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Cross Country Skiing To Dinner In A Yurt

As we were planning our Colorado skiing vacation, we called my daughter's former University of Texas San Marcos water ski team member, Phil, who has lived in the Vail area for over ten years working as a ski instructor, ski patrol, white water rafting guide, and more - he is a great guy and the epiphany of the Colorado Mountain Man. One of his first recommendations was that we need to cross country ski to dinner in a yurt. And then the questions started:Tennessee Pass Nordic Center

It was easy to see that I wasn't going to get an answer that would paint a true picture, tell me what we were really up against, or give me a valid reason to say no - he knew I would do it when he said the food was excellent, the scenery was unbelievable, and the beer was cold. Done deal - book it!

Ready to start our trek up to the yurtWhen we arrived at Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, our group of 11 quickly overwhelmed the staff who was trying his best to fit us with boots, skis, poles, sleds for the grand kids, snowshoes for the non-skiers, and beer and snacks for the backpack, plus answer all of our questions - can I have those good looking blue skis instead of these red ones, how far is it to dinner, what about snowshoeing, how do you operate these miner lights, do you have size 14 boots, what time does it get dark, can rookies who have never cross country skied do this, aren't these skis too skinny, how do you stop, will these boots keep my feet warm? A half hour later all the decisions were made - the 2 month old would trek up the hill in a baby front pack with my youngest daughter on snowshoes, the 3 year old granddaughter would be pulled in a sled behind her dad, the 22 month old grandson would go in a sled behind his dad, and the 4 year old grandson would try cross country skiing. The rest of us would ski, and Phil and my brother would carry all the beer and wine needed to get us to the yurt.

Once we had all the equipment, we then overwhelmed Phil and his girlfriend Stephanie with all of our questions about how to get these skinny skis going and better yet, going up hill! Phil and Stephanie are true mountain people in excellent condition and both are expert cross country skiers and ski every weekend on long steep trails up to 12,000 foot peaks. Phil gave us a quick lesson, put our beer in his backpack along with his two bottles of wine, kept assuring us we could do it, and took off leading the pack. And then the giggles, huffs and puffs, and good times started.

We all set off with a lot of enthusiasm as we tried to figure out how to maneuver those skinny skis on a narrow tree lined trail blazed through a forest of fresh powder. Four year old Hudson had mastered it quickly, the snowshoer had no problem ("it's just like taking a walk with big clown shoes on"), the dads didn't seem to mind the sleds, the rest of us were moving slowly forward and Phil was still in sight, and best of all the trail was level and the scenery was beautiful and peaceful except for my huffing and puffing. Everyone was in a fantastic and fantasy like mood. And then the trail started up hill!

An easy stroll thru the woods for the snowshoesNow we are starting to spread out as we head uphillSome laughs along the way

Have you ever tried to go up hill on skis? I thought they were designed to go downhill! Hudson figured it out, the snowshoer didn't even know we were going up hill, the dads broke a bead of sweat, the old man started dripping beads of sweat, and Phil and Stephanie were nowhere to be seen! But as we rounded a curve, ready to take off the skis and take a nap, there was Phil, sitting in the snow with a glass of wine, and some beer with Grandson showing off

my name on it stuck in the snow. My first question after a long slug of beer was "are we almost there" and Philly's answered "sure." I could have sat there for hours - great company, majestic views of the mountains and valleys and snow covered trees, some good cross county skiing stories, and cold beer and wine - how good is that!


About the time the sweat was drying and the huffing and puffing was down to a single huff, Phil picked up the empties, corked the wine, and was off in a blaze of snow flurries! Hudson decided to jump in the sled with his brother which more than doubled the weight his dad had to pull in the sled - now maybe I could keep up with him, but what can I say if he asks me to pull for awhile? The hill got a little steeper and the only way to get up a couple of them was to try and force your skis in a V and then try to walk on long skinny sticks which go all different ways except the right way - you think it's easy, try it sometime! Now I'm ready to shed my jacket, sweater, gloves, long johns, and two pair of socks even though it's only 30 degrees. Phil came blasting down the hill to check on the sled pulling dads and me bringing up the rear. As usual, he had his typical wide friendly smile, didn't even have a single bead of sweat, and I'm sure he could have dropped and done 100 push ups before he climbed the hill for a second time!. Stephanie had also stopped by to give us words of encouragement, tell us we're getting closer, and that it's about time for another beer and wine stop and this time with crackers and cheese - which was just enough to get me around the next bend with poor Hudson's dad just ahead of me with his ski jacket around his waist and his shirt soaking wet. Again, I think I could have spent another 30 minutes here enjoying the scenery, company, beer, and cheese. But mountain man Phil said it was time to go and got me up and at it by telling me a little bit about the four course dinner and cool yurt that was getting closer. He later claimed that was the fastest he had seen me move in quite some time!

Giving one of the kids a break from the sledTime for a break and sip of wine

Toward the end of the trek we were out of beer and wine, getting tired (maybe that should be me, not we) and thirsty, and could smell the food - which seemed to give me a sudden burst of energy. We were also no longer in our tight giggling cohesive group - we were spread out with me bringing up the rear. A few minutes from the yurt, a snowmobile appears and the driver saying "are you Mike? They told me to come and get you!" My pride forced me to say "I'll make it" and watched him turn around and head back to the yurt as I said to myself, "you stupid fool!"

Sipping a cold beer on the deck of Tennessee Pass's YurtWe made it! What a fantastic, beautiful, unique, and fun experience getting there. Turns out it is only a mile and a 300' climb. We found it pretty easy View of the majestic mountains near sunsetnavigate the skis, the snowshoes were fantastic and easy, and the sled tracked fine. The kid loved the sled and enjoyed getting out and walking, jumping in the 4' of fresh powder, and the frequent snowball fights. The four year old did pretty well on the skis for about 15 minutes and then decided the sled would be fun - much to the chagrin of his brother and dad. All of us really enjoyed the trek up (including me) and we were a tad nervous about skiing down in the dark after dinner and drinks.

After I finally arrived at the yurt, we set on the outdoor deck sipping cold beer and wine, reminiscing about a very fun (it wasn't really as hard as I made it out to The Yurt at Tennessee Passbe) trek through the trees, and watching the sun set over the 14,000' majestic Rocky Mountains and pristine meadows of deep fresh powder. Wow - that half hour was worth the trip to Colorado. Turns out it's only a mile from Tennessee Pass Nordic Center and a 300 foot elevation change to get to the yurt. My excuse was it is 10,000 feet and when you're used to the Texas flatlands, just walking at 10,000 feet is tough for me!

What is a yurt you ask, well the official definition is "a circular domed dwelling that is portable and self-supporting; originally used by nomadic Mongol and Turkic people of central Asia" The yurt at Tennessee Pass had room for about 8 dinner tables, was cozy and toasty warm and as soon as the dinner bell rang and we were seated, we started devouring some delicious appetizer platters - fresh raw salmon rolled, elk sausage, brie with bread and apples, and more. Next came a very tasty peanut soup, a salad, and fresh baked bread followed by the entrees. Our group had lamb chops, elk, salmon, and roasted chicken with tasty mashed potatoes, and seasoned vegetables. Now I'm stuffed and thinking that all that extra weight is going to make me go very fast downhill in the dark on skis I have no idea how to control! And then came the dessert - wow.

All of us enjoyed the meals which were cooked to perfection. The wait staff was excellent and very attentive.

Ready for dinnerLamb chops were excellentInside the yurtThe bathroom was not heated

After a lot of laughs and a few hours of stuffing ourselves with great food and drinks, it was time to head back to the Nordic Center! So with various levels of excitement we headed outside under a bright full moon and starlit sky reflecting off the snow. The grandson and granddaughter immediately pelted me with snowballs which triggered a massive snowball fight with all of us joining in. Time to go (this should be fun!), Phil and Stephanie remained confident and kept assuring us that we could do it. And our questions started again: how do you ski downhill ("carefully"), is it easier than uphill ("nope"), how fast will we go ("fast"), give us a tip ("keep one ski in the ski track, the other in a V, and have fun" - easy for you to say), should I walk or ski ("up to you"), what about the snowmobile ("save it for one adult and the kids" - wrong answer). After listening to his tips on how to ski downhill on skinny boards after a few drinks:

Phil leads the way downMy brother and daughter sharing some laughs Granddaughter enjoying the ride down the mountainPhil leading the way down

And then the giggles started again as we tried to ski, stop, turn, and remain upright. And of course, Phil got us to stop for a lesson as well as an opportunity to get another bottle of wine and a very cold beer out of his back pack! Outside of my brother, the skiers finally figured it out after a few run ins with the thick powder and had a fun ski home. My brother never seemed to master it (could it have been all the wine?) and on his last emergence from the snow bank, he took off the skis and walked with me the rest of the way down!

On the way down, we had:

What a unique and fun experience that all of us will remember for the rest of our lives. If you're in the area, this is a must do! And it's really not that hard.

If you're not up for dinner or night skiing, then at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center you can rent track, skate, or telemark skis or snowshoes and purchase a full or half day pass to enjoy the 25 kilometers of groomed and maintained trails ranging from easy to difficult as well as trails for snowshoeing only. Make it a fun afternoon and trek up to the yurt for a great lunch or a drink. Or rent a sled to pull the kids or to carry some goodies and cold drinks for a picnic in the powder. The trails run through the trees and open meadows and offer unbelievable views of the mountain ranges.

Read about the rest of this fun and adventure packed Colorado Ski Vacation.

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