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Gear Review: Kulkea Tandem Ski Duffle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kulkea Tandem Bag, all packed and ready to go.

Kulkea Tandem Bag, all packed and ready to go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily with her Kulkea Tandem Bag.

Emily with her Kulkea Tandem Bag.

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A Chat with Heather Burke, Ski Resort Reviewer

This sounds like a tough gig, doesn’t it? Going all over the country — heck, all over the world — to review ski resorts. Where do I sign up?

This is the job that Heather Burke slicked into 25 years ago when she started her websites, LuxurySkiTrips and FamilySkiTrips. Both offer travel tips and reviews for resorts all over the world. They’re a great way to gain info about a resort from someone who’s actually skied there, so you can plan your trip more easily. Heather also writes about skiing for a wide variety of ski and travel publications, and is the family ski blogger for Boston.com.

I recently spoke to Heather to find out more about how she does what she does.

Heather at work.

Heather at work.

Q: Tell me about your web sites. How’d you get started? How long have the sites been around?
A: I grew up skiing, even taught skiing in college at UVM [University of Vermont], but when it came time to teach my own kids to ski, I found out how incredibly complicated it is. So I started FamilySkiTrips.com to help fellow moms with tips on how to pack, how to find the best ski schools, how to get the most from a ski lesson…that was 1995! Then Luxury Ski Trips evolved soon after as I reviewed over 150 ski resorts, top mountainside hotels in the East, West, Canada and Europe. I love being editor of both sites. They’re my babies.

Q: So how many resorts do you review in a year?
A: Typically, about 10 new ski resorts annually, though last year we visited the Italian Dolomites and skied 14 in 10 days!  I think I’ve done more than 160. I remember being on a flight from Montana with my daughter, Aspen, and suggesting she write down all the places she’d skied by age 16. She filled every space on the cocktail napkin –- over 70. The guy seated next to us was flabbergasted.

Q: What do you look for when you evaluate a resort? What is it that puts it in your top ten?
A: For me, a ski resort needs great terrain and scenery above all – I just love being on a beautiful mountaintop. But convenient on-mountain lodging, fun places for après ski, a few shops, maybe dog-sledding or snowmobiling, give a ski trip that certain “je ne sais quoi.” Finally, the vibe from the locals –- the feeling you get from the liftline to the lunch line– matters. It’s not easy to make my top 10 ski resorts list. I’m a skiing critic.

Heather at Verbier

Heather at Verbier

Q: If you had to choose your favorite resort for each area of the country, which would they be and why?
A: In the East, I love Sunday River – lots of terrain, swift lifts, some of the best snowmaking and grooming in the biz, plus plenty of on mountain lodging and ski in ski out dining. It’s a happy place. Stowe is also special to me; the Front Four are classically steep and worthy, while the new Spruce Camp base village and the Stowe Mountain Lodge are cushy and swank – a brilliant combination. Out west, I love Big Sky and Whitefish –- both big mountain Montana skiing, amazing scenery, nearby Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks — respectively, but I have been asked to stop sending people out to the last great ski state. So, shhhh.

Q: What’s your favorite way to après?
A: First, I feel strongly about getting out of my ski boots, changing into something a bit more stylish, a SKEA skirt and stylish midlayer for après ski. I love a little wine by a fire with ski stories, true or exaggerated, or a live band, beer and nachos, with whomever I’ve had the pleasure of schussing with that day.

Q: Do you have a favorite ski bar?
A: After visiting Europe, American après ski pales. The Austrians in particular know how to celebrate the end of ski day. Still, I love Sunday River’s Foggy Goggle where you have a view of the ski slopes, live music and fun people. Cannon’s Cannonball Pub has the best memorabilia. Out West, the Trap Bar at Grand Targhee is an all out ski party – people dancing in ski socks. Whitefish’s Bierstube is epic too, where the locals outweigh, outdrink and outdress the skiers from away every Wednesday.

Q: I know you have a number of travel tips on your web site. What would be your top tip for someone going on a ski trip?
A: I learned the hard way that its an expensive hassle (read: time & money) to forget things – mittens, goggles, long undies. So now I pack like-a-pro with checklists for everyone in the family.

Q: Any booking advice that can save skiers money?
A: Midweek skiing is the bomb. You pay less for more acreage, more cord, no lines, and better lodging. Taking your kids out of school is educational if you take them to ski school, right?!

Q: What’s your favorite hard snow ski? Powder ski? All Mountain?
A: I like a versatile all-mountain ski, My Rossignol Experience 88 do it all from gripping and ripping, to plowing through fluff and even slush. They carve on dime, and come in a softer ladies version: the Rossi Temptation. I also love Blizzard’s Black Pearls. A girl should always have pearls.

Q: As we all know, all good things have to come to an end. So what’s your favorite activity for the off season?
A: I love to waterski. Early morning glass on a lake in Maine is as close to first tracks in snow that I can find in summer. Stand Up Paddleboarding is a great pre-ski work out too, requiring balance and core and quad strength, just like snow skiing.

Ski Journalist Heather Burke resides in Kennebunkport Maine, when she’s not skiing the globe. Her husband-photographer captures their ski adventures. See www.luxurysktrips.com and www.familyskitrips.com for more.

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Sexual Abuse Has No Place in Skiing


Or in any other sport, for that matter.

Here’s why this is this week’s blog topic: Not long ago, I learned (via Unofficial Networks) that Bertrand Charest, a former Alpine Canada’s women’s development team coach, is facing 57 charges related to allegations of sexual misconduct:

[Charest] has been in custody since his arrest March 10 on accusations of sexual
assault and breach of trust involving 11 girls and young women under his tutelage between 1991 and 1998. The girls were between 12 and 19 years old at the time.

Radio-Canada has reported the mother of one teen tried to report Charest to
police in 1998, but she said she was counseled by Alpine Canada not to do anything.

The woman, whose daughter is not one of the complainants in the current
criminal case, said the organization told her it would deal with the matter and
advised her to not jeopardize the girl’s skiing career.

This is appalling for so many reasons: First, of course, that it happened at all, and not just once, but again and again and again. But for a mother to be discouraged from reporting the abuse to the authorities; and for the organization to tell her that reporting it could jeopardize her daughter’s race career; and for the mother to buy this sort of twisted logic and keep her mouth shut; well, consider my mind blown.

Okay, even if we don’t assume that Charest is guilty — after all, he’s only been charged, and like it or not, we have to be fair — there’s no doubt that sexual misconduct is something that occurs not only in skiing, but in all kinds of sports. There’s a definite power relationship between coaches and athletes, and there’ll always be some creep who’s going to take advantage of that dynamic.

So is there anything we can do to keep stuff like this from happening? Or do we just throw up our hands and walk away?

Sadly, there’s probably no way to eliminate sexual abuse entirely. But there are things that can make it a little less likely to happen.

First, we need to change the culture (I’m looking at you, Alpine Canada). Any organization in which reporting abuse is discouraged, in which you’re told to keep quiet instead of going to the authorities, is in dire need of a sea change. Instead, it needs to be replaced with a culture that has zero tolerance for sexual misconduct. All reports of abuse must be taken seriously, and all victims treated with the utmost respect and yes, given the encouragement and support they need to speak out. Also, organizations must have policies in place, both for dealing with abuse and for preventing it from occurring.  And everyone responsible — not just coaches, but volunteers, staff, and even other athletes — must be held accountable for misconduct.

But some of the change has to come on our end, too. We have to learn not only how to recognize the signs of abuse, but to give our children the confidence, and the permission, to say ‘no’ in no uncertain terms. Children who are assertive, who know appropriate behavior and know that no one has the right to touch them or to to have a sexual relationship with them, are much more likely to defend themselves. What’s more, we have to teach our kids that it’s okay to report anything unusual to a parent or another trusted adult, no matter who’s involved.

Here’s an interesting statistic: 90% of child targets are abused by someone they know and trust. Scary, isn’t it? So how do you know if abuse is occurring? Experts say that if the answer to any of the following questions is “yes,” there may be a problem. I found this on Momsteam.com, a website for sports parents, and thought I’d post it here:

  • Does your child’s coach make her feel like she needs him in order to succeed?
  • Does your child’s coach spend time with you in an attempt to win your trust or try to be a surrogate parent?
  • Does your child’s coach act differently with her when in front of others?
  • Does your child’s coach try to control her (even off the field)?
  • Does your child’s coach try to separate her from her teammates or other sources of support, like you or her friends?
  • Does your child’s coach spend a lot more time with her than with other athletes?
  • Does your child’s coach try to be alone with her?
  • Does your child’s coach give her gifts?
  • Does your child’s coach tell her not to talk about personal encounters the two of them have had?

Another great resource: Safe4Athletes.com. Safe4Athletes was founded by Katherine Starr, an elite swimmer who endured sexual abuse during her career without the benefit of any resources to fall back on. There’s lots of great info there, including what every athlete should know about sexual abuse, where to go for help, and more.

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Thanks, Dad.

A few weeks ago I posted a Mother’s Day tribute to all the ski moms out there. Which is only fitting, since TheSkiDiva is geared toward women skiers.

But since Father’s Day was this past Sunday, I thought it was only appropriate to give the Dads their due.

My Dad, in particular.

See, my Dad is the one who introduced me to skiing way back when I was 13. This was pretty amazing, since no one in my family had ever skied or even expressed any interest in skiing (it was an Olympic year, which might explain the sudden attraction). I grew up on the Jersey Shore, which is flat, flat, flat, and where the closest thing to skiing is surfing. Which isn’t really close at all.

But for my 13th birthday, my Dad took us all up to a small resort in the Catskills (that’s in New York state), where there was a small hill served by a rope tow.

It was dreadful.

Rope tows are evil torture devices invented primarily, I think, to encourage people to get off the beginner slope as quickly as possible. The rope absolutely shreds your gloves. And if you don’t keep your feet in the exact track of the skier ahead of you, you’re going to go down, baby. Even worse, if you’re like me and fall without letting go of the rope, you end up getting dragged a good distance before it occurs to you to drop the rope, idiot, and roll away so no one skis into you and there’s a nasty pile-up with you on the bottom, crying.

Suffice it to say I fell in both directions: up and down. I hated it. The only thing that kept going was sibling rivalry. My sister was better than I was, and damn it, I couldn’t allow that to continue. I learned the basics, and by the end of the weekend had (sort of) perfected a wobbly snowplow that got me down an incline not much steeper than a parking lot.

And yet I stuck it out.

Even after that weekend, I continued to ski with my Dad. We’d head to north Jersey (Great Gorge, Vernon Valley, Snow Bowl), New York State (Bellayre), even into Vermont (Mount Snow, Killington, Haystack, Hogback). And ever so gradually, my skiing improved until I was better than my sister — who, by the way, eventually gave up skiing and moved to Florida, where she complains it’s freezing if the thermometer dips below 60. Wimp.

My clearest memory of skiing with my Dad is the way he used to sing when we went up on the lift — corny songs at TOP VOLUME so that everyone, I thought, alllllllllllllll over the mountain could hear, laugh, and point. When you’re a teenager, this is devastatingly embarrassing.

My Dad doesn’t ski anymore. Like my sister, he lives in Florida, and while he’s in excellent health (knock on wood), he’s 92 and his knees aren’t what they used to be. This doesn’t stop him from swimming half a mile three or four times a week. The man is an absolute machine.

Still, what I wouldn’t give to ride up the lift with him and have him sing to me — even at TOP VOLUME — one more time.

So thanks Dad, for everything. You’re the best.

My Dad at Mount Snow, 1971


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Here’s to you, Ski Moms (a little bit late).

Mother’s Day was this past Sunday. And though I’m just getting around to posting this now, it doesn’t mean I forgot. I didn’t. After all, remembering our moms is important. They give us life, bring us up, and then bravely, inevitably, let us go.

mothers-dayBut it’s the Ski Moms who I think deserve special recognition, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day. They’re the ones who make sure everyone has the hats, goggles, ski pants, boots, etc. that’s needed on the slopes. Who dress and undress the kids. Assemble the lunches. Haul the equipment. Harbor a secret stash of tissues/sun block/chap stick/energy bars for that unavoidable emergency. Accomodate multiple bathroom breaks and all the dressing and undressing that goes with them. Provide encouraging words after a fall. Drive to and from the mountain. Attend ski races. Wipe noses. Wipe tears. Administer first aid. Put on and remove boots/jackets/gloves/helmets. Make sure nothing gets left behind. Arrange ski lessons. Make sure the kids wear helmets.

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

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

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

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

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day!

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Here’s to you, ski moms!

I don’t need to remind you that Mother’s Day is Sunday, do I? Of course I don’t; you’ve already ordered flowers and made your dinner reservation, right?

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Mother’s Day! (And if you hurry, there’s still time to get her a gift.)


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Meet Kristen Lummis, Brave Ski Mom

I couldn’t let Mothers Day week go by without a shout-out to the ski moms. After all, it’s the mom who usually makes sure everyone has the hats, goggles, ski pants, boots, etc. they need. Who dresses and undresses the kids. Assembles the lunches. Hauls the equipment. Harbors a secret stash of tissues/sun block/chap stick/energy bars for that unavoidable emergency. Accommodates multiple bathroom breaks with all the dressing and undressing that go with ’em. Provides encouragement after a fall. Drives to and from the slopes. Attends ski races. Wipes noses and tears. Administers first aid. Puts on and removes boots/jackets/gloves/helmets. Makes sure nothing gets left behind. Arranges ski lessons. Makes sure the kids wear helmets.

Obviously, being a ski mom isn’t an easy job. But there is help: Kristen Lummis’ outstanding blog, Brave Ski Mom. Kristen writes about anything and everything related to family skiing: resorts, gear, kids, parenting, and more.  There’s a ton of great information, so it’s a great resource for ski moms everywhere. Plus it’s a lot of fun to read.


The Brave Ski Mom Family

I spoke to Kristen recently from her home in Colorado.

Q: How did you get started, and where’d the name Brave Ski Mom come from?
A: I started Brave Ski Mom in late July, 2010, after 16 months of thinking about it. The inspiration came from my older son. When he was 11, we were skiing at Snowbird, UT, and while riding the chairlift, he began going over the points he felt made Snowbird a great place for kids to ski. Listening to him, I realized that he had put a lot of thought into his comments and that they were really insightful. So, I suggested he start a blog. He wasn’t at all interested, but it planted a seed in my brain. A few weeks later, I began writing sample posts and sharing them with family and friends.

My focus for these sample posts was family travel and ski resort reviews. The “where, how, and why” information that is helpful when families are deciding to take a ski vacation. The feedback I got was very positive. But then I got bogged down in the details: the technology, the platforms, hosting, and so on. It seemed so overwhelming that I put the project off. Fast forward 16 months and my older son, now 13, looks at me on a hot summer afternoon and says “Remember your blog? I knew you’d never do it.” My reaction was to sigh and agree with him. Another good idea put off and another project I didn’t do. A couple days later, I realized I had to do it. I had to start Brave Ski Mom, both to show my kids I could follow through and for my own self-respect! Thirty minutes later I had my first post up. The emphasis on ski resort reviews quickly grew into an emphasis on family skiing from all angles — the joys, the challenges, how to get kids’ skiing, competition and more.

The name Brave Ski Mom came from a lovely older European man whom I met at Mount Hood when my kids were at ski camp. I was riding the lift with a friend and he joined us on the chair. We began chatting and he asked, “Are you ski moms?” We answered yes and told him that we had brought our kids from Colorado. As we got off the lift, he looked at us and said, “You are brave ski moms.” I loved being called a brave ski mom. When I was thinking about a name for my blog, it’s the first thing that came to mind.

Q: Does it take special bravery to be a ski mom?
A: I think that being a mom takes a lot of bravery. When you have children you take a jump, headfirst, into the unknown. As moms, we strive to nurture, enrich and protect our kids. Then as skiers, we put them on skis the moment they can walk and push them down a hill. They fall, we brush them off and send them back out with a kiss. Soon, they’ve got it going on and they scream down the mountain at Mach 10. When my kids progressed from powder papooses to ski racers, I had a choice. I could fret and worry or I could take a deep breath and cheer them on. I chose to cheer.

Q: What’s your own family’s ski story? How’d you start your kids skiing, and how are they doing now?
A: Going way, way back, I grew up with a ski instructor dad. Skiing was important to our family and we skied recreationally and well as competitively. My dad was wise and didn’t teach me and my brother, so we took lessons and clinics from other instructors. But I always loved skiing with my dad and I have a favorite childhood memory of him picking me up from school at lunchtime to go skiing. My husband grew up in the East and came to Colorado for college. From the moment we met, we realized that as skiers we had a lot in common and we spent as much time skiing as our meager budgets would allow. Having kids actually got us skiing more. When our oldest was three, we started him. We made many mistakes, including not keeping him warm enough. That year was pretty much a bust. The next year, he was just four and loved it. Our younger son started at age two and has never looked back. At age 6, each boy started in recreational ski racing through our local Buddy Werner club. Then as they progressed they moved up to USSA racing. Those were really fun and busy years, exhausting actually, as we skied every day the boys did not have school and travelled each weekend. Racing gave both boys a tremendous foundation, but they soon succumbed to the lure of powder and double-blacks and stopped competing. Now we are able to ski where and when we want to, but we still ski almost every weekend and logged nearly 50 days this season.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge faced by ski moms?
A: I would have to say the cost involved in getting kids on skis. Skiing is expensive and while many resorts offer deals for families, kids grow and outfitting them is an annual challenge. Every ski family I know makes choices and sacrifices to keep skiing. These sacrifices aren’t painful, because we’re doing what we love, but they are real.

Additionally, I think that one of the biggest challenges a ski mom can face is having a child who doesn’t share her passion. We are lucky. We all love and live to ski. But we know families where everyone loves to ski except one child. It can be hard and frustrating to honor this child’s preferences, especially when it interferes with everyone else’s personal passion. But we have to respect our kids as individuals, even if we don’t understand their choices.

Q: What do you think: Teach your kids yourself or get an instructor?
A: That’s easy! Get an instructor! While I know this means more cost, it’s good to learn from a pro for several reasons. 1) The instructor is specially trained to work with kids and knows the latest techniques and secrets. 2) The instructor is not emotionally involved with the success or failure of the child. She or he won’t worry and fret as much about falls, nor will any whining impact the instructor like it impacts mom. 3) Having a neutral third-party involved takes the pressure off — both the student and the parent. 4) Kids like learning with other kids and are motivated by their peers. While adults often prefer private lessons, small groups for kids are often more fun and enhance learning.

I know that many parents want to teach their kids and one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is to take a lesson with your child. Tell the instructor, up front, that you want to learn how to teach your child after the lesson is over. Ask the instructor how you can successfully build on the lesson, what words to say, what actions to take. Instructors are trained to help you help your child and you’ll make their job easier for future lessons if you reinforce what they’re teaching. Also, don’t push your child too far, too fast. That is probably the number one mistake parents make. We want our kids to progress, we want to get off the bunny hill, so we push them ahead, rather than letting them set the pace. I know. I’ve done it!

Q: What tips would you give a mom or dad for a happy ski day?
A: These are basic. 1) Make sure everyone has warm clothes and proper layers. We stupidly tried pjs as long underwear and a cute department store parka as a ski coat when our oldest was three. Not surprisingly, he froze and hated skiing. My rule of thumb: if I won’t wear it, why should my kids? 2) Keep everyone fueled. Kids get colder and hungrier much faster than adults. Carry snacks and share them on the chairlift. Take breaks for water and hot chocolate. If your kids get hungry or dehydrated, they will get colder faster. 3) Be prepared to have your plans change. Especially with little kids, you have to expect that one day they’ll ski for hours and the next day they may be done after 15 minutes. While this can be frustrating and disappointing, it seems to me that forcing them to keep skiing will only lead to more problems in the future. 4) Enjoy the time on the chairlift. Chat, laugh, listen to your child’s stories and enthusiasms. I’ve had more fun with my kids on chairlifts than almost anywhere. Put away your phone and turn off the iPod. They’ll do the same and you can really enjoy one another uninterrupted for a few minutes. 5) Let the kids be trail boss. My boys love to study ski maps and snow reports, so we’d be foolish to suggest runs. Instead we follow them. Even when they were little, we let them choose where to go. That way, they would have some control, could choose what was fun for them and rarely got in over their heads. Most kids know what they can do comfortably.

Q: And I have to ask: What’s your kids’ favorite ski lunch?
A: As a family of four, we try to avoid buying ski lunches. The simple reality is that if we bought lunch at a resort each day, we’d quickly be broke. Instead, we usually make sandwiches — pb&j, turkey, or cheese quesadillas — whatever will fit in our pockets or in the pocket of a camelbak without becoming too squished (try “sandwich thins” instead of slices of bread — totally non-squishable). We often take nuts, carrots, celery and of course, chocolate. If we’re at a resort with a lodge that allows coolers, sometimes we really splurge and take…leftovers (my lucky family!)

Our oldest son is a great sport about these cold weather picnics and will gladly eat anything. Our youngest son tries to hold out for hotdogs. He started doing this when he was racing. He’d be starving and not want to eat what we were offering. In my desperation to get something into him, I’d offer hot chocolate and he’d say, “How about a hotdog?” Bang! I’d be so happy to get a response, that I would buy him one.

He still tries this once in a while, but his older brother calls him on it (and calls me out too for “spoiling him.” Is there no end to sibling rivalry?)

This is what you want: happy kids.

* Photos courtesy of the Brave Ski Mom herself, Kristen Lummis

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Great Expectations.

WreathSad, but true: For some people, the most wonderful time of the year just isn’t all that wonderful.

Sometimes it’s a matter of expectations. All around us, we’re bombarded with images of the way the holidays are supposed to be: sort of like a Norman Rockwell painting crossed with a Hallmark card and a Walton Family TV special. There’s no way real life can possibly measure up.

This is especially true with a holiday ski trip. For months, you’ve been waiting to take the fam on the slopes. You can see it now: the snow glistening as it slowly drifts down, the kids gaily laughing as they execute perfect turns, the conditions Warren Miller perfect, and of course, the empty, uncrowded slopes. Apres ski, you sit around a roaring fire, hot chocolate in hand,  bowls of popcorn at the ready. The kids never whine or complain. Nothing and no one gets lost.

I hate to burst your bubble, but chances are, this ain’t gonna happen.

Nonetheless, a ski trip doesn’t have to be perfect to be great. It’s simply a matter of adjusting your expectations. Be flexible and roll with the punches. And follow a few handy tips. Things will go a lot better if you do.

• Prepare for the worst: Sorry, I don’t mean to start out sounding negative, but a little advance planning can go a long way in saving you a ton of aggravation. If you’re flying, bring your boots and a change of ski clothes in your carry-on. If you’re driving, do yourself a favor and invest in a GPS; it’ll help prevent the dreaded “where do I turn” arguements. When you’re on the slopes, establish a meet up place in case you get separated. Put ID information in the kids’ helmets or jackets. Give everyone a few bucks so they can at least get a hot chocolate if they get cold. Bring extra mittens, neck warmers, goggles, hand and foot warmers. Believe me, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

• Be flexible: Don’t be so rigid that you’ll be horribly disappointed if things don’t go exactly as planned. If conditions are lousy, come up with alternative activities: a nature walk, seeing a movie, browsing the ski shops, going out for a nice lunch, enjoying the hot tub or pool. All these offer their own kinds of fun.

• Expect it to be busy. It’s the holidays. You’re not the only ones off. Yes, there will be lift lines. Yes, it will be crowded. Know this before you go and take it in stride. Smile at people. Be nice to the employees who are working to make your stay enjoyable. Things will go a lot smoother if you do.

• Try a small, local area. If you have a problem with crowds, scale down and go to a smaller, local resort. You’ll spend lot less, encounter fewer crowds, and the kids will probably be just as happy.

• Take turns. While one of you goes to conquer the black diamonds, let the other stay in the lodge with the kids, or take them on the appropriate slopes. You’ll get the gnarly skiing you want, without feeling deprived.

• Put the kids in ski school. Let them learn from the pros. It’ll free up some time for you to ski by yourself, and it’ll make them better skiers, too. Don’t teach them yourself. There’s far too much baggage associated with that, and you’ll all have a better time.

• Enjoy the little things. An hour spent bonding over a cup of hot chocolate can sometimes be even more fun than an hour on the slopes. Take in the view. Tell each other stories. It’ll be fun.

• Laugh. Make jokes. Tease one another. Try not the let the little things drive you nuts. Remember, sometimes the biggest screw-ups make the best memories.

Remember, you chose to vacation with these people because you love them. So if tempers run high, if people get on your nerves, take a step back. Breathe. Maybe go off on your own for a few minutes. Adjust your expectations and simply expect to have a great time, no matter what happens.

And have a happy holiday.


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The Law of The Mom.


If there’s one thing I’ve learned from hosting a ski forum, a sure way to get an argument going is to start a thread on ski helmets.

It’s like starting a fire. For some reason, people feel very strongly one way or the other, and no amount of persuasion is going to change anyone’s mind.

I’m not going to go into the pros or cons here. I’m sure we’ve heard all the arguments before, so why waste valuable blog space?

The only reason I bring it up is because California’s Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed the legislature’s bill to require ski helmets in children under 18. “While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state,” he wrote. “Not every human problem deserves a law. Parents have the ability and responsibility to make good choices for their children.”

Ironically, last year the previous governor, Schwartzenegger, voiced support for a ski helmet law but vetoed it due to its ties to legislation requiring ski resorts to develop and implement formal safety plans.

All this indicates government’s total confusion over what to do in this matter. Still, government has been down this road before. We protect children from alcohol by passing age requirements on drinking. We have laws that require car seats for babies, and we don’t allow people under a certain age to drive. So Governor Brown’s argument, while I agree in some measure, doesn’t really hold up. Then again, do we want to live in a nanny state? Should government be responsible for every aspect of our behavior, down to how we behave on the ski slope? Who’d be responsible for enforcement? And would it even make a difference?

So what’s the solution?

Darned if I know. But one thing is certain. No matter what the law, if I had a kid skiing, I’d put ’em in a helmet. No helmet, no skiing. It’s the Law of The Mom. Simple as that. Because despite all the arguments for and against, it certainly couldn’t hurt. And a head injury certainly could.

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Make Way for SkiDUCKs!

I’m one of the lucky ones. My Dad started me skiing as a kid. The result was a lifelong passion that’s influenced everything from where I live today to how I make my living.

I don’t know where I’d be without it.

But for many kids, skiing is as remote as, say, a trip to the moon. 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.

Enter SkiDUCK, a new national non-profit volunteer-based organization that stands for Skiing and snowboarding for Disabled and Underprivileged Children and older Kids. An outreach program that involves establishing partnerships between ski resorts and youth organizations, SkiDUCK is dedicated to exposing kids to the joys of the skiing and/or snowboarding experience.

I recently spoke with Clint Lunde, self proclaimed ski addict and the organization’s excecutive director and founder:

Q: What inspired you to create SkiDUCK?
A: I’d left a company and decided to intentionally force myself through a “pseudo mid-life crisis” during my new career search. Fortunately, I was at a point in my life that I was ready for a period of self-reflection and deep soul searching. As part of that process, I kept asking questions like: What is my purpose? How can I make more of a difference? How can I better use my passion and skills for a greater good? If money weren’t an issue, what would I be doing? And, rather than focusing on a job or career, how can I turn my passion into a life-long vocation? SkiDUCK was the ultimate answer to all those questions. It combines my personal passion for skiing and the mountains with helping others in need and sharing the sport that I love.

Q: When did SkiDUCK launch?
A: August 12, 2009.  I’d been contemplating creating an organization to introduce skiing and snowboarding to disadvantaged children. I’d done research online and discovered that unlike other sports, like basketball, baseball, football, and golf, there were almost no programs to help introduce underprivileged children to winter mountain sports. I remember sitting on the deck on a beautiful sunny day in August when I finally made the decision to go for it. Once I committed mentally, I had an immediate surge of energy and sense of purpose; like “YES!! This is what I want to do for the rest of my life!”

Almost everyone I consulted told me it would be impossible to create a brand new organization and get the non-profit status approved and everything else required in place before the end of the ski season. That was the wrong thing to tell me. I’ll admit there were a lot of 16 hour work days, but we received our IRS 501(c)3 non-profit approval October 7. Then we began promoting the concept, coordinating with Youth Service clubs and ski resorts, and developing our programs. It took a while, but our insurance policy went into effect February 1, 2010, and we were on the slopes with our first group of  about 30 kids the following weekend, February 7!

Q: Why do you think it’s important to expose disadvantaged or challenged kids to skiing?
A: Just giving them the chance to experience the sheer joy and exhilaration of skiing and snowboarding are reason enough for me. I’ve taught many kids to ski, and I know first-hand how much fun it is for them. But more importantly, as many of us have experienced, the mountains and outdoors — and more specifically for some, skiing and snowboarding — have the power to change people’s lives. Seriously. Some hardly recognize it, since they can only ride for a few weekends a season and then go back to their usual weekday grind. But for others, the mountains become a retreat – where they can rejuvenate their mind, body and soul. More than any other sport or recreation, skiing and snowboarding combine the beauty, peace and serenity of the mountains with the rush of excitement and exhaustion of pushing yourself to your physical limits. I’m so excited to present this new world to kids who otherwise may never have discovered it. And let’s face it, if you don’t learn to ski or snowboard as a child… you’re not very likely to endure the long learning curve necessary to really fall in love with it as an adult.

Q: What are SkiDUCK’s goals?
A: The primary goal of SkiDUCK is quite simple: to introduce skiing and snowboarding to as many disadvantaged children as possible — those who otherwise may never have a chance to get up to the mountains. Besides being a fun and healthy activity for kids, we know there will be many other benefits as well: like developing movement and coordination skills, enhancing interpersonal skills and positive relationships, building a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, the list could go on and on. But for now, those are all additional benefits, not specific goals of the organization. However, as we grow and mature over time, I fully expect we’ll incorporate other goals to have a much deeper and more significant impact in at least some of these kids’ lives.

Q:  How does SkiDUCK work to accomplish this goal? I understand it’s a collaborative effort. Can you explain how this works?
A: Absolutely. Our motto is to “Partner, Partner, Partner”. The success of SkiDUCK is based upon the foundation of collaboration with both youth service organizations and participating ski resorts. Our model is primarily as a facilitator to connect existing organizations each already doing what they do best. For example, our partnering ski resorts’ ski and snowboard schools are already teaching kids to ski and snowboard. And our partnering youth service organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, are already serving underprivileged and at-risk children in many ways. But they can’t afford to buy lift tickets, rentals and lessons. Oh, did I mention yet that these are all completely free for the kids and youth clubs? It’s important to point out that the ski resorts are providing free lift tickets, rentals and lessons for the kids. So along with a wonderful group of volunteers, SkiDUCK brings these organizations together to provide opportunities these children may never otherwise have. And if they want, they can come back several times a season and year after year, all the way through high school! Pretty cool, huh? There’s a really good 2-minute video on our website (www.SkiDUCK.org) that shows a typical SkiDUCK day and how this partnership works.

Q: Where does SkiDUCK operate? How many resorts and kids are involved?
A: We launched SkiDUCK in the Lake Tahoe area our first season, as there are quite a few resorts within relatively close distance to small, medium, and large cities — Reno, Sacramento, and San Francisco. Rather than expanding too quickly, we wanted to stay focused and build a really solid model before reaching out to other ski communities. We held events at four resorts — Squaw Valley, Kirkwood, Tahoe Donner and Sugar Bowl — and from our start in February through April, we took nearly 130 kids up for their first-ever day of skiing or snowboarding. Some kids made two or three trips, for a total of over 200 days on the slopes! We’re pretty happy with that, given the short timeframe left in the season. If all goes well, we could potentially bring 10 times as many kids up next year, in our first “full” season. Each of the four resorts has asked us to come back next season and also increased the number of events and free lift tickets/lessons offered. I also expect that we’ll add at least a few more resorts in Lake Tahoe as well as branch out to a few other areas/states. Although, not too quickly;  we still want to focus on quality versus quantity and make sure that we’re creating sustainable programs that will succeed in the long-run.

Q: What’s the response been so far? 
A: The response has been fantastic; from the resorts, from the youth service clubs and especially from the kids and their families. A letter we received from one of the parents says it better than I ever could:

Dear SkiDUCK,

I just wanted to thank everyone that was involved in the trip to Squaw Valley. When my kids came home they were so happy. They said that “they came home from the top of the world”. They told me the sun was shining and the snow was so amazing. I asked them what was the best part of their trip? They said that it was the people that they were surrounded by. Especially the instructors and volunteers. That took me by surprise; that they went to one of the most beautiful places in the world and that was what they said they liked best. A tribute to everyone.

I was born here in Reno and have never been skiing or snowboarding. I think that to give kids a memory that they can take with them their whole life is so awesome. I think that the organization SKIDUCK is the best! I want to wish everyone the best and thanks again for making kids and parents so happy!

Thomas Kuykendall

Q: What’s the future hold for SkiDUCK?
A: I know I’m wearing rose-colored glasses at times when looking to the future of SkiDUCK. But in my mind’s eye, I foresee programs either founded or partially funded by SkiDUCK at literally hundreds of ski resorts across the entire country, serving thousands of underprivileged and minority children every year! I envision a national network of local community chapters providing opportunities to children who may never otherwise be exposed to the beauty and life-changing force of the mountains. Eventually, we’ll grow beyond U.S. borders to other mountain countries around the world. And I’m certain that someday a child who first stepped into bindings through a SkiDUCK program will also step onto an Olympic, Paralympic, World Cup, or X Games Gold medal podium.

But setting all the grand designs aside, the truest measure of SkiDUCK’s success will be years from now when someone who first fell in love with skiing or snowboarding through SkiDUCK takes their own son or daughter to the mountain for their first day on the slopes. That’s the dream that still chokes me up.

To find out more about SkDUCK or to make a donation, visit their website at Skiduck.org.

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