Ups and downs in Telluride

by Rob Tiller

My life is full of technology and intense mental activity, and I’m glad of it, but from time to time I crave an interlude of pure natural beauty and physical activity. And so for a long President’s Day weekend, we skied Telluride, Colorado, where the San Juan mountains look something like the Alps — jagged and imposing, yet peaceful in a way.

Set a human body sliding down the snowy slopes, and interesting things happen. Exhilaration at the speed, microbursts of fear, quick happy recoveries, or minor disasters. I had my most dramatic fall on Bushwacker, reportedly the steepest groomed run in America, where I’d got off the groomed terrain and into the bumps. Tips crossed, I launched over the top of my skis, which came off the boots as designed, but rather than stopping I then found myself sliding fast downhill headfirst and accelerating. I eventually managed to flip over, spin around, and dig my boot heels into the snow to brake. By this time, one ski was 200 yards below me and one pole was 50 yards above (a classic yard sale). I am always happy to rely on the kindness of strangers, and gratefully accepted assistance of one who picked up my pole and another who helped me resituate on one ski. Then I lowered myself inelegantly down the slope to retrieve the other.

A couple of my colleagues at Red Hat have written about failing fast and often as a means to success, which in skiing translates as falling fast and often. It entails some moments of embarrassment. But by golly, I’ve really improved this year. I took on steep, deep powder runs, glades, and double black moguls, as well as carving on high-speed cruisers, all with great joy (and occasional terror).

We had fresh snow falling our first day and night, and a classic powder day the second day. I insisted that our group (Sally, Charles, Chuck, and later David and Kimberlie) move out early to try for first tracks. We found lots of beautiful light snow and varied terrain. Those first two days I stayed well within my comfort zone and had great fun. Each night we ate in good restaurants, (Excelsior, Rustico, Honga’s, and Siam), and one night had delicious pizza served by my sweet Jocelyn at the Brown Dog. The group included old familiar friends and lively new ones, and there was good conversation and laughter.

On day three the skies had cleared, and Gabe and Lindsey, who live in Telluride, had days off and came out to play. They knew the mountains well, and managed to locate pockets of non-skied-out powder. For the first time I felt reasonably comfortable on steep gladed runs. I was inspired by their beautiful skiing, and proud that I could more or less keep up with them. Riding up the long chair lifts, we caught up on things in general, considered the state of the world, and got to be better friends.