Category Archives: Skiing and Snow

Grand Weekend in Grand County

Wonderful winter destination with lots of options.

GrandColunty-logoThe list of things we did not do during four days visiting Grand County exceeds what we did. We did not go snowmobiling, snowboarding, ice skating, SnoScooting, swimming, horseback riding, spa-ing or shopping. We spent two days on Alpine skis (one at Winter Park, the second at Granby Ski Ranch) and two days in between at Snow Mountain Ranch/YMCA of the Rockies, where we enjoyed the immaculate cross-country trails and dedicated snowshoe trails. We did not go sledding or tubing, play tennis, do archery, use the indoor climbing wall, make things in a crafts studio or rent fat-tire bikes for riding in snow on special trails.

Winter Park, celebrating its 75th anniversary this season, is a mammoth ski area with seven distinct "zones" for skiers and snowboarders. Its dazzling, complex terrain has everything from a barely titled beginner area to daunting bump runs, terrain parks, chutes and sky-high bowls.
Winter Park, celebrating its 75th anniversary this season, is a mammoth ski area with seven distinct “zones” for skiers and snowboarders. Its dazzling, complex terrain has everything from a barely titled beginner area to daunting bump runs, terrain parks, chutes and sky-high bowls.
Snow Mountain Ranch boasts immaculate Nordic Trails, including set tracks for classical skiing and wide lanes for skating. Did I mention they were uncrowded?
Snow Mountain Ranch boasts immaculate Nordic Trails, including set tracks for classical skiing and wide lanes for skating. Did I mention they were uncrowded?
Separate snowshoeing trails lace though woods and across wide meadows.
Separate snowshoeing trails lace though woods and across wide meadows.
Granby Ski Ranch is a self-contained resort with abundant lodging and family-friendly terrain for skiers and snowboarders.
Granby Ski Ranch is a self-contained resort with abundant lodging and family-friendly terrain for skiers and snowboarders.

I like cross-country, but this getaway reminded me that I love sliding downhill most of all. Winter Park is a Colorado classic with a history that goes back to the early days of the sport in Colorado. Many natives learned to ski there — often with the legendary Eskimo Ski Club. Those of us who moved here from elsewhere learned to love this big, ever-evolving mountain with the quirky terrain that goes on forever. Hard-skiing  and -riding locals mean the snow gets tracked out quickly. Granby Ski Ranch has developed into a destination for new and occasional skiers from out-of-state who pack into base-area condos. That means that we still got some first tracks on corduroy well into the afternoon. Both were experiences that reminded why I do love winter and snow.

 

Where Winter Lives: Leadville

America’s highest city a snowsports lovers’ heaven.

Leadville-logoAt 10,152 feet above sea level, Leadville, CO, is America’s highest city. Its nickname is Cloud City, and in winter, I think it should be Snow Cloud City. There’s Alpine skiing, snowboarding and snowcat skiing/riding at Ski Cooper along US Hwy, 24 just a few miles north of Leadville. This small ski area is the direct heir to the fabled 10th Army Division of World War II, which trained at nearby Camp Hale. But it provides just some of the winter sports opportunities. Here are some others:

  • Cross-Country Ski. Skiers can find trails suited to their preferences and abilities in and around Leadville. The Mineral Belt Trail, a historic route that loops the city, is a good place for beginning and intermediate skiers to familiarize themselves with the area; experts can explore the east-side mining district. Both are groomed regularly and are easy to access from several spots in town.
  • Bike.  Fat bikes and snow bikes are gaining in popularity every year, and Leadville is ahead of the curve on meeting the growing demand for this sport. The Cloud City Wheelers bike club builds and grooms single-track trails for biking, which, combined with the other area trail networks and dozens of ungroomed county roads, create enough choices to keep riders busy for days on end.
  • Snowshoe. From wide, flat trails that gently wind through the trees at the Mt. Massive Golf Course Nordic Area to well-marked trails with lots of ups and downs at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, to accessing the 500-mile Colorado Trail and 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail in nearby Twin Lakes, there’s something for every snowshoer, no matter their age or ability.
  • Snowmobile. White Mountain Tours offers guided trips on the Turquoise Lake Trail that can be combined with zip-lining for a true Rocky Mountain bucket-list adventure. Turquoise Lake and the east-side mining district trails are open to motorized use. The High Riders Snowmobile Club grooms these trails, along with some county roads, and offers organized rides throughout the winter as well.
  • Race. Enthusiasts of all of these sports with can also compete in them in Leadville each year. Winter competitions include the Harrison Avenue Knock-out Nordic Sprints, the Nordic Paintball Biathlon, the Leadville Winter Mountain Bike Race Series, the Leadville Snowshoe Marathon and Half-Marathon, a winter triathlon, the Leadville Loppet and the Leadville High-Altitude Snow Drags.
  • Learn. Leadville is an ideal destination for those just starting out or wanting to try before they buy. Fat bike and Nordic ski rentals are available at Cycles of Life and the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center. The latter also rents snowshoes, offers Nordic lessons and a fee-based system of groomed, set track and wide skate lanes. Mt. Massive Golf Course offers cross-country ski rentals and lessons, and Alpine Ski and Sports, Bill’s Rentals, Leadville Outdoors and Leadville Ski Country rent a variety of winter sports equipment. Colorado Mountain College – Leadville offers one- and two-day courses as well. And of course, Ski Cooper offers ski and snowboard lessons for adults and children.
  • Dog-Friendly Too. Other than on the Ski Cooper trails, leashed and well-behaved pooches are allowed on all of these trails; owners are asked to follow proper trail etiquette and pick up after their dogs. The Mt. Massive Golf Course trails are open to off-leash dogs as long as they are kept under the owner’s control. Cold Nose Warm Heart Pet Care provides boarding and doggie daycare options.

Winter trail maps are available at the Leadville Lake County Visitor Center at 809 Harrison Avenue on the north end of the historic downtown, at many of the businesses listed above and online. The Leadville Ranger District Office at 810 Front Street or 719-486-7409 is a great resource for trail information and conditions. Trail users should check current conditions with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center before heading out.

Three Weeks of Gustatorian Apres-Ski

KeystoneResort-logoKeystone was Colorado’s first mountain resort to really emphasize its culinary side with interesting restaurants in the valley and up on the mountain. It long ago began hiring real chefs rather than short order cooks who were frying up burgers in exchange for free skiing. and began beefing up its kitchen staffs with real chefs and culinary school apprentices. As one of the early built-from-the-ground-up full-service resorts, it developed lodging and food and beverage facilities. The high bar Keystone set for itself continues.

Keystone Resort’s distinct signature restaurants are on display during this season’s Savor the Slopes, an upcoming multi-week rotating showcase featuring food, wine, beer and spirits. Each the host restaurant organizes its tasting event with its own unique theme that promises to be both informative and delicious. Award-winning, mountaintop locations, historical buildings and two distinct village settings host a combined 17 tasting events. All events begin at 4 p.m., so they are an excellent après-ski option. I love that several feature Colorado beer, wine and spirits. Resort guests might even want to ski off a little of the Savor the Slopes calories, while cay skiers can linger and avoid some of the eastbound I-70 traffic — of course, being  very conservative adult beverages.

Each event costs $25 (a tab easily reached by ordering some beer and munchies during conventional après-ski.  Reservations for individual Savor the Slopes tasting events are required, and can be made by calling 970-496-4386.

Savor the Slopes Schedule

  • Der Fondue Chessel. A Taste of Fondue, Wednesday, January 21
  • Alpenglow Stube. Wines of Napa Valley, Thursday, January 22
  • Keystone Ranch. Farm to Table Presentation, Friday, January 23
  • Bighorn Bistro. Creation of a Menu Item, Saturday, January 24
  • The Ski Tip Lodge. Hors d’oeuvres Made Easy, Sunday, January 25
  • Der Fondue Chessel. Cabernet at its Finest, Wednesday, January 28
  • Alpenglow Stube. Wild Game, Thursday, January 29
  • Keystone Ranch. Colorado Spirits, Friday, January 30
  • Bighorn Bistro. Craft Beers, Gastropub Style Bites, Saturday, January 31
  • The Ski Tip Lodge. Trends in Wine Making, Sunday, February 1
  • Der Fondue Chessel. Beers of the World, Wednesday, February 4
  • Alpenglow Stube. Mysteries of Merlot, Thursday, February 5
  • Keystone Ranch. History of Colorado Wines, Friday, February 6
  • Bighorn Bistro. How to Create Craft Cocktails, Saturday, February 7
  • The Ski Tip Lodge. Ski Tip Infusions, Sunday, February 8
  • Der Fondue Chessel. Wines of Sonoma, Wednesday, February 11
  • 9280 Tap House. Colorado Beers, Thursday, February 12

Cross-posted to Culinary Colorado.

The Ides of December Bring Snow to the Rockies

Big snows foretell great skiing over the holidays.

Nineteen inches of new snow at Winter Park make it the snowfall leader du jour.
Nineteen inches of new snow at Winter Park make it the snowfall leader du jour.

Here in Colorado, seven resorts welcomed more than a foot of new snow within 48 hours, with Winter Park leading the way with 19 inches of fresh powder. Monarch and Steamboat each measured 17 inches of new snow, Telluride reported 15 inches, Snowmass recorded fourteen inches, and Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort and Copper Mountain each received about a foot. Elsewhere in Ski Country, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk and Ski Cooper each accumulated 11 inches of new snowfall, Aspen Highlands and Eldora welcomed 10 inches, Wolf Creek reported 9 inches, and Loveland received 8 inches. Arapahoe Basin and Ski Granby Ranch each reported 6 inches, while Crested Butte, Sunlight and Howelsen each measured 4 inches of new snow. The CSCUSA snow report is updated by the resorts themselves. Vail and Beaver Creek,  not CSCUSA members, also received 11 inches each. The Summit Country resorts of Breckenridge and Keystone were in the single digits, as did Loveland. Their snow reports can be accessed through Vail Resorts’ www.snow.com website.

In Utah, unsurprisingly, the Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts of Alta and Snowbird received the most snow out of the most recent storm, 5 inches in 24 hours and 12 inches in 48 hours. And in Montana, the small ski area of Lost Trail Powder Mountain, in the southwestern part of the state near the Idaho line, snagged 15 inches of new snow. Wyoming’s Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee hit the snow jackpot two or three days ago, with just a few additional inches in the last 24 hours.

New Mexico’s reported snowfall totals were literally all over the map. Impressive 14-hour snow totals were logged at northern ski areas (8 inches at Angel Fire, 10 inches at Ski Santa Fe and 14 inches at Taos, plus 15 inches at the Enchanted Forest Cross-Country Center).  That, barring a warm spell, should set it up splendidly for the holidays.

Heli-Skiing Pioneer Debuts Day Trips

New CMH day trip out of Revelstoke during the holiday season.

CMH-logoThe late Hans Gmoser, founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays, wrote the book heli-skiing in the Canadian Rockies nearly half a century ago. A week of skiing (and then snowboarding too) in the snow-blessed mountains of British Columbia. Lodging, meals and socializing in on-mountain lodges reached by helicopter. Days of plowing through powder with a well-trained guide. A  pricey adventure, but heaven on earth for those who could afford it.

I’ve read so many glowing articles about CMH that I feel as if I really have spent a week in the Monashees or the Bugaboos or other ranges. In truth, I have actually never done that, but I have heli-hiked with CMH, cat-skied in various places and day heli-skied for a day with an operator out of Canmore, Alberta, whose name I can’t recall. Now, for the first time, a day of heli-skiing is on CMH’s schedule.

The new three- and five-run packages will enable powder enthusiasts to experience deep snow with big, open alpine runs, glacier terrain and stellar tree skiing in the Monashees and Selkirks from December 27 through January 3, a wonderful opportunity for holiday vacationers — both first-time heli skiers and riders and veterans of previous heli-trip to experience expansive terrain removed from a resort setting.

Prices: 3 run package, CDN $799; 5 run package, CDN $959 and additional runs $89 each, all plus applicable taxes — and a tip for the guide, who earns every cent. The package includes helicopter safety briefing, backcountry safety training; use of avalanche transceivers, shovel, probe and radio; powder skis and poles, or snowboard (bring your own ski or snowboard boots); transportation from and return to Revelstoke’s Regent Hotel to and from the heli-pad; professionally certified and experienced ACMG and/or IFMGA Guide, and gourmet mountain lunch and après ski snacks. FoMoInfo or to book: 800-661-0252.

Vail’s 350-Inch Season

EPIC Pass has accessed epic snows.

Vail-logoVail, the monarch of the Vail Resorts family of ski/snowboard venues, is ending the 2013-14 season on a high note — or  maybe I should say, a deep note. More than 350 inches of snow have fallen on the famous resort’s slopes, and even though winter operations are about to end and management is now promoting summer activities, the snow keeps falling and falling. Vail has made a video highlighting this fabulous winter, and whether you want to indulge in instant nostalgia or prime yourself for next winter, take a look — and if you want to be ready when the snow starts flying again, it’s time to buy your EPIC Pass now; click here for the options.

Vail 2013-14 Winter Video

Meanwhile, if you are a 2013-14 pass holder, remember that your pass is also good at Arapahoe Basin, which plans to operate well into June.

 

A Celebration of Spring Skiing

The gentle joys of season’s end.

037Free music, drinks on the patio and pond-skimming are traditional end-of-season activities at ski areas from coast to coast, but for me, the gentler joys of soft snow, sunshine and absence of crowds are what cause me to mourn the end of winter — especially this year, now that I’ve recuperated from back surgery and am back on skis again. Several Colorado ski areas have extended their seasons (Arapahoe Basin plans to operate into June), so I’m hoping to get a few more days in. But if yesterday at Copper Mountain turns out to be the last day, it was a great end to a wonderful winter — even if it got a bit cloudy.

My friend Cathy Dold and I have enjoyed many a wonderful ski day -- always midweek.
My friend Cathy Dold and I have enjoyed many a wonderful ski day — always midweek.
Note the absence of anyone on the wide slope below or the lack of vehicles on I-70 below.
Note the absence of anyone on the wide slope below or the lack of vehicles on I-70 beyond.
Note the absence of anyone on the wide slope below or the lack of vehicles on I-70 below.
Note the absence of anyone on the wide slope below or the lack of vehicles on I-70 beyond.
The view remains wintry, but mid-April on the calendar foretells the end of the 2013-14 ski season.
The view remains wintry, but mid-April on the calendar foretells the end of the 2013-14 ski season.
With no liftlines, skiers and riders can pack a lot of runs into a day. Refueling at Jack's.
With no liftlines, skiers and riders can pack a lot of runs into a day. Refueling at Jack’s.
Another sign of spring is long icicles dripping like stalactites on speed.
Another sign of spring is long icicles dripping like stalactites on speed.
Anyone looking to refresh the gear locker or closet is wise to check out the en-of-season sales.
Anyone looking to refresh the gear locker or closet is wise to check out the end-of-season sales at resort ski shops.

As the cliché goes, “Ski you later.”

Ski Free at Grand Targhee This Spring

Powder pocket in the Tetons offers season-end bargain.

GrandTarghee-logo,jpgThere are few ski resorts in the country that have better and more abundant snow than Grand Targhee, which has been graced with 400+ inches so far this season (including 4 inches last night) and is measuring its snowpack at 130+ inches — that’s more than 10 feet. Combine a small resort village and a remote location (it’s in Wyoming, but you get there from Idaho) and you don’t get crowds — not ever. Great deals abound across the snowbelt at the end of the season, but very few match and none exceeds Grand Targhee, which is operating through Easter, April 20.

This small resort village on the west slope of the massive Teton Range has rolled out an unbeatable lodging package that includes free skiing with at least four nights of lodging. Grand Targhee’s  headliner package includes four nights lodging and four days of lift tickets starting at $82 per person per night based on double occupancy in Targhee Lodge.

A tiny resort directly at the base of the lifts means you can almost roll out of bed and hit the slopes -- for free with 4 nights of lodging in spring.
A tiny resort directly at the base of the lifts means you can almost roll out of bed and hit the slopes — for free with 4 nights of lodging in spring.

Also, since children to age 12 stay, ski free anyway when staying at Grand Targhee Resort, this can be the cheapest family snow vacation imaginable. One child skis/stays free per paying parent. Also, kids eat free off the kids menu at the Branding Iron Grill with the purchase of one adult entrée from the dinner menu from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. (offer  for lodging guests only).

Silky groomed trails as well as untracked powder make for sweet skiing -- and the views of the Grand Teton and nearby peaks add to the joy.
Silky groomed trails as well as untracked powder make for sweet skiing — and the views of the Grand Teton and nearby peaks add to the joy.

Use those savings to splurge on a Snowcat Adventure on Peaked Mountain, which is adjacent to the lift-served terrain. Just two groups if no more than a dozen skiers and riders eacg play in a huge powder reserve of more than 600 acres, where 14,000 to 20,000 vertical feet per day await. Targhee’s professional guides lead small groups through expansive bowls, gladed cruisers and steep tree pitches. The bonus is breathtaking views of the Tetons — unless it’s snowing again. This outstanding sidecountry experience is $349  per day (including lunch and snacks), $249 for a morning half-day or $199 for an afternoon half-day (both including snacks). I’ve done this a couple of times, and a half-day was plenty.

Idaho Falls and Jackson are the two closest airports. Shuttle service is available. FoMoInfo or to make reservations. 800-TARGHEE.

Concept for Utah ‘Super-Interconnect’ Revealed

Backcountry adventure skiing could eventually be lift-connected.

Courtesy Utah Ski & Snowboard Association.
Courtesy Utah Ski & Snowboard Association.

A number of years ago, I was the token Northerner among an Atlanta ski club group that had booked an Interconnect Tour, a guided resort-to-resort skis-on adventure organized by Ski Utah. We met up at now-defunct restaurant at the Park City base to receive our avalanche transceivers (required, though there had been no new snow for more than a week) and get instructions. Besides me, there were two other “ladies,” one of whom started crying (I’m serious!) when the guide handed out the transceivers and dropped out before we got started.

We were to ride chairlifts to the top of Jupiter Bowl, cross over the ridge between Parley’s Canyon (where Park City Mountain Resort is located) and Big Cottonwood Canyon (Brighton and Solitude), drop into Solitude, ski the SolBright Trail to Brighton and continue to Alta via a long traverse. Not all of that happened.

Right off the Jupiter chair, I thought a portly Atlantan was going to have a heart attack shuffling across the ridge separating the two canyons. It was slow going as our group picked our way through the trees down toward Solitde on morning-firm snow. When we reached the bottom, the remaining  Atlanta “lady” stood there holding her skis until one of the men offered to carry them across the road.

We stopped in the day lodge for a break and then spent the morning skiing between Solitude and Brighton. Our guide had long since abandoned the notion of continuing to Alta and called for the van to pick us up for the return to Park City.

The ONE Wasatch Concept

Seven sizable ski areas in three parallel canyons are very close together, making European-style connections physically feasible, but the US backcountry culture is vastly different from the European, where enormous interconnected lift networks are common. This might change, and the possible change will vastly change/improve the experience.

OneWasatchSignSki Utah and representatives of Alta, Brighton, Canyons, Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR), Snowbird and Solitude called a news conference today in Salt Lake City today to announce their support for a concept called ONE Wasatch, a real connection among all seven resorts via chairlifts and ski runs. If approved and built, it would be by far the most ambitious such adventure experience on the continent. A single lift ticket would cover more than 18,000 skiable acres, 100 lifts and more that 750 runs. It has been on skiers’ wish list for a number of years, and the hurdles to realizing the dream remain formidable. But getting as much support as was evidenced today is a giant step that is not to be trivialized. Click on

I wish I could report that ONE Wasatch is plan with a timetable, but it remains a concept. Given the challenges individual ski resorts have expanding their terrain, adding or replacing lifts or doing anything, infrastructure-wise, with America’s crazy quilt of private and public lands, plus consideration of every interest from resort developers to backcountry purists, the process could take a long time.  The required dialog and feedback can be contentious. Currently, Alta and Deer Valley do not permit snowboards, and riders will surely be as eager as skiers to take advantage of ONE Wasatch if and when it is implemented. I think it’s a great idea and just hope I’ll live long enough to see it come to pass.

Michigan Dunes Now Under National Wilderness Designation

Nearly half of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore protection upped. 

NatlParkServiceLogoSome 32,557 acres of the 71,199-acre Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula are now protected as a National Wilderness area, thanks to a bill sponsored by Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and signed into law by President Barack Obama last Thursday. In an all-too-rare acknowledgment by a politician from one party of the accomplishments of the other, Representative Dan Benishek, a Republican who represents the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan, issued a statement that said. “Today is a huge win for Sleeping Bear Dunes, our economy, and for the citizens of Northern Michigan.” And it is an accomplishment —  the first wilderness protection bill to pass both chambers since 2009.

The Dunes boast 35 miles of miles of sand beach on the mainland, bluffs that tower as high as 450 feet above Lake Michigan, off-shore islands, lush forests, two rivers (the Platte and the Crystal), 21 clear inland lakes, unique flora and fauna. The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in the town of Empire is open year-round, plus seasonal attractions that include an island lighthouse, US Life Saving Service stations, the historic Glen Haven General Store, Glen Haven Blacksmith Shop and three museums (te Empire Historical Museum, the Cannery Boat Museum and the Sleeping Bear Maritime Museum). The whole area’s sweet coastal villages and picturesque farmsteads reflect a rich maritime, agricultural and recreational history.

Sleeping Bear Dunes, now largely on Wilderness Act protection. Photo: National Park Service
Sleeping Bear Dunes, now largely under Wilderness Act protection. Photo: National Park Service

The Dunes remain under National Park Service jurisdiction with additional wilderness parameters. The NPS stated that will not limit public access, which understandably peaks in spring, summer and fall. Roads, highways, boat launches and other structures are excluded from the wilderness designation. Park visitors will continue to be able to hunt, fish, hike and camp in designated areas.

Arguably the most distinctive activity in the park is the Dune Climb, a windblown ascent that can be strenuous, especially for out-of-shape adults, though the run back down to the picnic area is a blast. Hiking through the dunes all the way to Lake Michigan can take as long as 3 to 4 hours. Sightseers take the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7.4-mile loop road with 12 numbered interpretive signs at spectacular overlooks of Lake Michigan, Glen Lake and the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Other things to do in the warm months include various ranger programs, kayaking, hiking (100 miles of trails), road cycling on paved roads, fishing, swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Such motorized activities as ATVing and snowmobiling are no-go in the wilderness.

Some years ago, when on a winter assignment in nearby Traverse City, my ski-writer friend Michael Terrell urged me to borrow some skis or  snowshoes and explore the Dunes. I went there on a quiet, sunny weekday. I can’t begin to remember which route I followed, but I do recall that it more or less paralleled the lakeshore. I also remember enjoying the undulating terrain, the water views and breeze that differed from a sea breeze only in that it wasn’t salty.

The park spans Benzie and Leelanau counties in northwest lower Michigan, and  in 2011, even before it received wilderness designation, it was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by “Good Morning America.” Following recognition on national television, visitation grew nearly 14 percent to a record 1.5 million in 2012. It fell 12.5 percent in 2013, due in part to the federal government shutdown, which I’m guessing Senators Levin and Stabenow did not support. I don’t know about Representative Benishek.