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November 2009

November 30, 2009

Early December: A Skier's Dream

FINE LINE: Sun Peaks Resort (Adam Stein)

Here's a tip every local in every ski town in North America will tell you. The first three weeks of December are prime time: no crowds, plentiful powder dumps, pre-Christmas deals, plus you're stoked for the new season. These are the days you dreamed about when you got in your heat-slugged car in the middle of July. Can't you just taste the hot chocolate?

Resorts from Maine to California are opening lift by lift as storms roar through. If the ski report at your favorite mountain looks sketchy today, well, in December conditions can turn on an overnight storm. There's also plenty of firepower in all those precision-guided snowmaking guns now that temperatures have dropped. Oh yes, the season is now.

Here's my early-season secret. For five years running, the Austrian ski team has been coming to an extraordinary resort in British Columbia's interior called Sun Peaks, a five-hour drive east of Vancouver and about seven hours from Seattle. (There's a well-serviced regional airport at nearby Kamloops.) This is where British Columbia becomes wild and beautiful British Columbia. The winters are long and dazzling. Sun Peaks is the Austrians' final training stop before the North American World Cup season opens at Lake Louise and Aspen. They'll also train here prior to and during the Vancouver Olympics in February. They like the anonymity (at home they're treated like rock stars), the hospitality and, most of all, the conditions.

Continue reading "Early December: A Skier's Dream" »

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Related Topics: Outdoor Adventures · Skiing & Snowboarding · Travel Tips

November 25, 2009

Notes from the Field: Book Now for Tour de France 2010

American rider George Hincapie signs autograph for Trek Travel guest (courtesy, Trek Travel)

Spaces are filling up fast for Trek Travel's exclusive Tour de France 2010 itineraries, which will take place from July 3-25 next year. All of the provider's TdF Week 3 trips, which include the final mountain stages in the Pyrénées and finishing stages in and around Paris, are currently wait-listed, but there are still open slots on Trek Travel's TdF Week 1 and 2 itineraries. You might not see the eventual winner cross the finish line on the Champs-Elysées, but you will get opportunities to see riders battling it out for the famous maillot jaune on scenic stages through Holland, Belgium, and Burgundy and the Alps in France. Trek is the longtime bike provider for Lance Armstrong, so Trek Travel—the travel arm of the Wisconsin-based bike manufacturer—will be offering exclusive behind-the-scenes access to Lance and his newly formed Team RadioShack on several of its itineraries. You can also choose from non-riding tours, should spending the day in the saddle shadowing the peloton not be your idea of fun. Final prices and details for the 2010 itineraries will be released by the end of next week, though note that these are high-end trips combining hard-earned pedal power with some good living in local chateaux and hospitality suites along the Tour de France circuit.

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Related Topics: European Travel · Holidays, Events, & Festivals · Trip Ideas

Letter from Whistler

Skier peaks (Paul Morrison)
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, Canada (Paul Morrison)

To: Director, Park City Kids' Ski School

Dear Mary,

I'm sorry I haven't reported for ski school yet. I'll be there. I'm in Whistler. Every morning I wake up with intentions on returning, and then I help the old woman next door shovel snow that fell during the night. She tells me to go up and make a few turns for her in the dream-like powder, which I do, just for her. I consider it both a gift and a challenge. And I do it for you, Mary. The right thing is the kind thing.

It's a week before Thanksgiving and Whistler has shattered its November record for snowfall—more than 14 feet so far. The 2010 Winter Olympics athletes are here training for the Games. And the resort is nicely priced—until January 31, 2010, you can book a five-night, ski-and-stay package for $111 per person, per night.

Continue reading "Letter from Whistler" »

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Related Topics: Outdoor Adventures · Skiing & Snowboarding · Travel News · Travel Tips

November 24, 2009

Introducing the iPhone PicTranslator

By Lacy Morris

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PicTranslator Trekking through Portugal tops my list of fun things to do; attempting to navigate using the Portuguese language does not. In response to every world-traveler's linguistic conundrum, iPhone has unleashed the PicTranslator, an application that can translate any high-quality text in 16 different languages, including Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. The gadget works on a point-and-shoot technology. To avoid a jumbled response, make sure you are cropping out everything except the words you want translated, plus that you are positioning the camera in a way to avoid glares or shadows. Depending on the length of the text, you should see the translation within 10 to 60 seconds. PicTranslator is currently only translating to English, but it can read a selection of the translated text aloud to you in five of the languages; French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. A useful app indeed, and one that is most likely going to get better. The masterminds behind PicTranslator are already thinking up ways to improve the technology with additional languages, better customer feedback, better quality of translation, and additional apps. PicTranslator can be purchased for $1.99 per month for one language or $3.99 for all 16. Follow them on Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Do you have any other favorite iPhone travel apps? Share them in the comments section.

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Related Topics: Travel Gear · Travel News · Travel Tips

November 23, 2009

The Dirty on In-Flight WiFi

By Lacy Morris

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THE SKY'S NO LIMIT: Businessman and child on plane (Photodisc/Getty)

Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerry, iPhone, WiFi… we’re a society obsessed with staying connected. Keeping in touch online is everywhere, and the sky is no longer the limit. Airlines are quickly putting WiFi on their in-flight menus, making “I was 30,000 feet in the air” an outdated excuse to your boss. Most major airlines will be offering WiFi on a selection of their fleet by 2010.  Although it is new technology and still in the testing mode, there is already the ubiquitous bad apple. Flight attendants and fellow passengers are voicing outrage and the need for Internet filters to block questionable material from being viewed in such close proximity to others. Some need to be reminded that they are going to Dallas, not watching Debbie do it. As quickly as airlines raced to be the first to unearth mile-high WiFi, they are installing filters to stop the viewing of any material that could be deemed non-cabin friendly; both Delta and American, along with numerous others, have already done so. However, not all airlines plan on filtering what can be viewed on their aircraft, maintaining that what your seatmate chooses to do with their time is strictly their choice. Virgin America, which has decided not to filter what can be viewed, is the poster child for this argument. Instead, the WiFi customers aboard these flights are asked to adhere to the terms of service that are listed upon purchase, which prohibit certain online activities. If ignored, it is left to the flight attendant or the rule-breaker's fellow travelers to cry foul.

What do you think, personal choice or inappropriate? Should in-flight WiFi be filtered? Tell us your thoughts.

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Related Topics: Air Travel · Travel Trends

November 20, 2009

Hotel Spotlight: Saguaro Lake Ranch, Arizona

Saguaro-lake-ranch2 STILL LIFE: Saguaro Lake Ranch and Bulldog Cliffs, Arizona (Alistair Wearmouth)

Saguaro Lake Ranch sits in a tranquil spot just beneath the dam that holds back ten-mile-long Saguaro Lake in central Arizona. Downstream, the Salt River twists beneath the striking Bulldog Cliffs and Goldfield Mountains before flexing some mild Class I muscles on its passage toward the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area. This guest ranch has been run by the same family, the Durands, for four generations, and it shows in the hospitality and homey touches in evidence throughout the riverside property. Guests sleep in simple but comfortable "ranchettes," first built to house the workers who constructed Saguaro Lake's Stewart Mountain Dam between 1928-30. These days, however, you can also count on free property-wide WiFi, hooked up by the current owner's grandkids (but happily no phones or televisions in the rooms). Daytime activities include hiking and horseback riding along the desert trails of Tonto National Forest, kayaking and tubing on the Salt River, or special programs such as art weekends and family reunions. Meals are shared buffet-style in a communal dining room, where you'll feast on homemade treats such as BBQ chicken, biscuits, and fresh-baked cookies. It doesn't get much more relaxing than this.

Saguaro Lake Ranch is located 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix, about an hour by car. Bed and breakfast rates start at $130 for two; the ranch's American Plan includes three meals, plus lodging, and starts at $150 per person, assuming double occupancy. Activities such as trail rides or kayak rentals cost extra. Visit for full details.

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · Family Vacation · Outdoor Adventures · Places to Stay

Sweden's ICEHOTEL Celebrates 20 Years

By Lacy Morris

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COOL PAD: Exterior walls of the ICEHOTEL, Sweden (Håkan Hjort)

Thirty-nine carefully selected artists have gathered in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, a small village north of the Arctic Circle, to begin construction on this winter's version of the ICEHOTEL.  In preparation for the hotel's 20th anniversary, two of these artists, Americans Andre Landeros Michel and Dennis Rolland, will have two and a half weeks to transform their winning "Gotham on Ice" design into an ICEHOTEL suite. Like the rest of the hotel, the room will be constructed solely of snis (snow and ice) and their particular room will reflect inspiration from New York City's skyline, the music of Cole Porter, and memories of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The hotel is under construction during November and December and will open for overnight guests in January. The hotel can remain open to visitors through mid-April before the summer sun begins to melt the world's first and largest hotel made of ice. Accommodations vary at the ICEHOTEL, including 62 guest rooms, one deluxe suite, three group rooms, nine snow rooms, 29 ice rooms, and 20 art suites. A night in a deluxe suite will run you around $1,000 per night.  Beyond the hotel's chilly walls, visitors can stay entertained with activities including dog- and reindeer-sledding, snowshoeing, moose tours on horseback, ice driving, and dining under a grandiose starlit display put on by the Northern Lights.    

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Related Topics: Exotic Escapes · Holidays, Events, & Festivals · Outdoor Adventures · Places to Stay · Travel News

November 19, 2009

Burton Offers Free Lift Tickets and Lessons


If you've been talking about learning how to snowboard, but never actually put words into action, Burton might be able to push you over the edge. This leading snowboard company continues its "Go Snowboarding" program.  Purchase one from a group of select boards and you can go online to obtain a free lift ticket and lesson, which are also transferable to other friends or family members. 

Seasoned riders may also find the reason they've been looking for to get a new board. Burton's "Get Lifted" program, which applies to most boards in their line, gives you a free lift ticket to top resorts including ones in California, Utah, Alaska, Vermont, West Virginia, and throughout Canada.

So get going. You're running out of excuses.

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Related Topics: Skiing & Snowboarding · Travel Gear

Celebrating Soccer (and Cultural Exchange) in Africa

How high on your travel wish list is Nigeria? So what would possess more than 500 teenage boys from across the world to trek to the heart of West Africa at the height of summer?

A) School trip?
B) Free video games?
C) International soccer competition?

If you answered C, give yourself a gold star. This past month in Nigeria, the FIFA Under-17 World Cup took place. The semi-finals saw Switzerland defeat Colombia, and Nigeria beat Spain. In the end, Switzerland took home the golden trophy, winning 1-0 in the finals on Sunday, November 15 in front of a crowd of more than 60,000 screaming fans. But it wasn't just the players who were from across the globe. I interviewed a few fanatics in the international crowd to find out what brought them to this sports-mad country.

Fifa-u17worldcup-henry Name: HENRY
From: Johannesburg, South Africa
What Brought You Here: I've been working for the past eight months for DSTV.
What Have You Learned From Coming to Nigeria: How diverse the cultures around Africa are.
One Thing You Can't Travel Without: My camera.

Continue reading "Celebrating Soccer (and Cultural Exchange) in Africa" »

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Related Topics: Africa Travel · Dispatches from the Road

November 18, 2009

Notes from the Field: Winter Adventures in Yellowstone National Park

Gray wolf on the prowl in Yellowstone National Park (Corel)

It's no secret that winter in Yellowstone National Park is a magical season; think silent, snow-filled meadows and slopes, packs of wolves hustling across the valley floor, plus an absolute dearth of tourists. No, the secret here lies in the fact that many visitors—in winter or summer—fail to spend enough time here to appreciate the full diversity of the country's oldest park. Which is where the Yellowstone Association Institute (YAI), and more specifically its annual Field Seminar programs, comes in.

This non-profit offers a number of well-regarded winter programs, including an overnight "Wilderness First Aid" session ($230) and a two-night "Yellowstone's Winter Serengeti" seminar ($300) that tracks resident wildlife including bison, wolves, foxes, bighorn sheep, and river otters. Participants will spend their nights out in the field in YAI's Lamar Buffalo Field Campus in shared, rustic cabins, dining on self-provided food prepared in a communal kitchen. Spots are still available for these and other 2009-10 winter programs. Other YAI options include Lodging & Learning programs in partnership with parks concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts, as well as one-day private tours that can be organized for families and other small groups.

See a photo gallery of the wolves of Yellowstone National Park, first reintroduced back into the park in 1995.

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Related Topics: National Parks · Outdoor Adventures · Trip Ideas

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