Monday, February 19, 2007


A little over a month ago, Marsh and I were looking for a luxurious yet cheap cabin in the Black Hills for a relaxing night off the Rez. Scouring the free internet at Dunn Brothers in Rapid City, I came across this website, so we decided to give it a try. It was a little farther from the ski slopes than we were thinking, but it was far more luxurious than anywhere else we looked at, and also far less expensive. The place turned out to be spectacular--just a beautiful little house surrounded by nothing but Black Hills Spruce. On our first trip out, we needed groceries but I figured we could buy them when we arrived in Nemo. Nemo, it turns out, consists of about seven buildings, one of which did indeed sell groceries--we ended up buying both of their frozen pizzas.

When we arrived at the Lodge we were surprised to find that we were the first visitors since July. Since then the place has become a kind of TFA retreat in the Hills, as we have given them some $900 over the past five or six weeks. It's gotten to the point where a couple of us ended up beating out a rival group of TFA teachers who were also planning on booking the lodge for this weekend (sorry, guys). There has even been some talk about renting the house out for the entire summer.

Reservations secured, I met a bunch of friends out at the lodge this weekend. On the way out I stopped over in Rapid to finally get my South Dakota driver's license (I am now a full-fledged legal resident, and no longer a resident of Connecticut). I also stopped in to the Subaru dealership to get an oil change and to get a small grinding noise I've been noticed checked out--so I was quite pleased when I discovered I would need $1,200 of repairs on the car. That cancelled any plans for skiing.

It was still a perfect winter weekend, with temperatures getting up to almost 60 degrees on Sunday, ideal for lounging around a cabin in the middle of nowhere. (Many photos thanks to Shannon.)

Jenny napping on the couch, a common activity.

Walking Kim's dog.

Some of the girls built a snow fort while I was napping inside. They had hoped to have a snowball fight, but everyone else got back from skiing too late. The next day they built a snowman while I was napping again (see below). Dave invited me out to look at the snow man, and I was ambushed from the snow fort.

Shannon is demonstrating proper snow fort technique in the second photo.

Kim, Irv the snowman, and Kim.

Detail of Irv. Note the man boobs.

The national forest started about 30 feet behind the house (right where the fort was built). There was a beautiful clearing another eighth or a mile back into the woods. This is what it looked like before we sullied it with snow angels and snowmen.

Kim in the clearing.

Sleeping in the snow.

Matching $20 Men's large snow overalls from ALCO.

More snow overalls. Note the massive animals mounted to the wall. That elk's head is about 4 feet in lengh and stares you right in the eye as you walk out of the upstairs bedroom. There is also a bearskin rug mounted to the wall off to the left, and in the study there is a collection of photos depicting Vince (one of the owners--they are super nice) after taking the bear down. I'm considering hiring him for a hunting excursion in the spring.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Lots of things have gone on over the past couple months, but I've been too busy either doing those things or teaching to take a chance to write about them. This weekend wasn't supposed to be long, but we had been planning for a long time to make it a vacation anyway, and then lo and behold on Thursday afternoon it was announced that school would be cancelled for Friday due to the cold conditions, so I got out of town and towards the ski slopes on Friday morning.

A big group of us rented a few cabins in various places near Terry Peak, the primier mountain in South Dakota, and supposedly one of the best east of the Rockies. I was considering just relaxing around the house instead of skiing myself, since I haven't done it in ten years or so, but as we drove up the mountain to our cabin--which was about five minutes from one of the lifts--it was pretty clear to me that that wasn't an option.

I was sort of a mess when I first arrived. As everyone else headed to the lodge, I had to drive back down into town to pick up some cheap snow pants in order to top off my rag-tag assemblage of winter gear. When I came back I was very lost as to how to go about getting started. Luckily, though, a second group of SkiFAers arrived soon after. I had bought a beginner pass, which limited me to just two short green runs, but a few of the new arrivals had paid only a little more for an all-access pass and a ski lesson, so I decided to jump on that.

At the bottom of the trail map, there was a statement about how the slope rating system is relative, and even if you have been on a black diamond somewhere else, you may not be prepared for Terry Peak's black diamonds. I had never been on a black diamond before. As I rode up the lift to the top of the beginner's run, it was clear to me that what passed for a green run here would definently be at least a blue run at the dinky slope I had skiied on ten years earlier in Connecticut. But I decided to throw myself into it, and after one of my companions headed down the hill, I shrugged and followed. Of course, I didn't stop to think long enough that some kind of turns might be a good idea, so I basically tore down the slope and full speed, with nothing to slow me down--and no way to control myself--until I ran off the edge of the slope and into the trees. At this point I was also drenched in sweat. It turned out that the six or so layers I was wearing were more than enough to withstand the sub-zero temperatures. So I had to go inside and shed some clothes before going for another more controlled run.

After a couple runs on the beginner slopes I was pretty glad I hadn't stuck with the beginner pass, because the same two runs would've have gotten very boring pretty quickly. A few of us more novice skiiers tried out some of the shorter blue runs and I started to get into the groove of things. Once we had made it from the top of the mountain to the bottom, we rode back up and decided to take a long, winding green trail down. The only problem was that near the bottom the green trail was blocked off, and our only way to the bottom was on a black diamond called "Holy Terror." Quick learning, I guess, and it was about to get quicker.

After having made it up and down the mountain, Ryan (a longtime snowboarder, first time skiier) and I felt pretty comfortable with the way things were going. When we showed up for our lesson, we told our instructor that we didn't figure that the "first time on skis" lesson was really going to be very fun for us, to which Ted (our instructor) happily said, "Great! Well let's just go skiing then!" He took us to the top of the beginner slope, showed us some exercises to help us get comfortable on our skis, and then we did one run down to see how our wedge turns looked. He was happy enough with that, and started to give some instructions about turning with your skis parallel, most of which I didn't follow. We did a couple easy to moderate runs working on some basically skills. We rode to the top of the mountain. And then he says, "Okay, let's do Holy Terror." I'm skiing for the first time in tens years, I've never skiied a black diamond before, and he wants me doing one half an hour into my first lesson? But he was the boss, so we did it. Ryan was pretty controlled, but I was on my ass about every five feet. But I made it. When we got to the bottom Ted remarked that slopes don't get much steeper than that, and that we had done pretty well on it. I don't think I believed him on either count. The lesson continued, we kept skiing some of the steeper runs, and I kept falling. But I definently felt myself improving. By the end of the lesson, though, I was shot, just sore all over. I tried to a couple more mellow runs on my own, but I was exhausted and it had gotten very icy, and even those beginner slopes I had started the day with started to look daunting again. So I packed it in half an hour early, waited for some of the more committed skiiers to come in just as they were shutting down the slopes.

After a round at the lodge bar, we headed back to the cabin and I made a move straight for the hot tub. Nothing beats soaking in an outdoor hot tub when it's zero degrees out and you have been skiing all day. The only problem comes when you are done soaking and you need to put the cover back on the hot tub, so you're standing there barefoot and shirtless and soaking wet, and it's still zero degrees. But it was all worth it.

After a delicious dinner, courtesy of Kate, we took Ted the ski instructor's tip that we head into Lead to check out a bluegrass band at the Howlin' Wolf. I was somehow picturing a bar that was bigger than my kitchen, but basically the whole place was 12 feet by 12 feet, with a bar, a stage, and a small scattering of seating packed in. The band (Oakhurst) was sweet, throwing in some Wilco and MC5 covers, and the plywood floors were perfect for cowboy boot stompin' dancing. Sometimes on weekends like this I feel like this year's going by too fast, and I hardly have had a chance to hang out with everyone. And then Sunday comes around and summer starts looking pretty good again.