10/2014: 14ers

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July 1st…Enjoying the summit of Redcloud Peak in the San Juans with a furry friend.

This past summer, I embarked on an ambitious fundraising campaign for the Larimer Humane Society. The idea for “14ers For Furry Friends” was to raise $1,014 for climbing fourteen of Colorado’s 14ers (14,000-foot peaks) in 14 weeks during the summer of 2014…say THAT three times fast! I found out fairly quickly that raising the money was the easy part.

There were some minor logistical concerns involved with this undertaking, such as the fact that the high altitude hiking season directly overlaps the height of my summer wedding season.  And also, most of these mountains are a solid 3 to 5 hour drive from my home base of Fort Collins.  I devised a plan to minimize travel time while not affecting any of the weddings and wedding clients that hired me.  I grouped the fourteen peaks into geographical regions and hiked up to three per trip over a couple of days at a time every two to three weeks, usually leaving early on a Monday and getting home on Wednesday evening.

607 ElbertOther than putting an extra 2,000 miles on my brand new Subaru XV Crosstrek and breaking in the shocks and struts on some of the roughest roads in the state, the plan worked perfectly. July’s hikes generally featured great weather, little wind, and dry trails.  During August, the seasonal monsoon rains made their annual appearance and there was a marked increase in cloudiness and storms.  September featured changeable conditions, changing fall colors, cooler temperatures, and a surprise snowstorm on the final day of hiking on Gray’s Peak (see bottom photo).

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Ultrarunner Doug Nash joined me for some high altitude fun on a few peaks this summer.

As luck would have it, I rarely hiked solo. I invited anyone to join in on any of the hikes.  I was joined on a few hikes by ultramarathoner Doug Nash who was an invaluable resource of information.  Doug and his wife run the Twin Lakes Inn south of Leadville, which I stayed overnight at a few times this summer (cozy rooms, gourmet restaurant).  I also made sure a few of the hikes were relatively easy, so first-timers could also join me. Aside from raising money for one of my favorite charities, the goal of the project was to introduce people to the adventure of backcountry hiking in Colorado, and more specifically, hiking 14ers, which I’ve been doing for almost 20 years now. Over the course of the summer, I was fortunate enough to be joined by eight people who have never hiked a 14er before.

Jeff, David, and Lindsey enjoying their first 14er experience on Mount Evans.

Jeff, David, and Lindsey enjoying their first 14er experience on Mount Evans.

They included a couple who’s wedding I’ll be DJing next summer (Jeff & Lindsey), a DJ friend that flew out all the way from New Jersey to hike the state’s highest peak with me (Mt. Elbert – above), and a super-fit 73 year old named Jim who hadn’t hiked in a few years but was in exceptional shape. Jim got a bit more than he bargained for as he was one of the folks that joined me on that snowy day on Gray’s a couple of weeks ago.  Though it was a relatively easy hike under dry conditions, Mother Nature decided to add some drama on the final day of September and battered us with winds and sideways snow. Jim never stopped smiling though out the hike and had a great positive attitude all day. I’m sure he’ll have some awesome stories to tell his grandchildren in the coming weeks.

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Braving the elements on Gray’s Peak for the final hike of 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned for next summer’s adventure fundraiser to celebrate Rocky Mountain National Park’s 100th anniversary!

9/2014: One Year Later

One year ago this month, Colorado’s Front Range was hit with one of the most severe floods in the state’s history.  Instead of the typically localized flash flooding that we occasionally get during the summer, this particular event was widespread – covering more than a dozen counties – and cut off many mountain communities due to heavily damaged highways.

zblogFrom a climatological perspective, you have to go back to at least 1935 to find an event as large as this one.  Though deadlier, the infamous Big Thompson Flood of 1976 was a very localized event and covered less than 10% of the area of last year’s deluge. In Larimer County, all major mountain canyon highways sustained some sort of damage.  Northern Colorado’s premier wedding destination, Estes Park, was cut off from surrounding areas from the east for several days (for more on this, see my blog from October 2013 – “Keep Calm Marry On”). During the weeks following the flood, roads were repaired amazingly quickly and things began to get back to normal.  By this past spring and certainly the summer, it was business as usual in town as tourists flocked to Estes’ many summer festivals. Ironically, during the flooding, few wedding venues in Estes Park sustained damage as most are well above the flood plain.

Wedding Garden IThis was not the case at the Sylvan Dale Ranch downstream in Loveland near the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon.  This historic ranch, which hosted dozens of weddings on a yearly basis for decades, sustained major damage.  The force of the water scoured the entire valley and wiped out two of the three wedding sites including the Heart Pond and Daddy J Pavilion. Amazingly, the popular Heritage Lodge was just 3 feet above the height of the flood water and escaped all damage.  Thanks to donations and the help of volunteers, the ranch started hosting weddings again by mid-summer.  They built a brand new wedding site (see photos) out of the flood plain just above the main lodge.  Thanks to fellow DJ Neil Carlberg from Too Much Fun DJ who took these photos at a recent wedding he was hired for.

Wedding Garden IIIn talking with other local wedding professionals over the last few months, most have said that the number of weddings they have been hired for this year in Estes Park was down a bit.  I surmise this is probably because when the flood hit in September, many couples were in the early planning stages of their weddings and thought that it would be springtime before roads would be open to Estes, limiting possible access to the town (amazingly, all roads were all open by November). Weddings in non-mountain areas this year was up by around 25%. In looking at my calendar, and early reports from other wedding vendors, Estes will probably have a near-record amount of weddings in 2015.

8/2014: Miniaturize

Small is the new big.

Since starting Ron Michaels Weddings back in the early ’90s, I’ve noticed huge changes in all aspects of weddings, DJing, and music technology.  The past 20 years have revolutionized the mobile DJ industry in many good ways and some not so good.

thW5ACPLI2On the downside is the fact digital technology has given some brides and grooms the idea that they can DJ their reception themselves by setting up an iPod loaded with their favorite tunes to save a little bit of money.  It’s usually not until wedding day that they realize that an iPod can not “read” the crowd like a full-time wedding DJ can, nor can it inform, guide, and direct guests through all stages of a wedding reception like that same Master Of Ceremonies is able to. Most post-reception reviews I’ve heard from guests that have attended “iPod weddings” have been less than favorable.  Fortunately, the iPod wedding trend is now on the decline as most couples are realizing the value of quality DJ entertainment.

miniaturize cdTechnology over the last decade has also made it much easier for anyone to become a DJ.  Anyone can go down to their local Guitar Center, buy a bunch of gear, illegally download a friend’s mp3 library in a couple of hours, and be “DJ-ready” in no time. Back in the day, some DJs spent years acquiring a huge CD library like the one pictured at left. Fortunately in 2014, we don’t need to have hundreds of CDs unsightly strewn across a banquet table like back in ’90s.  The miniaturization of the DJ industry has made it possible to have all this music on a hard drive the size of a pack of cigarettes.  No other wedding related sector has changed as much as ours over the last two decades.

Miniaturize cocktail hourLast year I invested in the Bose speaker system. It’s a miniaturized version of the typical DJ system. Large bass bins and speaker stands are replaced by smaller components designed for aesthetics as well as clearer sound quality.  These smaller components not only look better, but because of their smaller size, allow for a larger dance floor area.  I especially love my new mini cocktail hour speaker system (pictured at left at a recent wedding at the Tapestry House).  It’s virtually invisible – you have to look closely – and has an incredibly small footprint.

miniaturize carAnother interesting byproduct of technology’s miniaturization is the fact that my vehicles have gotten smaller over the years.  Back in the ’90s, I drove a Toyota minivan to haul my all my gear.  After switching to an all-wedding format a decade ago, I sold my karaoke system and almost all of my lighting gear, and bought a smaller SUV.  Now with my smaller Bose system, my new even-smaller Subaru Crosstrek can fit everything with room to spare.  At this rate, I’ll be driving a SmartCar in a few years.

 

7/2014: Mentors

Webster Dictionary defines the word mentor as “a wise and trusted teacher”.  I’ve also heard the word defined as someone who inspires, motivates, and leads.  I’ve had many mentors over the years and last month, two of them passed away.

thH88HRXZ2Casey Kasem was the host of the syndicated radio show “American Top 40″ for almost two decades.  His show, broadcast to hundreds of radio stations across the country and around the world, would count down the 40 hottest songs on the Billboard Hot 100 music chart every week.  Billboard was, and still is, the most authoritative magazine in the music business.  It’s quite possible that Casey may have single-handedly gotten me interested in popular music which eventually lead me to becoming a DJ.  Within a year of starting to listen to his weekly program, I went from probably not knowing who Elton John or the Rolling Stones were, to knowing practically every song on the radio, it’s current chart position, and little anecdotes about each tune and artist.

I was addicted.  I can still remember my mom yelling across the house on Sunday mornings, “Ronnie, go play outside, it’s beautiful out!”  My response was usually, “Casey’s not to #1 yet!”. I remember a family trip to Disney World one year in December.  Unfortunately it coincided with Casey’s annual all-day Top 100 countdown of the biggest hits of the year.  Guess what I was doing while the family was enjoying Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride?  Yep, I was back at the hotel listening to the countdown and logging every song in my notebook.  They all thought I was nuts!   Still to this day, I track the weekly hits on the charts.  It’s a lot easier now.  Instead of sitting around a radio for hours, I just turn on my computer and go to billboard.com.

th[7]It’s quite possible that if you’re not a baseball fan, or don’t live in San Diego, you may not know about Tony Gwynn.  Tony was to San Diego what John Elway is to Denver…a hometown sports icon. I call him “the greatest baseball player most people have never heard of”.  Tony’s PR problem came from the fact that he played for a small market club (the San Diego Padres) that rarely made the playoffs and steered clear of the controversy that other high profile players are known for.  Tony could have made tens of millions of dollars more over the course of his career by playing in L.A., New York, or other high-profile big budget teams.  His home was in San Diego and he refused to leave and uproot his family. Rumor has it, he drove his agent crazy because he’d take less than he was worth just to stay in small-market San Diego.

What Tony did do was know how to hit.  In fact, he did it better than anybody during the 80s and 90s.  I remember going to Padres games when I lived in San Diego just to see Gwynn play. I think he got a hit every game I saw him, he was just that consistent. He amassed an insane .338 lifetime batting average, over 3,100 career hits, eight batting titles, flirted with .400 in 1994, and was hardly ever injured.

20140710_181102Tony was a student of the game.  He’d spend hours watching videos of each of his at-bats to see how he could perfect his swing.  Right up until he retired in 2001, he was an amazing hitter, finishing with 19 straight years with a .300 or better batting average.  Tony left the game on top, still sharp, though knowing his best years were behind him. I remember seeing him play in his last game in Colorado that year against the Rockies.  The Rockies fans graciously gave Gwynn a standing ovation for his final at-bat knowing they were witnessing a future Hall Of Famer. Most importantly, Gwynn was a people person.  He’d always sign an autograph for a fan.  He treated stadium janitors and batboys with the same respect as the team owners. The media loved him, as he always gave a great interview and was very generous with his time even after a rough Padres loss – which over the years, like my Rockies – happens more than victories.

6/2014: The ‘Boat

thALN2BPIOThe year was 1825.  A group of three French trappers were hunting in what is now known as the Yampa River Valley in western Colorado.  They heard what sounded like the chugging sound of a steamboat engine.  Upon further inspection, it turned out to be a natural mineral hot springs. It would be named Steamboat Spring.

By the late 1800s families were homesteading in the area, and the turn of the century saw a railroad being built and several businesses were established.  Carl Howelsen built a ski jumping facility here in 1915 that would become one of the first ski areas in the country.  The rest is history.  Over the next 100 years, the area has turned into one of Colorado’s premier resort locations with world class skiing in the winter and countless outdoor recreational activities in the summer.

412It’s always a pleasure to travel to the ‘Boat (as the locals call it).  This month I had a wedding here, so I decided to spend the entire weekend.  I drove up on Friday afternoon to attend the ceremony rehearsal (photo left), Saturday was the wedding, and I stayed an extra day to enjoy some outdoor activities.  Chassity & Jeff really went out of their way to create an incredible weekend for their guests, almost all of which spent the entire weekend in town as well.

411 Chassity & JeffThey picked Bella Vista as their venue, a beautiful hilltop location overlooking Lake Catamount just east of town on the main road up Rabbit Ears Pass.  A tent was set up for the reception’s 100+ guests on Saturday.  These guests loved to party…and so did the bride and groom.  What began as a late afternoon ceremony ended 7 hours later at midnight with a full dance floor and a great sparkler exit of the bride and groom.  Wisely, Chassity & Jeff provided shuttle buses for their guests to get back into town to the Sheraton as they had a hosted bar and frankly, many guests had a few too many drinks to be driving back to town on a winding mountain road.  Definitely a good move!  Overall it was one of my favorite weddings of the year.

As a side note, a wedding that I was hired for last summer was recently featured in the latest edition of Rocky Mountain Bride Magazine.  Christina & Jason’s wedding took place at the Black Canyon Inn.  This was another really fun couple.  Here’s the featured link:


 

5/2014: The Middle East

03 Giza 12Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx in Egypt.  Over the last decade, I’ve actually seriously considered it.  Every time I did however, someone would tell me, “Are you crazy? That’s the Middle East, there’s terrorists over there”. Or I’d hear the media warn everyone about some war that’s just about to start, or some uprising that’s just about to happen, or some crazy guy who just blew himself up.

Before I get to the rest of the story, I’d like to go back to 2005.  My wife and I had taken a Mediterranean cruise that year.  It was an amazing trip, one that I’ll never forget.  We had the pleasure of doing the cruise with a longtime friend of mine and his wife who were celebrating their honeymoon (yes, we had separate cabins).  Amid all the history we saw, the insane amount of food we ate, and the evenings in the night club critiquing the ship’s DJ (we’re both DJs…but that’s another story), one of the things that still stands out about this trip was a special warning notice passengers got the night before docking in Istanbul, Turkey.

We were told to be careful in Istanbul and the subsequent port of Kusadasi (the following day).  Being that it is an Islamic country and the culture is a bit different than what most passengers were used to, the ship suggested that passengers not explore the city on their own and go with a guide or on one of the group tours.  We heeded the warning, and at both ports took guided tours.  What I found on the tour, and from the few moments that we were able to “hang with the locals” is that their city and culture is no more dangerous than that found here in the US. Furthermore, the Turkish people were the friendliest we met on that entire trip and I wish we had more time to explore this amazing country on our own (we’ll be back someday).  I should have been more worried about the pick-pockets in Rome and Naples than the so-called “radical Islamists” in Turkey.  When I got home, I did some research and found that I was no more likely to be killed / robbed / attacked in Istanbul than Indianapolis.

01 Petra 34Fast-forward back to 2014.  Amid worrying relatives and friends, we left Denver on April 7th and headed to Amman, Jordan.  We spent two incredible weeks in Jordan, Egypt, and Israel soaking up Middle Eastern culture, eating falafel and hummus, and hanging with the locals.  We didn’t go with a group. We didn’t pack a bullet-proof vest.  We didn’t take out an additional life insurance policy.  We did however, assure our dog he would see us again (our pet sitters were far more worried than he was). And yes…we came back alive.  It was probably my favorite trip I’ve ever taken.

03 Cairo 24In short, Jordan was my favorite country. While researching the trip, I’ve heard people say Jordanians are some of the friendliest people in the world.  I now totally believe this.  Many invited us into their homes for tea and welcomed us with open arms everywhere we went.  The historical sites ain’t bad, either – Petra is absolutely jaw-dropping!  Egypt’s Cairo is crazy and chaotic but contrary to media reports is no more dangerous to visit than any major city here in the States. As for Israel, you can spend a month and not even scratch the surface of the historical sites that can be visited there.  Not once on the entire trip did we ever feel threatened or in danger (except for a few wacky taxi rides in Cairo).  The bottom line is…don’t believe the hype.  When considering travel to a foreign country, do your own independent research and come to your own conclusions.  In our case, Syria and Lebanon: NO!…Jordan, Egypt & Israel: YES!

So what does any of this have to do with weddings?  Probably nothing, but maybe something.  If you’re a bride and groom reading this and you’re planning your honeymoon, don’t be afraid to pick a destination that you’ve always dreamed about, even if it’s not the typical honeymoon-type destination that’s in all the wedding magazines.  In the last year, some of my wedding clients have honeymooned in China, Thailand, Maine, and the Oregon Coast.  One couple even went to SXSW in Austin, Texas!  A DJ friend of mine in New Jersey who got married last year let his guests decide where they should go on their honeymoon through a survey that they sent out.  They picked Iceland!  How cool is that?…..no pun intended.

03 Cairo 42It seems every time I go on vacation, I come across a wedding.  On the final night of the trip, we were packing up everything in our Cairo hotel for an early morning flight back to New York, and I started hearing music coming from hotel’s courtyard.  I opened the window, looked out, and there’s a DJ blasting Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”.  I went down and hung out with them for awhile and we traded DJ stories for the next 30 minutes.  Interestingly, most of the music he played was “Western” Top 40…Ke$ha, Pharrell, and Robin Thicke. Just goes to show that music, no matter what the language and culture, is always a common denominator.

4/2014: Bash & Crawl

220Last month I signed on for the Estes Park Wedding Association’s two-day bridal planning weekend that included a Saturday ‘Bridal Bash’ and a Sunday ‘Bridal Crawl’.  Held on the March 1st / 2nd weekend, it was billed as “Wedding Planning With Altitude” and attracted couples eager to get wedding planning information in Colorado’s wedding capital, Estes Park.

307The entire weekend was fairly well attended, although an ominous weather forecast on Saturday may have scared off some couples.  Almost 100 brides and grooms attended both events with many coming not only from the Front Range area, but around the country.  I met one couple that came all the way from Florida to attend the event.  The event was well publicized on the Estes Park Wedding Association website.  It was a fun-filled weekend for everyone and I even heard that a couple even got engaged on site!

301Saturday’s event which was set at the YMCA Of The Rockies convention center featured a full-course dinner and bridal fashion show for all couples attending.  There was also a featured speaker panel featuring association members giving tips on wedding planning and tips on hiring your wedding team. I was asked to speak to attendees regarding questions to ask your DJ before hiring them. After the dinner, fashion show, and speaker panel was the vendor showcase where couples had the chance to walk around and meet with the various wedding professionals. To wrap up the evening, a door prize giveaway featured hundreds of dollars of donated wedding services.

306Sunday morning’s Bridal Crawl at the Stanley Hotel featured a light breakfast for all attendees, vendor showcase, and guided bus tours of all the association’s amazing wedding venues. For the second year in a row, I played tour guide and got a chance to lead a small group to Peaceful Valley Ranch, Wild Basin Lodge (both near Allenspark), and Taharaa Mountain Lodge on the south side of Estes Valley.  These three venues are the southernmost venues in the association.  The association is already planning the next wedding planning events – an early November bridal show and a March 2015 Bridal Crawl.  Stay tuned!

Photography courtesy of Cathcart Photography.