Skiing the Midwest | Boyne, Michigan February 21st and 22nd

When I first mapped out my plans for this trip, I saw that the MAX pass included some ski areas in the Midwest. Boyne Michigan, Granite Park Wisconsin, Buck Hill and Lutsen in Minnesota. I thought that perhaps I’d get a couple of days in there as I traveled from east to west, but I wasn’t on a mission to make it there. I left Blue Mountain, Ontario and headed west towards the Great Lakes. My navigation told me that I could make it to Wisconsin driving from Blue mountain. At one stop near Cambridge, I took a closer look at my map. It turned out that my route required a ferry ride that’s closed in the winter. I did a fair amount of route planning for this this trip, but I was already a bit off course. Leaving Blue Mountain, I had the choice of driving north around the Georgian Bay and Lake Superior (a much longer drive) or crossing at Point Huron and getting some skiing in at Boyne, MI.

After a long drive, I pulled into Boyne and arrived in time for a yoga class at a new studio in town, by the lake. Beautiful little downtown. After class I headed back towards the mountain. As it turns out they have night skiing and there were still a couple of hours that the lift was open. Of course, I headed right out to the slopes. I haven’t been night skiing in. A while, so much fun, but cold. The ski area was relatively small, I was able to straight line to the lift. Still, lots of fun to be out skiing at night.

In the village, there was a small pub called “Forty Acres Tavern.” I stopped in for a beer and got talking to the bartender, Jon. He used to live and work in Summit county, CO so we talked about skiing at Breckenridge and Keystone. He recommended some runs for me to check out in the morning.

I woke up early, grabbed my lift ticket, and took a look my planned drive for the next couple of days. I wanted to avoid bad weather, and make it out to Montana by the end of the upcoming weekend. From Michigan, that’s about 24 hours of driving, not including stops. I headed north and stopped at Boyne Highlands, another ski area about 30-40 min north of Boyne. I skied a couple of runs there and saw a sign pointing to various ski areas around North America. Many of them are on my list, and my next destination was one of them, Big Sky, MT 1283 miles. I’d better get going.

I had to go around Lake Michigan which was mostly frozen. I drove over the bridge and along the lake. There were small towns every 50 miles or so, besides that, a frozen coastline. Trucks and tents parked out on the lakes, ice fishing. Ice washed up on the beach like waves that froze in time. While it was desolate, it was pretty spectacular to see.

As I drove through Wisconsin, it started snowing. I was on country roads without lights, exits, or rest areas. Farm land on each side of the road for miles. I finally arrived in Wausau, WI near Granite Peak and found a place to stop for the night. The freezing rain began, and I could hear it all over the truck. I knew the roads were going to be a mess in the morning, and I had no idea how far I’d be able to travel the following day. At least I was near a ski area. I settled in for the night. Next post, Granite Peak.

Toronto and Blue Mountain Ontario February 18th – 20th

Once I made the decision to turn west in the Adirondacks and skip most of the skiing the Northeast, I knew that I’d be heading through part of Canada. Given that it was a holiday weekend, pretty much every ski area in the northeast was packed so I headed to Toronto. The timing was good, as it turned out one of my favorite DJs was playing an all night warehouse party in Toronto that weekend. I decided to head there for the party before continuing on.

Even at this point, I was still considering staying east. I spent a bit of time looking at the snow reports for the season and deciding where I would go. I considered looping back and heading to Tremblant, QC. (Fun side note I’ll share in another post, skiing near Montreal was one of my first times skiing ever, perhaps thats what was drawing me back there?)

I arrived in Toronto the evening of Feb 18th and wanted to get a little bit of rest before going out. The party was supposed to be from 10pm until 8am. The underground music scene there is awesome. I got there around 11pm and the place was just warming up. I was lucky enough to meet with Tim and he introduced me to many of his friends. I had a great time, and the music was awesome. He went on around 3am, you can hear the first hour of his set here. So good. I’d recommend checking out his podcast, even if the music isn’t your style, his words of inspiration are worth listening to.

The following day it rained the entire day, I spent a lot of time wandering around Toronto. I didn’t have a specific destination in mind, I just wanted to check things out. I walked around city hall and the Easton Center. I walked around the ice rink, just spent time thinking and enjoying the rain. I thought that it might be colder in the mountains, and perhaps that meant snow. I headed up to Blue Mountain, ON.

When I arrived there, it was still raining. Not ideal for skiing, but it’s always fun when you can slide down a hill on skis. The clouds cleared a little bit, just enough to get some spectacular views of the Georgian bay. Amazing, skiing right down the street from the beaches, it’s beautiful. After a while, my gear was soaked through and I had to head in. But, my home is my truck. So I found a spot in town to get a bite and a couple of beers while I wrote, I ended up at Northwinds Brewpub. I had a great dinner there before settling in again for the night. Next stop, Michigan.

My decision to change course | Gore Mountain, NY, Feb 17th

As some of you may have noticed, I pretty much skipped the northeast part of my planned trip. This is my own fault, and I explained a bit of my reasoning in my first post. I really had trouble leaving Colorado and got going later than I needed to. In all fairness, a major life shift like this always takes more time than expected. I should have known it wouldn’t be easy to pack up my entire life in the course of a couple of weeks, but I also did delay at times.

Before I got going I went home to visit my family in Maryland and New York, and to bring my dog to stay with them during this journey. While I was back east, I initially planned on skiing at Snowshoe, Killington, Sugarloaf, Sunday River, and Tremblant. It turns out I didn’t make it to any of them. The decision to skip those areas was tough, and even as I drove north from New York last week, I still planned on going to at least a couple of them.

Once I left New York and got going, the weight of this trip sank in. For the first time, my home was also my truck. Each night I’d have to find places to park and safely stay. I wouldn’t have the cozy warm place to go home to, but instead, I would need to find campgrounds, and pit stops along the way. An incredible feeling of freedom, but very scary at the same time.

I drove up towards the Adirondacks, and thought I’d continue on to some of the Northeast ski areas. That morning I stopped at Gore Mountain. It was packed, people were parking way down the street along the side of the road. Gore had a classic northeast ski area feel, no fancy hotels at the base, just fun skiing, surrounded by beautiful land. There were quite a few people there for the holiday weekend.

I’d forgotten what it was like skiing back east, 5 years in Colorado has spoiled me. Gore is the biggest ski area in New York, so there is plenty of space to get around (trail map). The top of the main lift was extremely crowded, but I made it down to the back side of the mountain where the steeper trails are and I had the place to myself. Views for miles. There were some steep drops that I was able to rip down. A run called “Lies” was my favorite of the day. Steep and relatively easy to ski fast. Get on the edge, look down, and point my skis down the line I wanted.

I left that afternoon to continue on my journey. While I wanted to ski more in the Northeast, I knew that time was not on my side and it’s getting somewhat late in the season. If I wanted to make it to the big areas, I had to get going west. My planned stops include Big Sky, Fernie, Kicking Horse, Mount Bachelor, Snowqualmie, and hopefully then making my way up to Alyeska. All of this over the next 2 months.

I turned west towards Rochester and on the morning of Sunday Feb 18th stopped into Glen Edith Coffee Roasters to get the first post on my blog up. I had a delicious pour over coffee and wrote. My good friends Mike and Sarah who I met when I first lived in NYC (16 years ago) live nearby. I had the chance to meet with them while I was there which was really great.

I’ve done the drive from New York / DC to Colorado 5 times now, and this time I was on a much different path. I was already pretty far north, so why not see some of the sights along the way? Hmmm, Niagara Falls, the Great Lakes.

You can’t imagine how big the falls are until you see them. Incredible. I parked my car,  probably 1/2 a mile away and I could hear the roar of the water from there. It only got louder as I approached. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was setting over the Canadian side, the cold mist sprayed towards me. There were massive ice chunks down the river. Spectacular. I’m not a gambler, but I was also surprised how many casinos surrounded the area. Maybe I should try my luck sometime, maybe not.

I continued on over the bridge and crossed into Canada. Next stop, Toronto.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado January 7th and 8th 2018

I’ve been meaning to visit Steamboat Springs for many years but somehow I didn’t make it there until this January. I was skiing whenever there was snow in the forecast and while I usually try to avoid skiing on weekends, Colorado had a slow start to the season and Steamboat was expecting some snow.

On January 6th, somewhat on a whim, I packed up my gear and drove up. One thing I love about this new freedom is that I can travel spontaneously. While I have a general outline of places I plan to go, I can adjust my plans in the moment. Fortunately, I also had amazing neighbors who loved watching my dog whenever a trip like this came up.

Once exiting I-70 at Silverthorne, I headed north. Most of the front range weekend traffic turns south on the exit towards Keystone or A-basin. Both are places I enjoy, but not ideal when you want to avoid lift lines, parking issues, and traffic. Steamboat is a good 3-3.5 hour drive from Denver so it’s also not a ski area you’d visit for just the day.

I drove past the beautiful Green Mountain reservoir and at Kremmling I turned towards Rabbit Ears pass. As I came up the pass, the snow started. The road was tough to see, and the few other cars driving in that direction were traveling slowly. It was a sketchy drive down to town.

That evening I arrived in Steamboat and walked through town. Downtown Steamboat has a fun mountain vibe, plenty of restaurants to choose from, and plenty of night life. I found a place to grab a quick bite and look up places to park my truck for the night. There is no overnight parking allowed anywhere in Steamboat, let alone car camping.

This was my first night winter camping in my truck and I didn’t realize what a challenge this would be. I had done it plenty of times over the summer and fall, but that was when I could easily drive up clear trailheads.

I drove around a bit and finally settled on a lot that appeared to have overnight parking. I’m sure that camping wasn’t allowed, but I was tired after the drive and wanted to get some rest. My bed wasn’t built yet, so I was staying on the bed floor or my truck (more details on the build and planning in another post soon.) All things considered, I was pretty comfortable. It was about 20°F and still snowing when I went to sleep. I had a warm sleeping bag and got some shut eye. Sometime around 2 or 3am, the snowplows began clearing the area around me. It was so loud, and not what I wanted at the time. I also knew that I couldn’t exactly leave the car because I was not supposed to be there in the first place. I waited about 45 minutes until they finished clearing the lot and got back to sleep. The good sign with the snow plows was that I knew it was still snowing and the next morning there would be good skiing.

I got up early and drove to the main lot, I was one of the first ones there and got to park right up front. When I arrived at the gondola, it was a different story. It was packed. I thought that I would only get a couple of fresh turns before it was skied out. Fortunately, I was wrong. I grabbed a trail map as I jumped on the gondola and examined it closely on my ride up.

I figured that the runs to the North east of the Storm peak express lift would be the best bet. I skied right down there from the gondola and hopped on one of the first chairs. Visibility wasn’t great, but I was able to scope out a bit of a line to the left of the lift (“Triangle-3) just off the groomed trail and a bit in the trees. It was perfect. Powder, face shots on the first few turns. A couple of small pillow jumps, smiling the whole way down. I got back on the lift laughing like a kid who had just sled down a hill for the first time. Do it again. Same result. It was awesome.

More and more people made their way over to that lift, so I skied down “Morningside Park” and took the lift up to drop into the “Chutes.” Steep terrain, but even an hour or two into the day, it was untracked. I stopped at the top of a cliff drop and looked down. I could point my skis for a steep drop and come sliding out in a fresh powder field.  It was still snowing a bit, and I was getting after it.

The skiing was so good there that there was no reason to explore elsewhere on the mountain. “Bar-UE” and “Storm Peak” lifts were the best places to be. “Crowtrack, the ridge, and the chutes”, all morning.

The clouds finally cleared, and I had to venture a little bit further out for fresh snow. I made the 10 minute hike to “east face.” Worth it. Steep and deep. The skiing out there requires a little bit of a hike out, and it takes you along “last chance” towards the “Pony express” lift. This lift was still closed for the season, but following the boot-pack I met up with a couple of other skiers who were visiting from New Zealand. They told me they were also heading that way. They’d skied there earlier in the day and they said, “Yeah, you could go out that route, but this one is a lot more fun.” I joined them, and yes it was. More awesome turns the whole way back down to the cat track. I don’t endorse skiing out of bounds, in fact, I’d never have done it had I realized it was closed. The boot pack out led there and it looked like the only way out, so I took it. A very good end to day one at Steamboat.

I sat out on the tail gate of my truck, looked out at the mountain, and reflected on my day there. I was also thinking of where I should park to stay the second night. The last thing I wanted was a repeat of my first night.

Lake Steamboat is about 20 miles away and I knew that there were some amazing camping areas up there so I drove up that way. Every trailhead was buried and it was getting dark. After a full day of skiing I was getting tired and wanted to rest before the next morning. I found a place to pull off near some camp grounds.

The views under the stars were incredible, and it was silent, almost too quiet. I couldn’t sleep. After a while I could hear coyotes howling in the distance. It was cold, much colder than the first night and I wasn’t sure why. I made the mistake of resting my snow covered skis by my sleeping bag and it was wet. I woke up multiple times tossing and turning. I turned on my car to move and the thermometer read -5°. Without a proper sleeping pad, a wet bag, and sub zero temperatures, no wonder I was cold. Around 6am I decided to head back to town. The sunrise was breathtaking. Every color you could imagine over the slopes. I had to stop to look at least a few times. The pictures don’t do it justice.

Today I knew the conditions weren’t going to be the same so I thought it would be a good time to rip some groomers and explore the rest of the mountain. “Valley view” was right under the gondola and was pretty much empty. Perfect for some high speed turns. I got after it, run after run. I took a gondola ride with a small group taking lessons. Their instructor asked me what I did for a living, and when I told them about this trip he suggested I apply to instruct for the following season. Noted, perhaps there’s a winter job in my future.

Later that afternoon I headed back to Denver for the night so I could rest before going to ski at Winter Park the following day.

Monarch, Colorado January 21st and 22nd, 2018

Snow was in the forecast. Most of the Colorado resorts were expecting 2-4 inches with some areas possibly getting more. I was checking he forecasts on OpenSnow daily ( Joel wrote a post that suggested that Monarch pass might be one of those spots that receive more. I was initially planning on going to Crested Butte that weekend, but as I was driving out there I decided to stop at Monarch instead. ( I’d skied there once a few years prior, and with the potential for some additional snow, I thought that it would be in my interest to see what happened.

I arrived in Salida on the evening of January 20th and stopped into Soulcraft brewing for a beer before finding a place to camp for the night. I’m still new to the idea of winter car camping and finding places to stay can be challenging. I found some public land just south of town, just far enough from the main road that it was quiet, but a short drive to downtown.

I woke up to a snow report of 3” and drove up Monarch pass into a snow globe, it was dumping. While they only reported 3” overnight, the storm had only begun. It snowed all day, maybe the best powder day so far that season. By the time the lifts closed, it had snowed another foot. 

One of the best things about Monarch is that it’s a bit under the radar for a Colorado Ski area. No high speed quad chairs, no fancy village hotels, not on the Epic Pass. A local ski area with all natural snow, 6 double chair lifts, and little to no lift lines. Located about 3 hours outside of Denver, it’s also a bit farther than most weekend warriors like to travel.

After the lifts closed, I drove back down to Salida and stopped into Elevation brewing I usually keep to myself, but a nice couple who are regulars there stopped in and we spoke for a bit. We spoke about the house they are building there, and he told me about his years of experience practicing meditation. (I only started practicing meditation a few months prior, so when he brought it up I was interested in hearing more about his experience)

Most of my day was spent on the “Panorama lift” and skiing runs like “high anxiety” “JRs” “Zipper” and “Dire straits.” Every run I was getting fresh turns and the snow was great. I was skiing right onto the chair, there were almost no lines. And for a weekend in Colorado, that’s hard to find.

It was still snowing when the lifts closed, and I had a good feeling about the next morning. I did what I could to get a good nights sleep. Part way though the night I woke up to find that I’d parked on a slightly uneven surface, I slid off of my camping mat and was pretty uncomfortable. I didn’t want to get out of the car to move it because it felt much colder than the night before. I was doing all I could to stay warm in my sleeping bag. Turns out, it had dropped below zero Fahrenheit. Another lesson learned, park on an even surface and keep your sleeping bag warm.

Although my nights sleep was less than ideal, the skiing the following morning was fantastic. First chair, bluebird skies, and many trails that were still untouched from the day before.

After a couple of runs, I caught a lift with one of the locals from Salida. She said that she was there for the morning and planned to ski a few runs on Mirkwood. I knew that if it was opened, I should head there too.

The skiing on Mirkwood requires a short hike (15 minutes) that brings you to some of the steepest and least touched runs on the mountain. I also knew that it was closed the day before so it would have plenty of fresh snow.

When I first got to the gates, it was still closed. Patrol was checking the conditions to see if it would open. Further down the pass you could hear an avalanche blast. I remained hopeful and went to ski a run called “Outback”. More fresh turns, more great snow. I went right back to the Mirkwood gate, this time it was opened.

After the short hike, I reached the summit and skied a run called “Orcs.” The snow was deep and steep but wind blown. I should have stayed towards the south side. Knowing that there was a lot of snow up there, I quickly made the hike again, this time to ski the Mirkwood trees to the southeast. It turned out to be a great call. More deep, fresh turns, and this was halfway into a bluebird day. Incredible.

I left Monarch that afternoon to get back to Denver. On my way back, near Buena Vista, I turned off of 285 to check out a ghost town I’d heard about near Mount Princeton. The 14er range out there is spectacular. Even if you never hike them, the views are stunning.

After driving over 10 miles down a dirt road, I reached a ghost town called St. Elmo. It’s as deserted as you’d expect. A few buildings that have likely been abandoned for years, surrounded by mountains. After driving past some campsites miles before that, I was the only car that I’d seen for at least the last few miles. It’s a sight worth checking out, especially if you plan on making the trip out there to hike any of the collegiate peaks.

My recommendation, ski at Monarch. But keep it a secret, it’s nice to be able to avoid the crowds.

Getting on the road Denver, Colorado

As many of you know this past November I decided to leave my job to spend some time traveling and skiing. It was not an easy decision. I’ve experienced many days of anxiety since that time, questioning whether or not I’m doing what I want, and asking myself if this is worth it. I’m 36 years old, what am I doing? Shouldn’t I be settled down by now? Maybe, but at the same time, why shouldn’t I do this if I have the opportunity?

It was on Thanksgiving day that I gave my notice at work. My last day working there was on December 15th. I planned on packing up in December and getting on the road by January. But I loved living in Denver, I’d made great friends there, and I felt an attachment to the place.

I still had my apartment through the beginning of February until my lease was up. Week after week I said, “I’ll get going soon.” I spent time chasing powder days in Colorado and finding reasons to stay around. I had some great days of skiing at Copper, Steamboat, Monarch, Arapahoe Basin, and Winter Park. (Trip reports to come on those)

Friends would ask, “When are you going?” And I never had an answer other than “soon.” It became clear that I was hesitating.
11 days ago, that time finally came came, and on the evening of February 7th I drove out of Denver. I was pretty emotional, and walking out of the apartment I lived in for 5 years was tough. I started driving east and stayed the night in Limon, Colorado.

I woke up early on February 8th and as I drove across Eastern Colorado towards Kansas I got to see a stunning sunrise, those of you who live in Colorado know what I mean, it was one of those spectacular mornings. Worth being up early for. 

My initial plan was to try to ski as many of the mountains on the M.A.X. Pass as possible ( 44 mountains all over North America. What a road trip, right? But, this was about much more than just skiing or visiting 44 ski areas. As time passed in Colorado I realized that I wouldn’t be visiting all of them anymore, so I since re-adjusted my plan a bit, and I’m sure I will again and again as time goes by.

During the time I stayed in Denver I also minimized my life, all of my belongings were packed into my truck, just what I need. I brought my dog home to my family for the next few months, and I will miss him, but it’s what’s best at the moment.

This blog will be about my experiences, challenges, and trip reports from the people I meet and the places I visit along the way. I look forward to sharing them with you.