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)

Seattle’s best spots for hot chocolate

Seattle best hot chocolateBaby, it’s cold outside here in Seattle, and that makes me want to drink. No, not coffee or craft beer, despite Seattle’s status where those beverages are concerned. I’m talking about chocolate. Hot chocolate. It’s a national obsession these days, along with its more solid counterpart. There are chocolate boutiques, chocolate tastings, chocolate cafes, chocolate factory tours. Whether you love a single varietal 72% Madagascar from the Sambirano Valley, or a bar of Hershey’s, one of the many great things about chocolate is that it caters to all tastes and budgets.

While I loathe the culinary pretentiousness that frequently goes hand-in-hand with fine food and drink, I’ll be the first to admit that there is a vast difference in quality (and sustainable growing and harvesting practices) when it comes to chocolate. That same quality variation extends to hot chocolate, which these days also goes by such nom de plume’s as drinking chocolate, sipping chocolate, or chocolate chaud. There are even health benefits to ponying up for a quality cup if it’s within your means.

Generally speaking, the above terms are interchangeable, although it’s implied they contain bittersweet (dark) chocolate, rather than cocoa powder. Dark chocolate (65% cacao or more) is loaded with antioxidants; a quarter ounce per day is has significant health benefits, and also acts as a natural antidepressant. Researchers believe that the endorphins and opioids in chocolate elevate mood and reduce anxiety.

So, because it’s delicious, heart-healthy, cancer-preventing, mood-enhancing, and mojo-making (just in time for Valentine’s Day!), here are my picks on where to find Seattle’s best hot chocolate. If a trip to the Pacific Northwest isn’t on your itinerary, I’ve provided online sources so you can make your own cup of chocolatey goodness.

Fran’s Chocolates
Seattle’s own Fran’s is my top pick, thanks to a rich blend of 65% Venezuelan single-origin chocolate, and half two-percent/half whole milk topped with a healthy dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. Three locations in Seattle and nearby Bellevue. You can order Fran’s Dark Hot Chocolate pistoles (pellets designed for melting) here.Seattle best hot chocolateTrophy Cupcakes
Topped with unsweetened whipped cream or a housemade marshmallow, this European-style hot chocolate made with heavy cream is the beverage equivalent to fuzzy bunny slippers. Three locations in Seattle and Bellevue.

Theo’s Chocolates
This hometown company in trendy Fremont was the first organic/fair trade chocolate factory in the U.S.. Today, Theo’s delectable chocolates are available nationwide. The factory also has tours and a retail store/cafe counter, where cups of sipping chocolate are available (depending upon the day; call ahead). The Dark contains a 70% blend and whole milk, making for an intensely chocolately cuppa; Chipotle Spice has the mouth-tingling additon of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and smoked and ground ancho chile. You can also order cans of ground sipping chocolate online.

Café Presse
A heady blend of bittersweet and unsweetened chocolates, cocoa powder, cream, and milk make for one of the most well-balanced cups in town at this charming Capitol Hill spot. You’ll find more of the same at downtown sister cafe Le Pichet. P.S. It’s worth the extra cash to slip some Armagnac in your cup.