Traveling is not something I’m accustomed to. My last flight was in 2008 to Vancouver BC to help my brother with a home renovation project. Being self-employed, the idea of leaving some of my work in the hands of others is a leap of faith, kind of like getting into an airplane.
However, my eldest daughter Bryn now lives in Colorado where she is working on her PhD in Atmospheric Science, so into a plane I had to go to visit her. Besides, I’ve never skied the Rockies.
Bryn and I ran the Spartan race last summer here in Montreal so it was a natural leap to hiking in the Colorado foothills and downhill skiing in the Rockies, west of Denver.
On my second day in Colorado, after 36 hours of acclimatizing to the 5,000-foot altitude (1,524 metres) of Fort Collins, Col., nine of us set out for the Horse Tooth Mountain trail. This was roughly a five-kilometre hike with a total gain in elevation of 1500 feet (457 metes) through varying grades and types of snow-covered terrain, including a fairly steep and rocky final scramble to the top. But what a view!
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We had a quick lunch on the windswept peak before making our way down to our starting point with a real feeling of accomplishment, at least for me, easily 30 years older than my fellow hikers.
We followed up with a visit to one of the many craft breweries in an area that is renowned for having one of the highest ratios of craft breweries per capita in the US – a great way to end the day!
On my third day Bryn and I were up early and headed to Loveland Ski Centre, a two-and-a-half hour drive from Fort Collins, and 53 miles (85 kilometres) west of Denver. High atop the Continental Divide, Loveland’s summit sits at 13,010 feet (almost four kilometres) and the base of the ski centre is located at 10,800 feet (3.3 kilometres). The amount of oxygen at higher elevations is less dense due to the lower atmospheric pressure: at 10,000-13,000 feet, there is about 25-35% less oxygen in every breath you take. Having spent over 48 hours in Fort Collins gave me a partial acclimatization – but only for 5,000 feet, not 10,000-13,000 feet. Though not everyone is affected by high altitudes, I was. As we drove higher I had a feeling of being out of breath and this brought on a sense of anxiety — almost like a panic attack.
I had to tell myself it was mostly in my mind but it wasn’t until Bryn and I had started to ski that I was able to begin to get a handle on it.
After a couple of runs, Bryn suggested we stop and sit quietly in the woods part way down a trail and just breathe. Best idea ever. I started to calm down and enjoy our skiing after that.
Skiing the Rockies is not like skiing in the Laurentians or the Eastern Townships. It’s not just the height of the mountain or the length of the trail — although there is more to both.
It was the continual slope combined with the snow surface, which was either lightly packed or powdery, not at all like the hard pack/ice we have in the northeast. It was an absolute pleasure to carve turns into the snow. From slow speed wide turns to tight slalom turns to high-speed grand slalom turns we loved the feeling of control and joy.
I have been a skier since I was six, and a ski instructor both professionally and for my children and friends. My previous experience has been in the east on hard-pack and ice, conditions that can test the abilities of any skier. Skiing for the pure pleasure without fear of falling was entirely new to me.
To combine visiting my daughter, seeing new places, and enjoying one of my favourite sports as never before was a total treat and adds to my motivation to stay in the best physical health possible.