Three exciting winter deals from the Four Seasons

The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts wants to host you for ski season and is offering some great deals this season. So, instead of just hitting your old standby or scrambling at the last minute, go upscale this time. The Four Seasons is delivering bargains from Jackson Hole to Whistler, BC. Chances are, there’s a great one waiting for you.

Skiing in Jackson Hole – This resort is hosting the first annual How-to-Heli Camp. You’ll be able to get to the virgin trails of the Teton mountains, delivering for skiers a real expedition through fresh snow … with no lines! The camp comes with two days of on-mountain instruction, lift tickets, a day of heli-skiing and four nights in the Four Seasons. The camp runs from February 3 – 7, 2009 and starts at USD 2,975.00 per person based on double occupancy.

Ice climbing in Whistler – Demonstrate your physical prowess with waterfall ice climbing (don’t worry, you’ll have a guide) … all it takes is a heft dose of courage and the $466 (USD) for a personal climb. Skiing’s a blast, but this will kick your adrenaline into overdrive.

Bungee jump into Cheakamus Canyon – drop into the canyon and trigger an unparalleled thrill. Plunge 160 feet toward the Cheakamus River; it probably won’t occur to you that it’s glacier-fed, but that will be interesting later. Book it through the Whistler concierge, at $115 a pop.

In the Corner of the World: Queenstown

Queenstown is a seemingly quaint town that resides in the shadow of the Southern Alps on New Zealand’s South Island. Walking its streets, one could easily mistake it for Boulder, Colorado. But like the American town that it resembles, Queenstown’s quiet appearance belies an adventurous spirit that pervades the people and activities that make this hamlet a popular tourist destination all year round. I spent roughly 36 hours in Queenstown and was consistently amazed by its natural beauty and friendly population.

How does a town of 10,000 people become a mecca for tourists? The proximity to some of New Zealand’s best ski fields certainly helps. But Queenstown is also the self-proclaimed “jet boat capital of the world” and the birthplace of commercial bungee jumping operations. For adrenaline junkies, Queenstown is a playground for the imagination.


Queenstown experienced its initial boom after a gold rush in the area during the 1800s. When the region had been picked clean of the precious metal, the population dipped below one thousand. The residents, in need of income to survive, capitalized on the local geography and turned Queenstown into a tourist hot spot. Now, Queenstown relies almost solely on tourism to survive and does so quite well.

So, how can you enjoy the the great outdoors and scare yourself silly while in Queenstown? Simply get out of bed and you can’t help but stumble upon any number of activities.

Million Dollar CruiseQueenstown borders Lake Wakatipu, which is a boater’s paradise. For an entertaining lesson on Queenstown’s history and stunning views of both the town and the mountains that dominate the horizon, Million Dollar Cruise offers 90-minute sightseeing tours that provide a wonderful introduction to Queenstown. Owned and operated by Wayne & Betty Perkins, the cruise feels more like a day spent with friends telling you about their hometown than a commercial tour. That, by the way, is a good thing. Bundle up, though. I was there in the Spring and it was blustery out on the deck where the best photo ops are found.

Shotover JetQueenstown’s winding rivers through steep canyons made it the perfect place to become the “jet boat capital of the world.” Jet boats have flat bottoms which allow them to spin 360 degrees and seemingly move laterally. Shotover Jet operates in the Shotover River and has an office right in town, making bookings quite convenient. At $109NZ for adults and $69NZ for children, it’s a tad overpriced. But they have to pay for the 40 liters of petrol they burn every 30 minutes somehow. If you need a good family friendly activity that will impress your kids, go for it. Otherwise, I wasn’t convinced that it’s worth the money.

A.J. Hackett BungyQueenstown’s most famous adventure activity is also the world’s first of its kind. A.J. Hackett opened the first commercial bungee jumping enterprise on Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown in 1988 and it still operates today. A.J. Hackett now has other jump locations and Kawarau Bridge is by no means the highest, but it’s the original and that’s a draw for tourists. While the boldest of visitors may opt to jump off A.J. Hackett’s gondola 439 feet above the Nevis River, first-time jumpers will want to start at Kawarau and it’s 141-foot jump. That’s what I did and their friendly staff helped me overcome my fears and take the plunge. Would I bungee again? I’m not sure. But I am glad that I did it at the birthplace of commercial bungee.

Skiiing – You can get from Queenstown to a ski field in under 20 minutes. Coronet Peak and the Remarkables are the two closest ski fields and require nothing more than a short drive. Cardrona is only 40 minutes out of town and Treble Cone is a mere 90 minute drive. All four ski fields offer an abundance of ski and snowboard trails that draw visitors in hordes from June through October.

Whether you want to walk Queenstown’s quiet streets and window shop or trick your brain into thinking that you’re plummeting to your death, Queenstown has something for everyone (assuming you like the outdoors). After a whirlwind tour of the town, I was a tad disoriented but no worse for wear. Queenstown may have traded its gold rush for head rushes, but it’s absolutely worth a visit. Just try to have better form than I did when you leap off Karawau Bridge.

Mike Barish traveled to New Zealand on a trip sponsored by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Mike was free to report openly on his experiences. He never spit out the wine and managed not to cry during any of the death-defying activities that Kiwis love. At least not in public. Read more of Gadling’s In the Corner of the World series here.

Amazing Race 14: Recap 1, Swiss cheese is heavy

When the teams took off for Switzerland from the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, California after the Marine helicopter ride that took them there, you could feel the buoyancy and hear their glee. No matter the season, every team has a real can-do attitude at the beginning of the Amazing Race. Amazing Race 14 was no different. And just like every other season, some teams began to fall apart not long after they landed.

Jennifer and Preston missed their connecting train. She got crabby and he crabbed back. Later in the episode, Steve chastised Linda for being slow as they hoofed it to the Church of San Antonio in Locarno to meet up with a monk. Her slowness put them behind most of the other teams. Steve only made her weepier. As Linda pointed out, she would have gone faster if she could have. “I can’t run and I feel bad about it,” she sniffled. Good point. Who goes on the Amazing Race trying to be pokey?

When people are crabby and chastising when they travel, they miss the details. In Switzerland, one detail comes in snow-capped mountains, so gorgeous they can make you cry. Brad, choked up, for example, as he and Victoria sped through them on the train. It might of been the mountains, or maybe he was tired. Other details of Swiss travel had to do with bungee jumping and cheese.

First the bungee jumping. After a night of camping, fending off mosquitos, the teams headed a short distance from Locarno to Contra Verzasca Dam where James Bond made his bungee jumping leap in the movie Goldeneye. In nerves of steel daring, one team member from each team made the Bond jump, minus the music, in order to receive their next clue.

This is not just an Amazing Race opportunity. You can make the 220 meter, 70-story, jump yourself through the company Trekking Outdoor Team. It seriously looks like a blast for a person not afraid of heights. Interestingly, the person most afraid of heights was Jodi, one of the flight attendants. As we knew all along, even a person afraid of heights would be able to make the leap for the chance for a million dollars.

When the jumping was over, it was off via train to Interlaken and Kleine Rugen Wiese, a place with a slippery, grass covered hill and wheels of cheese at the top of it. Teams had to grab antique cheese racks, trudge to the top of the hill, one rack per member, to carry cheese–great big wheels of it that can bound and roll down a hill like nobody’s business when dropped–to the bottom using the racks in some way. What a hoot.

The antique racks looked rigged since almost everyone of them snapped like kindling wood. Making the task more difficult was avoiding getting bowled over by the escaped flying cheese, and the people chasing after it. To get a 50-pound cheese wheel down a hill, you can hold it in front of you in both arms, sit with it on your lap and scoot, put one wheel on each shoulder, or do a combination of all three. If you’re really smart, you’ll stack three cheese wheels on the rack and drag it down the hill like Steve did.

While the teams acted out this Abott and Costello-like scene, Swiss men stood at the bottom of the hill swigging some sort of beverage and laughing. Eventually, all cheese was stacked properly, and the teams were off once more to find yodelers at the pit stop in the town of Stechelberg. For a little while I thought that Steve and Linda, who call themselves endearments like “dumb asses” when frustrated, wouldn’t find the yoderlers, but eventually they came out of the woods where they had headed to land a 9th place finish.

The first place finishers were mother and son team, Margie and Luke. Both of them started to cry. So did 2nd place finishers, Tammy and Victor–even Phil looked teary. Tammy and Victor weren’t feeling emotional because they came in second by a hair–thus missed out on that swell trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I think it was because the finish was so awesome indeed. Luke is deaf.

As Luke said, “A lot of people think deaf people can’t do things, but the deaf can do it. I just want to show people that deaf people can do it.” I’d say Victor and Tammy will get their share of first place prizes.

In a neck and neck finish, Christie and Jodi reached the Pit Stop mat before Jennifer and Preston. Although they were thrilled to stay in the race, the flight attendants did give the loosing team hugs, proving that flight attendants are indeed friendly. Preston promised Jennifer she did not let him down. Hey, they get to hang out for a couple weeks at some swank villa somewhere at the Elimination Station if this season is like the others. That’s not a bad deal.

The moral of this episode is, before you go on the Amazing Race, go to a train station. Jennifer had never been to one before. I think traveling at a break neck speed in unfamiliar territory is not the best place for a first time.

Where everyone has ended up so far:

  • 1st -Margie and Luke
  • 2nd -Tammy and Victor
  • 3rd – Mark and Michael
  • 4th – Mel and Mike
  • 5th – Amanda and Kris
  • 6th – Brad and Victoria
  • 7th – Cara and Jaime
  • 8th – Kisha and Jen
  • 9th – Linda and Steve
  • 10th – Christie and Jodi
  • 11th – Preston and Jennifer (Eliminated)

For a more detailed recap, check out the Amazing Race 14 website.

More Ways to Risk Life and Limb in New Zealand…

So New Zealand is well-known as the spiritual home of bungy jumping, but travellers to the globe’s most adventure packed country soon find out there are loads of other exciting ways to get the most value out of their travel insurance policy.

  1. The world’s most extreme flying fox. Tucked away in the middle of the North Island, the ride at Mokai Gravity Canyon (watch a video after the jump) launches at a height of 175 metres and gets up to speeds of 160 kph. Afterward there’s the North Island’s highest bungy jump (of course…)
  2. An underground flying fox. Only Kiwis would think of setting up a flying fox in a limestone cave. To reach the St Benedict’s Caverns at Waitomo you’ll first need to abseil. Having fun yet?
  3. We’ve showcased Zorbing (here)before but it’s crazy enough to deserve another mention. Strap yourself into a giant see-through ball and roll down the hill. Why didn’t someone think of it sooner?
  4. Ever wondered what would happen if you fell into a giant vacuum cleaner that was switched to “blow”? OK, it’s not a common fantasy but you can find out at Freefall Extreme. Recreate the feeling of skydiving but stay close to the ground.
  5. Most travelers experience bungy jumping at the South Island adventure hub Queenstown but you can also leap off the Auckland Harbour Bridge in New Zealand’s biggest city. It may look like I’m jumping naked in the photo above, but I was wearing a weird coloured jumpsuit OK?

Mokai Gravity Canyon:

Freefall Extreme:

Auckland bridge Bungee: