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I know, I know: some of you are still skiing. Yes, I’m officially jealous.

But for those of us who’ve ended our seasons, I bid you good news: there’s life on the other side. Sure, if you’re like me, transitioning from skiing to not-skiing isn’t so easy. I wrote about this a few weeks ago: how about 10% of people get Seasonal Affective Disorder in reverse — the onset of summer triggers symptoms of depression. No, it’s not as common as winter SAD, but yes, it’s definitely something that happens.

So that’s why this year I decided to fight my blues by doing something that’s been on my bucket list for a number of years: biking through the Netherlands during tulip time. The idea of traveling by bike has benefits. You can get a perspective that’s up close and personal, something you don’t necessarily get when you travel by car or train. Plus the Netherlands is a cyclist’s paradise, with a network of bike trails that has to be seen to be believed: you can get just about anywhere by bike. And unlike my home state of Vermont, it’s all flat, so biking is easy-peasy.

Not being one for traveling in large groups, we went with an outfit called Tulip Cycling. Tulip Cycling has a great system: they map out the route, provide you with bikes and GPS, arrange and book the hotels, and cart your luggage from one place to another. It’s not a group ride; you go by yourself or with whomever you like. Travel averages about 43 km a day, though shorter, alternate routes are also available.

Our route.

We started our trip in Haarlem, a city to the northwest of Amsterdam that’s easily reachable by train. Our first day took us through a landscape that I never associated with the Netherlands: sand dunes along the coast of the North Sea. These brought the only hills we encountered on the entire trip.

The landscape changed dramatically once we left the coast. In a few short miles we were biking through the country’s famous tulip fields, replete with gorgeous flowers in eye-popping colors.

We made a stop at the world famous Keukenhof gardens; the 90 acre spread makes it the largest garden in the world. One word: magnificent!

We spent our first night in Leiden. For those of you who’ve seen PBS series The Miniaturist, this is where the exteriors were filmed. There are gorgeous canal houses lining a network of canals.

Day 2 dawned rainy and windy, so we opted for a short alternate ride, bypassing The Hague, which I very much would’ve liked to have seen. However, the countryside was beautiful, the people friendly — a farmer even invited us into his barn during one intense downpour — and we actually ended up biking by an indoor ski slope.

Snowworld’s indoor ski park in Zoetermeer, NL.

We ended the day in Delft (yes, of blue tile fame), just in time for King’s Day. King’s Day is a national holiday marking the birth of King Willem-Alexander. The entire country celebrates. Businesses are closed and people crowd the streets to celebrate. It’s a huge, Netherlands-wide party.

King’s Day in Delft.

Day 3 brought us better weather. We biked from Delft to Gouda, a beautiful town and yes, home to the famous Gouda cheese.

Gouda town hall

The next day was spent traveling through beautiful countryside, including a stop at Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site that features 19 monumental windmills built between 1738 and 1740, the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands. We ended the day at Schoonhaven, a lovely town known for its silver work.

Windmills at Kinderdijk

Our last day of biking brought us to Utrecht, a Dutch town known for both its university and its canals. Here we stayed in perhaps the coolest accommodations of the entire trip: an apartment in a converted wharf cellar along a canal. Utrecht is the only city in the Netherlands with wharf cellars, many of which have been converted into restaurants or apartments.

Wharf cellars along a canal in Utrecht.

We followed our bike trip with four days in Bruges, Belgium. Known for its medieval buildings, cobblestone streets, and lovely canals, Bruges has a UNESCO-protected historic core and is a lovely place to explore.

Bruges

Bruges

All in all, a great trip. Did all this make me miss skiing less? No. But it did remind me that yes, there are plenty of other things to enjoy when your season is over. Traveling to different places is one of them.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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Being a Mom isn’t what it used to be. Way back in the Dark Ages, it seemed like we were expected to turn in our Adventure Cards once we gave birth; I guess we were supposed to stay indoors and knit or play Bridge or something. Not anymore. Today’s Moms are out there skiing, hiking, climbing, biking, and having all sorts of outdoor fun. So the old standby Mother’s Day presents, perfume and flowers, just don’t seem to cut it (we still like brunch, though).

In short, we need to explore other options. Here are a few things you might want to keep in mind for your mom — or maybe there’s something someone should get you.

Massage Gift Card

Face it: One of downsides of being active can be  sore muscles, and a massage is a great way to get some relief.  So a top gift for any active Mom has to be a gift card for her favorite massage therapist.

Collapsible Silicone Water Bottle

In hiking, biking, whatever, staying hydrated is important. But carrying a water bottle can be a real pain in the butt. Here’s a great alternative: a water bottle that collapses down to half its size to make it easier to transport. Made of food-grade silicone with a stainless steel rim and cap to keep an air-tight seal that prevents leakage. From que.

Salomon Outline Shoe

Ultra light and ultra cute, any Mom would appreciate the Salomon Outline Shoe. Designed to be worn in town or on the trail, the Outline features a high traction contra grip sole for non-slip walking and a comfortable Memory Foam insole. Available in Gore-Tex, too.

Skyroam WiFi Hotspot

Help your traveling Mom  stay connected in more than 130 countries with the Skyroam personal global WiFi hotspot. Skyroam’s patented virtual SIM (vSIM) technology automatically connects to service from local carriers, providing reliable connectivity for up to five devices without the expensive roaming fees.

North Face Venture 2 Jacket

As they say, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing. So don’t let a little rain stop Mom from exploring. I just returned from a bike trip in the Netherlands, and yeah, we biked even when it was pouring. So what’s a good choice to keep you drying the great outdoors? The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket.  Waterproof, breathable, and 100% windproof, it’ll keep Mom outdoors no matter what.

Pro Bike Pump with Gauge

Got a Mom who’s a road or mountain biker? She’ll love this: a Pro Bike Pump with Gauge that’s portable, yet reaches rider pressure in just a few pumps. Durable, compact, and lightweight, the pump was a ‘best buy award winner’ by Outdoorgearlab.com.

Trekking Poles

Warm weather is the perfect time for hiking, so get Mom a pair of these lightweight, ergonomically designed trekking poles from REI. The grips accommodate a variety of hand sizes and positions, and carbon-composite construction and a 3-section design minimize trail weight without sacrificing sturdiness.

Ski Art

Celebrate Mom’s love of skiing with a graphic of her favorite resort featuring her favorite trails.  From WildBlueDream on etsy.com.

Chairlift Necklace

Any Mom who loves skiing would love this hand-stamped skier chairlift necklace from moe art on etsy.com. The charm comes on a shiny, silver plated, 1.5mm ball chain that measures 16, 18 or 20 inches. It has a lobster clasp for easy opening and secure closure. From moesart on etsy.

Ski Diva Cap

 

No doubt Mom is a Ski Diva. So let her show her pride even in the summer with this great cap from TheSkiDiva store. By the way, there are lots of other great things there, too: Ski Diva hats, fleeces, and more.

 

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Last week I posted about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): How for 10% of people, the onset of summer triggers symptoms of depression. No, it’s not as common as winter SAD, but yes, it’s definitely a thing. And yes, it happens to me.

So this year I’ve decided to do something about it. Instead of sitting around in a blue funk, I’m heading off to check an item off my bucket list: biking through the Netherlands during tulip time. We’ll be riding to five cities — Leiden, Delft, Gouda, Schoonhaven, and Utrecht  — then heading on to Bruges in Belgium.

I’ll be doing some of this:

 

And seeing this:

 

And going through towns like this:

 

Sure, it’s not skiing. But that’s okay. The off season is the perfect time to broaden your horizons in a way that’s a little bit different. Besides, vacations are important. Research suggests that 56 percent of Americans haven’t taken a vacation in the past 12 months. That’s 10 million more people than the year before. In fact, the US is the only advanced nation that doesn’t mandate time off. By law, European countries get at least 20 days of paid vacation per year; some receive as many as 30. Australia and New Zealand each require employers to give at least 20 vacation days per year, and Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off. What’s more, Americans are taking the least amount of vacation in nearly four decades. And some 25 percent of Americans and 31 percent of low-wage earners get no vacation at all, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Pretty crazy, don’t you think?

People don’t take vacations for all sorts of reasons. Some are afraid of falling behind at work. Some fear losing their jobs. And some risk losing income when they’re not working.

This is really a shame. All of us need a chance to recharge the batteries; to blast out the cobwebs; to remind ourselves of what it means to be human again. Taking a vacation is good for your health, too.  In a study of 13,000 middle-aged men at risk for heart disease, those who skipped vacations for five consecutive years were found to be 30 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least one week off each year. Vacation deprivation may be equally hazardous for women. In the Framingham Heart Study, the largest and longest-running study of cardiovascular disease, researchers found that women who took a vacation once every six years or less were nearly eight times as likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took at least two vacations a year.

All this is my way of letting you know that for the first time in the twelve-plus years since I’ve had this blog, I won’t be posting next week. Maybe the following week, too, but who knows.

When I do come back, though, I’m sure I’ll have some great stories to tell. So stay tuned.

See you on the flip side.

 

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How do you feel when ski season ends? Are you ready to move on to spring and summer? Or are you bummed out that it’s over?

Consider me the latter. The end of winter finds me in a bit of a funk. It’s not that I don’t like warm weather. I do. But I’m always sad to see ski season end, and yeah, I’m a bit depressed until I get used to the idea and find other things to do (believe me, I have a huge list of things I put off during ski season). Then I’m pretty much okay.

For some people, however, the change of season makes them more than just sad. You’ve probably heard about seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which affects about 4- to 6-percent of the US population. SAD typically causes depression as the days get shorter and colder. But about 10% of people with SAD get it in reverse — the onset of summer triggers their depression symptoms. No, it’s not as common as winter SAD, but yes, it’s definitely something that happens.

According to an article in Psychology Today, while winter SAD is linked to a lack of sunlight, summer SAD may be due to the reverse — possibly too much sunlight, which also leads to modulations in melatonin production. Another theory is that people might stay up later in the summer, throwing their sensitive circadian rhythms for a loop. Or  it could be a reaction to higher heat and humidity, since traveling to a cooler locale sometimes brings relief. There’s even a theory that says summer SAD may involve sensitivity to pollen. One preliminary study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found summer SAD sufferers reported worse moods when the pollen count was high.

Winter- and summer-related SAD have different symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of winter depression include loss of energy, oversleeping, and weight gain. Summer depression symptoms, however, can include anxiety, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, poor appetite, and weight loss. Summer SAD can also bring a feeling of isolation, too. Most everyone is having a good time; why aren’t you?

So what are you supposed to do?

• Seek medical attention: If it’s getting in the way of your normal life, this is your best course of action. Because who knows: if it’s not SAD, it could be something else. So talk to your doctor. Once you figure out exactly what’s going on, you can explore treatment options.

• Exercise. I can’t think of a single thing that exercise isn’t good for, and this is another case where getting yourself moving can help. Regular exercise can boost serotonin and endorphins, which make our brain feel good.

• Do something you enjoy every day.  Find something each day that will make you happy, even if it involves staying indoors.

Relax. Studies show that relaxation techniques can have a profound affect on your ability to overcome depression and anxiety. Try to incorporate meditation, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, or yoga into your daily routine.

• Plan for it. If you know you’re going to experience summer SAD, be ready in advance. Organize your summer ahead of time so you can feel more in control. It’ll make it much less stressful when your symptoms kick in.

 

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(Photo caption: Sugarbush Resort)

Living in a small state like Vermont has its benefits. Nothing’s that far apart, and since the state has 20 downhill ski resorts, getting to one or another isn’t all that difficult. Sure, the mountains aren’t as big as the ones out west. But there’s still a lot of great skiing, and there’s a certain amount of New England charm that gives it a special vibe. So two weeks ago I decided to take advantage of geography and do what any self-respecting Ski Diva would do: take a mini ski safari — five mountains in five days in the Green Mountain State.

Which mountains did I choose? Okemo, Stratton. Killington, Sugarbush, and Pico. These are all within an hour or so of home, which made them easy to manage for a succession of day trips. (Sorry, Magic, Bromley, and Mount Snow. You’re close, too, but I skied Magic a couple weeks ago and posted about it here. For the others, another time.)

Stop #1: Okemo Mountain Resort.

Yes, Okemo is my local hill, which makes skiing there sort of a no-brainer. But since it’s one of the five I skied in five days, it’s only fair to include it here.

Here are some stats:

Average Annual Snowfall: 200 inches
Trails: 667 acres of terrain,  121 trails and glades. Novice 32%, Intermediate 37%, Advanced/Expert 31%
Total Trail Length: 46 miles
Snowmaking:
98%
Vertical Drop: 2,200 feet
Base Elevation: 1,144 feet
Summit Elevation: 3,344 feet

Okemo was bought by Vail Resorts at the very beginning of the season and is now part of the EPIC family. Vail has already promised to renovate two lodges: the Summit Lodge and the Sugar House. I’m sure there’ll be additional improvements down the road.

What do I love about Okemo? Well, first, it’s home. You can’t discount that in a ski area. Having a home mountain means you have a place you’re completely familiar with, where your friends ski, where you just feel comfortable. I can always count on running into someone I know, so I know I’ll always have a good time.

Second: Okemo is a cruiser’s delight, and I defy anyone to rip down a trail like War Dance without a silly grin on his face. And third: snowmaking & grooming. This can make  a huge difference, especially in the east. Okemo is often recognized by SKI magazine for this, and believe me, it’s not unwarranted. .

Favorite trails: Mueller’s Way, Timberline, Rolling Thunder, Stump Jumper, War Dance

Fun fact about Okemo: There’s an old fire tower at the top of South Face that you can drive or hike to in the off season. Climb it for a great 360° view of the Green Mountains. Highly recommend.

With its heated seats and bubble shield, the Sunburst Six makes it easy to stay out, even on the coldest days. Credit: Rob Bossi. (PRNewsfoto/Vail Resorts, Inc.)

Okemo

Stop #2: Stratton Mountain Resort

Average Annual Snowfall: 180 inches
Trails: 99. Novice 40%, Intermediate 35%, Advanced 16%, Expert 9%
Total Trail Length: 38.10 miles
Snowmaking coverage: 95%
Vertical Drop:  2,003 ft.
Summit Elevation: 3,875 ft.
Skiable Terrain: 670+ acres
Gladed Terrain: 160+ acres

To me, Stratton and Okemo have a lot in common. They’re both excellent for cruiser and great for families. True, they’re not the most challenging mountains around. And Stratton’s base village has a bit of a Disney-esque feel. But the mountain is easy to navigate with lots of lifts, the groomers are loads of fun, and there are some nice bumps and trees to shake things up a bit. Unfortunately, conditions didn’t warrant dipping into the woods. Another time, perhaps.

This year Stratton installed a new express quad in the Snow Bowl part of the mountain. It’s a big improvement over the old lift — the ride time is 5 minutes instead of 14 — and it makes skiing in that area a lot more enjoyable than it was in the past.

Favorite Trails: Polar Bear, Upper Middlebrook, Upper & Lower Liftline, Upper & Lower Spruce, Upper Kidderbrook.

Fun fact about Stratton: It was the first ski area to allow snowboarding and had the first half pipe and formal terrain park on the east coast.

Stratton Mountain Resort (photo credit: Stratton)

 

Upper Kidderbrook

 

Stop #3: Killington

Average Annual Snowfall: 250 inches
Trails: 155. Novice, 28%, Intermediate, 33%; Advanced, 39%
Snowmaking Coverage: 71%
Vertical Drop: 3,050 ft
Base elevation: 1,165 ft (Skyeship)
Summit Elevation: 4,229 ft
Skiable Area: 1,509 acres

Killington’s been in the international spotlight lately. For the past three years, it’s hosted the Women’s Audi FIS World Cup, attracting such ski luminaries as Mikaela Shiffin and Laura Gutt. There’s a reason the FIS chose Killington to host the race: it’s big, it’s easy to reach from urban centers in the east, and it does a great job managing crowds.

Killington’s has been on a bit of an upgrade kick over the past few years.  They’ve installed RFID technology on the lifts, new cabins on the K-1 gondola, a new 6-person bubble chairlift (to replace the Snowden lift), and a quad chairlift on the mountain’s underserved South Ridge area. Recently, Killington announced that it’ll be doing even more upgrades in the next year or so,  including the construction of a new base lodge to replace the one that’s been there forever.

Skiing Killington is fun, though it can be a bit confusing; just make sure you have a good trail map and plan your day so you end up in the same area you parked your car. The self-proclaimed Beast of the East is the biggest ski area in the east and sprawls across five peaks. There’s great terrain and tons of variety — enough to challenge everyone. You will not get bored.

Highly recommend: Lunch at the Summit Lodge. Sure, it’s a bit pricey. But the views are to die for. Also, ski biking! I tried this last winter, and holy moly, is it fun! See my blog post about it here.

Trails to ski: Ski in the tracks of Mikaela Shiffrin. Don’t miss Super Star, the trail used for the Women’s Audi FIS World Cup.

View from the Summit Lodge

 

Definitely try ski biking at Killington. OHMIGOD it’s fun.

Stop #4: Sugarbush Resort

Average Annual Snowfall: 250″
Total Acres: 4,000+
Trail Count: 111. Novice 18.7%; Intermediate 33.8%, Advanced 21.6%, Expert: 5.8%
Trail Length: 53 miles
On-Trail Acres: 484
Snowmaking Coverage: 70%
Vertical Drop: 2,600′
Base Elevation: 1,483′
Summit Elevation: 4,083′

I have a real soft spot for Sugarbush. Why? First, it strikes a great balance between being a skier’s mountain and a family destination. There’s plenty of expert terrain — more than 40% of the mountain is rated black diamond — but there’s still enough to keep intermediates and beginners happy. Instead of the broad groomers that make one mountain pretty interchangeable from the next, Sugarbush has terrain with character. There are lots of the traditional, winding New England trails that offer a surprise around every bend. There’s plenty of tree skiing and bumps. And there are spectacular views; look one way, and the Green Mountains stretch out before you; the other, Lake Champlain. What’s more, Sugarbush has what can only be defined as a Vermont vibe. It’s as if the place was weaned on maple syrup. And yes, it makes a difference in the atmosphere.

Favorite Trails: Upper & Lower Jester, Ripcord, Birch Run

On a clear day, you can see Lake Champlain from the top of the Heaven’s Gate lift. That’s Whiteface in NY State on the far left.

 

Jester winds around from the top of Sugarbush like a corkscrew. So much fun!

 

Stop #5: Pico Mountain

Average annual natural snowfall: 250″
Total Trails:
58, Easier: 18%, More Difficult: 46%, Most Difficult: 36%
Total Trail Length: 19 miles
Snowmaking coverage: 75%
Vertical Drop: 1,967′
Base Elevation: 2,000′
Summit Elevation: 3,967′
Skiable Acres: 468

Although it’s owned by Killington, Pico has more in common with Sugarbush than it does with its huge next-door neighbor. The smallest resort in this lineup, Pico is a lot quieter, a lot more low key, a lot more old school than the big K. Many of the trails wind around like old logging roads, offering spectacular views and loads of character. If you’re looking for glitter and glitz, you won’t find it here. All you’ll find is great skiing.

Favorite Trails: Upper & Lower Ka, Summit Glades, Forty Niner

Fun fact about Pico:  The mountain was founded by the Mead family, whose daughter, Andrea Mead Lawrence, was a three-time Olympian and the first American alpine skier to win two gold medals.

The top of Upper Ka, a winding black trail that’s a heck of a lot of fun.

 

Oh, wait, there’s more.

The week before my five days/five resorts jaunt, I skied two other resorts, as well: Mont Tremblant during Diva East, and Stowe Mountain Resort (you can read my blog post about Diva East and Tremblant here).

So my count for 10 days? Six Vermont ski resorts, one Canadian. Not bad. I’ll just have to leave the rest for next season.

 

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In a series of bold moves certain to shake up the ski industry, Alterra Mountain Company and Vail Resorts have announced plans to combine resources and acquire every ski resort they don’t already own.

“It was going to happen eventually,” said Robert Katz, Vail CEO. “So we figured we’d just go ahead and get it over with.”

Katz and Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory made the announcement before a gaggle of sports and financial reporters after a weekend-long closed door session. Asked how the new companies will manage the transition, Gregory was quick to calm investors’ fears. “From the 70 vertical feet of New York State’s Sawkill Family Ski Center to the 400 miles of skiable terrain in France’s Les 3 Vallées,” he said, “it’s all the same to us. We can sell you a season pass in any language there is.”

Details of the multi-billion-dollar deal have not yet been announced. Analysts predict, however, that walk-up window rates for resorts owned by the companies will climb to over $200/day next season.

Only one resort remains untouched: Mad River Glen, the legendary ski co-op located in Waitsfield, Vermont. “We were approached by both companies,” said Matt Lillard, MRG General Manager, “but when they insisted on replacing the single chair with a six-pack heated bubble — well, we knew it’d never fly with our shareholders.”

 

Please check your calendar to determine whether or not this is true. The post date to this is March 31. Tomorrow is…….

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Did you know TheSkiDiva has two annual gatherings a year for the women who participate on the forum? It’s a way for us to connect with one another: to get to know the living, breathing people behind the user names. And sure — while the skiing is important, even more important is enjoying the camaraderie of women with a shared passion. These annual meet-ups have helped forge bonds that have resulted in a genuine community, both on and off the slopes. Our western gathering this year was at Aspen Snowmass in January. And in the east, we got together last week at Mont Tremblant, Quebec.,

Did we enjoy Tremblant? Mais, oui! Tremblant est fantastique! One of the oldest ski resorts in North America (Sun Valley, Idaho, is the oldest), Tremblant is consistently rated at the top in SKI Magazine’s annual round-up of Eastern ski resorts. The pedestrian village at the base of the mountain has a charming, Old World feel, there’s terrific food,  it has lots of available lodging, and the mountain is tons of fun.

Here are some stats:

Summit Elevation: 2,871 ft / 875 m
Vertical Drop: 2,116 ft / 645 m
Base Elevation: 755 ft / 230 m
Skiable Area: 750 acres
Average Snowfall: 156 in / 396 cm
Total Trails: 102. Beginner, 21%; Intermediate, 32%; Advanced, 32%; Expert, 15%.
Total Lifts: 14

 

So what’d we like about it?

The mountain: For us Ski Divas, this is by far the biggest concern. Sure, good food and accommodations are nice, but if the mountain doesn’t deliver, frankly, we’re not interested. Never fear. Mont Tremblant didn’t disappoint. For one thing, all the lifts go to the top, which is super convenient. And once you’re there, you can ski the north, south, or soliel (sunny) side. So if it’s blowy or the snow’s not great on one part of the mountain, you can easily move to another and chances are it’s entirely different. What’s more, there’s literally something for everyone — lots of long, long trails with a good amount of pitch; super fun glades; great bump runs; terrific views; along with plenty of greens for those who’re just starting out. It’s all good.

Le Cabriolet

The village: Spread out across the base of the mountain is a pedestrian village, otherwise known as Quartier Tremblant. Constructed in the early 2000’s, it’s built in a style that’s reminiscent of Quebec’s Old City. And sure, it’s probably a bit Disney-esque. But it’s also very convenient and loaded with hotels, shops, and restaurants, all within easy walking distance of each other and the slopes. If you don’t stay at the base of the gondola, no worries: there’s Le Cabriolet, the commuter lift that skims over the village’s rooftops to drop you off steps away from the gondola base. Kind of makes you feel like you’re Mary Poppins.

Old World Charm: Tremblant is French to the core; well, French-Canadian, anyway. So you get this Old World-I’m-in-another-country feeling without ever having to cross the Atlantic. It’s lovely, everyone speaks both French and English (which makes it easy for those of us who aren’t bi-lingual), and the food is terrific.

Quartier Tremblant

 

One of the best parts of the trip was skiing with members of TheSkiDiva community. One of our local Ski Divas even guided us around (thanks, Jill!). And sure, the venue was great. But getting to ski with people we interact with on the forum — well, it’s like skiing with old friends. Needless to say, we had a blast.

Some pics from the trip:

 

Some of the Ski Divas at Tremblant.

 

The skiing was fabulous….

 

…and so were the views.

 

Really, the views are magnifique.

 

Good times on the gondola.

 

Crepes!

 

I give Mont Tremblant two ski poles waaaaay up. I’ll definitely be back!

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The Ski Diva by Wendy Clinch - 2M ago

Ski poles are the Rodney Dangerfield* of ski gear: they don’t get no respect. After all, they’re not sexy like skis, with splashy graphics, a wide range of shapes, and high tech materials. And unlike ski boots, they don’t require someone with specialized knowledge or mastery to get you fitted just right. Ski poles are basically long sticks with grips on one end and baskets on the other. They come in different sizes and a few different materials, but that’s about it.

ancient carving

Nevertheless, ski poles have been around for eons. According to Wikipedia, the earliest ski pole was found in Sweden and dates back to 3623 BC, while the earliest depiction of a man with a ski pole was found in Norway in the form of a cave painting, dated at 4000 BC.

But despite this long history, a lot of people still find ski poles a bit of a puzzle. Many can’t figure out what they’re used for or how to use them. And some disregard them entirely: little kids, for instance (unless you count whacking each other or engaging in fake sword fights), or even ski luminaries, like Andrea Mead Lawrence, two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Then there are those who think they use poles when they actually don’t. They just carry them down the mountain, one in each hand — like a rose or a can of beer — with nary a flick. This has always puzzled me. I mean, why hold onto something you’re not going to use?

So why do we have ski poles? Do we really need them? What the heck are they even for?

Glad you asked, because it’s a good question.

According to Dave Beckwith, Director of Killington’s Snowsports School, ski poles are indeed useful. And for a variety of reasons:

  • Propulsion. You can use ski poles to push yourself along the flats.
  • Balance. When you’re not moving, poles can be extra points of contact to facilitate balance.
  • Timing/rhythm. The pole swing/touch aids in the rhythm and timing of a sequence of turns. It can act as a trigger or turn initiator.
  • Blocking. The pole touch also aids in blocking or slowing the momentum of the upper body vs. the momentum of the lower body. When the lower body turns across the fall line and creates a countered relationship to the upper body, the upper body still has directional momentum. This can  be slowed — or blocked, as we call it — typically in moguls or steeps. You can do this internally through the body and externally through the pole touch.
  • Proprioception. Poles create added points of contact to provide information that can aid in your spatial relationship with the mountain.
  • Deflecting. You can use a pole to navigate through areas by pushing off things to redirect yourself while moving.
  • Unweighting. By applying pressure on a pole, you can help unweight yourself to jump over obstacles such as ice, dirt spots, or rocks.
  • Visual aid. By observing your pole swing, other skiers may be able to better understand your directional intentions.

So is skiing without poles a bad idea? Dave says no. “Some folks just like to ski without poles. And some coaches like to teach students without poles. Often, the reason is to develop good habits and movement patterns within the body rather than relying on external input too early through improper pole use. Typically, you’ll see coaches teach young kids without poles because the poles can be a distraction. I’m an advocate of teaching with poles from the outset. I want to give students all the tools they need for success right from the beginning.” 

Katy Perrey, a member of TheSkiDiva forum and a Level 3 Keystone instructor who often teaches in the mountain’s women’s clinic, agrees. “Ski poles can be a disadvantage at lower levels because people don’t learn to balance on their skis and feet. They’re always trying to balance using their poles. At the upper levels, when used properly, poles can help with timing in turns, bumps, and steeps. The swing of the pole should make you move forward into the direction of the beginning of the turn. That said, we should all be able to ski all types of terrain without poles because of a balanced stance.”

What’s the biggest mistake people make using poles? According to Katy, it’s having your hands all over the place, as well as bad timing. “When you watch super-skilled skiers, you don’t notice the poles or the pole swing/plant. With a lesser-skilled skier, the poles are much more noticeable because their arms and hands are moving all over the place. This causes serious upper body rotation, which is very bad.”

Dave sees two mistakes. “Either people don’t use them at all — the poles are just along for the ride — or their pole plant timing is off. This can keep the skier from getting the best response from their gear or the smoothest ride possible.” 

So don’t dismiss the lowly pole. Embrace it. Give it the respect it deserves. And use it in a way that helps your skiing. That’s what it’s for.

BTW, check out a thread on skiing without poles on TheSkiDiva forum. Go here.

*Late 20th century stand-up comic and actor

 

 

 

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It’s only the middle of March, and next year’s season passes are already on the market. Alterra and Vail both launched their respective passes on March 5: Alterra its updated IKON pass, and Vail its EPIC FOR EVERYONE, a revamped offering of its popular EPIC pass. The Peak Pass and Mountain Collective Pass dropped a few days later, and as they say, we’re off to the races.

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard enough to decide where I’m going to ski next week, let alone figure it out a year in advance. As one of the members of TheSkiDiva put it so well, I think you need to have a Masters degree in Planning and Logistics, plus a Bachelors in Meteorology with a minor in Statistics, to navigate the ski pass landscape and make decisions for next year’s passes. I’m tired just thinking about it.

I agree.

But fellow Ski Divas, don’t despair. If dealing with the multi-resort passes makes your head spin…or if you’re really not into the corporate ski experience…or if you think that EPIC and IKON resorts are getting far too crowded…there are still lots of choices out there.

Here in Vermont, one of best options is Magic Mountain. Often called the Mad River Glen of Southern Vermont, Magic has captured a lot of attention in the past few years. In ’17/’18 Liftopia readers voted it Overall Best in Snow in North America, and with customers saying it’s “the best kept secret in the Northeast” and “a true skier’s mountain.” Liftopia readers also rated it #3 in Best Family Resort. And the Wall Street Journal named it one of the best-kept secret ski resorts in the US. Throw in a cover story in SKI Magazine, and you have a small ski resort that’s getting noticed.

Is it EPIC? Is it IKON-ic? No. It’s neither. It’s just…Magic. As Geoff Hatheway, Ski Magic president said to me when I sat down with him last week, “Whenever there’s a large scale movement one way, there’s always an opportunity to be the yang to the yin. I think more and more people want something that’s authentic; a real Vermont ski experience. Fortunately, a few of those places are still around. Each one is different; each one has its own character. And that’s why we’ve won these awards, because we’ve got a really passionate user base that just loves to ski, that understands the type of terrain Magic has to offer, and that’s looking for a great community experience. Things just happen here that don’t happen at other places. So I think there’s a subset of skiers that’s into that.”

Overcoming adversity

Things weren’t always rosy for Magic. Originally founded by Swiss ski instructor Hans Thorner, the mountain prospered in the 1960s and 1970s. But by the 1990s times were tough, and Magic actually closed for a few years. And though it re-opened for 1997-98 season, it was often under-funded and struggled to gain traction. Lifts had difficulty passing inspection, snowmaking continued to decrease, and the lodge began falling into disrepair. Eventually a co-op concept was adopted but failed due to legal and administrative issues.

But in 2016 an investor group purchased Magic, and things began to change. Three years ago the group started a major capital improvement campaign, the results of which are evident today.

Here’s what’s been accomplished so far:

• Improved snowmaking capabilities: Magic recently replaced its diesel air compressors with cleaner, more efficient, more reliable electric compressors. It also increased the capacity of its pump house as well much of its piping , and added over 75 new HKD tower and mobile guns for more efficient, better quality snowmaking. The mountain is also doubling the capacity of its snowmaking pond (this will be completed by next season). All of this adds up. In the 2000’s, Magic was making snow on about 25% of its trails; by next year it’ll be up to around 70%.

• New lifts: Anyone who skied Magic in the past knows the lifts were, shall we say, sketchy. But that’s history. Last year they installed a Magic Carpet for beginning skiers along with a new chair that goes mid-mountain to access beginner and intermediate terrain. And this summer they’ll install a fixed grip quad to replace the old, notoriously awful Black Chair. So things are indeed looking up.

So what’s it like to ski Magic?

When you drive up the (short) access road, you see a sign:

You’ve now officially taken the road less traveled.

That pretty much sums it up.

If you’re looking for high speed lifts, glitzy hotels and shopping, and fancy restaurants, you’d be better off going elsewhere. Because you’re not going to find it at Magic.

Magic is what you’d call a skier’s mountain. Here, it’s all about the sport. The terrain is fabulous: terrific vertical, lots of winding trails that follow the contours of the mountain, tremendous tree skiing, and a decidedly laid back vibe.

Did I like it? Oh, yes. There’s something about the place that seems closer to the soul of skiing than a big mega-resort. It’s not huge, but there are a lot of ways to get down that are interesting and fun. The glades look tasty (not a good tree day when I was there), the moguls made by skiers and not machines, and there’s a lot to challenge just about any  level of skier. Sure, there aren’t any high speed six packs to whisk you to the summit in record time. If you want to book runs, you’re not going to be able to do it here. But then again, are you after quantity or quality? If it’s quality, this is the place to be.

Upper Wizard at Magic (that’s Stratton in the distance)

 

And now for some stats:

Base Elevation: 1,350 feet
Summit Elevation: 2,850 feet
Vertical Drop: 1,500 feet
Longest Trail: 1.6 miles
Steepest Trail: 45°
Average Snowfall: 145″
Lifts: 6
Trails: 24% beginner, 32% intermediate, 18% advanced.
Uphill Lift Capacity: 2,000 skiers per hour (with completion of new Black Chair next season)

Can Magic compete with the EPIC and IKON resorts?

According to Geoff, the low priced multi-resort passes present Magic — and all independent resorts — with a bit of a challenge. “Advance pass sales help fund the improvements we make over the summer,” he said. “For us to sell a cheap pass, it’s hard to survive to some extent. On the other hand, we’ve always considered ourselves a very affordable place to ski, and we mean to keep it that way.”  The multi-resort passes have caused Magic to become quite creative in their offerings. A look at their website backs this up. Magic has a slew of season passes that are a bit different: there are Sunday-only passes, holiday-only passes, a pass for midweek and powder days (the resort is open Thursday-Sunday, as well as holiday periods and powder days), passes for Vermont teachers and students, passes you can share. In short, there’s something for everyone.

What’s more, the resort has a self-imposed daily ticket sales limit (2,000 with new Black Line Quad Lift for 2019-20) to keep lift lines and crowds to a minimum, even on the busiest holiday weekends. A season pass guarantees you access to Magic even if they stop selling day tickets when they reach their maximum day ticket sales threshold.

What’s the long term vision?

There are some interesting things down the pike. Geoff said that this may include more summer activities, such as a bike trail that connects a number of communities in the area, as well as a partnership with local golf courses. As for skiing, there’s the potential for expanded glade skiing on the front side and even backcountry skiing off the backside.

Geoff put it simply: “We’re trying to design everything so it doesn’t change the character of the place, but makes it more accessible to a variety of people who want a different type of experience. It’s a really unique space. We’re carving out our own niche in the business and having a great time doing it.”

Can’t wait to see what they do next.

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(Photo credit: Forbes.com)

 

There’s no question that the snow this year has been insane. As of February 28, the top ten snowfall totals in North America looked like this (from Snowbrains.com):

Mammoth (CA): 574″

Squaw (CA): 570″

Homewood (CA): 533″

Boreal (CA): 516″

Sugar Bowl (CA): 510″

Northstar (CA): 504″

Kirkwood (CA): 481″

Mount Baker (WA): 461″

Jackson Hole (WY): 451″

Snowbird (UT): 441″

And take a look at the forecast for this week, from Opensnow.com:

Mammoth has already announced it’s extending its season until at least July 4, and  Kirkwood, Northstar and Heavenly have all extended their seasons by a full week. I’m sure others will follow suit.

As skiers, we relish seeing high snowfall totals. Pictures of people skiing through chest high powder make our hearts go pit-a-pat.

Photo credit: REI.com

But how much do you really know about snow?  I mean, besides the fact that it falls in winter and is so much fun to ski in. So this week I figured I’d get you educated with some fun facts about snow. Read and learn:

1. Around 12% of the Earth’s land surface is covered in permanent snow and ice (editor’s note: this could change as the planet warms, so support Protect Our Winters).

2. The average snowflake falls at a speed of 3.1 miles per hour.

3. All snowflakes have 6 sides. They can come in needles, columns, flat plates, stars, dendrites and combinations.  The temperature determines the shape.

Snow crystal

4. Snow is actually colorless. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, “the complex structure of snow crystals results in countless tiny surfaces from which visible light is efficiently reflected. What little sunlight is absorbed by snow is absorbed uniformly over the wavelengths of visible light thus giving snow its white appearance.” Snow can  contain dust or algae that give it different colors. Orange snow fell over Siberia in 2007 and pink snow (watermelon snow) covered Krasnodar, Russia, in 2010. Watermelon snow is common in mountains and has a sweet smell and taste.

5. The Sami people, who live in the northern tips of Scandinavia and Russia, use at least 180 words related to snow and ice,

6. The largest snowflake ever observed is believed to have been 15 inches wide and 8 inches thick. It was reported in Montana in 1887.

7. About 68.7% of Earth’s freshwater is trapped in ice caps and glaciers. Related fact: 2 billion people rely on snowmelt for drinking water.

8. Mount Baker, WA, has the world record for snowfall at 1,140 inches of snow in the 1998/1999 winter season.

9. An average of 25-30 avalanche fatalities occur in the US each year.

10. Avalanches can reach speeds of 80 mph within about 5 seconds.

11. Dutch daredevil Wim Hof holds the world record for running the fastest half marathon barefoot on snow and ice. He completed the marathon in 2 hr 16 min 34 sec near Oulu, Finland, on January 26, 2007.

Wim Hof

12. The world’s snowiest city with a population over one million is Sapparo, Japan, with an average yearly snowfall of 234 inches.

13. Very light snow is known to occur at high latitudes on Mars. A “snow” of  hydrocarbons is also theorized to occur on Saturn’s moon Titan.

14. Chionophobia is a fear of snow. If you’re crazy about snow, you have chionomania. I bet all of us here suffer from the latter.

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