November 10 in Product by Brion O'Connor Comments Off on How to Save Money Skiing
More Green for the Hill
Skiing has never been inexpensive sport. But over the past few decades, the cost of hitting the slopes has spiked. The reasons are myriad, including energy costs, insurance costs, and a more demanding customer base. The latter causes a sort of vicious financial cycle, where customers want more because of the high cost, which in turn prompts the resorts to devote more resources into the product, which drives the price up. But there are ways to take the edge off of your skiing bottom line.
Don’t be Penny wise, and pound foolish. Right off the bat, I want to warn people about the temptation of bargain shopping blindly. The dollars you save now may be needed to replace inferior products much sooner than you think. Brands like Patagonia, Arc’Teryx, and, yes, even Kulkea, can come with a premium price tag. But you get your money’s worth. My 16-year-old daughter is wearing a comfy Patagonia fleece that I got as a Christmas present from my baby brother Matthew almost three decades ago. Today, Matt is the Western Regional Sales Manager for Patagonia. He told me the company’s simple mission statement – ‘Build the best product.’ – is the key to its success. “We challenge ourselves to meet the highest performance standards for the intended use: Backcountry touring, alpine climbing, etcetera,” said Matt. “That means it has to be durable, functional and true to the sport, making it timeless by intent. If we deliver, the value is inherent – a wearable essential for years in the field.” In short, money well spent today will pay dividends down the road. If you can find a premium brand at a bargain price, that’s a bonus. Just make sure that the product you’re buying will last, and the company will stand behind it.
Use what you’ve got. Skiers sometimes get caught up in the sport’s “fashion plate” culture. Translation? People want to look their best on the slopes. And that means new ski outfits. However, the reality is that the outfit you’re wearing to shovel the driveway is, in all likelihood, adequate to hit the slopes. That’s not always the case (things like breathable/waterproof fabrics definitely have an advantage on the hill), but usually a solid winter jacket and ski gloves will do the trick. Add a pair of quality ski pants and a helmet, and you’re good to go. (Clearly, the helmet is optional, but highly recommended.) If you don’t ski that often, or are new to the sport, don’t be bashful about borrowing the few extra items you need.
Ski swaps. True story. Just a few years back, I volunteered to work at my local community center’s annual ski swap. I was assigned to “log in” all the skis and other winter paraphernalia that people were donating, or selling on consignment. One woman of obvious means came in with a pair of beautiful, barely used Salomon X-Scream skis, in my size. She was donating them, happy to take the tax credit. Those skis never made it to the sales floor, because I bought them right then and there, and enjoyed skiing on them for the next four years. But it goes to show that there are diamonds in these swaps, if you’re lucky and if you know what you’re looking for. The same goes for bargains found on Craig’s List and retail outlets like Play It Again Sports and Replay Sports. Ebay is another option, but remember that you’re likely buying the item blind. Ask lots of questions before bidding.
Pre and early season sales. Used gear is only one rich vein for the vigilant bargain hunter. You can often find great deals on brand new gear that happens to be a year old. It’s just like the automobile industry. Last year’s models need to be moved to make room for the current models. To do that, dealers discount the older models. And those discounts are often pretty steep. I’ve found the best place to find these sales are ski-specific shops that are carrying a high-end inventory that they’ve already paid for. And, the fact is, the technology in ski and snowboard gear rarely changes dramatically from year to year. Usually, those changes are subtle, and can be merely cosmetic. That means you can buy equipment that’s every bit as good, or very close, while paying pennies on the dollar.
Pre or early season passes. Equipment isn’t the only pre-season special. The time-honored season’s pass usually becomes available within weeks after the lifts shut down in the spring (if not earlier). There are, however, pros and cons to the season’s pass. Obviously, the more you use the pass, the cheaper each day costs. And the earlier you buy the pass, the better the deal. But that also requires you to crystal ball the following season. If the stars align, and your schedule allows for regular getaways, Mother Nature cooperates with great snow (like last winter in New England), and you stay healthy, then the season pass can be an absolutely killer deal. But if any of those factors fall apart, and you start missing time on the hill, and the economies of scale start to work against you. A season’s pass also often locks you into a certain resort, although more and more resorts are partnering to offer a transferable pass. A great example is the Colorado Gold Pass (coloradoski.com/gold-pass), which offers access to 20 member resorts. So if you like to ski at numerous resorts, shop around.
Discount tickets, and ticket packages. Let your fingers do the walking, employing the power of the Internet to find great deals on lift tickets. Check out sites like ski.com, liftopia.com, snow.com, and skicoupons.com. These offer a “happy medium” between season pass and “same day” purchases. These sites typically require at least a week’s advanced purchase, so you’ll want to double check the weather and the family schedule to make sure you’re free. The reward is usually well worth the risk. Similarly, most resorts offer deals on their own web sites, though the savings can vary dramatically. Most also offer discounts for seniors (65 and older) and juniors (usually 14 and younger). If you can get to the hill during the weekdays, you can grab even more savings.
Discount rentals. Thinking ahead can also save you a few bucks on rentals, if you don’t want to invest in your own gear. On-mountain rental shops are super convenient, but you pay for that convenience. And you don’t always get the best variety to choose from. Check out your local ski shops, or even the shops near the mountain, for better deals and selection (remember, those mountain town shops need to compete with the resorts, and competition drives prices down). Some shops even offer “seasonal” rentals, which are similar to leasing a car. Keep the equipment for the season, return it in the spring. The best aspect of seasonal rentals is that you get to upgrade to new gear at the beginning of each season.
Smaller might be better. If you’re willing to sacrifice a few amenities and some vertical, you can usually find much better lift ticket prices at smaller hills. For example, the legendary Jackson Hole resort in Wyoming charges $118 for an adult lift ticket, provided you purchase that ticket seven days in advance (expect to pay even more at the ticket window). However, right in the town of Jackson, the local hill, Snow King, charges less than $50, and even offers a two-hour rate. Sure, you don’t get a tram or the same extreme terrain, but you can still make turns to your heart’s content, and be able to afford dinner afterward. There are dozens of tremendous smaller hills throughout North America that offer a great experience at a fraction of the cost.
Brown bag it. Most ski resorts have seen the light, and have invested in their on-mountain dining options, offering better fare at better prices. But you can still save some serious coin by bringing your own breakfast or lunch. Brown bagging is a great alpine tradition, similarly, when you’re shopping for a place to stay, scout out options that offer a kitchenette, which will allow you to skip the restaurant scene (which is fun, but potentially expensive). Enjoying a few “ready to bake” casseroles and adult beverages at your condo is not only a great way to spend time with friends and family, but can also represent substantial savings over the course of the ski season. And that leaves more discretionary income for actually skiing and snowboarding. There’s a true win/win. Read More
November 5 in Boot Trekker, Reviews by Steven Abramowitz Comments Off on Boot Trekker Review – Gearist
“The Boot Trekker Made My Season So Much Better”
In his recent review of Kulkea’s Boot Trekker, Brandon Wood from Gearist.com was super impressed with the skier friendly features, performance and the ruggedness of the ski boot bag. “Building a piece of gear that can check all the boxes – and then some – on your feature wish list is one thing. It’s another thing to accomplish that while making that gear over-the-top durable and well-constructed, but that is what Kulkea has accomplished with their Boot Trekker ski boot bag.”
Wood loved the bag’s great features and the functionality they provide including, “Backpack-grade shoulder straps which use Kulkea’s Pack Release buckles that allow you to simply unclip the straps rather than trying to lift off a super-stuffed pack…The features in the Boot Trekker are so vast that you could easily pack for an overnight trip with all but your skis inside and be ready to go.”
On durability, Wood put the ski boot bag to the test “I’ll just say it: I beat the hell out of this pack last season. It’s had sharp ski and snowboard edges stacked on top of it; been crammed with WAY too much gear (occupational hazard); been dropped while loaded onto rocks, pavement, snow and ice and really just put through the wringer. But it looks like new.
Form and fit are vital to the performance of ski gear wood indicated “Comfort with the Boot Trekker while on is really solid. Of course, the more you load anything down, the more adjusting you’ll have to do and fortunately the strap adjustability and the fact that these are not weak, afterthought straps goes a long way to finding that balance.”
See the full review on Gearist.com
More Kulkea reviews
Image courtesy of Gearist.com Read More
October 21 in Skiing Insights by Brion O'Connor Comments Off on 10 Ski and Snowboard Etiquette Tips
How to Avoid Being “That Guy” on the Slopes
Anyone who has spent any time skiing or snowboarding has had the inevitable, and often embarrassing, etiquette issue arise. I’ve had two memorable experiences in my four decades on the mountains.
The first came at Sunday River in Maine. I was on my snowboard, cruising along at a moderate pace on a fairly bumped up trail. It was a gorgeous day, with bluebird skies and outstanding snow conditions. Suddenly, though, a skier slashed by me on my blind side, narrowly missing the front of my board.
At the trail juncture, I passed the skier and a few of his buddies, and told him: “Hey, pal, that was a little too close.” His response? “Screw you, dude. You were in my line.” I nearly lost my mind. His tone clearly indicated that “his line” took priority over the safety of the skiers and riders below him, an arrogance that violates one of the time-honored tenets of ski etiquette: The downhill skier always has the right of way.
The only thing that kept us from coming to blows that day was my wife, Lauri, getting between us (and the fact that I couldn’t unbuckle my bindings quick enough). It wasn’t my proudest moment, but I couldn’t believe that a skier would display such blatant disregard for others.
The second incident came halfway across the country, at Copper Mountain in Colorado. This was the 1990s, when resorts throughout North America were trying to come to grips with snowboarding. The financial benefits made opening resorts to snowboarding a no-brainer, but the “bad boy” culture that accompanied the sport threatened to disrupt slopeside tranquility.
In an effort to encourage better skier/rider relations, Copper introduced its “Shrediquette” program. Basically, that program reiterated the basic rules of responsible skiing, while acknowledging a few snowboard-specific issues, such as hitting jumps on the natural ramps that form at trail crossings. My wife and I were skiing with her folks, and my mother in-law inquired about all the “Shrediqutte” signs posted near the lift lines.
“Are snowboarders really that bad,” she asked. Just as I was about to launch into my patented spiel about snowboarders general being good citizens, the two of us slid up behind a pack of riders in line. And there, for the world and my mother in-law to see, was a board adorned with a large sticker that announced: “The Anal Intruder.” I blanched. This was no way to create a “warm and fuzzy” atmosphere on the hill.
Now, full disclosure. Both these moments happened many years ago. But I think they still underscore the need for everyone to get along on the slopes. Resort officials really don’t have a choice. They can’t allow a few bad apples ruin the winter wonderland experience for the majority. Ski patrol members have become more vigilant about removing tickets for bad behavior, and I applaud those efforts. More importantly, ski resorts have done a tremendous job building terrain parks that offer skiers and riders all the elements and air that their little hearts desire.
Of course, there’s always a “freeride” element, among both skiers and snowboarders that wants to ply its trade anywhere on the mountain. I get that, to a degree. One, terrain parks can get crowded, and even a little crazy. Two, no one wants to be told where they can and cannot ski and/or ride, especially if they’re paying top dollar for a lift ticket. In that regard, I’m perfectly fine with any skier or rider hitting any trail they want (and can handle). I just ask them to follow some basic, common sense rules. The idea is to make certain that everyone has a good time. Don’t be selfish. Consider others.
Below is the Skier’s Responsibility Code published by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) and the National Ski Patrol (NSP), with a few additional editorial comments. According to the NSSA, “education, helmet use, respect and common sense are very important when cruising down the mountain.” The NSAA developed the code to help skiers and boarders understand that there is an undeniable element of risk in snowsports, but that risk can be managed with a modicum of common sense, empathy, and personal awareness.
So, without further ado:
One. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects. If you plan to open up the throttle and let your skis run, make sure you have ample space, and know the trail ahead. Icy patches and fast edges can be a scary combination. In the same vein, understand your own abilities, and make sure the terrain matches your skill set. A beginner on a black diamond trail is asking for trouble. Likewise, an expert on a beginner trail needs to know to dial it back.
Two. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them. Period. The reason for the rule is simple. People ahead of you (or below you) are typically looking downhill. They can’t see you. It’s like the knucklehead from Sunday River mentioned above. It’s impossible for the skier below to know what your “line” is. In fact, your line should be the one that avoids others. There’s no excuse for collisions, or even close calls.
Three. Never stop in a spot where you obstruct a trail, or aren’t visible from above. Be fair to the uphill skier or rider, and make sure they can see you. There’s nothing more terrifying (and I’m speaking from personal experience) then flying over a roller, only to see a small child sitting underneath. As a parent myself, I believe it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that their children aren’t creating a hazard.
Four. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others. This is another time when you, as the downhill skier or rider, don’t have the right of way. It’s like pulling onto the highway; you need to look at who is coming up behind you. If you get rear-ended, it’s more than likely your fault. Take time to take a peek.
Five. Always use devices to prevent runaway equipment. Most modern alpine ski bindings have “brakes” built in. Snowboards and telemark skis usually require some kind of leash. Use them.
Six. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas. Most trail junctures have bright orange “SLOW” signs installed to underscore the potential danger of merging traffic patterns (especially if your vision is obstructed by trees). As far as trail closures, “poaching” is a considered by some to be a rite of passage. That’s a misguided notion. Sneaking onto closed trails is just dumb. Resorts close trails because they’re not safe. If you get hurt, you abdicate any right to cry about it later. The same holds true if you get your ticket pulled.
Seven. Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely. This is a subtle rule with big implications. You also have to know where that lift is going, and be confident that you can handle the terrain you find there. I once accidentally brought my eight-year-old daughter to the top of a super steep expert trail at Solitude in Utah because I got on the wrong lift. I’m still not sure she’s forgiven me (and she’s 19 now).
Both the NSAA and the NSP admit, however, this is a partial list. So I’d like to add a few personal rules (or pet peeves, as the case may be).
Eight. Don’t be a nuisance in the lift lines. This is not Europe, where resorts seemingly promote “cattle call” scrums to get to the lifts. Long lift lines are annoying enough. Don’t exacerbate the situation by trying to cut the lines. The few seconds saved aren’t worth it. Likewise, take care not to run over the top of other people’s skis and boards.
Nine. Respect novices, and ski school groups. Not everyone might be as comfortable on the trail as you are. But everyone was a beginner once. Blasting past a group of newcomers is not only juvenile (and sometimes dangerous), it can also ruin the experience for someone just starting out in the sport. Plus, it ensures that everyone recognizes you as a self-absorbed, egotistical jerk. Don’t be that person. Give these groups a wide berth.
Ten. The gondola is not your’s. If you’re on a gondola with anyone you don’t know, don’t light up a cigarette, don’t pull out that beer, and don’t use foul language. Likewise, don’t toss litter from any lift. Stuff it in a pocket, and dispose of it later. And, finally, be nice to lift operators. These folks work long hours for low pay. A kind word can really make their day. And it won’t cost you a dime.
How to Buy Ski Boots: Tips from an Insider
How to Find a Ski Partner
10 Tips for Skiing with Kids
Printable Ski Gear Checklist
Photo: Courtesy of Unnofficalnetworks Read More
March 13 in Skiing Insights by Brion O'Connor Comments Off on Spring Skiing and Mountain Events
2015 Spring Skiing Festivals
Skiing and partying are often synonymous. That goes double during spring. Here are a few of the best springtime festivals from coast to coast.
March 11-April 19: Breckenridge, CO
Breckenridge Ski Resorts annual month-long festival returns to end ski season with a bang, and features a series of events, including a series of concerts with bands such as Third Eye Blind, the pseudo-triathlon Imperial Challenge and Mountain Dew Throwback Throwdown, the GoPro Big Mountain Challenge, and the Closing Day Luau.
March 19-21 and March 26-28: Aspen, Colorado
Bud Light Spring Jam
The 10th annual Bud Light Spring Jam continues like never before with two weekends of new-school competitions, downtown concerts and parties. Visitors will enjoy big air competitions, springtime conditions, live music from artists such as Vampire Weekend, the Greyboy Allstars and more.
March 27-28: Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole Rendezvous Festival
The 5th annual Jackson Hole Mountain Festival weekend kicks off on March 27 with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals headlining a free concert. Then, on March 28, visitors will enjoy the Marmot Coombs Classic and after party.
March 28: Stratton, Vermont
Stratton celebrates Marchdi Gras and the annual Village (Southern-Style) Block Party. Enjoy live music, food and drink vendors, the Famous Ice Bar, fun/free activities for the kids like face painting, caricaturist drawings, acrobatics, stilt walking and more.
April 3-5: Sunday River, Maine
Parrothead Festival Presented by Bud Light Lime
Celebrate another great season with live music, a margarita mix-off, cover bands, and a key lime pie-eating contest. To take full advantage of all of the skiing, sun, and parties at Parrothead Festival, you’ll want to spend the full weekend here.
April 4: Loon Mountain, NH
Break out the straight skis and neon fanny packs for this day-long celebration of big hair and bold fashion choices. When you’re done hot doggin’ for the day, walk like an Egyptian to the Bunyan Room, where an ’80s cover band will help you relive the best decade of the last millennium.
April 9-12: Sugarloaf, Maine
27th annual Reggae Fest
The annual Bud Light Reggae Fest at Sugarloaf is traditionally the biggest springtime party in Northeast ski country. Last year the “Loaf” celebrated Reggae Fest’s 26th edition with an incredible lineup, record-breaking crowds, awesome spring skiing weather and California reggae artist, Iration. Expect an even bigger party this year.
April 12-18: Vail, Colorado
Spring Back to Vail
Vail’s huge end-of-the-season bash features on-snow events, street parties, the World Pond Skimming Championships and free concerts from artists including Guster, Wyclef Jean and the Robert Earl Keen Band.
April 16-25: Whistler, British Columbia
TELUS World Ski & Snowboard Festival
This is Whistler’s defining celebration, a 10-day (and night) showcase of the latest progressions in the skiing and snowboarding world, where even the art events are packed full of adrenaline. Guests enjoy Canada’s largest free outdoor concert series with career-making showdowns of action sports and lifestyle fashion, photography and film, the best spring snow conditions and serious nightlife.
April 18: Jay Peak, Vermont
6th Annual Tailgate Party
Prizes and party. Judged categories include best presentation, best dish, best drink, and overall tailgate champions. Post Tailgate Party starts up at 4 p.m. with live music by Sweet Jayne.
Photo: A-Basin courtesy of Coloradoski.com
Spring Skiing – How to Stay Comfortable
How to Find a Ski Partner
Printable Ski Gear Checklist
Off-season Gear Storage
March 7 in Skiing Insights by Brion O'Connor Comments Off on Spring Skiing – How to Stay Comfortable
Prepare for Shifting Temps and Conditions
Ah, spring. Is there any single word that evokes so much promise for skiers of every stripe. From diehard powderhounds to weekend warriors, spring conjures images of breathtaking blue skies, dazzling sunshine, and some of the best conditions of the season.
Of course, spring can have a nasty side as well. No one knows that better than New England skiers. After all, the Northeast is where skiers jokingly refer to our famous boilerplate “blue ice” as “New England powder.”
Warmer temperatures also mean shifting conditions, on several fronts. We all dream of perfect surroundings, but Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate. Some years ago, at my brother Sean’s early-April Sunday River bachelor weekend in Maine, the snow was in great shape, but a pelting rainfall forced us to ski with trash bags to protect ourselves, and a thick, heavy fog reduced our visibility to just a few feet.
So what’s a spring skier to do? To get answers, we reached out to Keri Reid, assistant director for Okemo’s Ski + Ride School in Vermont, for a better idea of how to handle any spring surprise, good and bad. Her first recommendation? Don’t trust the weather report.
“Be prepared for any and all conditions,” said Reid. “Dressing right becomes quite the conundrum. One minute you’re freezing, the next you’re sweating.”
Reid suggests getting a high-quality shell – an un-insulated jacket – that can be worn with many or a few layers underneath.
“Gore-Tex and similar fabrics offer breathability and waterproofness for those pesky wet days,” she said. “Layers are the name of the game. As the day progressively warms, you can peel off fleeces and such to stay comfortable.”
Proper preparation includes making sure you not only have the right clothing, but also that your gear is ready to go. Skis and snowboards can be tuned differently to address the variable conditions you should expect to find after February.
“A good tuning tech can prepare your skis to best deal with the slushy spring conditions,” said Reid. “The right base structure can help to shed water and ensure maximum gliding capacity.”
Regardless of your gear, spring can present unique challenges for skiers unfamiliar with the impact of fluctuating temperatures. One of my most vivid spring skiing memories of recent vintage dates back about six years. My family and I were having a great March outing at New Hampshire’s Mount Cranmore. It was the quintessential spring outing, with great conditions from top to bottom at the start of the day. But by late morning, the snow near the bottom of the hill had softened up considerably. My daughter Maddi, who was 12 at the time, wasn’t quite prepared for it.
After a half dozen runs, we decided to head in for lunch. On a long, flat run-in to the base, Maddi turned to cheer us on. What she didn’t account for was the heavy, mashed potato snow under her skis. Poor kid caught an edge, and launched. Skis, poles, goggles, and gloves went everywhere. Maddi went down hard.
Even with her helmet, Maddi suffered a mild concussion. The lesson, of course, is that spring can bring conditions that are at least every bit as unpredictable as mid-winter. According to Reid, spring skiing is a “a mixed bag. You never know what the day is going to throw at you.”
“The mornings usually start out cooler and firmer, with conditions morphing throughout the day,” she said. “The mountain becomes a true challenge, testing your stance and balance. With temperatures rising, skier traffic causes natural moguls to form in places that may typically be groomed. Bumps can be even more difficult as they set early and late in the day.”
Since conditions can change dramatically over the course of the day, your approach to the trails needs to be flexible as well.
“Mornings in the spring should be about warming your body up, same as the snow does,” said Reid. “Stick to runs that were groomed the night before and schuss out the runs that are in the sun early. Those are the ones that you’ll want to hit up first.”
As my Maddi learned, when that morning corn snow softens, it can be treacherous. If your legs start to tire while pushing around the afternoon mashed potato snow, don’t be shy about finishing up early. Which brings us to technique.
“When going down trails that have really gotten slushy, try to look ahead and anticipate how the snow will impact your skis and, subsequently, your balance,” said Reid. “If you’re headed towards a mound or mogul, you’ll likely be pushed to the rear. Fight back by moving your feet forwards through the snow.
“A strong, athletic stance helps to set skiers up right for these kinds of conditions,” she said. “Think stacked: knees over toes, and hips over boots.”
See our listing of great spring ski festivals and mountain events. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Photo Courtesy of Crystal Mountain
How to Find a Ski Partner
Ski Gear Checklist (Printable!)
Key Ski and Snowboard Accessories