Report Template

Last weekend the Gem’s kicked off their 2018-19 season, with both Arapahoe Basin and Loveland opening.

Sunday of opening weekend at Loveland.

This means it’s time to start sketching out a template for Gems report to ensure some consistency between reports. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Background: Setting the stage, including my prior experience (or lack thereof) with the area, historic curiosities, and why I’m stoked to get there.
  • Travel: How far from Denver? Worthwhile stops along the way? Gotchas?
  • Ski experience: terrain, lifts and snow.
  • Locals: people I meet along the way from liftees, the retired dude skiing 100 days a year, to young groms
  • Crowds and logistics: I value these two enough for them to merit a separate category.
  • Lift tickets: Cost, ways to save, and what we paid. No Gem makes you pay for parking, so not need to report.
  • Food: What would a regular meal cost.
  • Beer: How guilty will you feel for buying a craft beer on hill?
  • Camping beta: how far to the nearest (free) camping? Can you park in the area’s lots?
  • Human-powered options: Uphill access policies? Backcountry gates? Nearby backcountry areas for skiing and/or snowshoeing.
  • Map: A custom map showing some of our favorite trails, backcountry tour, spots to camp, and where you should have a picnic on the hill.

What am I missing? What should be “systematically” documented that Gems excel at? Things that make or break a ski area experience for you?

I doubt most adventures will go smoothly enough to be meaningfully smashed into such a formulaic template. It’s aspirational, and a point of reference to look back on later.

Disclaimers and Rules

  1. I will get stuff wrong. This site is not from an industry insider or a ski area employee. I will speak inaccurately: on mountain stats, on the financials of ski resorts, on visitor days, on operations, on patrol, on where to get the cheapest beer or best green chili. Please feel free to correct me when I do.
  2. Your safety is on you. Throughout this blog there will be adventures, and suggestions to adventure, that have objective hazards. From skiing trees or bowls inbounds, to winter camping, to backcountry skiing — these things can injure or kill you. Those skull and bones signs at backcountry access gates are not overly dramatic.
  3. I will try to stay within — but may occasionally stretch — the bounds of legality. This mostly applies to questions of camping and backcountry access. In both activities you are likely to run into some grey areas. I always try to equip myself with a some reasonable rationale and factoids in case I’m stuck asking for forgiveness. Asking for permission is a good idea if there are potential unknown hazards. Refer to disclaimer 2. I
  4. I am not certified in any ski safety equipment or avalanche safety. I’ve done an AAIRE Level 1, attend Friends of Berthoud Pass refereshers every year, listen to and support the Slide Podcast, and skim The Avalanche Review and Bruce Temper’s Staying Alive every fall. This does not make me an expert. I also mount my own skis and generally understand the mechanics of bindings and their design trade offs. Doesn’t mean you should listen to me on any of these topics.

Above all else, I live by the following rules, and will try to apply them to anything written here. They were drilled into me as early as I started skiing (around 4) — I’ve found them to be damn helpful.

  1. Don’t get hurt.
  2. Don’t forget the first rule.
  3. Take care of you siblings, friends and teammates. (Of course this includes my best friend and partner Kaitlyn, and our pup and teammate, Westley.)
  4. The Golden Rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. 4b. The Platinum rule: Treat others how they want to be treated.
  5. Don’t take things that don’t’ belong to you. (This includes cutting lift lines, poaching pow, etc.)
  6. Have fun.
  7. (multiple variants) “If its _____’s idea, it’s probably not a good one.” That will likely often be filled in with my name. Or a ski buddies.

Who’s in the van? Part 1.

Over the course of this ski season, I’ll be writing up trip reports from day trips, weekends, and weeklong ski adventures to all of the Colorado Gems. Most of these adventures will take place with family and friends in Storm the Astro van. So a few words about the repeat characters.

The Front Range Weekend Warrior

I’m Jake — a white, middle class, been-accused-of-being-a-hipster, 7:30 to 5er, 40-50 days a year skier. Six years ago this fall I moved to Colorado, and that ski season fell back in love with a sport from my childhood. I grew up skiing in western New York at Holiday Valley a handful of days a year. When I was 15 I tagged along with a friends family to my first ski pilgrimage at Winter Park. (Berthoud Pass ski area was still a thing then.) Between 15 and 25 I don’t think I skied a day.

Berthoud pass when it still had lifts. Now a popular backcountry spot for Front Rangers.

Over the past six years I’ve built a life in Denver and a life as a skier. I got a job with the State of Colorado that I still hold. Soon after my better half Kaitlyn moved out to CO. We got our first 2001 Astro van (more on Bessie in a future post) and used it to ski and camp regularly — especially with our friends in the Denver Family and the idiots in the RMR crew. On average, we spend 40 nights a year in the van. By 2016 we were onto our second and current 2001 Astro van, Storm. And had done even more grown up things like moved into a small 1000 sq ft house in NW Denver, and got the quintessential mountain dog, Westley.

Wessels in the alpine off Second Creek. Summer recon for winter skiing.

As a skier, I’ve gone from snowboarding a handful of days my first season here, to skiing 40-50 days a year over the last few. (Yep, a reformed snowboarder). The majority of these days are logged at various ski areas. This includes a bunch of day trips to Front Range mountains, mostly Loveland. But last year I had the Epic pass and RMSP+ pass, so skied most everywhere. (More on that in a later post). We do a lot of overnights in the van to these areas to save gas, enjoy time together, beat traffic, and sleep in. Once or twice a year we even stay in a condo up in the mountains for a weekend with friends or family. I’m also part of the exploding popularity of backcountry skiing. Every year I log more days than the previous in the backcountry. I’ll be detailing those adventures here too.

A reformed snowboarder
Sometimes Cousin Eddie goes skiing.

Lastly, and most annoyingly, I tend to be obsessive about whatever hobby I’m into. For the last few years, that is skiing. (In the past these obsessions have included: baseball, golf, fountain pens, fine shoes, bicycling.) My S.O.P. is researching. I spend a not insignificant amount time researching ski-related everything. I’m a gear head who loves trying things but doesn’t love spending money. (Current quiver: 8 skis and bindings. Total spending on said skis and bindings: $1552.) TGR, PugSki, and other online ski communities have been a huge source of knowledge and vectors to enable my research obsessions. As of writing this, it is mid September and I’ve already mounted, structured, flattened, repaired, tuned, and wax a bunch of skis for this fall. You might imagine that someone who is working on skis in a garage on a 90 degree day is a bit wonky. I think my better half would agree.

Mounting skis on a 90 degree day in September with friends. Nothing better.

Part 2 featuring Kaitlyn, and more photos of Westley, to follow.

Van Preview

We can’t have a proper van tour until this thing is Instagram-clean. So it may take a while before the ins and outs of Storm the Astro van are well documented here.

So here’s apres ski in A$pen

and breakfast before my first Steamboat powder day.

Colorado Gems Overview Map

As I start writing trip reports, you’ll see a lot of CalTopo maps used to show ski areas, nearby camping options, and backcountry skiing recommendations. It’s an incredibly powerful tool for all kinds of adventure planning. We’ll write more about CalTopo and how to use it in a future post.

But for now — here’s an overview map of all the Gems. Try opening it up in a new tab, zooming in to a spot you’re curious about. Hover over the “USGS 7.5′” in the top right corner to reveal a bunch of layers you can toggle on/off: from satellite imagery to slope angle shading, to land management¬†and forecasted weather.