Wild Rags, Steamboat to Aspen

The Professional Ski Instructor Association Women’s Summit held a no-host progressive dinner in Steamboat Springs starting at Aurum’s a block off the main drag on Yampa Street and then we progressed to a pizzeria, Cugino’s, across the street on 8th. Food was good, but not good enough for a picture. I ended up going to FM Light’s, a western apparel store, where I found a cool red plaid snap western shirt and learned about wild rags. I bought my first wild rag, an oversized silk square scarf that cowboys (and cowgirls) wear around their necks. I Goggled it and there are videos and pictures on how to tie a buckaroo square knot that looks pretty cool.

Buckaroo Square Knot

Our second day at Steamboat was shortened due to a storm front that was coming through and nothing was going to compare with the Trees and Bumps we had done the day before, anyway. Snowbird and Alta, where I had just come from, were closed due to a four-foot snowfall. Besides, while I thought I was getting into pretty decent mountain shape, my legs were shot from a long day in the trees and bumps, so a short day was just fine with me. Another issue was rearing its ugly head and I couldn’t ignore it. The fine Lange boots I had bought in Driggs were not breaking in, and instead they began causing extreme pain on my inside arch. The walk from the mountain base to the Steamboat Grand Hotel where our meetings were held—maybe 200 yards–was a walk of pain.

I had my condo for another day, but I decided I’d beat the storm and leave early. It would be great to be snowed in at a ski resort, but Steamboat wasn’t part of my Epic or Mountain Collective ski passes, and I didn’t want to shell out the $100+/day for a discounted lift ticket. I left the mountain around 2 pm, and hit the road at 3 pm. The snow was just beginning to fall. I followed my new friend Deb down Highway 131 to Wolcott on I-70 where we parted ways—she went home to Beaver Creek, and I drove to Eagle to spend the night with Ellen and Fred Caruso.

Fred and Ellen are friends from Montana. Ellen’s family and my family are actually related—her niece, Sheri, is my sister-in-law and best/first friend from first grade. Sheri Imer Koyama’s dad was the high school football, wrestling, track and PE teacher. He probably did a bunch of other stuff that I don’t even know about. Her mom was an elementary teacher that we were all afraid of. Ellen and Sheri’s mom are sisters, even though everyone thinks Ellen looks like Sheri’s dad. Be that as it may, when I lived in Denver back in the 70s, Fred and Ellen and their kids, Andrea and Tanya, were my great friends. We all loved photography, and we all skied together. Fred and Ellen ran/managed associations, and Fred literally wrote the book on association management. Part of Ellen’s work involved political lobbying. Andrea and Tanya back in the day were pre-teens and cute as little buttons. They had big eyes, and big eye-glasses—Andrea was fair and lovely like her mom, and Tanya was darker, picking up the Italian beauty of the Caruso’s. Through the years I had seen the four of them at family gatherings: weddings, funerals, anniversaries.

Now, forty years later, I was going to have the opportunity to get to know the girls on their own, as adults.

I had bought myself a free day by leaving early from Steamboat, so at the recommendation of my friends I spent several hours soaking my aching body at the Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs. Unlike the big and famous Glenwood Hot Springs, which is, as I understand, a big pool, Iron Mountain is a series of hot tub sized pools of varying temperatures. There must be about 20 pools, in addition to the lukewarm swimming pool on the north end of the property. The resort is on the banks of the Colorado River, and their pools drain right into the river. I ended up in the warmest pool they offered, 108 degrees. A light snow was falling, instantly melting as the flakes hit the water. I ate lunch at the resort’s Sopris Café named after the mountain nearby. Their menu not only listed food items, but the minerals in the water as well.

Sopris Cafe Menu & Minerals
Eats and hot springs water

Around the corner and down Highway 82 about 20 minutes is Carbondale, a real Colorado mountain town. Real Colorado people live in Carbondale, as well as imports from all over the country as is the case you will find all over Colorado. The states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan seem to draw the largest diasporas but you can find someone from almost anywhere who has migrated to Colorado.

Andrea lives in Carbondale, and I spent a couple nights at her home that she shares with her partner, Chris. Andrea is a counsellor at Glenwood Community College, so she commutes 20 minutes every day. Carbondale is a classic small Colorado town, with a young culture of outdoorsy mountain friendly folks. The downtown is a small strip of stores and restaurants, ranging from the Carbondale Beer Works on one end where we had fancy drinks and Reuben sandwiches to the upscale and hip Marble Distilling Company & Inn at the other end of town.

From Carbondale it is only 30 minutes farther down Highway 82 to Aspen. On Saturday Andrea and I went to Aspen Snowmass which she considers her home mountain. It was Martin Luther King weekend and while the area was busier than normal, lines were relatively short and we broke 10,000 vertical feet easily. My most memorable run was down Long Shot, accessible only by hiking up a ridge about 10 minutes (20, if you are me) from the Elk Camp chair. It’s reputed to be the longest run on Snowmass but reports on its length vary between 3-5 miles. Whichever it is, it will be forever embedded in my mind. It ranged from ungroomed bumps to broad runs, with trees and vistas to make you catch your breath. That is if you can catch your breath, because it is one long run. There are signs posted strategically along the way indicating “You are ¼ ( ½ , ¾) way down.”  Long Shot starts at 11,931 feet and ends around 8,000. Someone, send me oxygen.

Aspen Long Shot
Still smiling, 3/4 of the way down Long Shot.

Skiing with Andrea was great for my skill building. She’s an expert skier—graceful, confident, with smooth rhythmic turns. She challenged me to do the bumps and I followed her wherever she went. That included into The Red Onion, an Aspen bar and restaurant, where we joined a table of skiers who had a couple spare chairs. Everywhere people are friendly and welcoming, and of course from all over the world.

Downtown Aspen lived up to its reputation for being uber cool. The sale rack at one store advertised markdowns from $3495 to $599.  Uh, seriously? But it was great fun skiing and walking the town. I had limited time in Aspen and considered skiing another day there, as my Mountain Collective pass allowed, but I had a problem.

The new boots I had gotten in Driggs, Idaho, were killing me. And it was getting worse, not better. So on my way out of Carbondale back to Eagle, I stopped at Cripple Creek Backcountry and had Matt remold my liners, adding spacers in the areas of greatest pain. $30 later, I had my fingers crossed that the heat remolding would do the trick.

Downtown Aspen

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