Putting ’em to Bed, or Getting Your Skis Ready for the Off Season.

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Good night, my pets.

I hate the end of ski season. You know how some people get depressed when winter rolls around? I think it’s called “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” I have that in reverse. Sure, I love the sun. And I actually enjoy warm weather. But I mourn the loss of ski days, and the end of winter leaves me feeling a bit blue.

This year, it’s a little different. I’m actually not that sorry to see it go (gasp!). Sure, I’ve had some great times. I spent two weeks out west, which was pretty fantastic; even now, some areas are still going strong. But here in the east, we’ve had one of the worst seasons in years. Yeah, there were some fine days. But I’m hoping ’16/’17 is better.

Nonetheless, ski equipment ain’t cheap, so it’s important to take care of it so it’s in good shape when the season rolls around again. Which (cheer up, everyone) it inevitably will.

So here’s what you need to do to before you put your skis to bed:

1) Clean off the bases and top sheets. This is particularly important if you’ve been skiing in dirty spring conditions. You can do this by spraying them with a garden hose outdoors. Once they’re thoroughly doused, rub them dry with a clean cloth and let them air dry.

2) Coat the bases with wax to protect them from air and moisture. Moisture can lead to rust, and exposure to air can dry out the bases. If you’re going to do this yourself, use at least twice as much wax as you do when you normally wax your skis. Don’t scrape at all. The idea is to leave it there all summer.

3) Put a protectant on the edges to keep them from rusting. A dab of oil, vaseline, or even WD-40 on a rag (don’t spray it on) can do the trick.

4) Some people say you should turn down the DIN on your bindings to ease the tension on the springs. Others say it doesn’t matter. I’ve never turned mine down and haven’t had a problem yet. So it’s up to you. If you do adjust them, however, don’t forget to set them back before heading out next season.

5) Secure your skis with a strap base to base and store them in a cool, dry environment, away from sunlight. This means keeping them off a concrete floor, which can hold moisture and cause the edges to rust.

6) Don’t forget your boots. Clean the outsides, then remove the liners and make sure they’re completely dry. Remember, plastic has a memory, so buckle your boots loosely so they retain their shape.

7) Go through the pockets of your ski jackets. Not just to make sure you remove that half eaten PB&J, but you might find some forgotten treasure. Last year I hit the jackpot: $104., split between five jackets. Woo hoo! I’m rich!

Of course, if you want to give your skis a hug or a kiss, or even tell them a bed time story, well, that’s up to you. I understand the impulse, though.

Whatever you decide, just remember: Take care of your equipment and it’ll take care of you.



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Why aren’t there more women in the US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame?

Little over a week ago, the Class of 2015 was inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. As always, it’s an impressive group with an amazing list of achievements  (for the full list, go here). A big Ski Diva congratulations to all.

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, Class of 2015 Left to right: Lessing Stern, son of honoree Edgar Stern*, Genia Fuller Crews, Henry Kaiser, Chris Klug, Bob Salerno, Jim Martinson, David Ingemie *Edgar Stern passed away October 12, 2008 Photo courtesy of the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, Class of 2015
Left to right: Lessing Stern, son of honoree Edgar Stern*, Genia Fuller Crews, Henry Kaiser,
Chris Klug, Bob Salerno, Jim Martinson, David Ingemie
*Edgar Stern passed away October 12, 2008
Photo courtesy of the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame

I was especially excited about the inclusion of Genia Fuller, a true pioneer in freestyle skiing and a three-time World Freestyle Skiing Champion. But then I realized something: out of the seven new inductees, she was the only woman to receive this honor. So it made me wonder: how many members of the Hall of Fame are female?

The results may surprise you: out of four hundred and ten inductees, there are only sixty women. Yes, you read that right. Sixty. That’s 15%.

I was surprised, too. I mean, what’s going on here? Why so few?

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

First, some background.

Established in 1956, the Hall of Fame is dedicated to preserving and promoting America’s ski heritage through the permanent recognition of nationally outstanding skiers, snowboarders, and ski sport builders. It’s headquartered in the City of Ishpeming on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where the National Skiing Association was first organized over a century ago, and features a museum with displays on the Hall of Fame honorees, trophies, clothing, and equipment. There’s a gift shop, too, as well as a library and theater. Admission is free, and visitors are welcome 10AM to 5PM, Monday thru Saturday year-round.

So how are Hall of Fame members selected?

First, they need to be nominated. And this can be done by anyone. That’s right — you, me, your mom, your sister, anyone. All you have to do is visit the Hall of Fame website and download the nomination form. Nominees are taken in one of three categories: Athletes, which is pretty self explanatory; Snowsport Builders, who are people who have made significant contributions to skiing or snowboarding and who aren’t athletes; and Heritage, which can be athletes or snowsport builders who have been retired from their qualifying activity for 25 years or have participated in it for at least 25 years. You can find the eligibility requirements here.

Once the nominees are in, they’re vetted by a selection committee, which reviews the candidates and determines the final slate via secret ballot. This is then submitted to a national voting panel made up of members of the selection committee, honored members, members of the USSA Awards Working Group, and directors of the US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and the US Ski and Snowboard Association. The chairman and the board of directors may also appoint a reasonable number of individuals to the national voting panel, including those having distinguished careers in snowsports and holding expert knowledge in snowsports history. Honorees are announced in October, and the induction ceremony held the following April.

Which brings me back to my original question: why so few women?

Is it part of some sinister plot? Is it evidence of blatant sexism? Well, there may be a few things at play here. Consider the following:

First, history. The snowsports industry has long been dominated by men. This is changing (albeit slowly), but years ago, things were very, very different. The individuals involved in building the resorts or developing products or technologies were almost exclusively male. That means there’s a larger pool of men to draw from, which tips the scales in favor of male inductees, particularly in the Heritage and Sport Building categories. The result is more men in the Hall.

Second, the nomination process. As I said earlier, anyone can submit a nomination. So to get more women honorees, more women have to be put up for a vote. And that’s where all of us come in. Nominations for next year are being taken right now through the end of April, so if you like, you can be have a hand in selecting the Class of 2016. Please, get involved, and we can change this. It’s up to us.

BTW, the Hall of Fame Museum is working on a Women in Skiing Exhibit, which will focus on the female honorees and their achievements. Spearheaded by honoree Jeannie Thoren, the exhibit is slated to open in September, 2016. Here she is at the entry to the exhibit with her husband, Thomas Haas.

Photo courtesy of Jeannie Thoren.

Photo courtesy of Jeannie Thoren.

Want some inspiration? I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing several female Hall of Fame honorees for this blog: Muffy Davis, Donna WeinbrechtSuzy Chaffee, and Deb Armstrong. Interesting reading, so be sure to check them out!

 

 

 

 



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A Ski Diva’s Guide to the Solar System

It’s sad but true: climate change is real, and it’s going to mean big problems for us skiers. So even though our skiing right now is limited to Earth, someday we may be forced to look elsewhere. Luckily, we live in a solar system with 8 other planets and a multitude of moons and asteroids. And who knows — one day these could end up as primo ski destinations.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a handy guide to help us Ski Divas know what to expect. Some of this is from Popular Science, some from Wikipedia, and some from NASA, itself. And while I don’t think we’ll be doing this any time soon, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared:

 

Imagine skiing a mountain that’s nearly three times higher than Everest! That’s Olympus Mons, the tallest planetary mountain in the solar system. Located on Mars, Olympus Mons stands  at 21.9 km, or 13.6 miles. In addition to being tall, it is also very wide (340 miles or 550 kilometers) and covers an area larger than the entire chain of Hawaiian islands.

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Tune up your ice skis! Yes, there is ice on Mars. The planet has northern and southern polar ice caps that grow and shrink depending on the season. During the winter, the poles get absolutely no sun, and the resulting drop in temperature freezes both water into ice and carbon dioxide into dry ice.2

Mars Polar Ice Cap.  Photo from NASA

Mars Polar Ice Cap.
Photo from NASA

Moon

Enceladus

 

Saturn’s sixth largest moon, Enceladus, may be the ideal place for hitting the interplanetary slopes. Covered in miles of ice, Enceladus is home to numerous geysers, which jettison ice particles into the air above the moon’s surface. The result is something like snowfall as the ice particles fall back to the ground, coating Enceladus in extremely fine ice crystals. Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston notes the “snow” would provide great skiing conditions. However, there’s not enough on the surface yet. Give it a couple tens of millions of years or so, and the slopes will be piled high. The other problem? The temperature is -330 degrees Fahrenheit. 2

 

Remember to pack your warmest layers. The largest of Neptune’s 13 moons, Triton, is one of the coldest objects in our solar system. Also home to ice volcanoes, the moon’s surface belches out a mixture of liquid nitrogen, methane, and dust, all of which freeze immediately in the air. The flakes then snow back down to Triton’s surface, which mostly consists of frozen nitrogen. An almost non-existent atmosphere doesn’t help to curb the freezing temperatures (-391 degrees Fahrenheit). 2

 

Seasons on other planets are extremely different from the traditional spring, summer, fall and winter here on Earth. Although they generally have to do with orbital variations and axial tilt, weather variations are typically more pronounced for those planets closer to the Sun. With an axial tilt of only 3 degrees, for example, Jupiter and Venus have literally no difference between the seasons. However, Jupiter’s distance from the sun cause its seasons to change more slowly. The length of each season is roughly three years. And seasons on Neptune can last for 40 years! Talk about endless winter!  

 

If you decide to take a ski trip to Mars, better be prepared to be gone a while. According to NASA, a vessel carrying humans would take roughly six months to travel to Mars and another six months to come back. In addition, you’d have to stay 18-20 months on Mars before the planets re-align for a return trip. In all, the mission would take roughly 2 1/2 years.3

So anyone packing their bags?

References:

1. Wikipedia
2. Popular Science
3. Infoplease

 

 



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Good Riddance to a Dismal Season* (*in the east).

Mad River glen

Photo: Mad River Glen

Yep, the sign on the left at Mad River Glen pretty much sums it up. Mother Nature, you’ve brought us to our knees. We surrender. I personally give up. My ski season is over.

I know, a First World problem, right? Boo hoo — instead of skiing 88 days like I did last year, I only clocked 53.

Yes, I’m whining. But here in the East, the worst ski season in years has had terrible repercussions, not just for skiers, but for the resorts and businesses that depend on them for income. Peak Resorts, for example, which owns 14 eastern resorts, reported revenue down 16 percent from the same quarter last year. Overall visits to Peak properties dropped 23 percent compared to the same quarter in 2015.  And they’re by no means alone.

Call it what you want — The Year of No Winter,  The Winter That Never Was — I’ll just call it dreadful. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, all six New England states set records for warmth, a marked reversal from last winter, one of New England’s harshest. You can read more details in this article in the Washington Post.

In Vermont, the season started bad and never got better. Christmas Day saw temperatures climb into the 70’s. The Nor’easters that typically bring blockbuster storms never materialized. We were plagued with freeze/thaw cycles. And we got far too much rain.

The results speak for themselves. Sugarbush, for example, got roughly half the snow they typically get during an average winter. And as of March 31, Jay Peak was at 55% of normal snowfall and is likely to have the lowest snowfall season in its 35 years of data. Even worse, some smaller ski areas never even managed to open.

For the larger areas, it was all about the snowmaking. Without it, I don’t think we’d have had any ski season at all (for my post about how the snowmakers at Stowe handled the season, go here). To the snowmakers out there, two ski poles up. Thanks for all your efforts. You truly are miracle workers.

Yes, I know. The ski areas in the West have had a banner season. Reports are coming in left and right of resorts that are extending their ski season. And I’m glad for it. Last year was a bad one out there, so yes, they deserve it. Still, I get heartache watching the photos of major dumpage parade by on my Facebook feed.

In the East, though, many ski resorts have wrapped up the season early. Ski shops, loaded with unsold merchandise and struggling to stay afloat, are having blowout sales. And me, I’ve put my skis to bed. If I could manage another trip out west, I would. But since that isn’t going to happen, it’ll probably be seven long months before I ski again.

Goodbye, winter. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out. Here’s to a better ’16/’17.

 



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Why We Love Spring Skiing.

So it’s officially spring: the delicious dessert to the ski season entree. Many skiers think spring skiing is the best, and there are loads of reasons why:

1) The sun:  If you’re having trouble identifying that bright thing in the sky, it’s only because you haven’t seen it for a while. Spring means the sun is higher, the days are longer, and the temps are warmer. And though it’s great to ski on a bluebird day, it’s important to remember that the sun’s rays are stronger this time of year, especially when they reflect off the snow. So don’t forget the sunscreen!

Skiing in the sun.  Photo from StratosphereNetworking.com

Skiing in the sun.
Photo from StratosphereNetworking.com

 

2) Softer snow: Warm temps produce hero snow, the soft snow that makes everyone carve like a champ. If the temps are freezing overnight, you might want to wait a bit til it softens up. Trust me, though, it’s worth it.

Skiing in soft snow. Photo from Okemo Mountain Resort

Skiing in soft snow.
Photo from Okemo Mountain Resort

 

3) Softer bumps: I love bump skiing, but I hate it when the bumps are the rock hard ice bombs we usually have in the east. Now’s when the bumps get nice and soft, so they’re much easier to ski. If you feel the same, then spring is for you.

Soft, spring bumps are the best!

Soft, spring bumps are the best!

 

4) Lighter, less restrictive clothing: I get cold easily, so I tend to pack on the clothing during the winter.  Yeah, it keeps me warm, but sometimes I feel like an overstuffed sausage. In the spring, I can get away with a shell and a light layer. It’s a lot more comfortable and it makes moving much, much easier.

springskiing

photo from Ski Utah

 

5) Smaller crowds: Strange but true: people tend to give up on skiing once the snow disappears from their own backyards. So take advantage of all the people who are staying home and enjoy emptier slopes and no lift lines.

 

6) Great deals: You know those skis you lusted after all winter? And the jacket you thought was just too expensive? Now’s the time to buy. Ski shops and retailers typically drop their prices in the spring to offload this year’s stuff before next year’s comes in. Season pass deals are usually cheaper in the spring, too, so get yours now.

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7) It’s time to par-tay! Spring means tailgating in the parking lot, picnics on the ridge line, and pond skimming at the base. There are loads of spring festivals at ski areas everywhere, so don’t miss out!

Photo from ExploreSteamboat.com

Photo from ExploreSteamboat.com

 

Partying at A-Basin! Photo from FriscoLodge.com

Partying at A-Basin!
Photo from FriscoLodge.com

What do you love most about spring skiing?

 

 

 



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Gear Review: Dragon X1S Transition Lenses

You can go dizzy from all goggle choices out there. Not only are there dozens of manufacturers to choose from, but there are a whole slew of variables to take into account: Do you want flat or spherical? What color lens? How do they fit on your face? With your helmet? Do they fog? What about optical clarity? Peripheral vision? And how do they look on you? (Because, as we all know, that’s what it’s all about. *kidding alert*)

For me, though, simpler is better. I don’t even want to think about my goggles, once they’re on my face. Heck, I don’t even want to think about them before I put them on. So I want a goggle that’s, as they say, grab-and-go. One that’s easy-peasy, fits well, and doesn’t cause me any grief.

For the past few years I’ve been a devoted Smith IO/S goggle wearer. I actually liked them quite a bit; they fit well with my Smith helmet, don’t fog, and have a cool strap that looks great with my helmet and jacket. And frankly, the lens swapping system is pretty simple. It’s head and shoulders above the old system where you had to line up the lens and insert it into a pretty unyielding frame. Granted, it takes a bit of getting used to. But with some practice, it’s actually pretty easy to deal with.

My Smith IO/S goggles.

My Smith IO/S goggles.

Then I got a new Giro helmet and suddenly, my goggles weren’t that great anymore. They just didn’t fit the way I wanted them to. Plus even the easy lens changing system was becoming a bit of a drag. I mean, sometimes a sunny day can turn into a flat light day in a matter of hours. And if you have the wrong lens in place, you’re stuck.

One of the members on TheSkiDiva community mentioned how she loved her Dragon X1S Transition goggles, so I was intrigued.  These are supposed to change to accommodate varying light conditions. That’s right: the company claims they automatically darken in bright sunlight and lighten in cloudy or snowy conditions. According to Dragon’s website, the darkness of the lens tint will vary between 76% and 16% Visible Light Transmission (VLT). A high percentage rate signifies a lighter lens tint, which allows more natural light into the lens in overcast, shaded or low-light conditions. A lower percent signifies a darker lens tint, and is typically best for glare control in sunny conditions.

Photochromatic lenses are nothing new. But in my experience, the lenses just didn’t seem to offer enough of a change to make them that effective. Would these do the trick?

Dragon X1S goggle

Dragon X1S goggle

I had the opportunity to try the Dragon X1S Transitions at the on-snow industry demo days at Stratton in February, and liked them a lot — so much so that I ended up buying a pair. And yes, I have to say that I agree with my fellow forum member: the goggles work as advertised. The first day was sunny and bright, the next day less so, and they really performed. What’s more, I found the clarity of the lens first rate. Peripheral vision was good, too, and I didn’t have any fogging problems. Even better: they work well with my Giro helmet, and they don’t pinch around my nose, which the IO/S always did. The silicone-backed strap is also heftier and more non-slip than the one on the IO/S. A downside: the strap isn’t as graphically pleasing as my old one. But then again, it can go with a lot of things quite easily. So maybe that’s a plus, after all.

So what’d you think, Ski Diva?

I’ve used these now for a month or so, and I have to say I’m still quite pleased. They’re comfortable, easy to deal with, and I don’t even have to think about them at all. Which to me is a major plus. What’s more, they’re great with the flat light we have here in New England, as well as the bluebird days you’ll find out west. And I never, ever, ever have to think about which lens to choose for the day. Which is a pretty liberating experience.

Right now the X1S Transitions are available with a yellow lens, though I think next year they’ll be offering them in a rose lens, too, if that’s your preference. The rep told me the yellow one is better for flat light days, which we get plenty of here in New England.

For more information on the Dragon X1S Transition goggle, go here..



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Why do a women’s ski trip?

I’m writing this at 35,000 feet, on my way home from Big Sky, Montana, where I just spent a week at the annual gathering of members of TheSkiDiva.com. We’ve gotten together every year since 2007, hitting such places as Solitude, Summit County, Steamboat, Tahoe, Big Sky, Snowbasin, Big Sky, and yes, Big Sky again. Each year I say it’s the best trip ever, and truly, this year is no exception.

Ski trips come in all sorts of combinations: friends, families, ski clubs, and school groups. But the trips the Divas do once a year are truly one of a kind. Many of us don’t know one another before we meet at our final destination, which I think in itself is pretty remarkable. It takes a great measure of faith to venture from your comfortable home and spend your vacation with people you’ve never met. But it’s the interaction we have on the forum that make us feel less like strangers than like members of a community – albeit one that spreads not only across the US, but across the world. Women come from all over: Scotland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Florida, California, Washington, Pennsylvania, to name a few. After all, there are Ski Divas everywhere.

So what makes them come? And what makes these trips so great?

A shared passion: It’s not easy to find women who care as much about skiing as the Divas. I know I’ve had to tamp down my own enthusiasm so as not to drive others crazy. But at TheSkiDiva,  I’ve found kindred spirits – women I’m not boring when I talk about the attributes of a particular ski or the best technique for tackling glades or how to make my turns better. It’s nice to know we’re not alone, and that it’s okay to go on and on about our favorite activity.

It’s a supportive, caring environment: Here’s a example: on one of our trips, a group of us decided to tackle something that some of us considered a bit difficult. As each one of us made our descent, the  others stood by and cheered. Yes, cheered. Not heckled or made snide comments. And when one of us ended up injured, the others didn’t leave her forgotten on the sidelines. We hung out with her during the day, took her to the doctor’s, made her comfortable and just generally bucked her up. We were happy to do it, because that’s how we roll.

It’s a heck of a lot of fun: There’s something freeing about skiing with a group of girlfriends. You laugh a lot. You have great conversations on the lifts. You’re free of the label of girlfriend, mother, wife, caregiver. It’s just you, the mountain, the snow, and your friends. What could be better?

So rather than just go on and on about this, I thought I’d include some pictures from Diva Week. The smiles here tell more than I could in any blog post:

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A Tale of Two Resorts: Keystone and A-Basin

It’s been a long time since I’ve skied in Colorado. Eight years, in fact. But when my husband was invited to do a reading at the University of Northern Colorado, it seemed like it might be time to return (he’s a novelist. You can find out more about his books here).

And am I glad we did! We just spent a few happy days skiing at Keystone and A-Basin. Sure, a lot of you are familiar with these mountains. Both are associated with Vail Resorts (Keystone is part of the Vail family, A-Basin has a lift ticket agreement). And both are destinations, not only for skiers in Colorado, but for skiers all over the world.

But for those of you who haven’t been to either of these places, let me give you a brief run down. Because even though they’re different, each one has its own distinct personality.

Keystone Mountain Resort:

Here are some stats:
Elevation: 12,408 summit, 9,279 at the base
Average annual snowfall: 235 inches
Vertical feet: 3,127
Terrain: 14% beginner, 29% intermediate, 57% expert
Runs: 131
Skiable terrain: 3,143 acres

Keystone is a Resort with a capital R. There’s lots of slope side lodging, restaurants, and shops. There’s a spa, an ice skating rink, snow tubing, and night skiing. And though I’ve heard a lot of people disparage the artificiality of the base village — that it’s not a real town, like Breckenridge or Aspen — I have to admit, it was awfully convenient. We were visiting without a car, and it certainly made life easy. Everything we wanted was right at the base. And if you need to go somewhere,  there’s free bus service that’ll get you just about anywhere.

Keystone Base Village

Keystone Base Village

Now on to skiing. Keystone is comprised of three peaks — Dercum, North Peak, and The Outback — one behind the other, each connected by a series of trails and lifts.  The first one, Dercum, has lots of long, rolling blue groomers. You can reach the top by either by a gondola or a high speed lift; both drop you off at essentially the same place, beside the lodge. Dercum is also the home of the resort’s terrain park and kid’s learning center and programs.

Check out the snow fort at the top of the gondola. A kid’s dream come true!

Snow Fort, photo courtesy of Keystone Resort.

Snow Fort, photo courtesy of Keystone Resort.

During the two days we skied Keystone, we managed to spend time on each of the peaks. On our first morning, it snowed like crazy. We picked up about 4 inches which really made for a great day. In addition to Dercum, we also skied North Peak (you can ski or take the Peak-To-Peak gondola), where we had lunch in the Outpost Lodge. Keystone also offers dinners there year ’round featuring a Bavarian theme.

Outpost Lodge, photo from Vail Resorts

Outpost Lodge, photo from Vail Resorts

Here’s a view of the chutes we did on The Outback (I think it’s the Victory Chute). A friend who instructs at Keystone brought us over to this section of the mountain, and I’m glad she did! It was loads of fun.

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A few cool things you should know about Keystone:

• If you want to extend your ski day, you can. Some of their lifts remain open until 8 PM Wednesday through Saturday.
• Keystone offers snowcat rides into the resort’s back bowls for only $10.
• Keystone as an amazing kids program called Kidtopia. You can find more info about it here, but it’s a program that’s packed with activities for families and kids. Literally, there’s something going on every single day that’ll make the little ones happy. It’s part of what makes the resort so great for families.

Arapahoe Basin (aka A-Basin)

Where Keystone is a resort with a capital R, A-Basin is pretty much the opposite. And that’s what gives it its own special charm. Here, the focus isn’t on fancy lodges or luxury amenities. There are no slope side condos or fancy restaurants.  Yeah, the lifts are kind of slow and the vibe is kind of chill. But there’s lots of terrific skiing, and face it, isn’t that what we came for?

The inside of the lodge.

The inside of the lodge.

Here are some stats:

Vertical rise: 2,270 feet
Elevation: 13,050 feet summit, 10,780 feet base
Average annual snowfall: 350 inches
Number of trails: 109
Skiable acres: 960
Terrain: 10% beginner, 30% intermediate, 37% advanced, 23% expert

A-Basin is known for its spectacular scenery,  gnarly terrain, and long season; it typically opens in late October and closes in June. And though the resort is known for its cornices, you don’t have to be an expert to ski here.  There’s lots of great intermediate cruising, too. Nonetheless, if you want more advanced skiing above the tree line, you’ve come to the right place.

Land of the Giants

Land of the Giants

Not sure where this is, but it sure is pretty.

Not sure where this is, but it sure is pretty.

Looking out towards Breckenridge.

Looking out towards Breckenridge.

One caveat for people coming here from the flatlands: A-Basin is HIGH. For someone from the East, the elevation takes a bit getting used to. I followed the tried and true: no alcohol, plenty of water, and no caffeine, and yeah, I was still light headed and easily winded. Just know that this is pretty normal and will dissipate over time.

Fun fact about A-Basin: The current A-Frame lodge in the base area was once a missile testing facility.

Would I recommend one over the other? It depends what you’re looking for. Me, I like to mix it up a bit. It’s all good. You won’t go wrong with either.

 



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Taking your gear from here to there.

Let me put this right up front.

I’m cheating this week. I’m actually writing this five days prior to the post date. With good reason:  I’ll be in Colorado and I’ll be way too busy skiing to sit around writing my blog.

Which leads me to today’s topic: getting your ski gear from here to there. This is something I’m going to have to deal with in a day or two, so for me, it’s top of mind. Oh, I know some people ship their stuff to where they’re going in advance, but hey, I’m cheap. Plus I’m also a bit OCD about having my equipment with me. So I go through the agony of packing up, carting my stuff through the airport, and praying it makes it to where I’m going, along with the rest of my stuff.

To be sure, I’m not the only person who does this. Which means there are thousands — even millions — of ways to pack your stuff. Everyone has their own system. And while mine may or may not be better than anyone else’s, it’s what works best for me. So in case you’re interested, here’s what I do:

First, I never ever never — did I say never? — check my boots. I’ve worked too hard to get them to fit properly, and if they were lost, I’d have to spend a day or more in rentals, which could wreak enough havoc on my feet to make the rest of my stay unpleasant. So I put boots in a carry-on. I also fill the carry-on with a change of ski clothes, so if my luggage gets lost I’ll at least have something to wear so I can ski for a day or so. My bag of choice is a Kulkea boot bag (I reviewed it here). The Kulkea easily fits in the plane’s overhead compartment. And since it’s a backpack, it’s easy to carry through the airport.  The boots go in the boot compartments, and the clothes in the main section in the middle. Yes, I do bring a helmet. I just pack it in my checked bag. Rightly or wrongly, I figure it’s the one piece of equipment I could do without, if I had to. Plus it makes the Kulkea easier to squish into the overhead.

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Now on to skis.

There are loads of ski bags out there: singles, doubles, cloth, hard-shell, wheeled, unwheeled. A few years ago I got a Sportube. It’s a hardshell, so it provides a measure of protection that soft ones don’t. And it’s wheeled, so it’s relatively easy to drag through the airport. My bag is a double, so it’s big enough to carry both my and my husband’s skis. I also surround the skis with base layers. This provides extra padding, and frees up my suitcase for other stuff.

See the base layers between the skis?

And here we’re all closed up, ready to go!

And that’s pretty much it. I also check a bag with additional ski and non-ski clothing. Now, I know some other Ski Divas just check their skis and bring everything else in a carry-on. I haven’t mastered that yet (unfortunately), even though I try not to bring a lot of stuff. As I said, there are many paths to the same goal: getting your gear to your destination. And as long as it reaches there, it’s all good.

 



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Snowmaking at Stowe: How to handle a tough season

There’s no denying it’s been a tough winter here in the East. Snow depth hasn’t been anywhere close to last year’s, some of the smaller resorts haven’t opened at all, and conditions have often been sketchy, at best. For a sense of the misery this is inflicting on eastern Ski Divas (me, included), check out the East Coast Whine thread on TheSkiDiva forum.

That said, I recently skied Stowe Mountain Resort, and I’m glad to report it was quite good. Why? Well, a few inches of natural snow certainly helped. But even without this happy dusting, the mountain has managed to keep skiers pretty well satisfied all season long, thanks largely to its state-of-the-art snowmaking ability.

Me skiing Stowe with Heather Burke of LuxurySkiTrips.com.

Me skiing Stowe with Heather Burke of LuxurySkiTrips. Click on the picture to see my interview with Heather.

This year’s warm weather and lack of snow have made snowmaking more critical than usual at Stowe. According to Scott Reeves, the mountain’s vice president of operations, snow depth at the top of Mount Mansfield is currently only about 24 inches. “To put that in perspective,” he said, “we generally record anywhere between 250 and 300 inches at the summit. We’re not even close to that, and there’s no way we’re going to make it up. Terrain with snowmaking has been king this year. That’s what’s been open since day one. Our natural terrain has been fluctuating.”

Stowe has invested heavily in its snowmaking operation, spending $10.5 million over the the past three years. This includes 600 HKD air/water energy efficient tower snow guns, 150 Ratnik air/water energy efficient land frame snow guns, 36 fan tower snow guns, and a new booster pump house. The mountain has doubled its water pumping capacity from 1,500 to 3,000 gpm (gallons per minute), added snowmaking to five trails, and replaced snowmaking pipe on 22 other trails. It’s also installed a state-of-the-art snowmaking control center that automates much of its snowmaking operation. By merely clicking a mouse, an operator can remotely start and stop guns at various locations and cause them to oscillate or rotate. The system also measures humidity, temperature and wind, and uses the data to adjust the amount of water and air needed to produce the desired quality snow. Thanks to the new technology and a 110-million-gallon reservoir, the resort can cover 56 acres in a foot of snow in only 24 hours.

Stowe's snowmaking operations center

Stowe’s snowmaking operations center

Despite this, the human touch is still important. Scott and his staff meet every morning at 11 to access snow conditions and evaluate weather forecasts. The staff also goes out on the snow each day to check snow quality. “I ski almost every day and my assistant skis every day,” said Scott,”so we’re constantly checking the quality of the snow. Even though the computer tells us we’re making dry snow, there’s no substitute for getting out on it ourselves.”

Snowmaking at Stowe. Photo by Martin Griff

Snowmaking at Stowe.
Photo by Martin Griff

How does Stowe decide where and when to make snow? “It’s pretty much based on market demand,” Scott said. “For opening week, we want a good mixture of intermediate and expert terrain, because that’s when our season passholder base starts up. As we get toward Thanksgiving, we begin thinking about terrain for families and beginners, so we expand snowmaking to what’s more suited for them. Certainly, in a normal season, we want 100% of our snowmaking terrain open by the December holiday. After that, we focus on quality and what we need in order to get to closing day.” As for the rest of the season, Scott says the mountain has been making snow like crazy for the past two weeks to achieve what he calls their  “spring depths.” “Our scheduled closing is April 24,” he said.  “I feel very confident that if we have a normal spring, we’ll make that date.”

Stowe isn’t the only Vermont ski area where snowmaking plays an important role. More than 80 percent of the trails in the state are covered by snowmaking. That’s the most of any state in the union by far, 20 percent more than New Hampshire, and way more than any ski area out West. In the past few years, the state’s ski areas have participated in a program with Efficiency Vermont that’s provided rebates for purchasing newer, more energy efficient snowmaking equipment. Thanks to this partnership, Stowe has been able to eliminate the diesel compressors it previously used for its snowmaking operations, saving the resort 100,000 gallons of fuel per year and greatly improving its carbon footprint. Scott also noted that the partnership has allowed the resort to make its computer control system more efficient, as well as help purchase more energy efficient snow guns. “Basically, for every gun we used to run we can now run three.” he said. “That helps us put snow out there faster and increases our snowmaking capability.”

Stowe’s snowmaking has brought it national recognition, too. In 2014,  Outside Magazine awarded the resort its 2014 Ski-Season Travel Award for Best Backup Plan because of its (then) two-year spending spree on snowmaking. The magazine highlighted Stowe as spending “more than any other resort in the East,” and praised its ability to work “more efficiently even in temperatures up to 28 degrees.”

So thank your local snowmaker, especially here in the East. Without them, we might not be skiing at all this year.



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