Saturday, March 10, 2001

Afton Alps

Last night I went skiing at Afton Alps. It was an interesting experience, different from other ski places I had been to, and a great deal of fun.

I drove less than an hour east of the Twin Cities to Afton Alps, which is right on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. The first thing that was "different" was that instead of parking and buying a lift ticket at a ticket window, I bought it at a kiosk as I drove in -- like I was entering a park. I drove around until I found a rental shop -- as it turned out I drove right by the nearest rental shop, a mistake that I would come to regret.

I went into the "Meadows" rental shop and marveled at the fact that I was the only one in there. I leisurely picked out a spot to fill out my rental form. When I was done, I looked up and noticed that about 50 middle schools students (completely unsupervised) had entered the shop, pushing, yelling and giggling like middle school students do. I quickly moved towards the front of the line with my completed rental form, but about ten kids (savvier than I) were already there, filling out their forms while waiting in line. (To be sure, it made no sense for me to do the same when I thought myself the only one in the shop. Eventually I made it to the front and went over the counter to get my boots.

I told the guy I wore size 11, and he handed me some boots which I tried on. Well, I tried to try on. My feet wouldn't even fit in the boot. Maybe he was so overwhelmed he automatically grabbed boys' 11 shoes; I don't know. So it was back into the boot line to get boots from a woman who apparently was more careful selecting boots. Then I picked out my skis -- 170s again. Upon reflection, I think I may have gotten type II skis. Oh, well. Then ended up working. I then picked up my poles and waited in line to check out. And waited and waited.

The middle school students were taking a lot of time getting out of there. I was reminded of what the world looked like through middle school eyes. "Snowboarding is better than skiing. Skiing sucks. I've never been downhill skiing a day in my life." Fortunately, that was met by a perceptive, "Then how do you know you wouldn't like skiing?" which stunned the other party into silence and, one can hope, a bit of reflection.

When I was 3 or 4 munchkins from the front, a rental shop employee took pity on me and pulled me out of the teeming masses of prepubescence to check me out. Escape! It was 5:00, and I was hitting the ski slopes.

If you look at Afton Alps' trail map, you'll see it's fairly large -- at least compared to the other places I'd been. That meant that I had to figure out how to get from where I was to other parts of the hill. I started out in the lower left in the Meadows area and skied "Susie's Meadow", "Daisy's Meadow" and "Maggie's Meadow". My confusion was amplified by the fact that "Mary's Meadow" has been replaced by a half-pipe -- a fact not reflected on the ski maps. After a few of these runs, I was ready to head somewhere else -- but how?

I overheard a father asking his kids if they wanted to ski on another part of the mountain. I listened closely to hear how they were planning to ski there. Nope -- Dad was bringing the car around. Well, that wouldn't do. I tried again; this time I skied on the other side of the half-pipe and picked up "Mickey's Meadow" -- a blue slope. Gasp. Well, I made it down by skiing fairly slowly. The worst part of it was the ice patches that had developed in the middle.

I was away from the area I started in, and a few more trips down I tried skiing over to the next lift. That brought me "Polly's Powder" and "Ruthie's Meadow" -- more green (beginner) slopes, if the names didn't give that away. Eventually I made it to "Paula's Pass" (or was that "Patti's Pass") -- a blue, which I took down to the other base lodge. I was running into trouble because I didn't have much cash in my pockets and the food courts didn't take charge cards. I'd have to head back to the Meadows to my locker -- but not before skiing down "Christina's Trail" and "Nancy's Nursery" (again, more greens). The big lift to "Lisa's Lane" went over an interesting variety of terrain. Apparently during the summer they have golf there; it was somewhat disconcerting to see a ball washer sticking out of the snow.

After a little refreshment, I headed back out and tried out most of the same slopes again. Still, I hadn't made it to the "Highlands" area, and I wanted to try more blue (intermediate) slopes before I was done. I cut across to "Renee's Ridge" and then was on "Dawn's Highlands". Uh-oh. It was late (almost 9), I was getting tired, the slopes were icing up, it was dark and this was a steeper pitch than I was used to. So I skied very slowly down to a lift at the bottom. Thankfully I made it without getting clocked by one of the skiers and boarders whizzing down "Bernadine's Highlands".

Then the question was...what would I do when I got to the top? The trail map was confusing. (At one point, I was looking at it, and a member of the ski patrol came over to give me directions. "What are you looking for?" "What's that slope there?" "Hmm; I don't know. Let me see your map.") I decided I would definitely head back to the Meadows by going left. I did so and got to the top of what I later figured out was "Britta's Run". The slope was fairly dark, the chair lift there wasn't running, and there wasn't another person around. But heck, there was no "trail closed" sign, so it was down the hill. I eventually found my way back to the top of "Renee's Ridge" and by keeping left of that made it back to the Meadows. Whew.

It was definitely exciting. I skied almost all of the green trails there and worked a handful of blues into my day. I worked on controlling my speed and started getting better at completing my turns. I definitely improved at being able to come to a stop on an incline. The size and variety of terrain whet my appetite. I'd like to go to one of the bigger ski areas. But it's getting late in the season, and my travel plans lean towards South Carolina, so we'll see...

Some of these are disturbing...

I'm #5 on Yahoo! for "Egyptian Rat Screw".

...and #6 on Google for "rat screw".

I'm #3 on Google for "dali autumnal cannibalism".

I'm #34 on Yahoo! for "dungeon women".

I'm #7 on Yahoo! for "convention freaks".

I'm #10 on Yahoo! for "sling bikinis".

I'm #34 on Yahoo! for "NUDISM MISS".

Thursday, March 08, 2001

Disturbing Search Requests

This article at the Village Voice points to a site called Disturbing Search Requests.

So I'm not the only one who gets people looking for Katie Couric Soles (though what's disturbing about this is the same search turns up someone with a Katie Couric obsession and a foot fetish) or Cthulu pictures (which helpfully makes me realize I've misspelled Cthulhu).

Buck Hill

I went skiing at Buck Hill last night with my co-worker F. (Digression. I decided to start using initials -- following West Coast Girl -- to represent recurring co-workers. F was represented in earlier entries as the vegetarian who ended up renting the Rover Seventy-Five in England.)

It's getting a bit warm for decent conditions to ski in Maryland in March, so using this trip to Minnesota for some late-season skiing seemed like a good idea. Buck Hill was maybe a 15 minute drive around for us, which also made things easier than making a 2-hour trip to go skiing back home. The facilities were definitely on a smaller scale -- you bought your lift ticket and paid for your rental in the ski shop. Unfortunately, there was no good place to change outside of the men's room -- meaning there was no good place to change.

F. had never really been skiing before, so the first thing we did was head over to the beginner hill. (If you look at the trail map, that's "New Beginner Area".) We used the rope tow -- a new experience for me -- to go partway up the hill so he could practice. He was about as awkward as I remember being my first time out, and he had a harder time standing up. After skiing down the NBA a few times, I left him to practice before his lesson and went to the "Gawn Double Chair".

Buck Hill is in the middle of the suburbs (apparently the suburbs grew up around it), which led to a few interesting things. For one, I could use my cell phone on the lifts -- which I did just for the dorky "guess where I'm calling from" thing. That was a little bit tricky, as the chair lifts didn't have restraining bars. But, I survived. Also, on my way up one time I heard sirens in the distance. When I got to the top, there was a trail of smoke blowing above the ski area, and I could see a house on fire. Too bad for the people involved, but it was otherwise kind of neat.

I then skiied down J.T.'s Half-Pipe (not sure if I was supposed to do that), Jabar, and Teacher's Pet. After getting practice there, and seeing that F was into his lesson, I decided it was time to hit the blue slopes. I headed to the Quad Chair, and rode to the top. This seemed to commit me, as the trail map they posted at the bottom seemed to imply that I couldn't get down via a green slope.

Unfortunately, once I had gotten to the top, there were no clear signs. The clearest sign was the one that said "Easiest Way Down", so I followed that rather than risking ending up on the black diamonds (although the starting gate they had on Milk Run tipped me off). This led me down Meadows, on the other side of the hill. That was slightly annoying, as the Miner Double Chair on that side of the mountain wasn't running. The next time down, I was sure to finish with sufficient momentum to carry me most of the way to the Quad Chair.

After a few runs down Meadows, I went back to check on F's lesson. He was really lucky -- he was the only one who had signed up for the lesson, so he got an individual lesson at the group lesson price. Speaking of prices, this place was pretty inexpensive. It was only $35 for a lift ticket and a rental, and my dinner (which I had about then) consisted of a brat, chips and a bottled water for $5. They were going down Teacher's Pet and the NBA, so I skiied in that area for a while. When they were done, I went over to see how F was doing. He was having a lot of fun, but was still a little intimidated by the chair lift and Teacher's Pet. So he said he'd ski in the NBA for a while. So I decided to head over to Pet's Peeve, a blue trail.

It didn't end up being that bad at all. I skiied across rather than down it, and never quite lost my balance. On the other hand, I now see why people complain about the 300' vertical drop at Buck Hill. On the greens, I didn't really mind, since that leads to slower skiing. Also, many of the greens I'm used to don't go to the top of the slope anyway. But going down Pet's Peeve was very, very quick. I decided to end on that note, and we went back to the hotel.

All in all, I enjoyed Buck Hill. It was slightly less "modern" than the Pennsylvania resorts I've been to, but not in any way I can really complain about. It wasn't crowded at all, and the slopes, while shorter, were pretty nice. The price was cheap, the people were stereotypially Midwestern friendly, and the price and location were right. The magazine First Tracks Online has an interesting article about Buck Hill.

Wednesday, March 07, 2001

Jensen's Supper Club

Greetings from Minnesota. I had (thankfully) an uneventful trip. A highlight was getting to use my Avis Preferred membership. No going through the rental counter; just walked out to the parking garage, saw my name on an electronic bulletin board, went to the space number indicated, and drove to the exit where I showed ID to the guard. I was on my way.

I checked into my usual hotel, relaxed for a little bit and headed out to dinner. Our "team dinner" was at Jensen's Supper Club. The last time I went there, I came away disappointed. Maybe my expectations were too high; maybe I just shouldn't have ordered the fish. This time, my expectations were pretty low, and I ordered the prime rib. (The fish was the "house speciality", but the prime rib is the "house favorite" -- or was it the other way around?) It was very enjoyable, and dessert was Booker's Bourbon. I've started ordering small batch bourbon as dessert; it's been fairly enjoyable. So far I've had Knob Creek, Sam Houston and now Booker's. I'm not sure which is my favorite -- they've all been fairly good.

Anyway, this morning, I wasn't overly thrilled with my decision last night to have the bourbon, but I've recovered fine while sitting through the morning meetings.