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Most Epic Ski Winter Ever?

Entering this winter I had lofty ski goals. I vowed to ski my age in days, and pledged to do so at a big birthday party with all my friends as witness. Not only did I hit my mark, I exceeded 50 with a bunch of bonus ski days! This was the best winter of skiing EVER. How was your ski season?

My amazing ski season brought first tracks in Maine and a White Christmas in Vermont, cat skiing Canada to Courchevel France, ending with perfect spring corn in Colorado. 69 days at over 28 ski resorts. It was truly epic, thanks in large part to the EPIC Pass. Did you achieve your ski goals? Ski anywhere new and different?

My skis are put away, so I am reminiscing about this best-ever ski season, already dreaming of next winter’s snow and where to go!

My Top Ten from a Top Ski Season:

1. Skiing Vermont over Christmas with my daughter and husband was snow globe magic. I grew up in Vermont so I treasured being back in the Green Mountains all covered in white at Jay Peak and Burke.

2. Cat skiing in the Canadian Rockies. How ironic that we flew from Maine to the remote Monashees only to find that our cat ski companions were all from Sugarloaf! What followed? Four days of fantastic camaraderie, untouched powder, steep and deep tree skiing and hot tubbing amid Alpen Glow with our new ski friends.

3. Discovering Big White was a big win, this cool Canadian ski resort is friendly, fun, with fantastic frost-covered trees. What’s
not to love? Good snow, gorgeous groomed trails, genuine Canadian hospitality in the village, and a bonus 25% exchange rate for beer, eh?!

4. Skiing five Colorado ski resorts on one Epic Ski Pass in January was, well, EPIC! The snow goods blessed Colorado, and we skied fresh powder at Vail, Beavercreek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapaho Basin. We followed that trip with Utah, where we hit Park City and Canyons also on our Epic Pass. A lot of ski bang for our $800 bucks.

5. Powder Mountain in Utah lived up to its name. What a cool powder stash, and an up-and-coming indie resort, owned by the Summit Group. If you want to get away from Vail Resort conglomerate and crowds, Snowbasin and Powder – just a half hour apart, are gems with huge terrain, few peeps, and terrific scenery.

6. Skiing The French Alps! It had been 30 years since I’d skied France and the alpine ambiance was just as “charming” as I remembered. Jagged snow covered peaks, vast vertical descents at the biggest ski resorts in the world, alpine chalets serving fondue on the slopes, après ski dancing and drinking, followed by more refined cuisine and fine wine at five-star French hotels. Fantastique!

7. My new favorite European ski villages are Courchevel and Méribel, on par with Kitzbühel and St Anton. Val D’Isère is another classic ski town – historic and happening apres ski with La Folie Douce on-snow party that’s off-the-hook.

8. The best culinary event on the snow is “Taste of Vail” combining my three favorite things: wine, food and skiing. This is an extraordinary culinary event for the vertically obsessed. I’ve never tasted such wonderful wines – the perfect après ski in quintessential Vail resort.

9. The big splash to our end of season – watching
Vail’s World Championship Pond Skimming at Spring Back to Vail
which also featured a big name band live concert, free, with Magic in Gerald Ford’s presidential park at Vail. A musical magical ending to a 69 day ski season!

10. Two scary moments that make the highlight reel: Escaping a horrendous car crash on Vail Pass on our way to the slopes at 7am. (When it says icy roads may exist, you need to slow down even if you’re driving a four-wheel-drive Subaru. No one is invincible on ice). Surviving food poisoning in France (eating raw scallops at 10,000′, even at a Michelin 1 star restaurant, is a bad idea).

What were your top 10 ski memories of 2016-17 ski season? Remember, if you don’t set ski goals, then how can you accomplish them? Skis are stowed, pulling out the Paddleboard, the bike and the boat… but dreaming of next ski winter!

By Heather Burke, Photos by Greg Burke, Copyright 2017

Visit Heather Burke’s websites Family Ski Trips.com and  for luxury resort reviews: www.luxuryskitrips.com

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CNL, EPR, Vail Resorts- Who owns what ski resorts?

1sunrise-express-baseAre you ready for the latest in mountain mergers and alpine acquisitions? EPR Properties of Kansas City is buying up 15 ski resorts from CNL Lifestyle Properties. This shouldn’t affect your ski winter – but its wild news with wicked big numbers.

The total ski package is $830 million in a complicate formula of stock, cash and holdings and assets.

Because of the long-term lease agreements between CNL and each of the 14 resorts, no operational or season passholder big-sky-moonlightchanges are expected from the sale to EPR, which is expected to close in the spring of 2017 according to Ski Area Management, SAM Magazine.
Karl Kapuscinski, president and CEO of Mountain High and Stevens Pass, said even though the lease for the properties is changing hands, it’s business as usual. “It’s similar to a home mortgage being sold to another bank. Nothing really changes except who you write the check to.”

The EPN/CNL ski resort sale includes

2-ski-timberline2Brighton Ski Resort, Utah (Boyne Resorts)
Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Colo. (Triple Peaks)
Cypress Mountain, B.C., Canada (Boyne Resorts)
Gatlinburg Sky Lift, Tenn. (Boyne Resorts)
Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Mass. (Fairbank Group)
Loon Mountain Resort, N.H. (Boyne Resorts)
Northstar, Tahoe CA, managed by Vail Resorts
Mount Sunapee Mountain Resort, N.H. (Triple Peaks)
Mountain High Resort, Calif. (Mountain High Holdings LLC)
Okemo Mountain Resort, Vt. (Triple Peaks)
Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort, Calif. (Booth Creek)
Stevens Pass, Wash. (Stevens Pass Mountain Resort LLC)
Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, Maine (Boyne Resorts)
Summit-at-Snoqualmie Resort, Wash. (Boyne Resorts)
Sunday River Resort, Maine (Boyne Resorts)

big-sky-ianMeanwhile Vail Resorts now owns or at least operates 13 ski resorts, and half of the 10 busiest ski areas on the continent, the top three being Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, and Breckenridge.

Vail, Colorado
Beaver Creek, Colorado
Breckenridge, Colorado
Keystone, Colorado
Park City (and Canyons) in Utah
Heavenly, Lake Tahoe, California
Northstar (management contract only, purchased by EPR)
Kirkwood, Lake Tahoe, California
Whistler Blackcomb, BC Canada
Perisher, Australia
Wilmot Mountain, Wisconsin
Afton Alps, Minnesota
vail-heather-simbaMt. Brighton, Michigan

Vail Resorts also holds the RockResorts brand, with luxury ski lodging properties including The Lodge at Vail, The Arrabelle at Vail Square, The Pines Lodge and The Osprey at Beaver Creek , One Ski Hill Place at Breckenridge, and the Grand Teton Lodge Company in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Winter is coming ski friends…see you on the slopes soon!

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Heather Burke, 2016 Copyright & Photography property of Family Ski Trips & Luxury Ski Trips,

Photos by Greg Burke

Vail owns 13 Ski Resorts! Epic!

vail-heather-simbaVail Resorts is quite the mountain monopoly now. How many ski resorts can one company own? ! Apparently a baker’s dozen of  dreamy downhill destinations! The latest, Vail has purchased Canada’s biggest – Whistler Blackcomb for $1 billion.  Vail now manages 13 ski resorts, the original Vail (since 1962), plus Beaver Creek – one of my personal faves, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City (and Canyons) in Utah, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Lake Tahoe California, Whistler Blackcomb in BC Canada; Perisher in Australia; Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin; Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan. Vail now has the lion’s share of skier visit too, with 50% of the 10 busiest ski areas on the continent, among the top 3  are Whistler, Vail, and Breckenridge.

1telluride-skier-hrbSo Vail’s Epic Pass just became even more Epic for 2016-17. Enjoy skiing at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Wilmot, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton, and Arapahoe Basin, Perisher Australia, Wilmot, Afton Alps and Mt. Brighton, plus 5 days at Whistler. Next ski season, winter 2017-18, Whistler Blackcomb pass benefits will be in full force.

Add to that the impressive ski resort collection the luxury lodging brand Vail Resorts owns – RockResorts, with posh ski lodging properties including the authentic first lodging in Vail village-  Lodge at Vail, The Arrabelle at Vail Square, The Pines Lodge and The Osprey at Beaver Creek, One Ski Hill Place at jester-sugarbush-heatherBreckenridge, and the Grand Teton Lodge Company in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

I think Vail Resorts needs an East Coast ski resort or two to round out the portfolio. Perhaps Vail could buy Saddleback in Maine, its only $12 mill versus the Park City acquisition at $182 mill, and Whistler at $1.1 bill.  ? Wouldn’t a RockResort in the Rangeley Lakes region be grand all four seasons? And Vail could reopen Ascutney in Vermont perhaps?

Meanwhile, I’ve got my Epic Pass and I’m not afraid to use it! Lake Tahoe, Park City, Colorado’s Summit County and Whistler – I’m coming for ya!

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Heather Burke, 2016 Copyright & Photography property of Family Ski Trips & Luxury Ski Trips,

Photos by Greg Burke

New ski lift for Sunday River

sunday-river-chondolaAs you may have seen on facebook,  or if you hiked American Express this summer, Sunday River’s Spruce Peak triple had a mishap. The top terminal of Spruce Peak Triple “took a tumble” July 10, 2016. Can you say Risky Business? Spruce chairlift’s bullwheel detached from the ground, Sunday River management immediately reported it to the State of Maine Tramway Safety Board. Being summer, the lift was not operating.

obsession-2ski (3)Well, the squeaky wheel, a 1986 Borvig triple, gets more than grease this time – Spruce Peak will get a new Doppelmayr fixed-grip triple chairlift with a conveyor loading system, carrying skiers and snowboarders two minutes faster, but not until 2017-18 winter.

risky-business1Since the Doppelmayr ski lift guys are still designing the lift (break out  Boyne’s American Express), it won’t be ready for ski season 2016-17. You can access Spruce Peak’s trails from Aurora’s Quad to Borealis and a short hike or herringbone (do you know how to do that on skis?) up Sirius to get to the cord on American Express, Risky Business, and Downdraft. In fact those classic ski trails will likely stay corduroy longer since most folks flake at the word “hike.” Earn your turns at Spruce Peak this season.

Also getting a lift at the River is the Locke Mountain Triple, just a new top terminal – call it insurance since its similar vintage and design to the Spruce lift that toppled. In the event Locke’s facelift is also not ready for opening day at Sunday River, typically around Halloween, Sunday River says “we’ll make snow on Aurora Peak to be accessed by the Chondola.”

spruce-risky2Don’t wax too sentimental about the old Spruce Peak Triple, the new one will be just as scenic, just 120 seconds swifter to your sweet skiing. But do wax your skis, #winteriscoming.

Other new ski lifts around the country include:

big-sky-moonlightBig Sky Resort in Montana replaces the Challenger Double with a new Doppelmayr triple chair.
Big Sky’s Lone Peak triple will upgrade to a new Doppelmayr Bowl6 – six passenger bubble covered high-speed lift. #Sweet
Grand Targhee Wyoming replaces the 1974 Blackfoot double chairlift  with a new fixed-grip quad.
Vail’s Back Bowls Sun Up  fixed-grip triple will become a new high-speed quad.
1sunrise-express-baseMt Bachelor Oregon adds the Cloudchaser – a high speed quad on the eastern most terrain, opening up 635 acres at Sunrise and the catchline from the summit.
Purgatory at Durango in Colorado gets a surface lift along the valley floor between lower Bull Run and the bottom of the Legends (Lift 8) high-speed quad.
8jackson-hole-view-frcasperArizona Snowbowl, sister to Purgatory, gets its first six-pack chairlift.

Next season, Jackson Hole adds a Sweetwater Gondola between the Bridger Gondola and Teewinot high-speed quad.

By Heather Burke, photos by Greg Burke

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Heather Burke, 2016 Copyright & Photography property of Family Ski Trips & Luxury Ski Trips

 

Where to ski this summer?

1aspen-highlands-bowlWhile most of us skiers have launched boats, turned to paddleboarding, kayaks and bikes, even golf clubs, there are those bold ski souls who #neversummer and want to ski all the time, every season. Here are the latest ski conditions aroudn teh glove from our friends at SAM, Ski Area management:

Two resorts are open in North America : Timberline, Ore., and Whistler Blackcomb, B.C., Canada. The open terrain on Whistler’s glacier is primarily for training, but it does have a small open-to-the-public park. Timberline is currently spinning three lifts to access a park and a pipe. Mammoth Mountain in California wrapped up its season on July 4.

off-piste-tracksFor summer skiing in Europe,  several glacier-skiing resorts are operating with respectable snowpack. Austria has three resorts open, including year-round Hintertux, which has the deepest snow in the alps with a base of just over 92 inches and is reporting “old snow” as the surface. U.S. national team members have been training there recently. Dachstein and Kitzteinhorn glaciers are also open with similar conditions.

France’s three glacier ski areas are reporting the best July snow conditions in years, with base depths measuring about six feet—roughly four times what they were last year at this time. Les 2 Alpes and Tignes plan to be open through most of August. Val d’Isere was the first area to open, but will likely be the first to close with reports calling for July 10 to be the final day.

2marmolada-glacier-ski-offPasso Stelvio in Italy is reporting “gripping” snow accessed by all six of its lifts. Cervinia in Italy re-opened at the end of June after a steady dose of fresh snow. It’s reporting a base depth of more than six feet on 12 miles of trails. It’s possible to enjoy cross-boarder skiing from Cervinia to Zermatt in Switzerland, Zermatt as only ski area open in Switzerland isis reporting excellent July conditions.

Norway’s three glacier ski areas have no shortage of snow, with base depths measuring as much as 23 feet. Despite having plenty of white stuff to enjoy, Stryn plans to close July 19, but Folgefonn and Galdhoppigen should stay open into August.

tracksFresh snow in Australia after a slow start to the season fell on the Ausie mountains end of June, allowing every resort to open for the season, with more snow at Thredbo in July. The forecast is calling for cool temps and at least a chance of snow at higher elevations every day through the weekend, so look for more terrain to open as snowmaking continues.

3skiers-powder-sun2It’s the opposite story in New Zealand, however. After a great start,  warm fronts have melted snow cover and hindered snowmaking efforts, only a few resorts are open. The Remarkables, Cardrona, and Mt. Hutt are the only three resorts open for skiing  on a fraction of their terrain. Coronet Peak is spinning a lift for scenic rides.

The story is similar in Argentina where early snowfall allowed some resorts to open earlier than expected, followed by a drought, according to reports, and only Las Lenas and Catedral are open. Las Lenas has a max base depth of 47 inches on 10 trails, and Catedral is reporting a max depth of 3 inches on six trails served by just six of the resort’s 36 lifts.

1ski-wildcatResorts in Chile got  about 10 feet of snow in early,t more than half of the nation’s ski resorts are open including Valle Nevado and La Parva, each sporting base depths of nearly 60 inches. South Africa’s Tiffendell’s slopes and all but Afriski’s slopes are open for skiing and riding.

It’s still early winter south of the equator, and forecasts are calling for things to cool down over an extended period of time across many of the mountainous areas throughout the Southern Hemisphere.

HB_waterski09To quote John Snow, #winteriscoming so enjoy the summer, or go find snow at these ski resorts! Me, I am enjoying SUP Paddleboarding, water skiing and boating till November. See you out on the h20.

By Heather Burke, photos by Greg Burke

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Heather Burke, 2016 Copyright & Photography property of Family Ski Trips & Luxury Ski Trips

Rock Stars at Sunday River

So perhaps you have heard that Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer has opened a cafe at Sunday sunday-river-foggy-goggle-apres-skiRiver Ski Resort in Maine. That’s right, the rock and roller is rolling out his  certified organic coffee slopeside in the restaurant formerly known as the Phoenix House at South Ridge.

Sunday River’s newest dining spot is the Rockin’ & Roastin’ Café & Restaurant. Krammer is in cahoots with Les Otten, former vice chairman of the Boston Red Sox and previous owner of Sunday River and the former American Skiing Co. Makes sense that Les Otten would hand over the reigns from the Phoenix, so he can focus on his revitalization plans of the Balsams in New Hampshire.

sunday-river-skiing-risky-businessSunday River’s family friendly fun eatery Rockin & Roastin offers Aerosmith music memorabilia and menu entrees that tribute the great band. How about  ordering up “Janie’s Got a Bun” and “Livin’ on a Wedge”?

This new ski resort coffee and brew news got me to thinking, and a DownEast magazine editor asked me for ideas on other mountain diners and dives’ potential dish names. Here’s what I thought up:

“Sweet Dreams” Sugar Shack at Sugarbush, Vermont, owned by the Eurythmics

“Papa Don’t Preach” Pizza Bar serving Madonna’s Mozzarella Pie at the base of Madonna Mountain at Smugglers Notch, Vermont.

Camden Snow Bowl “Rock Lobster” shack in the Lodge – run by the B52s

“Baby You Were Born to Run” take out taco stand at Big Sky Montana, run by the boss- Bruce Springsteen

“Whip It” Coffee Bar at Sugarloaf – with baristas from Devo making frothy triangular loaf logos on everyone’s fancy coffees.

alta_utah_-heather“American Pie” pizza parlor , with Don McLean working the pizza oven at Alta.

“Freebird” Lynyrd Skynyrd free range chicken roast café at Snowbird Utah.

“Stairway to Heaven” après ski bar upstairs at Heavenly with bartender Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin

That’s all I have for today – enjoy your skiing and apres ski too, eh?!

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Heather Burke, 2015 Copyright & Photography property of Family Ski Trips

Colorado’s got the snow!

If you are tired of waiting for Eastern temperatures to drop and natural snow to dump, you 1heather-powdershould jump on a flight West where the snow is. The Rocky Mountains have great early season snow this season.

We took off from balmy Boston, landed in a Denver snowstorm, drove two hours up I-70, rode 3 lifts to the 12,500’ summit at Copper Mountain, and we were skiing deep natural snow. Our first ski run of the ski season, almost 3,000’ vertical on Copper’s front face, was breathtaking – from high-alpine down through heavenly snow-caked towering pines, long sweeping trails were covered in fresh powdery snow. We could have easily stayed at Copper for a week.  But our Colorado ski safari included four ski resort destination,  Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen Snowmass, and Winter Park– lots more skiing.


2heather-pow-treeVail is the king of Colorado skiing
, and already this season this legendary ski resort has 100” of snow and 4,500 acres open including the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin. Arriving in Vail Village, the pine trees were twinkling with lights and fresh sparkly snow, chalets roofs were loaded in white, like an Alps snowglobe. We found winter, and brilliant western blue sky, skiing 30,000’ vertical mid-December according to Vail’s “Epic Mix” app.

If you are looking for the snow, you will find it in Colorado.

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Heather Burke, 2015 Copyright & Photography property of Family Ski Trips

Vail’s Epic Ski App

1heather-simbaLeave it to Vail Resort to generate the most engaging mobile ski app – Epic Mix. From the folks who bought you the Epic Pass – a super savings season pass good at all Vail’s resorts, here is an Epic Mix app that tracks your vertical skiing, gives you real time intel on ski conditions, lift line times throughout Vail Resort, shows how your kids are progressing in ski school, and how your race time is compared to Lindsey Vonn. Epic Mix even offers up photos of you and your friends that were captured around the mountain, thanks to your scan-able RFID lift access card.

3-snowmass-sheer-blissHere’s my honest scoop on the ski app, I’m not big on apps or skiing glued to my phone… I go to the mountains to escape technology, electronics, stats and media. What I like about Epic mix is you don’t even need your phone app turned on. Just sign up, turn off your phone and go ski if that’s the way you want to play. You can check your skiing stats online or on your phone at the end of the ski day. Other ski apps- Trace and Navtronics Ski apps munch data and run down your battery.

2hrb-beaver-creekEpic Mix tracks via your ski ticket, so you can turn it on to check your stats at the end of the day or the season, even view the app on your pc, so you’re not staring at your smart phone all day and missing out on Vail’s epic scenery. Of course the new Gondola One has Wi-Fi and heated seats, a Vail’s 50th anniversary lift, if you want to check on your vert accumulated mid-day, see the line wait times at Lions Head, or reserves a lunch table with a view at the 10th Mountain Lodge at mid Vail.

The only thing better than the free Epic Mix app is Vail’s Epic Pass, which for $599 with an early season purchase (read: April for the next season) includes skiing at all 10 of Vail Resorts. Figure that a day ticket at Vail is $149, Beaver Creek is $165 – so this pass amortizes quickly with one trip out west. The Epic Mix app will track your vertical at all them, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City/Canyons, Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood.

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Heather Burke, 2015 Copyright & Photography property of Family Ski Trips

Is Schweitzer in Schwitzerland? No, Idaho.

Funny that everyone has heard of Sun Valley Idaho, but not Schweitzer. Schweitzer is a real skiers’ mountain located in Idaho’s northern panhandle – almost in Canada. And its huge, the largest ski area in Idaho and Washington, with 2,900 acres of skiing. To top it off, Schweitzer Mountain is beautiful with panoramic views as far as Montana, Washington and Canada from 1schweitzer-mountain--heatherthe 6,400’ summit.

The most impressive vista is that of Lake Pend Oreille (ear lobe in French for it shape) stretching out below, the 5th deepest lake in the US – the Navy tests submarines here. I nicknamed Schweitzer the Lake Tahoe of Idaho for its wonderful lake views and beautiful ski trails sweeping down toward the big expanse of water.

Schweitzer offers well-pitched consistent trails on the front side, about half of them well-groomed, the rest left fresh for powder hounds. On a Schweitzer snow day, you can ski dozens 2summit-view-schweitzerof shots and chutes in perfectly spaced evergreens and big bowls in between. With five unique alpine aspects, amid 2,400 vertical feet, Schweitzer skis like several ski areas in one.

 

The Snow Ghost Double with its many double black diamonds might be my favorite terrain, but then the soft groomers of Stella Six-Pack are pretty sweet too, especially Springboard. Ski for 2.5 miles on Little Blue Ridge Run, or take the more direct straight steeps of Stiles.

3-schweitzer-sign-lakesideWith big mountain skiing and a beautiful base village, Schweitzer would be a great ski destination for a few days to a week. There’s cat skiing with Selkirk Powder Cats, and the cool lakeside town of Sandpoint just 9 miles down the twisty mountain road to explore too – recently named a top emerging ski town by Ski Magazine. Ski Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Idaho if you get the chance.

By Heather Burke
Photos of Schweitzer Mountain Resort by Greg Burke

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