The Best of Days
I had Friday off from school, and I decided to go up to my cousin's condo in Breckenridge and ski for a couple of days. Unfortunately she and her family couldn't come up this weekend, but she still let me stay there by myself.
I went up Thursday night after rush hour, and I was relieved to find the traffic was light heading up into the mountains. Three weeks ago, I went up on Saturday morning and was in three-hour traffic hell. I didn't want to repeat that again.
Since I was spending the night, I didn't have to worry about an early morning wake-up call and 2-hour drive before I made it to the mountain. Instead, I woke up around 7:30 (that's sleeping in for me!), made myself some chocolate chip pancakes, suited up, and went out in back of the condo with my skis. You see, their condo goes right up against one of the ski runs, and you can just follow the path down to a chair lift. No gondolas or transportation necessary!
I was up on the slopes with the early birds, which is the only way to ski. The chair lift took me to Peak 8, but I immediately took the connecting runs to Peak 9, where my cousins had introduced me to some great blue runs near the top. I spent time on the familiar slopes working on my turns and squaring my shoulders down the hill.
After some work, I decided to try something new. I took the SuperConnect chair lift up to Peak 8, then crossed over to Peaks 7 and 6, which I had never been on before. Peak 6's runs only opened last year, and it was made up of a couple of blues (moderate) and lots of blacks (difficult). I skied down to the Zendo chairlift, which was very slow (I'd been warned about that), and then decided, on a whim, to take the Kensho chair that went up near the summit of Peak 6. Actually, the excellent skiers and snowboarders had to hike up a few hundred feet if they wanted to start at the top.
I wasn't one of those people.
I decided to take Bliss down, but up near the top (past the treeline and in very open space) there wasn't a lot of signage. What ended up being Bliss was a giant steep open basin, and it was incredibly taxing and trying and a bit terrifying, but I did it!
My trip down Peak 7 was much less stressful, but by the time that was done, I was pretty beat. I went back to Peak 8 and skied down to the condo from there. According to my ski pass, which got scanned each time I went on a chairlift, I did 12,831 vertical feet and 11 lift rides.
Even though I was on my own, there was plenty of opportunities to talk to people on the chairlifts. One guy was complaining about his boot rentals. A mom was taking her kids and a bunch of other kids on the slopes for her son's birthday. And another woman told me all about her day in Vail on Monday.
For those of you that aren't aware, Vail and Beaver Creek are hosting the 2015 World Ski Championships, which take place every odd year. The woman said that she and her friends parked at a free lot, took two free shuttles to the race finish, and watched Lindsay Vonn mess up during the Alpined Combined event from the giant bleachers that were constructed specifically for the Championships. She had a wonderful time!
That was in the back of my mind when I returned to the condo and had a couple hours to kill before I was going to head down to town for dinner. I checked the Championship's website and saw that men's giant slalom was going on about an hour from that point, with US skier Ted Ligety in the mix. I saw that Vail was about a 45 minute drive from where I was, and I thought, "Just go! Everything is working out in your favor!" So I did!
I've never driven that far west on I-70, so I was seeing new scenery all around me. The Rodeo Lot at which spectators were parking was actually in Avon, west of Beaver Creek, but as soon as I parked and got to the bus lot a "special" bus pulled up and a group of us got on. We stopped in Beaver Creek village first and transferred onto another bus that had chains on its tires to take us to the race finish.
There was a reason there were chains on that bus - it was muddy! The temperature was in the upper-30s and people were shedding their jackets and standing around in sweatshirts and t-shirts! Quite a few people at the finish line were in their ski and snowboard gear, complete with boots, but they had to leave their skis and snowboards near the bottom.
After I got off the bus, I was informed that the bleacher seating was full, but they were allowing people to sit on the sides of the run...but you had to hike up there. They had created steps with the snow and with board ladders to make it a little easier, but it was still quite a climb!
By the time I made it to the finish, they were about 10 skiers into the final round of 30, so I hightailed it to a spot near the big screen and the slope. Since this was giant slalom, they don't scream past the spectators at insane speeds (like downhill) but have to make turns around the red and blue gates, which allows for a little more viewing of the skiers as they come down the hill.
The spectators would all watch the big screens as the athletes started, and then usually the announcers would mention that the skier was coming into view, and people would watch them for the last leg and cross the finish line. Then their eyes would return to the screen to see if it said "NEW LEADER!" in big green letters.
Ted Ligety was the 26th skier to go in the group of 30, and the place erupted when he started, even though he was still up at the top! The announcers did mention that the skiers could hear the crowd from the top, though I'm not sure I believe that.
He raced past me, and I managed to snag a video of his finish. We watched him cross the line, and checked the screen, and sure enough, "NEW LEADER!" had appeared over his face. The crowd went wild! It was so cool. People were shaking little cowbells and blowing horns and waving flags for all the countries. It was an amazing atmosphere.
Unfortunately, there were three skiers still to go! The two skiers after Ligety didn't do well at all, but the last racer, Austrian Marcel Hirscher, had already won gold earlier in the week in the super combined, and had the fastest time in the first round (slalom combines the time of two runs for the final results).
I was screaming at him to "Slow down!" as he sped past, and even though he was ahead at the top, he lost time near the bottom, and everyone checked the board as Hirscher crossed, and there was no green words over his face - he had placed second! We all cheered crazily - this was the first American gold in these World Championships. (I was so glad I was there for it!)
Now although Ligety had won, there were technically 60 competitors, and only half of them had gone. The other 30 were the slowest times after the first run, and would have mathematically no chance to get into the top 3. Instead of making the crowd watch those slowest 30 go first, they actually have them go after the fastest 30. So Ligety was announced as the world champion, the course was cleared, and the slow 30 started coming down. But most of the crowds were leaving.
I slowly inched my way down the hill, which was a very tedious process. Lots of people were falling on their butts (some kids were wisely sliding their way down), but I didn't fall. I made it to behind the bleachers and saw the massive crowd of people waiting for the chained buses to come back, and I thought, "Why leave now? I've got time!" So I turned and climbed like a salmon swimming upstream as people were leaving the bleachers. There was still a small group of people cheering the slow 30, and I found myself a cowbell and cheered along with them.
I was rewarded for sticking around when all the competitors had finished. They didn't have the medal ceremony (that was later in Vail), but they did have a flower ceremony with a podium and presentation. I was excited to see that. Best of all, they played the US National Anthem and everyone sang along. The feeling I got was probably the closest I'll ever get to feeling like I was at the Olympics.
The crowd had thinned out, so it didn't take too long to crowd on a bus back to Beaver Creek village. As I waited, it was neat to watch some of the competitors ski by and gather their stuff. Croatian Elias Kolega passed right in front of me to get his spare skis!
While it didn't take long to take a bus to the village, the line to get back to the parking lots was long. It took a while, and by this time people's happy attitudes were starting to wane. I was just glad that the bus I got on had an open seat, since they had to stop at three different parking lots before making it back to the Rodeo Lot in Avon!
To my surprise, it was only 5:30 by the time I made it back to my car, so by the time I made it back to Breckenridge, it was dinnertime. I'd been planning my dinner for a good month before my trip - a place called The Lost Cajun that was in downtown Breckenridge. My parents and I had gone there twice when we were up in the summer, and I loved the place. It wasn't fancy at all - there were long tables and benches and the kitchen was right off the dining room, divided only by half a wall. The waitresses don't write your order down. Instead, right after you make your complete order, they yell it right at the cooks, and the cooks yell it right back!
The best part about The Lost Cajun is the samples that they give you right when you get there. On a small wooden board are five small cups with some of their best food. There was seafood gumbo, chicken and sausage gumbo, lobster bisque, red beans and rice, and shrimp etoufee. Last time I was there I ordered the chicken and sausage gumbo, but after tasting the samples this time around, I really wanted the seafood gumbo! I also ordered a catfish po boy sandwich - I saved half of it for later.
I finally returned to the condo full, sleepy, and happy. It was a heck of a day, and not a sour note from sunup to sundown. It was a day I'll remember for a long time!