10 Ways to Avoid Getting Sick When You Travel.

sickSo who has travel plans this summer? You? And you, too? I’m not surprised. Ski Divas aren’t the sort to sit around and veg on the couch. We want to take trips and have adventures, even if they don’t involve skiing. And we don’t want anything to get in the way of our fun.

Nonetheless, sometimes our bodies remind us who’s really in charge. I remember being on a plane from Steamboat with a guy hacking and coughing in the row behind me. Sure enough, a couple days later I came down with a miserable cold.

This isn’t uncommon. The Wall Street Journal cited a study that found you have a 20% increased risk of catching a cold on a plane. Another study in the Journal of Environmental Health Research found that colds may be more than 100 times more likely to be transmitted on a plane than in normal life on the ground.

But it’s not just colds that are the problem. I’m sure you’ve all heard about those awful outbreaks of GI infections on cruise ships, where hundreds of passengers are stricken with vomiting and diarrhea. Not a vacation highlight, I’m sure.

You don’t have to trust to luck to stay healthy. There are a few things you can do to minimize your chances of falling ill:

Boost your immune system.  The best way to stay healthy starts way before your trip begins, with a good immune system. According to Consumer Reports, there are more than 1,000 products on the market that claim to fend off disease. But honestly, the best way to improve your immunity is very simple: maintain a healthy lifestyle. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy. Take vitamins. Exercise. Don’t smoke. Reduce stress. Maintain a healthy weight. Control your blood pressure. And if you drink alcohol, drink it in moderation. Good advice, even if you’re just staying home.

Wash your hands. A lot. This seems so basic that it shouldn’t even need to be said. But yet it does. I don’t want to sound like a germaphobe, but according to the Mayo Clinic, cold and flu germ-laden droplets may remain infectious for several hours, depending on where they land. And some viruses can live on surfaces for as long as seven days. In any event, why take chances; just wash your hands, particularly before you eat. According to the CDC, proper hand washing requires at least 20 minutes of scrubbing. And according to a recent study published in Time magazine, it makes no difference whether the water is hot or cold.

Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated helps maintain the mucus in your throat and nasal cavity, which provides a good barrier against germs. That said, be careful of the water you do drink. No doubt you’ve heard about people getting sick from drinking tap water while overseas. This isn’t necessarily because the water is contaminated. It could just be that it has local  bacteria that your body isn’t used to. So if you’re traveling abroad, you might want to drink bottled water or invest in a water filter.

Carry wet wipes. Hand sanitizer, too. I do. I use them to wipe down my seat tray and arm rests on the plane, as well as the TV remote in a hotel room, the faucet, and pretty much anything else I can think of.

Eat healthy. Sure, vacation is a time to indulge a little and try something new. This is fine. But remember, all things in moderation. And consider the source. If no one is eating at a particular restaurant, there may be a reason. When in doubt, eat food that’s either boiled or peeled. Germs will be killed off pretty much universally by boiling, and can’t get into food that has a peelable skin. Some people recommend taking probiotics for a few weeks before vacation, the idea being that populating your gut with healthy bacteria or yeasts can help fight disease-causing organisms.

Make sure you’re up on your vaccines. Depending on where you go, you may need special shots. Visit the CDC Travel Health site for details on the vaccines you’ll need for various parts of the world, as well as other important information to stay healthy while you travel. It also doesn’t hurt to make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.

Don’t forget your meds.  Be sure to bring along any prescribed medications you need. And it wouldn’t hurt to throw in some  Tylenol, Advil, and Immodium, too. It’s not a bad idea to bring along some motion sickness pills, either, if you’re planning on a cruise.

Use insect repellent.  Mosquitos can spread all sorts of diseases (according to Wikipedia, these include  malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, chikungunya, yellow fever, filariasis, Japanese encephalitis, Saint Louis encephalitis, Western equine encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, La Crosse encephalitis and Zika fever. Phew!). Then, of course, there are tick-transmitted diseases, like Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These little bugs can cause a lot of trouble. So bring along some insect repellent and be sure to use it.

If you’re going abroad, make sure you have medical coverage. If not, buy some. But before you do, check with your medical insurer to see if you’re covered by your existing health plan. Even if your health plan does cover you internationally, you may want to consider buying a special medical travel policy.

Going up? Acclimate.  If you’re taking a trip that involves any significant increase in altitude, give yourself some time to adjust at lower elevations first. It doesn’t matter if this is your first or tenth trip over 8,000 feet; altitude sickness can strike at any time. The human body actually takes weeks to acclimate to high elevations, but since you probably don’t have that much vacation time, give yourself between 48 and 72 hours to adapt. It also helps to avoid tobacco and alcohol and drink lots and lots of water. If you start to show symptoms of moderate altitude illness, don’t go higher until your symptoms diminish.

 

Stay safe, stay healthy, and have fun, Ski Divas!

 



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What’s it like to ski in June?

I’m the type of person that would ski all year, if I could. Unfortunately, for me that’s not possible. Some Ski Divas, however, are luckier than I am, and are still out making turns, even after Memorial Day. Since it’s something I’ve never done, I asked Ski Diva forum member, Rachel Vecchitto, to give us her take on skiing in June. So take it away, Rachel!

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When I moved out west six years ago, there were lots of reasons I chose Boulder, Colorado: 300+ days of sunshine a year (it’s true!), plenty of jobs in my field, respectable mass transit, and an unbeatable location right at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. If I’m honest with myself, though, the biggest reason I chose Boulder was probably because I’d have easy access to lift-served skiing 9 months a year at Arapahoe Basin.

You can ski into late spring and early summer in more places than you might think. Snowbird and Mammoth stay open as long as they can, which almost always extends their seasons into June and beyond. Whistler and Timberline both have high alpine snowfields that usually stay open for limited skiing and riding all summer long. Few places, though, match A-Basin’s commitment to keeping as much terrain open for as long as they can (the 10,600ft base elevation and north-facing slopes don’t hurt).

I headed up to A-Basin on Saturday, June 3rd, excited for a solid day of late spring skiing and another month of getting out on the snow. Crowds have usually died down by June, and Saturday was no exception. By the time early spring and its surprise snowfalls have passed, everyone except the most dedicated skiers have moved on to mountain biking, climbing and all the other summer activities the mountains have to offer. It’s fantastic; you can roll into the parking lot at a leisurely 10:30AM and not worry about finding a place to park, and you’re sharing the slopes with super enthusiastic skiing superfans who are so psyched to still be out on the snow that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the energy and have a great time.

Excited to still be making lift-served turns in June.

Excited to still be making lift-served turns in June.

Conditions were excellent for so late in the season. A-Basin runs two lifts this time of year, but as summer gets closer the terrain that’s served becomes increasingly limited as snow melts and conditions deteriorate. On June 3rd, though, thanks to a solid early winter and some great late spring snow, just about all of the possible terrain was still open. I was able to ski wide open alpine faces, slushy bumps and soft groomers, pop off a few cornices, and pick my way down playful gullies. When I lived back east I made the pilgrimage to Tuckerman Ravine and took advantage of Killington’s late season operations, but in my experience it’s hard to beat the variety and quality of terrain that A-Basin works so hard to offer in the springtime.

A-Basin in June 2017: a few bare spots surrounded by tons of skiable terrain.

A-Basin in June 2017: a few bare spots surrounded by tons of skiable terrain.

Even at 10,600 ft, the weather is warming up by June, and temperatures from about 50F to 65F are common. I usually wear a light long-sleeved baselayer and a T-shirt, but that’s mostly just because I don’t think there’s enough sunscreen in the world to keep me from frying in the June high alpine sun. Many others are braver than me, and wear bathing suits, tank tops, shorts and all kinds of crazy costumes. My favorite this spring was a skier dressed as a giraffe, playing a vuvuzela. Combined with all the usual springtime skiing trappings — pond skimming, live music, BBQ, tailgating — it’s quite the scene.

June 1, 2017: a crowd cheers on the skiers and riders during their pond skimming attempts.

June 1, 2017: a crowd cheers on the skiers and riders during their pond skimming attempts.

I really do think that A-Basin in the springtime should be on every skier’s bucket list. There’s usually no powder, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an experience that’s more fun, more novel, or more likely to get you counting the days until next season.

 



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Adventure Mamas: Redefining Motherhood.

Adventure Mamas co-founders Stephanie Fuller (left) and Justine Nobbe (right)

Adventure Mamas co-founders Stephanie Feller (left) and Justine Nobbe (right)

I’ve never understood people who make grand pronouncements about how moms are supposed to behave. As far as I’m concerned, moms should be able to do anything they like. If they enjoyed doing stuff outdoors before they had kids, they should be able to enjoy the same things even after they’re moms.

But I do understand about “mommy guilt.” There’s tremendous pressure to put your kids first, not only from society, but from yourself, too. So you end up forgoing some of the things you love to do – and that can make you anxious, depressed, and even resentful.

Not good.

That’s why I was so excited to hear about Adventure Mamas, an organization whose mission is to redefine motherhood by encouraging moms to enjoy outdoor life, without being constrained by guilt or societal pressures. According to Adventure Mamas, you shouldn’t have to give up outdoor adventures just because you’re a mom. Sure, your adventures may change a bit, but it’s still entirely possible — and even desirable — to get outdoors to do the things you love.

Adventure Mamas has been around since 2015, and is now a network of more than 15,000 women around the world. These are women who are interested not just in pushing strollers, but in pushing themselves to have adventures that provide both physical and mental challenges, sometimes with children, and sometimes without. Like TheSkiDiva, Adventure Mamas is a community of women who share a passion for the same thing and want to connect with one another for support, camaraderie, and just plain fun.

I recently spoke to Justine Nobbe, co-founder of Adventure Mamas, to find out more about this exciting initiative:

SD: Tell me about yourself. Have you always been interested in the outdoors?
JN: Not exactly. I grew up in a small town in Indiana where there was essentially no outdoor culture. I didn’t get into the outdoors until I was midway through college – I was working toward a degree in English — and I started coming across all this literature about people who were living in ways I had no idea was possible. It totally blew my mind and changed my life pretty profoundly. As soon as I graduated I started working in an outdoor gear shop and figuring out what I could do to enter the outdoor world. I did a bunch of bike touring, trekking, rock climbing, and even worked as an adventure therapy guide in Utah for several years.

SD: So how did this lead you to start Adventure Mamas?
JN: My husband and I had a son in 2016, and although that was really exciting, there’s that moment when you think, okay, so how does my old lifestyle fit into motherhood? I started to do a lot of research to try to find a community that validated a woman’s need to continue to adventure after she had a child. There were all these individual women doing different things – you’d have this skier or this climber – but there wasn’t a community that supported women pursuing their passions that was relevant to me. So I decided to create a meet-up group in Salt Lake City to make friends with women who weren’t going to let motherhood slow them down. I told a good friend about it who thought it was a great idea [Stephanie Feller, Adventure Mamas co-founder], and we pitched in together to make it happen. It just took off from there. Other groups began opening up across the country, and it kept growing and growing. Now we have ten national groups, as well as a lot of international women who are engaged, too.

SD: So what makes adventure so important for women and for mothers, in particular?
JN: At Adventure Mamas, we believe in the transformative power of adventure and wild places. There’s a lot of research that says being outside looking at a landscape, or breathing fresh air, or moving your body can be extremely healing and centering. Adventure – putting yourself in a challenging situation, where your adrenaline is pumping and you have to think critically – gives you tremendous focus and clarity, which can translate very easily into everyday life. For mothers, adventure is extremely important. There’s research that says that women with children are more susceptible to mental unwellness than other populations, so adventure can actually be preventive healthcare. It’s good for your health and for your personal identity, which translates into healthy families, healthy communities, a healthy culture, and yes, even healthy kids. We want to tell our kids that they can do anything and be anything, but a lot of adults don’t believe it themselves. We seem to get stuck in a rut. We want women not to just talk to their kids about how they can do anything, but to show them through their actions.

Credit_ @littlemountainlady Sarah Gorka-2

SD: So what makes Adventure Mamas different from other outdoor women’s groups?
JN: Although there are a lot of outdoor women’s groups that are multi-adventure – that is, they cover everything from hiking to skiing – they aren’t necessarily oriented toward women with kids. Much of their outreach and marketing is done toward younger women. So say you’re an enthusiastic outdoor woman who belongs to one of these other groups, and you find out you’re expecting. The new baby arrives, and while it’s an exciting and happy time, you don’t feel like the other group applies anymore. You still want to participate, but you may be wondering, is it weird if I bring my baby along; what if I have to nurse on the trail; will people be upset if my baby is crying. This has been a pretty universal experience for the women we’ve met. It’s disheartening, because your identity is so warped after you’ve had a baby, and now, on top of that, you don’t feel relevant in the outdoor community anymore. For us, it’s all about getting outdoors and exploring, with your kids and without. We have women-specific events, where we encourage women to adventure without their kids so they can do things that are harder, but we also offer events where women can bring their children along. And as we move forward, we’ll be facilitating more events where we’ll offer childcare, too.

SD: What kind of outdoor activities does Adventure Mamas have?
JN: We are very specifically adventure based. We’ve had events across the country that facilitiate everything from kayaking to rock climbing to stand-up paddle boarding to mountaineering. We’ve had more than 40 events since we started. Our first national event will take place this July. We have an expedition that’ll be scaling 13er’s and 14er’s in Colorado. We also offer workshops on things like the role of self care as a mother and empowered motherhood and things like that. Even better, we’re a non-profit, so all this is free.

Credit_ @littlemountainlady Sarah Gorka

SD: Is this just for young mothers?
JN: I think people think we’re more oriented toward younger women and new moms, and I think the resources we provide are important for new or expecting moms. But we also have this important sub-niche of women with older kids who are almost empty nesters. A lot of them are stepping up and saying, I’ve spent my whole life caring for my children, but now I feel really lost. I used to like to do these things. Am I welcome here?  So it’s really dynamic. We’ve had so many women reach out and say ‘Can adventure grandmas be better represented?’

SD: So how’s it worked out for you?
JN: I have an 18-month old son who comes along on a lot of things. It’s been kind of his whole life. Adventure Mamas started because of him, so we’ve been doing things together from the get-go. Of course there are ups and downs, but I embrace them. I personally find adventure parenting easier than indoor parenting. We’ve been on 5 or 6 cross country road trips, and done bike tours, hiking, climbing; he comes everywhere. The thing about Adventure Mamas is that a lot of moms want to pass their passion for adventuring on to their kids. I hope my kid continues to want to come along, but if he doesn’t, that’s okay, too. I’m still going to go.

Editor’s Note: Adventure Mamas is a non-profit organization, but it needs money so that it can continue offering outdoor adventures to moms at no cost.  The organization has a fundraising campaign going on through the end of June at generosity.com. To make a donation (and to get some great swag), go here.

 



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Memorial Day, Ski Style.

10th Mountain Division, WWII, Camp Hale, CO

10th Mountain Division,
WWII, Camp Hale, CO

Most people celebrate Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. Swimming, boating, picnics, you get the picture. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But let’s not lose sight of the holiday’s original intent: to commemorate those who lost their lives fighting for our country. Those like the men of the Tenth Mountain Division, who served in combat for only four months during World War II, yet who suffered the highest casualty rate of any US division in the Mediterranean.

Started as an experiment to train soldiers to fight in the most difficult, mountainous terrain in Europe, the Tenth trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, 17 miles north of Leadville. The camp, which lay at 9,300 feet, had four trails and the longest T-Bar in the country. Troops were taught to ski, snowshoe, and climb with packs and rifles as well as survive in the most brutal winter conditions. They lived in the mountains for weeks at a time, working in altitudes up to 13,500 feet, in five to six feet of snow and in temperatures that dropped to 20 degrees below zero at night.

All this well before the advent of today’s technical fabrics.

After training for two years, the Tenth participated in a series of actions that played a vital role in the liberation of northern Italy. The Division breached the supposedly impregnable Gothic Line in the Apennines and secured the Po River Valley. By the time the Germans surrendered in May 1945, 992 ski troopers had lost their lives and 4,000 were wounded.

After the war, veterans of the Tenth became the backbone of the postwar American ski boom. Monty Atwater, for example, went to Alta, Utah, where he established the first explosive avalanche control system. Friedl Pfeifer designed Aspen Mountain, started Aspen’s ski school, and ran the first racing circuit. And Pete Seibert became a member of the 1948 Olympic team and founded Vail.

The sacrifices and contributions of the men of the Tenth can not be denied. So this Memorial Day week, while you’re swimming and picnicing and welcoming in the summer season, take a minute to salute the Tenth, along with the many other veterans of our Armed Forces. Remember, they fought for you.

* This post originaly appeared in May, 2010. But some things are worth re-running. :)



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Lessons We Learned This Season.

Divas at Snowmass

Divas at Snowmass

Skiing is a lot like life: You never stop learning. No matter how many years you’ve been at it, each day brings its own set of challenges, its own set of lessons. Recently the women on TheSkiDiva talked about some of the things they’ve learned this past season. So listen up, class, and take a lesson from the Divas:

  • Snow addiction is real. Powder fever is, too.
  • The more I try not to buy anything new, the more I inevitably end up buying.
  • I can’t say no to a good deal.
  • Trusty backcountry buddies are hard to find.
  • Telemarking is not as hard as I thought it would be.
  • Sit skiing is way harder than I thought it would be.
  • Confidence is the best friend for ski improvements.
  • Falling off a double black head first for 400 vertical meters destroys said confidence.
  • Always respect the mountain.
  • Marathon training and ski season do not mix.
  • Pilates and yoga are great supplements to skiing.
  • A ski resort is like a snow globe – a small bubble community. Once in a while, someone shakes the snow globe and there’s more powder.
  • Ski resorts are a mecca for flu, viruses, and food poisoning.
  • Bullying and sexual harassment still exist on and off the slopes.
  • All snow offers opportunities for learning, so boot up and make the most of it, even when it’s cornstarch-over-ice.
  • Stay relaxed when skiing on ice. I used to tense up and it made me more unsteady on ice patches. Now that I relax I handle them much better.
  • Proper pole length and usage are important and can have a major effect – both good or bad – on your skiing.  It’s impossible to get forward when your poles are too long.
  • Sometimes life gets in the way of skiing and that’s sad; accepting that takes some work. It made me appreciate the days that I got to ski even more.
  • A good instructor will push you just beyond your level of comfort to help you learn something new without making you terrified. When I achieved open parallel turns this season on some of the steeper green terrain at a new-to-me hill, it felt like a whole different world opened up.
  • A compassionate instructor can understand why a new skier may be fearful, and helps you get over that fear and keep anxiety at bay so you can continue to progress and experience the joys skiing.
  • Articulating what you want to get out of your lesson is essential for maximizing your skill development. I come prepared with an index card and a brief bullet list that I keep in my jacket pocket.
  • With control comes speed, and sometimes, with speed comes control.
  • Making more challenging terrain shallower and easier terrain steeper helps build confidence.
  • Even if you had what you think is a bad ski day, you’ve still learned something. If you walk to your car on two feet with all your body parts intact, whatever went wrong that day is fixable. The mountain will still be there to welcome you back.
  • Do apres. Whether it’s a beer for you or a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies with your sweetie, do apres.
  • Ski Divas are a great source of advice.


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Here’s to the Ski Moms!

IMG_3758Remembering our moms is important. They give us life, bring us up, and then bravely, inevitably, let us go. But this Mother’s Day, let’s give a special shout-out to the Ski Moms. After all, it’s the Ski Moms who make sure everyone has the hats, goggles, ski pants, boots, etc. they need on the slopes. Who dress and undress the kids. Assemble the lunches. Haul the equipment. Harbor a secret stash of tissues/sun block/chap stick/energy bars for that unavoidable emergency. Accomodate multiple bathroom breaks and all the dressing and undressing that goes with them. Provide encouraging words after a fall. Drive to and from the mountain. Attend ski races. Wipe noses. Wipe tears. Administer first aid. Put on and remove boots/jackets/gloves/helmets. Make sure nothing gets left behind. Arrange ski lessons. Make sure the kids wear helmets.

For all you do, ski moms, for all your unwavering love, devotion, and support — we salute you!

And to my own mom, who doesn’t ski and never did, here’s to you, too. Thanks for supporting my skiing when I was a kid, and for continuing to support it — without ever asking ‘why’ — now that I’m grown.

Here I am with my mom, and hey! I'm not in ski clothes!

Here I am with my mom, and hey! I’m not in ski clothes!

Happy Mother’s Day!

 



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Should Lindsey Vonn Race Against Men?

Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn

Really, it’s not up to us. This is something for the International Ski Federation (FIS) to decide. Still, it’s an interesting discussion that’s been going on for a while – at least since 2012, when Lindsey raised the idea of competing against the men at Lake Louise. At the time, the FIS rejected her request, saying “one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other” and that “exceptions will not be made to the FIS Rule.”

But Lindsey Vonn is no ordinary racer. We’re talking about one of the best ski racers ever, and the winningest female ski racer in history. She’s racked up 77 World Cup wins, two world championship golds, two Olympic medals — including downhill gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver — and four World Cup overall titles.

This month, US Alpine director Patrick Riml says he’s going to push for rules alterations at the FIS meetings to possibly give Vonn and other female skiers that opportunity down the road.

Is this something that’s going to break down gender barriers, or give women a benefit they didn’t have before?

Not really. The purpose here is not to change the face of World Cup racing in any way. Women would still race in women’s competitions, men in men’s. That’s how it should be. The physical differences between men and women don’t lend themselves to a level field of competition. What’s more, men’s courses are longer than women’s. And yes, there are differences in equipment, too.

According to Lindsey, racing against men is just a personal goal; something she’s always wanted to do. In an interview with the Denver Post (January 16, 2017), Vonn said, “I train with the men all the time and I really enjoy it. They push me to be a better skier. I always find myself skiing my best when I’m skiing against them. I talk to them, I pick their brain, I see what they’re doing and I, in turn, ski faster. So I would like the opportunity to race against them and see where I stand.”

She continued, “I know I’m not going to win, but I would like to at least have the opportunity to try. I think I’ve won enough World Cups where I should have enough respect within the industry to be able to have that opportunity.”

Nonetheless, if it happens, it’s going to generate a ton of interest. And that’s not  a bad thing.

Over the past few years, ski racing has seen a marked decline in TV viewership. This race could change that. After all, Lindsey Vonn isn’t just a star on the ski circuit. She’s someone who’s crossed over into the culture at large. You see her on red carpets, TV shows, and magazine covers. People — and by that I mean non-skiers — know who she is. Which means people who don’t ordinarily watch may find themselves tuning in

Then there’s the whole ‘battle of the sexes’ thing. Way back in the 1970’s, for example, tennis star Billie Jean King took on Bobby Riggs in a TV ratings bonanza that gave the sport a huge boost. Sure, it’s partly theater. But it’s theater that lends itself to ratings gold. And if that helps raise awareness for skiing — and respect for women’s skiing — then I’m all for it.

So should it happen?

Why not? It’d certainly be exciting to watch. And if Lindsey wins, I can’t say I won’t feel a measure of pride for women skiers everywhere. Sure, Lindsey is way above a mere mortal like me. But in a race like this, she’s a stand-in for all of us. So go, Lindsey, go!

If you want to think about women breaking gender barriers in skiing, think about these women, instead:

Jeanne Thoren:  The first person in the ski industry to realize that women were not just miniature men and maybe, just maybe, we needed gear engineered to suit us.

Suzy Chaffee: A three-time world freestyle skiing champion, and the first female member of the US Olympic team board of directors. But I think her most far-ranging achievement is her work as a champion of Title IX legislation. Suzy was instrumental in convincing federal lawmakers to enact the statute that guarantees equal opportunities for men and women in federally funded sports and education programs.

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

Lindsey Van: In 2009, she became the first World Champion in women’s ski jumping after winning the first World Championships to allow women to compete. She also holds the North American women’s record with a jump of 171 meters. Before the Olympic Games in 2010, she held the hill record for both men and women in Vancouver. More importantly, her continued efforts not only helped put women’s ski jumping on the map, but helped put it into the 2014 Olympics.

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

Angel Collinson: Angel is kind of the ‘it’ girl of skiing right now. But not without cause. Angel was the first woman to win the Best Line at the Powder Awards, creating what the Ski Journal called “the burliest—and most entertaining—female film segment of all time.”

Jen Gurecki: What do we do when we’re unhappy with the women’s skis out there? Here’s what Jen did: she stepped up and created Coalition Snow, the first ever woman-owned ski company — not an easy task in an industry that’s dominated by men.

There’s no doubt there are a lot of inspiring women in the ski world; these are only a few. And yes, Lindsey Vonn is definitely among them. But is her race a triumph for women in skiing? Not necessarily. Does she continue to inspire young women in skiing today? Yes. And that’s what really counts.

 

 

 



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Farewell to Wendy

Wendy Cram

Wendy Cram (photo ©Hubert Schreibl)

No, not me. Another Wendy. A Wendy who’s a ski legend and bona fide piece of US ski history.

Wendall Cram, otherwise known as Wendy, passed away this past weekend at the age of 97 at his home in Manchester, Vermont.

Maybe I feel a connection with Wendy because his name is the same as mine. And because he lived in Vermont. And because he loved to both ski and bike (so many similarities!). But truly, he was one of a kind.

Wendy was present at the creation of lift-served skiing in the United States. He was one of the first skiers to get hauled up Gilbert’s Hill in Woodstock, VT, where the first rope tow was installed in 1934. He went on to become a member of the 1940 US Olympic Team, although the Olympics were cancelled due to World War II (his Olympic sweater hangs in the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum). Instead, he joined the 10th Mountain Division in Camp Hale, Colorado, and ended up as an instructor in this elite force. Because of a serious back injury, however, he was never deployed to fight in Europe. (For more about the 10th, see my blog post here.)

After the war, Wendy became an instructor at the glamorous Sun Valley Resort, where he taught his share of movie stars and struck up a friendship with Warren Miller, who was then living in an unheated trailer next door. He still raced, winning the Diamond Sun downhill at Sun Valley, a course with no control gates or padding on the lift towers or trees. He then moved back east and opened a ski shop in Manchester, VT, which he ran with his wife, Annie, until the late 70’s. And for more than fifty years, he worked as an instructor at Stratton.

I met Wendy a few years ago when he was tooling around Manchester on his specially built tricycle. He loved biking, and told me he’d take 60 or 70 mile rides during the week, 30 milers on the weekend. Here I am with Wendy and his bike:

Two Wendy's:  Me and Wendy Cram

Two Wendy’s: Me and Wendy Cram

Manchester even named a bike path after him:

Sign for Wendy's Way Bike Path, Manchester, VT

Sign for Wendy’s Way Bike Path, Manchester, VT

If there’s a ski paradise, you can be sure that Wendy is there right now, happily laying down tracks in some heavenly powder.  RIP, Wendy.



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Rest In Peace: EpicSki is Shutting Down.

UnknownPut on a black armband, light a candle, hang the black crepe: the internet ski world is in mourning.

EpicSki, the biggest ski community on the web, announced they’d be going offline on April 27*. And yes, it is indeed a tragic loss.

Since 1999, Epic has been the go-to source for ski information and fellowship. Whatever you wanted to know about skiing, you could pretty much find it on EpicSki. In fact, it helped inspire me to start TheSkiDiva.com more than ten years ago.

The loss to the internet ski world can not be overstated.

So why is it disappearing? Vail Resorts, which bought the site a few years ago, is pulling the plug. Word on the street is is that the site was using a software platform known as Huddler that could only run on Huddler’s own hosting platform, and Huddler is shutting down. The trouble, they say, is that there’s no easy way to migrate the forums to another more mainstream forum product.

To me, this makes no sense. Vail has very deep pockets, and I’m sure they’ve known this was coming for a while. I’ve long contended that Vail bought EpicSki for the url and name (Epic is the name for Vail’s pass products) as well as for its members list. Maybe it served its purpose, and they’re done with it now. Who knows.

But regardless of what’s really going on, a lot of amazing content will be permanently lost. It’s sort of like someone set fire to the biggest ski library on the planet, and then decided to block the roads so the fire department can’t get through. (I understand this on a deep level, since the oldest of the discussions at TheSkiDiva.com still get accessed regularly by visitors seeking info.)

EpicSki had a ton of members, and I’m sure many of them are a complete loss as to what to do now. Online communities share a lot of similarities with those in the real world. You meet people and develop relationships. You use it as place to gather, learn things, and exchange ideas.

But even though Epic is gone, take heart: There are many other ski communities on the web — maybe not as large as Epic, but certainly places to get your ski fix and connect with others who share your passion.

TheSkiDiva.com stands alone among them as a women’s only ski forum. We’re a fun, supportive community where women can come together to talk about everything and anything ski-related in a non-testosterone charged environment. I started the community ten years ago because I didn’t think the major ski communities gave women the respect and attention they deserved. We were marginalized, treated as an interesting side-line. Just an afterthought on the slopes.

That’s not the case at TheSkiDiva. Women’s skiing,  women’s gear, and women’s concerns are front and center. Today, the site has more than 5,000 members from all over the world, and is respected as the leading online community for women skiers. We develop relationships on and offline. We take trips together. We share one another’s joys and sorrows. In short, we’ve become a community in the real sense. And yes, that makes a difference.

So if you’re a casualty of the Epic blowup and are looking for a new online home, please, stop by and check us out.

And don’t worry. We’re not going anywhere.

 

*Editor’s Note [April 27]: The deadline has been extended til May 12.

 

 

 

 



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Is Consolidation Good or Bad for the Ski Industry?

Unknown-1In recent weeks, the ski world has been rocked by a number of acquisitions: Vail bought Stowe, and then Aspen and KSL Capital Partners formed a partnership that led to the purchase of Intrawest resorts, followed by Mammoth, June, Bear, and Snow Summit.

UnknownConsolidations are nothing new, though they seem to be getting more and more common. Let’s take a look at the biggest, so you understand who owns what (keep in mind, though, that things could change any moment):

Vail Resorts owns Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and Keystone in Colorado; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Park City and Canyons in Utah; Afton Alps in Minnesota; Mt. Brighton in Michigan; and Stowe in Vermont.

Aspen-KSL Capital Partners owns Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, Winter Park, and Steamboat in Colorado; Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, and Mammoth in California; Snowshoe in West Virginia; Blue Mountain in Ontario; Mont Tremblant in Quebec; and Stratton in Vermont.

On the smaller side, there’s Peak Resorts, which owns Alpine Valley, Mad River Mountain, and Boston Mills/Brandywine in Ohio; Attitash, Wildcat, and Crotched in New Hampshire; Hunter Mountain in New York; Jack Frost and Big Boulder in Pennsylvania; Mount Snow in Vermont; Hidden Valley and Snow Creek in Missouri; and Paoli Peaks in  Indiana.

And let’s not forget Boyne Resorts, which owns Big Sky in Montana; Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain Resort in Michigan; and Crystal and Summit at Snoqualmie in Washington. Boyne also has long term operating agreements with —but does not own — Brighton in Utah, Cypress Mountain in British Columbia, Loon in New Hampshire, and Sugarloaf and Sunday River in Maine.

Skiing on Aspen Mountain, Aspen, Colorado

Skiing on Aspen Mountain, Aspen, Colorado

So is this good? Is it bad? And what does it mean for skiers?

Depends by what you mean by good and bad. After all, it’s a matter of perspective.

For skiers,  it may mean lower lift prices — at least for now. For example, let’s look at what’s been happening in Vermont. Days after Vail bought Stowe, Killington slashed the price on adult season passes by several hundred dollars, to $899. Sugarbush dropped the price of its early-bird adult season pass from $1,149 to $799, extended discounts to skiers up to age 40, and announced that it would join the Mountain Collective network for the first time. And Stowe became part of Vail’s multi-resort Epic Pass, which means skiers will pay less than half of the $1,860 Stowe charged for its adult pass rate this season.

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

But still, I’m conflicted. I’m always a little nervous when one company gets too big in any particular industry, and I’m afraid this is what we’re seeing here. Sure, Aspen-KSL and Vail are doing well now. But a bad year could cause problems not just at the Mother Ship, but at all their resorts, across the board. What’s more — and this applies to Vail, a publicly traded company — there’s a responsibility to shareholders to continually improve its bottom line. And this doesn’t always engender practices that are to customers’ liking. For example, If Vail decides to increase its lift prices, a lot of people at a lot of mountains are screwed. The competitive incentive is gone. And that’s not good.

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

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

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

Are there ways for smaller areas to stay competitive with the consolidated resorts? Not many. In recent years, the ski industry has seen little to no growth, so skiers who go to one resort tend to take  business away from someplace else. In short, one resort tends to cannabilize another. For example, Vail sold about 50,000 season passes less than a decade ago. Now the number is closer to 550,000. These skiers are choosing Vail over some other resort. And while it’s great for Vail, it’s not so great for wherever it is they’re not going. One organization that’s trying to help smaller areas compete is Mountain Riders Alliance. MRA is involved in forging partnerships with community ski areas to help them become sustainable, community-oriented playgrounds that focus more on skiing than on real-estate development. I interviewed Jamie Schectman, one of MRA’s co-founders, here.  He has an interesting perspective that’s worth checking out.

So what does the future hold?

Don’t expect to see many changes for ’17/’18. The Intrawest resorts will honor current passes for next season, including the Rocky Mountain Super Pass and the MAX pass. And according to Mike Kaplan, Aspen Skiing’s president and CEO, there are no immediate plans to change lift ticket prices or amenities at any of the acquired resorts.

Longer term, things could get interesting. But it certainly makes you wonder who’s next in the acquisition line-up. Jackson Hole? Crested Butte? Telluride? Sun Valley? Will Aspen-KSL and Vail make further inroads into the East? And what about the smaller groups, like Powdr or Boyne? If Intrawest can be acquired, can one of these be purchased, too? Will we eventually be left with just two ski companies?

One thing’s a pretty safe bet: We haven’t seen the end of this trend. Stay tuned for more…….

 



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