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Category: Ski Safety

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Learning to AT Ski – Alpine Touring

I have been on skis since age 3, so seriously I’m pretty skilled at skiing. So when hubby proposed that we try AT (Alpine Touring), you know – climbing uphill with our skis on, my eyes grew wide, my pulse raced and I twitched in discomfort.

Sounded difficult to me! Besides aren’t there perfectly good chairlifts and gondolas, even T-Bars to haul my butt up the ski hill? Wouldn’t I rather be resting while ascending and enjoying the view before my ski down? I’ve seen those hikers trudging up the side of a groomed trail with their boards on their feet, and a bulky backpack. These AT skiers always look sweaty, tired, and rarely smile. I am NOT those people, I thought.

But, for years Greg had been eyeing and pointing to snowfields and untouched descents that were not accessible from the chairlift we were riding at the time – saying “wouldn’t that be sweet”?! He pointed out with great enthusiasm that we could go further afield, find un-tracked powder, and best of all – escape the crowded trails and lift lines we’ve been encountering of late at certain conglomerate ski resorts (you know the latest iconic ski places with epically oversold passes).

I had resisted enough, Greg plans all our amazing ski trips, he’s an amazing ski buddy and guide. So I indulged him his AT dream and fall-line fantasy with “ok, we’ll try it.”

The “get away from the crowds” campaign appealed to me especially. Then I Googled the Alpine Touring calorie-burning factor – wow, and I was in (to be thin)!

Getting new AT ski gear sweetened the deal. Opening the box to my Rossignol All Track ski boots that are super lightweight, comfy, and Barbie pink – I was all smiles. I vowed not to be one of those grumpy frowning groaning sweaty AT skiers in that very moment.

Off to Austria we went, 4 weeks, with only our new AT Gear, this was a commitment. Good news though, today’s all-terrain skis, boots, bindings and poles are incredibly well-engineered so they are perfectly suitable on groomed resort runs, and adaptable to hiking (with the telescoping poles and hike mode on the bindings and boots). In fact, we practiced in our carpeted basement prior to our trip, shifting our Salomon Lab Shift bindings from ski to hike mode. We practiced sticking our skins on our skis. And we practiced finding each other with our transceivers. Neighbors must have thought us ridiculous playing hide and seek with avalanche beacons in Florida. Greg was “in an avalanche” out on our dock by the pool on a sunny 80F day – found him! Note of humility here, we take our safety precautions very seriously and we are very careful about what and where we ski, hiring a mountain ski guide typically to minimize any risk.

Our first alpine ski run in Austria was in the Zillertal Valley just a couple of hours from Munich where we’d flown in that morning on a red eye. The AT bindings felt a bit , lightweight and flimsy on my first few turns, but the Blizzard Sheeva skis and Rossi boots were so similar to my previous alpine versions. I was just getting in sych when I crossed a tip and crashed, lesson learned that AT ski do float and steer a bit differently (won’t make that mistake again – tips up).

Ironically, now that we had our off-piste ski climbing equipment, conditions were such that we were relegated to the groomers for several days. Finally, new snow set us up, and a beautiful peak sparkled in the sun beckoning us at Mountopolis Mayrhofen.

My guide Greg had studied the route but was apprehensive to do it alone the first time. Coincidentally (or not?) a nice German couple were putting their skins on, shared that they had skied the route before and offered to be our guides. “Danke, and yes please, what a kind gesture.” Having practiced, we proficiently applied our skins to our ski bases, turned on our beacons, switched our bindings to hike mode, and we were off –  hoofing it up this big mountainside.  I was so surprised by the Montana skins’ grippy nature, no slip – all grip. I couldn’t slide if I wanted to. I’d been concerned about learning the “skill” of AT – but it’s just walking uphill with skis on – literally “put one foot in front of the other” like the Winter Warlock in my favorite Christmas story. The quiet, the calm, the views – the ascent was exhilarating. There was one tricky steep herringbone turn, weird with your heel loose, I managed without grace – but success.

The excitement of learning this new ski trick soon faded as the climb went on, and on, I got warm, tired, and that summit just kept looming further away. I was grumpy, I swore four times, which Greg heard and checked on me, to which I replied “I’m FINE!” with irritated emphasis. I resisted the urge to yell, “this was your f*#c’ing idea!” (Greg’s Note: She mumbled it just loud enough for me to hear).

Then, we summited, we arrived at the top, a perfectly panoramic pinnacle, no noise, just peace and nature, and untracked snow for miles. Catching our breath, high-fiving, hydrating, taking selfies, we stowed our skins in our packs, flipped bindings back to ski mode, and we were ready for a super long lovely descent.

A steep wind-scoured drop led to pillowy powdery knolls and gently pitched wide-open fields. We bounced and whooped, and giggled, and skied and skied. Our descent eventually brought us to tree-line and more challenging skiing at lower elevation, and finally a bus stop to bring us back to the ski resort. Back to civilization, humanity, lifts and lines, but also happy hour – apres ski and we had much to celebrate! But first, ski boots off and a much-needed rejuvenating shower…

So skinning uphill, alpine touring, is not a complex skill as I had feared, it simply requires courage, stamina, fitness and a sense of adventure. It’s walking uphill with skis on… rigorous but rewarding. I still don’t see the benefit of climbing up a groomed ski resort trail only to ski that same prepared run with all the inbounds skiers and lift-riders. But getting out into virgin territory – I get it, I like it!

Now I know why you don’t see fat AT Skiers. Yes, they may look grumpy on the climb at times. I do too. It’s a serious workout. But what you may not see is the joy and sense of accomplishment at the end of an amazing off-piste run, the huge grin. You don’t see them because they are out experiencing nature, the way perhaps skiing was intended.

What NOT to say to a ski friend

“Don’t get hurt”, “be careful”, “don’t break a leg”, “I worry about you”, “don’t let anything happen to you”. This is what friends say to me when I go skiing, these people I treasure and adore… clearly they care about me too.


I don’t need extraneous fears and doubts in my head, especially when I am skiing. What I need is confidence and positivity…that’s all.  I know the dance between safety and risk when I’m skiing, I know it very well. No one is more protective of me than me! My adventures and my risks are highly calculated.

I am never “not careful”. Greg and I put safety in our skiing above all desire to adventure, well ahead of a rush to ski un-tracked, to conquer new unknown snow terrain.

Skiing is my element, the mountains, the snow, the high alpine, its my environment, my choice of passion. Skiing is my zone, but in order to have the best (safest) skiing, I need to be “in the zone” – strong, ready, resilient, confident, courageous, prepared, present. There is no place here for self-doubt, for Debbie-downers pointing out the obvi…yes skiing comes with risk. I have read my lift ticket and season pass disclaimers, have you?

Ski resorts’ legal waivers clearly state “skiing has inherent risk”.  We could talk endlessly about risk versus reward, in skiing and in all sports and activities.

Instead I’ll just proclaim skiing is safer than texting and driving,  ponder that instead of pouncing on my choice to ski and how risky it may be.

Yes, I’ve heli skied with a pack of men in Bella Coola, gone out of bounds in The Alps (as they say in France – it’s better to be off-piste than piste-off– lol) and skied with the best World Cup ski racers on the planet at Portillo Chile.

I did the Bobsled on the Olympic track in Park City (now that was dangerous), and hurt my neck for a week!
I skied the speed trial run at Verbier, loved cat skiing the remote Monashees (with a pack of salivating Sugarloafers), and look …I’m still here to write about it.

Because I take great care… of myself, my surroundings. I have immense respect for the weather, the mountains, ever-changing snow. I stay fit so I am prepared for a myriad of ski conditions and slopes. I have been educated on avalanche slides, tree-wells, avalanche protocol. I also have the utmost respect for those who work in the ski biz, from liftees to groomers, to patrol and 1st responders.

Last but not least, I love my own body and know its strengths and weaknesses.

Don’t wanna get injured… been there, done that. Don’t wanna die either, haven’t done that – not ready – so much more to explore, so much life yet to live…  I also want to LIVE life to the fullest, not from the safety of my “living room”, the sidelines are not for me …thank you.

Would you tell an Indie car drivedon’t crash” or the crazy Wallendas “don’t slip and fall”? At our summer camp in Maine, my sis in law shouts “don’t fall” just as the waterski boat pulls and you are getting up on water skis. Hey, thanks…didn’t need that seed planted right now. When my friend Mary announced she’d be climbing to Everest Base Camp, I gave her only positive encouragement, not “you could die” because she knew that. Proud of her… delighted to hear of her adventure firsthand. She planned, prepared and had success!

I enter every adventure with thoughtful consideration and caution, a heady approach and  acknowledgement of worst case scenario, but also enthusiasm and a vision of best outcome – as a goal…which we often achieve. Visualizing our safe outcome, with proper preparation and fitness, is highly effective, especially at high altitude. Self-doubt, or voices in your head telling you not to get hurt, does not play in your favor. There is no room for uncertainty when you are in a steep white room, untracked, unknown…you  need your best self. I channel my nerves and anxiety (yes, I do get nervous) into positive energy, along with a little self pep talk.

I will digress to say I am so blessed to have friends who genuinely care about me, my health and well-being, as I do them. Friendship is such a gift… caring about another human being that’s not your family, but someone you choose to share with, and laugh with, is one of life’s greatest gifts….perhaps the best of all! Because friendship… well, you earn it…the trust, the experiences – from the silly to the sublime, the camaraderie, the crazy, the loyalty, the acceptance and appreciation of knowing each other quirks. I love my friends! #iloveus

So my friends, next time you want to say “don’t get hurt”, instead say “have fun” or “I look forward to seeing your ski photos” and “let’s celebrate when you get back”, “do what you love”. I will in turn be as supportive of my friends’ crazy (ok, risky) passions and pastimes: running (oh geez your knees), sky-diving (OMG), making candles (hot wax – yikes), sunbathing (burn baby burn),  beach boot camp (ok – not so risky – just sandy, early morning and not fun).

I’ll be skiing (safely) with good vibes, thank you very much. It’s what I love, it challenges me, makes me happy, healthy, accomplished, vibrant.

Do what you love, love what you do, know the risks, picture the rewards, life is an adventure… go get yours…

By Heather Burke, Photos by Greg Burke
Family Ski Trips Luxury Vacation Guide


Safety bars on ski chairlifts?

Upon loading a chairlift, do you lower the safety bar when you’re skiing?
I do… always have, always will. I like the protection of a restraint bar when traveling 20-50-feet above the cold hard ground with no other “safety net” to speak of. Quad chairlifts (for example) are swift, heavy, 500-pound, metal objects traveling at 1,000 feet per minute. Think about the logistics when a lift stops for some “gaper” that misses loading at the base, a boarder that hooks an edge when unloading?!

I also love a chairlift footrest to rest my 12-pound skis, plus the 5-pound ski boots, a short respite for the 5-8 minute ascent, before my next ski down the mountain.

Bonus, most ski lift safety bars also help define the space in which I should sit, and similarly where my chair neighbors should fit their butt, their backpack, poles and gear. Just like on an airplane, I put the armrest down so you “stay on your side”. Flashback to my parent’s station wagon backseat with my two brothers. I digress…

Skiing out west, Colorado, Utah, California, I am flabbergasted by the number of skiers and riders who do not put down their safety bar. The rope speed on detachable lifts is swift, 16 feet per second. Think about that momentum if it comes to a sudden stop.

Chairlift emergency stops can and will happen. Picture your slippery ski pants, perhaps with a little snow or ice build-up on the chair, and no safety bar to stop your forward inertia. Where is your ass going to slide?

Snowboarders, sorry dudes, in particularly seem to think its cooler to hang out without the protection of the safety bar. So when I happen to join a group of dudes, or dudettes, on a six pack or quad, I politely ask if we can please put the bar down. Inevitably they reply “no problem”, “sure,”… some even comment on how the foot rest “is actually quite comfortable.”

Recent ski tragedies bring the importance of a safety bar to new gravity – literally. A Park City Ski Patroller recently fell from the Shortcut chairlift to his death. So sad, our condolences to his family and friends. Shortcut is a fixed grip chair, a tree fell on the line causing the chair to bounce. The chair also likely stopped very abruptly. Was his safety bar down? Uncertain. But had the safety bar been down, you’d think it would have prevented the fall of over 25’?

In recent years, a ski mom and her two children at Grandby Ranch in Colorado slid from their chair when the lift started traveling backwards. The mom died from her fall and impact. Why didn’t they have the safety bar down? Others on the malfunctioning lift had their bars down, and they remained in their chairs, uninjured. Its so simple.

Vail Resorts company-wide policy requires all employees to “restrain themselves by lowering the safety bar when riding a chair lift.”

New Englanders tend to bigger adopters of chairlift safety bars. According to Vermont Tram Safety, “Always bring down the restraint bar. Before you lower the bar, make sure your child is safely seated and then ask others if they’re ready for the bar. Teach older kids to do the same. Getting off, raise the bar when prompted by signs, not before.”

Is it a wild-west phenomenon to disregard the safety bar? A few lifts out west don’t even have a safety bar. The A Lift at Copper Mountain seems precarious with no protection on this upper mountain, often windy, old double. Ditto the Edelweiss double chair to the summit of Alpental at Snoqualmie in Washington which has no safety bar, not even an old school safety gate!

In Europe, lowering the safety bar immediately upon loading a chair is the law in most regions. Many chairlifts in The Alps have automated safety bars that lower immediately, latch and lock just after loading. And the safety bar mechanism doesn’t unlock until you reach the top station, when the bar releases and rises just as skiers and riders enter the unload area. Its seamless, no discussion, no option.

Its fascinating, ok silly, to me when skiers lift the safety bar a full two or three towers prior to the unload ramp. To me, keeping that bar down until I am safely in the unload area is most important. The likelihood of a stoppage is continual, and I don’t want to fall out of the chair where there is any big gap to the ground. Especially with slippery little kids whose backs don’t reach the seat back, so they are already poised forward on the chair. Besides, there is plenty of time to lift the bar, it takes all of 5 seconds, once you announce “bar up.”

I am all about personal freedoms, I’m from New Hampshire – the “live free or die” state. Bode Miller and I love the freedom that only skiing brings.

But safety bars on ski lifts are just that – “safe”! And a simple metal bar certainly doesn’t infringe upon your freedom. If I ride the chair with you, I will politely announce, or request if I sense people are not “ready”bar people”, that I prefer to put the safety bar. So pay attention, be aware, don’t lean your helmet head forward in the way of the bar coming down. And please refrain from saying “good thing I’m wearing a helmet,” if you are leaning so far forward that the bar taps your skid-lid.

In The Alps, by the way, no one asks, it’s just standard protocol, you load the chairlift, sit down, the bar is coming down. Go ski the Alps, you’ll see!
Happy trails ski friends! See more on ski etiquette and the Skiers Responsibility Code.

Are you skiing next winter?

92% of Polled Skiers Say YES
Following 2020, the majority of skiers plan to be on the slopes next season, and they expect ski areas to take safety measures.

Of  almost 3,500 skiers surveyed in early June, 92% indicate they definitively or probably will go ski next winter!

Ski Travel Plans?
41% surveyed plan to ski locally
31% plan to take one or more long distance ski trips plus skiing locally
25% plan one or more long distance trips
42% indicate planning a ski trip to the US Rockies
15% planning a ski trip to the Eastern US
14% plan to visit the Canadian Rockies
10% will consider planning a ski trip Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, or South America.

Rating the importance of preventive measures ski resorts can take to control the virus:
88% say continuous sanitizing in public areas ( dining, lodge, restrooms) is extremely important. 
74% indicate social distancing in dining areas, lift lines and other public spaces is very important. 
59% said requiring facemasks on lifts and in public spaces is important.
50% favored daily limits on numbers of skiers and boarders at an area as very important.

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What Skiers Spent Last Season – When asked what they spent on skiing 2020 season including ski gear, clothing, lodging, food, and lifts?
51% spent  under $2500
29% spent  $2500 -$5000
20% spent $7,500 or more. 

The survey respondents of this Seniors Skiing Survey Monkey June 2020 poll are 73% male; 27% female.

So the question is… if Seniors are brave and bold enough to plan to ski this ski season, are YOU?

Copyright and photos property of Family Ski and our sister site The Luxury Vacation Guide

The Future of Skiing

We are all eager to ski again, especially since our 2019-20 ski season ended abruptly with Covid closures mid-March. All Corona puns aside, our ski experience will change for the foreseeable future. What will never change is the joy of skiing, the freedom on being outside on a glorious snow-covered mountainside, the rush of flying downhill, the pull of gravity and the g-force of well-arced turn. Arriving at your ski resort next season though… will feel different…

So what does skiing look like next season? Some thoughts on crushing cord and cruising pow in pandemic times.

PPE? Skiers and snowboarders are already pretty accustomed to wearing goggles, gloves, facemasks, so that’s not a big shift for skiers. We can adapt our alpine ensembles accordingly.

“Ride with your party” may well be the new protocol. No that’s not party as in “hey nice to meet you, let’s party!” conversations on the chairlift. New social distancing while skiing could mean you only ride the chair or load the gondola with your family members that you arrived with. I loved (yes past tense) meeting new peeps on the chairlift, a behavior that is likely benched for now. I suppose Six and Eight passenger chairs might be able to allow two singles or two couples seated on opposite ends. Is that 6’ of separation (liftees please chime in)? Do you put the Big Sky or Okemo bubble down during your ascent or keep the air flowing? I do love the bubble on cold, windy, wet snow days, but I am willing to make concessions – fresh air for freshies.

Singles line! No more. This one makes me sad, as it’s a great way to meet peeps when you’re skiing alone, with the added benefit of circumventing a potentially long lift line.

Ski-Times” like golf Tee-Times are being considered for gondolas, even trams. Imagine reserving your Gondi or Tram time. Your 9:15am car is ready and sanitized for you, and you are instructed to “please proceed and ride only with your party.”

Trams are admittedly a tricky situation.  I am picturing last season’s Snowbird and Jackson Hole’s tram lines and tram cars absolutely packed on a powder morning. A thing of the past?  Ski resorts may have to configure capacity with appropriate distancing and only load that number of skiers and riders, with X marks where you are to stand on the tram floor. I do love the window spot… will there be a premium for that? Kidding, I hope. Maybe trams are on hold for next season, or by reservation only. You may have to work harder to get that big vert at the ‘Bird then. Stay tuned.

Pomas can make a strong come back, naturally distanced and isolated with a disc between your legs – oh the retro fun! Mad River Glen should thrive with their Single Chair, naturally quarantined on your one-seater for your long lonesome ride up!

T-Bars you’ll be paired only with your partner, otherwise you ride solo and do the balancing act with an L under your butt. Skilled snowboarders have been mastering this for years.

Speaking of lift lines, will corrals need to be bigger to keep skiers and riders 6 feet apart in the queue? I’m pondering a few resort that already have limited space for their lift line corrals without interrupting skier flow out onto the trail or into the resort base space.

Limited Skier Visits? Will ski resorts need to limit the number of skiers on the mountain for the day to avoid long lines and over-crowding? Powder Mountain in Utah has been limiting to 1,500 ski tickets sold each day for years, making for a genuinely unique experience on their vast 7,000+ acres. Deer Valley limits ticket sales to assure everyone has a seat at lunch, they’ll have to reduce and reconfigure that seating now.

Mountain Lodges serving food, and ski area restrooms, will have to mandate greater spacing and more strict cleaning policies (well, I’m sure I’m not alone in welcoming that at certain ski area bathrooms – lol). Buffets are likely bye-bye. I did enjoy Vail’s Two Elk salad bar, The Summit at Snowbird’s central self-serve too. As a safer template, Snowbasin has a well-designed “Servery” in the palatial Earl’s Lodge at the base of the slopes with an excellent cafeteria style service . Thinking about Snowbasin’s Turkey Pot Pie right now! Mmmm.

As for Passes, many ski resorts are offering very forgiving season pass promises  to encourage you to commit to next season. Vail’s Epic Pass has Epic Coverage – offering 2020-21 pass purchasers free insurance with refunds available in the event of resort closures (e.g. COVID-19), job loss, illness, even injury, a full or prorated refund. Also EpicPass buyers this past season can receive a credit on next year’s purchase of 20 to 80% depending upon their usage last winter. Since Vail Resorts tracks your every move on their mountains, they are able to calculate your usage, and contact you directly with their tabulation. So all those metrics and data collected can help you – or hurt you – if you hit big mountain milestones on Vail Resort’s EpicMix leaderboard – they know.

IKON pass holders are offered a $200 credit ($100 for the IKON Base Pass) toward next season’s pass, and IKON has added Adventure Assurance giving the flexibility to defer your pass to 2021-22. So there’s some compensation from IKON Pass at their 43 ski resorts combined on one pass.

Uphill skiing has already been trending upwards in recent years. This no-lift ski approach to alpine should continue to thrive as skiers seek out back-country experiences and true distancing. Hopefully uphill skiers will access remote terrain with appropriate snow safety and avalanche awareness, versus just skinning up groomed slopes and skiing down resort trails (poaching) without paying their share by buying lift tickets or a pass, or paying only $10 bucks. Ok, its a pet peeve of mine.

Après Ski? Say goodbye for now to the packed party scene at the Matterhorn, Foggy Goggle, Red Lion, Trap Bar, Grizzly… all of our favorite après ski bars …the list goes on…  Some ski regions were hot spots for “sharing” the virus last ski season. Après ski at Ischgl come to mind. We’ve skied this Austrian resort and can report the Alps-style après ski is huge, lots of hugging, and chugging, dancing, sharing drinks and super close contact included! Yeah, that’s no longer the scene ski friends (insert sad face here).

Ok, so we have more questions than answers about next season’s ski experience. Travel to the Alps, I doubt it? Japan, um no. Big events, probably not? It’s a curious time, unprecedented.

But if there is a will, there is a way. I know the ski industry and our community of skiers are resourceful passionate people and there will be a plan to SKI! I will not even contemplate ski resorts NOT opening next winter, call me naïve, I prefer optimistic and hopeful …

Stay well, stay safe, stay in ski shape –  winter is coming!

Heather –  Travel Writer, Skier since 1969

Copyright and photos by Greg Burke property of Family Ski and our sister site The Luxury Vacation Guide
  Follow @FamilySkitrips  

Social isolation – oxymoron?!

I love to travel, to ski, and I am a very social person ( I hear some of you chuckling- understatement)… therefore “social isolation”, travel bans and ski resorts closing for the season in mid-March have me in quite a quandary (okay – totally bummed out)! Did I mention that late March early April is my favorite time to spring ski and travel to fun events like Taste of Vail in the snowy sunny mountains? I love Sunrise Service via chairlift and skiing with my family on Easter. Cancelled…all of it.

Returning safely from our recent  “epic” ski trip to Canada, I am so exhilarated.  Epic – since it included Epic Pass partner resorts Fernie, Kimberly and Kicking Horse, and Ikon-ic Sunshine Village and Norquay in Banff.

I love traveling, but I am always equally grateful to come home. This return trip, passing through ghostly vacant airports with passengers donned in facemasks and gloves – avoiding even eye contact with each other, I felt the pandemic, panic, paranoia and our ominous new reality. … We are as fragile and susceptible as we are free and strong.

Seeing our big U.S. flag as I crossed the border, I was teary eyed, thinking of my love of home. Turns out I’ll be spending a lot of time – literally “at home.” Fortunately I can walk to a beautiful beach and breathe fresh air by the sea in my special town of Kennebunkport – I am blessed. We should never take for granted our independence, our opportunities to explore, and also our responsibilities as American citizens to respect one another and do the right thing for everyone’s benefit – not just our own.

So I will self-quarantine, with my ski partner and husband Greg. I don’t like it, but it’s the socially responsible thing to do. I miss my friends already (Day 36) …. But studies show this is the best way to reduce the spread of this powerful Covid. By the way, I don’t care for Corona, but can we please stop using that nomenclature? It’s not fair to the fun beer company best with lime!

Let’s be mindful of others – students who may not get to graduate with their class, of elders denied visits from their families, of medical personnel at risk caring for others who will be more overwhelmed if we don’t practice social distancing, of those who are ill. The sooner we do it, the sooner its done!

My spring ski trip to Vail seems trivial… still disappointed though 😉 I won’t achieve my goal ski days – just sayin’. Only 40 ski days this season, versus 60 last…

I respect ski resorts’ decisions to close for the safety of their people, both staff and guests. Businesses will feel the pinch, we all will in respective ways – except Charmin apparently – who’s hoarding all the TP?!

“Social distancing” saddens me, just typing the oxymoron feels wrong, as I like nothing more than to see friends and family following a travel adventure. Not this time… because I love them – I will not socialize with them right now. I’ll be posting travel stories – we are all armchair travelers for the time being. I may even post some amazing ski pictures – not to be annoying (lol), but as a promise of future adventures.

Airlines and most travel companies have been generous with their cancellation policies, so that we may all resume travel when it is deemed safe.

I look forward to emerging from isolation/quarantine and seeing you all – healthy, happy. We will all look back on 2020 with 20/20 and a renewed appreciation of our health, our opportunities, and each other. Until then virtual hug and love to your & yours,

Heather –  Travel Writer, Friend, Grown-up

Copyright and photos property of Family Ski and our sister site The Luxury Vacation Guide
  Follow @FamilySkitrips  

Chairlift Chats

Part of my love for skiing is the people… skiers bring such contagious energy to an otherwise chilly snow sport. From first chair to last and flowing into aprés ski, there’s a kinship among alpine enthusiasts.

One of my favorite aspects of skiing is meeting new people on the lifts, striking up conversations within the confines of our 5 minute ride up the mountain. I have met some rally “cool” peeps in my ski travels…. pun intended. Hey chairlift chats really do keep you warm, or at least distract you from the chill. Besides, there is so much to learn from fellow skiers. We share the same passion, serious commitment to our gear, our ski fitness, our  desire to travel to new peaks, and our love of skiing snowy covered mountains from fall to spring, from nearby to far far away.

My kids would eye-roll when I’d engage in a chair chat with our new quad sharing neighbor. Now they’re grown and they do it too. It’s a great way to pass the time (5-10 minutes) on your ascent, be it in a cozy gondola where its downright awkward not to talk (god forbid someone fart), a bubble covered chair which is very conducive to good acoustics, or an open air chair (btw: a better place to “pass gas” as my mum would say).

On chairlifts, I have met colleagues- literally – people I went to college with at University of Vermont- on a Gondola in Vail and the quad at Stowe. I have connected with friends of friends and sent selfies to mutual friends from a chairlift in Park City, ran into (not literally) my brother’s first roommate in Big Sky, and extreme skier Dan Egan. I’ve met pro ski racers (Ted Ligety), the snow reporter looking for someone to photograph in the fresh snow for the day’s social media post  (yes, that’s happened 3xs),ski reps from Atomic, Rossi, Parlor, Liberty, Kulkea – good peeps to know, right?! Sure beats sitting in cold silence. Don’t you think?

A natural starter topic is to chat about the weather, a classic ice breaker – you can bitch about the cold, or boast about today’s snow, pontificate the forecast. Is today a “Top 5” day or what?!

Ski equipment is a conversation magnet for alpinists…we’re gear obsessed as a ski society. Hey, how do you like those skis in the powder? But do they hold a grip on the hard pack? Those heated gloves you are wearing – “cool” – but how warm are they – I want to know for how long, how much, how effective, worthwhile or not? So much to share, learn and laugh about in this finite ski world with infinite possibilities. And on it goes…

My favorite ski topic: ski resorts you’ve visited and where’s your favorite ski destination… best ski day ever? The topics are endless, the lift rides are not – endless – so if there is no social synergy, you’ll be unloading soon.

Friendships have formed with these folks on the lift and in lift line, ever-early Wayne at Sunday River, Mark & Ken at Gondi 1 -Vail Colorado, Darian at Sugarbush (she rips)…. The list goes on…. I love these skiers (and snowboarders – I don’t discriminate one plank vs two) for their friendliness and openness to discussion, and their dedication to our mutually beloved sport.

Technology has me concerned, specifically – ear buds, skull candy, and cell phones on the slopes and how they’ve isolated and even eliminated the natural flow of conversation among everyone- including skiing “strangers” who could easily become buds. You can at least share a laugh and an engaging opinion or outlook given your commonality as the 4% that ski and ride. My kids laugh (or eye-roll) when my “hello” goes unanswered to my chairlift neighbor because their ears are filled with music-playing wires. Or worse, I respond to my chair neighbor’s question “hey how are you doing?” only to discover they are on their cell phone talking with someone else not present… literally not present.

In Switzerland, chairlift and gondolas rides are surprisingly quiet. I guess the Swiss are conservative and not very chatty. Greg and I always try to engage… in The Alps its become a game, even with our limited German. We’d love to hear more about skiing Europe from the genuine source…. but we haven’t scored very many Swiss friends…yet. One Swiss gent said, “We’re too tired between ski runs to talk”…. hmmm. Ski lift conversations give me energy, its not tiring- its engaging, I am infused with passion from like-minded ski fans. Downloading details on a recent ski trip is anything but a downer, it’s an upper for me while riding uphill. Hearing about an epic adventure from a ski friend is not only interesting but inspiring…. So many resorts to visit – love to get the firsthand perspective to help steer future trips.

I hope technology, which has so many benefits (RFID lift tickets, vertical tracking, weathercasting…) doesn’t erode the social aspect of skiing. I love to ski, and I love to talk to equally passionate skiers. Isn’t that why we love après ski (aside from the quenching libation and music)?

See you on chairlift in the future and perhaps we can become friends too – not like “facebook friends” but like in IRL (in real life). Cheers to chairlift chats.

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