Thursday, January 26, 2012

Powder days and power outages

I bought a season pass for this winter with the idea that I'd be skiing every weekend.  Season opened mid-November (or earlier, I can't remember).  I've been 3 times.  Partially because the snow has absolutely sucked, and partially because life has taken over.  I think I need to go 8 times to make the pass worthwhile - hoping I DEFINITELY make it up there at least 5 more times in the next 2 months.

The snow this winter has been very sad.  We got a ton in October, the ski areas opened up with enthusiasm, and then its barely snowed since. (sad face).  The past 2 weeks, however, have been really snowy, with the areas consistently getting 4 inches every other day or so.  Last weekend was the first big powder day - finally.

My pass is for Winter Park and Copper Mountain.  It looked like Copper would get more snow than WP, so my friend and I decided to go to Copper.  Good call - Copper had 9 inches of fresh snow, WP had 4.  We were up on the slopes by 9 AM and strangely, there weren't a bazillion people out.  I actually got to cut fresh tracks in a few places.

I am not a very good powder skiier.  I'm more of a "spring skiier", meaning groomed, packed, and sometimes icy slopes are what I'm used to.  Powder is tricky.  Instead of leaning forward, you have to lean back, or else you'll catch your tips and tumble.  Its also a LOT more work.  You can't ski as fast and you have to be more alert and able to pick up a ski quickly if it gets buried.  This is the one time where snowboarding looks better than skiing.  On mogul runs (we took several), my friend was gliding all over.  The definition of the bumps were harder to make out under the powder, which freqently led me to go *oof* into a knee-deep gully of powder.  Much more work.  Fun work, but work.  (especially after racing the day before).

We had done 5 long powdery fun runs and skiied down to the center base to hit the Super Bee lift and see what the bump runs looked like on the far side of the mountain.  Halfway up and the lift stops abrubptly with a pretty serious bounce.  A bit freaky as we didn't have the bar down on the lift.  Stopping on the lift isn't unusual, however, stopping and bouncing like that is.  We waited a bit.  Then waited some more.  And some more.  For what seemed like an unusually long time.  A guy on our chair whipped out his phone and saw that Copper had updated their facebook page:
A little more facebook investigation, and we discovered that Copper had to fire up diesel engines at the top of EACH lift to get us up the mountain and off the lift.  Huh. 

Occasionally we'd see a pack of people ski under us, presumably newly rescued from their own lift.  We were still stuck.  And we couldn't see the top of the lift, or any other lifts (trees, clouds, snow, and wind obscured our view) to see if things were moving. We also saw Copper staff hauling ass up and down the hill on snowmobiles, moving too fast to give us an update.  We assumed they were the mechanical crew zipping around, trying to get things running.

Also: it was COLD.  I had somehow decided to wear an extra layer before we left the car.  I had a new jacket and I wasn't sure how it would do in the forecasted windy conditions that afternoon.  This new jacket had vent zippable flaps under each arm, which I had unzipped that morning.  Sitting on that lift in the wind, I had to zip those suckers back up.  Once I did that, my body was pretty warm.  I just had a cold spot on my cheek (I think the wind was getting under my goggles at that spot) and my fingers were incredibly cold.  I kept making a fist inside my glove and moving my fingers around, but they were pretty cold and tingly.  I think if we were stuck another 30 minutes, my fingers would have been in trouble. 
Finally, the lift moved forward with a jerk.  And then it stopped.  And then we inched forward a bit, and stopped again.  We weren't bouncing so much, but a few chairs back were bouncing quite a bit.  Lots more stopping and starting, and each time, we were just hoping that we'd eventually make it up the hill.  Finally the lift was moving (although quite a bit slower than normal) and we could see puffs of exhaust from the diesel engine.  And hooray, we were finally off the lift after 30-45 minutes of being stuck.  A very nice Copper employee was handing out free comp lift tickets to be used later, which was a nice surpirse.  I would have been happy with a voucher for hot chocolate.  But seeing as the ENTIRE RESORT was out of power, hot chocolate probably wasn't even an option.

We took a bit to re-arrange our gear and to try and warm up our hands and took off down the mountain.  This was the final run of the day, so we had to make it count.  So we did, by taking a long bump run.  We got to the bottom at 1:30 and debated sticking around.  In the end, we decided that without power, even getting food or using the bathrooms at the base would be challenging.  Factor in traffic from thousands of other Denver people getting their powder on at the other resorts and crappy road conditions from snow and we decided to pack it in.  I would have liked more runs, but 6 is respectable, given the situation.

All in all, I think Copper handled things as best they could.  I would have appreciated more information when we got to the top of the lift (turned out they kept aux power going on the 4 main lifts to stay open for the rest of the day).  But in a power outage, communications even become challenging, as radios are operated by power.  And how do you communicate things to thousands of people spread out over an entire resort? In in the end, everyone was off the lift safely and pretty quickly (all things considered), and the free lift ticket is a nice bonus.

The only after effect is that my right index finger is numb.  I only notice it when I type or use my mouse.  Its weird.  And it tells me how close I was to getting frostbite.  I may have to look into getting better gloves....  Hopefully my next powder day goes a bit smoother :)

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