Tag Archives: Ski Resorts

Anticipation: Waiting for Snow

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What’s so good about anticipation? I recently read a post by Gretchen Rubin over at The Happiness Project. She claims that anticipation is a big part of happiness. We have to anticipate the great event before it happens. This helps to be fully happy in the moment.

Of course I always thought the trick was to just be happy in the moment. Shows you what I know.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of anticipating lately. Anticipating the upcoming ski season (I do this every year; it’s like a disease, but not contagious. I don’t think). Looking forward to my book launch (especially all the glamorous television spots and bestseller lists). More importantly, however, I can’t wait for Matchstick Productions ski movie, “Attack of La Nina.”

Except for the ski season thing, this isn’t like me. I tend to find my happiness a little closer to home, more like the present moment. Or at least I try to keep it to the next fifteen minutes.

But maybe I should embrace anticipation. Perhaps there’s something worth looking forward to. Anticipation is like a crescendo, building slowly until it frenzies into 100 turns through light powder, each one tickling your nose and reminding you when to breathe.

So perhaps my present moment IS filled with anticipation. Embracing it might just bring me closer to happiness.

I took this photo last October from the summit of Crystal. I’m anticipating another early season. What’s so wrong with that?

If wishing could make it so, this would happen again.

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How To Drink From a ShotSki

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Dirtbags Love Shotskis

In my ongoing series So You Want To Move to a Ski Town, I’d like to offer today’s post on one of the more nuanced elements of ski town life: how to drink from a shotski.

A shotski is a drinking tool. Made from an old, unmounted ski (or snowboard, but that would be called a shotsnowboard, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it), a shotski requires a certain measure of panache.

Every ski town bar has one of these babies hanging on the wall somewhere. Some enterprising bartender has taken an old ski and epoxied several shot glasses to the top sheet. Here’s how you do it with style: Read the rest of this entry

Working at a Ski Area

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Call it serendipity. In the past few days, several people have asked me about ski area work. Perhaps the uncertainty of our economy has people scared. Maybe our culture is shifting away from acquiring “things” and instead looking for a better way to live. Or it could be that coming off the heels of a fabulous winter has some people thinking. Why not move to a ski area?

If you plan to make the move, there are several factors to consider. I’ve talked about some of these before, and plan to hit on more of these as we head toward winter. Today’s post is on ski area work.

First, consider your skills. Ski area workers are notoriously underemployed. Those with Master’s Degrees work as waitresses. Doctors become ski patrollers; business majors are baristas. That doesn’t mean you have to take any job you can get. Most of us would have a hard time as a lift operator. The unmotivated ones whittle away hours in the lift shack, the faraway look in their eyes getting more and more jaded. The motivated ones, with mad shovel skills and a friendly smile, are quickly promoted to another position. If don’t mind a brainless job and are completely without other skills, being a lifty might be a place to start. Just don’t stay there. Having said that, here a few of the jobs available at your local ski area.

  • Lift Operator. As I said above, this is an entry-level position. Pay starts in the $7-$8 range and the day includes shoveling the loading ramp and being nice to the customers. While it’s a low-skill job, it’s an important one. You’re in charge of a multi-million dollar piece of equipment with the potential to kill someone if you aren’t paying attention. Still, lifties usually last a single season–either moving up to another job or moving on entirely.
  • Ski Instructor. These guys have a coveted job. They get to be on their skis, cut lift lines with their class and get tips at the end of the day. But there is a down side. It is getting harder to find a position as a ski instructor. With more applicants filling positions, today’s would-be instructors must at least complete PSIA Level 1 training, and often need a Level 2. Pay can be as high as $14 an hour plus tips.
  • Cat Crew. Cat drivers have it pretty good. They spend their nights chopping moguls and laying down corduroy and have their days open for skiing. This is the closest thing to the perfect ski bum job I’ve ever seen. Only problem is the hours. Most cat drivers start at midnight and drive until the lifts open. Pay rates are slightly higher than ski instructors and previous experience in heavy machinery is a must.
  • Ski Patroller. This is the best job on the mountain. Of course, I’m a little biased, but it’s true. Patrollers must have first aid certification (most have Outdoor Emergency Care and/or EMT) and be strong skiers in good physical condition. A typical day might include waking at 4 a.m. to throw explosives for avalanche hazard followed by a powder run back to the patrol shack. Next up could be a toboggan ride, a shovel project, putting ski racks out or any other number of catch-all jobs completed by patrollers. Be prepared to work hard, but the effort is worth it. You might even save a life. Pay starts at $10 an hour.
  • Marketing. Today’s marketing budgets are shrinking and not just in the ski industry. But, with social media outlets, marketing dollars don’t have to go to big ad campaigns. Ski areas need someone to send out tweets and Facebook updates about weather conditions and upcoming events. While this can feel a bit like an office job at times, it’s more mentally stimulating than shoveling your ramp and a great position for anyone wanting to meet new people.
  • Management Positions. Ski areas are looking for serious, high-caliber men and women with management skills. While many of these positions are filled from the ranks, you might be surprised how often these jobs get filled from outside. If you have experience as a manager and aren’t afraid to spend time in the office, look for openings in upper management. My husband is the General Manager at Crystal, and he spends a good portion of his day skiing. While he works harder than me, (and I’m pretty tired at the end of the day) he still fits in time to check the conditions and operations on the mountain. Of any job at a ski area, being the owner and General Manager is certainly the best. But it’s not for the faint of heart. Running a ski area isn’t nearly as fun as just skiing there, but it’s pretty darn close to living the dream. Salaries vary widely.
  • Other. Ski resorts have a myriad of non-resort-specific jobs. Waiting tables is a great job at any resort, especially if you work nights. Usually, there is little turnover in these carefully guarded positions. Resorts have retail outlets, and these guys are often hiring. Try to get midweek days off to beat the crowds when you actually can get on your skis. Ski areas also hire baristas, ticket sellers, mountain hosts, and other unskilled jobs. These are a good way to get your foot in the door.

Twenty-two years ago I quit my teaching job in favor of a year ski bumming at Crystal. I figured I’d get a good season in while I regrouped and planned my next move. Fortunately for me, I never did regroup. Instead I found exhilaration, crisp beauty, great friends and true love. If you decide to move to a ski area, just remember that you might love it so much you never leave.

How about you? Anyone thinking about taking the plunge? Let me know. I’m happy to answer questions or offer words of wisdom.

Private Ski Areas: Is there really a place for them?

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The Yellowstone Club coined the phrase “private powder” and sold multi-million dollar memberships to those willing and able to fork over the money. While Yellowstone wasn’t the first to provide exclusive membership for skiers, they have certainly been the flashiest. Private ski clubs have been around for ages. Sahalie ski club at Snoqualmie Pass is a small, private club consisting of a single rope tow and a small warming hut, open only to members.

Battle Mountain, in Colorado, hopes to be the next private ski area. 5280 Magazine of Denver recently broke a story about the plans there. It’s an interesting read. One that makes me scratch my head. The developer, Bobby Ginn, certainly has the deck stacked against him, what with cleaning up a Superfund site and all just in order to start building his planned resort, and the legacy of “Honk if Bobby Owes You” bumper stickers following him around like an unwanted stink.

But I want to ask a bigger question: is there really a place for private ski clubs? Skiing has always been a sport with a pretty tall barrier to entry. The gear is expensive, the lift tickets aren’t cheap and just getting to mountains high enough and cold enough to support the sport simply isn’t available to everyone. Skiers these days have to be either a) wealthy enough to dedicate large chunks of time and money to the sport, b) dirtbags willing to give up all else in pursuit of the sport or c) once-a-year types that search expedia for deals and keep their fingers crossed for good conditions when they can make it to the mountains.

Part of the fun of skiing is not just the thrill of shushing down the slopes or getting face shots in a private stash or even catching first chair early enough to beat the crowds. Skiing is fun because it is shared. I know, this might run counter to logic. The more skiers on a slope, the less soft and fluffy it becomes.

But I see it all the time.

Skiers (and riders of all types) like to share their experiences. Just sit on a chair lift and

The beauty of apres-ski with friends

listen to the conversations. Dude. That run was sick. I totally killed that lip/cornice/mogul field/jib. Or click onto YouTube where every guy or gal with a GoPro posts footage heralding their day on the slopes. People want not just to ski, but also to share their skiing. Like anything, the experience of skiing grows infinitely more valuable when recreated through conversation. Those perfect 20 turns through that creamy boot-top pow gets better and better the more we talk about it.

Private ski areas just don’t quite have it. I’ve been to the Yellowstone Club as a guest. I’ve had my coffee held by the concierge/lift operator while I took a lap through untracked corduroy at 11 am. I’ve skied with a guide on Pioneer Mountain, lapping powder touched only by our small group as we worked every line, couloir and glade all by ourselves. We termed it “conversational powder”, since you found yourself actually engaged in conversation while riding it. Such was the lack of crowd pressure.

But at the end of the day, there’s no one to share it with, other than ourselves. You don’t talk to the bartender while he pours you a draft, nodding to each other in that knowing way. How was your run off the King? I think I saw you hiking up there today? At the Yellowstone Club, if the bartender does ski, he certainly doesn’t talk to you about it. You aren’t supposed to have that shared experience.

And isn’t that what we all love so much about the sport? Even on a heli-ski trip, don’t you want to compare favorite runs of the day with others while relaxing with that rum and coke in the hot tub? What if it was just you in that hot tub, with a hired someone standing in the steamy corner with cucumber water, fresh towels and a blank stare. That doesn’t sound like all that much fun, actually. It sounds a bit lonely and boring.

I love the cross section of ski areas–dirtbags, everyday joe and janes, ski psychos with their pupil-circling vertical lap count, each one with their own enthusiasm for the sport. That’s what makes skiing real for me. Perhaps, since I’m a writer, I find that words, either spoken or written, make the experience. Maybe it’s just me.

You tell me. What’s the value of private ski areas? Should Battle Mountain move forward on it’s plan or simply leave one untouched slope in that already crowded valley?

Ski Areas: Lost and Found

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Several years ago I read an article about all the little mom-and-pop ski areas now out of business. The article was written with a nod towards nostalgia, a sigh of whimsy and a little bit of angst. Is our sport dying, I wondered at the time.

Not according to the recent NSAA report on growth. Not according to recent record numbers of skier visits. But is skiing going the way of the local hardware store, getting swallowed by Home Depot and Lowes? Are all the small areas located near big population centers giving up the ghost? If so, what does that mean for the future of sliding on snow? Will it merely become one yearly trip to a big resort where all our needs are met, whether they be perfectly groomed pistes, pedicures or prime rib dinners? I think we need small ski areas–ones with slow chairs, low ticket prices and plenty of learn-t0-ski terrain.

While John and I spent that dark time in Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic, we decided one sunny July day, when he was feeling pretty good, to drove out to Steeplechase, a little mom-and-pop ski area in the middle of corn fields. The corn ended at the top of the ski area. The now-rusting bullwheels of four decent lifts sat motionless. Below that the slopes dove into a pretty steep ravine creating the 240 feet of vertical claimed on the now-defunct trail map. The ski area wouldn’t be opening the following winter due to increasing cost. It was a real shame.

With the surge in backcountry skiers, I imagine that some of the angst felt over lost ski areas might be dwindling. Free the old areas to those willing to earn their turns, they might say. While I love to backcountry ski as much as the next patroller, I also love ski areas. Real ones. With lifts and bathrooms, fireplaces and cool bars with shotskis hanging from the rafters.

Facilities are good for bc enthusiasts as well. Who doesn’t want a cold draft beer after skinning all day? After all, a warm Snorting Elk fire beats a warm beer pulled from the back of a Toyota pickup any day. Many ski areas in the West (Crystal Mountain most notably) offer the best of both worlds–nearby skinning opportunities starting from the plowed parking lot and close to the bathrooms.

Much to my recent pleasure, several almost-lost ski areas are being resurrected. I recently wrote about Manitoba, but that area doesn’t really count as almost-lost. It’s been closed for 40 years. I’m talking here about less than ten-year closed areas that almost died but didn’t. I’m talking about close calls and miraculous recoveries. I’m talking about Cinderella stories here.

Here are a few recent ones:

  • Maple Valley Ski Resort, Vermont: New Englanders are nostalgic for lost ski areas. In fact the New England Lost Ski Areas Project (click here for website) is a treasure trove of

    Maple Valley Ski Resort Trailmap

    information about bygone areas, small areas still in operation, and their crowning glory: lost areas now found. Maple Valley has been found. You can almost hear the hallelujahs being sung from the top of the 1017 foot vertical drop. With two double chairlifts and a T-Bar, as well as a base lodge and night lighting, this ski area is poised to open as a four-season resort. For more information, check out First Tracks!! online’s story here.

  • Little Switzerland, Wisconsin: Closed since 2007, this 200 foot vertical ski area plans to reopen next winter. Details are sketchy on this one, and the website isn’t live yet. But First Tracks!! broke the story last week. More details here.
  • Eagle Point Ski Resort, Beaver, Utah: What was once the defunct Elk Meadows Ski Area re-opened last year as Eagle Point Ski

    Eagle Point Trailmap

    Resort. When new investors first bought the closed ski area, they put forth a controversial plan to build a private resort with a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course. It didn’t go over well with the locals. So the investors changed course and built the more modest Eagle Point instead. Located in Southern Utah, the area has 4 lifts and 1,400 feet of vertical.  Check out there website here.

  • Hickory Ski Area, NY opened under new ownership last year, with 12o4 feet of vertical and surface-only lifts. Click here for the website.

These aren’t the only resurrections and close calls. And for every one listed here, dozens continue to rust and grow over, ashes to ashes. What do you think of the fate of mom-and-pops? Not just in skiing, but hardware stores, local grocers, butchers, coffee shops (don’t get me started on that one)? Should we let these aging oldies die off or join the chorus of cheers when they re-open, limp along and continue to offer that small, family-owned vibe that existed where most of us learned to ski?

Manitoba Mountain: A new ski area wants to change the world

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Mountain Riders Alliance (or MRA) is moving forward on its plan to reopen Manitoba Mountain, a ski area on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula that closed down in 1960. MRA, according to its website, wants to make a “positive change in the ski industry.”

Their plan? To develop rider-owned-and-operated ski areas with minimal carbon footprints. Their website outlines how the business model will work: they will offer memberships to riders, utilize local and regional grants, and create energy and sell it back to the grid, all while keeping the infrastructure costs down. MRA has some pretty interesting goals, including everything from ensuring there’s a clock at every lift station along with free parking and a state-of-the-art website to making the world a better place.

Manitoba with Silvertip in the Background

Their first project? Manitoba. With three surface rope tows and 10,000 acres of terrain, this ski area could have the lowest infrastructure to acreage ratio of any ski area around. They will also create energy with small hydro projects as well as potentially develop wind and solar.

The terrain accessed from the rope tows will cater to beginners and intermediates. Beyond that, thousands of backcountry acres will be available via an access gate. Riders will be required to carry avalanche equipment and take responsibility for themselves. The details about access haven’t been spelled out specifically, so this remains a little to be seen. However, since MRA will soon be offering memberships (once they receive final approval for the project), this gives local owners a chance to set the ground rules for the ski community of Manitoba.

The model MRA is setting for Manitoba as well as other ski areas might not work for everyone. The base facilities will be minimal, and the really worthy terrain will first require up to a two-hour hike. But for a growing percentage of the ski population, this is exactly what they are looking for.

Skiers arriving from Anchorage will drive first by Girdwood, and its patrons, Alyeska Resort and Chugach Powder Guides, before continuing another hour to Manitoba, where few overnight accommodations exist. However, that’s just what might make Manitoba so special. It’s about the skiing. Not real estate, not a big lodge and a roaring fireplace. Maybe not even bored lifties and ski instructors working for tips and a few free runs in between classes. It’s simply about what happens when the lifts are actually turning, the backcountry access gates are open and the customers (or maybe members in this case) are carving, floating and hiking through deep snow.

Facts

  • Base elevation: 1,106 feet
  • Top of highest surface lift and backcountry access gate: 3,702 feet
  • Lift served vertical drop 2,596 feet
  • 3 Surface Lifts
  • Inbounds terrain: Approximately 1,000 acres
  • Backcountry and hike to terrain: Approximately 10,000 acres within a 2 hour hike
  • Estimated average annual snowfall: 350 – 550 inches

For more information, check out their website at www.skimanitobamountain.com.