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April 01, 2010

Winter’s Peak Moments: My Top 10


Mieke with Bison-Gerry
Cross-country skiing in Yellowstone National Park (Gerry Wingenbach)

Almost anyone who loves skiing or snowboarding has over the winter season compiled a list of what might be termed "Peak Moments." Here are ten of mine:

10. 2010 Winter Olympic Memories
The US Ski and Snowboard Association hit a homerun at the Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics with terrific results in programs ranging from alpine to freestyle to snowboarding. But here's some news that might have slipped under your radar. Nick Paumgarten reported the following in The New Yorker:  "By the middle of the second week, there were news reports that the authorities (at the Athletes Village) were trucking in an emergency supply of condoms; they had provided a hundred thousand of them, for roughly seven thousand athletes and officials. But apparently that wasn't enough."

9. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
It's arguably the finest alpine hotel in the world. The views look up to the extraordinary Canadian Rockies that form the Continental Divide. And across the valley is incomparable Lake Louise ski area where Lindsey Vonn won two, back-to-back World Cup downhill races in early December. On sunny, see-forever days, it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Every traveler, summer or winter, should experience The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

8. The Canyons, Utah
Don't be fooled by the stylish cabriolet rising from the lower parking lot, the swanky ski-in accommodations or the spiffy, carless village. The Canyons Resort is all about extraordinary skiing. Located just four miles from Park City's historic Main Street, the skiing is the gnarliest and largest of the three ski resorts that border the best little ski town in America (Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort complete this trifecta of standalone resorts). The Canyons is both wide and tall, with a whopping annual snowfall covering wide boulevards, tree-lined steeps, off-piste bowls, and miles of sun-dappled powder shots that snake and splinter through drop-dead gorgeous aspen groves.

7. Sun Peaks with Nancy Greene
Maybe you weren't around in 1968 when Nancy Greene won gold and silver medals at the Grenoble Winter Olympics. But she remains Canada's darling on skis and in 2000 was Canada's choice for the Athlete of the Century. She's a Canadian senator now but first and foremost a skier. You'll find her most days up at Sun Peaks, five hours drive time east of Vancouver. For family skiing, Sun Peaks gets my vote as the best place to take the kids. The gingerbread-like village is as cozy as a Christmas-morning puppy. The accommodations are all ski-in/ski-out.

6. Big Sky, Montana
I hooked up with Mike Mannelin and Dave Stergar, both local legends. The three of us spent two days skiing some of the biggest inbound lines in America. We chased each other while doing laps on the bowls and chutes off the hubris-reeking, 11,000-foot-high Lone Mountain tram. From the summit, where there's a world of skiing among the endless peaks and arêtes and couloirs, we could gaze at the Tetons piercing the blue sky 120 miles away in Wyoming.

5. The Greatest Ski Run
The Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix is the starting point for the longest lift-serviced ski and snowboarding run in the world—the 13-mile-long Vallée Blanche. It's often called the greatest ski run on the planet. Given the right conditions, any strong intermediate skier or snowboarder with a sense of adventure can cruise the 9,200-vertical foot of the Vallée Blanche. Surrounding you are some of Europe's toothiest and most imposing summits—the wedding-cake-like rock towers include Le Dru, the Aiguille Verte, and the Grandes Jorasses. And on top of the scenery is history. On these vertiginous fangs of rock and ice, the sport of mountaineering was born and standards pushed higher and higher.

4. Route 40 from Park City to Steamboat Springs
I drove the 300 miles from my home in Park City to Steamboat Springs, all of it on two-lane Highway 40. The road grinds west through a sparsely populated Utah, skirts Dinosaur National Monument, and rolls into northwest Colorado cattle country. On snow-dusted hillsides smoke curled from chimneys of ranch houses. A power line sagged under the weight of a hefty bald eagle. Call it Colorado Gothic. Crimson-colored strokes of early evening smeared the sky above the Yampa Valley when we rolled into Steamboat Springs. The world looked like it was burning up beyond the horizon and I was reminded that the best thing about skiing in America is the country itself—America the beautiful.

3. Skiing Backcountry from Vail to Minturn
It was that wonderful Australian skier May Lilley who led me on this extraordinary outing. High up on Vail, on our last run with the miles stacked up against us, we scooted out the backdoor on a well-known backcountry powder route that ends in the throwback town of Minturn. The penultimate stop was the infamous Minturn Saloon, which made a nice transition for our final fall-away turn across the street into Chill Willy's for Rocky Mountain-sized burritos. Getting back to Vail was a hoot. The Turtle Bus, pulled in among the snowdrifts and we boarded an old Bluebird school bus morphed into a road-bound nightclub, complete with bar, soundtrack, and dancing pole.

2. Skiing with an Old Girlfriend
Last summer, she dropped me with the speed of an avalanche and then married someone else just as quickly. And here we were skiing together on a beautiful March day at our favorite resort, Park City Mountain Resort. We started out years ago as ski buddies and now we've come full circle, which says something about the beauty of skiing and friendships. All things merge into one. We sizzled down the long, white liquid-like slopes. She once again the lightening, and me the thunder. We've skied a zillion miles together. We've had days of incredible joy in the mountains. There will always be that. She is the best ski buddy I ever had.

1. Cross-country Skiing, Yellowstone National Park
A fine friend visited me from Europe just to gaze at the exotic wildlife, strange geysers, and thermal features of the world's first national park. We spent three days in isolation away from emails, the Internet, and television at Snow Lodge, next to Old Faithful. She and I would wake in the early mornings to nothing but blue skies, dreamlike snow, and herds of bison wallowing in the steam-filled landscapes. And once again, skiing America the beautiful.


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Related Topics: Dispatches from the Road · Skiing & Snowboarding

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Great places to visit. Thanks for the recommendations.

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