The day I became a skiing snow bunny at the top of Vail Mountain in Colorado

Note: Excuse the lack of my usual high-quality photos a la my Nikon D7000 – all of these photos were taken on an iPhone 4s due to the sketchy weather conditions on the mountain. Stay tuned for a slew of the usual photography during upcoming posts that explore Vail Village and more!

After an unpleasantly exhilarating drive into the mountains with whiteout snow conditions, a handful of hours spent snoozing on the plush pillows of the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, and a massive breakfast feast at The Little Diner, the time came for me to finally learn how to ski.

I think my favorite aspect of Vail is the accessibility of absolutely everything. The main mountain gondola, ticket area, and rental centers were situated amongst numerous restaurants and quaint shops sitting a short five-minute walk from my cozy hotel room. The more historic and happening Vail Village was settled a few minutes up the road, but all areas on this mountain are easily accessible via complimentary shuttle services.

I scoped out the crowd of eager early bird boarders and skiers before wandering around the square in search of what I needed to do to secure a beginner lesson and some sweet ski gear.

While being outfitted for my skis and boots in the warm rental facility, I bumped into another woman, Kelsey, who was also gearing up for the beginner course – instant friends, thanks to our common I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing perspectives.

My fellow snowy ski-mates included my comrade Kelsey from San Francisco, a Tampa chick who had never before seen snow, a friendly married couple, David and Michelle, a funny man named Jeffrey who had already taken a lesson the day before, and Karen, our fearless leader on the bunny slopes. We quickly lost Natalie from Tampa, as well as the female half of our married duo, but the remaining bunch stayed together for the remainder of the day.

Unlike my uncomfortable slope fumbling that I struggled with while snowboarding in Lake Tahoe, skiing came naturally and flowed like an activity I had know how to do all my life. After Karen taught us the fundamentals of our new winter hobby, the real lesson began on gently curved miniature slopes.

I am proud to say that I only fell a total of three times during my entire day – if you don’t count two incidents where my unstoppable speed caused me to just kind of sit on the snow to slow down. Where snowboarding left me feeling anxious and uneasy, skiing was a snow sport I could actually excel in. Picking up speed wasn’t a harrowing rush of adrenaline, turning was a fluid, controlled process, and by the end of the day, I had learned how to come to a safe stop on my own accord.

There’s really only one thing I can say:

I love skiing.

The weather conditions weren’t exactly ideal on this day, with gusty wind that left me flabbergasted as Karen bellowed instructions to “keep your eyes where you want to go,” while the gray snowy winds were entirely destroying any visibility in front of me. Regardless of the iffy mountain conditions, our group had a fantastic day learning the ropes and putting our newfound skills to the test.

Plus, occasional periods of particularly ugly bouts of weather offered an ideal excuse for our crew to take a break and warm our fingertips in the dining hall area.

By the end of the day, I was skiing laps down the big beginner slope and sharing the lift back to the top with my fellow skiers Jeffrey and David over and over again. Kelsey was a bit shaken after a high-speed crash into a crowd of us waiting at the bottom of the bunny slope conveyor belts, but she eventually braved a run down the beginner terrain as well – largely because I kept motivating her with the promise of free drinks if she stayed with me all day.

At 3:30, Karen reminded us that our long lesson was finally over, and our group rode the gondola back down to the Vail courtyard area. We bid our farewells, and then Kelsey and I returned our rental gear before indulging in those highly anticipated libations.

We shared tequila and whiskey shots at Garfinkles, a casual dive bar conveniently sitting right next to the slopes. Her boyfriend and his cohorts had gotten a hefty head start on the drinking, so Kelsey and I worked to catch up. We exchanged battle stories of our respective days, downed wine and mai tais, and although I can’t quite recall all the details, I remember there was a lot of boisterous laughter being exchanged.Effectively hammered (that high elevation will get ya), I returned to the hotel room where my parents were waiting to head out to dinner. We journeyed to Moe’s BBQ, which happened to be featuring a live banjo band. The funky music combined with extra tall 24 oz. Pabst Blue Ribbons, and savory bites of saucy ribs provided the perfect way to top off an extraordinary day.

I’m telling you: If you ever find yourself taking a lesson at Vail –

Ask for Karen!

She was the best instructor, and I honestly give her full credit for my success as a novice skier. Her gentle demeanor combined with a relentless motivation helped to develop my skills and foster my confidence on the mountain. Our group planned to reconnect the next day for a second lesson, but my toes once again bailed out on the cold, and with painfully swollen feet, I was unable to make it back for another early morning session.

Karen, if you’re reading this – thank you a thousand times!
I had a phenomenal experience braving the brutal weather with you
and our little crew, and am already eager to get back on the slopes.

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Snow laden autumn trees, icicled juniper bushes, and my first snow days in Denver, Colorado

The news of Denver’s first snow storm of the upcoming winter season rang like church bells in my ears – my first snow day! During the days leading up to the first flurry of snowflakes, I kept myself busy with daydreams of messy snowball fights, towering snowmen, ski lifts, and sipping hot tea while peering out the window.

When the pioneer flakes fell from the sky, it was a dark and rainy evening in Washington Park. Everything was wet from snow’s liquid counterpart, but I still ran outside the second the falling water had visibly become frozen fluff.

It was nearly impossible to fall asleep that night, knowing that just feet away from my cozy couch there were inches of fresh powder accumulating outside. I awoke at 7:00 the next morning to the rustlings of a housemate who was wondering out loud how I was still in bed, then quickly bolted outside with my camera. Everything was blanketed in this fleece layer of nature’s softest stuff. I stomped around the front steps, startled a few passersby with my occasional shrieks of joy, then retreated inside to warm my toes before venturing out again.

Denver became this enchanted land of ripe autumn trees bursting with color that were shyly peeking through their thick coats of winter’s evidence. Unprepared for the sudden burst of snow, many trees found their branches snapping under the heavy weight of snow combined with not yet fallen leaves – but man, did it look beautiful.

Within two days, my precious snow had all melted away, and fall was upon us again. It was a little heartbreaking to say farewell to my first batch of winter, but I knew another was quickly on its way. The next big snow storm was perfectly timed with the first evening spent in my new house. We successfully moved everything from Washington Park over to the new place in Lowry, just in time for the snow to begin.

Dirty from all the moving, I hopped into the shower just after a light drizzle of rain began outside. I admittedly took an extra long time enjoying my steamy new shower, but I was still shocked to look outside when I finally emerged – there was at least an inch of snow coating everything outside. Once again, I spent the night tossing and turning in my bed (which is actually a tent pitched in my empty room). The night was brightly illuminated by the white storm.

The steady downpour continued throughout the evening, and when we woke up our patio table looked something like this:

Oh, snow. I love you so.
And we’re getting more on Tuesday!

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Record breaking snowfall, quickly headed to Denver, CO for my first snow day

While yesterday saw record highs throughout the tri-city area of Denver, Ft. Collins, and Boulder, tonight promises to bring quite the opposite. Up to 8-12 inches of snow are expected to fall in the Denver area tonight and tomorrow, an estimate that easily surpasses the typical average snowfall for the entire month of October: a mere 4.2 inches.

Let’s backtrack. Yesterday, my afternoon looked a little bit like this.

Denver saw unprecedented heat reaching a balmy 80 degrees on Monday afternoon, and I gladly spent the afternoon tanning – even got tan lines, mind you – outside under a fantastically blue sky. The trees in Denver are heavy with chameleon leaves in the midst of changing identities, and there are still clusters of lanky wildflowers lining the streets. This particular week in the Mile High City brought some of the most beautiful weather I have ever seen.

Today, Tuesday the 25th, things are changing. Newly arrived housemate Hannah and I took a walk through the neighborhood during the afternoon, and immediately noticed a swift change in the weather. The air was unpleasantly crisp, and the sun seemed to have taken a vacation from its usual post in the once cloudless sky. Quickly approaching snow day, anyone?

I’m indescribably overjoyed at the prospect of everything that tomorrow’s snow will bring. My first official snow day living in Denver, the snow delivers promises of early morning snow angels in the front yard, the construction of my inaugural snowman, catching snowflakes on my tongue, trudging through the snow for wine, and bundling up inside with hot tea and lots of writing.

The forecast map for the next 48 hours of early season snow in Colorado has me giddy like a little kid. I can’t wait to bust out my mom’s sweet vintage mittens, my dad’s thick red flannel, my sweet new knit socks, and the slightly overpriced beanie I couldn’t resist at REI.

Weather advisories have been sending out warnings about the potential for major power outages, and I couldn’t be more excited. This feels reminiscent of the anticipation of an upcoming hurricane, except that this climatic margarita is frozen blended, while Florida’s natural disaster cocktail is served on the rocks. The eerie atmosphere and sense of impending doom remind me of the thrill that comes with an approaching hurricane in my hometown.

Speaking of Florida, this Miami gal has a feeling I’m going to have to do some major winter gear shopping after my warm weather wardrobe gets rocked by tomorrow’s miniature blizzard.

Happy Snow Day, fellow Coloradans!

Follow me on Twitter @themorningfresh for updates on my first snow day,
and travel quotes to inspire your own adventures!

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The Sweet Taste of Freedom

Behold this joyous moment: I AM FREE. After weeks of torturous demands and constant work, I have finished my final exams – all that’s left to do are the usual travel articles for work, on my own schedule. The temperatures may be plummeting to unbearable conditions, but I’m feeling quite warm down in my cheerful loins. I can’t remember the last time I simply had nothing to do.

It is a peculiar sensation to look up at the dry-erase calendar that hovers above my desk. Usually crammed with to-dos, assignments and obligations, my calendar suddenly grows silent after December 8th – today, the date of my last final. I am absolutely content to revel in the few events listed for the remainder of 2010: my climber-style pot luck on the 10th, climbing trip to Georgia/Tennessee sometime next week, the first day of winter on the 21st and Christmas holidays to be enjoyed with family in Miami. Beautiful.

Cheers to everyone who has likewise completed their fall semester! Those of you with a few more to go, keep truckin’ and you’ll be reveling in this glory shortly. This feels like an appropriate time to mention how fast this final year at Florida State University is flashing by. This is my last ‘winter break,’ and never again will I have a ‘fall semester.’ It’s a furious clash of thrill, anxiety and bittersweet uncertainty – but for now, that matters not. It’s time for some hot chocolate and a nice, long nap.

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An Open Letter to December

Dear December,

Well, hello there. You snuck up on us during Tuesday evening, replacing a relentless downpour with crisp, winter air. Across campus, a collection of jackets, scarves and boots paraded through the chilly Florida State terrain, interrupted by the occasional fool in a t-shirt and flip-flops, sprinting towards the warmth contained inside brick buildings. Suddenly, Tallahassee appeared to have transformed into a winter wonderland.

The towering trees I walk beneath each morning were unexpectedly adorned with clusters of blazing red berries – where did these plump berries come from? I examine my trees every morning, yet had never noticed these tiny bushels before. Had they miraculously sprouted during the frigid night?

My first true sign of the approaching winter appeared to me this morning as I dropped Niko off at the library in the first few hours of daylight. We drove down the rustic road towards his campus, past the bank sign indicating it was a brisk 35 degrees out, and I noticed a sparkling white patch of land. What an unusual place for a sandy field, I foolishly thought to myself before realizing what I was looking at: a frost-encrusted grassy knoll. There it was, biting winter conditions – and friends, it’s only going to get worse.

So here’s to you, December. You weigh me down with coats and ear muffs, you freeze my fingertips until they turn stark white. Here’s to the next few months of friendly bonfires, hot chocolate with whipped cream, nestling under the covers, holiday festivities and idling in your car as the engine warms up.

Best of all, here’s to the next season of climbing. Farewell to sweaty sessions at the Tally Rock Gym, sweltering in the heat as shirtless boys douse themselves with Gatorade. Hello to huddling over the kerosene heaters in a mass of climbers, warming your fingertips until you muster up the courage to muscle through a route before returning to the heat.

I’ll take summer over winter any day, but it’s hard to deny the charm of an approaching winter. Just don’t ask me how I feel about the cold once the chill rattles my bones and the frost on my windshield is no longer quaint. Once the temperatures drop into the 20s, I’ll be entering a deep state of hibernation. I will reawaken in the spring time, when the sunshine warms my bones and my wardrobe can return to its favored offerings of cut-off shorts and tattered tanks.

Winter, I love you, but please make your visit brief.
– Katie

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Dreaming of the Mountains, Climbing and Nature

Folks, it is a miserable day here in Tallahassee. The sunshine is nowhere to be found, the air is tepid and raindrops are threatening to assault the ground at any moment. It’s days like this that I find myself daydreaming of the mountains, lakes and climbing. Today’s photos aim to give you a peek into the images floating around in my head. In less than two weeks, Niko and I will be setting out on our return trip to Little Rock City and Rocktown, both located in Tennessee. Until then, my mind shall be consumed by thoughts of:

Escaping back to Tennessee.

I miss waking up in Chester Frost Campground to the sound of rustling climbers making instant oatmeal and loading up cars with crash pads and gear. I miss sitting on the docks of Campsite #303, watching the fog dissipate as the sun warms the air.

Getting back into nature.

My Communications Geography course is discussing the idea of ‘opting out’ this week, which deals with notions of disconnecting from technology and attempting to live ‘off the grid.’ I can relate this concept to climbing trips, where we abandon the conveniences of modern technology in favor of embracing the simplicity of the outdoors. It is such a beautiful way to refresh your perspective.

Bloody fingertips and chalky palms.

This may sound unusual to a non-climber – This morning, I came across this photo taken by my friend Raychel  and felt my hands start to anxiously sweat at the sight of this self-inflicted carnage. The battle wounds one acquires while climbing are almost as gratifying as sending the problem; it’s a sign that you fought to the best of your abilities – your blood is a badge of honor.

I am very impatiently biding my time until the semester ends and winter break begins. I’ve got a weeks worth of papers, articles, projects and exams to tackle, so these photos will keep me truckin’ onwards until it is finally time to break free. It is going to feel absolutely amazing to escape back into the wild.

For this upcoming trip, Niko and I are doing things properly. No cramped cars, no ill-planned meals – it’s going to be perfect. Just me and him driving up in my car, packing delicious food like avocados with garlic naan, sleeping in my cozy hatchback. Hopefully Steve and McGoo will be able to join us for one final southeast trip before they move to Colorado, and maybe we’ll be able to meet up with other climbers — any takers?

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Social Commentary – It is NOT boot season yet, ladies.

Let me preface this by asserting that I am a huge fan of boots. My two trusty pairs are nestled in the ‘winter’ section of my closet, itching to be worn – but the time has not come yet, my friends. Right now, we are in the midst of I’m going to call ‘seasonal puberty.’ We’re in that awkward in-between stage, transitioning from our youthful summer shorts and dresses to a more demure winter uniform of scarves and coats. Much like regular puberty, everyone seems to be hitting the changes at a different rate. I am endlessly amused by the contradicting sight of girls decked out in boots and long scarves walking alongside ladies wearing flip-flops and shorts – and don’t even get me started on the fools that combine shorts with boots, are you serious?

I’m talking about the overeager fashionista. She’s had her precious boots tucked away in her closet for six months now, and is absolutely dying to bust them out. Even though it’s going to be 80 degrees once her 12:30 class lets out, she is going to rock those damn boots. Here’s my question to you, overeager fashionista: Aren’t your feet sweaty? Doesn’t the midday heat remind you that it’s not yet time for boots? Yes, it’s pretty damn cold at night and brisk during the mornings, but we’re still reaching temperatures in the high-80s during the day – so relax.

Ladies, put your boots away until it’s actually cold outside. You’re about to dive head first into five straight months of merciless winter conditions; hold onto your summer style as long as you can. Boys seem to have the right idea – they remain unphased by these changes in the weather, trucking onwards in their t-shirts and khaki shorts. I finally gave in to wearing pants this week for the first time since April, and am already missing my life as a pantless summer bandit.

Let us not forget the months we spent begging the sun to warm our faces; are you really prepared to give that all up for another half of a year? In a month, you’ll all be wishing you could still wear your pretty summer outfits while the unforgiving Tallahassee winter sets in and turns us all into popsicles. Your boots will have their time to shine, but honey, it ain’t yet.

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