World’s only ski-up Starbucks open for business at Squaw Valley

squaw valley diningTwo days ago, while visiting my brother and his family in Lake Tahoe, my nephew uttered the words I’d hoped never to hear. “Starbucks just opened a ski-up window at Squaw’s Gold Coast mid-mountain complex!” he snorted, before pondering aloud how it was possible to ski with a triple venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte while wearing gloves and holding poles.

Truly, I think the world has enough Starbucks in it, and if you can’t get through a day of skiing without a fix, you just might have a problem. Not everyone feels that way, however, as reported on Eater.com today. Says Squaw Valley president and CEO Andy Wirth, “Nowhere else in the world can skiers and riders enjoy a delicious Starbucks coffee without missing a beat on the slopes.” My nephew might disagree with the logistics of that statement, but never underestimate the power of a Frappuccino habit.

How to Break the Caffeine Addiction Cycle

Video: “Stuff” skiers say

I’m in Lake Tahoe–California and Nevada’s premier ski destination–visiting my brother and his family. My teenage nephew, a member of the Olympic Valley Freeride & Freestyle Team, turned me on to this farcical video about things skiers say. If you’re a skier–or snowboarder–you’re fully aware that there are certain phrases ubiquitous to those who spend their days on the slopes–even if the language between the two sports differs slightly.

Even if you don’t dig snow, you’ll likely appreciate this. And if you’re a flatlander heading to the mountains for a weekend of shreddin’….please…don’t act like a gaper. “Now go get your sesh on.”

Warning: this clip contains language that may be offensive to some.


10 reasons to travel to Ljubljana

Ljubljana travel
When I found cheap airfare from Istanbul to Ljubljana, I didn’t find many other travelers who’d been there or even say for sure which country it’s in. The tiny of country of Slovenia is slightly smaller than New Jersey and its capital city isn’t known for much other than being difficult to spell and pronounce (say “lyoob-lyAH-nah”). After spending a few days there last month, I quickly fell madly in love with the city, and recommend to everyone to add to their travel list.

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Here are some reasons to love Ljubljana:

1. It’s Prague without the tourists – Ljubljana has been called the next Prague for at least the last 10 years, but the comparison is still apt. Architect Jože Plečnik is known for his work at Prague Castle, but he was born in Ljubljana and is responsible for much of the architecture in the old downtown and the Triple Bridge that practically defines the city. While Prague is a lovely place to visit, it’s overrun in summer with backpackers and tourists. In Ljubljana, the only English I heard was spoken with a Slovenian accent, and there were no lines at any of the city’s attractions.

2. Affordable Europe - While not as cheap as say, Bulgaria, Ljubljana is a lot easier on the wallet than other European capital cities and cheaper than most of its neighbors. I stayed in a perfect room above the cafe Macek in an ideal location for 65 euro a night. A huge three-course dinner for one with drinks at Lunch cafe was 20 euro, and a liter of local wine in the supermarket is around 3-4 euro. I paid 6 euro for entrance into 4 art museums for the Biennial, and the same for all of the castle, including the excellent Slovene history museum, and the funicular ride there and back.3. Everyone speaks English - Sharing borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is multi-cultural and multi-lingual. Everyone I met in Ljubljana spoke at least a few foreign languages including English; one supermarket cashier I met spoke six languages! While a language barrier shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying a foreign country, it’s great when communication is seamless and you can get recommendations from nearly every local you meet.

4. A delicious melting pot – Slovenia’s location also means a tasty diversity of food; think Italian pastas and pizzas, Austrian meats, and Croatian fish. One waiter I spoke to bemoaned the fact that he could never get a decent meal in ITALY like he can in Slovenia. While I’d never doubt the wonders of Italian food, I did have several meals in Ljubljana so good I wanted to eat them all over again as soon as I finished. Standout spots include Lunch Cafe (aka Marley & Me) and it’s next-door neighbor Julija.

5. Great wine – Slovenia has a thriving wine culture, but most of their best stuff stays in the country. A glass of house wine at most cafes is sure to be tasty, and cost only a euro or two. Ljubljana has many wine bars and tasting rooms that are approachable, affordable, and unpretentious. Dvorni Wine Bar has an extensive list, and on a Tuesday afternoon, there were several other mothers with babies, businesspeople, and tourists having lunch. I’m already scheming when to book a stay in a vineyard cottage, with local wine on tap.

6. Al-fresco isn’t just for summer – During my visit in early November, temperatures were in the 50s but outdoor cafes along the river were still lined with people. Like here in Istanbul, most cafes put out heating lamps and blankets to keep diners warm, and like the Turks, Slovenians also enjoy their smoking, which may account for the increase in outdoor seating (smoking was banned indoors a few years ago). The city’s large and leafy Tivoli Park is beautiful year-round, with several good museums to duck into if you need refuge from the elements.

7. Boutique shopping – The biggest surprise of Ljubljana for me was how many lovely shops I found. From international chains like Mandarina Duck (fabulous luggage) and Camper (Spanish hipster shoes) to local boutiques like La Chocolate for, uh, chocolate and charming design shop Sisi, there was hardly a single shop I didn’t want to go into, and that was just around the Stari Trg, more shops are to be found around the river and out of the city center.

8. Easy airport - This may not be first on your list when choosing a destination, but it makes travel a lot easier. Arriving at Ljubljana’s airport, you’ll find little more than a snack bar and an ATM outside, but it’s simple to grab a local bus into town or a shared shuttle for a few euro more. Departing from Slovenia, security took only a few minutes to get through, wi-fi is free, and there’s a good selection of local goodies at Duty Free if you forgot to buy gifts. LJU has flights from much of western Europe, including EasyJet from Paris and London.

9. Access to other parts of country - While Ljubljana has plenty to do for a few days, the country is compact enough to make a change of scenery easy and fast. Skiers can hop a bus from the airport to Kranj in the Slovenian Alps, and postcard-pretty Lake Bled is under 2 hours from the capital. In the summer, it’s possible to avoid traffic going to the seaside and take a train to a spa resort or beach. There are also frequent international connections; there are 7 trains a day to Croatia’s capital Zagreb, and Venice is just over 3 hours by bus.

10. Help planning your visit – When I first began planning my trip, I sent a message to the Ljubljana tourism board, and got a quick response with a list of family-friendly hotels and apartments. Next I downloaded the always-excellent In Your Pocket guide, which not only has a free guide and app, it also has a very active Facebook community with up-to-the-minute event info, restaurant recommendations, deals, and more. On Twitter, you can get many questions answered by TakeMe2Slovenia and VisitLjubljana.

Heavy snow strands 250 skiers in New Zealand lodge

Heavy snow in New Zealand strands travelersHeavy snow, and the threat of avalanches, left more than 250 skiers and snowboarders stranded in a ski lodge in New Zealand earlier this week, as that country struggles with one of the harshest winters in recent memory.

Nearly 16 inches of snow fell on the Mt Lyford ski resort last Monday, making travel extremely dangerous. As the fear of avalanches grew, authorities were forced to close access roads, which left many of the resort’s guests to spend the night in the lodge.

It turned out to be an extremely long night for those stranded at the resort, as the lodge is not equipped for overnight guests and there was little food for them to share. Worse yet, high winds and blowing snow caused power outages, which meant there was no heat inside the building either. The stranded skiers made the best of the situation however, getting comfortable for the night in any way they could.

The next morning, a specially equipped snow vehicle delivered extra food, and emergency crews used controlled explosions to clear the road. Eventually the stranded travelers were cleared to leave the resort, although only ten cars were allowed to drive down the mountain at a time.

Late in the week, the resort was still closed and access remained limited.

Early in the Austral winter it looked like it was going to be a poor ski season for the New Zealand resorts, as the only snow on the slopes was the man made variety. That has all changed now however, as a cold front out of Antarctica has reduced temperatures dramatically and brought plenty of snow along with it. There are even reports of snow at sea level, with some Kiwi beaches even getting a dusting of the white stuff. Now, it appears the resorts could be in for a banner year, and skiers are flocking to the mountains.

[Photo courtesy Mt. Lyford]

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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