Eight days, no kids, beautiful snow-covered Colorado mountains. Best.Vacation.Ever. Those were the thoughts running through our minds as we coordinated child care, made reservations and booked our flights, anyway. How hard could the skiing part actually be? I’d already dug through hundreds of websites instructing me on how to layer my clothes, how to go faster, turn, stop, etc. I even watched a video on how to properly get up after a fall (although I assumed I wouldn’t need it because professionals don’t fall. And really, wouldn’t you just….stand up? Might not have paid enough attention to that one….) So between September when we started planning the trip and late January when we finally went, we’d hyped ourselves up for the most blissful, relaxing, memory-making eight days of our lives. You know how it goes….best laid plans and all…
Day 1: Birmingham to Houston to Hayden to Steamboat Springs to….Is it Too Early for Bedtime?
Our journey began with the alarm clock blaring at 2:45 a.m. That gave us just enough time to throw back on yesterday’s clothes, toss a bit of makeup on (in my case anyway), and load the car before heading to the airport. (See middle of the night “here we go!” pic below.) I’ll admit, I don’t fly much so everything about the airport stresses me a little. I’ve always got an internal monologue going that sounds kind of like “Do I take my shoes off now or wait until I get a bucket?” “Is this one of those points where I need my license out??” “How am I supposed to fit in this stall with my giant purse AND this carry on?!?” Fortunately, Brian has no such thoughts and navigated all the crazy for me. He even kept me calm when our seats turned out to be on the very.last.row. (it was like being stuck in one of those enclosed slides on the playground and knowing that you couldn’t get out unless the people in front of you moved). And we won’t even get into the awkwardness of your seat backing up to the “bathroom” (do NOT make eye contact when the person finally comes out…)
We had a pretty long layover in Houston so we decided to grab breakfast (although at this point it felt much more like lunch) and basically just people watch (which in an airport the size of Houston is pretty entertaining). After a smooth flight into Colorado, we started our descent into Hayden. I’ve seen snow. Not a lot of it in person, but I’ve obviously seen pictures, right? Y’all….when I peeked out that tiny airplane window I thought we had somehow managed to get to the North Pole. There was NOTHING BUT WHITE. Everywhere. This was our first real “Huh. Well this is going to be different”-type of moment.
From there we took a shuttle to the condo, checked in, took pictures of each of the rooms from every angle for the kids, and promptly passed out. One of those “I’m just gonna close my eyes for a minute….” accidental passed outs. My eyes popped open in a panic thinking we’d missed the window to get to the ski rental shop before it closed. We hadn’t, but by the time we figured out the resort’s shuttle system and got up there, we weren’t exactly overloaded with a ton of free time to waste.
So other than a few “WHY ARE YOU IN THE LEFT LANE STILL?” moments on the way to the airport and a couple of “Do you know which shuttle takes us to our resort? What do you mean they didn’t tell you??” incidents after that, our long day had been relatively smooth. And here’s where things got dicey.
If you know me, you know that I’m a pretty detail oriented person. I probably verge on being a bit of a control freak when I don’t keep it in check. There’s nothing wrong with being prepared! I like to know where to go, what to ask for, what to expect. It’s a wee bit stressful for me otherwise. But this was Brian’s trip. I wholeheartedly let him be the boss man he was born to be and backed up (it also might have had something to do with me going through a pretty significant job change in the middle of the planning stage, but that’s beside the point…) He was the one planning it, making the reservations, booking the flights, talking to the Steamboat reps, etc. So when I got off the shuttle at the ski base and looked around like a deer in the headlights and then turned to Brian to see him doing the same thing, I knew things had the potential to go a little less smoothly than my itinerary-loving self would have preferred.
We only had one thing we needed to accomplish before we could call it a night: get fitted for the ski gear rentals. No big deal! Hubs had already made reservations online before we left so we basically just needed to find the place. What’s the name of the shop you may ask? Well wouldn’t we love to know. Just one of those pesky details…
Let me nutshell this for you so you can stress along with me: 1) no idea which shop our reservations were made with, 2)finally find the confirmation email that still doesn’t tell us where to go, 3) enter random sporting equipment store to ask them to read over our email to see if there are some hints we’re missing, 4) told we need to go to Steamboat Ski and Sports, 5)look at sign on door that reads Steamboat Ski and Sports, 6) turn back to worker (I’m sure with crazy eyes by this point) who informs us that we need to go to the one out the door, around the corner, up the stairs, and to the left (we’d later find out there are about five Steamboat Ski and Sports IN THE SAME SKI BASE AREA), 7) enter what we hope to be the correct shop and let them know we have reservations, 8) get asked which package we bought (“Don’t look at me! I didn’t make the reservations.”), 9) pull back out the phone to show dude the aforementioned email, 10) get told that we have to visit the Ticket Office first in order to get checked in, get our lift tickets, etc. 11) wander around until we find the Ticket Office (fortunately there was only one of those), 12) sign our lives away and ask the guy to repeat what he said 4 times (why do they think everyone can understand those accents at that speed?? All I got was “little red schoolhouse” and I think it had to do with the next day’s ski school but WHO KNOWS??), and finally 13) head back to the appropriate Steamboat Ski and Sports shop to FINALLY get our equipment.
By this point, we’re barely talking. Hubs is SO SURE that I’m mad at him for not figuring it all out before we got up there that he automatically goes into defensive ignore mode and my feelings are hurt because I’m trying to be extra pleasant to keep HIM from getting stressed out thinking that I was stressed but he’s not talking (because in his head I’m mad, remember) and so that hurts my feelings and….you get the picture. It’s pretty funny looking back. And fortunately didn’t last long. We got our ski boots (which felt about as flexible as the boots you wear when you break your foot), skis, and helmet, stored them overnight and caught a shuttle back to the condo at which point we had a pizza delivered (we never had an opportunity to go to the store), grabbed some $3 drinks from the machine, and called it an early night.
Day 2: Ski School Drop Outs
After a day as long as our first day, you’d think we’d sleep like babies, right? WRONG. I thought it might have been the bed, or the pillow, or the size of the room (one of those where the tub, shower, and sink are all out in the open), or maybe it was the lack of box fan noise, but whatever the cause, I watched the clock the entire night. (I later found out that it had to do with the altitude when I was trying to research why it felt like I’d had too much to drink one night when I hadn’t had a drop!)
Despite the lack of sleep, we popped on up and anxiously got ready for our first ever attempt at skiing. We’d made reservations for two days of ski school. This was the one thing that was highly encouraged by everybody we talked to. At least we’d find out what it was like to stand in skis on the snow before we were flying down the mountain.
Unfortunately, getting TO school would prove to be a bit of an issue for me. We put on our new ski clothes, caught a shuttle, and miraculously made it back to the Ski and Sports. And then I put on the ski boots. You guys. There is no way to describe walking in these things that would accurately portray the struggle. You’re a good inch or two off the ground for starters. They feel like a hard plastic, come about a third of the way up your leg, and are literally locked down tighter than Fort Knox. Oh you can flex your ankle if you lean your entire body weight towards the toe, but other than that you basically have the mobility of having your feet buried in a couple cement blocks. They weigh about as much too.
And if walking wasn’t hard enough in general, you’re supposed to carry two fairly long, kind of heavy, and very awkward skis on your shoulder without knocking out anybody behind you (and without them sliding apart which I never could manage to keep from happening for some reason). Let’s also not forget the two ski poles, the helmet (which I ALWAYS forgot to put on my head first), the ski goggles (I won’t tell you how long it took me to figure out they attached to the helmet), and of course the gloves that were so thick that if you had them on you couldn’t grip anything but if you didn’t have them on they were just another thing to try to carry.
But the best part? Do you remember back in Day 1 when we got directions to the correct Steamboat Ski and Sports? You got it. This bad boy was UP.STAIRS. And not just any stairs. OUTSIDE.METAL.SNOW.COVERED.STAIRS. I was struggling just to get to them, but the first attempt at bending enough in that brick of a boot to go down a step, while not having a free hand to hold the rail, and not knowing if my foot would slip right out from under me if I ever even made it low enough to reach the step (because the ICE y’all!), and let’s go ahead and throw in me trying to catch the skis that kept slipping off my shoulder and pushing back my helmet that kept sliding over my eyes… I was literally almost in tears. It’s been a looonngg time since I’ve used the words “I can’t do this” but I was about ready to give in. If I couldn’t even manage to get TO the mountain, how the heck would I ever be able to go down it??
Thankfully, a very patient (if not slightly irritated) Brian eventually talked me down the steps and we brick-walked our way to the Little Red Schoolhouse. After catching our breath (I’m not sure whether to blame this on the altitude or the gear but it’s definitely not because we’re out of shape *teensy bit of sarcasm*), we realized we were a good 20 years older than the average student. Apparently what Lightning Talker was telling us yesterday was that we were supposed to take a left at the Little Red Schoolhouse and keep walking another 200 yards to the Adult Ski School area. Lovely.
Forty-five minutes of gear-toting, brick-waddling agony later (well it felt like it anyway), we finally made it to Ski School. We met our instructor, met the other three people in our group, and got started on the basics. Lean forward, trust your skis, walk sideways up an incline if you need to, make a V (wedge) to slow down, don’t panic, etc. etc. etc. We spent the first half of the day riding up a Magic Carpet (human conveyor belt?) and sliding slowly down a baby slope learning to turn and using our wedges to stop. The instructor seemed to take a liking to Brian and even dubbed him Sir Brian (I think it was all the camo. Did I mention that he chose to use his hunting waders instead of buying ski pants??). Unfortunately for him, the name did not stick after we returned home. (I mean, really?)
The school was from 10 – 3 so the instructor made us lunch reservations and we all got to eat as a group. Yay! I LOVE eating with people I don’t know (I can do a bang up job at being social but it wears me out after a while…#introvertedprobs), but as I was slowly starting to figure out, this trip was all about pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. We ended up having a nice lunch and enjoying the company.
So after a surprisingly nice first half of ski school, we moved to a steeper bunny hill to practice what we’d learned on a more realistic incline. I gotta say, this was another “oh junk” moment for me. After another Magic Carpet ride up, I realized this hill was significantly steeper and felt more slippery under the skis. But I swallowed my nerves, gave it a shot, and surprisingly made it to the bottom without falling or squishing any of the kids zig-zagging back and forth.
Sir Brian, on the other hand, went down on his first attempt. And unfortunately I don’t mean down the mountain. Apparently it’s not too pleasant to fall straight back in your skis. After that first fall, he managed to fall sideways at least. He just happened to manage this every.single.time he tried to ski down the slope. And the worst part was that the instructor wouldn’t let up on him. To the point that she started getting a little snippy and ignoring the rest of us (in my head I was having an argument with myself over whether or not I should laugh that she made it her life mission to get him to ski or go tell her to back the heck off). In the end, I let it go on for a couple of hours and then told him that we were adults and if we wanted to exercise our grown up rights to be ski school flunkies we absolutely could. Besides, I needed him to remain in one piece because we still had six more days of vacation to go. So with a little over an hour left in ski school, we told everybody Peace Out, turned in our gear for the night (thankfully going UP the stairs this time) and headed back to the condo.
Let me inject a little side note about transportation here. The shuttles were great. Don’t get me wrong. They ran about every ten to fifteen minutes from the resort to the mountain but if you happened to time it wrong, you’d end up standing outside your condo unit turning into a human popsicle while you waited for the next one. BUT they picked you up right out the front doors of the condo and dropped you off at the main hub of activity on the mountain. Anywhere else you wanted to go though you either needed to call a taxi or figure out the city bus (which was conveniently free). And “just a short walk away” has a slightly different meaning in a ski resort town than it does in say, Gulf Shores, Alabama. We did attempt to find the bus stop that was “just a short walk away” that night so that we could find a grocery store to stock the fridge, but between slipping on hidden icy patches and the realization that what passes for warm clothes in Bama doesn’t TOUCH warm clothes in Colorado, we turned back after a couple minutes and ordered food to be delivered for the second night in a row.
Day 3: Ski School Take 2 and Survival Basics from the LoafNJug
Somehow along the way, the tables turned and I was the one convincing Brian to give it one more try. We couldn’t get our ski school money back anyway and honestly, if we couldn’t handle ski school how did we expect to make it down an actual trail. I will say that we actually entertained the idea of NOT making it down a trail and bumping our flights up a few days to come on home. If the airline didn’t want $400 we probably would have. But everything I’d read (remember all that pre-trip research I did?) said not to give up and to expect it to be pretty rough the first few days (somewhere in my head the alarm should’ve tripped on that one but oh well…)
So off we go for day two. This time we know how to put our gear on, struggle a tiny bit less getting to the adult ski school area, and actually felt comfortable going over the basics again. Brian had no trouble at all when we got to the steeper bunny hill (it’s amazing what having a different instructor can do). I, however, was still having trouble stopping at the bottom. I wish I’d made a bigger deal to the instructors about the fact that I was just getting lucky at stopping and not intentionally putting the brakes on with my wedge. Anybody who skis knows that this little hiccup is gonna be a major problem when I get on a trail…. I finally had my first fall. Again, related to my worthless wedge and a whole lotta ski gear randomly left at the bottom of the slope. In my attempt to avoid disaster, I somehow thought I could straddle all the abandoned skis and poles. No such luck. It was traumatic. Nobody noticed. And getting up was a BEEP.
All in all, we mastered this little bunny hill and moved on to our last ski school obstacle. The SKI LIFT. I giggled every time I tried to shuffle to the right spot in my skis quick enough for the chair to snatch me up. Not as much giggling at the top when you have to stand up from a continuously moving chair at just the right moment to ski out of the way quick enough for that metal contraption not to wap you n the head.
So this hill felt MUCH steeper and longer, but I was getting used to handling doing things while being a little bit afraid. We worked on turning side to side while going down the mountain several times and then, miraculously, we’d made it through our second day of ski school!
To celebrate? We got back to the condo, changed clothes, and decided if we could master ski school, we could master “the outside”. (Being transportationally-challenged in a world that’s difficult to walk in is hard y’all!). We could see a Sports Authority from our condo. Even if we had to crash through 8 foot snow banks, we were gonna make it to that store, buy me some waterproof boots with actual tread (you don’t want to know what I packed…) and eat supper at an actual restaurant.
A cute pair of boots and a relaxing dinner later, we had directions to a gas station within walking distance. Enter: the LoafNJug. You guys….I wish I could’ve taken a picture of the cashier’s face when we made our purchases. It looked like we were getting ready for a binge night. Cereal, chips, salsa, milk, candy bars, soft drinks. You know, the essentials to tie us over until we could figure out how to get to a grocery store. And then we carried our loot back with us in the dark with me acting like a mother duck now that I had my awesome new boots on. “Be careful.” “Watch this spot of ice right here.” “That looks slippery up ahead.” I think this is about the point where he said he felt like a polar bear on ice.
Day 4: How Much is Your Time Worth? SOLD at $125!
Because all the units in these condos were basically timeshares and we were guests of an owner, we got the high pressure shove to sit through a sales pitch. Of course, they said they just wanted to see what we thought of the place, but come on. Just because we talk a little slower doesn’t mean we don’t know exactly what you’re not saying.
Oh wait, we’ll get a $125 gift card? How bad could it really be? We were planning on taking the day off from skiing anyway and we could put the money towards something fun to do later. Let’s do it! Little did we know that home dude giving the spill would be good. I mean, GOOD. Instead of the training room like atmosphere with several other couples like I was imagining, this was one on one. By the time he was done, I thought we’d be wasting tons of money by NOT buying in. Heck, what’s $22 grand when it’s spread over 10 years? We’d be paying for memories with our children! Fortunately, Brian broke me out of the trance and we went on our merry little way, $125 to the better with our savings intact.
After that near fiasco, we finally attempted the city bus. We didn’t bother trying to find the bus top (you’re basically looking for an indention in the snow bank) and decided to hit the shuttle back to the mountain and catch the bus there. Since we had no clue where to go, we decided to get off when the majority of everybody else did. We walked around a bit and found a place called Carl’s Tavern which served the best food we’d had yet. We tried to walk around downtown a bit, but honestly it was just too cold. The snow was coming down heavy and Sir Brian was slipping around so much that we finally decided just to catch the bus and head on back for the night. At least this time we had lunch leftovers and a kitchen stocked with junk food for supper.
Day 5: Refusing to Get Dressed
So this day basically goes like this: I woke up.
Yep. That’s about it. I moved between the tub, bedroom, and living room with my book (and yes, those are socks on the coffee table because I don’t believe in being cleaner on vacation than you would at home). Brian got stir crazy and decided to walk to Walmart. (Apparently there was one about a mile from the condo.) He came back with more food and some colored pencils for my adult coloring book (get your mind out of the gutter..it has ocean pics) that I’d found at the airport.
We watched some tv, sat by the fire, and ate junk food. The End.
Day 6: Gearing Up for the Gondola
Because we’d spent a small fortune on the non-refundable 3-day lift tickets, we decided we had to use them for something. And after my uber lazy episode the day before, I was actually looking forward to getting out of the condo. By this point, we knew better than to bundle in Alabama winter clothes. So skiing or not, we pulled out the ski gear and suited up. This was our first non-weekend day on the mountain and it felt completely different. Honestly, there was probably 75% less people. If I could offer some advice, I’d recommend learning to ski on a week day. We decided to try the gondola since it’s basically the only way to get up and down the mountain without skiing. Our little gondola ride was probably one of the highlights of the trip. It was our first good look at the mountain and it was BEAUTIFUL.
Plus, we were finally relaxed, knew our way around, and were on our own. Maybe it took 5 days to unwind. Who knows? With three kids and two stressful jobs you get used to operating a little keyed up all the time. Not to mention you don’t usually catch yourselves with ample amounts of quiet time to just sit and talk. It took some adjusting to and looking back I think that’s perfectly normal. I’m not sure why I thought we’d seamlessly be able to switch from constant noise and chaos and precious little minions underfoot to just the two of us. But this was definitely the turning point in our trip. If we had to go through 5 days of mess to have this one perfect day, it was absolutely worth it.
We rode up the gondola (and let me just add that we still disagree on the proper pronunciation of this word… GAHN-duh-luh vs. gahn-DOE-luh… and no rude comments on the fact that neither of those are accurate…gotta factor in the Southern accent), took a look around, rode back down, grabbed lunch, rode the bus back to downtown now that we were properly dressed for the cold, and found the river trail. You guys, we lazily (there’s really no power-walking option when you’re a southerner in slick-soled boots in the snow) walked about 5 miles back towards the condo. It was absolutely beautiful. And peaceful. And the air was so light and fresh. It was exactly what we needed. We would’ve gone the rest of the way, but we lost the sidewalk somewhere in a snowbank and decided it was safer to catch the bus than to assume that the little foot of space beside the highway was it.
Day 6 ended with another food delivery and some American Idol. We couldn’t have been happier.
Day 7: What Goes Up….
Since this was our final day, we basically forced ourselves to attempt to ski. We hadn’t tried since ski school. As much as I didn’t want to, I knew I’d kick myself if we went to all the trouble to get out here and didn’t even attempt a trail. So we suited up one final time, caught the resort shuttle to the mountain, rented one more day of ski gear, and waddled our way over to the gondola. The plan was to go all the way up and follow a green trail down. That way, if we liked it we could go again, but if not, we’d be able to say we conquered the mountain, turn our gear in, and head out.
If only it was that easy. I should’ve known I’d be having a less than stellar day when I got off the gondola and barely managed to snap my boots into my skis without them sliding off and leaving me. Of course, this was different gear than we’d learned in since we’d turned our ski school stuff in earlier in the week. Maybe these skis were more waxed or something. I have no idea, but I struggled-bus’d behind my very patient husband to the entrance of the trail and with much trepidation (on my part anyway) we were off.
It wasn’t terrible at first. I managed to wedge enough to maintain a comfortable speed and even got the first hairpin turn without incident (WHO THE HECK LABELS THESE TRAILS?!Why would there be a hairpin turn on the easiest colored course?!) But once I got around the turn, my skis decided they were DONE with this tip-toeing mess. Off we went down the next steep hill and nothing I did made a bit of difference. I literally remember barely dodging a woman and shouting “Sorry!!!” as flew past her out of control, arms flailing. I was basically in the splits trying to get that dang wedge wide enough to stop. Eventually, the slope must have leveled off and I slowed down enough to turn sideways into the mountain and stop. I’m pretty sure I alternated between glaring at Sir Brian as he snow-bunnied his way down and trying not to cry.
There were several times when trails would cross paths and the next start point for the “green” trail would be some obnoxious drop off that you couldn’t even see until you got right up on it (and of course, by the laws of gravity and the properties of snow, you’d start sliding down, willingly or not).
It was on one of these crossovers that I hesitated long enough to lose sight of the hubs. Unfortunately, in my attempt to cross what was apparently a blue or black trail to get to the other side where my green picked back up, I busted. And remember when I said I should have paid more attention to the “getting up after a fall” video? Yeah…it was near impossible. Getting your skis beside each other is pretty darn difficult to begin with. I probably should’ve used my pole to activate the release switch but I was terrified I’d never be able to keep them still long enough to get them back on. So there I sat, turning down several offers of help (because…awkward!!) with Brian probably half way down the mountain by this point. Every attempt at rolling to a squat on top of the skis resulted in said skis sliding before I could go for the stand. I don’t know how, but I finally managed to stand, made it almost all the way across to the start of the green trail, and wiped out again. This one was pretty impressive with snow flying everywhere. I literally just sat and watched everybody ski for a while that time. Finally, I made myself figure out how to stand and inched my way down in the widest wedge you could possibly imagine.
I finally met up with Brian who was, get this, MAD because he thought I’d stopped to chit-chat. That was it. Final straw for the stressed out, terrified ginger. My lip started quivering and my eyes filled with tears and by God I was GETTING OFF THAT MOUNTAIN if I had to kick the skis off and ride them like a sled to do it. Fortunately I didn’t have to resort to that, but I would like to apologize to my fellow skiers on that last big hill with the photographer for the redhead in all of y’all’s pictures turned sideways with the tips of her skis jabbed into the snow so she could inch her way down. The photographer even yelled at me to “think pizza”. Oh right, the wedge. Why didn’t I think of that? Not like I hadn’t been TRYING to think pizza the entire way down!! Worthless wedge.
We finally made it down the rest of the mountain, turned that junk in, grabbed food, and got back to the condo as quickly as possible. We packed, heated up the frozen pizzas we’d bought, watched American Idol again and went to bed feeling super satisfied that we’d made it down the mountain in one piece.
Day 8: Homebound and the Joy of Being in Your Own Vehicle
So to quickly wrap up our comfort-zone pushing trip, the final day brought some travel logistics like having to check out by 10 but not having the airport shuttle arrive at the hotel until 12. No big deal. Leave the luggage at the front, catch the shuttle back to the mountain one final time, grab breakfast, buy souvenirs, and make it back in time to play a game of foosball before we head out.
After smooth flights to Houston and Birmingham, we were finally back in the Mama Bus. And there’s no way for me to properly describe HOW GOOD it felt to be sitting in our own car and be back in control of our transportation. We got to control the air, the RADIO, the seats. And the best part? We were headed to pick up our babies. It might have been 11:30 at night, but there was no way we weren’t grabbing those kiddos on the way home.
So was it the most blissful, relaxing, memory-making eight days of our lives? Um…no. We’ll probably stick to weekend trips if we go without the kids from now on. Eight days was a bit much to be away from them. And I think we can probably cross SNOW off the list as well. Even though it felt like being in a beautiful snow globe and the pictures are pretty, it wasn’t the most enjoyable to be out in. But it WAS a great time to reconnect, to get away from the normal stressors of life, and to challenge ourselves to do something neither of us were comfortable with. We might not have made the memories we thought we would, but we made others that were equally as important. And it sure felt good to come home.