Crested Butte’s Nordic Inn: All That’s Old Is New Again

crested butteSkiing. Budget. Two words that don’t generally go hand-in-hand. Fortunately, fans of fluffy Rockies pow have one more offbeat lodging option to choose from, with the re-opening of Crested Butte’s classic Nordic Inn today.

The 50-year-old property, which was recently purchased from longtime owners Allen and Judy Cox, is the longest operating lodge in Gunnison County. The new proprietors have renovated and upgraded half of the 28-room inn and separate chalet, utilizing sustainable materials like Colorado beetle kill pine, and adding ADA-approved, handicapped-accessible rooms.

There are also new, high-thread-count linens and down comforters, pet-friendly rooms, a hot tub, free Wi-Fi, heated walkways, in-room boot dryers, ski/snowboard storage, shuttle service, a meeting room and free continental breakfast. The property still retains its original exterior grooviness, however, and offers a variety of rooms ranging from loft or suite, to kitchenettes (see room photo after the jump). If you like the Spider Sabitch-era feel, opt to stay in one of the original rooms. High-season rates average $249 for a Signature King room.

nordic innFor those on a nano-budget, there’s also the clean, pleasant, Crested Butte International Lodge & Hostel, which offers everything from small dorm to family rooms, at rock-bottom prices ($34/night average for a dorm bed, high season). Do note that the hostel is located within the historic town of Crested Butte proper, while the Nordic Inn is three miles away, at the base of the ski mountain, known as Mt. Crested Butte.

Need more incentive? Crested Butte is one of the few remaining authentic ski towns in Colorado. It consists of just a few blocks of what was once a 19th century coal-mining center: these days, the refurbished storefronts house top-notch dining, drinking, and shopping establishments.

Crested Butte also has a reputation for fantastically bizarre cultural and sports events ranging from costumed Nordic marathons and a nighttime “Big Air” comp on the main street, to Flauschink (the “flushing” of winter). The holidays are also notoriously festive, featuring torchlight parades and fireworks. In addition to skiing, the Crested Butte region also offers Nordic sports, dog-sledding, snowmobiling, Snowcat-driving, ice skating, and backcountry excursions.

[Photo credit: Ken Stone]


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)

Avoiding Altitude Woes: What To Bring On Your Next Ski Trip

skierThere are few things that bum out a ski trip more than altitude issues. Even if your symptoms are just in the form of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) – headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia or nausea – it’s often enough to make you wish you’d stayed at home.

I live in Colorado, and have resided in a couple of high-altitude ski towns in the past. Since our ski season just kicked off, for the purposes of this post I’m only focusing on AMS, rather than more serious forms of altitude sickness.

Predisposition to AMS is subjective. Age, physiology, genetics, and physical fitness may or may not play a role. If, however, you’ve got congestive heart failure, a nice alpine getaway may not be the best thing. Conversely, if you’re not in the habit of drinking lots of water at elevation, you’re going to feel like hell, regardless of how fit you are.

The higher the elevation, the harder your body has to work, because air pressure is lower (i.e. there’s less oxygen, which is also why it’s dehydrating). The body responds by producing more red blood cells to increase circulation. The short answer is, high elevations stress the body.

To ensure your next visit to the mountains is free of altitude-related woes, follow these tips:

  • Hydrate – with water, not soda or other sugary beverages – then hydrate some more. Amounts vary depending upon your gender, activity level and weight; 2.5 liters a day is considered a rough daily estimate necessary for good health at sea level. If you’re seriously shredding the pow, then a sports drink with electrolytes at day’s end is also a good idea.
  • If you have health concerns, acclimate slowly, if possible. Try to spend a night at a lower elevation before heading to your destination. Example: Fly into Denver (5,280 feet), before heading to Aspen (7,890 feet).
  • Go easy the first 48 hours, as you acclimatize.
  • Since you’re burning and expending more calories, be sure to eat small, regular meals or snacks when you’re out there tearing it up on the slopes.
  • Reduce (I know better than to say “avoid”) consumption of alcohol. At altitude, one drink has double the impact. This makes for a cheap date, but it can do a number on your head and body. Pace yourself, and drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage. You’re welcome.
  • Take Diamox, ibuprofen, or aspirin, which will eliminate many of your symptoms such as headache, sluggishness, or dizziness. When I attended culinary school in Vail, one of our classrooms was located at 11,000 feet. Our first week of school, most of us were nodding off due to the altitude, and aspirin was far more effective than caffeine.
  • If you’re having trouble sleeping, you can try an OTC, or avail yourself of the local hot tub or a warm bath before bed (remember to hydrate afterward!). If you already have insomnia issues, be sure to bring your prescription or regular OTC with you.
  • Slather on the sunscreen. Not only is the sun far stronger at elevation, but its reflection off the snow can reduce your skin and eyes to cinders. Know what else a potent sunburn does? Speeds dehydration. As well as photoaging and skin cancer, but that’s a topic for another article.
  • Don’t get cocky. I live at 5360 feet, and sometimes, even I forget to follow my own advice – a certain crushing hangover in Vail two weeks ago comes to mind. Just because you live at altitude doesn’t mean you’re used to higher altitude. You’ll be better conditioned, yes. But you still need to hydrate regularly, and for the love of god, go easy on the bourbon rocks.

For more detailed information on altitude sickness, including extreme elevations, click here.

Wishing you a safe, happy snow season!

[Photo credits: skier, Flickr user laszlo-photo; tea, Flickr user Kitty Terwolbeck]

Racing the wind on a frozen Michigan lake

Racing across a frozen Michigan lakeA frozen lake on Michigan‘s Upper Peninsula seems an unlikely place to hold a world championship event – particularly in February. Yet that is exactly where I found myself this past weekend as I watched more than 40 competitors from around the globe zip to and fro across the ice propelled by nothing more than the wind.

I made the trip to St. Ignace, a small town located on the banks of Lake Huron, to attend the annual World Ice and Snow Sailing Association (WISSA) Championship. The weeklong event pits competitors against one another in a variety of wind-powered races that mix grace, skill, and speed in equal measures.

The field of competitors came from across the planet just to take part in the event. The U.S., Canada, Finland, and Russia were all very well represented, as were numerous other countries including Cuba. The lone entrant from that nation acquitted himself quite nicely, finishing tenth in his division despite the fact that his homeland hasn’t seen ice or snow in quite some time. The male and female racers ranged in age from as young as 17 to well into their 50s, although they all shared a youthful exuberance and love for their sport.

The WISSA Championship features three divisions based on the type of apparatus that the racers use to capture the wind. Some competitors prefer the quick and agile wing, which resembles a small hang glider and is usually paired with a set of ice skates or skis to propel them across the ice. Raising the wing above their heads and turning it to catch the wind, they are able to generate quite a bit of speed, while still remaining very nimble. Steering is accomplished by constantly adjusting the glider in subtle ways to meet the changing breezes.The second division pits competitors against one another on sailboards that are not unlike something you’d find on water that hasn’t entered a solid state. Many of the entrants in this category have built their own sleds, merging a snow or wake board with a specially designed sail that is capable of harnessing the wind to generate impressive speeds. Sailboards are not nearly as nimble as the wings but they are still a lot of fun to ride and are probably the easiest of the three types of WISSA vehicles to learn how to control.

Racing across a frozen Michigan lakeThe third and final category actually uses large kites to pull the racers, who are typically strapped onto a snowboard or skis, across the ice. These kites are attached to the end of long cables and use a unique steering system to allow competitors to adjust direction on the fly. What they lack in agility, the kites more than make up for with pure speed, although they do require more skill to control than it would seem at first glance.

Each of the three divisions holds their own appeal of course, although the one that fascinated me the most were the kites. One of the racers let me control his kite while it was in flight and I was amazed at the amount of force it could generate. On more than one occasion an errant gust threatened to rip the handle from my grasp and at times it was all I could do just to hang on. That same racer confessed that he was able to hit speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour on larger, wide-open lakes, although all of that speed wasn’t exactly translating into wins for him in Michigan.

While the graceful wings and speedy kites were a lot of fun to watch, it was the competitors themselves that left me the most impressed. After spending the better part of two days watching them race – and interact – with one another, I was amazed at the level of camaraderie that was on display. While it was clear that they all enjoyed the spirit of the competition, it was even more evident that they simply enjoyed hanging out with one another. Many of them were old friends who had raced against one another in the past, and in between heats they were often seen sharing gear, testing out each other’s rigs, and sharing tips to improve their performance. There was a lot of laughter and good-natured ribbing as well and it was abundantly clear that for many of them the WISSA Championship was simply a great excuse to get together with acquaintances both old and new.

The St. Ignace edition of the WISSA Championship was the first to be held in the States. Next year it will return to Finland, which has been a frequent host in the past. But organizers of the event in Michigan plan to set up a North American competition, which will return to the region on an annual basis. They also hope to continue to grow interest in the sport, which has the potential to be a popular alternative to traditional winter sports.

Visit Michigan.org for more ideas on what to do in Michigan during the winter.

World’s only ski-up Starbucks open for business at Squaw Valley

squaw valley diningTwo days ago, while visiting my brother and his family in Lake Tahoe, my nephew uttered the words I’d hoped never to hear. “Starbucks just opened a ski-up window at Squaw’s Gold Coast mid-mountain complex!” he snorted, before pondering aloud how it was possible to ski with a triple venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte while wearing gloves and holding poles.

Truly, I think the world has enough Starbucks in it, and if you can’t get through a day of skiing without a fix, you just might have a problem. Not everyone feels that way, however, as reported on Eater.com today. Says Squaw Valley president and CEO Andy Wirth, “Nowhere else in the world can skiers and riders enjoy a delicious Starbucks coffee without missing a beat on the slopes.” My nephew might disagree with the logistics of that statement, but never underestimate the power of a Frappuccino habit.

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