The Best Of The West: Classic Ski Lodges

tamarack lodgeDespite deceptively balmy temperatures in parts of the U.S., there’s still plenty of ski season left. Why not spend it staying at a classic ski lodge or chalet out West? These regal or groovy remnants from the early-to-mid-20th century are a dying breed, although some have been refurbished to good effect, while still retaining their original style. They also tend to offer friendly, personalized service, so you feel like a welcome guest, not just a number.

Classic places are often more affordable, and just as stylish and comfortable than their boutique or generic high-end chain counterparts. Even when they’re pricey, they’re a bit of living history that can give your ski trip a fun retro feel. Think racy Piz Buin and Lange boots ads, fondue, tight, color-blocked sweaters, Bicentennial Ray-Bans, and all things Bavarian.

Below, some favorite vintage ski accommodations across the West. Don’t forget your Glockenspiel.

Tyrolean Lodge, Aspen, CO
It may come as a shock that Aspen has a classic ski lodge that’s remained little-changed in atmosphere or ski-town spirit since its opening in 1970, but the Tyrolean is just that place. Located several minutes’ walk from the slopes, this no-frills, family-owned chalet is one of the best deals in town, with rooms starting at $155/night; some with kitchenettes. The rooms have been upgraded to be more modern, but the decor and vibe is still vintage Tyrol ski culture. Love.

Tamarack Lodge
, Mammoth Mountain, CA
This small, mid-century property overlooking Twin Lakes is on the California Register of Historic Places, and caters to the cross-country crowd. It has both European guesthouse style rooms, historic, refurbished cabins (see photo above), and from December through April, ski-in/out access. If the town of Mammoth is too hectic and soulless for you, consider this a peaceful alternative to the mainstream.
strawberry lodgeStrawberry Lodge, Kyburz, CA
Highway 50 Tahoe road-trip regulars will be familiar with this former Pony Express stop (right). Located off the side of the road in the nano-community of Kyburz, Strawberry is 20 minutes from South Shore. It’s seriously old-school, in that musty, funky way, with bad taxidermy, historical oddities, and is a much-loved Lake Tahoe institution.

With 31 rooms starting at just $49 a night (some are European style, with a shared bath), it’s hard to pass up, especially when you consider the proximity to all manner of vices, ranging from drinking (please don’t attempt to drive back) and gambling, to outdoor recreation. I love it because it’s one of the last remnants of old Tahoe, in a pastoral mountain setting. Strawberry also offers cross-country skiing, and the restaurant and bar can get hopping, sometimes with live music.
sun valley lodge
Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho
Built in 1936 at America’s first destination ski resort (with the world’s first chairlifts), the SVL was considered cutting-edge. It offered “every amenity a skier could possibly imagine.” Today, the 148-room property has been completely refurbished into a luxury hotel, complete with glass-encased swimming pool, yet it retains its majestic timber-and-stone facade and stately atmosphere.
P.S. Hemingway slept here.

Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood, OR
Celebrating its 76th year, this National Historic Landmark (lobby, right) was built at a time when American heritage and the spirit of adventure crashed head-on with the Great Depression. FDR heralded the lodge as a “testament to the workers on the rolls of the Works Progress Administration,” which funded most of the property’s construction. The lodge shut down twice, once during WWII, and again in 1955, as it had fallen into disrepair. Under a new lessee, it was restored to grandeur and reopened later that year.

Located less than 90 minutes from Portland, Mt. Hood is a favorite local’s ski area. Timberline is built in the classic Pacific Northwestern lodge style, constructed primarily by hand of native timber and rock. The bright rooms are upscale rustic, with wood paneling, thick comforters, and stone fireplaces: all the trappings for a cozy getaway.

Alta Peruvian Lodge
, UT
Located at one of Utah’s premier ski resorts, this three-story wooden lodge had an unlikely start as a pair of barracks buildings in Brigham. They were relocated to Alta in eight pieces, and reconstructed into a 50-room lodge that opened in 1948. In 1979, an architect was hired to gussy up the property, although by today’s standards, it retains a retro Alpine charm (the kelly-green shutters decorated with Edelweiss, for example).

Rooms are straightforward and more motel than mountain lodge, but a fantastic deal, starting at $129 for a dorm bed. Prices include all meals, served family style in the lodge dining room, and free shuttle service to Alta Mountain and Snowbird. There are also twin and queen rooms with a shared or private bath, as well as bedroom suites. As for why the property is called the Peruvian? No one knows, although possibly it’s for a nearby landmark, Peruvian Creek.
Nordic Inn
Nordic Inn, Crested Butte, CO
Reopened on December 15, 2012, under new ownership, this beloved, 28-room Alpine lodge (right) opened over 50 years ago. Located just 500 yards from the slopes, the Nordic has refurbished half of its spacious rooms, which are now kitted out with hardwood floors, down comforters and pillows, and gorgeous Colorado beetle kill pine woodwork. The remaining rooms (which are a colorful ode to the ’80s, and a screaming deal for ski-in lodging) will be redone by June 1.

P.S. Ski lodges aren’t just for winter! Many are open year-round, and summer is also peak season for outdoor recreation.

[Photo credits: Tamarack, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area; Strawberry, 50Cabins.COM; Sun Valley, Sun Valley Resorts; Nordic Inn, Ken Stone]

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]

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

Summer in the Sierras: 6 Tahoe Adventures for Outdoors Lovers

Anyone with a pair of skis or snowboard pants has probably heard the names: Heavenly. Northstar. Squaw — world-renowned winter resorts that sit on some of the finest powder in North America. Luckily for anyone in need of a 12-month adrenaline fix, it’s the summer months in Lake Tahoe where the outdoor adventures really start to heat up, hence, a list of six Tahoe adventures that will keep the blood pumping until next season’s first snowfall.

1. Mountain Bike the Flume Trail

For anyone who is familiar with the Lake Tahoe basin, the concept of mountain biking during the summer months should come as no surprise. For many, taking two wheels to the steep downhill of the Sierras is a way to fill the adrenaline void that’s created by the closure of the fabled ski runs.

While there are myriad trails that form a complex network of singletrack running throughout the Sierra, none of them are quite as famous or awe-inspiring as the five mile ridgeline that forms the Tahoe Flume Trail. Formed by 19th century lumber workers needing access to the region’s bountiful timber, water flumes were utilized as a way to transport heavy logs down to lumber mills in the Carson Valley. Though loggers no longer dominate the peaks and ridges of Tahoe’s eastern shore, the trails they cut and left behind lay waiting to be explored.

The Flume Trail is a 13-mile, one way ride that can be combined in conjunction with sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail. The trail starts at the 7,000′ elevation at Nevada’s Spooner Lake, and bikes, maps, and equipment are available from Flume Trail Mountain Bikes. The trail begins with a substantial 1,300′ climb to pristine Marlette Lake, its placid waters rung by towering pines. The trail traces the perimeter of Marlette Lake before turning to singletrack on the knife-thin ridgeline that offers sweeping views of 193 sq. mile Lake Tahoe. High above the turquoise waters of Sand Harbor and the oft-photographed boulders that run the length of the lake’s undeveloped eastern shore, it’s nearly impossible to avoid periodic rest stops simply to marvel at the view.

2. Tackle a stand-up “downwinder”

Rapidly gaining momentum as Lake Tahoe’s most popular summertime watersport, the clear, placid waters of this alpine lake provide the perfect theater for a peaceful morning paddle. While much of the stand up action on the lake involves novices who’d prefer to stay close to shore and in calm waters, one of the Tahoe’s true water thrills is navigating a long section of the lake on a stand up paddleboard with the gusty alpine wind blowing at your back.

Though the morning hours in Tahoe can be eerily calm, most afternoons provide ample wind out of the southwest to create 2-4 ft. lake swells that paddleboarders can ride from one point on the lake to another. Popular runs include Dollar Point to Tahoe Vista, or Homewood to Cal-Neva point on the California/Nevada border. While the Lake Tahoe area has an increasingly popular summer race series, the granddaddy distance race on the lake is the Tahoe Fall Classic, a 22-mile paddle marathon that runs the length of the lake every September.

3. Jump off of a mountain

The summertime thrills in Tahoe aren’t exclusively found either on land or in the lake–for some, they even take to the skies. Though there are a fair number of daredevils who engage in dramatic displays of cliff jumping in the deep waters off Rubicon Point, a different set of aerial enthusiasts routinely launch themselves off of lofty mountain peaks that overlook the lake in the ultra-adventurous sport of paragliding.

For anyone across the country who has ever strapped a wing to their back (as the paragliding chutes are known), paragliding Lake Tahoe is one of the most rewarding, challenging experiences that a paraglider can find in the lower 48. While considered to be one of the nation’s most scenic spots to fly, the large amount of air moving over the Sierra crest, mixed with the hot air rising off of the Nevada desert, creates dangerous thermals and pockets of air that can really ruin a paraglider’s day.

4. Hike the Tahoe Rim Trail

While the mountains around Lake Tahoe contain segments of the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, hikers that don’t have six months to devote to walking the West can opt for a shorter–albeit still lengthy–loop of the lake on the well-maintained and remarkably scenic Tahoe Rim Trail. While many hikers each year take advantage of the campgrounds scattered around the trail and tackle the entire 165-mile loop in a single shot, most mortals opt to spend a long day hiking one of the Rim Trail segments that run in the more manageable 14-25 mile range. Maintained by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, each year the group organizes 14-day “thru-hikes” for those who want to leave it all behind and spend two solid weeks soaking up the beauty of the Sierra.

5. Surf Lake Tahoe

Yes, you read that right. You can actually surf on Lake Tahoe. Not wakesurf, or standup paddle surf, or even windsurf, but good ol’ fashioned lay down on your chest and stroke into some waves style of surfing. While the strongest storms blow through Tahoe in the frigid winter months, strong summer winds that gust over the ridges of the Sierra on certain days provide waist-chest high waves that any longboarder would be stoked on.

As the prevailing summer winds blow from the south-southwest direction, Tahoe “surf breaks”–ironically just like in Hawaii–are located along the North Shore of the lake, with sandbars from Tahoe Vista to Sand Harbor lighting up with windswell on a strong enough storm. Though early summer snow melt can make lake temperatures warrant wearing a wetsuit through at least the end of July, the combination of warmer late-summer lake temperatures (up to 68 degrees) and an early fall storm is enough to send landlocked surfers up and down the Sierra scrambling to find their favorite board.

6. Ski the backcountry

Once again, yes, you read that right. One of this summer’s most unique outdoor thrills is strapping on the skis and taking to the Tahoe backcountry. With the Tahoe area receiving record amounts of snowfall this past winter (over 800 inches at some resorts), many of the area’s off-piste runs are packing enough of the white stuff that skiers and snowboarders will be able to click into their boots deep into the summer.

For the first time in 18 years, Tahoe ski resorts such as Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows were open for business on the 4th of July, and even through the end of July backcountry areas such as Mt. Rose, Desolation Wilderness, and Mt. Tallac still have enough snow cover to warrant the long hike up. There’s really no telling how far into the summer Tahoe skiers who are frothing for winter will be able to make this record powder last. Fortunately for them, once it’s finally all gone, they’ve got plenty of other summer adventures right outside their doorstep.