No Limits: 11 Women Who Shattered the Snow Ceiling.

I’m writing this on August 26, Women’s Equality Day. Sure, I know, I’m posting it four days later. But y’know, Women’s Equality shouldn’t be limited to just one day. It’s something we need to think about all the time. Why? Because it’s 2016, not 1916, and a lot of the issues that hold women back should’ve have been resolved a long time ago.

Nonetheless, Women’s Equality Day got me thinking about all the women in the ski world who’ve broken gender barriers and smashed through the snow ceiling. Certainly, there are a lot of amazing women I could include — too many to name, in fact — but I thought I’d point out a  few who have done their part to show that women shouldn’t be limited just because they have female rather than male anatomy.

Andrea Mead Lawrence

Andrea Mead Lawrence

 

 

Andrea Mead Lawrence: Let’s start with a good one. Andrea Mead Lawrence was the first American alpine skier to win two Olympic gold medals. Not first female alpine skier — the first alpine skier. She showed all of us that sure, it could be done. And yeah, it could be done by a woman.

 

 

 

Jeanne Thoren

Jeanne Thoren

Jeanne Thoren: Granted, some of the modifications she proposed for skis and boots are still being debated today. But whether you agree with her or not, you have to give Jeanne Thoren her props. Jeanne was the first person in the ski industry to realize that women were not just miniature men and maybe, just maybe, we needed gear engineered to suit us. A radical concept, in its time (which incidentally, wasn’t all that long ago). In 1986, Jeanne designed what is believed to be the first women’s ski, for the Austrian company Blizzard. She also created awareness of and demand for women-centric ski gear, raising the bar for the entire industry and improving the sport for all women. The Exclusive Carve Ski she designed for Dynastar became Ski magazine’s 2007 Ski of the Year. In 2009, she opened the Jeannie Thoren’s Women’s Ski Center in Vail, Colorado.

 

Suzy Chaffee

Suzy Chaffee

Suzy Chaffee: I had the privilege of interviewing Suzy a couple years ago, and it was pretty mind-blowing to speak to someone I idolized when I first started skiing. Sure, she’s a three-time world freestyle skiing champion, and yeah, she was the first female member of the US Olympic team board of directors. But I think her most far-ranging achievement is her work as a champion of Title IX legislation. Suzy was instrumental in convincing federal lawmakers to enact the statute that guarantees equal opportunities for men and women in federally funded sports and education programs. You can find my interview, along with her long list of achievements, here.

Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn

 

Lindsey Vonn: I hardly need to write anything here. Lindsey isn’t just arguably the best women’s skier of all time, she’s also considered one of the best skiers of all time.  I won’t go into all her accomplishments (you can find them in Wikipedia), but I’ve included her in this list for one important reason: her extremely high profile serves as an inspiration for girls and women everywhere.  She’s also the founder of the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, which empowers young women through scholarships, programs and unique opportunities.

 

 

Lynsey Dyer

Lynsey Dyer

Lynsey Dyer: A phenomenal world-class skier who was named Powder Magazine’s Skier of the Year, Lynsey is also the founder of  SheJumps.org, an organization dedicated to encouraging  women to  participate in outdoor activities. But that’s not all: Fed up with the fact that only 14% of the athletes in major ski films are female when women make up around 40% of the skiing population, Lynsey took it upon herself to produce Pretty Faces, an all-female ski movie, raising the bulk of the money she needed via a Kickstarter campaign. I interviewed her about all this here.

 

 

Lindsey Van

Lindsey Van

Lindsey Van: Yes, another Lindsey/Lynsey (what the heck is with that name, anyway?). But this one is different: she flies. Lindsey is an amazing ski jumper; in 2009, she became the first World Champion in women’s ski jumping after winning the first World Championships to allow women to compete. She also holds the North American women’s record with a jump of 171 meters. Before the Olympic Games in 2010, she held the hill record for both men and women in Vancouver. More importantly, her continued efforts not only helped put women’s ski jumping on the map, but helped put it into the 2014 Olympics. For more information on this, here’s a piece I did about it in 2013.

Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke

 

Sarah Burke: Taken from us way too soon, Sarah was a force to be reckoned with on the Freestyle Skiing circuit. In fact, it’s thanks to her tireless efforts that women’s ski half-pipe was finally included in the X Games, three years after men were competing in this same event. Sarah went on to become a four-time X Game champion. She also coached girls on glaciers in the summer, paving the way for future female competitors in more than one way.

 

 

 

Pam Murphy

Pam Murphy

 

Pam Murphy: There still aren’t a lot of women in the upper echelons of ski area management, but the first to break the snow ceiling was Pam Murphy. Starting in the ticket office at Mammoth Mountain in 1973, Pam rose through the ranks to vice president of marketing and sales and in 1998, became Mammoth’s general manager — the first female GM for a major ski resort in the country. Pam retired from the post in 2014.

 

 

Kim Beekman

Kim Beekman

 

Kim Beekman: One of the major publications of the ski industry, Skiing Magazine never had a female editor-in-chief in its 68-year history until Kim Beekman took the helm. Named to the post in 2015, Kim is an award-winning journalist, an accomplished lifelong skier, and director of SKI’s rigorous Women’s Ski Test. As editor-in-chief, she’s focused on welcoming a wider range of skiers into the fold, no matter what their ability, through compelling story telling and informative articles.

 

 

 

 

Angel Collinson

Angel Collinson

Angel Collinson: Angel is kind of the ‘it’ girl of skiing right now. But not without cause. Angel was the first woman to win the Best Line at the Powder Awards, creating what the Ski Journal called “the burliest—and most entertaining—female film segment of all time.” Her footage ended up earning her the coveted closing segment in Paradise Waits, marking the first time a woman has been selected for a TGR finale. The previous year, she broke barriers with the first female opening segment of a TGR film, in 2014’s Almost Ablaze. In fact, until Collinson showed up on the scene three years ago, the studio hadn’t featured a woman in a film in years.

 

 

Jen Gurnecki

Jen Gurnecki

Jen Gurecki: What do we do when we’re unhappy with the women’s skis out there? Here’s what Jen did: she stepped up and created Coalition Snow, the first ever woman-owned ski company — not an easy task in an industry that’s dominated by men. The company’s tag line says it all: We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. Yep, don’t tell her she can’t; she’ll turn it into a can. I interviewed her here.

 

 

 

There’s no doubt there are a lot of inspiring women in the ski world (some of the others I’ve interviewed include Muffy Davis, Donna Weinbrecht, and Elyse Saugstad). In fact, the Ski Hall of Fame will soon be opening a special exhibit on women hall-of-famers, a well-deserved tribute to a talented, powerful group. Helmets off to them all!

 



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Choose Your Deity: The Gods & Goddesses of Snow

 

Ullr, from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript.

Ullr, from an ancient Icelandic manuscript.

It’s the end of August, and the gods and goddesses of snow are starting to stir in their beds. This past weekend snow was in the forecast for the higher elevations of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. Yes, boys and girls, it’s coming.

‘Gods and goddesses?’ you say. ‘I thought it was all about Ullr!’

Well, not really. Sure, the Nordic deity is the one who gets all the press. Even the most staunch unbelievers aren’t shy about trying all sorts of things to get him to deliver snow during ski season. But Ullr isn’t the only god of  snow out there. Plenty of other cultures have them, too. So if you want to hedge your bets, here are a few others you might want to direct your attention to:

Chione (Khione): The goddess of snow in Greek mythology. Chione was daughter a daughter of Boreas, god of the wintry north wind. She was also the consort of Poseidon, god of the sea.

Aztec

Itztlacoliuhqui, Aztec god of snow.

Itztlacoliuhqui: No, I have no idea how this is pronounced, but the Aztecs had a god of snow, who was also the god of frost, ice, cold, winter, sin, punishment and human misery. Illustrations show his face as a piece of finely curved black obsidian. Some say this reflects his blindness to the hardship inflicted on farmers by a bad, crop-destroying frost. According to legend, Itztlacoliuhqui started off life as the god Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (Lord of the Dawn, Venus) who, after a shooting match with the Sun God Tonatiuh, was punished and transformed into Itztlacoliuhqui, the god of stone and coldness — which is why it’s always cold at dawn.

Poli’ahu: Incredibly enough, there’s a snow god in Hawaii, too. Poli’ahu, whose name means “cloaked bosom,” or “temple bosom,” is a legendary daughter of Wakea who dwells at the summit of Mauna Kea. The antithesis of her fiery arch-rival, Pele, Poli’ahu spreads her beautiful white kapa across the summit of Mauna Kea in the winter, and adorns the mountain with her pink and gold cloak in the summer.

Aisoyimstan: Many native American tribes had dieties for snow; Aisoyimstan is the snow god for the Black Feet people of Montana. Aisoyimstan is the  ‘Cold Maker’ who blankets the earth with frost and snow. He is completely white, down to his hair and clothing. And he even rides a white horse.

Caillech

Cailleach Bheur

Cailleach Bheur: The goddess of winter for ancient Scottish, Irish, and Manx peoples, Cailleach Bheur is often depicted as a blue-faced hag who is reborn every October 31. Cailleach Bheur brings the snow until the Goddess Brigit deposes her. She eventually turns to stone on April 30.

Moran (Marzanna): In Slavic mythology, Morana was the Slavic goddess of winter and death. She usually appeared as an ugly old woman, but to those who showed no fear she appeared as a beautiful young girl. Moron’s arrival was always expected with fear and her departure was celebrated with a lot of noise and happiness.

Kuraokami: is a legendary Japanese dragon and Shinto deity of rain and snow.

Khuno: The Incan snow god. According to  legend, Khuno burned the land of all vegetation during a fit of rage, leaving only the coca plant behind. The hungry people ate it and discovered that coca leaves helped them endure the cold. Hey, could this is the reason cocaine is referred to as snow?

So pick your deity, or pray to them all. It can’t hurt.



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Is Vail taking over the ski world? And is this a good thing?

@Vail Resorts

@Vail Resorts

Last week the ski world reverberated with the news that Vail was entering into an agreement to buy Whistler Backcomb, arguably the crown jewel of Canadian ski resorts, and one of the best and largest in the world.

This is anything but small potatoes. Vail is spending $1.1 billion for the acquisition, or $1.4 billion Canadian. As part of the deal, Vail would acquire 100 percent of the stock of Whistler Backcomb and Whistler Blackcomb shareholders would receive C$17.50 per share in cash and 0.0975 shares of Vail Resorts common stock, for a total value of $27.38 per share or C$36.00.

There’s no denying that Vail has been on a bit of a spending spree, buying nine resorts in three countries in less than six years. Here’s what they’ve acquired over the past fourteen, and for how much:

  • 2002 • Heavenly, California: $99.2 million
  • 2010 • Northstar At Tahoe, California: $63 million
  • 2012 • Kirkwood, California: $18 million
  • 2012 • Afton Alps, Minnesota; Mt. Brighton, Michigan: $20 million
  • 2013 • Canyons, Utah: $305 million (50-year lease)
  • 2014 • Park City Mountain Resort, Utah: $182.5 million
  • 2015 • Perisher, Australia: $136 million

Can they afford it? According to Jason Blevins of the Denver Post, “Vail Resorts last fall reported $1.4 billion in revenue for fiscal 2015, marking the sixth time in the last decade the company’s annual revenues surpassed the billion-dollar mark. The company showed a 36 percent in EBITDA to $365.8 million in fiscal 2015 and strong sales of its popular Epic Pass in the spring of this year has the company tracking toward another record year for fiscal 2016.”

In a nutshell, they’re doing well. And if they can afford it and it fits with their business plan, well, they’re free to do as they like.

For skiers, the benefits of all these acquisitions are obvious: Ski areas are capital intensive, and Vail’s deep pockets can mean greater investments in things like lifts, snowmaking, grooming, on-site amenities, and so on. It might even mean better salaries for resort employees, which can help attract top tier people to its resorts. And it can mean investments in more and better non-skiing activities, which are essential in turning its resorts into four-season destinations —  critical for their survival in the face of climate change. What’s more, a growing roster of mountains under the Epic pass  umbrella gives skiers greater access to some of the best skiing in the world. Nothing wrong with that.

But still, I’m conflicted. Like a lot of people, I’m not convinced that the Vail-ification of the ski world is a good thing. I’m always a little nervous when one company gets too big in any particular industry, and I’m afraid this is what we’re seeing here. Sure, Vail is doing well now. But as a publicly traded company — and a big one, at that — Vail is certainly captive to the crazy gyrations of the stock market. A bad stock year can cause problems not just at the Mother Ship, but at all its resorts, across the board. What’s more, Vail has a responsibility to its shareholders to continually improve its bottom line. And this doesn’t always engender practices that are to the customers’ liking. If Vail decides to increase its lift prices, for example, a lot of people at a lot of mountains are screwed. The competitive incentive is gone. And that’s not good.

For the acquired resorts, there’s the issue of having a remote corporate overlord.  Will decisions have to be approved by someone hundreds of miles away? Everything from expansion plans to the color of ski school jackets may now have to through a number of corporate layers. Will pay for employees go down, instead of up? Will issues that affect the community get the consideration they deserve? And will the acquired resorts become more and more homogenized, so they bear more resemblance to one another and lose the characteristics that once made them so unique?

I’m also worried about the tremendous influence a company as large as Vail has in the ski world. Whatever Vail does — good or bad — can have a profound effect. If Vail offers a particular amenity, for example, a lot of other resorts are going to feel pressure to do the same, whether it makes sense or not.

Which leads me to the following: all this makes it increasingly difficult for smaller ski areas to survive What’s the incentive for a skier to go to a smaller, independent resort, if they can purchase an Epic pass and have access to multiple resorts for the same amount they’d spend for one? And with Vail having such deep pockets for investment, how can a smaller area compete? Before you shake your head and say, well, that’s the market at work, survival of the fittest and all, consider this: Since the 1980’s, roughly 33% of US ski areas have gone out of business and up to 150 more are considered threatened by industry experts. Sure, there are a lot of factors that have caused this to happen. Many of these places were smaller Mom and Pop hills. And though they had limited lifts and trails, they also nurtured beginner skiers and served as feeder hills for resorts like Vail. What’s more, they offered something larger resorts generally lack: a measure of character and community involvement that goes to the heart of what skiing is all about.

Are there ways for smaller areas to stay competitive with the Vail behemoth? Not many. In recent years, the ski industry has seen little to no growth, so skiers who go to one resort tend to take  business away from someplace else. In short, one resort tends to cannabilize another. For example, Vail sold about 50,000 season passes less than a decade ago. Now the number is closer to 550,000. These skiers are choosing Vail over some other resort. And while it’s great for Vail, it’s not so great for wherever it is they’re not going.

One organization that’s trying to help stem the tide is Mountain Riders Alliance, which has made it its mission to champion smaller areas that are environmentally friendly and have a positive effect on the local community. I’ve written about them here and here, so if you want to find out more about the good work they’re doing, take a look.

The bottom line is this: Vail Resorts may be getting bigger and bigger, but I’m not sure that’s best for the ski industry. What do you think?



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Should the Olympics Have a Permanent Home?

Before I get started, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I love the Olympics. I mean, what’s not to love? In this summer’s Games, for example, we get to see the best athletes in the world competing in 300 events in 35 sports. There are amazing contests of skill, inspiring back stories, and heart-stopping finishes. And best of all, for 16 days, the focus of the world is on something that doesn’t have to do with war, political upheaval, or some other horrible disaster. We’re all in this together, and it’s just plain fun.

But in all honesty, the Olympics are a mess. Take this summer’s games in Rio. From Zika and infrastructure problems to pollution, crime and politics, it’s like a perfect storm of nearly everything that could possibly go wrong. Some athletes have elected not even to attend. And given the situation, I’m not sure I entirely blame them. Really, it’s sad.

Traditionally, cities have vied for the honor of hosting the games. It’s a matter of civic and national pride. The Games provide them with a terrific showcase and can potentially bring in millions of TV and tourist dollars. But in recent years, a growing number of cities are giving them a pass. Oslo, Stockholm, Lviv, and Krakow all withdrew their bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics, leaving only Beijing and the Kazakh city of Almaty in the running, two undemocratic cities with less than stellar human rights records. This is hardly a surprise. Both have autocratic governments that can pretty much spend money as they like, without answering to the public.   (Here’s a spoiler alert: Beijing won, and the mountains where the events will be held have an average annual snowfall of less than two inches. Crazy, right?).

Why the change? A look at previous Olympic sites can give us some insight. Host cities often face corruption, ballooning costs, underinvestment in public services, and projects that don’t help — and sometimes even harm — much of the population. What’s more, the Olympics are not the job creators one might imagine. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Games typically create anywhere from 50,000 to 300,000 jobs, but most are just temporary and go to people who already have work (only 10% of the 48,000 jobs created by the London Olympics, for example, went to previously unemployed people). In the end, host cities are often left with tremendous debt that they usually can’t afford to pay, and white elephant structures that cost too way much to maintain. Photos from Athens, Sarajevo, Sochi, and other locales bear this out, showing crumbling, abandoned structures just a few years after the games.

Athens

Athens

Sarajevo, during the games and after @AP, Reuters

Sarajevo, during the games and after @AP, Reuters

In a 2006 paper, “Mega-events: The effect of the world’s biggest sporting events on local, regional, and national economics,” Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson had this to say:

“Public expenditures on sports infrastructure and event operations necessarily entail reductions in other government services, an expansion of government borrowing, or an increase in taxation, all of which produce a drag on the local economy. At best public expenditures on sports-related construction or operation have zero net impact on the economy as the employment benefits of the project are matched by employment losses associated with higher taxes or spending cuts elsewhere in the system.”

The solution: a permanent Olympic location
It only makes sense. Instead of building new facilities and creating entirely new infrastructures every few years — and incurring millions of dollars in debt — why not build, maintain, and re-use a permanent Olympic venue? This could overseen by the IOC and financed by all participating countries. And as for hosting, the IOC could sell rights to a different country for each Olympic Game, thereby giving the licensee the showcase they would have otherwise enjoyed. Another solution: A decentralized Olympics, with different cities hosting different events. This would result in a more diverse Olympics than we’ve had in the past, create showcases for multiple cities, and spread the cost out over more than one locale.

I’m not an economist, and I surely don’t have the knowledge that’s required to figure this out. But it’s clear that a different approach is needed for the Olympics to remain sustainable. Let’s hope someone comes up with one soon.



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Why you need a vacation.

luggage

Incredible as it sounds, I’m already planning my ski trips for the coming season. I know, there are months between now and then, but I’m still excited. I have a lot of cool stuff coming up, and it’s looking like a great winter.

Seems like I may be unusual. New research suggests that 56 percent of Americans haven’t taken a vacation in the past 12 months. That’s 10 million more people than the year before. In fact, the US is the only advanced nation that doesn’t mandate time off. By law, European countries get at least 20 days of paid vacation per year; some receive as many as 30. Australia and New Zealand each require employers to give at least 20 vacation days per year, and Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off. What’s more, Americans are taking the least amount of vacation in nearly four decades. And some 25 percent of Americans and 31 percent of low-wage earners get no vacation at all, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Pretty crazy, don’t you think?

People don’t take vacations for all sorts of reasons. Some are afraid of falling behind at work. Some fear losing their jobs. And some risk losing income when they’re not working.

This is really a shame. Vacations are important. All of us need a chance to recharge the batteries; to blast out the cobwebs; to remind ourselves of what it means to be human again. And apart from the shower or bed in the middle of the night, some of my best ideas come to me on the ski slope, which is no where near my desk.

There are plenty of health reasons to take vacations, as well: In a study of 13,000 middle-aged men at risk for heart disease, those who skipped vacations for five consecutive years were found to be 30 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least one week off each year. Vacation deprivation may be equally hazardous for women. In the Framingham Heart Study, the largest and longest-running study of cardiovascular disease, researchers found that women who took a vacation once every six years or less were nearly eight times as likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took at least two vacations a year.

Other upsides to downtime, according to Healthnet.com, include the following:

  • Decreased depression – A study conducted by Marshfield Clinic of 1,500 women in rural Wisconsin determined that those who vacationed less often than once every two years were more likely to suffer from depression and increased stress than women who took vacations at least twice a year. Similarly, the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind Body Center surveyed some 1,400 individuals and found that leisure activities – including taking vacations – contributed to higher positive emotional levels and less depression. The benefits of vacationing also extended to lower blood pressure and smaller waistlines.
  • Less stress – A study released last year by the American Psychological Association concluded that vacations work to reduce stress by removing people from activities and environments that tend to be sources of stress. Similarly, a Canadian study of nearly 900 lawyers found that taking vacations helped alleviate job stress.
  • Improved productivity – The professional services firm Ernst & Young conducted an internal study of its employees and found that, for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved 8 percent, and frequent vacationers also were significantly less likely to leave the firm. Additionally, research by the Boston Consulting Group found that high-level professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive overall than those who spent more time working.

So what does all this mean? Maybe you should put vacation right up there with eating healthy, exercise, and getting enough sleep. Tell your boss it’s good for you.



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Maine-ly Biking.

If you’re looking for something really fun to do this summer,  here’s a suggestion:

Go biking along the coast in Maine.

Why? Well, where else do you get such a combination of gorgeous, rocky shore…………

DSCN2970

beautiful wetlands……

IMG_0121.JPG

lovely harbors……….

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and lobster?

IMG_0125.JPG

Each year my husband and I try to take a trip or two to Maine to do some road biking. This year we went to Cape Elizabeth, just south of Portland, for a celebratory 42-mile anniversary ride.

Here’s a map of our route:

Map

The route is great for a number of reasons: it’s not difficult, because the terrain is pretty flat. And with plenty of water views, the scenery is gorgeous. It also takes you by a number of lighthouses, from the very tiny “Bug” light to the quite large, iconic Portland Head Light. Here are a few:

IMG_4494 IMG_5325 IMG_3326

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light

Some tips if you decide to go:

Lodging: Staying in Portland area can be pricey, especially if you opt for one of the hotels by the waterfront. We cut our costs by staying by the airport in South Portland, which is a short ride from just about anywhere you decide to go. Plus we liked the cancellation policy, an important consideration in case it rained and we decided to change our plans

Eats: Portland restaurants regularly get named among the best in the country, so there are tons of great options to choose from. Go on Yelp.com, and you’ll find lots of reviews. I love lobster roll, so I’ll put in a good word for Eventide Oyster Company (tasty but a bit small), Two Lights Lobster Shack (south of Portland near Two Lights State Park), and Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster (about 20 minutes north of town on the way to Freeport). If you love baked goods — and who doesn’t — check out Standard Baking in Portland and Scratch Baking in South Portland. Yum.

Shopping: If you’re so inclined and want to drop a few bucks, Freeport, of famous LLBean fame, is only about half an hour north. There are loads of outlet stores to investigate. We didn’t do it this time, but, well, just sayin’…….

Beaches: This is MAINE. There’s about 3,478 of shoreline. Sure, a lot of it is rocky, but there are plenty of beaches, too, and everyone has their own favorite. Remember, though; the water is C-O-L-D. We spent a day at Crescent Beach State Park, a lovely swath of sand on Cape Elizabeth. We also biked through Higgins Beach, which is about as charming a beach town as you’ll find anywhere, with a nice, though fairly narrow, stretch of sand.

Cool stuff: chairs made out of lobster pots!

Cool stuff: chairs made out of lobster pots!

 

I look pretty happy, don't I? Having fun on the Maine coast!

I look pretty happy, don’t I? Having fun on the Maine coast!

 



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Mosquitoes driving you buggy? Me, too.

photo from WebMD.com

photo from WebMD.com

A big advantage of taking up a winter sport is that you don’t have to worry about bugs. To me, this is a real plus. I’m the sort of person who mosquitoes find irresistable (and yes, there’s a scientific basis for this. More on that shortly).

RonZalmeCartoonIt turns out that I’m not the only one. Mosquitoes seem to be causing problems for a lot of people this summer. Take the athletes for the 2016 summer games in Rio. A number have already stated they won’t go because of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Even Lindsey Vonn, who planned to attend as a spectator, is taking a pass.

Zika isn’t the only disease we can get from mosquitoes. There’s malaria, dengue, chikungunya, West Nile, and encephalitis.  According to the World Health Organization, mosquito bites result in more than a million deaths each year. Most of these are caused by malaria. That said, there are more than 2,500 species of mosquito, and different mosquitos spread different things. The Zika virus, for example, is transmitted by an infected mosquito from the the aedes genus.

Here in the US, malaria isn’t a huge problem. Although we still get a few hundred malaria cases per year, most are in travelers returning from a malaria-ridden country. Instead, you’re more likely to suffer from an itchy welt  — annoying, but certainly not dangerous. Unfortunately, if you want to engage in outdoor activities during the summer — as many Ski Divas do — mosquitoes are something you just have to deal with. So what’s to be done? Is there any way to keep from being eaten alive?

As I said before, I seem to get bitten more than my fair share. And I’m not imagining it, either. Scientists have determined that some people are more prone to mosquito bites than others.  One study found that in a controlled setting, mosquitoes landed on people with Type O blood nearly twice as often as those with Type A. (My husband is a Type A, I’m Type O). Another reason can be the bacteria on your skin. To a mosquito, certain combinations of bacteria smell particularly enticing. And there’s also exercise. An increase in body temperature attracts them, too, as does the carbon dioxide we exhale and the lactic acid we produce. And yes, they’re also more attracted to beer drinkers and pregnant women.

Well, yes, there is. Obviously, one way is to cover up as best as you can, and use an insect repellent that contains DEET.  DEET worries me, though. While it’s not a carcinogen, long-term exposure may cause moodiness, insomnia, and impaired cognitive function. Studies have also shown that after high concentrations of continued exposure, DEET can cause hypertrophy of the liver and kidneys as well as stimulation of the central nervous system which can cause tremors and seizures. DEET products also have the potential to damage the water supply. DEET can not only harm aquatic life-forms, but it can also enter the drinking supply as runoff if farmers mishandle the product.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to stay bite free that don’t involve DEET:

• Avoid fragrances and scented soaps and body washes.

• Avoid food that contains high levels of salt and potassium. This will reduce the amount of lactic acid that your body produces, thereby decreasing the likelihood that your scent will attract insects.

• Use natural oils, such as lemon oil, citronella, cinnamon, castor, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, clove, geranium and peppermint oils. These are natural, effective ways mosquito repellents and are not threatening to the environment.

• Wear light colors. Dark colors stand out to mosquitoes who are looking for food, but light colors appear less attractive, since they look for colors that contrast with the horizon line.

• Use a fan. A light wind makes it harder for mosquitoes to fly. Direct the air flow downward since these pests fly low to the ground as they try to avoid the wind.

• Pray for winter. Mosquitoes hibernate. They are cold-blooded and prefer temperatures over 80°F. At temperatures less than 50°F, they shut down for the winter. The adult females of some species find holes where they wait for warmer weather, while others lay their eggs in freezing water and die. So yet another reason to dream of ski season.

 

 

 

 

 



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Do I mind? Yes, I do. A look at mindfulness.

meditation-courses1Like a lot of Ski Divas, I do my best to stay in shape. I get out on my bike a few times a week, and I spend a fair amount of time in the gym, doing cardio and lifting weights. And though it’s not always easy, I try to eat right, too.

But while the physical stuff is important, there’s more to staying healthy than just nutrition and exercise. Call it spiritual well being, call it mental health, but I think being truly healthy requires a balance between both mind and body. Anyone who’s been depressed  or anxious can attest to this. If you’re unhappy, if you’re stressed, you can end up feeling pretty crappy. There are all sorts of scientific studies that back this up; I’m sure you can find them if you search the web.

So this past January, I thought I’d give meditation a try. Like a lot of people, I’d heard a lot about something called mindfulness — how it helps with everything from depression and anxiety to lack of focus and sleeplessness. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure I’d be a good fit. All I’d heard about meditation was that you were required to empty your mind, and to me, that seemed like an impossible task. I’m the sort of person who when someone says, ‘Don’t think about an elephant,’ well, that’s all I’ll think about. On the other hand, committing to meditation seemed pretty low risk. I’t’s not like I had to ingest any special pills or foods or train to run a marathon. I didn’t think I had anything to lose. Besides, how could it hurt?

So what exactly is mindfulness, and what does it involve? Basically, mindfulness means paying attention to your thoughts and feelings without making any judgements. The idea is to focus your awareness on the moment while accepting and acknowledging your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings as if from a distance, without judging them to be either good or bad. Instead of letting life pass you by, you live in the moment. According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness offers a whole host of benefits: everything from stress reduction to improved focus and less emotional reactivity. You can read more about them here. Take a look; it doesn’t sound bad.

So did I light incense, sit in the lotus position, and chant a mantra like Ommmmmm? Did I travel to an ashram in Nepal, seeking a guru who could provide me with extra special guidance?

Umm……no.

This is a new world. I did what any self-respecting individual does these days: I downloaded an app, or in my case, Headspace.com.

Headspace has a pretty good gimmick: it offers 10 free sessions to get you started, after which you pay by the month. For me, paying works; it gives me the incentive I need to stay committed. Once you subscribe, there are a  number of series that address a variety of topics like depression, anxiety, focus, creativity, and more. You can choose the length of time you want your sessions to last; mine are 15 minutes. Throughout, you’re guided by British mindfulness expert (and former Buddhist monk) Andy Puddicombe. Andy has a genial way and a calm, friendly voice that makes him easy to listen to. He also provides a lot of tips and advice not only on meditating, but on how to apply what you’ve learned throughout the day. I haven’t completed all the series but I have found some repetition, from one to another — which really doesn’t bother me. As they say, practice makes perfect.

For those who are particularly goal oriented, there’s also a way to track your mediation stats. For example, Headspace tells me I’ve completed 254 sessions for a total of 58 hours of mediation time, with an average duration of 14 minutes. This seems kind of OCD for something that’s supposed to be pretty laid back, but that’s okay. It’s interesting to see how the time adds up.

So what do you think, Ski Diva?
Has it helped? I think so. I don’t suffer from depression and I’m not particularly stressed, so I can’t speak to that. But I actually enjoy the quiet space it creates for me each day. And I think it helps me be a bit calmer and provides me with the tools I need to see things a bit differently, too. I also think it’s made me a bit more patient, which is a huge plus for me, and I think I’m a better listener, too.

I’m hoping the benefits will transfer over to skiing. I do suffer a fair amount of height anxiety and yeah, sometimes I get a little scared, when I really shouldn’t. So stay tuned; I’ll keep you posted,.

 



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Close Encounters of the Wildlife Kind

moose_infographic

Part of what makes a ski diva a Ski Diva is our love of the outdoors. Now that the weather’s warm, you can often find us hiking, biking, camping, rock climbing — doing all sorts of things to stay active and have fun while we wait for the snow to fly.

It’s precisely this that brings us into close proximity with wildlife: Moose, bear, mountain lions, coyotes, snakes, and more. Face it, we’re in their territory. And though it’s cool to see animals up close, it’s important to remember that these are not the happy, friendly creatures you’ll find in a Disney animation. Animals have their own rules for behavior, and they don’t necessarily coincide with ours. That said, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea: lethal attacks by wildlife are extremely rare. (To put it in perspective, see the infographic at the end of this piece. And keep in mind that according to the Center for Disease Control, motor vehicles account for 33,000 deaths per year.) However, animals are defensive of their homes, and are much more likely to attack if they feel threatened.

Nonetheless, every year you hear about people who are injured by animals thanks to their own stupid actions, such as trying to take photos with bison in Yellowstone. According to the CDC, bison injured five people in the park last summer. Of those five, three were trying to take photos within 3-6 feet of the bison, two turned their backs on the bison while taking photos, and one just outright admitted he was taking a selfie.

I have a long-standing rule called the Don’t Be An Idiot Rule. It’s pretty simple: if there’s something for which you think someone you respect would say, ‘Don’t be an idiot,’ then just don’t do it. And taking a close-up photo of a bison — or any other wild animal, for that matter — certainly fills the bill.

But I digress. My purpose here is to provide some usable advice about what to do if you see a wild animal while you’re enjoying the Great Outdoors. The National Park Service has long recommended that people stay 75 feet away from wild animals that aren’t bears or wolves (300 feet for those). This is certainly valuable to know. But here are some other things you should keep in mind, in case you see one of our wild friends:

Moose:
I’ve only seen a few of these here in Vermont, but believe me, these guys are BIG. As in big-as-my-Subaru big. Moose are among the most dangerous, regularly encountered animals in the world. And though they prefer to leave humans alone, they’re known to be aggressive if they believe they’re being threatened. Cows with calves are particularly protective, especially in early summer when their young are most vulnerable. In the fall, bull moose often act more aggressively as they compete with other males for breeding opportunities. But no matter what the season, the best strategy is to avoid a confrontational situation in the first place.

So what are the signs of aggressive moose behavior?  Walking in your direction, stomping its feet, peeling its ears back, grunting, or throwing its head back and forth. If a moose does any of these things, the people at Glacier National Park recommend the following.

Back away with your palms facing the moose;
Speak softly and reassuringly, like you would to a little child;
If the moose charges, get behind a large tree or rock in order to separate your body from the moose. Most moose charges, like grizzly bear charges, are bluffs;
If the moose attacks you, feign death by curling up in a little ball. Protect your head and neck with your arms. If you are wearing a backpack, your pack can help protect your back.

Bear:
Most attacks by black bears are defensive reactions to a person who is very close, which is an easy situation to avoid. It helps to be on the lookout for active bear signs, such such as fresh tracks or fresh bear scat. If possible, avoid areas such as berry patches and stream banks where bears may be feeding or drinking. Hiking in midday will also reduce the chance of encountering a bear, as they are less active at that time. It also helps to make your presence known by making noise. This will allow them to walk away from the noise to avoid an encounter. And be careful with food, which can act as a bear-magnet. If you’re camping, don’t place your tent near hanging food or a car where food is stored.

If you happen to spot a bear in the distance, simply back away, at least a few hundred yards, and find another route. If another route isn’t available, wait 20 to 30 minutes before heading back down the trail. And while going back down the trail, be sure to make noise to announce your presence. If you see a bear on the trail, make yourself as big as possible and in a stern voice tell it to go away. If the bear continues to come at you, use bear spray when he’s about 20-30 feet away to deter it from coming any closer.

Mountain Lion:
Research has shown that mountain lions go out of their way to avoid other mountain lions and people. They mostly rely on wariness as their first defense and resort to fighting only when necessary to defend a territory or a litter of kittens. The best way to ensure that both you and the lion leave safely is for you to back away slowly while continuing to look as big and intimidating as possible, leaving the lion avenues of escape.

Coyotes:
Coyotes are naturally timid and will usually run away when they encounter a human. If they linger or approach, make yourself as big and as loud as possible to scare them away. Do not run or turn your back. Waving your arms, clapping your hands, or shouting in an authoritative voice are all good. It can also be helpful to carry a noisemaker, squirt gun or pepper spray.

Snakes:
Snakes only strike when they feel like they’re being threatened. As with the other animals, the best way to avoid trouble is to steer clear of them whenever possible. This includes not walking through heavy brush, and never reaching into a dark hole or other place you can’t see — if you must probe, use a tool (this is good advice to protect you from spiders, scorpions, and other burrowing animals too). And since almost all snake strikes are on lower extremities, it’s also a good idea to wear high boots and long pants.  Also, if you’re camping, avoid sleeping near a log or large branch, in tall grass, or next to rocky areas. And make sure to zip up your tent tight.

So which animals are most likely to kill humans in the US? The Washington Post published this handy-dandy graphic last year on human fatalities by wildlife between 2001 and 2013, with info provided by the CDC:

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.46.06 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.46.26 AM

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The takeaway from this? Wear bug spray.

Be careful out there, friends. And remember, don’t be an idiot.

 

 

 

 



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Celebrating the Fourth, Ski Town Style.

July 4th Celebration, Steamboat Springs, CO

July 4th Celebration, Steamboat Springs, CO

The biggest weekend of the summer is almost here, and I know what you’re thinking: I’d like to celebrate the Fourth of July in my favorite ski town, Ski Diva, but I’m not sure what’s going on there. Can you help?

Absolutely! Here’s a sampling of the festivities in some of our favorite ski towns across the country:

Okemo, Vermont
Celebrate freedom and the holiday weekend with the best party of the summer. Okemo’s Jackson Gore Courtyard will be transformed into an all-American backyard barbecue with live music, games, a hot-dog-eating contest, frosty-cold beverages and fresh-from-the-grill burgers, hot dogs plus lots more. New activities this year include an inflatable water slide, a 65-foot inflatable challenge course and a combo bouncy house/slide. Saturday, July 2, 11AM – 6PM

Stowe, Vermont (Stowe Mountain Resort):
Enjoy a multi-dimensional day-long extravaganza of food, music, entertainers, fireworks and more! Starting with the Moscow parade and ending with Stowe’s incredible annual fireworks display, this is a great day to spend in Stowe.

Lake Placid, New York (Whiteface):
The ever popular I Love BBQ and Music Festival will run this year from July 2 – 5. Come out and watch some of the best BBQ competitors in the country, taste their creations, and listen to some live music at this popular annual event. On July 4th there’ll be a parade and the blockbuster “Set the Night to Music” fireworks extravaganza.

Bethel, Maine (Sunday River):
The Fourth of July features a Community Picnic at Bethel Historical Society, plus an outdoor concert by the fabulous Portland Brass Quintet.

Vail, Colorado
A true summer celebration featuring exceptional entertainment including Vail’s celebrated 4th of July parade and fireworks. The parade will begin at Golden Peak at 10:00 AM on July 4 and will wind its way through the villages, ending in Lionshead. This year’s parade theme is Celebrate the USA! Great Moments in American History.

Aspen, Colorado:
Approximately 20,000 local residents and visitors come together to honor the nation’s birthday in true American style. Festivities include a parade, the 16th annual “America’s Birthday” carnival, a community picnic, a concert, and spectacular fireworks over Aspen Mountain at 9:15.

Breckenridge, Colorado:
Celebrate Independence Day with lively entertainment, free activities, and dynamic family fun. Breck’s Independence Day celebration kicks off with a 10K trail run and continues throughout the day with the Firecracker 50 bike race leading the Fourth of July Parade on Main Street, July Arts Festival, live music, kids’ activities, concerts and much more. End the night with the National Repertory Orchestra performing a patriotic concert at the Riverwalk Center followed by fireworks at 9:45PM.

Steamboat, Colorado:
Steamboat’s Fourth of July celebration runs from July 1 through July 4. There’s everything from a hometown parade and pancake breakfast to a rodeo, block party, and fireworks.

Lake Tahoe, California:
NBC’s Today show recognizes Tahoe South’s Lights on the Lake Fireworks display as one of the country’s top Fourth of July weekend Celebrations. The fireworks are launched from offshore barges and can be seen from all corners of town. South Shore offers convenient access to viewing areas via public transportation, paved bike trails, and nearby park and walk venues.

Sun Valley, Idaho:
The festivities begin with a parade at 10AM, and continue with a bike race, a kids’ carnival on the Main Street, a rodeo, and of course, fireworks at dusk.

Park City, Utah: 
Kick the day off with a pancake breakfast in the City Park then head up to Historic Main Street for the Annual 4th of July Parade. Spend the rest of the day with a full day of activities in the City Park with live music, rugby games, beer gardens and plenty of family fun.  Fireworks go off at Park City Mountain Resort at dusk!

Big Sky, Montana
Here you’ll find lots of community booths, children’s activities, lots of food, beverages, and live music capped by a firework finale.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming:
The day-long celebration includes a pancake breakfast, a 10K run, a parade, music, and fireworks.

Have fun, be safe, and remember, don’t drink and drive!



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