north america

Kirkwood Mountain: Tahoe's Best Kept Secret

Love At First Sight

After traveling to some of the best North American ski locations last year, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Kirkwood Mountain, but I was excited to discover what this mountain had to offer. Their Communications Manager and honorary mascot “Coop” talked a big game when we met in the early part of the season, but I was still waiting to see the terrain for myself.

I arrive at Kirkwood in the evening and begin to take it all in before the first day of my avalanche training starts. The ski day is over, and as I am walking back from the General Store, I realize it is quiet. Extremely quiet. It feels as though I could hear a pin drop from half a mile away. I take a deep breath in, a smile forms on my face, and I think to myself how much I already love it here. The peace and quiet and the mountain air is a nice vacation for my senses from the noisy polluted air of Los Angeles. There is something else special here, however, I can’t put my finger it on yet.

 Coop showing me all Kirkwood's terrain has to offer

Coop showing me all Kirkwood's terrain has to offer

Doesn't Feel Like Vail

Kirkwood is the rebel of Vail Resorts, the pirate and the outlier within the pristine Vail brand. But that's exactly what is amazing about Vail Resorts, they have been able to incorporate and improve the ski resorts that they acquire into the Vail brand, while simultaneously letting the resorts be themselves. Each resort boasts its own personality, and Kirkwood is nothing other than a skiers resort.

Small Town Vibes

Kirkwood is a local’s mountain. It is small, unbelievably small. There is no shopping, no nightlife, not many places to eat, and no busy town like Heavenly or Breckenridge. There are a couple of restaurants/bars, a general store, and small section of condos that are literally a stones throw away from the lifts. The lack of distractions leaves room for the mountain to be the star of the show. Kirkwood is for skiing and riding, and that alone. This is what makes the skiers at Kirkwood some of the most talented I have seen. It is place that you visit to ski, not a resort where you come to ski and do 100 other mildly-related winter activities. This is just the beginning of why this place is a true gem.

To say that Kirkwood has been getting dumped on this season would be an understatement. The terrain is steep and the snow is deep. With all of that steep and deep, Kirkwood has the perfect avalanche safety training ground. This is why I chose Kirkwood Mountain specifically to advance my skiing skills by taking the AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) taught by Expedition Kirkwood.

Going Out of Bounds

As someone who has skied for 25 years, I felt that I had done it all. I was a ski racer in high school, I have booted my way up to the top of the Imperial lift at Breckenridge and skied the “expert terrain” of the Lake Chutes, and ten years ago I hit the back bowls at Vail on a powder day. As an adventurous traveler, and like most avid skiers, I am always asking myself “whats next”?

The answer is, The Backcountry.

Skiing is a personal sport, where you are always trying to push the next limit. Today’s skiers are looking for more. More adventure, more fresh pow, more vertical, more of a workout, more, more more. They are also looking for less. Less skiers to share the mountain with. This is why backcountry skiing has been growing exponentially over the last decade or more. I spoke with Geoff, my AIARE instructor at Kirkwood, about the growth of Backcountry skiing. He has seen growth at a rate of at least 25x since the late ‘70s when he became an avid backcountry skier. Just over the past several years, its popularity has really picked up speed.

If you are an adventurous skier, you know that backcountry skiing has been gaining popularity over the past several years. Just look at the adventure influencers that are all over social media outlets like Instagram. Influencers and bloggers have an influence on the decisions of their audiences' future travel plans. These influencers have helped increase the awareness of adventurous activities, specifically skiing in the backcountry. 

With all that fresh pow out of the ski resort’s bounds, Backcountry skiing is here to stay. The problem is most people that decided to start backcountry skiing are not properly trained. This can get them (and others around them) into a whole lot of trouble. Just because you are a great skier when you are at the resort does not mean you have a clue about the dangers of the backcountry. The backcountry is a whole different animal. This is why it is so important to be educated on the hazards of the backcountry, and why I chose to take the AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course.

What is AIARE?

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The AIARE Level 1 course teaches decision making, and teamwork. Our small group of 9 at Kirkwood worked together to ask questions and solve problems. We learned what causes an avalanche, and what to look for. Together, we learned to use receivers and practiced rescuing in an organized fashion. We communicated, we dug through snow packs to search for weak layers, and we challenged each other and our instructor with difficult questions. We skied around the mountain discussing slope angles and escape routes of avalanche terrain.

Kirkwood is the perfect place to take a course like this because the terrain that you are working with is avalanche terrain so you can see the different types of zones in real life as opposed to just in a classroom. This hands on approach will help understanding and improve confidence upon completion of the course.

With this course under my belt, I now feel confident in my abilities to make safe group decisions in the backcountry, as well as successfully carrying out a rescue should an avalanche ever occur.

 Finding Avalanche Beacons during my AIARE class at Kirkwood

Finding Avalanche Beacons during my AIARE class at Kirkwood

Beyond The Backcountry 

Kirkwood isn’t just about the backcountry, the skiing and the avalanche prevention. Kirkwood is incredible because of the people who built the resort. The people who visit time and time again, and the close knit community that has just as much significance to Kirkwood as the mountain does. Kirkwood is a community, one that will welcome you with open arms. The terrain will challenge you, the people will teach you.

When you arrive at Kirkwood, you aren't just arriving at another ski mountain. You are arriving at a home. The locals will welcome you as apart of the family and not as a tourist. The mountain will greet you with sunshine and present some of the most exciting ski terrain for you. The classes at Expedition Kirkwood will teach you skills you will have for a lifetime. The Kirkwood family will tell you stories of how the trails earned their names, and speak of the ones who came before you to build this mountain, with nothing more than a love for the outdoors and a passion for skiing.

This Isn't Goodbye

Visiting Kirkwood isn't a one-time, notch in your ski bibs type of trip. Kirkwood is a place you will want to return to more than once. This place will leave marks on your soul that will force you to revisit again and again.

As the car taking me away from Kirkwood drove through the mazes of oversized snowbanks toward Lake Tahoe, I knew I would be back before I knew it!

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Breckenridge: The Grand Lodge on Peak 7 Feels Like a Better Version of Home

Breckenridge Mug

Home isn’t generally something I want my vacation getaway to feel like, but The Grand Lodge on Peak 7 made me reconsider this attitude. Upon walking into my one bedroom condo, I was immediately greeted by an inviting, warm, and cozy atmosphere that felt just like home, but so much better. 

Grand Lodge Peak 7

I had first heard of The Grand Lodge on Peak 7 from one of my friend’s parents when they bought a timeshare unit pre-construction. They made it sound so incredible that I had to check it out for myself. Considering that Breckenridge is my favorite mountain town and ski resort, it wasn’t long before I booked my trip. I don’t spend a lot of time in timeshares, but the Grand Lodge may have just changed my mindset on them for good. On my recent visit, I was fortunate enough to spend 5 days at this incredible property, and I left longing to become an owner myself.

Slope Side

Ski Breckenridge

The most important thing for me when deciding where to stay on a ski trip is how quickly I can get from my room to the chair lift in the mornings. If it’s dumping, I want to be sure it won’t be difficult for me to get the first chair. Well, you cannot get any closer to the chairlift than The Grand Lodge on Peak 7. The property is positioned quite perfectly at the base of the peak, just steps away from one of the lifts. This is also convenient when heading back for lunch, as you can reach the condo nearly as quickly as grabbing lunch at the lodge.

 

The Views

Grand Lodge Peak 7

The views are stunning and speak for themselves. No matter which way you face, you are sure to have fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.

Transportation to town

The condo runs a complementary shuttle to and from town from 7am to 10:45 pm daily (7am-11:45pm during ski season). You simply call down from your room and a shuttle will be at the front entrance to pick you up in a matter of minutes. The best part is they will drop you off and pick you up exactly where you want to go because there are many designated shuttle stops. Though the town is already very walkable, this door-to-door service is perfect for freezing cold nights when even short walks are less than desirable.

The Hot Tubs & Spa

The only match in this world better than peanut butter & jelly is skiing & hot tubs. Any skier will tell you after a long day of skiing, especially on a blistery-cold day, that a trip to the hot tub is a must. The Grand Lodge on Peak 7 has some pretty fantastic choices when it comes to hot tubs, such as outdoor hot tubs that overlook the mountain. I find these perfect for spring skiing when the temperatures are a little more friendly than in the middle of winter. My favorite, however is located in the spa area. This is ‘The Grotto’ and it is a giant hot tub complete with rocks and waterfalls. In addition, there is a steam room and a sauna that are both extremely relaxing and perfect places to warm muscles before a massage or a good stretch.  

The Value as an Owner

Victorinox Spectra Suitcase

The Grand Lodge on Peak 7 feels like a 5 star resort without the price tag (if you factor in the longevity of this investment). With timeshare ownership starting at just $15,000 to spend a week each year for life, it’s a pretty great deal if you count on getting in some skiing every year.

The maintenance fee’s run from $700 to $1000 yearly depending on the unit. These units are also not only for the life of the owner, but can be passed down, and therefore, a value for a lifetime. 

If owning a timeshare is not something you care for, you are still able to book travel to The Grand Lodge on Peak 7 just as you would for a hotel.

Top 5: Why You Should Travel to the College Football National Championship

 An overwhelming amount of confetti consumes the field, as Alabama upsets Clemson and wins the Championship

An overwhelming amount of confetti consumes the field, as Alabama upsets Clemson and wins the Championship

I am always looking for new unique and authentic travel experiences, and recently I found one of the best experiences. Traveling isn’t always just about the place you are visiting, it’s a combination of the place, people, unique experiences, and a willingness for new experiences.

This year I decided to travel to the CFB National Championship in Phoenix, Arizona to watch the Clemson Tigers compete against the Crimson Tide for a really fancy trophy and some major bragging rights. It wasn’t all about the game, however. I had an amazing time as the South came out to the desert for a long weekend of celebrations and festivities. 

While there, I compiled a list of the top 5 reasons that the CFB National Championship is worth traveling to.

 Clemson fans know how to tailgate!

Clemson fans know how to tailgate!

Tailgating

College football goers know how to tailgate like no one else. Game day is basically a religion in the south, and Clemson happens to have been voted the best tailgating school for the past several years by Southern Living Magazine. This means that tailgates are taken seriously, it’s practically an art form. Many of the game-goers drove 30+ hours from South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama to bring their whole tailgating setup along for the fun. 

 The Wet Deck at the W Scottsdale is the perfect party venue

The Wet Deck at the W Scottsdale is the perfect party venue

Parties

 Appetizer at Sushi Roku at the W Scottsdale

Appetizer at Sushi Roku at the W Scottsdale

The parties are amazing. Every club, every bar, every rooftop of each swanky hotel is booming with celebrity studded events fully equipped with performances from artists you’ve actually heard of. 

My favorite party was the Legends of Clemson party on the Wet Deck of the W Hotel in Scottsdale. W Hotels are known for being fun and young, and the W Scottsdale really knows how to throw a party. Big Boi from Outkast performed by a beautifully lit pool with an entourage of NFL players by his side, and the crowd sang along to every song. This was the place to be. 

 Former Clemson running back, CJ Spiller, who now plays for the New Orleans Saints

Former Clemson running back, CJ Spiller, who now plays for the New Orleans Saints

Concerts

 John Mellancamp takes the stage in downtown Phoenix for a free concert the night before the big game

John Mellancamp takes the stage in downtown Phoenix for a free concert the night before the big game

Concerts are a huge part of a nearly week-long celebration during the College Football National Championship, and should I mention that they are all completely free of charge! Anyone can attend the shows during the weekend, and the big one on game day is free with any ticket to the football game. This year there was a huge block party type set up in the middle of downtown Phoenix with concerts by Ciara, Eric Church, The Band Perry, John Mellancamp, David Nail, Walk the Moon, and several other artists and DJ’s. Ciara also the singer of the National Anthem before the game.

The Game

 Cheering on the Tigers!

Cheering on the Tigers!

Even if you don’t like (or even understand football), you will definitely appreciate the atmosphere. Nearly 65,000 screaming fans, the roar of the crowd and the excitement. ESPN College Gameday is makes an appearance and every ESPN celebrity is in sight. 

The signs people make are amazing and the crazy outfits some put together to get on tv are amazing as well. The TV personality’s from Gameday are celebrities in their own right, and it’s fun to see the shows up close! 

 

The City at it’s Best

 Horseshoe Bend, Grand Canyon was a short drive away

Horseshoe Bend, Grand Canyon was a short drive away

Heading to the CFB National Championship gave me a unique way to experience a city that I had been wanting to check out, but on a completely different level. Visiting during such a large event (imagine, almost as big as Super Bowl) allowed me to experience Phoenix at it’s best. The night life was amazing, everyone was happy and excited for the festivities and football game, and the city had an opportunity to show off on a world stage and they took full advantage. This allowed my trip to be vibrant, exciting and once-in-a-lifetime way to visit the Pheonix and Scottsdale areas. It also gave me an excuse to roadtrip a few hours away and explore the Grand Canyon.

Keep this in mind as the 2017 College Football National Championship approaches in Tampa next January. There’s a pretty good chance you will find me there.

Whistler's Four Seasons Redefines 5 Star

I have been fortunate enough to have stayed at countless 5 star hotels over the years, and as a general rule they are almost always dazzling. However, nothing has warmed my cold little heart quite the way the Four Seasons Whistler has. Hotels are like people, they each have a different personality and not every hotel is right for every person, except perhaps this one. Some top-notch properties are gorgeous but put off that uncomfortable snobby vibe that makes me want to retreat to my room. Not here. The Four Seasons Whistler is void of the pretentious stuffy atmosphere that some hotels put off, and yet it still has every aspect of a 5 star resort and more. The upscale lodge decor is inviting and warm, everything is stunning but it feels comfortable and welcoming, unlike some upscale hotels that make me feel as though my parents should have sent me to cotillion classes. The beautiful suites boast giant bathtubs, fireplaces and stunning views… all of the things that wonderful mountain getaways are made of.

Ski Concierge & Shuttle

Since the town is built around the base of two incredible mountains (Whistler and Blackcomb), the hotel provides a much welcomed ski concierge service. Often times, swanky hotels and ski condominiums will feature locker areas, but this ski concierge service so much better. Upon pulling up to the property, while your bags are unloaded and sent to your room, the skis are unloaded and sent to the ski concierge. In the mornings you dress in full gear in the comfort of your room. You can wear comfy shoes down to the lobby and pop your ski boots on in the area where you wait for shuttles and hand your shoes over to the valet to be put aside in the back for your return. Then, you simply get on the shuttle which first goes to Blackcomb, where your ski’s are conveniently kept at the base of the mountain, and secondly it goes to Whistler. The shuttle regularly comes by every 15 minutes to bring you where you need to go. The shuttle runs from the hotel to the mountain, the mountain back to the hotel or between the village and hotel between 7:30am-11pm, daily.

Wine and S’more Hour

After a long day of skiing, nothing could possibly feel better than roasting marshmallows over a fire pit or sitting in a cozy leather chair by the fireplace while enjoying a glass of wine. The Four Season’s bar in SideCut (the restaurant) provides both a wine hour from 4-5 and s’mores from 4-6pm daily. One of my favorite parts of my stay was going outside and roasting marshmallows in the fire pit just like a kid at camp.

 

SideCut 

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Cocktails made here are created the way they were meant to be. After sitting at the bar eating a piece of delicious pumpkin pie on American Thanksgiving, I watched the bartenders carefully craft each drink. I can fully attest to the fact that the bartenders make every drink with careful consideration and a love for their craft. Bartending at it’s finest. I ordered an Ameretto Sour (you know, the real one made with egg whites and lemon juice, not with lousy store-bought sour mix). It was delicious and perfectly frothy. 

The food here is remarkably delightful, as well. If you happen to choose other accommodations, making a visit to the Four Seasons for dinner is a still a must. During my dinner, my phone had died and I was dining solo, yet the food was so incredible and the servers so knowledgeable that I took three hours to enjoy my meal. I ordered the mussels, which were incredible (it's not often that mussels are outstanding in my opinion), a delicious rib eye steak, sides of green beans and sautéed mixed mushrooms, and chocolates with caramel for dessert. 

Service

Service and the friendliness of staff is always the true measure of a quality resort and the make it or break it for me. The staff was incredibly pleasant and they all greet you by name. It could be due to the friendly mountain town culture or maybe because they simply hire the best staff that want to go above and beyond to make each guests’ stay pure perfection. Regardless of the reason everyone is extremely attentive, warm, genuine and eager to make your stay memorable. Even the turn-down service was spectacular. When I came in from skiing, I stripped off my ski gear and left it laying around bunched up on the floor, still damp from the day and rushed off to a meeting and then into the village. Upon arriving back to my suite not only was everything picked up off the floor to dry, but my ski gear was hanging over the fireplace in the most heartwarming manner. It’s the little things that prove this staff takes careful consideration to attend to each guests needs.

The Four Seasons Whistler is my new favorite property and for good reason, the overall experience at the Four Seasons Whistler is unmatched. Any 5 star property can dazzle, but it takes special attention and care to make the experience both sensational and welcoming. I recommend booking a trip to the Whistler Four Seasons and experiencing this for yourself, as soon as possible.