Friday, April 06, 2018

Colorado 2018 - Snowmass & Telluride

We had a good trip to Snowmass and Telluride -- both in Colorado -- for the kids Spring Break.  I had not been to Snowmass for a dozen years and had never visited Telluride.  The latter is pretty hard to get to. 
Snowmass has changed extensively since our last visit in 2006.  It has had a massive amount of base area development, and lift improvement.  When we were last there, it was kind of embarrassing how many old, slow lifts they were still using.  Now everything is fast express lifts and gondolas, which given their lift ticket prices, and general upscale attitude, is expected. 

We began by taking an American flight connecting in LAX to Eagle, and picking up a rental to drive over.  There was some flight delays in LA and some passengers who should have known better started acting rather poorly.  It's strange to me, since flight delays during ski season aren't something to be surprised about.  Upon arrival we picked up gigantic Tahoe from Budget, and it was pretty impressive with its gadgetry, but I found the vehicle a bit ungainly. At least we had lots of room for our gear.  The drive from Eagle to Aspen was straightforward and scenic. Most of the way its a very good, divided highway, with guard rails. 

Our condo in Snowmass was right by the base village.  It had a great location and was blessed with a shuttle bus every 15 minutes.  This was the first trip this season where the kids didn't have to share a room with their parents, and I think they were quite happy with that.  We enjoyed relaxing in the hot tub, just around the corner.  Snowmass is a very family friendly mountain.  There is a wide variety of ski runs, and in general, they are not as steep as other areas, while still offering good length.  In addition because the area is high altitude, snow conditions were good, even late in the season, or in low snow years like this one.  The kids have gotten much better and went up to the top of Elk Camp with me.  They really enjoy the wide open, gently pitched cruising there.  It's a great zone for everyone.   After they got tired, I went by myself to the Sheer Bliss lift, up high, but on another part of the mountain.  I want to come back here next season.

After several days there, we drove to Telluride.  The last part of the drive is nerve wracking, since there are limited road shoulders and guardrails.  We stayed in town at the superb Hotel Telluride; we had a nice room here, right next to the hot tub again.  The town is at the end of a box canyon and is tiny, maybe only a mile long, with a few streets width.  We would take the hotel shuttle bus in the morning to the gondola, and walk back in the afternoon, browsing among the local storefronts.  Telluride is a glitzy enclave of the jet set, but the skiing is still good, if hard to get to.   One night we had a fancier dinner (for a ski trip) and I had a great Trout Almondine.  I have not made that home in quite some time, but should try it again.  Telluride's snow conditions were a bit icier/slushier than Snowmass's, but we still had a good family day when we took everyone to the top of Lift 10.  After that the girls went shopping, while I went back to the main area to hop around the blue runs.  It takes a while for them to soften up, so skiing late afternoon there in the spring is still perfectly fine.  Telluride is ok, but I'm not in any particular rush to return.

Returning from Telluride to the Eagle airport is a long 230 miles, but we stopped for lunch at a Long John Silvers (!) which has to be one of the last remaining ones in America.  I am not sure I've been in one in at least a decade.  It was as tasty (and salty) as I remember though.  That'll suffice for the next decade.  We had to fuel up the Tahoe a couple of times; it's one thirsty car.  We had an easy flight home, connecting in Phoenix, where the kids had some airport Chinese food, which was not as bad as it sounded.  Picking up our car at SMF took a long time, since they seem to have reduced the shuttle buses to the parking lot.  It seriously took 25 minutes.  Next time I'm going to have weigh taking a car service, since its tough on the kids at the end of a long travel day to wait, even if parents are bringing the car to the terminal for them.

There are lots of pictures below, including the final ones of my now retired (after 20 seasons!) purple Solstice ski jacket. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Shamrock Shake Time

The one thing everyone can agree on - March is Shamrock Shake season!

Note the new - and painful - braces.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Sun Valley & Snowbasin 2018

We had a smooth trip to Sun Valley, Idaho and Snowbasin, Utah for the kids February ski week.  I had not been to these places in quite some time: 13 years for Sun Valley and 7 years for Snowbasin.  However, neither mountain had changed much.  SV has a new gondola which made getting to one area a little easier, and Snowbasin seemed a little more crowded than I remember, but we were also visiting over a holiday period.

We began by taking a short midday direct flight into Boise, and picking up a rental vehicle to drive over.  We had originally booked a car from Enterprise, as that was all they had for a point to point rental, but were pleasantly surprised when we were upgraded to a full size Expedition.  So we had lots of room for our gear.  Later I found while chatting with another skier on a lift in Utah that there was a shortage of SUVs in Salt Lake City, so the company likely viewed our point to point rental as a free way for them to get a truck from Boise to SLC.  In any case, that was nice, whatever the reason.  The drive across Idaho was fairly desolate, with limited rest stops, views or gas stations.  The rural undivided highways are not lit at night either, so its best to make those drives in the day.  Taking the interstate is longer, but advised when weather or visibility is poor.

Our home base in Sun Valley was the Tyrolean Lodge, an Austrian style hotel right at the base of the River Run ski lifts and lodge.  It had a great location, a breakfast buffet, and to the kids delight - a cocoa machine in the lobby whenever they wanted something hot.  We enjoyed relaxing there with the fire and board games we had brought along as well.  The hot tub was outside, and we tried that once, but it was very cold (outside, not in the water).  Bald Mountain remains as challenging as ever;  it's a steep mountain, with very long sustained ski runs -- 3000 to 3500 feet.  These are double to triple the typical length in Tahoe.  The kids improved their abilities and even went to the top of the mountain, trying both the long College run, and parts of the Warm Springs run.  Once upon a time you could earn a pin for skiing Warm Springs without stopping or falling, but they don't award that anymore (and it's actually hard to earn).  This is a very charming town, and our time on the mountain was generally very sunny.

After several days there, we drove down to to Snowbasin, this time staying in a city, Ogden, at a Hampton Inn.  We had a much bigger suite here, but the building had been converted from a bank, so there were lots of odd things about the room and building.  Our floor was distinctly not level for example.  But the breakfast buffet, service, and cookies were good and it is incredibly convenient for taking a bus to the ski mountain as the #675 stops literally in front of the hotel.  However, because of our schedule, and tardiness, we ended up driving to the mountain every day, so missed that nice amenity.  Snowbasin, as the name suggests, was the opposite of Sun Valley and very snowy during our visit.  The girls proclaimed it to be the best powder they had experienced.  It'll probably be the best they experience for years, as the timing was indeed, very lucky.  Overall the American West has had a low precipitation year, but we've been fortunate in both our trips -- going to snow-sure Mammoth for Christmas, later catching a storm right before Alta/Snowbird and then catching storms at both SV and SB.  And despite all that, the weather didn't delay our travel, another break.

One plus of staying in a city is that we didn't have to eat the eventually tiresome ski town fare of pizza, burgers, etc. every night.  So for the latter part of the trip we had Japanese and Thai food.  From Ogden it was a short drive down to the SLC airport, an easy rental return, and an on time Southwest flight home.  Normally, something always goes wrong on trips, and other than losing a few small items, this jaunt was a smooth, easy trip.  These are all places we could have driven to -- and we have twice before -- and there is some advantage to not being limited by airline/rental car constraints, but it was nice to fly this time.  

I'm sure I've forgotten things I wanted to mention, but there are lots of pictures in the links below.

Sun Valley & Snowbasin 2018
View album
Get the Google Photos app

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thursday, February 08, 2018

A big beautiful wall

The cat now has a big beautiful wall to keep out nosy foreign invaders from her litter box.

(Note the little door at the bottom, which she barely fits through)

Sometimes she'll sit behind the fence, sneering at the dog, flicking her tail, baiting him.

View photo

Get the Google Photos app

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ski Safari 2017 - Mammoth, Snowbird, Alta

  • Mammoth Mountain / Lakes is hard to get to from Northern California.  We drove up to Reno, and then down the Eastern Sierras, across the high desert.  This had the advantage of driving on big slab interstate/highways, with no mountain winding roads, so the kids did not get car sick.  However it adds a at least an hour / 60 mi to the journey.  Realistically Mammoth is not a weekend nor long weekend type of place to visit; one should go for a solid 5 days at least.
  • I was glad that I used the extra day on our Mountain Collective pass at Mammoth, because walk up lift ticket prices are expensive.  They are priced as if they are offering a Vail or Aspen like experience, but its not anywhere in that realm.  I suppose they have no competition so they can price the service as they wish.  
  • There are very few lift lines at Mammoth, at least when we went.  I think I had the total of one wait over three days.  But there are also very few on mountain personnel - lifties, ski patrollers, hosts, really anyone.  It seems kind of strange to see the lift ticket prices and then not see anyone around.
  • There are four base areas that stretch all along a winding mountain road at Mammoth.  The lower two had terrible snow, and the upper two were good.  There was a striking difference between them.  The upper ones also have some nice long cruising trails, with good soft snow, and no one on them.  It was a big contrast to the fairly crowded / cramped days in Utah at Alta and then Snowbird.  However Mammoth has some real issues with wind, and plenty of areas were wind scoured, or lifts were on hold.  
  • For a remote mountain town like Mammoth Lakes, there are a lot of restaurants, with a wide spectrum of food choices.  Prices are pretty full, but at least we were generally satisfied.  We went out for pizza/pasta the first night (those leftovers were on mountain lunch for the next 3 days), and then a fancy counter service gastro pub place.  The next two nights were a Japanese ramen house, and then finally we ate at our hotel, for an Austrian Christmas dinner.  The last seemed authentic, but you realize when eating that they had taken some shortcuts, and it was more some kitchen staff working off picture cards or something.  My red cabbage was better than theirs.  Same with my schnitzel.
  • We stayed slope side at a hotel called the AustriaHof, which had a fabulous location.  I skied back to the hotel on the last day having figured out how to optimally go from village to village on the ski lifts and carrying my backpack.  4 miles on a mtn road could take 20 minutes, or 5 minutes on skis.  It also had a hot tub which overlooked the slopes, which was another nice amenity.  It was built like an old Alpine chalet, so there was no elevator and the staircase was narrow.  Unloading the car there was a pain, and there were no carts nor bellboys.  In any case, that's usually the trade off for a good location.
  • Our drive from Mammoth to SLC was on US6 and then 93 which are extremely desolate Nevada rural highways.  I don't think I've ever seen more remote roads; one could travel 50 miles and see only a couple of cars and cows.  These are not normally trafficked roads; most people going between LA and SLC would take I15.  But we were going in the daytime and good weather so taking this route saved 100 miles of driving and a couple of hours.  Every stop we made across that long 550 mile drive, I filled up the tank, never letting it get below 3/4.  Plenty of signs saying "next gas 163 miles" which generally makes me nervous, even if the car's trip computer and estimated mileage remaining seem accurate.  The girls were very good on this tiresome leg of the journey.
  • We used our new Thule roof top box to store skis and gear on the drive.  So far after 1500 miles it has worked well.  There is a little more road noise when dealing with cross winds at high speeds, but its not that noticeable.  It hurts the gas mileage a little, since its like adding a big wing on top of the Honda, but we took a lot of stuff with us on this ski safari and this made it easier.  REI was a good source for this, with lots of help measuring, and very fair deal given a coupon and our membership dividend.  These are too large to ship cost effectively, so shopping on line doesn't work for items like this.  The kids would compare the Thule and Yakima boxes in all the ski areas we visited, since those seem to have a oligopoly in the US market.  
  • Alta has lots of lift lines, but doesn't allow snowboarders, which seems to keep the snow in better condition.  The reduction in uphill traffic also seems (because of old/small lifts) also plays a part in that.  Parking is difficult there.
  • I used the UTA ski bus ($4.50 each way) twice, once to Alta and once to Snowbird.  It's convenient from the Sandy/SLC hotel, and given that the bus drops riders at the main entry points, so skiers can quickly get going, they also are equivalent to driving (time wise).  Stress wise, since the Little Cottonwood Canyon road is narrow, winding, and not always protected by guard rails, its much lower anxiety going to the mountain.  I used the bus when the kids were doing other things during the day, so that was a helpful option.  Utah has surprisingly good public transport in this dimension.
  • Snowbird is a steep mountain, that is difficult to ski without fresh snow.  On the day I went it had been about a week since snow, and many lifts/runs were closed.  The blue level trails I tried were steep, icy, and uncomfortable.  They declared most of the upper mountain 'expert only' which makes sense given the conditions, but dramatically limited what I could enjoy.  It also forced lots of crowds onto a small set of trails so it was very crowded.  I only used one of my days there, figuring the 7th day of skiing on this trip would not be any fun, if the web reports were basically saying today was going to be worse than yesterday.  Despite its reputation for great snow (500" averages per year), the two - three times I've been to the Bird over the years have all been plagued with crummy snow.  And unfortunately, this place really needs light fresh new snow to be enjoyed.  
  • It might have been a little too ambitious to try skiing 7 days and drive 1500 miles in one trip.  We've had a couple visits to local doctors here since we are sniffling a bit and its finally caught up to me on the last day.  I've gone through a half box of Kleenex in the last 12 hours, along with plenty of sneezing.  The dry air out here doesn't help.  Our last day, we all decided at breakfast after bouts of sneezing/coughing that we would find some other activity for the last day of the school holiday.  So the kids had a trip to an obstacle/Ninja course, and then some awesome potstickers for lunch.
  • We have had two nice counter service style dinners here in SLC.  One at SlapFish a sustainable seafood type of place where I had a shrimp roll and kids had bacon / clam chowder.  Then another night J. found a Mexican place favored by the locals, where I had a half burrito, that was as good as anything from California.  We also had takeout salads on arrival that were good (if salty).  And amazingly, only night we found an authentic South Indian place in Midvale (we had to drive 5 miles) where we had dosaiidli, and various curries.  It was quite good, and I was the only Indian person there, other than the staff/owners.  Flavors/spices had not been detuned for the local palate.   There must be a lot of local South Asians here now if this kind of place can be supported.  Sadly Carmichael struggles to support more than one of these kinds of eateries.
  • Driving home on I80 went smoothly, since the weather was cooperative.  We left at 7am MST and got home at 6pm PST with a couple of stops for lunch, gas, snacks, and then Raleys to get some fresh bread.  With the roofbox, and a full loaded car, we got 21mpg coming back from Utah.  It's good to be home. 
  • It seems we were very lucky to get to some snowy resorts, when the rest of the west is suffering with a lack of fresh snow, and also having a warm spell, unlike the East Coast, which is bitterly cold.  When I planned this all out -- knowing December is a dodgy month for skiing -- I'd hoped that Mammoth and LCC would be good.  It turned out they were more functional than great, but in the context of what was happening at other areas, that was still a pretty good outcome.