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

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.17.47 AM

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.33.02 AM

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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Learning to ski, new style.

In case you didn’t know, January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. There are great deals all over the place for anyone who wants to learn, and prizes for those who help someone sign up for beginner lessons. You can learn more about all this here.

Me, I first learned to ski a long, long time ago, and to be honest, I can’t remember much about it. Mostly I recall being dragged up the mountain by the rope tow and falling a lot, both on the way up and on the way down. Truly, it’s amazing I stuck it out at all, because not too many people do. Consider this: According to the NSAA Journal, 85% of first-time skiers and boarders never come back. When asked why, they say because it’s “cold, painful, and frustrating.”

In short, no fun.

So when Killington invited me to learn more about Terrain Based Learning, I was intrigued. I’d heard a little about it, but really didn’t know all that much. And I’d never seen it put to use.

For those who don’t know, TBL uses snow features to help beginning students control their speed naturally. This lets them focus on the movements, sensations, and body positions that form the basis of good skiing. Basically, Terrain Based Learning eliminates the traditional anxieties so students can spend less time learning how to stop, and more time learning how to go.

The use of terrain-based features isn’t entirely new. Instructors here and there have been informally using this type of instruction for a number of years. What’s new, though, is the integration of these features into a complete instruction package, as marketed by Killington’s partner, Snow Operating. Snow Operating has 22 resort partners using its TBL method, though Killington’s TBL center is the largest in the United States. Opened in December, it features mini-halfpipes, banked turns, and rollers in a unique, completely enclosed learning environment.

Here’s a little bit of a video overview of the Killington TBL area. As you can see, it’s pretty extensive:

YouTube Preview Image

 

I spent a little bit of time scooting around the center with Killington’s Ski School Director Dave Beckwith and was pretty impressed by what I saw. Students start out on flat snow, getting a feel for their skis. Next up is a mini-pipe, where you slide down one side of a gentle, U-shaped slope and part way up the other. It’s pretty hands-on for the instructor, who literally supports you as you slide until you get the feel for the motion and feel comfortable enough to do it yourself. This is followed by a roller zone that’s a little bit steeper, and then a short trail with banks and berms that guide you through a few turns. “It’s a great way to build solid skills, right from the beginning,” said Dave. “Plus it’s a completely enclosed environment that makes it less intimidating for the new skier.”

Snow banks help a skier learn to turn in Killington's TBL area.

Snow banks help a skier learn to turn
in Killington’s TBL area.

Dave emphasizes that the most important thing about TBL is that it be fun. “I’ve always felt that snowsports instruction is an art,” he said. “There are no hard and fast rules associated with this. We focus more on the outcome of the learning process than on what should and shouldn’t be done. Our goal is to keep people engaged, so the things we’re doing are geared toward that. It makes for a more enjoyable experience.”

According to Dave, Killington’s Learn to Ski program starts before you put your feet on the snow. The resort has a special program to guide never-evers through every part of the process, beginning with equipment rental. “The people who come here are in the car for 4-5 hours running on coffee and a donut,” he said. “We want to make it as enjoyable and easy for them as possible. For example, you don’t typically think of the rental process as fun, but we pay attention to the details to make it that way. We make sure their boots fit properly, because that can make a big difference in how much they enjoy their day. And we help them celebrate the little moments, like the first time they put their boots on. Maybe it doesn’t speed up the process, but it adds value for the guest.”

Dave showed me the special rooms in the Learn to Ski rental area where first-time skiers get fitted with the gear they need for the day. Each room is named after a trail on the mountain and features comfortable, padded benches to make the process as painless as possible.

Rooms

Ski School Director Dave Beckwith in the corridor of Killington’s
special Learn To Ski rental area.

Here’s a fun fact: take four lessons at Killington in their Learn to Ski program and get a pair of Elan skis/binding FREE. If that doesn’t keep you coming back, I don’t know what will.

There’s no question that things have changed a lot since I learned to ski. Killington is doing what it can to keep first-timers on the slopes. I think they’ll succeed.



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A Chat with the CEO of Coalition Snow: Skis Made By Women, For Women.

How many of you ski on women’s gear?

[Looking at you through your screen]

I see. A good number.

If I’d asked this question not more than a decade ago, I think very few of you would’ve raised your hands (or nodded. Or at least said to yourself, ‘me.’) But today, many ski gear manufacturers offer dedicated lines of skis just for women.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

But perhaps not long enough. Because even though the Snowsports Industries of America reported that women were responsible for nearly a third of the $3.4 billion spent in retail in 2011-12, some companies still consider women a secondary market.

Not so at Coalition Snow, a new ski and snowboard company that’s not just run by women; it makes skis and snowboards exclusively for women.

Get a load of their tag line:

“We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for,” a Hopi Indian quote that exudes confidence, moxie, and a determination to take charge of one’s own destiny.

Kind of says it all, don’t you think?

Recently I spoke to Jen Gureki, Coalition Snow’s founder and CEO.

Jen Gureki CEO, Coalition Snow

Jen Gureki
CEO, Coalition Snow

Q. So tell, me Jen, what gave you the idea for Coalition Snow? How’d you get started?
A. I was on a backcountry ski trip in 2013 and talking with friends about women’s skiing. This was about the time that Pretty Faces [the Lynsey Dyer all-female ski movie] was getting started and there were a lot of conversations about how women’s gear doesn’t meet the needs of more advanced women skiers and riders and how that can hold women back. We were saying, oh, wouldn’t it be great if someone would make gear that women like us would want to use, because so many of us use men’s gear. As with many things in life, you can’t wait for someone else to come along and do it for you if it’s something  you want; you have to create it yourself. When we got home I started emailing friends and talking to them about what they thought about this idea: a company of women making skis and snowboards for women. We had a terrific response, so we decided to go forward.

Q. So your decision was based on a general dissatisfaction with the women’s gear that was already on the market?
A. Yeah. Most women’s-specific gear is kind of shoddy and soft and built around this idea that women don’t have enough strength to turn skis or boards. That might be the case for some women, but basing equipment on the idea that women aren’t powerful doesn’t do women any favors. I’ve been living in Tahoe for about 12 years, and most of the women I know are on men’s skis because they have the right stiffness and flex and you can find a more aggressive ski. The problem is often it’s not the right length. So we set out to design skis and snowboards that are a more appropriate length for women, though I do think our stuff is a little bit longer than some women might’ve been told they should be skiing on. The flex pattern is also much stiffer than most women’s skis.

Q. What goes into the design of your skis?
A. There’s no peer review study or literature that talks about how women skis are designed differently. It mostly comes down to where the bindings are placed, so we came at our design from what makes a women’s ski so that women would want to ski on it. We did a ton of market research, both formally and informally, to find out what women want and based our design on that. Last year was our year for testing, prototyping, and research and we went into production this summer so we have a limited edition line: a powder ski, an all mountain ski, and all mountain snowboard. All that info is on our website.

Q. Can you tell me about your skis?  What makes them different from other women’s skis out there?
A. One of the things is length. Both our skis are 173. We really believe that 173 is a good length for many female skiers, unless you’re a real expert or really petite. We also designed the ski to have a rockered tip and tail, so the amount of edge that comes in contact with the snow is a lot less than 173. We figured if we make really short skis, we’re perpetuating the idea that that’s what women need. But what we found in our testing was that even women who were used to shorter skis became better skiers once they got on ours. Yeah, there was a short learning curve. But it actually helps them progress.

So both our skis are 173 with a rockered tip and tail, multiple radius side cut, camber underfoot. They’re really good in transitioning from the pow to the crud to the groomers. We went with a full birch core, because that provides a good amount of stiffness, and one of the things we learned last year was that women’s skis were flimsy and that the tips would go down. We went with a stiffer ski because it would hold up better at high speeds and initiate turns better.

C:UsersUserDesktopNew folder (4)skis Model (1)

C:UsersUserDesktopNew folder (4)skis Model (1)

Q. I have to say I love the graphics. One thing that drives me nuts about women’s skis is when they have all the pretty little flowers and butterflies.
A. Our artists are women, too, and no, not everyone wants pink flowers. But a lot of women don’t want the grim reaper or the skulls and crossbones you’ll find on men’s skis, either, so we went somewhere else.

Q. Where are your skis being produced?
A. We’re working with a factory in Japan, and we’re selling them directly from our website as well as through many online retailers.

Q. How’s response been so far?
A. It’s been amazing from both men and women. We’re not about eliminating or excluding men. They’re a part of what we do. And men who get it – who want to see women thrive – really appreciate our skis. There’s been an outpouring of support from women who I think feel like they’ve been ignored or marginalized by the industry. Let’s face it, the industry is predominately male. People don’t change unless they have to; the status quo has been working very well for the industry, but I think energy has grown around women being perceived in a different way. Women have been demanding that.

Women have been incredibly supportive. For the most part, everyone has been excited and that’s what’s kept us going. About once a week I get an email for phone call from some stranger who says, “We’ve needed this for so long, we’ve been waiting for this.”

Q. How can someone go about demoing your skis?
A. We have demos available in a few shops in Truckee. We don’t have any demos outside of the area because this is our first year, but if there were shops that were interested, I’d be happy to talk to them.

Q. It’s amazing no one’s done this before.
A. I think the reason is that we’re told it’s going to fail.  Lynsey Dyer said that about Pretty Faces. She was told over and over that there wasn’t a strong enough market. The data speaks otherwise. If you look at the data about women’s participation,  it’s on the rise in every single category, so I don’t understand why people feel that way. I think running a business is difficult, especially if you’re getting into a business like this. There are so many challenges. I think it’s definitely the right time to be doing this, and I think that being told you’re going to fail makes people not want to do it.

Q. What do you think has been your biggest challenge in getting this off the ground?
A.I think we’re in the middle of our biggest challenge right now. We’re lucky in that we have really good relationships with people who have been in the industry for a really long time, so we’re getting some good advice. But right now, we’re trying to determine if all that support is going to translate into sales. The only way we’re going to be viable is if people buy our skis. It’s sort of like a big social experiment.

Q. So what’s in the future? Do you plan to expand your line?
A. We’re actually working on that right now. We’re looking to add some longer skis, one with a narrower width, like a front-side ski, also a powder board. We’re doing research right now to figure out what we’re going to produce.

Women wonder why they’re not getting better at skiing. Well, it’s because your gear sucks. You need gear that’ll help you progress. There’s a reason you can’t keep up with your husband or your boyfriend. So we aim to change that.

 



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Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays!

May the new year bring you

PEACE,

HAPPINESS,

GOOD HEALTH,

AND PLENTY OF GREAT SKIING!

(See you back here on January 6!)



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It’s all about the baselayer.

I hate the cold.

I know —  for a skier, that’s practically blasphemous. But it’s true. Well, let me put it another way: I don’t like being cold. So there is a difference.

That’s where baselayers come in. True to their name, baselayers are the foundation for staying warm. And the warmer I am, the longer I can ski. So to me, baselayers are very, very important.

long-johnsYears ago, baselayers were pretty simple. We called them long johns, they were typically cotton, and you really didn’t give them that much thought. But things are different now. There are lots of options available, and it can all get pretty confusing. So let me try to help.

Material Facts

Baselayers come in a lot of different materials, but no matter which one you choose, your objective should be the same: you want something that’s comfortable, easy to move around in, and able to keep you dry by wicking, or transporting, moisture away from your body.

Some of the major players are:

Cotton: You know those long johns I mentioned before? Cotton. With all the other options available, this is something you should be sure to avoid. Never, ever wear cotton as a baselayer. Never. The reason is simple: When cotton gets wet, it stays wet. And when you’re wet, you’re colder. So resist the urge to wear that T-shirt next to your skin. Choose one of the materials below.

Silk: Another oldie but a goodie, silk is a longtime baselayer staple valued for its smooth feel, light weight, and ability to be worn without adding bulk. Some of today’s silk baselayers have been treated to enhance wicking, something conventional silk layers don’t do. On the downside: silk baselayers require hand washing, which can be a bit of a PITA.

Merino wool: Wool used to be big, then it wasn’t, now it is again. Part of the problem was its bad rep. Wool just sounds itchy. That may be because you’re thinking of plain old sheep’s wool. This is baaaaaaaa-d (pardon the pun). Merino wool isn’t like that at all. Its final finish is much smoother than standard sheep’s wool. It’s also soft and has a high warmth-to-weight ratio. And it’s naturally antibacterial, usually for the life of the garment, so it can be worn on consecutive days with minimal odor buildup. Some of the great choices for merino wool include Smartwool, Icebreaker, and Ibex, though other companies offer wool layers, as well.

Synthetics: These are typically less expensive than wool, dry more quickly, and retain their shape better. And while synthetics have a nasty reputation for retaining odors, many companies have come up with technologies that minimize the stink factor. There are loads of companies offering synthetic baselayers, each with its little twist. Columbia Sportswear, for example,  makes baselayers that incorporate its Omni-Tech technology. These are little silver dots on the inside of a garment that they claim reflects and retain the warmth your body generates. [Full disclosure: I'm a member of the Columbia #omniten team, and they send me a lot of cool stuff].

IMG_2048

See the silver dots? That’s Omni-Tech technology.

Patagonia has its popular Capilene series, available in a variety of weights. And Hot Chillys, who recently sent me some of their Micro-Elite layers, combines micro polyester yarns with spandex for a close body fit and full range of motion, then gives it a treatment to prevent odors. Some companies, such as CW-X and Opedix, offer compression-type baselayers, which promise to provide extra support to reduce muscle fatigue. But these are only some of the players out there: UnderArmour, Mountain Hardwear, Arc’tyrex, Obermeyer, MarmotTheNorthFace – really, just about every ski apparel company has a baselayer line. Yes, it can be dizzying.

A Word on Weights

You can get baselayers in a variety of weights: Lightweight, midweight, and heavy. As a rule, the thinner the fabric, the better it wicks and the faster it dries. If it’s not very cold, or if you’re  going to be very active, you’ll want to stick with a lighter weight. Colder, or less active, go heavier. And if it’s really cold, don’t hesitate to wear two or even three layers at once. You can always take one off if you get too warm. It may take some experimentation to nail down the best combination for your activity, and once you do, trust me, you’ll forget by next season.

Also, in order for a baselayer to wick properly, the fabric needs to lay against the skin so it can pick up moisture. So make sure the fit is relatively snug.

Color is the New Black

Open up my baselayer drawer, and you’ll see a whole lot of black. Black has its benefits. It goes with everything, and you can get it from just about any company.  Hot Chillys recently sent me one of their Micro-Elite tops, and yes, it’s black, but it’s really nice. Soft and fleecy on the inside, nice and smooth on the outside, with enough stretch to allow full range of motion. A nice weight, too. Honestly, I figure since baselayers go under things, it doesn’t much matter if it’s black or not.

Nonetheless, black can be boring. So some companies are offering  baselayers in a variety of colors and patterns. Here are a few of the many that are out there.

From Hot Chillys:

HotChillysFiesta

On the wool side, take a look at this from Smartwool:

Smartwool

Or this, from Ibex:

Ibex

 

Or from Helly Hansen:

Helly

A lot to think about, yes?

Bottom line: The baselayer you choose is a matter of personal preference. Select one that keeps you warm, dry, and comfortable, fits within your budget, and works with your activity, and you’re set.

 

 



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Ten great gifts for Ski Divas

Sometimes it’s tough to know what to get a Ski Diva for the holidays. Ski gear can be très cher, so if you don’t want to break the bank but still leave her smiling, here are ten gift ideas for the Ski Diva in your life (If you’re a Diva, send Santa a link. He may need some help.):

 

Ski Diva necklace or earrings: What better way for a Diva to let the world know of her love for skiing than with Ski Diva jewelry. Handcrafted of sterling silver by Wenda in Vermont (not me; I’m Wendy) and available in a variety of stones, either one — or both! — makes a great gift choice. (A caveat: each of these is made to order, so if you want one for Christmas,  better order now!)

necklace

 

Earrings

 

Pretty Faces DVD: Lynsey Vonn got a bit tired of always seeing guys featured in ski movies, so she went ahead and made one with just women.  I’ve seen it, and it’s a blast. The skiing’s fantastic, the scenery’s breathtaking, and even better, it demonstrates that skiing isn’t just a man’s game. I featured a review of it here, so check it out.

WME_Poster

Double Black, a Ski Diva Mystery: “When Stacey Curtis found a dead man on the bed, she knew it was time to get her own apartment.” How can you stop reading after a first sentence like that? Double Black features a young woman who leaves her cheating finance and moves to a Vermont ski town only to find that all’s not right in Green Mountain State. Okay, I’ll admit it — I’m the author. Available in hardback, paperback, and as a downloadable ebook.

 

Double Black

 

You can also get a variety of SkiDiva wear at our Ski Diva store:

Spirits

 

SkiLikeAGirl

 

Black Diamonds

 

Don’t know her size? No problem. Choose a hat or a mug:

Ski Diva Hat

 

Mug

 

Or there’s TheSkiDiva Cooks, a collection of recipes from members of the TheSkiDiva.com. If you like to eat (and who doesn’t), pick up one of these. There’s some seriously yummy stuff in here.

 

SkiDivaCooksFrontSmall

 

 

Happy shopping, and a very happy holiday!

 

 

 



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A Review: GetOutfitted.com, Ski Apparel Rental Made Easy

GObadgePicture this: you’re a family of five living in Florida who wants to go on a ski trip, and you don’t have any ski clothes or equipment. Or your kids have outgrown their jackets and you don’t what to shell out a fortune for your annual trip to Summit County. Or your friend wants to try skiing for the first time, but doesn’t have appropriate ski wear.

Until fairly recently, there were two choices: you could either forget the whole deal and stay home, or you could open your wallet and let the bloodletting begin.

Not good.

That’s where a new company called GetOutfitted comes in. GetOutfitted will rent you whatever you need for a ski trip for a short time and have it delivered to you free via FedEx to wherever you’re going.

That’s the key: have it delivered free to wherever you’re going. I know there are local ski shops that’ll rent out apparel or gear – sometimes one, sometimes the other. GetOutfitted does both online, so there’s no packing, no schlepping, no running around pulling things together. A true one-stop shopping experience.

When GetOutfitted contacted me and told me about their service, I thought, ‘Genius! This is something I’d like to find out more about.’

So I did. Here’s the story: GetOutfitted was started by Julian Flores, a former school administrator, in 2013. “I came up with the idea after my wife rented a designer dress online from Rent the Runway,” he said. “Outside of fashion and film, the web rental economy is strangely underdeveloped. I’ve lived in Colorado for a long time and never took full advantage of the all outdoors has to offer in this state. GetOutfitted lowers the barriers of entry to the outdoors so people like me can enjoy the outdoors and try new things.”

GetOutfitted offered me the opportunity to try their service free of charge. Here’s what I learned:

The online experience

If you’re like me, you want this to be simple. It is. Directions on the GetOutfitted site are clear and the graphics are good. It’s easy to navigate and figure out what you have to do to make your selection and pay your way.  There are loads of pictures of the items they rent. For clothing, you can dial in your selections by color, brand, size, or even by choosing “warm, warmer, and warmest.”  Or you can choose a pre-selected package.  Whatever works.

After that, you just choose how long you want to keep your items – 3 days, 5 days, or 10 days — enter your shipping and billing information, and bingo! Your shipment is on its way.

Shipping and receiving

GetOutfitted apparel arrives beautifully packaged.

GetOutfitted apparel arrives
beautifully packaged.

This is really nice. The company will ship your order free via FedEx to wherever you want it to go. If you’re renting a condo in Vail, no problem. Which means you don’t have to cram a lot of stuff in your suitcase. After you place your order online, you get a confirmation email that tells you that your shipment is on its way and when you can expect it to arrive. When you want to send it back, no problem. They provide you with a package that you just drop in the mail, pre-paid. Easy, peasy.

Product

You can rent anything you need for a ski vacation: jackets, pants, midlayers, base layers, goggles, socks, even a camera. And yes, you can rent skis or snowboards, too. Product selection is good, and even better, it’s not junk. There are a lot of high-end brands. In clothing, there’s Patagonia, Obermeyer, Marmut, Dakine, Helly Hanson, Burton, and more. I ordered the Regatta jacket and the Malta pants, both from Obermeyer, and was very impressed. The cost: $36. for three days for the jacket, and $30. for the pants. Customers also have the option to purchase gear insurance for their items in case damage occurs, but the company says they’re pretty understanding about accidents. That said, thoroughly damaged items will be charged to the customer for their remaining value, so keep that in mind.

I loved the jacket & pants sent to me by GetOutfitted.

I loved the jacket & pants
sent to me by GetOutfitted.

For skis and snowboards, GetOutfitted partners with local ski shops to fulfill either a performance or premium package that includes boots, poles, and skis — helmets, too, if needed. The local shop will deliver the items to your door and fit you, as needed.  Right now this service is only limited to locations serviced by Black Tie rentals, so it’s only available in western locations. This may change in the future.

So here’s what we all want to know: is it gross to wear something that’s already been worn by someone else? No. According to the company, every item is professionally cleaned so that it looks, feels, and performs like a brand new item each time it’s used.  Be careful, though — you may fall in love with the items you rent. That’s okay, too. GetOutfitted offers its customers a buy option, in case you do. Pretty sweet.

So what’d you think, Ski Diva?

Pros:

This is a smooth, stress-free way to get ski apparel and gear for an occasional ski vacation. I was impressed with the entire experience. The clothing was top quality, it arrived quickly and beautifully packaged, and yes, I fell in love with the items I received. If I were in a situation where I needed either clothing or equipment for a limited period of time, this would definitely be the way to go. It’s one-stop shopping with minimal hassle. My cup of tea.

Cons:

I’m stumped. Truly. The only thing I could think of, and this is because I’m pretty short, is that they could offer women’s ski pants in shorter lengths. A wider variety of colors might be nice, too, to go with some of the jackets. But really, that’s pretty minor stuff. For just a few days of wear, really, what’s the difference?

Would I recommend this service? Absolutely.

So two ski poles up to GetOutfitted. Good job, guys!



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A Conversation with Beth Howard, New GM of Northstar California

Beth Howard,  GM, Northstar-at-Tahoe

Beth Howard,
GM, Northstar California

I’m not sure why, but the upper levels of  ski industry management is primarily a man’s world. According to statistics from the National Ski Areas Association, there are only about 20 to 30 female general managers nationwide. So when I received a press release from Vail Resorts announcing that they’d named Beth Howard as General Manager of Northstar California, it got my attention. What does it take for a woman to rise to the top of the ski industry heap? How’d she get there? I spoke to Beth last week, the day before Northstar opened for the season.

Q: Hi, Beth. Congratulations on your new position. So have you started as General Manger yet?
A:  I’m in my third week.

Q: And opening day is tomorrow?
A: It is and it’s so exciting! Everyone is out putting together the final touches for our opening weekend. We have some storms coming tonight and over the next few days, so it’s looking like it’s going to be a great opening.

Q: So tell me, how’d you get started in the ski industry?
A: I started as a college intern 30 years ago. I was in food nutrition and business at the University of Northern Iowa when I applied to Vail. I didn’t know about the ski industry, but I immediately fell in love with the company, the majesty of the mountains, and  the environment I had to work in. I just started to grow with the company; I never imagined I’d be with it for 30 years.

Q: What was your internship in?
A: I was chopping vegetables in Beaver Creek, CO, because it was in the field experience that I needed to graduate in my degree program. That’s how I got hooked. Over the years I  expanded beyond that and learned more about mountain operations, best practices, and guest service initiatives across the resort. Most recently, I was VP of Mountain Dining for the entire company. That allowed me to frequent all the resorts and get a better perspective of all our operations.

Q: How did working in that area prepare you for being the GM? What qualities are required?
A: I look back and I’ve been in a leadership position across my entire career. Even though I was in a very entry level leadership position after my internship, I’ve always been responsible for leading others, leading initiatives and achieving results. Along the way I learned where I needed to hone my skills and strove to push into areas where I didn’t have expertise and become comfortable with that stretch so I could improve those skills.

Q: There aren’t too many women in senior positions in the ski industry. Does being a woman present any special challenges for you?
A: I’ve never focused on the fact that I’m a woman. I’ve always paid more attention to my skills and the qualifications I need to do the job; I’d say that’s been the thread throughout my entire career. I haven’t seen being a woman as a  special challenge. I  also realize that I may be used as role model for other women within and without the company and and I take that very seriously. But I never thought being a woman was a hurdle at all.

Q: Any advice for women who want to enter the ski industry?
A: If you want to be in the ski industry – if that’s your passion — then absolutely enter into that path. I think the most important thing is realizing what your passion is, as well as your aspirations, and then  committing to developing all the skills around that so you can lead a resort one day, if that’s what you choose to do.

Q: What do you like best about being in resort management?
A: I’m very energized to be leading a team of people and dealing with the many complexities of a resort to execute a wonderful guest experience. It’s not an easy path. I think seeing all that come together, as well as the wonderful talent around me and the smiles of our guests —  that’s what’s energized me and kept me so passionate for so long.

Q: What challenges do you think you’ll face as GM?
A: The challenges are similar to what energizes me. There are so many moving parts and complexities involved in running a resort. My focus is making sure we’re all working together as a team and communicating well. We have to stay laser focused on that every single day. We’re already known for our great guest service, but we want to take it to the next level.

Q: How do you think Northstar compares to the other Tahoe resorts?
A: I think it’s our guest service that really makes us stand out. We’re committed to delivering on every touch point,  from the time spent getting on the bus all the way to the rentals to interaction with our lift operators, the snow surface, our warm S’mores in the afternoon at the skating rink — it all makes us special and differentiates us.

Q: Do you have anything new and exciting going on this coming season?
A: We do! I mentioned the S’mores.  We call it S’more Time. At 3:30 everyday in the Village, warm S’mores come out on trays and are served to all of our guests. I think that’s a tradition we’re going to continue. We also have two new things up on the mountain. Starting December 19 at 2PM every day we’re going to have a pop-up champagne bar, where our guests can ski in and have a commemorative toast and relax on Adirondack chairs around a fire pit. Then we’ll take it down so everything can be groomed, then put it back up the next day.  We’re also introducing something called Mountain Table, where we’ve paired with some of our local wineries. Our executive chef will prepare a five course meal with them on select Fridays throughout the winter. For us, it’s another way for our guests to get up on the mountain and have an evening on-mountain dining experience with great wines and cuisine.

Q: I read that Vail is launching an initiative to get women more involved in skiing and boarding. Will Northstar be participating in that?
A: Absolutely! We’re very excited about it. We have a couple new learning options available for women skiers and riders. We have a Women’s Ultimate Four Program, which runs from 10:30 in the morning til 3; that’ll allow them the flexibility to manage all the other things they’re trying to do with the kids, their families, and so on. There’ll be a maximum of four per group, all levels welcome, and they’ll be working with a female instructor. We’re trying to customize programs that would to allow flexibility in the schedule and also give them that wonderful experience up on the mountain. We also have an afternoon beginner program called Ladies First. This goes from 12:30 to 3, and it’ll be offered throughout the season. Again, it allows them greater flexibility with the schedule. We’re hoping this resonates with that group.

Q: Do you have a favorite run at Northstar?
A: I love this mountain. I’m not sure I have a favorite one. I  really enjoy the backside because of the long, wonderful runs.  For a groomed beautiful blue run, Loggers Loop is pretty fun. I think a lot of guests would enjoy that as well. I think after I get this first season under my belt I’ll have a lot more favorites.

Q: Do you get a chance to ski very much?
A: Yes. A wonderful part of this job is being out on the mountain a lot.

Q: What do you ski on?
A: I ski on K2s. That’s been my ski of choice. I have a couple pairs, and I love them. I’m on all-terrain superstitions right now.

Q: Does your family ski?
A: Yes! I have an 11 year old son and a husband of 15 years and they both ski, so we’re a skiing family and it fits right in.

Q: And you’re originally from Iowa?
A: Yes. I grew up on a small family farm.

Q: Not a lot of skiing there.
A: No. Not a lot of skiing. But I’m making up for it now.



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And so it begins: My two first days.

At long last.

Like all of you, I’ve been waiting, waiting, and waiting some more for ski season to begin. After all, my last ski day was April 17. It’s been far, far too long.

This week I finally got my turn with not one, but two first days at my two local mountains, here in Vermont: Okemo and Killington. Okemo opened November 15, Killington, Nov 5. And this week, I was ready. This week, I was there.

Getting Ready For The Big Day

You’d think this would be a snap. After all, I’ve been skiing for — let’s just say lots and lots of years. Nonetheless, I think anyone’s first day skiing should be called “National You’re Going To Forget To Bring Something Critical Day.” Because invariably, no matter how much I plan, no matter how many times I fill up and empty my ski bag to make sure everything’s there — I manage to leave something behind. This year was no exception. Yes, I had my boots, goggles, gloves, socks, and helmet. But somehow I managed to leave out my gaiter. Not too big a deal, but still, will I ever learn?

First Day #1: Okemo

The ideal first day is sunny, cold, with great snow and blue, blue skies.

Mine was not like that at all.

Although we had a bit of snow Sunday night, Monday — the day I chose to ski — started out with an icy, sleety mix. No matter, I thought. Maybe it’s snowing on the mountain.

If only. Instead, it was sleeting there, too. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I mean, what’s bad weather? We’re skiers, aren’t we? We laugh at the stuff Mother Nature dishes out. We can take it.

Sort of. To be honest, visibility sucked. I took five runs, then quit. It was just too unpleasant; I looked like a popsicle and felt this side of pneumonia. But on the upside: the snow was soft and there was no one out there (big surprise). Okemo’s been blowing snow like crazy, and it shows. There’s top to bottom coverage, and it looks more like February than November. The mountain says it has 14 runs open, and I guess there probably are. In reality, however, there were essentially three ways down. But they were fun ways, so who’s counting?

It was cool to ski by the construction for the Sunburst Six, the new lift that Okemo’s putting in to replace the old Northstar Quad. It’s a bubble lift! With heated seats! The only one like it in North America, too. Things seem to be progressing nicely — the lift may be ready to spin in early December. I can hardly wait.

Construction continues on  The Sunburst Six, Okemo's new bubble lift.

Construction continues on The Sunburst Six,
Okemo’snew bubble lift.

 

In the meantime, however, if you want top to bottom skiing, you have to rely on two fairly slow lifts to get to the summit. But this isn’t unusual for early season skiing at Okemo, and really, early-December — if they make their goal — is only a couple weeks away (incredible, huh?). So I can suck it up.

Besides the lift, Okemo has a few new things in store this season. The mountain put in 100 new, energy-efficient HKD tower guns and snowmaking pipeline upgrades. This follows a $1 million snowmaking investment they made last winter, so they’ve made great strides in this department. They’re also re-doing their terrain park, in partnership with Snow Park Technologies. So for those of you who are into that, you’re in for a treat.

First Day #2: Killington

Weather-wise, a much better first day than my day at Okemo. Yes, it was colder than one would expect for November (in the teens without the wind, when I started), but it was snowing. And it kept snowing pretty much all morning. Now that’s a ski day.

Lookin' good at Killington

Lookin’ good at Killington

Killington’s been open since November 5, but I’m glad I waited. Until recently, skiers had to download when they wanted to return to the base lodge. That’s all over now. There’s top to bottom skiing, with more set to open by Thanksgiving (they’re making snow pretty aggressively).

How were conditions? Really, quite good. Lots of snow on the trails, no visible rocks, and very good coverage. It was actually a very fine day.

Killington has a number of  things this season you’ll probably appreciate. They’ve added 400 new, energy efficient snow guns this year and are working to improve snow coverage on high traffic intersections. And this is pretty cool: Killington is instituting Terrain Based Instruction in their ski school. In TBI, students are coached on a series of sculpted terrain features before moving on to the larger slopes or up the chairlift. The features help skiers learn to control speed and  promote balance. Killington says their system will be the largest in the country, and second in North America only to Whistler. I plan to check it out for a later blog post. They also tell me they’re improving their signage, which is a big plus. I’ve always had difficulty with Killington’s trail signs, so I like this a lot.

SO — my season is off to a great start. Last season I made 84 days. Will I equal or beat that record? Stay tuned.

 

 



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