A couple of summers ago, I participated in a mountain bike clinic in Eagle, Colorado. As a novice rider who hadn’t been on anything but a bike with a basket for basically all of time, I learned five important lessons that day and one that even made me a better mom.
1. You're gonna need a better bike
If you think you’re going to zip up that first hill (what’s a little hill, right?) on a 10-speed or a hardtail from 2000, think again. Bikes have changed a lot in a couple of decades and while the bells and whistles (like disc breaks or suspension) might seem superfluous to those of us who remember tearing up the asphalt on our banana seat Schwinns with the rainbow streamers, they aren’t. Mountain biking is not the same as taking hot laps around the neighborhood or cruising paved rollers in your floppy hat to the farmers market. Yes, it’s biking, but it’s also on a mountain. A mountain. There are rocks and roots and death traps around every hairpin turn. And like a car, you want a bike that can handle that shit. You wouldn’t take a Fiat off roading. Same with bikes. Moral of the story? If you want to give mountain biking a try, either throw down on a good bike (and say goodbye to whatever you were saving for your kid’s college) or demo one that makes you feel like the confident and courageous bike-riding beast you are.
2. Shoes are just as important as your bike
One option is to lock your feet into your bike using cycling shoes and look like a cow slowly being tipped over when you can't clip out. The other option is to ride on flat pedals and use a flat, rigid shoe with some grip so you don’t fly over your handlebars as you dive down the descent. There's a lot going on during the downhill. You're standing up, weight balanced, holding on for dear life as the fat on the back of your arms knocks around like a fistful of marbles in a martini shaker. You contemplate your life choices. You wonder if a mountain lion is just giving you a head start. At the very least, you vow to work more on your triceps at the gym. Trust me, you don't need to worry about your feet coming off the pedals as well. For those reasons, I like my Five Tens. Whatever you decide, one thing I know is that your mountain biking shoes shouldn’t double as your gym sneakers. That would kind of be like skiing in jeans.
3. Mountain biking can get dirty
And I’m not talking about the thin layer of dust you’ll have lingering on your skin after a long ride or the sweat that’ll soak your sports bra. As our pack of wonderful women cranked up an incline, our coach Alison would periodically yell out cues like, “Go anal!” or “Boobs to Tubes!” to get us in the right position for the effort. Since saying, “get your butt back against the tip of your seat and your chest down towards the handlebars” is too much of a mouthful mid-mountain, our instructions were brief, but effective. I’m sure any passerbyers who could hear Alison’s orders thought we were in the adult entertainment industry and not just a bunch of middle-aged women huffing our way up a hill.
4. Bike shorts are meant to be worn without undies
While the old ones had the tendency to feel like diaper with a load, the new ones are quite sleek and meant to fit snug. Layering them with your favorite cotton skivvies causes chafing. Plus, no one wears the liners on their own, so with a loose pair of shorts on top, it doesn’t really feel like you’re going commando. Believe me, you won’t want to be picking a wedgie while your wheel is just inches from a 20 foot drop off. I’m partial to the Zoic Navaeh Shorts and Liner, which, by the way, I WON at the clinic.
5. You’ll do it, hate it, then do it again
As a glutton for punishment, I’ve made myself learn a lot of new things in my later years. I was in my 20s when I first strapped on a snowboard. Ten years later, after I’d caught an edge for the last time, I learned to ski. I was 33 and couldn’t keep up with the 3-year-olds. As a grown-up woman, I’ve learned to kayak, paddle board, cross-country ski, hike a 14er, and mountain bike. Am I good at any of these things? No. I’m mostly terrible. I crash and I bleed and I’ve cried (and there was one particular tantrum I threw on the side of Vail Mountain that almost caused a divorce). But I do these things because I want Skinny Jeans to see me fall, get up, and try again. Because if I don’t, she won’t. And that’s enough for me to, literally, get back in the saddle.
To the moms who allow themselves to be uncertain, to hold onto a hand as it reaches to drag you off the ground. To the moms who get it wrong on the first (or seventh) try. To the moms who can’t keep up, gasp for air as they clutch their lungs. To all the moms who brush off the dirt and the doubt, the guilt and the guessing.
I know it doesn't feel cute.
I know it feels like you won't make it to the next turn, to the top, to tomorrow.
But this is temporary.
The burning in your legs, like the baby you're holding, the child you're consoling, the teen you're fighting, won't last.
And while the descent will allow you to regain your breath, it will never be as rewarding as climbing to the top.
This adventure fits: Women looking for a boost of confidence and who aren’t afraid of a skinned elbow or two.
What to do:
Skiing, biking, rafting, and fishing camps for "real women and girls who want to focus on skiing and/or biking and not filet mignon and yoga." Participants learn from hand-picked coaches who are champions in their respective sports and certified either nationally or by Rippin Chix. "Be prepared for some foul language and loads of funny terminology. We train our coaches in our baby step methodologies, which enables even the most timid gal to conquer her fears."
COLORADO MAMAS: Check out the Eagle Outside Festival June 1-4 where you can demo a bike and take a Rippin Chix Skills and/or Singletrack Camp. I've demoed bikes and have taken both the skills and singletrack camps--totally worth it! When you're done riding, be sure to hit up the Bonfire Block Party on June 1 and 2 with 9 bands, 2 stages, Bonfire beer, food vendors, and a bike valet--everything you need to forget about the aches and bruises from your ride.
If I’m totally honest, I have to work pretty hard to keep up with the outdoorsy persona that comes with living in Colorado, where every single person looks like they’ve just stepped out of an REI catalog. In the winter, when the excitement over the first snow reaches a level of mania that only an underdog winning the Superbowl could match, I’m the one slow-clapping in the back and thinking about how good the hot tub will feel after the first brutal day on the mountain. In the spring, when the trails dry up and the bikes come down from the rafters and the spandex shorts are out in full force, I’m the girl on the side of the singletrack, gasping for my breath and trying not to vomit. In the summer, when the rapids roar with rafts and kayaks, I’m waving from the bank, praying I don’t get stuck in the mud. And, in the fall, when the aspens turn to a fiery yellow and make the tops of the hills look lit up like a birthday cake and the hikers marvel at the beauty around them, I’m wondering if we will ever find our way back and how hungry one has to be to eat their companion. (Don’t judge. You’ve read those lost in the woods horror stories, too.)
Here’s the thing: I try. And, mostly, I like it. But it takes a lot of work, you know? Happily enjoying the great outdoors day after day, season after season. And, every so often, I yearn for the clouds that cover the skies in the Midwest and provide permission to stay inside and do...nothing. When it’s sunny 300 days out of the year, it’s hard to binge watch Game of Thrones for a solid 24 and feel good about it.
Peter knew what he was getting into when he met me, fresh out of Chicago, clutching onto my stilettos while everyone else laced up their hiking boots. And yet, he persevered. It started out small. “Let’s take a hike!” or “It’s just like riding a bike, except if you fall, you die.” And then it grew, like the coppery beard on his face and the collection of flannel in his closet. Then, some years later, it happened. I’d married a mountain man and I was going to have to do the one thing I had fervently avoided in the decade I’d lived in Colorado.
“Let’s go to Aspen!” he said, one August afternoon. I adore Aspen. I love everything about it: the uppity shops, the beautiful mountain, the celebrity sightings.
“Sure!” I said, already planning on where we’d go for dinner.
But, just then, Peter went to the garage. He climbed a metal ladder and pulled a plastic storage bin from the top shelf. With a grunt, he lugged the box to the floor, blew the dust off the top, and peeled back the lid.
And, there it was: a tent.
It didn’t take long to realized that while I was busy deciding between staying at The Little Nell or the St. Regis, make a stop at Lululemon or Theory first, he had other accommodations in mind. By then, it was too late to argue. Skinny Jeans knew about his sneaky little plan and it would have been cruel to squash her delight. As she plowed through the garage door with a headlamp fixed to her head and a sleeping bag strapped to her back, I faced facts: I was going camping.
Ruedi Reservoir is located in the White River National Forest, about 35 miles outside of Aspen and 14 miles east of Basalt, Colorado. At 7,800 feet, the Ruedi Campground sits on the edge of the reservoir. The reservoir has about 1,000 acres of water and is popular with boaters and fishermen, which made me totally psyched since I am neither. Apparently, the reservoir was built on top of what was once the town of Ruedi where early settlers lived. I’m not sure why they flooded it or what happened to all the people and wagons, but this was enough to convince me that we’d be spending our night under the starry skies cuddling with ghosts who want their land back.
We packed the car with our paddle boards, tent, sleeping bags, pillows, and enough food to last us the week, although we were only staying one night. Dreading going to bed smelling like a campfire, I also packed a solar shower, body wash, and all the toiletries I’d normally pack for a month overseas. For tips on efficient camp packing, I am not the one to ask. I am told that our SUV should not have been bursting and that there are things one can go "without" for an overnight, but I have no interest in going without, especially when it comes to snacks or shaving my armpits or toilet paper.
When we got to Ruedi, it was late afternoon and most of the campground was full. Being a first-come/first-serve type of deal, we were lucky to find a site that offered a beautiful view of the reservoir and was conventiently located near the flush-toilets (score!). There, we set up our tent and made at least 100 trips to the car before our camp was ready.
Once we unpacked, we headed to the marina to check things out. There wasn’t really a great place to put in our paddle boards that didn’t have boats zooming past, so we decided to skip the on-res activities and make the most of our camp. I was surprised that, for a full campground, it was still relatively quiet, even in the afternoon. Back at the tent, we played cards, made a beer run to Basalt (amateurs), then started dinner on our camp stove. Hot dogs never tasted so delicious, beer went well with everything, and Skinny Jeans kicked our butts at Go Fish.
As dusk arrived and Skinny Jeans and I changed into our night time attire of fleece pants and sweatshirts, I noticed something. It had been hours since anyone had looked at a screen. We were too busy laughing at the absurdity of me camping and exploring the campgrounds and rolling around in the tent that we hadn’t even checked a phone for the time. We prepared to roast marshmallows and, for the first time in as long as I could remember, the three of us were truly present. With no emails to respond to, phone calls to answer, practices to be at, or reasons (the appointment, the meeting, work, school) to get ourselves “ready,” we could just “be.” Outside of a once a week yoga class and my failed attempts at meditating, I’m not sure I’ve ever really sat with myself, with my family, and just allowed us to just be.
And I got it. This is why people camp.
As the burnt marshmallow started to droop off the end of my stick, I quickly caught it before it fell into the ash. Skinny Jeans was licking the sticky mess from her fingertips. Peter was staring at the embers as they rose into the sky. From across the fire, he raised his koozie-wrapped can. I raised mine. Before, I would have been counting the hours until I could shower. But not anymore. While I don’t think I’ll ever be someone who poops outside on my own free will, I just might be someone who camps, even if it is only for a night.
This place fits: Families who like camping or even those who don't think they do.
Where to Stay: Ruedi Reservoir Campground
Where to Eat: At the campfire! (There's a Whole Foods in nearby Basalt where you can stock up on gourmet hotdogs and artisan buns.)
What to Do:
Get out on the reservoir: kayak, paddle board, boat.
Take a hike on one of the nearby trails. We did and, Skinny Jeans didn't even complain. Win!
Stop by historic Basalt and learn about the miners, ranchers, and railroads.
Ritz: Not the Buttery Cracker, but Just as Fabulous
Staying at a Ritz Carlton makes me feel a certain sort of fancy. Maybe it’s the name that awakens the razzle-dazzle of an Old Hollywood red carpet. Maybe it’s the world-class customer service where every guest is treated like royalty even when they’ve forgotten their toothbrush or deodorant or comb and look like they’ve spent the night under a bridge. But there is one Ritz Carlton that is so stunning you’ll want to return to again and again.
A Magical Place Where No One Cries
The Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch sits at the base of the western ski slopes of Beaver Creek Resort. It is the epitome of a luxury mountain lodge equipped with its own chair lift for ski in/ski out access, 180 accommodations (including suites and residences), six restaurants, a spa with an indoor grotto, an outdoor pool with several hot tubs, and year-long outdoor seating around a fire pit From there, you can watch all the action on the mountain. Envy the elegant S turns as they pour into the bottom of the hill like a fine wine into a long-stemmed glass. Or suck the air through your teeth as the less seasoned skiers sprawl across a patch of ice and grip at the ground with their fingertips: legs akimbo, skis scattered, poles somewhere else entirely. Or, if vicarious living isn't your thing, you can listen to live music, roast s’mores, or just soak in the satisfaction of a drink well earned from your own day out carving the hill.
Our visit began with checking into our room--a 450 square foot space with two double beds and gorgeous views of Beaver Creek Mountain. Next, we hit the slopes. If you have children and have ever skied with them, you know what an absolute shit show just getting to the first lift line can be. There’s the frantic searching that leads you to crawl headfirst into the back of the car to find the boot/glove/pole/ski that has somehow managed to disappear in the time it took to find a parking space. Then, there’s the beads of sweat that come with stuffing short legs into snow pants, little feet into stiff boots, and sticky hands into gigantic gloves. Inevitably, someone has to pee at that very moment. Before you even get out of the parking lot and start to make your way to the chairlift, a ski has been dropped, a pole has rolled underneath a parked car, and tears have been shed (likely, they’re yours).
But not at the Ritz.
Nope, this wonderful palace of perfection takes all of that aggravation and kicks it to the curb of the Holiday Inn. Instead of using the back of your car like a changing room amidst the Indy 500 that is the underground parking structure, you calmly slip into your gear in the comfort of your room or suite. With plenty of places to lean, sit, and stand, boots seem to glide on effortlessly, and gloves, miraculously, never disappear. Once you’re suited up, you take a short walk to the elevator. Head down to the fourth floor, out a stretch of hallway, and step onto a glorious white carpet of snow that seems to have rolled out just for you.
You’re there. Within minutes, you’re swooped away by the chair and taken to the top of Sawbuck (an easy green run) for a warm-up or to Gunder’s (a blue) to get your legs under you.
After lapping the chair and hitting up Cabin Fever (green) and Grubstake (blue), we took a break at Mamie’s Mountain Grill at the top of the lift. The views are absolutely breathtaking on a bluebird day and it’s the perfect stop to grab a drink and light lunch. While it’s not exactly a full-service restaurant, you can get a quick bite or even grill up a burger yourself on one of their outdoor grills.
After lunch, we skied over to the Candy Cabin. To get there, you ski Sawbuck, then take the Upper Beaver Creek Express Lift to the Candy Cabin where kids and grown ups alike can get their fill of sweet treats. Hopped up on sugar, we then hit up Larkspur and Primrose--all great for little legs.
Did Someone Say, Après?
With lots of vertical feet under our belts, we headed back to the Ritz to relax. With live music at the fire pit and no shortage of drinks to be had at Daniel’s Bar and Grill, it would have been easy to stay there all evening. But, as the lift slowly started to close and the crowds began to trek back to where they came from, a pace different from the quick turns of skis against slick corduroy started to ease its way into the hotel. Conversations began wander as if no one was in any hurry to get to the end of a story. Children, tired from the day of ripping top to bottom, moved inside to sit by the roaring fire in the great room. Some people took to their rooms to rest or freshen up. Others gathered at the bar at WYLD or Buffaloes, reflecting on the day out in the snow and planning for the days ahead. But most everyone who was there was calling the Ritz home, at least for the night, and I couldn't help but feel I was among friends. Even without saying a word to one another, we all shared an experience out on the mountain, a day where we braved the elements and commanded our bodies to move with the earth. It’s sort of spiritual, in a way, to share that type of thing with total strangers.
But I’d also had a couple cocktails, so that could have been it, too.
Once we were ready to peel off of our coats and snow pants, we went back to our room to shower and make ourselves presentable for dinner. Although we longed for Spago’s (the Wolfgang Puck restaurant that formally called the Ritz home), we opted for the family-friendly Buffaloes. The flatbreads are delicious and the burgers are all you’d expect from a Colorado gastropub. After dinner, the outdoor fire was all ablaze and we roasted marshmallows for s’mores--one of Skinny Jeans’ favorite memories.
To wind down from the evening, we ventured to the hot tub and relaxed in one of the several outdoor pools. The indoor grotto is an especially indulgent treat if you have a spa treatment booked or just wish to use the sauna, steam room and/or plunge pool. (I dare you to try the circuit of all three and not scream.) Kids are allowed in the grotto only on certain nights of the week, so be sure to check before you rally the troops. (Oh! And ask for the tiny Ritz robes for the little ones. They are cute and functional, but mostly cute.)
So Nice, We Did It Twice
The next day started off with breakfast at the club lounge where Skinny Jeans could get her fill of pastries, yogurt, and fruit and Peter and I could swig back cappuccinos and mimosas (because, vacation) before hitting the slopes again. Food presentations happen at 7 to 10 a.m. for breakfast, 12-4 p.m. for light snacks, 5-7 p.m. for hor d’oeuvres, and 8-10 p.m. for dessert and cordials. We found that splurging for the club level was SO worth it when traveling with kids. Instead of buying a $20 burger only to watch them take one measly bite before the server takes it away, you can bring your kids to the club lounge as often as you’d like and let them nibble their way through the buffet without feeling like you’ve literally crumpled up a $100 bill and thrown it in the trash. The club concierge is also fabulous and can arrange practically any (legal) activity you desire.
Wasting no time, we got back onto the slopes and explored the rest of Beaver Creek’s 1,800 acres of terrain for the day. Tired and hungry, we hit up Cookie Time and grabbed some homemade chocolate chip cookies served daily to all skiers and snowboarders at the base of Beaver Creek at 3:00 p.m. We then took the shuttle back to the Ritz where we changed and hung out before making our way to another delicious dinner. This time we tried out Grouse Mountain Grill, just a short shuttle ride away. With it’s “smart casual” dress code, it was nice without feeling stuffy and Skinny Jeans enjoyed the options on the children’s menu.
As we rode the shuttle back to the Ritz to call it a night, the snow softly fell all around and the quiet forests again welcomed us home, the bare branches buffering us from the world we’d go back to in the morning. But, instead of feeling sad that the goodbyes were inevitable, I was grateful to have ever been there at all.
This Place Fits: Families looking for that rare mix of ultra-luxury and the active outdoors.
Where to Stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, Avon
Where to Eat:
WYLD: Fine dining meets classic Colorado cuisine.
Buffaloes: Family-friendly gastropub.
Daniel’s Bar and Grill: Slopeside lunch and apre dining.
Grouse Mountain Grill: New American fine dining.
What to Do:
Beaver Creek Mountain: 1,800 acres of terrain for every type of skier. In the winter, a Ski Nanny is also available at the Ritz. Drop off is at 8 a.m. and pick up is between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. The nanny will take children to and from group ski lessons (those meet in Beaver Creek Village, not at the Ritz) so parents can get the most out of their ski day. Lessons, lift tickets, and rentals (all available for purchase at the Ritz) not included. Light breakfast and afternoon snack is. $75 for the first kid, $50 for each additional child.
Bachelor Lounge: While the kids are at Ritz Kids, check out the 21 and older cigar lounge where you can pick your poison: hookah, fine cigars, and/or a Vaportini. Smoking is all outdoors on the beautiful patio with mountain views so it doesn’t smell like your grandpa’s garage. Open from 6 p.m. daily.
Beaver Creek Village: high end shopping and both casual (e.g., Blue Moose Pizza) and fine dining.
Vilar Performing Arts Center: In the heart of Beaver Creek Resort; year-round performances and lots of kid-friendly shows.
Snowshoe Tours: Offered every day from 10:30-12 p.m. to Ritz guests 12 and older. $50 per person and includes snowshoe rental and tour.
Ritz Kids: Morning half days, afternoon half days, and Kids Night Out (6 p.m.-10 p.m.) will set you back $100. Full day (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) is $150. Outside games, swimming in the grotto, and lunch or dinner prepared by Ritz chefs included.
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