They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I may not qualify as an old dog, but I wasn’t convinced that I could ever learn to ski. Despite growing up in West Michigan, less than half an hour from a ski area, I had only attempted it once in my life – a disastrous elementary school field trip that left me convinced that my way forward in life was with two feet firmly planted on the ground. So, when Elizabeth and her family invited me to Vail, Colorado with them for New Years, I initially demurred on the offer.
It’s the age of Southwest flight credit, though, and I discovered that I could change my OKC –> GRR roundtrip to become an OKC –> GRR –> DEN –> OKC for less than $200. Why not. I let Elizabeth know that I was planning on changing my itinerary, called Southwest, and then travelled home while wondering what the hell I was getting myself into.
In the wee morning hours of December 29, I hopped out of the car at Grand Rapids airport with as much luggage as I could get away with without Southwest charging me. I was kind of shocked to discover that Grand Rapids airport is at its busiest at 5:00 a.m. Apparently people willingly fly at that time of day? I barely beat the giant crowd at the Southwest counter to check bags, as well as the apparent backup that occurred at TSA right after I got through.
Armed with a breakfast sandwich and the Airpods I got for Christmas, my plane departed into the rainy dawn and headed west. We arrived at Denver after a three-hour flight at 7:15 a.m, and I could already tell this was going to be such a long day. I might have jinxed myself, because then the luggage carousel for my flight got stuck. Elizabeth had booked me on an 8:00 shuttle on the Epic Mountain Express, which meant that naturally I got my bags at 8:01. After rushing to the Epic office at the airport (and that’s one confusing journey), the clerk at the front desk rebooked me on the 10:00 trip. I’m assuming that I looked pretty grumpy, because she told me that she would put me on standby for a 9:00 shuttle. Nothing left for me to do but wait in the office and waste some time on YouTube.
At exactly 8:53, the front desk clerk informed me that I was booked on the 9:00 shuttle leaving from the opposite side of the departure area. Scrambling with two large suitcases and my carry-ons, I arrived to the shuttle before it left and ended up seated next to a lovely old lady. I could see the mountains in the distance, it was a sunny day and once again I was feeling excited about getting to see Elizabeth. The shuttle began cruising west on I-70, which is seriously a drive that everyone should make west of Denver. We headed up the Front Range, through Eisenhower Tunnel, and approached Vail.
My journey was destined to have one more hitch, though. Due to snowy road conditions, traffic slowed to a crawl past Breckenridge. Eventually, troopers blocking the road signaled that an accident had occurred in Vail Pass and there would be no further going. Our driver recounted that the last time this had happened, the road had been blocked all day. Fortunately, we were right at the Copper Mountain exit and able to pull off at a gas station/sandwich shop. It was noon, I was hungry, and I wasn’t very smart, so I ordered a sandwich, and of course literally the moment I finished ordering the Interstate reopened. Everyone in the van was nice about it, but I feel like they secretly hated me after that. In the end, the Interstate ended up closing again when we were in the middle of Vail Pass because of another accident. I guess I’ll never know if we would have been caught up anyway, or if the ten minutes we wasted costed everybody another hour, and I’m not sure I want to know.
Finally, at 1:00, six hours after landing in Denver, the van pulled up to the Fallridge Condos in Vail, where Elizabeth was waiting for me. (I later learned that this is prime skiing time, so I cost her a whole day on the slopes. Whoops.) She took me up to her family’s condo, and showed me the world’s lumpiest pull-out couch which I would be sleeping on.
Elizabeth told me that I needed to be fitted for ski boots. Evidently, every morning there was a big rush at the ski shop and it would be easier to get fitted in the afternoon. Fallridge is on the east side of Vail, so we had to take a bus to get to Vail Village. I bundled up for the Colorado cold and proceeded to piss Elizabeth off by horsing around in the snow.
I learned a valuable lesson at Buzz’s ski shop in Vail – ski boots are very, very uncomfortable. I needed a lot of help to even get mine on my feet. This experience really did not do much to ease the existential dread that I felt at having to ski. I think Elizabeth sensed my fear, because she told me that next up on our agenda was to go tubing. Along the way to get tubing tickets, we ran into Elizabeth’s cousin Garrett. He wanted to join us in the tubing fun, and as they say, the more the merrier.
Ski lifts close at 3:30 around New Year in Vail, so after that you don’t need to use a “lift day” ($$$) to ride the gondola up the mountain. At 3:30 sharp, we boarded the gondola. There are some moments that you just want to remember for the rest of your life, and the view of the Colorado Rockies as we ascended through a golden sunset is one of them. I’m not sure pictures could ever do it justice.
By contrast, the tubing itself (shown in the last picture above) was rather disappointing. The magic carpet you stand on to reach the top of the hill was pretty fun, but the workers on the hill wouldn’t let anyone go down on anything but their butt, and the hill wasn’t that tall. Also, it was cold. Like, really cold. I guess I was expecting the tubing hills to be larger than the ones in Michigan, and hence more fun, but that wasn’t really the case. We stayed on the tubing hill for a much more brief time than I was expecting before decamping for the bottom of the mountain once more.
Back at Fallridge, I finally got to see the rest of Elizabeth’s extended family who were all hot tubbing. A hot tub and a White Claw turn out to be a great combination during a long, long travel day. After that, we went to Sonnenalp Restaurant in Vail Village. If there is one thing to understand about Elizabeth’s family, it is that everything is an ordeal. Dinner at a restaurant can and will last long into the night, especially if someone happens to be playing the piano there. That was the case on the evening of December 29, when I was first chagrined to discover that the King’s Club restaurant was really more of a lounge for drinks with a small menu for real food. The wagyu sliders were decent, and my pomegranate sparkler (yes) was good, and I had a good time dancing with Elizabeth. By the end, though, I could barely keep my eyes open as I’d been awake for 21 consecutive hours. I was so tired by the time I laid in my lumpy pull-out couch that I could barely even make myself feel scared of my impending doom via ski lessons the next morning.