The American Birkebeiner North America's Largest Nordic Event Will Take Place

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North America's largest cross country ski race, the American Birkebeiner, is able to take place this coming weekend February 24-25 in Hayward, Wisconsin, but will be a shortened version of the 50-kilometer point-to-point race. It will be shortened to a 10K loop of man-made snow, and split the skate-style and classic races over two days.

The event, held in northern Wisconsin, routinely attracts participants from all 50 states and up to 26 countries from around the globe. Thirty five people skied in the first event held in 1973. Today it is one of the largest Nordic races in the world. Each year more than 10,000 skiers participate in the Birkie's week long series of events, according to Wikipedia, which increases the number of people in the small town by tenfold. Hayward's population is listed at around 2,500.

A very mild Midwest winter has played havoc with a number of Nordic events. The North American VASA Race in Traverse City, Michigan, which is held the second weekend of February was canceled this winter, as was a large event scheduled to take place in Marquette earlier this month. Shorter competitions at the Birkebeiner geared towards children, teens, and less-accomplished skiers normally held throughout the week before the big race will be missing this winter.

This first American Birkebeiner was held in 1973 at nearby Telemark Resort, a downhill ski resort Tony Wise and H.B. Hewitt opened the winter of 1947. The ski area is now gone, but a new lodge and era has begun. The nonprofit American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation that puts on North America's largest Nordic ski race each February is in the process of successfully reopening it as Mt. Telemark Village., which will be dedicated to year-round outdoor activities, and host a museum with information and memorabilia about the Birkebeiner.

When fully completed there will be over 17 miles of woodland trails available and  a five-kilometer paved trail. The purpose is to make it a year-round destination for silent sports. A 12,000-square-foot multipurpose building will anchor Mt. Telemark Village, which will serve as a community center, shopping and rental area, coffee shop, and changing/shower area, is expected to open this spring.

 

 

 

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 Vail Unveils Its Future Full Of New, Upgraded And Realigned Lifts

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With a new and approved master plan in hand, Vail Mountain officials now have a blueprint for overhauling their massive lift sytem to unclog main base areas and streamline everyone's ability to get around Colorado's biggest mountain.

No dates have been put to any of these upgrades, as each new lift will have to be OK'd by Forest Service officials, on whose domain 5,317-acre, 21-lift Vail Mountain operates. But with emphasis in the plan on getting guests up and out of Vail's five base villages, skiers and riders should expect to see the first construction on the lower front side.

When looking maps of the aggressive plan, skiers and riders can hardly find a spot on the frontside of Vail Mountain that won't be affected if this plan reaches full fruition.

The plan aims to reduce lift lines out of Vail Village with an already-approved six-pack Trans Montane chair to Riva Ridge run, and an upgraded workhorse Eagle Bahn gondola from eight to 12 seats -- with new a mid-station next to the top of the Born Free Express, which is soon to be a six-pack as well.

Perhaps the biggest game changer will be Riva Bahn Express gondola out of the Golden Peak base. It will be Vail's first lift to deliver folks from the bottom to the Back Bowls in one fell swoop. Now a high-speed quad that winds its way up to the base of Northwoods chair, River Bahn will become a 16,000-foot-long gondola -- with a mid-station -- that runs all the way up to the ridge that overlooks the Back Bowls.

On the opposite side of the bottom, the fixed-grip Cascade Village chair -- one of Vail's first lifts -- can get upgraded to a high-speed quad.

On the mountain, Vail will add seats all over the front side, including ridge-reaching pair Wildwood and Mountaintop high-speeds and the busy Avanti Express. Even the short (1,000 ft.) fixed-grip Little Eagle that serves upper mountain learning areas is planned to be a high-speed quad.

On the backside, the most significant upgrade is a new Mongolian Express that will give new life to Mongolian and Siberian bowls. Previously served by a high-speed quad and a long traverse, the skier's left sector will have a new high-speed chair right in the middle of the action. And, both Teacup and Orient high-speeds get two more seats.

Vail officials insist that the updated plan does not try to get more skiers and riders on the hill (they "manage to" a 19,900 capacity right now). Instead, they say that it will create a more efficient lift system that will spread them out all around the mountain.

 

 

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Most Of Alaska's Ski And Snowboard Resorts Collect Near Anchorage

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The state's largest city, Anchorage is home to half the state's population, and many of hem ski and ride at a quartet of mountain resorts within an hour's drive.

The big gun in Alaska is Alyeska Ski Resort (1,600 a., 2,500 vert.), the state's biggest and a 50-minute drive from Anchorage. It gets plenty of snow (1,000 inches in 1998-99), which tends to be heavy.

Not much for easy terrain (11%), as upper mountain grabs the attention. Two high-speeds and a tram deliver to three bowls. North Face off the tram and Glacier high-speed is renowned for steep, long runs -- to some, the longest steeps in North America.

On the other side, the lengthy High Traverse off Glacier Express opens into Upper Bowl's wide-open steeps. Keep going onto Max's Traverse and the gnarly double-diamonds drop through sparse trees. Plenty of short drops on the lower sections, too.

Lifts generally open around 10 a.m., and tram, quad and base lifts run until 8 p.m. There's tons of hike-to terrain, including a long hump up to the summit of Alyeska Peak (3,939 ft.) and along the ridge to the nefarious Headwall.

Alyeska just went on as an Ikon Pass seven-day partner. The hotel at the bottom offers classic high-mountain lodging and dining.

About 30 minutes drive from Anchorage is nonprofit Artic Valley (320 a., 1,500 vert.), the oldest operating ski hill in the state and run by Anchorage Ski Club. Open on weekends only, Artic Valley has a pair of 40-year-old double chairs, but the star is a 2,800-foot retractable cable T-bar that handles the front side.

Terrain is wide open, not a tree to be seen. Most of the pitch leans to novice-intermediate grade, but steeps are tucked away under Rendezvous Peak (4,068). Tickets are cheap, facilities basic at this local hill. Closing times extend as late at 7:30 p.m. as the season goes on.

Hilltop Ski Area (30 a., 294 vert.) qualifies as Anchorage's genuine local hill. Perched above the suburban Hillside East neighborhood, it's got a triple chair for the main runs and a long platter for the extensive terrain park. A couple of black runs intermingle with greens and blues.

With snowmaking and lighting all over the hill -- and even RFID ticketing -- Hilltop is open until 8 p.m. except on Sunday. There's competitive ski jumps next door.

And finally Sheetawk (30a., 300 vert.), an hour's drive from Anchorage at Hatcher Pass. Open in 2020 by a local nonprofit, what the native Dena'ina call "the place we slide down" has a triple chair for the whole hill. Big plans for future would extend to summit of Government Peak (4,068) for a 2,600 vertical drop. 

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Snow Factory at Powder Ridge Promises Black Friday Opening in 2025

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Imagine having the shortest ski season in the warmest state in New England as a resort owner. You have to rely on Mother Nature’s fickle moods to bless you with a dusting of snow, and even then it almost never arrives in time for the holiday season. What’s a guy to do? If you’re John Hayes, owner of Connecticut’s Powder Ridge, you buy a snow factory!

In an interview with the New England Ski Journal, Hayes describes the “can we open or can’t we” song and dance they have to go through every year that lead him to buy the DeMaclenko Snow Pro. He was not messing around with this purchase! The machine can pump out enough snow to cover a football field within 24 hours, in practically any weather, which allows the resort to plan for opening on Black Friday with confidence in 2025. 

Hayes also mentions that he doesn’t expect everyone who visits Powder Ridge to be a skier or boarder and recognizes that many folks come to shop, dine, or go tubing. The snow factory allows for a longer season for everyone in the family to enjoy the resort. Although Hayes expects that in the next five years 70% of ski resorts will have similar machines supplementing their snow totals, he believes they are a feeder resort, saying, “We don’t want to compete with the northern ski areas. They’re our complement. We want our customers going to destination resorts after we teach them how (to ski).”

So, if you're looking for a guaranteed dose of winter fun this year, skip the weather app and head to Powder Ridge. With their million-dollar snow machine working overtime, there’s always corduroy in Connecticut.

Skiers and snowboarders ride down a grassy hill partially covered in thick snowA snow cannon blows fresh snow onto a ski area at night

 

 

 

 

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Sandia Peak Gets A New Life, New Owners After Long Hiatus

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After a couple seasons of closure, Sandia Peak Ski Area (300 a., 1,700 vert.) reopened Feb. 10 with new, aggressive ownership that bodes well for the future of the New Mexico ski and snowboard resort.

Management reported that all 300 acres on the mountain were open, served by triple-seat Lift 3. Recent southern-trending storms have put down a 33-inch base, with more on the horizon.

The rejuvenation of Sandia Peak began last fall when Durango-based Mountain Capital Partners entered into an operating agreement with a group headed by Albuquerque balloonist Ben Abruzzo. Then, in early February, MCP took over ownership of the 300-acre mountain.

Along with new owners comes inclusion into the regional Power Pass, and a new interation called Power Pass Core.  Available now for $399 and good through next season, the new Core season pass covers unlimited skiing and riding at Sandia Peak, Pajarito, Sipapu and Ski Hesperus (closed for the season due to mechanical failures) -- all New Mexico ski areas. As with all MCP properties, kids 12 and under ski free all the time.

Tall and narrow, Sandia Peak operates three fixed-grip chairlifts, two side-by-side from bottom to top, and one with mid-mountain loading. A conveyor serves beginners at the base. Terrain is moderate, with nearly 70% either green or blue. It's a 45-minute drive from downtown Albuquerque.

However, another way up to the mountain is the Sandia Peak Tramway that rises out of northeast Albuquerque for a 15-minute ride to the 10,300-foot summit and top of trail system. In the ownership shift, the tram remains in hands of the Abruzzo family, famous for high-altitude ballooning.

As one of the southernmost resorts in the West, snow days can be hard to come by at Sandia Peak. Several times recently, it has closed mid-season for lack of sufficient cover. In 2014-2015, it snowed 18 days for a total snowfall of 74 inches -- the most in the last 10 years. The last four seasons have brought just three days or less of snow all season.

However, MCP has owned and operated snow-challenged Four Corners resorts since 2012, when it bought Purgatory. The company is known for putting money into on-mountain upgrades, such as snowmaking, high-speed chairs and grooming. Sandia Peak currently covers 30 of its 300 acres with artificial snow, and has no high-speed lifts.

As one of the few winter mountains with direct access from a city, Sandia Peak is New Mexico's oldest ski area -- opening in 1936 as La Madera Ski Area with a mitten-shredding 1,500-foot rope tow. A 4,200-foot T-bar -- the longest in U.S. at that time -- went up in 1946, the first chairlift in 1963, and the tram in 1966.

 

 

 

 

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Washington's Town Hills A Glimpse Of Skiing's Past ... And Future

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The state of Washington is dotted with small towns that have ways of entertaining themselves, including skiing and riding at local hills in the eastern Cascades.

Whether called community, town or family hills, these minuscule bumps provide local residents an easy way to get outdoors during the winter. Many a youngster made the first runs down these slopes, and their parents headed up to grab a few runs after work. They are the ground-floor of skiing and riding -- the pride of their communities -- so a trip dedicated to support these local operations deserves our time.

Badger Mountain Ski Area (10 a., 325 vert.) is an easy five miles from Waterville (1,100 pop.) on the very east edge of the Cascades. Opened in 1939 and operated by volunteers from the Waterville Lions Club, Badger has one T-bar, two rope tows and three runs.

Touting the "lowest priced ski ticket in America" ($10), the ski hill runs on weekends and holidays only. Cash only for a simple $8 hamburger, chips and soda lunch. Everyone (except ADA folks) has to hike 500 feet from the parking lot up to the base lodge.

Not far to the north, Echo Valley Ski Area (69 a., 300 vert.) is another volunteer-run town hill, located above summer playground Lake Chelan. Open in 1955, the Lake Chelan Lions Club handles operations that include one poma-platter and three rope tows.

A nine-mile drive from Manson or Chelan, the hill's layout requires rope tow ride to get to the 1,400-foot-long poma. Facilities are surprisingly comprehensive, with a day lodge, full-menu lunch concession, equipment rentals and lessons.

Like most small hills, there's tubing, and the $25 day ticket includes tubing time. Kids five and under free and season "membership" costs $175. Cash-only at this time, Echo Valley operates daily.

Head southwest and into the Cascades for Leavenworth Ski Hill (17 a., 300 vert.), right on the edge of the Bavarian-style town of Leavenworth (2,400 pop.). The history of this decidedly old-school hill begins in 1929 with a jumping hill and a warming lodge. Downhill skiing and rope tows began in 1936 (an outdoor restroom went in 1938), operated by the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club.

Like Echo Valley, it's a hike from parking to lodge. Once there, each of its two slopes are groomed and have a rope tow. Lifts run Wednesday-Sunday -- 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends. A true community hill, Leavenworth has an extensive Nordic trail network, tubing hill, snowshoeing, several ski jumps and fat-tire bike trails.

The 2,000-square-foot Ski Hill Lodge is the center of activities. Concession includes food, beer, wine and hot cocoa. Some indoor seating and an expansive deck with fire pit when the weather's right.

Adult day ticket costs $29, kids five and under free. There's a "play all day" ticket for all activities. Leavenworth Ski Hill is on the Register of Historic Places.

 

 

 

 

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Montana's Teton Pass Ski Area Closing For Season

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Teton Pass Ski Area on its Instagram account and on Facebook Friday announced they are closing for the remainder of the 2023/24 season citing the dismal winter and lack of snowfall.

It's located in a region of the state that is hurting for snow more than other areas of Montana. They also pointed out the financial repercussions of holding out for the possibility of more wintry weather to reopen as the ski season nears its end. They have only been able to open four days so far this season.

Owner Charles Hlavac posted that the ski area has been running in the red to cover early season payroll, insurance premiums, property tax, and start up costs for food, fuel, and explosives for avalanche mitigation. He went on say that even if the snow were to finally show up they couldn't recover financially for the season at this point.

“It's the correct decision from a truly non-emotional business perspective to 'cut off the limb to save the life,' in other words end this season now, so we can ensure more seasons in the future,” Hkavac posted.

The Sun-Teton-Marias basin, located just east of the Continental Divide on Montana's Rocky Mountain front, currently has less than half of it's normal snowpack for this time of year, which is a record low.

The Teton Pass Ski Area offers 400 skiable acres with three lifts and 43 runs. It has a 1,000-foot vertical that's lift served and an additional ,1300 vertical feet above the lifts that can be hiked for backcountry skiing. It's known for offering stunning mountain views, diverse terrain, short lift lines and plenty of access to backcountry skiing. It's located east of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and west of Choteau, Montana.

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A Fire Has Destroyed The Historic Lutsen Lodge

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A fire destroyed the 140-year-old historic Lutsen Lodge on Tuesday, the resort reported on Facebook. It set on the Lake Superior shoreline right across the road from the entrance to Lutsen Mountains and was a popular place to stay during winter months for skiers. They offered ski packages and coordinated lift passes with the ski area as well as offering free transportation for guests up to the ski area.

The lodge had been in operation since 1885 and Minnesota Monthly Magazine called it “the most romantic resort in the state.” I had a post on SnoCountry last month listing it as a great consideration for a romantic getaway, considering Valentine's Day, combining some skiing with a romance package.

It was reported that there were no guests staying in the lodge at the time of the fire, and that it is under investigation. Nine local volunteer fire departments along with Cook County Sheriff's department responded to the scene in the early hours of the morning before daylight to find the building completely engulfed by flames.

It was just last summer that Lutsen Mountains' popular restaurant Papa Charlie's, which overlooked Moose Mountain, burned beyond repair and is in the process of being rebuilt. Both were popular with skiing guests and families visiting and staying at the ski area, which leaves a hole in top quality restaurants available for guests considerations. The closest would be in the nearby towns of Grand Marais and Bluefin Bay, which are about a 20 minute drive from the ski area.

Lutsen Mountains, largest ski resort around the Great Lakes with over an 800-foot vertical drop, offers 95 runs that tumble down four interconnected mountains serviced by eight lifts including a high-speed lift and mid-America's only gondola. They routinely are able to ski through the month of April. Lutsen Resort hosted the North American Snowsports Journalist Association in 2009 when they held their annual meeting at Lutsen Mountains. They stayed four nights at the resort while exploring skiing at the Mountains and winter activities in the Grand Marais area.

 

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Til Death Cookies Do Us Part - Weddings and Vow Renewals on V-Day at Mount Snow

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If you’re looking for a unique, adventurous, but still incredibly romantic wedding or vow renewal, look no further than Mount Snow’s Cloud Nine Nuptials event on Valentine’s Day, 2/14! 

Gather with your fellow lovebirds for a ride to the top of the mountain where a winter wonderland awaits. Exchange vows in front of a Justice of the Peace amongst the swirling snowflakes and mountain magic. Let the slopes become your aisle as you ski or board back down the Cloud Nine trail with cheers of joy all around!

Friends and family are welcome, so nobody has to miss out on this core memory, but they must have a valid lift ticket or season pass and be comfortable with intermediate terrain (blue trails). Afterwards, meet in the Summit Lodge for cake and coffee!

Be sure to register for this FREE event before the deadline at 11:45 pm Eastern Time on 2/13. Check out the schedule from the event page here:

Event Schedule: 

9:30 - 9:45 a.m. - Meet at the bottom of Sunbrook Express quad to check in and take a ride up the chair as a group and gather at the top of Cloud Nine

10:15 a.m. - Ceremony begins at the top of Cloud Nine

After ceremony is complete, we'll conclude by taking a celebratory run down Cloud Nine, then meeting in the Summit Lodge for cake and coffee!

  57 Hits

Powder Highway Runs Deep Into Canadian Rockies Steepest Terrain

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The farther you go on western Canada's Powder Highway, the more rugged, remote and challenging the ski and snowboard mountains get for serious powderhounds.

Start with Panorama (2,975 a., 4265 vert.), probably the least known along the Powder Highway. It's 3.5 hours' drive from Calgary -- on a clear roads -- and 5.5 hours from Spokane. Despite its remoteness, it has an extensive base village for lodging, as nearest town is 30 minutes away. Ikon Pass works for seven days, Mountain Collective too.

Half the trail map is black-rated with just one summit lift. Super pitch-y glades and natural chutes cover top half of the hill. Powderhounds have to ride three chairs to that high ground, where a ridge subdivides Panaroma Mountain. Skier's left finds sparse glades served by lappable Summit fixed-grip quad.

Same but more on the other side. Extreme Dream's double blacks -- long and technical with hidden cliffs -- stick close to the ridge. Farther out, Taynton Bowl's long ridge traverse ends up with more open bowl skiing. A $24 snowcat shuttle cuts traversing time. Since no lifts, only way out is return to base.

Next stop on the Highway is Kicking Horse, an Epic Pass resort. Probably the most concentrated collection of chutes, couloirs, drops and straightlines anywhere. Runs are long and test fitness: "I got kicked by the Horse today." Famous for ridge-drops with slot entries that thankfully open up into alpine bowls.

Spread across five ridges and bowls, more than half the hill is black-plus. With only the base gondola and lappable Stairway to Heaven fixed-grip quad serving high ground, a good portion of the best stuff requires traversing and boot-hiking -- and long runouts. Less than half of acreage is directly lift-served.

Cold temps make powder snow among lightest in B.C. Decent lodging at base, more in quaint Golden nearby.

And then there's Revelstoke (3,121 a., 5,630 vert.), with the most vertical drop in North America and a trail that goes for 9.5 miles. Vertical is unrelenting; several black runs extend all the way to bottom. It's much taller than it is wide, with a main gondola and two upper, lappable chairlifts.

PeakRankings calls it "decidedly wild." It's aimed at the seriously adventurous. Once you push off, there's nowhere to bail. Both bowls have lifts but also require a hike. Down from there it's trees, trees and more trees. One reviewer: "It's a ski area in a giant forest with a few trails and bowls that get in the way of all the tree skiing and off-piste."

Persistent fog and snowy weather reduces visibility and adds to the challenge. Because of the vertical drop, snow can vary widely from top to bottom. Revelstoke holds Canadian record of 80 feet in a season. Several snowcat and heli-ski ops load at the base. Seven-day Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective work.

Base area modest and with minimal lodging. Town of Revelstoke (8,700 pop.) has a limited number of beds with places to eat and drink. Calgary is a four-hour drive.

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Ikon Pass Parent Company Purchases Arapahoe Basin

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Alterra Mountain Co. has scooped up Colorado's Arapahoe Basin as the 18th North American ski and snowboard resort in its portfolio.

Initial statements from the principals involved indicate no changes for the rest of this season, and no word if an Ikon Pass will be fully honored at the mountain this season. A-Basin is already in Ikon's partner system that gives passholders up to seven days at the Summit County mountain.

A Colorado Front Range go-to for decades, "The Basin" has always treasured its non-corporate, authentic Rocky Mountain vibe that fits with the hardy, old-school free spirits who fill its parking lot daily. And Alterra is known for leaving management and culture in place -- unlike rival Vail Resorts. 

There's a certain irony to this deal: For a brief moment, A-Basin was owned by Vail Resorts but monopoly concerns nixed that. It was a partner on the Epic Pass until 2019, when A-Basin owners decided to step away because a surge in Epic passholder visits overwhelmed the mountain's cramped facilities, producing long lift lines, jammed parking lots and angry regulars.

Leaving the Epic Pass came in conjunction with an industry-shocking move to cut season pass sales in hopes of reducing crowding and retaining the resort's "vibe and culture." So it remains to the be seen what full-on Ikon Pass participation will produce.

Opened in 1946, Arapahoe Basin has long been known for opening early and staying open later than any other Colorado mountain. Its 1,428 skiable acres sit astride the Continental Divide among some of the highest peaks in the nation. Its summit elevation of 13,050 feet is the highest for inbounds skiing and riding.

The trail system leans heavily toward the steep stuff, with nearly 75% of its runs rated black diamond or double black diamond. The East Wall Traverse has long set a standard for adventuresome alpinists. The Pallavicini mogul field has been on many a bucket list.

Under previous owners, the mountain's footprint nearly tripled with the expansion over the Divide into Montezuma area, and adding lift access to the hike-to Beavers/Steep Gullies side-country terrain. Every lift on the hill has gotten an upgrade, and an upper mountain restaurant opened.

 

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Sleigh Ride And Cross Country Snowshoe Dining At Michigan Resorts

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Mountaintop sleigh ride and snowshoe dining have long been popular activities at western resorts. Three northern Michigan resorts are now embracing the tradition with signature style. Ski Brule, Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain tender a truly unique outdoor experience.

Brule combines a sleigh ride to the resort’s 1880 Homestead Lodge where you feast on a Homestead BBQ dinner. Relax by the old fashioned pot belly stove, listen to acoustic guitar music and watch children tube on a nearby hill. It takes place every Saturday night throughout the season. The free sleigh ride departs from the bottom of Homestead Trail and operates back and forth between 5-8 p.m. The BBQ dinner is Adult $19 , Junior (age 10-17) $15, Kids (age 0-9) $11, Family $82 (includes 2 adults & up to 4 dependent children ages 17 & under).

Boyne Highlands Aonach Mor Moonlight Dinner unfolds on North Peak. A 15-minute sleigh ride takes guests to the top of the peak where the mountaintop lodge is aglow with candlelight and an acoustic guitarist plays softly in the background. On clear nights, the lights of the Mackinac Bridge are visible nearly 30 miles away. Upon arrival, guests disembark at an inviting bonfire before sitting down to a three-course dinner illuminated by candlelight in a cozy cabin setting. The cost for dinner and sleigh ride experience is $148 per person for the 2023/24 season, and is available through February.

Boyne Mountain hosts the Summit-To-Stein's Snowshoe Supper every Saturday evening through mid-March. A dining experience that you won't soon forget. Take a lift up to the top of the Mountain, walk across the lit up Sky Bridge and snowshoe your way to a gourmet prime rib and shrimp supper. The all-inclusive price is $130 per person includes a ride on the famed Hemlock chairlift, one-way evening walk across the lighted SkyBridge, hot toddy at Disciple's Overlook, snowshoe rental and a guided snowshoe hike, Prime Rib back down to Stein Eriksen's for a gourmet dinner.

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Crave The Deep Stuff? Hit British Columbia's Powder Highway

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A deep powder day hypnotizes top-end skiers and riders, so a trip to Western Canada's Powder Highway is an obvious destination.

Eight resorts sit on a 600-mile loop in the snowy Kootenay Rockies southwest of Calgary, and they've earned their moniker honestly with deep powder and precipitous pitches -- all inside the ropes. Snow-catting and heli-skiing aplenty, too.

Let's start with RED Mountain (2,700 a. inbounds, 2,900 vert), a three-hour drive from Spokane in the snowy Selkirk Range. All six chairlifts are fixed-grip across three mountains. But there are so many double-black diamond runs at RED that black diamonds seem like cruisers.

Powderhounds focus on Grey Mountain (6,870 elev.), with its persistent fall line and over-the-top tight lines in the trees. Add in extreme "cliff areas" that require straightlining and air drops. Smaller Red Mountain (5,219) is no slouch, with a tidy cohort of double black glades.

Snow can be heavy, because of lower elevation, and famous Kootenay Fog rolls in. Ikon Pass works. Nearby Rossland (4,100 pop.) has classic mountain mining vibe.

An hour northeast is Whitewater (1,184a., 2,044 vert.), another down-home, fixed-grip gem that averages 40 feet of snow and 60% expert terrain. Online Powderhounds rates it No. 1 in Canada because of its renowned tree skiing on four distinct aspects.

Powderhounds head to the forested cirque Summit and the peel-off-the-piste Glory Ridge sectors that hold Whitewater's private treasures: traverse-to alpine bowls and steep-steep glades.

All four chairs are fixed-grip but, oddly, some run faster than others. Basic base facilities include grab 'n' go, rustic pub with local beers, and a yurt. No cell service at all. Rustic civilization down the road in funky Nelson.

Finally, there's Fernie Alpine Resort (2,500 a., 3,500 vert.), the biggest of its nearby Powder Highway cohorts and the farthest east (4.5 hours from Spokane). It averages 29 feet of powder a year, and has the tallest vertical drop in western Canada. However, weather can be mild, and it often shuts down in February. So, make plans early ... and bring an Epic Pass.

The trail map presents a classic layout: Five peaks hold five alpine bowls that drain into five distinct trail systems below timberline. Up top, it's more than 1,000 acres of blacks highlighted by Polar Peak Headwall (7,000 elev.) that's got its own chair. Innumerable pitches dive off the ridges below.

Two high-speeds and eight fixed-grips do what they can to get powderhounds up into the high country. The best stuff requires a traverse, but the freshies stay longer because of that effort.

Base village features the usual suspects, including three overnight spots and hangouts. Coal-mining town Fernie is just down the road, with turn-of-century feel and modern amenities.

 

 

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THE CATAMOUNT TRAIL CELEBRATES 40TH ANNIVERSARY

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The Catamount Trail is a winter ski route that runs the length of Vermont which was created by three young men looking for their next big adventure. In a tent on a rainy evening in August 1982 one of them said, “Let’s ski from Massachusetts to Quebec!” During the following years they got to work developing the trip and an organization. In March of 1984 Steve Bushy, Ben Rose, Paul Jarris, and for part of the time Jim Painter, strapped on their skis and went for a ski… a really long ski end-to-end from the southern border of Vermont to the northern border!

The first crossing of Vermont’s Catamount Trail in 1984

It took more than 25 years to become a contiguous trail and now 40 years old, the Catamount Trail is comprised of 31 sections, including roughly 265 different landowners, 12 municipalities, the state of Vermont, and the Federal government.  It is estimated that annually 12,000 people on cross country skis or snowshoes use some part of the 300-mile Catamount Trail.

This winter, the Catamount Trail’s founders, Steve Bushey, Ben Rose, and Paul Jarris, will be skiing all 31 sections of the trail during a 35-day period beginning on February 8th and ending on March 14th. Steve, Ben, and Paul will be joined by friends and supporters along the way as they celebrate the Catamount Trail’s 40th birthday. The Trapp Family Lodge will host a banquet fundraiser on March 3.

In late January, the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum hosted a program in Stowe, VT to discuss the history and 40th anniversary of the Catamount Trail. Ben Rose and Paul Jarris spoke while David Goodman author of Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast emceed the evening.

The Catamount Trail is a great cultural resource for the state of Vermont and the cross country ski community. The organization (Catamount Trail Association or CTA) started with a newsletter about the first planned “Trans-Vermont Ski Tour” as it was originally named and the organization continues to thrive with sponsorship, 2,500 members, and programming for backcountry aficionados and youngsters across the state to engage them with the outdoors and cross country skiing. Ben Rose commented, “We produced a newsletter and people began sending money, so we thought we had better publish a second issue.” They then initiated paperwork to develop a nonprofit organization, which the Vermont Secretary of State signed the night before they embarked on the original tour.

 CTA Tours for the public

While the CTA has permission to cross privately owned lands (60% of the trail) with the cooperation of the landowners, continued access depends upon continued good relations between skiers and landowners. The remaining 40% of the Trail crosses various types of public land that are accessible and provide a wide range of exciting landscapes to explore. The non-private land parcels of the Trail are owned by municipal governments, the state of Vermont managed by the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, and there are also thousands of acres of Green Mountain National Forest. Part of the trail is at XC ski areas in Vermont including (south to north) Mountain Top Resort, Blueberry Hill, Rikert Nordic Center, Bolton Valley Nordic Center, Trapp Family Lodge, Edson Hill Resort, Craftsbury Outdoor Center, and Hazen’s Notch.

Forty years ago, the trail originators developed the concept when they were in college and decades later Paul Jarris was a Vermont Commissioner of Health and worked with the March of Dimes, Ben Rose is currently the Vermont Disaster Mitigation Chief, and Steve Bushey owns Map Adventures, a cartography company that outlines outdoor outings in New England states, northern California, and New Mexico.

 Torey Brooks on a 2023 Catamount Trail thru-ski negotiating a stream

Looking back at the first trek, planning such an adventure was one thing and doing it was another. They traveled mostly backcountry routes and worked with maps and local guides to make their way on skis across the state. But it wasn’t easy in many parts of the state and in one instance even the local guide had to admit that he was lost. One of the results that grew from the original Catamount Trail endeavor is the land conservation and stewardship aspect that was associated with getting permission from all the landowners. Nowadays, the trail organization helps with wildlife corridors, drainage issues on the trail, developing backcountry responsibility, and collaborates with communities and other active clubs that use the land in other seasons.

 

As the evening at the Museum waned, the guys reminisced about the gear that they used back in 1984 and they responded to questions from the audience. In closing, Ben Rose commented “It will survive” when referring to the impact of climate change on the vaunted ski trail across Vermont. Matt Williams, CTA executive director said, “The Catamount Trail acts as a platform to connect communities and provide long term protection to the environment while expanding access for more people to get outdoors on the winter landscape.”

When asked about his thoughts about the upcoming trek, Paul Jarris stated “It’s going to be fun,” informing the listeners at the museum that there’s rarely snow in Virginia where he now lives so he has prepared by roller skiing on pavement with a protective helmet, mouthguard, and a padded vest. Ben Rose commented. “With all the disasters in Vermont in recent years, I’ve accumulated enough paid leave for this trip.” He followed up with “the trail connects us to the Vermont landscape – it’s poetry for humans to realize their potential and it has made me an optimist for life.” It appeared that they were ready to cross Vermont on skis again.

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Untangling Driving, Parking When Heading Into Utah's Wasatch Mountains

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Mid-winter breaks are approaching, and plenty of skiers and riders will head out to Utah to catch some of the state's famous powder days.

If you are driving a car with the intention of heading up to ski and ride at a Wasatch resort, some pre-trip tips might help streamline your trip.

Greater Salt Lake City is home for nearly three million folks, many of whom ski or ride in the winter. Plus, nearly six million others visit the city every year, many of whom ski or ride too.

The Wasatch Front alpine go-tos -- Solitude, Brighton, Alta and Snowbird -- are less than an hour's drive from city environs, as are Park City Mountain and Deer Valley. Sundance, Snowbasin and Powder Mountain aren't much farther.

Routes into the Wasatch Front are two-laners, leading to notable traffic jams. What this means is lots skiers are on the road, notably on weekends, holidays and powder days. Strategies include getting up very early, consolidating into fewer vehicles, or just chill out on the ride up and down. Or, take public transport.

If you drive, you'll have to park. Putting four in one vehicle gets priorities at most mountains. But there's not enough space for everyone. So, expect to make parking reservations and pay a fee on busy days. Capacity limits so, at worst, someone has to drop off and pick up.

Starting with the most congenial, Powder Mountain and Sundance have no restrictions. Snowbasin's free too, save for vehicles with three or more who get close-in parking. Same at Deer Valley.

Expect sellouts at the Cottonwood Canyon resorts on busy days. At Snowbird, a string of cramped parking lots offer options. Get there early for free, pay to get close to the tram, or buy a season pass to priority spots.

Neighbor Alta focuses on weekends and holiday, with reservations a $25 charge before 1 p.m. Over the hill, Solitude requires reservations prior to 11 a.m. on weekends and holidays, and it costs for parking until 1 p.m. on all days. Brighton goes simple: $20 reservations Friday through Sunday.

Park City Mountain has a combination of paid reservations, first-come first-served paid lots, high-capacity and carpooling incentives, and park-n-ride locations.

Salt Lake City has a robust, inexpensive public transportation system that works to make it convenient to let someone else drive up to the mountains. Commuter rail hooks up with shuttles on Wasatch Front, from Ogden (Snowbasin and Powder Mountain) to Provo (Sundance). There's a $20 service, Cottonwood Connect, that runs daily. High Valley Transit serves the Park City-Deer Valley area.

 

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Celestial Spectacle - 4/8/24 Solar Eclipse Visible from New England Peaks!

Photo by Justin Dickey on Unsplash

Mark you calendars and secure your special glasses! Mountain Resorts throughout the Northeast will be the perfect place for what could be a once in a lifetime event for most folks:a solar eclipse! Imagine shredding down a gorgeous snow-covered slope, then counting down the minutes to when an eerie twilight sweeps across the land, the temperature drops, and a hush falls. For up to 3 minutes and 15 seconds you'll be in another world! If you choose a peak outside the path of direct totality you can still witness a partial eclipse where the sun's corona will peek around the silhouette of the moon. Just remember to protect your eyesight and never look directly at the eclipse, Use eclipse glasses, indirect viewing, or even a pinhole projector. Keep in mind that different viewing locations will experience direct totality for different lengths of time depending on their placement in the path.

Here are a few of your best options to see it all go down:

Direct Totality:

Near Totality:

 

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Tubing Is Popular In The Midwest

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The Midwest has around 120 ski areas scattered across the Heartland several offer snow tubing, especially across the lower Midwest. It’s relatively safe, something easy to do yet can be a bit of a thrill ride depending on downhill tilt of the slope.

There are over 40 ski areas offering lift served tubing parks. Minnesota and Wisconsin lead the way with nine each, and all the ski areas in Ohio and Indiana offer tubing. It’s become very popular drawing thousands of tubers on busy weekends.

Here’s a quick tour around the Midwest highlighting some of the top ski area tubing parks.

Ohio’s Boston Mills/Brandywine, located just south of Cleveland, and has the Polar Blast Tubing park, largest in the Buckeye State. It offers, when fully open, 20 tubing lanes with two conveyor belts for easy access back to the top. The tubing park has its own lodge for easy warm up, snacks and drinks. They limit sales, buy your tickets online.

Indiana’s Perfect North Slopes, just a stone throw away from Cincinnati and not far from Indianapolis, offers one of the largest tubing parks in the Heartland. There are 23 lanes, even a couple of super lanes to accommodate families, which plunge 1200 feet down the slope and a couple of conveyor lifts for the trip back up. Weekends can be busy, but it doesn’t deter fun-loving crowds.

Hidden Valley, near St. Louis, has the only tubing park in the Show Me State. The popular Polar Plunge Tubing Park offers 16 lanes with two conveyor lifts back up.

Wilmot Mountain, just a few miles north of Chicago along the Wisconsin border, keeps Windy City tubers busy with the tubing park’s 22 lanes and two conveyor lifts. A lodge is available for snacks, drinks and warm up.

Sunburst Winter Sports Park, between Milwaukee and Sheboygan, has one of the top 10 tubing parks in the country, according to an article in USA Today. They offer 50 lanes and two conveyor lifts to keep the fun moving. A tubing café is available for snacks and drinks.

Near the Twin Cities Buck Hill offers a dozen chutes for tubing with a conveyor lift back up. Wild Mountain, about an hour east, has Wild Chutes, which offers several lanes of sledding fun and a conveyor lift. An extra-wide lane is dedicated to double-wide chains. It’s popular on weekends, but handles crowds well.

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A Three-Resort Cluster In Banff National Park Makes For Easy Road Trip

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For a trip full of high-mountain terrain, long cold winters and spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies, a trio of resorts in Banff National Park is just the ticket.

Most trips begin in Calgary and an 1-1/2 hour drive to base camp in the town of Banff. From there, three resorts beckon -- after paying an entrance fee into the national park. Elevations top out at 10,000 feet, but the slopes sit squarely in path of most Pacific storms -- and northerly latitude typically extends skiing and riding into May.

First stop is Mt. Norquay (190 a., 1,650 vert.). A classic town hill that is one of the oldest ski areas in North America (open 1926), Norquay spreads across the lower, forested skirt of Mt. Cascade (9,836 ft.).

With a mixed trail menu of 29-21-50, basic base lodge and no beds, Mt. Norquay fits into the mountain-town scene of Banff (8,000 pop.) four miles and seven switchbacks down the road. In fact, Mt. Norquay is so local that its sells a Last Hour ticket so locals can cop a couple of late-afternoon turns.

Three sections divide out among all ratings: North American, with its unique fixed-grip "pulse" chair that bunches chairs for higher uphill speed, is for experts; Cascade and Spirit chairs serve novices; and, the Mystic high-speed handles the blue runs. A Big3 season pass works here.

About 20 minutes west of town sits Banff Sunshine(3,358 a., 3,514 vert.), contained within a massive cirque. Half of the runs follow a green-blue valley floor that is perpendicular to the steeper terrain. Day-skiers can only come in via gondola from parking lot to mid-mountain base. Big3 season pass, Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective accepted.

From there, seven high-speeds -- including a heated quad -- and a pair of fixed-grips handle the flow. It can be frigid, but the season often goes into May.

On the high ground, double diamonds are short but treacherous, punctuated by three super-pitchy, sparsely marked "free zones": Goat's Eye, Wild West and Delirium Dive. Accessed by a short hike off Lookout Mountain, "The Dive" pitches off a 50-degree cornice into precipitous terrain punctuated by cliffs.

To top off the trip, mothership Lake Louise (4,200 a., 3,250 vert.) is 40 minutes up the road. Remote and imposing, Lake Louise rates 70% of its terrain in the black. It does concede much of the forested skirt to blues and greens, especially long, gentle wanderings like the five-mile Saddleback-Pika green off the summit that gives novices a hint of above-timberline skiing.

But as the trees recede, the fun begins. Frontside West Bowl's alpine chutes and glades -- opened in 2020 -- give hotshots all they can handle. Head over to the backside for some of the best bowl skiing North America has. The Summit quad, Paradise triple and Ptarmigan quad deliver powderhounds to what they dream of: Infinite lines down onerous chutes and cliffs anchored by steep, expansive glades.

Eleven lifts include four high-speed chairs and the Grizzly gondola. Backside system a bit clunky and slow, but improvements on the horizon. A broad choice of ticketing fits all abilities. No lodging at mountain. Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective welcome, as well as Big3 season pass.

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Terry Peak And Deadwood A Winning Combination

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Midwest skiers looking to combine a ski trip with a little casino action don't have to go all the way to the Lake Tahoe area to find the combination. Look no further than the Black Hills of South Dakota where you have skiing and riding at Terry Peak, with the Heartland's largest vertical drop at 1,100 feet, and plenty of casino action in the nearby infamous town of Deadwood.

Terry Peak also accepts the Indy Ski Pass, which means you can get two-and-half days of skiing at the Peak, and enjoy some fun filled nights in any of the casinos located in nearby Deadwood. It's an easy 12 mile drive from the town up to the ski area.

Located in the Black Hills, which top out around 7,200 feet, it's the tallest mountain range between the Rockies and Europe's Alps. Terry Peak is true mountain skiing offering 30 runs—some up to two miles long—a freestyle terrain park, five lifts with three high-speed quads. There are runs for all levels of skiers including some expert glades. They routinely ski and ride into April.

The Indy Pass, which focuses on independently owned ski areas, is good for two free days of skiing or snowboarding at the Peak and 25% off the daily rate for a third day on the slopes.

Infamous Deadwood is a wild west time capsule. Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried here. It's known for its gaming action with 22-some casinos lining the streets of the historic western town. Wild Bill was killed during a poker game. The town, which is less then 20 minutes from the ski area, offers some enticing lodging packages starting from around $50 per night for two people. The packages are designed to entice gamblers, but you don't have to give it all back at the tables. Hit the slopes during the day and the tables at night for a unique experience. Enjoy some western hospitality in the Heartland. You won't find this opportunity elsewhere mid-America.

Deadwood's famed Pub Crawl and St. Patrick's Celebration weekend takes place March 14-16.

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Skijoring - When Cross Country Just Isn’t Fast Enough!

Main Street Skowhegan/Jonathan Wheaton Photography

Do you have fomo over the sick outfits and full send vibes coming out of Skijoring events at Snow Days in Banff, Canada this month too? I know I do, and needed to find the Northeast USA equivalent ASAP. 

You may be asking: What the heck is Skijoring? A Norwegian word meaning “ski driving”, it’s essentially a person on skis being pulled by an animal or vehicle. You can even train your dog to do it! Gunstock Mountain in New Hampshire offers dog Skijoring lessons, and includes the needed equipment (just dress yourself and your pup appropriately). 

If you’re looking for Skijoring with horses, you should check out Somerset SnowFest in Maine for Skijor Skowhegan, Maine’s first equestrian Skijoring competition on February 24th! Horses with riders will race against the clock for the fastest time pulling their skier or snowboarder down a 1,000-foot groomed track filled with gates, rings, and even jumps. There will be separate divisions for skiers and boarders, and there’s still time to enter! If you need a partner you can check out the Skijor Maine Facebook group and find your other half.

If you’re just hoping to be a spectator, have no fear, there will be seating and a concession stand with hot food and drinks. Parking is $10, and leashed dogs are welcome. Dress warmly for this outdoor event, and consider bringing something to sit on since the bleachers are aluminum. 

 

 

 

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