Telluride’s Hotel Madeline gives the gift of all-inclusive holiday ski packages

ski packages coloradoI don’t know about you, but all I want for Christmas is a ski holiday in Telluride, Colorado. Call me biased, but as an on-and-off resident for five years, I consider it the most beautiful, authentically Western ski town in the Rockies, and the top resort in the U.S..

When it comes to actual skiing, there’s 2,000-plus acres, never a lift line, and if you love steeps, off-piste, moguls, and serious pow, this is the place. Did I mention the annual average of 300 inches of snow and 300 days of sun? Located at the end of a box canyon in the heart of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, Telluride is remote, but worth the effort to get there.

The actual “ski resort” area in Telluride is Mountain Village, a 15-minute ride up the free gondola, or a seven-mile drive up Hwy 145. Mountain Village is actually an incorporated town, an “affluent” community with a handful of luxury hotels and condos, rental homes, and McMansions, and shopping, dining and apres-ski venues. If you’re debating which town to stay in, it depends upon what you’re looking for. If you want a true local’s experience, and the convenience of being stumbling distance from apres-ski to dinner to bars to bed, choose Telluride. It’s also worth noting you can catch the gondola or two chairslifts if you stay in Telluride.

If you’re looking for a full-on luxury ski holiday and a ski-in/out property (or one with a spa), get up to Mountain Village and book yourself into Hotel Madeline. The luxury property was rebranded in February, 2011, and it’s a gem. Done up in a quasi-Euro-mod style, it’s located in the heart of the Village, and offers spectacular mountain views from every angle.

With 100 condominium hotel rooms and 60, one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom condo residences, the Madeline also features spacious, quiet rooms in soothing natural tones, spectacular customer service, the Spa Linnea, indoor heated pool and jacuzzi, a ski valet, the swanky Bar M (popular for apres-ski), fine-dining at M’s Restaurant, climate-controlled parking (these things matter, trust me), and free candy by the fistful in the hotel lounge. What’s not to love?

More to love are this ski season’s specials, which include an “All-Inclusive Holiday Package” of six nights in a King room; round-trip transportation to Montrose Airport (70 miles p/w); two, five-day lift passes; daily breakfast or dinner for two; Performance Package equipment rentals from on-site Neve Sports, and a resort credit of $100.00 for use in the hotel Spa, bar, or restaurant, or at 9545 Restaurant at venerable sister hotel Inn at Lost Creek, a few minutes walk away. Package price for two is $3,737.00/$1,868.50 p/p, valid December 19 through January 2, 2012, taxes included.

Other winter specials include the “Just One More Night” package: stay seven nights and receive eighth night free, as well as similar attributes to the Holiday Package; pricing for two from $6,500/$3,250.00 p/p. Valid December 19 through January 2, 2012, and February 17-25, 2012, taxes and gratuities included.

Check Hotel Madeline’s website for more specials applicable through the end of the season (April 8th), or go to the Inn at Lost Creek website for their ski season specials. There, all guests have access to complimentary daily ski waxing, edge de-burning, and on-slope valet service with immediate lift access and trail access, and individually-designed suites with stone fireplaces, jetted tubs and steam showers, and kitchenettes.

For more information on Telluride Ski Resort, click here.

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Gift Guide for Cold Weather Adventurers

Tis the season to give (and okay, get) good gear. And in the northern hemisphere, tis this season to not give up on playing outside, on traveling even though it’s cold and rainy or cold and snowy or just plain cold. Help the cold weather adventurer on your gift list by giving gear that extends the season. Here are a few picks, all field tested by Gadling gear heads, that make adventures easier when temperatures drop.

Vacuum mug: You’ve got dozens of these kicking around the house too, but how many of them keep your drink hot for four hours, or more? Stanley’s vacuum mug is the bomb. Not only does it keep your coffee at tongue burning temps, it’s nearly impossible to spill, it’s designed to fit in the water bottle cage on your bike, it’s got a grit guard for street spray, it’s top notch. Bike commuter, cross country skier on your list? Get them this. About $26.00.

Warming insoles: Warm feet go a long way towards having a great day out in the cold. No matter how great my shoes, how excellent my socks, I still get cold feet. I really dislike those throwaway single use chemical warmers. There’s an alternative. Thermasoles heated insoles are rechargeable and last for about eight hours, a full day of playing outside. Your giftee might think they’re dorky at first, but one use in wet and cold and oh, it’s all gratitude. About $99.00.

Merino wool underwear: My all purpose packing list includes merino wool long underwear, regardless of climate and destination, great outdoors or urban winter. There are a bunch of brands, SmartWool, Ibex, Icebreaker… I’m not brand loyal, but I am materials loyal. Get merino for your beloved (or yourself) and you’ll have a base layer that lasts for many years. Between $75.00-$100.00 per piece and totally worth it.Snowshoes: Your hiking friend gets cranky when snow curtails the season? Put them back at the trail-head with a pair of snowshoes. There are dozens of brands — look for bindings that are easy to work in gloves and cleats that won’t get choked with snow and ice. I like MSR’s Lightning line and the recreational snowshoes from Crescent Moon. Up to about $200.00.

Down sweater: When you add a down sweater to a rain proof shell, you get to extend your temperature range to “Man, it’s cold out!” Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent line is a great choice and not too shockingly priced. Patagonia makes a pullover version that packs into a tiny stuff bag, that’s a bit pricier. A great gift for travelers in transitioning seasons, a down sweater takes up very little room in the pack. From $85.00-200.00, depending on the brand.

Great winter boots: I’m crazy for my Bogs, they’re great for stomping around in the snow or on cold beaches, they keep my feet warm and dry. Teva makes super cute insulated boots that are great for city wear in cold or wet places. If your giftee is more of the back country kind, try Keen’s Summit Country, recommended and field tested by fellow Gadling gearhead Kraig Becker. Up to $200.00

Four season sleeping bag: If the adventurer in your life doesn’t quit camping when the seasons turn to snow, a good winter bag is something they want — need, really, so they sleep warm when they’re sleeping out. GoLite’s Adrenaline Four Season Mummy was also field tested by Kraig (on Everest, no less) and he swears by it. $475.00

Photo: Snowshoeing in Altaussee, Austria. Courtesy of Nerd’s Eye View

Watch the new Ski Channel movie trailer: “Winter”

After hauling in 12 awards from various film festivals with the astoundingly successful 2010 release of their first film, “The Story”, the adrenaline addicts over at The Ski Channel have done it again with their second film, “Winter” which is set to make its debut in early October.

In addition to capturing the death defying escapades of some of the world’s top adventure athletes, the film also features 5 tracks off of the soon to be released album “The Sea of Memories” by the rock artist Bush. The album’s feature track, “The Sound of Winter”, provides the background for the high-energy trailer and is poised to become one of the top singles in the nation.

With their first film having been filmed on location in Nepal, Antarctica, Chile, Alaska, Argentina, British Columbia, and the United States, “Winter” promises to take the viewer on a global whirlwind to some of the planet’s most remote destinations in ways, which according to the trailer, “push the human spirit to its limit…and then a little further”.

Launched in 2008, The Ski Channel is a Video on Demand Cable network that also operates one of the largest ski sites on the web. Features on the site regularly range from breaking ski news to equipment guides, and it also serves as a portal for adventure sports ranging from BASE jumping to Adventure Racing.

Watch the trailer, check out the site, and I guarantee you won’t be sitting in your seat for much longer.

How to choose a great dude or guest ranch

dude and guest ranchesHang on, I need to get something out of the way. “City Slickers.” Okay, now that the inevitable has been mentioned, we can move on. Guest ranches–also known as dude ranches–are an excellent choice for a family vacation, regardless of season. Even if it’s just two of you, many ranches cater to couples, ensuring you of an active and romantic holiday.

The guest ranch tradition was established in the Western states as early as the late 19th century. They grew in popularity after the first World War, when advances in technology and the era of the automobile sparked nostalgia for the “Old West” way of life and legendary hospitality. It was also around this time that “dude” ranches spread to the eastern U.S..

While some ranches were and are dedicated to serving tourists, many are working ranches that host guests as a means of supplemental income. My dad worked as a wrangler at one such spread in northern Colorado in the mid-1950’s, when he was putting himself through vet school. Then called UT Bar Ranch, it’s now the Laramie River Ranch, and Colorado’s “newest old dude ranch.” I spent a very enjoyable week there with my extended family for my parents’ 50th anniversary five years ago.

It was the first time I’d stayed long enough at a guest ranch to really get the full experience. Even though I grew up on a ranch, I still love being immersed in the Western lifestyle and participating in ranch activities such as cattle and horse gatherings, trail rides, feeding and care of livestock, and barbecues. When kayaking, canoeing, fishing, hiking, nordic skiing or snowshoeing, horsemanship clinics, mustang/wildlife viewing, pack trips, or even yoga are thrown into the mix, a ranch stay can become a diverse holiday adventure, and you don’t need previous riding experience.

After the jump, tips on how to ensure you choose the right property and get the most out of your guest ranch experience.

%Gallery-128529%dude and guest ranchesFind an online resource
Ranchseeker.com provides a listing of various national and international dude and guest ranch organizations, as well as state associations for Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Montana, and Wyoming. It also describes the strict criteria required for membership. The Dude Rancher’s Association site is helpful for both potential guests and those in the industry.

Another excellent site is Top 50 Ranches, which is “dedicated to showcasing some of the most breathtaking, authentic, and luxurious [international] ranch destinations.” It also allows you to input dates, destination, and other info, highlights special-interest packages, and offers helpful articles and tips, such as what clothes to pack. American Cowboy’s website has archived features on specific properties, as well as their picks for the best guest ranches, and Writing Horseback has similar content.

Authenticity factor
There’s are all kinds of guest ranches out there, from the hokey, git-along-lil’-doggies, tenderfoot tourist mills (this is just a personal quirk, but I tend to think of these places as “dude,” rather than guest ranches, although that’s not necessarily true).

Some ranches are luxury properties (and may in fact be members of boutique hotel or high-end property organizations such as Relais & Chateaux), while others are very family-oriented, with rustic cabins. Many are working ranches, raising cattle or breeding horses. I strongly recommend the latter, for the most authentic, rewarding experience.

Plan ahead
Guest ranches often book up to a year or more in advance. Plan accordingly.

How long do you plan to stay?
Most guest ranches offer a standard week-long program, says the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association (CDGRA). To get the most out of your visit, you’ll really need that amount of time. Some ranches do, however, offer weekend packages.

Ranch capacitydude and guest ranches
Depending upon where you stay, you might find yourself in the company of only a handful of other people or a hundred. If you’re looking for a quiet or kid-free holiday, be sure to take capacity into account during your research.

Accommodations
Are you looking for luxury or a rustic, refurbished historic cabin? Main house or separate building? Full-on Old West decor, or something a bit more modern or genteel? Mountains or desert? Tipi or luxury safari tent?

Dining
Whatever your preference, you’ll find it: Family-style, communal, formal, menu options or no, traditional Western cuisine, kid’s menus, cookouts. Some properties, such as Colorado’s Dunton Hot Springs and The Home Ranch, or Montana’s The Resort at Paws Up are justly famous for their food, made with locally-sourced ingredients. Policies differ on alcohol, as well: be sure to ask whether it’s included, or if you need to BYO.

When to godude and guest ranches
The best thing about guest ranches is that most operate year-round. It’s hard to beat summer in the Rockies, but you may want to consider visiting in the early fall, when the aspens are changing color. Winter allows you to ride horseback in the snow and engage in traditional winter sports, or you can head to parts of the Southwest or California where the climate is mild. Depending upon where you want to go, spring is the only time I’d suggest you think twice about, because “mud season” can be a logistical pain, and blizzards well into April aren’t uncommon.

Activities and special packages
From traditional wrangling work–gathering cattle, roping, and caring for livestock–a ranch vacation revolves around horses and riding. If horses aren’t your thing, this is the wrong type of vacation for you. That said, you don’t have to ride, but you’d be missing out on a key part of the ranch experience. But there are all manner of outdoor activities offered by ranches. If paddling is your primary interest, look for a ranch on or near a river known for its whitewater. Ditto fly-fishing.

Many ranches offer specialty packages; Central California’s Alisal Ranch, for example, hosts a four-day “BBQ Bootcamp” where guests learn how to master the grill from local experts, and enjoy a traditional Santa Maria-style barbecue.

Kid/teen programs
Most ranches are very family-oriented, and I can’t think of a better–or healthier–vacation for kids. Be aware that every ranch has a different age policy, and not all offer kid’s programs or babysitting. You’ll also want to check on minimum age requirements for independent riding.

Level of horsemanship ranch caters to/Can you bring your own horse?
It may sound counter-intuitive to bring your own horse, but if you’re an experienced rider, you may have a more fulfilling holiday and equestrian experience on your own mount (be sure to get referrals, first, to ensure your animal’s health and safety).

Some ranches hold horsemanship clinics, which are as much about educating the animal as the rider. If you’re just planning to pleasure ride but are an experienced equestrian, there are many ranches that breed and train their own animals and emphasize natural horsemanship and the cowboy way of life. Regardless of your skill level, you should always ask detailed questions about instruction, safety policies, how the ranch goes about pairing horses and riders, and their horsemanship philosophy. A poorly-trained mount or injury can really take the fun out of your holiday.

Handicap accessibility
Not all properties have it. Do note that some ranches offer riding programs for those with disabilities.

Phone, wifi, and internet access
Many ranches seek to provide guests with a complete escape from the stresses of modern life. If you can’t live without your cell or computer, rest assured there’s a property that can accommodate your needs.

Pack appropriately
A good ranch will always provide you with a packing list, but you can definitely leave your fancy duds at home. If you don’t own a pair of riding boots or other heavy-duty shoe with a heel, get some (you can find an inexpensive used pair at a consignment or vintage store). These are essential for safe horseback riding, so your foot doesn’t get hung up in a stirrup.

Proximity to a major medical faciilty
If this is a concern for you, definitely bring it up in your initial conversation. Many ranches are located in isolated rural areas.

Cancellation policies
Ask what they are.

How Tourists See Life on a Cowboy Ranch

Body of missing Washington skier found

missing Washington skier
The search for an experienced backcountry skier missing since last Tuesday has ended, after her body was located Saturday at the bottom of a 1,500-foot drop at Snoqualmie National Forest’s Red Mountain, near Washington’s Alpental ski resort. Washington’s Sky Valley Journal reports that it is believed that 40-year-old Monika Johnson of Seattle was standing unawares on a cornice that broke off, and that her body was covered by snow after she fell. The search efforts were also hampered by bad weather. Retrieval of the body will be at a later date, when conditions permit.

Johnson’s body was located by BARK (Backcountry Avalanche Rescue K-9’s), an Alpental-based, non-profit, volunteer mountain rescue organization of ski patrollers, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) avalanche workers, and their trained canine companions. I spent a day with BARK last February, observing and participating in avalanche drills with the dogs, for this Gadling feature.

To support search-and-rescue/recovery efforts such as Johnson’s, or make a general donation to BARK, email alpentalbark@yahoo.com. For more information on canine search-and-rescue, contact the National Search Dog Alliance.