Monday, 28 February 2011

Ski Day 18: This makes up for it

Vert: 6,885 m;  YTD Cum Vert: 138,470 m
Runs: 13;   YTD Cum Runs: 245

I have always wanted to give heli or cat skiing a try, just once to see what it's really like spending a day in knee deep powder always skiing fresh tracks. Then I have a day like today, and I realize that while cat skiing could be fun, hit the right day and I get it basically for free at Sunshine.

Today was a "right day" and made up for missing the weekend and then some. The hill reported only 5 cm but everywhere I went I found +20 cm and I spent most of my first day of retirement skiing up to my knees in untracked powder. You can do that on a Monday when there's only about 20% of the parking lot in use. I got fresh tracks on my last run, when I came down School Marm by the TeePee Town Chair.

Followers of this blog know I don't tend to get to School Marm, but the powder was so deep you could go anywhere, and I did, including Freefall (where I started an avalanche)...

...and saw warning signs I had never seen before.

Just to illustrate how quiet it was, here's a shot of Silver Scapegoat taken just before 11 AM. Think you could find fresh tracks here?
The day was not, however, without its issues. For instance, the snow was really slow, in part because of how deep it was, and in part because of the -20° AM temps. One thing that makes the above picture more impressive from an untracked perspective is that, coming along the traverse of Sunshine Coast, it was virtually impossible to make it over the flat to the top of Wildfire without walking. A long way. So everyone (all 10 of is what it felt like) was taking Scapegoat. The slow snow meant anything flat was dismal. Flats like from the base of Rolling Thunder to Goat's Eye base, the top of Angel Chair to the top of the Ecstasy run, the Paris Traverse, Cottontail to the ski out from TeePee Town, Meadow Park (in fact ANYTHING green) were all walking zones. It's a long walk from the base of the Big Woody to Goat's Eye.

Everyone I ran into (including me) was having goggle fogging problems. As you can see from the pictures, it was overcast, foggy and snowing all day. The combination of the falling snow, and the hard work of polling resulted in fogging problems. I played tour guide for a run this morning to a family of 4 from Kitchener who were at Sunshine for the first time, and we spent more time cleaning goggles on the run than skiing. But they had fun...

It did warm up during the afternoon and became a quite acceptable -14° or so. The light was never terrible, and it got better as the day progressed, with blue sky starting to peek through at 3 PM. But it was a bitter -24° in the parking lot at 3:30 pm, and at least 10 cm of snow had fallen on the cars. As I type this (in front of a warm fireplace) at 6 PM, it's -22° in Canmore, overcast with moderate winds, snowing and lots of blowing snow. 

I could get used to retirement days like this.

Friday, 25 February 2011

An inauspicious start

Bedridden with bronchitis on my first day of retirement.

No matter. It's -25 at Sunshine, and most of the lifts are shut anyway.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Freedom 52

The ad series that ran for years from ScotiaBank London Life  in Canada and introduced the concept to Canadians of retiring at the age of 55 was called "Freedom 55" (thanks to Alan for the correction). It led to a lot of people dreaming about retiring early, and a lot of jokes about not being able to retire at all ("I'm on the Freedom 85 plan...").

As of Thursday, February 24, 2011, I am officially retiring at the tender age of 52 while I can still ski 10,000 vertical meters or hike 25 km a day. It has been a lot of fun watching people develop "retirement envy" about my decision. Many have asked how I managed to achieve it, and I promised a blog post on it. First, here's what I didn't do:

I didn't do it without kids. I have a fantastic daughter who is 20 years old in her second year of university. I have paid a mittfull in child support over the years. Having kids isn't an excuse.

I didn't do it by "keeping up with the Joneses." I could care less about what other people drive, or how they live, and in what kind of house.

I didn't do it by living in squalor. We have a great house in Calgary (which we have spent over $200,000 renovatig in the last decade or more). I have a lovely little place in Canmore.

I didn't win a lottery. Lottery tickets and "get rich quick" schemes are a waste of money.

I didn't do it by being extravagant. I'm generally frugal, but I know that it's smart to splurge on the right things. My skis were a splurge and cost $1,000, because they make all the difference. My poles are bargain basement cheapies and cost $20, because they don't matter, and paying $200 for poles (as you can) is stupid. I have been vacationing in Maui annually for years, but at a place that charges $90/night, not at a place that charges $500/night. I spent 4 weeks in Europe last year and never spent more than €90 per night on accommodation for 3 people. I spare no cost in maintenance to keep my car running but buy my $23 jeans at Wal Mart.

I didn't do it by starting "rich". I was basically broke at age 38 after my divorce, and lived for a year in my house with no furniture and no drapes because I couldn't afford them.

I didn't do it by inheriting it. Yes, I had a one time infusion of inheritance money from when I lost my mom. However, that has been tied up since the day I received it in a single asset that quite frankly has performed dismally. Maybe it will turn around; in fact, I don't care that much because it doesn't matter. I keep it for the sentimental value of a connection to my mom. So an inheritance added to my net worth, but hasn't grown worth a damn, and I could retire with or without it.

I did it by working my butt off. I think if you ask my co-workers, they will attest to the fact that I always work very, very hard, constantly learning and trying to get better at my job (I don't always succeed, but I sure try). I'd also like to think I'm pretty good at what I do, too, but you would have to ask them. I'm a manager; I can tell you that people who work very hard all the time are compensated for it.

I did it by being very good at investing. Investment advisors will tell you you can't expect more than 5%-8% real return on your investments over the long haul. I think they're dumb. I have averaged 28% per year growth since I started getting serious about it the late 1990's. I've never had a negative year. I've never not beaten the performance of the S&P/TSX 300. In the last few weeks, I have been teaching quite a few people my investing strategy, and in the last decade I've probably taught 100 or so more. The people who have followed my strategy do similar numbers. I just wish I had started earlier (and been able to write a Freedom 45 post).

I did it by understanding the difference between an expenditure and an investment. You car is an expenditure. It will be worthless one day. I drive a 2002 VW Passat, and KC drives a 2004 Mini. Your house is an investment, albeit a long term one. Put money into your house the right way and it will be worth substantially more one day.

I did it by being disciplined. Being broke taught me when to say no and when to say yes to spending.

That's why I believe most people can do it too. Manage you money properly, and investing it well, and you too could do it.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going skiing now. I'm retired and can do anything I want.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Ski Days 16 & 17: Powder and Wind

Day 16 Vert: 4,845 m
Day 17 Vert: 8,815 m -- YTD Cum Vert: 131,585 m
Day 16 Runs: 7
Day 17 Runs: 18 -- YTD Cum Runs: 232

First off, apologies for the delayed post. The strong winds of the weekend knocked out my internet service in Canmore, so while I was able to get comments up on, I couldn't get any photos up.

And the wind was howling this weekend. I saw a peak gust on the Nakiska Ridgetop weather station of 147 km/hr. I was told they clocked 107 km/hr winds on the top of Wawa. Strong winds caused the closure of Goat's Eye, Angel, Divide and Tee Pee Town at some point on both Saturday and Sunday. The Gondola was running at a snail's pace Sunday morning, and they wouldn't load snowboards on the outside racks all due to wind.

Saturday was the worst of the bad weather. There was absolutely zero viz on the top of Goat's Eye in the morning. Here's an idea of exactly how bad it was when it was good: a view back from the Goat's Eye base area:

The rotten viz came from a combo of driving snow, fog and blowing snow. But it was only awful where there was no visual reference, so the second you hit the trees, it was paradise.

There was 10-25 cm of fresh stuff everywhere, and it was falling at Fernie rates. We rode Eagle Creek around 9:30, and when we rode it again at 11:30, our earlier tracks were gone, filled in by falling and blowing snow. The wind was whipping up awesome snow dunes in the lee of the snow fences up high, but the zero viz meant you couldn't see them. One was 8'-10' high, and had vertical wall faces to it that people were crashing into.

We had some fabulous runs, but the winds just got stronger and stronger as the morning progressed. We saw Tee Pee Town shut just after 11, then Angel, then came down to find Goat's Eye closed and a huge line to upload on the gondola. It was a busy day on the hill, so we did some mental math and figured the world would hit Standish and Wawa, and the lines would be horrid. So we took the ski out down to Creekside for lunch. Once we found out all the good lifts were still closed after lunch, we bailed. Everything re-opened around 3 PM, and we heard it was very good, but we had had a fantastic morning and didn't care.

Sunday was calling for better viz, weaker winds, and sun in the PM. The morning was a near carbon copy of Saturday, with another 10-25 cm of powder depending on where you went, and the viz was a whole lot better. Exposed places up high were wind polished to sheets of ice, but again, the moment you hit the trees, more paradise. Here's yours truly enjoying it.

The wind had created some wicked tree wells, one of which caught me, and one of which I managed to get a picture of. Imaging coming around a tree and finding this little 3' deep gully.

By noon, it had started to clear somewhat, and that made it easier to find the freshies.

We uploaded via Tee Pee Town near noon and while on it were surprised the lift was even running. The winds blowing on the top face must have been 80 km/hr, and it closed just after we got off. Up high on Divide near Hill 205 it was "interesting". Exposed stuff was blown clear, but any slightest bump on the snow was collecting wind sift. This actually made for really nice conditions. Note the clouds of blowing snow in the background.

The big 4 lifts shut again while we were in for lunch. We lapped Strawberry (in surprisingly small crowds) a few times then headed back to Goat's Eye, which was the first to get back running around 1:30. There was still plenty of fun powder to be had.

Most of the main lifts had a delayed opening for avi control; Goat's Eye, for instance, didn't get going until 9:45. They must have launched 25 bombs today. They set off big slides in the Dive, on the Shoulder, in the Southside Chutes, on the road (it was buried again just like a few weeks ago) and on Wild West. They set off two biggies in the Eagle Basin. There's one going in the centre of this picture, and the diagonal brown line is debris from one they set off only minutes earlier.

I said a few posts back that we don't tend to get a lot of big powder days. This weekend was two more that are proving me wrong. Despite the lift closures, both days had awesome amounts of awesomeness.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Ski Day 15: Blue sky & pow

Vert: 8,665 m YTD Cum vert: 117,925 m
Runs: 14 YTD Cum Runs: 207

Saturday was a great day skiing. Another powder day, though only 10 cm or so, but it made for excellent turns all over. We (like many) had a late arrival due to an accident that blocked the highway for a half hour just before the 1A turnoff (a collision around 8 AM resulted in a roll over, and they closed the road for 15 min at 8:45 to get the vehicles off the road). The AM was beautifully sunny and not cold (-8° ish), the PM was mostly sunny too, and the combination of sun and very nice temps all day meant everything was great.

And here's a rare shot of me enjoying the pow.

It did, however, sock in as the afternoon progressed, and as we left, it had started snowing. However, the PM light was never terrible, so the whole mountain was skiable.

Though it was busy, with cars 3.9 km past the gate, there were only short PM lineups at Goats Eye and Wawa. So our vert was low due to the late arrival, plus we also had to leave early to get back to town to see the U of C Dinos men's and women's basketball teams win both games (though, in truth, they could win in a way that didn't cause me to chew my fingernails so much). The girls were led by Ashley Hill, who after scoring a mere 38 points on Friday, added another 34 on Saturday. She rocks.