Park City's Winter Wonderland


Utah

This old mining town has sure built itself up into an incredible getaway.

At first light you were schlepping a plastic bin through an airport security line. Now, the only line you’re worried about is which of the pitched white curves of Deer Valley’s Ontario Bowl to ski down—still untracked, it should be noted, at two in the afternoon. Visiting Park City is like slipping through a rabbit hole: It’s a quick, convenient and a true getaway. This historic mining town, just 40 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport, beguiles you with its downtown full of top-notch restaurants and galleries, and then tempts you with a trio of world-class ski resorts. Welcome to wonderland, Alice.

THE SERENDIPITY OF SILVER
While many ski towns try to manufacture charm, old Park City’s nearly abandoned boxy Wild West storefronts and frilly Victorians were waiting in mothballs, courtesy of the miners who chiseled more than $400 million worth of silver out of the surrounding Wasatch Mountains in the 1800s. Today, Park City’s fairy-tale Main Street twinkles with lights and brims with activity. Since the skiing here is considered less challenging than at neighboring resorts like Snowbird and Alta, the clientele tends to be of intermediate skill—couples and families looking for a well-rounded experience that includes shopping, dining and relaxing.

Pack snow-proof footwear, because this is a town for strolling. On foot, you’ll discover a warren of diversions tucked above, below and along Main Street and Park Avenue. Browse Bahnhof Sport for skiwear, Chloe Lane for designer jeans and Mary Jane’s for funky women’s clothing and accessories. A free trolley travels Main Street if you find yourself loaded down with packages.

Two dozen art galleries showcase everything from local watercolor landscapes to western bronze statues. Start with Phoenix Gallery, an airy, three-story space that provides a perfect backdrop for the contemporary mixed-media sculpture on display.

Shops and galleries seem to be outnumbered only by restaurants. It’s not easy to find a bargain, but the financial hit is worth it for some memorable meals. Rustic chophouses serve chile-rubbed prime cuts; trattorias could hold their own in Tuscany. The name on locals’ lips is Shabu, where you can cook your food in sizzling broth at the table. The atmosphere is fun and informal, and the “freestyle Asian cuisine” playfully pairs flavors, like sake-steamed sea bass with black bean and garlic paste.

Despite what you may have heard about Utah’s bewildering liquor laws, nightspots abound as well. Those wishing to close out a day on the slopes with a cocktail need only pay a nominal “membership fee” to get in to most clubs. Whether your tastes lean toward meeting for martinis and appetizers (Jean Louis) or drinking beer and dancing until dawn (Harry O’s), you can find it in spades in Park City. In Utah terms, Park City is “Sin City,” and the town takes pride in that nickname.

UP ON THE SLOPES
Above all, Park City is a ski town. Its fortunes were transformed from silver to snow in 1963, when a local mining company opened Treasure Mountain to skiing. Photos at the Park City Museum show zealous skiers traveling through old mine shafts and surfacing in soot-covered parkas on mid-mountain slopes.

Today Park City has 3 ski resorts, all regularly deluged with the dry-as-dust Utah snows that drift down the east side of the Great Salt Lake. Few ski hills are as centrally located as Park City Mountain Resort. To hit the slopes, all you need to do is hop on a chairlift downtown and soar over the city up the mountain. On the way down, skiers and snowboarders still schuss past the occasional mining relic. This 3,300-acre resort is especially well suited for families, thanks to its great location, abundance of ski-in/ski-out lodging, diversity of runs and teen-pleasing terrain parks (even lighted for night-riding) that routinely win kudos from snowboarding magazines. Near the base is the Alpine Coaster, a 2-person roller coaster that blazes downhill.

Four miles north, The Canyons has quietly become one of the largest ski areas in the country, with 3,700 acres of terrific bowls, gullies and ridiculously long, mellow cruisers. It's still expanding: 300 acres of aspen glades were added in 2008 around the new Dreamcatcher chairlift. And there's a growing village at the resort's base, though guests staying there might feel a bit isolated from Park City's other attractions.

The area's toniest accommodations can be found sidled up to Deer Valley Resort, a mile south of downtown Park City. This exclusive mountain prides itself on elite customer service and amenities. To prevent lift lines and give skiers plenty of elbow room, ticket sales are limited. Trail grooming approaches high art, and snowboarding is prohibited. Mid-mountain restaurants cater to the upscale clientele with dishes like grilled Atlantic salmon with orange hollandaise; the resort even markets its own line of signature foods (cilantro-lime glaze, anyone?). On sunny afternoons, after their 2-hour lunches, guests contentedly sip blueberry mojitos on The Beach, where Adirondack chairs are lined up in the snow.

The 1,825 acres of ski terrain at Deer Valley gets better every year. Guests tend to gravitate to those delightful corduroy groomers, leaving the wide-open steeps and glades for accomplished skiers off the Empire and new Lady Morgan chairlifts.

Not that you need more variety, but the scissor-sawed peaks ringing the horizon are home to more than a half-dozen additional ski resorts. These include Alta and Snowbird at the south end of Salt Lake City in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Robert Redford's Sundance near Provo, and the virtually undiscovered expanses of Snowbasin and Powder Mountain north near Ogden.

THE DETAILS

Bahnhof Sport: 693 Main St.; 435-645-9700

Chloe Lane: 556 Main St.; 435-645-9888

Mary Jane’s: 613 Main St.; 435-645-7463

Phoenix Gallery: 508 Main St.; 435-649-1006

Jean Louis: 136 Heber Ave.; 435-200-0260

Harry O’s: 427 Main St.; 435-655-7579

Park City Museum: 528 Main St; 435.649.7457; www.parkcityhistory.org

Park City Mountain Resort: 435-649-8111; parkcitymountain.com

The Canyons: 435-649-5400; thecanyons.com

Deer Valley Resort: 800-424-3337; deervalley.com

The Olympic Nordic Center at Soldier Hollow: soldierhollow.com

Utah Olympic Park: olyparks.com

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Waitsfield & Warren: Little Neighborly Vermont Ski Towns


Ski in Waitsfield; eat in Warren—or do both in one day. You can’t go wrong.

Fair warning: The Very Small Donuts sold at Waitsfield’s Big Picture Theater & Café are addictive. Luckily, you can bag a dozen for $6.50 while watching, say, Cheaper by the Dozen in one of the two screening rooms. Throw in a microbrew: This retro-themed spot, which has sea-foam-green decor, leather couches and killer brunches and burgers, is one of the state’s only movie theaters that allow dinner and a show.

Waitsfield anchors one end of the Mad River Valley, where you’ll find the ski areas Mad River Glen and Sugarbush. The other marquee town around here is Warren, home of the Pitcher Inn and the Warren Store. The latter is famous for its No. 6 (turkey on a baguette with a secret-recipe cranberry mayo) and other overstuffed sandwiches, but the toys, women’s clothing and housewares at the top of the rainbow-colored stairs are just as tempting. The Tracks lounge, across the street at the Pitcher Inn, is a fine place to snack on duck rillettes by the fire.

But there’s more poking around to be done in Waitsfield. Park near the covered bridge to check out works by more than 200 Vermonters at the Artisans’ Gallery. Then head for a meal at Mint, a vegetarian restaurant that should convert even the most devoted carnivore, at least temporarily. If you must have meat, try the New Vermont Sausage pizza at the perennially popular American Flatbread, made with maple-fennel sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and caramelized onions.

Once you’re ready to click into your skis, you’ll find natural snow, zero snowboarders and a time-capsule vibe at Mad River Glen, a laid-back ski area that has barely changed since its founder decided in 1948 that it wouldn’t be a “mountain amusement park” but a “winter community.” Over at 578-acre Sugarbush, more-modern upgrades let you score first tracks in the fresh snow of Lincoln Peak in a heated snowcat dubbed the Lincoln Limo. It’s very—well, sweet.

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Stowe: A Little Vermont Ski Town


Challenging skiing leads way to posh accommodations. Add in some creature comforts and this Vermont ski town has something for everyone.

As you sit with your skis dangling over the slopes on your way up Stowe’s Spruce Peak, you may find yourself contemplating which you’d have a better chance at: winning the annual Sugar Slalom happening over to your left, or securing one of the posh homes beneath your feet, whose hot tubs are big enough for scuba gear.

It’s OK. This is Stowe, a fertile place for fantasies ever since the Civilian Conservation Corps cut the first trails on Mount Mansfield, in 1933. And thanks to a recent, $400 million overhaul, most of those fantasies can be indulged at the upscale Spruce Peak base area—including piles of chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows for making s’mores around a fire after skiing. While Stowe Mountain Lodge anchors this side of the resort, you don’t have to be a guest there to catch a show at the new Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center or to have a drink at the lodge’s bar.

Granted, not everything around Stowe is cushy: The fabled Front Four trails still send plenty of bruised knees and egos away from this area, which has a 4,395-foot summit elevation and 116 trails. But it’s the combination of hard-core terrain, layers of tradition and mountain-inspired creativity that makes it such a winning ski town. An exploration actually begins about 7 miles from the resort, in the heart of the historic village. Housed in the 1818 Old Town Hall, the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum showcases some 10,000 cold-weather curiosities, from gondolas to 10th Mountain Division uniforms. Stowe Mercantile, just up the road, may have nearly as much stuff, but it’s all for sale: penny candy, sleigh bells, stoneware mugs. Chocoholics will want to head to Laughing Moon Chocolates for handmade treats.

Fuel up on either wood-fired pizzas at Piecasso or tacos at Frida’s Taqueria before venturing up the 5-mile Stowe Recreation Path. The multi-use trail begins at the white-steepled Community Church, winds past the Topnotch and Stoweflake resorts and is ideal for hikers and cross-country skiers. Every February, it’s also part of the Stowe Derby, a race that takes daring skiers from the top of Mount Mansfield to Stowe Village.

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Jeffersonville: A Little Vermont Ski Town


Schussing down the Green Mountains is sublime, but so is strolling the snow-covered streets filled with galleries, bakeries, brewpubs and more in this quaint ski town.

"It’s very sweet,” the no-nonsense waitress at Jeffersonville's Mix Café warns a mother and two preteens about their menu choice. They've taken a break from Facebooking on their iPad to debate ordering the crème brulée French toast with "drunken" blueberries. The trio nod and order it anyway—why not? The Mix's particular twist on French toast is said to be the best in Vermont, and almost everyone who gathers here, from Carhartt-clad farmers to snow bunnies in Bogner, has probably earned the calories.

Sweet but also surprising: sort of like many Green Mountain ski towns themselves. Jeffersonville is the home of Smugglers' Notch. At one point, there really were smugglers in Smugglers’ Notch. Early-19th-century outlaws ferried embargoed British goods and later, during Prohibition, booze from Canada through this narrow pass in the Green Mountains. Today Smuggs is best known as a family-friendly ski resort with 3 interconnected mountains and 1,000 acres of terrain, a 2,610-foot vertical drop and an average annual snowfall of 322 inches.

You won’t find high-speed quads or gondolas at Smuggs—and that’s just the way locals like it. Slower chairlift rides means fewer people on the hill at one time. The toughest trails, such as Black Hole (the only triple black diamond in the Northeast), Liftline and F.I.S. wriggle down from Madonna Mountain, while Morse Mountain is a gigantic playground dusted with snow. Smuggs even has its own mascot, Mogul Mouse, and Burton Riglet Park for very young snowboarders.

For a non-ski option, visit ArborTrek for a zip-line canopy tour. The 2-hour Wild Winter Ride takes thrill seekers on a high-flying adventure through snow-covered treetops.

Après-ski, it’s hard to beat a slope-side Long Trail Ale at Morse Mountain Grille or the moules frites at the Hearth & Candle; both are right in the resort’s village. Feel like a drop of vodka or rum? Duck into Smugglers’ Notch Distillery. The rest of Main Street, and pretty much the whole town, stretches east from there: At 158 Main Restaurant & Bakery, you’ll find such kid-friendly fare as grilled cheese and chicken fingers, while the Jeffersonville Country Store (sells Betty Boop lamps, wooden trains, Bove’s pasta sauce and Lake Champlain Chocolates.

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Seaside Fun Without the Crowds


Known for its beautiful beaches and enormous dunes, North Carolina’s Outer Banks have plenty to offer no matter the time of year.

Winter is a remarkable season on the Outer Banks. Without the buzz of summer crowds, the 130-mile strand of sandy islands off the North Carolina coast feels like even more of a frontier. Visitors in this quieter time often have long stretches of beach all to themselves. Most arrive by taking the 3-mile-long Wright Memorial Bridge across Currituck Sound. Two other bridges link the Outer Banks to the mainland through Manteo. Travelers can also take a North Carolina state ferry from points south. Whatever the route, visitors and residents say they breathe easier as soon as they hit the coast-hugging, two-lane N.C. Highway 12—aka “the beach road”.

ISLAND ART, FESTIVE LIGHTS
The landscapes of the Outer Banks inspire artists who paint, sculpt and photograph the birds, fish and lighthouses. Carvings of ducks and shore birds are featured at the Bird Store in Kill Devil Hills. Other galleries that show and sell the work of local artisans include Wanchese Pottery in Manteo and the colorful Pea Island Art Gallery on the surfers’ haven, Hatteras Island.

NATURAL WONDERS
Believe it or not, in winter you can go sledding and sandboarding (similar to snowboarding) at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Its 426 acres of sand dunes are the tallest in the eastern United States. Sandboarding is only permitted from October through March when the sand is cooler; participants glide down dunes that look like small ski mountains. Jockey’s Ridge is also known to have great conditions for hang gliding: consistent winds and deep sand that makes for softer landings. Outfitter Kitty Hawk Kites offers hang-gliding lessons year-round.

Wild horses live on the northern beaches of the Outer Banks, and winter is a terrific time to see them. You’ll start to notice plenty of four-wheel-drive vehicles as you head north of Duck and Corolla. Eventually, the paved portion of Highway 12 disappears in the sand. From that point on, only outfitters and others in off-road trucks and Jeeps can drive on the 7,500 acres of beaches that are home to the wild descendants of colonial-era Spanish mustangs. (Note: The horses are protected by law; you’ll face a stiff fine if you get closer than 50 feet.) Locals know that the holidays are a good time to take family and friends on excursions with outfitters like Corolla Outback Adventures and Wild Horse Adventure Tours.

South of Nags Head, incredible seaside scenery is the star attraction on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Along this windswept, mostly undeveloped stretch of coast, blowing sand from tall dunes must be scraped regularly from the highway by bulldozers so that traffic may pass. The shore is known for its seashells; one of the best shelling spots is Coquina Beach, near the Bodie Island Lighthouse. And some 400 species of birds frequent the Outer Banks, including wintertime warblers, finches and orioles. Birders bring binoculars to the Charles Kuralt Trail and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

SEASIDE HISTORY
At Roanoke Island Festival Park, learn about the “lost colony” of English settlers who mysteriously vanished from Roanoke Island in the late 1500s. Boat-building workshops are offered at the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum. Meanwhile, displays and stories of shipwrecks, sea battles and pirates can be found at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras—some 2,000 ships have sunk along the Outer Banks over the centuries.

Perhaps the greatest visitor activity in the Outer Banks, though, is a flight of imagination. Thousands of people from around the world make their way to Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills each year to see the place where Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first powered flight happened in 1903. Full-scale reproductions of their practice glider and their first “flying machine” are among the displays at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The historic grounds are marked by a towering marble obelisk on a mound that can be seen from miles away—a reminder of the feat the brothers accomplished on these wild barrier islands little more than a century ago. Thanks to them, travel has never been the same since.

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The Great Outdoors in the San Bernardino Mountains


From waterskiing to snowboarding, the twin towns of Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead offer a wealth of high-altitude fun and some off-season entertainment to boot.

Pine-swathed peaks, glinting lakes, idyllic mountain villages—the sister alpine towns of Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead seem a world away from the glamorous beaches of Los Angeles, a drive of less than 2 hours west. Located in the San Bernardino National Forest off the Rim of the World Highway (Route 18), these small burgs offer a bounty of outdoor activities for every season, including some charming festivals.

OFF-SEASON FUN

Nature takes center stage here, but there are a few surprises, too. Big Bear Lake showcases indie flicks each September at its International Film Festival. The town embraces Oktoberfest with gusto, so bring your stein to the highest beer garden in the country (6,750 feet) and watch live Bavarian musical acts clad in lederhosen. Adrenaline seekers should check out the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain—the twisting quarter-mile bobsled course is open year-round. When the weather is warm, it’s all about trout fishing, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

Not to be outdone, the storybook Lake Arrowhead Village puts on a worthy Oktoberfest as well, having the largest German-brew selection of any celebration south of Santa Barbara and a typical smorgasbord of bratwursts and supersized laugenbrezel (traditional pretzels). In June, the Annual Antique and Classic Wooden Boat Show pays homage to skiffs that date from the 1930s. If you’re clamoring to get out on the water, McKenzie Water Ski School has been the go-to stop for lessons since 1946. 

Big Bear LakeHIT THE SLOPES

Southern California doesn’t evoke images of powdery slopes, but Snow Valley, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain harbor an abundance of ski runs that span all skill levels. Snowboarders camp out at the latter, doing their best Shaun White imitations on the 580-foot superpipe, the only one of its kind in the area. Those who prefer to keep their tips on the ground head to Rim Nordic, which has 10 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

GOOD EATS

While every resort has its own culinary offerings, those preferring to eat in the villages should fuel up for a day on the mountain at Belgian Waffle Works, situated on the banks of Lake Arrowhead. Its doughy golden staple comes in 17 versions made with different ingredients, from sliced peaches to Oreo cookie crumbs, and the biscuits and gravy is genuine down-home comfort food. For an early dinner, Madlon’s, in Big Bear Lake, serves a sophisticated menu in a replica of a gingerbread house. Don’t miss the garlic escargot and dry-aged porterhouse steak.

 

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Berkshires Whiteout


Making the most of winter in Western Massachusetts

The swath of the Appalachian Mountains that runs north to south in western Massachusetts has served as an idyllic playground for weekenders from Boston and New York City for more than a century. The Berkshire Hills, as they’re called here, roll lazily southward from Mount Greylock, at the northern end, down through the towns of Pittsfield, Lenox and Great Barrington. It’s no wonder the business tycoons of the Gilded Age chose this area, with its hilltop views, to build grand summer cottages. But while those houses and the region’s many other weekend residences are geared toward summer use, visitors have started to take advantage of all that the area has to offer in winter, from snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to skating on frozen ponds.

BY SKI OR SHOE

The region’s gentle slopes might not provide the face-numbing downhill thrills found in nearby Vermont or New Hampshire, but there’s a surprising number of places to lay tracks on fresh powder. The most notable downhill skiing is at Jiminy Peak, in Hancock, where 9 lifts and 45 trails (including a handful of glade and mogul runs) cover a rather large chunk of mountain. After a morning on the slopes, take a ride on the Mountain Coaster, a 3,600-foot-long raised track through the snowy woods. Strapped into a seated, single-person sled, you can control your own speed, topping out around 25 mph. Finish the day with twilight skiing or wind down with a beer and burger at John Harvard’s Restaurant & Brewery.

Families will find easier runs—and an expansive kid’s program and ski school—at Butternut Basin, just east of Great Barrington. Gradual inclines and plenty of cruising trails provide soft cushioning for beginners; sign the kids up for a half- or full-day group lesson before taking off on your own leisurely run.

KID-APPROVED ADVENTURE

Across the heart of this bumpy range, high-elevation forests flatten into long meandering stretches where you’ll find family-run outdoor activity centers, including Canterbury Farm, which offers an alternative to the nearby corporate resorts. Up a gravelly road in Becket, Canterbury sprawls across 176 acres, with 12 miles of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. Owners Linda and Dave Bacon run the wooded trails (hiking is popular in warmer months) as well as a B&B in a 220-year-old farmhouse. Their trail fee is $15 per day; for an additional $15, you can take a moonlight snowshoe tour. A pond at the foot of a hill behind the house serves as an ice skating rink, where they also offer lessons.

Several miles west of Lenox, right on the New York border, Hilltop Orchards is open during the growing season for tours of its winery and cider orchard. In winter, visitors come to glide along the cross-country ski trails or take guided moonlight snowshoe tours, heading out just after dusk for an exhilarating two-hour trek. Snowshoers return to the warmth of the winery for cider and tunes played by a duo of acoustic guitarists by the fireplace. (The tours take place only when the moon is full, so call ahead for details.)

If the winds are howling, you can still connect with nature in the small, state-of-the-art Hopkins Observatory at Williams College, in Williamstown. The country’s oldest observatory, it presents nighttime shows all winter. Get there earlier in the afternoon to visit the neighboring Williams College Museum of Art, where you’ll find rotating exhibitions of contemporary art, before the Observatory’s evening show.

 

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Vancouver and Whistler


Best of Both Worlds in British Columbia

A hip city and a cool resort with world-class skiing make for a perfect getaway.

Vancouver waterfront

The Vancouver waterfront skyline.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

About 80 miles apart, Vancouver and Whistler are connected by the aptly named, and quite scenic, Sea-to-Sky Highway, a route that gets ambitious visitors from city to slope in less than 2 hours. It’s the best of both worlds—you can ski powder runs at the largest resort in North America by day and make it back in time for a farm-to-table dinner.

ENDLESS POWDER

When the Whistler and Blackcomb ski areas merged, in 1997, they formed a massive resort that gets more than 38 feet of snow a year and has 8,000 skiable acres, including 16 alpine bowls, more than 200 marked runs and 3 glaciers. The breathtaking views from the Peak-2-Peak gondola alone are worth the price of admission. Once you get out on the mountain, 37 lifts accommodate every level of skier, from beginner to black-diamond thrill seeker. Sequestered in British Columbia’s rugged Coast Mountains, the area is a haven for heli-skiers, too. Book a 3-to-6-run package through Whistler Heli-Skiing, which includes lunch in the backcountry at 7,500 feet.   

DON’T GO HUNGRY

Whistler has become quite the food town, thanks to several new outposts opened by notable Vancouver chefs. If you’re sticking around to dabble in the après-ski scene, sign up for a restaurant crawl with Whistler Tasting Tours, which leads junkets to the village’s more heralded spots as well as under-the-radar haunts.

If you’d rather get back to sea level, the Rocky Mountaineer train chugs along a picturesque route through Howe Sound and Cheakamus Canyon. Make your way to the historic Gastown neighborhood, which has become the ZIP code of choice for foodies. Grab a communal-table seat at the Alibi Room, across the railroad tracks near Vancouver Harbor, and order free-range chicken wings, locally sourced pork-belly sandwiches and a pint of one of the 50 beers on tap. Down the street, master barman Shaun Layton experiments with fresh fruits and vegetables at trendy L’Abattoir, housed in the city’s first jail. Try the avocado gimlet with rosemary-infused gin at the bar, then head to the exposed-brick dining room for chef Lee Cooper’s French-influenced dishes (barbecued octopus, pan-fried veal sweetbreads, wild mushroom fricassee with poached egg). For something easier on the wallet, Chinatown’s Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie has been a hit with locals since it opened. Those who brave the queue spilling out the front door are rewarded with a profusion of inventive Asian small plates. Don’t miss the prawn-and-chive dumplings and sticky-rice cakes.  

The Details

Whistler Blackcomb: 1.604.967.8950; whistlerblackcomb.com

Whistler Heli-Skiing: 1.888.435.4754; whistlerheliskiing.com

Whistler Tasting Tours: 1.604.902.8687; whistlertastingtours.com

Rocky Mountaineer: 1.877.460.3200; rockymountaineer.com

Alibi Room: 157 Alexander St.; 1.604.623.3383; alibi.ca

L’Abattoir: 217 Carrall St.; 1.604.568.1701; labattoir.ca

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie: 163 Keefer St.; 1.604.688.0876; bao-bei.ca

* Information is subject to change and RCI is not responsible for any inaccuracies or for updating any changes to information provided.

 

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Slope Smarts


The safety rules every winter sports enthusiast should know.

The good news is that more American skiers and snowboarders are wearing helmets than ever before (67 percent, according to the National Ski Areas Association – up 10% from just 3 years ago). The bad news? A helmet can’t save you from everything. Witness pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who suffered severe brain trauma in late 2009 even while wearing the proper gear. Play it safe by following these measures recommended by Jonathan Finnoff, co-chair of the Sports Concussion Program at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic.

KEEP A CLEAR HEAD

“A lot of people start out at sea level, go on vacation at a high altitude and drink a bunch of beer at lunch,” cautions Finnoff. This can result in dehydration, disinhibition and slow reaction times.

STAY TUNED

Finnoff recommends having your bindings checked at a ski shop once a season. “If they’re too loose, they could pop off and hit someone or cause you to crash, and if they’re too tight, you might tear a knee ligament.”

EXERCISE CONTROL

Skiing or snowboarding out of control at high speeds often leads to multiple traumas, according to Finnoff. “Those are the people who get injured,” he says—even when they’re wearing a helmet.

LEARN THE CODE

The National Ski Areas Association’s 7-point “responsibility code” (nsaa.org) lists the important rules of the slopes, such as where (and where not) to stop, and who gets the right-of-way (everyone in front of you).

Helmet Stats

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Skiing Lake Tahoe


Two states, 15 ski areas and endless entertainment ring American’s favorite Alpine Lake.

In the 1950s, alpine skiing in America was a fringe, foreign sport and Squaw Valley an unknown rocky seam in the Sierras, high above Lake Tahoe. Then Squaw founder Alex Cushing implausibly launched—and even more implausibly won—a bid to host the 1960 Winter Olympics, a move he later admitted was little more than a marketing stunt for his fledgling ski area. Those Winter Games became the Sierras’ coming-out party, showing the world that America could more than rival the Alps. Skiers discovered that the saw-toothed range ringing Lake Tahoe ponies up more altitude than Innsbruck and way more snow than Chamonix.

BIG, BOLD SQUAW

Squaw Valley USA never looked back after those 1960 Olympics. It’s one of the nation’s leading ski areas, with 4,000 acres of steep bowls and granite knobs just 6 miles from Tahoe’s northwestern shore. Its precipitous runs have appeared in so many ski movies that the region has earned the nickname Squallywood.

But really, Squaw has everything. A network of more than 30 lifts leads to loads of sunny cruisers and intermediate tree skiing, too. You can glide to a mid-mountain ice rink at lunch, and at day’s end practically ski right into a steaming hot tub (if you happen to be a guest at the Resort at Squaw Creek). Then nab a table at the Six Peaks Grille, where chef Chad Shrewsbury uses molecular gastronomy techniques similar to those pioneered in Europe’s top kitchens. Luckily, you don’t need to understand his craft to enjoy it.

UNHERALDED ALPINE MEADOWS

Just 2 miles south of Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows sits in its big sister’s proverbial shadow, with fewer lift lines and plenty of elbow room. This is the locals’ favorite ski area, and it seems content to stay out of the spotlight: Its day lodge is utilitarian, and its biggest stars are the ski patrol dogs that are trained for avalanche rescue. They’ve become such popular icons that patrollers hand out baseball cards with canine stats: Bridger, a 62-pound golden retriever, “likes powder, practicing my search-and-rescue techniques and rolling in the snow.”

Alpine Meadows skis big, with short traverses leading to huge expanses of terrain that you didn’t even notice on the trail map. There’s also plenty of inbound terrain that’s accessible via short hikes along the ridge. “What’s really great about Alpine is that only about the middle third of it is lift-served,” says local Paul Ehreewil as he glides off the Summit chairlift. “Don’t be afraid to just get out and explore.”

NORTHSTAR PUTS ON THE RITZ

Tahoe never had the ultra-luxe lodging of, say, Aspen or Vail. But that all changed when Northstar-at-Tahoe opened the mid-mountain Ritz-Carlton Highlands. Nestled in a grove of ponderosa pines, the surprisingly unobtrusive hotel is patterned after grand mountain lodges like Yosemite’s Ahwahnee, with a soaring central “living room” that fuses beams, stone and natural light. Sunny patios are just steps from Northstar’s slopes, which offer everything from wide groomers to hard-charging bumps.

The Ritz-Carlton also includes a gondola to shuttle guests from the hotel to a recently built pedestrian village at Northstar’s base. The village is a perfect fit for this pleasantly mellow ski area: an idyllic family gathering spot with casual restaurants, shops and gas “bonfires” clustered around a skating rink.

THE SOUTH'S HEAVENLY VIEWS

Skiers and snowboarders line up like slalom poles along Heavenly’s California Trail to pose for snapshots. Perched 3,500 feet above the south shore, this run delivers the most glorious view: glittering blue Lake Tahoe, laid out in its entirety before you. Put simply, Heavenly Mountain Resort is huge. Its 4,800 acres of terrain stretch across Nevada and California and offer base areas in both states (when’s the last time you saw a “Welcome to California” sign tacked to a slope-side tree trunk?). Most folks seem content with Heavenly’s ample cruisers (meticulously groomed to wide-wale corduroy), which leaves areas like Milky Way Bowl—with its perfectly spaced pines and chalky snow days after a storm—blissfully empty even on a busy afternoon. Save some time in your ski day to check out the mid-mountain tubing park, one of the speediest and friendliest in the West.

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How to Rock the Rockies


Rockies

A wintery Lake Louise, in Banff National Park near Canmore.

The Canadian Rockies are such a majestic sight that even the most jaded traveler will turn into the one who takes photographs from the airplane. There are 5 national parks in this part of the Rockies, and the peaks are a must-see destination for outdoors enthusiasts.

CANMORE, ALBERTA

Just an hour’s drive from Calgary, Canmore is considered a commercial hub in these parts, with more than 70 restaurants and unique shops. One of these is the Ammonite Factory, which specializes in jewelry made of ammolite, also known as Alberta’s official gemstone. The unusual menu at Crazyweed restaurant includes Vietnamese meatballs, spicy Indian noodles, and Moroccan roast chicken. The Trough, an intimate spot downtown, serves rack of lamb and Alberta beef tenderloin. An equally tasty but more reasonably priced meal can be found at Mountain Mercato, a specialty food market with a café that dishes up soups, salads, and paninis.

All that food is fuel for the real star of the area—the skiing. Canmore underwent a much-needed rebirth to prepare for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Three top ski spots are nearby: Nakiska (the setting for the Olympic alpine events), Lake Louise and Mount Norquay—the only one with night skiing. Lake Louise and Norquay, both in Banff National Park, have recently added winter tube parks, where speed freaks can zip down the mountain on rubber tubes (then use the lift to go back up).

PANORAMA, British Columbia

Panorama, 2 hours southwest of Banff, has one of the largest vertical drops in North America (4,000 feet). Skiers and snowboarders fly down the slopes by day and night. Those who prefer lower-altitude activity should check out the Panorama Nordic Centre, at the base of the mountain. After exploring the miles of cross-country trails, skiers visit the Hale Hut, known for its hot chocolate.

For a proper drink, stop by Greys Restaurant at the Earl Grey Lodge, and stay for dishes such as rainbow trout and flank steak tacos as well as a lovely selection of wines (many Canadian). T Bar & Grill, in the Pine Inn, is the spot for slope-side casual dining.

FAIRMONT HOT SPRINGS, British Columbia

Fairmont Hot Springs has what may be one of the best locations an active person can ask for—it’s situated in the Columbia Valley, between the Rocky and Purcell mountain ranges and Columbia and Windermere Lakes. Those hot springs are found at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, where an outdoor pool, open year-round, is fed by mineral-rich waters. A dip in thermal waters is sure to soothe sore muscles after a day on the slopes. Panorama’s 14 trails all funnel to this resort, and your ski pass gets you into the pools for free.

Options for après-ski dining abound. The latest is From Scratch, which has become a favorite for its gourmet pizzas, pork ribs, and Thai curry. Hoodoo Lounge & Grill holds several all-you-can-eat nights (crab on Tuesday, ribs on Friday); accompany your meal with the locally brewed Arrowhead beer. For a more upscale experience complete with killer views of Mount Nelson, head 20 minutes north to Elements Grill at the Copper Point Resort, in Invermere. If the weather cooperates, you can dine outdoors on the patio or even enjoy a poolside cocktail.

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Budget Air Boom


Plane travel can be cheap, if you know the latest low-cost players—and their tricks.

The air travel business is constantly being reinvented. The rise of low-cost carriers is a trend that stands to continue. And that’s not just in North America, but also in Europe and the newest hotbed, Asia. Familiar names—Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran—have been joined by brands like Ryanair, AirAsia, Zoom and Oasis. A few of the new budget-minded airlines have even cracked the transatlantic and transpacific market, a traditional stronghold of the major airlines.

How can these upstarts afford to drop fares so low (on some flights, the taxes cost more than the fare)? Most limit themselves to economy-class seating and skimp on in-flight service—there’s no free lunch (or any other meal, for that matter), and many charge extra to check bags. The airlines also rely on Internet-based bookings and fast turnarounds, since there’s no money to be made sitting at the gate.

The number of lower-cost competitors that fly between North America and Europe has risen over the past few years, after an “open skies” agreement between the U.S. and European Union let airlines choose routes with greater freedom. In the Pacific, V Australia began offering flights from eastern Australia to the U.S. West Coast just a few years ago. This all means that flying on the cheap has gotten easier. Just remember to pack a lunch.

TIPS

  • Search individual airlines’ sites for fares. Many aren’t listed on the big travel aggregators such as Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity or Kayak.
  • Plan travel dates for savings. Some websites show which days offer the lowest fares.
  • Book early. Fares increase as the departure date approaches.
  • Before you buy, compare the rates at major airlines—they often match reduced fares in competitive markets.
  • Expect extra fees for meals, checked baggage, even advance seat selection. (A few carriers include an insurance charge unless you click the box to opt out.)
  • The cheapest tickets are non-refundable, but you can change your travel dates for a fee.

 

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North Shore Lake Tahoe


North Shore Lake Tahoe

This was taken as we made our way to the southeast side of Lake Tahoe for some cross country skiing. The view was spectacular with plenty of snow. Had a great time during our stay and the hosts were very friendly and helpful.

-James C. from Lincoln, CA

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Winter Getaway


We took a four day weekend to Door County, WI in February and stayed at The Rushes on Kangaroo Lake. We expected to hike around in some of the county and state parks while we were there. What we didn't expect were all of the extra accommodations The Rushes had to offer. They had a separate room with every size ice skate, snow shoe, cross country ski and poles for our family, as well as our 4-year-old. These activities were complimentary. We tried snowshoeing, but got hooked on cross country skiing! My husband and I wondered why we had never tried it before. Our 12-year-old son had a good time too. We could pick between three different trails varying in length and difficulty. The priceless moment was watching our 4-year-old son and the triumph on his face when he could ski too. New experiences as a family, now that's what vacation time is all about!

-Linda A. from Fond du Lac, WI

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Winter Serenity


Winter Serenity

This old historic barn near the ski slopes of Steamboat Springs gives one a sense of peace and solitude. It was one of the original structures built when Steamboat Springs was just beginning.

-Gary E. from Round Lake, IL

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Winter is Right Around the Corner!


Dave TWith temperatures beginning to fall and the holiday season right around the corner, it is time to break out the heavy coats and embrace the season. As winter is knocking at the door and Jack Frost is nipping and your nose, I can’t help but think of all the things I love about this time of year. The first snowfall, sipping hot chocolate by the fire, freshly baked cookies, there are too many to name.

While it can be hard to step away from all the distractions and running around that are associated with the season, I find winter to be the perfect time to escape and explore my adventurous side. A snow filled vacation is an awesome opportunity to take part in these activities or even try new ones! Some of my favorite activities include skiing, ice-skating and snow tubing. And after I’m done with the day’s activities there is nothing better than relaxing at a beautiful snow covered resort in a warm outdoor hot tub or in front of a roaring fire.

Some may beg to differ, but winter is my favorite time of year. Whether it’s cruising down the slopes or curling up by the fire with a good book, it doesn’t get much better in my opinion. Check back to the RCI Blog for great stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who also share my love for this time of year!

 

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Supernal Light


Supernal Light

During our August trip to Sedona, Arizona, the skies were generally clear overhead. However, there were usually wonderful clouds on the horizon and there nearly always seemed to be storm conditions somewhere in the distance.

In the evenings, I often drove the Red Rock Loop Road, looking for wonderful light over the red rocks. This evening, I just managed to get a couple shots off before shadows fell over Cathedral Rock. I was about to pack up when the real drama unfolded.

A rainbow appeared, the likes of which I'd never seen before. Instead of a delicate semi-circle, it was an Olympian beam of light descending almost vertically from the clouds.

-Glenn G. from Los Angeles, California

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Weather in the Sierras


A few years ago during the week of Memorial Day, we took our jet skis to Bass Lake. The weather was unusually cool, but we went out on the jet skis anyway. The lake was deserted so we had the whole place to ourselves. We parked in a sheltered cove and fed the ten tiny little ducklings and their mom. As we left the cove, an eagle came down and grabbed a fish out of the water and flew off.

The next day we went to Yosemite National Park. The park was full, so we were stopped on the road for quite a long time. We were right next to the rapids of the Merced River. We picnicked in our car watching and listening to the beauty of the Merced River.

-Gordon B. from Vista, CA

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Colorado: A Great Surprise!


Jenny DBefore my parents-in-law moved to Colorado, I had never visited the state, and believed that the only thing people did there was ski. So when my husband and I planned our first trip to visit his parents a few years ago, I was not very enthusiastic (seeing as my favorite vacation spot is the beach!). Since that first visit, we’ve been back to Colorado many times, and each time there is something new and so very different from my home-state of NJ, that I now very much look forward to our visits.

Once, we visited a little amusement park called Santa’s Workshop, built into the slopes of the Pikes Peak mountain range (that was certainly a first for me).  And don’t be fooled by the name! It is a Christmas-themed amusement park and open from mid-May until December 24. On another visit, we spent time at the Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center, an amazing up-close encounter with rescued wolves of all types and sizes, who even treat you to a serenade at the end of your walking tour! And although I’d never imagined standing next to a rock the height of a skyscraper, I was amazed at the beauty of the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center. The stunning views were like something I’d only seen on the National Geographic channel!

All in all, Colorado has now become a favorite place to visit, and I always leave having seen or learned something interesting and new – and very different from my East Coast roots.

This week on the RCI Blog, we’ll be sharing stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who have traveled to Colorado. Come back and take a look!

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Enchanting Quebec


Glorious sunshine, tree-clad mountains robed in an array of vivid fall colours, and the old-world charm of Quebec ensured a panorama of lifetime memories beyond our wildest expectations. Visiting Quebec in late September 2008 proved one of out best vacation choices to date. Although "off season" between summer warmth and winter skiing, our days were filled with a variety of novel experiences, each rivaling the last. Whether hiking in the mountains, taking a tram ride along a cascading waterfall, touring Île d'Orléans and viewing the incoming migration of snow geese, visiting a local winery, dining in charm of Old Quebec City, or simply enjoying a glass of wine in front of the fireplace, we could not have anticipated greater enjoyment...Indeed, this vacation would be one worth repeating.

-Denise D. from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

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