23. November 2018 · Comments Off on Colorado Discoveries 51: Breckenridge Ski Area, The Walt Disney World of Skiing · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Breckenridge selfie, with her impatient family. I didn’t get any better mountain photos than this.

Yep – first non-Instagram post in a very long time. I’m sad to announce that I had to remove about 80% of my Instagram posts today due to a server upgrade that destroyed the links to the IG posts. That’s okay. You can see the original Instagram posts here. Everything since about August is still in place.

We Vollmers have been living in Colorado Springs for FIVE years and had never skied at Breckenridge…until yesterday.

“Whaaaaat? Really? Why not?”

Yes, we’ve spent time in Breckenridge before. Heck, we came this close to buying a timeshare in a condo up there, mainly as an investment. Jacob had been bitter for almost 3 years about not getting to ski the mountain in January 2016.

A large part of the never-skiing-there issue was cost. I’ve pontificated that Breckenridge is the Walt Disney World of skiing: most of the guests have flown in from around the world, staying in lodging nearby, and shopping and dining on the economy. Pricing for just about everything there is tailored to someone who is there for a week or more, skiing for several days at a time.

Even for our military family, a day of skiing at Breckenridge is $99 per person (same with Vail and Beavercreek), and there were no military season pass promotions available. Meanwhile, we could ski at just about every other Colorado resort with very agreeable season pass prices, complete with reciprocity with other resorts all over the Rockies.

Between the kids being younger, not wanting to fight the “I-70 Resorts” traffic, and being hesitant to mix our skiing with the vacationers, we had opted for the Monarch Mountain season passes each season since the 2014-2015 season. Monarch has been awesome to us

Until 2018. The Epic family of resorts announced a $99 per person season pass deal for active and retired military members…and their families! What an amazing deal! You’d better believe we’re on board with that! We didn’t waste any time ordering the passes, uploading the photos, and receiving passes in the mail ready to go. Not only do these passes include Breckenridge, but they include the entire family of Epic mountain resorts: Vail, Beavercreek, Keystone, Heavenly, Northstar, Killington, and (as of this month) Crested Butte — the latter being one of our family’s favorite mountains!

First Outing of the Season

Luckily for us, the snow at the resorts this year started nice and early, so we were able to take a day trip on Thanksgiving day. Save the Turkey for Black Friday. I’m a little sad to miss the parades on TV, but heck, I’d rather be outside. We really truly didn’t know whether the ski resorts would be completely empty…or absolute madhouses.

Taking a day trip to these resorts involves a very early start. So the boys were awakened almost an hour earlier than they usually awaken for school, and we piled into the car at 6:30am for the 2-hour drive west. The boys were pretty tired from having slept late each day for the previous 5 days of their Thanksgiving break. They were in and out of sleep the whole time.

We arrived at about 8:40am and found some prime parking. Wow! This is great!

Then we found the kiosk where you pay for the up-close parking. $12 to park right next to the gondola that takes you up to the base area…

We didn’t know what to expect up at the base area, so we decided to take our backpacks with boots and helmets and find storage or locker space at the base lodge area.

Arriving as early as we did, we were pleased with how short the gondola line was: we hopped right on. Unlike other resorts with gondola service (“gondolas” are the completely-enclosed lifts) which have racks for your skis on the exterior, these particular cabins accommodate your skis on the interior.

An “inside the gondola” selfie. Jacob’s sporting his never-been-used skis, ready to go!

We make it to the top of the gondola route, which is the “Peak 8” base area.

We started our day at Breckenridge at the Peak 8 base area, which is near the center of this image. You can see that there are Peaks 6-10 shown on this map…there’s no way you can ski everything in a day. Or 5 days.

We didn’t know what to expect, and we were grateful for the non-crowded conditions so we could explore a bit. We didn’t see a picnic room to stash our gear (which we took advantage of at Monarch and Cooper mountains). So we checked out the rental lockers. We can stuff our gear into a large locker for $19. However, the locker payment system was broken so instead we opted for a basket rental.

Whoa — I hadn’t seen the basket system in many years. Because of the better security with a basket, they cost well over $20 for the day. The kind woman charged us $19 for a large basket and piled all of our shoes and ski backpacks into it.

Mountain Conditions

The mountain is magnificent! There was a 30″ base to work with, but due to the early conditions, many of the trails were still closed. About 1/2 of the lifts were open, with about 1/3 of the trails available — most of which were at Peaks 8 and 9. I can see why Breckenridge is a top choice for vacationing tourists. The lower parts have plenty of beginner’s terrain, the ski school is top-notch, and their lift line management is very well-done. The employees I interacted with were all incredibly polite and knowledgeable.

Since Jacob had brand-new skis, and Timmy’s season rental had to accommodate his having grown about 5″ this past year, we started out slowly. We met up with some friends for a few runs and had lunch with them (I’ll address lunch in a moment). We enjoyed most of the intermediate trails, and the occasional black diamonds.

After lunch we wandered over to Peak 9 and explored that part of the mountain. Since this was our first ski day of the season, all four of us were pretty wiped out by 3pm. We were on the road home by 3:30pm, and could eat dinner at home (since it was Thanksgiving, we weren’t sure we could just stop at any restaurant for dinner).

Meals and Gear

I didn’t pack a lunch for the family for our day trip. Usually I do, but not knowing what kind of locker/storage space was available, we opted to just eat at the lodge cafeteria instead.

The good news? The food choices are very good and seemed to be very high quality.

The bad news? You’re going to pay Walt Disney World prices for your lunches. $16 for a burger and chips, $8-9 for a beer. I got a “chicken shwarma” lunch that was very very good: $16. You could get snacks too — but those were going to be way marked up. Our family spent nearly $80 on lunch.

Monarch Mountain, and many other places, have storage areas where you can stash your lunch coolers from home. Monarch calls theirs a “picnic room”. You could also store your shoes and gear on racks in the picnic space. Heck, Monarch will even let you plug in a slow cooker so you can have hot homemade chili for lunch! It’s an open location, meaning, sure, you risk theft of your lunch cooker or slow cooker, but that never, ever happened to our family. For one thing, we never brought anything remarkable: ham, cheese, bread, mayo. Tossed into a cooler. Simple, cheap, and quick. The boys usually want to get back onto the slopes pretty quickly so it’s nice to not have to wait in lines.

So far we haven’t found a setup like this at Breckenridge. I tried to Google around to see if some discussion forums mention a picnic area, but so far, no.

Just the same, Dave and I told the boys that on our next day trip (probably in the next couple weekends), we plan to bring our own lunches.


Breckenridge is a gorgeous mountain, the skiing is awesome! Thanksgiving Day wasn’t crowded at all — we didn’t wait more than 5 minutes for a lift line.

But things there are designed for vacationer…less for the locals. Bring your credit cards.

Our Epic pass is good for Vail, Beavercreek, Crested Butte, and Keystone also. I hope we have the time to explore those mountains later this season…and keep a sensible budget while doing so.



03. January 2017 · Comments Off on A Condo Vacation’s Best Friend: The Instant Pot! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,
Merry Christmas to me!

Merry Christmas to me!

I got an Instant Pot for Christmas from Dave and my boys!** Whoo!

**No, I don’t mind getting kitchen appliances as gifts. I find a lot of joy in the kitchen and the geeky side of me loves checking out the latest in “kitchen tech.”

Believe it or not, through all my cooking adventures, I never delved too much into pressure cooking. I remember my parents’ pressure cooker, it was the kind with the little weight that sat on top: when the pressure was just right, the little weight would rock back and forth singing an undulating whistle of steam. I don’t remember the specific recipes they’d cook, I think it was vegetable soup and maybe chili.

It was years before I’d really delve into how a pressure cooker works and why it could be one of the most useful things in a busy family’s kitchen. More »

02. January 2017 · Comments Off on Happy New Year! A Family Holiday Update · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Our family had a fun, although rather subdued, holiday season. Dave had a pretty major surgery Thanksgiving week — a procedure called a “microvascular decompression” — and he’s been home recovering with the family for the month of December. Because of that, we kept our social calendar pretty empty: we didn’t have our traditional holiday open house for the first time since 2008 (when I was TDY for much of December), and we didn’t go to any of the holiday parties to which we were invited…except for the Boy Scout party for the kids. That one was definitely our speed.

Dave’s parents visited for a week right after Dave came home from the hospital. By this point Dave wasn’t able to do much, so his parents enjoyed a relaxing week.

For this new year, I’ve taken the advice of a fellow GeekMom writer and tried to come up with a single word to direct my efforts. My word for 2017 will be “Return”. “Return” to work (hopefully), “Return” to writing (for this blog and for GeekMom), and “Return” to my exercise habits that I’ve allowed to falter in 2016. More »

Lunch for 4 for under $30? Yes please!!

Lunch for 4 for under $30? Yes please!!

For those who don’t know, Dave and I are “Eastern People”. He’s from New York, and with the exception of 3 years or so in Hawaii when I was very young, I grew up on the Eastern Seaboard. We are accustomed to humidity, high populations, and rich colonial U.S. history around us.

People from the western U.S. have their own set of traditions and nuances (calling “interstates” “freeways”, for example), and apparently In-N-Out Burger is one of them. There aren’t many of these restaurants, and they’re all concentrated in a 5-state area: California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas (why they completely leapfrogged over New Mexico is beyond me). In-N-Out has no plans to expand beyond this small market, unlike Five Guys, which now has well over 1000 outlets. We had a chance to check it out! More »

05. May 2015 · Comments Off on Utah Discoveries 7: Skiing at Park City Resort · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,
It was so warm, Dave could ski in shorts!

It was so warm, Dave could ski in shorts…well, sort of…

On our first full day in Park City, we decided to check out the Park City Ski Resort, which was just a couple blocks from our condo. We took advantage of a military deal for the resort, although being one of the Vail Resorts, it was still pretty costly, even for end-of-season conditions.

It was quite warm, with highs in the 60s and blue sunny skies.

As a consequence, there weren’t many trails open, and we had numerous detours. We’re grateful the boys were skilled enough to negotiate some of the detours.

Skiing at Park City at the end of March was like skiing on the East Coast. Icy. Jacob and Timmy are obviously spoiled rotten skiing in Colorado because they had a very hard time with the changed snow conditions. They didn’t have the best day. More »

01. January 2015 · Comments Off on June/July 2014 Vacation Summary · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,


Our June/July 2014 summer vacation to the American southwest was fun and filled with National Park goodness.

We are grateful for the National Park Service’s “Military Annual Pass” program which saved us nearly $80 in entrance fees on this trip.

Here’s the summary of everything we did:

The next big “see America” trip I have up my sleeves will take us northward towards Yellowstone National Park, but I don’t know when that will be.

12. September 2014 · Comments Off on Grand Canyon: Bright Angel Trail · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,
One of my favorite photos ever. My boys enjoying America's beauty.

One of my favorite photos ever. My boys enjoying America’s beauty.

On the 2nd full day of our Grand Canyon trip, we decided to get an early start and hit the Bright Angel Trail.

The Bright Angel Trail originates at the heart of the “touristy” part of the South Rim Grand Canyon park. It’s a well-maintained trail, in part because this is the trail that the mules use for those tours. Because of the accessibility, it’s definitely more crowded than the remote Hermit’s Trail. More »

01. September 2014 · Comments Off on Grand Canyon: The Hermit Trail & Hermit’s Rest · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , ,
Hermit's Rest is on the far western end of the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

Hermit’s Rest is on the far western end of the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

We had made it clear to the boys that we would be hiking at least part of our two days at the Grand Canyon. I saw a list of family-friendly activities in the park summer guide. We chose the Junior Ranger Family Adventure Program, in which families can descend down into the canyon via the challenging Hermit’s Trail. Dave and I wanted to get some exercise, and we were confident our kids could handle it.

Getting to Hermit’s Rest, where the program began, was a task in itself. We drove to the Grand Canyon Village part of the park, where we then caught a bus that took us on the 45 minute drive to the western end of the park. It was a gorgeous drive with several views of the canyon to enjoy. More »

01. September 2014 · Comments Off on Grand Canyon: Mather Campground Elk! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

We arrived at our campsite with plenty of time to set up camp. We enjoyed a relaxing evening with a camp stove dinner (I can’t remember what, probably burgers and hot dogs).

We had to walk 1-2 campsites over to reach the restroom building. On one of our walks to the restroom building, we saw this magnificent elk feasting on tree branches. The kids were awestruck, and I rushed over to the truck for our camera’s telephoto lens.

We chatted with the kids about what we were observing: the size of the elk, the size of his antlers (at least 4′), what he was choosing to eat, the trouble he seemed to be having getting his antlers tangled in the tree branches. Enjoy some photos of what we spent about 20 minutes observing. You can see the full album here. Several other nearby campers were similarly photographing it.


Jacob said, “Hey Mom, take a picture of me with the elk!”


Then Timmy said, “Take a picture of me too!” This photo cracks me up!



My favorite of the 70+ photos I took.





31. August 2014 · Comments Off on Colorado Discoveries 41: Four Corners Monument · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Four Corners Monument is a very *short* stop off U.S. 160, at…well…the junction of four states.

You can’t drive between southwestern Colorado and New Mexico/Arizona without stopping briefly at the Four Corners Monument.

The monument is operated by the Navajo Nation. Since we were in the Navajo Nation. We paid an entry fee of $5 per person to enter the monument area, and what I saw was quite surprising. Not in a good or bad way, I simply didn’t know what to expect. More »