Thursday, December 5, 2013

Deep Freeze in the Mountains and thoughts about winter

Recently I've been reading a novel set in early December along northern California's Mendocino coast. The setting is a gloomy one, with trees (including giant sequoias) dripping with rain. There is looming fog, dim, diffused light, and the general depressed air of a damp winter.

Meanwhile, people in a mansion overlooking the ocean are preparing a bright holiday celebration including chamber orchestras, bright oak-log fires, mulled wine and mead, and every sort of festal food. The contrast between the outside gloom and the bright firelight is striking.

Yesterday at the High Mountain Lodge, a bitter cold spell settled in, and I awoke early this morning before dawn to go over and check the pipes and the heating situation in the guest lodge. I was thinking about that novel. It was dark as pitch. The cold was bone chilling, and the snow that had fallen overnight actually squeaked when I walked on it.

We are tumbling toward the shortest and darkest day of the year in just a few weeks but aren't even there yet. I anxiously went through all our guest rooms, running hot water down every drain to make sure that the sewer line wouldn't freeze up. I know, I know--other cold places in the country worry about their pipes freezing; up here, we get anxious when the sewer ices up. They have even invented a machine to thaw out a sewer line. It's a cross between a power washer and a roto-rooter. You hook it up to your hot water tank....

But I digress.

After checking all the rooms for warmth, and making sure the utility chase between the first and second floor of the lodge was warm, with no icy blasts chilling the pipes, I squeaked my way back to the dining lodge and our owner's quarters, took a shower, and got dressed for the day.

When I next went outside the sun was up, and it smacked me in the face and dazzled me. The sky was so dark blue it was almost purple, and the snow on the mountains and down in the pasture was so amazingly bright that I thought of a 16th century poet's made-up word, "glistering," a combination of "glistening" and "blistering."

Of course, the temperature was nine below, but the sunlight was brighter and sharper than the warmest Caribbean beach.

So much for gloomy northern California contrasts between the indoors and outside. I guess you could call Colorado winters "postmodern" when it comes to the usual traditional and literary ideas of our darker months. A hundred years ago, when Christina Rosetti wrote, "In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan. Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone," she accurately described the condition of the earth and water. But there's nothing bleak about a Colorado winter.

Yes, we will have crackling fires in the fireplaces at the High Mountain Lodge this winter. Yes, we will have bright celebrations with good food and drink. There may be some overcast days, and the wind can blow like the Big Bad Wolf.

But outside the Lodge rooms and away from the crackling fires, there is a world of exquisite winter beauty. I hope you are lucky enough to experience it; it would be really cool if you experienced it with us (that's a shameless marketing plug).

Julie and I hope to see you this not-so-bleak winter.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Early Snows Promise Good Early Skiing

Don't let her "Poor Little Match Girl" look distract you. Murphy, the Lodge Dog, loves her some snow.

It started snowing for real up at the High Mountain Lodge in October. We have had five significant snowstorm (more than 6 inches) since then.

All indications point toward an amazing early ski season for Winter Park.

Generally, this time of year, skiers can expect--at best--one or perhaps two runs of man-made snow at the resort. However, if the trend we experienced in October continues (always a gamble), we may have some pretty decent skiing by Opening Day in just a couple of weeks.

And there's nothing to suggest that skiers and snowboarders who choose to upgrade that classic winter song to "I'm dreaming of a White Thanksgiving" will be disappointed.

Come join us for some early-season snow sports, and plan to spend Thanksgiving with us. Julie is making a traditional feast with all the trimmings (thank God for the three ovens in the High Mountain Lodge's kitchen). Details on our website.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Blockbuster® circa 1995 is alive and well at the High Mountain Lodge

When Julie and I bought the High Mountain Lodge over four years ago, we went through the usual negotiations with the seller about what was going to be left with the property, and what the seller wanted to retain.

One of the most amusing contingencies in the contract was that the seller wanted to retain possession of the library of video tapes that, at the time, were on shelves in the Lodge's office. When our real estate agents mentioned that contingency, I almost fell over laughing. "You're kidding, right? Who wants a bunch of VHS tapes? They don't even make VCRs any more!"

Well, evidently, the seller came to his senses; when we took possession of the Lodge, there they were, in all their paleolithic glory, still on the shelves. The seller never exercised that particular contingency.

In the years since we bought the Lodge, as our friends' and relatives' VCRs  bit the dust, we have been the recipients of their video libraries. Our unwelcome collection of VHS tapes has tripled in size since the seller abandoned his original collection, and the tapes have been collecting dust in boxes in just about every room of our living quarters since we didn't have any more space in the office to shelve them with the original collection.

Just this past month, since the government shutdown and the consequent closure of Rocky Mountain National Park left us without our usual compliment of guests coming up to the high country to ooh and aah at the changing color of the aspens, we set about accomplishing a project that had been hanging fire for at least a year.

We built a series of shelves at the end of our rec room designed for videos. For three days, now, we have been carting over boxes of tapes and arranging them on the shelves. The shelves cover the entire back wall of the rec room, and already, we're wondering if we need more room to house them all.

Lest you think we're complete Luddites, there is also a rather good selection of DVDs, as well.

When you visit us, feel free to indulge yourself in a marathon of trashy movies from the 80s and 90s. But please don't feel obligated to bring your old videos with you. Our shelves are full.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Raspberry Month

Recently we got a Facebook invitation from a new friend in the Fraser Valley who invited us to her secret raspberry hunting grounds.

Like Italian truffle hunters who take circuitous routes to disguise the location of their favorite spots, denizens of the Fraser Valley take their raspberries seriously.

Luckily for us, our secret raspberry patch is just below the dining room windows, and I have been watching it in the last few warmer days bloom with pecks--if not bushels--of ripe raspberries.

The plan is to include our own raspberries in the fruit we serve at breakfast at the Lodge for the rest of August and into September. Additionally, I hope to put up some jars of raspberry jam that we will serve to our guests this winter when snow drifts out of the west completely overwhelm the raspberry canes.

Our berries are smaller than the mutant giants we get at the grocery store, but they are oh-so-sweet. Be the envy of all your friends and come visit us during Raspberry Month.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

They don't call it "mud season" for nothin'

When T.S. Eliot observed that "April is the cruelest month," it was clear that the man from Missouri who bugged out to Britain had never been to the Colorado high country in the month of May.

Since Winter Park Ski Resort closed on April 21, we have had three (count 'em) blizzards that each dropped between six and twelve inches of snow on us.

Two days later, the snow was gone, the sky blue, the sun warm, and newcomers were left shaking their heads. "What was hell was that all about?"

I hung out two loads of laundry this afternoon to dry in the wind-whipped sunshine, and I got the last sheets off the line just as a rain squall raced over Sheep Mountain like sleet-frozen Valk├┐ries in a bad production of Wagner. That rain turned into a short-lived horizontal snow squall that has since been replaced by the most marvelous warm sunshine. I'm not holding my breath that it will stick around, even until sundown. There are still some evil-looking clouds Over Yonder.

Our neighbors across the road, students at a Bible School, have had the power washer and the shop vac out all day trying to get their cars cleaned up for spring. Silly children. Even prayer isn't gonna keep the dirt roads--mud roads this time of the year--from soiling the spit-polish shine on their vehicles.

Actually, having a clean vehicle in Grand County this time of the year is a sign that "you ain't from around here." Locals keep a suspicious eye on people driving clean cars, hoping the drivers won't snap and turn homicidal when denied visions of fields of columbine waving in the breeze (that happens in July).

Last week, before we drove down to Denver for a celebration of an anniversary, I filled the gas tank and spent eleven dollars for an "ultimate" car wash at the gas station. "Why are you spending so much money?" Julie wondered.

"Well, if we're stopped for a traffic offense and CHP notices that our license plate is obscured by mud, I don't want to get shot before we can explain that we're not felons fleeing justice. Besides, we're going to Denver, and I don't want people to think ill of us because we have a dirty car."

Julie snorted. "The way you drive, it doesn't take a muddy car for you to get flipped off in Denver traffic."

"I'm out of practice driving in the city," I whined. "I couldn't help that I was looking at the snow on the Continental Divide last week and that truck had to drive into the ditch."

"Lucky the sheriff hasn't been around."

"Something to be said for a muddy license plate."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thoughts in Mid-Winter

Yes, I know, it's just a little more than a month until spring. This high in the mountains, however, winter is notorious for holding on with gritted teeth until well into spring and sometimes almost into summer. It's not unusual up here to have the new-blooming Pasque Flowers to get covered in several inches of snow. Silly vegetation.

Besides, the marmot saw his shadow at Winter Park on February 2, so that means two more months of winter--never mind what happens with that fat sleepy woodchuck in Pennsylvania.

So it's still midwinter here at the High Mountain Lodge, and what a wonderful winter it's turning out to be. After some spectacular snow around Christmas, the weather pattern shifted, and we were left high and pretty dry during January.

But all that changed when February rolled around.  We have been getting modest snow storms every few days, which is keeping the terrain soft at Winter Park Ski Area and the edges of our skis from getting dull.

With the predictable snow falls, weekends have been filling up here at the High Mountain Lodge with last-minute skiers from the Front Range. And we are getting a lot of bookings from further-flung areas as well. And all our guests are getting to see Colorado at its finest. Today, the sky is an eye-popping blue, and the sun is shining on newly-fallen snow. The peaks are white and starkly outlined against the impossibly blue sky. The air is crisp and cold, but we'll be warm enough once we get to the area and begin carving turns.

We hope you can join us this year.