Mountain Time: Vail

Why One Journalist Left Portland for Vail

Would you give up Pine State Biscuits for mountains of fresh powder?

By Ted Katauskas November 20, 2017 Published in the December 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Search-and-rescue dog Halo

Ten years ago, come winter, I’d often climb to the peak of my garage in North Portland and stare at the snowy summit of Mount Hood. That need to ski grew acute by the time the December issue of this magazine appeared on shelves. (I was Portland Monthly’s editor-in-chief at the time.) Yet it was never exactly ... easy. First, there was that I-5 merger. Then, bumper-to-bumper on I-84, that trial of the soul known as Gresham, and the Sandy bottleneck/speed trap on Highway 26. A few runs at Meadows meant four hours of drive time on a good day, or infinity in snow.

“Someday,” I vowed, stuck in traffic, “I’ll live in the mountains.”

Then, in 2011, this magazine’s parent company bought Vail-Beaver Creek; when asked, soon after, if I’d relocate to Colorado as its editor, my answer was “Hell, yeah!”

Fast-forward five years, and I’m a bona fide Vail Valley local. I drive an AWD Subaru Forester with studded tires. I’ve traded that North Portland house for a 900-square-foot condo tucked between a Wild & Scenic–designated river and a major highway; one of my two bedrooms is reserved for guests (thanks, Airbnb!), the other quarters my outdoor gear.

I’ll admit, my view north, toward Red & White Mountain, isn’t exactly the stuff of ski-bum dreams: Denver-bound semis bearing east on Interstate 70. But the view to the south is a different story. From my dining room table, I watch chairs silently trundle up to the summit of Arrowhead Mountain, the westernmost terrain of Beaver Creek Resort. I catch rainbows from the sunlit fantails carved by skiers on Cresta, a popular intermediate run. If I wake at 5 a.m., within minutes I’m skinning up Cresta myself, and at the summit by dawn. I lock down my heels, then chase after my wire-hair retriever, Halo, tracing long and lazy S’s in groomed corduroy. On the eastern horizon, the peaks of the Gore Range burn red, then orange, then white as the black sky transitions to blue.

Because I now live in Vail, Halo, the pup I brought with me from Portland, has grown up to be a search-and-rescue dog. And I’m a member of Vail Mountain Rescue Group—our equivalent of a volunteer fire department. Usually, that means my cell phone buzzes just as I sit down for dinner, or as my head hits the pillow: another missing rube from the city, last seen exiting a backcountry gate in Blue Sky Basin, now likely up to his armpits in snow. And I’ll go out and help extract him from his predicament.

Yes, life at 8,000 feet is as good, if not better, than I imagined. But it’s funny, the things I miss. Sometimes as I’m skinning up Arrowhead, I’ll find myself almost salivating for a bag of St. Honoré chouquettes, or a Pine State Reggie.

A guy can dream, right?

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