I Came to the Mountains

It is the first winter in thirty eight years that I am not up to my eyeballs in tax returns.  Yes, retirement is good.  So what is a guy to do with this new found freedom?  Go to the mountains of course.  The thought of being able to ski after so many seasons on the sidelines was too much to resist.  And so we were off, my wife Deb, my daughter Kathryn and her boyfriend Eli.  For Eli there was the added excitement of skiing moutain terrain for the very first time.  Considering Midwest skiing happens on hills not mountains and the serious elevation might be a whopping 600 feet of vertical drop, this was going to be mind boggling.  And Eli was ready as were all of us.

We chose Winter Park for mutiple reasons.  First and foremost, was a very fee reduced week at a condo provided by a former client and family friend.  Second was the mantra I had heard.  “You go to Aspen for the views, Vail to be viewed and you go to Winter Park to ski.”  This was exactly what we were looking for and we found it.


We arrived on the Sunday afternoon of my birthday.  Did I mention that this was also my birthday gift to myself.  Having flown into Denver, we hopped a shuttle for the ride up to Winter Park, crossing Berthoud Pass at 11,306 feet of elevation.  From there it was back into the Frasier Canyon area and into the village where we arrived at our condo.  I owe it to my benefactor to sing the praises of her condo.  Situated on the banks of the Frasier River and conveniently located in the center of town, we could want for nothing more.  We can both see and hear the river rippling below our balcony and looking east we can see the front slopes of Winter Park Ski Area, beckoning us up.  All around us the Rockies rise majestically to the deep blue Colorado skies.  The condo is functional, comfortable and cozy all rolled into one.  After a satisfying dinner at the quirky Henando’s Pizzeria and Pub, we are ready to plan our early morning rendevous with the ski hill.


Monday morning dawns clear and crisp.  10 degrees to start our day but promises of middle to upper twenties by midday.  Absolutely perfect skiing conditions.  The snow is fast and the air warm enough to ski in relatively light gear and the vistas, thanks to crystal clear skies….out of this world.  From the top, we can see all of the Frasier Valley unfold below while the boundaries of the valley are encircled with 13,000 foot snocapped peaks.  Thirteeners as the locals refer to them.  We will start skiing at 9000 feet and reach 12,060 feet at the summit of Panorama Cirque.  We refer to runs by the only measurement that makes relative sense to us, “that one was a three Cascade”  This is a reference to the local ski hill back home and the only meaningful way we can compare the vertical drop.


The views are spectacular and the range of change from bottom to top can best be described by not only the elevation but the change in temparature.  Shortly before noon we start our ride to the summit.  At base the temperature is a balmy 29 degrees but by the time we approach the summit it has fallen to 2 degrees with a negative 10 degree wind chill.  Of course we had cimbed 3000 feet to get there.  Standing on the summit, we make the decision to take combinations of runs that will allow us to ski a continuous line top to bottom.  Twenty minutes later we reach our lowest access point still a full “Cascade” above the resort base.  We are winded and tired but smiling ear to ear.  We skied non-stop for hours, each run evaluated for its nuances and our favorite features of the run.  Closing time comes too soon but we feel we have skied hard and gotten everything we could out of our time on the mountain.


And this was day one.  Tomorrow and for the next three days we will continue to soak in the mountains, the vistas and the skiing.  Am I happily retired, at this point I can think of no better reward for a life long career of hard work than to be here in the Rockies on top of my world.

Cattle Call…………. Or how I never found a line I didn’t hate


We are flying today, well finally flying.  Like any other airline trip, our morning began at oh four thirty or as Robin Williams coined it in Good Morning Vietnam, “it’s 04:30 as in Oh God it’s early.”  We packed back up and moved on down to the lobby where we grabbed a coffee and got in line for the shuttle to the airport.  I had spent the afternoon before on line pre paying our baggage fees and printing off our boarding passes.  We are TSA approved and we are going to “fly”, pun intended, through the airport and unto our plane.  At least that’s what all those pop up ads and on-line cues promised me.

We enter the terminal at 5:30, still A.M., to be greeted by the line I was sure I would get to skip.  Oh so wrong Toto.  We may have paid for them, but they still wanted to weigh our bags, especially since my wife’s looked like she may be traveling with her own small hotel.  Twenty minutes later we are weighed in and under way once more.  Remember how I said we were TSA pre-checked, no line for us, right?  If you placed that bet, don’t play the lottery today.  There WAS NO TSA pre-checked line in this terminal, only a line that snaked through five turns with dramatic long straight-a-ways designed for making new friends.  I am soon conversing with persons of several nationalities, well, at least we nod a lot and look at each other’s watches, but I am pretty sure we are nearing BFF status.  This line moves quickly…..and again you fell for that and now you should add “free” sales pitches to your list of things to avoid today.  It didn’t, but 45 minutes later we reached the incredibly service oriented check in agent.  I believe she said move it along while stamping my boarding pass as if it were a large insect destined for the promised-land and I was the steer it was riding on.  I think I actually herd Rowdy Yates singing out “ride em in, herd em up, cut em out, move em in Rawhide.”  (Don’t know that one, Google: Rawhide TV show)

So, are you keeping up?  I know I am as I have had plenty of time in line.  We are now finally in the line to disrobe for the TSA.  Thankfully, I get to leave my shoes on.  But then that’s about it.  As I step into the scan booth, I have a metal knee so I get the deluxe treatment, and why doesn’t it show up on the X-ray as opposed to the box around my private area, the technician asks me, no that’s far too kind compared to what she actually says as she loudly proclaims “pull your pants up.”  In my head, I imagine the “old man” added to the end of the request.  My only response at this point is that you should’ve left me keep my belt if that was the hoped for result.  A delightful pat down later and a retrieval of my personals and we have cleared line four of the morning.  Good thing we arrived a day before our flight…. Alright…. that’s a little sarcastic but I’ve had two cups of coffee this morning and for a non-coffee drinker, that is sufficient to carry me well past witty and deep into the realm where only sarcasm can exist.  And as the ad says, “But wait, there’s more.”

We arrive at our gate, the last one in Terminal 3, wing L, gate infinity.  We find two seats, park our weary feet, and are immediately informed that the flight has been moved to the other end of the terminal.  We are nearly trampled as our now terribly familiar cattle drive, stampedes toward the new gate, only to find out our plane is now departing, and there is a bit of ironic word usage, a half hour late and I just blew past the breakfast stop.  Oh well, now I have additional time to go back for breakfast.  I am committed to something fast so I head back down the terminal to those friendly Golden Arches.  What could go wrong, its fast food and I figure heavy on the FAST part.  I could believe that but I would be wrong.  It was anything but fast, though thankfully the line of hungry cattle was friendly or at least equally sarcastic and that seemed the same as friendly.  I need to describe the scene.  There is a middle-aged gentleman ordering food, cell phone held six inches from his face, screaming into the phone about his credit card that has been denied for the fourth time this week.  I am so glad he has decided to hold us all here as his jury of peers offering us the chance to decide on the guilt or innocence of some poor service person on the end of that cell phone shout out.  I and the woman next to me have already found the credit card agent innocent of all misdeeds and are even considering her for a humanitarian award.  Meanwhile, the cashier is loudly shouting out numbers to the milling cattle herd.  My new name is number 482.  I am feeling the love for sure.  I hope I get the “happy meal”.

Eventually served and fed, I am back down to the gate arriving just as they call general boarding for our flight.  Not to be left out, and certain the plane will bolt away from the gate without us, my wife motions me into, here it comes, our next line.  And to make it all that much better, once we cleared the boarding pass scan line we are on a jet way that leaves me fearing that our plane is already parked at the Orlando Airport and we are walking there on this jet way maze.

All stories must come to an end, ironically, just as all lines do, but this one had one more twist.  In a saga that couldn’t have gone any other way, our plane taxied out to the runway where we were informed we would be returning to our gate as some still unnamed crew member had not properly filled out their paperwork.  Of course…it had to end this way.   It would have been anticlimactic if it hadn’t.  In a twist of fate, I wonder if the unnamed crew person is now destined to their own line, applying for unemployment benefits.

We are in the air now and soon the snow and cold will be left behind, traded for a week of sun and sand, I just hope that I can find a line somewhere because God knows, I am a line standing, gold medal Olympian at this point.