|Travelogue: Aspen, Colorado 1999 (Breakthrough on Skis Class)||
Flight from Seattle to Aspen via Denver. I had hoped to arrive in Aspen early enough in the afternoon to be able to have an evening checking out the place. Unfortunately, such was not to be. There was a huge storm all across the east and Midwest, and every flight into or out of Chicago was cancelled. In addition, there was a very low cloud ceiling over Aspen airport. As a result (I'm not sure of which), the flights from Denver to Aspen were all cancelled. So, my 45 minute plane flight turned into a 5 hour bus ride. Ugh. That also meant that by the time I was settled into my hotel, it was 10pm and I was beat. Hi ho.
Staying at the Snowmass Lodge and Club. It is a pretty nice, typical, ski and golf resort. It has a good health club with excellent locker room facilities, hot tub, pool, sauna, etc. It also has a very good restaurant that is always empty. I suspect this is because there were lots of convention-type groups there, none of which were using the restaurant. The Snowmass Lodge and Club has two major black marks against it, however. It is fairly expensive, and it is very inconveniently located. If one wants to ski Snowmass mountain, you can take the Twin Creeks lift which is only a 5 minute bus ride from the Lodge. However, there are very few facilities at the Twin Creeks base. Most of the Snowmass facilities are at the Snowmass Mall base which is a 20 minute bus ride. In either case, the bus comes every 15 minutes during the day and is free. If you want to go to Aspen (either the mountain or the town), there are three choices. The Lodge runs a shuttle once an hour (yup, once an hour), that takes about 20 minutes. You can go via public bus (20 minutes to the Snowmass mall, then wait for the Aspen bus, then 25 minutes to Aspen, $3.00.) Finally, you can take a taxi for $30 each way. Yup, $30 each way. Like I was saying, the Snowmass Lodge and Club is basically in the middle of nowhere. Thus, even though it is a pleasant facility, and the rooms were large and quiet, I would never stay there again. Even if I had had a car, it is just too much out of the way. Note too that given the cost of the Snowmass Lodge and Club, it is cheaper to stay in Aspen and rent a car than to stay there. If (when?) I do the Breakthrough on Skis class again, I will stay in Aspen and rent a car.
Got up at a leisurely pace and headed off to the Twin Creeks base of Snowmass mountain for my first day of skiing this season. I wanted to make sure that I was fully warmed up before the Breakthrough on Skis lessons began.
Snowmass is a large and well set-up ski area. It was amazingly uncrowded and I had a very pleasant day of skiing. Even though they only have a 26" base right now (which is basically nothing), they do a tremendous job pushing that snow around; I had little or no trouble with rocks, and the snow was great. Dry and firm.
That night I again intended to go into Aspen and check the place out. However, this was when I learned just how hard it is to get to Aspen from the Snowmass Lodge and Club. I was pretty tired from my travels and a hard first day of skiing, and I only had energy for an hour or two of looking around. Since it would take most of that time traveling, I decided to simply eat at the Lodge's restaurant and pack it in early.
Met the Breakthrough on Skis trainers and attendees at the initial breakfast meeting. Lito outlined the schedule for the week, then off we went to Snowmass for our first day of lessons. The day starts out with people skiing in groups of 5 or 6 for a few warm-up runs. Then we did our first video session - the baseline for the week. Also, as part of this run, Lito and the other instructors split us out into different groups by ability. I ended up in a middle group of barn-burner skiers who "ski fast but without style." Hmmmm. Anyway, the group ultimately ended up as four well matched students working with our instructor "Dapper" Dan Connley.
Over the course of the next several hours, Dan started the process of un-teaching me almost everything I though I knew about skiing. At the beginning of the day I felt like I was skiing pretty well. By the end of the day I could hardly make it down a "blue" run. At the beginning of the day I expected that I'd be learning how to refine my pole plants. By the end of the day I had forgotten that I had poles. A pretty weird experience.
After skiing we met back up at the Snowmass Lodge and Club for appetizers and a presentation on how boot tuning can improve skiing.
The early hours, jet lag, altitude and skiing left me wipe out, so I had a quick dinner and went to bed early.
This was pretty much a repeat of the prior day. Breakfast then ski instruction at Snowmass. Also, this was the day that Lito and Linda skied with my group. Lito spent a few hours "guest instructing" for our afternoon session. He is a truly amazing skier, skiing with impressive grace and smoothness. It was also cool hearing some of the same ideas that Dan had been presenting, but in different terms and with different emphasis. Afterwards, I left my skis for tuning at a place in Snowmass mall called Sunrise (they did a very good job.) That evening we had appetizers and a presentation by Lito on how skis turn and why shape skis turn so well. My back was totally killing me from the odd contortions we'd been doing on the hill, so I arranged for a massage at the Lodge's health club. It was a huge help. Then, back to sleep again.
Again, breakfast, and more instruction at Snowmass. I did feel like I was getting it all back together a bit today. The prior two days had been very weird because I felt like my skiing had been totally deconstructed. Today it was starting to re-gel. After skiing it was back to the lodge for appetizers and a slide presentation by Lito of his wife Linda's photographs of a trip they did through the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. It looked really beautiful.
Again I had no energy for anything more than hot tubing and sleep.
Got up extra early this morning to catch the bus to Aspen Highlands. It was a nice change of pace to ski someplace other than Snowmass (where'd I'd now been for 4 days running.) Aspen Highlands doesnít make any snow, so there was less coverage than at Snowmass. The equipment isn't quite as new nor as extensive, but the runs are fun and there is more challenging terrain.
Afterwards I caught a ride into Aspen, so I could finally see the town. Puttered around for a while, had a drink, and then headed back to the Lodge for our usual apres ski meeting.
During the day Dan had convinced me that since I had nothing in particular to go back to in Seattle, I should just stick around. Spent part of the evening rebooking my airline flights and arranging for a hotel in Aspen so I could stay till Tuesday night.
For our final day of instruction we headed off to Aspen Mountain itself. I definitely felt like a lot of the things we had been working on were coming together. It was hard skiing for a 6th day in a row, but it was also a lot of fun. Had a really great run down the World Cup Racecourse on Aspen Mountain. Lito again joined us for a while during the afternoon. After skiing I wandered around town again, and headed back for the final time to the Snowmass Lodge and Club for our end-of-the-week, goodbye meeting.
I spent a while talking with Lito that evening, and he said some pretty interesting things about the course. One particular comment he made was that the program was really fun for the instructors. This is for several reasons. One is that it is rare for an instructor to have a group that is as enthusiastic and intent on learning as the Breakthrough attendees are. The only people who are willing to sign up for a 5 day intensive lesson are people that really want to learn, so that makes it more fun for the instructors. Another comment that Lito made is that because they have 5 straight days to instruct, they are able to teach tools and techniques that are just too hard to teach in one day. When doing a half day or one day lesson, there is no way that a trainer can teach the kinds of things that are taught in the Breakthrough program. It definitely seemed that the instructors were having a good time, and that made the program all the more fun.
Moved from the Snowmass Lodge and Club in the middle of nowhere, to the Mountain Chalet right in the heart of Aspen, and just 2 blocks from the main gondola. The Mountain Chalet is a funny place. It is incredibly conveniently located, and very reasonably priced (for Aspen). Itís a strange combination of Motel, B&B, and Youth Hostel (except when I was there the place was mostly populated with a bunch of older folks who had been coming there since time immemorial.) The rooms are a very good size, but the place has the layout of a motel. They serve a communal breakfast each morning like a B&B but with 50+ guests. The downstairs of the place has laundry facilities, pool, hot tub, sauna, etc. but like a youth hostel it also has a ping pong table and video game machines. There are lots of communal places where people just hang out, watch TV and talk. I later learned that every Monday night they serve a little evening party with appetizers, fondue and hot mulled wine (which they call "glue vine".) It's all very friendly and pleasant. On the downside, the rooms are not well sound insulated, and it gets quite noisy in the morning as people are preparing for their day's skiing. The water system is especially noisy - whenever anyone takes a shower, you know it.
After 6 straight days of skiing I was definitely ripe for a break and really enjoyed having a day off. Had a scrumptious lunch of Turkey Meatloaf at Boogies Diner, walked in and out of shops, bought a new fleece at the Northface store, and just generally got a feel for the place.
Things were really quiet in Aspen. It turns out that the two weeks following New Years are generally the quietest time of the season here, and this year was especially quiet. It was very convenient because I had no trouble making my hotel reservations and I was able to dine at my leisure without reservations, but it was also disappointing because there was very little "scene" to be had. Eventually I wandered over to the bar at the Little Nell to join the Apres Ski crowd for drinks. It was a pleasant but small scene where I chatted for a while with an interesting retired lawyer from New York.
After a while I went back to the Mountain Chalet for a nap, then had a good (but not great) dinner at a restaurant called Carnevale. Everything on the menu at Carnevale was way too complex. The menu items read like "Filet of west African perch rolled in pecans, pine nuts and almonds, pan seared and served over a bed of chocolate, asparagus, and parmesan risotto served with larks tongues, wild salamander toenails and red, green and purple pepper puree in a sun-dried blueberry coulis." I was seated at the bar and tried making jokes about the complexity of the menu items. The bartender didnít seem to think it was funny.
I wandered around town some more trying to find out where all the people were hiding. Finally managed to find them at a disco called "The Rock". This place was pretty happening at around 11pm, and by 12:30am was downright packed. It was fun in a disco-kinda way. Eventually it got so crowded that it wasnít any fun any more, so I left looking for something more sedate. Syzygy was dead, some other places were dead. Finally went to the Ute City Grill and watched a good cover band for a while, then packed it in.
Had a very nice communal breakfast at the Mountain Chalet and met several people who were staying there. Afterwards did the incredibly convenient 2-block walk to the Aspen Mountain gondola and was on my way for my first day of skiing after completing the Breakthrough on Skis program. Unfortunately, the rocks and pebbles on the mountain were showing up a bit more today -- there just hasnít been enough snow. Over the course of the day I spent a lot of time exercising the skills I had learned, and managed to turn in some respectable runs. However, I am definitely not "flowing" as much as I would like. It takes a lot of thinking to make my body do what I have now been taught. It will take a lot of miles before this all becomes automatic.
After skiing, went off to the Little Nell again for apres ski. Had a fun time talking to several people at the bar. Back to the hotel, shower and nap, and then out for dinner at the Ute City grill. Had the "wild game" plate which was excellent. One piece each of elk, venison, wild boar and ostrich, in a yummy berry sauce with steamed veggies. Very nice and well presented.
Again a pleasant breakfast at the Mountain Chalet, except this time I was seated at a table of all Brazilians. I donít speak Portuguese, and they weren't speaking any English, so there wasnít much interaction as far as I was concerned. I decided that it would be fun to get back to Snowmass, since I hadn't been there for several days. Hopped on the free bus conveniently located across the street from the hotel and rode to Snowmass. Had another fine day of skiing, then bus back to Aspen. Back at the hotel I learned about the traditional Monday night "Glue Vine" party, which pretty much ruined my appetite for several hours. I also learned that Glue Vine is pretty darned intoxicating, so I ended up taking a longer nap that I anticipated. Finally got up and headed out to Taka Sushi. If you want to go to this place, you should definitely make a reservation even during the slow season; it is clearly a major favorite. After a 20-minute wait I got a seat at the Sushi bar, though while I was waiting the wait list got seriously long. The sushi was excellent, but I wasnít able to eat as much as I would have liked since I was still somewhat full from the Glue Vine party.
Packed up and took a very friendly taxi to the airport. Had an uneventful flight home; the end to another fun trip.
Aspen is a fairly fun place to go for a skiing vacation, but it is amazingly expensive. The snow is of really high quality, but be wary of going when there isn't much quantity. All those rocks and pebbles took their toll on my skis. Going during the two weeks after New Years means that you will have a lot of mountain all to yourself and an easy time getting into hotels, bars and restaurants. However, the town feels a bit empty.
© 1999, Andrew Sigal
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