Combo Ski Passes: More Mountain for Your Money

You know it’s spring when you start seeing emails about next year’s season lift passes in your in-box. I’ve received quite a few lately, and I’ve been struck by the many combination deals that are cropping up; you know, the ones where you pay for a pass that’s good at more than one resort. Some of these, like the Epic and Mountain Collective Passes, have been around for a few  years. And some, like the MAX pass, are brand new for next season.

These are great for just about everyone. The resorts get money up-front, as well as loyal customers who’ll spend on peripheral items like food, lessons, and equipment. And skiers can realize big savings, too. In an era when the walk-up window rate can be over $100., you could end up paying for your pass in just a few visits.

Some of the best season pass deals are listed here. Many offer extra savings for buying early, so you may have to move fast to get the best price.

BTW, if you know of any other combo deals, please post them in the Comments section below.

In the West:

listingRocky Mountain Super Pass+: This gives you access to five Colorado resorts and one in New Zealand. It includes unlimited Access to Winter Park Resort, Copper Mountain & Eldora Alpine Pass, as well as restricted access to Steamboat, Crested Butte, and Mt. Ruapehu. For a bit less, you can get the Rocky Mountain Super Pass, which gives you unlimited access to Winter Park and Copper, and limited access to Mt. Ruapehu, or the Route 40 pass, which gives you unlimited ski/ride days with a Winter Park Resort season pass and 4 days at Steamboat.

epic-pass-logo2(1)Epic Pass: You have four choices here:

The Epic Pass with unlimited access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton, and Arapahoe Basin.

The Epic Local Pass, with unlimited access to Breckenridge, Keystone, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton & Arapahoe Basin,  10 total restricted days at Vail and Beaver Creek, and limited restrictions at Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood.

The Summit Local Pass, unlimited access to Keystone and Arapahoe Basin, and limited restrictions at Breckenridge.

The Tahoe Local Pass, access with limited restrictions to Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood, and limited restrictions to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone,  Park City, and Arapahoe Basin.

logo_Powder_Alliance copy.jpgPowder Alliance:  Buy an anytime season pass to any of 13 areas and receive three free days at all the rest. Powder Alliance Resorts include Angel Fire Resort, Arizona Snow Bowl, Bridger Bowl, China Bowl,  Crested Butte, Mountain High, Mount Hood Ski Bowl, Schweitzer, Sierra at Tahoe, SilverStar, Snowbasin, Stevens Pass, Timberline.

 

 

d5bbb8e18cf3c3cd310bb2d137955221Mountain Collective Pass: This covers 16 days total at The Collective destinations. You get two days each at Alta/Snowbird, Aspen Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Ski Banff-Lake Louise-Sunshine, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Sun Valley, and Whistler Blackcomb. You also get 50% off all additional days at The Collective destinations, and special Mountain Collective lodging deals. Even better, no blackout dates.

 

Ski Utah Silver and Gold Passes: The Ski Utah Silver Pass allows the holder to ski for 30 days at each Utah resort (30 days at Alta, 30 days at Deer Valley, 30 days at Sundance, etc.). The Ski Utah Gold Pass offers 50 days of skiing at each Utah resort; however, the pass is also fully transferable pass so your friends and family can enjoy your same privileges on the days you’re not using the pass.

The Gold Tahoe Super Pass: Worried about buying a season pass and not using it? Here’s one with a  worry-free guarantee.  The Gold Tahoe Super Pass gives credits for unused days that can be put towards the following season. Skiers get unlimited access to Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, plus four additional days at both Sierra-at-Tahoe and Sugar Bowl, as well as 50% off lift tickets at the eight resorts that are part of the Mountain Collective, including Jackson Hole, Alta-Snowbird, and Sun Valley. But if you’re unable to ski at least four days during the upcoming season for any reason (not just poor conditions), you get a $100 credit for each unused day. So if you don’t ski at all, their 2016/17 pass would be discounted by $400.

california-cali4nia-ski-passCali4nia Pass: One pass covers Mammoth, Bear, June, and Snow Summit. There’s a host of benefits when you buy early, including 5 exclusive Early Up events at Mammoth, 5 Bring-A-Friend tickets, 10% off rentals, 10% off retail when you spend more than $100., and up to 20% off lodging at Mammoth Lodging Collection properties.

 

In the East:

 Ski Roundtop/Liberty Mountain/Whitetail Pass: Includes unlimited access to Ski Roundtop, Liberty Mountain, Whitetail Resorts. You also get preferred parking at Roundtop on weekends and holidays until 5PM,  50% off regular class lessons, two snow tubing tickets valid Monday through Thursday non-holiday, one free First Class Learn to Ski or Board Package for a friend, special hotel rates at the Liberty Hotel, and a 15% discount in the sports shops.

superpassWhite Mountain Superpass: Valid every day of the 2015/16 winter season at Bretton Woods, Cannon, Cranmore and Waterville Valley.

 

 

NEPass_logo-bw-180New England Pass: Includes Sunday River, Loon, and Sugarloaf. You also get lodging deals, retail savings, and free or discounted lift ticket at Boyne Resorts’ western mountains including Brighton, UT and Big Sky, MT.

 

UnknownFour.0 College Pass: This is for the full-time college student who wants unrestricted access to Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Killington and Pico at a price that fits a student’s budget. Includes resort-specific benefits.

 

East & West, Combined

MAX_Pass_Logo_highresThe MAX Pass: Brand new for the ’15/’16 sesason, the MAX pass covers 22 mountains throughout North America, with five days at each mountain (110 days total!). In the west, this includes Steamboat, Mount Bachelor,  Big Sky, Winter Park, Copper, Crystal, Brighton, Boreal, Cypress, Las Vegas, and The Summit. In the east, Killington, Pico, Sugarloaf, Sunday River, Stratton, Tremblant, Blue Mountain, Snowshoe, Boyne, Loon, and Boyne Highlands.

 



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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, and 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 other 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 the trees 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 made their descent, the  others stood by and cheered. Yes, cheered. Not heckled or made snide comments. When one of us ended up injured this year, 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 mountains, 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:

DivaGroup

 

Divas

group

 

Clinic2

 

 



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Skiing the Sun Mountain: Bromley, Vermont

It used to be  you couldn’t swing a cat in Vermont without hitting a ski hill (not something I’d recommend, by the way). Sadly, that’s no longer the case. According to The New England Lost Ski Area Project (NELSAP), there are  111 closed ski areas throughout the state. As for the smaller areas that remain, well, it’s easy to ignore them as you rush down the road to the bigger resorts like Stratton, Killington, Okemo, and Stowe.

But that’d be a mistake. Granted, they might lack the high speed lifts or the fancy amenities of the larger areas. But the smaller mountains have a charm all their own. The skiing’s a blast, lift tickets are generally cheaper, and they’re great places for family skiing (I lie — they’re great places for just about everyone).

So after years and years of driving past Bromley on my way somewhere else and saying, “Oh, that’d be a fun place to ski,” I finally went ahead and tried it. And I’m glad I did.

Bromley Mountain in Peru, Vermont, has been there for what seems like forever. Founded in 1936 by Fred Pabst Jr., the son of the founder of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Bromley is known as the Sun Mountain because unlike most ski areas, it faces south so it gets the sun when others don’t. If you’ve ever skied at Stratton, you can see it shining like a beacon across the valley (why aren’t I skiing over there?) while you’re stuck in a cold, gray day.

Plaque commemorating Bromley founder Fred Pabst, in the Bromley base lodge.

Plaque commemorating Fred Pabst, in the Bromley base lodge.

Bromley, courtesy of Bromley Mountain

Bromley, courtesy of Bromley Mountain

Not so during my visit. It snowed like crazy and from time to time, we had a near white out. The upside: boot high powder, fantastic conditions, zero crowds, and loads of fun.

Did I say zero crowds? It didn’t look that way when I first entered the lodge at 8:30 on a Monday morning. The Vermont High School State Championships were underway, and the old-style lodge was packed with teenagers putting on their gear. This cleared out within half an hour or so, and really, I didn’t see them for the rest of the day.

Bromley isn’t huge. It stands at the west side of a valley ringed by Stratton on one side and Magic on the other. On a sunny day, you can get fantastic views from the peak. The mountain is also on Vermont’s Long Trail, which is hiking trail that extends the entire length of the state, a favorite among hikers during the warmer months.

But more about the skiing: while the vertical isn’t as high as some of bigger resorts, you can easily have just as much fun. There’s a nice mix of terrain with everything from good, long cruisers to glades and bump runs. Even better, it’s easy to navigate. All the trails end up at the same place — in front of the base lodge. So it’s easy to meet up with friends, and hard for kids to get lost.

Granted, the lifts aren’t super fast. If you’re looking for a gondola or a bubble lift, you’re going to have to go elsewhere. It’s a slower pace, and yeah, for a lot of people, that can be a drawback. But what you’re getting in return is a more old-style Vermont ski experience. And there’s a lot to be said for that.

Here are some stats:

  • Lifts

    • Number of Lifts: 9
    • High-speed quads: 1
    • Quad chairs: 1
    • Double chairs: 4
    • Surface lifts: 3
    • Uphill Lift Capacity: 10,806 skiers per hour
    • On Mountain Lodging: Bromley Village and Sun Lodge
  • Elevation
    • Base: 1,950 feet
    • Summit: 3,284 feet
    • Vertical drop: 1,334 feet
    • Longest run: 2.5 miles – Runaround
    • Snowmaking: 86%
  • Types of runs
    • Beginner: 32%
    • Intermediate: 37%
    • Advanced: 31%

Bromley also has a learning center that features Terrain Based Learning, of which I’m a huge fan (you can read my posts about it here and here). TBL uses natural features that allow students to focus on the movements, sensations, and body positions that form the basis of good skiing. Basically, it eliminates the traditional anxieties so learners can spend less time learning how to stop, and more time learning how to go.

Does the fun stop at the off season? At Bromley, no. The mountain has a Mountain Adventure Park with all sorts of fun stuff in the summer: an alpine slide, an aerial adventure park with ropes, ziplines, and bridges spread across the tree canopy, and

So if you’re in Vermont, should you race past Bromley on your way to bigger mountains? If you do, you’ll be missing out on a really fun day. I’m only sorry I didn’t discover it sooner.



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Gear Review: Partial Face Masks

Remember when you were little and you’d stick out your tongue and your mom would say, “Watch out or your face will freeze like that?”

It’s been so cold here in Vermont that this has almost felt like a real possibility. Temperatures have been in the single digits and below, and there’ve been times when it seemed like I could end up with a permanently affixed expression.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate. But below zero temps are not to be taken lightly. Leave your face unprotected, and you could end up with frost bite. I suffered a spot on my cheek a few years ago, and it left me with a small, permanent mark. I’d prefer not to have that happen again, so on really cold days you need a face mask. Yeah, I know — not the most flattering look, but really, it beats the alternative.

That said, face masks have their own set of problems. Conventional masks can cause warm air to back up and fog your goggles. What’s more, they’re just sort of icky. I hate the way your breath condenses on the fabric around your mouth. It’s wet, uncomfortable, and just plain gross.

Lately I’ve been using something that I think is a whole lot better: a partial face mask. This covers your cheeks, nose, and upper lip, leaving your mouth exposed so your breath can escape. No more condensate backing up into your goggles, no more wet fabric on your lower face.

So I have to give two ski poles up to the FaceSaver Mask.  I learned about the FaceSaver from a friend of mine who lives out west. It turns out that it hasn’t yet made it to stores outside of Utah, Idaho, and Colorado, but you can  order directly from the company’s web site — which is what I did. Made of fleece-lined neoprene, the FaceSaver comes in junior/extra small, small, medium, and large, and velcros  around the back of your head. It’s sturdy, comfortable, easy to use, and I can attest that it works perfectly. My face stays warm, and my goggles don’t fog up. I use this in combination with a neck gaiter to cover my face below my mouth, and I’m as warm as toast.

FaceSaver, goggles up

FaceSaver, goggles up

FaceSaver, goggles down

FaceSaver, goggles down

FaceSaver isn’t the only partial mask out there. I recently learned about another that’s now looking for funding on Kickstarter. It’s called the FaceGlove, and it comes with interchangeable straps that fasten either around your ears  or around your head. The FaceGlove is available in a heat moldable material or as a more conventional soft shell. You can find out about it here.

Do I recommend partial face masks? Yes. I’m a convert. A great way to stay warm, dry, and protect yourself from frostbite.



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Clinic Review: Okemo’s Women’s Alpine Adventures

Women love Okemo’s Women’s Alpine Adventures.

okemo-logo-e1363449581241How do I know? For two of the past four years, it’s been voted Favorite Women’s Ski Clinic by members of TheSkiDiva.com. But there’s more, too. I personally know women who’ve attended the clinic year after year. They bring their girlfriends, their neighbors, their sisters and daughters-in-law. My neighbor down the road attends with a group of four or five friends every year, and she’s done the clinic eighteen times. You read that right. Eighteen times. And she’s not alone. This happens time after time after time.

Okemo’s women’s program has been around for what seems like forever — which means they recognized the value of women’s-only clinics long before a lot of other mountains put them in place. (I couldn’t get a definite number, but it’s been at least twenty years.) First known as Women’s Ski Spree, the clinic now meets several times a season for varying lengths of time. There’s a five-day at the end of January, a two-day and a three-day in February, and new this year (because of popular demand), a two-day in March. When something inspires this sort of loyalty, you just have to find out why. And that’s how I ended up participating in the WAA (or WAA WAA, as they call it. I guess anything good bears repeating) a couple weeks ago. And here’s what I learned:

It’s fun. Sure, this is ski instruction. That’s why we’re all here. But let me get this up front: This is not training for the US Ski Team. There’s a different kind of vibe here. Playful. Relaxed. As Barb Newton, program coordinator, told me, “You’re here to get some ski tips. But you’re also here to have a great time.” And they do whatever they can to make sure you do.

They understand how women learn. Again from Barb Newton: ”There’s a different dynamic with a women’s group — it’s much more supportive. Not that women aren’t competitive; I think we’re more competitive with ourselves, with our own desire to improve. Women want to elevate not just themselves, but everyone in their group. If someone’s struggling, they’re going to offer encouragement. This isn’t necessarily the case with guys. It’s not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just different. I think we create a place where  we embrace that philosophy.  We provide the support that encourages women to do better. Most of our women want to come and get some key tips that are specific to them that are going to make them feel confident going into the rest of the season. I think we really excel at figuring out what people are thinking  and how that thinking is keeping them from trying new things. We’re going to take you to the place where we’re going to invite you to try something new. But we’re not going to push you. We’re going to make you believe you can do a lot more.”

My group gets pointers at  the WAA.

My group gets pointers at the WAA.

It’s not all about the skiing. Okemo does more than get you on the slopes. They provide a killer breakfast and lunch. There’s a welcome party with a lot of dancing. Awards and recognitions (especially for returning alum). During the five day, there are extra activities like a ski fashion show, a banquet, parties, and sometimes even seminars on things like boot fitting.

There’s a great sense of community. Barb Newton, clinic coordinator, stresses this as one of the things that makes the WAA unique. “With so many women coming back, there’s a strong sense of friendship and community that stands out. These women really bond. There’s a Facebook page that was started by clinic alum. It’s just for them — we stay off. And some of them even get together off the slopes.” Case in point: the neighbor I mentioned earlier? The one who’s done the clinic 18 times? She met with members of her clinic group for lunch in New York City this past summer.

A testimonial
I wasn’t the only member of TheSkiDiva.com community who showed up for the clinic. Another member who was  there posted her own review on the forum:

I just got back from the Okemo Women’s Alpine Adventure program, and I wanted to put down my thoughts while they were still fresh. I highly recommend this program to anyone interested in taking their skiing to the next level, whether you are at the beginner or advanced level. My teacher and fellow group members taught me more in two days than I could have learned on my own in a year. I’m in the advanced intermediate range, but I was put in a group of skiers with much more experience than me. I went down trails I never would have had the confidence to try on my own. I’m a confident blue/black skier on groomed runs but was able to conquer bumps on black runs, ungroomed glades, and even the half-pipe in the terrain park! The best part was being surrounded by supportive women who all had the same goals: to improve their skiing. Also invaluable was the video analysis, which gave me a great visual of my strengths and weaknesses. I highly recommend this program. I had a great time, learned a ton, and even got to meet the SkiDiva herself! I’ll definitely be going back next year. They have a March session, if you’re interested in signing up.

So what’d you think, Ski Diva?
The WAA is a clinic that will inspire you to improve your skiing and make you a more confident skier. If you’re a Mikaela Shiffrin, or aspire to be, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re looking to gain confidence, have a terrific time, make new friends, and pick up some pointers, you’re definitely in the right place.

Ski Diva Rating: Two ski poles up!

 

 



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Oui, Ski Quebec!

Bonjour, mes amis.

Pardonnez-moi if I practice my French, but I can tell that it’s something I’m going to need in the years to come. You see, I just came back from Quebec, and I am positively smitten.

What was I doing there? Oh, just attending Winter Carnaval, staying in the gorgeous Chateau Frontenac, eating great food, and skiing at both Le Massif and Mont Sainte-Anne. I was in Quebec as part of the annual meeting of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association, and Quebec City Tourism rolled out the red carpet for us lowly ski writers. The result was a trip I’ll never forget, and a destination I’ll be sure to visit again.

Why stay in Quebec City if you want to go skiing? 
Sure, it’s not a ski-in-ski-out location. But if you only rely on that, you miss a lot. I can’t recommend staying in Quebec City highly enough. My husband came up with what I think is the perfect tag line for the city — Closer than the rest of Europe — because more than any other city I’ve visited in North America, Quebec has a distinctly European flavor. And it’s not just because the people speak French (though yes, that’s part of it). The architecture, the winding streets, the culture is loaded with Old World charm. It’s a totally different vibe than you get anywhere else in North America. What’s more, Quebec is beautiful. Perched high on a bluff above the St. Lawrence, you get sweeping views of the river, made even more dramatic in the winter thanks to piles of heaved-up ice. The restaurants are great, the accommodations lovely (like the iconic Chateau Frontenac), and really, hearing French spoken everywhere is just oh-so-much-more romantic. Trust me — it adds a completely new layer to the ski trip experience. Besides, the drive from the city to the ski areas isn’t really that bad.

Chateau Frontenac

Chateau Frontenac

Old City, Quebec

Old City, Quebec

Les femmes sont belle en Quebec.

Les femmes sont belle en Quebec.

Winter Carnaval
Another great benefit from staying in Quebec: you get to experience cultural events that you won’t find anywhere else. Winter Carnaval is a great example. The city turns itself into a celebration of the Quebec winter. There are a pair of night parades with amazing floats, incredible snow sculptures, tobogganing, ice bumper cars (yes, really. I definitely have to try this next time), and a canoe race on the ice-laden St. Lawrence that you’ve got to see to believe. People line the shore to watch competing teams push canoes across ice that’s been heaved up in great huge piles to (more or less) open water, then leap aboard and paddle like mad down the river, dodging ice floes and chunks along the way. It’s an incredible spectacle, and you can only see it in Quebec.

Canoe racing on the Saint Lawrence.

Canoe racing on the Saint Lawrence.

wolfhead

At the Carnaval night parade.

One of the many snow sculptures.

One of the many snow sculptures.

Le Massif de Charlevoix
And of course, we went skiing. We spent one day at Le Massif, about an hour northeast of the city. Le Massif is located on a mountain overlooking the St. Lawrence, and the slopes run right down to the river’s banks. Look at the views you get when you ski down the trails. It feels like you’re skiing directly into the water. It’s almost a safety hazard because it’s so hard to keep your eyes on where you’re going. Absolutely breathtaking!

Le Massif

Le Massif

In addition to astounding views, Le Massif has a terrific trail system. There’s something for everyone: long bump runs, fun glades, nice long groomers, and on the west side of the resort, more challenging terrain. Le Massif has the highest vertical in eastern Canada, and you can ski….and ski….and ski. Fun fact: Le Massif was developed in part by one of the co-founders of Cirque du Soliel.

Here are some stats for the mountain:

Trails: 52 trails and glades, on 307.6 acres
Ability levels: 15% easy, 30% intermediate, 20% difficult, 35% very difficult
Longest trail: 5.1 km / 3.17 milles
Vertical: 770 m / 2,526 feet
Base Elevation: 36 m / 118 feet
Top Elevation: 806 m / 2,645 feet
Skiable Terrain: 164.5 hectares / 406.3 acres

One cool thing that we did not get the chance to do: Le Massif has a 7.5 km sled run that looks absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t operating when we were there. Next time, for sure.

From Le Massif, we took a 12 mile journey on the lightrail train along the St. Lawrence to the tres chic and very contemporary Hotel La Ferme. Although we didn’t spend the night, this is a great option for someone who for some reason doesn’t want to stay in Quebec. It’s fun and easy to take the train to the mountain and back, and the scenery along the river is stupendous. There are lots of great restaurants in the lovely town of  Baie-Saint-Paul, too.

Train

Mont Sainte-Anne
Another day, another fabulous  mountain. We spent our second ski day at Mont Sainte-Anne. Sainte-Anne is closer to the city and larger than Le Massif. And like Le Massif, it has spectacular views:

Mont Sainte-Anne

Mont Sainte-Anne

I absolutely adored it. There’s a terrific variety of runs, and the mountain is laid out for very easy access; you can get to just about everything from the top of the gondola. Mont Sainte-Anne features both north and south facing trails, so if you’re not loving the conditions on the south side, the runs on the north side can be completely different. A tip for families skiing with little kids — or just people who love all things maple — be sure not to miss the Sugar Shack off La Pichard, one of the green trails. On weekends and holiday periods, you can stop at the shack for some traditional hot maple taffy, served on a bed of fresh snow and scooped up with wooden sticks.

Here’s some stats on Mont Sainte-Anne:

Altitude at the summit: 800 meters [2625 feet]
Vertical drop: 625 meters [2050 feet]
Skiable terrain: 222 ha [547 acres]
Gross acreage: 868 ha [2145 acres]
Natural snowfall: 480 cm [190 po]
Number of trails: 71 trails covering 73 km [45 miles] on 3 different sides
Night skiing: 20 trails, covering 15.5 Km [9 miles]
Trail breakdown: easy: 23%, more difficult: 18%, difficult: 45%, extreme: 14%
Longest trail: Le Chemin du Roy – 5.7 Km [3.6 miles]
Average length of season: 148 days

Hotel de Glace (The Ice Hotel)
Located about five miles north of Quebec, this is something you really shouldn’t miss if you’re in the area. The first and only ice hotel in North America, Hotel de Glace is re-built each year and is open the first week of January until the last week of March. The hotel boasts 44 rooms and suites, a bar, an indoor ice slide, and a chapel, all made entirely out of snow and ice. Yes, you can stay here if you wish, but be prepared: The ambient temperature varies only by a few degrees between 23°F and 26°F, no matter what the outside temperature.

Ice Hotel Entrance

Ice Hotel Entrance

A Hallway Entrance

A hallway entrance

A room in the Ice Hotel

A room in the Ice Hotel

I think it’s pretty clear that I loved the entire Quebec experience; honestly, it’s hard not to be swept up in its Old World charm. For a ski vacation with a European flavor, there’s no place like it in North America. Go see for yourself.



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The State of the Winter.

Here we are. It’s the beginning of February, and winter’s in full swing. So how’s it shaping up so far?

As skiers, we eat, sleep, and dream weather. We worry about it. Anticipate it. Think and talk about it. No surprise there. If you’re involved in a sport that’s dependent on a certain type of temperature, a certain type of precipitation, it’s only natural to be concerned about what Mother Nature’s dishing out.

Before we go any farther, step into my WayBack Machine and transport yourself into the not-s0-distant past, all the way back to September/October 2014, when we pored over winter forecasts like Talmudic scholars, parsing every phrase to determine what was coming in the ski season ahead. What’d the Farmer’s Almanac say? How thick was the Wooly Bear Caterpillars’ brown stripe (if it’s thick, it’s the sign that the winter will be mild)? Was there going to be an El Nino? If so, how strong or weak would it be? It was easy to drive ourselves nuts. There were dozens of prediction maps, including this one from WeatherAdvance.com:

2014-2015-winter-4

Now slowly, slowly, bring yourself back. Let your molecules settle into the present day. I’m not a meteorologist (nor do I play one on TV), but here are a few interesting things that have occurred this winter:

• The Pineapple Express notwithstanding, the West is still extremely dry. Virtually all of California remains in drought. Utah, Arizona and New Mexico are also abnormally dry. Colorado fares slightly better, but its snowpack still far lags where it usually sits this time of year. And the snowpack in the northwest is below normal, too. Not good.

To illustrate: Here are a couple pics from Cliff Mass’s weather blog. The first is from the Mt. Shasta web cam on December 26, the second from Monday, February 2. See the difference?

CliffMasspic1

CliffMass2

Also disturbing, the NOAA snow depth analyses for the Cascades from December 29, 2014 and January 29, 2015:

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 7.00.07 AM

• As part of this, we’ve seen a number of ski area closures due to lack of snow. In California,  Mt. Shasta, Dodge Ridge, and Badger Pass. In Oregon, Willamette Pass, Hoodoo Ski Area, and Mt. Ashland. And in Alaska, Eaglecrest. It’s all too sad. Let’s hope things turn around.

• After a less-than-impressive start, the East Coast has finally cranked it up. A train of snow storms, one after another, has blanketed the northeast with record-setting snowfalls. Right now things are looking great in New England. According to Tim Kelley, meteorologist with Ski the East and NECN (New England Cable News), the east has the best snow in the lower 48 right now. As a Vermonter, I’d have to say it’s pretty damned good.

• Remember the Polar Vortex? Well, lucky us — it’s back! Arctic air from Canada has brought temps into the single digits and below from the Midwest to the East, with bone chilling wind chills. I don’t mind temperatures in the teens, and if it’s not windy, I can deal with the single digits on a limited basis. But enough is enough. Give me a balmy 25° any day.

• Conversely, women from the west who post on TheSkiDiva.com have been complaining about the warm temperatures. In our Where is Winter thread, there’ve been reports of temps in the 50′s and 60′s in Oregon and Washington. Check out the temperatures in Denver from this past weekend (from the Denver CBS- affiliate):

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While I certainly believe global warming is real, I have no idea if these are weather glitches or related to a broader weather scenario. All evidence supports that our climate is changing, which means we can expect all sorts of crazy weather ahead. I encourage all of you to support causes like Protect Our Winters and do whatever you can to minimize your carbon footprint on this fragile planet.

What does the rest of the winter have in store? I’ll give it a scientific who knows. Wish I could go into the WayFuture Machine to find out. But one thing I know for sure: spring will come, then summer, and then we’ll start the speculation all over again.

Such is the circle of (a skier’s) life.

 



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Age is just a number. Right?

Think about women’s skiing, and a lot of young faces come to mind: Mikaela Shiffrin (19), Lindsey Vonn (30), Lynsey Dyer (31), Julia Mancuso (30). Let’s give them their due. These are amazing female athletes who have made some remarkable achievements.

But to be honest, Mikaela, Lindsey, Lynsey, and Julia might as well live in a different planet than the rest of us. Because not only can’t we ski like them (no surprise there), but they’re also considerably younger than many of us who’re out there on the mountain.

Me, included. I just passed a fairly significant birthday, so getting older has been on my mind a lot lately. On the upside, I’m healthy, I have the physical ability to continue skiing, and to be honest, I’ve reached the point where I don’t feel like I have to ski to impress anymore. If I don’t want to ski something, I just don’t do it (hey, I could break a hip). On the downside, however, I do notice that my stamina isn’t what it used to be. Even though I ski a lot, I don’t ski first chair to last. I’ll ski maybe from 9 to 1/1:30/2 and then go home. (Then again, that might  be because I ski nearly every day.) I also have osteopenia, which is a bit troubling. And I have a little arthritis creeping in. If I ski too hard, too long, or too many bumps, I feel it in my hips. Ugh.

As a weekday skier, I see a lot of older people on the mountain every day, and while they may not be hucking cliffs or setting any speed records, they do manage to have a heck of a lot of fun. One of these is my good friend, Lil Georg.  At nearly 72, Lil skis at least every other day at Okemo here in Vermont, and she does just fine, thank you.

Lil Georg

Lil Georg

Recently I spoke to Lil about the challenges and rewards of being a senior skier:

Q. So Lil, how and when did you start skiing?
A. I started in 1986, when I was 43. My daughter married a skier, and the whole family started skiing together. He wanted his wife to ski, and the only way he could get her to do that was if all of us would go along.

Q. How has skiing changed for you as you’ve gotten older?
A. It’s an interesting thing, because I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older. So things that were harder for me in the beginning are easier for me now. Even five years ago, I would’ve been exhausted from skiing hard 3 or 4 days in a row. But it doesn’t take so much energy now because I ski better. I go home tired, but not exhausted-have-to-go-to-bed-at-seven-o’clock tired, which I did when I first started. So in that respect it’s easier. In another respect, I get colder more easily. I have to wear more layers. Where you wear three, I have to wear six. So I just pile the layers on.

Q. Do you face any other particular challenges, now that you’re older?
A. Not really. It’s been good. Before I started skiing every other day, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis and I was taking Fosamax. After I started skiing every other day, in two years’ time I was diagnosed as no longer having osteoporosis/osteopenia, and I went off the medication. It’s about the weight bearing exercise. I think skiing has made me healthier.

Q. What are people’s reactions when you tell them you ski?
A. They say, Really? You’re still skiing? And then, if they ski with me, they say, My God, I can’t keep up!

Q. Why do you think your peers don’t ski?
A. I think they stop because they get cold and because it’s no longer fun. And why is it no longer fun? People are pushing them to do things they don’t want to do, they’re afraid of getting hurt, and frankly, some of them have trouble getting up if they fall.

Q. So what keeps you going?
A. I think it’s partly social. You know, they say as you get older, what keeps you healthy is social interaction, and skiing is a great means for that. Plus if you look at any of the lists for things you should do to live a long life, skiing fills the bill on most of them. They nearly always include exercise, staying active, doing something you’re passionate about, being social – for me, the answer to all those is skiing.

Q. Any advice for senior women who ski?
A. Yeah. Ski what you want to ski and don’t ski what you don’t want to ski and don’t let anyone force you to ski what you don’t want to ski.

Lil’s not the only senior woman skiing out there. According to data from the National Ski Areas Association, even though seniors  make up a smaller portion of the skier total, they spend 25 percent more time on the mountain each season than any other group.

SkierVisitsByAge

Mike Maginn, co-founder of  SeniorsSkiing.com, a recently launched online ski magazine and resource for the fifty-plus crowd, agrees. “This is an age group that’s seen a lot of growth,” he said.  “All the other age groups are flat. It’s one of the reasons we started our site. Sure, we thought it’d be fun. But we wanted it to be a place where seniors could learn about deals just for them and read about things they’d find of interest. Beyond that, we wanted to be an advocate for senior skiers. We want resorts to do things that are helpful to us, as well as influence manufacturers to think about things that are appropriate for seniors: lightweight equipment and warmer clothes, for instance. I think we have a point of view that since we’re here, why not pay attention to us?”

According to Mike, many in this age group have come back to skiing after being away for a period of time. “They have time on their hands that they didn’t have before,” he said. “And lighter weight gear and more technical, warmer clothing, have certainly helped. Modern technology makes it easier to ski now than ever before. I think a lot of seniors are realizing that. Still, there are those who may be apprehensive. Fear of injury is a big deterrent, and some aren’t familiar with the new gear or the new skiing technique that goes along with it. They need positive reinforcement, a hand holding experience. Some resorts are offering programs that provide that. I think it’s great that they’re seeing that skiing isn’t just for young people, and are taking steps to keep them involved.”

So what does this mean for senior women who ski? Maybe more of them on the hill. As for me, I definitely plan to ski as long as I am physically able, no matter what my age. So all this is very encouraging.

After all, you’re as young as you feel, right?

 



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Gear Review: Columbia’s Lay-D Down & Diamond TurboDown Jackets

One of the perks that come with being a member of Columbia Sportswear’s Omniten team is that they sometimes send me cool gear to try out. In the past year or so, I’ve received base layers, gloves, boots, hats, fleeces, and more — all the stuff you need to have fun in the snow.

Trust me, this is a nice team to belong to.

Two of the things I’ve liked best have been a couple of the jackets I’ve received: the Columbia Lay-D Down and the Diamond TurboDown. I wear these a lot, so I thought it was about time I gave them a review:

The Columbia Lay-D Down

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Winter can be tough here in Vermont. We’ve had some extremely cold temperatures this year — well below zero with wind chills as low as -30°F.  Clearly, if you want to ski, you have to be prepared for the worst. Which means wearing a really, really warm jacket.

I don't want to  look like this.

I don’t want to
look like this.

That doesn’t mean I want one that makes me look like the Michelin man. I mean, who would? Which is why I love the Lay-D Down. Wind proof and down filled, the Lay-D Down is toasty warm but stylish, too. See the picture above? Looks nice. That’s the actual color of my jacket, too.

So here are some of the features I really like:

• It’s very, very warm. The Lay-D Down has 550 g of down insulation (80% duck down, 20% feathers), plus the Omni-Heat™ lining. This is a layer of silver dots on the lining that Columbia says reflects your body heat. I can’t say if this is true or not, but the jacket is plenty warm. So that could be part of it.

There are five pockets — two slash pockets on the outside, and three on the inside. This gives me a lot of room to stash stuff, which trust me, I need.

Pit zips. Too crass? Okay, underarm venting. Whatever you want to call them, they’re great. If I get too warm, I can open up to cool off. A real plus, in my book.

A nice, high fleece-lined collar. I usually ski with a neck warmer, except when I don’t. And when I don’t, I can zip this up   for some extra warmth around my chinny-chin-chin.

Powder skirt. Snapping this closed helps keep the warmth in —  another good thing on a cold day.

Cuffs with thumb holes. Same as above. Keeps the cold air from traveling up your sleeves, for extra warmth.

Removable hood. When I get a jacket, this is the first thing to go. I don’t like hoods for skiing, but I like having the option to use it when I wear the jacket off the hill.

Any downsides? Yes. I wish it had a chest pocket on the outside. But really, that’s about it. I have four ski jackets, and this one is  the one I reach for on colder days.

 

Columbia Diamond TurboDown

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Columbia introduced its line of TurboDown jackets last fall, and they’ve been getting a lot of buzz ever since. The name refers to the insulating layer, which is sort of like down on steroids. It’s a combination of goose feathers and Columbia’s synthetic Omni-Heat insulation fill.  According to Columbia, the polyester-based insulation wicks sweat better than down, moving moisture away from the body when you’re involved in aerobic activity. And the layer of down on top of this traps body heat for extra warmth.

There are a few different TurboDowns available, depending on the amount of insulation involved. Columbia sent me the Diamond TurboDown shown above. Here’s what I like about it:

It’s extremely lightweight. Seriously, it’s hard to believe that something this light would be in any way warm. When you pick it up, you hardly even feel like you’re holding anything. You find yourself thinking how can this thing possibly work.

• It’s very warm.  Here’s why it does work. The jacket has a combination of 40 g Omni-Heat synthetic insulation and 850-fill goose down, plus the same Omni-Heat silver lining as the Lay-D Down. So even though it’s very light, you’re not sacrificing any warmth. It’s kind of hard to reconcile the two thoughts in your mind, but trust me, it’s warm.

Love the color combo. The pink zipper really pops against a beautiful blue. I get a lot of compliments when I wear it.

You can scrunch it up and fit it into its own pocket, so it doesn’t take up much room in your backpack or duffle or whatever, if you’re traveling. I love this.

The Turbodown can be packed in its own pocket! Cool!

The Diamond TurboDown can be packed in its own pocket! Cool!

• The down is treated to stay puffier even if gets wet, so you stay warmer in a wide range of conditions. Nice!

Any downsides? Just one: The hood isn’t removable and the jacket doesn’t come without one. As I said in my Lay-D down review, I’m not a hood person. But this is pretty small potatoes.

And that’s pretty much it. No, I haven’t worn it skiing. I use my Lay-D Down for that. But for being outside in the cold, this is a good option. You might want to check it out.

So what’d you think, Ski Diva?

Bottom line: I’d recommend either one. Both are high quality, very warm jackets, and they look great, too. Two ski poles up!

 



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Learning to board: Yes, really, I gave it a try.

BoardingHow is it possible — the Ski Diva, standing on the lip of a half-pipe (albeit an extremely mini one), strapped into a snowboard and getting ready to ride?

Has the world gone crazy? Has she lost her mind? Is she going over to the Dark Side? And what’s next — baggy pants pulled down to her knees?

No, no, no, and not a chance. I was simply doing research for my blog.

You may remember that in my last blog post, I talked about Killington’s Terrain Based Learning center. After all, January is Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month, and Terrain Based Learning is being adopted as a teaching method for first-timers at a number of ski areas throughout the US.

And while it was great to get an idea of what TBL is about, we all know that nothing beats first-hand experience. So when Killington invited me to try out TBL as a boarder, I figured why not. My daughter has wanted to get me on a board for years, and here was a chance to have the never-ever experience up close and personal. And that, in short, is how I ended up in a lesson in Killington’s TBL park.

To be honest, I was a bit nervous. When I posted on Facebook that I was going to take a snowboard lesson, the response kind of  freaked me out. “Watch your wrists!” “My friend tried it and left her first lesson with a concussion and no interest in going back!”  You get the idea.

Frankly, at my age, the prospect of falling had me a little worried. From what I heard, everyone fell at first. I didn’t relish the idea of coming home covered in bruises or even worse, with a broken wrist. But Dave Beckwith, Director of Killington’s Ski School, assured me this wouldn’t happen. In fact, he even promised to buy me dinner if I fell. (Hmmmm, almost an incentive for a crash landing, wouldn’t you say?)

And you know what? He was right. I didn’t fall. Not even once. And while I may have missed out on a nice dinner, I actually had a very good time.

Am I a snowboarding savant? Someone with an inbred, undiscovered talent for boarding? No. I completely attribute it to TBL.

As I said in my last post, TBL uses snow features to help beginning students control their speed naturally. This is key. By controlling the speed, the first timer can focus on the movements, sensations, and body positions that form the basis of good skiing or riding. You spend less time learning how to stop, and more time learning how to go.

Berms guide you through the turns.

Banks and berms guide you through the turns.

My lesson started on completely flat terrain, where my instructor, Tony Coccia, who heads up Killington’s snowboard instruction, showed me a few of the basics: how to strap on the binding, fore and aft balance, flexing and extending, rotation, how to push yourself along with your free foot, things like that. Then came time to move onto the mini pipe. The term mini-pipe is actually pretty generous: the contour is so slight it’s barely discernable. And while a normal halfpipe is built with its length stretching down the fall line, the mini-pipe is built with its length across the hill, so you’re actually always facing up the slope. With Tony literally providing hands-on support, I slid down one side of the pipe and up the other, and then back down. This keeps you from going very fast, and yes, it actually works. At first, I admit, I was a little tense. But as we did the same actions over and over again, I became more relaxed and actually began to enjoy myself. We also worked on side slipping, stopping, and finally, the big guns: toe- and heel-side turns. After this, Tony took me into a series of very mild rollers to practice knee flex and extension. And then we went into  a short trail with banks and berms that helped guide me through a few turns. The lesson ended with a couple runs down what they call the “perfect slope,” an empty, groomed area with a very slight pitch. Here, Tony had me actually linking a series of “S” turns. Yes, he provided me with a small amount of  support, though he assured me I was practically doing it myself.  ”Another lesson, and you’d be completely independent,” he said. Wahoo!

So what’s my takeaway from all this?

• Many of us forget how hard it is to learn from scratch. This was a good reminder. Major props to my instructor, Tony, for being so patient and for dragging me up to the lip of the halfpipe (even though it wasn’t steep), time and time again.

• Don’t bet that you’ll fall. You’ll lose. TBL takes it out of the learning equation, so you don’t have to worry about it. You can just concentrate on having fun.

• Terrain Based Learning is a great way to get a feel for the sport. You really do focus on the movements you need to ride or ski, so you learn a lot right away.

• I would definitely recommend this to a first-timer. It’s easy, painless, and fun.

• And yes, I actually enjoyed boarding! And while I’m not ready to turn in my skis to become the Snowboard Diva, I can see it’d be a great way to have fun on the slopes.

Remember, during Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, first-timers can get a lot of great deals. Go here to find out more.

 



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