How to Find the Right Ski Partner

February 4 in Skiing Insights by Brion O'Connor Comments Off

Perfect ski partner

Looking for a Ski Partner? Choose Wisely

Skiing is undeniably a social sport. After all, it’s the original “the more, the merrier” winter pastime. That’s why ski clubs can be such a blast. But the truth is a ski outing with the wrong mix of people, or simply the wrong attitude or wrong set of expectations, can go horribly wrong before you even get on the hill.

Now, I’m not a pessimist; just a realist. A ski retreat can mean different things to different people. The more bodies you add to the mix, the more likely you’re going to have a difference of opinion. Sometimes, it only takes one other person. Depending on whether that person, or persons, is a certain someone special, a family member, an old buddy, or a colleague, you’ll have some choices to make.

So here are a few tips on finding, and keeping, the right ski partner (or partners):

Skiing with a significant other

With Valentine’s Day in February, it’s always tempting to head for the hills to celebrate this amorous Hallmark holiday. But it’s no secret that mixing your passion and your love life can be a dicey proposition.

My younger brother Mike, an expert skier, taught me a great lesson about skiing with a significant other. Long before he married, Mike was dating a really fun woman with a terrific sense of adventure but precious little skiing experience. Even though Kathleen (not her real name) was game to learn how to ski, Mike didn’t have the requisite patience to wait for her to “catch up.”

However, snowboarding was just coming into vogue, and Kathleen, a good athlete and skateboarder, thought this new sport looked intriguing. Mike, a natural athlete, was willing to give snowboarding a try, and quickly went out and bought a pair of planks. And the two of them absolutely clicked, quickly learning how to snowboard together. It was a tutorial in being flexible and creative, two really important traits in making a mutual ski outing work.

I’d also recommend avoiding the longer, weekend getaway for an initial date. If you and the apple of your eye aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, and you’ve already dropped some serious coin for a weekend hotel and two- or three-day lift passes, things can get frosty fast. The single-day outing gives you a ready escape clause if sparks aren’t flying.

Another thing I’ve learned, if you’re determined to take a multi-day trip, is to spend a few extra bucks and rent a place on the mountain. My wife is a solid skier, but doesn’t share my intrinsic need to be first on the hill the minute the lifts start running. Lauri prefers to ease into the day, which was a problem if we weren’t staying right at the resort. Typically, I’d be champing at the bit, prowling around the hotel or condo while Lauri would meticulously make the coffee and prepare for the day (I guess finite patience is a family trait).

Conversely, with a slope side condo, I could jump on the trails before Lauri was out of bed, bang out a few turns, and swing back in time for a fresh cup of coffee and a bright-eyed bride. Perfect.

These days, after many years of marriage, Lauri and I are comfortable enough with each other to take separate shuttles to the hill, so slope side isn’t quite as important. That’s a nice way to save a few bucks. Great mobile phone service helps as well, as Lauri can let me know once she gets to the lodge.

Skiing with your buddies

These outings can be a blast. Who among us doesn’t love to relive our wild and unfettered youth? Nothing makes that easier than a boys’ or girls’ weekend with our closest pals. But they can also go sideways quickly if you’re not careful.

Again, knowing everyone’s ability level is a good place to start (remembering, of course, that people often lie about just how good they are). If you’re skiing together, find trails that match the level of the lowest common denominator in your goup. If you knowingly bring a novice to a black diamond because that’s what you want to do, you’re just being a jerk, not a friend.

One rule should be paramount: “What happens on the slopes, or at après ski, stays at the resort.” OK, even that rule has limits, considering you might also be good friends with a friend’s spouse or partner. But, by and large, your pals should be able to enjoy themselves without thinking they’ve brought their parents along. (I always ask my friends to avoid putting me in a compromising situation regarding their partners. And they respect that.)

As far as being goofy, and simply having a good time, I’m all in.

Skiing with couples

Drawing again from another “like experience,” an old windsurfing buddy once gave me a great piece of advice on tackling a new sport with couples. Switch partners. It’s amazing how much more patience you have when you’re providing lessons for a friend’s spouse. This requires a certain level of trust among all participants, obviously, but if you’ve got that, it’s a great option.

It’s also a good idea to make sure you’re all on the same page for après ski activities. Some might want a candlelit dinner, and others a raucous night on the town. My suggestion is to let folks do what they want. There’s no reason to be rigid, and coerce others to go along with your plans. That rarely ends well. Again, this is why it’s important to avoid setting expectations beforehand, and maintaining a sense of give-and-take.

Speaking about ski trips with couples, keep in mind that many ski resort accommodations were built either quickly or on the cheap (or both!), and can feature notoriously thin walls. Need I say more? No, I didn’t think so.

Skiing with family

I’m one of six siblings; a classic super-sized Irish Catholic clan. Some of us ski often, and some not so much. We all have significant others, and three of us (myself included) have kids. All together, we number 21 (plus six hounds). That’s a pretty good definition of “logistical nightmare,” especially with children in the mix.

We make it work by communicating early and often. Make sure there are plenty of options for everyone, so no one feels like they’re being pigeonholed, or being asked to do something they’d rather avoid. That’s why all six of us are still such great friends!

Skiing with co-workers

Want to see your co-workers’ true competitive colors? Sign them up for a NASTAR race. Nothing quite ups the ante of an inter-office rivalry like running gates. Think of it as a mid-winter alternative to the company softball game.

Of course, if your boss is talking trash, and it’s clear you can take him (or her), then you’ve got a decision to make. Think long and hard about whether the bragging rights that come from a slalom win (or schuss to the lodge) are worth the potential office backlash. I’m not suggesting you “let” the boss win; I’m a competitive guy myself. In that situation, I might avoid racing altogether.

Here’s another concern. The “what happens on the ski slope” rule, while ironclad among good friends, can be trickier among colleagues. The last thing you want is to have an embarrassing on-hill or après ski incident following you back to the office. Discretion is highly advisable (see previous point about the paper thin walls at your hotel or condo).

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10 Tips for Skiing with Children

January 12 in Skiing Insights by Steven Abramowitz Comments Off

Tips skiing with children

Smart Tips when Skiing with Kids

Those idyllic scenes and enjoyable moments of family skiing are yours for the taking. With a little planning and preparation you can avoid the pitfalls. Here’s a short list of what it takes.

    1. Ski a Family Friendly Mountain - There is a mountain out there for every skier. Find a mountain with the right terrain and amenities for your family. Make sure to consider trail difficulty, mountain conditions, weather, lodging, ski schools and après activities because they all impact the experience.
    2. Get Organized - Losing, forgetting or misplacing gear, apparel or accessories when skiing is often stressful and costly. Reduce the risk by ensuring each skier has his or her stuff organized in a compartmentalized ski boot bag that has a place for everything, including lunch and water.
      • Young Children - A duffle bag or children’s sized ski boot bag will do. Parents usually end up carrying this bag so both a handle and shoulder strap are helpful.
      • Older Children - Check out Kulkea’s lightweight Powder Trekker ski boot bag for smaller sized teenagers.  For larger sized teenagers Kulkea’s Boot Trekker and Speed Pack ski boot bags are perfect.
      • Parents – Don’t forget to take care of you too! It’s critical that your stuff is stowed in a comfortable, ski boot backpack. You’ll need your hands free for the car keys, to help the kids, to buy lift tickets, etc.  Checkout Kulkea’s Boot Trekker, Powder Trekker and Speed Pack ski boot bags.
    3. Learn the Mountain Logistics – Where is parking in relation to the lodge, ski school and ski shop? Is it a long walk? Are there drop-off points, buses or valet services?
    4. Know the Elements - It sounds obvious, but watch the weather. If it’s sunny don’t forget the sunscreen. If it’s freezing or windy remember face-masks, balaclavas and all the layers.
    5. Bring the Phone – Keep it on your person and make sure it is charged up! You’ll want to stay in touch with the kids and ski schools and other family members.
    6. Scope the Mountain – Carry or download a trail map. Make sure the family knows which lifts you’ll be using.
    7. Pick a Meet-up Location - Pick a meeting point in the event anyone gets separated on the mountain. It will eventually happen so it’s a good idea to have this plan even when off-mountain.
    8. Be Smart About Lunch – Pick a location and time to meet. Take an early or late lunch to avoid the crowds and get a seat. You can save some money by packing a lunch and water in your ski boot bag.
    9. Dinner Reservations – Book early. Don’t wait until the day of to think about dinner, especially at large resort areas during holidays and school vacation weeks.
    10. Bring a Bathing Suit & Flip Flops – The kids will be looking-forward to a hot tub or swimming, sometimes more than skiing so do not forget these important items.

Use these 10 tips to make the most out of your next family adventure on the slopes. Also, see our related articles for additional tips and insights.

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Choice Ski Boot Bag

December 23 in Reviews by Steven Abramowitz Comments Off

Powder Trekker OnTheSnow Editors' Choice

Kulkea Powder Trekker Named Editors’ Choice by OnTheSnow

In only its first season the Kulkea Powder Trekker ski boot bag received the 2015 Editors’ Choice from OnTheSnow! The Powder Trekker was developed over the last several years based upon the ingenious design, high quality and extensive feature sets that skiers have come to expect from Kulkea. We’re proud to share that the Powder Trekker and its four great colorways made the grade with OnTheSnow.

OnTheSnow’s review highlighted the smart-design of Kulkea’s latest addition to its ski boot bag lineup. “Powder Trekker is feature loaded, with ample gear stash spaces, all of which are tailored for the item designed to go there.”

Accolades from the editors included how the Powder Trekker’s brilliant design is intended to keep skiers organized and prepared for a day on the slopes. “The bag’s Intuitive Packing System is genius, with purpose-built pockets for goggles (with super soft microfiber lining), balaclavas/face masks, apparel/layers, sunscreen and/or snacks and water, and of course, your boots on the sides with water-resistant material.”

OnTheSnow loved the skier-friendly features of the boot bag that make it easy to carry gear, and the best choice for 2015. The “hiking-grade adjustable shoulder and sternum straps and a pack-release option that allows you to take it off without hassle.”

OnTheSnow enthusiastically called out their favorite Powder Trekker feature. “We love the deployable helmet sling designed for carrying your helmet on the outside for space and stink reasons. It packs away in its own zippered pocket when you don’t need it.”

Read the review from OnTheSnow.

More Kulkea boot bag reviews.

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Teaching Kids to Ski

December 9 in Skiing Insights by Steven Abramowitz Comments Off

Teaching kids to ski

Six Tips on Teaching Your Kids to Ski

Skiing with children can provide some of the most fun, memorable and exciting family times. The question is how to get your family to that point? Do you teach them yourself or leave it to the pros, and what’s involved?

  1. Parent Teaching vs. Ski Lessons - The initial stages of getting children out on the snow, up on skis and learning the basics is challenging. It can tax not only the child, but the parents. For some families, teaching their own children is what works best. Generally, however, the experience brought by the pros is a great solution.
  2. Group vs. Individual Ski Lessons - Skill levels range from beginner up to expert. Group lessons are far more affordable and can easily do the job for young children. Save the individual lessons for older children or those ready to perfect their skills.
  3. Full Day or Half Day Group Lessons -Plan for a full day if possible. Children pick-up a lot more by being on the snow longer. Also, keep in mind that half day lessons leave parents with very little time on the snow given the time involved for drop-off and pick-up. Note: Don’t feel pressured to overdo it on the lessons. Maybe mix in a full day followed by a half day.
  4. Ski Lesson Reservations – Make reservations in advance. Don’t wait until the day before, especially during holidays. Expect the unexpected; make sure to check cancellation policies.
  5. Find ”Your Family Friendly” Ski School – Student-instructor ratio, safety and experience are prerequisites for a ski school, but they’re not everything. The level of fun and convenience are also critical. Checkout the ski school, find out how they’ll keep the children engaged, what’s involved with the intake process, drop-off and pick-up time-frames, and how, when and where children must be dropped-off (i.e. at the ski school with their boot bag vs. geared-up on the mountain and ready to go). Beware of schools that will bore your children or leave you or your children exhausted before even hitting the slopes.
  6. Expect Children to Complain – Most will in the beginning, and it’s usually about going to ski school. It’s natural so don’t be duped. Your child is special, but not in that respect. Get them over the learning curve and they’ll likely fall in love with the sport.

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Bag of Tricks: Key Ski and Snowboard Accessories

November 22 in Skiing Insights by Brion O'Connor Comments Off

Key Ski Accesories

Other Necessities and How to Pack them for the Slopes

Most skiers and snowboarders will keep the “big” items in mind when packing for a day on the hill. Things like skis, boots, helmet, layers, gloves, goggles, wallet, and mobile phone are all pretty standard.

But oftentimes, it’s the “little” things that can make or break your outing. So, for starters, check out our trusty Kulkea ski gear checklist. That fairly comprehensive list includes accessories such as helmet, goggles/sunglasses, balaclava, ski boot bag, ski bag, and miscellaneous items like lip balm, sunscreen, hand warmers, winter hat or cap, and a gear lock.

But, remember, these items are just for starters. We spoke with a number of ski professionals and dedicated winter enthusiasts who recommended a number of other items that they consider essential. With a sturdy bag like the Kulkea Boot Trekker (which has been getting great reviews, including this one in Men’s Journal), you’ve got enough spare room to bring along all the necessities.

Duct tape. The granddaddy of all-purpose emergency repairs. Gloves, jackets, boots, and a variety of other items can all be fixed, at least temporarily, by this tough, sticky silver tape. And you don’t need the entire roll. Some skiers will wrap anywhere from 15 to 20 inches of duct tape right on their poles. However, cold weather can affect the adhesive and make the tape a little more difficult to work with. I prefer putting the same amount on a ballpoint pen, and leaving it in my boot bag.

Spare screw set. This is particularly important for snowboarders, as snowboard bindings are more prone to loosening to those on alpine skis. The same holds for telemark bindings, though to a lesser degree. That’s one of the reasons many ski areas are installing workbenches near the base lodge and chairlifts. But those benches provide the tools, not the actual screws (usually).

Multi-tool. Murphy’s Law dictates that the very moment you need a workbench, you can’t find one. In those instances, it’s nice to have your own tools. A Leatherman-style tool (or, as one friend calls it, a “McGyver-style tool”) should be in your bag. Full-size screwdrivers will give you more torque. The Brooks-Range Backcountry Multi-tool is one of the best of the lot. Though a little pricey (about $70), it is designed specifically for the backcountry, and features several blades, a bit driver combined with five bits (two Phillips, two flat, one Pozi, and one Torx), wire cutters, needle-nose and regular pliers, four sizes of wrenches, and a bottle opener (of course). Money well spent.

Tuning kit. If the conditions are on the icy side, you’ll want sharp edges. There are a number of terrific miniature tuning kits that allow you to bring your tuning table with you to the lodge and keep your edges sharp and smooth. One of the best is the Tognar Alpha ski tuning kit, with a 6-inch true bar, brake retainers, base repair candles, a set of three pocket diamond stones, edge file/bevel tool, brass file brush, and steel scraper. Perfect. But the Tognar kit is also one of the most expensive, at about $115 (though it’s money well spent). Dakine also makes a great kit, complete with all-temperature wax, P-tex, a wire brush, scuff pad, a scraper, and edge-tuning tools, in a convenient, low-profile zippered case, for under $60. At the very least, bring a pocket stone to work out any nasty burrs.

Lost and found. If you plan on a little backcountry adventure, you should have RECCO technology, which allows resorts and rescue teams to find lost skiers carrying RECCO reflectors. If you’re apparel is not RECCO-equipped, the Patagonia Tech Web belt ($45) is a must, and a great price-point for that technology. Massachusetts ski mom Nancy Eileen Williams, who spends a good portion of her winters at Sugarloaf in Maine, always makes sure her teenagers have an emergency whistle and compass if they’re going to do some off-piste glade skiing. In the same vein, a reliable headlamp with full-charged batteries is nice to have.

Spare change. Boston Herald travel editor Moira McCarthy suggests stashing a few $20 bills in those hard-to-find pockets of your boot bag and parka. That way, you’re never at a loss for cash when you need it. “I don’t know why I don’t take them out at the end of the season,” she said, laughing, “but I always feel like I won that money.” Likewise, a spare car key and spare condo key can come in handy.

Spare clothing. Beyond regular layers (including glove and boot liners), a toasty pair of wool socks is a real treat après ski. Race coach Vaughn Harring, who calls Wildcat in northern New Hampshire his home area, says that for those really rainy days, “I have some industrial rubber gloves. They work great in the wet, and you won’t trash your leather gloves or mittens.” Extra goggles aren’t a bad idea, either (consider different tints for different lighting conditions).

Snacks. If you’re a parent traveling with young children, snacks are an absolute must. Because when little ones get hungry, they get cranky (the very definition of “hangry”), and that can put the whole day in jeopardy. Truth is, hunger pangs can affect anyone. So a few energy bars (Clif Bar and Luna bars are personal favorites) can help take the edge off. Energy gels, such as GU or Hammer Gel, also work, though not quite as filing. Shot Bloks by Clif Bar are a big hit with kids. Beef jerky is terrific if you’re feeling iron deficient. Fresh fruit and dried fruit are also great options. Just don’t forget that you have it in your bag after you get back home. “And chocolate,” said travel writer Hilary Nangle who lives near Sugarloaf in Maine. “Always chocolate.”

Instant warmth. Tea bags are an elegant solution to warming up while saving a few bucks. Skiing isn’t cheap. Anytime you can save some money, that’s a good thing. If you bring your own tea bags, all you need is a free cup of hot water. For the kids, bring packets of instant hot chocolate.

Vitamin I. Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are a great way to take the edge off those nagging aches and pains that come with skiing and snowboarding into your 40s, 50s, and beyond. They’re especially popular with the telemark set and freestylers. However, you should be aware that the National Institutes of Health has stated that NSAIDs may carry a higher risk of having a heart attack or a stroke, and may cause ulcers, bleeding, or holes in the stomach or intestine. So use with care. If you’re concerned, stick with aspirin.

Phone accessories. Our mobile phones have become our connection not only to family and friends, but the world around us (I absolutely LOVE my Urban Spoon app to find nearby restaurants when I’m in a new place, and my Yelp! App to provide reviews). Want proof? Think of how you feel when your phone dies unexpectedly. Plan for that inevitability by packing a back-up phone battery, a phone cable, and a phone AC plug. The Voxer app converts your cell phone into a walkie talkie, and is easier to use compared to texting or even the actual phone mode.

Personal grooming. Let’s be honest – one of the best aspects of skiing is après ski. There’s nothing wrong with sprucing up after your last run. Women have known this for generations (judging from all the micro-toiletries that she manages to squeeze into her over-sized purse). Toothpaste and toothbrush, maybe floss, comb and/or hairbrush are all compact and convenient. Don’t forget the breath mints.

Flask. Really, no explanation needed, right?

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