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Favorites Personal Travel

Ragnar Hawaii 2017: Fueled by Fat

The island of Hawaii’s northwest corner is in the rain shadows of Kohala, its oldest volcano, and 13,803-foot Mauna Kea, its tallest. Storms riding the trade winds from the northeast drop most of their rain on the windward side of the island before passing over the volcanoes. Thus, the stark, grassy landscape on the leeward side of the Big Island resembles the dry southeast corner of Idaho more than it does a tropical paradise. The resorts along this coast, however, still deliver quintessential tropical Hawaiian experiences, thanks to meticulous landscaping and modern sprinkler systems.

The Big Island of Hawaii, the archipelago’s youngest island, was literally still under construction when I arrived in November 2017 for the Ragnar Hawaii race. I had flown to the Big Island two days before Marie to see the newest earth on Earth. Lava was still flowing to the ocean from a vent on Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone called Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō (pronounced poo-oo-OH-oh). I parked my rental car amid a bazaar of bike rental outfits. Although the bike rental options were tempting, I stuck to my original plan to hike the four miles to the viewing site.

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Skiing

Catherine’s Area at Alta

Catherine’s Area is a series of small drainages at the edge of Alta’s eastern boundary. My friend Brendan and I were introduced to Catherine’s Area for the first time in 2007. A two-minute hike from the top of the Supreme lift brought us to a ledge that served as the beginning of a traverse. It hadn’t snowed for two days, but we still found fresh powder in Catherine’s Area.

We skied a few turns in one drainage, then crossed over a small ridge into the next to find even fresher snow. The run was short but sweet. Once we reached the flats, instead of following the gully back down to the Supreme lift, we stayed high and made our way out to the west-facing slopes below the ridge connecting Patsey Marley and Mount Wolverine. We found more fresh snow there too. That tour cemented Catherine’s Area as a go-to destination that season.

Although the runs in Catherine’s Area are short, especially for the effort required to reach many of them, the area remains a favorite of mine. It seems you can always find good snow there, even several days after a storm.

On the (first) closing day of Alta’s 2021–2022 ski season, I ventured into Catherine’s Area in the afternoon to see if I could find more of the four inches of creamy powder that had fallen overnight. I was pleased with what I found. I compiled a short video to capture the experience of skiing Catherine’s Area (complete with my heavy breathing from the short hike and long traverse). Enjoy!

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Skiing Travel

A Little Place Called Aspen

My favorite movie will always be Dumb & Dumber, which is a comedy starring Jim Carrey (as Lloyd Christmas) and Jeff Daniels (as Harry Dunne) as two half-wits who drive from Rhode Island to Aspen, Colorado, to deliver a briefcase to a woman who had left it in the lobby of an airport. Lloyd was her airport limousine driver, and he had developed a crush on her at first sight. (“Why you going to the airport? Flying somewhere?” was his first attempt at flirting with her.) Lloyd had no idea he had taken a briefcase full of ransom money left for the kidnappers of the woman’s husband.

I remember seeing the movie in the theater with a friend while I was in junior high school—the perfect age to be enraptured by a movie full of sophomoric humor. My friend and I had each smuggled a can of Coca-Cola into the theater. I remember not being able to keep a sip down because of all the laughing.

At the beginning of the movie, Harry and Lloyd were lamenting that they had both been fired from their jobs that day when Lloyd announces: “We’ve gotta get out of this town!”

“And go where? Where we gonna go?”

“I’ll tell you where,” Lloyd assures Harry. “Someplace warm. A place where the beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I’m talking about a little place called Assspen.”

The scene from Dumb & Dumber that gave this ski day report its name

Since seeing that movie as a teenager, I’ve always wanted to make my own (less idiotic) pilgrimage to Aspen. So, when my friend Mark invited me to join him and his seven-year-old son skiing there, I quickly said yes.

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Personal

Books I Read in 2021

I read more books in 2021 (seventeen) than any other year. My five favorite books were Powder Days, Our Own Worst Enemy, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, On Writing, and The Mountain of My Fear. The only books I would not recommend are Extraterrestrial by Avi Loeb and The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton.

Here is the full list, in the order I read them, with a short blurb summarizing my impressions of each:

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311 Personal Skiing

When the World Changed

On December 18, 2019, I interrupted a ski day with my friend Mark to order a concert ticket. My favorite band, 311, had scheduled a series of warm-up shows before their biennial 311 Day event and I wanted to get a good seat. The Saturday night show in Reno on March 7, 2020, looked like a perfect opportunity to attend my 36th 311 concert and squeeze in a day of skiing at a Lake Tahoe–area resort.

At the top of the Pioneer lift at Park City Mountain Resort, I left Mark and skied to the Summit House lodge to order my ticket as soon as they went on sale. I scored a front row seat to the show. Three days later I reserved a room at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, the venue for the concert.

My skiing and 311 weekend was booked.


On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) learned from media reports of a “pneumonia of unknown cause” in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in Central China’s Hubei Province.

I had read news about the mystery illness. It caused a brief pang of concern, but I figured it wouldn’t become a problem. A co-worker who traveled to Asia in mid-January told us about the new safety measures at the airports there. All the other new viruses that emerged in my lifetime either fizzled out or we learned to mitigate the risks and live with them. Why worry?

On January 30, with about 8,000 confirmed cases worldwide, the WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak (2019-nCoV) a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19, a respiratory infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, was well on its way to becoming a global pandemic.

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Favorites Skiing

Rendezvous With Regret

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo., Feb. 3, 2018 — Wind swept across Jackson Hole’s Rendezvous Bowl and delivered a barrage of stinging snow crystals to my cheeks. Corbet’s Couloir—perhaps the most famous inbounds ski run in North America—fell away precipitously beneath the tips of my skis.

My skiing wanderlust had latched onto resort test pieces like Corbet’s Couloir early on. Dreams of one day skiing chutes like Corbet’s helped propel me from the drumlins of Western New York to the steep skiing in Utah’s Wasatch Range and now, finally, to Corbet’s Couloir.

Corbet’s Couloir from Jackson Hole’s tram
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Favorites Skiing

A Tough Ski Day

Day 25: March 24, 2006

Today’s snow conditions were the toughest I’ve ever encountered at Snowbird. The groomed trails and some of the sheltered north-facing terrain were the only places where the conditions were reasonable. My original goals for today, however, didn’t include skiing groomed trails. I planned to explore new terrain, including Great Scott, Wilbere Bowl, and S.T.H. Today, it turned out, was not the right day for those endeavors.

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Favorites Skiing

Epic Midweek Powder Day

Day 24: March 21, 2006

Patience was not a virtue present in the tram line this morning. People were cutting in front of Brendan and me until I adopted a defensive stance using my poles. A gaggle of malcontents complained when the line didn’t start moving at the stroke of nine (the tram’s opening time). A few minutes later, a veritable riot broke out when the tram line ticket checker let a group of instructors and their clients through the turnstiles instead of the public. They heckled her until she started the public line moving again.

It has snowed for eleven straight days and seventeen of the last nineteen. About a hundred inches of snow has fallen at Snowbird since March 3, including a foot last night. At less than 5 percent water content, the new snow was about as light as it gets.

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Personal Skiing

Over Before it Started

MRI machines make a horrible racket, like a jackhammer. I found the racket soothing. It was loud, but the cadence was at perfectly spaced intervals to lull me to sleep. (I also fall asleep in the dentist’s chair. Is that weird?)

The fall that put me in that MRI machine occurred six weeks earlier during my first ski day of 2019 on January 5. Snowbird wasn’t in great shape that day. The holiday crowds had scraped snow off the high-traffic areas, and the snow conditions were about as bad as it gets in the Wasatch—slick, crusty, and hard-packed.

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Favorites Hiking Travel

The Honopu Ridge Trail

On September 11, 1992, a category 4 hurricane named Iniki struck the Hawaiian island of Kauai, killing six people and causing billions of dollars of damage. According to NOAA, the damage was so extensive that, after a month, power had been restored to only 20 percent of the island. Wind gusts as high as 175 miles per hour stripped the green from the Garden Isle’s lush vegetation. And the Honopu Ridge Trail hasn’t been officially maintained since that day.

Twenty-six years later, I hiked the remnants of the Honopu Ridge Trail to the most amazing view I’ve ever seen. Photos don’t do it justice.

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