Category Archives: Ski Resorts

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Mountain Man

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This is too awesome not to share. In case you can’t read my nephew’s handwriting, here’s the gist of it: “When I grow up I want to be a mountain man who runs a mountain area, like my uncle John Curcher (sic)! And my aunt Kimmy Curcher!” “The clothes I would wear would be nice clothes” (as in Patagonia and Outdoor Research, no doubt). “The tools I would use would be pencils” (because nothing at a ski area is ever done in permanent ink).

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“Be careful you dang teenagers!”

But the very best part is the drawing. Notice the snowboarder dropping from the helicopter, screaming “Yahoo!” And the others saying, “Awesome!” “Super!” and “Zowee Mama!!!” Got to love the enthusiasm there.

But the best part is what I can only assume is the ski patroller’s (my) voice from the helicopter yelling, “Be careful you dang teenagers!”

When I first examined his artwork, I assumed he was depicting John and I riding down the mountain, and I thought, “Well at the end of the day, at least my nephew gets me.” But upon closer examination, I realize someone has to be the killjoy, warning the teenagers to be careful. After all, any good story has a protagonist, an antagonist and a very awesome setting. Also, I can’t help but notice the great care he took in drawing the helicopter. A mind made for machines is a mind made for mountain operations.

Bravo Jack.

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The Best Part of Travel

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I love to travel. New sights, exotic foods, interesting conversations with strangers all stretch me a little.

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Niseko with Mt. Yotei in the background

Travel takes me out of my comfort zone, turns me upside down and gives me a shake until quarters (or perhaps yen coins) drop from my pockets.

I’m in Niseko on the Japanese island of Hokkaido in search of new experiences, legendary powder and the famous japanese powder trees. Excellent sushi, apres ski onsens (the japanese version of hot tubbing) and a lively little ski town doesn’t hurt either. We’ve been here for a week–hence the lack of new blog posts the past few days–and return today. Or tomorrow rather. We leave tomorrow and get back today. Or something like that. All I know is that we leave Sapporo at 2pm on Tuesday and arrive in Seattle at 8am the same day. It’s like a time machine. I’ve been playing Back to the Future in my head like an earworm, “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads!”

Yesterday we skied at a tiny area with one lift used by the military for training. It is surrounded by easy access backcountry peaks carved against the backdrop of the Sea of Japan. After a short skin above the lift, we carved down a protected face of fresh snow, the stellar crystals glinting in the sunlight layering itself across the slope like curtains of light.

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Hot spring at the base of Chisenupuri

Lap after lap we found untracked turns, until we skied down to the onsen and lowered ourselves into the steamy, sulfurous water. Our Japanese friend Kenji claims the sulfur warms you to your bones and soothes sore muscles. He might be right about that.

Sometimes, though, the best part of travel is returning home. Seeing new places can offer fresh perspective, it can scrub away the jaded edges that form around familiar viewpoints. Maybe flying 4,000 miles to ski powder makes you that much happier to know its piling up at home, filling in the jibbed-out lines and

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Chisenupuri with the Sea of Japan behind

resetting itself for your return. I appreciate more now the familiarity of skiing at home, knowing to ski Appliances when the wind blows from the south, how the sun and temperature affect particular lines, that the trees will protect the snow in Paradise when Exterminator, with a similar aspect, is burned to coral. That Powder Bowl stays dry and chalky even in the midst of record breaking inversion. That you can almost always find untracked lines beyond Boxcar.

I return now to yesterday, to the snow storm that’s blowing in Monday evening, even though its Tuesday morning here in Niseko. The sun is out here and it looks like a leftover kind of day. But yesterday it’s snowing at home.

Now all I need to do is channel some lighting into that flux capacitator and just maybe I can bring some of this japowder home with me.

Dedication to the Sport

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Takes one to know one. Sid Kurtz, Dirtbag King

Takes one to know one. Sid Kurtz, Dirtbag King

I recently caught up with Sid Kurtz, reigning Crystal Mountain Dirtbag King, and asked him what it took to be a member of the royalty. He said, “It’s dedication to the sport, man.” To be a true dirtbag, according to Sid, you have to be here when it rains, when it doesn’t snow, when the conditions are firm, when everyone else finds fix-it projects around the house.

I love that.

It got me thinking about dedication to skiing. It takes all kinds. There are the dirtbag types–those that surf couches in exchange for shoveling snow. There are fathers teaching their sons to sky–like the man I rode the Forest Queen chairlift with on Sunday. His young son watched jibbers hitting the Sasquatch Park and told his dad he thought jumping was awesome. The dad reminded him that controlling his skis was the first step. Once he learned how to stop and turn, then he could try out the jumps. Later, the son asked if the “wire moved” on the lift. His dad explained in painstaking detail how the chairs detached from the cable when coming into the bull wheel in order to slow down. He explained it better than I could have.

Not every day is bluebird.

Not every day is bluebird.

Then there’s the weekend warriors that fill B Lot with their RVs. Campfires flicker in the wind, illuminating these temporary abodes. Every Friday night the RV lot fills with the same vehicles, spots are staked out and neighbors chosen. By Monday morning the RVers have returned to work and left B Lot empty.

So what does it mean to be dedicated to your sport? I’ve had the opportunity to interview athletes and adventurers for my upcoming book, and every one of them is dedicated to their sport. I’ve been noticing what it takes to be dedicated to skiing.

Dirtbag Royalty, like Sid, are obviously dedicated. RV families that book a slot every weekend are dedicated too. So is the dad that carefully explains the workings of a detachable quad to his son. As is the mom that parked in Employee Housing with her daughter, rode the shuttle, rented skis, and finally got on the lift nearly an hour later. The midweek pass holders with the slopes to themselves on weekdays are dedicated. The CMAC parent that laps the race course, taking video of her son every weekend knows what it means.

To be a snow sports enthusiast, you have to put in some effort. Anyone that chooses skiing as their sport, arriving dutifully to the slopes every Friday/Wednesday/Sunday or whatever day of the week, regardless of the weather, knows what I’m talking about.

Skiing isn’t easy. Neither is snowboarding (although some might argue with me on that). It takes a little effort to get out on the slopes. But it’s worth it. The effort and dedication are worth it.

What do you think? What does dedication to the sport mean to you?

It’s a Beautiful Day

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Wow. With temperatures soaring up high with this inversion I’m feeling pretty lucky today. Too bad I didn’t bring my bikini.

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I’m Not Going to Jinx It

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I’ve been knocking on so much wood the past few days that my knuckles are raw. The weather forecast looks extremely promising for snow starting this weekend. If all the forecast wishes come true, we could pick up plenty of snow to open by Thanksgiving. But then again, the snow level could be too high. Crystal could get blocked. It could rain on Tuesday. The GFS model is especially keen on this probability. Doesn’t the GFS know we are trying to open a ski area here? Sheesh.

Still, my hopes are up. Tuesday is a million years away in forecast terms. Instead, I’m banking on the Sunday-night-into-Monday-morning resolution shown in the graph below. Purples and reds mean 8-12 inches. That orangish color around Paradise? That’s 16 inches for the 24 hour period.

24 Hour Snowfall Prediction for Monday Morning

Skiing by Thanksgiving just might be in the cards. I’m not an especially superstitious person. But if I thought that not changing my socks or never stepping on the threshold of the door while exiting the house or even washing my hands five times before doing anything would make it snow, I would happily become OCD just for the cause. I just haven’t found a reliable ritual yet. This is the Pacific Northwest after all. The weather is a crapshoot. Temperatures fluctuate like the nozzle of an unattended firehouse.

But when it is good, it is very very good. If we get the goods this weekend with no gully washers in sight, my prediction is we’ll be skiing soon (and by soon, I mean next week. And by next week, I mean Wednesday or Thursday). Hope to see you all on the slopes. Fingers crossed.

The Future of Skiing According to Mountain Riders Alliance

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Mountain Riders Alliance is trying to change the sport of skiing. More accurately, they’re trying to return the sport to its roots. They want less emphasis on real estate villages and expensive lift systems and more focus on skiing. Their goal is to provide just enough uphill transportation to keep the sport viable, but not so much that it inundates the environment. I like where they are coming from. I had the pleasure of meeting founders Dave, Jamie and Pete last season when they came to Crystal. We skied, talked about the future of the industry and shared beers at the Elk. These guys get it. They have signed terms sheet to purchase Mt. Abrams and the steep Manitoba Mountain in Alaska is coming on line; these like-minded souls are poised to shine some serious light on the ski industry.

It is, or should be anyways, first and foremost about the skiing. Everything else is gravy. Below is MRA’s plea for support in followers, donations and schwag buyers. Click on the logo below to be taken to their site with more info. These guys deserve a look.

The ski industry has been taken over by Big Business.

Conglomerates and private equity firms with no connection to local communities have bought up ski areas large and small, while many community-based mountains have closed. Lift ticket prices have gone through the roof, making snow sports inaccessible for many. Urban sprawl in our mountain towns is degrading the natural environment while a select few make a large profit.

We want to offer an alternative!

Who We Are

Mountain Rider’s Alliance is a group of passionate snow enthusiasts dedicated to making a positive change in the ski industry by supporting mountain communities and being more sensitive to the environment. We want to bring the triple bottom line of people, planet, then profit to the ski industry. We believe riding is more than a sport, but rather a way of life.

MRA is creating or converting values-based, environmentally friendly, rider-centric Mountain Playgrounds around the world. Our model will help local businesses prosper, create renewable energy and offer an authentic skiing experience.

MRA Triple Bottom Line Business Model

MRA’s Triple Bottom Line Business Model

 

Why Should You Support MRA?

You love community.

You want ski areas to support their local economies and preserve the individual character of ski towns. You want skiers to have a voice in how their ski areas operates. You want your ski area to partner with non profits to make the world a better place.

You love the environment.

You want ski areas to reduce their fossil fuel dependence, harness renewable energy techniques and lower their footprint. You love snow and the mountains, and want them preserved for future generations.

You love skiing. 

You are not concerned about time-shares, out-of-boot amenities, or overpriced lift tickets. You want affordable uphill transportation with the emphasis on skiing and riding.

Matt Reardon at Manitoba Mountain, Alaska

Matt Reardon on Manitoba Mountain, Alaska

What Do We Need?

Our grassroots organization has been bootstrapping for over two years. We have made an enormous amount of progress without any operating capital. Recently, the first round of seed investors has contributed to support our global vision. Now we are now seeking additional funds to move forward from concept to reality.

Two ski areas are ready to become the world’s first Mountain Playgrounds, with many more to follow. You can make that happen.

How Can You Help?

Donate: Your contributions will have a direct impact on moving our plans forward and, more importantly, support the sustainable future of skiing and riding.

Represent: Wear your MRA attire with pride and spread the good word!

Share: Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

Meet the Leadership Team

Director of Finance and Development Pete Blanchard graduated from Duke with honors, worked a stint on Wall Street, and recently received his masters in Sustainable Business from Presidio Graduate School. His ability to speak in “financial talk” is a key piece of the team. As a long-time member of the pro leisure tour, Buddy Pete’s gifted ability to put the team’s ideas on paper makes him our three-time returning MVP.

Project Manager Dave Scanlan is a jack of many trades. Over the years he has been known as Tele Dave, No Poles Dave, Bumping Dave, Hippie Dave, and Tie-Dye Dave. As chairman of his local Land Use Advisory Planning Commission on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Dave’s ability to eloquently discuss the finer details is top notch. His work ethic and attention to detail are in a league of their own. He would like nothing more than to create more cool places to ski.

CEO Jamie Schectman has been around the block a time or two. He is the guy who keeps everything organized and everyone moving forward. He comes from an entrepreneurial background and isn’t afraid to try new things by challenging the status quo. As a self-proclaimed change agent and global ski bum, “Shecky’s” ultimate goal is to create the job of product tester at MRA Mountain Playgrounds around the world.

MRA has over 50 active team members from 6 different countries contributing to our grassroots organization, and has recruited an imressive group of advisory board members, bringing a diverse wealth of knowledge to our collaboration.

Last Weekend to Ski at Crystal (Plus a Bonus)

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Skiing isn’t over until the fat mountain sings

There’s one last weekend to ski at Crystal before we switch over to full summer operations. Green Valley and the Gondola will be open Saturday and Sunday for one last hurrah of the 2012 spring skiing season. It has been an interesting few months, with the weather conditions running the gamut from winter to summer and back again.

Currently the forecast for Sunday (the better of the two days) is calling for partly sunny skies with a chance of showers in the Cascades. Not bad, considering that it’s currently foggy and misting from the Sound to the Cascades. The weather here giveth and it taketh away. But at least our forests are not exploding in firestorm.

Oh, and the bonus? Sunday is July 1st, which means that for all you turns-all-year folks, you can check off that skiing-in-July box the very first day of the month. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.