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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Announcing TheSkiDiva’s Best of the Year: Our 2017 Mountain Top Picks

It’s the season for awards. This past weekend the US Ski Hall of Fame inducted its Class of 2016, which included three women: Ellen Post Foster, Marion Post Caldwell, and Gretchen Rous Besser (for more about them and the other inductees, go here). Congratulations, one and all.

MTP-2017But that’s not the only award that’s being handed out right now. Because at TheSkiDiva, we’ve come up with our Mountain Top Picks — our selections of the best of the best in skiing for the past year. Sure, there’s no fancy-dancy ceremony, no gold statuette, and no certificate with ornate Latin script. And no, you won’t see any celebrities posing on a red carpet with paparazzi taking pics. Instead, our winners just get the satisfaction of knowing they’re a favorite of all of us at TheSkiDiva.com — which by itself, is pretty darn cool. And yes, they can even use the logo here, if they want. S’okay.

So now, for your reading pleasure, here are TheSkiDiva.com’s Mountain Top Picks for 2017:

[Drum roll here]

Ski Gear
Favorite ski for groomers: Volkl Kenja
Favorite ski for deep snow: Nordica Santa Ana
Favorite all mountain ski: Blizzard Black Pearl
Favorite ski boot brand: Lange
Favorite Ski Goggle: Smith IO/S*
Favorite Helmet Brand: Smith Vanage

H16-VAMBLGMIPS

Favorite Helmet Brand: Smith Vantage Helmet

Ski Apparel
Favorite Brand of Baselayers:  Smartwool
Favorite Brand of Socks: Smartwool*
Favorite Jacket Brand: The North Face
Favorite Brand of Ski Pants: Arc’teryx*

Favorite Base Layer: Smartwool

Smartwool Base Layer

Ski Resorts
Favorite Eastern Resort: Sugarbush
Favorite Western Resort: Mammoth
Favorite Resort, eastern Canada: Mont Tremblant*
Favorite Resort, western Canada: Whistler-Blackcomb*
Favorite European Resort: St. Anton
Favorite Women’s Clinic: Okemo Mountain Resort
Favorite Kids Program: Smugglers Notch

Favorite Eastern Resort: Sugarbush

Sugarbush

*Second win in a row! For a list of our 2015 Mountain Top Picks, go here.

Congratulations to all!



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How To Survive Spring Skiing.

I always welcome spring with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love the warmer weather, the longer days, and the soft, carvable snow. On the other, spring signals the winding down of ski season. And to me, that’s a big deal. Skiing is more than just a sport to me. It’s a passion. And watching it disappear for 6-plus months is a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

Really, I have nothing to complain about. It’s been a great season. We’ve had a nice amount of snow here in New England, and as of today, I’ve had 75 ski days, with hopefully, more to come. I’ve skied at 14 different mountains (including a private ski area), attended a women’s clinic, and been to Diva West, Diva East, and our new this year Diva Mid-Atlantic. And even though my ski days are dwindling down, it’s important to remember that ski season will come again. Of that I have no doubt.

But in the meantime, let’s live in the moment and enjoy what we have left.

Me at Okemo, April 13, 2015

Skiing at Okemo, April 13, 2015

Spring skiing is a completely different animal from skiing in say, early season or mid-winter conditions. And though I’m not an expert,  there are a few things I’ve learned over time about skiing this time of year:

1) Wear sunscreen: The sun is higher in the sky than it’s been all winter. So even if you haven’t dipped into the tube of SPF 30 yet, now’s a good time. After all, researchers have discovered that even a little tan isn’t healthy. More than 2.5 million cancers in 3 million people are diagnosed  annually. If you want the look of a goggle tan, try some make-up, instead.

2) Wax your skis: You know that grabby snow that can bring your skis to a stop, while your body continues to travel? Not good. A coat of warm weather wax will fix that right up. Carry some rub-on in your pocket, too, for touch-ups on the mountain.

3) Dress accordingly: Layers are a good idea. It may start out pretty cold and warm up quite a bit, so you may want to peel as the day goes on. Also, no matter how warm it gets, do not wear short sleeves or shorts. Why? If you fall, you’re gonna pay big time. Falling on snow is like falling on sand. The ice crystals will scrape your skin raw, plus you’ll get very, very wet. So protect your skin, stay dry, and wear a shell.

4) Timing is everything: If the temps are still dropping below freezing at night, you might want to start your ski day a little bit later than usual. This is practically sacrilege coming from me; I’m always out when the lifts start running. But if you want to avoid rock hard ice, stay in and have another cup of coffee. Then follow the sun around the mountain. Ski the south and east-facing slopes in the morning and the north and west-facing slopes in the afternoon, so you can catch the snow as it softens up. Conversely, if you don’t get an overnight freeze, get out there as early as you can so you can ski before the snow turns  into a gloppy, sticky mess.

5) Softer and wider is better: Set aside your narrow waisted carving skis and go for something wider. Powder skis have a bigger surface area that lets them to surf over the heavy stuff  without getting bogged down.  They also have a softer flex, which allows them to bend more, so you don’t have to steer as much.

6) Ski it like you mean it: Keep a balanced, even weight on each foot. Also, steer lightly by tipping the skis on edge ever so slightly to turn. To put it simply, slow moves, long turns. Let the tails follow the tips, and don’t twist your feet too much. Commit to the fall line and don’t spend too much time shopping for good stuff.

7) Enjoy! A lot of people end their ski season when they no longer see snow in their own backyard. This is good for those of us who stick it out. The mountain is a lot less crowded. Quieter. Just the way I like it.

So what’s your spring skiing tip?



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Which Multi-Resort Season Pass Should You Choose?

Getting a season pass used to be fairly simple. You decided which mountain you’d ski the most, handed over your credit card, and that was that. Easy peasy.

Lately it’s become a lot more complicated. Ski resorts have teamed up to offer joint passes that are good at multiple locations. On the upside, these can save you a lot of money. With daily lift passes at many resorts well above $100., the pay-off comes pretty fast. The catch is figuring out which pass is best for you. You pretty much have to 1)  decide on next year’s ski plans a year in advance and 2) have a ph.d in Math, like my son-in-law, to figure out which one makes most financial sense.

So here’s a limited compilation about what’s out there.

In the West:

listingRocky Mountain Super Pass: Unlimited skiing at Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Eldora with six days at Steamboat and three days at Crested Butte Mountain Resort.  You also get 7 days at four resorts in Japan and two in New Zealand. The price is $529. for adults, through April 11. That’s up from $499 for 2016-17. And for a second year in a row the Rocky Mountain Super Pass provides a free kids pass (12 and younger) with the purchase of an adult pass.

epic-pass-logo2(1)Epic Pass: Click on the Epic Pass link, and you’ll find 13 varieties of this pass. Here are four of the more popular:

The Epic Pass: For $859., you get unlimited skiing at 11 major resorts, including Colorado’s Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin, as well as 30 European resorts across Austria, France, Italy, and Switzerland.  You also get six Buddy Tickets if you buy before April 9, and six Ski-With-A-Friend tickets at varying discounts, which are automatically loaded onto your pass.

The Epic Local Pass, offers unlimited, unrestricted skiing or riding at Breckenridge, Keystone, Wilmot, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton and Arapahoe Basin with limited restrictions at Park City, Heavenly, Northstar & Kirkwood. Also includes a total of 10 days at Vail, Beaver Creek and Whistler Blackcomb with holiday restrictions. $639. for adults, with lower prices for teens, college students, and children. In addition to six buddy tickets (if you buy before April 9) and six Ski-With-A-Friend tickets, you get:

• Half-price pass holder tickets available during restricted dates at Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood;
• Advanced lift ticket rate available during restricted dates at Vail and Beaver Creek and beyond 10 days;
• Unlimited access to Vail and Beaver Creek in April 2018 available to pass holders who purchased their 2017-2018 passes before 5/29/17;
• 2017 Summer Scenic Access.

The Summit Local Pass, Unlimited skiing or riding at Keystone and Arapahoe Basin with limited restrictions at Breckenridge. Same side benefits as above. $529. for adults.

The Tahoe Local Pass, Unlimited skiing or riding at Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood 7 days a week, with limited holiday restrictions. Saturdays included at all resorts. It also includes 5 total restricted days at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City or Arapahoe Basin.

PA-Logo-Stacked-v2-895x217Powder Alliance:  Buy an anytime season pass to any of 15 areas and receive three free days at all the rest. Powder Alliance Resorts include Angel Fire, Arizona Snow Bowl, Bridger Bowl, China Peak, Crested Butte, Kiroro, Mountain High, Mount Hood, Schweitzer, Silver Bowl, Sierra at Tahoe, Snowbasin, Stevens, Timberline, Whitewater, Wild West Powder Quest.

d5bbb8e18cf3c3cd310bb2d137955221Mountain Collective Pass:  The MCP gives you two days at a wide range of ski resorts (and for a limited time, three days at the mountain of your choice). New for ’17/’18,  Utah’s Snowbasin and Vermont’s Sugarbush, which replace the Vail-incorporated Whistler and Stowe. The collection of independent ski areas includes Aspen-Snowmass, Alta, Banff Sunshine, Jackson Hole, Snowbasin, Snowbird, Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows, Sugarbush, Sun Valley, Taos, Telluride; in Canada, Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, Revelstoke;, and in the Southern Hemisphere, Thredbo and Coronet Peak-The Remarkables. This year the Mountain Collective splits Alta and Snowbird into two resorts, offering two days at each and offers the same deal at Canada’s Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise ski areas. The price: $399. For a limited time, you can get $1 passes for kids 12 and younger with the purchase of an adult pass.

Ski Utah Silver and Gold Passes: These are a bit costly, but if that’s what you want, who am I to judge? The Ski Utah Silver Pass allows the holder to ski for 30 days at each of 14 Utah ski resorts (30 days at Alta, 30 days at Deer Valley, 30 days at Sundance, etc.), except for Park City, where it’s valid for 60 days of skiing. The price? $3,150 The Ski Utah Gold Pass offers 50 days of skiing at each Utah resort, except for Park City, where it’s valid for 100 days; however, the pass is also fully transferable pass so your friends and family can enjoy your same privileges on the days you’re not using the pass. A cool $4,800.

The Gold Tahoe Super Pass: Worried about buying a season pass and not using it? Here’s one with a  worry-free guarantee. The Gold Tahoe Super Pass gives credits for unused days that can be put towards the following season. Skiers get unlimited access to Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, plus 2 free days at Zermatt, Switzerland, and unlimited 50% discounts on lift tickets at Mountain Collective resorts. But if you’re unable to ski at least five days during the upcoming season for any reason (not just poor conditions) on your 2017-18 Tahoe Super Pass, they’ll credit you up to 4 days towards your 2018-19 pass when you purchase a Gold or Silver pass. $869. til April 18.

california-cali4nia-ski-passCali4nia Pass: One pass covers Mammoth, Bear, June, and Snow Summit. There’s a host of benefits when you buy early, including 5 exclusive Early Up events at Mammoth, 5 Bring-A-Friend tickets, 10% off rentals, 10% off retail when you spend more than $100., and up to 20% off lodging at Mammoth Lodging Collection properties. $749. through April 3.

In the East:

 Ski Roundtop/Liberty Mountain/Whitetail Pass: Includes unlimited access to Ski Roundtop, Liberty Mountain, Whitetail Resorts. You also get 30 minutes early lift access Thursday through Sunday, preferred parking at Roundtop on weekends and holidays until 5PM,  50% off regular class lessons, two snow tubing tickets valid Monday through Thursday non-holiday, one free Learn to Ski or Board Package for a friend, special hotel rates at the Liberty Hotel, 15% discount in the sports shops, and 50% off midweek/non peak tickets at Mountains of Distinction resorts. $469. for adults.

superpassWhite Mountain Superpass: Valid every day of the 2017/18 winter season at Bretton Woods, Cannon, Cranmore and Waterville Valley. $979. before May 31.

 

 

NEPass_logo-bw-180New England Pass: Includes unlimited access to Sunday River, Loon, and Sugarloaf. $1,099. before April 30.

 

 

PeakPassPeak Explorer Pass: Unlimited days at Mount Snow, Attitash, Wildcat, Crotched, Hunter, Jack Frost and Big Boulder, along with discounts on retail, lodgings and activities. $599. until April 30.

 

UnknownFour.0 College Pass: This is for the full-time college student who wants unrestricted access to Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Killington and Pico at a price that fits a student’s budget. Includes resort-specific benefits. $369. through August 31.

logoVermont Travel Club Card: Get varying discounts at 11 Vermont ski resorts plus Sunday River. Individual cards are $54., Family cards (up to 5 members) are $179.

 

East & West, Combined

MAX_Pass_Logo_highresThe MAX Pass: The MAX pass advertises five days each at 44 mountains with zero blackout dates. You can find the full list here; this year their new offerings include Belleayre Mountain, Gore Mountain, Granite Peak, Lutsen Resort, Whiteface Mountain, and Windham Mountain. You can buy the pass outright for $629. through May 1. But if you have a season pass at one of the 44 mountains, you can buy a MAX pass add-on for just $329. The web site has a handy calculator that tells you the savings you’ll get by using the MAX Pass.

Mountain Playground Card: I don’t have a price on this one yet, but this year, the $29. card got you great deals at a variety of smaller, community-oriented ski hills. You also got deals with brand partners, and helped benefit SheJumps, a non-profit geared toward increasing the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities. More details on the ’17/’18 season to come in the Fall. To find out more, go here.



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Skiing at a Private Resort: The Hermitage Club, Wilmington, VT

Have you ever wished you had your own private ski hill?

Yep, me, too.

If you’re a member of the Hermitage Club in southern Vermont, this is very nearly a reality.

logo-hc2Located just down the road from Mount Snow, the Hermitage Club is like a private golf club, but for skiing. You pay an upfront amount — in this case, $85,000 — plus a recurring fee each year. Use of the facilities is limited strictly to members and their guests, and membership is now capped at 1,500 — so you’re virtually assured that even when they’re standing on long lift lines over at Mount Snow, you’ll never find the trace of a lift line here.

I recently spent a day at the Hermitage Club, and was blown away. It’s pretty much a New England skier’s fantasy: great skiing, impeccable facilities, and amazing service — all with no crowds, even during the busiest weekends and holidays.

Things weren’t always rosy at the Hermitage Club, at least before it was the Hermitage Club. Built on the site of the former Haystack Mountain Ski Area, the property once belonged to Mount Snow, and then to the now defunct American Ski Company. It then changed hands a few times, even sitting idle for a period, before being bought by its current owner, Jim Barnes, in 2011. It was that close to joining the roster of lost New England ski areas.

Today, the Hermitage Club is the only private ski club in the East. The 3,200′ mountain features 1,400 vertical feet, 46 trails, and 6 lifts. One of these lifts is a high speed bubble with heated seats, a godsend on the cold day I visited last week, when the wind chill was well below zero.

Here’s a view of the Clubhouse and bubble lift:

Lodge

Hermitage Club Lodge & Bubble Lift, photo by Peter Hines

And here’s the Clubhouse’s main entrance:

Main entrance, photo by Peter Hines

Main entrance, photo by Peter Hines

At 90,000 square feet, the Clubhouse is the largest post-and-beam structure east of the Mississippi. You can’t help but be impressed by the huge vaulted ceiling. And there’s enough room to hold a party in the massive stone fireplace.

The Fireplace

The Fireplace

Lodge Interior, photo by Peter Hines.

Lodge Interior, photo by Peter Hines.

But there’s more here than just a gorgeous clubhouse. Here are some of the amenities that Club members enjoy:

Sweeeeet skiing. True, this isn’t the gnarliest terrain around. But it’s impeccably groomed, has a snowmaking system that covers 90% of the mountain, and provides the feeling of having a whole ski resort just about to yourself. All this translates into a lot of fun.

trail-map2016final

Lots of food choices.  The Hermitage isn’t huge, but it has six restaurants. Which means you have a multiple options. During the Sunday that I visited, there was a buffet brunch in the Clubhouse featuring everything from omelets to sushi to shrimp, oysters, pork chops — you name it, it was there. And it was all really, really good. Here’s my lunch:

Not your ordinary ski lunch.

Not your ordinary ski lunch.

One of the restaurants is located in the Mid Mountain Cabin. You can eat lunch while looking out over the beautiful Deerfield Valley.

mmc-snow

Mid Mountain Cabin

Outstanding service. You know how the genie from Alladin’s lamp says, ‘Your wish is my command?‘ That’s pretty much what it’s like here. You get your skis valeted when you pull up to the Clubhouse, so you don’t have to exert yourself before skiing. They’ll store them for you all winter, and they’ll valet your car, too. There are lots of staff at work here, and they’re committed to making you happy. They’re all terribly polite, friendly, and service oriented.

The Clubhouse: Okay, I know I spent a lot of time talking about this already. But this is not your ordinary ski lodge. It has a bowling alley and a movie theater, private lockers for members and guest lockers for guests, a fitness center, an indoor sauna and lap pool, daycare, and a kids’ arcade.

Spa-ahhhhhh. The Clubhouse also features a spa with 14 treatment rooms where you can get everything from facials to skin treatments to massage. The spa also has private men’s and women’s locker rooms, steam rooms and showers, and a large relaxation room with daybeds and a waterfall. I couldn’t pass up a massage and a facial as my aprés ski, and I practically floated home.

The Serenity Room in the Hermitage Spa

The Serenity Room in the Hermitage Spa

Other activities. If you don’t like to ski, you have other options, too, such as cross country skiing, ice skating, sleigh rides, snow tubing, bonfires, and snowshoeing. And because this is a four-season resort, members have access to year-round recreational activities, as well. In the summer, you can tee up on an 18-hole, Desmond Muirhead-designed championship golf course. Or go fly fishing, swimming, hiking, or more.

Private Concerts: This is for real. They bring in acts like Hall and Oates, Jackson Browne, Huey Lewis, and Counting Crows to perform just for members. You get big names in a pretty small venue. Nice.

So what’d you think, Ski Diva?
The Hermitage Club is a New England skier’s dream come true, but the price tag puts it out of reach for most people. If you have the bucks and the inclination, it’s a pretty nice way to go. If you can’t handle the fees and still want to ski there, you can — but only if you stay at one of the inns owned by the Club. It’s worth checking out.



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Clinic Review: Women’s Discovery Program, Sugarbush, VT

UnknownVermont has 20 alpine ski resorts. And though each has its own particular charm, one of my favorites is Sugarbush. Located in the Mad River Valley, a beautiful region in an especially beautiful state, Sugarbush consists of two main peaks: Lincoln Peak (3,975 elevation, 2,400 vertical) and Mount Ellen (4,083 elevation, 2,600 vertical). Between the two is Slide Brook basin, a wilderness ski area made up of 1,000 acres.

IMG_0488

Sugarbush

So what makes it so special? First, it strikes a great balance between being a skier’s mountain and a family destination. There’s plenty of expert terrain — more than 40% of the mountain is rated black diamond — but there’s enough to keep intermediates and beginners happy. Instead of the broad groomers that make one mountain pretty interchangeable from the next, Sugarbush has terrain with character. There are lots of the traditional, winding New England trails that offer a surprise around every bend. There’s plenty of tree skiing and bumps. And there are spectacular views; look one way, and the Green Mountains stretch out before you; the other, Lake Champlain. What’s more, Sugarbush has what can only be defined as a Vermont vibe. It’s as if the place was weaned on maple syrup. And yes, it makes a difference in the atmosphere.

This past week I had the pleasure of spending a few days at the mountain’s Women’s Discovery Camp. Sugarbush ran two of these this season: one over a weekend in January, and one during the week in early March.  So let’s cut to the chase: Was it good? Would I recommend it? An emphatic yes to both.

I’ve always been a strong proponent of women’s clinics. I even wrote a blog post a while back called Why a Women’s Clinic, which explains why I think they’re so worthwhile. Meredith McFarland, Sugarbush’s Director of Adult Programs, agrees. “It’s a fun, comfortable, supportive environment. The women who come love the camaraderie. It’s just different from learning in a mixed group.”

I’ve attended a few women’s clinics over the years, and I liked what I saw at Sugarbush. Maybe it’s because it has a history. Meredith told me that the clinic at Sugarbush goes back at least 25 years. Although the focus was initially more social than instructional, it evolved over the years to the shape it’s in today.

So what did I like about it?

• Great student/instructor ratio: The clinic I attended had 13 women attendees, the one in January, 20. In general, there’s a 6:1 student/instructor ratio (though my group was 4:1). Which means you get a lot of individual attention and feedback.

• First rate female instructors: Make no mistake, these women are top notch. My instructor, Lisa Segal, is an L-3 PSIA Examiner. In case you don’t now, this is as high as you can go in the instructor hierarchy. It requires a massive amount of  training and expertise. And it showed.

So does it make a difference to have all-women instructors in an all-women’s clinic? I believe it does. As Meredith McFarland said, “I think it’s easier for a female instructor to understand what a woman is asking about some sort of movement. Sure, there are men who are great at teaching women. But I think women instructors generally have better insight into what works and doesn’t work for a woman skier.”

PSIA Examiner, and my instructor, Lisa Segal.

PSIA Examiner, and my instructor, Lisa Segal.

 

• The terrain: I described Sugarbush’s terrain at the beginning of this piece, and the variety makes it perfect for a learning situation. You get to try new skills in a lot of different situations.

• Off slope learning: The first morning of the clinic, we had an address by Terry Barbour, Sugarbush’s Ski School Director. Terry discussed the importance of proper stance along with the uses of edging and turn shape, and took us through a few off-slope drills. Later that day, there was a presentation about new skis. And the next day, a talk about ski boots. So a lot of good information about stuff skiers need to know.

Ski School Director Terry Barbour explains rotation.

Ski School Director Terry Barbour explains rotation.

• Sure it’s a learning experience. But if sure feels like fun! That’s because everyone associated with it — the instructors, the staff —  did their best to make this a low pressure, highly enjoyable environment. Let’s face it: we’re not trying out for the US Ski Team. The idea behind this is to not only make you a better, more confident skier but to amp up the fun factor. And they do.

Instructors and students of the March session

Instructors and students of the March session

• Ski demos: If you want to try new skis, you can. Demoing is a great way to figure out if a particular ski is right for you before you plunk down your hard-earned cash, and Sugarbush had a variety of skis available free to clinic attendees. Usually, you have to pay to demo. So this was an added plus.

• Running gates: OMG this was so much fun! I’m not a racer, so I’ve never had the opportunity to run gates before (full disclosure: these were stubbies). But it gave you a feel for what it was like. And it helped us with our turns.

Running the stubbies.

Running the stubbies.

 

• Videotape analysis: This is pretty standard in any good clinic. Nonetheless, it’d been a loooong time since I’d been taped. And yeah, it’s an eye opener to see how you really ski, particularly when it’s slowed down for frame-by-frame examination. A good way to find out what you’re doing wrong — and right! :smile:

An instructor takes an attendee through videotape analysis.

An instructor takes an attendee through videotape analysis.

• Yoga: We had the option of starting each day with a yoga workout, something I took advantage of.  And why not? Yoga gets your body ready and engaged for skiing. Plus it’s just good for your all around health.

Don’t just take my word for it.

Here are some comments from some of the other women attending the Camp:

• What I really like about the camp is how it not only helps engender a love of skiing, but also helps foster friendships that last. This is the third one of these I’ve attended at Sugarbush. And though the chemistry of each is different, they’ve all been fantastic.

• I love the low pressure environment. Sure, I’m here to learn, but I don’t feel the anxiety that I’ve found in a mixed group. The instructors really know what they’re doing. They’re so supportive. And they make it so much fun!

• I came to improve my skiing and I found a community, and every time I come back, I refind that community.

And then there’s the hotel…..

One of the great things about doing the clinic was staying in the fabulous Clay Brook Hotel, just steps away from the lodge at the base of the mountain (can you say pampered?). Opened in December, 2006, the hotel has accommodations ranging from studios to five bedroom suites. I stayed in a one bedroom unit, which consisted of a full-sized, completely outfitted kitchen, a living room/dining area with a  gas fireplace, a bedroom with a Queen-sized canopy bed, and a bathroom featuring a huge jetted tub. It even had a washer/dryer to take care of dirty ski clothes. If you want to soak out the kinks after your day, you can relax in the hotel’s heated pool or hot tub. Or if you don’t get enough of a work out on the slopes, there’s a fitness center, too.

All my interactions with the staff were extremely pleasant. For example, check in was a snap. They valet your car, unload your gear, and take your skis and boots to the respective ski and boot valets where they’re conveniently stored until you need them again. As for check out: I wanted to ski before I left, so they even put my bags in my car, where they were waiting when my vehicle was brought around at the end of my stay.

Here’s a file photo of the hotel. I love the Vermont barn-influenced design.

Clay Brook Hotel

Clay Brook Hotel

Here’s the living room/dining area of my unit, looking toward the kitchen (you can see the door to the hallway against the wall):

Clay Brook Living Room

Clay Brook Living Room

I also highly recommend the Timbers restaurant, which is attached to the hotel. I had dinner there one night. The food is terrific, and look at this place. It’s reminiscent of the round barns you can find in the area:

Timbers Restaurant

Timbers Restaurant

It was awfully nice to relax in this place at the end of a busy ski day. Truly, I felt like I was in the lap of luxury.

Was there anything you didn’t like?

Hmmmmm……um….no.

The bottom line:

Sugarbush has a great thing going. Granted, it’s probably not for those of you who are thinking about trying out for the US Ski Team. But for the recreational skier who wants to improve their skiing, increase their confidence and have a hell of a good time, it’s definitely worth doing.

 

 

 

 



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A Chat with Rachel Pohl, where Skiing and Art Intersect

Have you ever skied in Montana? I have, and it’s amazing. We’ve had two Diva West gatherings at Big Sky (go here and here), and I’ve been there myself another time or two. The beauty of the landscape, the quality of the snow, the caliber of the terrain, all combine to create a ski experience that’s second to none.

Lone Peak at Big Sky

Lone Peak at Big Sky

So when Montana Tourism contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in talking to Montana born-and-raised Rachel Pohl, a 24 year old skier and artist who resides in Bozeman, I said of course. Rachel is a ripping skier who finds inspiration in the Montana backcountry. Her paintings use bold colors and shapes to create exciting, fanciful representations of the landscape around her.  In short, she embodies the intersection of art and skiing. And the results are quite remarkable.

Rachel Pohl

Rachel Pohl

SD: So Rachel, tell me. Are you a skier who paints or a painter who skis?
RP: I’ve been fighting a cold and an ankle injury, so I haven’t been skiing that much this year. At the same time, this has probably been my most fulfilling season ever, because my work has been taking off and more people have been connecting with it. So I guess I’d say I’m trending toward a painter who skis. For me, right now it’s more meaningful to share my vision of the world with others, and inspire them to get outside and have their own adventures and experiences.

SD: Why do you think skiing and art go together so well?
RP: To me, they’re each a pure expression of my appreciation for being alive. When I ski, I’m immersed in my environment, at peace, and in love with the world, with every snowflake, tree, and swath of blue sky. I have that same feeling when I paint; of feeling so dang excited to be alive that I can hardly contain myself. Also, both involve an expression of creativity on a blank canvas. Painting the places I ski brings everything full circle, although anything I paint echoes the feelings I have when I’m outside.

SD: I understand that a lot of your artwork is about Montana. So what is it about Montana that you find so inspiring?
RP: The landscapes I appreciate most are cliffs and rocky, craggy spires; the sort that are almost fanciful and don’t feel quite real. There’s a lot of that in Montana. We also have really unique sunsets, sunrises and alpenglow; I’ve heard a lot of people say you don’t see anything like it anywhere else. I don’t know how to describe it other than to say that color bathes the landscape in a way it doesn’t anywhere else. Plus it’s home.

SD: How do you decide what to paint? And what are you trying to capture in your art?
RP: I’m drawn to jagged peaks, but I think that’s also changing. I just really appreciate form and filling it in with color. I’m also drawn to certain subject matters and colors. Inevitably, I’ve have experiences where I’ve had no idea I was going to paint that thing or a place existed, and I get inspired and have to paint that. I’m trying to be a bit looser about my style but then a bit tighter about being deliberate with my subject matter. It’s such a dynamic process that I never really know. There’s no formula, and that’s what I really love.

Red Moonlight Sun

Red Moonlight Sun

American Fork Twins

American Fork Twins

SD: I understand you live in Bozeman. I’ve been there, and it’s a very cool town.
RP: Yeah, it has a great art scene, too. There’s something special about it; there’s a great focus on art and appreciation for the nuances of culture. It may be because we’re surrounded by so much ranch land and empty space. There’s room to be quiet there. You don’t have the pretentious attitude you’ll find in other places, which I really appreciate.

Bozeman, Montana

Bozeman, Montana

SD: What about sking in Montana? Do you have a favorite place? What is it about skiing in Montana that makes it so special?
RP: I love skiing Big Sky. I spent three years working with a mentoring program, called Big Sky Youth Empowerment there, where we ski and snowboard with “at risk” teens in the community. I haven’t done the program for a few years now, but it was a very special time in my life, devoting every Sunday to these kids (it’s an all year program actually). The program is flourishing and I encourage people to check it out at byep.org because I have seen first hand how skiing can change the lives of these kids. The program is completely free, mentors volunteer, and Big Sky generously donates tickets to the 80+ participants and 30+ mentors for every weekend for the entire season, every year. That makes it a pretty special place to me!

I also love how unpretentious Montana is, that there are still plenty of ski areas with under $50 lift tickets where people still wear jeans and wool sweaters for outerwear. It is pretty refreshing to return to the essence of the sport, especially at little resorts in Montana.

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For more about Rachel and her art, take a look at the following video. 

 

 



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How To Get The Most Out of a Lesson.

Photo from Smuggler's Notch

Photo from Smuggler’s Notch

I remember once telling a non-skiing friend that I was going to take a lesson. “Why?” she said. “Don’t you already know how to ski?”

Well, yeah, I do. And yeah, I don’t, too. Skiing is one of those things that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Which sounds kind of funny, but trust me, it’s true. There’s always so much more to learn, so many ways to improve. It’s a never-ending process.

Which is the reason I’m writing this today.

Lessons can improve your confidence and expand your options on the hill. The better you ski, the more you’ll be able to do, and to me, that means more fun. But lessons are also an investment in both time and money. So what do you do to make sure you’re getting the most out of yours? To find out, I went to one of the best resources I know — the TheSkiDiva.com — and asked the members there for their input. Here’s what they had to say:

• I think one of the important thing in a group lesson environment is to speak up. You can’t be shy about making yourself heard. In my experience, in many group lessons there is one person who tends to monopolize the instructor’s time and attention. Very good instructors will be able to diffuse this, but I have seen instances where they do nothing. In order to get what you want out of the lesson sometimes you can’t just sit back and be quiet.

• Being nice, respectful, and attentive is going to get you a better lesson than being sullen or difficult. If you don’t like what’s happening in the lesson, communicate that to the instructor – respectfully. Don’t just bitch about it to the other people in the lesson as you’re going up the lift.

• For a parent, it may be useful to provide a quick introduction for a child to a new instructor and pass on any information that might be useful. This is especially important when there’s something that’s not particularly obvious and you know your kid isn’t going to mention it. For instance, when my daughter was 6 or 7, she was already skiing black runs in the southeast, which is not that common. Since she was petite and looked a year of two younger than she was, I would try to make sure a new instructor knew something about her age and ability before the lesson started.

• If you’re a student, be sure to ask what the purpose of the exercise is if you want clarification. “Why are we working on learning pivot slips in easy terrain when I want to learn to ski bumps?” And if you’re an instructor, it might be helpful to say up front, “We are working on precise, effective pivot slips because they are an important skill you will use to steer through the bumps – and you’ll soon see why.”

• For a trip out west from the flatlands, consider the timing of a lesson. While it’s good to have a lesson early in the trip, if you know that adjusting to the high altitude takes a day or two then perhaps plan for the lesson on the second ski day. If you are not a morning person, then look for a ski destination that offers afternoon group lessons if that’s what you prefer. At Alta, it’s possible to schedule a semi-private or private for 2 hours, with the option of extending to 3 hours. That’s handy when working with a new instructor or the weather is changing the day of a pre-scheduled lesson.

• For most beginners, a highly certified (or even just Level 1 certified) instructor is not necessary, but the more specific a student wants to get, the more they are going to get out of a lesson with a higher-level certified instructor. First of all, the time, effort, and money invested in getting to level 3 (PSIA) means that persons who achieve that are not just great skiers, but they have a real passion for teaching and communicating with students. In addition, they have been teaching and learning how to teach longer, and have more experience. They can often quickly and easily change communication style, demos or exercises to help student learn quicker. That being said, I know some excellent Level 2 instructors who have a lot of experience, are wonderful instructors, but for various reasons — time away from work or family, injury/illness/chronic disease — haven’t gone for their Level 3.

•You can always learn something from an instructor, even if you find that you don’t agree with or like what they’re teaching, or even their style or approach. If you’re a chronic lesson taker like I am, mix it up — take some classes that you think might be too easy for you and other times, ones that will push you. Also mix up instructors. One instructor pointed out something so obvious that made such a huge difference, than I can’t believe no one else pointed it out! Maybe the rest of them thought it was so obvious it didn’t need mentioning? Or maybe they didn’t see it… who knows?

• [From an instructor point of view] I think it’s important to come into any type of a lesson with an open mind. Many times what the student wants to work on or terrain they want to ski is NOT what they should be working on or skiing on. I want to know the following: skiing experience, why they are taking a lesson, what would make the lesson fabulous for them, and how they learn. If you know your learning preference, tell the instructor. I had a physical therapist student last year. She told me at the beginning of the lesson that she needed very descriptive, technical explanations and that she did not learn by watching. We had a 3 hour lesson and it was fantastic. I went in to much more detail than I would with some people and she was off to the races. It was phenomenal.

• [From another instructor] If you are in a group lesson and don’t understand something, please let the instructor know. Don’t be afraid to ask for another demo or another explanation. Chances are others in the group are in the same boat.

Ski at your pace. Do not feel obligated to ski faster than your comfort level because of the group speed. If the group is too fast, ask to move to a different group.

Skier levels are to help put groups of people together with similar abilities so that everyone can learn. Don’t be disappointed if you are put with the 6’s instead of the 7’s. The numbers are really meaningless.
Be willing to put yourself out of your comfort zone. If you always go last, try going first. Instructors in a group manage a lot of things and sometimes it is difficult to manage all of the personalities. Go first – be seen! (I often direct who goes first so that everyone gets a chance).

Please be present! Put the phone on silent, be on time and listen/watch not only the instructor but the others in the group. It is amazing what you can learn by watching and listening.

• [And from yet another instructor] If you’re a first timer, be sure to answer the following questions for your instructor:Why do you want to learn to ski? What do you do in real life? Work, sports, other. This gives them a good idea of your learning style without asking. Where are you from? Base elevation can play a big roll in the learning process!

For other skiers, it’d be helpful for your instructor to know the following:Why are you taking the lesson? What is your ski experience (hours, days, years)? What terrain do you feel most comfortable on? What do you want to get out of the lesson? And finally, what are your goals?

One of the best ways to learn is to take one of the many women’s clinics given at resorts around the country; you can find a list of this year’s here. Next week I’m going to attend the Women’s Discovery Clinic in Sugarbush, VT. I’ll report back and let you know how it goes.

The best advice I have for you? Relax , enjoy yourself, and don’t sweat it too much. Remember: skiing is supposed to be fun.



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Gear Review: Kulkea Tandem Ski Duffle

I’m often asked to do product reviews. Which is fine, except when there’s a product I really can’t use. Enter Kulkea Tandem Ski Boot Duffle, a bag especially designed to hold kids ski gear.

You see, I don’t have any little kids. So to do the job properly, I called upon Emily Bryk, a mother of two who has lots to carry to the ski hill. Emily agreed to put the bag to the test, and here’s what she had to say:

When you’re skiing with young children, a lot of the challenges have very little to do with what happens on the hill. There are the snacks. There are the bathroom breaks. Adjusting the boots. Adjusting the boots again. But for me, one of the hardest things is just managing all the gear. The most difficult part about a ski day is sometimes getting to the mountain in the first place.

My 5 year old son has been skiing for two years now. He’s excited about skiing and, in the manner of all kindergarteners, he’s very confident, but he’s still a little guy and he can’t yet be relied upon to pack or to haul his own equipment. My daughter is two and this winter was her first time trying out skis. She’s just going out on some little Lucky Bums toy skis, but she wants to keep up with her big brother. Between the two of them, I’m swamped before my husband and I even start to pack up our own things.

Enter Kulkea’s Tandem boot duffle bag. This bag makes everything easier. It’s a double duffle, large enough to hold two kids’ ski gear and with enough specialized storage to keep everyone organized all day long.

Kulkea (the company name comes from the Finnish verb “to go,” appropriately enough) has designed exactly the bag that every ski parent needs. When I started to open up the Tandem, I understood why: the cooler top means that the entire top of the bag opens, which allows access to every part of the bag. No more twisting and angling to fit boots or helmets and no more wondering exactly which wrinkle the chapstick fell into. With the entire bag opened up wide, it’s easy to load up fast and to check out your gear at a glance.

Kulkea Tandem Bag, all packed and ready to go.

Kulkea Tandem Bag, all packed and ready to go.

And there’s a lot you’ll want to keep track of inside the Tandem. This bag is B-I-G. It holds a startling 64 liters – that’s 13” tall, 32” long, and 12” wide. It could be easy to lose things in that amount of space, but it’s not. The bag has four large interior compartments. Two are designed to hold helmets and boots (they’re ventilated, thank goodness!), and two more designed to hold snowpants, extra layers, and other clothing. On top of that, the lid has two mesh pockets, perfect for smaller items like hats, gloves, or (if you’re me) snacks.

As I was loading the Tandem, I worried that all the gear packed inside would make it too difficult to carry. Honestly, though, this isn’t a problem. The adjustable shoulder strap is padded enough to distribute the load nicely, and the messenger-style structure kept it easy to carry.

In fact, this bag is so big that I used it for my gear as well as my kids’! The Tandem is so adaptable that it got all three of us to the mountain. While the bag promises to fit only boots up to 22.5, I actually fit my 24s in there without a hitch. Want to know how much I could carry?

  • 1 pair of women’s boots in a size 24
  • 1 pair of kids’ boots in a size 19
  • Three (three!) helmets: two kids’ and one adult
  • Three pairs of goggles
  • Three pairs of mittens
  • One pair of toddler snowpants
  • Sandwiches, oranges, and bananas for one and all
  • Gaiters

On the way home from the mountain, things got even better. Those boot compartments? They have grommets for drainage, so damp boots don’t stay damp for long.

So do you need a Tandem? If you have small kids, absolutely. This bag’s size and features make it easy to pack, easy to carry, and easy to organize. I’m not going skiing without it.

Emily with her Kulkea Tandem Bag.

Emily with her Kulkea Tandem Bag.



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