I’m posting this a few weeks after the actual trip. It wasn’t an easy trip and I truly struggled. But I saw and did things that I really want to share that made it a trip worth taking. It’s a good story and the photos are fantastic. I hope you enjoy it.
I love traveling with Laurie. She is by far my most wonderful travel companion, and I’m blessed to be married to someone that enjoys traveling as much as I do. But sometimes she has other things going on and I don’t feel like sitting at home. When this happens, I travel alone.
Laurie tries to go to an annual get together with friends, normally in April. Sometimes she has yoga training. Usually when this happens, I’ll go fishing or visit friends. Last year I went to Washington, D.C. Her get together fell on Easter weekend this year and I didn’t want to go back to D.C., it’s a bit too early to fish, and most of my friends were busy. This year, I got ambitious and headed to Colorado to ski.
When I was in college, my winter job was on mountain at Winterplace, a small ski hill in West Virginia. I had lots of different jobs. I was a ski tech, I instructed, I did video and photo work, rental shop, lots of different jobs. If it got me skiing, I did it. I skied with the same people every winter for years and kept in touch with a few after I left the area.
I thought it would be cool to get someone to go to Colorado with me, especially if I could find one of the old crew. I started thinking of who I could ask from the old crew and really couldn’t come up with anyone. One had major health issues and had trouble living day to day. Others had back problems, one hadn’t been in years, others moved away and I lost touch. Some I knew didn't ski anymore. I couldn’t figure out anyone to even ask.
I knew one woman that I skied with only once or twice who goes with her kids every few years, but that’s as close as I could find to someone in my old crew that still skis. Turns out if I was going to ski, I’d have to go it alone. It seems of the old on mountain bunch from back in the day, I was the last one that still skied. To coin a phrase, I was the last man standing.
It makes me sad that others are struggling. It is a constant reminder that age is bearing down on us. We all age and there’s nothing we can do about that. We get along the best we can according to our current abilities, but situations like this are a blatant reminder of the fact I’m getting older. But getting older is a gift, and many do not get the chance.
I’ve got my issues too. My knees aren’t the greatest and I had surgery on one a few years ago. I manage as best I can using a brace, but I’m lucky. I’m still able to keep going. I can’t ski like I used to, and my knees come with limitations like “no gates, no moguls, no diamonds”. I am aware that I’m still physically able to go and I’m quite thankful for this. If the deal is no gates/moguls/diamonds, but I still get to ski……..I’ll take that deal. I’m headed to Colorado.
Delta has seat back monitors on most flights now. They also have both USB and A/C power in most seats. They are doing it better than everyone else right now.
Laurie and I woke up early and headed to the airport. We had breakfast after security and then I flew west and she flew east. Delta worked best for me with schedule and number of miles. I transferred in Detroit and arrived Denver early afternoon. I have to say that Delta has stepped up their game. All seats had both USB and AC power, along with seat back monitors. Most other airlines only have these on international flights. They did a great job getting me there. Kuddos to Delta.
I have to say I’m impressed with Delta and the Denver airport. I walked off the plane, walked to baggage claim where my bag was already on the carousel, and went straight out the door to the shuttle bus for the car rental. It was so quick and so easy I kept thinking I was missing something.
I was using National for rental and you don’t even have to check in. You walk to the “Emerald Aisle” and just pick a car and drive it away. They scan your license as you leave the gate and you’re on your way. Here’s the amazing part……from the time I walked off the plane to the time I was sitting in a rental car……twenty-two minutes. That’s quick.
My steed, a new Nissan 4 x 4
There were many different types of rental cars to choose from. I chose a small four wheel drive pickup and headed out. I went west across Denver and headed up into the mountains. The traffic thinned out, the views got better, and I could see snow on the mountains in front of me. About an hour into my trip, I made my first stop at Breeze Rentals in Dumont, Colorado.
It was quite convenient, right by the interstate, and it had a Starbucks right in the ski shop! I had reserved a decent pair of demo skis. I walked up to the counter, gave them my name, and was trying on boots in seconds. The rental tech said “You’re from Sparta???” Turns out he was from Lenoir City, a little over an hour from where we live! He had me out in minutes, a really nice guy.
The guy running the rental shop at Breeze Rentals.......a Tennessee native!
I continue to head straight up. Denver is at around 5200 feet above sea level, and the mountains climb rapidly as soon as you leave town. The interstate is covered in trucks crawling along, both up and down the grade. I arrive in Keystone which is at 9200 feet, and where I am staying. I pick up the keys to my condo and head to it.
Keystone village is part of the Keystone ski resort, but I wasn’t skiing at Keystone as it had closed a week and a half before. Consequently, condos were quite reasonable. My condo rents for around 600 a night during season. Two bedrooms, heated ski lockers, pool, hot tub, underground parking, elevator, hide a bed couches, 3 flat screens, two baths, full kitchen, and two balconies. And it’s just me. 100 bucks a night off season. The place was great, and it’s six miles from where I’m going to ski….Arapahoe Basin!
The rental was fantastic. AirBNB and managed by Summit Rentals. Five stars all around.
I stow my gear and head into Dillon, about 6 miles away. I grocery shop and have dinner at Smashburger, an unhealthy favorite of mine. I head back, stock the kitchen, prep my gear, and get everything ready for my first ski day. I’m quite excited and even though I’m by myself, I’m really looking forward to hitting the mountain the next day. I watch TV and doze off.
I wake the next morning, make breakfast, gather my gear and head up the mountain to Arapahoe Basin, A-Basin for short. I arrive in plenty of time, get a great parking spot in the “early riser’s” parking lot, and start getting my gear together. I look up the mountain to see a squall line of snow coming down the mountain! Fresh snow!!!!!
I pick up my lift ticket and I notice the altitude really takes it out of me. Denver is at 5200, my condo is at 9200, and the top of A-Basin is over 13000 feet. Just walking to get my ticket I notice that I’m tired and am breathing hard. At that altitude the air has less oxygen and your body has to work harder to get the oxygen it needs. I put my boots on, grab my skis, and get up to the lodge……and have to sit down and rest.
In line and getting my lift ticket scanned. Up we go!
I’ve skied Chamonix in Europe with elevations over 8000 feet. I’ve skied Zugspitze in Germany at around 9000 feet (at the ski area). You notice it…but get used to it fairly quickly. But the top of the mountain at A-basin was four THOUSAND feet higher! I really noticed the altitude, and I noticed it quickly. I ignored it and headed up the mountain. I was finally here and was going to ski, altitude be damned.
I got to the top and did a couple of easy runs just to get my feet under me and not overdo it. I come into the lodge to rest as this is wearing me out. During one of my rest periods I am approached by a guy in a yellow jacket. It seems that A-Basin has a free mountain tour program where volunteers go up the mountain, ski with you, and show you around. I’m talked into the tour by the guy doing it.
We head up, do a few slopes and learn about the mountain. The tour guide thing is a really nice touch, making it much easier to find your way around. I learned about short cuts to the parking lot from the hill, warming huts hidden in the trees, the different slopes and all kinds of nifty tricks. Everyone I’ve met from folks in the parking lot, tour guides, lift operators, and other skiers are incredibly nice and welcoming. I REALLY like the place. A-Basin grows on you quick.
The view from the top at A-Basin
I drop down in a bowl. I haven’t skied bowls before and it’s quite interesting. There are no trees, rocks, no obstacles. Suddenly, fog drops in the bowl and I can’t see anything. It’s all white, no landmarks, no way to figure out where you’re at or where you’re going. I hold a ski pole out and can hardly see the end of it. I’m unable to tell where I am or which direction I’m heading. I’m in trouble.
I’m moving, but slowly. I try to find something, somewhere, anywhere to sit out of the way until this fog passes. I can’t even tell which way is uphill and which way is down. The lack of landmarks starts to disorient me. I find out later that these situations will induce vertigo. While struggling to find some landmark where I can sit down out of the way, I hook a patch of ice and twist my good knee.
I’m on my own so I sit a while hoping I haven’t injured myself badly. It definitely hurts. Eventually the fog lifts enough that I can see a short way. I get myself up and think I can get to the mid-mountain lodge. I’m being very careful and it does hurt, but I make it to the lodge. I limp inside and grab a table, planning on nursing my wounds for a while.
The mid-mountain lodge, a place to lick my wounds. They have great BBQ by the way.
The food at the resort is quite good, and the mid-mountain lodge has BBQ. I have a great lunch, keep my knee still for a while, and just rest. I’m pretty beat up at this point, with an injured knee, and fighting the effects of altitude. I’ve also started to have a headache, which I figured was a by-product of the fall. I don’t really feel well.
I do a few more runs on the bunny slopes just to get some range back in the knee. I don’t want it to get stiff, but I notice I can’t do clean turns like I normally do. I’m sort of dragging the injured leg. I’m hurt, I don’t feel well, I have a headache. Perhaps I should quit early and head back to the condo to rest.
These are moguls. The terrain here is incredible, and I have to constantly tell myself......No, you are not allowed to do that.
I get to the bottom of the mountain and lug my gear to the truck, once again noticing how difficult it is to catch my breath. I head down the mountain and arrive at the condo. I put my skis in the locker on the main floor of the building and head upstairs to my condo. I leave a string of clothes across the apartment and wind up on the bed.
At this point I feel like garbage. My face is beet red, which I attribute to windburn. I think I have a fever and my head is really starting to hurt. I hope I’m not getting the flu or something. The air is really dry and it’s starting to tear up my sinuses and skin. I think this place is trying to kill me. I drift off to sleep for a while, even though it’s the middle of the afternoon.
I wake up, have a microwave dinner and go back to bed. I don’t sleep well, struggling all night. With the symptoms I have, I wonder if I have carbon monoxide poisoning as the symptoms are kind of similar. I think about it a bit further and realize that they heat in the building is electric baseboard. The gas fireplace was never used. There is no combustion source to create carbon monoxide.
At this point, I start to realize that I have altitude sickness. My symptoms are classic, and the normal time at altitude before onset winds up exactly when I started to feel bad. I am surprised as I’ve skied at high altitude before and it hasn’t bothered me. Sleep helped but it didn’t fix things.
We had just a bit of snow overnight......
I get up but don’t feel like much breakfast. I eat a little bit, get my ski clothes on and start over the mountain towards Loveland, a ski area right on the continental divide straddling I-70. About half way up the mountain I hit heavy snow. It’s really coming down and the roads are pretty nasty. I take my time and get to Loveland a little after opening.
I get my lift ticket and start toting my skis over to the slopes. I am not feeling 100 percent but they have four inches of fresh powder at the base of the mountain and about ten at the top. I simply can’t pass this by, even if I’m only able to ski for a while. I head up the lift towards the top and am quickly enveloped in a very heavy snowfall. I don’t have issues like the day prior with the fog….but it’s snowing really hard.
A massive layer of fresh fluff covers all of Loveland ski area. 8 inches or more at top and at least 4 at the bottom. A day to kill for.
These are the kinds of ski days you dream about. Fresh powder, reasonable temperatures, conditions are fantastic. I just wish I was. I honestly wonder if I’m getting too old to do this anymore. It bothers me that I can’t keep up and I’m struggling so badly. My knee hurts and I feel awful. It weighs heavily on my mind that maybe age is catching up with me. The mountain is kicking my ass.
I notice that while I may be the last one skiing out of my old crew, I’m actually younger than many on the mountain. I see people that I know are in their 70’s skiing. I take solace in this. I actually pass a woman I would guess was in her late 70’s coming down the hill with an oxygen accumulator slung over her shoulder. She obviously has breathing problems but refuses to quit….refuses to lay down. These are my people. You go girl.
On the way up at Loveland. I am beat to hell, and I feel awful. But I go anyway as a point of honor.
I press on as long as possible, but run out of steam after a few hours, and I take an hour rest/lunch. I spend my break sharing a table with a guy who was a butcher in a grocery store in Denver. We talk about skiing, the area, our jobs, our kids. He’s there with his kid, who shows up while his dad is in line getting a sandwich.
The kid is a snowboarder and has obviously been indulging in Colorado’s newest thing…..legal weed. He's baked. The kid sits down and talks to me until his dad returns. He’s courteous, thrilled about the snow, eager to share information about the mountain, and like every single person I’ve met in Colorado, nice.
The one thing that has truly surprised me is that no matter what age, vocation, education, etc., the people are universally accepting and nice. I am obviously a visitor, but really don’t feel any attitude from the locals. They seem not only tolerant of us visitors, but are welcoming and inclusive. From other skiers, to lift operators, to grocery store cashiers, to the guy serving at the cafeteria at the resort…….just nice. I like it here. I just wish I felt better.
The warming hut at the top of Chet's Dream at Loveland. Like A-Basin, this is a ski area populated by locals. I love Loveland too. The areas, and more importantly the people at them, are fantastic.
I ski another hour and I’m spent, so I head to the truck and drive the half hour back to the condo. I haven’t been eating much and still feel horrible so I make a trip back to Dillon to the grocery store. I saw something that I thought was a fad earlier but at this point I’m grasping for straws. I pay 16 bucks for a small canister of aviation grade oxygen from the grocery store pharmacy, head back to the condo, and crash on the bed. I have not been eating much and have not been drinking my customary coffee, having heard that caffeine makes it worse .
I found a humidifier in the bedroom closet and fill it, hoping it will help. I watch bad sitcoms the rest of the evening, too tired to move and feeling bad enough where moving around just isn’t something I want to do. I take periodic hits off the oxygen in hopes it will perk me up. I really don’t notice a difference, but it can’t hurt.
Did it help? I don't know. But I did it anyway.
Laurie calls me before bed time each night to check on me. I feel bad, and I miss her and wish she were with me. I haven’t felt well enough to socialize with anyone, and have saved every ounce of energy for skiing. It’s nice to talk to her before I drift off to sleep.
I wake up on morning three and while not 100 percent, I don’t feel horrible. I get up and head uphill to A-Basin, wondering how my day is going to go. For over two days I have had a very rough time with altitude sickness. I’m hoping it may hold off just a little for one day, so I can have a day that doesn’t end in total collapse. I arrive early enough to get one of the good parking spots and I gear up and head to the lifts.
I go up the mountain and I’m not feeling as beaten up as days past. The snow is good from yesterday’s dumping, it’s a clear day, and the views are awesome. You can see for probably 30 miles or more from the top. From 13000 feet, Colorado stretches out like a carpet, with snow capped peaks poking up from the valleys. It's gorgeous. This is what I came for, this is what makes traveling worthwhile. I’m finally doing a bit better.
Headed up at A-Basin
I do a few bunny runs to warm up. After these runs I ride the lift with a young guy I’ve never met. He’s mid 20’s, a hardcore. He’s lean and solid, and does this a lot. He’s in good shape and tears the mountain up every day he can. He reminds me of myself so many years ago when I practically lived on mountain. We talk on our trip up and I find out he’s from the area.
I tell him how hard I have struggled with altitude sickness and how it has debilitated me the past few days. I tell him that I am concerned that I’m getting too old to do this anymore. He says “Dude. It’s not you. Altitude sickness has nothing to do with age, fitness, or anything they can pin down. I have lived in Denver, up in the mountains, and in the area around the mountains my whole life. I had altitude sickness a couple weeks ago.”
Vast, open fields of corduroy. It makes carving turns almost effortless. This is such an amazing place to ski regardless of skill. I love Colorado, and I truly love A-Basin.
I can think of nothing that anyone could have told me that meant as much. It was simple. “Dude. It’s not you.” And he shared that even though he was much younger and in much better shape, he too struggled.
I found incredible comfort in that. I’m not too old yet. While still favoring my knee, I pushed harder, and skied better the rest of the day. I don’t know who the kid was…..but I want to say thank you. It meant more than you know. You were kind. If I ever meet you again, beers are on me.
Sitting down at the edge of the snowfields, resting for a moment and enjoying the view.
For two and a half days this mountain kicked my ass. On day three…….it was my turn. I was careful due to the knee, but I skied the bowls. I skied the trails. I rested in an Adirondack chair in the sun and took in the vistas and watched the people. I had a good lunch. I ENJOYED myself. Colorado has shown me its charms, and I am smitten.
I skied down the mountain mid afternoon and decided I had such a good day I would not push my luck. I wind up at a place unique to Arapahoe Basin. It’s world famous and they call it “The Beach”. People set up grills and cook out. They have corporate get togethers. Friends band together and stake out a spot to drink beer and just enjoy such a gorgeous day. A band has set up under a canopy and supplies the whole shindig with live music. It is unique with an energy that cannot be conveyed, only experienced. It is incredible.
When I read about "The Beach" at A-Basin, I said...."yeah, what's the big deal?" I get it now. It's not a place. It's a thing that can only be understood by going there.
Everyone is friendly and talks to you. They are inviting and inclusive. I ask a guy to take my photo to send to Laurie. I am upright, still in one piece, and still able to do this. I am smiling, and it is sincere. The difficult days I had prior, the altitude sickness, the time laying down just recovering……slip away and become a distant memory.
One good day of skiing, one day where I felt good, one person who showed me a kindness. One good day. These things turned it all around, a transformation that I didn’t expect but sorely needed. Today was a good day, and one I’ll remember. The little things count.
This day........was a good day.
I had another day, but I didn’t want to push my knee. I decided to take the day off, and head down the mountain towards Denver. I would explore and find something to do other than ski. After the day I had yesterday, I knew I could not improve on it. I would accept it for the gift it was. I packed and checked out of the condo.
I wound up at the Haywood Café in Keystone. I had a leisurely breakfast, and chatted with the waitress about nothing in particular. I had nowhere I needed to be until my flight left very early on Sunday morning. I departed Keystone with no particular destination and headed east. I felt good.
I stop at Breeze Rentals in Dumont to drop off my skis. I step out of the truck and feel a bit dizzy. I shrug it off and take my skis to the rental counter. I’m turning my gear in a day early, but that’s my choice. I expect nothing special but the guy who checks in my gear says “you get a day refund. You turned in early!” They credited my card for a day rental. The blessings of Colorado continue to come.
Like I said.....they're a pretty accepting bunch around here......
I head back to the truck and I’m still a little dizzy. I have Menier’s Disease, an inner ear disorder that causes issues with dizziness. I feel lucky that I have a case that is reasonably manageable. I wonder if the altitude sickness is triggering it and plan on taking it very easy the rest of the day.
I go a few more miles toward Denver and decide that I will go to Central City/Blackhawk. These are old mining towns that are now populated with casinos. I decide I will sit for a while and play poker….and give my head some time to settle down. Laurie calls to say hello and I talk to her while I drive. I fill her in on what’s going on.
I notice that the light headedness is not going away. Laurie has been married to me for 32 years and has seen how Menier’s affects me on the very rare occasions I have problems. She’s concerned and I promise her that I’ll find someplace and hole up, and let this pass. I figure sitting still at a poker table in a dimly lit casino will fill the bill.
By the time I park the truck, it’s obvious I’ll need to do something about the dizziness and I can’t drive until it passes. I carry a scopolamine patch with me all the time (one of those that goes behind your ear for motion sickness) and I put it behind my ear. I don’t need one often and they always expire before I use them. I’ve only used maybe 4 or 5 of them in the last 30 years, but when I need one, they do the trick.
They do have a sense of humor out here.
I slowly walk around for a while and head into the casino. I spend an unremarkable afternoon playing poker. Didn’t win, didn’t lose much, but it gave me time to sit down and get things together. Late afternoon I’m doing better and I decide to head towards the airport. I grab a hotel about ten minutes from the airport, have a burger at a diner, and crash. I have to get up at 3:45 a.m. to be on a 6 a.m. flight.
I wake at an ungodly hour and head to the airport. I drop my rental and hop the shuttle bus to the terminal. I arrive with plenty of time to spare. I hop my Delta flight to Minneapolis, where I transfer to a Nashville flight. I grab some sleep on the flights on the way back to Nashville.
I struggled this trip, probably more than I ever have in my travels. My body didn’t react the way I expected and it made for pretty tough going. I was by myself and had to take care of myself when things went sideways. I had to be self-reliant, whether I felt like it or not.
I’ll go back, but I’ll probably do things different. I’m thinking I’ll stay in Denver and just deal with the hour commute to the ski resorts. I’m hoping that staying at a lower altitude will help mitigate the huge change in altitude from Denver to the ski hill (around 8000 feet difference, 5200 vs. 13000). I’ll try other things and other strategies. I’ll find a way.
This gorgeous photo was taken on what I considered my "good day". It is from Loveland Pass, elevation 11991 feet above sea level. That is NOT the sun. This photo was taken at around 11:20 PM. While not visible, there are people skiing by moonlight. Colorado reveals one more surprise for me, a parting gift to entice me back. It worked.
One day. That one day where it all came together. That one day where someone revealed that I wasn’t alone and they struggled too. A trip where I cannot recall a single person who was not cordial and nice to me. Fantastic ski mountains with incredible vistas. A wonderful place with an incredible culture that you just want to be a part of. That one day made it all worthwhile.
I will return to A-Basin. If I’m going to be the last man standing..........the last of my old crew still on the hill……I have to.