I was trying to simultaneously run a meeting about an issue that had taken down production in Microsoft Teams with about a dozen developers AND get all of my kid’s laundry done in preparation for the weekend. I was moving around my apartment with a wireless headset, my left hand constantly on mute/unmute button so I could surreptitiously continue folding laundry with the right when the Star Trek communicator sound triggered from my phone in the kitchen and I walked over to check it out.
“A spot just opened at Dory Hill! Quick, get it!”
I still had my kid’s long sleeve unicorn t-shirt in my hand and I accidentally left myself unmuted when I let loose with an, “oh shit”.
But maybe a little background so you can sympathize with the significance of that text and my response.
What is Dory Hill? No, it’s NOT a mid-90’s horror movie knock-off starring a Rachel Weisz look-alike… It’s a campsite out in the middle of NOWHERE Colorado connected to a gas station/general store with standard tent campsites, cabins, and powered RV sites.
But What Does That Have to Do With Pinball? Exactly what it maybe sounds like. A bunch of pinball nerds dragging pinball machines out to the middle of nowhere, decorating cabins, and putting up tarps to protect the machines in case of bad weather and playing in a large pinball tournament.
Why Get So Excited? Pinball and camping. Camping and pinball. Those really aren’t two areas of my life that see a lot of cross-over. Add to that a competition with over 100 people involved. 100+ of Colorado’s pinball community in a location with limitless alcohol and only a short walk from the pinball machines to a campsite.
That is a recipe for one heck of a good time and maybe more than a few rough hangovers. Not to mention enough WPPRs to put the local Burger King out of business. So back to my tiny apartment and my meeting interrupting expletive…
“Oops, I thought I was on mute. Sorry everyone! I need to step away but keep going. I’ll be back in a few minutes” and I disconnected from the Teams call and immediately dialed the Dory Hill organizer Russel Linsky (whom I still had on speed dial from when I unsuccessfully tried to get into the event when it was first announced).
No Really, Why Else Are People Getting So Excited? It’s a sanctioned pinball event! I can count on one hand how many significant pinball related events have happened in 2021.
Side Note: If Dory Hill was any indication of what Expo 2021 will be like in Schaumberg, IL… oh dear, we’re all in for some REDONK hang-overs in late October.
Back to the Story…
I got through to Russel and we quickly worked out the details of me joining Dory Hill last-second (as in I would need to make arrangements to be there in 2 days). Unfortunately, the camp-ground was 100% booked and there was no way for me to get a campsite on short-notice but Dory Hill was only a 10 minute drive from Blackhawk (the casinos) and the casinos had plenty of availability.
I remember quickly doing a few things to prepare, all within about a 20 minute window over my “lunch”:
- Sent the fee to Russel via PayPal to lock my place in tournament.
- Called to reschedule child-care for the weekend.
- Used my free night from Hotels.com to book a room in Blackhawk.
Surprisingly… it all worked out and I was IN. This was going to be my first time at Dory Hill and I was pumped.
Unfortunately, Friday night hit faster than I thought was possible and I was less than prepared by the time I was scheduled to leave but I somehow remembered to pack most of my stuff (beer, liquor, margaritas and salt, steak, and some clothes) and jumped in the car. I forgot utensils and my medications, but do you really NEED a knife and fork?
It was a long Colorado back-and-forth drive up into the mountains and I remember I was chatting with a friend when the signal cut-out. I threw on the tunes and kept thinking how amazing it was that I could just leave my house without ANY IDEA on how to get to Dory Hill from Fort Collins. I looked up the address at Starbucks in Firestone and the directions walked me door-to-door on a pitch-black evening, with no signal for some significant percentage of the drive. How cool is technology!?
Without an issue, I pulled directly into the campsite parking lot at 8:00PM (about 1.5 hours later) to the sound of laughter and and the clickety-clack of numerous pinball machines all being played simultaneously. I made an educated guess that I had arrived at the right campsite 😛 I parked, grabbed my cooler and camera, and started walking around.
Within just a few minutes, I ran into people I knew and was introduced to a number of new people.
And the more I walked around, the more I realized how amazing it was to experience an event like this.
A beer in one hand, walking cabin to cabin, stumbling in some cases trying my best to make my way in the dark (since I also forgot to bring a camping headlamp), stepping up to some of the best games pinball has to offer and just playing.
Dollar and Tommy games were going on everywhere. You could see wads of dollar bills shoved into change returns where stall ball was happening and lines snaking their way around cabins, cars, and tents. At any point you could just jump into a game and if you’re me, expect to drain within a few seconds but be completely worth it standing in line meeting/chatting with new people.
There was quite a bit of excited conversation around the next day and what to expect. Snow from Colorado Pinball could be seen in the main pavilion, her face illuminated by multiple computer screens working away in preparation for the tournament the next day.
A Quick Shoutout!
The fact that is was so easy for someone like me to walk in at 8:00PM at night and just marvel at how effortlessly it looks to all have come together as intoxicated pinballers stumble around the Dory Hill parking lot and well worn camp trails is a testament to how much work behind the scenes was done by a number of individuals that made Dory Hill happen and I IMAGINE THAT EVERYONE INVOLVED WOULD OFFER THEIR SINCERE THANKS (and likely did).
I stayed up and played pinball with more people than I probably remember, I lost and won enough dollars to have no idea how many were shoved into my pockets. By the end of the night I had an opportunity to play just about EVERYTHING in preparation for the tournament the next day. I jumped back into my Jeep and ended up crashing back in Blackhawk for the night a little after 3:00AM.
The tournament started at 10:00AM the next morning.
Saturday – Qualifiers
I got back to the campsite from Blackhawk around 9:50AM. At 9:45AM I received multiple calls and texts from friends who were wondering where I was because I was missing the start. Thankfully, Saturday was a mostly “organize yourself” kind of thing and go at your own pace.
As my fellow group members informed me after a cup of coffee from the Dory Hill general store, the format was Pingolf (for the entire weekend) and we needed to apply to be on a particular bank (or be assigned one). There were papers in the main pavilion available to keep track of score that were preassigned to different banks. The whole process was wonderfully well thought out and there were no issues with paper, pens, or people who understood what was going on enough to help out with questions.
As our group walked around to find where we wanted to start, we noticed that on each game a sign was posted describing what the objective was and while there were a few simple score based targets, there were more progress based objective which in my opinion makes Pingolf so much more fun.
For example, in Paragon it was to spell P-A-R-A-G.
For Dr. Who, it was to start the video mode.
Each game was set to 5 balls and not completing the objective in 5 balls meant you took a 6. There were 18 holes in each bank and par was essentially a 3 at each game although some games were MUCH tougher than others.
Dr. Who was particularly rough! There was no ball save and the targets on the left each had to be hit individually to spell some ludicrously long word, and then the inner left orbit needed to be hit. But the ball had to fall down a particular path for the video mode to be initiated (it had to fall right instead of bouncing out the left). Add to that, that the game was setup to lose all progress on the letters at the end of each ball and you start to see why Dr. Who was a popular discussion topic throughout the day. Unfortunately, Dr. Who was my one and only 6 in the qualifiers. It was also my first time actually playing Dr. Who and that 3 level ball lock mechanism is ridiculously cool! And there is something to be said about endless loops from that upper right flipper.
Some groups took their time qualifying. We had until 10:00PM to play all 18 holes. Dave and his group (pictured above) took a nap/siesta for lunch and ended up finishing their qualifiers around 8:00PM.
Our group hit all of the games quickly. We were done qualifying around 3:00PM and then took the rest of the afternoon/evening to eat, drink, and have fun playing more pinball.
I mentioned above that I forgot a few things in my haste to finish up work and get packed. I forgot utensils, seasoning, and an apparatus to cook my steak. Tai helped out back at his campsite and helped turn a near catastrophe into one of the best steaks I’d ever had. It probably didn’t hurt that I was STARVING after close to 36 hours without eating and fairly buzzed from all of the mead, bloody mary’s, and gin & tonic’s I had drank while qualifying. But I applaud Tai’s ability to cook none-the-less!
I meandered around in different groups playing pinball, chatting, drinking for hours until finally around 11:00PM, the scores were projected against the side of the main pinball pavilion wall (just to the right of where Snow, Paul, and Russel were sitting most of the weekend) and it turned out even with my awful 6 on Dr. Who, I hadn’t played that bad overall:
Take the concept of “not bad overall” with a grain of salt. With people like Escher, Trent, Zach, and Donovan playing… my “not bad overall” meant in my mind that I played consistent with how I’d like to play at events like this. But keep in mind that my scores weren’t even close to those other players. An ocean’s worth of knowledge and ability exists between those top ranked players and my 4th place finish on the blue bank.
But still, I got to drive back to Blackhawk with a smile and the knowledge that I’d be competing in the A division the next morning.
Apparently I was late again as I got a call from Justin (aka Fei_) as I was in the truck about 10 minutes before the identified start time asking if I was going to make it back soon since they were starting. I let him know that I was 5 minutes away and I put the pedal to the metal. Which was actually quite fun! The road from Dory Hill to Blackhawk is not paved (dirt) and barely big enough to allow cars to pass one another but the tires on my new Jeep coupled with 4 wheel drive made me feel really good about taking the turns without slowing down too much.
The format for Sunday was once again Pingolf, but this time we were paired based on ranking with 3 others and we were given slips to play only 3 games. Only the top 2 scores would move on to the next round.
Our first game was a premium Led Zepplin. I struggled hard on it the day before trying to hit the ROCK targets. The objective was to start a multiball in competition/hard mode. It required spelling ROCK and then hitting the left ramp 3 times. It doesn’t seem too difficult but wow, I got to write down a FAT 4 for my first game. Not a great start.
We didn’t waste ANY time and we moved on to Paragon. The objective here was to spell PARAG and I was able to do it on ball 1! That put me back in the game as the others in my group each put up 2s and 3s.
That left us with AC/DC… a brutal game and this one was no exception. It had no ball save and for some reason I could NOT find the right ramp from either a backhand or a forehand.
I was out. But it felt amazing to play competitively again and to play with such big names and not feel horribly outclassed felt kind of spectacular! I went and grabbed another coffee and then meandered Dory Hill checking in on others to see how they were doing.
Would I Recommend Dory Hill to Others?
The Dory Hill experience was surreal. And not just for the people playing pinball. While getting coffee I got to listen in as groups unrelated to us stopped by asking what all the hullabaloo was about and got to hear the Dory Hill staff explain that it was a big pinball tournament.
Numerous people would visit the tents and throw down for seemingly their first time on a pinball machine and it was great to see the everyone try and fold them into the community.
Pinball is a niche sport/past-time/hobby but the people that make up the community and maybe more specifically the community in Colorado is really something. They’re open and inviting, willing to talk and explain, and ready to jump in and get done whatever is needed to make pinball and events like Dory Hill work.
I would say YES, I recommend the Dory Hill experience to anyone that can get in! And beyond that, I’ve heard of several groups and people attempting to setup something similar in their own states/cities and another huge YES to this! Camping and pinball go really well together. But PLEASE remember to bring tarps and protect the equipment from damage 🙂
Thanks to everyone involved in Dory Hill for making it one of my favorite pinball experiences and I look forward to being a part of it again next year.
Hopefully a little less last-second next time so I can bring an RV and show everyone how to glamp like a champ 😀