In Washington state, search continues for missing skier


The search for an experienced backcountry skier missing since Tuesday afternoon has resumed in Washington state, after being postponed Wednesday night due to darkness and poor conditions. The Seattle woman was skiing alone in the Red Mountain Area of Snoqualmie National Forest, near Alpental ski resort. Seattle’s King 5 News reports that after the woman failed to show up at work on Wednesday, her friends were contacted, and King County Search and Rescue launched a full-scale hunt. Another skier located the woman’s backpack and glove on Wednesday, and her car was also found in the ski area parking lot.

Concerns of avalanche danger are high, due to increasing temperatures. Deputy Ed Christian of King County Search and Rescue commented, “We have the best searchers in the state here and we may not even put them in the field…that’s how dangerous it is… We haven’t had the opportunity to search with probes due to the conditions and lack of light. She could be under the snow. She could have gone down further, said Christian. “Until we get enough light we don’t know where she’s at.”

The sheriff office’s helicopter spotted ski gear and what looked to be fresh snow slide activity off the backside of Red Mountain yesterday, while another group of searchers found additional clothing and debris, diminishing hopes of finding the woman alive. One theory is that she may have plummeted from a cornice that broke off. The search is now being considered a recovery mission.

Folks, please be careful out there when engaging in backcountry winter pursuits, and always carry an avalanche beacon and let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Winter outdoor enthusiasts should take an avalanche safety course (REI is one place that offers them for free, and I’ll vouch for how informative they are), and check snow and weather conditions before setting off for a day of recreation.

Skiing in a former Taliban stronghold: Malam Jabba, Pakistan

Pakistan, pakistan, skiing, ski resorts
Thumbing your nose at the Taliban has never been so fun.

The Malam Jabba ski resort in the Swat Valley of Pakistan has been a battleground between the Pakistani army and the Taliban for years. When the Taliban seized the area in 2006 they blew up the resort. They decided that skiing is unislamic, probably because it’s fun. Well, the Muslims in the Pakistani army didn’t agree with this interpretation of Islam and when they retook the region in 2009, they rebuilt the resort. Now they’re hosting a skiing competition to show off the new facilities, the BBC reports. Six Pakistani teams are competing. No news on the winners yet, but the only losers are those grumpy nutcases in the Taliban.

The army, which runs the resort, is hoping to attract tourists to the region. It used to draw intrepid foreign skiers but the fighting, which continued into last year, scared them away. Judging from the above photo, the skiing looks pretty good. Unfortunately it’s hard to tell what the facilities are like now because this picture was taken in 2005 by M. Sajid Ishaq, before the Taliban got their hands on it.

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Keystone offers a better alternative to holiday shopping

The best travel deals don’t happen on Black Friday. Instead of rushing out to the nearest big box store to do battle with the other crazy shoppers, pull the trigger by November 20, and get a trip to Keystone, Colorado. Book your stay for between December 19 and 26, and you could score rates as low as $101 a night — 50 percent off the usual rate! The deal works at Keystone Lodge & Spa and the Inn at Keystone, not to mention the condos at Lakeside, Evergreen, Soda Ridge and Aspen Ridge (from studios to two-bedroom suites).

This is a sweetheart deal. For skiers, booking a room for Christmas week by November 20 is a no-brainer, and non-skiers can have a blast, too. Ice skating, dining and shopping are available, and the complimentary Adventure Passport provides free and discounted access to plenty of activities on and off the slopes.

Alternatives to skiing: spa, anyone?

In the interests of disclosure and transparency, I don’t ski. I did a little bit of snowboarding 15 years ago, but it didn’t amount to much. So, when I write about the ski deals that come across my desk, it’s not lost on me that some people don’t hit the slopes. The latest package from The Lodge at Vail, a RockResort, has something for those of us who don’t stumble down the mountain. The “Spa, Savor & Snowshoe” deal is for everyone else. Guests can work up some hunger while snowshoeing, get those taxed muscles rubbed down at the spa and tie off the day with a three-course dinner at the Wildflower restaurant.

At $423 a night, the savings is around 25 percent, but you need to book a three-night stay. You’ll get a $300 spa credit, half-day guided snowshoe tour and daily breakfast for two (along with the dinner at Wildflower).

It looks like you don’t need to be a skier to enjoy winter in Colorado!

Skiers eager to return to Colorado slopes

The travel market may be in the tank, but things are looking good for Vail Resorts. Season passes for their slopes were up 13 percent last month. Sure, some of the deals have probably helped, but the market has definitely changed over the past year. In 2008, travelers were feeling the fresh sting of the financial crisis, and job cuts were looming. Everyone became more cautious, because they didn’t know if they’d fall victim to the cruel lottery to come.

Now, it looks like the worst is behind us (though nobody can be sure), and we’re all looking for a little bit of relief. For skiers, this means biting the bullet, paying what’s necessary and hitting the powder. Mark Kelley, a 59-year-old skier and real estate broker from Denver put it best: “I have always gone skiing, even during difficult times.” He continued, “I am more inclined to cut down on my spending on the mountain than to not go skiing at all.”

Ski resorts are predicting an increase in bookings this season, thanks to eager skiers who were stuck at home in 2008. And, since flights are still fairly inexpensive, they hope to draw city-dwellers from across the country. Vail Resorts, which has five ski properties, is hoping they’ll succumb to their urges.

Robert Katz, the CEO of Vail Resorts, told Bloomberg News, “This year the economy is still struggling but there is more confidence that it’s not getting dramatically worse.” He explained, “The economic issues that we faced last year started right at the beginning of ski season and got worse until the end of the season.” Now that conditions have turned, he’s hopeful that skiers will end their hibernation.

Starwood Hotels, the third largest U.S. hotel company, reports an up-tick at its ski resorts from 2008, with its St. Regis Aspen Resort “pacing better” and holiday bookings “close to being filled,” according to K.C. Kavanagh, a company spokesperson. The Dakota Mountain lodge in Park City, Utah, a Hilton Waldorf Astoria property, is also looking good.

Meanwhile, the rest of the lodging industry continues to suffer, with occupancy in the United States down 57 percent through August this year, its lowest level since at least 1987.