Next Great Place launches, enters into the travel sale site melee

We’ll admit, we’re getting a little sick of seeing flash sale travel sites enter the market – there’s another one every day, each with a slightly different concept. It seems like we have to do an awful lot of checking each time we want to book a vacation – can we get $100 off on one site, a free upgrade there, and oh, referral bonuses here?

Which is why we were initially drawn to take a look at Next Great Place, launching to for limited public beta today. Functioning sort of like a cross between E-Harmony and for travel, the travel sale site bills itself as an “online travel planning company” and pairs qualified travelers with pre-screened resorts (in Cabo San Lucas and Vail/Beaver Creek to start).

Founders Tom Fillipini (co-founder of Exclusive Resorts) and Erik Mitisek have extensive travel industry experience and know the ins and outs of the travel market, but they found it increasingly difficult to plan travel for themselves and their families and find qualified luxury lodgings without the use of a travel agent who may or may not be motivated more by commissions than by providing the best possible experience for the traveler.

Unlike other sale sites, where travelers themselves browse and choose their preferred resort, Next Great Place puts the planning into the hands of dedicated (and salary, not commission-based) employees who then vet the proposals through pre-selected suppliers. After generating a “vacation request,” travelers will have customized proposals waiting in their inbox within 48 hours.

Travelers then have 48 hours to purchase the trip and lock into the preferred pricing. While the site is certainly limited in terms of locations and properties available at the current moment (there are about 10 resorts and only two locations on board), we’re intrigued by the model. The competition for business gives suppliers the incentive to engage in price competition and transparency, and also allows travelers to “lock in” on preferred pricing for times when occupancy may be low.

In our brief trial, we found the sample process of selecting a resort to be easy – simply check the box on preferred amenities (spa, golf, babysitters, ect.) and the resort comparisons come back with a simple click. The entire process took under five minutes!

We’re happy to report that the site is free … for now (register at and you’ll be approved within a day or so), but they’re considering adding a yearly subscription fee of around $1,000. Book once, and you’ll receive that in credit towards your stay. We understand the need for a business model, but we’re not sure that travelers who have so many free resources on their hands will want to pay that high of a price for the service that can essentially be replicated for free on a number of other platforms. The site promises to add up to 100 destinations in the next five years, which would certainly be an enticing prospect.

The resorts are pre-vetted by Next Great Place, and, with names like Capella Pedregal and Esperanza currently on board, we’re sure that the business is committed to partnering with resorts of the highest caliber.

Unlike other villa rental sites, Next Great Place guarantees a response and pricing within 48 hours – so there’s little uncertainty and waiting.

We’ll certainly be watching to see if this model is replicated by other sites and to see if Next Great Place continues to grow.

5 great spring break ski destinations

With spring break just around the corner, many of you are no doubt looking for one last blast of winter fun before the warmer temps set in. With that in mind, here are five great ski destinations that will make your spring break a memorable one.

Big Sky Resort, Montana
Big Sky bills itself as the “Biggest Skiing in America,” and for good reason. With over 150 runs to choose from, the longest of which is 6 miles in length, you’ll never run out of mountain to explore. And thanks to a strategic partnership with nearby Moonlight Basin, visitors have more than 5000 skiable acres to shred. The resort is so large in fact, that you’ll rarely have to wait in line for one of the 22 chair lifts and once you do get to the top of the slope, you may not encounter another skier until you get back to the bottom again. Throw in dramatic Montana skyline, a host of other on site activities, and over 400 inches of snow per year, and you have a skiers paradise to say the least. Complete your Big Sky experience with a Yeti Dog and thank me later.

Whiteface Ski Resort, New York
East coasters who can’t make it out west this year have plenty of options for hitting the slopes as well. Whiteface Ski Resort, located in upstate New York, is the perfect example. With 22 miles of trail, spread out over 86 runs, Whiteface truly has something for everyone. The mountain even boasts 3430 feet of continuous vertical drop, which is not only the most of any resort in the east, it is also more than Aspen, Vail, or Park City. Surrounded by the spectacular Adirondack Forest, the trails offer a remote solitude, but when you’re ready for some fun off the slopes, nearby Lake Placid has plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops to keep you busy too.

Mammoth Mountain, California
Skiers and snowboarders on the left coast will no doubt already be well aware of Mammoth Mountain, a fantastic destination for everyone from beginners to experts. Located in eastern California, in the Sierra Nevada range, Mammoth offers up 3500 skiable acres that are covered in more than 340 inches of snow on an annual basis. Of the 150 or so runs available, about a quarter are rated for beginners, while a third of the remaining trails are rated as a Black Diamond or greater. The place is a popular destination for the snowboard crowd as well, thanks to its 18-foot Super Pipe and 22-foot Super Duper Pipe. Known for its long season, (the resort was one open for an astounding 10 months in a row!) Mammoth is likely to have great conditions not just for Spring Break, but for weeks to come as well.

Sun Valley, Idaho
Sun Valley Lodge, located in north-central Idaho, has been a top ski destination since it opened all the way back in 1936. At the center of the ski and snowboarding culture that has developed there is Bald Mountain, or “Baldy” as it is affectionately known. Baldy offers 3400 feet of vertical drop, with an excellent consistency to the terrain, that has made it a favorite for skiers from around the globe. It also offers some of the finest powder you’ll find anywhere and miles of trails with few crowds to contend with. Throw in a great freestyle park and a Super Pipe for the snowboarders, and you have an amazing destination that will keep everyone happy.

Ruby Mountains, Nevada
For a completely different skiing experience, consider going to the Ruby Mountains, located in northeastern Nevada. There you’ll find Ruby Mountain Heli-Experience, a company that specializes in offering heli-skiing opportunities in the pristine backcountry. Unlike the resort options listed above, you won’t find any groomed trails or ski lifts here, just 200,000 acres of fantastic powder that is only accessible by helicopter. You don’t have to be a world class skier or snowboarder to enjoy the Ruby Mountain experience either, as you can choose to take on long, slow, shallow bowls or adrenaline inducing slopes that will have your heart pounding out of your chest. At the end of the day, you’ll return to the lodge for an amazing home cooked meal that will be the perfect end to a perfect day.

The calendar may say that it is turning spring in just a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have just a little more winter fun. Enjoy one last blast on the slopes before putting the skis and snowboard away for one more season.

Fall hideaways: Colorado ski resorts for the non-skier

I live in Colorado and I don’t ski, snowboard or otherwise partake in the numerous ski resort activities involving ice, snow, goggles, weird hats and heavy snow-suits (that the so-called fashionable people call ski apparel). But, I do go to the ski resorts at what I consider the best time, the Fall. It is after the summer crowds and before the winter madness begins; it is the perfect time for a getaway to hideaway- or not. The Aspens are turning, the Elk are bugling and the purple mountains majesty are there as always, only with less snow on them. Here are some great finds for a staycation in Colorado ski country.

1. The Little Nell in Aspen is a sophisticated country inn that exudes charm and class. Each room is unique and all have fireplaces. Everything is high-end, from the toiletries to the down comforters on the bed. There is not a bad view in the place and the hotel restaurant, Montagna, has”farmhouse cooking” with such items as crispy pork belly and watermelon salad and a great three course prix fixe dinner and all with a view of Aspen Mountain. There are two bars serving the rooms, condos and suites. In the Fall you can get a double room for $330-$415. Those prices double in season. Many movie stars stay here as the amenities are outstanding and the location is great. You can hide-out in the hotel or do what the stars do-shop Aspen. 675 E. Durant Ave.

2. The Steamboat Grand (2300 Mt. Werner Circle) in Steamboat Springs is a large upscale property with rooms, suites and penthouses with the usual high-end amenities. There are three restaurants, two lounges, free shuttle, and two hot tubs said to be the largest in Colorado. Steamboat Springs is known for its natural hot mineral springs which are said to have healing qualities. The town has turned these natural wonders into a thriving business, some with bathhouses. More on these at; . 3. Allaire Timbers Inn Bed & Breakfast is a great place in Breckenridge for a romantic hideaway. It is the Colorado lodge style log inn complete with massive stone fireplace and fantastic mountain views. The room decor reflects well known mountain passes. Each room has a private deck, robes and fuzzy slipper-socks. It is just outside of town. If you feel the need for outside action, Breckenridge has the best nightlife in the Summit County Rooms are $149.00-$275, suites are higher.

4. Vail Mountain Lodge & Spa is just a quick walk to dining, shops and skiing. Located at 352 E. Meadow Dr. Fall room rates are half ($149-$299) of their high season rates. It is a lodge with an intimate cozy feel. All rooms have soaking tubs, fireplaces and feather beds. The hotel restaurant,Terra Bistro is a hot spot for locals and their spa is among the best in town.

5. Devils Thumb Ranch just outside of Winter Park is a guest ranch on 4,000 acres and gives new meaning to the term solitude. This is a great escape that has cabins decorated with rustic antiques and a lodge as well. The vibe is Colorado wilderness but cozy. It has two restaurants, a bar, spa, pool, sauna and a game room that boasts all non-electronic games. The ranch is very Eco-conscious and green and even uses geothermal energy for heat. It is a great place to hide-out from the rat race and breathe in that fresh mountain air. It is located eight miles from Winter Park Colorado on Grand County Rd. 83. $210-$565 for a lodge room and $315-$895 for a private cabin. For more information on this property;

All of these accommodations are located in the Northern Rockies and the towns are relatively close to one another. Fall is a great time to hideaway in the Rockies even if it is just for a little vacation close to home-a staycation.

Vail: Eight free ways to rock snowless slopes

Your skis are jammed in the closet, and you’re more concerned about traffic en route to the beach than you are about getting out to the Rockies. Well, it’s time to change your thinking. Dash off to Colorado this summer, and you can escape the heat and find some exciting ways to recharge away from home. Oh, and you won’t have to pull out your wallet when you get there.

Check out these free ways to have a blast in Vail this summer without dropping a dime:

1. Music: Enjoy the Hot Summer Nights Tuesday Free Concert series

2. More Music: Tuesday isn’t enough? Get greedy and hang out until Thurday for jazz concerts outside the Arrabelle at Vail Square. If you can’t get enough jazz, linger at the Vail Farmer’s Market on Sunday, too.

3. Ride: Stick your kids on a gondola. It won’t cost you a thing, and you can get them out of your hair for a bit.

4. Play: Try your hand at horseshoes or bocce (among others) at Adventure Ridge.5. Hike: Walk the trails of Vail Mountain with a guide.

6. Serve and volley: Are you into tennis? Pick up a match at the Golden Peak Tennis Courts.

7. Learn: Take advantage of free admission to the Colorado Ski Museum.

8. Park: Yeah, it doesn’t sound like much, but anyone who lives in a city, especially, will appreciate this one. Vail Village and Lionshead offer free parking all summer long.

And if this isn’t enough for you, there are some deals to be had. Both the Arrabelle at Vail Square and The Lodge at Vail are kicking in solid discounts, with rates at the former starting at $199 a night and the latter at $149 a night.

Teva Mountain Games hit Vail June 3-6

The Teva Mountain Games are set to get underway in Vail, Colorado next week, running from June 3-6. The annual event has become one of the top destinations for outdoor athletes who will compete in eight different sports and 24 different disciplines, including trail running, mountain biking, road cycling, whitewater kayaking and much more.

Returning to the Mountain Games this year is the Ultimate Mountain Challenge which seeks to crown a King (and Queen) of the Mountain by finding the best athlete across multiple events. Men and women competing in the UMC will take part in a 10k trail run, a cross country mountain bike race, a road bike time trial, and a 4-mile long kayak race. When all of the individual events have concluded, the athletes with the lowest total time across all four disciplines will claim victory.

The Mountain Games aren’t just about athletic competitions however, as there are plenty of other activities as well. For example, there is also an outdoor photo competition, an adventure film school, and plenty of live music all weekend long. The always popular Gear Town returns as well, with popular outdoor equipment manufacturers such as Eddie Bauer, Black Diamond, and of course, Teva, on hand to show off their latest gear.

If you’re an outdoor athlete looking for a little competition next weekend, that head on over to Vail to challenge yourself against athletes from around the world. If you’re in that same area and you’re looking for a little fun, while surrounded by fantastic scenery, than the Teva Mountain Games are just what you’re looking for as well.

[Image Credit: Teva Mountain Games]