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Renoun Skis: The Best Ski You May Not Have Heard Of.

Cyrus Schenck doesn’t let any grass grow beneath his feet. Or snow pile up, for that matter. That’s because he’s too busy traveling from here to there to here again, holding demos and spreading the word about the small ski company he founded in 2011: RENOUN skis.

Cyrus Schenck, RENOUN Skis

Cyrus Schenck, RENOUN Skis

Back then, he and his friends were engineering students at Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY, driving back and forth to ski at Jay Peak, and talking about what they could do to build a better ski than the big guys. Then one day, while sitting in an engineering class, Cyrus learned about a non-Newtonian polymer — a polymer that doesn’t follow Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Instead, the polymer responds to an action — in this case, impact — by becoming stiffer; more rigid. It’s the basis for RENOUN’s hyper-dampening, or HDT Technology, which RENOUN uses in the core of its skis.

For a small company, this is creating some pretty big buzz. In 2015, RENOUN  captured the coveted world-class ISPO GOLD Award in Munich, Germany, in recognition of its pioneering technological design. And in December, 2015, the New York Times put it on its list of the year’s hottest ski gear.

Sounds like a gimmick, right? Does it actually work?

First, let me tell you more about HDT. All skis tend to chatter at high speeds, or over terrain that’s unforgiving, such as ice and hardpack. According to Schenck, the HDT core minimizes that by constantly changing its density, adjusting in real time to the skier and snow conditions. Put simply, when you ski on a stiffer surface, the ski becomes more rigid and damp. And when conditions become more forgiving, such as powder, the ski becomes softer, less damp. Instantly.

Here’s how the NY Times put it: “The more the skis get deflected because of uneven terrain or a high speed, the damper they become, allowing them to absorb the vibrations. At lower speeds or in powder, the core remains lively and flexible for quick turning.”

RENOUN has two lines: the Z’s, which are performance carvers, and the Endurance, which are freeride skis. Both come in two different widths: the Z’s in 77 and 90 mm, the Endurance in 98 and 104 mm.

RENOUN sent me the Z-77 to review. And yeah, I was pretty excited to try them out. So here goes.

RENOUN Z-77

RENOUN Z-77

First, a bit about me:

Size: 5’1″, 112 lbs
Skier type: Advanced
Where I ski: Mostly in Vermont. Which means I see it all: a lot of ice (aka hard pack), packed powder, sometimes powder on top of ice , and once in a while — but not too often — some actual powder.

And now, the skis:

157 mm, 123-77-111
Core: Canadian Maple and 8-layers of HDT™ inlays (15% core volume).
Reinforcement: Carbon fiber, metal and tri-axial fiberglass

So how do they ski?

My first day on them was ideal for putting them to the test: 2-3 inches of fresh powder that was eventually scraped away to reveal a surface of alternately packed powder and ice. This was great; I got to try them in everything from the sublime to the miserable. And in every instance, these skis rocked.

If I had to reduce it to one word, I’d say they were smooth. No, let me change that to two words: smooth and stable. No, let me change once again: smooth, stable, and OMIGOD THESE ARE SO MUCH FUN.

Okay. I got carried away. But it’s true. These are frickin’ great skis.

Seriously, they didn’t feel like any other ski I’ve ever skied before.

I’ve tried to put my finger on a way to describe them, and it hasn’t been easy. They’re just that different. But here goes, anyway: You know the feeling you get when you transition from one type of surface to another — like from ice to packed powder to hard pack to fluff? It’s not really a jolt; it’s more like a measure of vibration that travels from the ski to your feet to your legs, depending on the surface you’re on. In general, it’s not a bad thing — unless there’s too much of it. Then you get thrown around and your ride can be somewhat uncomfortable.

Most skis have some vibration, and that’s fine. It keeps you on your toes and provides the feedback you need to adjust your skiing to the conditions at hand. The skis that don’t are generally quite damp, and can have a dead, heavy feeling to match.

This isn’t the case with the RENOUN Z-77.  The company says its HDT Technology reduces vibration by 300%. I don’t know if that’s the exact number, but I will say this: the vibration is gone. Yet the skis don’t feel dead, heavy or plank-y. Instead, the Z-77 is responsive, fun, and quick edge to edge. These babies carve. Take them on the groomers and you’ll feel like Lindsey Vonn. But what happens when you slow them down? Do they start to chatter? In a word, no. They’re still very, very fun.

So what else did I find about these skis?
Turn initiation: easy
Long turns: no problem
Short turns: ditto
Smeared turns: why not

In short, these skis do whatever you want them to, and they’ll do it so easily that you’ll wonder how your skiing improved so fast.

Any cons, Ski Diva?

Yeah, a few.

The first is pretty minor — and you could chalk it up to a matter of taste — but I think the graphics are sort of meh. If RENOUN is going after a subtle look, well, they’ve succeeded. And I guess that appeals to a lot of people. But this ski is so super cool that I think it should have some super cool graphics, too. Not that I get skis based on graphics — I don’t — but still, it’d be nice.

Second, yes, you get what you pay for, and these skis are a bit pricey. They do come with a 100-day back guarantee, which is pretty awesome. But still, the price is a bit steep. I’m hoping that’ll come down, as time goes by.

Three, they’re not easy to find. You have to get them directly from the company right now. So if you want to give them a try, you’ll have to catch them at one of their many demo days across the country. Follow them on Facebook and you’ll see where they are when.

And four, I wish they were available in shorter lengths. I know, I’m a pipsqueak. But just so you know, Cyrus is 6’6″, so he’s coming at this from a totally different perspective. Hey, look down here, Cyrus! We’re short, and we’re proud!

Bottom Line:

Awesome is a word that gets tossed around a lot for just about anything these days (‘Man, that’s an awesome cheeseburger.’ ‘Oh, your shirt is so awesome.‘). So let’s not go there. Instead, let’s call these skis something else: exceptional. These are skis that will make your ski day better than it’d be if you were skiing something else. Skis that will make you grin. Skis that will make you fall in love with skiing all over again. And really, you can’t beat that.

I can’t wait to try to Z-90’s.

Final rating: Two ski poles up!

 



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Building Better Women’s Ski Gear: Blizzard’s Women to Women Initiative

Listen; do you hear that? It’s the sound of money talking. According to the SIA (Snowsports Industries Association), women spent $1.4 billon on women-specific gear during the ’15-’16 season (through February, anyway). That’s 31% of total sales — a pretty hard number for gear companies to ignore.

All the same, not all companies are fully committed to the women’s market. Some still treat it as an afterthought – a backseat to the unisex (read men’s) gear they already produce.

This isn’t the case at Blizzard Tecnica. Well known for its outstanding skis and boots, the company reaffirmed its commitment to the women’s market a little over a year ago with its Women to Women Initiative.

So what is this, exactly? I spoke to Leslie Baker-Brown, Blizzard Tecnica’s US Marketing Manager, to find out.

SD: Blizzard has been selling women’s skis for a long time. What’s the Women to Women Initiative, and how is it different from what you’ve already been doing?

Leslie Baker-Brown, Tecnica Blizzard's US Marketing Manager

Leslie Baker-Brown, Tecnica Blizzard’s US Marketing Manager

LBB: That’s a good question, because the Black Pearl is the best selling ski in the country, so you’d wonder why we need to do anything special. Yes, it’s true we make great women’s products, but we believe we can do better. Our objective is to create authentic, relevant products that work for women. But we also want to improve the way we communicate with, engage, and educate women, too. This includes setting up a platform where we not only bring like-minded skiers together, but bring more women to the sport and get them to say ‘Omigod this is so much fun! Look at the people you meet, the connections you make.’ It’s a two-fold effort.

SD: So what’s the shape of this initiative?
LBB: The first phase has been focused on product — looking at what we have and figuring out what we can do better. In November, 2015, our parent company held a focus group in Italy where we brought together a variety of women to talk about equipment, determine what women value, and explore solutions. The next month, we held a North American focus group in Park City, Utah. And we had another one this past December.

During the first group, we spent a lot of time on the hill skiing our skis along with those of our competitors’. We talked about what we liked, what we didn’t like, and what we’d like to see changed. Then we spent a day talking about the issues women have with boots, whether it’s fit or stance or alignment.

On Mountain Focus Group

On Mountain Focus Group

SD: What came out of the boot portion?
LBB: We have a separate initiative called Project 165 — 165 is the Pantone color of our Tecnica orange – which we started a while ago. It’s made up of five of the people we think are the best bootfitters in the country. Four years ago we put them in a room and said, ‘Okay, blank slate. Design your dream boot.’ The end result was our Mach 1 collection of boots, which has been on the market for three years and has been hugely successful. We work with them on our other boots, too. So at Park City, we sat around and came up with all these different issues that women have with boots, and then brought in the guys from Project 165. They fit a lot of women’s boots so they see a lot of the same things. We all talked about the issues women have, as well as what women want. Then they went away and worked with our product development team to develop solutions.

SD: And what about skis?
LBB: Honestly, we started working on these sooner. We’ve always worked with a number of our athletes on projects and had a lot of success with that. Last year we introduced a women-specific design that basically takes what we’ve learned about carbon to make a ski that’s lighter without compromising performance. And this year moving forward we’ve got some new shapes and side cuts that are a littler more user friendly in terms of initiating a turn — not that they were hard in the past. You wonder, ‘How can they make this better?’ But they just keep doing it. It’s kind of fun.

SD: Have you learn anything from these groups that surprised you in any way?
LBB: Well, here’s something interesting. Everyone knows women’s calf muscles seem to be larger lower down on the leg than men’s, so fit can be an issue. For example, this prevents some women from getting their foot all the way to the bottom of the boot. But we had one woman in our focus group who had a skinny calf and couldn’t get her boots tight enough around her leg. That’s something you don’t generally think about. So we came up wth inserts that a boot fitter can use to fill in space around the calf to make the boot fit a skinny leg.

SD: So is W2W an ongoing project?
LBB: Ongoing. Corporate has hired a woman full-time to spearhead this project globally. She’s a young, Italian former ski racer, but she spent four years in the US, which is helpful for us because it gives her an understanding of the US market. She’s super energetic and fun. And I can tell you that as long as I’m here, we’ll be continuing this effort.

We’re also going to keep having focus groups; we’ll probably hold two in 2017. This past August we did a women’s-only athlete trip to Portillo, Chile. We took four of our athletes – a very diverse group – along with our brand creative manager, and brought in a bunch of prototype skis to get their feedback. We also did a lot of talking about the product, but since the next phase of the project is building out, we also discussed how to engage women, how to speak with them, what sort of information they want to know from us as a brand, and how to connect with them better. One conclusion we came to is that we all love sharing our skiing experiences, so we want to determine how we can we do that better so other women can come to love it as we do.

SD: So what are some of the things we can expect from Blizzard in the future?
LBB: We’re going to get this first phase of product out, and we’re going to launch a website in the next month or so that’s associated with the Blizzard Tecnica website. You’ll be able to go there to learn things like what to expect when you go into a store to buy a ski, what you should be looking for, how you should expect a boot to fit, how to in get shape for skiing. We have athletes we can tap into for expertise; who can act as a resource for women. So the next phase is pushing this out to the female sking community — educating, empowering, and drawing them into the sport. It’s a more 360 degree approach. It’s not just ‘Here’s a boot, we’re done.’ It’s a lot more than that.

 

 



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Why you shouldn’t miss skiing Whiteface.

Okay, let’s get this over with:

Iceface.

Feel better now? Because often, when I mention Whiteface to someone, they’ll roll their eyes and say Iceface in kind of a know-it-all way — even if they’ve never been there before. My advice: Get over it. Because if you don’t, you’re missing out on one of the best skiing experiences in the East.

IMHO, Iceface is a vestigial term, left from a time when there was little to no snowmaking or grooming and yeah, it was icy. Whiteface is a high mountain that gets a lot of wind and weather. So I have no doubt that this was correct.

But times change, and today, I don’t think Whiteface has any more or less ice than anyplace else in the East. Everyone gets their fair share. And there are ways to deal with it now that didn’t exist in the past.

Instead, I’d like to start talking about just how awesome Whiteface is.  Consider this: the Olympics were held there in 1980, and in nearby Lake Placid in 1932. A place has to be pretty special to have that happen. And Whiteface is.

A couple weeks ago, Whiteface invited me and a bunch of other ski journalists for a ski media day. If you read my blog post about Okemo’s media day, then you know that this is a time that the resort people set aside to familiarize the press with all the stuff they have going on. You go on mountain tours, sit through presentations, eat at the various restaurants, and so on. It’s fun and you learn a lot.

Suffice it to say that the one at Whiteface reminded me about why it’s a must-do in the East.

Here’s what I love about it:

Whiteface gondola.

Whiteface gondola.

Long, long trails: The highest lift at Whiteface unloads at 4,386 feet, a vertical drop of 3,166 feet to the base area, which sits at 1,220 feet. Its hike-to terrain, The Slides, is 264 feet  higher (4,650 feet), giving Whiteface the greatest continuous vertical drop in the eastern US (3,430 feet). This makes for some very long, very fun runs. The Wilmington trail, for example, at 2-1/2 miles long, and is the East’s longest intermediate trail. Zoooooom.

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Snowmaking: Whiteface has come a long way in this department. The day of my visit, the guns were blasting everywhere. But what impressed me the most was the quality of the snowmaking system itself. In addition to a hefty arsenal of snow guns that blanket 99% of the mountain with white goodness, Whiteface has 15 TecnoAlpin fan snow guns that are absolutely incredible. These energy-efficient guns produce snow that feels amazingly natural, without blasting your ears when you stop to talk or turning your goggles into a frosty nightmare when you ski past. They have an onboard weather center that tells them how much water to use based on wet-bulb temperature. And their basic operation (start, stop, snow quality and position) can be controlled from any computer or smart phone.

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Kids’ Program: Whiteface has an entire section of the mountain set aside just for kids/beginners — with its own lodge, dedicated trails, and lift. Which means you don’t get higher level skiers blasting through and creating problems for learners. Truly, it’s  one of the nicest beginner areas I’ve ever seen.

Whiteface Kids Kampus

Whiteface Kids Kampus

The View: The summit of Whiteface offers a 360-degree view of the Adirondacks. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mount Mansfield in Vermont (home of Stowe) and even into Canada. It’s pretty incredible. Here’s a view down the back side of the mountain:

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View from the summit

Lake Placid: There are ski towns and then there are Ski Towns. Lake Placid is the latter. It’s amazing. The spirit of the Olympics permeates the place. There are Olympic venues and training facilities everywhere. It’s like it took place last week.  And there’s so much to do! In addition to skiing, there’s ice-skating, tobogganing, the Olympic bobsled ride (DO IT!), cross country skiing at the Olympic venue Mount Van Hovenberg. Plus there are lots of great shops, restaurants, and places to stay. Which leads me to the following…..

Andrew Weibrecht stands by his medals

Andrew Weibrecht stands by his Olympic medals at the front desk of the Mirror Lake Inn.

The Mirror Lake Inn: I can’t let this review go by without mentioning the Mirror Lake Inn, one of my very favorite places to stay, anywhere. I actually nominated it for USAToday’s Ten Best Ski Hotels, and it came in fourth. With good reason. Owned and operated by Ed Weibrecht, father of two-time Olympic medalist Andrew Weibrecht, the Mirror Lake Inn is a gorgeous, rambling building on the edge of the lake. Decorated in a style I’d term elegant-Adirondack, the main building features a series of cozy sitting rooms with large, comfy chairs and sofas punctuated by huge, blazing fireplaces, a terrific restaurant, and bar. Downstairs, there’s a first-class spa, a hot tub, an indoor swimming pool, and a fitness center. No, this is not your Econo-Lodge. It’s pricey, but go ahead — treat yourself. It’s worth it.

Mirror Lake Inn

Mirror Lake Inn

So should you go to Whiteface? By all means. And next time someone says Iceface and rolls their eyes, feel free to roll your eyes right back.

 

 



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Making A Difference, Ski-Style.

Christmas has come and gone, along with the all-out consumer binge-fest we’ve been in for the past few months. It’s kind of hard to avoid. The commercials have been running since Halloween, the stores have been offering deals you simply can’t pass up, and money goes faster than Santa sliding down a chimney. And while giving to those we love is very, very nice, it’s also worth noting that there are lots of others out there who could use some help. With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of ski-related charities that are definitely worth supporting.  So before you put your wallet away, take a moment to review the following. I hope you’ll consider making a contribution.

highfives

Photo from the High Fives Foundation

High Fives Foundation: Dedicated to raising money and awareness for athletes that have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in the winter action sports community.

SheJumps: Works to increase the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities. This is done through high-visibility Get the Girls Out events, outdoor education, youth initiatives and grassroots recreational gatherings.

skiduckSkiDucks: Dedicated to enriching the lives of disadvantaged and financially underprivileged children by teaching and sharing the joys of skiing and snowboarding. I wrote about SkiDucks here.

Kelly Brush Foundation: Dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals living with spinal cord injuries (SCI)  by purchasing adaptive athletic equipment for those with financial limitations; advocates for improved ski racing safety;  supports research to treat and cure paralysis due to SCI. For my interview with Kelly, go here.

Disabled Sports USA:  Provides adaptive sports opportunities for people with disabilities to help them develop independence, confidence, and fitness.

American Blind Skiing Foundation: Provides blind children and adults with opportunities to build confidence and independence through skiing.

Protect Our Winters:  Dedicated to uniting and actively engaging the global snow sports community to lead the fight against climate change.

Clean Water Carbon Fund: Fights climate change and protects clean water by planting trees along streams and rivers.

Special Olympics: Provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Photo from Special Olympics

Photo from Special Olympics

Challenged Athletes Foundation: Provides opportunities and support to people with physical disabilities so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics.

National Sports Center for the Disabled: Facilitates sporting events for the physically disabled.

Outdoor Women’s Alliance: Engages, educates, and empowers females worldwide through activities that require human-powered initiative in spaces away from city limits.

 

 



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Eleven Reasons to Visit Okemo.

One of the perks of being The Ski Diva is that from time to time I get invited to media events at various ski resorts. These are days that the PR people set aside to familiarize members of the press with all the stuff they have going on. You go on mountain tours, sit through presentations, eat at the various restaurants. It’s actually very nice.

Recently I went to one here in Vermont for Okemo Mountain Resort. Okay, you say, isn’t that your home mountain? It is. But it’s good to hear from management about the new stuff that’s going on, their plans for the future, and so on. And with press people coming from all over the place, it’s nice to have the chance to see the mountain through new eyes. Kind of gives me a new slant on things I see all the time.

So with that in mind, I thought I’d devote this week to giving you my perspective about Okemo: the stuff I really like  — I mean, besides the fact that I can be there in about 7 minutes, which is very nice, too.

 

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1) It’s a cruiser’s paradise:  If you love rippin’ the groomers, Okemo is for you. These trails are designed to make you feel positively giddy. If you’re not smiling by the time you reach the bottom, then I’m sorry, there’s no hope for you at all.

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The Sunburst Six Bubble Lift

2) The Bubble Lift: The official name is The Sunburst Six, but everyone just calls it The Bubble. To be honest, when they first put it in a few years ago, my initial reaction was man, how decadent. What do we need this for? But seriously, on a cold day, when the wind is blowing and the wind chill is below zero,  this is the lift that everyone heads for. Not only does it offer protection, but did I mention that the seats are heated? This Can. Not. Be. Beat. Extra Okemo fact: there’s a second bubble lift at the Jackson Gore area. No, the seats aren’t heated, but it’s a godsend on cold days.

3) Friendly employees: I’ve skied at a lot of places, and I have to say the employees at Okemo are the best by far. They always, always act like they’re happy to see you. This can’t be easy, but somehow they manage to pull it off. It may seem like a small thing, but it really makes a difference.

 

food

Photo courtesy of Okemo.

4) Food: I’m not talking about food in the cafeteria at the base lodges — though the food at the Jackson Gore base lodge is actually pretty good. And to be honest, I’m cheap; I usually bring my lunch. But if you want a treat, try Epic, the sit-down restaurant at the Solitude base area. I’ve eaten there a few times, and it’s excellent.

 

Okemo's Women's Alpine Adventures. Photo courtesy of Okemo..

Okemo’s Women’s Alpine Adventures. Photo courtesy of Okemo.

5) Women’s Alpine Adventures: Okemo’s women’s ski clinic is very well known. In fact, I wrote a review about it here. If you’re a Mikaela Shiffrin, or aspire to be, the WAA, as it’s known, probably isn’t for you. But if you’re looking to gain confidence, have a terrific time, make new friends, and pick up some pointers, you’re definitely in the right place.

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The Magic Carpet

6) The Magic Carpet: Little known fact: the Magic Carpet conveyor lift at Okemo is FREE. For everyone! Which is great for beginners. Oh, don’t think I don’t know the score: the idea is to get you hooked so you want to pay the big bucks for the lift. But it’s a great way for newbies to learn the basics so they can ski more safely before they go up in the chair.

7) Ice Skating: Okemo installed its skating rink in 2006, and this year they’ve improved it with a new refrigeration system that can make ice at temperatures well above freezing. A lot of fun when you don’t feel like skiing.

8) The Timber Ripper: Okay, you’re there for the skiing. But honestly, how can you resist taking what’s essentially a roller coaster ride down the mountain? It starts with a five-minute, 1,600-foot climb followed by a 375 vertical-foot descent along 3,100 feet of track that follows the contours of the mountain, at speeds of up to 25 mph. And it’s open all year long.

Timber Ripper Coaster. Photo courtesy of Okemo.

Timber Ripper Coaster. Photo courtesy of Okemo.

9) Summer concerts: Okemo has a lot of stuff going on in the summer. But to me, the best thing by far is the free Friday night concerts in the Jackson Gore base area. People pack picnics, bring lawn chairs, and just enjoy being out on a summer evening. Everyone loves it.

10) Ludlow: This is the town that’s at the base of Okemo. I’ll be honest: if you’re looking for a picture-perfect Vermont town, this ain’t it. But Okemo is the only ski area in the state that has a town right there. And that does have some advantages. For example, in addition to the ski shops right on the mountain, there are five in town (plus one shop just for boarders). And, love ’em or hate ’em (I’ll leave that up to you), there are lots of restaurants and places to stay.  Which weighs heavily on the convenience factor.

11) Hey, it’s Vermont! What can I say. There’s something special about the Green Mountain State. The rolling hills, the quaint villages, the lack of suburban sprawl, the state’s no billboard policy…it’s New England at its best. All I know is that when I tell people I live in Vermont, it’s like I’ve told someone I live on a tropical island; I get the same sort of reaction. No, it doesn’t have the gnarly terrain as Utah or Colorado. But it’s pretty unique, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Women Who Ski, By the Numbers.

If you’ve ever been skiing and felt like you were the only girl out there, you’re not imagining things. There’s no dispute that there are more male skiers than female. In fact, one of the reasons I started TheSkiDiva.com was so I could find other women to ski with. Self serving, I know, but none of my friends skied, and most of the people I saw on the hill were men.

Ski Divas at Big Sky.

Ski Divas at Big Sky.

That said, it’s one thing to think something is true, and another to back it up with data. I mean, did you ever stop and wonder about the actual numbers? How many women skiers are there? How often do they ski? And really, how much do we really know about this group?

It’s something I think about, myself. Then again, beneath this ultra cool Ski Diva personality is a geek who loves stats of all kinds. (Also map. I love maps. But that has nothing to do with this.)

Kelly Davis, SIA's Director of Research

Kelly Davis, SIA’s Director of Research

Recently I attended a presentation by Kelly Davis, Snowsports Industries America’s Director of Research. Kelly makes it her business to compile data about just about everything to do with snowsports, and she had some fascinating information about women and skiing. So I thought I’d share some of it with you here:

• In ‘15/’16, there were 11.631 million downhill skiers. Forty one percent, or 4.769 million, were female. (This is actually more than I thought, so encouraging news.)

• Thirty five percent of the 8.158 million participants who consider themselves skiers or snowboarders and didn’t participate last season are female. Their three most common reasons for not participating are as follows:  (1) nobody to go with; (2) increased family commitments; and (3) bad weather/snow conditions.

• Half of women skiers ski fewer than 9 times a season; 25% ski 10 to 19 times; and 28% 20+ times. Compare this to men: 39% say they ski 9 days or less, 25% 10 to 19 times, and 37% 20+ days.

• Women tend to rate their ability levels lower than men. About 17% assess themselves as beginners, 50% as intermediates, and 33% as advanced/expert. For men, 5% assess themselves as beginners,  36% intermediates, and 57% as advanced/experts.

• Women who return to skiing after dropping out cite lack of time as their primary reason for stopping. Many return because they want their children to experience skiing. They also return when they feel they have enough disposable income to afford to ski again.

• Women who are new to the sport see four key hurdles to participating: (1) intimidation because they feel that they don’t have adequate skills; (2) lack of confidence due to not having or knowing how to choose the right gear; (3) uncertainty about planning a ski trip, and (4) price sensitivity because they think it’s too expensive.

• Women make up just 25% of a subgroup of skiers that Kelly identifies Core Skiers, a group that accounts for only 5% of the skiing population. Her description of Core Skiers is as follows:

“This participant lives to ski. They might be found hanging around back bowls, tree runs, or skinning in the backcountry. Many live and work in ski towns just so they can focus on their passion for skiing. They are planning trips to exotic ski locations around the world. They have a quiver of skis and will buy high end gear with superior technology including equipment, apparel, and accessories. They probably ‘know a guy’ that works in a specialty shop in town who hooks them up with the best gear. They read SKI, Skiing, Powder, and Freeskier magazines and play close attention to gear guides. They consume ski media and produce their own online content.”

And here’s the group’s demographics:

• College degree
• Household income $25K to $50K and $250K to $1M+. Note: on the lower end of income and age, this person may work at a specialty shop, on the mountain, as a guide, or at a restaurant in a mountain town. On the high end, this could be a consultant or the founder of a successful business venture.
• Averages 30+ days a season
• Age 15 to 30/ages 45 to 65 (about 585K)

So what do we get from these numbers? What do they mean? Why are women such a minority in skiing? It’s a question the industry has grappled with for years, and it’s one I put to the members of TheSkiDiva. Here are a few of the insights they offered:

• Many, many women, especially in my mom’s generation, seem to have this ingrained sense of needing to take care of everyone, including their husbands, while the men have an easier time really embracing a day off. This may affect womens’ willingness to give time over to skiing, because it can be a very, very time-intensive sport, especially if you live in day-trip proximity to the big mountains. They may just be thinking about all the stuff that won’t get done if they spend this or that day up in the hills, and then they go less, and their skiing doesn’t get better. Meanwhile, the men are thinking, “Great! A day off, let’s ski!”

• A lot of my friends skied when I was in college. But fewer and fewer did, as I got older. For some it was because of  kids, and the whole process became just too difficult. For others, it was money. And for others, it was just lack of either time or interest. I’m the only one of us who’s managed to keep at it.

• I think as woman age their priorities change. High School age and younger, they have no responsibilities and are able to enjoy skiing without guilt. College age, there’s more responsibility with school, but no families or children yet. After graduation there’s jobs, thus less time for skiing, more dedication to climbing the corporate ladder etc. Finally marriage, kids, lots and lots of responsibility less and less time for skiing. Skiing isn’t a priority any longer and goes by the way side.

• Women are supporters. And part of the reason for this is because of the way we’re brought up. But I think another part of it is that we reorganize our lives and reprioritize our lives all the time. We tend to reinvent ourselves when things happen in our life, and adjust our priorities. If a guy is a skier when he’s single, he’ll likely be a skier when he’s married, and when he becomes a dad…………..(you get the idea), When an average woman makes those transitions her her life, I think she tends to adjust priorities more readily, and thus the lack of enthusiasm for a given activity.

• It seems women get distracted from skiing by the parenting and total family expense; unfortunate more fathers don’t step up and insist on hanging in the lodge and encouraging mom to get back out there. I don’t live in the land of make believe — a couple of my friends’ husbands did encourage them to get back out there and take turns in the lodge. It makes the difference, for these friends they are still skiers — with and without family.

Next month is Learn to Ski and Ride Month. Many ski areas are offering special rates for lessons and rentals. So if you have a friend who might want to learn to ski, check it out. Or check out my list of women’s ski clinics for the ’16/’17 season. For women who want to return to skiing, it’s a great way to brush up on rusty skills and learn some new ones in a fun, relaxed atmosphere.



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Winter Driving, or Getting To The Hill In One Piece.

Have you seen this video? It’s everywhere right now. You can’t take your eyes off it; the slo-mo crashes are amazing. I just hope no one got hurt.

All the same, it serves as a good reminder: Winter driving can be treacherous. The same weather that brings us great ski conditions can also make getting to the mountain a white knuckle experience.

Which means you have to be prepared. You have to know how to handle the worst winter can dish out. For starters, this means having a car that’s reliable and snow-capable. I have a Subaru, the unofficial state car of Vermont. And I’m only half kidding.  Everyone around here has one. It has four-wheel drive, plenty of room, and it’s not an SUV so it’s good on gas. All pluses, in my book. On top of that, I replaced the stock all-season tires with some really good snow tires. Winter is a serious business here. Trust me, you don’t want to take chances.

So in the interest of improving your on-the-road safety, here are some tips that can help you get to the mountain without incident:

Check the road conditions before you go. I’ve been on roads that have been closed by the state police, and believe me, they’re closed for a reason. If a road isn’t open, stay off. And if it says “chains required,” for God’s sake, use them.

Clean off your car. This is so basic it should go without saying, yet I still see lots of people driving with just a peep hole cleared on their windshields, or a foot of snow on their hoods or roofs. Not safe. Snow on the hood can blow onto the windshield and obstruct your vision. And snow on the roof can fly off and impair the vision of the driver behind you. So if not for yourself, please be courteous and clear off the blasted snow.

Keep your washer fluid reservoir full. And make sure you have good wiper blades. Again, you have to see to drive safely. This isn’t rocket science. It’s a fact.

Leave plenty of space between cars. Don’t crowd the car ahead of you. You want to leave plenty of room to stop. And if you go into a skid, the last thing you want is to be up against someone else’s bumper.

S-L-O-W down. You know those car commercials where  an SUV is barreling through ten feeet of snow? Those are professional drivers on closed roads. They are not you. Slow down — so it’ll take you ten minutes longer. It’s worth it.

Keep a portable shovel in your car. I do this, and it’s saved me from being stuck in a snow bank more than once.

Make sure you have emergency stash. A warm blanket, some snacks, and a flashlight can go a long way if you get stuck. As part of this….

Keep your cell phone charged. So you can call for help, if needed. Of course, around here in Vermont, cell phone service stinks; we have a lot of dead zones. Still, you never know.

Keep a couple of sand bags in your trunk. Or cat litter. Not only does this add some extra weight (which can translate into extra traction), you can sprinkle the kitty litter/sand under your tires to give you some purchase, if you get stuck.

winterdriving

Four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicles do not do better on ice. So keep that in mind. Don’t drive like a crazy person when the roads are icy.

Make sure you have good tires: I mentioned this before and I can’t emphasize it enough. For where I live and my car (and yes, it’s four-wheel drive), all-season tires just don’t cut it. I need snow tires that mean business. It’s an added expense, I know, but it could mean the difference between life and death.

Use your headlights. You want to make sure you’re visible to the other cars on the road. This helps.

If you find yourself behind a plow or salt truck, don’t pass until you have plenty of room. Remember, they only have a limited field of vision. And really, do you want to be ahead of the guys who are clearing the road?

If you get stuck, don’t spin your wheels to get out.  It doesn’t help. Go forward, then back, forward, back, in a steady rocking motion. It’ll work a lot better.

Know how to recover from skids. When you brake on a slippery road, it’s all too easy to “lock up” your wheels by stepping on the brakes a little too hard. If you start to skid, gently steer the vehicle in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go and don’t touch your brakes. As part of this….

If you have Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS), don’t pump them.  The whole point of ABS is that they pump themselves to make stopping in snow easier. The pulsing or chattering you hear or feel is just them doing their job. Pumping = strictly old school.

Drive with a light touch. No sudden, herky-jerky movements, no sharp turns at high speeds. Gentle is better.

These should help you get to the mountain in one piece. Anyone have any others to add?



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A Day at the Races: The 2016 Audi FIS World Cup

I think my ears are ringing.

img_5045It’s no surprise, since it’s just two days after the 2016 Audi FIS World Cup at Killington Mountain Resort, and I think every cow bell on the planet was there. And why not? This was the best of the best in ski racing, only half an hour from home.

How could I not attend?

This was the first World Cup Alpine race in New England since 1991 (Waterville Valley, NH), and the first in Vermont since 1978 (Stratton Mountain). And oh yeah, it was the first World Cup I’d ever attended, too.

Having the race at Killington in November, I thought, took a tremendous act of faith. Weather this time of year just about anywhere is sketchy. The Men’s World Cup in Lake Louise has been cancelled, as has the men’s race in Beaver Creek. But kudos to the people at Killington, who put forth a tremendous effort to make sure their course was World Cup ready. The resort has been blasting snow since October — enough to cover a football field 40 feet deep — and was lucky enough to get some help from Mother Nature: 15 inches in the past week or so.

The lower GS course on Superstar

The lower part of the GS Course on Superstar

But having the race in the East over Thanksgiving weekend was also a stroke of brilliance. Four and a half hours from New York and three from Boston, Killington is easily reachable from major population centers. And this means a lot of excitement, loads of publicity, and a ton of people on hand to watch the race. I was there for the GS race on Saturday, along with an estimated 16,000 other people — by many accounts the largest US World Cup crowd ever. (Which also accounts for what I said before about the cow bells.) In fact, US Ski Association officials estimate the combined attendance for both Saturday and Sunday at nearly 27,000, making it one of the most well-attended women’s ski events in US history.

Just a few of the people who showed up for the race.

Just a few of the people who showed up for the race.

Was it exciting to be there? Yes. It felt like a festival. There was a temporary village set up at the base with tents from all sorts of vendors. There was a pre-race parade featuring a thousand kids from ski teams across the state of Vermont.  There was a free concert by O.A.R. in the base area afterward. And the crowd was clearly stoked, full of Vermont and East Coast pride.

The course was set up on Superstar, a fun run that’s readily visible from Killington’s base area. Superstar starts with a steep headwall, mellows out onto some undulating terrain, and then plunges again with another steep pitch. The starting altitude of the GS course was 3,701 feet and the finish altitude 2,559 — all together,  a vertical drop of 1,142 feet and a course length of 3,166 feet.

Here’s a GoPro preview of the GS course:

Fog on the course.

Fog on the course.

By now, the details of the GS race are well known. Conditions were challenging, with a changeable surface that rutted up quickly. Visibility wasn’t perfect, either, with flat light and fog rolling in and out throughout the day. Thirteen of the 61 racers, including defending GS champion, Swiss skier Lara Gut, either fell or skied off without completing the course. In the end, France’s Tessa Worley, the 2013 GS World Champion, finished first ahead of first-run leader Nina Loeseth of Norway, who finished 0.80 seconds back. Italy’s Sofia Goggia came in third, 1.11 seconds behind Worley. And 2014 Olympic Slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin ended up fifth after finishing 8th on the first run and 5th on the second.

BTW, Lindsey Vonn did not compete. She’s been sidelined by a broken arm she incurred training in Colorado.

What I especially loved was seeing the athletes up close and personal, and finding out that yes, apart from the fact that they’re amazing athletes and ski like goddesses, they’re very human, too.

Here are some small details that I dearly loved:

• Lara Gut wears a knit hat with her name as part of the design.

• Mikaela Shiffrin, who grew up skiing on the East Coast, had her 95 year old grandma there to watch her compete.

• Third place finisher Sofia Goggia uses Vermont Maple Syrup when she makes her favorite American pancake breakfast at home in Italy.

• Second place finisher Nina Loeseth loved the snow; she said it was more like European snow than the lighter snow she’s skied in Colorado.

• Mikaela Shiffrin does Word Searches with her mom before the race  to combat nerves.

• All the racers I heard speak said they loved hearing the roar of the crowd when they came down the final pitch.

• During her press conference the day before the race, Shiffrin talked about how she loved the passion of East Coast skiers. “It’s easy to love skiing in the West, because it’s amazing. When you’re in the East, it’s raining, snowing, sleeting, all in one day. If you’re still out there, it means there’s a passion.”

• And this, from the NBC broadcast of the race later on that day (yeah, I watched it, too): Announcer #1: “What do you think they [the racers] have learned the most from the skiers who have gone before them in these conditions?” Announcer #2: “Now they know why skiers from Vermont are so good. Because conditions change every two seconds. You’ve got to know how to do all of it.”

Here I am talking to Swiss racing phenom Lara Gutt.

Here I am talking to Swiss racer Lara Gut. Note her hat, with her name knitted right in.

The Slalom Race took place on Sunday, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend. But I did catch it on TV, and congrats to Mikaela Shiffrin for her 22nd World Cup win and her 10th consecutive slalom victory on the World Cup!



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TheSkiDiva Holiday Gift Guide ’16-’17

Wait! Did you hear that? Yes — it’s the sound of sleigh bells in the distance. And each day they’re getting closer. Which means it’s time to post the annual TheSkiDiva Holiday Gift Guide, filled with lots of great things you might want to ask Santa to bring down your chimney or the chimney of someone you love. So without further ado, here are some great gift ideas for this year:

Ski Art Prints

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What skier wouldn’t want to decorate her home with unique ski art prints from WildBlueDream.com. Available prints feature a broad range of ski areas in a variety of designs and colors, all printed on high quality, heavy-weight paper using archival inks. Some can even be personalized with your family’s name.

 

Vintage Graphic Top

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This. Is. Adorable. And sure, it shows snow shoeing instead of skiing, but hey, there’s snow, it’s an outdoor winter activity, and it’s amazing. A mid-weight zip neck that’s a blend of a blend of silk, Merino and Lycra. From Titlenine.com.

 

Cold Weather Cell Phone Survival Kit

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If you’ve ever had your phone run out of juice on the mountain, you’ll know why I love this. The Cold Weather Mobile Phone Survival Kit by Therma-Phone keeps your phone working under extreme temperature conditions. It actually acts like a flexible stainless steel thermos, retaining heat when it’s cold and reflecting heat when it’s hot. *Here’s an extra bonus: Therma-Phone has provided a special discount for members of TheSkiDiva: $11.95 off plus free shipping. Use coupon code skidiva2016, and the discount will show up after you place your order.

 

Ski Wine Glass Charms

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These are cute and inexpensive: charms you can put on the stem of a wine glass to identify whose glass is whose. Let’s see, are you difficult, average, or easy? Or do you need help? Available at TheConvertibleGirlShop on etsy.

 

Boot Glove

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A long time favorite of the members of TheSkiDiva.com, Dry Guy’s Boot Glove provides an extra layer of insulation over your boots to keep your feet warm. I’ve been a user for years. Highly recommend.

 

Ski Diva Sweater Fleece

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Show the world you’re a Ski Diva with this full zip sweater fleece. I have this exact garment and wear it all the time over a lighter layer and under a jacket. A great layering piece that’s comfortable, stylish, and warm. Go here to order.

 

Sorel Joan of Arctic Winter Boot

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For anyone who’s a fan of warm feet, Sorel’s Joan of Arctic boots are the bomb! Featuring waterproof, full-grain leather and suede upper, super-soft faux fur around the cuff with a removable, recycled felt inner boot to ensure that feet stay warm, dry and comfortable.

 

Razor Carbon Pro Ski Poles

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Anyone who skis the backcountry deserves these poles. If you fall or get caught in a slide, normal pole straps can anchor you facedown in the snow. These poles feature breakaway straps that give you power when you need it and keep you safe when things go awry. The adjustable flick locks and low swing weight are bonuses. From Black Diamond.

 

Ski Poster Puzzle

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In a digital age, it can be hard to remember how much fun it is to spend a happy evening working on a puzzle. Here’s one the whole family will enjoy: White Mountain Puzzles Ski Posters Puzzle, featuring vintage posters of North American and European ski areas. Which ones have you skied?

 

Adventure Weekender Bag

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The perfect bag for a weekend getaway with the girls, the Adventure Weekender Bag from Neve Designs features limited edition artwork inspired by vintage ski posters. Fully lined and made with canvas construction, the bag is finished with leather handles, and has a removable leather shoulder strap.

 

Beartooth Device

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I’m giving a qualified recommendation for this, since it’s very, very new. Still, it looks so cool that I couldn’t resist including it here. The Beartooth Device is great for when you’re on the hill and don’t have cell service or internet — because it doesn’t require either. What it does is convert your Smartphone into a two-way radio, so you can communicate with other Beartooth users by either voice or text, up to ten miles away. It can also serve as a back-up battery for your cell phone.

 

 

Ski Diva Mystery Books

DBPBCover   FTW Cover copy

Shameless self-promotion alert: Both of these are by me. First published by Minotaur Books in 2010 and 2011 respectively, Double Black and Fade to White are fun mysteries for skiers and non-skiers alike.

Here’s a description of Double Black:

In DOUBLE BLACK, Boston’s twenty-something Stacey Curtis ditches her cheating fiance and heads for a Vermont ski town. She’s looking for the life she’s always dreamed about, but she stumbles instead into financial intrigue, bitter family warfare, and murder. Populated with quirky characters, loaded with New England atmosphere, and starring a young woman with nerve, spunk, and a sense of humor about it all, DOUBLE BLACK is an exciting run down some treacherous mountain trails.

And here’s Fade to White:

Hollywood has-been Harper Stone arrives in Stacey’s little Vermont town to shoot a mouthwash commercial, and he’s anything but happy about the downward spiral his career has taken. When the ornery actor turns up dead a few days later—and the last person to see him alive turns out to be Brian Russell, Stacey’s jealous ex-fiancé—things start getting complicated. 

You can get the softcovers and e-book at Amazon.comB&N.comKobo.comiBooks, and of course, at wendyclinch.com.

If you’d prefer a personally signed hardcover, you can get that at wendyclinch.com, too.

 

 



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How a Community Saved a Small Ski Area: Mount Ascutney, Vermont

Whenever you drive around ski country, no matter what the state, you can’t help but encounter a defunct ski area or two. This is no surprise. Since the 1980’s, roughly 33% of ski areas in the US have gone out of business, and few have any hope of ever coming back.

Sad, I know. Many of these were smaller, more affordable places that were great for families and beginners. They also provided something larger resorts generally lack: a measure of character and community involvement that goes to the heart of what skiing is all about.

Today I’d like to focus on a ski area that’s had a much happier ending. After opening and closing multiple times, Mount Ascutney, Vermont, has almost literally risen from the ashes (the base lodge burned in 2015) .

Mount Ascutney Trail Map, 1969

Mount Ascutney Trail Map, 1969

In its heyday, Ascutney boasted 1,800 vertical, 57 runs, 5 chairs, and 1 surface lift. But after riding a financial roller coaster for many years, the mountain closed for good in 2010. Its lifts were sold, and it looked like the end for a mountain that had operated, albeit intermittently, for six decades.

In 2015, the mountain was purchased by the local community of West Windsor, VT, and re-opened for skiing in December that same year. Laura Farrell,  Executive Director of Mount Ascutney Outdoors, the non-profit charged with operating the mountain, would be the first to tell you that this was the result of efforts by many, many people.  And she’s right. But as Executive Director, Laura is responsible for overseeing the entire operation. I talked to her recently at the base of the resurrected ski area.

Laura Farrell

Laura Farrell

SD: So Laura, tell me a bit about yourself. When did you start skiing?
LF: I’m 64, and I’ve been skiing since I was two. Honestly, I’ve been in the ski industry almost my entire life. When I was a young adult I became a ski instructor, and then I founded Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sport, a non-profit dedicated to providing recreational opportunities to athletes of any age and any disability. It was incorporated in 1987; back then there was nothing like it anywhere in the Northeast. I was involved in everything from teaching skiing to examining instructors, running clinics, and overseeing a race program. Then I moved on to coaching able-bodied kids, which I did for a number of years.

SD: Things didn’t look promising when Ascutney closed in 2010. What is Mount Ascutney Outdoors, and how’d it come about?
LF: Mount Ascutney Outdoors is a non-profit that’s responsible not only for the future of the mountain, but for creating and developing year round recreational opportunities that are accessible and affordable to everybody — skiing, mountain biking, hiking, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, fat-tire biking. It was formed in 2010, when the chairman of the West Windsor select board brought up the idea of purchasing the mountain after it closed. This is a small community, and we were all hit hard when it went under, so the idea was to revitalize both the mountain and the town. The proposal received almost unanimous approval. Fortunately, we were able to get some help from a national non-profit, the Trust for Public Land. The Trust raised the money for the purchase and then handed the mountain over to us.

SD: So how’d you get involved?
LF: Even though the town bought the mountain, it didn’t want to develop, manage, or finance its recreational opportunities or events. And they didn’t want to increase the town’s tax burden, either. So I was asked to help start the non-profit that would develop, manage, and finance all the activities that go on here.

SD: What’s your role as  Executive Director?
LF: Essentially, I’m something of a jack of all trades. Obviously, right now I have my fingers in everything from fundraising to installing the rope tow, to managing the volunteers, projects, and events, but in reality it’s not just me. There’s an amazing group of people that believe in this project, and we all work together. We have nine board members, and they all have different responsibilities.

Ascutney's rope tow.

Rope tow.

SD: So what’s at Ascutney now?
LF: Let me say first that we’re a complete volunteer organization, so everything we have has been donated or built by volunteers. For example, six of us installed a thousand-foot rope tow. We had some help from an engineer, and of course, it had to be inspected by the state. But we did it all ourselves, and it’s a thing of beauty. I can now put rope tow installer on my resume.

So right now, we have 32 miles of trails that are used for mountain biking, hiking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. We have the rope tow, which serves three trails that we mow like lawns, so we only need six inches of snow to ski — we don’t have snowmaking because we wanted this to be a sustainable area. You can also skin up the rest of the mountain for backcountry skiing, and that’s a huge portion of the winter activities here. It’s great terrain. We’ve been clearing the old trails up there that haven’t been taken care of for 5 or 6 years. And we have a new warming hut at the base — again, donated and built by volunteers — that can be used year round for all our recreational activities and events and camps.

Once we get enough snow, we’ll be open Wednesdays from noon to 6, Thursdays 4 to 8, Friday 2 to 8, Saturdays 10 to 8, and Sundays 10 to 4. During holidays and vacation weeks, it’s 10 to 4 and on Fridays and Saturdays, 10 to 8. On Thursday nights we’ll have a locals race series under the lights. We’ll also have an informal race program on Friday nights, as well as on Saturday and Sunday. We’ll have courses set up and there’ll be coaches for anyone who wants to come and train. We have lights this year, which is exciting, so people can come out after work. There’s even a grill on the deck of the warming hut so they can cook their dinner.

As I said before, we really want to keep this affordable for anyone who wants to come. This is important. A lot of families can’t afford to get out and ski at the larger, corporate mountains. But we think it’s important to get everyone on the hill. So our rope tow is free to anyone who wants to ride it during our day hours — though we also accept donations — and ten dollars at night.

SD: What are the future plans for the mountain?
LF: The old lodge burned a few years ago but much of it is still standing. But it doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to another property owner. We hope to purchase it so we can tear it down, clean it up, and eventually build a really nice base camp. We’ve been donated a timber frame for just that purpose. We’re also hoping to install a chair lift up to the old mid-station  – the conservation easements only allow us to go up so far. We could also use the lift for mountain biking in the summer, or fat-tire biking in the winter. Needless to say, we’re very excited about the things we have going on here. It’s great to have it back.

New warming hut and old burned-out base lodge.

New warming hut and old burned-out base lodge.

View from the top of the rope tow down.

View from the top of the rope tow down.

Editor’s Note: I was totally charmed by Mount Ascutney and impressed by the hard work, mission, and spirit of  Ascutney Outdoors. The non-profit is funded entirely by donations. and I encourage you to contribute to keep this great community resource going. Click here.

 



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