Eleven of the world’s scariest ski lifts.

It might seem odd for a skier, but I actually have a thing about heights. High, wide open spaces really get to me. Put me on top of a very high peak with steep drop-offs all around, for example, and I can’t wait to get down. Which is probably not bad, for a skier.

The thing is, I’m not alone. A lot of skiers tell me they have height issues, too, particularly with ski lifts.  So I asked the Ski Divas to talk about the lifts that scare them the most, and here are some of the ones they mentioned (the comments that follow belong to them):

La Soliel Lift, Tremblant, Quebec: The lift goes over a ravine about two-thirds of the way up, so it’s very high off the ground. I just keep looking at the next hump and try to ignore the bottom. Haven’t ridden that chair by myself; usually it’s too busy, so that’s good.

Millicent Chair, Brighton, Utah: It’s an old two-seater with no safety bar, and it crosses about 200 feet above a cliff and bowl area. We affectionately call it “The Chair of Death.” My husband told the PR guy that his butt hurt after that ride, from squeezing his cheeks to stay on the lift.

The double chair that serves both Eagle’s Nest and Thunder Mtn, Whitecap, Wisconsin: There’s a long, long, long stretch where you’re quite a ways up between the two peaks, and it’s a two-seater with molded plastic seats so you feel like you’re gonna slide off the entire time.

KT-22, Squaw Valley, California: It’s so awful my husband refused to go on it with me!

Looking down the KT-22 Lift at Squaw

Looking down the KT-22 Lift at Squaw

Mineral Basin Express, Snowbird, Utah: As you’re coming up to the top,  it looks like you’re going to slide right off the end of the world since it dumps you off at the ridgeline with all of Peruvian Basin and Salt Lake City right in front of you. The first time I took it there didn’t appear to be enough exit area to ski away from the lift safely.

Alpauris, Alpe D’Huez, France: We were told the English speakers call it the “Scare Chair.” You jump on, go under an innocuous concrete bridge and then……eeeeeeeek!…..plunge down the side of the mountain to the bottom and then up the other side. There’s no way to avoid it in either direction as it’s the only way to this particular part of the ski area. So…on the way back….same process.. I have to close my eyes.

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Vallugabahn Tram, St Anton, Austria. It crosses a valley and there’s a massive drop in the middle. Just a void. I spent a whole season there and refused to ride it, even once.

Peak-to-Peak Gondola, Whistler, BC. I was there the first season it opened. The rest of the gang decided that we should take one of the glass bottomed cabins over. I scrunched myself up in a corner and tried to look at the sky, mountain tops…anywhere but down! It was also fairly hair-raising when it was windy.

Peak-to-Peak Gondola, Whistler, BC

Peak-to-Peak Gondola, Whistler, BC

Lone Peak Tram, Big Sky, Montana: This is a personal bugaboo of mine. They call it the “tin can,” and that’s sort of what it is: a little can suspended very, very high off the ground.  The last part ascends a steep rock face, which scares the hell out of me. I spend the whole time studying my ski boots instead of looking out the window.

Lone Peak Tram, Big Sky, MT

Lone Peak Tram, Big Sky, MT

The Lift, Silverton, Colorado: This is a double that goes up terrain with a minimum of 30 degrees, almost 2,000 vertical feet. It’s disturbingly far from the ground and there’s no safety bar. Backpacks with a shovel and probe are required, so you’re squeezed onto a tiny rickety chair with no bar and a sizeable pack on your lap, and at the top there’s a steep dropoff and tight lefthand turn to navigate while swinging the pack onto your back. Ugh.

Red Dog chair, Squaw Valley: I’m afraid of heights and this one got to me. At the point where it crosses a ravine, I looked across and above at the chairs coming down. Gave me terrible vertigo and freaked me out!



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The Great Ski Pole Mystery.

SkiPoles

Ski poles are the Rodney Dangerfield* of ski gear: they don’t get no respect. After all, they’re not sexy like skis, with splashy graphics, a wide range of shapes, and high tech materials. And unlike ski boots, they don’t require someone with specialized knowledge or mastery to get you fitted just right. Ski poles are basically long sticks with grips on one end and baskets on the other. They come in different sizes and a few different materials, but that’s about it.

ancient carving

ancient carving

Nevertheless, ski poles have been around for eons. According to Wikipedia, the earliest ski pole was found in Sweden and dates back to 3623 BC, while the earliest depiction of a man with a ski pole was found in Norway in the form of a cave painting, dated at 4000 BC.

But despite this long history, a lot of people still find ski poles a bit of a puzzle. Many can’t figure out what they’re used for or how to use them. And some disregard them entirely: little kids, for instance (unless you count whacking each other or engaging in fake sword fights), or even ski luminaries, like Andrea Mead Lawrence, two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Then there are those who think they use poles when they actually don’t. They just carry them down the mountain, one in each hand — like a rose or a can of beer — with nary a flick. This has always puzzled me. I mean, why hold onto something you’re not going to use?

So why do we have ski poles? Do we really need them? What the heck are they even for?

Glad you asked, because it’s a good question.

According to Dave Beckwith, Director of Killington’s Snowsports School, ski poles are indeed useful. And for a variety of reasons:

  • Propulsion. You can use ski poles to push yourself along the flats.
  • Balance. When you’re not moving, poles can be extra points of contact to facilitate balance.
  • Timing/rhythm. The pole swing/touch aids in the rhythm and timing of a sequence of turns. It can act as a trigger or turn initiator.
  • Blocking. The pole touch also aids in blocking or slowing the momentum of the upper body vs. the momentum of the lower body. When the lower body turns across the fall line and creates a countered relationship to the upper body, the upper body still has directional momentum. This can  be slowed — or blocked, as we call it — typically in moguls or steeps. You can do this internally through the body and externally through the pole touch.
  • Proprioception. Poles create added points of contact to provide information that can aid in your spatial relationship with the mountain.
  • Deflecting. You can use a pole to navigate through areas by pushing off things to redirect yourself while moving.
  • Unweighting. By applying pressure on a pole, you can help unweight yourself to jump over obstacles such as ice, dirt spots, or rocks.
  • Visual aid. By observing your pole swing, other skiers may be able to better understand your directional intentions.

So is skiing without poles a bad idea? Dave says no. “Some folks just like to ski without poles. And some coaches like to teach students without poles. Often, the reason is to develop good habits and movement patterns within the body rather than relying on external input too early through improper pole use. Typically, you’ll see coaches teach young kids without poles because the poles can be a distraction. I’m an advocate of teaching with poles from the outset. I want to give students all the tools they need for success right from the beginning.” 

Katy Perrey, a member of TheSkiDiva forum and a Level 3 Keystone instructor who often teaches in the mountain’s women’s clinic, agrees. “Ski poles can be a disadvantage at lower levels because people don’t learn to balance on their skis and feet. They’re always trying to balance using their poles. At the upper levels, when used properly, poles can help with timing in turns, bumps, and steeps. The swing of the pole should make you move forward into the direction of the beginning of the turn. That said, we should all be able to ski all types of terrain without poles because of a balanced stance.”

What’s the biggest mistake people make using poles? According to Katy, it’s having your hands all over the place, as well as bad timing. “When you watch super-skilled skiers, you don’t notice the poles or the pole swing/plant. With a lesser-skilled skier, the poles are much more noticeable because their arms and hands are moving all over the place. This causes serious upper body rotation, which is very bad.”

Dave sees two mistakes. “Either people don’t use them at all — the poles are just along for the ride — or their pole plant timing is off. This can keep the skier from getting the best response from their gear or the smoothest ride possible.” 

So don’t dismiss the lowly pole. Embrace it. Give it the respect it deserves. And use it in a way that helps your skiing. That’s what it’s for.

BTW, check out a thread on skiing without poles on TheSkiDiva forum. Go here.

*Late 20th century stand-up comic and actor

 

 

 



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Got cold feet? Here’s what to do.

I’m not talking about being too afraid to do something, as in “I was going to huck the cornice but I got cold feet.”  I’m being a bit more literal here. As in “My feet feel like they’re encased in ice; I have to go inside right now to warm up.”

A real wet blanket on a great ski day. And no, not an actual wet blanket.

Cold toes can be a bummer, but there are things you can do to keep them warm. (I’ll fill you in on my super-effective-OMG, it’s minus 20 and my feet are still warm-combo later.)

So let’s start from the top.

Make sure your boots fit: Believe it or not, cold feet can be caused by ill-fitting boots. Something could be cutting off your circulation, and determining if that’s the cause is a worthwhile endeavor. A good boot fitter can  help.

Wear proper socks: I know it seems counter-intutive, but thicker socks will not make you warmer. All they’ll do is 1) make your feet sweat, which will make your feet colder, or 2) bunch up in  your boots and either give you blisters or  interfere with your boot fit, thereby cutting off your circulation and making your feet colder (see above). You really want a thin ski sock. Trust me on this. And be sure to avoid cotton. Cotton stays damp. You want socks made out of merino wool.

Keep your boots dry and warm: This is pretty obvious, but if you store your boots in the car overnight, they’re going to be plenty cold when you put them on in the morning. So keep them inside. Also, dry your boots out from one use to the next. Sweat can make the liners damp, and once again, a damp boot is a cold boot. Use either a boot drier or remove the liners to dry. But let’s say you do leave your boots in the car overnight (hey, everyone makes mistakes). Here’s a tip: stick a couple hand warmers in each toe for a quick warm up. And an extra boost, put them next to a heater for a few minutes.

Keep your feet dry, too: Dry feet are warmer feet. I spray mine with anti-perspirant before I head out to ski. Not only are they drier, but they don’t stink, either. :)   I also wear different socks over to the mountain, and put on my ski socks right before I put on my boots. Some folks even change their socks at lunch, to keep their feet extra dry.

Heat your feet: Heaters can do a lot to keep your toes toasty. You use use either disposable heaters that stick to your socks or the interior of your boot (some people swear these work better when they’re stuck to the underside of a boot glove; I’ll talk about these next). Or you can use a  battery-operated heater, like Hotronics. The former are very cheap, the latter, not very. The way you go is up to you. I prefer the latter.

Wear Boot Gloves: If you thought gloves were just for your hands, think again. Boot Gloves are neoprene covers that fit over the outside of your boots. Added bonus: they keep your boots drier and prevent snow from invading any cracks, too.

Replace the liners: Some boot liners just aren’t that warm. You can replace yours with a custom moldable liner, such as those made by Intuition. Not only do they keep your feet warmer, but they feel great, too.

Keep your core warm: The warmer your core, the less blood flow you’ll need to keep it warm. Which means more blood flow to your extremities — your hands and feet. So wear those extra layers and that warm jacket. It’ll help your feet.

Any one of these things may work for you. Or more than one. Which leads me to my extra-special-heavy-duty-works-like-a-charm method for warm feet. I’ve had success with this even in temperatures down to -20°F: I dry my boots each night, keep my boots indoors, and even spray my feet with anti-perspirant. On top of that, I use the triple threat: battery-operated heaters, Intuition Liners, and Boot Gloves. Okay, maybe it seems like overkill. But if my feet don’t get cold in those condition, they ain’t never going to be cold.

Remember, dry feet are happy feet. And happy feet love to ski.



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The Mountain Playground Card Brings Big Discounts to Small Ski Areas.

In a world where the ski industry is characterized by a bigger is better mentality, it’s nice to know that Mountain Rider’s Alliance is fighting the fight for the local ski hill.

Mountain Rider’s Alliance is sort of the yin to Vail’s yang. Because instead of developing mega-resorts replete with condo developments, base villages, and luxury amenities, MRA has made it its mission to champion smaller areas that are environmentally friendly and have a positive effect on the local community. For MRA, the focus is squarely on skiing.

Imagine that.

MRA MP New RingsI first wrote about Mountain Rider’s Alliance in 2012 (you can find it here). Not only did I sympathize with its cause, but like it, I despaired over the continued disappearance of smaller, community-centered ski hills. 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. Sad news, indeed.

MRA is working with a number of small ski areas to stem or even reverse this tide. For starters, it’s built a management partnership with Mt. Abram in Maine (I’ve skied there, and it’s a blast), provided consulting services for Mt. Ashland in Oregon and Antelope Butte in Wyoming, and is helping open Manitoba Mountain in Alaska. It’s also partnered with PayneWest Insurance to spread the cost and risk of insurance premiums, which are typically quite high for small ski areas. And in an effort to spark new business opportunities, it’s partnered with Nature’s Partner to produce concerts, festivals and lifestyle events at underutilized ski areas.

MRA’s latest initiative is an alliance between five independent ski areas called the Mountain Playground Group. The group will work together to reduce expenses while increasing efficiencies and profits, and, according to a press release, strive to promote “the authenticity and uniqueness of soulful ski areas.” As part of this, it’ll be mounting a joint marketing campaign to heighten awareness of participating ski areas, and offering the Mountain Playground Card, which provides exclusive discounts to participating ski areas, as well as additional benefits (more on those below).

I spoke to Jamie Schectman, one of MRA’s co-founders, to learn more about the new alliance:

Q: First, tell us why smaller ski areas are so important. What characteristics do they share? And what do they have to offer that larger ski areas don’t?
A: Smaller areas typically offer less than 2,000 vertical and receive fewer than 100,000 skier visits per year. They share a sense of place and don’t remind you of any other ski area you’ve skied. I think they’re more funky and soulful than bigger areas; they’re not cookie cutter or homogenized. Most are like the bar in Cheers, “where everyone knows your name.”

Small hills also play an important part of the fabric of the surrounding area. Besides offering a less expensive price point and lower skier density, community and independent ski areas are major winter economic drivers as well as outdoor facilities where multiple generations can get together to have fun. They’re very important to the overall ski area ecosystem. Before graduating to the mega resorts, many skiers and riders start small. MRA did a survey in April, 2014, that confirms this. Out of 1,400 skiers and snowboarders, we found that 70% learned how to ski at a ski hill with fewer than 6 lifts. So they’re crucial in bringing new skiers to the sport.

Q: What type of challenges do the smaller areas face?
A: There are so many: aging infrastructure, access to capital, rising expenses and climate change. And of course consolidation, which is putting more at-risk ski areas out of business.

Q: So the Mountain Playground Group is effectively a ski area consortium. Why would they want to work together? How would they benefit?
A: Many of these independent ski areas pay much higher prices incrementally than their big brothers. Banding together will help them achieve economies of scale and purchasing power, from equipment and infrastructure to master leases and much more. Sharing best practices and knowledge is a huge advantage to franchise-type models. In many cases, we’ll be providing a layer of sophistication not found in the smaller ski area level.

Q: What ski areas are involved in your new initiative? Will this list grow?
A: Our goal was to have five to ten ski areas participate in the first season while we refine the model and prepare to scale. The early adopters include Bald Mountain, Idaho; Beartooth Basin,Wyoming; Elk Ridge, Arizona; Hurricane Ridge, Washington; our long-time partner, Mount Abram, Maine; and to make it international, Phoenix Mountain in British Columbia! And yes, we intend to add more ski areas in future years; we estimate there are well over 200 ski areas in the US alone that could benefit from being part of the consortium.

Q: I understand that part of the program includes a Mountain Playground Card. In addition to discounts at participating ski areas, what else does it offer? And when it this be available?
A: The Mountain Playground Card is much like the Mountain Collective is for North America’s signature ski resorts, though a bit more homegrown. And yes, it includes some exclusive deals on custom skis and snowboards, high-end retail goods, lodging, tours and much more. Fifteen percent of the proceeds from sales of the cards will benefit SheJumps, a non-profit devoted to increasing the presence of women in the outdoors. Each participating ski area will also be hosting a SheJumps Get the Girls Out event. It’s a great deal for everyone.

MPC

Q: Besides the Mountain Playground Group, what else is MRA working on right now?
A: We’re continuing to do consulting work for both underperforming ski areas and ski areas that are currently closed. And we’re working to further the Manitoba Mountain project on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, although the process has slowed down as the Chugach Forest District rewrites its forest plan. We’d also like to acquire and operate our own ski area, where we can implement our latest strategies without having to run the concepts up a flag pole.

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Want more info about Mountain Rider’s Alliance? Take a look at this:

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Twelve Ski Hacks You Have To Try.

A good ski day involves more than just sliding down the mountain. It also takes a lot of planning and organization. You have to get your gear together, you have to haul it where it needs to go, and you want to make sure you’re warm and comfortable on the hill.

So when I asked the members of TheSkiDiva community if they had any hacks for making the day go smoother, I got a lot of terrific ideas. Here are a few:

Some of the things that can make life easier.

• Carry a ziplock bag in your boot bag. If you’re injured, you can fill it with ice from the kitchen in the lodge to make an ice pack to reduce swelling.

• Don’t want to carry a bulky tube of sunscreen? Put some in a contact lens case for touch-ups on the hill. The contact lens case is small, lightweight, and watertight. This also works for Vaseline (used as a lip protector), hand lotion, and even toothpaste.

• Keep a couple mini-carabiners attached to your jacket pocket zips, then hang your mittens, goggles, or helmet on them as soon as you take them off. This keeps your hands free and leaves you with fewer things to drop.

• Use one of those big blue Ikea bags to carry your ski boots to the mountain. It easily fits two pairs and it doesn’t matter if they are wet or dirty when you head home. The bags are easy to clean, too.

• Have multiple jackets and/or pants? Forget to swap your season pass to the one you’re wearing? Remove your pass from your jacket or pants when you take them off and clip it to your helmet. If you only have one helmet, you’re guaranteed to remember your pass.

• Warm baselayers in the dryer before putting them on in the morning.

• Tie a bright bandana or wide bright ribbon on your black Transpack handle so you can identify yours in the large pile of black Transpacks.

• If you tend to lose things in the black hole of your boot bag’s interior, try storing them in packing cubes. Use a brightly colored cube for your gloves, neck gaiter, headband, and so on. And use another for electronics, such as your Hotronics batteries and charger, boot dryer, and phone backup battery charger.

• Stash a bottle opener in your boot bag, for obvious reasons. Some duct tape, too. Duct tape can help fix a multitude of problems, from broken ski poles and zippers to torn ski pants.

• Attach adhesive toe warmers to the outside of your undies — one on each cheek. The result is a totally toasty rear end.

• Forget your ski boots in the car over night? Open up one (or two, if it’s really cold) disposable hand warmers and drop them in your boots all the way to the toes. For added warmth, place your boots by a heater and wait a few minutes.

• Smelly ski boots? Drop in a dryer sheet overnight. That should take care of the problem.

 

 



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So you want to be an instructor.

instructing_wbssu

For some people, being a ski instructor sounds like a dream job. After all, you’re out on the hill all day long, opening people’s eyes to the joys of skiing and sharing your passion with others. You get to wear a cool instructor jacket, go to the head of the lift line, and hey, you even get a free pass and plenty of discounts. Pretty sweet, right?

Maybe.

But maybe not. After all, being an instructor isn’t for everyone. Not that I don’t admire instructors. I do. It’s just something I don’t think would work for me. For one thing, I’m not very patient, and patience is very important in this line of work. Second, I’d rather ski where I want, when I want, with whom I want. For instructors, at least for part of the time, that isn’t possible.

Thankfully, there are loads of people who simply love teaching people how to ski. But as in any job, it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you sign up. So I recently asked some of the many instructors who belong to TheSkiDiva community what they like and don’t like about instructing. Here are some of their comments:

 

Things that have met or exceeded expectations:

• It’s the most beautiful office of my career;
• The whole teaching experience is absolutely wonderful: getting to share your passion with others, seeing a light bulb go on for someone or watching as they overcome a fear;
• The camaraderie of each day with fellow instructors has been great;
• Seeing the mountain every day is the best;
• The perks are great: free pass; discounts on equipment; discounts for friends and family etc.

Things that were disappointing or surprising (although they probably shouldn’t have been):

• A ski school is still a human organization so there are still office politics;
• There is an “in” crowd and an”out” crowd;
• Lots of huge egos;
• Still some greater difficulties for women instructors vs men;
• The clinics for instructors are very uneven in terms of quality;
• The certification process in our region is really messed up and doesn’t seem to be fairly applied. I’ve been very unimpressed with the examiners and the examination process;
• It doesn’t feel like we are all pulling in the same direction. There are different schools of thought about what and how to teach. Ski instructors are really just a bunch of independent contractors competing against each other for clients under the umbrella of the ski school.

So it looks like the list of disappointing things is longer than the list of good things. But really, the good stuff is SO WONDERFUL it way outweighs the little annoyances.

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I enjoyed the vast improvements in my skiing (just in going through the selection process, much less the certification training), and understanding both the mechanics of learning/teaching and the importance of the correct equipment. Where else can you get generally weekly clinics for free? I also loved the ah ha moments and the look in the students eyes when they finally get it.

I hated the fact that my skiing then suffered greatly by spending 97% of my time on the bunny hill. Yup, I lost 10-20 lbs every year running up the bunny hill, but I actually only put skis on about twice a week, and that was as a Level 2 instructor. That may be different at the bigger areas in the East and West, but it’s the core business here at the feeder hills. Ugh.

The ugliest part was the pitiful amount of money I made at it as an hourly employee, while still being expected to maintain PSIA membership and certification along with the bi-annual 1 or 2 day clinics and the $$$ that required.

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Overall, I’m really happy with how my first season went. I made some friends, learned a ton and really improved my skiing. I love many of the perks of being a PSIA member, so I joined as soon as I could and had my Level 1 cert by the end of my first season. Being very goal-oriented, I feel a strong desire to work towards my Level 2 and perhaps even Level 3 certification.

I’m still trying to balance that with my overall goals, though. This season, I did my best to make a schedule that would still allow me time to get into the mountains that I love this winter. Last season, I taught too much and ended up only climbing 2 pitches of ice all season!

On the con side, I did feel underprepared to work with children when I first started. I got better as the season went on, but I did feel at times that there was an unexpressed assumption that because I am the right age to be a mom, that I have kids of my own or must be good with children simply because I have a pelvic organ capable of birthing children. I am not a mom and would not consider myself good with children. Chicken or egg question, but regardless, I find working with children to be pretty exhausting in general. Even my nieces whom I love do that to me. Working all day with someone else’s children was quite draining at times. Even more so when the parents were ungrateful and even somewhat belligerent. I plan to take my CS1 this season and I hope that makes this part of my job easier for me, but who knows.

I did spend a lot of time on the bunny hill. That in and of itself didn’t bother me, but my right knee does NOT like skiing in a wedge all day. I’ve never yet had knee pain with skiing (maybe when I first started and was skiing in the back seat) but after those days on the bunny hill, my knee would ache the whole way home.

The pay can be a bit demoralizing. I certainly don’t know how people could afford to be full-time instructors unless they are retired and receiving a pension already! For the most part, the money I earned went to PSIA membership, clinics and some gear I needed to update. What was left, probably covered gas and food. I’m not sure how you are supposed to keep membership up or keep good instructors around when they are paid like pizza delivery guys.

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• I have spent most of my time teaching Level 1-3 skiers. I had no idea how much I could learn by teaching beginner skiers. A proper wedge turn is not intuitive and many instructors do not do or teach a proper wedge turn. A proper wedge turn is the building block to better skiing everywhere on the mountain. There are so many opportunities to improve your own skiing by teaching beginners proper stance, leg rotation etc.

• I have been able to ski with some amazing clinicians. I have also realized that no matter how great the clinicians are, learning is my responsibility and ultimately, I have to decide what makes sense, what does not and what works for me. Just because someone is considered a great instructor, does not mean they are the best instructor for me.

• I have made more friends and become part of a community that is amazing. There are so many people who are now part of my life that I would never have met. Many people teach skiing because they love it and that is what makes these people special. I love the locker room banter, after ski school happy hours, parties and the many friends I have made through ski school.

• I have become not only a better skier but a better teacher. It is a constantly evolving process of learning/teaching finding some new way to explain things that makes every day new.

• I get to be fun and crazy with people. My attorney job is not all that fun. I love to help people have a good time, enjoy their vacation and learn to ski. I can do and say things that would never go in my full time environment. It is liberating and enjoyable.

• I learned to ski in my mid 30’s. I tell all the adults that I teach this fact. I want them to believe that skiing is something that they can do and when they believe that, it is amazing to watch the transformation. I am thrilled to be a part of it.

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So there you have it: an inside look on what it’s like to be an instructor. I hope this helps, or at least gives you something to think about if you’re thinking about taking this path.

One more thing: I have to share something I found on Facebook. Yes, the first panel is ungodly sexist — but you get the idea:

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Goodbye To My Year of Going Without

fireworks

Well, I did it, everyone! I made it through My Year of Going Without!

Some of you know about this already (I wrote about it here). In a nutshell, last November I challenged myself to not buy anything for the next 12 months unless it was an absolute necessity. Essentially, this covered things like clothing, books, shoes, sporting equipment, electrical gear, anything I considered discretionary. Not included: items like food, eating out, hair appointments, toiletries, gym membership, cable and/or internet, phone, and of course, my season lift pass.

Why? First, I just wanted to see whether or not I could do it. I have a friend who went 12 monthstuffed-closet1s without drinking any alcohol, and this seemed like an interesting twist on that. And second, I already had a ton of stuff. And not just ski stuff. I have a closet full of shirts/sweaters/pants/shoes/you name it. My decision was more a reaction to consumerism and a move toward simplification (you have to read this article about the incredible amount of crap we own).  I mean, do we really need five or six ski jackets? Or another fleece when we already have six in the drawer? Probably not. We could definitely all make do with less.

There was an environmental component, too. While buying stuff may be great for the economy, it’s really not that good for the planet. Making stuff to meet growing demand strains our resources and creates all sorts of disposal problems, too. And as someone who loves winter, I want to do what I can to help stop climate change. (See, it all comes back to skiing.)

So in early November, 2014, I stepped off the consumer bandwagon. And I stayed off it for twelve long months.

How’d I do?

Pretty damn good, actually. Yes, I did buy a couple things, but I made exceptions for these going in: a new pair of ski boots, of which I was in dire need (end of season pricing!) and a new helmet (pro deal!) which I also really, really needed. Other than that, nothing.

To be honest, it really wasn’t that hard. I’m not that much of a shopper, anyway. And it’s pretty easy when you live in an area where there aren’t a lot of stores. Oh, sure, there’s always the internet. But I unsubscribed to a lot of the e-commerce sites that used to send me emails. And that made it a bit easier.

Did I learn anything?

Yes. I learned that you really don’t need as much as you think. As I said in the beginning, I already had a lot of stuff. So anything else that I bought would’ve been, well, extra. On a daily basis, I was able to make do with what I had just fine. And strangely enough, knowing that I wasn’t going to buy something didn’t make me desire it more; if anything, it made me desire it less, probably because I knew it wasn’t in the cards. There’s something freeing in that.

I also found that it reinforced something each of us already knows: you can’t rely on things to make you happy. For example, we might think a new sweater will make us more attractive, happier, better able to deal with our lives. But in reality, the good feeling you get is pretty fleeting. Happiness has to come from within. Not buying things tends to bring that home.

Did I miss anything?

Yes — and this surprised me: I found that I missed the actual shopping experience. Many of us don’t shop just because we need to. We shop because it’s fun. It’s a recreational activity, which is something I don’t think I ever really considered. For example, when I visit my parents in Florida, one of the things I always do is go shopping with my mom. Taking away that activity left a bit of a hole, yet it opened the door to other options, too.

Has my life changed, now that My Year of Going Without is over?

Not really. I haven’t gone on a shopping frenzy. Yes, I bought a few things: a new hat, a pair of shoes, a pair of earrings. Recently, I went into a Target and was profoundly struck by how much stuff is packed away in there. The number and variety of items is dizzying. It seemed to clarify that all of us have access to more than we could ever want or need in a million lifetimes. It’s up to us to decide what’s important, what isn’t, and do what makes the most sense for us.

I’m hoping this experience makes me a thoughtful and more deliberate shopper; one who thinks more carefully before handing over my credit card and who asks more questions: Is this something I really need? Will it make a difference in my life? Sometimes we buy things in the heat of the moment just because we want to own them. It’s how we end up with closets full of stuff we never use. And then we’re right back where I started from.

 



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How to survive a snowless ski vacation in New England.

What a difference a year makes. Last winter New England was positively drowning in snow. Early season was fantastic. There was snow everywhere, and all the resorts were going full blast.

So who could blame you for booking a ski vacation for Christmas week? Seemed like a no-brainer. So what if you were locked in and couldn’t get your money back. We were going to get hammered again, right?

Uh, no. Mother Nature is fickle, and this year she’s been keeping all the snow out West (and yes, they deserve and need it, given the abysmal snow drought they’ve been through) and throwing nothing at New England but warm temps and rain. It’s actually the East’s lowest snow year on record. Yay us.

Just take a look at this tongue-in-cheek snow report posted on December 19th by Mad River Glen. If it wasn’t so funny,  I think I’d cry. (Keep in mind that MRG depends heavily on natural snow and has very little snowmaking.)

 

The bottom line is that a ski vacation in Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine is going to be a bit of a challenge this year. The skiing right now, frankly, doesn’t look too promising. Still, who knows. We could get lucky. It could snow. And even if it doesn’t, the resorts are doing all they can to blast snow the moment that temperatures allow.

But before you scream obscenities at the sky, take a moment. Breathe. Believe it or not, you could still have a great vacation. It might just be different than what you had in mind. There’s still a lot to do in ski country, if you’re creative and a bit flexible.

Among the most obvious: explore the surrounding area. This is something you might not have a chance to do when you’re spending all your time on the slopes. For example, if you’re in Vermont around Stowe or Sugarbush, you could visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory, where they make all the good stuff. Not far from Killington, the town of Woodstock, one of the most picturesque in the state, is well worth checking out. Visit Long Trail Brewery in Bridgewater or Harpoon Brewery in Windsor. If you’ve got kids, a good choice is Billings Farm & Museum or VINS (The Vermont Institute of Natural Science). And farther south, the town of Manchester, VT, offers terrific shopping and one of the best bookstores anywhere.

The resorts have a lot non-skiing options, too. For example, Jay Peak has its 50,000 square foot Pump House indoor water park. Okemo and Killington both have alpine coasters that rocket riders down the mountain all year long. And Bretton Woods has a 3-hour canopy tour that’ll have you zip lining through a network of platforms high in the trees, as well as an indoor slopeside climbing wall.

Bretton Woods Canopy Tour, from the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce

Bretton Woods Canopy Tour, from the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce

TimberRipper

Timber Ripper at Okemo, photo courtesy of Okemo Mountain Resort

Many of the resorts have scheduled a lot of events during Christmas week to keep the family entertained. You’ll want to visit the resorts’ websites for a complete listing, but here’s a sampling of some of the things going on:

Stratton Mountain is holding “The Running of the Bears” 5k, which will take place at the resort’s golf course on December 28.

Sugarbush has added programs through its Schoolhouse Adventure Camp like guided nature hikes and field games. They’ll also be holding a Gingerbread House Building Workshop on the 26th, and a Food and Wine Sampler on December 28.

Jay Peak is planning to play ski movies in the resort’s ballroom every day during the holiday. They’re also holding a mixology class for adults.

Q Burke Mountain Resort is offering an adult dinner and comedy show on December 26

Okemo will be screening Warren Miller’s Chasing Shadows on December 27.  They’re also hosting a DJ Dance Party on December 28, Paint & Sip on December 30, and an early Family New Year’s Eve Party on December 31.

There’s a pretty good list of events at ski areas in Vermont here.

Loon Mountain is hosting a Best Damn Ugly Sweater Party on December 26, Kids Face Painting on December 27, and Kids Karaoke on December 28.

Sunday River has a bunch of off-slope activities planned, including twin ziplines, family games, live music, a fire dancer, and fireworks. They’ve added a second family dinner at the Peak Lodge on 12/29. For New Year’s, they’re having a Black Diamond Entertainment party geared toward families and kids, with laser tag, a photo booth, and an inflatable sumo wrestling ring — all before 8pm, so the countdown will be on Icelandic time.

Of course, there’s the usual stuff, too. A lot of resorts will be having firework displays. Many provide spa services, like facials and massages. And your lodging may have a pool. For the kids, that’s often enough.

I know, I know. There’s no denying that the skiing situation in New England is awful. The important thing is not to let it ruin your vacation. You’re out of the house and away from work. You’re with people you love. Enjoy one another’s company. Go out to eat. Talk to each other and be sure to listen — really listen — too. Remember it’s the season for peace, family, and love. Just enjoy your time together.

Wishing you a very happy holiday and remember, THINK SNOW!

 



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Skiing With a Cold.

This is very pertinent to me. Because as I write this, I actually have a cold. And yes, I’m going skiing.

So I thought I’d post about — what else — skiing with a cold. Because when you have a ski day planned, sometimes you just gotta go.

Before I get started, I need to put out a very big disclaimer: I am not a physician (shocker, I know). I don’t know anything at all about health, wellness, or medicine. So please please please, keep that in mind when you read this.

That said, the best thing you can do about skiing with a cold is pretty basic: don’t get one in the first place. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. SO, with that in mind, here are a few ways to stay healthy:

First, if you have any small children, get rid of them. The sooner the better. Kids are nature’s germ factories. Everyone I know who has contact with kids gets sick all the time. So if you have kids, offload them. Now. You didn’t really want them around anyway, right?

And second, don’t touch anything or go anywhere. At all. Complete isolation is the only way to avoid getting a cold. This is very, very important. You must keep away from everyone: spouses, significant others, parents, children, friends, co-workers, anyone who breathes. And keep your hands off everything. Bannisters, elevator buttons, shopping carts, door knobs, all objects that any human being touches. This is the only sure fire way to avoid cold-causing germs.

Obviously, I’m kidding here. Neither of these is at all practical. But there are a few common sense things you can do to at least minimize your chances of getting a cold. Like wash your hands. A lot. I don’t want to be OCD about it, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a bit of a germaphobe. For example, I keep Purel in my car and use it to clean my hands after I pump my own gas (God knows what lives on those gas dispensers). Another good preventive measure: Do what you can to improve your immune system. Take vitamins. Exercise. Eat right. You know, all the things you should be doing, anyway.

So despite all this, you still get a cold. Hey, it happens. Well, here’s the easy answer: if you feel really lousy, don’t go skiing. It won’t be fun, and after all, that’s what skiing is all about. If you can swing it, just take a few runs and call it a day. This falls under what I like to call the “Don’t Be An Idiot” rule, which is pretty much my rule for life. If it’s something to which someone you trust would say, “Don’t be an idiot,” then don’t do it. For example, if you’re hacking and coughing and you can’t breathe, if you’re running a fever or you’re too exhausted to move, don’t be an idiot. Don’t go skiing. But if you have a cold that can be easily controlled with a dose of Tylenol, Sudafed, hot tea with honey, or chicken soup, and if you can deal with tamping it down a notch and maybe making it a short ski day, then go ahead. Go. Let your body be your guide.

I’m heading out now. It may not be the longest ski day, or even the most intense, but I’ll stick it out for as long as I can. Because after all, it’s skiing. The season is short. And sometimes you just gotta go.

 



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Gear Review: Kulkea Powder Trekker Ski Boot Bag

We skiers are a hardy bunch. We have to be just to get to the hill, schlepping our skis, poles, boots, helmets, layers, goggles, gloves, and so on.

A good boot bag can make a huge difference. I’ve been on a quest for one for what seems like forever, and I think I actually may have reached the end of my search. Kulkea sent me their Powder Trekker bag to review, and I’m so glad they did.

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First, let’s get this out of the way. Kulkea is pronounced “cool-kee-ah,” which means “to go” in Finnish —though the company isn’t Finnish at all. It’s located in suburban Boston, MA, and was founded by two brothers, Steven and David Abramowitz, who have a Finnish mother (they actually have dual US-Finnish citizenship). David is a former attorney for a public telecommunications company and Steven a former marketing exec. The company began in 2009 when David decided he needed a better way to haul his gear. After working with designers, skiers, and assorted people who provided loads of input, they launched the Kulkea line of bags. I met Steven at the Boston Ski Show a couple years ago, and was intrigued by the company’s products.

Which leads me to the Powder Trekker. The bag features what Steven calls Kulkea’s “Intuitive Packing System.” According to Steven, this means it’s designed to provide a place for everything, and truly, he isn’t kidding. The Powder Trekker is engineered to keep you from losing your stuff while keeping it readily accessible. For example, there’s a zippered compartment on top that’s half lined with fleece to protect your goggles, the other half unlined for keeping your gaiters or balaclava. There’s an insulated compartment in front for your lunch, water bottle, and other smallish items; this also contains a transparent zippered compartment for things like foot warmers, lip balm, sun block, etc. And there’s a wide-mouthed main compartment for your layers, ski pants, and bulky items. The other bags in the line (alas, not the Powder Trekker) even have a separate compartment for your right and left gloves, so you’ll always know where they are. This would’ve been nice for the Powder Trekker, but it’s a downsized version of their larger Boot Trekker bag, so I guess they had to sacrifice something to gain some space.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 12.59.40 PMNonetheless, the Powder Trekker still has plenty of room. One of the reasons is that it has a retractable sling that holds your helmet on the outside of the main compartment. This opens up a lot of the interior for your other stuff (it also keeps your helmet well ventilated). And unlike other bags that hold your boots in a triangular pattern that encroaches on the inside, Kulkea bags keep your boots at right angles in two side-zipped outer compartments that are easy to get to and don’t squish your other stuff.

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The Powder Trekker is also extremely lightweight — it’s made of durable, water resistant nylon which is much lighter  than my previous bag, which was made of a heavier high-density polyester. And it’s extremely well made. All the seams are double reinforced, plus there’s generous amounts of high quality tarpaulin on the bottom, sides, front and back of the pack for water protection and durability.

Another plus: the straps are padded so they’re comfortable and don’t dig into your shoulders. There’s a quick release buckle that lets you unclip the straps rather than trying to remove the bag by lifting it off. It also keeps the straps from slipping down your arms when it’s on, which I find pretty annoying.

So what’d you think, Ski Diva?

I’ve been through a number of bags and really, this is the best one yet. It’s well made, easy to pack, easy to haul, and I love all the compartments. The bottom line is that even though the Powder Trekker has less cubic volume than the bag I previously used (3200 cu.in. vs 3570 cu. in.), it holds stuff more intelligently and provides more room than I had in the past. Incidentally, I used my previous, larger bag as an airline carry-on without a problem, so I anticipate I won’t have any difficulty with this one, either — though it might require removing the helmet from its outer sling. The verdict: Two ski poles (way) up.

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BTW, we’re giving away a Powder Trekker bag on TheSkiDiva forum right now. The contest is open to Ski Divas only, so if you’re a registered member, head here for a chance to enter. We’ll take entries until 5PM (Eastern Time) on December 15, and the winner will be randomly selected later that day.

For more information on Kulkea, go here. MSRP for the Powder Trekker is $119.95.

 

 



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