Note to self: Leave the TiBook at home on ski days

Tuesday 04 November 2003 at 21:09

Just in case I ever get the urge to do some hacking on the way to skiing...

Doc Searls pointed to a post about iPods dying out at altitude.

Update from Stephen Pierce, a fellow pilot:....Hard drives work by levitating a head a very small distance from the media; unlike floppy or tape, where the media actually touches the head. The distance between the rotating media and the head is regulated using a very small wing on the head. The head literally 'flys' above the media.

When the pressure inside the drive is reduced, the wing will need a higher angle of attack, until finally the wing stalls, and the head impacts the media. The term in the industry for this behavior is called a 'head crash'. Very apropos, no?

I knew the part about the flying disk heads, but hadn't thought about the effects of air pressure on them. According to the post, iPods have a 10,000 foot altitude limit. I know that most of the parking lots for Colorado ski areas are below that. While writing up this post I got distracted hunting for more specific numbers than my memory was producing: Loveland around 12,000 and Vail Pass (not the ski area) a bit over 10,000.

After a number of pokes at google I finally found what I was looking for: a nice table which includes the altitudes of various Colorado ski areas. That page turns out to be part of a pretty thorough bit of coverage about North American ski areas in general. It's fun how the 'Net can still surprise me.

The data isn't perfect. I was specifically interested in Loveland, where I spent many weekends in my childhood trying to keep up with my dad and his buddies on ski patrol. Loveland's stats boast a higher altitude (12,700') than what shows up in the table (12,280'). That particular detail is important for some home-town rivalry.

Arapahoe Basin and Loveland are on opposite sides of the Continental Divide and opposite sides of Loveland Pass. Every year they are the last areas to close at the end of the season, with A-Basin usually winning by closing slightly later. For some years they went back and forth over who had the highest ski lift. Each would move their top lift up a little higher to beat the other. Loveland has been the current leader since they put the top of lift 9 right on the Continental Divide. That lift is often closed because of high winds on the ridge. But when it is open there's an amazing view and some pretty fun skiing.

This whole diversion has been really fun for me. I'm frankly surprised to discover such an interest in altitude.[1] This post was supposed to just be a quick note to self. Yet I've spent a couple hours researching and editing.

Looking more closely, it's clearly a part of Colorado culture. For those of you who aren't third-generation natives of Colorado, here are some examples. Many people know that Denver's nickname is the Mile High city, and that the Bronco's play football at Mile High Stadium, because the city of Denver is one mile above sea-level. Along the same theme, there's a local magazine named 5280 [2]. Seventy-five percent of the terrain in the US that is over 10,000 feet is within Colorado. At the borders of most US towns you'll find a road sign which proudly displays the population. Colorado towns generally display the elevation. I have many memories of how my dad would cuss at drivers from neighboring states: "Gawdamn flatlanders!" Another one of Dad's classic observations, "the lowest point in Colorado is higher than the highest point in Nebraska" (or Oklahoma or Kansas or ...).[3] The boiling point of water is lower than 100 degrees Celsius here in Colorado. My mom spent years refining her recipe for pop-overs so they would pop correctly up here.

Anyway, it's been fun meandering from geeky details about hard drives and air pressure to Colorado trivia.

[1] Surprise? Maybe I'm suffering from lack of oxygen. :-) After all, I did name my blog thinair on purpose.
[2] If you generally work in metric units, you might not know that there are 5280 feet in a mile.
[3] I don't know if that's true. Just something Dad often says.

Mark Denovich commented

15 November 2003 at 19:55

I first got a taste of thin air in '91, playing soccer at the Air Force Academy. A soccer pitch seems a lot bigger at high altitude. The guy from Holland had it the worst.

I was back in CO this summer on a cross-country motorcycle trip. Through the grasslands to RNMP, over Indepedence pass to the Gunnison canyon... What an amazing place. Riding at night to Leadville was really unbelievable... camping at 12,000+ feet is was cool (literaly.)

I can't wait to visit again... the west really opens up your head. It's just a shame that there is so much filler between here (Pittsburgh, PA) and there. The "heartland" is mind-bendingly boring.

Pics of the trip if you are interested.

eric commented

16 November 2003 at 19:19

Thanks for the link to your pics. Your road trip reminds me of my Dad's adventures riding off-road motorcycles around Colorado -- just the mountains and motorcycle connection.

A friend of mine thinks everyone should be required to drive across the midwest at least once in their life to appreciate the vast size of this continent, and to develop some respect for the people who took that trip by horse and wagon. In college I had a memorable conversation with a guy from Kansas. He was completely effusive about the incredible beauty of unending acres of corn. I couldn't relate in the slightest. I'm with you: mind-bendingly boring. Even so, I often find myself looking a little harder when I'm bored with my surrounding to see if I can see something like what that guy from Kansas saw in cornfields. It's weird the things that stick in your memory.

Mark Denovich commented

18 November 2003 at 12:47

I don't have a problem with the Midwest per se, but I do have a problem traveling through it. Since it's flat you don't see much from the road... and what you can see from the interstate isn't very awe inspiring. I'd take back roads instead of the interstate, but they are just as straight, dull and even slower.

In comparison the relatively flat & straight stretch of road (CO 14) through the Pawnee Grasslands ( ) is quite beautiful... even in 90F+ heat.

*sigh* It's a bad idea stirring up wander-lust just as winter starts closing in.