Ski

Gators in PurGATORy!

In the past, I’ve written about my oldest daughter, Jessica, attending Xavier College Prep in Phoenix, an all-girls Catholic high school.  I’ve been fortunate to attend some sporting events with her – both on our own and through/with the school – like the Father/Daughter Baseball game at the D-Backs – just a bunch of dads hanging out at the ballgame with their daughters.

Nothing can compare to the highlight of the year for me – the Father/Daughter Ski Trip to Durango, Colorado!

This annual event has been going on for about 18 years, so it’s a well-oiled machine.  It needs to be – considering over 300 father/daughter combos make the trek north over MLK Weekend.

Most of the attendees hop on luxury motor coaches at 6:30am Friday, while some others make their own transportation arrangements.  Of those, most take their own vehicles or fly commercial right into the small mountain town of Durango, located in the southwest corner of Colorado.  And a select few even take their own planes.

While riding on a bus for 9-1/2 hours sounds painful, it’s actually not bad at all.  The itinerary is built to minimize the pain – with strategic stops along the way.  We departed XCP at 6:29. Yep, you read that right.  The buses actually left the school early.  I can’t get my daughter out the door early for a One Direction concert.  I don’t know how they get over 300 people – half of which are teenage girls, fully packed and on a bus by 6:30am.  These dads are organized!

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It’s a quiet start as the five buses leave XCP – everyone still sleepy from the early wake-up call.  As we head up I-17, the sun starts to rise and the girls wake up.  After about 90 minutes, we take a quick stop at a rest area.  This not only works out well for those antsy from the anticipation of a 9+ hour ride in a plane on wheels but also serves as a meetup point for anyone that might have not taken the 6:30am departure seriously.  Fortunately, all were on board.

At the stop, we stretch out, use the facilities and meet up with some dads from the other buses.  It’s a quick stop, after which, we head back to the buses for a photo op with your bus buddies, then it’s back on board for roll call.

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Another 3 1-/2 hours later, we’re pulling in Kayenta for lunch.  This small village on the Navajo Nation Reservation serves as the gateway to Monument Valley.  Other than that, there’s not a lot happening here.

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As if you needed further evidence that technology continues to evolve, some have learned to place their Subway order via an app in an effort to avoid the long wait.  With dining options limited to McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway, you can imagine the lines at these fast-food joints, aren’t so fast when 5 bus loads of hungry patrons descend upon them at the same time!  This year, as a senior, and in the first bus, we opt to forgo the call-ahead and dash towards Subway before the rest of the crew pulls in.  It worked!  Sorry Freshman.  You’ll have to wait your turn.

Back in the buses, we cruise past some interesting rock formations and into New Mexico.  Interestingly enough, the highway through NM is only about a mile long, but during that tiny stretch, it intersects with Four Corners Rd.  This 1/2 mile detour leads you to the famous Four Corners Monument, but obviously, we’re not stopping for any four-limbed stretching pictures of 150+ girls.  Ala Chevy Chase, we say “quick girls, look left, there’s Four Corners”.

One of the most interesting rock formations along the way includes Chimney Rock, just south of Towaoc, Colorado at the junction of  US-160 and US-491.

Chimney Rock at Sunset. And that’s about the only thing we’ve seen for the last 90 minutes.  Besides the stray dogs in Kayenta, just about the only living thing we’ve seen were birds.  There’s nothing out here!  Oh, wait, what’s that on the left?  A visitor center!Visitor Center in CO

As we head north, we enter the Ute Mountain Reservation – home of none other than, the Ute Mountain Casino, Hotel & Resort.  You just knew there’d be a casino out here, didn’t you?

OK, to be fair, we’re now at the southern end of civilization and starting to enter into populated areas.  Sparsely populated areas, but populated none-the-less.

Just to our east is the famous Mesa Verde National Park. This park protects the cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people that made it their home from 600-1300ad.  I wonder if they lost it all playing Blackjack and had to move out.

Cortez is the only real town in this part of the state.  Still, it’s home to less than 9,000 people but serves as a tourist respite for those visiting Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, and Four Corners.

Fifteen miles east of Cortez, you pass through the town of Mancos, which calls itself the “The Gateway to Mesa Verde”.  This tiny town of about 1300 people is home to former NFLer and 2x Pro Bowler, Luther Elliss – a 1st round pick out of Utah in 1995.  What are the odds of that?

Another 30 miles of nothing and you enter the town of Durango – home to the World Famous Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway.  This is another tiny town clocking in at just over 16,000 people.  It sits at the base of the San Juan National Forest and today, one of it’s most famous residents is Philly left-hander, Steve Carlton.  Go figure.IMG_0028

Twenty-five miles north of town is Durango Mountain Resort aka Purgatory – and just past that, Cascade Village, our home for the next three nights.

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We arrived at the mountain at 4pm and headed straight towards our private area for the weekend, Durango Mountain Institute (DMI).  This conference room/meeting space sits right at the base of the mountain and provides ski-in/ski-out access.  We rent it for the weekend so everyone on the trip can safely leave their gear overnight and pop in for lunch and drinks throughout the day.IMG_0035

A change this year allowed us to pick up our rentals on Friday night and store them at the locker or lodge – a great way to beat the rush Saturday morning. While those of us that rented were grabbing our gear, others snacked on some appetizers and enjoyed the cash-bar at DMI.  At the same time, the buses went up to lodge and delivered all of the luggage to your condo complex.

After that, the buses returned and picked us up for a quick trip up the mountain to Cascade for check-in and dinner.

The lodge has a large meeting space that allowed us to host breakfasts and dinners.  Typical catered food and hosted beer and wine for dinners made it easy and allowed for plenty of time for the girls to catch up and the dads to get acquainted – or re-acquainted in many cases.

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Purgatory Village

Between the early wake-up call, long bus ride, 8,000-foot elevation and a couple of beverages, it was an early night for most.

A 7:00am wake-up gave enough time to put on your layers, grab breakfast and be on the bus at 8:30 – leaving plenty of time to pick up your gear at DMI and be on the lifts as they opened at 9.

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It didn’t take long to realize that we wouldn’t need all of the layers this weekend.  With temps in the high 20s in the morning, most shed a layer before even stepping into the boards.  Good thing – because it warmed up to the mid-40s in the afternoon.

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I spent the entire day skiing with Jessica.  It’s hard to believe that she just learned the sport on the trip in her Sophomore year.  During her Freshman year, she wanted to go on the trip but wasn’t interested in skiing.  That year, I wasn’t sure what we’d do for two solid days, but fortunately, the resort hosts their “Winter Carnival” over the MLK weekend.  So instead of sitting around watching a lot of skiing, we participated in all of the other events the mountain had to offer.  We zip-lined, went snowmobiling, did some tubing and even did some dog-mushing.  We both loved it, but when we were leaving town that Monday, she gazed out at the mountain in deep thought, turned to me and said, “next year, I want to come back and go skiing!”.  Woohoo!

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OK, back to the story.  After skiing all day on Saturday, it was back to Cascade to clean up and get ready for Mass.  Two Chaplains join us on the trip, so we get to celebrate Mass in a small room at the lodge.  I understand that Father Pete and Father Craig have to go through some extraordinary effort to be able to offer Mass in such a non-traditional venue, but it’s great to see the turnout after a long day of skiing. Thanks, Father Pete & Father Craig!  Know though, it’s not all work for the two friendly priests, they’re actually pretty good skiers as well.

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Another option for Saturday night is the excursion into town. They run another bus down to Durango and it leaves in time for you to get to Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  After Mass, you have enough time to grab dinner at, from what I hear, a pretty good selection of restaurants in Durango.  In the four years on the trip, we’ve never had the energy or desire to make the trip down the mountain.  And I leave this year second-guessing myself – wondering when I’ll have the chance to visit historic downtown Durango.

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On Sunday, we head back to the mountain, sore legs and all, for another perfect day of skiing.  After a few runs early in the morning, we took a break for an early lunch at DMI.  It’s always difficult to get back out to the mountain after lunch.  Today, it was made even more difficult because the NFC Championship game was getting ready to start – Packers at Seahawks.

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We did, however, make our way back out for a couple of more runs and returned to watch some of the game.  Before long, it was time to pack up and head back to the condo to get ready for the big night.  We made it back to the rooms in time to see Seattle pull out the miraculous win in overtime and earn their way to the Super Bowl.

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Scene by Cascade Village

After cleaning up, we met our daughters back on the bus for a short trip down the mountain to the Sow’s Ear restaurant for the much anticipated Senior Dinner.  Over 30 Seniors and their dads celebrated the final Ski Trip at this upscale restaurant just down the road from DMR.  While the food was outstanding, the highlight of the dinner had to be the toasts.  Each father is given the opportunity to stand up and give a toast to his daughter.

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WOW!  Some powerful words were spoken and some tears were shed – and not just from the girls if you know what I mean.  Ahem…  You can tell that each and every one of these ladies has the full respect and devotion from their father.  The words of encouragement, while often meant for his own daughter, were easily transportable to all of the daughters. You can tell, these ladies are the future and the world will be a better place because of them.  I was honored and humbled to be a part of this celebration.

While the toasts may have been the highlight for the dads, I think the ladies got their highlight on the bus trip back to Cascade.  One of the dads plugged his phone into the bus sound system and we all start singing along to Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets.  A great way to cap the evening – if it ended there.

Once back at Cascade, the ladies needed to be back in their rooms for curfew, but more importantly, the special delivery of the Rose Program.  The Rose Program is yet another special moment that all daughters get to enjoy – not just the seniors.  Before the event, each dad is asked to write a letter with words of reflection and encouragement to their daughter.  The letters and any accompanying gifts are all prepped at the Dads’ Club Headquarters condo where all dads are invited to attend.  From there, they are delivered to their respective rooms, along with a gift from the Dads’ Club, a small crystal rose.

The girls are so excited to receive their special letters and gifts – and the dads that deliver them are just as excited.  Shortly after the messengers are dispatched, you can see the dads all checking their phones as text messages of love and thanks flood the network.

Back at HQ, the dads all celebrate another year gone and discuss their daughters’ future plans – some, very specific with majors, colleges and careers all planned out, while most others are still considering options in all three areas.

Monday morning comes and we’re back on the buses pulling out two minutes before the scheduled departure of 8:30am.  Is that a surprise?  Was it a coincidence that the fire alarm went off in the girls building at 7:00am?  Hmmmm.  These dads know how to make things happen.

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Three movies and one pitstop later, we’re all back on campus at 5pm, safe and sound. Exhausted, we all drag our bags back to the moms who were there waiting to pick us up.

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It still hasn’t sunk in that this was the last Father/Daughter Ski Trip – with Xavier.

A special thanks to all of the Dads that coordinate this trip.  It’s so finely tuned, it seems like it only takes a couple of phone calls to pull it all together.

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