Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Birds and Snowshoeing in DMF

On the 28th, it took until almost noon to pry my kid's butt out of bed, University students are like that. In the meanwhile, I sat in the dining room looking out the window at the birds at our suet feeder and awaiting their turn at the 25 lbs of bird seed put out by my neighbour. The typical guests showed up, chickadees and pine grosbeaks...

...but we also had woodpeckers, both Hairy (which I didn't get any shots of) and Downy.

After Chesley got up, we went out snowshoeing. It was a perfect day for it, -6° when we set out. We hadn't gotten 100 yards from the condo when we spied two coyotes. Pardon the 2nd shot, as the cold was making it tough for me to focus.

We saw lots of tracks, including elk, deer, coyote, bobcat, hare, squirrel, mice/vole, and my fave, lynx.

I like lynx tracks because you can see their toe pads, but they're surrounded by their huge foot fur, looking like a snowshoe.

We were bush bashing and ran across a hunter's blind in the middle of what is supposed to be a wildlife corridor.

That makes at least 3 blinds that I have found back in the woods.

We ended our exploration with a wander along the rough path that leads along the Bow River.

It was indeed a nice way to spend a day with my daughter.

Ski Day 4: And The Crowds Came

Vert: 9,705 m YTD Cum Vert: 40,365 m
Runs: 15 YTD Cum Runs: 67

Finally, after 2 quiet days, the crowds showed up on December 27th and cars were parked 2.1 km past the gate at the end of B lot, which is more than the number of cars on the 25th & 26th combined. All those folks were treated to another nice sunny day, just like yesterday, but a bit warmer with +4° at Divide base in early afternoon. However, with a light breeze and some wispy high clouds, it didn't feel as warm as yesterday.

Yesterday's temps and sun resulted in snow that had in places been through a freeze-thaw cycle, such as Upper Freefall, Bye Bye Bowl, South 205 and Angel Flight, which made for very choppy turns until the sun got back on them for an hour or so. Runs that had stayed shady (like OS Pitch) were unaffected. Untracked powder was hard to find, with more and more folks venturing outside the fence, especially at Cat Track Corner and Peyto Pass.

We bailed early, as stuff was getting tracked out, plus we had Chesley showing up for dinner. So we fell just a few feet short of skiing 100,000 vertical feet in 3 days, and our legs told us about every foot of it.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Ski Day 3: Where is everyone? It's spring!

Vert: 10,520 m YTD Cum Vert: 30,660 m
Runs: 16 YTD Cum Runs: 52

The anticipated crowds didn't materialize for what turned out to be a perfect day more reminiscent of early spring than December. It was only -8° at Goat's Eye base at 9 AM, and +1° at Divide base mid afternoon under yet another brilliant blue sky day with warm sunshine that softened the snow and made for easily carved turns.

Yesterday's inversion was still present, and despite warm temps up top, it was still a brisk -12° in the parking lot at noon. Not much change from yesterday's snow conditions; they did, however, open Assiniboine Trail which, while a green run, gave access to really nice soft turns in boot top powder.

But hardly anyone was there to enjoy this, except us. KC in particular was in heavy "fun" mode...

The crowd was about the same as yesterday - virtually nonexistent - making the longest line we stood in about 90 seconds.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Ski Day 2: A Bluebird Christmas Day

Day 2: Vert 10,110 m YTD Cum Vert: 20,030
Runs: 19 YTD Cum Runs: 36

At 9 AM in the parking lot at -18°, it was tough to believe the forecast high of -5°. But it was blue sky and sunny, and stranger things have happened. Well, thanks to an inversion, it was -15° at Goat's Eye Base and -7° at the top on our first run. Huh.

This time of the year, it's still almost dark on Goat's Eye until the sun rises over The Eagles around 10:00 AM. But that still means that the views to the northwest are pretty spectacular.

There were really few fresh tracks to find today, and the snow on Goat's Eye seemed harder than the rest of the mountain for some reason. Still, we had fun cruising the groomers (especially Rolling Thunder) till moving up into the sunshine on the rest of the mountain at 11 AM.

As you can see, there was no one at Sunshine today. But Santas were everywhere. I saw at least 4.

The afternoon temp hovered around -4° at the base of Divide, making for a great day. We had fun in on the OS Pitch (a run I never knew had a name) and of course in the Bye Bye Bowl.

I'm betting tomorrow will be a zoo.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Thoughts on Graffiti

There is rhythm to many parts of life, and I’m in a rhythm these days. In an eerily periodic timeline, bozos spray graffiti on the Centre Street Bridge. I call the City. The city paints it out. Then the bozos do it again, and the cycle repeats. We’re on a 2 week rhythm in the summer, which slows to a 4 week or longer cycle in the winter; I guess graffiti goons don’t like the cold (that, or their spray cans and bingo markers freeze up).

A while ago, there were some articles in the Calgary Herald about how “graffiti is art,” and I believe that’s possible. Take for instance, the graffiti wall on the side of the Crescent Grocery at Edmonton Trail and 7th. That’s art, and though not my thing, clearly well done art. Painting a wall for hire is art. Spraying crap on a bridge or a rail car is vandalism, not art, no matter how well it’s done. Here’s a simple rule of thumb: unless someone asked them to paint it, it’s a crime.

The Herald article talked of visiting graffiti “artists” painting their crap on walls around the City’s dirt storage sites. One day, someone will tell me what those fenced-off storage sites are for; there’s one off Memorial on the west side of Centre Street, another at Memorial & Crowchild, and another used to be across from the Drop In Centre. Perhaps they’re the City’s way of offering wall space for graffiti artists to deface. But that’s vandalism, not art. Writing crap on the railings of the stairs in Rotary Park, isn’t art, its defacing property, and is a crime. Anyone who says otherwise is likely one of the brain-dead idiots doing the crap in the first place, trying to justify their stupidity. You want to paint on something? Buy canvas like everyone else. Then sell it if it’s so good.

Here’s one thing I know to be true about graffiti: graffiti breeds more graffiti. There used to be a practice backboard behind the Mount Pleasant Tennis Club in Rotary Park. From about 1981 (when I first started passing it daily) to about 2000, it sat forlornly, hardly used and its paint peeling. Then the graffiti goofballs started “decorating” it with crap; some of it well done, but all of it illegally defacing the property. One day, one tag would show up; a scrawly, messy splotch of pointless black. A few days later, a second one would show up, in a different colour, sometimes over the first. Within a few more days, more and more tags, then some “art”, and pretty soon the board would be covered. The tennis club would paint it over, and in a few weeks, the cycle would start again. Just like my bridge. The club appears to have wearied of this cycle, so they tore the backboard down. Stupid paintheads made solo tennis practice impossible. Who said graffiti has no real cost.

I’ve been told (and I have no idea if it’s true) that a lot of the tags – especially those on the bridge – are the work of “gangs,” marking their territory (given that wolves and other pack animals mark their territory by urinating on things, perhaps we should be thankful that there aren’t groups of dumb jerks peeing everywhere, though I wouldn’t put it past them). However, when the tags stay, “turf wars” spring up between rival gangs. When the tags are painted out within days of appearing, no turf war starts, so the cycle takes longer and my bridge stays cleaner. While this explanation makes sense to me, I wish someone with some authority would tell me if it’s factually correct or just an urban myth that is being propagated.

Whether the story is true or not, I’ve noticed the outcome works: paint the crap out fast, and less crap appears. No tag, no turf war. No “art”, no belief that the next twit can stand there for several hours creating more “art”. So, dear reader, there’s a way you can help your community, no matter where on the planet you may be. If you see the crap show up, get it removed. In Calgary, call 3-1-1 and file a graffiti report the second you see it. They will ask if it is on City or private property. The City is very responsive when crap shows up on their turf; typically, in summer, they’re painting it out within 2 days of my complaints. In the winter, they’re a little slower (as are the criminal dorks that tag it in the first place), but they get to it. I don’t know what happens if it’s on private property; I suspect they issue a clean up order to the property owner, and if they don’t do anything about it, the City does it for them and bills them. It’s painful to see innocent property owners punished for this, but the choice is that or having crap all over the place.

I don’t know why the last 7 years has seen an explosion in the amount of graffiti in the city, but it has. No one ever used to tag the bridge. Except for the numbskull who signs “Trikone” (is he trying to say “tri-cone” or “trick-one”? Or is he just an idiot who can’t spell?) who has been around for years, most of this stuff is new. It makes me wonder if the average IQ in the city has dropped with the increase in population.

A few years back I actually saw a miscreant do graffiti. I was stuck in Saturday traffic on MacLeod Trail near the Elbow River Bridge. This 20-something was wandering along the median grass, and stopped at one of the light standards. He put down his backpack, pulled out a spray can, and scrawled his illegible mark on the post. In broad daylight. At 2 PM. In front of 100+ stationary cars. Then he calmly put the can back in his backpack, and peacefully sauntered off, knowing fully well his crime would go unpunished.

On the bright side, at least he didn’t drop his pants and pee on the post.

Today I have a camera phone, and that’s about the only use I could think for a camera in a phone: to get a criminal locked up. I used to think of graffiti only being done in darkened back alleys where other criminals like to hide out, but it appears to have switched to a crime popular to execute at midday.

I’m preaching to the converted. No one who reads this paints graffiti, and the reason I know this is simple: you can read. And I’m hoping that reading this will cause you to join my current “army of one” to dial 3-1-1 whenever our bridge, our park, or anything else in our community is defaced.

Monday, 14 December 2009

First Try at Snowshoeing

For Christmas, KC and I decided to get snowshoes that would give us something to do on the off chance that we had a non-ski day or two. We picked them up last Friday and brought them out this weekend.

Sunday dawned bitterly cold (-29 at 10 AM) as expected, so we did not head up to Sunshine, instead hanging out doing chores and staying warm. By mid afternoon it had warmed up to almost -25, and we decided to test our new shoes out walking around our neighborhood. Given the temp, we opted not to take a camera, so sorry, no photos. Here's the route we followed:

These things we learned:
1) Snowshoeing enables hiking when otherwise the snow would be too deep. We walked a similar route last winter in big boots, and sank in deep in similar snow conditions. That time, snow got in our boots despite our best efforts, and it was limited fun. This time no snow in the boots.
2) It's a workout, more so than hiking. The combination of the slight extra weight, and the lifting and kicking of the snow make it harder than just walking. Crossing obstacals like fallen trees is tougher.
3) Even with snowshoes, you sink in powder. And the stuff we were walking in was just light as dust due to the cold. There were a few areas of wind crust, but we sank in those, too, as the crusts weren't that thick.
4) Snowshoeing isn't quiet. You actually make a heck of a racket tromping around, especially in the forest. Hence we saw LOTS of tracks of lynx, fox, coyote, bobcat, squirrels, mice, deer and elk, but no actual animals.
5) Snowshoeing is warm work. We dressed for -25 and were hot, usually with jackets open.

We saw virtually no birds except those at our complex, where due to a neighbour who LOVES to put out bird seet, suet feeders and peanut butter, we saw multiple woodpeckers, pine siskins, and 3 types of chickidees (black capped, mountain & boreal).

Contrast this with yesterday when we saw:
1) A big bull elk with a huge rack;
2) A mom and a baby moose
3) a HUGE herd of elk, and
4) a 6 or 8 point whitetailed buck

So we had a lot of fun despite the cold temps.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Ski Day 1: Cold or Not, Ski Season is Back

Vert: 9,920 m, 17 runs.

The reports I have been reading that the snow conditions are good are indeed true, as we discovered today on our first foray to Sunshine this season. It was a pretty cold start to the morning, with -18° in the parking lot and on-mountain temps in the -20° range. I'd love to be more precise with the temp, but for some reason Sunshine has removed all their clocks and thermometers so the temp's just a guess. It was cold but it was clear; I managed to get exactly 1 photo today before my batteries died, and it was of the early morning viz at the top of Goat's Eye.

The groomed and recently groomed snow all over the mountain was among the slowest & stickiest I have ever encountered. Spent the morning on Goat's Eye, and was able to find some serious knee deep powder stashes in the trees between Gold Scapegoat and Gold Afterburner, which proved that 7 months off from skiing didn't harm the technique (just the endurance -- we quit a little early today).

In the PM the sun came and went but it warmed up to the -12° range up on Divide and the viz stayed fine. We found fabulous conditions in Bye Bye Bowl with boot top power that was moderately tracked, and for the time we spent in there, we were usually alone. In fact, there was no crowd in general. The A lot was only filled 2/3rds or so, to row 34.

The temp dropped dramatically as we descended to the parking lot, and was -21° leaving the lot at 3:15. This is in keeping with the forecast, which is currently calling for falling temps, an overnight low of -30°, and no warming tomorrow. I suspect we won't be skiing Sunday.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Hawaii Real Estate

Now here's an off-topic post...

We're back once again for our now-annual Hawaii venture, staying once again at the Maui Vista.

When I first came to Maui in 1992, you could buy a place (+/- 600 sq. ft. 1 bedroom) in the Vista for $30,000. A few years later, I considered buying a place here when the price was in the $140,000 range. A few years after that the price broke $200,000, then in the early 2000's, the price went up to the $450,000 range. In the crash of 2008, the prices started to fall slowly. This week, I have seen places advertised from $199,999 to $349,000. I know that some of the places (like 3215) have been amazingly upgraded, so know that there is a big range of value in this complex.

This week, I looked at Maui Homes and Land. There are still places on the island listed for over 12 MM$. I see OK places on the island at the $500,000 mark. But if you want to buy something on Maui worth living in, you need to spend at least $600,000.

Which is stupid.

Let me do the math of a cheap, $200,000 place in the Vista.

Current occupancy rate: 60%
Rental agent take: 50% of gross
Annual average nightly rate: $100
Gross revenue = 365 X 0.6 X 100 X 50% = $10,950/yr
Cleaning fees (assume 15/yr @ $100/time) = $1,500/yr
Current condo fee: $325/month = $3,900/yr
General maintenance ($100/month) = $1,200/yr to cover various costs to maintain "stuff"

Net revenue after expenses = 10.95 - 1.5 - 3.9 - 1.2 = $4,350/yr

Now, $4,350/yr is $362/month. That's the payment on a $76,000 mortgage at 4% interest for a 30 year term. So you would need to put down $124,000 -- on which there would be no income.

Where is the sense in this?

And people wonder why I don't own a place in Maui.