Monday, April 26, 2010

Catching Our Breath

You gotta love irony. The High Mountain Lodge closed on Sunday, April 18th--the same day as Winter Park ski area. By the end of the week, we had had some of the best snow of the season. Alas! The snow was so good that CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) closed Berthoud Pass because of avalanche danger. The only way you could get to any of the ski areas still open was driving halfway to Salt Lake City before going south (I'm exaggerating, but not by much).

When confronted with the choice of doing laundry or driving through Kremmling to go skiing, you start washing sheets.

Then we had friends come in to spend a night. They had to wait half a day to get over the pass before CDOT opened it, but when they arrived, we had a good time. We made a lot of music, drank a lot of beer and wine, ate good food, and generally enjoyed each other's company.

Even with the ski area closed, it's pretty awesome around here. There's still snow on the high peaks on both sides of the Fraser valley. True, the mud does get pretty deep, and you can tell locals from visitors by the amount of splash-back on their vehicles. But in the Fraser valley right now, the views of the snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide or to the west of Byers Peak and the further peaks of the Gore Range are so jaw-dropping beautiful that if, while wandering about in thigh-deep mud, you fall into a ditch and die, at least your last images of life will be comparable with any museum experience.

Later this week, we're embarking on the first of two mini-vacations: one to Oklahoma to visit relatives, watch rodeo, and get reacquainted with high-school buddies; later in May, we're heading to North Carolina to see Julie's relatives. After a visit with them, we're heading down to the South Carolina low country. Of course, we're staying in Bed & Breakfasts. One of the places we're staying is outside of Charleston, and their B&B website boasts two Famous Recipes, both based on grits.

"Honey," asks my wife, "What are grits?"

"They're good stuff. They're awesome stuff."

"Then why have I never had any?"

"You never had any because your mother was a Yankee from Pennsylvania who, when she decided to learn how to cook, subscribed to Bon Appetit instead of Southern Living."

"But you never cook them either. Why not?"

"My mama was a Republican from Cincinnati. About the closest we ever came to grits was boiled canned hominy. I don't know how to cook them."

Julie gave me one of those disappointed looks; I'm not sure if she was disappointed because I didn't know how to cook grits or because I felt ashamed from my lack of knowledge.

"This will be an interesting vacation," she said.

Oh, yea.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mud Season

Yesterday, my son, Mark, and I skied the last day at Winter Park for the season. We were some of the last people up the Panoramic lift at Mary Jane before they closed it until next November, but coming down the face of Parsen Bowl was a little bit less than wonderful. A couple of inches of powder didn't hide the fact that we were skiing on crud. "Well," said Mark, "that wasn't the best run of the day."

At the end of the day, Mark took me down Hughes, a famous run leading to the base of Winter Park. It was my first time ever to ski it. Truth be told, I couldn't have found it without his help. Winter Park is not the most intuitive ski mountain, and it has skiing secrets.

The snow was nasty, but it wasn't that nasty. Coming down from Mary Jane, we saw ski patrollers taking down fences around hazards. "That's dangerous," I thought, "skiers could hurt themselves," but then I reflected that we were just about the last legal skiers on that run for the season.

The family had a celebratory dinner at a restaurant in Winter Park that evening. In the face of a bad economy, we'd had a huge number of wonderful people stay at the High Mountain Lodge, and we needed to enjoy each other's company. It was a disappointing meal for me, but Julie and Mark liked their selections.

After the wildness in the restaurant on the last day of ski season, it was eerie going into the Safeway this evening to buy food. Gone were the exhausted skiers buying anything they could cook quickly in their rented condos. Everybody was gone. There was no reason for anybody to stick around.

Driving out to the store this afternoon to get groceries, I came around the corner of the road and saw the Continental Divide stretched out from north to south as far as the eye could see. It was stunning, the contrast of the white of the snow on the high peaks with the fading colors of the forests down below. Murphy, the Lodge Dog, thought she saw the neighborhood fox about then, and she barked her way into the Safeway parking lot in Fraser. After we got to the Safeway, she forgot about the fox and turned her attention to the dogs tied up outside the grocery store. Lordy, the racket she raised. Hanging out the window of our Subaru, she let out a chorus of barks at the dogs tied to pillars around the front of the store, and they responded with some deep-throated "woofs."

The funny thing was, outside of two dogs tied to posts and Murphy barking from the car window, there weren't that may living things in the parking lot.

Mud season had arrived. The Safeway had noted that fact by halving the price of most of its groceries. There was nobody in the store, when a week before, you couldn't have found your way down any aisle without tangling with visitors from elsewhere in the country half your age who prefaced every comment with "Dude!" As in: "Dude! I know your girlfriend's a vegetarian, but that sausage looks awesome!"

There's nobody here right now, except us. Locals sort of recognize each other in a sort of shell-shocked way. We have a month or so before the summer crowds show up.