Ski Free In Aspen With Killer Hotel Deals

aspenThink you can’t afford Aspen? Think again. Two of the most elite hotels in town are offering can’t-miss winter season packages that include free ski passes.

Did I stutter? Nope. It’s part of a “ski free” promotion designed to draw visitors back to the Rockies after last year’s notoriously dry winter. Happily, this year looks good, as I can attest from an Aspen visit earlier in the week, and the town is buzzing with holiday festivities.

Local favorite The Little Nell is offering two separate packages for skiers. “Ski Free” gives guests who stay three nights or longer up to two free lift tickets (by comparison, a two-day, seven-day advance purchase adult pass will run you $202, high season) per day. The “Ultimate Ski Free” package: Stay four nights, and ski gratis at all four mountains of Aspen/Snowmass (Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass, and Buttermilk), on top-of-the-line demo equipment. A full-day private lesson is also included.

The newly revamped, groovilicious Limelight Hotel is doing its own “Ski Free” special, in addition to offering complimentary snowshoes to all guests. The ski package includes up to two free lift tickets per day (good at all four mountains), with a three-night minimum stay, based upon availability; some blackout dates apply.

[Photo credit: Aspen/Snowmass]

Ski Town Holidays: Not Just For Skiers

dogsleddingIt sounds crazy, but not all ski-town tourists are there to downhill ski. In fact, many don’t even know how. I’ll also let you in on a local’s secret: not all permanent residents of ski towns know how to ski, and of those who do, many can’t even afford a season pass.

The fact is, there are now more options than ever for non-skiers and those on a tight budget to engage in other winter sports, if they’re not willing or able to hit the slopes. I know many couples that have differing ideas of a ski vacation: one loves alpine skiing, while the other is happier sitting by a fire drinking hot toddies or shopping. They make it work.

Regardless of your mutual or differing snow-centric passions, ski town holidays can work for everyone. Most resorts now have Nordic centers and outfitters that offer at least some combination of the below list, so there’s no excuse not to get out there this winter.

Nordic/cross-country skiing (free/cheap rentals!)
Snowshoeing (ditto)
Dog sledding (please do your research beforehand, to make sure the business has no animal welfare citings)
Cultural tours
Adaptive sports
Spas
Skjioring (when a skier is pulled by a dog or horse0
Ice-climbing
Hot springs
Sleigh rides
Horseback riding

[Photo credit: Flickr user US Embassy Sweden]

Winter riding at The Home Ranch, in Clark, Colorado (near Steamboat Springs)

Gadling Gear Review: Polarmax PMX Hoodie Base Layer

Polarmax PMX Hoodie base layerIt may be hard to believe, but the arrival of winter is now just a few short weeks away, bringing colder temperatures and plenty of snow with it. But the start of the season doesn’t have to mean the end of our outdoor adventures, provided we have the right gear to keep us warm and dry. Staying comfortable in the elements begins and ends with a good layering system, with the outer shell and mid-layer fleece both playing important roles. But the base layer is perhaps the most important piece of clothing in our entire winter wardrobe, as it sits closest to the skin, keeping us warm while wicking away moisture.

Polarmax is a company that specializes in making great winter gear, especially base layers. They offer their apparel in a variety of colors and weights, providing options for a range of temperatures. But perhaps the most versatile, not to mention fun, base layer in their line-up is the PMX Hoodie, a piece of gear that will keep you warm on the slopes or trail, and still looking great back at the lodge.

Made from a blend of Polarmax’s proprietary Acclimate fabrics and spandex, the PMX Hoodie is surprisingly lightweight and yet incredibly warm. Those same fabrics are designed to pull moisture away from the skin, keeping the chill off the body as much as possible. The exterior of the garment offers top-notch technical performance while the interior is lined with brushed fleece that is very soft against the skin. The Hoodie also has the benefit of being treated with anti-microbial and anti-odor guards, which help keep it clean and smelling fresh even after wearing it during vigorous workouts.As someone who routinely takes part in a number of outdoor activities, no matter what the thermometer reads, I found a lot to like in the PMX Hoodie. Its athletic cut fits snugly against the body, just as a good base layer should, but it does so without restricting movement in any way. This combination of qualities is very much appreciated whether you’re spending a whole day snowshoeing through the backcountry or running errands around the block. The built-in hood, from which the shirt derives its name, is also a great option for when the snow starts flying unexpectedly.

Unlike most other base layers, which generally resemble high-tech underwear, the PMX Hoodie is actually stylish enough to wear around town. In fact, unless someone pointed out that it was a piece of technical apparel, I doubt anyone would be able to tell the difference. Its casual good looks wouldn’t be of much benefit, however, if the hoodie didn’t perform well as a stand-alone layer. Fortunately, I found that it was comfortable and warm on its own even as the mercury drops.

As well as the PMX Hoodie performs on its own, it works even better as part of a full layering system. Pair it with a fleece layer for colder temperatures, and add a technical shell during more extreme conditions, and you have all the gear you need for most winter adventures. It is amazing how versatile a system like this one can be, particularly when traveling. Mix and match the fleece and shell layers as needed, and you truly have everything you need to enjoy active outings even in sub-zero temperatures.

Speaking of travel, the PMX Hoodie makes a great travel companion. Not only does it pack small, the fact that it is easy to clean and staves off odors comes in handy on longer trips as well. And when you return home, it is completely machine washable and dryable, and doesn’t shrink a bit. Not all technical garments are easy to care for and Polarmax should be commended for making it so simple for us.

They should also be commended for making such a great piece of winter gear affordable as well. The PMX Hoodie costs just $69.95, which is a real bargain for a base layer that performs so well. It’ll even make a great gift for your favorite skier or snowboarder this holiday season.

[Photo Credit: Polarmax]

Avoiding Altitude Woes: What To Bring On Your Next Ski Trip

skierThere are few things that bum out a ski trip more than altitude issues. Even if your symptoms are just in the form of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) – headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia or nausea – it’s often enough to make you wish you’d stayed at home.

I live in Colorado, and have resided in a couple of high-altitude ski towns in the past. Since our ski season just kicked off, for the purposes of this post I’m only focusing on AMS, rather than more serious forms of altitude sickness.

Predisposition to AMS is subjective. Age, physiology, genetics, and physical fitness may or may not play a role. If, however, you’ve got congestive heart failure, a nice alpine getaway may not be the best thing. Conversely, if you’re not in the habit of drinking lots of water at elevation, you’re going to feel like hell, regardless of how fit you are.

The higher the elevation, the harder your body has to work, because air pressure is lower (i.e. there’s less oxygen, which is also why it’s dehydrating). The body responds by producing more red blood cells to increase circulation. The short answer is, high elevations stress the body.

To ensure your next visit to the mountains is free of altitude-related woes, follow these tips:

  • Hydrate – with water, not soda or other sugary beverages – then hydrate some more. Amounts vary depending upon your gender, activity level and weight; 2.5 liters a day is considered a rough daily estimate necessary for good health at sea level. If you’re seriously shredding the pow, then a sports drink with electrolytes at day’s end is also a good idea.
  • If you have health concerns, acclimate slowly, if possible. Try to spend a night at a lower elevation before heading to your destination. Example: Fly into Denver (5,280 feet), before heading to Aspen (7,890 feet).
  • Go easy the first 48 hours, as you acclimatize.
  • Since you’re burning and expending more calories, be sure to eat small, regular meals or snacks when you’re out there tearing it up on the slopes.
  • Reduce (I know better than to say “avoid”) consumption of alcohol. At altitude, one drink has double the impact. This makes for a cheap date, but it can do a number on your head and body. Pace yourself, and drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage. You’re welcome.
  • Take Diamox, ibuprofen, or aspirin, which will eliminate many of your symptoms such as headache, sluggishness, or dizziness. When I attended culinary school in Vail, one of our classrooms was located at 11,000 feet. Our first week of school, most of us were nodding off due to the altitude, and aspirin was far more effective than caffeine.
  • If you’re having trouble sleeping, you can try an OTC, or avail yourself of the local hot tub or a warm bath before bed (remember to hydrate afterward!). If you already have insomnia issues, be sure to bring your prescription or regular OTC with you.
  • Slather on the sunscreen. Not only is the sun far stronger at elevation, but its reflection off the snow can reduce your skin and eyes to cinders. Know what else a potent sunburn does? Speeds dehydration. As well as photoaging and skin cancer, but that’s a topic for another article.
  • Don’t get cocky. I live at 5360 feet, and sometimes, even I forget to follow my own advice – a certain crushing hangover in Vail two weeks ago comes to mind. Just because you live at altitude doesn’t mean you’re used to higher altitude. You’ll be better conditioned, yes. But you still need to hydrate regularly, and for the love of god, go easy on the bourbon rocks.

For more detailed information on altitude sickness, including extreme elevations, click here.

Wishing you a safe, happy snow season!

[Photo credits: skier, Flickr user laszlo-photo; tea, Flickr user Kitty Terwolbeck]

Roadside America: Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley

If you were to ask most Americans if they’d heard of the Roaring Fork Valley, you’d get a blank stare. Mention Aspen, however, and the light goes on, regardless of their social or economic standing (blame reality TV, our cultural obsession with celebrity, and 1970s/Reagan-era excess).

Aspen may be the St. Moritz of the U.S., but its location at the upper (southeast) end of the western Colorado’s stunning Roaring Fork Valley is what makes it special. The 50-mile valley runs along the river of the same name (the Frying Pan and Crystal Rivers down-valley are tributaries that provide top-notch fly-fishing and paddling).

It’s a region of meadows, aspen groves and the soaring alpine peaks of the Elk Mountains, as well as stark red cliffs and pine forest. The Ute Indians inhabited the area before the mining boom of the late 19th century. Following the silver crash of 1803, coal mining drove the local economy, through the early 20th century. Today, the valley towns are largely comprised of refurbished original storefronts housing galleries, boutiques, cafes, bakeries, coffee houses and restaurants, but the remnants of ghost towns can be found throughout the valley.

While Aspen is an international destination, the down-valley former mining/ranching towns of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs are more affordable, low-key options for lovers of outdoor adventure, solitude and a thriving local food scene. And just minutes from Aspen is the lovely, rural hamlet of Woody Creek, home of Hunter S. Thompson in his final years, and a favorite spot for Aspenites to engage in outdoor recreation due to its extensive trail system.While it’s true down-valley is blowing up, real estate-wise, and housing developments are popping up like toadstools in outer Carbondale and neighboring El Jebel (where the August opening of a Whole Foods had the valley in a divisive uproar), the region is still pristine with regard to commercial tourism and most of the ills of urban living. Ranching and farming are still the backbone of the valley economy, and Carbondale has become an epicenter of grassroot organizations dedicated to alternative energy, green living and the local food shed. Indeed, the entire region is very invested in sustainable, low-impact living, and that carries over to tourism.

Come for a visit if you’d like to avoid the exorbitant prices and scene that can make Aspen (a place I love, it bears mentioning) a bit of a bummer during high season. Let me be clear that down-valley accommodations aren’t cheap, but they’re affordable compared to the ski resorts, and provide a different kind of holiday, whether it’s self-catered, or designed for lots of snuggling on the couch in front of the fireplace.

This time of year, the aspens and meadows shimmer like gold, and the mountain peaks are dusted with snow. Starting next month, big-spending skiers will head up to Aspen, but valley locals are more likely to strap on their snowshoes or Nordic skis and avail themselves of the trails and famed 10th Mountain Division Hut system. Follow their lead, then end the day by unwinding in a nearby hot spring or preparing dinner, reading, and enjoying a regional craft beer or wine (the nearby Western Slope, just over the McClure Pass outside of Carbondale, leads to a number of wineries and tasting rooms, open in summer) before a cozy fire.

There’s no shortage B & B’s, inns, cabins, farm stays, and guest ranches in the region, and in summer, camping is also a popular pastime, as is kayaking, rafting, horseback riding, fishing, climbing, hiking, road cycling, and mountain biking. The seasonal farmers markets in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale are full of handcrafted foods and beautiful produce from nearby farms. In winter, you’ll still find many menus in the area dominated by locally-grown and -made foods; check out Edible Aspen magazine’s website for more in the way of great local eats and brews.

Getting there
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport has daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Chicago. From Denver International Airport, it’s approximately a 3.5-hour drive to Glenwood Springs on I-70. It’s best to have a car for exploration if you’re staying in the valley, although there is a bus system.

[Flickr image via JimLeach89]