Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Our Bucket List Ski Trip

I’ve long been a cross-country skier but have never gone downhill skiing because of my knee problems.  However, downhill skiing somehow landed on our bucket list so we had to try it!  A skiing trip was different than all our others so it took some significant preparation: particularly shopping for cold-weather clothing.  Between MCI Sporting Goods and Farm & Fleet we were able to pick up everything we needed.  BTW: Farm & Fleet has a much better selection and their prices are half what you pay at MCI.  That means all of my gear came from Farm & Fleet and Mona’s came from MCI.

We started our western expedition much like Lewis and Clark did; by starting in St. Louis.  We visited a few of our old haunts, touched base with some friends and ran into Mona’s niece, Taffy.   It’s a great way to start a trip! Note: Several people have asked if we saw any of the destruction caused by the riots.  No, we didn’t.  We drove all around downtown; out to Clayton; through Central West End, and then to and from the airport.  All was normal.  We didn’t drive through Ferguson itself but ended up driving all the way around it.  Also, we felt safe as normal walking the downtown streets.
A few of the lights in Frisco

We arrived in Denver and were met with 57 degrees of warm sunshine.  It wasn’t looking good for skiing, but we continued on our westward trek anyway. We caught our pre-arranged shuttle and settled in for the two hour drive to Breckenridge.  It’s a beautiful drive on I70 through the Rockies and you get to see great mountain scenery; some incredible highway engineering and you go through the Eisenhower Tunnel.  This tunnel is the world’s highest automotive tunnel at over 11,000 feet and is located on the Continental Divide.  

As we approached Breckenridge we started seeing snow…about two feet of snow.  About ten days earlier they had received 94 inches of snow in three days.  Since then the weather has been above freezing every day and it melted down to 29 inches on the ground.  We were relieved because it meant we would get to ski!

The View From Our Room
We stayed at Grand Timber Lodge which is at the base of Peak 7 and only about a thousand feet from the ski lift.  It’s a beautiful lodge with lots of indoor and outdoor gas fire pits as well as indoor and outdoor jacuzzis and pools.  (I loved being able to start my swim inside and to swim through an opening to the outside pool and into the crisp night air!)  The lodge is nestled into a pine woods and there’s lots of wildlife around.  In fact, we opened the door to go outside on our first night and came face to face with a beautiful fox!  He was the largest fox we’ve ever seen and he had a beautiful red bushy tail.  We were about ten feet from him and he wasn’t the least bit disturbed.  We were too dumbfounded to take pictures.  Later we found out that he’s the “resident fox” and his name is Pancakes!

Our friends, Paul and Ali, came from Denver to take us to dinner the first night.  They drove us to Frisco where we enjoyed a great meal and got to see the town’s beautiful lighting displays.  The huge pine trees were decorated with lights and they had what looked like fireworks shooting down through the trees.  We’ve never seen anything like it!

Monday morning was our ski day.  We had reserved our ski equipment there at the lodge and had arranged for all-day lessons at the Beaver Run Resort, just 1000 feet away.  All was set!  We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to the ski shop.  That’s where our troubles began.

Neither of us had ever worn ski boots before and we got quite the education.  First off, they have to fit tightly….really damn tightly!!!  After some struggling Mona got hers on.  However, I couldn’t get my feet into mine due to high arches and last year’s foot surgery.  The ski dude insisted they would fit and I insisted they wouldn’t.  After ten minutes of painful trying the ski dude relented and gave me a larger size.  Finally, I got my feet into the larger boots but even then I was in pain.  Nonetheless, we were in skis and we headed out to the slope!

Me Skiing!
Not so fast!  First we had to get on the ski trail and it was about 20 feet lower than the ski shop.  Since we didn’t know how to ski we had to figure out how to get down that slope.  I was carrying the skis (which are freaking heavy!) and Mona had the poles.  Neither of us fell, but it took us at least 15 minutes to go down that 20 feet.  Then we had about 500 feet of snow-packed trail to go on.  We walked it, neither of us thinking to put the skis on.  DUH!  Finally we got to the sidewalk for the final 500 feet.  That was even worse than the snow because of the awkward way you have to walk in ski boots and because of the ice patches.

Mona Skiing!
Finally, after about a half hour of painful struggles, we were at the ski instruction area.  We were both exhausted and frankly we were ready to quit.  But, we had come this far; we had already paid $300 for our lessons, AND it was a bucket-list item so we were determined to trudge onward.  However, we were so tired that a nice young lady took pity on us and carried our skis to the training area.  (Humiliating!)

No ski boots and loving the fire!
At last we got our skis on and we began our lessons: forming our vees, leaning forward, pushing off, etc. etc. etc.  We also had a little “carpet-lift” which we would ride up the hill a little ways and then ski back down.  Up and down; up and down; up and down.  It was fun, but exhausting and still quite painful for me.  After about 2 1/2 hours Mona said she had had enough and would just watch me from then on.  I was so relieved because I wanted to quit, too!  I was in severe pain by then and it felt as though I had rebroken my toes!   (Surprisingly neither of my bad knees hurt, but my ankles and toes hurt for days later.)

We struggled to the ski instruction office and let them know that we were dropouts.  They took pity on us and gave us a complete refund!  So, the downside was pain, but the upside was that we got to ski for 2 1/2 hours for free and we could cross downhill skiing off our list!  We called the Lodge shuttle and they came to haul us and our equipment back that 1000 feet to Grand Timber.  One of the best feelings I have EVER had was taking off those ski boots.  OMG….I could have cried with relief!
Angels Hollow

We spent the rest of the day exploring Breckenridge.  It’s filled with lots of speciality shops, restaurants and even a marijuana shop right on Main Street.  We really enjoyed the town and found a new favorite restaurant called Angel’s Hollow.  It’s a biker bar/restaurant with a CIA-trained chef and it specializes in New Mexican food.  They have Blue Coyote-worthy margaritas and their chili rellenos are the best I’ve ever had, bar none!  We ended up our day in the jacuzzi and the pools.  That’s the best way to ease the pain of ski boots!

Barney, Bess and Mona
Tuesday’s feature event was riding in a horse-drawn open sleigh.  The stables picked us up at the lodge and drove us about twenty minutes away to where our sleigh awaited.  There we met Bess and Barney; the two Belgians who would pull us through the snow.  They were properly festooned with sleigh bells which truly jingled all the way!  We loved the sleigh ride and Mona said that she didn’t realize it, but a sleigh ride was actually a bucket list item for her!  We rode in the sleigh for almost an hour and finished the ride with hot chocolate and Jameson’s by the fireplace.  We highly recommend a sleigh ride through the white and drifting snow!
Hat Shopping in Breck

As many of you know, Mona hates snow and cold.  But even she loved this trip.  We were never cold and the beauty of the snow-covered mountains is captivating.  It’s picture perfect!  However, in addition to the ski-boot pain I must forewarn you about another issue: breathing.  Breckenridge is at 9600 feet above sea level.  Decatur is about 600 feet.  That 9000 foot difference is very hard on the lungs.  We found ourselves panting quite a bit whenever we did anything difficult…like taking a step or sitting down.  It was truly tough!  We were very glad to get down to the low level Denver (5200 feet) and breath deeply again!!!

We both loved the trip and we’re talking about going back.  We love the mountains and we love the wildlife; we saw fox, elk and bighorn sheep.  However, we won’t be skiing again….hmmm….but maybe we’ll try snowboarding!!!

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