Monday, January 31, 2011

Silverton Mountain

Friday was a day to remember. I had planned to leave work at 3 PM as I had a very important appointment in Boulder at 3:30. My cell phone rang at 2:45! It was my Vice President, asking me to get on a conference call immediately. So, with a mix of fear and anxiety, I jumped on the call with a number of "higher-ups" and began answering questions as quickly as I possibly could. Finally, at 3:15 I spoke up, saying I had go and asking if there was any way we could continue this later. One gentlemen replied, "You know what we're looking for. Can you just continue this process and get the data back to us soon?" How soon I asked. The same gentlemen answered, "As long as you send it tonight, it will be fine." I replied with an "ok," closed my computer, and I was out the door and headed for Boulder.

After my exciting appointment, I headed to meet my ski partner for the weekend in Golden. I rarely travel Hwy 93, especially on a Friday evening. Traffic was absolutely horrendous, leaving me to sit still, pondering how I was going to complete my assignment. After throwing a ridiculous amount of gear in Joe's truck, we sped down I-70 heading West.

"It should not be denied . . . that being footloose
has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our
minds with escape from history and oppression and
law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom,
and the road has always led west
- Walter Stegner

So, I quickly broke the news to Joe that I had to work during the first part of our adventure. Thankfully, or should I say unfortunately, I have a broadband card which allowed me to access my company's network via Joe's truck in the middle of the Rocky digital detox for me this weekend. Joe and I talked about cycling and the latest doping scandal, then I thought about heat transfer and how to justify a project. Then Joe and I talked about the sport of ultrarunning, followed by justification for alternative fuels. And on and on it went, all the way to Montrose Colorado where we pulled into a Quality Inn for the night. I sent the completed file just after midnight, barely missing my deadline.

My cell beeped much too early, having slept less that 5 hours, but excited about what the day would bring. We drove South into Ouray as the sun rose, casting light to the tips of the San Juans.

After a quick stop at 'THE' gas station and a brief chat with the local owner, we made our way through the historic mining town of Silverton Colorado.

The Silverton Mountain Ski 'Resort' is another 6 or so miles outside of the town and is a backcountry style mountain. There's a maximum number of skiers allowed each day, a guide to every 8 folks, and it's mandatory to have an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel. Trust me, these folks aren't kidding around. When my powder skis, which are 101 mm under foot, are the skinniest in the line up, you better believe people are prepared to immerse themselves in the white-room.

We pulled into the parking lot as approximately 80 other folks were assembling the necessary gear for a day in the big mountains. Joe and I quickly changed clothes and made our way to the base area, which is nothing more than a 20 ft by 60 ft tent. We filled out our waivers, basically signing our lives away, and received our lift tickets. Silverton must be moving up in the world, as the first time I skied there 5 years ago, the 'lift ticket' was nothing more than a colored zip-tie on your ski boot. This time they actually had real tickets, not that they were scanning them or anything, but it looked professional enough.

We were grouped with 6 other folks. A restaurant owner and his lawyer friend from Santa Fe, a young couple that I think were questioning their relationship by the end of the day from Durango, and two best friends from Fort Collins made up our group, led by our fearless ski guide Mariah (seriously, she ripped turns like it was nobodies business)! We skied powder in open bowls, we skied powder in trees and we skied powder in chutes. Basically we skied powder, even though Silverton hasn't had snow in 5 days. There's a reason they do what they do and people keep coming back.....they do it well!

Our guide estimated that we skied 10,000 vertical feet on Saturday and I could feel it. It's amazing how you can run almost everyday, then feel so much lactic acid in your legs skiing two thousand plus vertical feet at thirty five degrees in knee deep snow. Actually, it's not that amazing. It's reality. It's difficult (more like impossible) to be in shape for every different physical activity one (especially me) my partake in. I walked to the truck after our last run Saturday afternoon feeling mostly exhilaration, but maybe a little relief as well!

It was day of skiing to remember. After sharing stories and beers in the tent with other survivors, we headed over Red Mountain Pass and filled our stomach's with Ouray's finest.

After leaving the Ouray Brewery fat and happy, we headed to our next destination: Gunnison Colorado. A friend of mine let us enjoy a free place to stay before hitting Crested Butte the following morning. After skiing in almost too warm of temperatures in Silverton the prior day, we awoke to less than warm temperatures of -2F. We quickly packed our gear and headed for one thing I long for almost every morning other than my!

With the soreness of a day at Silverton beginning to set in, we left the steeps of the Butte behind and headed for the Front Range and the quickly approaching work week.

In retrospect, there's a lot I'm taking away from my weekend. Mainly, it's the sense that these folks are doing exactly what they desire and are passionate about. Here in Colorado, I hear people speak of passion as if it were something you can buy at any King Soopers, but I truly believe this was different, it was genuine.

On Saturday, I asked one of the Silverton guides the same question I've been asking people for years......"what is your dream?". The answer? "I'm living my dream!" How many people do you come in contact with, or even read about, that say they're living their dream? I was pretty blown away.

Let's throw a few facts (and maybe a few assumptions) on the table about a Silverton skiing guide:
1). Guided skiing is Thurs-Sun - that means they can only work a maximum of 4 days per week, but I'm pretty sure they don't get to work all 4.
2). They live in a town with a population of 500 year around residents - I'm sure many of those are residents which feel the town should remain as is, not changed by these fun-hounds looking for the next extreme adventure. Reduce the 500 to a number of residents that actually enjoy them being there, and see how many actual connections one might make and the odds of building a community start to look rough.
3). These are smart folks - from my vantage point, these guides are pretty top notch. They demonstrate superb leadership skills, all the while assessing the ever changing situations around them. I sure placed a lot of trust in them!
4). Based on #1, they're not making a lot of money - they probably have another job or two to make ends meet.
5). Based on #3, they could probably be making a lot more money, if that's what they were pursuing. They're good at what they do, but they could use those same skills to be good at many other things.

The fact is, these people really are living their dream, or maybe even dreams. I'm actually amazed by that. By no means is it money or success induced. It's purely the pursuit of happiness. I hope to take these facts, things that I saw in and through these guides and apply them to my own life, both now and for years to come.

I love stories. I'm from the South, so I love telling stories. Some of them actually true! But I also love to hear stories. My favorite thing about traveling, whether it be around the state of Colorado or to another country on the other side of the world, is hearing people's stories. We have so much to learn from others, yet we continually build walls around ourselves, not wanting to let others in. I do it myself, for many reasons, some of which I don't even realize until a wall is built. My continued hope is to spend my time, not only listening and learning about other people's stories, but also breaking down the walls I've created to let even more people in, intertwining my story with the ultimate story.

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