Vaxxed Up & On the Road Again
by Peter Kravitz
For the first time in 403 days, I was able to travel. Fully vaccinated, I flew to Colorado in late March. I felt safe thanks to the miraculous Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but I nonetheless took the usual precautions on the Southwest Airlines flight—I wore a mask and kept my distance from other passengers as best I could.
In Denver, I stayed with my son, his fiancée, and their Puggle. Walking up the seven flights of stairs to their apartment, however, caused me to gasp for oxygen. I’m now sixty years old, and with age, I’ve struggled with altitude, and I have come to depend on the prescription drug Diamox (generic name: acetazolamide) on my Colorado trips. The drug increases oxygen levels in your blood, countering the decreased oxygen at higher altitudes, which can cause headache, tiredness, nausea, and shortness of breath.
On top of that, my sciatica has recently flared up. I had hoped for five straight days of skiing. Could I do it? Would ibuprofen keep my lower-back pain away?
First, my son and I went to Arapahoe Basin, a favorite among Denver-area skiers and known as “A-Basin.” With a base elevation of 10,520 it’s renowned for great snow conditions in late spring. The snowpack was thick enough for my son, an expert skier, to ski the challenging East Wall. I stuck to easier trails.
When my son returned to Denver, I headed to Aspen, where my good friends Andy, Tracy, and their friendly dog, Chili, live. I went high school with Andy, while Tracy went to college with me and my wife, Jennifer. For years they have insisted that Jennifer and I visit them, but we could never fit Aspen into our Colorado trips. And Jennifer doesn’t enjoy skiing, so she didn’t travel to Colorado with me this time.
When you pass through Aspen’s airport, packed with rich folks’ jets, you realize nothing about Aspen is likely to be inexpensive, and sure enough, a lift ticket for the Aspen Snowmass resort that covers all four of its mountains costs about $200 per day. Of course, there are cheaper ski passes. The two most popular are the Epic and Ikon passes. The Ikon currently has different deals from $399 to $999. The similarly priced the Epic pass gives you a different choice of resorts. My son suggested I purchase the Collective Mountain pass, now $499, which gives you two days at Aspen at no charge and two days half-off with the same deal at A-Basin.
Aspen Snowmass includes four mountains: Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk. Snowmass is the largest mountain and the only one I skied. It has several summits, with “The Cirque” the highest at 12,510 feet. From its peak to its base, The Cirque has a vertical drop of 4,406 feet, the most of any ski resort in the United States.
I am an intermediate skier, so I kept to the “blue” runs. I immediately fell in love with the long, wide, beautifully groomed trails. My goals in skiing are simple: to avoid injury and rest frequently while appreciating the rare moments and lovely views in the mountains.
As Andy and Tracy worked during the week, they got a friend, Bryan, to ski with me my first day at Snowmass to give me a sense of the many trails and lifts. A much better skier than I, Bryan skied slowly and showed me blue trails that I enjoyed. He was a terrific guide, and we got along well. It turned out that our lives were similar in an inverse way. He had grown up on Long Island and met his wife in college. She was a Philly girl, so they settled in suburban Philly’s Main Line, where they raised a family. I had grown up on the Main Line, met my wife—from Long Island—in college and we settled on Long Island, where we raised our family.
Bryan patiently waited for me on the longer runs. Once, after a stop for water, I struggled to snap my fourteen-year-old ski boots back into my bindings, failing to notice that one ski was loose. That ski immediately released, and I fell. I then struggled to secure my boots into my skis on the steep slope.
Bryan, who hadn’t seen my fall, hiked up the hill looking for me. After twenty minutes that seemed like an hour, he spotted me. I explained my boot mishap.
“I’m just glad you are okay,” he said. “I didn’t want to have to tell Andy I’d killed his friend.”
My fourth-straight day of skiing was with Andy—who snowboards at high speed, usually without resting. But he slowed down for me on several runs on Snowmass’s Elk Camp slope. From mid-mountain down, the snow became slushy and sticky from the seventy-degree sunny weather, so Andy wanted to get me up top to The Cirque, but after I inexplicably stumbled and took a hard fall on an easy trail, Andy, who saw it, said I looked tired and suggested we head in.
We lunched and enjoyed a much-needed beer at the Woody Creek Tavern, a few miles from the mountain. The wings, onion rings, and beer were good, and the ambiance and history were even better. This was the hangout of famed gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who had lived nearby. Photos of him and his Hollywood celebrity buddies, like Jack Nicholson, lined the walls. One photo featured the gun-loving Thompson, clad in sunglasses, aiming a pistol at his typewriter in the snow. On the photo he inscribed: “To the Woody Creek Tavern—where you can smell the late-night stories on the walls, and there’s a thinning smoke-cloud of true greatness hovering in the room, waiting for the next torch-carrier to grab hold and keep running into the night.”
Due to balmy weather and slushy snow, I didn’t ski a fifth-straight day. Instead, I drove the three and a half hours back to Denver, where I played golf with my son in seventy-five-degree weather—with the Rockies as a backdrop and the golf ball flying in the light air. My son, a six-foot-three-inch, left-handed Dustin Johnson clone, ripped one three-wood 350 yards off the tee. My irons flew further than at sea level. My son’s recent dominance over me continued as he won by five strokes. However, I refuse to make any excuses—like how I struggled with rented clubs.
I returned home to New York with my oximeter reading the highest it had for the past year: 99. Andy had urged me to do an aerobic activity as soon as I could. “You’ll get a one-time gift of a lot of energy,” he said. I was skeptical, but to check out his theory I played in an ice hockey game with the Huntington Winter Club at the Long Island Sports Hub in Syosset a day after returning. I had played in about eight of these competitive games recently and had scored one or two goals in total. This time I never tired and scored three goals. Andy was right!
I also lost five pounds and had slept well in Aspen at 8,000 feet thanks to the Diamox. And, most important, the vaccine made traveling safe again. Hopefully that will continue as the United States approaches herd immunity and a return to some type of new normal.
Photo credit: Christian ter Maat (Amsterdam, Netherlands) fellow Silver Sager