Sunday, December 31, 2006

My 2006 in review

So 2006 is over. Time to look back and reflect on the year that was.

For me it was an incredibly busy year.

A year with 57 days and 740,000 vertical ft of skiing, including some awesome powder days like this epic powder Monday on March 13 and the blizzard bonus on December 21.

A year where I took 75 flights travelling a total of 109,000 miles to Australia (four times), NZ (twice) as well as Malaysia, Hong Kong and China and spent 178 days away from Steamboat (most of it fortunately in the company of my wife). Those 75 flights included plenty of engine trouble as well as last week's three day weather delay.

A year with lots of business success, where I played a key part in helping my company win contracts in Australia, New Zealand and China (including one deal which just closed today) worth more than $50 million and potentially much more.

A year with lots of visits to family and friends. My good friends Michael and Peter in Canberra and John in Brisbane who've been my best mates since military college more than 20 years ago. Our German friends Bert and Claudia who live in Switzerland and we hadn't seen in more than ten years but we ran into on our way to Hong Kong. Our friends Dan and Joyce from Wisconsin who we saw in Australia. My father-in-law who lives in Beirut and who my wife hadn't seen for nearly three years, and all the rest of her family in Brisbane who must almost be sick of us visiting by now. My mum and dad, brother and (small) nephew in Tasmania and my sister and (big) nephew on the Gold Coast, and my wife's cousin Naji in LA who must also be tired of us 'passing through' on the way to Australia.

So what are my resolutions for 2007?

First is achieving my 2006-07 ski season goal of skiing one million vertical feet.

And second (two is enough if you're serious about them) is to reduce the amount of flying I do. I figured out that I spent something like 240 hours on planes this year, and in terms of total travel time at least 300 hours getting to and from wherever. If you think of it in terms of an eight hour shift that's an extra 30 or 40 days work which is crazy. So my aim is to make fewer but longer trips, and maybe even spend the entire (Steamboat) summer in Australia.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Every cloud has a silver lining

Including the cloud that brought last week's blizzard.

First there was the extra day of skiing I got last week.

And second travelling on Christmas Day made it easy to upgrade to business class using miles since there's not many paying business class passengers wanting to travel then. LA to Brisbane in the front of the plane (well upstairs actually) is a million percent more enjoyable than travelling down the back!

So we celebrated Christmas today with my wife's family and the kids especially got into the spirit of celebrating Christmas Day again. I was particularly impressed that our nephews had opened only one present each and had saved the rest until we were there. Well done Alex, Aiden and Ramzi.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bonus day

Today I was supposed to be in transit to Australia, but thanks to the delays caused by this week's storm, I got to ski instead.

It was a lovely sunny day with lots of packed powder and surprisingly few people. I suspect that a lot of the people who were planning to be here this weekend were delayed coming in by the storm, so that just meant more for me!

I found some small stashes of powder hidden in some of the trees, especially in 'Wally World'. All in all a wonderful day that I didn't expect to have.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 18,706 vertical ft and a season total of 215,858 vertical ft (or 21.6% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Friday, December 22, 2006

The future of Steamboat

The big news in Steamboat this week (apart from the effects of the blizzard) has been the sale of the ski area to Intrawest for $265 million.

It's hard to predict exactly what this will mean for the ski mountain or the town, but based on Intrawest's record it's not too hard to guess that they are going to spend a really big chunk of money on upgrading facilities. That's a positive contrast to the previous owners ASC who have been carrying a lot of debt and consequently investing very little capital.

The obvious place they'll start is the base area which is incredibly dated, doesn't work well and doesn't really generate the sort of return that slope side real estate should. Just look at what they did at Winter Park.

It's not so obvious that there'll be an expansion of the ski area given that Steamboat is already a large resort (3,000 skiable acres) and the environmental hurdles to expansion on public land are not insignificant. But I think we can realistically hope for further lift upgrades, especially a high speed lift from the base area to take the pressure off the gondola, and probably more snowmaking.

In the past 12 months Steamboat has been experiencing a real estate and development boom. I don't see that stopping any time soon because even with the 15-20% appreciation in values this year property in Steamboat is still a bargain compared to other resorts and Intrawest's investment can only add fuel to that fire.

Development can be a two-edged sword but I'm hopeful that the Steamboat community and Intrawest are sufficiently conscious of the unique qualities of this valley not to ruin it. And hopefully growth will bring direct air services to LA, which would certainly make life a lot easier for me!

Even when they do it right...

...they do it wrong.

United's handling of the massive disruption caused to their Denver hub by this week's blizzard has been in some ways quite good. In particular, their offer to allow those of us with cancelled flights to obtain a full refund no questions asked was quite welcome.

However they still managed to inject their standard dose of stupidity. I decided that I wanted to keep the reservation for my return trip and only receive a refund on my outbound trip originally scheduled for today. To which the response was: "After you complete your return journey, call this number and ask for the refund."

When informed that I could have my refund immediately if I cancelled the entire trip, guess what I did? Yep, cancelled the whole thing and re-booked on another airline. And these guys wonder why the can't make money. Their deeply ingrained bureaucratic culture gets in the way of doing the right thing by customers even when they're really trying to do the right thing.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bad blizzard, good blizzard

A blizzard has been pounding Colorado for the last two days.

The bad news is that Denver International Airport has been shut down and our flights out tomorrow have been cancelled. So instead of arriving back in Brisbane on Christmas Eve we won't arrive until December 27. Bad blizzard!

The good news is that the storm dumped a foot and a half of powder on the 'Boat. What a morning. First tracks on lower Rainbow - deep powder on a groomed base is awesome - and in the trees to the skier's left of Cyclone where it was extra deep (face shots, face shots and more face shots till my face was frozen), and fresh tracks all over the place. Good blizzard!

The map and vertical seems almost irrelevant on a day like this but here it is anyway for a total of 17,342 vertical ft and a season total of 197,152 vertical ft (or 19.7% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Update: My wife's birthday is December 26. If we leave Los Angeles on December 25 and arrive in Brisbane on December 27, does that mean that she doesn't get a year older? Do I still have to buy her a gift? Hint: she wants you to say 'yes' to both questions.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Two hours

Two hours was all the time I had spare today but the weather was so nice I had to go out and make a few turns. It's beginning to get busier as more tourists arrive, but nothing like as crazy as it will be next week.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 7,910 vertical ft and a season total of 179,810 vertical ft (or 18% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

There's a big storm hitting southern Colorado at the moment. Storms from the south don't usually bring much snow to Steamboat but we could be lucky. I live in hope!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Afternoon fun

I usually ski in the morning but today I didn't go out until after lunch. The storm we've been expecting since Friday finally moved in mid-morning and after a couple of hours the fresh snow just looked too good to resist. It wasn't a powder day but it certainly was fun. I like to ski when it's snowing. There's a stillness and quietness that makes you feel like it's just you and the mountain. And it keeps the people away!

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 16,326 vertical ft and a season total of 171,900 vertical ft (or 17.2% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sunshine and butter

Until now the most frustrating chair on the mountain was the Sunshine Chair - so unbelievably slow. But finally it's been replaced with a high speed quad which opened today. So I made a point of riding it. Twice. Nice. Very nice.

On top of that, the snow today was much better than I expected. Like butter. Warm (it's around 40 F right now, about 10 degrees above average for this time of year), smooth, creamy and soft. But I'm still sweating on the cold front that's due to come through tonight or tomorrow and hopefully bring some fresh powder!

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 16,374 vertical ft and a season total of 155,574 vertical ft (or 15.6% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft). At the same time last year my total was only 111,290 despite the fact we'd had a lot more snow then. So I'm feeling increasingly confident I can reach my goal.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not quite a powder day...

...but still pretty good. We had six or seven inches of new snow in the past 24 hours, enough to cover the hard pack (and the snow was heavy enough to stick - there are times you don't want our wonderful light, dry Champagne Powder).

Buddy's was a good as I've ever seen it - perfect packed powder, virgin corduroy. While it was a little wind blown in places, especially on the Storm Peak face, there was some nice soft stuff in the trees, especially Twilight, Shadows and Typhoon.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 19,460 vertical ft and a season total of 139,200 vertical ft (or 13.9% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Resort Broadband

My current internet service provider is Resort Broadband, a local Steamboat company.

I previously had a Comcast cable internet service, which was great when it worked. The trouble was when you had an outage you were just one of a million customers talking to someone in a call centre somewhere. The last straw was when I had an outage on a Monday and they told me they could send a technician out on Saturday!

Contrast that with the experience I had today when my internet service went out. I was able to talk directly to a technician (Kim, who just happens to be an Aussie) who diagnosed the problem and called me back within half an hour to let me know the plan for replacing the faulty equipment causing the problem and it was fixed within two hours.

Update: I spoke too soon. These guys have five customers in the off season and five hundred during the holidays when the tourists are in town. So my 1.5M service runs at about 100K when the visitors all come in from skiing in the afternoon and start checking their email. Right in the middle of my working day.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thin pickings

It's another beautiful day in Steamboat and yesterday they opened a whole lot more of the mountain, so I made the most of it and explored some of the runs that I haven't visited since last season. It was fun, but it will be a whole lot more fun with a decent covering of snow. Rolex in particular was interesting. I've never seen moguls with Christmas trees in them before!

I hope that the snow that's forecast for this tonight turns into a good old fashioned winter storm.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 18,052 vertical ft and a season total of 119, 740 vertical ft (or 12% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Lighting project

Today I replaced this very ugly original fitting...

...with this rather more attractive one

Builders use ^*%# like the original fitting to save money, even though the difference in cost at trade prices is probably four dollars, which is exceeded by at least ten times by the value of the labour involved in replacing the fitting after the fact.

Friday, December 08, 2006


Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 15,160 vertical ft, which takes me past 100,000 ft (101,688 to be precise) which seems, at least psychologically, like the first significant milestone on my way to my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft.

For my first nine days I'm averaging a little over 11,000 ft, at which rate I'd need to ski another 80 days, however based on my stats from last year I expect my daily average to increase as the season progresses, so I should hit the target around 75 days.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Boot test

It's a beautiful sunny day here in Steamboat. However my primary purpose of skiing today was to test out my new boots a little more so I could take them back to the shop for some adjustments. Unfortunately my feet a quite wide in relation to their length so it takes quite a bit of work to get ski boots to fit.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 7,470 vertical ft and a season total of 86,528 vertical ft (or 8.7% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New boots

It was a beautiful bluebird day today and the mountain is virtually deserted.

I bought new ski boots yesterday. For the first run and half I was worried that I'd wasted my money, but as the boots moulded to my feet and the pain subsided, I could feel the transfer of weight to my edges like never before.

There was no additional terrain open to ski today so it was mostly a matter of breaking in the new boots on familiar territory, although I did head over to the Sundown Liftline and skied the upper half. Hopefully they'll open the Elkhead Chair soon so that the rest of the Priest Creek basin is accessible.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 12,130 vertical ft and a season total of 79,058 vertical ft (or 7.9% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Day 6

The weather forecast for today was for it to be cold, so I waited until noon to head out and added a few extra layers. I didn't need to because it was a beautiful day and while the powder is gone, the snow is perfect.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 11,790 vertical ft and a season total of 66,928 vertical ft (or 6.7% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Friday, December 01, 2006

Unexpected bonus

There was nothing on last night's weather forecast about snow overnight, so I had planned a slow start this morning. Fortunately my wife Marie looked out the window about 7.15 am and uttered my favourite words - "it looks like a powder day."

It obviously took a lot of people by surprise because there were only 20 people in the gondola line when I arrived around 8.20 am.

A quick run down Rudi's and Blizzard and then up on the BC chair. I couldn't believe it when none of the dozen or so people in front of me on the chair took BC Liftline, leaving me with first tracks.

Then it was up the Storm Peak Express and across to Shadows which I've been dreaming about skiing again all summer long. Along with Closet it was a little wind blown but still soft and deep around those beautiful aspens and largely unskied.

Triangle 3, Cyclone and Bar-UE Liftline were also good, but the deepest untracked snow I found was on the skier's right of Sunset. I also found some deep soft snow in the trees to the skier's left of upper Twister, and Hurricane was pretty good too.

Despite all the snow this week, there's still a few hazards out there because the powder hasn't really had time to pack down, especially around Bar-UE Liftline where I spent some time digging for my ski which detached after I got a little too close to one shrub and Typhoon where I did a really cool (but totally unplanned) rail slide along a fallen tree trunk.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 17,060 vertical ft and a season total of 55,138 vertical ft (or 5.5% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).