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January 31, 2010

Outstanding Day at Sunrise

Took a day trip to Sunrise with my cousin Zach that took a whole lot of arm twisting. He finally told me on Thursday that if no one else was going to go that he guessed he would because had already committed but that he didn't really want to drive 250 miles each way in the same day.

We were going to leave around 4AM from my place and he stayed over. Unfortunately, at 1AM were will still up and hanging out and finally against our best judgment figured if we chanced going to sleep, we would oversleep and not end up going so we left then. I made it to Payson before I doubled over exhausted and he slept the entire way in the back seat of the Avy. A quick breakfast at the only restaurant on the planet that doesn't take credit or debit and is cash only, then off the rest of the way there.

I have never seen Sunrise so packed. The parking overflowed all the way down the main road about two miles, almost to the lodge. The base areas were completely packed. And on top of all that, the restaurant/lodge at the top of Apache got a bunch of water damage so there was no real place to stop up there. The food sucked, even by Sunrise standards. But we weren't really there to eat.

Started at around 10 because of the traffic and by 1, I still had not even clicked out of my bindings when we grabbed lunch. By that time we had skied all three mountains for at least a run. The runs that had been being skied a lot were in great shape. The ones that were less accessible or less used were like skiing concrete because the 4' dump from last weekend had been sitting for a week and compacting. Then you add that it was chopped up and it was horrible to ski.

There is a great midmountain lift that goes from halfway up Sunrise Peak to the top and is just off to the right of the midway lodge that had ZERO lift line so we did several laps on it taking Rustler and Superstition. Best skiing of the day was right there. Zach was a hell of a skier ten years ago so by the end of the morning, he was back where he could hang.

About 3, we got to the top of Sunrise and I decided I was going to poach Quakie and have Zach take Arrowhead and meet me at the bottom since he refused to go poaching with me. He made the right choice. Quakie was horrible. It gets direct sun all day and was almost untracked and just nasty. Difficult to ski. Small trees poking up. Bleh!

Bad news is that Arrowhead crosses with a run that goes to Sunrise base where I thought we were going but also goes straight down to the Cyclone base. I waited for Zach, but could not find him and I ended up at Cyclone while he was at Sunrise. Then vice versa. Then waiting and looking. Finally after about 30 minutes of waiting, I had time for one last run.

When we were walking in from the parking in BFE, I met a couple guys from back east and was BSing. One of them was a hard core New Yorker and he was just rolling up to the line at Sunrise as I was about to get on. I climbed over the rope, went to wrong way in line and pushed my way back to get to him and his three buddies. You guys mind if I take the last run with you?

Tony had a softside cooler bag at the top of Sunrise from lunch that he had to bring down and thankfully his buddy John said he would carry it so he could get one last major run in. The two of us took Rustler as hard and as fast as I have ever skied moguls in a late afternoon dim light where you could barely see the contours of the snow just mashing the pedal down. Stop halfway down, catch a little breath, mash some more. It was the best mogul run I have skied. Having someone to push you and make you work. We flew to the base area and were 4 chairs to late to make the last run of the day. I begged. I bribed. Hell, I tried to steal, but no way.

Always end the day with the best run. I wanted to do Lupe if we could get on the last chair, but that was left for another day.

Gave out the URL for the site and hope to get an email so we can trip up there again.

Posted by Justin at 02:23 PM

January 25, 2010

Perhaps the Best Ski Day Ever at Brian Head

I hate making a pronouncement like that but in the last week BH has gotten over 4' of snow and Saturday we cut first tracks on Dunes and by first tracks I mean we took at least four laps down The Plunge before anyone else even tried.

Saturday was 15 degrees, sunny without a cloud, and almost zero wind. Plus four feet of fresh.

And even at that, we were done around noon because we had seen and done all there was to see and do. Roulette. Check. Face of Giant Steps and Engens. Check. Several laps on Dunes. Check. Hit all the usual powder stashes. Skied all the places we love to ski.

Here is how bad it was--after a perfect ski day, we were so thoroughly bored with Brian Head (5 years of 20 days will do that to you) that we spent Sunday SNOWBOARDING. First time for me, Jake and Jackson. Dude, I am sore. I really don't like falling on my face, but falling on my ass and worrying about broken wrists is worse. I am sore. Tired. Have a headache. Jake broke his goggles he fell so hard. And in general I suck ass at it. Jake and Jackson are much better than I am.

I hate to speak ill of a bluebird powder day, but I am just growing so bored of skiing the same terrain over and over. That said, Jarrett has been in lessons every trip this year and because he is an advanced intermediate and there are very few of them here, he gets either a private lesson or a lesson with 1-2 other kids at worst. He is really coming along.

Which brings me to another point. Jake talking trash. He tells me how bad I suck and how much better he is than me at the top of Engens. I say, tell you what, let's race to the bottom and see. Knee to waist deep pow, steepest place on the mountain (not saying much). I blew him away. So then he says, "Well I meant best form, not fastest." OK, we head down to the next big drop and we try again so I can see his form. He ate it about halfway down, total faceplant yardsale.

It helps having my brand new Nordica Zeros. I am not going to lie. Good gear helps a ton. Skiing the pow was effortless and there is no way to keep up with me when my skis are 20mm wider tip-waist-tail than his. But I ain't telling him that. I will keep my superiority as long as I can afford newer better gear which will be pretty much forever given his grades this year. He is a much better skier than student and that ain't saying much.

Jackson on the other hand just quietly goes about shredding.

Posted by Justin at 05:31 PM | Comments (1)

January 22, 2010

Sunrise Closed Due to Massive Storm

When you are closed because you got between 3-4' and the roads are shut down across half the state you know conditions will be good the next day.

Record storm in AZ last night.

I am debating going to the condo tonight or taking the ski bus to Sunrise tomorrow. Still 50-50.

Posted by Justin at 09:35 AM

January 18, 2010

Promotions from Brian Head

Just got an email from the promotions folks at Brian Head:

Brian Head, UT â Several new lodging/skiing/boarding packages and multiple promotions offering 50%-off adult lift tickets have been introduced at Southern Utahâ s Brian Head Resort, the best-kept skiing and snowboarding secret in the Southwestern States and one of Americaâ s "Top Family Getaways," according to the Family Travel Forum.

Just opened in December 2009, The Grand Lodge at Brian Head is offering its Ski Packages starting at $189 per night based on double occupancy ($94.50 per-person). The package is valid Sunday thru Thursday and includes accommodations for two in a Resort Queen or a Resort King room, two Brian Head Resort adult lift tickets per night stayed and two appetizers per day at The Lift Lounge & Patio. The package is offered through 4/11/10. For these and many other events and packages, visit www.grandlodgebrianhead.com or call (435) 677-9000. Enhanced with the most modern of amenities, the new, 100-room Grand Lodge at Brian Head pays homage to the majestic beauty of the southern Utah landscape with stone, timber and log walls, rough-hewn wood, wood beam ceilings, stone fireplaces and bronze metal and granite accented furnishings. Guests can enjoy an indoor pool with cascading waterfall, indoor and outdoor hot tubs, a fitness center and the Red Leaf Spa. The Lodge is pet-friendly, offers complimentary parking and all rooms are non-smoking.

Long-time Brian Head lodging favorite, Cedar Breaks Lodge and Spa is offering a Stay 3 Ski Free package, a three-night package with check-in on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. It includes accommodations in a newly remodeled King or Junior Villa and four all area lift tickets for just $114 per night based on double occupancy ($57 per-person) â for a total, three-night-package price of $340. Last night to check in with this package is 4/6/10. More information is at www.cedarbreakslodge.com or 1-888-AT-CEDAR. Cedar Breaks Lodge has been serving Brian Head visitors for over 13 years, and its accommodations include 118 comfortable Villas with seven different floor plans perfect for couples and families up to eight people, underground parking, 24/7 front desk, (two) restaurants, a cocktail lounge, indoor pool with a spacious deck, steam room, dry sauna, (two) fireside hot tubs, gift shop and the Cedar Breaks Spa. At Cedar Breaks Lodge guests will find all the amenities and service second to none that will make their next visit to Brian Head memorable and enjoyable.

Each package requires a deposit with a 72 hour (prior to the arrival date) cancellation policy, does not include tax or gratuities, and is subject to availability.

Brian Head is offering steep discounts: A $39 package for first-time-beginner skiers or snowboarders 13 years-old or older. It includes a 2-hour morning lesson or 2-hour afternoon lesson, a lift ticket and rental equipment. This offer is good January 22, 23 and 24, 2010. The ski area is also offering 50%-off adults lift tickets Monday through Friday during non-holiday periods for those presenting a police, fire or military ID at the ticket window, for everyone purchasing 8 gallons or more of fuel at KB Express or Terrible Herbst locations in California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah (www.terribleherbst.com), and for all Snow Jam Preferred Card holders (www.brianhead.com/special_offers). Those purchasing a Dixie Direct Book and presenting their Dixie Direct membership card (www.dixiedirectcard.com) at the ticket window will receive a "Buy one Get one FREE" Brian Head Resort lift ticket. (Holiday periods: 1/16-1/18; 2/13-2/15)

Check the place out. I love Brian Head and it is a great place to learn or just enjoy a few days on the snow. Not steep and deep, but with the current storm coming, it is still incredible skiing.

Posted by Justin at 03:37 PM | Comments (2)

January 14, 2010

Popular Mechanics Follows Avalanche Patrolers

Cool Article on Avalanche Patrolers in Popular Mechanics:

The bomb is the size of a soup can, bright orange, stuffed with two pounds of pentolite—a chalky mixture of TNT and an even more powerful explosive compound known as PETN. Ross Titilah, a 31-year-old ski patroller at Big Sky Resort in southern Montana, ties the bomb to one end of a short nylon rope and triggers the igniter. Ninety seconds until detonation. The other end of the rope is attached to what’s known as a bomb tram—a sort of ski lift for explosives that stretches from one fin of rock to another high above the entrance to a steep gully in Big Sky’s experts-only area...

Big Sky is one of the more awe-inspiring resorts in North America, centered around a solitary pyramidal mountain—Lone Peak—which can be skied right from the summit. I arrived following one of the winter’s biggest storms, which dropped more than a foot of snow amid fierce winds. The easiest thing to do, when faced with an unstable snowpack, is simply keep most of the mountain closed. Sometimes this happens. But a patroller’s job is a tricky juggle between mitigating natural dangers and satiating skiers’ desires. To an avid skier or snowboarder, there’s nothing more joyful than flying through steep, untracked snow—precisely the scenario that’s most uncertain in terms of stability. The compromise is that, after a storm, the patrol activates the most slide-prone areas by detonating powerful explosives.

High on the flanks of Lone Peak, in the moments before the bomb hanging from the tram is set to explode, Ross and Steve instinctively scan the surrounding slopes, reading the terrain with practiced eyes. “Flagged there,” says Ross, indicating a line of evergreens whose branches have been sheared off on one side where previous avalanches have swept close by. “Point release,” Steve says, motioning with his chin to a spot where a cliff band, warmed by the rising sun, is naturally shedding the new powder, sloughing little waterfalls of snow.

There’s a flash, and a bang—and, for a second, nothing. Then, from down in the gully comes a loud and disconcerting whooomp, as if an overloaded bookshelf has snapped its supports and dropped onto the shelf below it, which is close to what has happened. Abruptly, what had looked like an inviting ski run is transformed into a tumbling, churning mass of snow, blasting down the hill—avalanches often exceed 90 miles per hour—leaving in its wake a billowing cloud of snow mist, gorgeous and daunting at once.

This is a relatively small slide. The vertical crown face at the top of the avalanche path—which indicates the depth of the snow slab that broke away—is only a foot tall. Some slides at Big Sky have 13-foot crowns. Still, it’s easy to see how, if a skier is caught in an avalanche, escape is virtually impossible. Once the slide is over, though, the slope is considerably safer; it’s like a rubber band that has snapped, its tension dissipated.

Have a quick read. Interesting stuff about the folks that keep us safe.

Posted by Justin at 03:11 PM

Swift.Silent.Deep

Got a great movie in the mail a couple weeks ago Swift.Silent.Deep about the Jackson Hole Air Force.

Seriously loved the movie. Jake, Jackson, Jarrett and I watched it on our Christmas trip to Brian Head. Just awesome and interesting historical perspective.

The film had some controversy about Warren Miller's appearance reported courtesy of the best ski magazine on the market (and maker of my favorite t-shirt) The Ski Journal:

In September Warren Miller Entertainment (WME), the company that produces the annual Warren Miller films, filed a compalint against Level 1 Productions in the U.S. District Court of Colorado for trademark infringement. Miller sold his company and use of his name in 1988, and in the complaint WME cited a 1995 agreement between itself and Miller in which WME owns the exclusive rights to the name, use of voice, and the likeness of Warren Miller in all media.

Along with the trademark complaint, WME also entered a motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent more showings of the film. The motion was quickly denied in court, and Berman has continued touring his film despite the ongoing controversy.

For his part, the 84-year-old Miller has been outspoken in his support of Berman and in his distaste for the actions of WME. In October Miller released a statement distancing himself from WME artistic endeavors. "I would like to clarify that I am not, nor have I been involved with Warren Miller Entertainment (WME) or their ski movies for quite some time," he wrote. "It has been six years since I have had anything whatsoever to do with the films bearing my name."

"I stopped working with WME because our ideas on what the ski films should be weren't on the same page," the statement continued, "and they demonstrated that they didn't want my involvement in making ski films any longer." Miller also called some of WME's assertions "absurd" in his statement, and that he believes WME has no valid claim against Level 1.

So shameless plug for Ski Journal, Swift.Silent.Deep, and Warren Miller whose blog entries are awesome as evidenced by this quote:

If you are to believe Nobel Prize winner Al Gore, who also received an Academy Award for his documentary about global warming, everyone should immediately sell any ski or snowboard equipment they own and give up their futile search for powder.

To that scenario I say, “Forget it, Al!” All weather is unusual and the snow will show up and everyone will forget all of the doom and gloom of last winter...

After many years of traveling the world, everywhere I’ve filmed the weather was always unusual. Do I think the unusual weather conditions during the last decade are based solely on internal combustion engines?

A resounding, “No!”...

So get out in the garage and tune up whatever you will be riding on this winter, get your body in shape and try not to get freaked out by Nobel Prize-winner Al Gore. Even though he did invent e-mail and the science of global warming in the office of his air-conditioned, 22-room home, that is fortunately a very long way from any ski resort. Or, at least, it’s a short flight in his private jet.

Posted by Justin at 02:51 PM | Comments (1)

Berryski App for Blackberry's

New Blackberry GPS and Analytics app that I am waiting to check out:

  • Download maps for offline usage:
  • Pan/zoom/locate yourself on the mountain
  • Record GPS tracks
  • View tracks overlay
  • Live track animation
  • Ski track analytics/stats
  • Ski track summary
    • Distance skied on blue trails, your maximum, average speed and time spent on the blue trails.
    • Distance skied on black trails, your maximum, average speed and time spent on the black trails.
    • Distance skied on green trails, your maximum, average speed and time spent on the green trails.
    • Number of lifts taken
    • Number of runs skied

Sounds pretty cool if you have a blackberry. I am gonna try it out next ski trip but they do not have maps for Brian Head yet. Will update when I have tried it.

Posted by Justin at 02:44 PM

Ski Utah Contest - Throwdown your Best Ski or Snowboard Style

Got an email for a new contest today:

I thought you may be interested in an awesome new social media program from Ski Utah called “Throw Down Your Best Ski or Snowboard Style!” The program is an effort to promote its annual White Sale (an amazing sale where you can score sweet deals on lodging, ski/snowboard rentals, lift tickets, and more in Utah)!

The “Throw Down Your Best Ski or Snowboard Style!” asks you to submit your epic photo or video showing off your big ski action or snowboard style. To check out the entries so far, please visit http://www.brickfish.com/BestSkiOrSnowboardStyle. The Grand Prize winner for the “Throw Down Your Best Ski or Snowboard Style!” program will be selected by Ski Utah from the top 150 highest scoring entries, to receive a 5-day winter getaway to Utah for two with lodging at Resorts West, lift passes to 3 Utah ski resorts and free equipment rental. In addition to the Grand Prize winner, Ski Utah will also be rewarding one Best Wipeout or Trick winner, one Best Style on the Mountain winner, and one Most Viral winner.

The “Throw Down Your Best Ski or Snowboard Style!” program began on January 7 and ends February 4. To learn more, please visit http://www.brickfish.com/BestSkiOrSnowboardStyle.

Good times. Check it out.

Posted by Justin at 02:40 PM

January 08, 2010

Holiday Business Up for Aspen - Not Back to 2007 Levels Yet

From the Aspen Times:

ASPEN — The Aspen Skiing Co. had a “relatively busy holiday period” and is running slightly ahead of last season's business pace, spokesman Jeff Hanle said Wednesday.

The number of riders hitting the slopes at the Skico's four ski areas was up about 3 percent from last season, Hanle said. The week before Christmas was down slightly, he said, but the week between Christmas and New Year's was “gangbusters.”

Expectations were modest for pre-Christmas business because the holidays fell on Fridays this season. When that happens, more people travel after Christmas, according to tourism officials.

Customers also seemed to open their pocket books a bit more. “In-resort spending” on ski school lessons and at mountain restaurants was also strong this season, Hanle said.

While Skico officials welcomed the gains, Hanle acknowledged a reality check is in order. Skier and rider visits were down 8 percent during the holidays in 2008, diminishing the favorable comparison this season. Business still lagged behind a typical holiday period.

“It certainly wasn't the best Christmas ever,” Hanle said.

The Skico's season-to-date business through Jan. 3 is also about 3 percent ahead of last season's level.

This is good news in that things are not only stable, but improving slightly. The bad news is that a modest year over year increase in visits does not translate into an increase in revenue because in order to attract folks, most of the businesses at resorts have cut prices.

This is doubly bad because the effect of decreased ski related revenue hurts the resort, but lodging, meal, entertainment, etc., spending is all down meaning far lower sales tax revenues in most of these communities. Add in lower property tax revenues and the situation is very dire.

Again, all we can do is hope that business picks up.

Posted by Justin at 11:37 AM

January 05, 2010

RFID Used to Bust Season Pass Fraud

Interesting use of technology that not only makes things more efficient for skiers to get on the lifts, but ticket checkers to catch folks poaching off others' season passes:

VAIL — As skiers shuffle through lift lines at many Colorado resorts these days, all they need to do is point to the pocket holding their lift ticket or pass. New technology — radio-chipped "smart cards" — have done away with the antiquated hole punch and the visual scan.

But the seemingly invisible pass check has given rise to scofflaws who figure lack of eyeball scrutiny means it's easier to sneak onto the hill.

"Some people have the misperception that it's easier because the pass isn't visible," says Greg Morrison, assistant chief with the police at Breckenridge, where the radio-frequency passes debuted this season. "Actually, it's more efficient and it catches more violators."

"What was intended as a customer-service benefit actually had the increased effect of fraud monitoring," said spokesman Jeff Hanle, noting that Aspen Skiing upped the fee for returning a pass involved in fraudulent use to $500. "This year, we are seeing fewer people getting caught."

Resorts and law enforcement say it's hard to know whether the uptick in fraud cases is from more people trying to sneak onto the hill or from the new radio-frequency technology enabling ticket checkers to more easily spot scammers.

Even though skiers do not need to remove their pass from their pocket, ticket checkers can review a host of data from each pass they scan, including a large photograph of the skier.

Vail Resorts designed its own software for lift-ticket scanning, engineering a system that is both efficient — virtually eliminating lift lines — and hawk-like in its search for scofflaws. Scanners get a $50 to $75 bonus for each scam they disrupt.

"Sometimes, all we have to say is the person's name and if they don't turn around, we go deeper and ask more questions," says Eric Simon, head of product sales for Vail Resorts.

I like the idea of a bonus when you catch someone using someone else's season pass. Smart business sense because what average lift operator wants to be a prick about it unless they have some incentive to do so?

I am such a live and let live kind of guy. I would be worthless as a patroler or lift ticket checker person. Poach a closed run, I look the other way unless you are over your head or take crazy unnecessary risk and I have to save your ass. A little ticket fraud... meh...

Then again I would probably be a bad bartender or waiter for the same reasons.

Posted by Justin at 02:47 PM | Comments (2)

January 02, 2010

Retrospective of 2009 from Aspen Daily News

Some interesting items to note:

Throughout the year, all the usual economic indicators — sales tax revenue, lodging occupancy, skier visits — were down. The Aspen Skiing Co. ended up 8 percent down from the winter before, after predicting anywhere from a 5 to 15 percent decrease. Sales tax collections were off most months by double digits — the city of Aspen expects to be down in the 15 percent range once all receipts for the year are tallied. And occupancy was not only lower than the prior year — 35 percent down for the summer in Snowmass — but room rates were rapidly declining, putting a double hurt on lodge owners...

Real estate and development, long the driving forces of the valley economy, were perhaps even harder hit. Pitkin County real estate sales are on track to be about 20 percent down from 2008, even though the past three, off-season months have been up. Through November 2009 (the latest figures available), $991 million worth of real estate had changed hands, compared to $2.4 billion in the entire peak year of 2006.

Lien filings and foreclosures rose dramatically in 2009 as homeowners, spec home builders and developers struggled to pay bills and loans. More than twice as many liens were recorded in Pitkin County through September 2009 than in all of 2008 — 671 compared to 302 — before the pace subsided in the final quarter of the year. Foreclosures in Garfield County topped 400, as many as the previous four years combined, and in Pitkin County they hit a 25-year high, with 105. High-profile properties were foreclosed on up and down the valley, including two lodges and a commercial center in Snowmass Village and the nearly 300-acre property between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs on which a 1,000-unit development had been proposed...

A record number of property valuation protests — 4,628 — were filed this year in Pitkin County and there are still more than 100 disputes about property values still being contested at the state level or in local binding arbitration hearings.

As required by state law, the assessor’s office valued property in the county for a two-year period from mid-2006 to mid-2008, which turned out to be the height of the biggest real estate boom in the county’s history.

This is a recipe for disaster. Most communities depend on a combination of sales tax revenue and property tax revenue to pay for services. In Aspen's case, sales tax revenue is down as much as 15%. Property valuations are being challenged and this is an avalanche of bad news because even if assessments do not change this year, the drop in values is going to gut property tax revenues for several years or more.

So how do you balance a budget for a town like this when revenues dry up?

Imagine that a lot of pet projects are going to get scrapped. Municipal services will get hit. Expect sales and property tax RATES to rise to try to offset the decrease in collections due to lower activity.

Normally, I would describe the bad effects of raising taxes in a bad economy, but the fact is that because the town is mostly a tourist town, only a nationwide improvement in the economy will have any effect on Aspen.

One thing not to cut in Aspen... Police services. Who else will protect Charlie Sheen's wife when he pulls a knife?

Posted by Justin at 11:02 AM