Tag Archives | travel

Winter Driving, or Getting To The Hill In One Piece.

Have you seen this video? It’s everywhere right now. You can’t take your eyes off it; the slo-mo crashes are amazing. I just hope no one got hurt.

All the same, it serves as a good reminder: Winter driving can be treacherous. The same weather that brings us great ski conditions can also make getting to the mountain a white knuckle experience.

Which means you have to be prepared. You have to know how to handle the worst winter can dish out. For starters, this means having a car that’s reliable and snow-capable. I have a Subaru, the unofficial state car of Vermont. And I’m only half kidding.  Everyone around here has one. It has four-wheel drive, plenty of room, and it’s not an SUV so it’s good on gas. All pluses, in my book. On top of that, I replaced the stock all-season tires with some really good snow tires. Winter is a serious business here. Trust me, you don’t want to take chances.

So in the interest of improving your on-the-road safety, here are some tips that can help you get to the mountain without incident:

Check the road conditions before you go. I’ve been on roads that have been closed by the state police, and believe me, they’re closed for a reason. If a road isn’t open, stay off. And if it says “chains required,” for God’s sake, use them.

Clean off your car. This is so basic it should go without saying, yet I still see lots of people driving with just a peep hole cleared on their windshields, or a foot of snow on their hoods or roofs. Not safe. Snow on the hood can blow onto the windshield and obstruct your vision. And snow on the roof can fly off and impair the vision of the driver behind you. So if not for yourself, please be courteous and clear off the blasted snow.

Keep your washer fluid reservoir full. And make sure you have good wiper blades. Again, you have to see to drive safely. This isn’t rocket science. It’s a fact.

Leave plenty of space between cars. Don’t crowd the car ahead of you. You want to leave plenty of room to stop. And if you go into a skid, the last thing you want is to be up against someone else’s bumper.

S-L-O-W down. You know those car commercials where  an SUV is barreling through ten feeet of snow? Those are professional drivers on closed roads. They are not you. Slow down — so it’ll take you ten minutes longer. It’s worth it.

Keep a portable shovel in your car. I do this, and it’s saved me from being stuck in a snow bank more than once.

Make sure you have emergency stash. A warm blanket, some snacks, and a flashlight can go a long way if you get stuck. As part of this….

Keep your cell phone charged. So you can call for help, if needed. Of course, around here in Vermont, cell phone service stinks; we have a lot of dead zones. Still, you never know.

Keep a couple of sand bags in your trunk. Or cat litter. Not only does this add some extra weight (which can translate into extra traction), you can sprinkle the kitty litter/sand under your tires to give you some purchase, if you get stuck.

winterdriving

Four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicles do not do better on ice. So keep that in mind. Don’t drive like a crazy person when the roads are icy.

Make sure you have good tires: I mentioned this before and I can’t emphasize it enough. For where I live and my car (and yes, it’s four-wheel drive), all-season tires just don’t cut it. I need snow tires that mean business. It’s an added expense, I know, but it could mean the difference between life and death.

Use your headlights. You want to make sure you’re visible to the other cars on the road. This helps.

If you find yourself behind a plow or salt truck, don’t pass until you have plenty of room. Remember, they only have a limited field of vision. And really, do you want to be ahead of the guys who are clearing the road?

If you get stuck, don’t spin your wheels to get out.  It doesn’t help. Go forward, then back, forward, back, in a steady rocking motion. It’ll work a lot better.

Know how to recover from skids. When you brake on a slippery road, it’s all too easy to “lock up” your wheels by stepping on the brakes a little too hard. If you start to skid, gently steer the vehicle in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go and don’t touch your brakes. As part of this….

If you have Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS), don’t pump them.  The whole point of ABS is that they pump themselves to make stopping in snow easier. The pulsing or chattering you hear or feel is just them doing their job. Pumping = strictly old school.

Drive with a light touch. No sudden, herky-jerky movements, no sharp turns at high speeds. Gentle is better.

These should help you get to the mountain in one piece. Anyone have any others to add?



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A Ski Diva’s Guide to the Solar System

It’s sad but true: climate change is real, and it’s going to mean big problems for us skiers. So even though our skiing right now is limited to Earth, someday we may be forced to look elsewhere. Luckily, we live in a solar system with 8 other planets and a multitude of moons and asteroids. And who knows — one day these could end up as primo ski destinations.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a handy guide to help us Ski Divas know what to expect. Some of this is from Popular Science, some from Wikipedia, and some from NASA, itself. And while I don’t think we’ll be doing this any time soon, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared:

 

Imagine skiing a mountain that’s nearly three times higher than Everest! That’s Olympus Mons, the tallest planetary mountain in the solar system. Located on Mars, Olympus Mons stands  at 21.9 km, or 13.6 miles. In addition to being tall, it is also very wide (340 miles or 550 kilometers) and covers an area larger than the entire chain of Hawaiian islands.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 7.30.46 AM

 

Tune up your ice skis! Yes, there is ice on Mars. The planet has northern and southern polar ice caps that grow and shrink depending on the season. During the winter, the poles get absolutely no sun, and the resulting drop in temperature freezes both water into ice and carbon dioxide into dry ice.2

Mars Polar Ice Cap.  Photo from NASA

Mars Polar Ice Cap.
Photo from NASA

Moon

Enceladus

 

Saturn’s sixth largest moon, Enceladus, may be the ideal place for hitting the interplanetary slopes. Covered in miles of ice, Enceladus is home to numerous geysers, which jettison ice particles into the air above the moon’s surface. The result is something like snowfall as the ice particles fall back to the ground, coating Enceladus in extremely fine ice crystals. Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston notes the “snow” would provide great skiing conditions. However, there’s not enough on the surface yet. Give it a couple tens of millions of years or so, and the slopes will be piled high. The other problem? The temperature is -330 degrees Fahrenheit. 2

 

Remember to pack your warmest layers. The largest of Neptune’s 13 moons, Triton, is one of the coldest objects in our solar system. Also home to ice volcanoes, the moon’s surface belches out a mixture of liquid nitrogen, methane, and dust, all of which freeze immediately in the air. The flakes then snow back down to Triton’s surface, which mostly consists of frozen nitrogen. An almost non-existent atmosphere doesn’t help to curb the freezing temperatures (-391 degrees Fahrenheit). 2

 

Seasons on other planets are extremely different from the traditional spring, summer, fall and winter here on Earth. Although they generally have to do with orbital variations and axial tilt, weather variations are typically more pronounced for those planets closer to the Sun. With an axial tilt of only 3 degrees, for example, Jupiter and Venus have literally no difference between the seasons. However, Jupiter’s distance from the sun cause its seasons to change more slowly. The length of each season is roughly three years. And seasons on Neptune can last for 40 years! Talk about endless winter!  

 

If you decide to take a ski trip to Mars, better be prepared to be gone a while. According to NASA, a vessel carrying humans would take roughly six months to travel to Mars and another six months to come back. In addition, you’d have to stay 18-20 months on Mars before the planets re-align for a return trip. In all, the mission would take roughly 2 1/2 years.3

So anyone packing their bags?

References:

1. Wikipedia
2. Popular Science
3. Infoplease

 

 



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Taking your gear from here to there.

Let me put this right up front.

I’m cheating this week. I’m actually writing this five days prior to the post date. With good reason:  I’ll be in Colorado and I’ll be way too busy skiing to sit around writing my blog.

Which leads me to today’s topic: getting your ski gear from here to there. This is something I’m going to have to deal with in a day or two, so for me, it’s top of mind. Oh, I know some people ship their stuff to where they’re going in advance, but hey, I’m cheap. Plus I’m also a bit OCD about having my equipment with me. So I go through the agony of packing up, carting my stuff through the airport, and praying it makes it to where I’m going, along with the rest of my stuff.

To be sure, I’m not the only person who does this. Which means there are thousands — even millions — of ways to pack your stuff. Everyone has their own system. And while mine may or may not be better than anyone else’s, it’s what works best for me. So in case you’re interested, here’s what I do:

First, I never ever never — did I say never? — check my boots. I’ve worked too hard to get them to fit properly, and if they were lost, I’d have to spend a day or more in rentals, which could wreak enough havoc on my feet to make the rest of my stay unpleasant. So I put boots in a carry-on. I also fill the carry-on with a change of ski clothes, so if my luggage gets lost I’ll at least have something to wear so I can ski for a day or so. My bag of choice is a Kulkea boot bag (I reviewed it here). The Kulkea easily fits in the plane’s overhead compartment. And since it’s a backpack, it’s easy to carry through the airport.  The boots go in the boot compartments, and the clothes in the main section in the middle. Yes, I do bring a helmet. I just pack it in my checked bag. Rightly or wrongly, I figure it’s the one piece of equipment I could do without, if I had to. Plus it makes the Kulkea easier to squish into the overhead.

IMG_3922

 

Now on to skis.

There are loads of ski bags out there: singles, doubles, cloth, hard-shell, wheeled, unwheeled. A few years ago I got a Sportube. It’s a hardshell, so it provides a measure of protection that soft ones don’t. And it’s wheeled, so it’s relatively easy to drag through the airport. My bag is a double, so it’s big enough to carry both my and my husband’s skis. I also surround the skis with base layers. This provides extra padding, and frees up my suitcase for other stuff.

See the base layers between the skis?

And here we’re all closed up, ready to go!

And that’s pretty much it. I also check a bag with additional ski and non-ski clothing. Now, I know some other Ski Divas just check their skis and bring everything else in a carry-on. I haven’t mastered that yet (unfortunately), even though I try not to bring a lot of stuff. As I said, there are many paths to the same goal: getting your gear to your destination. And as long as it reaches there, it’s all good.

 



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How to survive a snowless ski vacation in New England.

What a difference a year makes. Last winter New England was positively drowning in snow. Early season was fantastic. There was snow everywhere, and all the resorts were going full blast.

So who could blame you for booking a ski vacation for Christmas week? Seemed like a no-brainer. So what if you were locked in and couldn’t get your money back. We were going to get hammered again, right?

Uh, no. Mother Nature is fickle, and this year she’s been keeping all the snow out West (and yes, they deserve and need it, given the abysmal snow drought they’ve been through) and throwing nothing at New England but warm temps and rain. It’s actually the East’s lowest snow year on record. Yay us.

Just take a look at this tongue-in-cheek snow report posted on December 19th by Mad River Glen. If it wasn’t so funny,  I think I’d cry. (Keep in mind that MRG depends heavily on natural snow and has very little snowmaking.)

 

The bottom line is that a ski vacation in Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine is going to be a bit of a challenge this year. The skiing right now, frankly, doesn’t look too promising. Still, who knows. We could get lucky. It could snow. And even if it doesn’t, the resorts are doing all they can to blast snow the moment that temperatures allow.

But before you scream obscenities at the sky, take a moment. Breathe. Believe it or not, you could still have a great vacation. It might just be different than what you had in mind. There’s still a lot to do in ski country, if you’re creative and a bit flexible.

Among the most obvious: explore the surrounding area. This is something you might not have a chance to do when you’re spending all your time on the slopes. For example, if you’re in Vermont around Stowe or Sugarbush, you could visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory, where they make all the good stuff. Not far from Killington, the town of Woodstock, one of the most picturesque in the state, is well worth checking out. Visit Long Trail Brewery in Bridgewater or Harpoon Brewery in Windsor. If you’ve got kids, a good choice is Billings Farm & Museum or VINS (The Vermont Institute of Natural Science). And farther south, the town of Manchester, VT, offers terrific shopping and one of the best bookstores anywhere.

The resorts have a lot non-skiing options, too. For example, Jay Peak has its 50,000 square foot Pump House indoor water park. Okemo and Killington both have alpine coasters that rocket riders down the mountain all year long. And Bretton Woods has a 3-hour canopy tour that’ll have you zip lining through a network of platforms high in the trees, as well as an indoor slopeside climbing wall.

Bretton Woods Canopy Tour, from the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce

Bretton Woods Canopy Tour, from the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce

TimberRipper

Timber Ripper at Okemo, photo courtesy of Okemo Mountain Resort

Many of the resorts have scheduled a lot of events during Christmas week to keep the family entertained. You’ll want to visit the resorts’ websites for a complete listing, but here’s a sampling of some of the things going on:

Stratton Mountain is holding “The Running of the Bears” 5k, which will take place at the resort’s golf course on December 28.

Sugarbush has added programs through its Schoolhouse Adventure Camp like guided nature hikes and field games. They’ll also be holding a Gingerbread House Building Workshop on the 26th, and a Food and Wine Sampler on December 28.

Jay Peak is planning to play ski movies in the resort’s ballroom every day during the holiday. They’re also holding a mixology class for adults.

Q Burke Mountain Resort is offering an adult dinner and comedy show on December 26

Okemo will be screening Warren Miller’s Chasing Shadows on December 27.  They’re also hosting a DJ Dance Party on December 28, Paint & Sip on December 30, and an early Family New Year’s Eve Party on December 31.

There’s a pretty good list of events at ski areas in Vermont here.

Loon Mountain is hosting a Best Damn Ugly Sweater Party on December 26, Kids Face Painting on December 27, and Kids Karaoke on December 28.

Sunday River has a bunch of off-slope activities planned, including twin ziplines, family games, live music, a fire dancer, and fireworks. They’ve added a second family dinner at the Peak Lodge on 12/29. For New Year’s, they’re having a Black Diamond Entertainment party geared toward families and kids, with laser tag, a photo booth, and an inflatable sumo wrestling ring — all before 8pm, so the countdown will be on Icelandic time.

Of course, there’s the usual stuff, too. A lot of resorts will be having firework displays. Many provide spa services, like facials and massages. And your lodging may have a pool. For the kids, that’s often enough.

I know, I know. There’s no denying that the skiing situation in New England is awful. The important thing is not to let it ruin your vacation. You’re out of the house and away from work. You’re with people you love. Enjoy one another’s company. Go out to eat. Talk to each other and be sure to listen — really listen — too. Remember it’s the season for peace, family, and love. Just enjoy your time together.

Wishing you a very happy holiday and remember, THINK SNOW!

 



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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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Oui, Ski Quebec (an encore presentation)

I originally posted this last February. But with the start of the new ski season, it’s definitely worth a re-run. If you’ve ever considered attending Winter Carnivale in Quebec, I encourage you to make plans. The 2016 dates are January 29 to February 14. Don’t miss out; it’s that good.

And now, encore!

——————————————————————————–

Bonjour, mes amis.

Pardonnez-moi if I practice my French, but I can tell that it’s something I’m going to need in the years to come. You see, I just came back from Quebec, and I am positively smitten.

What was I doing there? Oh, just attending Winter Carnaval, staying in the gorgeous Chateau Frontenac, eating great food, and skiing at both Le Massif and Mont Sainte-Anne. I was in Quebec as part of the annual meeting of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association, and Quebec City Tourism rolled out the red carpet for us lowly ski writers. The result was a trip I’ll never forget, and a destination I’ll be sure to visit again.

Why stay in Quebec City if you want to go skiing? 
Sure, it’s not a ski-in-ski-out location. But if you only rely on that, you miss a lot. I can’t recommend staying in Quebec City highly enough. My husband came up with what I think is the perfect tag line for the city — Closer than the rest of Europe — because more than any other city I’ve visited in North America, Quebec has a distinctly European flavor. And it’s not just because the people speak French (though yes, that’s part of it). The architecture, the winding streets, the culture is loaded with Old World charm. It’s a totally different vibe than you get anywhere else in North America. What’s more, Quebec is beautiful. Perched high on a bluff above the St. Lawrence, you get sweeping views of the river, made even more dramatic in the winter thanks to piles of heaved-up ice. The restaurants are great, the accommodations lovely (like the iconic Chateau Frontenac), and really, hearing French spoken everywhere is just oh-so-much-more romantic. Trust me — it adds a completely new layer to the ski trip experience. Besides, the drive from the city to the ski areas isn’t really that bad.

Chateau Frontenac

Chateau Frontenac

Old City, Quebec

Old City, Quebec

Les femmes sont belle en Quebec.

Les femmes sont belle en Quebec.

Winter Carnaval
Another great benefit from staying in Quebec: you get to experience cultural events that you won’t find anywhere else. Winter Carnaval is a great example. The city turns itself into a celebration of the Quebec winter. There are a pair of night parades with amazing floats, incredible snow sculptures, tobogganing, ice bumper cars (yes, really. I definitely have to try this next time), and a canoe race on the ice-laden St. Lawrence that you’ve got to see to believe. People line the shore to watch competing teams push canoes across ice that’s been heaved up in great huge piles to (more or less) open water, then leap aboard and paddle like mad down the river, dodging ice floes and chunks along the way. It’s an incredible spectacle, and you can only see it in Quebec.

Canoe racing on the Saint Lawrence.

Canoe racing on the Saint Lawrence.

wolfhead

At the Carnaval night parade.

One of the many snow sculptures.

One of the many snow sculptures.

Le Massif de Charlevoix
And of course, we went skiing. We spent one day at Le Massif, about an hour northeast of the city. Le Massif is located on a mountain overlooking the St. Lawrence, and the slopes run right down to the river’s banks. Look at the views you get when you ski down the trails. It feels like you’re skiing directly into the water. It’s almost a safety hazard because it’s so hard to keep your eyes on where you’re going. Absolutely breathtaking!

Le Massif

Le Massif

In addition to astounding views, Le Massif has a terrific trail system. There’s something for everyone: long bump runs, fun glades, nice long groomers, and on the west side of the resort, more challenging terrain. Le Massif has the highest vertical in eastern Canada, and you can ski….and ski….and ski. Fun fact: Le Massif was developed in part by one of the co-founders of Cirque du Soliel.

Here are some stats for the mountain:

Trails: 52 trails and glades, on 307.6 acres
Ability levels: 15% easy, 30% intermediate, 20% difficult, 35% very difficult
Longest trail: 5.1 km / 3.17 milles
Vertical: 770 m / 2,526 feet
Base Elevation: 36 m / 118 feet
Top Elevation: 806 m / 2,645 feet
Skiable Terrain: 164.5 hectares / 406.3 acres

One cool thing that we did not get the chance to do: Le Massif has a 7.5 km sled run that looks absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t operating when we were there. Next time, for sure.

From Le Massif, we took a 12 mile journey on the lightrail train along the St. Lawrence to the tres chic and very contemporary Hotel La Ferme. Although we didn’t spend the night, this is a great option for someone who for some reason doesn’t want to stay in Quebec. It’s fun and easy to take the train to the mountain and back, and the scenery along the river is stupendous. There are lots of great restaurants in the lovely town of  Baie-Saint-Paul, too.

Train

Mont Sainte-Anne
Another day, another fabulous  mountain. We spent our second ski day at Mont Sainte-Anne. Sainte-Anne is closer to the city and larger than Le Massif. And like Le Massif, it has spectacular views:

Mont Sainte-Anne

Mont Sainte-Anne

I absolutely adored it. There’s a terrific variety of runs, and the mountain is laid out for very easy access; you can get to just about everything from the top of the gondola. Mont Sainte-Anne features both north and south facing trails, so if you’re not loving the conditions on the south side, the runs on the north side can be completely different. A tip for families skiing with little kids — or just people who love all things maple — be sure not to miss the Sugar Shack off La Pichard, one of the green trails. On weekends and holiday periods, you can stop at the shack for some traditional hot maple taffy, served on a bed of fresh snow and scooped up with wooden sticks.

Here’s some stats on Mont Sainte-Anne:

Altitude at the summit: 800 meters [2625 feet]
Vertical drop: 625 meters [2050 feet]
Skiable terrain: 222 ha [547 acres]
Gross acreage: 868 ha [2145 acres]
Natural snowfall: 480 cm [190 po]
Number of trails: 71 trails covering 73 km [45 miles] on 3 different sides
Night skiing: 20 trails, covering 15.5 Km [9 miles]
Trail breakdown: easy: 23%, more difficult: 18%, difficult: 45%, extreme: 14%
Longest trail: Le Chemin du Roy – 5.7 Km [3.6 miles]
Average length of season: 148 days

Hotel de Glace (The Ice Hotel)
Located about five miles north of Quebec, this is something you really shouldn’t miss if you’re in the area. The first and only ice hotel in North America, Hotel de Glace is re-built each year and is open the first week of January until the last week of March. The hotel boasts 44 rooms and suites, a bar, an indoor ice slide, and a chapel, all made entirely out of snow and ice. Yes, you can stay here if you wish, but be prepared: The ambient temperature varies only by a few degrees between 23°F and 26°F, no matter what the outside temperature.

Ice Hotel Entrance

Ice Hotel Entrance

A Hallway Entrance

A hallway entrance

A room in the Ice Hotel

A room in the Ice Hotel

I think it’s pretty clear that I loved the entire Quebec experience; honestly, it’s hard not to be swept up in its Old World charm. For a ski vacation with a European flavor, there’s no place like it in North America. Go see for yourself.



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Surfing your way to better skiing.

Those of you who follow my blog know that I harbor a deep, dark secret: I grew up on the Jersey Shore. And though I never learned to surf, I know plenty of people for whom surfing is a way of life — similar to the way I feel about skiing. So this week, while I’m on vacation, I’ve decided to post a piece by guest blogger, Emily Bradbury. Emily is a fellow Vermonter who lives, plays, works, and raises her family here in the Green Mountains. She’s a contributor to Ski Vermont’s All Mountain Mamas blog, and the founder of Adventure Travel Mom. And she has some thoughts on how surfing can actually make you a better skier. Take it away, Emily! 

The Kindred Spirit of Ski Divas and Surfer Chicks
Emily Bradbury

Emily Bradbury

Emily Bradbury

As a native Vermonter and lifelong skier, falling in love with surfing was a complete surprise. My life is in the mountains — hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter, working and raising my family in a small ski town. So surfing was not really on my radar, until I spent a week at a surf camp in Costa Rica a few years ago. Turns out, skiing and surfing are kindred spirits, and those of us who feel at home in the mountains have an edge in learning to surf.

Through the surf camp I visit every year, I’ve met some pretty incredible women, most of whom claim skiing as their primary sport. Here are five reasons why women who rip on the mountains tend to kill it in the waves too, and why surfing might even make you a stronger skier:

1. Athletic instinct. Individuals who ski and board are naturally adept at surfing. General fitness is part of it, but the difference is the mental factor. The hardest part of learning to surf is catching waves. You paddle hard and get into the right position, which is just as the steepest part of a wave is about to break. You pop up and you’re staring down the steep face of a moving wave. Hesitating or leaning back means a wipeout and a pounding by the next wave. Skiers instinctively know to stay low and balanced, look where they want to go and just charge. It’s the same thing they do every day in the mountains.

2. Learning something new is good for the brain. Freesking World Tour Champ Laura Ogden credits learning to surf with making her more critical of her skiing. Though initially she just wanted to experience the feeling of catching a wave, she found that surfing served a higher purpose. “There is something inherently good for the soul in being novice at something similar to what you excel in. Learning to surf played many unexpected roles in my life, all of which had a very positive impact on my skiing.”

3. Improve strength and balance. As skiers, we spend a lot of time in the “forward flex” position, with tight abdominals and strong quads. Avid skiers are prone to injuries that result from chronic overuse of certain muscle groups. Surfing puts your body in extension, opening the front side and strengthening the posterior chain, which includes the glutes, hamstrings and back muscles. Paddling a surfboard works your upper body and lower back, while lengthening abdominals. A week of warm water surfing is the body’s perfect antidote to a season of ripping it on the hill.

4. You are there for yourself. Aussie surf coach and avid snowboarder, Victoria Patchell points out that “like skiing, recreational surfing is a sport that doesn’t have winners or losers, only participants. Once you enter the water you are there for yourself, and due to the individualist nature of the sport it provides an incredible opportunity for personal growth and transformation.”

5. Same rush, different sport. My friend Hillary Harrison, an avid skier who owns Peaks n’ Swells Surf Camp in Costa Rica, was first drawn to surfing because she craved that same adrenaline rush she got from skiing and biking in the mountains. “I’ll never forget how free and happy I felt riding that first wave,” said Harrison. “People say we’re addicted to the rush, but it’s hard to give up that feeling when it’s what drives you in life.” Don’t worry if you’re not an adrenaline junkie like Hillary (I’m not!). Surfing has a “bunny slope” too. White water waves are the perfect way to practice paddling out, popping up, and turning before heading into bigger surf.

Emily kills it on a wave.

Emily kills it on a wave.



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Biking through the summer [or whatever gets you through the off season].

Summer’s a rough time for skiers who really don’t have any non-skiing passions. I mean, I like to do other things besides ski, but I just don’t LOOOOOVE them in quite the same way. So finding an alternate activity is tough. I can’t run (I have seriously bad feet), and hiking, though enjoyable, isn’t something I do too often.

One of the things I do do is bike — road, not mountain. I have a Specialized Ruby Comp road bike that’s about seven years old. I’m not a bike gear head so I can’t give you all the specs, but if you’re interested in such things, you can read about it here.

Anyway, here it is. I’ve made a few modifications since I got it. Pink tape on the handlebars, changed out the compact crankset to a triple (yeah, I wanted the granny gears), and most recently, a really cool saddle.

bike

Cool seat!

Cool seat!

This summer I got a bright safety green helmet, too. I think it makes me extra visible to the cars and trucks out there; I’m a little paranoid about getting hit. I like the visor, too.

Helmet

But even with the cool bike, saddle, and helmet, biking in Vermont can be a challenge. I’m not the strongest cyclist out there, and the hilly terrain isn’t easy. But the rewards are great. You get to see lots of stunning scenery right up close. Here are a few pics I’ve taken cycling in the area:

Cornish-Windsor Bridge

Cornish-Windsor Bridge

Sunflowers

Mountains

Once in a while you encounter something a bit offbeat, too. Like this sign for “Wendy’s Way,” a bike path in the Manchester, VT, area dedicated to 10th Mountain Division veteran, Olympian, and long-time Stratton ski instructor, Wendall Cram. Needless to say, I got a real kick biking on it — and an even bigger kick when I happened upon him in the parking lot, when I was loading up my gear.

WendysWay

Then there’s this marker for Phineas Gage in Cavendish, VT. Phineas was a railroad worker who suffered a traumatic brain injury when an iron spike accidentally passed through his skull with such force that it landed almost 30 yards behind him. Remarkably, he regained consciousness within a few minutes, was able to speak, and survived a 45-minute ride back to his boarding house while sitting in a cart. Although Phineas managed to recover from the accident, his personality was radically altered. His case is among the first evidence suggesting that damage to the frontal lobes could changes aspects of personality and affect socially appropriate interaction. Kind of makes you appreciate helmets, doesn’t it?

Phineas Gage Marker

Phineas Gage Marker

Anyway, I’m counting down the days to ski season, as I’m sure many of you are, too. Let’s see — with a target day of November 15, that’s only 96 days from today, August 12. In the meantime, I’ll keep on pedaling.

 



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The Divas Ain’t No Wusses.

I’ve just come back from Diva East, the annual gathering for members of TheSkiDiva.com in the eastern US.

As usual, it was fabulous. This year we spent a couple days at Stowe Mountain Resort, followed by a day at Sugarbush, both in Vermont.

A few years ago we had a meet-up at Sugarloaf, Maine, where temperatures plummeted to a teeth chattering minus twenty-something. It was so cold that on one of the days, they closed just about everything on the mountain. Then last year, a few of us Divas went on a memorable Ski Safari thoughout New England (ten mountains in ten days!); again, the temperatures sank to well below zero.

Temperatures at our gathering this year  year weren’t quite that bad.  Thanks to the return of the Polar Vortex, we skied in single digits with below zero wind chills. Still, we kept on keeping on.

My point is that some people think that women skiers are a weaker breed. That we’ll only go out under optimal circumstances, when the sky is blue, the temperatures relatively balmy, and the trails  groomed just so. I’m not saying that people like that don’t exist. They do. And yes, they’re both women and men.

But we Ski Divas will go out in just about anything, as long as skiing’s involved. The key: lots of layers, hand warmers, boot warmers, face masks, and anything down. It’s an extra plus if there’s a gondola on the way up.

Minus6


I scoff at you, Polar Vortex. A pic of my car thermometer during Diva East.

Anyway, here are some pics from Diva East. If you’re a Ski Diva living on the east coast, or a western Ski Diva who wants to experience eastern skiing, I hope you’ll join us next year. It’s always a blast (and no, it’s not always so cold).

From the summit, at Stowe:

Summit

 

Divas on the hill. Note how bundled up we all are:

Divas

 

From the base of Spruce Peak, looking toward Mount Mansfield:

IMG_0545

 

Thank God for the gondola at Stowe, which kept us out of the wind on the way to the top:

stowe-gondola_dark

 

 



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The trouble with winter travel.

The trouble is simple. It’s winter. And all the things we love about it make it an awful time to travel.

I’m writing this after a perfectly hellacious day. You may recall that last week I reported that I’d be spending this week in Park City with Columbia Sportwear as part of their #Omniten Team.

Sigh. If only that were so.

You know the winter storm that grounded a large part of the country? Got me, too. Here’s the deal: Yesterday I was supposed to fly from Manchester, NH, to Baltimore, MD, to Salt Lake City.

Flight-canceled-

Yep, you heard right:  supposed to. Sadly, my flight out of Manchester was cancelled, with nothing available til Thursday — not even from nearby Boston.  I tried other airports and yes! There was a flight today out of Albany, NY! So rather than drive 2 hours plus home on very icy roads, I hopped in the car for what I thought would be an easy 3-hour trip. Instead, I had a white-knuckle drive across Massachusetts in a miserable combination of rain, fog, sleet, and blinding snow for 5 hours, solid. And when I finally got to Albany I was met with more disappointment: my flight was cancelled again. And no, I couldn’t get another flight out. To anywhere. The only alternative was a three-legged journey this morning that would’ve taken me all over the country, increasing my chance of being stranded somewhere for God knows how long.

The kind people at Columbia’s travel agency, who spent a lot of time working with me, told me that more than 3,000 flights were canceled yesterday. And it was far from over, with more cancellations to come. Planes weren’t where they were supposed to be, and there were just too many people in the system. Dare I risk it? No. I gave up.

I’m not the first person who’s had this happen, and I’m surely not the last. Winter weather makes flying difficult. And though it stinks, let’s just say that there are a lot worse things that can happen. Right now I’m safe and warm.  I could’ve ended up sleeping on the floor of some airport somewhere, my luggage scattered across the country in some sort of airport netherworld. Instead, I took a nice hotel room, had a good dinner, and changed my plans. It’s out of my hands.

So what’s a skier to do, if you run into a similar circumstance? What if your flight is cancelled?

The key is flexibility. Expect the unexpected. Roll with the punches. Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t lose  your top at the airline employees. It’s not their fault, and it really doesn’t help. I saw one man yelling at some poor baggage handler about his cancelled flight. C’mon now, really?

Here are some things to do before you go:

Pre-pack. Make sure you have a carryon with  some essentials: toothpaste, clean underwear, medication, a phone charger, etc. That way, if some leg of your journey is cancelled, you’ll have a few important items with you.

And this may seem evident, but check your flight before you leave to make sure it’s still scheduled. This could save you a trip to the airport.

What if you’re at the airport and your flight is canceled?

If you’re with a crowd at the customer service desk, call the airline on your cell. You might get through faster.

Know your rights: For domestic flights, US airlines are not obligated to compensate you for cancellations. If weather’s the problem, they must get on on the next available flight, but they’re not obligated to put you on another airline. If it’s non-weather related, they must put you on the next available flight.

Go online. If you used an online travel agency to book your reservation, try to reach them. And don’t forget about your  hotel or car reservations, either. Cancelled flights have a ripple effect, and your other travel providers may need to be notified, too. You can rebook, or they may give you a partial refund.

Find out what their compensation package is. You may be entitled to something: a hotel room, a refund. If you have a smart phone, an app called Hotel Tonight is a great way to find last minute hotel room.

More importantly, stay calm. You’ll think more clearly, and it’s a lot better for your general well being. Remember, there are things a lot worse that could happen. I know it’s hard to keep this in mind. Believe me, I’m missing a helluva great time. But I’m trying to be an adult about this. I know I made the right decision.

I’m going to head home. I’m grateful that I didn’t end up sleeping on the floor of the Chicago airport. I have all my luggage, skis included. And now I get to go home to my sweetie and my kitty cat. So it’s okay. There’ll be other trips. And yes, I’ll try again.

Happy Trails. And best of luck.



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