During my visit to Denver last September for SQL Saturday 52, I spent a while talking with Marc Beacom, who mentioned that the 3 PASS chapters in and around Denver hold their monthly meetings on consecutive nights. When I brought up my love for snowskiing, he suggested that we combine a ski trip with a speaking trip. Thus began the planning for my winter 2011 tour of the Colorado SQL Server user groups.
I arrived in Denver on Tuesday afternoon, picked up my rental car, and stopped off at Christy Sports to pick up my ski gear. I checked in to Hotel Beacom, and then Marc and I headed north to Broomfield for the Boulder SQL Server User Group meeting. We had a good turnout, around 20-25 people, and there were a good number of questions and lots of good discussion after the presentation. Thanks to Kate Totten and Paul Paiva, the co-presidents of this group, for allowing me to share with the group.
After the meeting, Marc and I headed out for sushi. Having partaken in this delicacy only once before, I was intimidated by the menu, but Marc pointed me in the right direction. I always enjoy trying new foods, and this sample of sushi has given me a taste for more, so I’ll be on the lookout for some good sushi spots back in Dallas.
The following morning, I loaded up the gear and made the trek westward to Loveland ski area. It had been about 3 years since I’ve been snowskiing, so I was a little worried that I’d forgotten how it’s done. Quite the contrary – I got my ski legs pretty quickly, and had a good four hours or so on the slopes. I got in perhaps a dozen short runs in the space of four hours or so, and could have done a few more had I’d had more time. Since the Colorado Springs user group was a bit of a drive from where I was staying, I wanted to leave with plenty of time to get back to make the meeting. I broke away after lunch to head back toward Denver, and then we were off to the Colorado Springs SQL Server User Group meeting.
The Springs meeting was the most unique experience of the three. For starters, it was held at Mr. Biggs Family Fun Center, an entertainment complex offering bowling, indoor go-carts, a Gladiator-style skills/combat course, and a small arcade. The meeting started off with one of the Springs board members, Andrew Dykstra, delivering a brief but highly informative presentation entitled "The SQL Server Community Toolbelt". In this session, he describes the integration of professional networking and social media, covering topics such as blogging, Twitter, virtual training, and in-person networking. This was followed by a game of Laser Tag (really!) where several of us battled it out for about 10 minutes. Despite much trash talk, my Red Team was soundly defeated by the Blue Team.
After the battle was over, I delivered my Dirty Data presentation to a crowd of 16 or so. Even though the Springs group was the smallest of the three, they were vocal and engaged during the presentation, which is always a win for the presenter. Afterward I got to chat with one of the group members including an older gentleman named Neil, who offered some interesting insight into storytelling as a means of leadership. As with the Boulder group, the Colorado Springs crew including Andrew and Rebecca Mitchell (no relation to me) was very accommodating and gracious. I hope to get the chance to visit this group again.
I had ski plans for Thursday morning, but sadly it was not to be. On the drive to Loveland that morning, I encountered heavy snowfall, and the only radio station I could pick up in the mountains was shouting warnings about blizzard conditions coming in from the west. The roads were deteriorating quickly, and by the time I made it to the resort the parking lot was a frozen wasteland. Had I been driving my Pathfinder, I wouldn't have thought twice about staying, but I was worried that my rental car didn't have the right stuff to get me back to Denver on time.
Disappointed, I made the slow trek eastward until I cleared the winter weather, and landed in the little town of Idaho Springs. An old mining town turned tourist stop, this little place proved to be a great venue for a brief photowalk. After firing off a few dozen images along main street, I found myself at Beau Jo's, a popular stop for tourists and locals alike. My waitress, a former Dallasite, recommended the thin crust pizza and a local porter brewed with chocolate and almonds. The food and drink were as appealing as the atmosphere - my table had a window view and was positioned just inches from a restored Ford Model T in the dining room. I then followed the smell of roasting beans to a small coffee shop just across the street, after which I headed eastward toward the mile high city.
The user group meeting at the Microsoft office in Denver that night was the final stop on the speaking tour. We had an excellent turnout of 53 people, including a number of undergrad students from the nearby University of Denver. I met up with a few people whom I'd met during my September trip for SQL Saturday, and met a few new people as well. The presentation went very well, despite the fact that the overhead lights kept flickering while I spoke. Again, this group was lively and attentive, and several of them stayed after the presentation to ask questions.
After the meeting broke up, a dozen or so attendees adjourned to the Baker St. Pub and Grill, a fun (albeit noisy) local watering hole. We shared stories of career successes and flubs over a few pints, and a few of us sketched out our ski plans for the following day.
The only free day of my trip, I made plans with several of the guys to head to Breckenridge for a day of skiing. Marc and I met up with Jason Horner and Andre DuBois, and went sailing down I-70 toward the big mountain. After a breakfast stop in Frisco, we boarded the gondola to spend the next four hours going all-out on the slopes. The three Coloradans were very skilled and experienced skiers, so it was a real workout at times just to keep up. We broke for a late lunch in the middle of the afternoon, after which we made just a couple more runs before retiring to a watering hole in downtown Breck. We had initially planned for an evening trip to Keystone to ski under the lights, but we were all quite tired from the workout we’d just put in, so the after hours ski run would have to wait. Andre headed west toward home, and the rest of us navigated the sea of brake lights into Idaho Springs to dine on buffalo.
And it’s over
As with most of these trips, I would like to stay longer and hang out with the fine folks here, but I’m ready to get home to see the wife and kids. This brief tour of Colorado was a fun adventure, and I hope the opportunity knocks again.
All of the group leaders with whom I interacted were very gracious and accommodating. Most especially, I’d like to say how much I appreciate Marc Beacom and his hospitality this week. Not only did he arrange for me to speak at all three user group meetings, he also invited me to stay at his home during the trip, and drove me to each of the meetings. He and his wife Carrie made me feel right at home, and I hope to someday repay the favor.
As one last aside, I would encourage any of you speakers who have the inclination and means to travel to Colorado to consider making a similar trip to visit these 3 user groups sometime. You won’t find a better group of people, and you’ll definitely enjoy the experience.