Sunshine on Vail

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					                             Sunshine on Vail
         As presented in www.FirstLightSports.com by George F. Karioris


The ancient Norsemen believed that if they lived an honorable and heroic life they would
be rewarded with eternal live in Valhalla after they died. Since I'm only a Nordic
wannabe, and certainly not dead yet, I chose another form of Nordic heaven. This piece
of the sky is the ski paradise called Vail, Colorado. Oh, sure some day I'll pass on
beyond the physical bonds of this life, but when I do, I hope that my Valhalla looks (and
skis) like Vail.


Vail is the largest single-mountain ski area in North America, offering guests 5,289 acres
of skiable terrain. With unique skiing features such as its legendary Back Bowls and the
new Blue Sky Basin, which offers an adventure skiing experience unlike anything else
on the mountain, Vail has something for every type of skier and snowboarder.

When the ski day is done, Vail continues to deliver with unlimited non-skiing activities,
dining and nightlife that's rated among the best in ski country. Adventure Ridge at the top
of the Eagle Bahn Gondola has Thrill Sledding, lift-served tubing, ski-biking,
snowmobiling, laser tag and more. The Vail Valley also delivers everything from the
casual to haute cuisine with its more than 111 restaurants. And the vacation experience
continues with live music, dancing, cigar bars and more found in both Lionshead and
Vail Village.


This season, Vail continues to redefine the standard of a winter vacation experience with
additional terrain, easy online booking, lodging renovations and more. $12 million in on-
mountain capital improvements. Of that total amount, nearly half will be spent adding
125 acres of primarily intermediate terrain and a new high-speed quad servicing the
Pete's Bowl area of Vail's new Blue Sky Basin. Vail opened Blue Sky Basin on Jan. 6,
2000, with 520 acres of intermediate to advanced terrain. This season, skiers and
snowboarders will be able to experience approximately 80 percent of the total adventure
skiing experience available in Blue Sky Basin. Adventure Ridge, Vail's on-mountain
activity center, is one of only a few places in ski country where guests will be able to take
a Thrill Sled adventure tour. The new sledding device was tested at the resort last year
and will be widely available to the public during the 2000-2001 season. Guests can find
out what it's like to go from the top to the bottom of the mountain head first on this new
sledding device.


Although lift tickets are somewhat pricey ($61/day) the money spent seems like a good
investment after a day on the slopes. There are multi-day tickets which allow for a
reduced daily price, and a membership discount program called "Peaks". That program
allows skiers to use a plastic ID card to charge lift tickets to their Visa or Mastercard, and
also accumulate Peaks-points. Each day lift pass charged through a Peaks Card earns
skiers 1000 points. When enough Peaks-points are earned (10,000), Vail will issue a
certificate good for a day lift pass (wahoo!). The varied terrain ranges from groomed
corduroy greens and blues to knee slamming bumpy, gnarly blacks. During my week in
the Vail valley our group of guys had great pleasure enjoying Colorado's diverse weather
conditions. We had several nights of overcast skies which deposited 4 - 6 inches of ultra
light marshmallow fluff. The daytime temperatures were pleasant cruising up to about
30o each day. We call our group "No-Wimps" but are willing to take any of our friends
(even some non-skiers!) along on these trips. This February's trip was our 7th annual
outing and we had 7 guys along. A website for the group can be found at _ HYPERLINK
"http://www.geocities.com/gfk58" _www.geocities.com/gfk58_ visit us there for more
information on the group.


I arrived in Denver on Saturday and after renting a Van and a car at the airport we drove
to the "King Super" grocery store to load up for the week. There's a great liqueur store
called "Apple Jack's" nearby where a variety of beers and spirits found their way into our
carts. On Sunday we got our first day of skiing in the high Rockies. A quick breakfast of
bacon & eggs in the condo then we were off to catch the first lift of the day. The snow
was soft and forgiving, a nice frosting of 4 inches, what the locals there call "Ego Snow".
There was enough powder to give a great smooth ride, but not so much that
Midwesterners (like me) struggled. By midday the powder had pretty much been pushed
around but the base underneath remained soft enough. From a Wisconsinite's
standpoint anything besides glare ice is considered cushy. We seemed to have a case
of the "whoopsies" for a while, though. While futzing with his camera, my photographer,
John, managed to drop one of his ski poles from the Vista Bahn lift (just below pole # 28,
if anybody cares). While we wouldn't have normally taken the run called Spruce Chute,
we did snake our way down this steep, bumpy, rutted path; down we went on the hunt to
get the errant pole back. Skiing directly underneath any lift has the added pressure of an
airborne audience, so we tried to keep our best form as we slid and skidded down. In the
afternoon John and I had worked our way over to Blue Sky Basin. The terrain was
terrific! There were runs through the trees and some that slalomed through huge rock
fields. One really cool run that was particularly fun was Big Rock Park. It had some of
everything, trees, rocks, jumps, narrows, bumps and furrows. I thought that this was like
an amusement park for skiers, my overall opinion: "This is just too much fun!"


Sunday evening Anne, a friend of mine from Milwaukee… now transplanted in Denver,
came to visit for dinner. Since it was her XXth birthday (undisclosed age, don't ask!) we
had to go out for a couple drinks after dinner. So, to downtown Vail we went, stopping
first at the 2nd floor "Tap Room" overlooking Vail village. After a couple drinks, we
switched venues just across the street to "The Club". Far and away this is my favorite
watering hole in all of Vail. Many visitors and lots of locals hang out there to drink, dance
and listen to the music of Scott Muns. Well yes, he makes music… but he also has the
most colorful words (read blue, read dirty) to recognizable melodies. Somehow I
managed to mention to Scott that it was Anne's birthday, so he brought her up on stage
for a shot of tequila and created one of his "custom" songs for the occasion. I certainly
cannot repeat any of it here in print. One of the other allures at "The Club" is the
ubiquitous foosball table, often the center of great competition. Anne & I played that
night and managed to keep most challengers at bay. On other nights there we met
people from all over the country. By the way, if you're a guy going to Vail looking for
women, be aware of this very important demographic: the ratio of men to women is 7 to
1. On a count of women in the packed bar one of my guys counted a total of 8 women,
which included a waitress! A pretty crummy ratio if you're a single guy looking for
companionship. The women in Vail, on occasion, refer to the male skewed environment
as a "Man buffet." Bon Appetite, ladies.


Anne met us for a day of skiing on Monday, and showed us what can become of a
flatlander after living in the mountains for a couple years. We had another great day of
skiing except that some of us (I promised not to name names) couldn't keep up with
Anne. We cruised down a long black run with bumps where there was powder still
smattered on over about 50% of the run. Not Volkswagen size moguls, but a half mile of
buried lawn-chairs, 27" TVs, and garbage cans. Lots of fun. A couple great runs over
near Whiskey Jack put us up at Two Elk Lodge for lunch. Lots of groomed and bumpy
blues and blacks took us to the end of our second day. Tradition dictates that at least
one après ski drink is had in Lionshead at Garfinkel's bar. I believe that Captain's &
Coke was the drink (perhaps 2 or 3) of the day. It's a great place to meet tired, sweaty
people in nylon and spandex. Another great place to go is the Blue Moon Bar located at
the top of the Eagle Bahn gondola. After 3:00 P.M. the gondola ride up (and down) is
free. An evening stop at "The Moon" is fun, and the staff is always ready to serve. If you
like an Aussie accent, you'll really like the waitresses. As an added plus, the gondola
ride provides great views of the Vail valley.


On our third day in Colorado we diverted from skiing. I know, I know, this is an article in
a ski publication, but this is worth the print, so stay with me. A drive west from Vail on I-
70 of about an hour will bring you to Glenwood Canyon, and further to the city of
Glenwood Springs. The canyons itself is beautiful, red cliffs speckled with pines and firs
towering over the roaring Colorado River. Just east of Glenwood Springs in the depths of
the canyon is a pull-off from the highway which will take you to the Hanging Lake
trailhead. If the weather is pleasant and sunny and the canyon isn't too full of snow you
can make the hike. Hanging Lake is located about 1.5 miles up from the river, and
climbs over 1000 vertical feet. The 1.5 acre lake is suspended high within the canyon,
and is fed by a waterfall. The waterfall is fed from a stream of water issuing from the
center of a vertical face of solid rock 100 feet high, called Spouting Rock. I've been there
in the summer, but its winter personality is ethereal and mystical. The spouting water
had formed an unusual open cylinder of ice suspended on a Romanesque arch
straddling the subsequent water flowage. The hike up had taken us quite a while due to
the steep, slippery, and ice covered rock pathway. But there we were as if on a foreign
planet's surface admiring an artwork that no human artist could have created. We were
the only people there, and felt like true adventurers. (Aren't you glad you read on?). The
hike back took us down the same rocky slit in the canyon that we had ascended earlier.
Although we made better time on the way down, there were several slips and falls, which
hurt only our egos and our butts.


The city of Glenwood Springs has been known since the 1800 for its therapeutic hot
mineral spring pools. So, where better to purge the evils from our blood streams than the
"the waters" where such famous folk as Buffalo Bill Cody and President Teddy
Roosevelt had soaked so many years before? A good time marinating in the minerals
followed by a high-flying cannonball contest at the diving boards put a new flow in our
blood. Valhalla certainly never smelled quite like this; the hot sulfur vapors were much
more reminiscent of Vulcan's furnace or Dante's inferno. Fun, perhaps, but maybe not
the ending place for eternity.
Wednesday found us back on the slopes, this day we strapped on our skis at Beaver
Creek resort. Only 6 short miles from Vail, BC has a newer, and new-money feel to it.
The runs are reminiscent of Hilton Head's golf courses; fabulous sport and lined with
multi-million dollar homes. It was snowing when we arrived in the morning but cleared
later in the day. I found more groomed runs than Vail, which was good for me and
provided some steep, but not treacherous skiing. John liked a run called "Loco", which I
thought was appropriate for him. My friend Mike spent the day at Beaver Creek's McCoy
Park (also called Strawberry Park). It is a fabulous recreational area designed for
snowshoe, XC skiing, and ski skating. Mike was on snowshoes for the day and had
managed to get himself pleasantly stuck in some waist deep snow while "brush busting"
his way between the groomed trails. He was pretty pooped when we found him in a
rocking chair at the Rendezvous Bar. At the end of the afternoon relaxing there, Chuck &
Mike looked like they were having a drink in the heart of the Blue Ridge mountains
instead of the Rockies.


Thursday was my last day to ski on the trip so we all ended up back at Vail mountain.
John & Chuck took snowboard lessons for the day, and I skied mostly by myself. The
day was snowy and occasionally cloudy in the extreme! There were times during the day
when I couldn't see more that 20 yards in front of me. I stayed on familiar runs and had a
great time. I caught up with Steve later in the day and we skied together until our wheels
fell off. Another great day, another great trip. Friday, sadly, we packed our gear… left all
the remaining food in the condo for the cleaning staff… and turned our backs on the Vail
Valley.


The mountains have a magnetism that is hard to explain. It's not just the great skiing, it's
the very rarified atmosphere itself that permeates my psyche. I work for a living, but go
to the mountains to live. Perhaps the Norsemen were correct and we'll find paradise
when we're pushing up daisies. I choose to believe, however, that the mountains can
provide an insight into that bliss while we're still around. If you haven't gotten to them
yet, go now. Take a set of skis or a board, take the fastest lift up, point yourself downhill,
and go! Valhalla.

Read more at www.FirstLightSports.com

				
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Description: The ancient Norsemen believed that if they lived an honorable and heroic life they would be rewarded with eternal live in Valhalla after they died. Since I'm only a Nordic wannabe, and certainly not dead yet, I chose another form of Nordic heaven. This piece of the sky is the ski paradise called Vail, Colorado. Oh, sure some day I'll pass on beyond the physical bonds of this life, but when I do, I hope that my Valhalla looks (and skis) like Vail.