The West’s Best Hostels For Winter Sports Enthusiasts

backcountry skiContrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be young, broke, or drunk to stay at a youth hostel. I’ll be the first to admit not all hostels are created equal, but as a perpetually cash-strapped journalist in her 40s, they’re often my only option for indulging in the snowy outdoor pursuits I love. Fortunately, there are clean, efficient, well-run hostels throughout the West that make a stay pleasurable, rather than painful.

There are other good reasons to bunk down at a hostel, whether it’s a dorm, private, or shared room. If you’re planning to play all day (and possibly night), who needs an expensive room? Hostels are also great places to meet like-minded people to hit the backcountry or slopes with – a huge advantage if you’re traveling solo.

Most hostels also possess a decidedly low-key, “local” atmosphere where you’ll get the inside scoop on where to cut loose (on the mountain or off). In many instances, hostels also offer tours or activities, or partner up with local outfitters, which make life easier if you don’t have a car or require rental equipment. Also…free coffee.

Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorite Western hostels, based upon their proximity to snowy adventure:

St. Moritz Lodge
, Aspen, CO

I’ve been a regular at this place for a decade now, and I’m still smitten. Its groovy, ’70s-meets-Switzerland ambience; friendly, helpful staff; clean, well-lit rooms, and free mega-breakfast kick ass…what’s not to love? It’s just a few minutes walk from the slopes, and free parking is plentiful. A dorm bed is $44, and a private room/shared bath $95, high season.

The Abominable Snowmansion, Arroyo Seco, NM
Just outside of Taos is this classic, rambling old hostel with a communal feel. Arroyo Seco is an adorable mountain hamlet (all you need to know is that Abe’s Cantina gives great green chile). A private room/bath at this hostel is $59 in winter, and the region abounds with backcountry opps and natural hot springs.banff national park HI-Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel, Banff National Park, Alberta
The photo at right shows the sauna at this off-the-grid cabin near stunning Lake Louise. If you’re good with no shower and using an outhouse, this 20-bed spot will keep you cozy after a day ice-climbing, snow-shoeing, or skiing the backcountry.

Grand Canyon International Hostel
, Flagstaff, AZ

Owned by the same people who have the janky Du Beau hostel in town; I recommend this place instead, which is located in a historic, multi-story building minutes from downtown. “Flag” has loads of opportunities for outdoor buffs, from backcountry, to downhill skiing at Arizona Snowbowl, 20 minutes away. The hostel also offers year-round tours to the Grand Canyon, 80 minutes away. Flagstaff itself is a happening little college town; before heading out for the day fuel up on caffeine and divine, house-baked goods at Macy’s European Coffeehouse (I accept bribes in this form).

Alyeska Hostel, Girdwood, AK
Girdwood is pure Alaska-weird. Moose wander the main street, and quirky locals are just as likely to invite you to an all-night kegger in the snow as they are to take you cross-country skiing (the bonus of being female in Alaska, I discovered). This tidy hostel will set you back $20 for a bunk bed, making it the best deal in (a very, very small) town.

Hostel Tahoe, King’s Beach, CA
I’ll be honest; I’ve never bothered to stay in a hostel in Lake Tahoe for two reasons: dirt-cheap motels abound, and my brother lives there. But I came across this place researching this story, and it looks great. You’ll need to self-drive or shuttle to ski (it’s mid-way between South and North Shore, but right by a bus stop servicing Northstar, Squaw, and Alpine Meadows), and it looks infinitely more pleasant than some of the budget lodging I’ve enjoyed in Tahoe in the past. King’s Beach is old-school Tahoe at its best: funky, boozy, and a bit down-at-the-heels.

Crested Butte International Hostel, CO

Cheap lodging is tough to come by in Colorado ski towns, which is what makes this place such a find. Eighty dollars for a private queen with shared bath in downtown CB is a hell of a deal, and a $39 dorm bed can’t fail to make cash-strapped skiers and snowboarders happy. This is also the place to induct hostel-phobic friends or partners. I find it rather sterile, but it’s spotless, quiet, and kid-friendly. With two apartments for families ($184/night) and off-site condo rentals also available, CBIH makes family vacay do-able. Bonus: loads of free parking, and just 100 yards from the free mountain shuttle (Mt. Crested Butte is 3 miles away).

Fireside Inn Bed & Breakfast and Hostel
, Breckenridge, CO

This sprawling, historic old home converted into a warren of rooms is a treasure if you’re a lover of hostels. Friendly and walking distance to downtown (you can shuttle to the Breck Connect Gondola, Peak 7 and 8, and the Nordic Center), it’s got the patina of years on it, but it’s cozy, homey, and a great place to meet like-minded travelers. Love.

The Hostel, Jackson Hole, WY
In this spendy little ski town, affordable accommodations are rare as a ski bum with a Platinum card. Located at the base of Teton Village, The Hostel offers dorm beds and private rooms. Backcountry fans will love being just one mile away from the glory of Grand Teton National Park (be sure to check park website for information on restrictions or necessary permits)

[Photo credits: skier, Flickr user Andre Charland; hostel, Flickr user Mark Hill Photography]

Nordic Skiing Basics

The New Reno: Yes, Virginia, There Is Gentrification

renoI’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that Reno has historically not been one of my favorite places to visit. But I spend a fair amount of time passing through, because my brother and his family live nearby, in the ski town of Truckee. Flying into Reno is convenient for anyone wanting to visit Lake Tahoe.

For years, my brother, Mark, has been telling me that Reno is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, what with the implementation of Wingfield Park – the city’s kayaking park that runs through downtown – and the Truckee River Walk with its galleries, cafes, and brewery. But don’t worry: Reno is still The Biggest Little City in the World, rife with the requisite prostitutes, crack houses, tattoo parlors, pawn shops and all the unsavory characters one would expect to find.

Yet, I discovered a younger, gentler, hipper Reno over Thanksgiving when I was in Truckee. Reno is trying to dial down its hard-core gambling, all-you-can-eat, come-all-ye-societal-fringe-dwellers rep. The most noticeable change is the gentrification underway along the South Virginia Street Corridor, the major north-south business artery. The street is paralleled to the east by a mix of decrepit and charmingly restored Victorian and Craftsman homes. Housing, Mark says, is ridiculously affordable.

I did a book signing over the holiday off South Virginia at a bustling new cheese shop, Wedge. A lovely addition to the area, Wedge has an excellent selection of domestic and imported cheese, as well as house-made sandwiches, specialty foods and primo charcuterie. Want a good, affordable bottle of wine, some soppressata, and a hunk of award-winning, Alpine-style cow’s milk cheese from Wisconsin? Wedge has it.

When Mark and I arrived at the shop, he commented on how much the area was changing, citing the soon-to-be-open wine bar, Picasso and Wine, next door. The employees cheerfully agreed that there were lots of exciting developments underway, but that “there’s a crack house just two doors down.” They weren’t joking, either. We were parked in front of it.renoClose to Wedge is Midtown Eats, an adorable, farmhouse-modern cafe, and Crème, a sweet breakfast spot specializing in crepes. Get lunch at popular soup-and-sandwich spot Süp, imbibe (and eat) at Brasserie St. James brewery, Craft Beer & Wine, and mixology geek faves Reno Public House, and Chapel Tavern (over 100 whiskeys on shelf!). Making dinner in your rental ski cabin or condo? Visit the Tahoe area’s only Whole Foods.

If you’re in need of some sweet street-style, hit Lulu’s Chic Boutique or Junkee Clothing Exchange. If it’s your home that’s in need of an inexpensive upgrade, Recycled Furniture is the place. As for those tats and street drugs? You’re on your own.

Future plans for the South Virginia Corridor include greater emphasis on facilitating more pedestrian-friendly walkways, public spaces featuring art installations, fountains, and benches, and street-scaping. Gentrification may not always be welcome, but for Reno, it’s the start of a whole new Big Little City.

[Photo credits: Reno, Flickr user coolmikeol; bike path, VisitmeinReno.com]

Video: Life In The Ruby Mountains

Heli-Skiing in Ruby Mountains, NevadaNestled in the mountains of northeastern Nevada is a fantastic little ski resort that delivers an unbeatable experience for skiers and snowboarders looking for something completely different. As you would expect, Ruby Mountains provides visitors with a comfortable and inviting lodge, featuring some of the finest cooking around. But when guests leave the lodge behind, the true adventure begins. That’s because Ruby uses helicopters to provide access to more than 200,000 acres of backcountry skiing, giving visitors the opportunity to shred miles of pristine and untouched powder. Better yet, they won’t have to share all of that terrain with anyone other than Ruby Mountains guests, which makes the entire experience an intimate and memorable affair.

The video below is a beautiful one, particularly for a promo. It gives us a great sense of what a stay at Ruby is all about, both in the lodge and out in the powder. The first half of the video will have you licking your lips over the delicious looking food and comfortable atmosphere, while the last portion will get your adrenaline pumping for some outdoor adventure. The snow conditions look absolutely spectacular.

If you’re a skier or snowboarder who has been just about everywhere else in North America, you’ll definitely want to put Ruby Mountains on you radar.

[Photo Credit: Ruby Mountains]


Life in the Ruby Mountains from Joseph Royer on Vimeo.

Reno’s ‘Cheese Truck’ Subject Of Quirky Documentary

“Reno, Nevada. The Biggest Little City in the World. Famous for our casinos, quick divorces, and legalized prostitution.”

So goes the opening narration to “The Cheese Truck,” a funny little documentary made by Jason Spencer of Storm Front Productions. The 26-minute film follows what amounts to a day in the life of GourMelt owners/drivers/cheese geeks Jessie and Haley, as they feed Reno’s hungry masses.

This gem of a film caught my attention for three reasons: I just flew in from Reno last night, after spending a week in Lake Tahoe visiting my brother and his family; I work in the cheese industry and did a book signing at Wedge, Reno’s new (only?) cheese shop, six days ago, and I couldn’t believe someone had made a movie about Reno’s on-trend food scene. Ouch.

“The Cheese Truck” may also gently poke fun, but its objective is to show viewers how much work goes into operating a food truck, as well as highlight Reno’s Renaissance. As my experience at Wedge also showed, there are a lot of fun things popping up in the Biggest Little City, especially the South Virginia Street Corridor neighborhood.

Look for more details on the second coming of Reno next week. I’ll tell you where to find a great bottle of wine, used combat boots, and handcrafted soppressata, amongst the tattoo parlors and crack houses.


Halloween Costumes For Travel Lovers

harajuku girlIs your love of travel part of your identity? Have you trawled every Southeast Asian backwater, and explored the twisting streets and alleyways of little-known European cities? Whether your adventurous spirit takes you abroad for work or pleasure, chances are you’ve seen enough of the planet to know that certain stereotypes exist for a reason.

This year, Gadling decided to come up with some Halloween costume ideas based upon our collective experience as world travelers. Don’t take offense: We’ve all been guilty of travel crimes or attire that make our country of origin painfully obvious. Just remember, there’s a fine line between funny and racist. Don’t cross it.

Trustafarian Backpacker in Southeast Asia (gender-neutral)
Your costume consists of dreadlocks, “indigenous” necklace and bracelet, Lao beer T-shirt, Thai fisherman’s pants, and at least one tribal/Chinese character tattoo (mistranslation optional). This is my variation on Pam Mandel’s “Chiang Mai Blogger,” which includes “a MacBook Air, Nikon DX000 (one-year old, bought at bugout time), fully-stocked 401k, and crumpled-up absentee ballot, because ‘it hardly matters.’”

Euro Trash Guy
Super pointy, expensive leather shoes, douchey scarf, and tight pants n’ high thread-count tee are de riguer. Style a fashion mullet, don your trendy shades, and talk about your last holiday on Ibiza. Chain smoke, and offer mints to fellow partygoers, telling them it’s Ecstasy. Eek!

Harajuku Girl
Striped thigh-high socks, baby-doll dress or plaid school girl skirt, choppy blond or colored wig, outlandish eye makeup (or try mega-size false lashes), and crazy-high platform shoes. Don’t forget the “Hello Kitty” accessories.

hippyLas Vegas Bachelorette Party Chick
“A sash, saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” says McLean Robbins. I suggest adding a tiara, and perhaps some type of phallic paraphernalia as accessory.

Travel Writer (gender neutral)
Do not shower for several days prior. Wear whatever clothes you can find crumpled up in your dirty laundry, and carry an overstuffed daypack filled with coffee- and -wine-stained notebook, decrepit laptop, tattered guide book, and much-abused passport. Look stressed. Mutter about deadlines and bus schedules. Feign confusion, and ask partygoers what city/country you’re in. Scary.

Hawaiian Honeymooners
An easy costume for couples: just wear matching his n’ hers outfits, leis, sparkly wedding bands, and big smiles. Carry a camera and mai tais garnished with orchids. For a group, go as “Midwestern Family on Hawaiian Vacation,” and have everyone wear matching Hilo Hattie attire and leis. Before I get angry comments, allow me to note that I’ve lived on Maui twice and yes, these are both a thing.

Ashram Girl
Yoga pants, kurti blouse, hemp necklace, handmade sandals (barefoot optional), bindi, and glazed eyes. Refer to your spiritual leader by name, often. Cue ghostly sounds.

Canadian (gender neutral)
Sew the national flag on a backpack, deploy lots of “eh’s” and “aboots” in conversation, and you’re good to go. Ask partygoers if they can spare a loonie.

Ugly American (gender neutral)
If under 30, wear Greek letters/house party shirt of choice, or opt for a tee with an obnoxious saying (“Diva,” “Princess,” “Where’s the Beer?” “I’m with Stupid”). Add inappropriately short-shorts (if female) or saggy pants (male). Carry a copy of a Let’s Go guidebook, spendy tennis shoes, and spanking new backpack. Talk loudly about how hungover you are, how much all of your material goods cost (the more expensive, the better), and complain about how no one speaks any English. Shudder.
t-shirt
Older folks can wear a favorite sports team or logo T-shirt (baseball cap optional) or something comparably lacking in style, with khaki shorts, dark socks, and sandals. Carry a map and camera, and in your “outdoor” voice, ask where you can find the nearest McDonald’s, or “why no one in this goddamn country wears deodorant.” Spooky!

Aussie-on-holiday Guy
Bring lots of beer (not Fosters!), a wandering eye, and a good attitude.

Happy Halloween, fellow travelers!

[Photo credits: Harajuku Girl, Flick user Leishangthem; hippie, Flickr user madaboutasia; with Stupid, OneHorseShy.com]