Thursday, April 24, 2008

Arriving in Style

Mr. Hailey is the first of us to make his airline reservations. And he'll be traveling first class! Right on brah. Start the party before the plane even leaves the ground!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Whistler Finale

By the fourth day of our adventure I think we were both feeling pretty satisfied. Sure, we still had some runs left in us, but the skiing itch had been scratched most effectively. We talked it over and decided that rather than ski for a while, have lunch, and ski for a little more, we'd take our lunch break at the beginning of the day and then ski straight through. So, I spent my 'lunch break' reading the paper and drinking coffee while Aaron watched 'Enter the Dragon' (so we got our pop culture exposure as well).

Since today was about quality over quantity, we decided to head back to the Flute Bowl and make some marks on the mountain. We started with a couple of runs down Jimmy's Joker and then hit the Peak Chair. It was another bright and sunny day, so we were not surprised to find clouds and driving snow when we got to the top. We snapped a shot of a family in front of the 2010 Olympic Symbol and they returned the favor by taking a picture of us.

We skied to the entrance to the bowl and herring-boned our way up to the start of the trail. From there it was time to sling our skis over our shoulders and begin the hike. With the blue skies, untracked snow, and the single-file, one-step-at-a-time nature of the climb it definitely felt like we were attempting an assault on some exotic summit. At the top, we plopped down, pulled out the powerbars, and took a breather. The run down the hill was pure sweetness; fresh tracks in knee-deep fluff.

The run-out from our hill led to tracked snow at the bottom of the bowl into a flat icy trail and finally into a glade run. So by the time we reached the lift I had had a complete workout. Our natural impulse was to do it again. So we did. Up the lift, down to the gate, off with the skis, start hiking. People at the bottom of the bowl would occasionally point up at us and wave or take pictures, but no one seemed inclined to make the hike, so it was our hill.

By the time we reached the lift after the second run, it was 2:20. The left closed at 3 and there was no other way out of this area, so we had a decision ahead of us: Try for one more run? Our first two runs had each taken almost an hour round trip, but we had taken leisurely stops after the hike. We decided to go for it.

It took 10 minutes to ride the lift and another 2 for us to fly down to the bowl gateway. We popped the skis and started trudging. I beat Aaron to the top; mostly because it was a single-file track and he couldn't pass me. But at my age I take the victories that are handed to me. We estimated that it would take 10 minutes to get down the hill and back to the lift, so we paused until quarter 'til and then hit it. We made it to the lift with 4 minutes to spare.

On the ride up you could see our hill in the late afternoon sun. Pristine, but for eight sets of tracks. One set had been there when we first arrived, one belonged to Aaron from yesterday, and six were ours from today. We made our mark and now it was time to go.

This was a great vacation for the two of us. I've always known that a day would come when Aaron would be a better skier than me, but I've assumed that we'd be at parity for awhile. Nope. 2008 - Aaron's a better skier than me. Much better. Period. I'm just glad he let me keep up this trip.

But he's got a ways to go to catch me at surfing. Hehe.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Whistler Day Three

Our third day brought us sunshine and spring skiing conditions. Put away the goggles and get out the dark glasses and sunblock. Although the previous day on Blackcomb was fun, we decided to head back to the Symphony Amphitheatre on Whistler. We warmed up on a couple of runs served by the Big Red Chair. This has become a regular run for us, and not only as a warm-up. Normally if you come down from the backside on either The Saddle, or Glacier Bowl you would then catch the T-bar to get you high enough to ski to the lodge or back down the village side of Whistler. With the T-bars closed this whole week, we'd have to ski all the way down to the bottom of the Big Red Chair and then catch it back up. A minor inconvenience when you're hungry; knowing that the lodge is right there, but you'll have to make a run down a crowded groomed run before you earn your baked potato.

After our warm-ups we went up to the peak. The view up there is absolutely breathtaking, or at least it was 20 years ago. Now? I can't say; every time Aaron and I got to the top, a massive cloud would push in. Every Time. Notice the peak in the picture with bright blue skies? It was gray with about 10 feet of visibility when we got to the top fifteen minutes after this picture was taken.

We skied over to Symphony, with Aaron finding every opportunity to put some distance between his skies and the snow. I was able to get him to stop long enough one time for me to get the camera out.

The Flute Bowl, on the far side of the amphitheatre looked inviting so we made our way over there. If you kept up your speed on the run that led to the bowl, you could make it high enough to get to a gateway where you could take off your skis and start hiking, or you could drop into the good, but tracked-up, snow near the bottom. We did the latter initially, but eventually we had to give the good snow a try. I hiked about a third of the way up a clean white hill and dropped down to the bottom. Aaron went all the way up and had a great run through untracked knee-deep powder.

Around 1:30 we were starting to get pretty hungry, so we made our way up to the top of Symphony, down to Harmony Bowl, up to the Peak, down the Glacier Bowl, down Old Mans, up the Big Red Chair, and finally to the lodge. A mere 1-hour jaunt to food. After lunch we made a couple of runs down Jimmy's Joker and decided to call it a day.

We hit the hot tub, went into the village and got a pizza to take back to the room. There we watched various shows featuring people doing stupid things and hurting themselves. General note: If your buddies are very eager to video tape you leaping off of something, eating something, or blowing something up, maybe you should stop and reconsider. But then, I'm old and have discovered, to my chagrin, that I'm mortal.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Whistler Day Two

The second day of our vacation dawned with big fluffy snowflakes falling. We had already decided that we would ski Blackcomb Mountain today, so we took the Excalibur Gondola over to the Excelerator Chair. This got us to the bottom of the Jersey Cream area. It looked pretty good, so we did a couple of laps to warm up. Unfortunately, this seemed to be a very popular area for the ski schools as well, and the runs were filled with flocks of skidlets following each other down the hill like so many baby ducks crossing the road and we'd have to slow down as we passed each group. Aaron has been skiing since he was 3 and is an expert skier. But he's also 15, so 'slow' isn't really a part of his vocabulary. Rather than have some overzealous instructor make an example of him we decided to head for higher ground.

Off we went to 7th Heaven. The bottom of the area was a bit icy as you neared the lift, but the snow on the top was excellent. We started on Hugh's Heaven but with each run we worked our way further and further over until we were traversing into Xhiggy's Meadow and The Lakeside Bowl. There was plenty of powder and although it was somewhat tracked up it was still better than anything on the groomed runs. Around one o'clock we decided to stop for lunch at the Horstman Hut at the top of 7th Heaven Express.

Fueled and ready to go, we dropped off the backside of the mountain onto the Horstman Glacier where we found ourselves in fog and flat light. The snow felt good; but since we couldn't see where we were going, it was skiing by braille. It was only a small band of cloud, though, and soon we had dropped below it into better visibility. We found ourselves at the top of Heavenly Basin looking down on deep untracked snow, and a sign that said 'Stay on Road'. We took the sign as 'more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules' and dropped in. It was beautiful, knee-deep powder which eventually emptied into a field of Volkswagen-sized moguls. Ugh. There must always be balance, I guess, and the piper requests his due.

The bumps were a workout, but not enough of one to dissuade us from doing that run again. And again. What almost turned us off was cruising down the little run that lead to Heavenly and getting blindsided by a snowboarder who had ducked some ropes and was out of control. He definitely took the worst of it and while he lay on the ground trying to clear his head, I stood there channeling my inner Red Forman and pondering the merits of euthanasia.

We took a couple more runs down Heavenly Basin and decided to call it a day. Making our way to the Gondola, we rode down into the village. Our valet was waiting at the bottom to take our skis (really) and we tromped off to our room, tired and happy.

We continued our ritual of unwinding in the hot tub and pool before showering and heading out for dinner at Earl's Restaurant. Aaron had a chicken and lime quesadilla, which he described as the best he'd ever had. I had a chicken sandwich on ciabatta with apples, brie, spinach, and a fig-and-garlic aioli. It was delicious and I plan to try to re-create it at home.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Whistler Day One

Our first day dawned grey and snowy. We took the gondola up Whistler Mountain and warmed up on the runs served by the Big Red Express. The snow was good, but the weather was variable. We'd start under blue skies and pass into completely flat light, then into fog, then into snowfall. A few runs had us ready to find something more interesting, so we hopped on the peak chair and made our way over to the Symphony Amphitheatre.

The last time I was back in this bowl was 1988, on a ski trip with Ron, Joe, and Greg. Back then you could traverse into what was called Burnt Stew Basin, pick a line, and ski to the bottom. From there your only choice was a miserable little cat track to get back to civilization. Now there is a high-speed quad serving the area and the Flute and Piccolo Bowls are no longer out of bounds. In a nod to us old-timers, however, you still have to take a miserable little cat track to get out of there.

We skied around Symphony until early afternoon then made our way back to the Roundhouse for a lunch of baked potatoes covered with chili, cheese, and sour cream. Yum! We made a few more runs off of Big Red Express and then worked our way back to the village. The spring conditions were really setting in, and by the time we got to the bottom the snow was the consistency of a slurpee.

Note to self: Tomorrow we download off the mountain.

After a quick soak in the hot tub and swim in the pool, we wandered through the village in search of dinner, eventually deciding on the Whistler Brewhouse. It's a little on the pricey side, but the food is good and the beer is excellent.

The Whistler Relay

One of the down-sides to our blended family is that because the kids are not in the same school district, their holidays don't always line up. This year we had all three kids for spring break, but the girls' spring break was the week before Aaron's. Ski trips were certainly called for, the only question was the destination(s). Big Mountain in Montana was considered, but that's a mighty long car trip. Mt. Bachelor is only about 6 hours away and has good snow, but the nearest lodging is a half hour from the mountain (yes, we're spoiled). Finally we decided on Whistler, which, really, had been the first choice the whole time. Sue took the girls up the week of 3/31 - 4/5, we had a single night together when they got back, and then Aaron and I went up 4/6 - 4/11.

The ladies stayed over on Creekside at the new Legends lodge, we've been considering buying a property there so this was also served as a reconnaissance mission. Their room was just above Dusty's with a view looking right up the mountain (see picture at right). They caught the weather just right and had beautiful sunny skies and spring conditions. The trails of the week were deemed to be the new Peak-to-Creek as well as Jeff's Ode to Joy. Wide open and uncrowded, P2C, runs from the Peak Chair all the way to the bottom of the Creekside Gondola. (See the rather large pdf Trailmap to follow along). Ode to Joy starts as a groomed trail off of the Symphony Express and drops into a series of glade runs at the bottom. Another popular spot was The Crystal Hut on Blackcomb where fresh-made Belgian Waffles were being served up hot. The last day of the trip saw snow falling on the mountain, turning to rain near the village.

Aaron and I stayed in the village at the Westin. We had a nice room which was a snowball's throw from the Gondola but without the view that the ladies had. As you might imagine, the guys' trip had a rather different character than the ladies'. They'd go have crepes for breakfast, we'd knock back some oatmeal in the room. We'd ski until about 1, when everyone else was finishing lunch, then break for a quick bite, and hit it again for 2 or 3 runs. Apres ski consisted of a quick dunk in the hot tub, a shower, and then off to find dinner. By 7pm we'd be fed and drowsing in front of the TV.

Coming up next, How We Spent Our Ski Vacation...