Mud Season Escapes: Where Ski Towns Go After The Snow

The countdown has begun; most ski resorts will be closing in roughly three to four weeks, and then they’ll temporarily become ghost towns. Welcome to mud season, the bi-annual, post-season time when businesses shutter and residents escape to hotter climes – usually (die-hards head to South America to chase the snow).

Be they lift op or millionaire, most locals have their favorite vacation spots – most of them affordable and south of the border. I’ve lived in my share of ski towns (and thus enjoyed mud season exodus), and there’s just no avoiding the fact that certain destinations are southerly extensions of the mountains. What can I say? Ski bums have great taste.

The following are some of the most popular places locals flock to for mud season. The good news is, you don’t need to live in a ski town, or even be a skier, to appreciate them. Book your tickets!

Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico
Also known as “Telluride South.” There’s just no escaping your neighbors, clients and customers, but this sleepy fishing village has managed to retain its charm, despite being less than 30 miles from Puerto Vallarta. Main activities: slurping ice cream, scarfing fish tacos, reading on the beach and watching the sunset.

Costa Rica
Crested Butte loves it some CR, especially a specific treehouse community (started by former locals) called Finca Bellavista. Tamarindo, Jacó and Mal Pais are also popular beach getaways for the off-season ski crowd. What better place for winter thrill-seekers to transition to warm weather pursuits such as whitewater rafting, surfing and volcano bagging?
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Formerly known as the jumping off point for the ferry to Cozumel, Playa has become a bona fide resort, popular with families, couples and singles who desire a bit of luxury minus the crowds and squalor of Cancun.

Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Located close to Playa, this buzzy village is better known as the home of some of Mexico’s most spectacular Mayan ruins. Popular with the backpacker crowd thanks to beachfront bungalow and palapa accommodations (alas, camping isn’t as prevalent or permissible as it used to be); Tulum is now a target destination for food lovers making a pilgrimage to Hartwood Restaurant, a solar-run operation that specializes in locally-sourced, contemporized regional cuisine (note it’s closed March 18-April 3 for annual maintenance). Also, don’t miss the cenotes, or sinkholes, that dot the countryside; you can swim in their crystalline waters, or even explore them via scuba.

Caye Caulker, Belize
Both diving and hammock enthusiasts are drawn to this laid-back island in the Caribbean Sea. Lobster at 9,000 feet can’t compare to freshly-caught.

A popular destination for trade wind-craving ski town refugees, especially Oahu, Maui and Kauai, depending upon budget and inclination. The diversity of outdoor adventure and relative ease of getting there is the draw.

[Photo credits: Sayulita, Flickr user waywuei; sea turtle, Flickr user -NINETIMES-]

Colorado Kicks Off Wine Tasting Season

It’s no secret that it’s been a mild winter across most of North America, but seriously, it seems like just a few months ago we were posting articles that the ski season in Colorado was officially open.

Now, as resorts across the Rockies begin to close and adrenaline junkies begin pulling their mountain bikes out of storage, so begins the lukewarm, half-hearted, between-season time of year commonly known as “mud season.”

This year, however, instead of dodging rocks while snowboarding or fording rivers on your bike, why not liven up the confusing time of year with a little weekend wine tasting?

As outdoors lovers across the state prepare for the historically bipolar month of April, so too does the Colorado wine tasting season officially open across the western portion of the state. Highlighting the season are events taking place outside of Grand Junction, the largest city in western Colorado and the gateway to the Colorado wine country.

Hosted by the Grand Valley Winery Association, the 2012 “Barrel into Spring” will run for two weekends, April 28-29 and May 19-20, and is an event sure to be lavish on gourmet food options and boutique Colorado wines.

Similarly, in what is presumably a nod to being held on Cinco de Mayo, the Viva el Vino bash will feature a rundown of over 15 local wines and help raise funds for local non-profits. Not a wine drinker? That’s OK. There’s going to be a beer booth as well.

Though I’ve sipped on malbec in Mendoza and run through riesling in Alsace, my favorite days tasting are always spent at boutique vineyards located somewhat off the beaten track. So while spring may be an awkward time of year for throwing yourself down the face of a mountain, it couldn’t be a better time for enjoying the desert colors of the Grand Valley and enjoying a peppery bottle of pinot in the Colorado sun.