Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Theone's Snow Story

Hi All,

This is how my family holiday ski vacation began.....

Wednesday at 4am I pulled myself from bed to be dropped off by my very groggy but sweet friend at the airport for a 6:40 am flight from LA to Denver. The previous evening my Mom had called, "Big storm moving in. Can you fly out tonight?" Oh sure, drop another $300-400 to make the change? More then what I paid for the ticket, nah, it'll be fine.

There was no indication at the LA airport that anything was amiss. Frontier is the most efficient airline for this route and I've never had a problem. All routine and we take off. Then, just a meer 120 miles out of Denver, we get the call. Airport's shut done, it is in deed a bad storm. We circle for 20 minutes and miraculously are allowed to land. We're one of the last plans on the ground before the big shut down would take place a few minutes later. Hey, I made it, I'm happy, skiing tomorrow - you bet.

After a short wait to deplane, I finally get to see what this weather is really like. Through the terminal windows, it's a complete white out, snow blowing sideways, they can't shovel fast enough to keep up, forget about de-icing the wings. The terminal is full of thousands of people looking a little stunned, standing in long lines to be rebooked. I am lucky to have arrived. The airport, the crowds waiting, it's oddly quiet.

The next three hours are spent waiting and looking for luggage. All the planes that were cancelled are now reguritating bags of every size, shape and color out onto the carousel for the stranded passengers. Finally, my bag arrives and my skis hand delivered, I'm good to go!

I've already told my mom not to pick me up, safest bet seems to be to take the bus. Little did I know that I'd spend the next 9 hours on it for a route that usually takes just 1. With just enough time to pull on my ski jacket but not my snow boots, I drag my luggage across three lanes of snow drift to barely make the AB Denver/Boulder bus which is closing it's doors. I get a seat and sit back and relax. The bus is packed, many people standing. At this point, fine the airport's closed but how bad can the roads really be? I'm pretty darn happy. My flight made it in, my luggage made it in, I caught the bus... I'm so close now I can taste it and I can't wait to hit the slopes tomorrow! Nice fresh powder.

Before we leave the airport, we're addressed by a man who was loading our bags. "We're an unscheduled AB bus into Boulder. We were in the classroom and got the call. The driver is student, I'm his instructor. We're going to take our time, get you to your destination and above all, be safe." A few of us look at each other brows raised, student driver? Great. But then we realize not such a big deal, the roads are jammed with cars, no one's moving more then a couple miles an hour and we can't see a thing.

We begin the long slow journey, normally just 45 minutes west toward Boulder. We begin to see that things are a little more serious then we imagined. Cars are littered along the side of the road, abandoned. A pile of mail bags. What, Santa lose his way? Are his reindeer feet up in the snow somewhere? Is Rudolph's nose blinking in a snow drift? After a few hours, I give up my seat to a man with a bum knee, my seat mate, Brad, an atmospheric student at NCAR does the same. We then meet Joe who gathers unemployment stats for the Federal government and Sven a juggler. We're near the front of the bus and begin talking. As we have a bit of time on our hands, Joe pulls out his photos from a walking trip he did of the Camino(?) or The Road to Santiago from the base of the Pyrenees in France 500 miles across the northern tip of Spain. A religious pilgrimage. A nice distraction for what? 15 minutes?

John, the bus instructor, gives us little updates. I-70 closed. I-36 closed. The Governor just declared a State of Emergency all this interspersed with jokes. John's easy, even attitude make the whole trip much more playful. We creep, I mean creep along with the flow of traffice. In fact, we're going so slowly that around 5:30 pm, 2 men on bicycles splitting the center lane - pass us! Spectators from nearby homes come out and pass out bottled water to stranded motorists. I consider strapping on my skis, had they been cross country I would have but downhill, no. And it's freezing out there! We still have at least 14 miles to go and the sun is down, no, I think I'll stay in the nice cozy bus.

Remarkably, my brother who commutes to downtown Denver on the bus is just a short distance behind me on a different bus, also trying to get home. We text each other.
"where are you at?" he asks
"I'm at Westminister."
"I'm behind you."
"should I get off and get on your bus?"
"NO! Stay where you are."

I'm also keeping in touch with the rest of my family via text or phone. Where are you? Where are you, is the question repeated over and over again, hour after hour. My cell is losing juice. I write down three numbers so when it dies I can still reach someone to hopefully fetch me from wherever I'm going to end up.

We try to make a couple scheduled bus stops for the passengers. At one, I gotta take a pee. John, let's me use the bus driver private bathroom so I only freeze my feet walking in the snow and not my ass dropping my pants. It's been 7 hours now. And finally, we can go no further on the highway. The police have shut it down. A Fox news van going in the opposite direction stops to take some video, John, hops out to find out what's happening. He reports back, 100's of cars are abandoned or stranded up ahead. The National Guard are coming in to pluck out the motorists who are stuck. We're forced off the highway and set about to take our chances on side streets. We now have 50 back seat bus drivers all with opinions on the best way to make it to Boulder. Luckily, John and his student drivers are nonpulsed at our silliness and able to take in pertainent information.

On the off ramp, a man is stranded and tries to wave us down, we can't stop. If we stop, we won't be able to get back up the slight hill ourselves and then we'll strand not only ourselves but all the vehicles behind us as we block the exit. We leave him. Turning left, we begin to snake our way through the quiet streets. We pass a park and ride with 6 abandoned busses. We don't stop. Remarkably, we continue on our way making our way around cars with their noses in the ditch, snow piled to the roofs. We reach a road where the way before us is clear but coming in the opposite direction 100's of cars are stranded, lights on, waiting, hoping to get by the stuck car, or a jack knifed truck or empty bus.

We're all hungry, tired, but so close now we can taste it. The juggler asks to be let off at an unscheduled stop. He disappears into the blowing snow, we wish him godspeed and continue on. We're still moving forward, eerily no cars heading our direction to Boulder. What route did all those others behind us take? Is there something we don't know about?

We make a decision to get back on the highway that we were forced off earlier. There's no officer at the entrance to the off ramp so we assume it must be clear now but we can't tell as we're at the base of a small hill, the last hurdle into town. We take the ramp, let a man off at the park and ride and move forward. There are a few cars ahead of us, another bus and then we see him, the cop car. He's turning people around, the highway still closed. Cars start passing us going in the opposite direction on the on ramp, a slightly eerie feeling. John, our senior driver, joke teller and above all else, the man who's going to get us home safely, takes over. Releaving Bill, one of the students, he gets behind the wheel, he's going to back the bus up the ramp.

But wait! The cop has decided to let us and the bus ahead of us take the freeway. But why, we were just told that there are 300 cars blocking the road. And he's going to let us through? Okay. The hill up into Boulder is empty on both sides. Where are these stranded vehicles. The bus in front of us disappears over the top and into the blowing snow, it's the last we'll see of it. Is that a good thing? Does that mean it's clear? Or are we going to come across it and be stuck ourselves? We don't know but continue on. To the top, slowly down the side, passing cop cars with flashing lights and then we see them. There are a hundred cars, a truck, a bus fully loaded with people blocking the highway.... but they're all on the other side going the opposite direction!! Are we going to make it? We're so close. I borrow a phone. Mom, can you pick me up at Table Mesa? Can you get through to there? Yes, she thinks they can.

Just a few more miles now. Myself, Joe, Brad, we hold our breath, don't want to hope too much that we'll actually be dropped off where we need to be? Incredible. Okay, it did come 9 hours after we got on the bus but incredible! There's a big snow drift blocking the bus ramp to the park and ride. "John, don't do it." I plead. We can walk the few hundred feet. But no, he plows through the drift smoothly, expertly, a man well trained, cool, daring. The snow is unbroken on the bus ramp, he glides us through and around a sharp corner and delicately stops at the 3 story structure. Almost home.

Outside the bus, John and the two student drivers help unload our bags. I give them a large bag of trail mix and a $20 to get a beer together when everything's calmed down. We hug. And then the bus drives off and disappears for it's next stop on it's journey, more passengers, more stories.

My Mom and Step-dad are waiting. We hug. We learn that my brothers bus is somewhere behind us, coming from a different direction so we wait. While we wait, Joe, my fellow passenger we're going to give a ride home to, and I take in the beauty. Snow weighs the bows of the trees down, everything is white, deep white. Quiet. Remarkable. Magical.

My brother arrives a little while later. We hop in the 4 Runner and slowly make our way home. Dropping off Joe first, then my brother then we make it to my Mom's house. I've been traveling for 17 hours but I'm safe, a little hungry but safe.

It's Thursday morning, the roads are still closed. The snow is pilled two+ feet around my parents house. I'm jonesing to ski some powder but there's no way to get there.

Ski report to follow.... when we can make it into the mountains. So close, and yet so far.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Johnny's Targhee Tale

Hey Gang

I see that a report on the Targhee trip has been requested, so here we go!

Stan-man hit the road from Seattle at about 4AM on Wednesday, forgoing all sleep and pushing on till almost noon. (All prior reports have been confirmed - he is an animal!) We had lunch on the road gassed up the 4-runner and blasted out of Missoula towards the Promised Land. I had a "John Adams" book-on-tape to keep me company and we powered thru I-15 at 80 mph, while Stan got some much needed sleep. As the sun set and the cool night air desended on us, Stan arose from his slumber, looked at the dashboard and declared "We are out of GAS!!" Yikes! I was so wrapped in JA, the spirit of 76, the letters to Abigail, and the rat bastards that Dickinson and Jefferson turned out to be that I had never even thought about fuel. We had just entered the Targhee National Forest and our chances of finding civilization looked bleak. I powered down to 45 mph, put on the cruise control and just kept going. We finally got to an exit, but there was nary a light, certainly no gas station. We plunged forward, and when Stan checked his cell phone he delivered more grim news. No Signal. Folks, we were on empty, fumes only, no way to call for help. At 45 mph in a 75 mph zone, no one even passed us. We were truly alone in the world - was this going to one of THOSE trips?. Onward we pushed. The next exit was a campground. The next had a single ranch-house, and the ramp sign clearly said - No Services. Finally, 25 miles later, coughing and weezing, the 4-runner pulled into a service station, delivering us from a dreadful plight. Fortunately for us, the gas station was a Conoco (since Stan has taken a principled stand against Exxon for that ugly Valdez business).

Fresh from the buzz of survival, we reached our goal - Grand Targhee Resort. We quickly hooked up with Tony and Steve and got ready to charge the next day. Thursday Morning. The adrenaline was high - first turns of the year for most of us. As we blasted down the hill, an unfamiliar noise was heard - a horrible grinding, screeching crunching sound. ROCKS - Lots of rocks. The snow cover was --- shall we say modest. Did that slow down the Brokeback Boys - I think not!. By lunch we did some checking of equipment and lo, each of us had a core shot. I had an edge ripped out on one ski and crack right through on the other. At the end of the day at the tune up shop, I showed my day's work to the tech. (Me) "I think I just need some hot wax" (Him)"Dude, you need a new ski!" He was kind enough to lend me a hacksaw a hammer and some pliers and in no time I was back in business.

Unfortunately, we didn't get any snow during the clinic. Fortunately, we were able to hike for a few freshies and had some cat skiing to ease the pain. We all had a blast. We learned a lot, improved and each had his stellar moments. But, we all got upstaged by a nine year old (cute) punk. DesLauriers, I think his name was. He had the bling, he had the fur, he had the moves, he had it all. Other highlights were the 7AM stretch with T Horton, the 2-hour, $60 breakfast at the restaurant, and of course the nightly hang. The restaurant was a source of no minor irritation as Steve, glutton for punishment that he is, went back for dinner. After waiting at the door for many minutes to be seated in an empty room, he ordered fish and salad (for a bargain price of $79.95). After 40 minutes he got a head of iceberg cut in half with some dressing spilled over the top. When the fish came 30 minutes later, it was terrible. I believe that was the last of our meals in the restaurant.

By the end, it had all come together, we had some new friends from Canada, a lot of laughs, and some good memories. We were ready to start our goodbyes, when out of the suddenly cloudy sky it started. SNOW. Perfect blower flakes, trickling down with renewed vigor. Too bad, its too late for us, we are leaving first thing tomorrow morning - Right Stan. Well, it turns out Tony and Steve were staying an extra day or two. We needed a framework, a decision tree, a threshold. After much discussion, we decided that if there was 3-inches of snow we would stay till 2 pm, then make the 10-hr drive to Sandpoint. If there was a foot, we would spend the night. Next morning, early on, it was clear, there was three inches - we would SKI!! Somehow, I was first out and battled the fog but found the lines we would need to uncover on this soon to be epic day. We finally grouped up and hit it. Its funny what just a little snow will do. That wonderful, fickle substance that we chase so hard, so often. Sometimes, it just has to come to you. What a day we had, blasting thru the pow, conquering tight lines through trees, through the open bowls, ripping top to bottom. We all realized it was a day we would not soon forget. 2pm rolled around - it was time to go. Well maybe just one more run. OK then just another. Oh hell, we're here till closing. And so it was. Charging hard to chase down that last chair, we barely made it. The perfect end to the perfect day of a #$^*ing perfect trip.

How much longer till February?? We really need to do this again sooner.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Ski Story ~ by John Nicolich


When I last reported, I had skied day one with a hockey babe in death crust. A few days later it was skiing in the rain at 49N. Things got worse as the base went from 24-in. to 20-in. to 16-in., and as it dwindled so did my hopes of a glorious early season. Then came Thanksgiving. While others were thankful for their health, their families, and God, I was thankful for the snow that was absolutely puking outside. That's right friends 14 inches in 24 hours. Schweitzer opened on Fri 11/24, to a cushy 36-in. base. That was just the beginning. On Sunday night it snowed 10 inches over night.

Schweitzer's sexy backside was open to midway but had remained closed to the top while the hounds licked their chops and waited. By chance I was on the chair when the top opened and was the first (besides a few dirt bag snowboarders) to reach the goods. I hit Big Timber, a classic run that is the first hit for most powder pigs, posers, wannabe's, and others of ill repute. It was wide open, untouched. I was first one in for the season. It was as close to a religious experience as I've had. I was describing it to a buddy of mine and said "I may never have another run like that again!"

Next day, Monday. 9 inches of new. Patrol closed the top of the backside till 10 AM. I was skiing the front side when I saw the rope drop and started the long traverse over. I saw some boarders download off the chair, but they were heading away from the backside. I was puzzled, why would you leave when it was just opening up. Another group unloaded and did the same thing. Did they close the North Bowl runs?? I almost bailed when I said screw it, lets check it out. Back to Big Timber. No Tracks, deep pow, flying like a demon, just like a dream. Deja Vu baby.

Today, Tuesday. The temp dropped to 6 degrees. That snow you saw on Monday night football - its here now, and another 5-inches fell. This time the cold air left us Utah snow. I'm not kidding, the POW was blower, boot deep or higher in places. And the best part is on a Tuesday its just me and the old people and a few slackers and social outcasts.

Man am I tired. The pace is frantic. To ski all day, I have to work all night - just finishing up now. My family misses me. But you know its that time of year again, and tomorrow is another day.

I'm Out


PS Stan is the cow catcher on the 4-runner?, we are leaving soon. If you can, you should come up here for a pre-Targhee session - yeah its that good.