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What’s It Like To Ski All of Colorado’s 54 14er’s? A Chat with Brittany Konsella.

One of the coolest things about TheSkiDiva is the variety of women you can find on the forum. We have everyone from beginners to experts, from women who ski every day to those who only go a few times a year. And while each of us is remarkable in our own way, I couldn’t help but be awed by the accomplishment of one of our more recent members: Brittany Konsella is the second woman to have skied all fifty-four of Colorado’s 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet high). A high school math and science teacher by day and a skier, well, also by day but when she’s not teaching, Brittany started her quest in 2006 and finished it five years later. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to her about it.

Brittany climbing Crestone Needle

Brittany climbing Crestone Needle

Q: How’d you get started? And what inspired you?
A: I competed in freestyle skiing for a number of years, and when I quit I was looking for something else to do with the sport. I got into backcountry skiing, and when Chris Davenport made it his mission to ski all of Colorado’s 14ers, that inspired me to get started. At the time I didn’t know of any other women who were doing this, but I thought it was a good goal. And I got some important encouragement. I had a really good ski partner who was a solid backcountry skier and had been on some of the harder 14ers, and I asked him if he thought I could do it. He said definitely. I don’t think I would have even tried if he hadn’t said that.

Q: How’d you prepare?
A: Skiing 14ers isn’t that different from skiing the other mountains around here. Some of them are just a little bigger. So no, I didn’t do anything special to prepare.

Q: How many did you do the first year?
A: The first year I did seven, the next two years I did 23, then 22.

Q: How’d you decide which ones to do next?
A: I started with some of the easier ones and worked my way up to the harder. And I watched conditions throughout the state – the snow and the weather. Other times it was just a matter of making sure the avy danger wasn’t bad, as well.

Q: Did you go alone or with friends?
A: I went with friends, but then I ended up going with my boyfriend, who then became my husband. We met during the first year of my project, after I’d already started. I found out there was this other guy who’d skied one of the other 14ers, and we ended up skiing together. Then we started dating, and he became my main 14er partner. We skied over 30 together. And though he first said he wasn’t interested in doing them all, he ended up skiing a lot of them without me.

Q: What about gear? What did you use?
A: For skis, I primarily used various versions of the Volkl Mantra. A lot of people tend to use lighter skis in the backcountry, but I like skis that are stiff and can drive through variable snow conditions. I had a pair of skis that were light for a little while, and I summited Crestone Peak with them. Conditions were really icy, which is something I usually excel at. But in this case, the skis were too soft, and not at all torsionally stiff. Frankly, I was terrified skiing those conditions on those skis. I sold them the next week.

I skied the 14ers before rocker really took off. Now I’m a rocker addict and I really love my Black Diamond Amperage. They’re the best backcountry ski I’ve ever owned, and they’re great at the ski area, too.

For boots, I started off with the Garmont SheRides. That was the stiffest AT boot they made at the time, but coming from a Lange World Cup Race boot, I might as well have been wearing Sorels! I didn’t really like them, but I got them to work until I got my Scarpa Divas. I liked those quite a bit, but I still wanted stiffer.  Since finishing my 14ers, I’ve finally found happiness with my Black Diamond Shivas. They’re a great stiff boot, but light and comfortable enough to have on long backcountry expeditions.

Q:What was your most memorable 14er?
A: Probably Pyramid Peak. It was something I had to go back for three times before I finally skied it. I didn’t have to do that for any of the others, though some I had to go back for twice. The first time I was just too tired to make the hike, the second time, the weather shut us down, and the third time, we finally did it. And though it was the second most challenging climb, I think it was the hardest to ski. It’s very, very steep – maybe 55 or 60 degrees off the top. The main thing is that it’s over 4,000 vertical feet to the valley floor, so you get this really nice, long ski. The fact that it was my second to the last also made it memorable. And when I first met my husband, that was the peak that he had just skied, so it was cool to be able to ski there, too.

Brittany heading down Pyramid Peak.

Brittany heading down Pyramid Peak.

Q: Which was the hardest?
A: Capital Peak. It was a really difficult climb. I’d say I was fearful for my life for about nine hours straight. It’s very steep and exposed and we had some pretty rough conditions. Basically, if you fell you would probably die. That took 21 hours. It was long and intense and difficult, and I will probably never do it again.

Q: What was your last peak and did you do anything special to celebrate?
A: As I neared the end of my 14er goal, I had some pretty hard ones left and one easy one. A couple other people had skied the 14ers by then, and they advised me not to leave the hardest for last because it puts too much pressure on you. So I did an easier one: Pike’s Peak. A lot people drive to the top, ski down, then hike back up.  And that’s what we did. The road was open within a couple miles of the summit, so we parked and walked to the top from there. To celebrate, I had about 10 or 12 people come ski with me – some of my better partners and friends.

Q: Did you have a real feeling of accomplishment?
A: It was kind of really sad. I thought I’d be elated to be done, but it wasn’t like that at all. I didn’t know what to do next.

Q: You were the second woman to ski all the 14ers. How did you feel about not being the first?
A: When I started skiing the 14ers, only one person, Lou Dawson, had completed them all. By the time I finished, there were eight others before me. Equipment and information finally made skiing them a little more achievable and that’s why so many people went after it at the same time. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed I wasn’t first. But I always knew that was a real possibility. My goal from the start was to ski all of Colorado’s fifty-four 14ers, safely and within five years. And I was able to achieve that goal. Being first would have been icing on the cake, but it was never part of my actual goal.

Q: So what are you going to do next?
A: Every backcountry skier has a list of peaks they want to ski, and that’s what I have. I’m constantly crossing peaks off my list, but the list keeps growing faster than I can eliminate them.

Q: What was your take-away from this experience?
A: I really think that skill and ability are only part of skiing. If you put your mind to something, you can achieve it. For the majority of the 14ers I skied, at least the harder ones, it was more of a mental battle than physical. There comes a point that if you go for 10 hours, you can go for 20. It doesn’t really matter. I think my longest one took 21 hours. There were points when I had some self doubts, but it worked out in the end.

To find out more, check out Brittany’s blog. Go here.



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Lynsey Dyer is making the first all-female ski movie. And she needs our help!

Ever notice how few women there are in ski films? It’s not like I sit there and watch with a scorecard, but the data backs me up: Despite the fact that women make up around 40% of the skiing population and about 30% of the adventure sports film viewership, only 14% of the athletes in major ski films this past season were female. And this was a record of female representation, up from 9% the previous season.*

Lynsey Dyer

Lynsey Dyer

I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. Because Lynsey Dyer — yes, that Lynsey Dyer, world class skier, Powder Magazine Skier of the Year, and ski film star  – is paying attention, too. Like me, she finds the whole thing troubling. But unlike me, she’s actually doing something about it. She’s in the planning stages for the first-ever all-female ski movie, Pretty Faces, and she needs our help.

Lynsey’s already pretty up there in my book. Not just because she’s a phenomenal skier, but because she shares my view that women athletes should be appreciated for their athletic ability instead of how they look in a bikini — which is wrong on so many levels I can’t even address them all here (I’ve written about this here and here, though, if you’re interested). But let’s face it, people pay a lot more attention to Lynsey than they do to me. With good reason. Lynsey wrote an open letter to Freeskier Magazine about the objectification of women in sports that got a lot of people talking. And while speaking out is great, Lynsey walks the walk, too. She’s the founder of, an organization dedicated to encouraging  women to  participate in outdoor activities.

A girl after my own heart.

But back to the movie: Pretty Faces is about demonstrating to the world that women athletes can really kick ass. It promises to be an amazing film that’s designed to inspire women to get outdoors and realize their true potential, both on and off the hill (see the trailer at the end of this post). There’s a glitch, though: The movie is being funded via a Kickstarter campaign, and unless Lindsey raises $60,000 by January 16, it’s not going to happen. Time is rapidly running out and she has a long way to go. So if you’re a woman or anyone who has a wife, girlfriend, mother, friend, cousin, co-worker, or neighbor who’s female (which I guess is everyone), you need to donate now. There’s a lot of cool swag you can get by giving just a few dollars, and the result will certainly be worthwhile.

I spoke to Lynsey about Pretty Faces, and here’s what she said:

Q: Why did you decide to make an all female ski movie?
A: We see it as an opportunity to connect with and celebrate skiing’s female population. The mass media doesn’t offer young girls many good examples of powerful role models. We need to show them there’s more to the world than skinny jeans, reality TV, and fashion magazines — that they have a place in the mountains and what that kind of lifestyle can look like. A lot of  girls stop participating in sports at around 11 to 15 years old. Or they think that if they want to ski, they have to do it like the guys. We want to show them what’s possible on and off the hill so they can live up to their potential.

Q: Why’d  you decide to call it Pretty Faces?
A: It’s a double-entendre. It’s a reference to the phrase “more than just a pretty face,” but it also refers to the mountains, as in “that’s a pretty face, lets shred that one!” Our goal is to show girls that there’s a lot more available to them beyond what they look like.

Q: What’s the movie about and how will it be different from a conventional ski movie?
A: The movie will show what it’s like to be a skier girl at different stages and ages of life. So we have a young character who’s so honest I think we’ll all be able to relate, then a high school girl, then a professional woman who sees skiing as an outlet, then a ski pro, and then a great wise woman who has nothing left to prove and is just out there to enjoy herself. The goal is to show we can all enjoy skiing, even though we come at it from a lot of different perspectives. We’re still looking for some of the characters, so we’re welcoming video submissions.

Q: Tell me more about these  submissions. Why did you decide to go that route, and what are you looking for?
A: We want to encourage inclusivity rather than exclusivity. I know a lot of women feel intimidated when they come out to the mountains. We want to encourage them to feel like they can be part of skiing, too; to feel comfortable in the sport. What’s more, we want to show girls that they have a chance to be seen, if they put the effort in. So If someone has a novel idea or wants to share something unique about what skiing is like for them, then they should send us a submission. [editor's note: Go to to follow steps for contributing footage to Pretty Faces.  You can also email if you have footage to submit.]

Q: I know you’re going the Kickstarter route. Why?
A: For one reason or another, we just weren’t getting the corporate support we needed, so we thought we’d turn to the audience to see if they’d be willing to back us in something they’d like to see. I’ve never tried to make a movie before, so this is all new to me. Right now I’m really focused on meeting our goal of  $60,000 by January 16, so I’m hoping that everyone who reads this interview will give us their support.

Q: What’s the timetable for the movie, assuming you get all the funding you’re looking for?
A: If all goes according to plan, the film will come out next fall. We’d like to use it as an educational tool, taking it into schools and workshops to inspire girls to get outside. It’ll be more interactive than typical films. If funding allows, we’ll have a speaker panel along with it and possibly a workshop for girls. 

Q: I know you’re the founder of  Can you tell me about that?
A: To me it’s all the same thing. It’s getting more girls active and outside. If girls spent even half the time being active and outside as they do worrying about how they look or how their peers perceive them, it’d be a tremendous benefit to both them and society. Everything I do is toward that.

And now, as promised, here’s the trailer for Pretty Faces. Watch, and then please donate at

YouTube Preview Image

*Data from the Pretty Faces’ Kickstarter website.

A note about next week:

From January 6 through January 11, I’ll be joining the Columbia Sportswear’s Omniten team in Park City, Utah. Yes, this season Columbia has selected me to be part of a group that’ll be trying new stuff and having all sorts of cool adventures (go here to learn more). So be sure to check back for updates. I’ll be posting all about it.

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Taking Kids from City Streets to Mountain Peaks.

There’s this:

New York

Then there’s this:


It’s no secret which one I prefer.

But when you think about it, isn’t it a matter of exposure? If my dad hadn’t taken me skiing as a kid, it’s possible I never would’ve discovered skiing at all and my life would’ve been entirely different. I probably wouldn’t love snow and winter as much as I do, I probably wouldn’t live in Vermont, and I certainly wouldn’t have started

For a lot of people, skiing is entirely off their radar. Either they don’t have a family member or a friend to get them involved, or it’s so removed from their lives that it doesn’t even register. And while skiing may not affect everyone as profoundly as it did me, exposure to the sport does have its benefits. It’s a way to enjoy the outdoors in the winter, connect with mountains, and stay physically fit. Plus it’s just plain fun.

And that’s where the Peaks Project comes in. The Peaks Project is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to introduce skiing and snowboarding to New York City kids who might not otherwise get on the mountain.

I recently spoke with the organization’s CEO, Molly Tarlofsky, to find out more about what it’s about:

Q: Tell me more about the Peaks Project. What is it? And what are your goals?
A: We’re a nonprofit that aims to teach underprivileged New York City kids how to ski and snowboard. For these kids, skiing just isn’t an option. It’s expensive, and the nearest ski areas are just too far away. We get them the equipment, lessons, and transportation they need to start skiing. But skiing’s just part of it. We focus on personal growth and camaraderie, and there’s an environmental aspect to it, too.

Q: How’d the Peaks Project begin?
A: I originally got the idea  while I was out in Seattle in 2011. I was working in the action sports industry and many of my colleagues were participating in West Coast programs that helped kids get involved in extreme sports. Learning about these programs was truly inspirational. I’d been skiing since I was four and I thought it’d be great to have something similar for kids in New York who’d never had the chance to try skiing or snowboarding. I was still in college, so I wrote the business plan as my senior thesis, and it sort of took off from there. After graduation, I started building the basics. We’re hoping to launch it in 2014.

Q: So tell me about the kids.
A: We’ll be working with Children of Promise,  an organization that works with kids who have incarcerated parents. There’ll be twelve kids in our program, ages 8 to 18. A lot of them have never been outside of NYC, so this will be a great opportunity for them to try a new sport, see what’s out there, and have some entirely new experiences. We’ll be working with them before the season starts to explain what skiing and snowboarding are and share our own experiences. Then once a week — every Sunday for ten weeks — we’ll take them to Camelback Resort in the Poconos [PA].  It’ll be great to see how they improve, from one week to the next.

Q: How are you funding all this?
A: We’ve started a crowdsourcing campaign on with the goal of raising  $15,000 by November 14. There are goodies for different levels of contributions, so we’re hoping a lot of people who hear about this will realize what a great idea it is and be motivated to donate.

We also have some great corporate partners: Saga Outerwear, SPY Optic,  Grenade Gloves, OvrRide, and Mountain Riders Alliance. Their support has been amazing, and we’re excited that they’ve decided to work with us.

Q: How do you envision the future for The Peaks Project?
A: I’d eventually like to expand The Peaks Project to every major city across the US.  And I’d  like to add more students every year. Having a network of programs, all with the mission of getting kids out on the hill, would be a great success.



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Want to save the snow? Plant some trees.

Say trees to a skier, and most likely they’ll picture this:


But trees are good for more than just a skier’s playground. They can be an important tool in the fight against global warming. Trees remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the air and emit oxygen into the atmosphere. Less global warming means colder temperatures, which can mean more snow, which means more skiing for me in, say, trees.

So it all goes full circle. I like that.

Recently, I learned that Jay Peak Resort in Vermont is working with a program called the Clear Water Carbon Fund to fund tree planting throughout the region. I spoke with Laury Saligman, co-founder of Conservation Collaboratives, to find out more. An avid cross country skier whose love of  the outdoors mirrors her passion for the environment, Laury  has an MS from the Harvard School of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences and is a Toyota Audubon TogetherGreen Fellow. Her organization, which she founded in 2006 with her husband, John McGill, is a partner in the tree planting effort.

Q: I understand that the program is based on the use of carbon offsets. Can you tell me what these are and how they work?
A: Sure. All of us produce carbon emissions in our day-to-day activities, whether we’re driving to work or driving to a ski area. These emissions go into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Carbon offsets counteract those emissions by linking the person or the business responsible for the emissions to an entity that can absorb them, most often renewable resources. So it’s a way to support these resources by “offsetting” the emissions that have already been produced.

Q: So what’s the Clear Water Carbon Fund? And how is it involved with Jay Peak?
A: The Clear Water Carbon Fund is a carbon reduction program that funds the planting of trees on behalf of individuals and businesses who are interested in reducing their carbon footprint. Jay is offering carbon offsets through its website and online booking. So if you’re coming to Vermont to ski, but you’re attracted to the region – the fresh air, the beautiful views – you can counteract the CO2 you produce traveling here by going to the Jay website and contributing to the Fund. Also, when you book a trip online, you will be invited to participate in the program.The money goes toward  planting and maintaining  trees, periodic monitoring to verify the amount of carbon they store, and paying monetary incentives to landowners  for the loss of  revenue-generating activities such as the use of these areas for hay.

Q: Are the trees planted locally?
A: Yes. Even though CO2 is a global pollutant, the trees will have the same effect on global warming no matter where they’re planted. In Vermont, we’re working with the White River Partnership to replant in areas that were denuded by Tropical Storm Irene or that’ve been assessed as important to watershed health. And we’re working with NorthWoods Stewardship Center to plant trees in the Clyde River watershed,  a tributary of Lake Memphremagog in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. In Maine, we’re planting trees along the Crooked River in the Sebago Lake watershed and along the Androscoggin River near Bethel.

Q: All these are along the water’s edge. Why? 
A:  We try to do all our plantings  within 150 feet of a creek or river. With good reason. Trees help prevent soil erosion, filter sediment and harmful pollutants to keep  water clean, and provide shade for aquatic species and resting areas for migratory birds. We try to plant native species — cottonwood, red maple, and a variety of bushes and shrubs. The more we can mimic the natural environment, the better.

Q: So how may trees have you planted so far?
A: Probably around 2,000. Jay Peak is the first ski resort in the area to offer this to their guests, but we’re hoping to expand it  throughout the state. This way  skiers can both take responsibility for their carbon dioxide emissions and protect our local environmental and water resources. I just wish every ski area would offer this to their guests, and that everyone who came to Vermont would pay a few dollars to support the natural infrastructure that makes this state so special.


Laury Saligman and family.

Laury Saligman and family.


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What does it take to be PR Director at one of the East’s biggest ski resorts?

When I got out of college a zillion years ago, one of the things I considered doing was PR at a ski resort.

This never happened. Instead, I took a job in communications at a large, eastern corporation and spent my time in a windowless cubicle writing press releases on such exciting topics as wastewater treatment, cryogenic freezing, industrial gases, and all sorts of chemicals you really don’t want to know about (trust me on this).

I quit after four years. But I still didn’t do the PR/ski resort thing. By then I was too entrenched in life in suburban Philadelphia, and it took a long time for me to get out of the advertising rat race and move up to Vermont.

But enough about me. What I really want to talk to you about today is what it’s like to be a PR Director at a major eastern ski resort. Which is why I interviewed Bonnie MacPherson, PR Director for Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vermont.

For those of you who don’t know, some fast facts about Okemo:

655 acres of terrain
96% of trails covered by snowmaking
120 trails and glades
Vertical Drop: 2,200 feet
Base Elevation: 1,144 feet
Summit Elevation: 3,344 feet
Lifts: 19, including 9 quad chairs (5 highspeed quads), 3 triple chairs and 7 surface lifts

And now, heeeeeeere’s Bonnie:

Bonnie MacPherson

Q: How’d you get into Public Relations? And how’d you end up at Okemo?
A: I actually got into PR on a lark. I did a lot of different things – worked for a newspaper, managed a restaurant — but I never had a solid career.  This was something I promised I’d change when I was 40. So around that time I saw an ad in the newspaper for a PR coordinator at Bretton Woods [NH]. It seemed to require a lot of my skill sets, so I polished up my resume and decided to go for it. Well, I ended up getting the job, and it was terrific. The owners were local with a lot of money to spend. Plus we also represented the Cog Railway and the Mount Washington Hotel, too, so it was like we were this little agency within the resort representing an attraction, a hotel, and a ski resort. It was a great learning experience, and I loved it. When my boss and mentor left for Booth Creek Resorts, I followed him there. Booth Creek ran Loon, Waterville Valley, and Cranmore. I was there for a few years when I got a phone call from the PR Director at Okemo. She was leaving and said she was recommending me as her replacement. I’d always been interested in Okemo, so I was very excited. I had a couple of interviews, they offered me the position, and now I’ve been here nearly 8 years. The Muellers [the couple who manages Okemo] are amazing people. They’ve always had this reputation as very hands on. And they are, though their responsibilities have grown to include Crested Butte [Colorado] and Mount Sunapee [New Hampshire]. We don’t see them as much as we used to, but they’re still around quite a bit. It suits my style much better than a big corporate culture.

Q: So what are your responsibilities?
A: I’m primarily a liason between Okemo and the media, so I have to be available 24/7. Much of my job involves writing press releases, and I’m the editor for Okemo Magazine, which comes out twice a year.  But I also work with the rest of the marketing team, doing whatever’s needed for that. In the winter I have two coordinators: a snow reporter and a videographer, who both report to me. So  I have to  manage staff , as well. If the snow reporter oversleeps or doesn’t make it in, you miss your competitive edge for that day. So it’s important to stay on top of that.

Q: Do you ski a lot?
A: I try. It’s funny, once you get into the ski industry, you don’t ski as much as you’d like to.  I get out a few times a week. This year I raced in our local race series, too.

Q: What do you like most about the job, and what do you like least?
A: I like that it’s all about relationships. The lines blur between professional and personal, and I really like that. Some of my best friends are writers. I like how you get to know a lot of people. The ski industry is somewhat incestuous. It’s small, and people tend to move around. It’s hard, though, too, because you get to know people and then they leave.

The hardest part of my job is just how all-consuming it is. It doesn’t matter what the time of year, I’m on 24/7. People think I have summers off because I work in the ski industry.  No. It’s year ‘round. And crisis management can be tough, too. We’ve had ski collisions, even deaths, and these are difficult.  One of the most memorable crises I had to deal with was when I worked at the Mount Washington Hotel. I was scheduled to be on an RSN [Resort Sports Network] TV show. I was home, and right before I left to go on, I called the Hotel to make sure everything was okay. The receptionist said, ‘Everything’s fine, except the roof blew off today.’ Because it really had. We had a full house, every room was packed, but it was a really old hotel built in 1902, and the wind had just lifted the roof off the front of the hotel; people on the top floor could see the light of day out of their ceilings. So we had to deal with that. The ski area was still running, though.

Q: What are your biggest challenges?
A: Uncontrollable things, like weather. And the sport is inherently dangerous, so accidents happen. You have to be prepared and have a plan in place in case something catastrophic happens so people know what they’re supposed to do.

What’s your busiest season, and what do you do during the summer?
A: Summer is actually my busiest time, since it’s the lead-in for the season. For me, August 1 is the tipping point. Suddenly I have long-lead publications that are looking for information about winter – what are you doing, what are your capital investments, new programs and things – so those are all rolling out. We work pretty closely with Ski Vermont, because they’re working on all their media materials at that point, updating our winter press kit, and just trying to get the information. And I’m busy putting together the winter magazine.  I try to go on vacation before then.  I’ve never used all my vacation time. Even when I’m on vacation, I’m still checking my email. I’d rather be on top of something than miss it. I make myself available to people whenever they need me.

Once the season starts, it’s easier. Things begin to run like a well-oiled machine. Everyone knows what to do, so it sort of takes the pressure off.  You just go along for the ride and try to do your job.

Q: It seems that many PR people in the ski industry are women. What’s your take on that?
A: I don’t know why that is. I think women are better communicators. We’re emotional people,  and I think you need to be passionate about what you’re representing. I also think it’s an entry position to the ski industry for a lot of women.

Q: Here’s your chance to do some PR, Bonnie.  What can we expect to see at Okemo this year?
A: We’re really excited about our new pass for college students. It’s called 4.0, and it’s $369. [plus tax] through December 15. It allows unlimited skiing and riding at Okemo, Killington, Pico, and Mount Sunapee [NH]. A great deal.

Then there’s Operation Snowburst, our big snowmaking improvement project. We’ve installed new 225 HKD SV tower guns that’ll allow us to maximize water flow and snowmaking from the very start of the season. During the early season, temperatures fluctuate so much that we had to put a lot of air in the system, which kept us from maximizing pumping capacity. The new system changes that, so it brings our snowmaking up to an entirely new level. With the new technology, we’re hoping to to eliminate early season shuttling and even open several top-to-bottom routes.

We’re also cutting a new intermediate glade. This will be about 2,200 feet long. It’s mostly evergreens in there, so it’s going to have a very different feel from the rest of our glades.

And it’s the tenth year that our Jackson Gore Inn has been open, so we’ve been doing a lot of upgrades there, too.  We’ve replaced all the upholstered furniture, as well as the linens and the carpets. It’s getting a whole fresh look.


Thanks, Bonnie! Anyone who wants to know more about Okemo, go here.

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The Women in Red.


Ski Patrollers are sort of like super heroes, but with red jackets instead of capes. They’re the people who throw bombs to control avalanches; who perform first aid under the most daunting conditions; who bring the injured down the toughest terrain. They’re like EMT’s crossed with policemen and mountain ambassadors. And though some do it for pay, the vast majority do it for nothing more than the reward of a smile and a thank you. And not all of them get even that.

This month marks the Patrol’s 75th anniversary. As a citizen of the great state of Vermont, I’m proud to say that the NSP started in Stowe in 1938, when the president of the National Ski Association, Roger Langley, convinced the founder and leader of the Mt. Mansfield Ski Patrol, Charles “Minnie” Dole, to form a national organization.

Dorothy McClung, first female member
of the National Ski Patrol

Women were officially welcomed into the NSP in 1941, when Dorothy McClung, a member of the San Diego Ski Club,  was accepted as its first female member. She was assigned number one (in those days, the women had a separate numbering system than the men). And though many women have followed in her footsteps, their numbers in the organization continue to remain low.  Today, only about a quarter of the more than 26,000 volunteers are female.

But the NSP has been evolving, working hard to attract and retain female members. As part of this, it now offers women’s clinics in its educational curriculum.  I recently spoke to Linda Barthel, director of the Patrol’s National Women’s Program, to find out more. Linda is pretty amazing herself. A member of the Mount. Brighton Ski Patrol in Michigan, Linda has both her Certified and a National Appointment Number, and is an NSP instructor in multiple disciplines, including toboggan, chair evacuation, CPR, and OEC IT. She is also a PSIA Level III certified ski instructor, and has a PSIA Central “Train the Trainer” accreditation. Not too shabby.

Q: Why do you suppose there aren’t more women on the patrol?
A: I think it’s a matter of priorities. Women have a lot on their plate. Many of them work, in addition to being homemakers and moms. Volunteer patrollers spend a lot of time during the season fulfilling their obligation to their particular ski areas.  During the off season, there’s continuing education and local protocol training. There are only so many hours in the day. Most women are very busy and focused on their families, and that makes involvement in the Patrol difficult.  They may want to do more, but their obligations at home and work get in the way.

Q: Does the Patrol make a special effort to recruit women?
A: Recruitment varies from one local area to another, and as far as I know, doesn’t really focus on gender. It’s mostly a screening to see if you can handle the terrain in their local area. Requirements within the NSP are extensive first aid and CPR and depending on classification, might include skiing and toboggan handling.

That said, the Patrol could definitely use more women. To have only 25% female patrollers isn’t very good, especially when you consider that about 40% of skiers are women. There are people out there who aren’t joining because of the preconceived notion that you have to meet certain physical characteristics, like you have to be 5’9” and bench press 300 lbs.  Obviously, this isn’t true.

One of the best ways we can attract women is by example – getting women out on the hill where the skiing public can see them. All those us who are on the Patrol, volunteer or pro, were once skiers who saw a patroller and thought that looks cool; maybe that’s something I could do. If a woman skier sees a woman patroller, she may get the idea that she can do it, too.

Q: So tell me about the NSP’s Women’s Program. What’s its purpose and how did it begin?
A: The idea of a women’s clinic is nothing new in the ski industry. There are clinics available for ladies at many different ski resorts. What’s exciting is how the concept has blossomed in the NSP organization. There are women-specific clinics all across the country now.

The NSP’s program started about 15 years ago as an offshoot of what was happening in the various divisions. For example, I started a women’s clinic in the Central Division. I was training a group that happened to be all women, and I noticed the dynamics were different. When I asked if they’d like to have a clinic just for them, the response was overwhelmingly positive. This was going on in other divisions, as well.

I think women’s clinics provide the sort of learning environment in which women can step outside their boundaries and excel at a different level. For example, handling the toboggan takes a lot of technical skill. Sure, you can muscle it around, but once you master the skill, it’s very doable.  So for women to do the job, we have to be technically on the ball. These clinics help us achieve that. Trudy Nye, for example, in the Far Western Division, developed a program that incorporates Jeannie Thoren’s philosophy that women aren’t just smaller men, and applying it to sled operation. She was one of the first to realize we were losing a lot of female patrollers who were running sleds or doing some of the jobs that required more strength. She felt that there had to be a better way to get around the issue of drop outs by focusing on skill development.

Q: What sort of clinics are there?
A: The national program is divided into geographic divisions, and each division has its own personality, as far as programs that pretty much mirror the national program. There’s a toboggan program, an avalanche program, mountain rescue, and all sorts of programs focusing on skiing skills. As the national program director, it’s my job to unify the women as a team.

Q: Do you think these clinics are a success?
A: Oh, yes. I think they definitely help women improve their skills. Not only does this make them better patrollers, but it improves their confidence and may help them stay on the Patrol longer.  I think the clinics also encourage women to strive for leadership positions within the organization. Seeing a woman training a group of patrollers can be a powerful thing. It may help convince you that you can do it, too. We’re trying to get the women out front in the NSP system by encouraging them to become instructors to hopefully help with our recruitment aspect.  It’s also going to help with retention because it’s inspiring to see someone you can relate to able  to do something that you’re struggling with. You’re likely to think, Hey if she can do it, so can I!

Women are making big strides in the Patrol. Vail and Beaver Creek both have women Patrol directors. I really admire them; those are high ranking destination resorts. And that’s pretty awesome.



On this, the 75th anniversary of the National Ski Patrol, I’d like to thank all the patrollers — women and men — for everything you do to keep us safe. We all owe you big time.

If you’re interested in becoming a ski patroller, it’s easy to find out more. Visit the National Ski Patrol website, or talk to your local Patrol organization. Remember, the Patrol is for women, too!

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Want to track your ski days? Try Slope Squad.

I know I’m dating myself, but it used to be that if you had a great day skiing, you might phone someone when you got home, or tell them about it the next day, at work or at school.

But it’s a different world now. We want to let people know right away that we’re on the hill and they’re not. We want our friends to know we’ve skied a bazillion days at Mount Gnarly while they’ve been sweating their buns off at the office. We want to be able to locate our friends, great deals, whatever, at the touch of a button.

In short, we want to share our experiences with the whole wide social network universe. And we want to do it NOW.

There are lots of apps out there that let you do this. But the one I use is Slope Squad, which was developed by Rachel Vecchitto, one of the moderators at TheSkiDiva forum, and her two partners, Taylor McLemore and Jody Shepherd.

Put simply, Slope Squad lets you track your days on the snow, make plans and compete with your friends, and receive offers and messages from mountains and local businesses. It does other things, too, but more about that below, in my conversation with Rachel.

Q: So tell me about Slope Squad. Why’d you decide to develop a ski app? How’d the idea come about?
A: All three of us had been kicking around ideas for a skiing site individually. Taylor was most interested in building something that’d let him plan days with friends, Jody wanted something that’d let him compete with his friends, and I wanted something that’d let me keep detailed stats on my ski days. We’d all run our ideas past fellow Boulderite and founder Joel Gratz, who realized we were all thinking about something pretty similar. He put us in touch with each other.

It’s a good match. Taylor, who most recently co-founded Prediculous, is the product guy who helps us conceptualize and prioritize what we’re going to build. Jody, who’s currently a VP at Square 1 Bank, is the business guy who talks to local businesses and investors to get the word out about us. And I’m the developer, and though I currently work at Etsy, I build the site you use when you log on to Slope Squad. As with any small company, we all do a bit of anything and everything that needs to get done.

Q: There are lots of ski apps out there. What do you see as the shortcomings of others, and what makes yours better?
A: Slope Squad is the only one that works at any resort. That gives it an advantage over  Epic Mix, for example, which only works at mountains owned by Vail Resorts. Besides allowing you to plan days with your friends and compete with them for the most days on the snow, Slope Squad also lets you compete with anyone for prizes sponsored by partner companies. For example, our first contest is for a RockyMounts ski rack.  What’s more, Slope Squad provides you with detailed historical stats for all your days on the snow. If you’re a cyclist or runner, think, but for skiers. It also lets ski areas contact you with news and offers, tell you about pass closures and parking changes, and provide you with discounts a few days before you head to the mountain.

Slope Squad is a great tool for ski areas, too. We let them see detailed analytics about their skiers and riders, build brand equity through social sharing, and increase incremental revenue by reaching visitors before, during and after their days on the snow.

Q: What was the development process like? How long did it take, from concept to finished product? What was the testing like?
A: I’ve been working on a ski day tracking site for quite a while, so I had a lot of the basics built before I teamed up with Jody and Taylor. I’ve been working on building Slope Squad in its current form for about 8 months, part-time, and while it’s well-built and functional as-is, it’s definitely not finished — there’s a lot more we want to build. We had a more basic version of the site up in October or so, and we had some friends kick the tires a bit before we publicized it more widely.

Q: So how does it work?
A: All you have to do to use the site is sign up at the site’s registration page,  and then add some ski days! Once you’ve added some friends, you can view their ski plans.

Friends’ Ski Plans


Or you can use the  mobile site:

Mobile Site

You can see what things look like once you’ve entered a bunch of data by clicking around my profile.

Slope Squad Profile

Q: How can someone get the app?
A: Slope Squad is a website (vs. a native app), so you can use it by just hitting on your desktop or on your mobile device of choice. It’s completely free.

Q: Any further development plans/refinements/new apps we can expect?
A: We have so many plans! There’s so much you can do with something like this that no one has done yet. Just off the top of my head: we’d like to let you rate mountains and specific runs or areas at mountains, so when you ski somewhere new we can recommend runs you’d probably like. Also, we’d love to have native mobile apps for next season so we can track vertical and do other things that rely on GPS. We want to add common backcountry areas and cat skiing operations, for example, the same way we have mountains now, so you can see those places included in your maps and stats in a more interesting way. I envision other ways you can interact with other users, too: for example, it’d be great for arranging carpools to the hill with other locals, and to create groups of friends to compete and plan with, like your ski house, your ski club, or your race team. Also, we want to have weather-dependent leaderboards that’d show things like which of your friends has the most powder days this season.

I could go on like this for quite a while, and I’d love to hear any other suggestions people have! I absolutely love getting feedback and hearing ideas.

Q: Here’s an important question, Rachel. How much pizza was consumed during the writing of the code?
A: I moved to Boulder from NYC about a year and a half ago now, and I have to say that the pizza here just isn’t the same. As a result, the building of Slope Squad was powered mostly by coffee from Atlas Purveyors.

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A conversation with Suzy Chaffee

Everyone has their heroes – people who’ve inspired them to take a certain path.

One of mine is Suzy Chaffee. Granted, this goes all the way back to the late 60’s, but Suzy was one of people who inspired me to take up skiing. And that’s had an incredible impact on my life.

Suzy Chaffee

For those of you who need reminding, Suzy was captain of the US Women’s Alpine Team in the 1968 Grenoble Olympics. A miscalculation in ski wax kept her off the podium, but her silver racing suit got the attention of the press and helped launch an astonishing career.  Although Suzy’s endorsement of ChapStick lip balm earned her the name Suzy Chapstick, her accomplishments extend way beyond just being a celebrity endorser. In addition to her participation in the Olympics, consider these:

  • First female member of the US Olympic Team Board of Directors
  • Member of the President’s Council for Physical Fitness, serving through four administrations
  • Three-time world freestyle skiing champion (1971-1973)
  • Co-founder of the Native American Olympic Foundation
  • Inductee in the US Ski Hall of Fame in three categories: Alpine, Freestyle, and Sports Building
  • Inductee in the Vermont Sports Hall of Fame and the Colorado Sportswoman’s Hall of Fame
  • Ski film star
  • Ski ballet pioneer, and helped start the Olympic Women’s Freestyle Division

An impressive list. But perhaps her most far-ranging achievement is her work as a champion of Title IX legislation. Suzy was instrumental in convincing federal lawmakers to enact the statute that guarantees equal opportunities for men and women in federally funded sports and education programs.

I spoke to Suzy recently from her home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Q: Suzy, can you tell us how you got involved as an activist for Title IX?
A: I had a wake up call in 1964, when I was at the University of Denver. I chose Denver because it was the Rocky Mountain ski mecca, and my [future Olympian] brother, Rick, was part of their invincible ski team. His coach, Willy Schaeffler, promised me training as one of the top skiers in America. I enjoyed their dry land training, where I carried guys up the stadium steps, but when it came time for on-snow training an hour away at Evergreen Ski Area, I wasn’t allowed to ride in the team car because I didn’t have NCAA insurance. The reason: I couldn’t biologically pass the male physical. Since there were no sports scholarships for girls back then and my family couldn’t afford a car, I had to hitchhike.

In 1977, I was asked by the president of the PE Teachers of  America to help lead a march in support of Title IX in Washington, DC.  Thousands of people showed up, and it made the national news. I realized that unity brings power, so after the march I called the White House and set up a meeting with Vice President Walter Mondale. I brought in Billy Jean King and the PE teachers, who had their lawyers for Title IX, and we got the ball rolling. It was a hard fight. Around that time I was on an elevator with Walter Buyers, the head of the National Collegiate Athletic establishment, and asked him, “What would be a reasonable percentage of the men’s budget for the women since it was still one percent after five years?” And he replied, “One percent is just fine.” We got a lot of powerful legislators behind us — Ted Kennedy, for example, who worked for Title IX for almost four decades, including restoring it after President Reagan got it overturned by the Supreme Court.

Q: Why is Title IX so important?
A: Studies have proven that investing in girls’ sports improves the health of families, delays pregnancy, reduces population, and transforms communities and countries from poverty to productivity. Title IX has also been a boon for the US sports industries — especially skiing, since moms who fall in love with skiing not only help create Olympians, but help decide where their families go on vacations.  So protecting Title IX and girls’ ski opportunities is priceless to states like Colorado, where 64,000 jobs depend on snow sports tourism.

Q: You co-founded the Native American Olympic Foundation. What is this and what does it do?
A: Just as Title IX legislation gave women a chance, the Native American Olympic Foundation aims to give Native American youth a chance to develop their talents and compete in the Winter Olympics. According to a senate study by Olympian Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Native youth lack opportunities in sports and jobs. This contributes to the highest suicide rate of any race for the last hundred years. One  in three Native girls attempt suicide, and 1 in 4 Native boys. Snow sports build health, self-esteem, leadership skills, and lasting friendships, as well as provide greater accessibility to educational, job, and career opportunities outside the reservation. They’re also a super way to show appreciation to the Native American ancestors, who gave us the roots for eleven of our Olympic sports. Since ski lift tickets are out of reach of most tribal youth, especially girls, our foundation urges ski areas and communities across America to welcome home their nearby children with a free day of skiing and boarding on their ancestral lands.

Q: I know you also champion environmental causes. Can you tell me more about this?
A: It’s a delicate time for our planet, and we have to do what we can to protect it. The mountains are our source of drinking water, agriculture, and food. If we keep going in our present direction, we’re going to run out of snow. And that means water. So it’s crucial that we shift funding from military defense to climate change defense. We women are the protectors of nature. We need to create a sustainable world so we can live better in the future.

Q: Tell me, do you ever get tired of the name Suzy Chapstick?
A: No, not at all. The endorsement opened many doors for me. It was a great opportunity. In fact, when I was on the U.S. Olympic Committee board, I wrote the rule that allowed Madison Avenue to sponsor Olympic teams and individuals, which helped open the international playing field to people from all economic classes.

Q: Puerto Vallerta  seems far removed from skiing. Why are you there?
A: Because I can see whales jumping from my terrace. It’s a slice of paradise — relaxed, friendly, and affordable.  I missed out on 16 years of vacation pouring all my resources into joyfully giving my gift back to humanity.

For more information on the Native American Olympic Foundation, go here.




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About “Learn To Ski & Snowboard Month”

I have a friend who wanted to learn to ski. Her boyfriend took her to his favorite mountain, rented her equipment, and brought her to the top of the lift. “It’s easy,” he said. “Just point your skis down and go.”

Then he took off.

Needless to say, she was terrified. It took her what she called hours – no, make that days — to get down, after which she took off her equipment and never went back.

Oh, and she dumped the boyfriend, too.

Too bad  Learn To Ski and Snowboard Month wasn’t around then. Started in 2009, LSSM takes place each January and is a great way to get your friends or family members off to a good start. I recently spoke to Mary Jo Tarallo, LSSM executive director, to find out more:

Q: What is “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month?”
A: Basically, it’s an initiative backed by a number of organizations. Our mission is to grow ski and snowboard participation nationwide. We do that by encouraging people to take lessons from professional instructors, rather than trying to teach themselves or learn from a friend.  You may be a good skier or snowboarder, but you’re really not trained to teach someone the way that professional instructors are.

Q: So how’d it get started?
A: I think the idea first came up in 2007.  Representatives from a number of resort associations came up with the idea of initiating a learn to ski and snowboard program. Not much happened for a year or more, until we finally just went ahead and declared January, 2009, “Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month.”  We contacted people at various organizations and asked if they’d like to be part of it. A lot of them said yes, and it just kept building and building until we are where we are today. What really propelled it to the next level is the involvement of the National Ski Areas Association two years ago. Now we have more than 300 resorts in 33 states offering special learning programs during January.We also have the support of many terrific organizations: PSIA [Professional Ski Instructors of America],  USSA [US Ski & Snowboard Assocation], of course, the National Ski Patrol, to name a few.

Q: So what’s involved in “Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month?”
A: The key to the initiative’s success is its flexibility. There aren’t any of what I’d call rules. Any resort can create its own program. The typical offer is lift, lessons, and rentals.  Some resorts do a free offer. Ski NH, for example, works with its members to allow people to take free beginner lessons at participating resorts.  Ski Vermont is working with its members to offer a $29. lift, lesson, and rental package for the entire month of January. And Ski Areas of New York is working with its members to promote what the resorts there are doing. So it really varies, from state to state.

We also have a number of retail partners, and we’ve been asking them to work through their existing customer base to bring newcomers into their shops. This gives them the opportunity to talk in terms of how you dress, what kind of equipment you might need if you want to stick with the sport. So we approach it from the retail side a little differently than we would from the resort side. At the end of the day, it’s probably the resort where the customer is going to go first to try a lesson to see if they like it. Then the next stop is the retailer.

The other part of the program is our website. We have a lot of information there that’s very valuable to the newcomer. Skiing is just like anything  you try for the first time. It can be kind of overwhelming.  So we take a lot of the information you’ll need and put it in a logical fashion so people can educate themselves and feel comfortable once they get to a ski area.

Q: What’s participation in LSSM been like?
A: The first year [January 2009], our member partners provided about 20,000 new skier packages. The second year, 30,000.  Then we jumped to 75,000. In 2012 , it was almost 100,000, even though it wasn’t the greatest snow year.   We’re hoping to exceed that this year.

Q: I understand you’re offering something called The Bring a Friend Challenge. Can you tell me about it?
A:  This is an industry-wide effort to tap into current skiers and snowboarders who are in a position to bring a friend or family member to a ski area and help them sign up for lessons. It’s not confined to the month of January. We’re going to start it on December 15, though we may move it up to December 1, depending on the weather, and run it through March 17.  It works like this: If you’re already a skier or a snowboarder, you can bring a friend or family member to a local area,  sometime between the challenge dates, and have them sign up for a lesson package. The current participant and the newcomer are then asked to fill out a registration form on the “Learn to Ski & Snowboard” website. Every week we’ll have a drawing for a  product prize, starting the first week of January through the end of the challenge. At the end, we’ll have a drawing for free trips. For east coast participants, there’s a trip to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont.  And there are two western trips – one to Sun Valley, the other, to Park City – that are for anybody. The trips will be good for next season. We’re hoping that if the newcomer starts taking lessons this year, they’ll go back for more lessons so if they win the trip, they’ll be able to get way beyond the beginner slopes.


To find out more about Learn To Ski And Snowboard Month, visit their website here. You can also find out what specific ski areas are offering on this page.






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You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers.

As you can imagine, I get a lot of emails from people asking me all sorts of questions. So chalk it up to laziness, chalk it up to efficiency, I thought I’d handle all my replies here in one shot. Here we go — answers to the most common questions that crop up in my inbox:

Q: How often do you post in your blog?
A: When I first started this blog more than six years ago, I was plenty enthusiastic and posted just about every other day. This was the days before I launched the forum, so I really didn’t have any other outlet.  Now that I’ve calmed down a bit, I’ve decided to give everyone a break. I generally post once a week — usually on Tuesdays.

Q: Can I suggest a blog topic?
A: Sure! If you have an idea, I’d love to hear it. Sometimes the story ideas come fast and furious, other times it’s a real struggle to come up with blog topics. So yes, if you have something in mind, feel free to get in touch.  Please keep in mind, however, that I will not shill for your business. That said, I love to do interviews, and I’m happy to do product reviews, too. Just be advised that I can not be bought; my reviews are 100% honest.

Q: How good a skier are you, anyway? Did you ever race/instruct/patrol?
A: I’m better than some, not as good as others. I think it’s safe to say I’m an aspiring expert — which means I’m an advanced skier who’d like to be better. That said, I’m at the point in my life where I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anyone; those days are long gone. I ski for the fun of it, and while I’m mildly competitive, I’d rather just sit back and have a good time. And no, I’ve never raced; I think that would make me too anxious. I’ve also never instructed or patrolled, though I did work in a ski shop for a couple seasons. I had to quit, though, since I found that I hated just about everyone by two o’clock. Not good for my soul.

Q: Have you skied for a long time?
A: Yes and no.  I first started skiing when I was 13, though I only went 10 or so times a year. When I was around 23, I stopped entirely. Personal things got in the way, and I didn’t ski again til I was 40. Since then, I’ve been working like crazy to make up for lost time. I’m in the east, where the season is relatively short. Last year was pretty lousy, too. I think I only got in 52 days. Contrast that with the ’10/’11 season, when I made 82 ski days — a personal record.

Q: I’d love to participate in TheSkiDiva forum, but I’m a man. Why can’t you open the forum up to men, too?
A: Fair question. I started the forum for two reasons: 1) selfishly enough, I didn’t have any women friends who skied, and I was looking to find some;  and 2) I found that other online ski communities — and conventional ski media, as well — didn’t pay much attention to women. Anything to do with women’s skiing was seldom addressed, and when it was, it was only in a very secondary manner . I wanted a place where women skiers were front and center — a testosterone-free zone  where women could feel comfortable talking about skiing in a way that they could relate to. I’m sorry if this hurts your feelings, but the forum is our little corner of the world. You have all the rest to play in.

Q: Can you recommend skis for me/my wife/my daughter?
A: Choosing skis is a pretty personal process. That’s why there are so many skis out there. You may love the skis I hate, and vice versa. The best way to determine which skis are right for you is to demo, demo, demo. But if you’re looking for information on where to start, you should definitely check out the Gear Reviews section of There’s a lot of good stuff to read there.

Q: What do you ski on?
A: Right now I have 3 pair. I’m in the east where we have a fair amount of hard pack, so my everyday go-to ski are Volkl Tierras. These babies are fantastic; they’re like riding on rails. I’m actually on my second pair. For powder days, spring skiing, and choppy conditions, I have Volkl Auras and Atomic Centuries. My boots are Dalbello Krypton Lotus.

Q: What do you do in the off season, anyway?
A: The off season is hard, just because I can’t find anything I love as much as skiing. I try. I really do. I road bike a couple times a week, swim (a mile!) a couple times a week, too. And sometimes I hike. So I try to keep busy. Nothing comes close to skiing, though. But you knew that already, right?

Q: Are you working on a new Ski Diva mystery?
A: Here’s where the guilt comes in:  (says in a small voice) No. I know, I know. Awful. My intent was to only write during the off season, and to be honest, my off seasons have been really, really busy. So while there are two Ski Diva mysteries for you to enjoy: DOUBLE BLACK and FADE TO WHITE, I don’t have any others in the works at present.

On a brighter note, my husband, the fantastically-gifted novelist Jon Clinch, author of FINN and KINGS OF THE EARTH, has a new book, THE THIEF OF AUSCHWITZ,  coming out in January. Keep an eye on this space for some shameless promotion.


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