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March 15, 2011

The Rambling Man's Guide to Zurich

Zurich, Rainbow over Limmat River(Darryl Leniuk,Photodisc,Getty)
A rainbow sets over the Limmat River in Zurich, Switzerland (Darryl Leniuk)

There's no season like Spring Break. Heading to the slopes? The madness this March might be the depths of snow-covered ski resorts across the Rockies, most of them already exceeding the yearly average snowfall. And March is typically a big snow month.

I'm a big fan of the Alps, particularly Switzerland, where English-only is no handicap and everything runs like a Rolex. Where the snow-softened valleys climb into white jagged peaks and ski like the legends they are. But who wants to spend all their time in Switzerland skiing? Life is much larger than days on the slopes.'s Guide to Swiss Ski Resorts

For most American and European airlines, the gateway to the Alps is Zurich. There isn’t a ski resort in the country (as well as most slopes in France, Austria, and Italy) that you can’t get to within an easy day’s journey from Zurich’s Old World train station. For example, Zurich to Zermatt or St. Moritz is only three and a half hours by train. But Zurich also makes for an extraordinary diversion from skiing the Alps.

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February 28, 2011

Whistler Blackcomb: Too Long for Our Legs

Skier trail (Bruce Rowles)
Long slopes and flying powder at Whistler Mountain (Bruce Rowles)

I must admit I did not see this one coming. Last week I skied Whistler Blackcomb. Nothing to get excited about, I thought. I’ve probably already skied some 70 days this winter across a few dozen resorts. And I’ve lived at Whistler off-and-on over the years. I confess to a love/hate relationship with the place. The hate mostly revolves around the inordinate number of cloudy days. I was there last November prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics when it snowed a record 28 feet in the alpine. But what that meant was 29 days of rain in the village. (November is the wettest month on the B.C. coast.) It was, to lift a phrase from Joan Didion, the season of divorce and suicide. The love? Please read on.

But first, let’s get another voice in here. Leslie Anthony, Powder magazine feature writer and author of White Planet: A Mad Dash Through Modern Global Ski Culture, sent me this email when I asked him about Whistler. “I travel to some of the most amazing places in the world,” Leslie wrote, “and Whistler is still the best place on earth to come home to.”

I could tell you a hundred things about Whistler, and maybe I know nothing at all. But I first skied Whistler Mountain (located 75 miles north of Vancouver) when it was a snow-bound, one-whistle B.C. Rail stop called Alta Lake. In the summer of 1981, when they were building the core of what is now Whistler Village and erecting the lifts on Blackcomb Peak, I was a coach at the summer racing camp on the high glacier. In the afternoon, during our dry-land training sessions after a morning of technical skiing, we’d run slalom-like through the pylons that now anchor the underground parking. One of the young racers, 15-year-old Karen Percy from Banff, went on to win two medals in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

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February 22, 2011

32 Inches in 24 Hours at Grand Targhee

By Lacy Morris

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Hitting the powder room at Grand Targhee Resort, Wyoming (Powder Day Photography)

Midwesterners woke to canceled flights, snowed-in cars, and ice-coated roads, and while similar hazards persist further west throughout the Tetons, skiers at Grand Targhee have a more optimistic outlook on the Presidents' Day weekend storm that crippled much of the U.S. Within 24 hours more than 32 inches of perfect, dry powder had blanketed Targhee. The storm arrived Sunday, February 20, bringing the two-day storm total to 41 inches. Current snow depth is 126 inches and season-to-date snowfall is approaching 400 inches. With more snow in the forecast this week, this could be one of the best Presidents' Day ski weeks in history at the Teton resort.

"There's still a chance to get a room up here this week," said Shannon Brooks Hamby, communications director at Grand Targhee Resort. "If you were waiting to see what the conditions were like, it doesn't get much better than this. Grab your snorkel and come on up."

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February 16, 2011

Vancouver's Backyard Skiing: North Shore Ski Resorts

Bc ski
WHITE OUT: Cypress Mountain, Vancouver (Gerry Wingenbach) 

Remember the sunny, foggy, rainy, and wildly exciting Vancouver Winter Olympics? The games where Shaun White flew and Bode Miller delivered? It all began one year ago this week. For the U.S. Ski and Snowboarding Association, it yielded the best Olympic results ever (eight medals in alpine skiing alone—even if Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso did swipe at each other).

Remember Cypress Mountain Ski Area, the Vancouver North Shore venue? Remember the straw and mud and helicopters dumping snow on the halfpipe, battling Mother Nature after the warmest January on record?

Let’s go back there this week. Vancouver and Whistler (70 miles north of the city) might be synonymous in the mind’s eye of many snowriders. But perched directly above extraordinary Vancouver, where the Pacific and the Coastal Mountains meet, are three ski resorts—Cypress Mountain, Grouse Mountain, and Mount Seymour. They are visible from downtown Vancouver and can be reached before the latte you bought on Robson Street gets cold. The vertical drops might be far less than Whistler, but the runs are challenging enough. Even the routes up to these resorts are reminiscent of the breathtaking drive to Whistler, with waterfalls roaring down the mountainsides every few miles. The views back over the water toward the city, Vancouver Island, and south to Washington State are worth the lift ticket just in themselves. But not today. This week is as foggy as it was last year during the Olympics. However, unlike last year, the snow is bountiful.

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February 14, 2011

Spring Back to Vail: Two Free Vouchers, Nights, and Lift Tickets

By awayblog

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Ski little Spring is on its way and one of the best parts of the coming season is making use of the last remaining signs of Old Man Winter. End-of-season skiing is the chance to ride jacket-less under a mountain sun—and you can't do that for free anywhere but here. Enter for a chance to win our Spring Back to Vail contest for a shot at two round-trip flight vouchers, two nights at The Lodge at Vail, and two day lift tickets to Vail Ski Resort. To win, you must go to's Ski and Snowboard Resort Guide and write a review of your favorite/least favorite resort. Submit your best review between now and February 28. Come March 7, we'll read the reviews and pick a winner.

Official terms and conditions here.  

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February 08, 2011

Saas-Fee: Switzerland's Highest Mountains and Glaciers

Saas-Fee, Switzerland (Gerry Wingenbach)

For two weeks I’ve been traveling around Switzerland. The days no longer have names. I’ve got a Swiss rail pass and I’m in the groove. So this morning I did what I’ve always done when life is perfect: I screwed up.

I left a bag on the train while making a quick connection at the main station in the capital city of Bern. But thanks to the kindness of a few Swiss strangers I’ve got it back. The people we meet traveling can make or break a trip. I’ll remember that when I meet a visitor in my own hometown.

So let’s go skiing.

Not even the Swiss rail makes it up to Saas-Fee. A postal bus from Visp paperclips the last 15 miles to this extraordinary village. En route, the bus stops at three other villages that populate the otherwise isolated Saas Valley—Saas-Grund, Saas-Almagell, and Saas-Balen—before coming to the end of the line at Saas-Fee, a resort best known for the glaciers that seem to tumble right into the village.

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February 03, 2011

Tale of Two Swiss Resorts: Disentis and Arosa

Arosa Ski Resort (Gerry Wingenbach)

Back in December an acquaintance of mine, Chris Solomon, wrote a front-page story for the travel section of The New York Times about skiing little-known Disentis, blowing the lid off what he thinks is the best-kept secret among freeriders looking for undiscovered, dramatic powder-filled terrain in the Swiss Alps.

"There goes the neighborhood,” I thought. “Every yahoo, has-been, and never-was is going to flock there.” And I was right. Because here I am, getting off the regional train at Disentis early on a bluebird day with fat skis over my shoulder.

I’ve passed through Disentis before. The place is perched along the route of the extraordinary Glacier Express train that grinds its way between St. Moritz and Zermatt. The Rhine River begins nearby as a mere trickle on the Oberalp Pass. But until today I never bothered to ride the aerial tram that rises from this ancient town of 2,100 people, up to the backcountry snow and a handful of lifts, mostly T-bars serving gentle terrain. I never considered the extraordinary off-piste skiing that surrounds the resort.

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January 27, 2011

A Better Way to Mountain at Canyons Ski Resort

(Gerry Wingenbach)

Up at Canyons Resort they’re calling it “A Better Way to Mountain.” And it is. They’ve got two new, state-of-the-art chairlifts, a repositioned gondola, expanded terrain, improved upon mountain dining, and blizzard-like snowmaking capabilities. Not bad, considering the place is as wild as the Canadian Rockies.

The most visible change is the brilliant orange bubble-enclosed chairlift, fitted with heated seats, rising from the car-less village. It’s like riding in a warm pair of tangerine-tinted ski goggles and it increases the uphill capacity by nearly 50 percent.

And in the way-out-there part of the resort, stretching towards Park City, a new high-speed chairlift scaling up Iron Mountain launches another 300 acres of skiing with ten new runs and all-you-can-dream glade skiing. Canyons now touts an impressive smorgasbord of 176 runs piercing 4,000 acres of what Utah state license plates claim is the “greatest snow on earth.”

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January 20, 2011

Epicurian Skiers Rejoice: The Beaver Creek Master Chef Classic Is Upon Us

Joey Campanaro displays his talents (Courtesy, Beaver Creek Master Chef Classic)

For those of you who envision a ski vacation as more than just ski-eat-ski-eat-sleep-repeat, you now have another reason to head into the mountains this January. From the 27th to the 29th, Colorado’s Beaver Creek Resort hosts the 13th-annual Beaver Creek Master Chef Classic, a three-day epicurean event that brings Bon Appetit magazine-selected celeb chefs like Marco Canora, Joey Campanaro, Francois Payard, and John Besh to the resort’s famed restaurants. Prices—which include two nights lodging, two lift tickets, and tickets to the Master Chef Challenge and the Grand Tasting—start at an insanely reasonable $522 per person. Other activities during the event include wine and cocktail seminars, cooking classes, tickets to the Master Chef Dinner, and more. And if you need something to placate all this gluttony, know that a portion of the proceeds goes to the Bright Future Foundation, a local organization that works to prevent domestic violence.

Oh, and for those hardcore skiers and riders out there, most events happen in the evening, so consider crowning a day of deep powder turns with heady epicurean indulgence. It might even change the way you think about taking on a mountain.

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Related Topics: Culinary Travel · Food and Drink · Last Minute Trips · Outdoor Adventures · Skiing & Snowboarding

January 19, 2011

Jackson Hole—The Mountain, The Myth, The Mystery

Jackson hole
Statistics don't do it justice: Jackson Hole, Wyoming (Gerry Wingenbach)

The mountain statistics are staggering—consider the vertical drop (4,139 feet) or its sheer size (2,500 acres). But the numbers don’t say that the vertical is continuous. Nor do they take in the acres and acres of accessible backcountry. And the rating of 50 percent expert terrain gives no hint of the perfectly groomed boulevards that skirt the chutes and cliffs.

Named for an early fur trapper, the town is called Jackson, while Jackson Hole is the name of the entire valley that starts at the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park and runs 60 miles south through Grand Teton National Park on to Jackson. The ski resort rises from Teton Village, 12 miles north of Jackson.

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