Surviving Breckpocalypse 2019 (another awesome ski trip in the books)

Our group in 80s gear

I’m back from our annual ski trip and I had a blast. This year was an interesting mix of firsts and caution, and I made a ton of progress. (Last year was great too, read about it here.)

80s day was a hit

This year, we added an 80s day, which got us a ton of attention and made our first day on the slopes a lot of fun. There were two types of outfits:

  1. Authentic retro 80s attire. Maybe half the group went this route, wearing headbands, sweaters, jackets, and pants that were either actually from the 80s or could’ve been.
  2. Caricature 80s attire. And about half the group wore stuff that I describe as “What people today think people wore in the 80s.” I was in the camp, wearing a super loud 80s onesie.

Me in my 80s Day onesie

We picked the perfect day to do this since it was relatively warm, the sun was out, and the sky was blue all day. The groups pics we got at the top of Peak 8 made the whole thing worthwhile (the rest of the day was gravy).

Our group in 80s gear

Our group playing our air instruments

Slow and steady progress as a skier

This was basically my second time skiing. Technically, I skied a few times in high school, but I don’t count those because we were on east coast ice, and no one ever actually showed me how to ski. So I was terrible and I hated it.

Last year was the first time I skied on anything resembling powder and I also took lessons, so I immediately felt better about it and made progress quickly.

This year was interesting because I was the worst skier in our group, so I was the one holding things up most of the week. But I wanted to take my time and work on some things to make sure I was actually improving as a skier and not just ramping up the difficulty.

First day on the slopes

Our first day on the slopes, I felt pretty uncomfortable on my skis. Skiing is not like riding a bike—and I felt like it was my first time out. But after a few runs, things started coming back and I felt a bit better.

By the end of our first day, I felt like I was pretty much back to where I left off last year. I could comfortably cruise down most of the blues, occasionally feeling like I wasn’t quite in control. This was a super long day because we went out early-ish and came home late-ish. We did a bunch of runs and those runs were challenging for me since my form was so rusty. I was totally spent at the end of the day.

Second day on the slopes

I decided to take our second day and just focus on technique—specifically turning and maintaining my speed while staying in control. My friends would frequently say, “Wow, you really flew down that one! You’re getting a lot better!” And I would say, “Well, that’s because I only have two speeds—Stop and Go. Once I’m in Go-mode, I’m just trying to stay upright until I can slow down.”

I wanted to feel in control most of the time instead of feeling like I was just trying to stay upright and avoid wipeouts. So I stuck to blues and slowly improved.

Although I didn’t move up to more difficult runs as quickly as I did last year, I made a lot more progress in my first couple of days on this trip. By the end of the second day, I actually felt more like I had control, I could slow down when I wanted to, and I was able to choose my lines rather than just taking wide S turns and hoping for the best.

My turns got much tighter and I was intentionally hitting spots that seemed easier to navigate. I actually went in about an hour ahead of most of my peers because I was still beat from the first day, and I felt I had accomplished what I wanted for the second day.

Third day on the slopes

I asked a couple of friends where I could find the easiest black run at Breck. The answer came back: “Dukes.” It was a relatively short run that used to be a blue, but they turned it black so intermediate skiers wouldn’t get spooked. So it was technically a black, but only just.

My goal for the entire day was to get more comfortable and eventually do at least one black run, so I pretty much mapped out the day to slowly move toward that goal.

Powder, powder everywhere

Even before I started going on this trip last year, there was much lamenting that fresh snow never arrived. It was almost like this specific trip had some sort of jinx on it so that it was always warm and sunny with no new snow during the trip.

That all changed this year, and we made up for lost time. In our last two days at Breck, I think there was over a foot of snow and it just kept coming.

So I swapped out my regular skis for “powder” skis to start the third day. At first, this was kind of frustrating because I had to re-learn a lot of what I had worked on the previous day. Turning was harder, stopping was harder, maintaining control was harder. Everything was harder.

But once I got used to the new skis, they were much better and easier to control.

A solo run for my first black

After several good blue runs, it was time to make my way to Dukes, the easy black my friends recommended. I actually scoped it out during my first run of the day since it starts from a common catwalk that we use to move between peaks.

I was going to run it with a friend, but he ended up stopping early, so I was on my own. But before we parted ways, I asked if he had any suggestions—he had three:

  1. Stay to the right, away from the moguls.
  2. Wait for a big opening so I could do “my run” without traffic around me.
  3. If I felt like I needed to slow down to regain control, turn slightly back up the mountain to regroup.

And off I went.

The lift dropped me about 100 yards from the top of Dukes, so there wasn’t too much time to think about it once I was off the lift. I initially planned to get to the top of the run and give myself a minute or two to gather my courage, but it turned out I didn’t need that kind of time.

I got to the top of Dukes, looked at it and thought, “Meh, that doesn’t seem so bad. Let’s go.” And I was off. Overall, it was a pretty good run and I used all three of my friend’s tips.

I actually made it down the steepest part without any issues, but I relaxed too early because I didn’t realize there was a second steep part that was also icy and bumpy. All of a sudden, I realized, “Uh oh, I’m going too fast and this is all bumpy ice. Need to slow down… or need to at least try to maintain control until I can slow down.”

I didn’t quite succeed, but I didn’t quite fail either. I basically ended up spinning out so that I didn’t technically “fall”, but came as close as I could’ve. After a few very ungraceful flailing spins, I found myself stopped, skis splayed, hands on the ground in front of me, holding me up. I regained my composure and it was easy from there on out.

I remember getting to the bottom and thinking, “Huh. That wasn’t so bad.” I almost talked myself into doing it one more time, but I thought better of it and made my way back to our house.

Right after my black run on Dukes

Fourth day on the slopes – or not

I finished my third day on a real high. I finally felt comfortable on my skis, I felt more in control than I had at any other time this year or last, and I did my first black.

But I also felt like I had been pretty lucky so far. I had been really tired a few times during the week, but had managed to get good runs in despite the fatigue. I also had a strained right adductor to watch out for.

Before I went skiing, my doctor said, “Sure, you can ski. But don’t do anything crazy and stay off the tougher blacks.” Remember the spinout I mentioned on Dukes? It was exactly the kind of awkward motion that could’ve reinsured the adductor. I’d been rehabbing that stupid thing for 5 weeks, and hadn’t run in almost 10 weeks because of it, and I wasn’t looking to re-injure it if I didn’t have to.

So I had a really tough time deciding whether to go back out for our fourth ski day, or if I should just take it easy.

I ultimately decided to take an actual vacation day and just hang around the house, and there were a few factors at play there:

  • I felt like I had been pretty lucky that I didn’t re-injure my adductor despite some close calls.
  • I accomplished my primary goal for the trip—do a black run.
  • The conditions were very powdery, but I wasn’t good enough to really take advantage of that. And powdery also meant cold, snowy, low-visibility.
  • It was the Saturday beginning Spring Break, and I knew the lift lines would be long (so I’d be waiting around a lot, and wouldn’t do much skiing for the time I would be out there).
  • I hadn’t taken a real vacation day—a full day off to just relax—in…I can’t remember the last time I did that, but it was years ago.

It was basically a coin flip that came down to, “I’ve checked all the boxes for this trip and I didn’t re-injure my adductor. I finished on a high and I am anxious to get better and ski more when I’m healthy. Maybe I should just quit while I’m ahead.”

I decided to just take the day off. If my adductor had been healthy, I would’ve gone out. But I knew that if I went out, I would want to try tougher blacks, and that would make re-injury more likely.

Even in hindsight, I’m not quite sure if this was the right thing to do.

A great trip with friends

The coolest part of the ski trip is that each day essentially has two major events: Skiing and hanging out.

Skiing is typically over around 4:00 at the latest, and that means we have another eight hours before we go to sleep. We typically try to squeeze in all four of these things after skiing:

  1. Hot tub time
  2. Dinner
  3. Crepes a la Carte—an amazing crepe place in Breck
  4. Games (usually Body, Body, Body, but not always)

We checked all those boxes a couple times and hit three of four every night (I think).

We had some amazing food—The Canteen, Michael’s, Giampietro, Empire Burger (the sides and sauces are amazing)—but I didn’t document any of it because I was too busy eating it.

And I was finally mafia in Body, Body, Body and got the win. So now I’m one-for-one as mafia, but still only like one-for-fifteen being mafia. The law of averages will eventually catch up and I’ll go on a mafia spree (or maybe I’ll just cheat—ahem, GP—and make it happen on my own)

Surviving the Breckpocalypse

About half way through our trip, it began to snow. And snow and snow and snow and snow. There was a lot of snow.

This made my final ski day a lot of fun, and I’m sure it made Dukes (at least the top part) much easier. My friends said it was the best snow day they had ever seen, and some of them even extended their trip to get more time in the powder.

Here’s a short video of the view off of the balcony…

Short video of our balcony view

Of course, the snow giveth and the snow taketh away… the ability to travel. We had a few rental cars with varying numbers of passengers, and some of the cars had trouble either explicitly getting through the snow, or in driving from Breck back to Denver. My car was pretty lucky because we left early. It took us almost three hours to get to Denver (normally two hours), and we had to stop to manually de-gunk the windshield a couple times, but we made it. There was also an avalanche about 20 miles west of us on I-70, so I’m obviously glad we missed that.

Some other folks either missed their flights after a long (five hours!) drive to Denver, or simply got stuck in the snow in Breck and had to wait it out (this may or may not have been related to an ill-advised decision to rent a 2WD truck despite a steep driveway and a snow-heavy forecast).

When we finally go to Denver, it was 3 degrees outside—the lowest March temperature in like 140 years. Apparently it got as low as -6, so we got there when it was nice and toasty outside.

All in all, this was another amazing ski trip and I can’t wait to get back out there and hit some real blacks next year.

My 2018 Year In Review: Finally making a good living

It’s been three years since I quit my day job to build the Fearless Salary Negotiation business. It’s finally paying off.

I didn’t think this year would go so well for my business, especially considering that I was almost out of runway only 18 months ago. But my 2018 income is very close to what it was when I quit my day job in 2015, and now I have the freedom, flexibility, and personal satisfaction that comes with making a living from something I built from scratch.

The decision to double down on salary negotiation coaching in 2017 continues to pay dividends as I work with more clients and raise my rates to capture more of the value I create with my work.

That’s the business side of things.

Personally, things are great. I’m fortunate to have a very close group of friends. I’ve gotten better at running, and I’m pretty good at making omelettes. Of course there are things I would like to work on for 2019, but 2018 was amazing!

Here’s a Table of Contents so you can jump to wherever you want…

2018 Goal Review

So how did I do this year? Let’s take a look at my 2018 Goals.

Make a good living

The goal was I want to make $10,000 per month in net revenue in 2018. More specifically, I would like to do that by selling $5k in products and booking $5k in coaching per month for the year.

I missed this goal, but not by very much. And each $5k sub-goal is pretty close to what I actually did.

The difference between hitting and missing this goal comes down to a consulting retainer that ended in September after about a year. If that kept going, I would’ve made it.

I also could’ve made it if October wasn’t so horrible revenue-wise.

To be honest, this is bonkers to me. I didn’t actually think I might hit this goal—I just wanted to make sure I set an ambitious-but-achievable goal to maximize my earning potential in 2018.

I did hit a secondary goal, which was to double revenue year-over-year from 2017 to 2018. I did that from 2016 to 2017, and it seems like “do twice what I did last year” is a reasonable goal that can be achieved through good planning, execution, and moderate growth.

More traffic

The goal was I would like to build my organic search traffic to 100,000 unique visitors a month.

This one is interesting. I did hit this goal, but then traffic fell off and settled in around 80,000 visitors a month.

2018 Organic Traffic

The good news is that with more traffic came more revenue, so there was a direct benefit to this goal.

Improve at Sales

Here’s that goal: My goal is that 2% of email subscribers become paying customers within the first 30 days.

This was a huge miss. HUGE miss.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is I did build one funnel—the one that gets the most traffic—that pretty consistently converts 1% of subscribers to customers for a $47 product.

So there’s a lot to build on there.

Help other businesses get more search traffic and email opt-ins

Ehhh, I did some of this but not very much. I worked with a few clients to tweak their SEO, and I worked with some clients on their content strategy. But I just didn’t feel motivated to push this part of the business.

I think there are still things to focus on in my core business and I didn’t want to get too distracted.

Running goals

  • 10k – Sub-8:00 pace Hit it with a week to go in 2017
  • 5k – Sub-7:00 pace (currently 7:14)
  • Mile – Sub-6:00 pace (currently 6:08) Ran a 5:54 mile in August
  • 400m – Sub-60s pace (currently ~64s~ 62.75s)

I’ll write about this later, but I also ran a PR for 15k and finished my first Half Marathon.

A detailed 2018 Year In Review – Business

At the beginning of this year, I felt like the trajectory was in the right direction, but I still had some concerns. I started the year in a bit of a cash crunch as I was still digging out from the financial hole I dug to get through 2017.

To free up cash for 2017 taxes, I had parked some expenses on a 0% credit card. It looked like I would be able to pay it off before the interest rate jumped in August, but it would be close. I also decided all 2018 taxes would be taken off the top and held in a dedicated account so I wouldn’t have to scramble to pay taxes this year.

Saving ahead for 2018 taxes plus paying down that 0% card meant 2018 could be sort of a financial grind. I knew that was likely when I made those decisions in 2017, and now it was time to pay the piper.

January was mediocre, but then things took off: February was my best month ever, and March, April, and May were all consecutively better.

By June, I was out of the woods and starting to replenish my savings. It was almost exactly one year from “Uh oh, I might have to get a day job.” to “This seems to be working and I have some room to breathe again.”

With the exception of a horrible October, the second half of the year was great (but not quite as strong as Q2). I may be doing enough business that I’m able to spot some seasonality, but I’ll have to wait and see.

For now, things are good with the business and I finally feel like I can relax a little and enjoy what I’ve worked to build over the past few years.

Salary negotiation coaching

In June of 2017, I repositioned myself as a salary negotiation coach for experienced software developers. Before that, I was basically positioned as an author who also did some coaching.

That shift in focus is what saved my business.

I kept pulling on that thread in 2018 and it continues to pay off in a few ways.

First, I’ve gotten more and more reps negotiating job offers with big tech firms, so I know their playbooks. This has made me more confident and gives me the tools to pitch my coaching offering more effectively.

Second, I’ve been able to raise my prices so I earn more for my work by reaching a more experienced market where my work has more value. Basically, I’ve enabled more and more experienced software developers and senior managers to find me when they have job offers, and their job offers are usually very substantial, which means their improvements are often substantial.

The combination of those two things is what has really enabled my coaching business to take off.

I also really like what I do. It’s fun to help people who’ve worked so hard to build a valuable skill set actually capture more of the value of the skill set they’ve built.

Product sales

Selling digital products is at once a boon to my business and an enigma. Traffic and sales were up this year, but I continue to suspect that I’m selling far less than I should given my traffic levels, and the quality and value of my products.

This has to be a focus for me in 2019. With over a million visitors to my site in 2018, I should be selling a lot of products.

Email list growth

I hit some pretty big milestones this year. I was this close to hitting 35,000 email subscribers before I pruned almost 10,000 subscribers. Since I started building my list in January 2015, I’ve had more than 60,000 people join my list. About 20,000 of those unsubscribed over time, and I pruned another 12,000 or so.

The churn is normal. The pruning is sort of controversial among my peers. But the bottom line is I had a ton of people on my list who were not opening or interacting with any of my emails, and I don’t think it’s good for anyone if I keep emailing those folks.

So I’ll end 2018 just shy of 30,000 active email subscribers. That’s crazy to me. I had 600 subscribers after my first full year doing this. Now I get more than that in a typical business week.

Now I just need to get better at aligning my product offerings to my email subscribers’ needs.

Consulting retainer

I also had a fun opportunity to consult with a very successful business. It was an unusual arrangement without any real parameters: Just come hang out, observe what we’re doing, and make suggestions to help us improve.

It worked really well for a while and it was a ton of fun, but the business itself eventually became so active that I found myself lost in the shuffle. I would love to do more of this sort of thing, and it’s good to have this experience so I can help define the desired outcomes—for myself and for the business—of this sort of engagement better in the future.

Essential Salary Negotiation Email Pack

Last year, I made a small product called The 15-Minute Counter Offer. I was trying to learn more about how I could help folks finding FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com when they needed help negotiating a job offer.

What I found was that most of those people were in a real hurry—they had just a few hours from the time they found myself site until they had negotiated their offer.

So I built The Essential Salary Negotiation Email Pack to help with their specific needs in a very short timeframe. That product, plus The Salary Negotiation Crash Course—a more in-depth-but-still-streamlined, end-to-end job offer negotiation course, offered as an upsell to the email pack—made almost $12,000 in 2018 and I didn’t start selling it until April.

This is by far my most successful new product and I hope to create a similarly successful offering for folks who aren’t sure how to ask for a raise in 2019.

Overall stats

Here are some high-level stats for 2018 (all as of December 26):

Traffic

There were 1.023 million New Users on FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com, and 90% of those were from organic search traffic.

My email list

Here’s an updated list of end-of-year email subscribers:

December 2015: ~700
December 2016: ~2,500
December 2017: ~11,500
December 2018: ~28,500

In 2018, I had 24,300 new email subscribers, but since I pruned about 12,000 recently, active email subscribers is “only” 28,500.

Here’s a graph of my email list growth in 2018:

2018 Email List Growth

No hockey stick this year—just consistent growth.

Conversion rates

They’re basically the same as they were last year—about .4% of email subscribers purchase something from me in the first 30 days. The consistency is a little deceptive as I did significantly increase conversions for one funnel, and I also significantly increased opt-ins for all other funnels.

Last year, I said, “If I hit [5% opt-ins and 2% conversions] by the end of 2018, I should be able to hit my revenue goals.”

On one hand, it’s really frustrating to see such a huge miss. On the other hand, I almost hit my revenue goals anyway, so if I actually find a way to get those sorts of conversion rates I’ll be doing very well.

A detailed 2018 Year In Review – Personal

Two things stand out when I think back on this year: traveling and running.

Travel

2012 was the beginning of a years-long plan to build a business and stop working for other people. That’s vague, but it’s about as specific a plan as I had in mind.

I started by getting a good-paying day job to leverage my prior career experience and newly-acquired MBA. I used that income to start paying down debt as aggressively as I could, and I began slowly acquiring the basic skills I would need to (eventually) build a successful business.

For the next few years, I was either paying down debt or saving up a runway while basically working seven days a week on my day job and side projects.

In 2015, debt free and comfortable with my runway, I quit my day job to focus full-time on building a business. For a little over two years, I worked really, really hard seven days a week. I think that sort of work was necessary to build the basic infrastructure of my business, but it was also very taxing.

In 2017, I decided the seven-days-a-week schedule needed to end, so I sort of re-entered normal society and focused on community. Either the foundation I had built would facilitate a real business or it wouldn’t—it was time to find out.

So I stopped working so much, but I still wasn’t earning enough to take non-business trips or anything like that. I had to pass on a number of super fun trips to avoid burning too much of my savings.

That changed in 2018 as my business actually started to take off.

Ski trip

I went skiing for the first time since high school and I loved it. My friends go on a ski trip every year, and I was always a little jealous I couldn’t make it. But I also remembered absolutely hating skiing, so it didn’t sting too badly to miss that part.

I figured I would give it a shot this year, mostly so I could say, “See! I went skiing and it’s still awful!” But it turns out I really liked it, and that getting ski lessons is actually very useful. Who knew?

I had a blast and I can’t wait to get back out there in 2019.

Our group at Vail

Boston

I also went to Boston with a couple college buddies in June. It was amazing. I hadn’t taken a trip like that in a very long time, and it was everything I hoped for.

Classic Allen face

I have a lot of “Allen makes this face at a sporting event” photos

Running stuff

At the end of 2017, I asked “Am I a runner now?” In hindsight, that question was pretty naive. The answer is vey clearly no.

Runners run a lot more than I do. But I am a hobbyist and I made progress on my hobby this year.

My first 15k

In January, I ran my first 15k and it did not go well. Turns out that running a 15k with the flu just isn’t a great idea. But I finished and my time wasn’t terrible (for a guy with the flu).

My first 15k

Sub-6:00 mile

One of my original running goals was to run a sub-6:00 mile. It took me a few tries and about 18 months, but I smashed that goal with a 5:54 in August.

My six-minute mile time with 400m splits

This may have been my most satisfying PR yet because it as almost exclusively mental. I had to try and fail a few times to understand exactly how to run a fast mile, but once I understood it I was able to knock it out.

15k PR on a training run

I was prepping for a Half Marathon and I ran an 8:00-flat pace 15k. This wasn’t even on my list of goals, but it felt pretty good. When I started running at the beginning of 2017, I set a goal of running this pace for 10k. So it’s cool to run that time for a longer distance.

15k training run - 8:00 pace

My first Half Marathon

I was planning to run a Half Marathon earlier in the year, but the aforementioned flu ruined my training and I bailed. Plus, the Half I was going to run would be during the winter and the weather was going to be awful.

A wise friend told me, “Do you really want your first Half Marathon to be a miserable experience? Why not just wait for a better one?” So I did.

I ended up running a Half in sunny, 60º weather and it was a pretty good experience. The one hitch was that the course was only 12.1 miles, so I literally had to go the extra mile to finish.

At least we got cupcakes at the end.

My first Half Marathon (with cupcakes!)

I ended up with a pretty good pace of 8:24. I was very happy with my race strategy as I felt I did the best I could, and I’m certain I could go quite a bit faster with better training.

That said, I doubt I’ll run too many more Halfs. I’m glad I did it, but it really took a toll for like two weeks after the race.

2019 Goals

I’m going to keep things pretty simple this year.

Double revenue again

I have no idea if this is possible or how I will do it, but I don’t think it’s a crazy goal.

Can I double product revenue? I think I can, although I don’t quite know how. I have the traffic and products to do it. There are also a lot of sub-goals that I won’t write about here, but which I think will help with this high-level goal.

Can I double coaching revenue? Yes, by more consistently booking clients and continuing to raise my rates.

This year, I earned pretty much what I earned in my last year of full-time employment. That feels amazing. But I didn’t quit my day job to make the same money I made before. I quit my day job to earn multiples of what I was earning before (among other things). So I want to continue pursuing that as long as it doesn’t require me to return to being a hermit.

Sub-7:00-pace 5k

I’ve been chasing this one for a while, and I probably should’ve tried to knock this out when I ran the sub-6:00 mile earlier this year. Unfortunately, I was battling some injuries and decided to slow down before I really hurt myself. I would like to check this one off the list.

Sub-60-second 400m

I’m honestly not sure if I can do this or not. For one thing, I’ve got nagging injuries that basically prevent me from sprinting. But if I can get healthy, I think I’ve learned enough about proper running that I can do this.

This wasn’t one of my original running goals (I wasn’t sure I’d ever break 70s), but I think it’s still an achievable stretch goal. Or maybe it’s not. I dunno.

More trips

I travel to relax, and I’d like to do that more this year.

I’d like to take another trip with the Boston crew this summer. That trip was a lot of fun and I think the three of us are pretty much an ideal traveling group.

A trip to Europe would also be great—I miss Italy—but I don’t have anything specific in mind yet.

My first ski trip since high school was awesome

The Monte Carlo at Breck

I lay on my back, staring up at the blue sky. I assume it was beautiful, although I can’t really remember because I was desperately trying to catch my breath at 11,000 feet above sea level.

I looked past my feet, up the mountain to find my ski. My friend had already found it and was bringing it down to me.

“I. Don’t think. I’ve. Ever. Been. This tired.” was all I could say.

Our group had just accidentally gone down a Blue run, which we later found out was basically a Black, and it had not gone well. I tried my best to maintain control, but I had gone down the un-groomed part of the run, which meant I was basically skiing down a black on ice.

This moment was one of many that we would later call the #VailFail, and it was definitely a low point. But around this low point was a week of high points and a lot of fun.

Skiing for the first time in a long time

Last week, I went skiing for the first time since high school. All of my previous skiing experiences were terrible, so I wasn’t expecting to have much fun.

Fortunately, my friends insisted I try skiing on real mountains with real snow, so I went to Breck to give it a shot.

I had an amazing week and really enjoyed skiing. It was a lot easier than I expected and I picked it up faster than I thought I would.

So this will be more of an old-school day-by-day recap of my trip, mostly for posterity.

Day 1: Traveling there

A few of us rented a car and drove from Gainesville to Orlando, where we flew Southwest directly to Denver. Then we rented cars and drove from Denver to Breck. Everything was entirely uneventful, which is how I prefer to travel.

Once in Breck, I immediately felt the altitude and got winded just walking up stairs and doing other simple things. I also got a low-level headache that persisted for a couple of days despite all the water I drank.

We rented a ridiculous three-story house that slept 13 people. “The bunk room”, which I shared with three other guys, was crowded but fun.

That first night, we got our ski gear, settled in, and went out for our first crepes of the trip.

A picture of a giant crepe

These crepes are delicious and enormous.

Day 2: Lessons and getting settled

Everyone I talked to said, “You should definitely take lessons on your first day. It’s the best way to learn the basics.” This was great advice, which I think they learned to give after other training methods failed.

For example, I think they used to teach newbies how to ski using a sort of Scared Straight methodology (“This is a blue run. You will fall a lot, but by the time you make it to the bottom, you’ll be ok at skiing.”), which probably isn’t the best way to learn.

So several of us split into groups for snowboarding and skiing lessons. There were only two of us skiers, and our instructor was Dave. There were two other folks in our group, which meant Dave only had to work with four students—that was great for us.

My first ski lesson

We gradually worked through the basics, and I felt pretty good right away. Skiing was already less awful than I remembered. By lunch time, my friend and I had progressed past our two fellow students and were quite a bit more comfortable with the green runs we were doing.

Just before lunch, Dave took my friend and I on a couple runs while the other two members of our cohort took a breather (they were very tired and frustrated, and I think Dave correctly assumed the best thing was for them to rest so they didn’t get hurt). We did our first blue and it went pretty well—we could see that we were making real progress already.

After lunch, we did a few more runs, worked on some more advanced (for us) techniques, and officially graduated to “Level 4” (of 5?), which felt pretty good.

We finished the day by meeting up with most of our other friends to ride up and do the 4 O’Clock Home run (which is mostly green with a little blue up top).

One of the nice things about the awesome house we rented was that we could almost ski in and ski out. It was super convenient to walk for three or four minutes, put our skis on, and hit the lift. And it was even more convenient to ski down the 4 O’Clock, pop our skis off, and get home in about 5 minutes.

Our only in-house group dinner

After we finished skiing, some of us headed off-site for some hot-tub time while others went shopping to get supplies for our only in-house group meal of the week. I sautéed asparagus for everyone, which meant I got to hang in the kitchen and meet new people as they passed through to see what we were up to.

This was probably my favorite meal of the week and I’m hoping we do at least two of these next year.

Body Body Body

After dinner, we played Body Body Body, which is like a live-action version of a game called Mafia. I’ve always liked Mafia and I like Body Body Body even more.

There were about 10 townspeople and 3 mafia members. Once the mafia members have identified each other, we turn the lights out, crank up spooky music, and wander around the mansion in the dark. Mafia members kill townspeople by mock-slashing their throats. Once a townsperson has been killed, they stop walking and drop to the floor. The game continues until someone finds the “body” and shouts “Body body body!” so that everyone can turn the lights on and run to see who died.

Then the game moves to the more typical “Mafia”-style game where everyone talks things through and nominates a couple people they think might be in the mafia. Eventually someone is voted out and the game resumes unless the mafia have all been discovered. The game ends when either the mafia are all voted out or there are equal numbers of townspeople and mafia remaining.

The game is a lot of fun and we played pretty much every night. My only regret is that despite playing 10+ games, I was never mafia (which is the most fun part of the game) thanks to a series of unfortunate events that culminated in our narrator tilting and skipping one game, causing some logistical snafus that caused us to redraw for spots the one time I actually drew a “Mafia” card.

C’iest la vie.

Day 3: First normal ski day

Lessons were physically and mentally exhausting, plus I was still feeling the altitude, so I was admittedly not super stoked to hit the slopes again.

Fortunately, a couple of experienced friends, who arrived later than the rest of us, were heading out for their first day on the slopes and offered to take me along and help me slowly work up from Greens to Blues. (Shout out to James and Jen for being awesome teachers.)

By lunch, we were doing Blue runs and I felt pretty comfortable. They were a little fast for me, and I didn’t quite have the control I wanted, but I was able to move down them pretty quickly, mostly maintaining control, and without falling. All in all, a pretty big win.

By the end of the day, I felt comfortable on Blues, which was pretty remarkable considering I had taken beginner lessons the previous morning. Some of the group took a short Black to finish the day, but I skipped it. I was super tired and just didn’t want to risk hurting myself with two days left to ski.

Mi Casa

We went to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner, and it was pretty good. Although… my stomach didn’t take too kindly to it. Normally, this would be no big deal, but an upset stomach plus altitude meant Day 4 at Vail would be challenging.

Assume there was hot-tubbing, Body Body Body, and probably crepes

The evening routine was pretty consistent. Here was our view from the hot-tub:

Hot Tub View

Day 4: #VailFail

This brings us full circle to the beginning of this post. We decided to make a day trip to Vail, which is about 45 minutes from Breck. At first, it was a smaller group, then it expanded to be almost everyone. In theory, the skiing is better at Vail, plus we could get an awesome group picture at a famously beautiful spot on the mountain.

But, all the best laid plans…

We arrived at Vail and easily got onto the mountain thanks to some great planning by the more experienced members of our crew. Our first order of business was to rendezvous at the top of Lift 37 for the infamous picture, and then we could all split off into groups based on experience level.

Our plan was to take a long catwalk to another catwalk that would drop us at Lift 37. But a Vail employee convinced one of our crew that there was a better way: We could cut out a lot of catwalking by taking an easy Blue after the first catwalk.

“We have a lot of beginners. Is that Blue going to be ok for beginners?”
“Definitely!”

We knew we were in trouble pretty much right away. The entrance to the first catwalk gave a lot of folks serious problems. I made it down to the catwalk without falling, but it was a dicey run.

Once we eventually got across the first catwalk, we stopped to regroup before heading to the beginner-friendly Blue we had been promised. But first, we had to wait out a pretty serious windstorm that made me thankful I brought my balaclava since the wind-driven snow felt like a sandblaster to the face.

Another ominous sign.

At last, we all get around to the entrance of the beginner-friendly Blue and we realized… this was not beginner-friendly. It was super steep and icy—not good for beginners. I tried my best to take shallow angles and control my speed, but I just wasn’t good enough to manage it. I fell over a few times—nothing serious—before heading to a part that another skier said was probably a less-steep way to get down.

Turns out I was heading for the most steep part of the run, and a more experienced skier in our group later told me, “I saw you heading over there and thought, ‘He needs to turn back the other way or this could get really ugly.'” I did not turn back the other way. Things got pretty ugly.

This is the part where I wound up sliding head-first down the mountain on my back, losing one of my skis in the process. Ironically, this may have been the best outcome for me once I chose this particular path.

We later found out from another Vail employee—a friend of the group—that this was basically a Black run and that beginners had no business being on it. There was a groomed section, which they considered a Blue, but most of us had not taken the groomed section. (This might be my only regret of the trip—if I had known about the groomed section, I may have gotten down with little trouble.)

Exhausted from accidentally attempting a Black run, I caught my breath and chugged half a bottle of blue Gatorade, then made my way down to the second catwalk. As I worked my way across the catwalk, the wind picked back up—it was getting worse.

Most of us met up at a natural stopping point before heading down to Lift 37. Bad news was waiting for us there: Lift 37 had been closed because of the wind; only Lift 36 was open; there was no way to ski down.

A few of us had made it onto Lift 37 before it closed. Some of us were stuck waiting for Lift 36. And others had been so far behind that they were blocked from the catwalk and could not even make it Lift 36. We were now scattered all over the mountain.

The lift line at Vail

They had also been slow to close the catwalk, so people continued pouring in as the line backed up. We waited there for over an hour, totally exhausted and dehydrated.

By the time we got off Lift 36, it was after 1:00 PM. We had been on the mountain for over three hours and had almost nothing to show for it. We finally made it down to our next rendezvous spot where we were able to regroup and get a less-spectacular version of the picture we had been chasing for the past several hours:

Our group at Vail

And here is where we coined #VailFail. We had been on the mountain for about four hours and had almost nothing to show for it. The back side of the mountain had been closed, we had done like 1.5 runs, we didn’t get the picture we were chasing, and several of our crew were wiped out from the initial “Blue” that we descended.

We split up by experience level and managed to get a few runs in before calling it quits and meeting up at The George for an early dinner. Even the Greens at Vail were pretty steep and challenging—some of them harder than the Blues I had done at Breck.

After the high of making such quick progress the day before, this was a pretty serious low for almost everyone. I was glad the day was over and that we would be back at Breck for the rest of our trip.

Day 5: Redemption

This would be our final ski day, and I was really happy to be back at Breck. I spent most of the day doing Blue runs, which all felt really easy after the runs we did at Vail.

We all met for lunch on Peak 7, where there was a food court with a fantastic view of the mountain.

The last real run I did was Monte Carlo, which is a really long, fun Blue. A friend got some photos and video of the run so I have a record of where I was skill-wise after my first real ski trip. I felt much more comfortable than I expected, but can also see that I have a lot of work to do.

The Monte Carlo at Breck

I finished the day paying it forward: A less-experienced skier in our group and I did a couple of super-slow Blue runs to get down off the mountain. This gave me a chance to help someone the same way I was helped on Day 3, and also gave me a chance to really enjoy the views and reflect on how much I had learned in just a few days.

On Wednesday, I had no idea what I was doing and felt accomplished for scooting down the bunny slope without falling over. On Saturday, I was helping another skier get down Blues to get off the mountain.

Day 6: Traveling back

After a long week, I was ready to get home. But first we had to drive back to Denver, fly east for a few hours, rent a car in Orlando, grab dinner and drive back to Gainesville. We would be lucky to get home by 11 PM.

But on our way to dinner, we passed Andretti Karting and our crew couldn’t resist. Actually, I could totally resist—I was about 5 hours past my “have fun while traveling” limit—but the other four in our little group were all about it.

So after about seven hours of traveling, we stopped off for some kart racing. My only options were to just sit around and watch them race, or to join them and hope I could compete despite how tired I was. We warmed up by playing a reaction-time game and two quick-shot basketball games (I won two of three of the games I played) while waiting for our track to be ready.

The race was really fun except we were surrounded by terrible drivers who kept puttering around the middle of the track. All of us would’ve gone much faster if we hadn’t had to work around the slower drivers. I tied for 2nd overall, and I felt pretty good about that.

Our Andretti Racing crew

Then we finally started our drive home from Orlando, talking about the Oscars most of the way.

I finally got home around 1:00 AM and immediately crashed.

Planning for next year

Before this trip, I had decided I hated skiing. Now I’m looking forward to heading back out next year. My friends were right: I hadn’t really skied before, and skiing out west is much more fun.

Hopefully I’ll be shredding Black runs by the end of our next trip.

Where was this video BEFORE my first time skiing?

I couldn’t see through all the snow spraying me in the face, so I just closed my eyes and waited for impact. Another skier was trying to stop before he ran me over, and he barely missed me. I had fallen – again – and couldn’t get up.

This was my first ski lesson. It was not going well.

Even better, the skier trying to avoid me was my good friend and instructor, Scott. He was much better than I was and he didn’t have much patience for teaching a newbie how to ski.

I would just sort of point myself down the mountain and try to maintain some control while zipping down in a straight line. When I eventually got to the bottom, I would either coast to a stop or intentionally wipe out to avoid hitting anyone.

It was awful, and I was content to never ski again.

Then my friends convinced me to give it one more shot, on powder this time. So I’m heading to Colorado next week to try again. They insist it’ll be a lot more fun than I remember.

We’ll see!

It’s a big investment—time and money—for something that could turn out to be really un-fun. So I put on my “learn a new thing, even if it might be unpleasant” hat and started doing some research.

I found this fantastic video on YouTube—it’s exactly what I needed:

How to ski | 10 beginner lessons for the first day of skiing

What impressed me most is how the instructor anticipates almost every fear that I have about skiing. “How do I turn?” “What if I fall?” “What if I accidentally end up on a slope that’s uncomfortably steep?”

He’s been teaching for so long that he’s heard all of those concerns before. His list of “10 beginner lessons” probably came directly from hundreds of terrified students who have said, “What if I fall? How do I get up again?!” as they pictured themselves stuck on the side of a mountain, people zipping by as they struggle to stand up, for hours and hours and hours.

After watching that short video, I have enough confidence to give it a shot. I’m still going to take lessons the first day, but I’m a lot less worried about embarrassing myself than I was before.

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