Beaver Creek – An Introspective Recipe for Euphoria
By: George F. Karioris
Photography: John Schneider
As a freelance writer I’m often drawn into an awkward and cyclical quandary. I know the general topic I want to write about, the place, the time, the events, the activities, et al. But the perspective; that’s the tough part to choose. I often take the easy way out, writing a rambling expose or travelogue detailing and colorizing the minutiae of my activities on a particular trip or sojourn. While that fills copy space and generally gives editors a safe piece with which to fatten their publications, it can become mundane if is the sole format presented to the readers. For this piece I am taking an introspective view of my experiences and externalizing them in an attempt to present a different flavor for the readers. I hope that you enjoy it.
For years I’ve been a skier. I know lots of skiers and plenty of non-skiers too. As I began my plans for a trip to Beaver Creek, CO for spring skiing 2006 several of my friends began asking me about it. Where was I going? Why did I choose that location, or time? Why skiing, and not taking a swimsuit/beach trip? Still others; cloistered far from any adventure or athletic venture seemed entirely mystified by my intentions. I began to think about the components of my ski trips which make them so desirable and attractive to me. The word I selected as representative was euphoria. Euphoria. It sounds straightforward, and seemed to me that its parts and mechanisms would be so clear to even the simplest rube. But until now even I had no real idea what elements and ingredients made up my euphoria. So with pen and paper in hand I struck out for Beaver Creek in the fabulous Colorado Rockies to perform a dissection of my own psyche.
What follows is an ingredient-based recipe, which is without order, preparation instructions or relative quantities.
Without a doubt fear plays a role in my personal happiness when taking to the slopes. Perhaps it is the approach-avoidance reflex that tells me that hanging high in the air from a mile-long, 2-inch cable along with hundreds of others just doesn’t seem like it can work. Or maybe it’s the mental calisthenics that jump through my brain when I look down a black-diamond mogul run, knowing full well that the light is beginning to flatten, my wheels have already started to fall off, and I have half an altitude buzz. I’m no psychologist but, damn, I know fear when I smell it. So the question is right in front of me, virtually under the tips of my skis (which are now cantilevered into thin air over the precipice of the run.) Do I go on? Do I look for an easy way down? The answer is, and I suppose will always be, a firm “it depends.” But that’s the elemental reality of fear. It’s not to always take the steep way down, or the easy either, but to have the moment of choice. To stand at a challenge with your heart in your throat weighing your emotions, physical conditioning, and skills. That’s the payoff for fear. Take whichever way down you choose and never look back, the answer is the singular act of moving either way.
Many of my non-skier friends don’t understand my infatuation with skiing. They say that they are afraid of breaking their leg (arm, neck, etc) and could never bring themselves to ski. Every now and then I actually manage to talk one of them into skiing. Fear can strike like a paralysis. First, at the bottom of a bunny run looking up at the slowest moving lift, then again at the top of that same run. Those who conquer their fear are those who are willing to see it and taste it first-hand. I’ve never yet taken a first-time skier, who, after two runs didn’t have a huge smile on their face.
I’m a simple man. Fear is the simplest reaction to the unknown and the unsure. It is one of the emotions that boost our body and mind to produce endorphins and focus our attention to a specific task. A daily supplement of fear strongly blended into my ski day helps to make me feel better and have more fun.
For my daily infusion of fear my photographer John and I calmly caught the “Birds of Prey” lift which services the steepest runs at Beaver Creek. Golden Eagle and Peregrine are both listed by BC as double-black-diamond. Did we have our grooming maps? Was I really looking to ski one of BC’s famous groomed corduroy runs anyway? Naah.. We don’t need no stinking grooming maps! We had warmed up for the day and were feeling pretty perky, and seriously… we had fresh wheels, sharp edges, and good snow. How tough could it be? At the top of Golden Eagle I attempted to take some measure of that exact evaluation. It looked pretty daunting, a quarter mile of serious vertical, and a sea of monster moguls chock-a-block from side to side. I’ll admit that my heart was pinging a bit in anticipation as I surveyed the run from the top. Two choices lay before me; one way straight down, another an exit to an adjacent blue run. And on that day at the top of the moguls, I looked down beyond the tips of my skis, and I chose…
I asked my wife Amy, a nurse, recently about adrenaline and how it worked. She replied by giving me a very medically appropriate (but meaningless to me) definition:
Adrenaline n : a catecholamine secreted by the adrenal medulla in response to stress; stimulates autonomic nerve action.
Ok… I asked again, making sure this time to let her know that I wanted to know for myself what this stuff is and why it’s so important. It turns out that adrenaline is the turbo booster for our bodies. It’s generated when we need it to fight or to run and gives our bodies and minds power and focus. Fun stuff. It turns out that we can get this stuff flowing on demand if the circumstances are right.
Medical lingo and physiology aside, adrenaline is a rush, literally. Beaver Creek has plenty of adrenaline producing runs which allow even a schlub writer from the Midwest to live large and fast on the mountain. The turbo effect that’s generated provides the strength and concentration to really enjoy skiing. While fear may play a part in kicking me into high gear, when I add some speed to my skiing I begin to approach a feeling of flight. I rarely, if ever, leave the ground while on skis! That’s not the point. The point is that skiing provides a mechanism to get a serious physiological buzz. So dear reader, I say to you: You gotta get some of this stuff!
Where’s the best place on Beaver Creek’s mountain to get your adrenaline cranked up? Well, again that’s a serious answer of “it depends.” For myself, I can’t sustain an entire day of knee pounding bumps, or uber-steep slopes. I choose for myself a mix starting with some early morning warm-up blues and greens. One intrepid para-sail pilot was getting jazzed by flying over BC on one of my ski days there. After limbering up and finding my balance for the day I like to advance to some darker blue and black runs. By the end of day I look for something that’s free of ice and hard-pack, with the length and width to do some cruising. Spring skiing can be a real mix of dramatically changing conditions. I found myself in some sunny slush near the base, some seriously gnarly chunk and ice crud in remote places, and deep in fresh powder for a couple days too. Again, I often choose to ski the mountain, not the grooming report.
Word to the wise about high altitude skiing. Your physical mechanisms are doing a ton of work, especially with your adrenaline turbo kicking in during the day. Keep yourself hydrated and fed. Drink as much water as you can, whenever you can, and eat high carb and high protein foods to fuel your machine. Save the alcohol for après ski time, and save yourself a few doses of adrenaline for the evening. Adrenaline, it’s not just for skiing.
Try as I might, I just can’t strap on the Ipod and crank Metallica or Slayer and ski all day. With much of my youth in the rear-view mirror I like to take to the slopes with the same balance that I look for elsewhere in my life. Sure it’s fun to do some mogul mashing and top-to-bottom speed runs. But maintaining an equilibrium of activates has become very important to me. The Roman philosopher Terence said “Moderation in all things.” Well, since I’m Greek and have never held much use for the Romans I need to make a small change to Terence’s message. I’d prefer to state simply “All things”, to Hell with moderation. Going to Beaver Creek and looking for moderation is like going to Miami Beach and looking for a little water. BC has tons of variety, and it has an almost embarrassing overabundance of everything that a skier would want.
I’ve been told that BC is a good shopping venue too, what the military would call a target-rich environment. But since this is my introspective (and I am a fully accredited non-shopper) I can’t provide any accurate detail. Feel free to shop and browse through the many stores and mercantile outlets in the BC village. Buy, don’t buy, enjoy. Just don’t expect me to keep you company.
Amenities are important but ease of use is high on my list of positive features that I look for. The invisibility of an apparently good administrative organization while personally having freedom on the slopes to ride, cut, or mash is amazingly easy at BC. In the village restaurants, bars, equipment retailers, etc (the list goes on) are all handy for all my eating, drinking, equipment, and other requirements. And on the mountain? Hey, sometimes you need to nosh a bite or stop for a bio-break; it’s nice that they put plenty of places there too.
After a day of skiing there are a couple great places right at the bottom of the Centennial lift to have a drink and a snack. If you’re lucky the sun will be shining and you can sit outside and watch the last of the skiers descend the mountain as you enjoy your drink and reminisce about the day’s activities. My photographer, John, likes to enjoy his “apple juice” which is really CC & 7-Crown Whiskey, for myself my traditional après ski drink is hot-chocolate with peppermint schnapps. I assure you, that you will be happy when a lovely waitress brings you either of those.
I sometimes wax poetic when I get out west skiing. The amazing mountains and the deep sapphire skies paint a dramatic background for my downhill activities. There is a special place in my brain that gets switched into high definition mode when I’m in the Rockies. If you’ve never been there, it’s hard to explain. I could try to tell you about the snow and the mountains and the vistas and all the rest. But certainly I would fail to convey the effect. Even photographs, though they may be accurate and colorful, fall short. My advice: get yourself out to see the mountains, get into them, and ski them. Then before you knock off for the evening, exhausted from the day’s exertions, get your coat on and step outside into the Dark Colorado night. If you can get yourself to Vail mountain, take the gondola up to the Eagles Nest in the dark to the top, it’s a free ride and very cool. Take a deep breath and a long look up through the crystalline sky to the heavens and the stars. It’s can be an amazingly calming and poignant moment.
I thought to follow in the great historical avenues of other Greeks like Homer, Aesop, and Euripides by writing an epic poem celebrating the amazing cornucopia of nature. This was a short-lived concept which died on the vine as I immediately realized that the time and detail required would be way too immense. So this Greek freelancer has chosen an unanticipated but more simplistic format, the Haiku; one for daytime and one for nighttime. Hopefully both Homer and Takahama will forgive me.
Sapphire blue the sky
White snow has given us wings
Golden sun smiles down
Stars in the darkness
The Mountain slumbers in peace
Silence casts a calm
I meet the most interesting people in the mountains when I go skiing. There are people from all walks of life from all parts of the globe. I’m a fairly gregarious guy and I enjoy talking with new people I meet, pretty much everywhere I go. It’s part of who I am, and it sometimes drives my wife and friends crazy. But I talk to virtually everyone who rides the lifts and gondolas with me, and I never tire of hearing their stories. John and I rode the lift with a 72 year old Argentinean woman who was skiing with her 5 granddaughters. She has been skiing virtually her whole life and didn’t show any signs of stopping. I met doctors, lawyers, bankers, ski bums, families with kids, cooks, and computer programmers of many ethnic and language backgrounds. Without exception they were friendly, warm, and most of all happy. Of course they were happy, I know that I was certainly very happy. We were all skiing in Colorado what’s not to be happy about?
Fun is the measure of quantity and the spice flavoring all the other ingredients listed here. Use it liberally, aggressively, loudly, and with verve. Nothing but fun… On a side trip to Vail at night I took a stint at night bike-skiing. If you’re looking for a bit of nighttime fun that’s ski related I can highly recommend this somewhat exotic activity.
So, that’s my recipe for a skier’s euphoria, I hope you enjoy it. I know that each of you will add your own ingredients and mix them in your own unique proportions. Take my advice and get yourself out skiing, or if you’re already a skier; keep it up and don’t stop.
Published April 2006