crested Butte and you've got two hours to blow. What could you do? How about climbing up the mountain to the top of International, then the top of Peel, then the top of High Lift; then skiing down Headwall, them climbing up Schofield, then descending Hawks Nest, climbing Roseylane Gully, crossing Skadi's Ridge to the top of the Toilet Bowl, then into Never, Never Land, then traversing Spellbound in reverse, skiing down the Teo exit road, climbing up Teo Bowl and around the Highlift bull wheel to the Peak, down the Peel through Hockey Rink, and skiing down O-Be-Joyful for a climb to the old NASTAR shack?
That's what Crested Butte ski patrolman Ethan Passant did Saturday, in one hour, 54 minutes and 25 seconds.
The reason for all that up-down-and-around? The 4th Annual Mountain Hardwear Life-Link/Dynafit Randonnee Rally Skins Up and Skis Down. Passant was one of 44 competitors in the event that featured 5,000 feet of climbing.

Our own Two Elk Lodge fire?

The Gazette reported today that a fire set in a closed tunnel of Upper Gold Camp Road could affect whether the road is reopened to motor traffic this spring.
When I read the story, first I thought for sure that the fire was one more piece of evidence pointing to the existence of "Bad Hombres" -- people who use lonely mountain roads for shooting and drinking and littering and much, much worse. But then I started devising conspiracy theories.
Fact: there are a lot of people, including me, who don't want the Upper Gold Camp to reopen to motor traffic.
Fact: in order to open the road to traffic, the forest service would have to shore up the existing tunnels.
Fact: the easiest way to stop this project would be to collapse one of the tunnels and the easiest way to do that would be to burn the timbers.
So: it's not totally unreasonable for someone to set fire to this tunnel.

The authorities must agree: they are treating this as an arson. They've even closed down the area to look for clues.
We'll see what they find.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Clyde gets a reprieve

Last week, reports from a ranch near Craig said a ranch hand had been gored to death by a popular domesticated elk named Clyde. Things looked bad for Clyde - his owner Lou Wyman of Wyman Living History Ranch and Museum, said the trophy sized elk would be killed. Now, the AP reports that the worker died because of a heart problem. When ranch workers found John Renner in the pen with Clyde, the animal had blood on its antlers. Now officials say Clyde had probably nudged and pushed at Renner with his antlers when he fell to the ground.
- Deb

Blizzard lures out secret New Yorkers

26 inches of snow in Central Park reminded me of this story:
I lived, for a while, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, three blocks from Central Park.
One of the truths of New York City is that no one has extra closet space. No one has a garage. No one has a basement. So owning something bulky that you don't use very much, say a ladder, is almost unheard of.
So imagine my surprise the first time I was in NYC for a good snow storm. About eight inches fell overnight, blanketing the normally grimy city in a downy coat of white. I rushed out at dawn to enjoy the snow in the park before it was all tracked out, figuring I would be one of the only ones out there.
When what to my wondrous eyes should appear, but thousands of skiers in cross-country gear.
In this city of no closets, a crowd of people had somehow been harboring skis for the one or two days a year when they could actually use them. And there they were, gliding along the bridal path, skating through Sheep's Meadow, and sliding down The Ramble.
I had no skis, so I just hiked among them, then went to work.
By noon, the city had chewed up the snow and spit it out in wet, gray clumps.
There was no sign that any ski had ever touched the ground there.
But I'm sure they are out today in a city that, like all great cities, can conceal an infinite store of wonderful things until the right time comes to whip them out.
For a look at a Central Park Cam, click here.
For great pictures of yesterday's snow, click here.

Friday, February 10, 2006

This is serious skiing

In an Associated Press story today, a Washington Post writer describes the giant slalom course awaiting Olympic skiers this weekend. The course, that writer Barry Svrluga had noticed shining in the lights the night before, is ice. Not icy, he explains, but ice. It seems the courses have been injected with water that pools and freezes below the surface to create an icy base. There won't be any powder days here - Svrluga reports that if powder accumulates on the surface, organizers will remove it.
- Deb

How to avoid death by ski...

Last night I got a call from a friend on a ski patrol up in Summit County.
"How's the snow?" I asked.
"Bad," he said, "So we're starting to get busy. I went out on six wrecks yesterday. That's more than I did all last week."
Generally speaking, powder is soft and safe. The icier the slopes get, the more people start hurting themselves.
Right on cue, the AP moved a story this morning that a skier died Thursday after colliding with a tree.

We get a brief write-up evey time this happens and the circumstances are almost always the same. A man, going too fast after lunch (when slopes are particularly icy) on an open, intermediate run, loses control, and hits something unyielding, like a tree.
The worse the snow is, the more this happens. Usually Colorado sees about 6 skier trauma-related deaths a year. In the really rotten year of 2001-2002 there were 16. This year, with awesome snow, there has only been one.

What can we take away from this? Ski early, and stay home when the snow is bad.
And if you are a dude who loves to go aggro on easy slopes, chill out!


Tired of the Donut Mill? Check out Costello Street

Whether skiing at Monarch, Breck, Copper, Vail, or points beyond, skiers getting up at the crack of dawn and piling into the car to drive up Hwy 24 tend to get that hungry feeling just as they're getting into the mountains.
The mainstay for years (and pretty much the only choice) was the venerable Donut Mill with its big, bready bear claws and cinnamon rolls. In recent years others, including Starbucks, have joined the pre-dawn nosh options.
Now there is a new place worth checking out a little farther up the road: The Costello Street Coffee House in Florissant.
The old, converted Victorian has espresso drinks, coffee, tea, dynamite biscuits and gravy, bagels, burritos, a selection of pastries -- basically everything you need to get your ski drive on.
It's also the best place between Summit County and Colorado Springs to grab lunch on the way back.

Check this place out on the northeast corner of Hwy. 24 and Teller 1.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

You don't have anything to do over the next couple of weeks, do you? Good. Check out all the ways you can obsess on the Olympic Winter Games:
- Watch TV. NBC and related networks will air 418 hours of coverage
- Go to Google. Video of previews, highlights and more.
- Go to gazette.com and check out your local team's coverage. Don't forget The Extra Milo - columnist Milo Bryant's blog from Italy.
- Go to ESPN.com. Click on Olympics and get the day's coverage.
- Get smart on about.com with everything about the Olympics.
- Dial up the iPod. Bob Costas will host a daily audio podcast through iTunes
- Call in. Most cell carriers will offer a mobile version of NBCOlympics.com.
- Text in. Text "Torino" to NBCTV, and you can get ringtones that include Olympic themes, national anthems or athlete playlists, and Olympic-theme wallpaper.
And if that's not enough, why not try a little ski racing yourself? (It involves getting out of the recliner.) Check next week's Out There and then head out to a NASTAR course.
(In case you were wondering, the little creatures pictured here are the official Olympics mascots - "Neve, a gentle, kind and elegant snowball," and "Gliz, a lively, playful ice cube.")

- Deb

Understanding Gas Leases

Today the Bureau of Land Management in Colorado is auctioning off the right to extract natural gas from 159,246 acres of public land. It's the largest sale ever in the state, but only one in a string of auctions in the great Republican-sponsored natural resources barbecue that has been sweeping over the west in the last five years, selling leases on 8 million acres a year. That's an area the size of Maryland every twelve months!
If you want to know what a gas lease means to the land, look at the Roan Plateau, above. Every white spot on what was a few years ago a roadless area is a well.
OK, sure, I burn natural gas, you burn natural gas. We need natural gas.
But this is all happening very quickly and few people know much about it.
So, since much of this drilling is taking place in public lands that we use for biking and hiking and hunting, take a minute to educate yourself:
BLM can give you rules and regulations, but for a somewhat more to-the-point take, visit the Environmental Working Group's site, Who Owns the West?.

If you want to see some of the places in the sale,
click here.

Roan Plateau is already being drilled. Take a look at what this once roadless plateau looks like now.

I'd like to stress, this is an outdoor news blog, not an opinion blog. So how you process this information and what you do with it is up to you. Happy Trails.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Dumb and dumber

The ranger station should have been her first clue. All the people with cameras should have been her second.
Still, on Jan. 13, Cindy L. Szemenyei, from Firestone, CO, went hunting along Endovalley Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Wearing blaze orange and carrying a rifle, Szemenyei and her companion shot what she thought was a deer just off a popular paved trail three miles inside the park. Officials later determined it wasn't a deer but an elk that was wounded but never found. Szemenyei insists she didn't know she was inside the park boundary, even though the only way in is through a gate manned by rangers. She and her companion were fined.
- Deb

Babes in the woods

Guest blogger and fiery deputy editor Joanna Bean has a tip for all you parents of little rippers:

For kids (or even adults) who are ready to try a little tree skiing but don't want to get in over their heads, check out Ski Cooper's "Treasure Trove." It's not a run, per se, and it's not marked on Cooper maps. There is, however, a banner that says "Treasure Trove" that's strung between some trees at the entrance to this tame glade. It's just off the top of the 10th Mountain double chair on the front of the mountain. My 6-year-old daughter spotted the banner on the lift and immediately wanted to see what was up. You can bail out at any time and end up on a ski run, or stay in the trees and wind your way down. Needless to say, each time we skiied it, my kids got more brave - and stayed in the trees longer.

Local trail reports - still icy out there?

Winter in Colorado Springs: it comes, it goes. But even after a string of sunny days local trails, especially those tucked in the trees, can stay snowy.
My rule of thumb: when the snow on the shady side of my downtown house has disappeared, the trails are totally clear. Until then, watch out for ice.
I ran Barr Trail to No Name Creek yesterday evening and can report is was 95% clear. Just a few ice patches. The Incline is also clear.
That means south-facing, or sunny trails such as Bear Creek Regional Trail, Stratton Open Space, and The Buckhorn Trail in Cheyenne Canyon should be clear. Most of Palmer Park should be good to go.
Stay away from Mt. Cutler Trail in Cheyenne Canyon. It gets a ton of traffic and no sun, so it should still be an ice rink.
Where else have people gone in the last week? Post an ice and snow report below.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Keep 'em moving

I met a couple of Brits today on the chairlift at Breckenridge who just couldn't stop talking about how polite Colorado skiers were. In Europe, they said, resort employees who run lift lines act like they are herding cattle. "It's a free-for-all there," one said.
By the way, the couple, who flew 29 hours to get here (with stops in Amsterdam and Nashville), said they're coming back, but they'll spring for a more-direct route next time.
- Deb

A very painful record may be broken this weekend.

Sunlight Mountain, near Glenwood Springs, is holding a "24 hours of Sunlight" race, in which contestants ski up and down the mountain as many times as possible in 24 hours. Canadian Greg Hill (above), who set the 24-hour world record last year by climbing and skiing 40,000 vertical feet, will attempt to break his record this year.

40,000 vertical feet in a day is the equivalent of climbing Pikes Peak five times. Yikes.

Warning, this slope patroled by radar

They always say the Europeans are a few years ahead of us. Or was it the Californians? Or was it that both groups dress funny.
Well, anyway, it's finally happened. A
ski resort in Switzerland has posted a 25 km/h speed limit in slow areas and set up electronic monitors to make sure people don't go over. Anyone who does gets pulled over by the ski patrol and told to take it to a faster slope. According to the BBC:
Martin Mathys of the Grindelwald mountain rescue service said the problem was
caused by the increased speed possible with modern equipment. He said: "The
equipment is always getting better, so you can ski faster, and then you have
more head injuries."

I wonder if Americans could argue their way out because the signs are in kilometers.


Monday, February 06, 2006

With friends like these, who needs time shares?

Many folks who ski and love Wolf Creek ski area have been following the follies of Texas billionaire B.J. "Red" McCombs, who is trying to build a massive slope-side development at the bottom of the tiny (but snow-rich) ski area against the wishes of the family that owns it.
So far there have been legal battles over a rather shadowy swap of national forest land that gave Red the room for his plans, and a fight over an access road to the parcel through forest land.
But both have failed to halt plans that would condo-ize one of the few undeveloped ski hills in the state.
The latest buzz comes from an article on Sunday in the Denver Post that details how Red McCombs basically picked and installed the bureaucrat who is deciding the access issues through forest land. The article details how the billionaire investor to have Mark Rey, a longtime timber-industry lobbyist, appointed undersecretary of agriculture, overseeing the Forest Service. It goes on to show that Red and Rey met several times, suggesting the developer may have undue influence in the outcome of the access road decision.
What will happen? Stay tuned.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Forget the super bowl

Snow continues to pile up in the mountains. Breck has about 20 inches in the last 48 hours. So does Copper,
and the sun is supposed to come out briefly tomorrow before the next dump on Sunday.
Don't fumble your chance to tackle this snow!


Maybe the biggest powder day of the year.

We've got to straighten out a certain outdoor writer's priorities. Yesterday, Deb Acord was here in the newsroom (a rather cheerless place) and blogged that:

I was going to Breckenridge today, but after calling friends there, and checking
road conditions on-line, decided to stay in Colorado Springs.

I was at Breckenridge. The roads, or course, were a little snowy, but the mountain was really snowy. 16 inches in the last 48 hours. Wow.

You hear people talk about face shots. And you assume they are exaggerating. As a unbiased, disinterested journalist, I can tell you, I was getting face shot after face shot skiing off of Chair 6 on Peak 8.
It wasn't one of those bluebird powder days. At points on the ridge above treeline the wind and snow were so heavy it was like having a burlap bag over your face. I couldn't see the skier in front of me.
But between gusts, a magical day.
Never underestimate the power to get through snowy roads when a powder day is calling.
And a tip for readers: U.S. 24 through South Park rarely gets much snow. Often on stormy days, it is the better route to Summit County than I-70, which tends to have more snow and (much worse) more accident-caused traffic jams.
Today, the forecast calls for more snow in the mountains. Should be epic skiing this weekend.

About the Alps

You might not have made it to the Alps this winter, but don't worry. We have a report from Colorado Springs native Andrew Kimmell, a snowboarder who recently checked out Austria with other riders from the University of Colorado.
Kimmell, who boarded Ischgl (in photo), Stubai and St. Anton, gives us this report:
"Everyone over there must be OVER riding powder because they stay on the icy groomed runs only. I'm not exactly sure why but there were people who would stop and watch the group of us looking for fresh lines and wonder what we were doing. "
And how about vertical? "The Alps have a crazy amount of vertical rise in much shorter of a distance. Free riding is much more fun over there."
Could you tell you were at Austrian resorts? "The atmosphere at the resorts is a little different. In general, people were much less courteous in lift lines. It was something of a free-for-all. I like it that way, though. You just keep moving and no one gets mad if you cut them off because it's likely the person ahead of you just cut you off."
The best place: "Ischgl was by far my favorite. It was probably the best powder day I have ever had. Everywhere you looked, there were huge fields of fresh snow.
- Deb

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Snow business

I was going to Breckenridge today, but after calling friends there, and checking road conditions online, decided to stay in Colorado Springs. I know, it was a rare instance of acting responsibly, even though I knew ski conditions would be perfect. But I feel a little better now. Ski instructors in Vail and Keystone tell me snow continues to pile up this afternoon, but one skier who made it to Keystone this morning from the Denver area said road conditions were the worst she has ever seen. Still, here's the part that will make you wish you were there: According to Colorado Ski Country U.S.A., Breck, Copper, Loveland, Vail and Cooper all got a foot overnight...and it's still snowing. (This picture is from Vail - can you find the skier?)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Did you know...

The first ski tow in Colorado - a rope - was built by members of the Pike Peak Ski club at the Glen Cove area on Pikes Peak in December, 1936. It ran off an old Whippet engine.
The ski area was plagued by wicked winds, but was popular nonetheless. In 1944, it was turned over to the military, and was used by soldiers from Camp Carson and Peterson Field for physical training exercises.
- Deb

Losing it

It's being called skier rage. The Associated Press reported a Littleton man says he lost control Sunday and attacked a 16-year-old on the slopes at Steamboat. Randell Berg, 52, allegedly punched a 16-year-old snowboarder after she ran into Berg's 8-year-old daughter and knocked her over. Berg says he lost control when his daughter got hit.

I think many parents can relate to that feeling. Each time somebody has plowed into my daughter - especially near the base of the mountain - I get all Mother Bear and want to hunt down the offending skier or boarder and make them read the Skier Responsibility Code to me.

The 16-year-old wasn't seriously hurt and wasn't reprimanded for running into the younger girl.

Do you think Skier Responsibility Code is doing the job? What do you think should happen to skiers/boarders who hit someone else in a relatively "safe" area?

- Deb

An Ancient Chinese Secret?

Did the Chinese invent (among everything else from noodles to gun powder) skiing? Maybe.

Reuters reported recently that cave p
aintings in Altay, in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, "have been verified as human hunting while skiing and, therefore, archaeologists prove the Altay region to be a place of skiing some 100 to 200 centuries ago", the news agency said..."(Experts) held that cliff paintings in Altay were the earliest archaeological evidence to show how humans had skied in the early days and suggest skiing had originated in Altay." Sorry, no pictures, but the above characters mean "ski." I think the guy on the right is a mono skier.

By the way, the Chinese did not invent the mono ski. That honor goes to
this guy.


Don't be tweakin', learn the beacon...

Araphahoe Basin, which has the dubious honor on having more skiers killed by in-bounds avalanches than any other Colorado Resort (2), holds its fourth annual Beacon Bowl and Avalanche Awareness Day Saturday, February 4.
The day starts at 10 a.m. with an avalanche transceiver competition for recreational and pro levels.
Beacon companies
Back Country Access (BCA), and Ortovox will be demoing transceivers, shovels, probes and other avalanche gear, so you don't have to own a $300 transceiver to get in on the games and get hands-on experience on how these gizmos work.
I know, you're saying, "I don't ski backcountry. Why do I need to know how to use a transceiver." Well, ever dream of going heli-skiing some day? Or 'cat skiing? Or even skiing at
Silverton Mountain? All of these worthy snow expeditions demand beacon knowledge.
Besides, hunting beacons in the snow is fun, and if you get tired of it, hey, you're at
A Basin. Go ski. Where, depending on your choice of terrain, a beacon might not be a bad idea.
Now to quote at length from today's press release for all the details:
"Transceiver clinics will be conducted by BCA and Orthovox.An avalanche dog demonstration will take place 1:30 p.m. with Summit County ski area avy dogs represented. .Incredible prizes will be awarded to the top finishers of the Beacon Bowl and a raffle will be held for products donated by BCA, Mountain Smith, Black Diamond, Ortovox, Wilderness Sports, New Belgium and Vitamin Water.Apr├Ęs ski party will begin at 3:30 p.m. on the second floor of the A-Frame.Sponsored by New Belgium Brewery, the $3 per draft beer suggested donation will be given to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.Registration will be at A-Basin on the day of the event."