We Finally Saw a Bear!…Oh, and our attempt at day hiking Mount Whitney (Part 1)

Tyler and I have summited Mount Whitney before- last September, we did it in two days. That’s a whole other post I’ve been trying and failing to write for months now. I promise the long story will get written, because you deserve it, and it was a great trip. But for now, the short story of that trip is this: We had planned for three days, but Trail Camp was unbelievably cold and windy, so we shortened it, then regretted it because getting down was tougher than we thought after summiting the same day. We got down from the mountain around 9:45pm in September- hours later than we had planned. We were exhausted.

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Flashback photo from our first summit of Mt Whitney- back in September 2017.

On our hike in September, we passed many day hikers- some who made it to the top, others who had to turn around. Both of us thought doing Whitney in a day was insane- why would you do that to yourself? Between the miles and the elevation, we were pretty sure we would always stick to backpacking this beast of a mountain.

Fastforward to this year. In February, Tyler and I both got jobs at Tesla’s gigafactory. Once we knew our schedule, we found a four day weekend that would work for Whitney. Doing it in September had been cold, so we aimed a bit earlier to try to catch warmer air. So we picked July 8-11. Our plan was to camp at Lone Pine Lake on the 8th, then enter the Whitney Zone on the 9th, taking two nights at Trail Camp to really enjoy our time up there. So we worked on the 7th, and on the 8th headed down to Lone Pine to start our trip. Permit in hand, we head up to Whitney Portal.

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Go High or Go Home: Part 2

If you missed Part 1, find it here! This is Part 2 of our Colorado ski trip Tyler and I took with his sister Missy, and mom and dad Lori and Kent.

Day Three (March 14, 2018)

Having already decided Breck was amazing, it was time to check out another huge resort in Colorado. Day two of skiing was all about Vail. From our condo, it was about a 45-minute drive to Vail, Colorado.

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First, before I get to the skiing, two tips: spend time to research parking! There are a few options. One is to stay in a hotel in the Vail Village, where parking may be included (but of course, double check before booking what each hotel’s policy is- sometimes there’s only valet parking available). Another is to research where the free parking is in town and take a shuttle to the resort. There’s a few places listed on the website, along with how many spaces are available. I’m not sure how fast these fill up, but I would imagine it’s earlier in the day. The third option, which we took, is to pay for parking in the garages at the village. This is $50 for the day!! It’s pay per hour parking, so if you’re just wandering the village or doing a couple runs it’s reasonable. But for most people, a day at Vail goes way too fast, so you’ll be there awhile. We tried to find free parking but since we didn’t know the town and were already frustrated, we just sucked it up for $50 parking. In addition, these garages are not right by the lifts; you still have to walk with your gear through a good part of the village before you hit the snow.

So- after the parking ordeal, I had a bit of a negative feel towards the mountain. We were all a bit crabby, saying things like “One point against Vail”, but I knew we just needed to hit the slopes to get our good vibes back. So we stowed our lunch and extra layers (because it was a HOT day, even I shed two layers which is unheard of for me) in lockers. Time for tip number two: right by Gondola One, there’s lockers. They’re cash only and $5 per open. OR you can go into the rental shop right next to them, and they have baskets you can stow your things in for $12 per day with unlimited times getting into them. Also, the rental shop does overnight storage in these baskets too, which can be really convenient if you’re spending more than one day at Vail’s numerous slopes.

Okay. So- car parked, lunch stowed. Let’s get to the real stuff- the slopes! Vail is enormous and feels like it, so there’s no way I could say everything we did.

Here’s a few highlight runs/areas at Vail for us.

First, there’s a run called Grandy Dancer in the Northwoods area. It was a beautiful, fast, groomed run that changes pitch often and you can really fly. We loved it- and learned after from an employee that it only gets groomed a couple times a season and is usually full of moguls. So our opinion may change next time, but then again who knows? We’re learning to love moguls.

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The back bowls are amazing! Not that I’m surprised, since Vail is known for their bowl skiing. Bowl skiing is Tyler’s favorite and has been for awhile, but our trip to Colorado convinced me, too. In the morning, we were excited to try them out, and were thoroughly disappointed in how icy and stripped the snow was. But later in the afternoon, we had to hit the bowls again to get to Blue Sky Basin (more on that in a minute), and it was incredible! So when you head to Vail, give the bowls some sun time to soften the snow before you shred them. Spend the morning on the fresh cords, and you won’t be disappointed in the afternoon!

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Third, Blue Sky Basin. We waited till a bit later to check this area out. Tyler’s parents decided to take it easy and head down before us, so Missy, Tyler and I headed to Blue Sky Basin. To get there, you take the Tea Cup Express, then ski over a bridge to get to the basin. We only had a bit of time back there, and I’m regretting not checking it out sooner! We took the Skyline Express Lift. Tyler and Missy wanted to try Iron Mask, a black diamond we could see from the chair, but the drop in made me a bit nervous. So we started with a blue run, Cloud 9. It branched off into Big Rock Park, a great run through trees, weaving around in wide and small spaces. The coverage was great (with one exception where we skied through brown slush haha), but with only time for one more run before the chairs closed, we headed back up. Iron Mask was probably doable, but it had been a long couple of days and it would have been pushing the limit. So we took a black diamond run called The Divide instead. From the lift, you couldn’t see the whole trail, and the long section of moguls was conveniently hidden by trees. By the time we saw them, it was too late to turn back. So we tackled the moguls, and by the end of the section we actually didn’t suck! Instead of slowly sliding sideways down, our turns were sharp and getting right around the moguls, we weren’t falling or hitting trees (or each other). That run was tiring, but it’s made us appreciate moguls, and definitely improved our skills (for all three of us!).

Blue Sky Basin was the finale to our Vail day, and while it definitely wasn’t enough to experience the whole mountain, it was enough to love it and start planning our next trip! We wandered the village after skiing, and I was really impressed. Vail’s village is my favorite to date, because it’s massive, with a variety of shops, not crazy high prices, and the architecture really ties it all in. It’s like a German town with cottage-like buildings and street lamps.

Stats for Day Two: (Our biggest ski vertical of the season!)

Ski Distance: 33.7 miles

Ski Vertical: 27,608 feet

Runs: 20

That night, we hit the hot tub for a while, talked with some other skiers about their favorite resorts, and went to bed. The last day of skiing was soon to be upon us- back at Breckenridge, where I couldn’t wait to get back to my favorite runs of the day before.

Day Four (March 15, 2018)

Breck day two! (Then saying goodbye and heading back to Denver for our 11:45 pm flight back to Reno). So we packed and checked out of our AirBnb, then parked at the gondola. Parking is $12 per car, but you get a $5 discount if there are four or more people in the car (yay for us!). $7 parking was a nice change from the $50 the day before.

We did a lot of the same things as our first Breck day, so I’ll give the highlights of our last ski day in Colorado. The Windows, Whale’s Tail, and Beyond Bowl were the best parts of the day for us.

The Windows is a double black diamond that’s well known from Breck. It enters into a dense forest, then has 6 “window” entrances where you drop in. We took Window 4 and followed a stream down, gliding over bumps and around moguls and tree roots. Missy and I crashed into each other because each of us turned without knowing the other did- but nobody hit a tree, and we were unscratched from the collision. This run was exhilarating! Going over moguls and around trees was fun, and made even more worth it by the dense forest and running water surrounding us. Next time we go, Tyler and I plan to hit each of the 6 windows to see the unique parts of each run.

Whale’s Tail- I know I already talked about this, but it’s my favorite run, and this time we got Tyler’s dad Kent to come up with us! I got to see a bit of the skilled skier he is. He’s had years of skiing, lived and worked in Mammoth, and has plenty of stories of epic times on his skis. But seeing him tear down Whale’s Tail was really cool- and he got to see each of us too, and see how far we’ve come. After getting down, he said “this is the kind of skiing I really love”. Also, this time we each got a video coming down- watch our Instagram for these great clips!

Beyond Bowl was our final run of the day. It was also a whole new experience for us in our time skiing. At the top of Peak 6, Kensho Chair takes you to some great runs- or you can hike up farther for some more challenging terrain (expert and extreme runs). Tyler, Missy, and I hiked up there with skis on our shoulders and boots loosened. There’s “steps” formed by previous hikers, but not all well formed, and the altitude is definitely something you are aware of hiking up. It’s about 300 vertical feet up, getting you to around 12,500 feet elevation. We huffed and puffed our way up, and honestly I didn’t know if I would make it. But at the top, after throwing our skis down and gulping down some water, the view was incredible. 360 degrees of mountains, and we picked the perfect time because we were able to see the approaching storm on mountains in the distance. It was moving in fast, so we decided to make this the last big run of the day.

We had originally planned to do Serenity Bowl, but at the top the Beyond Bowl was calling our names. It looked like a real bowl, while Serenity appeared more like a chute. Beyond Bowl was possibly the best run of the day- in part because we had earned it by hiking up, in part because the snow was powder and we just glided right over it, and in part because of the amazing storm views we had on our way down.

Our plan was to meet Tyler’s parents in the village after taking the 4 O’clock run. But, in an unexpected turn of events, when we got to Peak 7 base the chair we needed, Independence had closed for a lightning warning. So had the gondola. Suddenly the only way off the mountain was by bus- and that was everyone’s only option. Thankfully, Breck was well prepared, and several busses were dispatched. They loaded us like sardines to get everyone down, and it was not a long wait at all. I was very impressed with how well Breck responded to chairs closing and inclement weather, but also proud that in the crowd of skiers and boarders, no one complained or felt entitled to a working chair. We all got it- mother nature always gets her way, and it’s our job to respect her power.

Stats for Day Three:

Ski Distance: 16.5 miles

Ski Vertical: 14,987

Runs: 13

With that, our three days of skiing in the Colorado Rockies came to an end. None of us wanted to leave- we all agreed that we could easily spend a week or more there, really getting to enjoy the different mountains and villages. But for now, “jobs and responsibilities” and other boring adult things stopped that from happening. So, loaded into the car with all our gear, we headed towards Denver. On the way, our dinner stop was a well-recommended pizza place that Tyler had been to once before, Beau Jo’s. A Colorado local friend had also told me it’s the “best pizza in the state”. Mountain pies with braided crust awaited us, and it was incredible pizza! (So good we couldn’t wait to get a picture of it before taking our first bites).The whole atmosphere really played into the theme of being in an old western mining town, and I would definitely recommend them for anyone looking for good, greasy, flavorful pizza.

Beau Jo’s was our last fun stop, and before we knew it we were back at the airport. Tyler’s family’s flight wasn’t till the morning, so they dropped us off and headed to their hotel for the night. When we got to the airport just after 10, everything was closed. Like, I wanted a snack and almost every restaurant in the entire airport closed at 10! (But that’s a whole other rant; I was hangry and tired and probably acting like a drunk person and Tyler was quite entertained.)

I am so excited to return to Colorado again in the future! So many resorts we missed, especially Aspen, that are definitely on our bucket list. Breckenridge is my current favorite resort, with Vail closely following. Tyler is holding out judgment until we get to really experience Mammoth Mountain in April, but Colorado definitely impressed both of us.

For anyone reading who’s skied or snowboarded in Colorado, what’s your favorite resort? Which one do we absolutely have to get to? I would love to hear everyone’s opinions!

Go High Or Go Home (AKA Our Ski Trip to Colorado): Part 1

Plan a trip with Tyler’s family over the course of a few days when they decide they need more skiing while visiting us in December? Check.

Book flights and AirBnb? Check.

Upgrade to Tahoe Local Pass to include Breckenridge, Vail, and Keystone? Check.

Get time off of the Tesla job we just started? Check.

All that’s left is to get here and tear up the mountains!

(Okay, well, technically, the day before we left, we had to go back to Heavenly to retrieve my lost ID so they would let me on the plane…but we don’t need to focus on that right?)

Day One (March 12, 2018)

Tyler’s and my flight left Reno at 6:20am. So a fairly normal start of day for us, since we usually start work at 6:00 anyway. Tyler’s mom, dad, and sister on the other hand- they started their day around 2 am, having to get to Charlotte’s airport for their early flight. Definitely glad I didn’t have to deal with that!

Reno’s airport is a smaller one, but even I was impressed at how fast we got through security. We checked our bags- it was our first time flying with our ski bag and we were slightly concerned about how much it would weigh with both our skis and my boots. Surprisingly, that was the wrong bag to worry about- it only weighed 41 lbs, but our normal suitcase was 49.5! That’s the closest I’ve ever been to going over the 50 lb limit on Southwest.

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Our flights went smoothly, with a layover in Las Vegas where, in typical Nevada fashion, plenty of slot machines awaited us. Mine and Tyler’s flight landed just after Lori, Kent, and Missy’s, so we met up at the gate in Denver and headed out. Missy was waiting forever for her ski bag, and kept complaining that no new bags were coming out of the baggage claim. Then she sees one and comments “that bag has been going around for like 15 minutes”- then takes a closer look and it’s her bag. We all had a good laugh at her expense before we left the terminal. We got our rental car and made it to our AirBnb condo in Breckenridge in no time. By early afternoon, we were ready to enjoy our vacation.

It’s such a cute condo! It came with a fireplace and a ton of firewood, a hot tub, and many fuzzy blankets. (If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with fuzzy blankets. I own about 10, and always “need” more. They’re just so soft and inviting. Anyone else have this issue?) It’s got two bedrooms, two baths, and a couch bed. The first afternoon had to include a grocery shopping trip, of course, to get the essentials for the week. We got things to pack in lunches on ski days (because let’s be real, ain’t nobody got money to eat at the resorts three days in a row), snack foods, and good breakfasts to give energy for each day.

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That night was uneventful. Chili making and watching terrible movies (or, more accurately, half of terrible movies. Ever heard of Avalanche Sharks? Probably not, and for good reason. Think sharks, but swimming in snow and eating skiers. I could act better. But it provided some good laughs.)

We slept pretty early Monday night- the next three days we would need our energy.

Day Two (March 13, 2018)

Colorado is cool, our condo was cozy, but let’s be real- this trip is about tearing up some Colorado slopes. So of course we woke up at 6:30 eager to start our day. Day one of skiing was at Breckenridge, which is only a short shuttle stop away from our condo. We got to the slopes right around 9am (because we didn’t realize they opened at 8:30!), and started warming up on some intermediate runs.

Tyler and I have been skiing all season, and improving a lot more than we thought was possible (especially me- I skied The Wall- my first double black diamond at Kirkwood the week before, when I wasn’t even sure I would be able to do a black at the beginning of the season). Tyler’s sister Missy had only been 8 times before this trip, but her natural athletic abilities and fearlessness made her right on our level. Tyler’s parents have both skied a great amount in their day, though now his mom Lori takes it easier than she used to. So intermediate was a good medium for all of us to get some family skiing in.

We started around Peak 8 for some warm up runs- it was really cool that a lot of the runs have natural rolling hills. It was very different from most runs in our Tahoe resorts, where it’s a bit more of a steady decline or turns around as it goes down. Peak 6 was next, where we found that the advanced groomed runs at Kensho chair were amazing to just fly down. One thing I really enjoyed was how much you are able to ski around trees in a more dense forest area in between the wide-open spaces. We wandered all the way to Peak 10, where we all loved the advanced terrain- by the end of the weekend, both Tyler’s mom and dad decided Peak 10 was their favorite area of the mountain.

In the morning, we did a few intermediates and several black diamonds. After lunch, however, Tyler, Missy, and I were itching for a bigger challenge. So we split up and the three of us headed to the top- Imperial Chair. The tallest lift in North America at 12,840 feet, it held the coveted double blacks that we had to try. Hoping for good snow conditions (likely since all the snow down lower had been soft and forgiving), we trekked to Whale’s Tail, a bowl not far from the chair. Traversing over on a narrow pathway and over some moguls, we peeked over the edge of the bowl. The snow looked so inviting, so it was time for Missy’s first double black diamond. Tyler went first, then Missy, then me. We all flew down- Missy way faster than me, haha- and it was the most exhilarating feeling. We were on top of the world, it felt. We meet up at the bottom and we’re all cheering and laughing. I was impressed- Missy did her first expert run with ease!

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Sadly, we had made it to Imperial Chair right around 2:30, and it closes at 2:45 because of how long it takes to get down from the terrain up there. So Whale’s Tail was our only run up there for the day. We decided to take a wooded run over to Kensho chair on Peak 6 to finish out the day. The wooded trails are becoming high on my list of favorites- weaving through trees and lunging over tree roots and hills with ease makes me closer to nature. The only thing better than skiing is skiing with only nature around, no people, no chairlifts, no buildings. We ended our day doing the advanced terrain on Peak 10- the grooming had been stripped and the ground a bit more icy, but still great runs. My advice- definitely enjoy the grooming earlier in the day, because it’s top notch at Breck!

Stats for Day One:

Ski Distance: 26.6 miles

Ski Vertical: 23,972 ft

Runs: 19

After skiing, we spent the night exploring Main St in Breckenridge- a nice five minute walk from our condo. Tyler, the resident food expert, had found this place called Flipside that was reviewed to be really good burgers and shakes. He was sold when he read they had alcoholic milkshakes, one with huckleberry vodka. One thing I have learned spending time with Tyler: He doesn’t mess around with food. If he says a place is good, it’s probably really exceptionally good. This was proven once again at Flipside. Burgers, bison burgers, chili fries (with bison meat), Wisconson cheese curds and alcoholic milkshakes. He got blueberry pie with huckleberry vodka, and I had a daily special Thin Mint cookie shake with Rumpleminze (peppermint liquor). Best. Shakes. Ever. Everything was bursting with flavor, service was great, prices were decent, we give it a 10/10. One thing to know- fries are not included with your burger, but are definitely worth ordering.

 

Souvenirs were bought, stores were browsed, and I had already decided Breckenridge is my new favorite resort even though I hadn’t been to Vail yet. (Spoiler alert: I was right. Breck is my new favorite resort.)

Tune in tomorrow to hear about Vail and the rest of our trip!

Tried and True Packing List For Ski Trips

This week’s post was going to be about my experiences at each Northstar, Heavenly, and Kirkwood ski resorts, but I’m going to hold off because in the next couple days there’s supposed to be a great storm over Tahoe! I’d love to review each resort under good snow conditions (because it’s been a slow coming winter this year).

So instead, here I present to you: the tried-and-true list of items I MUST have whenever I go skiing. Some are obvious, others have taken a few tries to figure it out or get it right.

Preface to this list: I get cold VERY easily. I don’t say that lightly. When my fingers get cold, they turn white, and they throb in pain. Same for my toes. I’ve looked into it (and thanks to some information from my sister-in-law Missy in nursing school) and I may have what’s called Reynaud’s disease. Self-diagnosed, I haven’t had a chance to see a doctor about it yet, but for anyone whose fingers/toes turn white/blue/red in the cold and throb even as the blood returns…it’s worth looking into. Some of the items on the list help keep me as toasty warm as possible, especially on those blistery windy ski days.

SO…here’s my go-to packing list for any ski day!

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Skiing: A Passion I Didn’t Expect

As I write this, mine and Tyler’s skis are both getting waxed on our kitchen table. We recently bought a waxing iron, scraper, brush, and wax so we can better care for our skis. Add that to the growing collection of ski supplies that’s (over)filling our storage closet, and I have more than I thought I would ever own. A few years ago, I had never been skiing, and I did not consider myself an athletic person, or a person capable of being good at sports. Now, I’m such a different person (in big part because of how Tyler has changed me since we met), and I couldn’t be happier.

My first time skiing was in March of 2014. A short day trip with my parents and little brother, Zack. We went to Bear Valley in California, and my dad spent a bit of time going over the basics with us. (He grew up skiing quite often.) If anyone’s been skiing, you know what that means. “Pizza to slow down” and “lean in to turn” and “here’s how to walk with skis”. I spent half the day on the bunny hill (literally the hill that didn’t even have a “real” lift, but rather a moving walkway lift), but after lunch I tried a beginner run. I ran it the rest of the day, my goal to get down without falling. By the end, I could make it down confidently, only falling once. Then it was time to say goodbye, return the rentals, and drive back home.

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A New Year’s Eve Post…Return to Blogging!

It’s that time of year again…the last few days of 2017, where we all seem to be caught up in holidays and vacations and families…and looking back at our year. The last few days of December, it seems, everyone takes to reflect on where this past year has gotten them, and where they want to get in the new year. It’s about who you were with, where you went, how you grew, and where you still want to improve.

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