Two Birthdays at Two Miles High: A Eulogy for Denver

Meg and I are moving to New Hampshire in just a couple of weeks. We decided to say farewell (for now) to Colorado the best way we could imagine:

  • celebrating two birthdays in our favorite mountain town, Leadville
  • two days of the best skiing Colorado can offer (that isn't totally insane for visiting friends from low altitudes)
  • cross country skiing the only major trail around Leadville we haven't gotten around to yet
  • a biking + food truck + brewery + park + bocce day around Denver
  • one hell of a sunburn (Neutrogena, I will never forgive you)

Special thanks to our visiting friends Whitney and Eddy, who managed to make it out for their third visit in two years of Colorado living.

Sidenote: why on earth do we say "an elegy" but "a eulogy"? Turns out, there's a perfectly logical explanation. English is silly.

Day 1: Arapahoe Basin

windy morning at the basin
windy morning at the basin

As usual, we started our trip with a visit to A Basin, the coolest mountain on the I70 corridor. The day started out windy as hell -- they didn't even have the Montezuma backside bowl open! -- but the frontside conditions were good enough to have a fun time anyway. We spent the morning exploring all of the trails we usually ignore on the frontside, zooming through trees and moguls and anything else we could find.

After a quick pit stop for beers, Bloody Marys, and chicken fingers, the wind started to ease up. It wasn't long before they opened the Montezuma bowl up, and we tired ourselves out completely riding the untouched bowls and glades until closing time. Nothing makes you appreciate the backside of a mountain more than being limited to the frontside all morning.

After our day of skiing, we headed over to Leadville to stay for the night and prepare an elaborate meal of chicken and pasta.

shoutout to whitney's car photography skills
shoutout to whitney's car photography skills

Note: it turns out there was a significant avalanche on Loveland pass right after we drove through to get to A Basin. That isn't surprising, given the fact that it was warm, super windy, and they were actively avalanche blasting at A Basin throughout our day of skiing. But it's pretty crazy to think about how narrowly we missed getting blocked by -- or caught in! -- an avalanche.

Day 2: Ski Cooper

frosty morning before coop
frosty morning before coop

After our warmup day at a world-renowned ski resort, we were ready to shred the gnar at Ski Cooper, a cute, locally-owned family-friendly ski hill.

As usual, conditions were absolutely amazing. One things Coloradans don't seem to appreciate: all of the big resorts are too popular for their own good. They have amazing trails, fast lifts, huge volumes of powdery snow every year, and make a shitton of money. But the amount of traffic at Ikon resorts (not even mentioning Epic resorts, which are even busier) tends to scrape damn near all of that powder off of the mountain within a day or two of each snowfall.

ski cooper is the best ski hill in CO - don't tell your friends
ski cooper is the best ski hill in CO - don't tell your friends

I absolutely love every trail at Ski Cooper. The groomers are firm, but soft enough to easily carve; the glades start out slick, but soften up within an hour of open so you can easily set your preferred pace and stop on a dime if you see an obstacle; and even the ungroomed trails still have sections of untouched powder on pretty much any day of the year.

The design of the hill is awesome, too: you've got a million ways down from any point on the mountain, little glades pockmarked between all of the trails, and somehow you never end up doing the exact same run. It's the only ski place I've ever been where I feel like I can cruise anywhere at all unless it's behind a fence. (OK, Keystone is kind of like that too... but they have a million miles of fence along 90% of their runs, so it's not quite the same).

Oh, and they have great chicken fingers, the best chili of any ski hill I've ever been to, a simple, decent, and cheap beer selection... and incredibly friendly employees.

I really hope they stay off the radar of vacation traffic in Colorado. This place is the best exactly the way it is, and I hope it doesn't get trampled to death like every other trail, mountain, and campsite within 3 hours of Denver.

Anyway, it was a great day of skiing. We zoomed through glades, moguls, and groomers on a constant loop, barely even stopping for lunch. It was beautiful out all day, and even got warm enough at the end of the day that one group decided to ski down the hill without shirts. Whitney, the only one in our group who didn't grow up regularly skiing or snowboarding, built the confidence to try some glades, and mostly survived some black diamond moguls and trees she definitely didn't accidentally wander onto.

It was a great day. When I come back to Colorado, Leadville and Ski Cooper are at the top of my list. When you can avoid the crowds, the mountains are a truly incredible place that's unlike anywhere else in the US.

Day 3: Cross Country Skiing the Mineral Belt Trail

Once we tired ourselves out with two days of skiing, the obvious next move was... another day of skiing. But this time on (relatively) flat terrain.

deep in it now
deep in it now
enjoying the leadville views
enjoying the leadville views

Meg and I have biked and walked the Mineral Belt Trail before, and even cross country skied small sections in town at night. This was our first time skiing the entire trail. At 11 miles, the Mineral Belt Trail is just a smidge shorter than our previous trip skiing the 14 mile Turquoise Lake Loop. But this trip really gave us an appreciation for what blue skies, warm weather, and grooming can do for cross country skiing.

andddd he's down
andddd he's down
shoutout to whit again for staying behind and taking these sweet pics
shoutout to whit again for staying behind and taking these sweet pics
rocky mountain high
rocky mountain high

The Turquoise Lake Loop took us nearly 7 hours to complete, including a brief stop for lunch. It was almost completely ungroomed, actively snowing, and very hilly. The Mineral Belt Trail took us about 3 hours total, including a long stop for lunch. It was completely groomed, sunny enough to give us all a nasty sunburn through sunblock, and only gradually hilly.

salami sandwich selfie
salami sandwich selfie
cruisin our way back into town
cruisin our way back into town
really earned the apres after our 11 mile jaunt
really earned the apres after our 11 mile jaunt

It was a great time. We got some awesome views of Leadville, learned some fun historical facts, drank some tasty beers, and ate some solid salami sandwiches.

Day 4: Interlude

classic leadville lookin cute as always
classic leadville lookin cute as always

Not much to say about our trip back to Denver. The weather was great, the fish burritos were as filling and delicious as ever, and the aloe felt really great on our faces when we got back home. We played way too much Settlers of Catan and probably drank a few too many beers. And I learned all about Jello Cake, Whitney's birthday cake of choice (only one day late -- who wants to bake a cake in a short-term rental?). Happy belated birthday, Whitney!

Day 5: Bikes, Beers, Bocce, and Ninja Ramen

mmm ninja ramen
mmm ninja ramen

Our last day, we followed the classic Meg & Nate Denver formula: we hopped on our bikes, drank tasty beer and ate tasty food truck food at one of our favorite breweries, then picked up some cans to drink in the park while we played bocce. The parks in Denver were packed on Sunday, no surprise given the weather in the high 70s. But we carved out a nice spot for a game and had a wonderful time hanging out in the park. Add in Meg's birthday ice cream cake when we got home, and Sundays don't get much better.

27 == ice cream cake and a kalimba
27 == ice cream cake and a kalimba

Eulogy for Denver

As I mentioned in the intro of this post, Meg and I won't be here in Denver for long. We originally wanted to move to the mountains of Colorado... but all it takes is a couple of soul-crushing months looking for a reasonable rental to shut down that idea. In the end, we decided to give New Hampshire a shot. It'll give us easy access to friends, family, outdoor activities, world-class gravel biking, Montreal, Boston, Burlington, Portland, New York... and offices for our now-permanent remote work arrangements. We'll be moving to Littleton in mid-April, so stay tuned for an update on our cross country drive. I hope it'll be interesting, but not too interesting.