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A Tale of Two Resorts: Keystone and A-Basin

It’s been a long time since I’ve skied in Colorado. Eight years, in fact. But when my husband was invited to do a reading at the University of Northern Colorado, it seemed like it might be time to return (he’s a novelist. You can find out more about his books here).

And am I glad we did! We just spent a few happy days skiing at Keystone and A-Basin. Sure, a lot of you are familiar with these mountains. Both are associated with Vail Resorts (Keystone is part of the Vail family, A-Basin has a lift ticket agreement). And both are destinations, not only for skiers in Colorado, but for skiers all over the world.

But for those of you who haven’t been to either of these places, let me give you a brief run down. Because even though they’re different, each one has its own distinct personality.

Keystone Mountain Resort:

Here are some stats:
Elevation: 12,408 summit, 9,279 at the base
Average annual snowfall: 235 inches
Vertical feet: 3,127
Terrain: 14% beginner, 29% intermediate, 57% expert
Runs: 131
Skiable terrain: 3,143 acres

Keystone is a Resort with a capital R. There’s lots of slope side lodging, restaurants, and shops. There’s a spa, an ice skating rink, snow tubing, and night skiing. And though I’ve heard a lot of people disparage the artificiality of the base village — that it’s not a real town, like Breckenridge or Aspen — I have to admit, it was awfully convenient. We were visiting without a car, and it certainly made life easy. Everything we wanted was right at the base. And if you need to go somewhere,  there’s free bus service that’ll get you just about anywhere.

Keystone Base Village

Keystone Base Village

Now on to skiing. Keystone is comprised of three peaks — Dercum, North Peak, and The Outback — one behind the other, each connected by a series of trails and lifts.  The first one, Dercum, has lots of long, rolling blue groomers. You can reach the top by either by a gondola or a high speed lift; both drop you off at essentially the same place, beside the lodge. Dercum is also the home of the resort’s terrain park and kid’s learning center and programs.

Check out the snow fort at the top of the gondola. A kid’s dream come true!

Snow Fort, photo courtesy of Keystone Resort.

Snow Fort, photo courtesy of Keystone Resort.

During the two days we skied Keystone, we managed to spend time on each of the peaks. On our first morning, it snowed like crazy. We picked up about 4 inches which really made for a great day. In addition to Dercum, we also skied North Peak (you can ski or take the Peak-To-Peak gondola), where we had lunch in the Outpost Lodge. Keystone also offers dinners there year ’round featuring a Bavarian theme.

Outpost Lodge, photo from Vail Resorts

Outpost Lodge, photo from Vail Resorts

Here’s a view of the chutes we did on The Outback (I think it’s the Victory Chute). A friend who instructs at Keystone brought us over to this section of the mountain, and I’m glad she did! It was loads of fun.

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A few cool things you should know about Keystone:

• If you want to extend your ski day, you can. Some of their lifts remain open until 8 PM Wednesday through Saturday.
• Keystone offers snowcat rides into the resort’s back bowls for only $10.
• Keystone as an amazing kids program called Kidtopia. You can find more info about it here, but it’s a program that’s packed with activities for families and kids. Literally, there’s something going on every single day that’ll make the little ones happy. It’s part of what makes the resort so great for families.

Arapahoe Basin (aka A-Basin)

Where Keystone is a resort with a capital R, A-Basin is pretty much the opposite. And that’s what gives it its own special charm. Here, the focus isn’t on fancy lodges or luxury amenities. There are no slope side condos or fancy restaurants.  Yeah, the lifts are kind of slow and the vibe is kind of chill. But there’s lots of terrific skiing, and face it, isn’t that what we came for?

The inside of the lodge.

The inside of the lodge.

Here are some stats:

Vertical rise: 2,270 feet
Elevation: 13,050 feet summit, 10,780 feet base
Average annual snowfall: 350 inches
Number of trails: 109
Skiable acres: 960
Terrain: 10% beginner, 30% intermediate, 37% advanced, 23% expert

A-Basin is known for its spectacular scenery,  gnarly terrain, and long season; it typically opens in late October and closes in June. And though the resort is known for its cornices, you don’t have to be an expert to ski here.  There’s lots of great intermediate cruising, too. Nonetheless, if you want more advanced skiing above the tree line, you’ve come to the right place.

Land of the Giants

Land of the Giants

Not sure where this is, but it sure is pretty.

Not sure where this is, but it sure is pretty.

Looking out towards Breckenridge.

Looking out towards Breckenridge.

One caveat for people coming here from the flatlands: A-Basin is HIGH. For someone from the East, the elevation takes a bit getting used to. I followed the tried and true: no alcohol, plenty of water, and no caffeine, and yeah, I was still light headed and easily winded. Just know that this is pretty normal and will dissipate over time.

Fun fact about A-Basin: The current A-Frame lodge in the base area was once a missile testing facility.

Would I recommend one over the other? It depends what you’re looking for. Me, I like to mix it up a bit. It’s all good. You won’t go wrong with either.

 



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What’s new in Colorado for ’15/’16

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While most of us have been taking the summer off from skiing, the ski resort elves in Colorado have been busily making all sorts of improvements for the coming year. So all you good little ski boys and girls, take a look at some of the new things you can enjoy when the snow starts to fly:

VAIL

  • A new, high-speed, 6-passenger chair is replacing Chair 2 (The Avanti Express). This will reduce wait times and improve reliability. A loading conveyor and gates will improve efficiency and increase capacity by up to 30 percent, according to the resort.
  • They’re offering a new app: EpicMix Time. This provides guests with crowd-sourced, real-time liftline wait times across 55 lifts and gondolas.

BEAVER CREEK

  • Red Tail and Centennial trails, two of the most popular intermediate runs on the mountain, are being equipped with 23 fully-automated fan guns.

BRECKENRIDGE

  • New snowmaking pipe is going in on the Lost Horizon and Barton Breezeway trails (Peak 6). This will help the resort open for the early season.

ARAPAHOE BASIN

  • The ticket office is being remodeled into a complete guest services center. The season pass office is being expanded to accommodate a higher volume of guests, and the ski area is establishing a call center to handle snowsports reservations and guest inquiries over the phone.

ASPEN SNOWMASS

  • The High Alpine lift at Snowmass Ski Resort is being replaced and realigned.
  • Snowmaking equipment is being installed on two existing trails, and there are additional trail and glade construction projects.
  • Guests to Aspen Highlands will enjoy a remodel of the mid-mountain Cloud Nine restaurant. The $1.1 million restoration will also include kitchen enhancements.

COOPER (SKI COOPER)

  • Katie O’Rourke’s, an Irish-themed pub with a full wait-served menu and plenty of microbrews, is being expanded. This will nearly double the current size of the pub, adding about 450 square feet of seating area.

COPPER MOUNTAIN

  • Sherpa, Copper’s award-winning geo-targeted mobile application, is being updated. Sherpa tracks a user’s runs, speed and vertical feet covered during their day on the mountain. New for the 2015-16 season, Sherpa offers trail recommendations. The app looks at data from a user’s previous skiing or riding patterns and recommends new terrain based on that user’s habits.
  • There are several new food and beverage options, including Starbucks Coffee, Mahi Fish Tacos and the relocated Belgian Bean.

CRESTED BUTTE

  • A culinary outlet is being built at the Ten Peaks area. The new restaurant and bar will have a 2,400-square-foot deck and a 700-square-foot bar area, providing views, drinks and food. In addition, the WoodStone Grille will have a new look and new menu.

LOVELAND

  • Chair 2, the main chairlift at the base of Loveland Basin, is being re-aligned. The original chairlift will be shortened to drop skiers and snowboarders off at the base of Chair 6. The newer upper section will serve the Bennett’s Bowl and Ptarmigan Roost areas.

MONARCH MOUNTAIN

  • A new yurt in the base area will house the mountain’s cat skiing operations. The area in the lodge used by large ski groups is also being expanded.

POWDERHORN

  • The Flat Top Flyer will be unveiled. This is a Poma high-speed quad chairlift that replacies the Take Four lift. The new lift, whose initial capacity is 1,800 riders, will cut ride time in half to approximately six minutes while offering comfortable seats and footrests for lift riders as they ascend 1,600 vertical feet.

PURGATORY

  • A new high-speed detachable quad chairlift will replace the original Legends Lift 8 located on the backside of the ski resort. This will take skiers and riders to the summit of Purgatory in just five minutes.
  • Additional terrain is being added in conjunction with the lift project, including two advanced trails to the west of the new high-speed quad.
  • Snowmaking equipment will be installed at the bottom of Lift 8, providing more consistency and better coverage at the bottom terminal.

SILVERTON

  • The resort’s demo fleet of K2 ultra-fat Powabunga powder skis is being upgraded and expanded.

SUNLIGHT

  • Restaurant interiors are being remodeled, and the kitchen upgraded.
  • The retail shop is being expanded.

STEAMBOAT

  • Gondola Joe’s is being expanded to offer more space for eating in, and the Four Points Lodge is receiving upgrades to the back of the house. The Rendezvous Lodge is receivinge a facelift with a new exterior design and interior upgrades.
  • RFID technology is being incorporated into its lift tickets, multi-day passes and season pass products using the QuickTrax card.

TELLURIDE

  • New tower mounts are being added to Hoot Brown Park, the resort’s largest terrain park. These will allow the resort to easily relocate snow guns from other areas of the mountain for improved snowmaking within the park. The park is also getting a few new custom made features.

WINTER PARK

  • RFID technology is being introduced into its lift tickets, multi-day passes and season pass products using the QuickTrax card, which will be reusable over multiple seasons and can be reloaded online or over the phone, allowing guests to bypass the ticket office.

WOLF CREEK

  • The Race Hutch building is being completed. This is integral to the operation of the Wolf Creek Fun Race Series.
  • Improvements are being made to the ski and snowboard rental department with the introduction of a fleet of premium demo skis, snowboards, boots and an online reservation system.

 



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A Conversation with Beth Howard, New GM of Northstar California

Beth Howard,  GM, Northstar-at-Tahoe

Beth Howard,
GM, Northstar California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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What’s new in Colorado for the ’14/’15 season.

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Whether you ski in Colorado regularly or only once in a while, you’ll find a lot of new things at the state’s ski resorts this season. Here are a few, courtesy of information provided by Colorado Ski Country USA:

Learning, Lessons & Little Ones

Arapahoe Basin will unveil a new 7,000 square foot Kids Center in the spring of 2015. To find out more, visit http://bit.ly/A-Basin-WhatsNew2015.

Aspen/Snowmass is opening The Hideout, a new multi-million dollar 7,500-square-foot children’s center at the base of Buttermilk. It’ll  offer improved access for drop off, direct access to the mountain and an interactive design. To learn more, visit http://www.aspensnowmass.com.

Loveland Ski Area is adding a second Magic Carpet surface lift. This will be open to the public and will provide access to gentle terrain perfect for first timers. For more information, visit http://www.skiloveland.com.

Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort’s new Burton Riglet Park will anchor the development of a multi-faceted ski and ride terrain-based learning facility perfect for the youngest of riders, ages 3-6 years. For more information, visit http://durangomountainresort.com/.

Guest Service & Experience

Copper Mountain has reengineered Sherpa, its resort smartphone app game. Not only will guests be able to create and share their own mountain tips and favorite trails, but Copper will reward the best contributors with swag, tickets, passes and even a prized treasured spot on 2015/2016 winter trail map. Learn more about Sherpa at www.CopperColorado.com/Sherpa.

Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort’s equipment rental operation will feature a new boot fitting station, snowboard demos and an upgraded rental fleet. The redesigned shop will allow guests to spend less time in lines so they can spend more time on the slopes. For more information, visit http://durangomountainresort.com/.

Silverton Mountain has purchased a new helicopter ski cargo basket to accommodate the deep snow landings. The old basket would get buried in legendary Silverton powder snow upon landing, forcing the guides to shovel snow just to get access to their skis. For more information, visit http://www.silvertonmountain.com.

Sunlight Mountain is investing in base lodge improvements that support the ski area’s commitment to sustainable business. Also new this season: newly remodeled restrooms in the base lodge. For more information, visit http://www.sunlightmtn.com.

Steamboat is expanding night operations to Thursday through Monday from 5:30-8:30 PM and from 6-9 PM during spring. A new Patrol/Maintenance Station at the top of Christie Peak Express is also being built to serve as home base for nighttime patrollers, as to provide repair and work space for lift maintenance operations. Steamboat is also moving all ticket office services  into its One Steamboat Place location. A new SnowSports Privates Lounge, in the former main ticket office space in the Gondola Building, will provide convenient sales and a comfortable meeting area for guests and instructors participating in private lessons.

Ski Cooper will complete improvements in its rental shop to enhance the flow of guests renting skis and snowboards, while adding more printer stations and re-configuring the area for guests to fit boots. For more information, visit http://www.skicooper.com.

Crested Butte plans to install a Magic Carpet® lift just for the tubing hill,. The mountain is also improving its free ski storage service with the installation of new slopeside rack systems. Guests who aren’t lodging at one of the resort’s properties or renting equipment from the Crested Butte Rental and Demo Center can take advantage of the service for a nominal fee.

Crested Butte is also adding ten snow bikes to its resorts rental fleet. For those new to the sport at CBMR, a two hour instruction and guided tour around the mountain is required to ensure safe use of the equipment and knowledge of where snow biking approved routes are located.  For more information, visit twww.skicb.com/snowbike.

At Loveland Ski Area, the new Ginny Lee Cabin, a day-use on-mountain structure located off Chair 8, will provide skiers and riders on the north side with a convenient place to meet friends and warm up without a trip to the base area. For more information, visit http://www.skiloveland.com.

Food & Beverage

Loveland Ski Area’s Loveland Basin is unveiling a newly remodeled cafeteria. There’ll be more food and beverage options, comfortable seating, and a cozy place for guests to take a break and take in the views.  For more information, visit http://www.skiloveland.com.

Ski Cooper is offering an on-mountain mobile food service with the new Cat Trax snow-cat. In a similar vein to a food truck, the Cat Trax will serve hot food at different locations on the mountain, offering the ski area’s first on-mountain dining service. For more information, visit http://www.skicooper.com.

Steamboat’s Thunderhead Lodge at the top of the gondola received a dramatic makeover this summer. Similar to the layout of the popular Four Points bar, Thunderhead Red’s will double in size and expand to include the eastern side of the building to take advantage of the east facing views of Mt. Werner and Storm Peak. In addition, equipment upgrades throughout a number of kitchens will improve the facility’s culinary offerings.

Steamboat is also launching OpenTable, a real-time online reservation service throughout its family of restaurants this winter. With OpenTable, resort restaurants will be able to manage reservations more efficiently, streamline operations, and enhance service levels. For more information, visit http://www.steamboat.com.

Winter Park Resort’s largest on-mountain building construction in over 25 years, Lunch Rock Restaurant will be a state-of-the-art facility utilized year-round, with 150-seat heated deck, 250-seat indoor restaurant, bar, and hydration station all focusing on Colorado themes. At 16,000 square-feet, the new restaurant will be over five times larger than the previous structure at Lunch Rock, which was built in 1985.  In addition to convenience and comfort, at 11,200 feet in elevation Lunch Rock Restaurant will boast amazing views of Parry Peak, James Peak, Parsenn Bowl, the Fraser Valley, and the Continental Divide.  For more information, visit http://lunchrock.co/.

Terrain & Snow Conditions

New at Aspen/Snowmass beginning Dec. 19, 2014, Snowmass will feature four lanes of lift-served snow tubing at Elk Camp. For more information, visit www.aspensnowmass.com.

Crested Butte has partnered with the local US Forest Service District to identify new areas for glading. Intermediate skiers looking for more gentle gladed terrain should get ready to weave through the trees in the East River area and off the Teocalli Lift. For more information, visit http://www.skicb.com.

Eldora Mountain Resort has added two new Kassbohrer grooming machines to the existing fleet of five groomers.  For more information, visit www.eldora.com.

Loveland Ski Area has invested in snowmaking upgrades at Loveland Basin and Loveland Valley to improve efficiencies and productivity. For more information, visit http://www.skiloveland.com.

Powderhorn’s mountain operations crew is widening the Equalizer trail for the 2014-15 season. For more information, visit www.powderhorn.com.

Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort is adding more snowmaking equipment to the front and backside of the mountain. The resort is adding 11 new energy-efficient snowmaking tower guns, and a state-of-the-art, high-output fan gun, making the mountain operations team more efficient during the early season to establish a solid base that lasts throughout the entire ski season. For more information, visit www.durangomountainresort.com.

Ski Granby Ranch is adding two new runs on West Mountain, improving access to Dean’s Glade on West Mountain, reopening the Poma Lift which gives access to Lone Pine Bowl, and adding a new gladed area off Bronc Rider on East Mountain. For more information, visit http://www.granbyranch.com.

Steamboat is adding a new Bison Sherpa, the first of its kind in Colorado, to its grooming fleet. It’ll be used to tackle some of Steamboat’s steepest terrain and portions of its terrain parks. In addition, Steamboat’s state-of-the-art snowmaking system is being upgraded this winter with more than two miles of pipe, more than 11,000 feet, across See Me, Upper See Ya, Sitz, top of Vogue to Jess’ Cut-Off and Sitz to Boulevard. In addition, two new 12 ft. by 16 ft. blockhouses at Jess’ Cut-Off and the Christie Peak Mid-Station will provide new valve stations for intersecting pipe lines in those critical areas. The new lines will significantly accelerate the resort’s ability to produce snow as tower guns can be spaced 75 feet apart to more efficiently cover the trails.or more information, visit www.steamboat.com.

Telluride has invested in new snowmaking equipment for 2014/15,  for greater snowmaking capacity in the high traffic areas off of Lifts 4 and 5, accessing the beginner and intermediate areas in the heart of Telluride’s trail system. Telluride’s new snowmaking system includes 38 new high efficiency Snowlogic snow guns. These snowmaking snow guns require 90 percent less energy to operate than other models. For more information, visit http://www.tellurideskiresort.com.

Wolf Creek Ski Area is adding a new refurbished Elma Lift, a fixed-grip triple chairlift. The Elma lift will provide skiers with a way to return to the base area from the bottom of the Alberta lift and eliminate the long traverse across the mountain from Park Avenue to the base area. It will also incorporate great beginner terrain along with some excellent intermediate terrain in an area that is currently underutilized. During times of avalanche hazard reduction when the Alberta Lift opens later than the other lifts, the Elma Lift will allow the public to return to the Treasure Stoke Quad and the lower Waterfall Area while waiting for the Alberta Lift to open.

Wolf Creek  is also replacing its old Race Hutch at the bottom of the Charisma trail. The new building will store all the timing equipment, fencing, poles and associated racing tools. For more information, visit http://www.wolfcreekski.com.

Anniversaries & Milestones

Several resorts in Colorado are recognizing significant anniversaries and milestones during the 2014/15 season. Winter Park will celebrate its 75th anniversary on January 28, 2015 with a weeklong series of events that kicks off with a celebration at Winter Park resort and finishes with Mary Jane’s 40th birthday party.

Wolf Creek is also celebrating 75 years this season. Along with a 75th anniversary logo, Wolf Creek will host a Retro Day to commemorate the occasion.

Additionally this winter, Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs will recognize the 100th anniversary of ski jumping at the nostalgic ski area.



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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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Breaking Through The Snow Ceiling

There’s nothing unusual about female ski instructors. And women in resort human resources, marketing, communications, and sales? Common as dirt.

But women general managers are a somewhat rarer breed. According to statistics from the National Ski Areas Association, there are only about 20 to 30 nationwide. It’s more or less a boy’s club.

That’s why it’s particularly noteworthy that Colorado Ski Country, the not-for-profit trade association representing Colorado’s twenty-two ski and snowboard resorts, recently bestowed its President’s Award on Cindy Dady, General Manager of Echo Mountain Resort. The award honors outstanding achievement within the Colorado ski industry, as well as excellence in serving the association.

According to CSC, Dady “created an operationally excellent business unit that consistently exceeded volume, revenue and profit expectations, and successfully developed and implemented a registration process resulting in a 20 percent increase in overall guest satisfaction over a three-year period. One of the hardest working individuals and a developing star within the Colorado ski industry family, Dady’s leadership has provided inspiration for many both inside and outside of her home resort of Echo Mountain.”

Cindy Dady

Cindy Dady, General Manager, Echo Mountain Resort

All this is certainly worthy of respect and admiration. But what does it take to be a female GM? How did she get where she is today.

We spoke to Cindy to find out.

First of all, congratulations on your award, Cindy. That?s a pretty big deal.
Thanks! I’m elated. It means a lot to me.

Tell me, have you always worked in the ski industry?
Yeah, I started when I was in college. I was a Rec Ed major at SUNY [State University of New York] in Cortland, where I spent a lot of hanging out at Greek Peak. I worked there as a part time instructor from 1982 through 1990, and eventually went full time to develop their kids program. I became their KIDS ski school director in 1991. We put in the first magic carpet on the east coast and built a new kids building, which was actually too small the day we moved in. In the midst of all this, I went back to school for a Phys Ed degree. I was thinking, well, I have to grow up one of these days, so I’ll be a phys ed teacher. Then in 1998, one of my great friends was working at Stratton, and the next thing I knew, I was taking a job to run their ski-ride program. It was great, but by 2005 I began to think I wanted more. So I moved within Intrawest to Winter Park to run its KIDS ski and ride program. I was there til 2008, when I had a partial knee replacement and went back to school to get an MBA in finance. The next thing I knew, I had a job with Echo Mountain.

You say you wanted more. What were you after?
With all my knee problems — I had 9 surgeries in 3 years — I knew I couldn’t be a ski school director forever. So I began to look at opportunities for growth. Getting my MBA provided that extra bit of validation and opened up new doors. Plus I had a ton of great experience. In many respects, I was running mini resorts at Stratton and Winter Park. I had my instructors, my rental staff, my food and beverage staff, my lift attendants. It made me very well rounded for whatever came my way.

Why do you think there are so few female General Managers?
First, there aren’t that many jobs. And second, I think it’s a case of believing you have the skill set and experience to take it on. Take me, for instance. I’m the youngest in my family. The oldest is 18 years older than me. By the time I was born, my mom could see that the world was changing. I have a sister who’s 15 years older who was a runner up for Miss America. But I wasn’t into that. When I was little, I wasn’t confined by the same boundaries that she was. I was playing football and baseball with the boys. When Title Nine came through, I had the opportunity to play Little League in the 70’s. I’ve never looked at things in terms of gender, and I think that’s the biggest problem most people have.

There are more women than ever before in upper management in the ski industry, and I think there’ll be more as positions open up. There are a number of women who are assistant GMs, so I think it’ll become a lot more common. Given all the opportunities, women aren’t looking at a position as a “guys only” job. They look at it and think, hey, I’ve got the skill set, I’m going to go for it.

Are people surprised that there’s a woman GM? Do you have any problems you’ve had to overcome?
No. I haven’t seen any of it. It’s been very welcoming. The mountain hired the person they thought was the best fit for this job. I’ve had no problems being that person.

What advice would you give a woman entering the ski industry?
I think the big thing is build a diverse resume. No job is off limits. What you come with — your own internal beliefs in your ability — sets the limits. If you think you can do anything, you can. I sit on a number of boards, and when I talk to kids, I tell them not to pigeon hole themselves. Have experiences in all phases of outdoor opportunities, so if you’re applying for a management position, you’re well rounded.

Is there an achievement at Echo Mountain that you’re most proud of?
We’ve been adding fun things all the time, like our race component. And we’ve been growing the ski and ride school. Each year we’ve seen new and exciting developments. Two years ago a member of our community became Terrain Master of the Year. We’re the itty bitty mountain, but we’re showing that we have the same caliber staff as the big guys.

How do you compete with the Vails and Breckenridges out there?
We’re the resort where families can come and feel safe, where the kids can have fun in the terrain park. We?re only 35 minutes from Denver, so we’re close enough to be a place to come for the day, as opposed to a destination resort. We actually have Winter Park/Loveland/Vail buy lane space for a month at a time throughout the winter so their front range kids can have the same training opportunities as the mountain kids who’re living at the resort. The fact that Vail is coming to us speaks volumes.

What’s in the future for Echo Mountain?
More expansion! We’re one of, if not the only, privately owned mountain, meaning we’re not leasing the terrain from the forest service. This gives us a lot of freedom in everything from deciding what trees we cut to where we erect pole banners. We can do whatever we want. We have 240 acres, and we’re sliding on between 60 and 80, depending on whom you talk to. So we’re continuing to expand.

Do you have a favorite run at Echo?
The entire mountain. It’s all good.

Can you ski, given the problems you’ve had with your knee?
Absolutely, as long as I’m not pounding through the bumps.

Do you ski on your day off?
No, I just relax. My time off is for my son, my dog, and my golf game. A season like we had this year when Denver was so warm, I was playing golf in March. I get around 120 rounds a year.

For our gearheads out there: What do you ski on?
I’ve been in Tecnica boots since their founding year, I think 1983. I ski on Blizzard skis. I’ve ordered the Crush and the Viva 8.1.

Thanks, Cindy! And again, congratulations!




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Steamboatin’!

So here I am in Steamboat, Colorado.

Quite a change for a New England skier. Bluebird skies, sun, soft snow, temperatures in the forties yesterday. Today it’s only supposed to be 4 degrees in Vermont.

I could get used to this.

It’s always good to try new places. I’ve been to Steamboat before, but skiing someplace you don’t ordinarily get to is a lot of fun.

I’m having a blast!

I should definitely do this more often.




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