It’s “just” Kirkwood, thanks very much!


One of the first things Kevin “Coop” Cooper told me when we met up yesterday to ski at Kirkwood is that it’s “just” Kirkwood, thanks very much. No clever tagline.

It doesn’t need one. Kirkwood is … well, Kirkwood. It’s that Northern California resort that gets all the snow, that stands for adventure, and that attracts a certain clientele. A clientele that’s all about the mountain.
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In Lake Tahoe, skiing is believing


Sometimes the best way to tell you about where I’ve been is to get out of the way and let the pictures do the talking. South Lake Tahoe is one of those places. Here’s a view of the California side of Heavenly Resort. It really defies description. At times, you feel as if you are going to ski right into the lake.
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We’re halfway there, kids

The snowy view from the 5-chair.
The snowy view from the 5-chair at Breckenridge.

Watching your kids advance from being never-ever skiers, and not being able to stand on the mountain without falling over, to making clean parallel turns, is one of the great joys in life. Seriously.

During the last few days here at Breckenridge Ski Resort, I’ve have the privilege of watching all three of my kids make significant breakthroughs in their technique.

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Adventures in Colorado’s snow country

It’s easy to get lost in Vail. It’s just as easy to find yourself in Keystone.

Here’s how to get turned upside-down at Colorado’s largest mountain resort: Take your whole family skiing, and just try to stay together.

My four-year-old daughter, for example, is a timid skier compared with her brother, a kindergartner. He left her in a billow of powdered snow.

Next, ensure you have the worst wireless connection on the mountain. That would be AT&T’s, which jumps from four bars to “No Signal” (and back) every other turn. So all of those text messages that ask, “Who’s with you?” may, or may not, be delivered until you’re back in your hotel room.

Then add a sprawling mountain to the mix. Vail Ski Resort is seven-miles wide with more than 5,000 acres of terrain, not unlike some European ski areas that are so massive, you can ski all day and not hit the same run twice.

For us, it all resulted in several entertaining hours of family time.
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Thanks to EpicMix, everyone knows what you did last winter

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology isn’t new, even to the travel industry. Resorts have been using RFID to help guests keep track of each other for several years.

But I’ve been following Vail Resorts’ new EpicMix application with some interest. As a consumer advocate, any technology that can be used to improve travel gets my attention. And I love the way social media — which is a central part of EpicMix — has the potential to make your vacation better.

At the same time, I’m concerned with the privacy implications of any gadget that knows where you are.
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Mountain resorts make skiing a family affair

Rebecca Klein’s kids were ski novices when they checked in at Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch resort for a weeklong stay recently. They didn’t stay that way for long.

“After just one day of lessons, my six-year-old son, Seth, was saying, ‘Come on, Mom, let’s get on the chairlift,” remembers Klein, who lives in Baltimore and grew up skiing in Vermont. “And Samara, my four-year-old, participated in a ski race.”

Ski school has come a long way since Klein took her first turns at Smuggler’s as a child. Young skiers used to be an afterthought at many winter resorts, banished to the bunny hill or daycare centers while adults enjoyed the mountain.

Not anymore.
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The social network goes skiing

Before he downloaded an iPhone app called Cyclemeter two months ago, Donald McNeill had only a vague idea of where he’d skied on any given day.

But after he hit the slopes of Killington, Vt., for a few early-season runs last weekend, he knew exactly where he’d been — right down to the minute.

“I could track the number of runs, vertical feet, and how long I’d been skiing,” said McNeill, a retired sales manager who lives in Bridgewater Corners, Vt. “The app also accesses Facebook and Twitter, where it updates your status as you reach certain intervals.”

As the 2010 ski season starts, developers and resorts are releasing a flurry of new applications for skiers and snowboarders. They include everything from high-profile contenders like Vail Resorts’ EpicMix, to less flashy initiatives, such as Newry, Me.-based Sunday River’s new Facebook application, Sunday River Patches.
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Vail Resorts’ Katz: New EpicMix application is “best of both worlds”

EpicMix is Vail Resorts’ newest online mobile application for winter sports, and with ski season just around the corner, I asked Rob Katz, Vail Resorts’ CEO, to weigh in on social media and skiing. Here’s our interview.

Let me pick up where we left off the last time we talked. At the end of our interview, I mentioned that I had several family members who haven’t skied and were not interested. And I asked you how I could persuade them. You recommended showing them one of your resorts, which is, in fact, what I did. And now they’re hooked. So, I guess to follow up on that, how do you keep families interested in a mountain resort experience?

It’s great news to hear you and your family are hooked on skiing. At our five world-class resorts, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly, we try to offer a variety of family programming and activities for children of all ages — both on and off the snow — to give families the best possible experience at our resorts. Plus, the nature of doing activities together like skiing, snow tubing, ice skating, and attending unique family events like Kidtopia at Keystone Resort gives parents an opportunity to spend time with their kids to create those lasting family vacation memories.
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What to do when a Swiss collection agency demands $3,810 from your girlfriend

zermattIt might be something of an understatement to say that the ski trip that Victor Thomas and his girlfriend Susie took in Zermatt, Switzerland, two years ago, did not go as planned.

On her first day on the slope, Susie fell and shattered her lower leg. She spent the rest of her vacation in the hospital.

Good thing Thomas had bought travel insurance through Access America — or so he thought.
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The first run of 2009 (ouch!)

Getting your ski legs isn’t always easy. Here’s what happened to Christopher Elliott when he took his first run of 2009 at Whistler-Blackcomb.

A ski vacation that was all downhill

Question: I have an issue I’m hoping you can help me with. I made a reservation at Snowbird Resort in Utah last year for a five-night stay over Christmas break. Unfortunately, we missed our flight, so I rescheduled for the first week in March.

More bad luck followed. My daughter fell and tore a ligament in her knee and needs surgery, so skiing is out of the question for her until next season. Snowbird is saying the credit must be used by May. We can’t go because of my daughter’s injury, and no one in my family or circle of friends can take our place.

I would appreciate any help you can provide. I am not asking for a refund, just that the credit be applied to next season, when we can once again travel and ski. The hotel cost $330 per night for high season, and my credit card was charged the full amount. — Colleen Bosler, Blue Bell, Pa.

Answer: A resort is well within its rights to pocket your money when you cancel at the last minute — even if it’s for reasons beyond your control. But this is one of those times when asking politely and being just a little persistent might get what you want, even if you aren’t entitled to it.

I probably don’t need to explain why hotels have cancellation policies. But here it goes, anyway. If you were allowed to make a reservation and then not show up — particularly around the holidays — then a hotel would quickly go bankrupt. So you’ll find that often, cancellation policies are pretty strict. I’m talking airline-like strict.

Snowbird was extremely generous to offer credit for a future stay. To make another reservation and then cancel it again, even for good reasons, left you with almost no options.

But you weren’t entirely out of options. First, you could have contacted your travel agent. You were working with Travelocity, which is an online travel agent. It offers a guarantee that, among other things, assures you that “in those rare cases when things don’t go the way they should, you can count on us to fix it or work with you to offer a reasonable alternative.” Here’s the full text of its promise. Travelocity might have been able to push for a refund or an extension of your vouchers.

You could have also contacted the resort and made a more forceful case for an extension of your resort credit. In other words, when the customer service department says “no,” escalate your case to a manager, who would be in a position to bend a rule for you. What have you got to lose?

There’s a lesson for the rest of us here: Even when we don’t have a prayer of getting a refund or compensation, it doesn’t hurt to ask. You never know. You might get lucky.

I didn’t think you would when I contacted Snowbird (a resort I’ve visited a time or two, incidentally, and really like). A representative told me your credit couldn’t be extended. But several weeks later you received an e-mail from Travelocity that you would be credited $2,009 — the full amount of your hotel bill.

Maybe there’s something to that guarantee.