Category Archives: Skiing and Snow

The Ski Train is Back!

Amtrak running the train, reborn as the Winter Park Express.

Amtrak-logoToday marked the happy return of the ski train between Denver’s Union Station and the base of Winter Park Resort. The operator now is Amtrak, and the weekend/holiday train is called the Winter Park Express. But the route is the same — and Coloradans are cheering.

Courtesy Charles Stemen/Winter Park Resort
Courtesy Charles Stemen/Winter Park Resort

With 550 passengers, including Governor John Hickenlooper, the inaugural train was sold out, as many that are to follow.

Colorado’s Deep Snows

Mountain snowfalls measure deep, especially at Crested Butte.

crestedbutte-logoI am looking out at the wintry snowscape in my yard — five inches or so on the deck railing birds on the heated birdbath and at the feeders (right now a white-headed woodpecker is vacuuming out the seed from the feeder outside my office window). The mountains are reveling in even more snow, a very good thing as the holiday peak season approaches.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) has received over 21 inches of snow in the last 24 hours and 29 inches in the last two days. That appears to be the deepest storm totals in the state of Colorado with a two day total of 29 inches.  Here is a picture from yesterday’s snow.

 The resort says that flights are arriving into the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport with just some minor delays and Monarch Pass is currently open. And that’s pretty much the picture all over the state. Click here for current snow and lift reports from most resorts state-wide.

Taos Named Top Ski Town

USA Today cites Taos as nation’s best.

USATodat-Top10-logoTaos (the town) and Taos Ski Valley (the mountain resort) are connected by a narrow 18-mile canyon road, but that didn’t stop USA Today readers from naming Taos the best ski town in the land. I like Taos as much as anyone, but it really doesn’t feel like a “ski town” — and with the recent developments at the resort, both on the mountain and at the base of the lifts, that vote seems even more far-fetched.

Taos has a fine historic plaza and a great hotel right there, good galleries, terrific places to eat and a nearby pueblo that ranks as one of the country’s longest continuously inhabited communities. But a ski town? Not really. Did someone stuff the ballot box?

Upon contemplation, I think not. The Tahoe area resorts are many miles from #2 Reno and somewhat closer to $5 Truckee. Even the town of Jackson and the resort of Jackson Hole are not contiguous. Maybe USA Today readers don’t like to ski. Just a thought.

10 Best Ski Towns

  1. Taos, N.M.
  2. Reno, Nev.
  3. Whitefish, Mt.
  4. North Conway, N.H.
  5. Truckee, Calif.
  6. Crested Butte, Colo.
  7. Jackson Hole, Wyo.
  8. Stowe, Vt.
  9. Steamboat Springs, Colo.
  10. Breckenridge, Colo.

And for what it’s worth

10 Best Ski Resorts

  1. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows – Olympic Valley, Calif.
  2. Sugarbush Resort – Warren, Vt.
  3. Big Sky Resort – Big Sky, Mont.
  4. Alta – Alta, Utah
  5. Crested Butte Mountain Resort – Crested Butte, Colo.
  6. Deer Valley Resort – Park City, Utah
  7. Revelstoke Mountain Resort – Revelstoke, British Columbia
  8. Killington Resort – Killington, Vt.
  9. Steamboat Resort – Steamboat Springs, Colo.
  10. Whistler Blackcomb – Whistler, British Columbia

 

Vail CEO’s Epic Generosity

Ski company boss writes BIG checks to worthy causes.

Vail-logoVail and Aspen, the most glamorous names in American skiing, are the linchpins of the communities where their ski mountains are located. Rob Katz, the mega-resort operator’s head man, and his wife, Elana Amsterdam, have opened their checkbook with unprecedented generosity.  From Vail Resorts’ press release:

Vail Resorts, Inc. CEO Rob Katz and his wife, Elana Amsterdam, founder of Elana’s Pantry, made personal contributions totaling $2 million to 12 local non-profit organizations in the communities where the company operates, including Eagle, Summit, Denver and Boulder counties in Colorado; Summit County in Utah, South Lake Tahoe in Nevada, North Lake Tahoe in California; the Municipality of Whistler in British Columbia, Canada; Afton in Minnesota; Brighton in Michigan; Kenosha County in Wisconsin (near Wilmot); Cooma in New South Wales, Australia (near Perisher); and Jackson in Wyoming (near Grand Teton Lodge Company). Each of the contributions will be directed toward programs that support the welfare and education of children in these local communities.

“The success of our local communities brings a number of unique challenges that require our focus and attention – none more important than helping kids and families who are most vulnerable. Elana and I feel fortunate to be able to provide this support to these outstanding non-profits to allow them to continue their great work,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts.

This announcement follows last year’s $1.5 million contribution by Rob and Elana to the Epic Promise Foundation, which provides grants to employees of Vail Resorts who are in need or are looking for additional educational opportunities…[There are] non-profit organizations receiving funds from this $2 million gift and the impact these funds will have on children and families in the local communities they serve. 

Think about this next time you buy VRI resort pass or buy a lift ticket.

Skiing a Colorado Tourism Economy Driver

Skiing/snowboarding generate $4.8 billion annually.

ColoradoFlag“I moved here for the winter and stayed because of summer” is a popular cliché of immigrants to the state — people like me who moved from the New York area. We are now part of the 9% of Coloradans who ski, and we continue to welcome visitors to share our slopes. With the strong dollar, international visitation is reportedly dropping, but ski visits overall continue strong. Take a look at these numbers from 2013-14 reported by a site called SnowBrains:

7 Facts About The Colorado Ski Economy

1. $4.8 billion is generated annually by the Colorado ski industry
2. 46,000 year-round jobs in Colorado are supported by the Ski & Snowboard Economy.
3. $1.9 billion earned by those 46,000 workers every year.
4. 500,000 Colorado residents skied in the 2013-2014 season. That’s 9 percent of Colorado’s estimated 5.2 million people.
5. 5.6 million of the state’s 12.6 million skier visits are from Colorado locals.
6. 7 million out-of-state skier visits in 2013-2014.
7.  $300 per day on average is spent by out-of-state skiers
8. 25% Colorado’s skier visits occur at Vail Resorts ski resorts (Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, Beaver Creek).

Luxe Chairlift in Austria’s Tryolean Alps

Kitzbühel’s sexy new eightpack.

AustriaSkiTwenty or more years ago, American skiers heading for Europe were often put off by the lifts and the liftlines. Many lifts were either high-capacity sardine-packed cable cars or surface lifts (T-bars and platterpulls), while in North America, skiers were accustomed to the relative comfort and ease of chairlifts. And liftlines here have always been orderly.

Fast-forward to now, and the wonders of European lift technology. Swiss cable cars and French and Austrian chairlifts have far eclipsed American uphill transport — and in fact, proved to tough for such American lift-makers as Hall, Riblet and YAN to compete against. Those American lift manufacturers are history.

Here’s a new lift in Kitzbühel, Austria, to show that there’s sizzle as well as steak in the realm of European lifts.

KitzbhuhelLift

It has been called “the world’s luxurious chairlift,” and what with ergonomic, leather seats, heated and bubble- covered, who’s to argue? Leitner Ropeways required 10 months to complete the chairlift, designed with input from  auto industry experts. Audi? Mercedes? Porsche?

Snow-Kissed Mountains Herald Ski Season 2015-16

September snows in the Rockies high country.

SnowCloudsAll summer long, I’ve been reading optimistic ski season forecasts, grace à El Niño, a storm pattern that blesses (if you’re a skier or snowboarder) or curses (if you aren’t and hate to shovel) the Rocky Mountain region. This is supposed to be an El Niño year, and whether or not it lives up to its threat/promise, September snows have already dusted that Colorado peaks.

September snowman at Big Sky, Montana.
September snowman at Big Sky, Montana.

Up north, the upper slopes at Big Ski Resort in Montana snared enough for building a snowman. In fact, the ski patrol reported 16+ inches at the top of Lone Peak and 12 inches in the Bowl mid-mountain of Lone Mountain. And yes, there’s still golf in the green valley below. This is a great time to book a winter vacation. Package prices are at their lowest right now.

Reintroducing Keystone to a Friend

Easterner returns to her Western skiing roots.

keystone-logoPegi and I first met more than three decades ago when she worked for a public relations agency in New York and I was writing for and editing ski publications there. One of her accounts was Keystone — the Colorado resort then owned by Ralston-Purina (yes, the pet food people). She invited me on a press trip, where we discovered that we had sons of the same age, and we became fast friends, as did our boys. We even scheduled a ski vacation at Keystone — the adults and the little boys. The youngest went into the nursery, while the older two boys were in ski school.

We were in different time zones and yet have stayed in touch, visiting each other in New Jersey or Colorado when we could. Her family skied Vermont, where they had a place. One son became a ranked snowboarder, came to the University of Colorado but eventually returned to the East Coast for grad school.  Meanwhile, my family skied here in Colorado, and my son spent several winters teaching skiing.

When Pegi visited recently, we went to Keystone, which had changed beyond recognition. The frontside trails on Keystone Mountain were, of course, familiar. She was also familiar with the backside accessed by what was then the Teller lift and is now the Ruby lift, but North Peak and The Outback were yet to be developed.

We cruised around sightseeing our way from one lift pod to another and at the end of the day, roamed  around the base village. No images, since I forgot my camera and hadn’t gotten into using my cell phone to capture images. I occasionally do so now.

 

K-to-5 Kids Free at Four Vail-Owned Resorts Next Winter

Keystone, Breck, Vail & Beaver Creek part of new Epic SchoolKids deal.

Vail-logoVail Resorts Inc. is the 800-pound gorilla of Colorado ski resorts, and it has raised the bar for parents of grade school children. If you are among them, as you contemplate which season pass to purchase for 2015-16, there’s a very good reason to go with Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass. Epic SchoolKids is an awesome new program with free skiing and riding for all Colorado kindergartners through fifth graders next winter.

Family skiing at Vail -- one of four of Vail Resorts Inc.'s resorts offering free skiing to Colorado grade-schoolers next season.
Family skiing at Vail — one of four of Vail Resorts Inc.’s resorts offering free skiing to Colorado grade-schoolers next season.

Parents can already enroll their kids by visiting participating Colorado Ski & Golf locations or Boulder Ski Deals. The program provides four days of free skiing and riding at each Vail’s four resorts in their backyards – Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. In addition, Epic SchoolKids also can get started at the ivy league of ski schools with a FREE full-day beginner lesson and equipment rentals at any of those resorts during the month of January, outside of holiday periods, as part of Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month. Parents, click here for details various adult season pass options to maximize family ski time; put $49 down and pay the remainder in fall.

In all likelihood, competing resorts — except perhaps those in Colorado’s southwestern corner — are brainstorming ways to come up with competitive offers, and Colorado families will be the beneficiaries. Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass offers are unbeatable, but other things are not such comparable bargains. At Breckenridge the other day, every single sunscreen product available at the rental shop carried a double-digit price tag, and a 1.4-ounce bag of SmartFoods popcorn was improbably priced at $3.79. I expect to pay more at a resort base with its captive audience, but these prices are over-the-top ridiculous. Moral of the story if you want not to overspend: never leave all your sunscreen at home, and stick some energy bars in your pocket or pack.

 

Loveland’s Valentine’s Day Mass Wedding

On-mountain nuptials make for a memorable wedding.

Loveland-logoYears ago, when newspapers were still generous with assignments to freelance writers, the Denver Post sent me to the Loveland Ski Area to cover the first-ever “Marry Me and Ski for Free” event on Valentine’s Day. (The photos here are BingImages from weddings past.)

Lovelandwedding1

If I remember correctly, the deal was that couples would get free skiing, a ceremony at the Ptarmigan Cabin and afterwards, a reception with Subway sandwiches and King Soopers cake at the base lodge afterwards. Any couple with a Clear Creek County marriage license would be legally wed by the Universal Life Church minister presiding. Others could “just practice.” It was a snowy weekday, and I figured that friends, co-workers or neighbors with the day off would “just practice” in order to get free skiing.

Loveland-wedding

It was snowing to beat the band as nine couples rode up Chair 2 and stood in a semi-circle around the minister. Eight were actually getting married for the first time and a couple from nearby Georgetown were renewing their vows. The bride was proud that she could fit into her wedding gown after two children and over her ski clothes. One bride’s mother came in from Kansas and declared that this was not the wedding she had envisioned for her only daughter. Her other offspring were sons. She didn’t ski, so the Patrol made a mother-of-the-bride exception to the must-ski requirement and ferried her up and back on a snowmobile.

Every year since then, couples have flock to the Loveland Ski Area on Valentine’s Day to take the plunge or renew their vows in a mass wedding ceremony at the top of Chair 2 at an elevation of 12,050 feet.  The event typically draws between 60 & 80 couples, some of which attend in full wedding attire.  After the ceremony, the newlyweds ski or snowboard down the mountain to the reception that features wedding cake, a cider toast and a best dressed contest.  It is quite a site to watch the couples make turns down the mountain in wedding dresses and tuxedos.

The details of what’s offered and what’s required change from year to year, but it’s always memorable — more so on a powder day. Valentine’s Day this year is on a Saturday, so expect a crowd. So if you’re intending or know someone who is, you’ve got a week to get your act and your outfit together. FoMoInfo: 303-571-5580 Ext. 141.