By Jules Older
The easiest skiing to access is usually your local ski hill. Right. You knew that.
What’s next easiest?
Utah, without doubt. In His wisdom, the Angel Moroni placed the mountains near the airport and later added easy public transport from said airport to said mountains.
In second place, probably Vermont. Again, airport and biggest city are handy to, in this case, Smugglers’ Notch, Stowe, Sugarbush, Mad River Glen and more snowy mountains.
Not even a contender? Bend, Oregon and its home hill, Mt. Bachelor. While there are direct flights to nearby Redmond from Denver, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle, from anywhere else you need to change planes or drive long highways.
So if it’s not convenient, why ski there?
Let me count the ways …
What are the attractants of Bend? Five is the magic number here, too.
Though it’s a city of 80,000 (who knew?), Bend is surrounded by the great outdoors. If you’re into, say, mountain biking, road biking or fat-tire biking; canoeing, kayaking or paddle boarding; rock climbing, windsurfing or bird watching, you’re in the right place. Like the locals, you will love it. Beware, though: Many locals started as visitors and lost the will to go home.
Second, Bend sits in an environment you’re probably unfamiliar with — high desert. Below the surface, lava tubes snake through soil and rock; a mile-long cave awaits exploration. Up top, the exemplary High Desert Museum helps you understand the peoples and the creatures that abide here.
Third, in the middle of Oregon, near almost nothing at all, Bend has become a culinary destination: Three Thai restaurants, including Wild Rose, a northern Thai delight. Zydeco, a genuine Cajun restaurant plunked down in this far-northern outpost. Sunriver Brewery and Carson’s American Kitchen, a few miles from downtown. CHOW and Sparrow and Victorian for outstanding breakfasts. Some of this fine dining is found in Bend resorts: Carson’s at Sunriver, 10 Below at the Oxford Hotel, and Tetherow Grill at Tetherow.
Fourth, for craft-beer lovers, Bend is Mecca. At last count, greater Bend had 26 breweries and climbing. Benders argue their beer with the same passion Daytonans fight about NASCAR drivers: Stout vs. porter. Boneyard Beer vs. Deschutes Brewery. Comatose Imperial IPA vs. Pre-Prohibition Lager. “Wait — let’s try another round of those two again.”
And, last but certainly not least, welcome to Oregon, a birthplace of legal marijuana. In a clean, well-lighted place, a.k.a. a dispensary, you can inhale the aroma — and discuss the virtues — of Thai, Afghan, Mendocino, homegrown and other varieties of ganja legal delights. Make your choices, then surprise Mom and Dad with the gift that keeps on giving.
Jules Older is a contributor to and publisher of another gift that keeps on giving, the ski book ebook, SKIING THE EDGE: Humor, Humiliation, Holiness and Heart.
Story & photos by Jules Older
I learned to ski in the cold — the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Laurentians of Quebec. I lost a girlfriend by introducing her to my favorite sport when it was minus 20 at Sugarbush, almost gained a divorce by repeating that trick at the same temp at Jay Peak.
The one and only time I’ve refused to buckle up because of cold was at Mont Tremblant on a morning it was minus 39 … at the base. The rest of my colleagues at the UVM Outing Club thought I was a sissy and merrily skied off without me.
Then I moved to San Francisco. Now, I ski the High Sierra, whose name more accurately reflects high temperatures than altitude. Typical chairlift conversation:
Local: Sorry about the cold. It was a lot nicer last week.
Me: How cold is it?
I restrain myself and do not point out that 26 degrees above zero is the ideal, the perfect, the most wonderful temperature to ski. I don’t point out that while he is covered in Gore Tex from his gurgle to his zatch, I’m wearing a zipped-down turtleneck and a vest.
So. I’ve gone from cold to warm. Sure, my blood is thinning and my character shrinking, but really, no complaints.
Only now I’m heading back into the cold. Real cold. Deep cold. Banff, Alberta, Canadian cold.
The first time I skied here, it was minus 26. The next time, a balmy minus 15. In the gusting wind atop the aspirationally named Sunshine Village, I thought I was fixin’ to die. Especially my fingers. (More on that, below.)
So, this time I’m prepared. Hyper-warm Helly Hansen Racer jacket. Merino layered Helly Hansen Warm pant. Turtle Fur hood. K2 helmet with closeable vents. Serius serious gloves. A Transpack heated boot bag. Plus, half a carton of hand warmers.
Hand warmers. I’d brought hand warmers the last time, too. Why, then, were my fingers so cold? Because I packed said hand warmers in my carry-on, and TSA declared their potential heat a hazard to flight. Hand warmers on the no-fly list? Who knew?
Oh, and maybe my fingers were cold because I was too cheap to buy new hand warmers at a resort shop. Pack yours in your suitcase as I do this time, along with all the rest of my cold-weather gear.
So, did it work?
No idea. When I get to Banff, it’s warm. Yes, 26-degree warm. 26 above.
It feels wrong … but wonderfully, gloriously wrong. And while I’m overdressed for the occasion, the skiing is beautiful.
“The skiing is beautiful” usually means great snow — packed powder, fresh fallen or perfectly groomed. And except for the blizzard that whited out Sunshine just as I reached the top, that part held true.
But in Banff, beautiful skiing has another meaning. With the possible exception of the Italian Dolomites, and with apologies to the scenic glories of Lake Tahoe, this is the most beautiful skiing in the world.
The mountains don’t just surround the town; they encase it. Whether you’re looking at art in one of the many Banff galleries, lunching at Park Distillery or hot-tubbing at the Willow Springs spa, as soon as you step outside, the mountains fill your eyes.
The view from the slopes of the three resorts — Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Norquay — are so stunning, you have to stop, gasp, and maybe hide the tear in your eye by pulling out a phone for a photo.
Even the two Fairmont hotels — Chateau Lake Louise and Banff Springs — are dreams of what a Canadian ski resort should look like. Massive, venerable, stately.
That’s not an accident. With the exception of nearby Jasper, Banff is the only municipality within a Canadian National Park. It’s gorgeous by nature and gorgeous by law — it may not expand its land base, and it doesn’t truck with ticky-tacky.
The protection of the park gives other gifts. The last time I skied here, on the last run of the day, I got ahead of my party on a heavily wooded trail. When I stopped to wait for them, my eyes grew wide. Ten yards in front of me, a large, furry animal with pointy ears swaggered across the trail. I thought cougar and tried to decide whether to grab my camera for posterity or my ski pole for defense. The cat paused in the middle of the trail, gave me a surveying look — Predator? Tourist? Lunch? — then continued her slow stroll until she disappeared into the forest. (I don’t know how I decided it was a she, but I felt that from the start.)
But this cat was no cougar. She was a lynx.
Lynx and cougar, brown bear and black, coyote and wolf, marten and muskrat make Banff their home. And in warm weather or cold, we have the privilege of joining them in the eye-filling beauty of the Canadian Rockies.
Banff by the numbers
360 inches of annual snowfall
2 towns (Banff and Lake Louise)
1 park (Banff is Canada’s first national park)
And here’s one more number: Twenty leading ski writers are at their finest in Jules Older’s ski book ebook, SKIING THE EDGE.
By David McKay Wilson
Atop Lone Mountain at Big Sky, with the wind blowing a gale at 11,000 feet, and the ice pellets providing an Arctic facial for my exposed cheeks, we contemplated our descent from the peak of one of North America’s prized summits in Montana’s Gallatin Range.
We lacked the avalanche beacons and shovels required for the harrowing Big Couloir or the snowfields down the mountain’s North face. Instead, we inched our way down through the ice and rocks, took a hard left, and found a trail called Marx.
There we discovered a broad snowfield with wind-packed powder, with just enough give for our wide swooping turns as we skied down hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of vertical feet. From there we found the Dakota woods on the resort’s southern flank, with delicious powder over our boot tops in a tight forest of lodge pole pines.
So it went on our mid-February visit to Big Sky, that resort in southern Montana where we spent two days exploring the sprawling resort high up in the alpine reaches, and a third day further down the mountain, discovering the glories of the Nordic skiing on Lone Mountain Ranch’s well-groomed trail network.
It was the fifth straight year I’ve headed out west with the boys, seeking out alpine adventures, and enjoying the family camaraderie that evolves during a Mancation in the mountains. These trips also provide a check-up on my conditioning – can the 62-year-old keep pace on the steeps with the young dudes? How many more years are left in the tank?
As a journalist, Big Sky always held a certain allure, as retired NBC anchor Chet Huntley had the vision – and moxie – to put together the deal in 1970 to purchase the stunning Lone Mountain Peak, and thousands of acres surrounding it to create a winter resort during the industry’s early 1970s expansion. But Huntley died in 1973, at age 62, which happens to be my age. And three years later, his corporate partners were ready to bail, as the resort remained in the red.
To the rescue came Everett Kircher, the Michigan resort owner and head of Boyne Resorts who looking to expand his holdings in the west, but unwilling to strike deals to buy Sun Valley, Telluride or Copper. Forty years later, Big Sky is the most prominent holding in Boyne’s portfolio, and its investments in the resorts facilities have made the Montana resorts an increasingly popular destination for winter travelers, and high-rollers looking to invest in multi-million dollar slopeside homes and skiers of all ranks finding a welcoming winter playground.
We stayed at the Huntley Lodge, the resort’s first hotel, which is situated at resort’s growing mountain village. Our first floor room was a short walk to the lift. The lodge’s outdoor pool and hot tubs – with bar service – provided the perfect setting for après-ski conviviality and a chance to meet some of our fellow skiers, a preponderance of whom were from the Northeast.
While the mountain is huge, and sprawls over several peaks, we found it easy to negotiate. We warmed up each morning with zippy runs down Big Horn on the fresh corduroy off the Thunder Wolf lift, keeping pace with the teens from the local racing team. There’s nothing like a top-to-bottom screamer first thing to warm up the legs.
Then it was up the mountain to the summit, taking the 15-person tram where we experienced our only wait during our visit, lining up for 15 minutes to make it to the top. In line, we met students from Montana State University’s Bozeman campus who bragged about skiing there five days a week, and middle-aged women from Wisconsin, who opted to take the tram from the summit without their skis, and descend by tram as well.
By the afternoon, we’d made our way to the former Moonlight Basin on the north side, with my boys eschewing the wide-open bowls for the woods, where we skied laps on the rollercoaster run called Single Jack.
On-mountain dining kept us fueled. One day, we stayed up high, squeezing into the Black Kettle Soup Co. shack at the base of Lone Peak for hot spicy chili. The next day, we opted for table service at Montana Jack’s – the rebranded Whiskey Jack’s, with opulent burgers and sweet potato fries.
After our final soak in the Chet Huntley hot tub, we drove down the hill to Lone Mountain Ranch, acclaimed by XcSkiResorts.com as North America’s top luxury cross-country resort. We stayed in a two-bedroom log cabin all tricked out with the comforts of home: electric heat, spacious bathroom, and a wood stove to provide the feel of roughing it, which you most definitely are not.
We feasted on meals in the rustic dining room, all decked out in Montanan taxidermy – a cougar prowled one of the massive rough-hewn pine beams, a massive bison head scowled from above the fire place while 12-point elk antlers framed the chandeliers
After a five-mile morning ski, we returned to the outdoor center for the ranch’s Bark and Bite lunch. That’s when teams of nine dogs take you on sleds up the trail to a cabin for a lunch of bison chili, corn bread, and elk sausage. If you’ve never been on a dog sled, it’s a real treat to experience the power of the dogs – lean Alaskan huskies, with an occasional brown Lab. Our sled carried three men who together weighed close to 600 pounds, and the pups pulled us up the hill with great alacrity.
Come evening the ranch’s Percheron and Belgian work horses pull sleighs up to the cabin for candlelight dinners. That creates an opening for the elk herd that roam the hillside. Once the horses depart, they descend the mountain, as many as 50 elk will arrive, and leap over the fence, and dine on the hay bales left behind by the horses.
On our final afternoon, the boys, who’d been playing hooky from their high school and college studies, stayed back in the cabin to catch up on the school work they’d missed.
My legs still felt good. So I headed out with Martha Crocker, one of the ranch’s cross-country guides, on a 15K tour that tested my stamina and brought us deep into the Montana woods. We were shuttled up to the Lone Moose condo complex, at the end of the Middle Fork trail. From there we descended along a branch of the Middle Fork river, on a gentle decline. The climbs came when we looped up the Andesite trail – up past the condos and homes, and through a field of lodge pole pines.
It was spitting snow by late afternoon. A gibbous room was on the rise. My legs felt stronger. Dinner was set for 6.30. Trout was on the menu. And another glass of Bent Nail IPA awaited.
Visit Big Sky Resort
Visit Lone Mountain Ranch
By Bill Triplett
Quite a few resorts I’ve skied out West are conscious of being chic in some way, usually by making sure to offer gourmet dining, luxury digs, or boutique shops. But even with its ski-in/ski-out Four Seasons hotel, which debuted in 2003, Jackson Hole feels like it’s still just trying on the upscale look.
You can see this mostly in the town square, a few miles away from the resort, where a frontier look and vibe are still evident, starting with the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, an updated relic from the 1890s. Its glittering Broadway-style lights, complete with a neon buckeroo riding his bronc, dominate the town square. Inside, saloon history and kitsch prevail – the bar stools are saddles,and Western memorabilia account for most of the decor. I loved it.
Archways made of antlers shed by elk mark the four corner entrances to the square, which is hemmed in by numerous shops, small galleries, and restaurants. Just off the square is the stately Wort Hotel, built in the 1940s and still fitting in with the Old West look of downtown. The Wort also has a great bar for sipping whiskey for anyone seeking a more muted setting than the Million Dollar scene.
I found good eats both in and around the square as well as at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort itself. I wasn’t sure I would, given that I don’t eat meat and this is the heart of beef country. But while steaks and chops are the star attractions on menus here, I also found a fair amount of vegetarian and seafood dishes available. And often prepared with attention to detail: When I ordered the salmon at Cafe Genevieve, the waiter asked, “What temperature do you like it cooked to?” I have no idea if the chef got that part right, but I do know this –it was delicious.
Other restaurants I enjoyed, either around town or at the resort: Snake River Brewery, Bin 22, Il Villaggio Osteria (see my story on owner Gavin Fine), Couloir, and Aspen’s Market (where I was introduced to the pleasures of Wyoming Whiskey). The fare was the right mix of hardy and healthy, and could easily hold its own against the sophisticated culinary dishes and wine lists in Park City or Aspen.
I spent six nights in Jackson – three at the Snow King Hotel, and three at Spring Creek Ranch. Snow King is big, roomy, very ranch-like, and it’s been recently renovated. The staff is friendly, and during the shuttle ride to the mountain,the Snow King drivers often like to regale you with tales of indigenous wildlife they’ve either spotted, wrestled, or both at one time or another. Are they true? Does it matter? They’re very entertaining.
The restaurant at Snow King, Hayden’s Post, is also worth noting. Along with good meals, some pretty spectacular views are on tap near the enormous windows. If the Bison meatloaf doesn’t call to you, try the Fog River trout or the cast iron vegetable lasagna.
At Spring Creek Ranch, I was in one side of a duplex-type condo. The atmosphere inside alternated between rustic and dated, but the working stone fireplace was a real bonus, especially in the evenings. The Spring Creek complex sits high on a ridge in an aerie-like setting that looks down on the valley below. You’re not downtown, but it’s pretty cozy, and the view of the stars on a clear night are amazing.
I took a day off from skiing to check out the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which is about three miles from the town square. As you might expect, you’ll see extensive artwork of wildlife, including works by John Jay Audubon and Georgia O’Keeffe. You might not expect anything by Andy Warhol, but you’ll find it there, too. All told, the museum has about 5,000 artworks featuring animals from around the world. Well worth the visit.
In my first report from Jackson Hole (read it here), I briefly mentioned trying out some new gear at Jackson. The big find: DPS Wailer Pure3 Construction skis. I’ve tried a lot of different skis over the years, but none ever left a particularly distinct impression. Until I tried these. I confess, they weren’t much to look at – basically plain, bright yellowboards – but what DPS ignored in terms of dazzling cosmetics, they put into dazzling performance.
I normally ski 160/65s; because of the DPS construction, I was told to go longer, about 180. I was dubious, until I hit the mountain and felt these things almost turning themselves. Effortlessly. The responsiveness was startling. I felt a lot more confident and capable in crud and mashed potatoes than I ever have.They’re not cheap – about $1,300 without bindings – but they’ve got me thinking.
A set of Giro Blok goggles caught my attention, too. Comfortably snug with a super-widefield of vision, they sport a classic look (especially with the faux wood-grain rims) and good venting. I couldn’t fit them over my glasses – went back to my trusty Scott goggles for that – but with contact lenses on the Blok was a winner for me. Besides, they looked great with the spiffy classic blue MountainHardwear shell I got to try out.
I packed in a lot of plain old-fashioned fun during my stay.With any luck, Jackson won’t get too chic in the future.
Visit Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
By William Triplett
I’ve skied Canaan Valley Resort in West Virginia only twice. The first time was so long ago, I barely remember anything other than a massive storm swooping in toward the end of the day, dumping a lot of snow and nearly stranding me and my friends. The second time was just a little over a week ago, when a weather system so big it got its own name – Jonas – lumbered in like a steamroller, burying us under almost three feet of white stuff over the course of two days.
Next time I go, I hope to have the meteorological good fortune of arriving after a storm has done its work. When Jonas headed on up the East Coast, the skies were a brilliant blue, conditions magnificent, and we had to leave – it was the end of our stay. But skiing in a blizzard is its own kind of fun. Visibility wasn’t great, but there was no denying the fun of floating through more powder than I’ve seen in a long time in resorts in Utah and Colorado.
Moreover, only a handful of slopes were open when we got there, but Jonas dumped enough snow to drop the cordons from the start of all of Canaan Valley’s nearly 50 trails on the first day of the storm. While not a huge resort, its mountain summit of 4,280 feet, vertical drop of 850 feet, and three chairs make it plenty respectable and readily attractive to skiers like me in the Washington, D.C. area, about a two-and-a-half hour drive away. It’s an easy day trip, but a better weekend getaway.
Also, Canaan recently underwent a pretty thorough renovation. The main lodge has been updated along with the addition of two wings offering a total 160 new rooms. Cabins and cottages are available as well.
I stayed in the lodge, which has a contemporary feel – lots of exposed blond brick, high ceilings, mural-size windows, and gas-burning fireplaces. My room was comfy and spacious. The ski area is maybe a half-mile away, but the lodge runs shuttles to and from regularly. You can also store your gear in a room just off the mainentrance to the lodge, making it very convenient to offload from the shuttle, stow everything, and head to your room.
Even with wind whipping snow in my face I could appreciate the varied terrain, which overall probably appeals more to advanced-intermediates than experts. (Steeper runs are available at nearby Timberline resort.) But there are plenty of drops and tight turns along with big old groomed cruisers to keep things interesting.There’s even a gladed trail. My favorite turned out to be among the tamer ones in terms of pitch, but nicely loping along for more than a mile, occasionally narrowing in places and turning compactly.
Largely because of the storm I didn’t check out other available fun, like ice skating and tubing as well as the nearby town of Davis and its galleries, eateries, and pubs. I’ll have to do that next time – post-storm, with any luck.
Visit Canaan Valley Resort
By David McKay Wilson
As we dined at the Stowe Mountain Lodge’s Solstice Restaurant in mid-December, and groused about the maddeningly warm late autumn, our waitress produced a list of techniques to invoke the snow gods. I’d forgotten my pajamas, so I couldn’t put them on inside out and backwards.
But Solstice loaned me a silver spoon to place beneath my pillow in our cozy studio apartment, which looked out on the magnificent complex rising at the base of Spruce Peak. It has a skating rink, adventure center, clubhouse for the high-rollers at the Stowe Mountain Club, and 19 penthouses costing up to $4.5 million that sold out before construction was completed.
Come morning, there were flurries in the air. And by midday that autumnal browns and yellows on Mount Mansfield were transformed into winter white. The barren birch branches turned skeletal white, and so did the sturdy spruces near Vermont’s highest peak.
Top-to-bottom runs off the Forerunner Quad and the Stowe Gondola – each with more than 2,000 feet of vertical – were surprisingly good, and our early season ski legs proved worthy on days with nary a lift line to wait in.
It was a promising start to our four-day getaway to Vermont, with stops at Stowe and Okemo, two mountains I frequently as a child and teen in the 1960s. I harken back to early 60s, with all Poma lifts at Okemo and the mid-60s at Stowe, where we’d ride the single chair to the summit of Mount Mansfield, huddled under a canvas poncho to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures.
I was reminded of my age – and my generation’s place in the growth of the ski industry – when we stopped at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum in downtown Stowe upon on arrival. There, on display, were the Rossignol Strato 207s I skied on in the mid-60s, the cross-country ski boots I raced in through the 1980s, and the Icelandic sweater from the 1960s that I still wear today.
“You’re a relic, honey,” exclaimed my partner, Mia.
It was early season at Stowe in the snow-starved December, with temperatures all month in the 40s. The grand dame of Vermont skiing was doing her best. Mia, who hadn’t strapped on a pair of alpine board in seven years, took a 150-minute mountain clinic to learn how to turn the Atomics she’d just bought.
I met up with Stowe’s former snowboard director, Jeff Wise. We found inspiration on a well-groomed trail called Lord.
It was raining lightly most of the day, so everything had softened nicely. We were having a ball.
“We’re Northeasterners!” he proclaimed as we heading down through the rain.
Us Northeasterners also like our comforts, which Stowe knows how to provide. At the Stowe Mountain Lodge’s Spa and Wellness Center, a massage therapist named Jessica had hands with an intuition for what my well-used muscles needed.
Later that night, we dined at Solstice, the Lodge’s dining room up the stairs from the 20-foot tall three of poinsettia plants in its grand lobby. We loved the crispy roast duck, and the buffalo cauliflower.
After skiing Wednesday, we headed south on Route 100 about 100 miles to Okemo, where we checked into our condo in the Adams House at Jackson Gore. On a good day, our place would qualify as a ski-in, ski-out unit. But in mid-December, 2015, with temperatures remaining in the 40s, that option was off the table. The snow guns at Jackson Gore had yet to be fired up, so we back and forth to the main mountain each day.
Come morning, we walked next door to the Jackson Gore Inn for a complimentary breakfast of orange juice, yogurt, muffins, donuts and coffee. We ate in cozy chairs by the commanding stone fireplace, plotting our day on the mountain.
By then, the winds had swung around to the north, and the low clouds had disappeared. We had a great view east through Vermont and onto New Hampshire. Mount Ascutney rose up by the border, its peak shrouded in clouds all day.
At the base of the Sunburst Six bubble chair, ferns sprouted in mid-December like they’d fast-forwarded to April. The clover had new growth as well.
But at the summit the world had changed for the better. The pines were covered in snow and trails were in surprisingly good shape. We spent the day cruising Sapphire, World Cup and Nor’easter, with the warming temperatures providing the brooks with plenty to babble about, and making the snow quite forgiving for our turns.
Skiing in the conditions we faced in mid-December Vermont test you as a skier. As luck would have it, I was skiing with Mia, still tentative in her return to the alpine scene. So I took it slow, savoring my every turn, letting the carve drive me a smidgen uphill at the end of the turn, all the while exhaling as I transferred my weight to the downhill ski.
When the rain really started coming down at 2.30, we’d had enough, and we headed in Ludlow. As the rain intensified, so did our shopping. At the Brewfest Beverage Co. on Main Street, we found an impressive selection of micro-brewed ales from Vermont for under the Christmas tree. The Blue Sky boutique had cool earrings and an assortment of gifts for the girls. At Boot Pro, right at the Okemo access road, I sprang for a pair of goggles while Mia entered 21st century skiing by getting fit with a helmet
Ludlow’s food was fun, and funky. On our first night we ate at Mojo’s on the southern end of Main Street. You order off the chalk board in the downhome country eatery. Rock music plays, Jim Morrison has a quote at the entry way, and the Ramen noodles with shrimp were out of this world.
The next night, we ate at Goodman’s American Pie, where tenor troubadour David Soltz was playing for this regular Thursday gig. We sang along on a couple of James Taylor tunes. When we were the only diners left, Soltz began playing his own composition, called Simplify. It made sense for this trip: “The tide is getting high, it’s time to simplify. Don’t ever let the music pass you by.”
More rain had fallen over night, and the skiable acreage has decreased from 124 to 109. We weren’t going to let what was left of the snow pass us by. We did laps on World Cup, took a few runs over at Solitude, and by 12.30 it was time to hit the road.
But we had one more stop to make in town. I couldn’t forget those Ramen noodles and shrimp at Mojo. The cilantro and lime broth, in a bowl brimming with shrimp and noodles fueled us for a ride back home. We looked forward to a mid-winter return, when all of Vermont would be covered in white again.
By William Triplett
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is looking pretty good for 50. The storied ski mecca celebrates its golden jubilee this season, and it’s a bit of an understatement to say a lot has changed since 1965.
Long known primarily for nuthin’-but-steep-and-deep chills and thrills for experts with at least a mild death wish, in recent years JHMR has carved an extensive network of intermediate and beginner trails into the mountainside. Unlike the old days, upscale dining and lodging aren’t hard to find, and off-mountain activities and attractions are plentiful. The eye-widening drops and chutes are still there (Corbett’s Couloir, anyone?), but never has Jackson Hole been more welcoming to skiers of all levels and their families than now.
Not being a member of the double-black diamond corps, I didn’t make my maiden visit to Jackson Hole until just this past February. If I had to summarize it for Twitter, I’d say: Easily the most fun I’ve had trying to up my abilities on challenging–sometimes scary–terrain; ate, drank and slept very well. I was there just shy of a week, and ever since I’ve been looking forward to going back.
From Teton Village down at the base, you can get a good sweeping look the vast expanse of the 2,500-acre resort, which is essentially divided into three segments rising from right to left. It starts on the right with the Apres Vous Mountain at roughly 8,500 feet elevation, continues to the Gondola Summit at 9,100 feet in the center, and crests with Rendezvous Mountain at 10,450 feet.
Generally I like double-blues and the occasional single-black, with a preference for wide groomers. I had no problem finding any such runs. Skiing them? Different story. Single-blacks I’ve skied at most resorts have nothing on the double-blues at Jackson. And the JHMR single-blacks are, let’s just say, a bit tougher than others I’ve been on.
I discovered this after my first ride up the ultra-sleek Tram, which airlifts you to the top of Rendezvous Mountain and the start of the Rendezvous Bowl, which is neither groomed nor blue. But it’s big. Since it’s the only way down other than Corbett’s (no, thanks), I figured there was no point finding out whether it was single- or double-black. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t often ugly with at least one tumble, but I made it – and at times actually felt really good.
Still, I felt more suited to the blues – 40 percent of the total 116 trails! – and so stayed with Gondola Summit and Apres Vous, where the majority of them are. The double-blues were, for me, plenty demanding, but also enormous fun. I found myself smiling wider – and skiing better – with each run. Back in the day, I imagine you already had to know what you were doing on skis before you took on Jackson Hole. Nice to know you can come here now and choose runs that are only as tough as you can handle, appealing to just about everyone from newbies in skiing 101 classes all the way to adrenalin junkies still looking for that steep-and-deep fix.
Admittedly, much my own improvement over several days was due to having been able to test-drive a pair of DPS Wailer skis. More on those amazing boards and the Jackson scene in my next report. Meantime — Happy 50th, JMHR.
By Neil Wolkodoff
If you are a skier coming to Colorado in December and January and stopping off in Denver for a day of altitude acclimatization, these venues offer some great diversions while breathing the rarified air. Take an afternoon, then spend the night, then head to your ski area destination the next day. That enables short-term adaptations and gets you used to drinking more water and being in tune with appropriate levels of exertion.
One great thing about the holiday season is some public parks and venues dress up with dazzling lights. It is common for squares, gardens and zoos to add lights, so the family has something to do together.
The Botanical Gardens Blossoms of Light runs from just after Thanksgiving to January 2nd. The 2015 version features new elements, including the return of the illuminated O’Fallon Perennial Walk and the Romantic Gardens. Thousands of twinkling lights are spread throughout the Gardens. Need more zip to your tour? Use the even more dazzling “HoloSpex” glasses to gain additional visual effects. This event is more about taking the stunning gardens and using light treatments to highlight the unique plants, shrubs and trees. On select evenings, there is live entertainment.
In the Rocky Mountains, The Denver Zoo Lights is largest lighting event, covering over 70 acres. According to the staff, this is the Zoo’s most anticipated annual event. Included are more than 150 animated animal sculptures, Santa Claus meet-and-greets, choirs, ice carvers, live animal demonstrations and even electric animals that jump to life as you stroll. The Zoo is next door to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science; you can take in one of the 11 exhibits, then step over to the Zoo.
Most cities have special shopping/dining centers that jazz it up for Christmas. Larimer Square in downtown Denver has been a cozy, holiday center for over 50 years. A power-packed district comprised of 20 boutique shops, 25 restaurants, and 14 entertainment venues, there is always something going on that will spark your interest. The best way to describe Larimer Square is a vibrant small town in the middle of a big city. Don’t miss Paws & Claus on December 12th, and yes, there is a dispensary of that green stuff for dogs in the square if Fido needs some medical pain relief.
If a real party is appealing, then plan your trip around the 1940s White Christmas Ball. Held at the Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum in early December, you get swing dancing, Marilynn Monroe, and Bing Crosby. The Glen Miller Orchestra plays as you get a heap of chestnuts roasting on that open fire. Each of the six years it has been a little different, and a little bigger with more acts. This started as a tribute to the Greatest Generation, those that fought in WWII, and now supports various military charities including the Wounded Warriors Project. Food, drink, merriment and dancing with no costume required, yet it does add to the fun.
Very few good restaurants are open Christmas or Christmas Eve, with the Fresh Fish Company one exception. With their extensive assortment, the whole family gets a very special Christmas Eve Dinner. Their festive menu includes chateaubriand; English-style roasted goose, rack of lamb, live Maine lobster, Alaskan king crab legs, salmon Oscar, prime rib, filet mignon and 20 varieties of fresh fish and other holiday favorites.
In the adult category, Mile High Spirits offers high-quality cocktails and a tasting experience unlike anywhere else in Denver. Mile High Spirits’ tasting room creates all of its offerings on site making its’ specialty cocktails and Moscow Mules extra zippy. Mile High Spirits is a short jaunt to many Denver restaurants and attractions.
After your well-lit excursions, you need a warmer on the south end of town, head over the Robusto Room just 15 minutes south of downtown. This establishment combines cigar humidor, cigar bar, and a nightclub into one. The cigar bar with a modern twist. A private Scotch & Cigar tasting is a great winter warmer. The owner, Peter Roth, teaches you about the varieties of Single Malt Scotch and discusses each of the offerings in detail. Even, if you are a seasoned cigar smoker, new information and concepts.
If your trip to Ski Country is by way of auto through the southern part of the state, then Colorado Springs also has some good re-charge diversions. The Airplane Restaurant is an intact Boeing KC-97, in which 42 “passengers” can dine. Each year the airplane is festively decorated for the holidays. The airplane flies 11-4 Christmas Eve and 11-4 on Christmas with a special Christmas Buffet.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo offers two programs that for the winter season. Starlight Safaris let you and the juniors roast smores, listen to the wolves howl, feed the giraffe herd and discover what animals do at night on a private tour. The Electric Safari has 85 light sculptures on over 50 acres; it is sure to be memorable. The zoo provides warming fires throughout the Zoo, and select indoor animal exhibits remain open during the event. It is also an excellent venue to take in the lights of Colorado Springs.
If you get in late, and want to get part way to your destination, the Ameristar in Blackhawk is an idea overnight destination. At almost 8,000 feet you will get some acclimatization while staying in mountain comfy room. Gaming is a great diversion while you breath the mountain air. Causal relaxation and gentle exercise awaits in the roof-top pool. Get those muscles to relax and get the skin some moisture with their Rocky Mountain Ritual in the Ara Spa. Dining never closes, and their top notch Centennial buffet is open Christmas Eve and Day with special holiday dishes, as well as the Timberline Grill if hearty steak fare is more in order.