Monday, December 1, 2014

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving week was spent on a whirlwind tour of Colorado. From Boulder, to Summit County, to Cuchara (in the middle of no where, near the New Mexico Border), to Aspen and finally back to Salt Lake City. 

A level 200 USSA coaches clinic brought me to Winter Park, which lead into a couple days of coaching for Speedy's Thanksgiving Camp at Copper, that segued into a road trip from Boulder to Cuchara for Thanksgiving with my cousins and their friends' family. 

To say that Cuchara, Colorado is a very small town in an extremely remote part of the state is kind of an understatement. I barely knew that part of the state existed before my arrival. However, it blew me away. The family we visited lives at the base of Cuchara Ski Area, an old, run down, non-operational ski area lost in time. Their lifts last spun in 2000 and only sporadically throughout the 80s and 90s before that. 

Rather than brave the swarming crowds on Cuchara's main street of an antique shop, a pawn shop and a bar on Black Friday, I decided to do an exploratory mission up the ski area. Starting at a base of 9,248 ft elevation, I ascended about 1,400 vertical feet to their highest lift. With Banjo, my cousins' lovable labradoodle, in tow I picked my way through barely covered under brush and bushes, deeper wind drifts and straight dirt in spots. As I rounded a corner and began traveling straight up the main run the wind eerily blew the abandoned chairlifts, still hanging onto the lift cable for any hope of resurgence. 

Once I made it to the highest point where I felt I could ski down I took off my skis and hiked up the last 150 yards or so to the top lift shack. It was pretty windy that day with spotty snow coverage at the top, so I figured booting up the last bit to claim the summit was fair enough. 

Sitting on an old warped picnic table next to the lift I basked in the sun, feeling strangely at home on this mountain. The run down rickety lift reminded me of where I grew up skiing at West Mountain. The old school humble charm of Cuchara, and any small, grassroots ski area for that matter, evokes the feeling of my roots, where I fell in love with skiing, and where there will always be a special place in my heart.

The skiing actually sucked. But as it always should be, its about the journey, not the destination. Being on this quiet mountain reminded me that I love being outside, on my skis, exploring new places and being completely open to whats next with no expectations. 

It dumped at Copper a few days before Thanksgiving

Me and my wing-man, Banjo, en route to Cuchara

Cuchara at Sunset

Cuchara by day!

Cousin selfie
My cousin, Ryan, who owns Front Range Timber, a barn-wood reclamation company that is blowing up in Denver right now

Baby cousin selfie!

Obligatory Thanksgiving spread photo

and pie...

At the base of Cuchara Ski Area

Summit selfie with Banjo

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Blogs on Blogs on Blogs

I've started blogging for, a great website full of ski gear reviews, articles and suggestions for the kind of skis that are best for you - ask the Genie!

Here are links to some of the articles I've been working on:

Best Women's Ski Pants Reviews 2014-2015

2015 Trends in Women's Skis

Follow SkiGenie on Twitter

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

On The Road To New Orleans Jazz Fest

The first time I visited the electric city of New Orleans I knew I’d return some day. Three years later, that promise became a reality. The humid thick heat of New Orleans, although familiar, is not my cup of tea. Yet experiencing this city during one of their biggest events of the year is well worth the effort if you can manage the climate.

My journey began three days ahead of the start of the festival in order to make the 1,700-mile drive from Salt Lake City to New Orleans. Three full days driving through Durango, CO, Santa Fe, NM, Amarillo and Dallas, TX finally landed me in the Crescent City for Thursday’s unofficial kickoff to the first weekend of the festival.

On the road, somewhere in Texas

Santa Fe street vendors 

First things first, I had to find a bike for the weekend. Biking around a city or surrounding countryside is the best way to experience a place. Biking around New Orleans during Jazz Fest is the best way to get around for a number of reasons:

  • Driving around, finding parking, and, most importantly, getting parking tickets becomes a non-issue.
  • Increased mobility. Whether staying with friends or in a hotel, you have the mobility to be on your own transportation schedule to go off and explore on your own.
  • Flat as a pancake. The city of New Orleans is completely flat, making biking a breeze. The combination of heat + humidity + hill climbs could ruin a perfectly fun weekend otherwise.
  • Save money. It costs enough to get there, purchase tickets, secure accommodations and enhance the experience of being in a culinary dance party like New Orleans by eating and drinking everything in sight. Biking can cost next to nothing if you have the right connections, while potentially helping off-set the daily beignet habit you acquire while there.

Heading toward the fairgrounds

Actually acquiring a bike can be easy and cost effective. I pride myself on having friends who live in desirable locations across the country and world for me to visit. As such, I have a few friends who live in New Orleans and were gracious enough to not only let me crash in their spare bedroom, but also furnished a bike for my use throughout the weekend. However, options abound even if you are not as lucky to have friends in high places. Bike rental shops are located across the city, several of which are situated right in the French Quarter, where you are likely to frequent while in New Orleans. Bike Nola is one of the more reasonable and convenient shops, offering a 2-day rate of $50 with options to rent per hour or for a whole week. Once the wheels are yours, so too is the city.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival runs for two weekends with a mid-week “break,” affectionately known as the “Daze Between”. The break in between can become as relaxed or as jam-packed per one’s taste as the entertainment continues throughout the week. Well-seasoned veterans know the ins and outs of staying both weekends, but as a beginner to Jazz Fest, one weekend sounded like plenty for the health of my liver and bank account. After surviving the first weekend of Jazz Fest I’m already planning how to do it better next year, staying both weekends and taking a mid-week mini trip to the beach in Mobile, AL or as far as Pensacola, FL to recover from the first weekend and re-set for the second weekend.

"Dude, in India, whole families ride on bikes like this. The mom holding her 2 kids on the back while the dad rides them through town..." explained Keree before we took off...

Trying to look good for the camera... slow motion tip over

The first weekend of Jazz Fest packed a huge punch of eclectic acts from traditional New Orleans style big brass and jazz bands, to mainstream acts like Phish, Eric Clapton and Robin Thicke. The festival, itself, is held between the fences of the Fair Grounds Race Course, while the hundreds of bonus acts and events happening after the festival ends at 7pm each night spill over into the surrounding bars and venues across the city.

Street brass keeping the show going after the festival let out

Both weekends of the festival run from Friday to Sunday. I decided to purchase two “any day” tickets to the festival from, leaving one day open to explore the city outside the festival grounds. Friday was spent biking around the French Quarter, eating beignets, these amazing square-shaped pieces of fried dough covered in powdered sugar specific to New Orleans, popping in and out of shops in search of a floppy brimmed hat to keep the sun out of my eyes while at the festival all day (a vital article of clothing for any summer concert festival), and watching street performances. It’s not unusual to see a section of street barricaded from vehicles with street performers from dancers to fiddlers to full brass bands playing for passers by. Doing the touristy thing in any city you travel to is somewhat necessary, yet tourists beware when traveling during a busy weekend in a city. As always when traveling, beware of your belongings, have your wits about you, and do your research before booking a rental house or finding a used bike on craigslist. Staying away from Bourbon Street, the a-typical street you think of when imagining New Orleans and Mardi Gras, is a good idea. Kitschy bars with expensive (albeit strong) drinks and shops selling neon sweatpants with “NOLA” on the butt may be to some tourists delight, yet I prefer to hit the local thrift stores for vintage souvenirs like the 1980 Mardi Gras Marathon t-shirt I scored at the Goodwill upon my arrival to New Orleans.

Beignets and coffee from Morning Call Coffee Stand, a great alternative to the classic tourist trap rip off, Cafe Du Monde. Morning Call is located in City Park and is open 24 hours a day!

Beautiful architecture in the French Quarter

Bourbon Street, had to do it

My day of sightseeing segued into a night of dancing and taking in the sights on Frenchmen Street. Brass-a-holics played at The Maison bar and music venue on Frenchmen while DJ’s and more bands played simultaneously at every bar on the block. is the Bible for Jazz Fest patrons, listing every act at every bar starting as early as the Tuesday before the first weekend all the way through the second weekend including all the “daze between.”

Music highlights include Phish on the Acura Stage closing out Saturday of weekend one followed by incredible street brass bands spilling out of the festival onto North Lopez Street outside of Liuzza’s Bar, followed by DJ Soul Sister spinning late night at Hi Ho Lounge in the Saint Claude neighborhood downtown. As if Saturday wasn’t bursting with entertainment around every corner, Sunday included some of the best music all weekend. Meschiya Lake & The Big Little Horns, Rebirth Brass Band, Galactic, and Newbirth Brass Band rounded out our final day of the festival. Yet I can say with confidence that the icing on the cake was a show we almost missed due to an unexpected cover charge at the door of Chickie Wah Wah, a storied bar and music venue in mid-city. I We stumbled upon the 21st Annual New Orleans Big Blues Harmonica Show featuring Johnny Sansone and Sunpie Barnes, two of the best blues harmonica players in the game. Exhausted after a long hot weekend of dancing I could’ve easily called it a night instead of paying the $20 cover and going inside to see some music I wasn’t even sure would be any good. Yet in the spirit of Jazz Fest and being in New Orleans I swallowed my pride, paid the cover (which I was able to negotiate a two-for-one deal with the doorman for me and my friend) and witnessed an intimate gathering of friends and fans serenaded by the most rockin’, soulful blues music I’ve ever heard.


Meschiya Lake & The Big Little Horns

Keree and I walking across the fairgrounds to see Eric Clapton

Johnny Sansone ripping on the harmonica

After sweaty, sunbaked days and dancing all night for three and a half days straight I was ready to rest and recover. Reflecting on the weekend I feel confident that with a good rest during those “daze between” I could rally and do it all again for the final weekend. Having local connections and a comfortable home base made all the difference in creating a fun filled first Jazz Fest experience. Yet whether you have a couch to crash on or a suite at the Ritz-Carlton, arming yourself with a bike, your travel savvy wits about you and, the possibilities are endless. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Salt Lake Shootout 2014

My second year participating in Visit Salt Lake's Ski Salt Lake Shootout photo competition was even more of a learning experience than the first. The week-long photo shoot kicked off with the athletes and photographers coming together to draft the teams and make a plan. My team consisted of photographer, Erik Hostetler, aka, Bro, and fellow athletes Eric Fabbri and Willie Nelson. I didn't know any of them going into the competition, but we quickly became acquainted as the days went on. The two other athletes are amazing skiers, able to huck and spin off huge features. I was slightly intimidated by their talent due to the fact that I hadn't skied super hard yet this season and I especially haven't been hitting any cliffs since probably last year's Shootout. However watching the guys ski and how they were able to work the camera inspired me to step up my game, expand my comfort zone and match their work ethic for the competition. 

We started the week at Snowbird with an early tram to catch untracked snow before the mountain opened to the public. Unfortunately the early light we were excited to capture quickly faded as clouds and fog rolled in as soon as we were ready to shoot. However, we were still able to explore more shots in the trees and came up with some cool photos in the Baldy area that separates Alta from Snowbird. 

Day 1, Snowbird, before the light went away for the rest of the week!
My favorite memory from the entire week was during that shot. As I skied down from shooting on Baldy I had a deep, creamy, untouched powder run all the way to the cat track. This joy struck me as my fondest memory of the shoot since it was unfettered skiing, not in front of the camera.

Photo shoots are cool because you get to work more creatively with an artist to capture a moment in your skiing. However, capturing that moment isn't as glamorous it may seem. The "one turn wonder" comes into play quite a bit, skiing into a section of untouched powder, making one deep turn and then stopping to see what the camera snapped. If that one turn wasn't quite right then you hike up and do it again multiple times or keep making your way to other untouched zones for one turn at a time.

Yet getting a snapshot of one moment in your turn or in the air can tell a lot about your skiing. For me, I saw a stiffness in my skiing. Perhaps the nerves of performing on command got to me. There can be a lot of pressure to get it right the first time. If you mess up, you're not just messing up one turn in a line down the mountain, you're messing up the shot for the photographer who just took time to set it all up. As this was a competition, there may have been even more pressure to get the shot right every time. I also felt pressure to perform in order to hold my own among my team. 

Entering Keyhole on Baldy for some deep soft snow
This week was a lot of work and a lot of fun. I was in a unique situation compared to everyone else in the competition because I still had to work. Asking for time off wasn't even something I considered as I was able to juggle both last year with my team no problem. So every morning I'd wake up early to meet my team at the resort of the day, ski hard for as long as I had, then hurry down the mountain back to school to pick up the kids and drive them up to Park City for training. After training I'd hurry back down the mountain to Salt Lake, contact my team and meet back up for any night shoots they had planned. Pulling triple sessions like that wore me out more-so than I'd been worn out in a long time. By the last day of the shoot I was so worked, yet knew the light wasn't quite at the end of the tunnel yet. I still had a three day race series at Snowbird to work with my own athletes and support them as best I could with what little to no energy I had left. Yet somehow I pulled it off and came out with a second place result in the Shootout and a successful race with the kids. I believe the way I was able to maintain sanity throughout the week was due to the creativity and excitement of skiing in front of the camera with new people, looking forward to a new and different ways to ski. 

Check out the video of how it all went down here: Team Erik Hostetler - Visit Salt Lake Shootout 2014

One of the coolest shots of me from the week at Solitude

One of the only shots taken "just skiing" at Solitude

Getting deep in it at Brighton

Sending off a pillow at Brighton. Side note - I had just jumped off a cliff nearby and got whiplash pretty good, landing flat. Maybe thats why I thought I looked stiff...
Fabbri showing Bro the shot, getting a cool angle from in the tree

Willie making that one turn wonder at Solitude

The guys polling down SolBright trail back to the base at Solitdue

Having fun with the team! Reverse snow angel

Building the take off for Willie to do his signature "Full Nelson" backflip with a double grab at Alta

Night shoot creek gap Bro had in mind for the contest, up Little Cottonwood Canyon at an old mine

Not going so well for Willie, mid air at Alta

Fabbri mid pow turn at Brighton on our last day

Fabbri sending of Brighton's iconic Millie cliffs