Day 3 – Monday, January 9
Today is the day I’m actually going to attempt to ski, which is both exciting and terrifying all at the same time. A little background – I grew up in Michigan, never went downhill skiing. I went cross country skiing once, and found it to be phenomenally boring (granted it was 2 hours of going in circles around a local golf course, so not much in the way of scenery). I enjoyed water skiing, but most everyone tells me that’s not at all the same as downhill skiing. My brother is an avid snowboarder (which is probably one of the reasons why he moved to Colorado in the first place), but we each got a different part of the Winter Sports gene – I grew up playing hockey, he played a few times but didn’t really like it.
Tracy did most of the research for the skiing part of this trip, and had booked a lesson package that included the lesson, equipment rental, and a 1 day lift pass at Beaver Creek. The lesson was scheduled to start at 9:30, they said it would be good to get there by 8:45 to get everything taken care of.
The town of Avon runs a free bus to Beaver Creek Village from several spots in town. One of the bus stops was right across the street from our hotel. So, after a quick bowl of cereal, and getting fully dressed in our new snow gear, we headed out to the bus stop at around 8:20. We were on a bus within 10 minutes, and we arrived at the main entrance to Beaver Creek Ski Resort at right around 8:45. From there, it was pretty easy to get to the spot where we would check in for the lessons – “Up 2 escalators, and then it’s the building directly in front of you”.
We go to check in and … they can’t find our reservation. We had originally been booked for yesterday, but due to travel snafus, didn’t make it in time. We called, and they said “Oh, that’s no problem, come anytime within a 7 day period, and we’ll honor the reservation and price you already paid”. So we were a little concerned. But it all worked itself out, as it turns out, they kept the paperwork for online registrations in a different drawer, and our paperwork was ready and waiting.
They handed each of us a plastic card that was our lift ticket, a sticker for our lessons, and a voucher for the ski equipment rentals, plus (of course) a liability waiver saying that we wouldn’t sue if we got hurt or died.
We walked outside to find the rental place. There was a shop right next door advertising ski rentals. We walked in, and told the clerk that we wanted to rent skis, he asked which ones, and we responded “whichever ones these vouchers get us”. The guy explained that the vouchers were only good at the main rental location, which was one escalator down … so we went down to try again.
This rental store was much busier, and it took a moment to find out where to go. Shortly thereafter, we were sitting on a bench while an employee helped fit us for boots. The first pair I tried on were way too small, I couldn’t even get my feet all the way in. The employee brought back a second pair, and these were better, but still felt tight in the toes. The employee said that this was normal, and that since I’d be flexing forward at the ankles when I skied, that would push my foot back a little, and give me more room in the toes. It sounded logical, and when I gave a test flex, I did feel my feet slide back a little.
Spoiler alert: That slight “too tight” feeling in the toes will come back later in the trip report.
Next, we moved to the line where they actually get the skis. We each were issued a pair of skis, and then they scanned all the barcodes and all that. After adjusting and scanning my skis, the employee helping us had to go help another employee with something, and Tracy was still waiting for her skis, but he told me to go on to the pole rack, where another employee helped me pick out poles. I also bought a pair of suspenders, since my snow pants were just a little loose – probably not loose enough to fall down, but better safe than sorry. A few minutes later, Tracy was ready, and we went back up the escalator to the instructor meeting place.
Tracy had skied before but it had been several years. When they were splitting people up based on experience, she was asked if she wanted to go with a more advanced group or stick with the beginners – she chose to stick with the beginners. I think there were 1 or 2 other people in our group that made a similar decision.
Our instructor, Dan, showed up, and got to know everyone’s name. He had memorized the names of all 10 people in our group within one trip going down the line and giving our names and where we were from. Dan, it turns out, is a retired lawyer from Michigan, who now lived in Colorado in the winter, and spent his summers in Michigan.
While we were sitting, he began to give us a very very basic overview – “This is a ski. This is a pole. These brackets on the skis are called bindings, and they clip onto your boots”. He also recommended that if we have any sort of seam (bottom of pants, top of socks, etc) that we adjust so it’s above the level of the boots. I made some slight adjustments, but apparently not enough. In a few minutes, we walked over from the bench we were sitting on to a flat area, and as we were walking, I noticed the seam rubbing. So I took another moment and fixed it again, drawing some good natured ribbing from Dan.
He had us start off by attaching one ski, and “ski-hopping” about 10 feet forward, and he taught us how to turn around. Then we tried with the other ski. Then both skis. Then about 20 feet forward and back. Then we moved a little bit up a gentle slope and started skiing “down the hill” (no more than 20 feet and it was about as sloped as a curb ramp from a sidewalk) and then turning with momentum. Basic exercises, but they helped us learn how long our skis are, and some of the basics that we’d be using a little later.
Now it was time to head up the gondola, and start doing a little more. As we were making our way over to the gondola, I became the first person in the class to fall … wiped out on level ground. Not sure exactly what happened. One ski popped off. Dan said to just go ahead and take the other one off, because I’d have to take them off for the gondola anyways. As we got in line for the gondola, the staffers zapped us with an RFID scanner that read the lift tickets in our pocket, without needing to take them out. (Growing up, I had always seen classmates and friends with lift tickets hanging from their zipper, I feel like the RFID is a nice upgrade on that)
At the top of the gondola was a “beginners area” (Not really even a bunny slope) that featured a nice wide, gently sloping area (maybe 10%-12% grade?) which is used by all the lessons going on. There are also 2 “Magic Carpets”, which is basically a conveyor belt that you ski onto and it’ll take you back to the top of the slope.
We spent a little bit of time near the “short” magic carpet, learning to do a “snowplow” stop, and short turns. Then, we moved onto the “longer” carpet, and spent some time doing S-turns. By this time, my left foot was bothering me a little, particularly in the arch. I asked Dan if he had any suggestions, and he said to unbuckle the middle buckle on my left boot. Slight relief, but not really much.
Finally, after about an hour of this, we were ready to start going down an actual hill. If we kept going just a little bit past the bottom of the long carpet, we would come to an actual hill, with a few different paths we could take. We started out and made a wide sweep, into a flatter area, stopped for a moment to let everyone catch up, and then continued winding our way down the mountain. At the bottom, Dan said that we were now ready to learn one of the most challenging techniques known to skiers – the chair lift. There is a small lift that goes from the bottom of the “Buckaroo Bowl” back up to the area where we were, near the bottom of the long carpet.
Turns out the chair lift wasn’t that difficult. We made another run, this time not stopping as much, and then repeated. I think we went down the hill and back up 4 or 5 times, and then it was time to break for lunch. My thighs were burning.
We got to the bottom of the hill, took off our skis, left them in a rack, and I realized that I could barely walk. It was going to be very nice to sit down for a little bit. I also realized that I was a bit dehydrated. At the restaurant, I got chicken tenders and fries, plus a bottle of gatorade, and several cups of water. The gatorade was gone in about 30 seconds, and I think I probably drank 6 or 7 glasses of water.
After lunch, I was still feeling pretty beat. Tracy and I talked about it, and decided that we’d split off from the class and do our own thing. For me, my thing was “sit in the restaurant because I could barely move”. Tracy wanted to do 1 more run, so she went back out, and I stayed inside and waited.
20 minutes later, she came back, and agreed that she was done for the day.
We went back to the ski rental place, and turned in our equipment … boy was it nice to have real shoes on again! We looked at our watch – 2:30 – and decided to stay in the village for a little while longer. We sat down in some comfy chairs near an outdoor fireplace and watched kids skate around the ice rink a little bit.
One thing that’s apparently unique to Beaver Creek is that every day at 3pm, the staff put on chef jackets, and wander around the village and the base of the mountain and hand out free cookies. We found someone with cookies, and each got one. They were still slightly warm from the oven, and tasted very good.
After our cookies, we got back on the bus and headed back towards our hotel. At that point, we decided it would be a good time to hit the hot tub … We went to our room, peeled off all our layers, and got bathing suits. I looked at my feet … Both of my big toes had a bruise under the nail, most likely from boots that were too tight. (Side note – it’s now 1/27, and the bruises still haven’t gone away). We spent about half an hour in the hot tub, then returned to our room, showered, and lounged around for a little bit (I don’t remember if we laid down, or just sat on the couch, turned on the fire, and watched TV).
I also called my brother, Daniel, to see if he and his wife Jennifer would like to meet up for dinner. They live in Vail, and due to our travel schedule, and Daniel’s work schedule, this was the first chance we would have to see them. Turns out Jennifer was at work, teaching a dance class in Avon, and would be done around 7. We made arrangements for her to pick us up, and we went to a Mexican restaurant that they liked. It was good, although my fajitas were a bit under-seasoned, and they didn’t come with any lettuce.
After dinner, we went over to Daniel and Jennifer’s apartment for a little while and sat around talking. Daniel and Jennifer both work for Vail Resorts – Daniel is a snowmaker, and Jennifer works as a ticket office supervisor. They had a few coupons for reduced price lift tickets, and we took some, so we could go skiing again another day.
Daniel gave us a ride back to Avon, and we went to bed pretty much as soon as we got back.
Day 2 – Sunday, January 8
Woke up early – Not sure if it was because my body was still on Eastern time, or because the mattress in the Comfort Suites wasn’t all that comfortable. Or both. Checked facebook and read some until Tracy woke up … probably around 8:30 or so.
Hotel breakfast was a typical hotel breakfast … not great, not horrible. They had waffles, which was nice. However, I’m partial to the hotels that use the Golden Malted waffle batter. Being a Disney geek, it seems that Golden Malted waffles “strongly resemble” 😉 the taste of Mickey Waffles.
After eating, we checked out, and headed back on the road. By now, the burning brake smell had dissipated, and it was light out, so the morning’s drive was much easier. Plus I remembered to shift to a lower gear, rather than riding the brakes, so that helped too.
We made reasonably good time, and covered the 45 miles from Dillon to Avon in about an hour and 20 minutes. Since our hotel reservation actually started the night before, we didn’t have to wait for our room to be ready. We were staying in the Wyndham Resort at Avon, using her family’s Wyndham Vacation Club points. Because we had booked inside of 60 days, and because of the level of ownership, we could get a 2BR unit for the price of a 1BR. It also looked like the only 1BR available when we booked was an ADA unit, and we both prefer to not have a roll-in shower, so we went with the 2BR.
I’ve stayed at several Wyndham properties, and this one was the nicest by far. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures, so I will provide you with a selection of photos “borrowed” from elsewhere on the internet.
(That’s not a pool … that’s a hot tub!)
Kitchen/Living room – our fireplace/tv was on the left wall, and the door to the 2nd bedroom/bathroom was between the fridge and the living room. The stove and microwave are just to the left of the kitchen sink shown, plus we had a small table, as well as the large island.
Master bathroom – this picture doesn’t really do it justice.
Once we checked in and got settled, it was close to lunch time, so we asked the concierge if he had any recommendations for a place to grab a quick bite. He recommended a place just around the corner called Bob’s Place.
We walked over, and were seated pretty quickly. Nothing fancy, but they had good burgers. And they gave an option of tater tots instead of fries. (I like both, but it’s rare to find tots in a restaurant).
After lunch, we wanted to go to a store and pick up some food, so we wouldn’t have to eat out all the time. I spotted a Walgreens across the street, so we decided to walk over. We didn’t get much, mostly breakfast food (a box of cereal and some milk), a few “snacky” type things, and one frozen pizza) but at least it would be a few meals that we didn’t go out for.
The rest of the afternoon was spent unpacking, and just relaxing. We ate the frozen pizza for dinner.
Tomorrow: Can I actually learn to ski?
Saturday, January 7 – Departure day
Our flight is at 4:07pm. We’re flying out of Orlando International, which is about 20 minutes from my house. It’s 5:45am. Why am I awake? Oh yeah, I have to work today from 6am-2pm. Luckily, I’m allowed to work remotely when I work weekends, so my “commute” takes all of about 16 seconds.
After a mostly uneventful day at work (during which time I used my lunch break to shower … you’re welcome, unknown person sitting next to me on the airplane), it was time to go. Loaded the car, and headed for the airport. Parked at The Parking Spot, and a bus was right behind us as we pulled into the space.
Amazingly enough, there were only 2 or 3 parties ahead of us at the United check in counter, and we were soon headed to Security.
Security at MCO bugs me. You’d think that with Disney, Universal, and Sea World in this town, someone would know how to design a queue line. Whoever that someone is, they don’t work at MCO. Today’s queue line (which seems to change it’s layout constantly) actually had 2 lines intersecting with each other, and a designated TSA agent to act as a crossing guard to keep everyone in the right line. Despite that, we ended up getting through security in a reasonable amount of time, and made our way through the Automated People Mover* (APM) to the gate
*Side note: MCO is in the middle of an APM modernization project, and they’re only running one train on each line. Which means that it usually takes about twice as long to get from the terminal to the gate, or vice versa. I don’t know when the project will be complete.
Once we reached the gate, we learned that our flight was delayed due to a late inbound aircraft. Oh well, I’ve got several books on my tablet, might as well start reading.
About an hour late, the plane arrives, and we board. And then we sit. And sit some more. They’ve closed the boarding door, but no announcement has been made as to why we’re waiting. I’m going to assume some sort of ATC delay, but I have no way of finding out. Finally, after about 20 minutes of sitting at the gate, we push back, and takeoff.
The plane we’re on is an A320, with United’s “Personal In-flight Entertainment” system. What this means, at least in coach, is that there’s wifi on the plane, and if you use the United app on your smart device, you can watch free TV or movies. It’s a nice idea. I hate it.
If you’re asking “why?”, you’re probably not alone. This particular gripe is specific to United. Like most airlines, United used to have an in-flight audio system, where you could plug your headphones into the armrest, and choose from 10-15 channels of mostly boring music. However, one of the channels that United (and nobody else) had was “Channel 9 – From the Flight Deck”. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a
bit of a geek. I thought it was really cool to be able to hear the cockpit radio, and listen to all the exchanges with ATC along the way. And now, with the new entertainment system, there is no more Channel 9. That’s why I hate it.
Minus my disappointment at not being able to listen to ATC, the flight was pretty OK. Nothing really noteworthy happened, which is always a good thing when flying.
Landed in Denver at around 9:30 (as opposed to the 8:15 we were scheduled for). While waiting for our luggage, I called my brother. We had initially discussed getting together for dinner – He lives in Vail, we were staying in Avon, Vail is on the way from Denver to Avon, it should work out. Well, we were pretty hungry, and didn’t really want to drive the 120 miles to Vail before we ate. So we said that maybe we’d get together tomorrow, but today just wasn’t going to happen.
After getting our luggage and making our way to Hertz (all the rental car locations at DEN are a shuttle-bus away), we were on our way. We stopped at a Fazoli’s for dinner … We like breadsticks, and there’s not one near us. As we were getting ready to leave, the manager comes up with a bag of breadsticks, and says “Here, take some for the road. They’re warm from the oven”. No need to ask twice! I thanked him, and took the breadsticks, and walked back outside into the cold.
Denver to Avon is about 135 miles. Should be about 2 1/2 hour’s drive, right? Well, the first 60-70 minutes went pretty smoothly. Then things started to go downhill.
As we got into the mountains, it started snowing. At first, it was a pretty light snow, then it started to get heavier. I moved to Florida in August of 2004, it’s been a while since I’ve driven in snow. And my driving experience in mountain areas is pretty much non-existent. I forgot about one of the basics – use your gears not your brakes to slow you down.
There were a good number of downhill grades that were posted. Right before Dillon (which is about 90 miles west of Denver, and about 45 miles east of Avon), there was one that was 12 or 15 miles long. Halfway through, during a level area, there was a sign posted “Don’t be fooled. You still have 6 miles of 7% grade left to go. Stay in low gear” … Shortly after that sign, and towards the bottom of the “hill”, I started to notice a burning smell … the next place I could pull off the highway was Dillon. I pulled into an empty parking lot, and got out of the car, hoping that it had been the brakes of the truck in front of us that I had been smelling. The truck also pulled off at that exit, and it immediately pulled to the side of the road. As I passed it, I noticed smoke coming from one of the truck’s wheels. I felt somewhat relieved. But the burning smell didn’t fade as we passed the truck. I pulled into a parking lot, got out, and walked around my car. No smoke, but my brakes were definitely giving off a burning smell of their own.
At this point, I really didn’t know what to do. It was only 45 miles to our hotel, but with the snow and ice on the roads, it would’ve taken probably 2 more hours to get there. I didn’t really want to drive with brakes that were noticeably burning. Also, by now, it was about 12am, mountain time. Remember earlier when I said I had been up since 5:45am ET? To my body, it was now 2am. Functional decision making was clearly beyond my abilities. After some discussion with Tracy, we decided to find a hotel and stop for the night.
We ended up at the Comfort Suites Summit County. Their 1 night AAA rate was $220, which seemed a bit high, but we weren’t going to find anything else, so we took it. We hit the bed and were both asleep pretty much instantly.
Next Up: We finally get to where we’re going
Cast of Characters:
Eric (me): 34 year old Disney-Geek Desk Jockey
Tracy (wife): My better half. For some reason, she puts up with me. Voluntarily.
Daniel: My brother who lives in Colorado
Jennifer: Daniel’s wife
Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film: For tonight’s performance, this role will be played by Eric Idle. Because.
So, mid to late December, Tracy and I started discussing our vacation plans for the upcoming year. We typically do an early-spring vacation, usually in March, but we had both been having a pretty rough time at work, and wanted something sooner than that. Plus, it had been a while since our last vacation (flying to Michigan for Daniel’s wedding last October doesn’t really count as a vacation). Many options were thrown out – California, a cruise, an all-inclusive resort somewhere in the Caribbean, skiing in “some mountainous place”, and probably others.
In the end, Colorado won out. Tracy has been wanting to go skiing for a while, Daniel works at a ski resort, and could get us discounts on lift tickets, and flights seemed reasonable. Plus, I’d never been skiing before, and almost wanted to try it.
We booked our hotel and flights on December 24. Our vacation was January 7. This would be, without a doubt, the fastest vacation prep that we had done, plus of all the trips we’ve taken, this one required the most planning and pre-purchasing. (We live in Florida. Most of our vacations have been to warm tourist destinations … Or to visit family. While there is a need for some warm clothing, it’s not as much as is needed for a ski trip.)
So … what all did we need to buy, or make sure we already had?
- Winter Coats
- Warm socks
- stuff to wear under winter coats and snowpants
- Maybe boots? Not ski boots, just boots
Tracy and I each had warm coats. But neither one had anything waterproof. Like I said earlier, I’ve never been skiing before. So I harnessed the power of the Google to learn about clothing suggestions. I wasn’t terribly surprised to see waterproof as a “must-have” recommendation. So, now the question is … where can I get a waterproof winter coat in Orlando?
The answer turns out to be “The store formerly known as Burlington Coat Factory, even though it’s not a factory”. They now go by just “Burlington”, apparently, after having realized that they sold more than just coats, and they weren’t a factory. I found a coat I liked, took it home … and promptly realized that there was a rip near one of the shoulder. Back to the store I go, this time with Tracy, who also needs a winter coat. We both find something we like, and we leave.
Snowpants were also a little bit of a challenge. Those are not very easily accessible in Florida. However, we have an Amazon Prime membership, so a large selection was a few clicks away. We determined that there are a LOT of things on Amazon, and their search filters aren’t always as accurate as you’d like them to be. That being said, we were both able to find something we liked.
And then the boxes showed up. Tracy’s fit fine, mine didn’t. So, I sent them back to Amazon. By now, we were getting close on time, so I ordered 2 other pairs, hoping to improve the odds of finding something that will fit (one from the same mfr in a larger size, one from a different mfr). The first pair I tried on was missing half of the snap at the waist. The “receptor” was there, but not the other piece of the snap. Down to 1 pair … my hopes of not paying the markup in a ski resort were rapidly diminishing! I tried them on and …
(insert dramatic pause here)
(really dramatic pause … pretend that William Shatner is acting this out)
They fit! Another item can be checked off the list.
Warm clothes (apparently, in skiier parlance, “base layers”) for under the ski outerwear were accomplished with a trip to Academy Sports, where I was able to find some cold-weather rated workout gear, and some nice fleece pullovers that happened to be on sale.
I had gloves and hats, Tracy had a hat and a pair of ski goggles that her family brought for her when they came to visit right after Christmas. Another Amazon order lead to warm socks for both of us, ski goggles for me, and gloves for Tracy.
And now, we’re all set … we think … it’s time to pack all of this! We knew that we’d have too much stuff for just carryons, so we paid the airline for one checked bag each. And I let Tracy do the packing, because she’s far better than I am at packing suitcases.
Next up: Leaving Florida
After some issues with the web host that was hosting this page, the site I had disappeared, and I decided to start over from scratch. I’m not sure anyone noticed. I’m not sure anyone reads this webpage. That’s ok, there hasn’t really been much content on the site in years.
So, random reader, what sort of things would you like to see here? I’m not terribly creative, blogging is probably not something that will happen frequently.