When you get sick on the same vacation…over and over again

It was to be the perfect January vacation: My son Bode and I would have our first ever mother-son getaway. My husband Jamie and daughter would join us 24 hours later at the luxurious Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa nestled at the base of Beaver Creek Mountain along the Eagle River.

Thursday Night Lights

We had never skied Beaver Creek’s 1,800 skiable acres, host of the recent Alpine World Ski Championships. I picked Bode up after school and upon arriving at Beaver Creek, we kicked off our vacation with Thursday Night Lights, a free weekly parade for intermediate-level skiers or snowboarders. After registering at the Children’s Ski and Snowboard School, we were each given our own glow sticks and rode to the top of the Buckaroo gondola and down the Haymeadow run in a synchronized glow worm, only to be greeted at the bottom by fireworks.

High on life and artificial light, we grabbed a pizza from The Lift restaurant at the Westin. As we waited for our food, we played a heated game of “Sorry” and Bode’s dripping nose started, followed by a cough and fever.

sickBy morning, he was officially sick and I knew we had to cancel our trip but vowed to postpone until Spring Break. All was not lost, though. When we informed the front desk we were leaving two days early due to illness, they generously gave us extra-late check-out, a sweet note with a popcorn treat and we made lemons out of lemonade with a morning of snuggles in our Westin Heavenly® Bed, Westin’s crisp Egyptian-cotton linens and plush bedding, followed by a leisurely stroll along the 40-mile riverfront trail where we discovered a secret swing.

Fast-forward two months to Spring Break and this time, our entire family was going to Beaver Creek. Or so we thought.

A few days before departure, Hadley woke me up, announcing what no parent wants to hear at 4 a.m.: “Mom, I just threw up.” A violent stomach flu ensued. On the day of departure, she had turned the corner but was still weak so my husband volunteered to stay home and bring her later.  My friend Eva declared that Beaver Creek must be cursed. I can assure you it’s not. We are.

Enter: Mother-son Beaver Creek Round 2.

Bode and I assured each other this time would be different. I had originally arranged for both kids to go to the Westin Kids Club for a couple of hours so my husband and I could enjoy some alone-time.  I dropped Bode off to enjoy their smorgasbord of games and Colorado-themed “Safari” activities for lucky kids ages 5-12.

With two hours to kill, I opted for murder by attempting the Pilates Barre class at the Athletic Club at the Westin. Though I regularly attend a boot camp, I’ve never participated in Barre and haven’t done Pilates in years. It kicked my butt in all the best places.

As I limped into Kid’s Club, Bode dove into his bean-bag fort to hide (a good sign) as he raved about all the games and slime science experiments he did with his new BFF–nurturing and fun staffer Marla. I took a mental note to hire her to play Mother on days I’m overtired.

Bode and I took the Westin’s shuttle that dropped us off at Beaver Creek Village where we had dinner at the Beaver Creek Chophouse. The restaurant was brimming with families and I soon found out why. Not only was the food delicious (particularly the meat and seafood) but the kid’s menu was expansive, a delightful magician circulated the room (until 8 p.m.) and kids that arrive before 6 p.m. get perks like a free sundae.

Bode was exhausted when we boarded the Restaurant Shuttle back to the Westin but there were no signs anything was amiss. Until I was woken up by crying at 12:30 a.m. I raced into his bedroom and he choked out, “I threw up.”

eagleriver1At this point I almost started laughing with the déjà vu of it all. He hadn’t made it to the bathroom and vomited on the carpet and the corner of his Heavenly-no-more bed. A call to housekeeping in the middle of the night is never good but the silver lining was our angelic housekeeper Felix who not only efficiently cleaned up the mess but was so kind and concerned about Bode.

When the sun rose, Bode felt better but I cautiously changed our schedule. We held off on enrolling him in Beaver Creek’s Children’s Ultimate 4 Ski School Lesson until Hadley arrived the following day.  We instead spent our morning snuggling in bed reading, watching silly Minecraft videos, marveling at our mountain views and soaking in the three riverside hot tubs. We rediscovered our hidden swing along the Eagle River and threw sticks through a rock obstacle course.

skikidsWhen Jamie and Hadley arrived at 4 p.m., we enjoyed Cookie Time in the lobby with complimentary hot chocolate, cookies and live music and then dined at the mouthwatering Maya, Westin’s modern Mexican kitchen by internationally-acclaimed Chef Richard Sandoval–the best Mexican food I’ve had in years.

There was a happy ending. Well, kind of. Jamie wasn’t able to ski because he had to return home for work and Hadley and I had to skip out on our highly anticipated mother/daughter pedicures at the Westin Riverfront’s Spa Anjali. I had promised the kids we would go to Beaver Creek’s mid-mountain Candy Cabin following ski school, only to discover it closes at 3 p.m. And then, just as we laced up our skates to glide across the Black Family Ice Rink in Beaver Creek Village, the rink was closed for the Zamboni and we didn’t get to skate.

But in the end, it didn’t matter because the kids still had a fabulous day in ski school while I participated in their complimentary Women’s Social Ski Tour at 10:15 a.m. on Tuesdays-Fridays. We fell in love with Beaver Creek’s terrain, the Westin and surrounding activities, vowing to come back under more optimal circumstances.

I’ve stayed at plenty of resorts that provide top-notch service in the best of times.

But the AAA Four Diamond Westin Riverfront has my vote for delivering in the worst of them.

What my childhood dreams are made of in Banff National Park

Crunching snow. Flowing meltwater. Shallow breathing. These are the sounds of solitude, something I haven’t experienced with any regularity since becoming a mom almost 11 years ago. But here I am—hiking Johnston Canyon during my solo trip to relive my childhood in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

As an indomitable 18-year-old, I was ready to conquer the world so left Canada to attend college in the United States. I didn’t fully appreciate having a world-renowned destination like Banff National Park in my backyard…until now.

As the first national park in Canada, this 4,100-square-mile park is a gallimaufry of mountains, forests, lakes, world-class restaurants and hotels. I am here to “SkiBig3” the local catchphrase for skiing the park’s three ski areas—Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise–with a tri-area lift ticket.

Kananaskis River

Kananaskis River

After flying into Calgary International Airport, I rent a car and head 75 miles west to Banff on the Trans-Canada Highway, a speedy four-lane thoroughfare that puts Colorado’s bottle-necked I-70 to shame. As the Canadian Rockies appear in the horizon, I need a quick mountain high so veer off to briefly explore Kananaskis Country, the area’s foothills and front-range peaks that are equally as staggering.

A 45-minute drive later—past Lac Des Arc and Canmore—I’m in Banff. Nature is calling so I park the car, stand agape at the 360-degree views, stroll Banff Avenue and grab my rentals from the Ski Hut. On a whim, I check-out Bow Falls near the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel as fuzzy childhood memories of playing in the Bow River become as clear as the ice that now ensconces it. I am home.

Day 1.

Tucked away on Tunnel Mountain, Buffalo Mountain Lodge’s cozy dining room is only a stone’s throw away from downtown Banff but is seemingly another world. I’ve been staying in so many large resorts that I had forgotten how charming boutique hotels like Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts’ can be and I enjoy spending a few nights in their two Alberta properties, Buffalo Mountain Lodge (Banff) and Deer Lodge (Lake Louise).

As I sit under a high wood-beam canopy, my waitress raves about CRMR’s ranch near Calgary that raises their own high quality elk, buffalo and beef products for their hotels and four popular restaurants in Calgary. I debate ordering the Wild Game Hash for breakfast (when in Rome, right?) but opt for scrumptious Huevos Rancheros.

View from North American lift

View from North American lift

I drive 10 minutes to Mount Norquay, the smallest and most family-friendly of Banff National Park’s ski resorts and the only to offer night skiing. I spend the day touring around the easy-to-navigate resort with Ski School Director Gord Fielding, a colorful character with deep roots in the community. “We know most people aren’t going to spend their entire vacation at Norquay but it’s an excellent place to start.”

To ski Mount Norquay is a lesson in Canadian ski history. Established in 1926, the 190-acre resort was the first to install a chairlift in 1948, and was famous for ski jumping and as the training ground for Olympic and World Cup athletes. Expecting sub-par conditions due to a lack of recent snowfall, I am delighted to learn their snowmaking system does an excellent job covering 85 percent of the terrain. We pay homage to Banff native Rob Bosinger as we ski down “Rob’s Run” that was named in his honor after he tragically passed away at 38 years old.

I have my favorite meal of the trip at Lone Pine Pub:  Cheese risotto balls and fried Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha Aioli and a Bison Burger with bacon, Brie and blueberry jam.

Though I’m an advanced skier, I’m no expert and you’ll find some of North America’s steepest double-black diamond runs off the North American lift. My dad once had a wipeout near the top where he tumbled almost all the way down, ensnaring a beautiful woman along the way. It was his most painful pick-up ever.

When Gord suggests we ride up North American without out skis, I am game. Once at the top, the views of Banff, Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle are so dazzling that, after being photographically satiated, I almost forget the chairlift ride of shame back down the mountain.

Norquay is home to “Tube Town,” a seven-lane tubing hill that claims to be the fastest tube park in Alberta. I’ve never been tubing without my kids but I brazenly ride up on the magic carpet, plop myself in the center of the tube, get a huge push, squeal like a kid, realize I’m a grown woman acting like a young’un and keep right on screaming.

Johnston Canyon

I leave Norquay and spend the afternoon on a 1.7-mile ice walk to Upper Johnston Falls. Johnston Canyon is one of Banff’s most popular hikes in the summertime but is transformed in winter into a world of frozen waterfalls, pillow-mounds of snow and blue-ice pillars on limestone cliffs. The smartest hikers wear cleats to navigate the canyon-clinging catwalks and cliff-mounting staircases while the dumbest more adventurous (like me) do it in hiking boots with a whole lot of tree hugging. Despite the ice, I do not fall even once, which should automatically absolve me from a lifetime of clumsiness.

Back at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, I indulge in a carnivorous feast that would have made the Tasmanian Devil proud. I later attempt to light the wood fireplace in my room but it burns out within minutes (where’s my husband when you need him?) I indulgently soak in the old-fashioned porcelain tub while reading my first book in ages, husband and kids temporarily forgotten.buffalo

Day 2.

As I drive 20 minutes from Banff to Sunshine Village, the outlook is bright (forgive the pun). I first fell in love with skiing at this 3,300-acre resort that stretches across three sprawling mountains along the Continental Divide. Ranging from gentle beginner runs off Strawberry Chair all the way up to extreme terrain like Delirium Dive, Sunshine is named one of the 10 top off-piste destinations in the world.
The Sunshine Village Gondola whisks me from the parking lot to the base, where I meet my guide Lindsay. A balmy breeze follows us up Continental Divide Express to Lookout Mountain where we soar above treeline while skiing in Alberta and B.C. on one run while marveling at the unobstructed views of the surrounding peaks.

I realize my memories are not just of the scenery but of freezing my butt off while enjoying them. Next year, Sunshine will be replacing the Teepee Town lift (notoriously cold and windy) with a quad that has orange bubble covers and heated seats. Popular in Europe but an anomaly in North America, my childhood self would have appreciated a toasty tush.

I approach Wawa quad chair where I: 1) Skied my first intermediate run down Tin Can Alley’s beautifully gladed terrain. 2) Learned to swear when my dad left me in his dust.

The T-bar of yesteryear has been replaced by an efficient loading conveyer. When it’s our turn to load, I nervously lean forward on the gate, it opens, spits us on the conveyer belt and I momentarily revert to my younger cursing self. We are transported forward like bottle of milk in a grocery store, the chair swoops around and we’re airborne. By our second time around, I’m a conveyer convert.

Lindsay and I take a quick tour of well-appointed Sunshine Mountain Lodge, Banff National Park’s only ski-in ski-out property.  She observes “with the Canadian dollar so low ($1 CAN=$0.80 US), American are essentially getting a 20 percent discount when they vacation in Canada.” We eat a hearty lunch at the Chimney Corner Lounge and I vow that next time I’ll be brave enough to order the Alberta Beef Dip in Yorkshire pudding.

Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photo

With an annual dump of 30 feet, Sunshine Village doesn’t make its own snow and normally capitalizes on its innovative “snow farming” techniques but like many resorts in the West, it’s been a lean snow year. (Murphy’s Law: it snowed 23 cm shortly after I left). We spend the afternoon on Goat Eye Mountain and thankfully, the sun softens the snow and the conditions completely transform beneath my skis.

At the end of the day, skiers and riders may either take the gondola back down but I opt for a stroll down memory lane down ski-out “Banff Avenue” where my tired, wobbly legs propel me all the way to my car.

Following a 50-minute drive to Lake Louise, I check in to historic Deer Lodge, an easy stroll from the legendary lake. Built in 1923 as a teahouse, 71-room Deer Lodge was completely renovated, restored and winterized in 1985. I opt to skip out on the rooftop hot tub views and eat.

Historic Deer Lodge

Unlike Banff, which is bursting with lodging and restaurants, options are more limited in purposefully remote Lake Louise. I’m elated with my classic Canadian dining experience at the historic Lake Louise Railway Station and Restaurant, a carefully restored piece of history overlooking an opulent ‘Roaring Twenties’ dining car.

Day 3

I wake up in mourning with the realization I will be skiing my final SkiBig3 Resort. I’m incrementally working my way up in size—starting with the baby bear (Norquay), Mama Sunshine and ending with Papa Bear: Lake Louise’s 4,200-acre expanse across four mountains that is consistently voted the most scenic resort in North America. Hear me roar.

My memories of Lake Louise Ski Area are ambiguous so I’m grateful to have my guide Pat Lynch to navigate. We quickly determine we graduated rival Calgary high schools the same year and have common friends. He has spent 17 years parlaying between working as one of Lake Louise’s most trusted ski instructors/trainers, with Parks Canada in the summer. My envy is tainted powder-white.

Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photo

We ease into our adventure with some groomers off Glacier and Top of the World Express. Unlike my previous two bluebird days, the sky is overcast with flurries and the light is flat. Pat is truly leading the blind until I bust out my glasses and am blown away by the views of the commanding Valley of Ten Peaks while the distant Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise bordering the shoreline looks like a LEGO replica.

From Saddleback Ridge at 8,300 feet, we cruise into the bowl, catching the peek-a-boo sunlight that casts dramatic shadows and the visual planes dazzle our eyes in this world of white.

The Larch area has the best conditions of the day. Located on the backside of the mountain, this intermediate-level playground is not as sun-affected and boasts more permanent snow without the crowds. Pat expounds upon the larch tree. “Although it’s a conifer, the larch is a deciduous tree and loses its leaves in the fall after turning yellow-gold.”
“So, the trees were named after the Larch lift?”
“Actually, I think it’s the other way around.” Pat joked. That devil is all detail.

For lunch at mid-mountain Whitehorn Lodge we, of course, order the Rocky Mountain Game Platter’s assorted Valbella artisanal meats, farmstead cheeses, crisps and Chinook honey. I’m on venison overload and almost vow to become a vegetarian until I take another bite of the mouth-watering buffalo and figure why would I want to be?

Lake Louise is the only World Cup venue outside of Europe to join the ranks of the famous Club 5 Ski Classics. Quite appropriately, I love channeling Lindsey Vonn as I blast down the Woman’s Downhill, until Pat tells me the resort has claimed her as its own.
“You know she’s from Vail, COLORADO, right?”
“She’s had more World Cup wins in Lake Louise than anywhere. She came off her two-year-long injury to win her 60th World Cup race here in December.”

I almost get into a toddler -esque brawl but ultimately decide we can just share her.

A Final Farewell

lakelouisechatBefore saying good-bye to Banff, I have one last bucket list item. I adore skating for miles on Canada’s frozen rivers and lakes and was devastated that the temperate weather forced most to close. Someone tips me off that Lake Louise (about 10 minutes from the ski area) is still open so I stop to rent skates at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and sadly discovered they, too have succumbed.

I pout, gaze out upon the still-frozen-yet-not-frozen-enough-to-skate-on-it ice and see legions of people hiking and skating across. With the backdrop of Victoria Glacier beckoning, I mindlessly follow the legions of people making their pilgrimage to Mecca, a glacial landscape of remarkable beauty. It isn’t until I am almost across the lake that I realize their final destination is a crystal-blue waterfall that marks the trailhead of the Plain of Six Glaciers leading to the Lake Agnes Tea House in the summer.

Some ridiculous fools are sliding down the snowfield in front of waterfall so I ridiculously start hiking the glassy trail to join them, fall after my third step and determine this wasn’t the kind of ice adventure I am looking for.

After all, there’s always next year.

When you go:

For more information on purchasing a tri-area lift ticket go to SkiBig3, the official website for ski vacations and passes in Banff, Canada.

For additional lodging information and rates, go to Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts.

Thanks to Travel Alberta for hosting. All photographs, opinions and childhood memories are my own.

Buttermilk’s smooth, smooth ride for families

Making music at Buttermilk

Breaking news: Buttermilk, the easiest of Aspen/Snowmass’ four mountains, is my new top choice for best Colorado resort for young families. Not only did they open a 7,500-square foot state-of-the-art children’s center with many nooks, crannies, hideouts, jungle gyms, rope bridges and a lookout tower, but the ski school and wide-open terrain were top-notch.

I also learned that just one day can make all the difference.

When we were at Snowmass the previous day, conditions were fine yet not optimal due to the lack of snow. However, the heavens didst open and we were blessed with glorious powder at Buttermilk.

The Grownups at Play

The mountain’s seven lifts and 43 trailers are predominantly rated for beginners and intermediates, and even the black diamond (advanced) runs weren’t very extreme so I worried we might get a bit bored until the snow hit. Then it was love at first white as Jamie and I had our best ski day of the season. Because the mountain is geared to less extreme types, the more difficult terrain was a ghost town and we had a powder-perfect playground all to ourselves that morning. If you’ve never skied fresh powder, it’s like floating on a very cold, glorious cloud.

I had a dilemma, though. When it’s snowing, the light is flat and it’s tough to see. The Lasik surgery I had in 2002 is deteriorating so knowing there would be poor visibility, I brought my glasses to wear under my goggles. However, it’s been so many years since I’ve worn glasses when working out that I forgot how fogged up they come. So, I alternated between wearing my goggles and glasses, getting too fogged up to see anything, taking off my goggles, then my glasses, getting blinded by snow and starting the process all over again. Glasses-wearing people: what on earth do you put on your glasses to keep them from fogging?

Of course, these are #FirstWorldSkiProblems and we still had a fabulous time together. Jamie and I spent much of the day on the eastern slopes of Tiehack where the runs are longer and steeper.  At one point, we spotted Hadley doing a black-diamond mogul run with her class. Supportive parents that we are, we started yelling embarrassments encouragements and as luck would have it, she had an illustrious wipe-out. Our job was done.

Buttermilk also boasts an Olympic-size half-pipe commonly seen on the Winter X Games and two smaller terrain parks.  I started gloating about my 0.0005 feet of air after launching off a jump at the Red Rover (read: wussy) terrain park until a class of local 8-year-olds nonchalantly knocked a few 180s out of the park. Tough crowd.

Conquering the Black Diamond

When we skied with the kids at the end of the day, they raved about the camaraderie with the staff.  Hadley pointed out fox tracks under the Summit Express lift and 14,018-foot Pyramid Peak shrouded in clouds. “And when we ride the West Buttermilk lift, do you know what the lift operators do at the midway loading station? If you pretend to fall asleep, they throw a snowball toward you to wake you up!”  After just one day on the mountain, both kids felt like insiders at a small resort community.

We raced over to Tiehack, determined to take Bode down his first black-diamond run. The terrain is much more moderate at Buttermilk so even the black-diamond was more like an advanced intermediate run. Without hesitation, he skied it like a champ and at 8 years old, he can proudly say he conquered his personal Everest.

Which means it’s all downhill from here for Jamie and me.



Happy birthday, Aspen style!

Despite having Aspen, one of the world’s most famous resorts a mere 3.5-hour drive from our house, we had only skied there once many years ago. But I’ve been dying to get back so when we were invited to visit “The Power of Four” resorts–Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk–over my birthday weekend, I was ecstatic. We opted to ski Snowmass and Buttermilk, the more family-friendly of the resorts and I can understand why people love the area.

The Birthday Presents

We arrived to Timberline Condos in Snowmass late Thursday night. Occasionally, publicists will gift swag–a neck gator, some mints or a hat. But Aspen/Snowmass were so generous. Check-out this haul for my birthday, including the shirt I’m wearing!

Twinners. Or rather, quadruplers

That would have been plenty (in addition to just being there) but Jamie and the kids bought me a much-needed Sherpani purse and an iPhone 6. My phone has been on the brink of death for months and the battery dies whenever it comes into contact with cold air, a wee problem if you’ve ever been to Colorado. So, the iPhone was a great surprise!

The Skiing

We only stayed one night at the condo, which was located above the base area. Jamie and I have our own skis so we strapped ‘em on. The kids were ski-school bound where they’d get rentals at Snowmass so good parents we are, we made them run down the mountain. “Run Forrest, Run!”

We’ll call that their warmup.

Out of Aspen’s four area resorts, 3,362-acre Snowmass has something for everyone—from long, cruising green and blue runs to glades to double black extreme terrain to terrain parks to excellent learning areas. Aspen Skiing Co. beautifully caters to kids and mine fell in love with the Treehouse, Snowmass’ 25,000-square-foot children’s center with seven interactive nature-themed rooms intended for specific ages as well as a 700-square-foot climbing room.

But forget the indoors, outdoor fun was where it was at!

As you can see, Bode was really sad to have a class full of fellow dudes. Hadley had a blast in her class as well.

I was left alone with my favorite ski buddy to conquer Snowmass. The resort had not received much snow since Christmas did a great job of snow-making to compensate. That said, I really really want to ski Snowmass on a powder day because I think it would be phenomenal.We lunched at Elk Camp, Snowmass’ newest on-mountain restaurant with a creative menu of organic items prepared in their rotisserie, pizza hearth and bake shop. I told Jamie to order me a panini while I hit the salad bar, intending to get just a small for the side. That didn’t happen. It was, hands down, the best ski resort salad bar ever and I ended up with a salad the height of Everest. When Jamie started to judge me for ordering two full meals and a caramel brownie for dessert, I told him it was my birthday, something he needed to be reminded of throughout the day. :-)

Mid-afternoon, the heavens opened and God gave me my birthday gift: a huge dump of snow.

It’s like He totally knows me.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to enjoy the new snow because we had to grab the kids from ski school. We spent over an hour at the free Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center in Snowmass Village and marveled at the ice age discoveries in the area!

The Ullr Night Out

Though some might enjoy a distinguished night out on the town, I preferred family fun at Ullr Nights. Every Friday from 5:30-9 p.m. Ullr, the Norse God of Snow, comes to life. For just $8 per person (kids 3 and under are complimentary), we were whisked up the gondola to Elk Camp’s hoarfrost land of Norse mythology with live music, bonfires, ice skating, treats, entertainment in The Tent and guided snowshoe tours hosted by ACES.

SnowBikin’. Upon arrival, Bode grabbed a Strider snowbike, took the magic carpet up the mountain and skated ?Slid? Biked down the hill. (Whatever the verb, the result was the same: exuberance). Children’s bikes are free with admission; for intermediate skiers ages 12+, a snowbike tour is offered for $69.

Slip Slidin’ Away. What would Ullr Nights be without a gargantuan snow sculpture of Ullr’s face with a slide running through the middle of it? I was content to watch Hadley and Bode at play until they played they taunted me to follow. “What’s the matter, Mom? Too old?”

If careening down Ullr’s nasal passages proved that I’ve still got it on my birthday, so be it. I climbed the slippery slope, lay on my back, crossed my arms and shot outta there like a booger gone bad. Turns out I’ve still got it…and also got a blanket of snow up my back at the bottom.

It was just a reminder of how young (or old?) I really am.

Lift-serviced tubing is a welcome new addition this year and cozily lit multiple lanes are carved into The Meadows at Elk Camp. We linked up, went solo, joked with the staff and laughed as we banked off the turns. Tubing is an additional $24 and be sure to pre-reserve your time.

I’ll tell you later about the woman who did not pre-schedule and the lovely meltdown that ensued.

We had a blast at Ullr Nights but my favorite part of the evening was our ride down the mountain in our gondola.  “It was a dark, snowy night,” I whispered and our impromptu ghost stories began as snow flew around our frosty expanse and the wind clinked through patches of crystals and aspens. Enraptured, the kids wove in their own ghost stories, a befitting end to a mysterious night that gives homage to all things snow.

As far as birthdays goes, this one was pretty darn perfect.

Aspen/Snowmass for families: The Ultimate Colorado Vacation

“I can’t believe I really did it!” My son Bode’s cheeks were flush with excitement and big, feathery snowflakes. It was our second day in Aspen and he had conquered Mount Everest. Or, in 8-year-old vernacular, he had skied his first black-diamond run at Buttermilk.

“The Power of Four” resorts–Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk–are renowned destinations but it wasn’t until we experienced the latter two resorts’ family-friendly offerings that we were hooked. Not only does Snowmass offer a staggering amount of kid activities including their “Very Important Kid” program and Ullr Nights, but its counterpart Buttermilk’s gently rolling hills and new children’s center is now my top Colorado resort pick for families with young children.

Several resorts claim to be world-class but at Snowmass, we felt like the world had literally descended upon us as we shared chairlifts with charming Europeans and so many enigmatic Brazilians we could have sworn we were at Carnival.

And it was a party! When I’ve extolled the virtues of a winter vacation to Colorado’s ski areas, I’ve had several friends counter, “I don’t like to ski.” Believe me, in Aspen it doesn’t matter–you’ll have as much fun as a family on the slopes as you do off. Here are just a few reasons why my family had a blast on my birthday in Aspen!  KEEP READING

The Awesome Ski Day That Wasn’t So Awesome

I’ve documented many amazing ski trips but in an effort for full disclosure (and to keep things real) New Years Eve day wasn’t one of them.

I generally try to avoid ski resorts over the holidays because they are notoriously crowded. But we wanted to fit a quick daytrip to one of our favorite local resorts, and we figured people would be prepping for New Year’s Eve and wouldn’t have time to go skiing.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

After a string of sub-zero days and snow in Denver, Wednesday was the first bluebird, “balmy” day (if you call 25 degrees balmy). Here’s the great thing about the Front Range resorts: they’re close. Here’s the bad thing about those resorts: they’re close. And pretty much the entire city descended upon them.

We should have known our day was going to implode when Fat Kitty, upon seeing our gear strewn out all over the house, assumed we were ditching him yet again to go on a trip (it’s so difficult to be the needy pet of a wanderlust family). And so he rebelled in the only way he knows: by crapping on Hadley’s blanket she left on the floor.

But, there was hope! Traffic on I-70 is notoriously bad and people have been known to get stuck for hours but it was like the Red Sea parted and we made it in record time.

And then our hope was dashed when we saw the lines in the ski rental office. Jamie and I have our own equipment but I’ve held off on purchasing the kids’ because of they are constantly outgrowing them so we rent. Usually it’s a bit of a hassle but nothing like this:

We waited 20 minutes to get our paperwork processed.

We waited 20 minutes to get fitted for ski boots.

We waited 30 minutes to get fitted for their skis and poles (and that was even after I stood in line early while they were getting their boots).

As we were finally ready to leave, Hadley lost her goggles. Fortunately, they were found at one of the many waiting areas.

I thought that was the end of it but then we began the waiting in the lift lines, which were horrendous. We thought the wait time at the base lift was bad but that was understandable. But then we waited way longer at a very slow triple–so long, in fact, that the ski school students would jump the line, ride to the top and then ski back down before we were even close to getting on the lift. So, imagine how relieved we were to ski down to find another triple and see no lift lines whatsoever.

And then, I kid you not, the lift stopped at every single tower because someone was likely falling getting on or off the lift.

I mean, just look at this boy. He almost fell asleep!

I thought Jamie was ready to combust at that point, Hadley was ornery, Bode was getting worn out from all the waiting (but bless his heart, he is rarely/never moody). And me? Welp, patience is not my virtue.

But then, there was hope! We finally made it to our destination, our favorite lift at the resort with epic intermediate-level runs! The line was long but kudos to that high-speed quad because we were through within 10 minutes and were soon cruising down our favorite run. All the headaches and arguments were forgotten because the sun was shining, the snow was glorious and we love skiing together as a family!

After just two epic runs, hunger struck. Big time. It was well past noon (yes, we’d only done three runs) and we had planned to leave around 2 p.m. to make it back for New Year’s Eve festivities. Jamie wanted to push through a few more runs and then just eat on the way back and leave a bit earlier but Hadley hit the wall.

You do not want to be there when this happens. Trust me.

I didn’t blame her. She’d barely eaten breakfast because she was rushed out the door and standing in line is hard work. So, we decided to grab a burger at the mid-mountain restaurant.

But remember the crowds? Jamie stood in line for 20 minutes and after not moving an inch, abandoned his perch. “Let’s just grab some snacks,” I suggested “we’ll ski a few more runs and then eat on the way home.”

I’m not sure what happened. I mean, what could happen? I gave them Fritos! And Snickers! And Vitamin Water! But like Fat Kitty, Hadley imploded. There were tears, there was drama and despite the fact I wanted to fit in those final few runs in our favorite area, I was done, done, done.

Now, lest you think the whole day was a bust, it wasn’t. Just mostly. But there were a few good things. Remember the snow and sunshine? Gosh dang it, if a bluebird day isn’t my best kind of day.

As we were riding our first lift, I exclaimed, “Blast, I forgot the beads to throw on the trees!”

Bode: “We can just throw our underwear.”

That would have been the other good thing…if only we’d done it.


Crested Butte: A glimpse at my favorite place in Colorado

skiselfie It has been almost a decade since I fell in love with Crested Butte and three years since our last visit which, considering it is my favorite Colorado mountain town, is a rather shameful confession. And with some recent changes for the 2014-15 season, my love has only grown deeper.

Surrounded on three sides by four wilderness areas—Raggeds, West Elk, Maroon Bells-Snowmass and Collegiate Peaks— if the outer-world beauty isn’t worth the drive, the deals are. Kids 12 and under ski free at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) until December 18, 2014 and kids six and under ski free all season. Also, the Crested Butte Nordic Center is offering free rentals AND skiing for kids 17 and under all season 

I’m generally not an early-season skier but since my kids’ getting-an-education-schtick is putting a serious cramp in our adventures, my family travels whenever we have vacation time and that meant Thanksgiving. And I’m so glad we did because my love affair was reignited with the best opening day conditions the resort has seen in years. That, coupled with an awesome Adventure Park, an epic Nordic skiing adventure and glorious food make Crested Butte the perfect kick-off to ski season.

Click to keep reading about our awesome Thanksgiving that included my Brussels Sprout binge (no apologies here), corny ski school jokes, marvelous mocktails, the prettiest view in Colorado and much, much more.

The Paradise Divide



Steamboat Springs for Spring Break: Oh, What a Relief It Was!

Once upon a time when I was a Utah-based travel writer, I fell in love with a foreign land of steaming hot springs, world-class mountains, a charming rodeo and 7 miles of multi-use paved trails that wind through downtown along the roaring Yampa River.

That was summer in Steamboat Springs and though I’ve lived in Colorado for 10 years, I had yet to visit during the winter. We finally made it happen this week during Spring Break.

Five Great Reasons to Spend Spring Break in Steamboat Springs

5) Hot springs.

Old Town Hot Springs

Old Town Hot Springs

Steamboat isn’t Steamboat without soaking in one of their two natural springs. Strawberry Park Hot Springs’s stone-walled pools 9 miles north of town are in an idyllic forest range and water temperatures range from 102 to 104 degrees. But be warned: clothing is optional after dark.

On our recent visit, we had a grand time at the more family-friendly Old Town Hot Springs with their eight hot spring-fed pools, a 25-yard lap pool, a fitness center, exercise classes and massage services. A huge hit was the climbing wall where attempt after attempt was made to climb to the top, ring the bell and jump back into the water. There are two 230-foot water slides for kids over 44 inches that are open seasonally (winter and summer). I screamed in trepidation the whole way down while both my kids laughed, which means the slides are actually really fun for those who don’t need a pacemaker.

4) Horseback riding with Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch.

Steamboat Springs is renowned for its Western charm so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go horseback riding with one of Colorado’s oldest licensed outfitters, Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch, which offers hourly horseback rides (kids need to be at least 6 years old) and summer pack trips. The half-hour shuttle ride from town to their 6,000-acre ranch in the Elk River Valley was my favorite part of the trek as fourth generation Steamboat native, Olympian and cowboy Ray Heid delighted us with stories of his family’s colorful history in the valley.

horsebackThere are around 40 horses housed at the ranch. My husband rode Kirby, Bode teamed up with Music, I was on Boots, while Hadley rode Bode, which made my son humorously uncomfortable to think of his sister riding his namesake. For our winter horseback ride, we wore our ski clothing but turned out we didn’t need them. Though the snow sparkled around us, the spring temperatures were toasty as we rode through the aspen forest with staggering views of Hahn’s Peak and the knees of the Sleeping Giant (a.k.a. Elk Mountain) bowing before us.

There were moments of excitement. When Bode’s horse lagged behind, Music kicked it into gear with a full-fledged canter. “Was it totally fun?” I asked overly-cautious Bode. “Not really,” he dryly retorted (read: understatement). Later in the ride, another horse bit my horse Boots’ behind, to which he responded with a swift kick to the horse’s face, freaking out Jamie’s ride. Lesson learned: don’t nip my butt. Kissing is just fine.

3) Steamboat Sleigh Ride Dinner at the Haymaker Golf Course

Put this one on your bucket list for next year because the final day of Steamboat’s Sleigh Ride Dinner is March 29, 2014 and the 8 km of cross-country ski and skate tracks and 3 km of snowshoe trails will close April 1.

sleighI’ve been to a few sleigh ride dinners and usually the drill is to ride to dinner in the sleigh, eat and return. However, we took a shuttle bus from the Steamboat Grand to the Haymaker, warmed up with hot beverages and appetizers (I’m still salivating over the fried artichokes) and placed our dinner order. We then journeyed back in time as we snuggled up under a blanket in our 20-person sled as a pair of draft horses kicked up plumes of snow while they pranced through the Yampa Valley’s dazzling white dreamscape.

Upon our return, a gourmet three-course dinner was promptly served and the lineup included choices like a sultry roasted red pepper and tomato soup, beef tenderloin (my daughter’s “most favorite steak ever”), Macadamia nut crusted halibut and warm molten chocolate lava cake with raspberry sauce. While my kids played cards by the fire, my husband and I watched the sunset, wishing this Frozen evening could last forever. Just call me Elsa.

2) The others.

Photo: Howelsen Ice Arena

Photo: Howelsen Ice Arena

There so many things to do in Steamboat Springs that we couldn’t fit everything into our two-day visit. An absolute must is F.M. Light & Sons. If City Slickers want a real pair of cowboy boots, this is the place to find ‘em with literally hundreds of choices, as well as stylish western wear and novelties the kids will love. Be sure to pop into Lyon Drug & Soda Fountain next door for awesome gifts, cards, lotions, potions and spring for an old-fashioned soda. Another local’s favorite is Freshies Restaurant. Their breakfasts are legendary but this time we did lunch, which was equally delicious. Dear Freshies’ specialty salads, sandwiches and onion rings: I’ll be back.

Bucket list: Bump-n-Skate. Bumper cars on ice? You betcha! These bumper cars have four tiny wheels and are propelled by a small motor with hand controls that will have you bumping, sliding and laughing at Howelsen Ice Arena. Be sure to check their website for their bumper cars on ice schedule as well as public skate sessions.

1) Steamboat Springs, The Mountain.

skiingThe thing that keeps everyone coming back is Steamboat Springs’ 2,965-acres of champagne-powder bliss. Steamboat is actually a complete mountain range: Mount Werner, Sunshine Peak, Storm Peak, Thunderhead Peak, Pioneer Ridge and Christie Peak. Despite the vastness of the terrain, what I loved most about Steamboat was they have only one base area, making it easy to navigate.

When we dropped the kids off at ski school, they were each outfitted with a Flaik GPS device and we were later able to track their whereabouts. Jamie and I took a private lesson with 27-year Steamboat veteran Dave Hartley who did a phenomenal job teaching us the secret to skiing (ski uphill fast), had a gray jay eating out of my hand (literally), and pushed us to our limits by having me conquer my worst nemesis: trees (his advice was don’t ski the trees, ski the open space!)

At the end of an exhilarating day, we picked up Hadley and Bode. Hadley was thrilled to graduate to a Level 6 skier with Bode hot on her trail for next season. We skied as a family until last chair and they were eager to show off their refined skills. We hit one of Steamboat’s four terrain parks, Lil’ Rodeo Terrain Park, which is more challenging than it sounds with small boxes, jumps and a mini half pipe.

familyMy kids loved the mini-half pipe (or rather, a quarter pipe a.k.a. a half-pipe for wussies). My first time through the terrain park, I inadvertently caught about three feet of air on a jump, swore, somehow landed on my feet and regrouped.

I later concluded that learning to fly at Steamboat Springs wasn’t so bad after all.

Steamboat Springs closes on April 13, 2014 with plenty of fun events in the line-up including the 34th Annual Cardboard Classic, where costumes and themes go a lot further than engineering and craftsmanship for these corrugated creations. On closing day, the Splashdown Pond Skim tests the mettle of those who dare brave the freezing water at the base of the mountain. Thanks to Steamboat for hosting!

Colorado Family Travel: Breckenridge’s Ice Castles, Skiing and Dog Sledding are an Adventure of a Lifetime!

My husband and I dream of owning a cabin someday and Breckenridge has long been at the top of our list.  Only a 1.5-hour drive from Denver (I-70 traffic snares notwithstanding) this authentic mining town has everything I love: a world-class ski resort, the Blue River (a tributary of the raging Colorado River), an idyllic Main Street, gourmet dining, glittering boutiques, endless hiking possibilities and it is part of an 80-mile network of paved, motorized bike paths that connect other Summit County resorts like Dillon, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Vail.

We have spent long, languid summer and fall days in Breck but here’s my confession: we have never been there once the snow flies. And if you love winter like I do, you know that Breckenridge is one of Colorado’s best family vacations.

When you have young kids, no vacation is perfect but we were fortunate to have a nearly perfect trip with huge winds (the downside), huge snow totals (the upside) and knocking off an activity has been on my bucket list since I was born. Maybe I started dreaming about it in the

Dog sledding in Breckenridge, Colorado

womb because this trip was what dreams are made of.

If you’re looking for a fantastic getaway in Colorado’s mountains, these are my top recommended activities.

Click to keep reading about our fabulous adventures dog sledding, Ice Castle-ing, shopping and skiing!

The Ice Castles in Breckenridge: An Overload of Frozen Magic

I love to surprise my kids and they love being surprised, which is a win-win for everyone.

A couple of weeks ago, we had one of our favorite winter vacations ever in Breckenridge, Colo., a charming resort that is the very definition of Ski Town USA. I’ll have many more details to come on our adventures dog sledding and skiing but it was our first day that was my favorite.

Now, keep in mind we’d just spent a very exhilarating afternoon dog sledding but Jamie and I had one more surprise up our sleeves. The kids were tired and it’s tough to compete with mushing.

“Mom, so where are we going for our surprise?”
“I’m not telling. Be here’s a hint: the movie, Frozen.”
“Ice castles? Are we going to see ICE CASTLES?”

My kids nailed it on the first guess. And much to our delight, the giant Ice Castles in Breck are a cut right out of Disney’s musical fantasy where you’ll swear you’ve been swept away in an eternal winter with magic at every turn. Disclaimer: mangy reindeer named Sven not included.

This is Brent Christensen’s fifth year building Ice Castles and his third go-around in Colorado (previous years were in Silverthorne and Steamboat). Conveniently located at 150 W Adams Ave. in downtown Breck adjacent to Blue River Plaza, the 1-acre frozen kingdom gives you yet another reason to visit this world-class resort town.

So, how do they do it? According to Christensen, each ice castle takes thousands of man-hours to make. More than 5,000 icicles are “grown” each day to be harvested and sculpted together. Newly placed icicles are then drenched in freezing water once or twice each day. The blend of icicle placement, changing temperatures, water volume and wind result in an astonishing and ever-changing variety of ice formations. Each ice castle uses about three million gallons of water to build and maintain. Wasteful? The Ice Castle is located next to a natural water source (the Blue River) and so all of the water returns directly into the environment to be used again by wildlife, people and plants.

I’m Canadian so I know snow and ice but there is something awe-inspiring about seeing the castle all lit up with the lighting actually frozen inside of the ice. My family visited late in the day when the ice takes on glacial tones of deep blue.

Blue Smurf Family


With the Ice Castles’ winding passageways, it was the perfect place to play hide-and-seek or, even more fun, Ditch the Mom.

I rounded the corner to see these three devious faces grinning back at me.

We bundled up in our ski clothes and returned later that night (your ticket is valid all day) to a luminous crystalline display.  I pointed my iPhone up and snapped back-to-back photos of the ever-changing play of light.

Ice Castle Rainbow

Ice Castle Pretty in Pink

We loved “warming” ourselves by the fire.
If it is possible to do that through a wall of icicles.
The Ice Castles are  an ephemeral work-in-progress and will continue to be expanded upon throughout the season. At the time of our visit, the “artists” were working on a ramp that would lead to the top of the castle with a slide for a quick and thrilling way down.
My kids’ favorite part was a tunnel that cut through a wall of ice.  I’m not really claustrophobic but when I saw them shimmying through the tiny space, visions of Pooh Bear danced in my head. Getting stuck in ice was not my idea of a good time but I ultimately sucked it up because I didn’t want to be that mom who wouldn’t try new things.
My fears were unfounded–though the tunnel’s quarters were narrow, I slithered through just fine. Initially starting out on my stomach I flipped to my back which I later regretted when I started the slow downhill slide and was ejected onto the snowy floor.  I reassured myself that if I did get stuck, surely a blowtorch would help me out.
Though I’m unsure if that is a good or bad thing.


General Admission, age 12 and up:    $10. Children 4 to 11: $8. Young Children under 4 years old:  Free. Military / Seniors: $8 (must show ID). Season pass: $30