Friday, January 27, 2012

Winter vacation - Day 5

Sean woke up with a man cold so we took Keenan to his snowboard camp, picked up some lozenges, went back to our room, cranked up the fire place and stayed in bed all morning and into the early afternoon. We ate bowls of oatmeal in bed, had coffee in bed and watched sinful amounts of American cable television in bed. We're strictly CBC tv people and I personally haven't had cable piped into my house since 1994 so being a captive audience to all the nut job reality programs being offered up as entertainment can be a little transfixing. For example, we spent 3 hours in a row watching a show called Miami Animal Police. Which technically could be a feel good type program but then you start to wonder how many people in a small region can have such a poor understanding of pet ownership that a tv network can actually develop that particular concept into consistent content? Then there's the endless advertisements for shows like Swamp People, Mud Cats, Hillbilly Handfishin', Mud Cats, Ax Men, Pit Bulls ans Parolee's, Doomsday Preppers and one on tracking Samsquanch I didn't quite catch the name of. Who comes up with this stuff? Certainly not Hillbilly's or Parolee's. I doubt the same watch it either. I just find the whole parody of American lower to middle class folks to be a little too much to tolerate.

Finally Sean dragged his butt out of bed and hit the hill. I went to sneak a peek at Keenan which was a good thing as he was really pooped and not even on his board. I took him off the instructor's hands, we went back to our room, had a snack and drink and then headed over to the huge indoor play area called "the Fun Zone". Keenan has been bugging us to go there since we arrived so it seemed like a good day to oblige. The place is pretty cool, it's filled with bouncy castles, mini putt , obstacle courses, a giant slide, video games, ping pong and the list goes on. It took Keenan less than 3 minutes to get a nose bleed. Poor kid! I got him all cleaned up and he was bouncing away again in no time. Sean joined us a little later and I got some hilarious video of those two which I post for all to see once we get back.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Winter vacation - Day 4

The wind howled into the night and so much so that we were all woken up by it at one time or another. When morning finally did come it revealed large patches of grass emerging from ice so buffed by the wind it seemed to glow from the inside. Our hopes for an overnight snowfall were dashed by the continuing rain.

We called the front desk and let them know Keenan wouldn't be in "class"' then we packed up and headed into Burlington. It was a really lovely drive. There are some seriously stately homes peppered throughout the countryside here. Our first stop was Starbucks, two venti Caramel Macchiato's later we headed over to Burton World Headquarters. We were there on the wrong day for a factory tour but it was cool to see their retail shop and witness "all" of their offerings in one room. They also had a history wall which was really interesting and their lobby boasts a gorgeous stone hearth and wood burning fireplace. Smells like camping commented Keenan! Head office staff came and went with their canine companions and everyone had the laid back attitude we were fully expecting. We came away with a few stickers and a dealer catalogue (major natsukashi for me!) and some advice for Sean regarding his boots which have been causing him some discomfort.

We headed in the direction of the Church Street Marketplace. Sean had heard from a local gal that it was a pretty cool pedestrian mall. Since we hadn't got lost on this trip yet, we naturally got lost trying to find this place. Guys, when your wife says "take the map" just take it. After a few laps through some of Burlington's seedy areas we finally found the friggin' place! It was well worth the wait as there was not only a Patagonia store but also an outdoor store called GearX. There I bought replacement for my much loved Black Diamond gloves which after 12 years are finally giving up the ghost. If anyone is in love with the simplicity of Snow Peak titanium camping gear, you can order it from these guys at Decent selection and the prices aren't that much more than in Japan. Elsewhere in the ped mall there are a lot of bric a brac shops and there's a mall that spills out into the market that boasts a Macy's and a Victoria's Secret. Plus they have that hip pornographic imaging shop called Abercrombie and Fitch which all the young people can't seem to get enough of. We didn't end up doing any malling but we did go for a artfully crafted slow food meal at Three Tomatoes Trattoria. Keenan had an exceptionally huge crush on our waitress who by the way has a sister in Ottawa. It's a small world after all! We needed to stock up on supplies and we didn't really have the need to go to Costco so we headed over to the City Market Co-op grocery store. What. A. Place. Totally made me nostalgic for Sweet Cheribum, Circling Dawn, Caper's and The East End Food Co-op in in Vancouver. We loaded up on yummy organic produce and milk PLUS you can buy beer and wine in grocery stores here so I picked up a nice imported bottle of Japanese Ume wine.

We drove back to the resort in the dark and once again we were amazed at how dark it gets here. We were on Interstate 89 and I had to drive with the high beams on. Absolutely no light pollution. All the way up the mountain we watched the thermostat praying for the temp to go below zero, it wouldn't venture colder than +1 C. At least it wasn't raining. Keeping our fingers crossed for cooler temps and snow on the hill tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter vacation - Day 3

A week before we our vacation we received an invitation to a time share presentation at Smuggler's Notch. They'd give us 10% off our stay if we attended. Seemed like a good deal. Needless to say at the end of the presentation when the guy was doing everything to close the sale he asked us if we wanted him to further investigate an offer that would be better suited to us. Finally I had to break it to him that that wouldn't really be a productive use of his time. Informative session? Yes it was. Painful beyond description? Oh yes my friends! Worth the 10% off? In hindsight I'd have to say nope.

After the presentation we had some lunch, got suited up and then snuck over to the kids hill to see if we could spy on Keenan's progress. He's enrolled in the Discovery Kid's program here. They host a Burton Learn to Ride program so the kids are decked out in Burton gear and they have their very own hill and lifts designed to make their learning experience as positive and fun as possible. If you can believe it, the kids each wear a Flaik GPS unit which retains the data from their own runs and you can watch it on the net later! Good Lord, things have changed since I was a kid and I'm not even old! So, he starts at 9 am, hits the hill for 3:1 instruction, has a lunch break at noon then is back on the hill until 2:30. If the kids get cold they have a yurt at the base of their hill where they can warm up or have a snack. After his session he has indoor entertainment or movies and then we pick him up at 4. By that time he's sufficiently pooped and can barely eat dinner before he conks out! We snuck up around a shed to see if we could spot him and sure enough there he was! He was doing so well! Not quite linking turns but he could slide along confidently and stop fairly well. He fell almost each time but that's part of learning to ride and he wasn't having any meltdowns about it. He had a little tumble on the people mover carpet but his instructor got him up right away. One more run and then it was time for all the kids to go in for the rest of the afternoon. A tractor pulling a big multi seater wagon picks the whole lot of them up. The skis and boards are loaded into bins in the bucket of the tractor and then the kiddies are loaded into the wagon and leisurely towed back to the resort. It's quite a sight!

Sean and I slip away without being spotted and head to the lift ourselves. This is my first time riding since Keenan was born and boy was I apprehensive. I took a nasty tumble some years back and really hurt my back and I've never regained my confidence. We got on the lift and I was filled with all kinds of anxiety. Thank goodness the ride up was long so Sean could talk me down. Getting off the lift went ok, strapping my board was of course ok and I did pretty darn ok job on my first run after all! No falls and I had to talk a few stops to contain my excitement. I gotta get my confidence back so I'm taking it slow. I did just the one run to get over myself and prove that "derrrrr, I can totally still do this!". Now i'm gonna take a lesson to improve my technique and help me get over some of the bad habits I've developed since I've been overcompensating for my back injury. I made my way back to the room, got changed and left to pick up Keenan. His instructor said his riding is coming along nicely and he should be linking turns soon. We headed back to our room, Sean was there and we hung out for a bit, then off we went for dinner.

We were pretty shocked to find it was raining. Yes, raining. Nothing like rain on a snowboarding vacation. It's weird for us to get rain in January in the east. Even more weird though was the dinner entertainment. Honestly, you'll have to ask me about it in person. It's simply not gonna get put into type. Sooooo, Keenan fell asleep on my lap in the restaurant and we carried him back to our room in the driving rain and howling wind. The wind was so strong that when Keenan and I tried to walk to the indoor play area later he was literally blown out of my hands and down the road on the rain covered ice. He ended up on his knees in a snow bank. We both cried and slipped our way back after getting only half way there. It was really scary. Just imagine what the slopes would be like after a night of this. Needless to say we planned a road trip into Burlington for the next day.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winter vacation - Day 2

With the flick of a switch the fire place was on and Keenan jumped back into bed with us. Up at 6 am and ready to start our first day on the hill! We spent the next 2.5 hours lounging, eating and fretting over whether or not we should put Keenan in long underwear and fleece pants. We sleep with this kid almost every night and he cooks us to death in our own bed but somehow we thought he would be too cold in -15 C with just long undies and insulated ski pants! Anyhow we got the kid ready and headed over to the ski/snowboard school meeting area. Now, this place boasts in all it's marketing vehicles how it's "America's Family Resort" and without having ever been here we were wondering if it was all just hype etc. When you walk through the doors where all the families drop off their kids you realize that this is a well oiled machine that has thrown a lot of cash into earning the best reputation in family fun in the US. We checked the kid in, were handed a "claim ticket" to pick him up later and then headed over to meet his instructor team. Naturally Keenan immediately settled into a funk. He wanted to head out and snowboard right away and was not into getting acquainted with anyone. He wouldn't even take off his hat, mits or jacket so we just let him stew in his grumpiness until he boiled to death in his long underwear, fleece pants and insulated ski pants! Clearly that worked and he was out of his funk and interacting with the other kids in no time. I spoke to his instructor Derek about Keenan's snowboard and it turns out it's a little too big for him. Derek was really cool about it and set Keenan up with a sweet little Burton board for our whole stay free of charge. Definitly an awesome guy, rentals for a new board would have put us back a couple hundred bucks. Awesome service Derek, and great job exceeding our expectations! So we left Keenan with his group and headed out to check out the village. This place sure is quaint. It's Whistler on a much, much smaller scale and it's less snooty and more hip. It took us about 30 minutes to see mostly everything so we headed back to our room to set up our boards and hit the mountain. Sean took care of some last minute waxing and then we cracked open the box to my brand new bindings. Bit of backstory here. Last week Thursday I had asked Sean to take care of sorting through our gear and loading up our snowboard bag. Most of our stuff is in the bag already but Sean emptied it out to start fresh. At one point he looked at me and said "Do you you know where your boots and bindings are?". At that point I had one of those flashbacks that's kind of like watching one of those flip books but in reverse. This one went all the way back to the summer of 2007 when we were packing our stuff to move from Japan back to Canada. I had this faint memory of deciding that I would leave my boots and bindings there. I'd ridden on them for 12 years at that point and didn't I deserve a new pair? The move and all the energy put into settling in to life in Canada dulled that memory and here we were on the eve of the eve of our snowboarding vacation and I only had one third of the gear I needed. After work on Friday we headed out to Sport Chek to get me set up. They had stacks of boots on the floor but my size wasn't out. After 15 minutes of waiting around for someone to help me, Sean went to find someone and in the meantime I helped this other customer out with his boot fitting. Finally some guy came along, got my size and took off. No offer to lace my boots, help me with bindings or maybe a board. Just some side comments on what to look for in boots. Really guy? Is that your opening pitch? I just sold a pair of boots to this other dude and I've likely been riding since you graduated from kindergarten! So I walked around in the boots for 15 minutes and shopped for my bindings. No floor staff offered to help even though we clearly were having issues shopping with a 5 year old. Anyhow, I knew I wanted Ride bindings. The boots felt awesome and we found some bindings that looked good. I went to change out of the boots and here was the sales guy moving in to write his number on my boot box while he made some comment about needing to put his sales number on the box so the management knows he's not standing around doing nothing. Then he took it one step further and wondered aloud if he could actually get away with that. Really dude? You just did! Not only will you get commission on the boots but on the bindings too, lucky guy you are! Up to the cash I went. The cashier checked inside both boxes and $280 later we were on our way home. Whew! Thank goodness that was out of the way! Now back to Sunday morning, Sean and I in our room, Sean with the screwdriver in one hand and the box of bindings in the other. Can you guess where this is going? He opens the box and somehow we both thought we each had one of the bindings in our hands at the same time but we didn't we just passed the same one between us. We looked everywhere for the second one but it was nowhere to be found, there was actually only one in the box. Fxckity fxck, I was fxcked. Yup, I should have checked the box but I didn't cause the cashier had. So not only did that guy get commission on my bindings but I ended up with a half empty box. Naturally, I immediately picked up the phone and called the store to speak with the manager. She wasn't in but her assistant was, she said all the right things including that she would indeed take the single binding back and that she would be sure to right this situation. So then I had two choices, pay resort prices or drive an hour into Burlington which would mean taking Keenan out of snowboard school. So we headed to No School snowboarding shop. I spoke to a lovely young woman named Bridgette who said she'd not only help me find the right bindings but she'd mount them too but, I had to go back to get my boots and board. Oh thank God for Bridgette! I dropped off Sean, picked up my gear and headed back. Bridgette was awesome. She spoke from experience, asked me questions, listened to me and chose a binding that was right for my style and boots. She mounted the bindings and I was merrily on my way in no time. I doubt she's on commission but if she is I hope it's a double digit percentage! I didn't have enough time left to ride that day (that's the part I'll be asking Spork Chek to make right by the way) but I did head out for a skate on the square (odd!) rink. Keenan had an awesome first day of lessons and Sean had a good afternoon of riding so all was not lost!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Winter vacation ~ Day 1

Yesterday was day one of the first winter vacation we've taken in quite some time. We loaded up the car with snowboards, snowshoes, skates, snacks, toys and enough clothes so that I won't have to entertain the thought of laundry for at least a week! We left home about an hour behind schedule which is par for the course when you're traveling with either O'Flanagans or small children. Our first way point was Cornwall Ontario where we would cross into the United States of America. Arriving at the border we marveled at the seemingly countless camera's pointed at us from every angle. At some point the flashes startled us and I was left quietly wondering how many images of surprised motorists were being stored on Homeland Security servers across this land. It's the only time I hoped Keenan was up his nose to his second knuckle! Getting across the border went smoothly enough. The nice border guard passed a pen along with Sean's passport back through my window and reminded Sean that he needed to sign his brand new passport in order for it to be valid. I've never heard Sean use the word "sir" so many times. We made it through just fine and our second surprise came at our first stop for gas. Full service, squeaky clean windows and the tank three quarters full all for a mere $30! Thanks Ricky at the Twinleaf Gas and Tobacco in Hogansburg. You're a gas artist! Our first stretch of secondary highway took us through Mohawk territory, an Akwesasne reserve and the ever predictable casinos which alternated with billboards that read "Gambling is not part of our history". Here's hoping they can pry it loose from their future. The landscape gave way to rolling fields sectioned off by lazy streams with vertical accents of birch, pine and cedar. Then legions of huge, triblade wind turbines marched off into the horizon on either side of us. There were very few farms but there seemed to be quite a few folks settled in along the road. A great many of their homes were in advanced stages of disrepair. The vast majority were either mobile homes shored up with multiple plywood additions or very small shack like structures with muddied yards and generations of retired vehicles trying in earnest to be reclaimed by Mother Nature. Tyvek is about as close as folks can get to finishing their homes. Either that or they're just using using it as a band aid. We saw one place where the top floor had caved in and people were still living on the main floor. Yet another which must have been quite stately in it's day was perched on columns on the edge of a river. The back quarter of the place lay in a heap on the riverbed and the remaining rooms glowed with light. There were lace curtains in the windows. Does someone's grandparents live there? Who calls these less than humble shelters home? How do they get by? After a while we started noticing that most folks had some service to offer or goods to sell. Seems just about anyone can sell gas or diesel and then the ultimate in hope, a full on bridal salon. In 2.5 hours of driving we saw 3 prisons and only 1 school. Horses chained to poles instead of fenced. And oddly, it seems to be popular to encase in glass, statues of Jesus, scenes from the birth of Jesus or wildly decorated birdhouses. I've never been a MacDonald's fan and just recently broke a 12 year stretch of avoiding the place but yesterday I was pleased as punch to cross the thresh hold of Mickey D's and tuck into a Chicken burger. Sitting there we reminded ourselves that we were still in New York state, one of the most populated states in the US and we were one bridge away from Vermont, the 2nd least populated state in the US. What the hell were we getting ourselves in to? After hearing "those 4 words" over and over from Keenan sure enough, we were indeed finally there. Smuggler's Notch is gorgeous and the service is impeccable. We checked in and settled into our room with a new found appreciation for what we have.