Calling all single snow bunnies: Speed dating hits the slopes this Winter

Want to find love by trying something a little out of the ordinary this winter?

Bristol Mountain in the Finger Lakes region of New York has come up with a way to help singles find a compatible ski buddy…and maybe even the love of their life. On January 14 and February 11, 2012, single skiers can sign up for Ski Dating, which includes three, 45 minute ski or snowboarding dates with three potential matches. And to get daters in the mood for romance and help them get to know each other, Bristol Mountain will host a wine and cheese mixer before hitting the slopes.

If you’re interested in attending one of these sessions, pre-registration is required. The price is $15 and does not include life tickets or ski rentals. For more information click here.

ItaliaOutdoors introduces ski adventures for wine and food enthusiasts

Beginning in December, 2011, ItaliaOutdoors will host snow and ski tours that also include activities for food and wine enthusiasts. These small group excursions will give participants insight into the culinary culture of the Trentino Alto-Adige region of Northeastern Italy.

Each tour can be customized to fit any fitness level and budget, from shorter trails to advanced mountain climbs. Groups will be limited to twelve participants and trips are all-inclusive (aside for airfare). And the best part is, no matter which package you choose, daily wine tastings are included.

The guides for these tours are Vernon McClure and Kathy Bechtel, two extremely qualified individuals to give participants a top-notch trip. McClure has more than fifteen years of experience designing, leading, and teaching ski excursions in Italy and throughout Europe, while Bechtel is a trained ski instructor as well as a chef with formal wine training. In fact, she hosts her own food and wine television show in Sugarloaf, Maine, where she shares travel-inspired tips and recipes.

For more information or to sign up for a tour, click here.

Whistler: On the inside looking out

We’ve all heard it before. Spoken in commercials, printed in brochures and even told to us by friends when describing a place: “There’s something for everyone.” Sure, many places live up to that incredibly broad statement. Certainly diverse cities like New York, Barcelona and Tokyo truly do have something for every type of person and traveler. However, some places fill very specific niches. They specialize and their offerings to tourists reflect that. What happens, however, when you end up in a place that wasn’t really intended for someone like you? That’s what I experienced when I was a square peg in Whistler’s round hole.

%Gallery-131623%Whistler, British Columbia is undoubtedly an adventure playland. Its natural wonders are spectacularly and certainly make it a worthwhile destination for action sports enthusiasts. It’s famous for its ski and snowboard trails and is one of the most popular locations in the world for mountain bikers. For casual travelers, however, Whistler doesn’t really seem to offer much.

Almost everything about Whistler looks new. This is not surprising, considering that most of the buildings are, in fact, new, relatively speaking. Most of Whistler’s development has occurred in the last 30 years or so. While that has created an excellent example of urban planning with an pedestrian friendly, no-cars-allowed village, it has also left it lacks personality. The true beauty and spirit of Whistler can be found on the mountains and on the trails meandering through the foothills. That’s where Whistler shines and where it defines itself.

My attention was constantly drawn back to the mountains. There’s brilliance all around Whistler and activity surrounds the village on all sides as people attack challenging bike trails, hop onto the gondolas and share tales of epic snowboard runs during the winter. In the heart of the village, however, I felt a void, as if all the energy had flowed into the landscape around it.

Meandering around the village, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was in a Disney replica of ski resort town with a series is strip malls featuring souvenir shops and rather generic-looking restaurants.

Ironically, what I wanted to find in Whistler I found instead just outside of the village, where I came across a skatepark riddled with graffiti and a beautiful mural painted under a bridge. It was here that the town of Whistler felt lived-in. Otherwise, the real action is on the mountains.

That’s not to say that nothing for tourists exists in the town. History seekers will enjoy a few hours at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, which hosts a collection artifacts from local First Nations Peoples and does an admirable job of telling the story of British Columbia before colonial settlement. There are also plenty of places to spend your money and fill your belly. The village is not lacking for retail.

After a single day, however, I was left shrugging my shoulders and looking wistfully at the mountains, wondering what my impressions of this place would be if I was the kind of person who enjoyed hurtling down hills at breakneck speeds. Instead, my feet remained planted firmly on level ground.

The people are friendly in Whistler and the food and beer taste pure. But what defines Whistler is its geography, topography and the infrastructure that has been built to serve people who have come to enjoy the landscape. If you’re not going to venture into those mountain trails and just happen to be passing through British Columbia on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, Whistler might flummox you as it did me.

This trip was sponsored by Tourism British Columbia and Tourism Whistler. However, my opinions are my own and sometimes I’m just a square peg.

Top 8 attractions in Vail, Colorado for 2011/2012

Measured at approximately 5,289 acres, the Vail Ski Resort is the largest single mountain ski resort in the United States and the second largest resort in all of North America (next to Whistler Blackcomb). With a rich history and lively village surrounding the base of the resort, it’s a destination that has plenty to offer both avid skiers & relaxation seekers.

As the 2010/2011 ski season officially comes to a close, there are still plenty of reasons to visit the quaint mountain town for its variety of summer activities. If you’ve been eyeing the wide open expanses of Colorado’s Rockies, then don’t miss my top 8 picks of the best that Vail has to offer:

1. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
Vail received its first major recognition as an international ski resort in the mid 1970’s when President Gerald Ford carried out a large part of the nation’s business from his family’s home in the town. The Fords left a visible legacy throughout the valley and in 1988, the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation honored former First Lady Betty Ford by naming the world’s highest botanical garden (8,200 ft.) in her honor.

The gardens feature about 2,000 varieties of plants including 500 varieties of wildflowers and high elevation flora. Located just a few miles west of the main town, the gardens are open to the public (free) from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and are certainly worth a visit for those looking for a peaceful afternoon outdoors.

2. Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum
Just outside the center of Vail’s main village, you’ll find the Colorado Ski Museum; a fascinating collection of memorabilia that illustrates the timeline of Vail’s establishment as well as the evolution of snow sports in the state of Colorado. The museum gives especially valuable insight into the Army’s Tenth Mountain Division, which trained during the 1940’s in the mountains southeast of Vail and would later influence Vail’s development as a ski resort.

If the progression of Olympic ski outfits interests you, or you’re curious to find out why Colorado rejected to host the 1976 Winter Olympics, then pay a visit to the Colorado Ski & Snowboard museum. Best of all, it’s completely free!

3. Cinébistro / bōl
Dubbed as “The new center of Vail”, the Solaris complex is a brand new residence & entertainment development that took the place of the long-standing Crossroads Shopping Center. Two of the entertainment highlights at Solaris are Cinébistro, a multi-screen premium movie theater that serves food & beverages to a 21-and-up audience and the neighboring bōl, an ultra-chic futuristic bowling alley that features 10 lanes under a row of giant LED screens and Euro-club mood lighting. Both offer a great selection of food, drinks and comfortable spots to lounge with all those hip new friends you’ve made.

Both venues are pricey, but if you’re looking to splurge on a night of fun while in Vail, then these are the places to do it.

4. Block 16 @ The Sebastian
If you’ve been to Vail in the past few years, then you’ll notice that the former Vail Plaza Hotel & Club has a new name – the Sebastian Hotel. After being taken over by a family-owned investment group out of Mexico City, the Vail Plaza was given a minor makeover and name change. With this makeover came the addition of a few new restaurants; including a refined “visionary” new restaurant called Block 16.

Between an extensive wine selection, an exciting menu full of variety and an excellent staff, there’s plenty to love about Block 16. The prices are slightly higher than the majority of the restaurants in Vail, but one bite of the wagyu beef or duck confit with orange will make all of those thoughts disappear.


5. Club 8150 / Samana Lounge
If you still have energy after the day’s activities and are searching for a good nightlife scene, check out the subterranean Samana Lounge or the impressive Club 8150. Both have a reputation for offering an impressive lineup of DJ’s and touring artists during the winter season, and you can be sure to find a lively, young crowd that loves to dance on most weekend nights.

6. Game Creek Club
For those of you getting married, looking to host a memorable company dinner, or really want to go all-out for a private dining experience, look no further than the Game Creek Club. Accessible only by a Gondola ride that links up with a private snowcat, the Game Creek Club is an expansive lodge tucked away on the backside of Vail’s Eagle’s Nest Ridge. In addition to a beautiful sprawling balcony perfectly situated for watching the sun set over a glass of Pinot, the Game Creek Club offers lavish 4 course meals and a comfortable setting that’s nice, but not overly stuffy. Prices are fitting for such an exclusive outing but it’s by far one of the best and most unique experience Vail has to offer, and won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Reservations can be made over the phone at (970) 754-4275.

7. Ice Skating @ Vail Square / Lionshead Village
Lining the bottom of the mountain just West of the main village lies the posh & picturesque Lionshead Village. At Lionshead, you’ll find a selection of art galleries, restaurants and coffee bars located around a beautiful skating rink. During the winter months, this is a great place to bring the family and cozy up next to a fire pit while the kids have a go at testing their skating abilities.

8. Blue Sky Chairlift
During the ski season, many locals will tell you that the best section of Vail’s 5,000+ acres is the secluded and less crowded backcountry of Blue Sky Basin. At the 11,480 foot summit, you’ll find Belle’s Camp; a warming hut and picnic area with a view of the surrounding Rockies that cannot be beat. Blue Sky has all types of terrain to choose from and just getting there is an adventure in itself. The only downside is that the lifts on this side of the mountain close earlier, so plan accordingly.

Of course, this list is just the tip of the icicle when it comes to Vail’s attractions. There are enough hot tubs, art galleries, and quaint restaurants to keep most visitors busy for a jam-packed 4-5 days all year round.

If you’re a fan of Vail and have some additional inside information that is missing from this list, give us the scoop & leave a comment below!

Stephen traveled to the Vail Film Festival on a trip sponsored by Olympus. No editorial content was guaranteed and he was free to openly experiment with Olympus’s cameras while snowboarding, bathing in picturesque hot tubs, and rubbing elbows with A-list celebrities.

Winter in Alaska: fine dining, finer skiing at the Alyeska Resort & Hotel

In the spirit of journeying during periods less traveled, I’ve embarked to Alaska this winter. Follow the adventures here, and prepare to have your preconceived notions destroyed along the way.

You know you’ve considered it: “What if I went skiing this year… in Alaska? But then, the inevitable list of excuses rolls in: the flight’s further, it’s more expensive, none of my friends would come, I can’t reasonably drive it should I want to, etc. Pish posh. Utah may lay claim to The Greatest Snow on Earth, but Utah hasn’t met Alaska. Girdwood, Alaska — just 45 minutes outside of Anchorage — is home to Alyeska Ski Resort & Hotel, an increasingly luxurious stop for those who’ve grown tired of the challenges found in America’s Mountain Time Zone. What’s most staggering about Mount Alyeska isn’t the near-4,000 foot top elevation, but the 250 foot base elevation. Going from 250 feet to nearly 4,000 is truly a sight to behold — it’s not everyday that you find a ski resort with its base at sea level, you know? Read on to find out a little more about winter gem, and why should most definitely bring an appetite while visiting.


An overview and peek inside of Hotel Alyeska, plus a ride up the scenic tram

Frankly, Alyeska has a lot of things going for it. For one, it’s located in Girdwood. It’s just a 45 minute haul to ANC, but it feel miles apart. It’s definitely got that “ski town” vibe, much like Whitefish, Montana. Forget about dodging the haughty and uppity here — Alaska wouldn’t be caught dead trying to be Park City. Girdwood’s also served by a Glacier Valley Transit shuttle, which is free to use for Alyeska guests. It’ll take you to a number of locally owned (and infinitely cute) eateries, with The Bake Shop, Chair 5 and Double Musky earning high marks from the locals. You’ll also be able to scoot down to the Tesoro station, home to Coast Pizza, a killer ice cream stop and the Tourist Trap Gift Shop; contrary to its title, the latter is also home to Glacier City Snowmobile Tours, which is a discussion deserving its own attention.

Secondly, there’s Mount Alyeska, which is surrounded by its colleagues in the Chugach mountain range. What else can you say? The scene is just gorgeous. There’s just something about being at sea level and looking up at a peak that’s three-quarters of a mile high that takes your breath away. Those postcards and screensavers you’ve seen of Alaska? Yeah, a good portion of ’em are right here. The mountain is in impeccable shape, and while the majority of runs cater towards advanced and expert skiers, there’s a sliver of novice courses as well. ‘Course, those who are really looking to get crazy can select from a myriad heliskiing operations in the area. The weekends are bolstered by night skiing, and with one of the longest ski seasons in North America, you won’t have to squeeze your ski trip into the months of January and February (unless you’re keen on it).

Then, there’s the hotel. If you’re coming to Mount Alyeska, you might as well stay at a ski-in / ski-out property, right? Aside from having an GVT shuttle run by the hotel every so often, you’re also able to pick up the Alyeska Tram or just walk right out and catch a lower lift from the rear of the hotel. During my stay here, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the layout. The recent renovations (2007) are immediately noticeable — the lodge and common areas are simply gorgeous, and you’ll find more food options that you’ll know what to do with. I was also a bit taken aback by just how kind the staff was — they aren’t charging 5-star prices here, but you’ll have no issues getting waited on should you need anything. The pool and spa area was also a real boon for weakened, weary bones after a day out on the slopes, and the rooms themselves were both modern and well-equipped. Free bottles of Alaska’s own Glacierblend water at night? Check. A Serta pillowtop mattress (one to die for)? Yep. Free in-room Internet? It’s there, as is free Wi-Fi in the commons areas. It’s hard to put a price on being able to walk right out of the hotel and into the snow, but for those who’ve dealt with de-gearing and making an hour-long trek back to a resort after skiing, you’ll probably have an easier time assessing a value.

Finally, there’s Seven Glaciers. Oh, Seven Glaciers. The whole experience of this place is second to none. First off, you have to grab a ride in the Alyeksa Tram to get to it. It’s a AAA Four Diamond, mountain-top restaurant, which means that you’ll be eating while looking out at the Chugach mountain range. Quite honestly, this along would warrant a visit even if the food were horrific, but I’m happy to report that it’s the polar opposite. Not only is the food beyond outstanding, but Chef Jason Porter does an immaculate job with the presentation. Service is top-notch, the wine list requires a book of its own to peruse, and if you’re terrified of food being “faniced up” just for the sake of charging you an arm and a leg, you’ll be happy to know that your fears are no good here. This really is Alaskan dining at its finest, and even southern legends like Paula Deen have dropped by for a bite. If you’re desperate for a recommendation, I’d say make a reservation (that entitles you to a gratis (and redicuously beautiful) ride on the tram) and grab the scallops or Wagyu beef.

You’ve probably heard mainlanders gripe about how Alaska’s “dark all winter,” but that actually couldn’t be further from the truth. I saw daylight from ~8am to ~6:15pm during my stay in late February, and couldn’t have been more thrilled with the weather. If you’re not into skiing or snowboarding (or you’re traveling with someone who fits that description), you’ll find plenty to do nearby: gold panning at Crow Creek Mine, bore tide viewing, dog sledding, snowshowing and hiking / biking. My suggestion? Push aside any hesitations you may have had about trekking to The Last Frontier in the winter — you’ll dodge the crowds, savor the snow and have everyone back in Utah teeming with envy. We kid, we kid… sort of.

[Images provided by Dana Jo Photography]

My trip was sponsored by Alaska Travel Industry Association, but I was free to report as I saw fit. The opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.