Friday, February 28, 2014

Olympic Reflections

Sochi Closing Ceremony
With the Olympics dominating TV for the past few weeks, it comes as quite a let down when you can't watch world class athletes whizzing across the snow and ice every night at the click of a button.

But it also inspires a lot of people to get off the couch and onto the slopes. Even in the UK where there are no ski resorts, ski fever has been so intense that there's been a surge in attendance at the 60 or so indoor ski facilities all over the country. Visits to the Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre website are triple the level of the same time last year and on the day Jenny Jones won bronze for Snowboard Slopestyle, visitors quadrupled expectations. Skiplex saw a 160 percent website surge on "Jenny day" as well as hundreds of parent calls.

In Canada, Resorts of the Rockies (RCR) is reporting an increase in ski clubs booking training space at Olympic venue, Nakiska. "There's also been much interest in the Para Alpine events coming up with many clubs training in Kimberley, British Columbia," says RCR's Matt Mosteller. "In Fernie it is all big mountain and freestyle programs which are up in club participants over 20 percent." In the USA, Mike Jankowski - US Freeskiing and Snowboarding Head Coach - launched his ski career in Arizona Snowbowl in the 90s. The resort has seen record rates this season, partly due to their strong links with the Games.
Kelsey Serwa, Ski Cross Olympic Silver Medallist from
Big White
At Big White, BC, Kelsey Serwa's silver medal is inspiring parents to boost their kids' abilities. "Since Kelsey has won Olympic Silver Medal we have seen an increase in booking inquiries in our children’s after school program by 12 percent," says Senior VP, Michael Ballingall. "Interest in the race club is up but new bookings cannot be manufactured until next season. With this increase in activity especially in the children’s sector we are putting on an extra children’s camp for spring break."

I know how these wannabees all feel: I have the ski itch after watching the Olympics. If I hadn't already booked a ski holiday to Canada next week, I know I would be googling right now to book a trip! It's a great time to ski - March is traditionally one of the snowiest months of the winter, there's been a substantial buildup of snow over the past four months, and there's the bonus of warmer weather than early season.

During the fall, I managed to interview several Canadian Olympic hopefuls for a couple of stories I was writing - one for the Dallas Morning News and another project for the Calgary Herald. Tracking the interviewees' progress, I saw that one of them, Rosalind Groenewoud got seventh place in the finals of the Ski Half Pipe - a particular privilege to be there, she said, since this was the first Olympics to include her discipline. Although she didn't come away with a medal, Roz congratulated the winners on her facebook page, saying she was proud to be part of the female freeski community.

In between studies at Quest University near Whistler, Roz trains hard around Canada for freeski events and took precious time from her arduous schedule to talk to me about her home hill. Her formative years were spent at Castle Mountain in Alberta, Canada - still a haven for her when the pressure builds up. “My family has a double-wide trailer on site so it is a great place for family time, both on and off the slopes,” she told me. This is where she first got to grips with the punishing pace of moguls and big air. “The freestyle club's mogul course is now first-rate,” she said. “Many future Olympians have trained or competed there.” Her tip for Korea 2018: "I think it is a big possibility we'll see at least one Castle skier - maybe Davis Clement - going to the Olympics in moguls in 2018."

Jenn Heil (left) at Sochi
Jennifer Heil was one of the moguls analysts at Sochi. A former Olympian herself, I spoke to her early in the season about her home hill, Marmot Basin where she even has her own run - Jenn’s Run. “It is really special to me because Marmot Basin played such a critical role in both my ski development and life long passion for skiing,” she told me. Jenn also worked as a specialist in revolving issues at Sochi. Now she's looking forward to introducing her toddler to cross-country, skating and, of course, downhill skiing at Marmot. 

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, Marmot Basin has a big birthday bash planned for March 8 at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, a great place to combine sublime skiing during the day with fancy festivities by night. The Masquerade Ball includes a champagne reception, live music and dancing and four-course banquet. Ticket holders get a free ski day at nearby Marmot Basin with outdoor barbecue, family activities, music, prizes and lots of birthday cake. 

For memories of Marmot from the early days, check out Loni Klettl's blog. Loni was also an Olympic skier, still lives in Jasper and has never missed a year at Marmot since it opened.

Dave and Maya Duncan at Sochi
I don't know about you but I found the ski and boarder cross competitions the most exciting and most nerve-wracking events of the Games! Winning seemed more about survival of the fittest, last man standing, a bit like that Rollerball movie years ago. Canadian Ski Cross champ, David Duncan was a Sochi contender with high hopes. I interviewed him pre-Olympics about his love of Kicking Horse in British Columbia. “Competitive skiing can be a grind at times, so it was always nice returning home to Kicking Horse and remember why I love skiing,” he told me. “The mountain has helped keep the balance between racing and recreating.”  He said the best time to ski Kicking Horse was pretty much now: "after a fresh snowfall or sunny spring day."He missed medalling but you can read more about his signature Sochi experiences on his facebook page: 

It's been a big week for newspaper publications for me. Here are the links:

To find out why mountain getaways are good for your health, check out my latest article in the Calgary Herald Travel section last Saturday: 

And for those who get really cold skiing (and are jealous of my heated boots, heated gloves and heated ski vests), please read my article in the Houston Chronicle: Being warm can make a huge difference in your skiing as well as your entire ski vacation.

If you're a new mum or know someone who is, check out my Dallas Morning News article about Lake Louise's daycare facilities for newborn babies:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Celebrity Skiing

I bumped into Conan O'Brien at Deer Valley the other day. Not literally, fortunately; he just happened to be in the same lovely lunch lodge as my ski group. We were having an amazing time, skiing light Utah powder and exploring all the glades. It’s funny, though, how having celebs hanging around adds instant cachet to the destination. Even though you know a ski hill is great yourself, it often takes someone famous to clinch it for you. 

Matt Mosteller with Chris Nolan at Nakiska
It got me thinking about “celebrity endorsement” in general. Hubby, Dr Simon Hudson is a tourism researcher and he loves researching subjects like that. Here’s a snippet of what he has to say on the value of celebrity patronage to a tourism destination:

“Encouraging celebrities to use tourism and hospitality products can result in considerable media coverage, and can therefore help to promote that particular product. For example, Richard Branson built Virgin Atlantic Airways with the help of a strong public relations campaign that included inviting as many rock stars as possible to fly on his airline. Destinations, too, can benefit from celebrity visits. The ski resorts at Whistler, BC, have a reputation for attracting high- profile film and music stars, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner and British singer Seal, as well as business magnates like Microsoft’s Bill Gates. Many consider the 1998 visit to Whistler by Prince Charles and his sons, Princes William and Harry, as the biggest thing to have happened on the Whistler celebrity scene.”
This is an excerpt from Simon’s book Tourism and Hospitality Marketing: A Global Perspective published by Sage and also available from Amazon (I wrote the case studies).

Robert Redford at Sundance by Kristina Loggia
Of course Utah resorts in the vicinity of Sundance (there are 11 of them within an hour of Salt Lake City airport) are regularly bestowed with the presence of film stars, producers and famous musicians. The Sundance Film Festival itself attracts hundreds of stars from all over the world each February – notably this year One Direction’s Harry Styles who caused much groupie groveling in Main Street Park City. And the spin off is that they often fall in love with Utah ski resorts much like Robert Redford did in the 1960s before he bought Sundance.

Like Redford, many of these celebs go a stage further, buying homes in the area. Will Smith, Katherine Heigl and Jeffrey Katzenberg have all recently invested in Park City, for example. Ski resorts don’t tend to exploit their star attractions, they prefer to give them privacy; but you can be sure that the chance sightings by media as well as general public reinforce their street cred.

Pierce Brosnan acting like a tourist at Sunshine Village
Another ski resort annually besieged with stars of stage and screen is Sunshine Village, near Banff in Alberta. Every January the Waterkeeper Alliance fundraiser is staged there by Robert F. Kennedy Jr, with a different celebrity lineup each year including stars like Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, Michael Keaton, Kelsey Grammer. Alec Baldwin is a firm fixture, taking part in ski, snowshoe and toboggan races plus gala events over two days. Last year he ran into my ski buddy, Yana Doyle in the Java Lift café. “He started chatting with us because he was crazy about my daughter Sadie," she told me. "He said he wished he had had more children.” He was so nice and normal that Yana didn’t even think to ask for a photo but she wished she had afterwards.

Powder Matt with Ellen Page at Nakiska
Leonardo DiCaprio spent two months filming Inception in Alberta's Kananaskis area. While there, Matt Mosteller (Powder Matt) and his wife, Maureen did private ski coaching at Nakiska for all the actors including DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. They also coached Ellen Page (star of Juno). "It was an amazing experience to be able to share the incredible natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies not only on set at Nakiska but also when we shot some scenes for Inception in Fernie, British Columbia," said Matt. "Fernie really took their breathe away the backdrop of the Lizard Range wrapping around the spectacular Elk River valley." The Mostellers had a blast spending time with all the crew. "Especially Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy and Director Christopher Nolan as each was real down to earth and we shared some very special moments with each of them," said Matt. "Not very often that you are in the hot tub with an all star cast from a DiCaprio movie!" The Mostellers still keep in touch with their famous friends and often provide coaching tips to Hollywood stars.
Matt with Tom Hardy at Nakiska
When you think of it, skiing is the perfect disguise for celebs trying to go incognito: they can go out in public covered up with helmet, goggles, face masks and bulky ski gear with little fear of being recognized unless they disrobe in the lodge. Years ago, in Verbier, Switzerland, when my son Rupert was just five, we bumped into Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson (who was then married to Prince Andrew) on the slopes. I knew she was around because my ski instructor friend, Jo had been coaching her daughters. I said to Rupert: "Look over there, there's a duchess and a couple of princesses." He looked around madly but said "I can't see any." I replied "With that woman over there all in black with the red hair sticking out of her hat." "Oh," he said, disappointedly. "I was looking for someone in a princess dress!"

A regular royal resort, Verbier is also the destination where Prince Harry and Cressida Bonas were first spotted together. Princess’s Beatrice and Eugenie still visit with their former chalet-girl mother and Prince William has also been accompanied by the Duchess of Cambridge. Princess Eugenie celebrated her birthday there at La Carrefour restaurant last year. Carrefour is a lovely restaurant just above Verbier village, where I've spent many a lazy lunch or apres ski session. We even used to go up there for evening parties if the drive was do-able. Verbier has always been a big celebrity hangout, with Richard Branson owning a chalet there and James Blunt, Lawrence Dallaglio and Carl Fogarty recently launching as restaurateurs. They opened a slopeside restaurant last year and later added the Cuckoo's Nest to their slope side repertoire, with a menu that includes 'Sarah Ferguson specialities'. Made in Chelsea cast members are known to frequent the mountain chic après ski bar, La Rouge. Others spotted around town include Pixie Lott, Jason Statham, Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Diana Ross (who opened the jumbo ski lift back in 1987).

Although resorts don't like to intrude on celebrity privacy, I've persuaded a few more to admit to hosting the following famous skiers and snowboarders: 
Lindsey Vonn at Lake Louise Winterstart
World Cup

Lake Louise, AB, Canada - Every year the world's best downhillers assemble for the Winterstart event which launches the racing season. A great time to collect autographs. Lindsey Vonn was there in early December and she did a great job mingling with the crowds, happily chatting and posing for pictures.

Fernie, BC, Canada – Justin Timberlake snowboards there and has done catskiing and snowmobiling. Fernie also hosted crews and stars of Hot Tub Time Machine.

Canadian Mountain Holidays – Richard Branson heli-skied at CMH’s Valemount lodge this season:

Silver Star, BC, Canada – Nicole Kidman (and sister Antonia) and Keith Urban spotted there for the past two seasons.

WhistlerBlackcomb, Canada – Gene Simmons owns a home here and is seen with his family regularly. Other famous visitors include Alicia Keys & Swizz Beatz, Nas, Channing Tatum, Chelsea Handler, Usher, Queen Latifah, Lil’ Jon, Terry O’Quin, Daniel Radcliffe, Jack Black, Cindy Crawford, Richard Branson, Tori Spelling, Paris Hilton, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman, Tom Cruise, Heidi Klum, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner, Seal, Bill Gates, Prince Charles and Princes William and Harry,

Sundance, UT - This year’s festival lineup included Steven SpielbergKeira KnightleyLuke WilsonGwyneth Paltrow, Bradley CooperKristen StewartAubrey Plaza, Nicholas Hoult, Joseph Gordon-LevittMaggie GyllenhaalKellan LutzElizabeth OlsenBill HaderGoldie HawnAaron PaulRachel McAdamsEmile HirschAnna Kendrick, Joe ManganielloMelanie LynskeyGeorge TakeiJoshua JacksonDiane Kruger, Elijah Wood and Michael Shannon.

Aspen, CO – Celebs are two a penny in Aspen – notables include Mel Gibson, Victoria Beckham and Mariah Carey. Home hill for snowboarding star Gretchen Bleiler

Breckenridge, CO – Lots of Olympians train there including Bobby Brown, Keri Herman, Shaun White. 

Vail, CO - Lindsey Vonn lives at The Ritz-Carlton Residences when she’s training and has also showed Tiger around the slopes. Michelle Obama and family skied there. Paris Hilton, Jessica Biel, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have also visited.

Telluride, CO – Tom Cruise, Oprah and Jerry Seinfeld own property there and Robert Redford and Ralph Lauren have visited.

Jackson Hole, WY – Dick Cheney and Harrison Ford own property; Tiger Woods, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Jim Carrey and Sandra Bullock have visited.

Mammoth, CA – Being so close to Hollywood means multiple celeb sightings including regulars Arnold Swarzenegger, Cameron Diaz, Keifer Southerland and Tony Hawk. Paul McCartney has also skied there. 

SunValley, Idaho – Clint Eastwood, Robin Williams and Tom Hanks own houses nearby. And Bruce Willis used to own Soldier Mountain Ski Resort in Idaho, but in 2012 decided to donate it to the community.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Happy Valentine's Skiing

Snowballs are heart-shaped at Big White, BC
Sundance: Utah's rustic, romantic resort
Valentine's Day is being celebrated worldwide this weekend with romantic assignations. My hubby and I have already had ours in advance though, when we stayed last week in the secluded cabins at Sundance Resort, Utah. With lusty log fires and decadent, down-duveted beds, the cabins are so cozy we almost didn't want to go out skiing! However, by now you know me well enough to be sure that we put in a solid six hours on the snowy slopes each day in order to earn our luxurious leisure time.

Later, when we wandered down for drinks at the Owl Bar, the romance continued. The prettily lit pathway meandered down past cute cabins tucked away in the pine and aspen forest and over a bubbling brook to the rustic resort village. If you were a fan of Westerns like me, you would love the Owl Bar which was the actual saloon frequented by the Hole In the Wall Gang back in the late 1800s. It was originally in Wyoming but was dismantled and rebuilt at Sundance after Robert Redford took over.

For romantic resorts in the Rockies, check out the Banff Lake Louise Valentine's Day promo video from 2009: You might recognize some of the "actors"!

Panorama Resort in British Columbia today

Good news for snow lovers in Canada - lots of snow falling and more forecast for the weekend. Panorama got 40cm overnight Thurs - the most in one night for ten years! Looks like Whistler Blackcomb got it first, with 35cm overnight Wed followed by Red Mountain 10cm, Kicking Horse 12cm, 14cm at Fernie and then Lake Louise which was doused in 15cm of fresh on Thurs. Great news for my March trip to Canada - keep on snowing!

With snow and skiing the ideal Valentine's gifts, ski resorts all over North America celebrate Feb 14 in style. Here are some ideas for ski lovers:

Lake Louise Romantic Torchlit Descent
Valentine's Day Torchlit Descent Feb 14 at Lake Louise. Starting off with music and munchies at mid-mountain Whitehorn Lodge right after skiing, everyone then gathers for guided skiing back down to the village. If you've never tried night skiing, this is a must - a surreal experience which challenges your senses with speed and perspective seeming to evaporate in the darkness - or maybe that was the effect of the Whitehorn wine? Anyway, it is a signature event, followed by a fabulous dinner and more dancing at the lodge. Tip: keep a change of clothes in the lodge so you don't have to spend all evening in your ski gear.
Speed Dating with Cupid at Banff Mt Norquay

High-speed dating at Banff Mt Norquay:
I wonder how many ski or snowboard fanatics have met their future partner - or clinched the deal - on a chairlift? Mt Norquay, Banff's nearest ski hill, is actively trying to make this happen with its Lifts of Love Valentine's event Feb 14. A new spin on high altitude speed dating, it starts at 7pm with chairlift hook-ups for the next two hours. Next is the Après Ski Mixer in the Lone Pine Lodge from 9pm - when hopefully nobody will be either lonely or pining! Night skiing and tubing are also a regular Friday and Saturday night feature at Mt Norquay. For bookings, call 403-762-4421 or email

Intimate fireside après ski at Sunshine Mountain Lodge

The remote and secluded Sunshine Mountain Lodge is perfect for a romantic rendezvous for Feb 14. Start with aperitifs by the fire at Chimney Corner Lounge. And then there's a special feature menu in the elegant Eagle's Nest Restaurant, with award-winning California wines and plenty of Veuve Clicquot bubbly.

Valentine's ski outfits at Alta, Utah
Alta Lodge, Alta, Utah is a lovely cozy spot to cuddle up. It would be a great place to meet like-minded skiers, too, as it has an innovative dining system - a bit like European chalets or CMH's heliski lodges - where anyone can sit with anyone. Actively encouraging socializing, hook ups start in the hot tubs where everyone is very chatty. The conversation then moves on to the Sitzmark Club bar and lounge and later people form impromptu eating groups for dinner. Collins Grill on the hill is the ideal Valentine's lunch venue with a special "Heart of Darkness" cup cake to seal the deal.
Needles Lodge at Snowbasin, Utah
Needles Lodge is where the wooing's happening at Snowbasin, Utah this Friday. There's a special Sweetheart Dinner planned which sold out early. Couples are whisked 2317 vertical feet up the mountain by gondola for a five-course feast complete with roses for the ladies.

Wearing your heart on your sleeve at Whistler Blackcomb

Whistler Blackcomb, BC has a "kissing booth" planned for Feb 14. A photographer stationed right by the new Harmony 6 Express chair will take pics of cuddly couples. 

And later on love will be in the air with the Superfly Zipline evening dinner tour. Take your love to new heights with a romantic snowcat ride, tandem ziplining under starlit skies, and gourmet dinner by Bearfoot Bistro in a mountain top yurt. Extra touches include roses and complimentary photos. Call Superfly at 604-932-0647 for bookings.

In love with Copper Uncorked 
The Copper Uncorked and In Love event runs all weekend, from Feb 14 – 17, to take in Presidents Weekend as well. It features affordable wines ripe for tasting from across the globe, while chefs from around Copper Mountain compete for best pairing during the Wine-n-Wing Challenge on Sat, Feb 15. A Moonlight Snowshoe Tour runs afterwards, traversing frozen creeks and wooded trails, leading to a romantic meadow lit by the full moon. Call 970-968-2318 ext. 45861 for reservations.

Valentine's Gondola at Big White, BC
Big White, BC does Valentine's Day in style, with bullet chair speed dating, gun barrel coffee cocktails, aphrodisiac tapas and candlelit, petal strewn gondola rides.

Romantic rides on the Gondola of Love include champers, chocolate-covered strawberries, candles and Lionel Richie love songs. This comes for free with a dinner reservation at Kettle Valley Steakhouse. Email for bookings.

Speed dating at Big White, BC
Couples in condos get to watch sunset over the Monashee Mountains from private hot tubs on their decks, sipping local Okanagan wines after a day on the snow-swathed slopes.

The Gunbarrel Grill specializes in setting Gran Marnier alight and pouring it down a gun barrel into a glass of brandy. Afterwards coffee or hot choc and whipped cream are added to the fiery concoction. Aphrodisiac tapas include oysters with champagne cocktails, tabletop smores, and a Mr and Mrs table quiz at the Globe Café. Singles tables get a free bottle of wine to get the conversation flowing - for bookings, contact
Snowboard dating at Big White
Mountain Matrimony at Loveland

Well-named Loveland, Colorado has gone a step further and organized actual weddings for Valentine's.

One hundred couples are going to tie the knot or renew their vows there on the 23rd Annual Valentine's Day Marry Me & Ski Free Mountaintop Matrimony event.

Looks like ski lovers will do anything for a free ski ticket!