Maui’s Hiking Trails Are the Island’s Best Kept Secret

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Maui's Hiking Trails Are the Island's Best Kept Secret

December 9, 2019

Towering high above Maui’s famous white sand beaches, above the island’s dense and tangled jungle, deep in the hear of Haleakala National Park, lies a red, cinder-coned crater that is, possibly, the quietest spot on Earth. To reach this crater, runners (and hikers, of which there are arguably more) must first drive through the park’s entrance and navigate a series of switchbacks to the Ke- onehe’ehe’e Trailhead (elevation 9,740 feet). The trail is barely visible on the scoured surface of ancient volcanic lava, long cooled and broken into gravelly cinder. It climbs about 300 feet before descending into the crater. Run it, says Ben Auerbach, a Kaanapali, Maui-based fitness concierge who creates custom training plans for locals and visitors, and the experience will change your life.

“When you look all around, it’s blue skies and sun, and you’re surrounded by brownish-reddish dirt gravel that insulates you from sound, and also by silversword plants, which are unique to Maui. It doesn’t feel like you’re on Earth, really.”

Hiking Hana Maui Hawaii

Otherworldly is a word that comes up often in regards to the trails on Maui, the “Valley Isle” of the Hawaiian chain. Roughly 728 square miles, Maui has Haleakalā on its eastern side; the West Maui Mountains are on its western half. This geographical uplift contributes to an extensive diversity of microclimates and an eclectic combination of beaches and jungles, rainforests, waterfalls and redwoods. And that, according to the island’s runners, is what makes Maui a trail runner’s—and hiker’s—paradise.

“Nothing can compare to Maui,” says native Reid Hunter, 24. “It’s one of the most diverse islands, is beautiful year-round and has amazing views everywhere. You can start at sea level, climb up a mountain, turn around and all you see is crystal blue ocean and red dirt fields.”

Hunter, an elite runner who logs 80 miles a week and dreams of competing in the 2020 Olympic Marathon, briefly left Maui for university in New Zealand, where he ran with some of that country’s top coaches. Upon graduating in 2012, he heeded Maui’s siren song, returned home and began training in ear- nest. Although Maui doesn’t draw a cadre of elite runners in the same way that California’s High Sierra or Colorado’s Rocky Mountains do, Hunter says the island’s got plenty of challenging long-distance trails on which both runners and hikers can strengthen and train.

Chief among them are the West Maui Mountains’ Village Trails, a steep and tangled network that snakes through an abandoned golf course. So rugged are these that, last October, they were home to the 2014 XTerra World Championship 5-kilometer race. Hunter not only won this notorious sufferfest, but also broke the course record by 42 seconds. 

But it’s not all rigorous and rough when it comes to Maui trails, says island native Matt Holton of Mauirunner.com. There are also mellow(ish) trails that seem to lead into magical worlds bursting with color, vegetation and views you never imagined existed (Thompson Road, Waihee Ridge and Sugar Beach on map below).

“There’s a timelessness to the trails here,” says Holton. Other trails are vibrant with color—purples and reds from the minerals and rocks (Skyline Trail). Still others are loaded with guava fruit and wild raspberries. “There is so much diversity,” says Holton. “The running here never gets boring.”

Where to go?

The hardest thing about running or hiking on Maui is deciding where to go. Here are some of the island’s most scenic and superlative trails.

Haleakalā Crater: Located at 10,000 feet within Haleakalā National Park, the crater sits among a network of trails that are mainly “out and backs,” allowing runners and hikers to pick their distance. With no shade, high altitude and variable temperatures, don’t forget sunscreen, layers and water.

Kapalua Maui Woman Waterfall

Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls: A 4-mile round-trip route, the Pipiwai Trail forges through lush bamboo forest, climbs a total of 600 feet and leads to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls, which plunge through verdant cliffs to a pool.

Kahakapao Trail System: This extensive trail system located in the Makawao Forest, a state preserve near the town of Haiku, offers miles of single track through thick evergreen forests. It’s also a popular mountain biking area.

Kapalua Coastal Trail: This northwest Maui beach run offers beautiful, picturesque views of the coastline. “Think Big Sur with warm water,” says Ben Auerbach, who leads guided runs and hikes on the trail. An added bonus: The trail, which is about 3 miles, also leads to a traditional Hawaiian burial ground and labyrinth.

Explore Colorado’s Rare Beauty with This Epic Cycle Race

Explore Colorado's Rare Beauty with This Epic Cycle Race

Colorado's Epic Cycle Race

August 2, 2019

Characterized by high elevations and relentless climbs, the weeklong USA Pro Challenge is too epic for any one city: Ten communities play host to the race’s seven stages, which link Aspen, Crested Butte and Vail with larger hubs such as Colorado Springs and Denver. All test a champion’s mettle. “It’s one of the hardest races I’ve ever done,” says pro rider Tanner Putt of the Bissell Development Cycling team. But legions of fans motivate racers to conquer the challenges.

Over the course of the week, 1 million spectators turn out to watch and cheer. “Riders race here and feel like rock stars,” says Shawn Hunter, the race’s co-chairman and CEO. “The only other race in the world that has this level of excitement and energy is the Tour de France.” 

Aspen  

Leave 12,095-foot Independence Pass to the racers. Mere mortals content themselves with the route to the iconic Maroon Bells, which serves up the state’s most celebrated mountain panorama yet demands a relatively modest effort (1,600 vertical feet over 10 miles). As an added bonus, the road is closed to cars from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 20-mile out-and-back ride begins at the roundabout 1 mile west of downtown Aspen. Take the Maroon Creek Road “exit” and pedal uphill past Aspen High School. Rest assured, the hills become gentler as you pass Aspen Highlands ski area. The road climbs gradually, hugging the banks of Maroon Creek as mansions give way to the White River National Forest, where aspen fringed meadows afford glimpses of majestic, 14,026-foot Pyramid Peak. At the road’s end, dismount and walk some 200 yards along the paved path to viewpoints showcasing the Bells’ stunning symmetry mirrored in the blue waters of Maroon Lake. 

Wheel Deals: Ute City Cycles rents drool-worthy Orbea and Felt bikes for 100/day, or get a pro tune for your own ride from the repair crew. Refuel: Peach’s Corner Café tops off your fuel tank with the likes of kale salad or a chicken and avocado panini, served on the outdoor patio. Recover Check into Remède Spa (in the St. Regis) for a stint in its steam caves, stone-lined pools stirred by cascading water and treatment rooms offering wraps, facials and massages featuring local skincare products.

Vail

Like all routes out of the Vail Valley, the 12-mile Daybreak Ridge loop includes a stout climb (1,800 vertical feet) that humbled cyclists in the 2013 USA Pro Challenge. But from the circuit’s high point you overlook the soaring peaks of the Gore Range. And because the upper section of the ride takes place within gated neighborhoods, traffic is scarce. “You’re more likely to spot deer and bear than cars,” says local Brett Donelson. Start in Avon, 11 miles west of Vail, and crank up Village Road, passing through the gated entrance to Beaver Creek Resort. At 1 mile, turn right onto South Holden Road, left onto Borders Road and left again onto Strawberry Park Road. Ogle the luxury residences lining the road, pass beneath the Elkhorn ski lift and pick up Daybreak Ridge Road to top out at a high point affording those well-earned views down into Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch.

Follow Daybreak Ridge Road as it serpentines down through Bachelor Gulch. Stop to refill a water bottle at the RitzCarlton and then cruise down into Avon via Bachelor Gulch Trail. Venture Sports in Avon rents bikes, organizes group rides and employs the valley’s best bike technicians. Vail Valley riders have long embraced Yellowbelly in West Vail for its all-natural chicken and veggie-laden side dishes Recover.  Spa Anjali (at Avon’s Westin Riverfront) draws from healing traditions in the Alps, Himalayas and Rocky Mountains to create three unique “journeys” that go way beyond a standard massage. 

Colorado Springs

Pikes Peak isn’t the Springs’ only scenic landmark— although cyclists do get to admire this 14,114-foot-high summit from portions of the 18-mile Garden of the Gods loop. It gains 1,200 feet of elevation and visits the city’s other “rock star”: The Garden of the Gods, a pocket of blazing red-rock spires and cliffs tucked among the foothills west of downtown. To taste this eye-candy, get an early-morning start (to avoid crowds and traffic heading into the famed Garden) and head northwest out of downtown via W. Bijou to N. Walnut to Mesa Road. Continue north past Garden of the Gods Country Club and then bike south on the bike path, which parallels N. 30th Street and offers motivating panoramas of Pikes Peak and the Kissing Camels rock, which looks exported from Utah’s Arches National Park. Enter the Garden of the Gods to pedal the one-way loop among its sculpted rock pinnacles, separated from the traffic by a wide bike lane.

Exit via a plunge down Ridge Road, then left on W. Pikes Peak Ave., and right on 21st St. to connect to the Midland Trail. This former rail line slopes downhill as it heads back to Colorado Springs. Wheel Deals Criterium Bicycles maintains a big fleet of low-mileage road bikes for riders of every shape and stripe. Refuel The Irish fare at McCabe’s Tavern rewards hard effort with homemade shepherd’s pie, pretzel bread and smoked salmon served on a shady outdoor patio. Recover A Colorado icon, The Broadmoor pampers athletes with therapeutic massage and facials performed in treatment spaces fitted with chandeliers and fireplaces. 

What It’s Really Like Taking a Trip on a Mega-Yacht​

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What It's Really Like Taking a Trip on a Mega-Yacht

July 31, 2019

In a corner of the economy that few get to see and even fewer get to experience, there exists a conveyance known as the mega-yacht. Nothing short of castles upon the sea, these vessels are more than 100 feet long, 25 feet in beam, and more than 50 feet tall. Bulging with four decks and more than 5,000 square feet of living space, they are multilevel Park Avenue penthouses—that float.

trip-on-mega-yacht-deck

Lady J, at 142 feet, is the definition of mega-yacht; and what better place to show it off than the island of Providenciales, part of the Turks and Caicos archipelago. As we walk the pier to board, Lady J’s crew of nine, including captain Steve, snap to sharp attention to welcome us. The yacht has a capacity of 12, but its passenger list seldom exceeds 10, meaning the ship’s ratio of crew to guest is roughly 1:1 so there is no wish left unanswered or, more impressively, unanticipated. A few steps up to the main deck and we are given cool towels and still cooler champagne. While the captain explains the vessel’s safety features on our introductory tour, I can’t help but eye both the collection of wines and the collection of water-born sea toys that includes two jet skis, a 32-foot, fishing/waterski/do-whatever-the-hell-you-want speedboat, and an arsenal of associated apparatus from paddle-boards to wakeboards to banana boats, all accessible from a hardwood sports deck that extends invitingly off the stern a foot or so above the water.

Morning begins with a breakfast of smoked salmon, eggs Benedict and cappuccino as we cruise toward our anchorage off a lovely coastline on the west side of the island. Once there, the crew squires us aboard the tender for a day on a deserted beach where upon arrival we find beach chairs arranged, umbrellas unfurled, and champagne on ice. The beach itself is beyond pristine, having been raked by the crew hours earlier.

The staff of Lady J operate in a manner that combines the most important elements of white glove service (in some cases even including white gloves), the U.S. Secret Service (each wearing an earpiece to assure that a guest’s mildest requirements can be promptly met) and of traditional hospitality (“Is there anything at all I can get you?”). When one evening a guest decides to have an unannounced midnight swim, it seems as if two of the crew arrive with waiting towels even before he hits the water. “We have a swimmer!” is quietly heard over the radio to a listener being poured some chamomile in the main parlor.

We spend the morning speeding on jet skis, falling off paddle-boards, and snorkeling on the reef. Given the choice of lunch on the beach or back at Lady J, the guests agree to return to the ship for chef Nate’s ministrations, which this time included a lovely quinoa salad and some perfectly seasoned grilled chicken. While some of our group elect to spend the afternoon on the sun deck replete with a hot-tub and comfy chaise lounges, Captain Steve suggests we try our hand at some game fishing. Thirty minutes later, we are off in Lady J’s powerboat equipped with tackle well suited for Moby Dick. Steve, who’s an angler by heart, put us on fish almost immediately, and we return with both fresh mackerel and some very tired arms.

Fatigued from a full day of indulgence, we assemble in the formal dining room for a carefully crafted sauté of diver scallops, shrimp, and lemon flounder.  It is delectable, as is the freshly baked bread, in which Nate takes particular pride With the exception of some unexpected rain which the crew handles with the deftness and coordination of a race car pit crew, our cruise on Lady J is a mix of luxury, excitement, relaxation, and service that leave us thinking only of the next time we might be aboard.

Providenciales: Jewel of the West Indies 

The gleaming, reef-enclosed island of Providenciales sits at the northwest corner of the Turks and Caicos island chain, yet it’s neither Turk, nor Caico. It’s not technically part of “the Caribbean” either according to purists who claim that the Turks and Caicos, along with the Bahamas, are not Caribbean islands. 

Whatever the case, to most visitors the warm, gentle and gin-clear water that explodes in turquoise and surrounds Providenciales is a decidedly Caribbean experience. What’s not Caribbean about it? That Turks and Caicos appears to be relatively underdeveloped with respect to other islands, which are both farther away from the United States and no more beautiful. “Provo”—as the locals call Providenciales—lies a mere 500 miles from Miami, and the airport’s 9,000-foot runway can serve the largest jets in the world. The islands are also possessed of the earth’s third-largest barrier reef (behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and that of Belize) and offer some of the best diving and fishing in the Americas.

7 Things You Have to Do in Jackson Hole

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7 Things You Have to Do in Jackson Hole

July 29, 2019

Jackson Hole is a small mountain town in Wyoming that’s grown in popularity over the years. If you plan on paying this gem a visit anytime soon, here are seven recommendations from local experts for what you have to do when you’re there.

The Skier, Kit Deslauriers

When it comes to skiing firsts, DesLauriers is quite simply the best. In 2006, the two-time free-skiing champion was the first person to ski off the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each continent, as well as dozens of other first descents around the world, including runs down the Polish Glacier on Aconcagua in South America and Mount Isto, the tallest peak in Alaska’s Brooks Range. In 2011, her big mountain exploits earned her a spot in the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame. And in between these high-altitude accomplishments she’s mom to two daughters, a lifestyle that she attributes entirely to Jackson. “Nowhere else in the Lower 48 can you challenge yourself like you can here and expose your children to the best of the outdoors at the same time.” 

Local Escape: “Ice skating over Jenny Lake or skate skiing trail creek.”

The Photographer, Jimmy Chin 

Mountain climbers who need a shooter to document their jaw-dropping ascents inevitably call Chin. The 40-year-old climber and skier originally turned to photography to pay for his global adventures that include skiing off Mount Everest, climbing the sheer wall of Pakistan’s imposing Tahir Tower, and scrambling up Yosemite’s El Capitan 15 times. As his skills improved so did his ability to capture the extreme. His breathtaking images have graced the covers of Outside, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic magazines. In 2010, he expanded to video and produced the award-winning documentary, Samsara, about his failed attempt to climb the 20,700- foot Meru Peak in India. 

Local Escape: “I love hiking up and skiing down Taylor Mountain. It’s a 3,000-vertical-foot descent in a big bowl that gets loaded with powder.”

The Snowboarder, Travis Rice  

Rice cemented his reputation as the most daring snowboarder in history thanks to a 2011 Red Bull commercial where he dropped into a steep chute, flew off a jump, and executed a triple backflip while covering half a football field in the air. “That’s what I do,” says Rice, 31. “I find geographical oddities and figure out how to ride them.” Since Rice started riding in 1995, he’s always taunted gravity. By 2002 he was an X Games gold medalist and in 2008, he co-produced and starred in the snowboarding film That’s It, That’s All, regarded by critics of the genre as the greatest action sports movie of all time. 

Local Escape: “There are amazing hot springs just outside Jackson Hole. I won’t say where but spend time searching on the computer and you’ll find them.” 

The Designer, Stephan Sullivan 

If you’ve bought a soft-shell jacket in the last 15 years, thank Sullivan. As founder of the activewear brand Cloudveil, he introduced the world to comfort and mountain-tough performance. After leaving Cloudveil, Sullivan, 48, launched Stio in 2012, which marries outdoor-sports fabrics with mountain-town style. The results are clothes with go-anywhere versatility such as weatherproof men’s blazers that stretch and a woman’s cocktail-party skirt that doubles as a running skirt. “It’s clothing you can wear climbing or skiing but also looks good at dinner that night,” he says. Reshaping people’s ideas of what their clothes can do is no easy task, which is why Sullivan retains tight control on where Stio clothes are sold: only through the company store in Jackson’s Town Square, the website, or the catalog. “We want to make sure people know that this emanates from the Jackson Hole lifestyle.” 

Local Escape: “The Wilson Ice Rink is a gem. They light it three nights a week.”

The Curator, Carrier Geraci  

In 2010, when Geraci became the town’s art coordinator, she “felt like it was our responsibility to share with the 3.5 million visitors to Jackson Hole each year, our deep appreciation for the natural world.” Since then the 45-year-old has curated projects such as “Sky Play,” a flock of steel ravens on a concrete wall along Highway 89, and “Strands,” a stained-glass installation at the Home Ranch Welcome Center that depicts the DNA fingerprints of bison and grizzly bear, indigenous animals to the area. “My goal,” she says, “is that the art not only tells a story about the area’s past, but also about today and the future so that we have responsible stewards protecting one of the last great natural ecosystems.”

Local Escape: “Hiking to the top of glory bowl and skiing down. Then going into town for margaritas at Picas or a glass of wine at bin 22.” 

The Architect, Stephen Dynia, 

When New York City Architect Stephen Dynia arrived in 1993, local style could best be described as log-cabin chic. Fast forward 20 years, and Dynia, 57, has reshaped mountain architecture, introducing flat roofs, exposed steel, and “lots and lots” of glass. His hallmark building, the Center for the Arts’ performance hall, features a 500-seat theater with a wall of glass that looks out on Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, a detail that Dynia calls a “storefront to the community.” His work has also attracted national acclaim: This year the American Institute of Architects awarded him a fellowship, their highest honor, in recognition of his signature aesthetic. “My objective,” he says, “is to make sure people are able to experience the light and nature of their surroundings.” 

Local Escape: “The heated out – door pool at the Amangani Resort is fabulous.”

The Writer, Alexandra Fuller

Fuller moved to Jackson from Central Africa in her mid-20s always knowing she wanted to be a writer. To make that dream a reality, she would roll out of bed at 4 a.m., before work as a river guide or waitress, or waking up her children, and write about the things she knew: growing up during civil war in Central Africa, learning to load an Uzi machine gun as a child, and losing three siblings. Those experiences turned into 2001’s “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight,” a New York Times Notable Book for 2002. Three more books followed including The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, about the hardscrabble life of a boy growing up in Wyoming’s oil fields. The 44-year-old continues to write almost every day. 

Local Escape: “I love the cross country skiing up and down cache creek. You can hear the snow settle, it’s so quiet.”

The Unforgettable Experience of an African Safari

The Unforgettable Experience of an African Safari

July 29, 2019

When we flew into Nairobi last December, a host greeted my family and ushered us into two Jeeps stocked with cold beers and safari-style wide-brimmed hats. My husband and I booked the African safari as our first Inspirato trip, bringing along his parents and our three children. Our route to the hotel cut straight through Nairobi National Park. 

As soon we entered the park, my kids poked their heads out of the top of Jeep to snap photos of a lioness a mere 2 feet from our vehicle. We were still close enough to Nairobi to see the backdrop of the city, yet we were suddenly immersed in a jungle setting with a rhino and a pride of lions in the distance. It was completely wild and surreal. 

The next day we flew to the Chyulu Hills area and landed in the middle of the bush. Our driver and guide, Seki, a tall man with a big grin and calm and gentle presence, met us in a Land Rover with elevated seats and drove us through the flat, dusty plain to Ol Donyo Lodge. On the drive we saw zebras, elephants, and giraffes.

 At the hotel, you could see the watering hole used by the area’s elephants. Our rooms had a view of Mt. Kilimanjaro, private swimming pools, and a rooftop bed for sleeping under the stars. Two of the nights Seki took us out for “sundowners,” where he drove us out into the savannah and pulled out pewter cups for cocktails and a table for hors d’oeuvres. 

African-Safari-Featured-1

A surprising perk of the trip was having everyone unplugged from cell phones and iPads. My son Wilson, 22, made friends with the staff and went out to play volleyball in a rigged-up court out back. We read books by the pool and played cards as a family at night. There were horse stables right off the property, so we spent a day on horseback, viewing giraffes in the distance. 

My husband and I went mountain biking and saw a Maasai man dressed in red warrior-looking garb herding cattle across the plain. Young children ran alongside the cows and stopped to wave to us. We toured a Maasai village with mud huts. Women and children sold wares and my children bartered for knives and spears, which they somehow managed to get through customs on the way home.

On our fifth day of the trip, also Christmas morning, we boarded a charter flight to the Bateleur Camp. Our pilot flew low over the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, giving us a spectacular aerial view of hippos, elephants, and giraffes. It was one of the most exciting parts of the trip and something I will never forget. 

Just off the airstrip, our hosts set up a table with cookies, juice, and champagne. It was such a special greeting. Bateleur Camp was mostly wood and had an open-air living room and bar. Our fixed tents had thatched roofs and stone showers. I felt like I was on a movie set. Monkeys hung out in the trees and warthogs wandered across the lawn. 

Each day we headed out on game drives, traveling along bumpy dirt paths over rolling green hills. We witnessed a lion trying to chase down a zebra (the zebra got away), other zebras lingering near a river with more than 50 visible crocs, and two cheetahs eating the remains of a recent kill. We saw hundreds of elephants and got so close to giraffes that we could have touched them. 

Each day after the tours, we returned to the tents for a delicious family-style meal. I was a little concerned at first since my son and I are vegetarians, but our hosts were extremely accommodating and always made sure to offer us a meat-free option. For our Christmas dinner, the tables were covered in rose petals and lined with candles and crystal, a truly beautiful experience. 

After arriving in Kenya, we learned about hot air balloon rides and decided to add it to our itinerary. Toward the end of our trip, we floated over the spectacular landscape at sunrise. Besides the noise of the balloon inflating, it was completely quiet and peaceful. I highly recommend it. 

I have my mother-in-law, Sally Knapp, to thank for giving us the idea for the trip. She’d previously attempted to organize a family safari about a decade ago and it never panned out. Now that she’s in her mid-70s, my husband and I really wanted to make it happen for her. We’re so glad we did. She loved it. It was the trip of a lifetime.

Why Heli-Skiing in Telluride Should Be Your Next Adventure​

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Why Heli-Skiing in Telluride Should Be Your Next Adventure

July 29, 2019

While dining on breakfast in your sprawling mountain lodge or spacious suite in Telluride’s mountain village, you hear the telltale whup-whup-whup of a copter’s rotor blades throbbing through the mountain air. Seconds later, the graceful Bell 407 alights right outside the mountain village, a short drive or walk from your breakfast table.

Telluride Helitrax, founded in 1982, was the only heli-ski operation in the state till 2008, and remains one of the only spots in the continental U.S. where a helicopter picks up guests right outside the town’s luxury resorts and homes. Savor it. This doesn’t happen in Vail or Aspen. When you climb into that Bell 407, prepare to kiss your sense of detachment good-bye. The second your Plexiglas bubble lifts off the deck, you’ll love heli-skiing. And you’ll love it even more once the turns begin.

Telluride Helitrax not only accesses fresh, untracked mountainsides; it reaches some of the highest ski terrain on the continent, 10,000 to 13,500 feet above sea level. Its permit area encompasses more than 200 square miles of high alpine basins, cirques, and summits surrounding Telluride to the north, south and east. Almost all the terrain is above tree line, allowing effortless, wide open turns down unobstructed slopes.

Because contemporary powder skis turn intermediates into experts and experts into skiing gods, you don’t need elite skills to enjoy Helitrax. You simply need to be, as the company puts it, “an advanced intermediate or above, with a sense of adventure and in reasonable physical condition.” While the slopes are ungroomed, they fall at moderate angles, resembling a double blue or single black run at Telluride Ski Resort. So relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy the San Juan Mountains, Colorado’s closest resemblance to the Swiss Alps, including views of iconic Wilson Peak, which might seem familiar: It’s the perfect pyramid one sees on the label of Coors beer.

The view from the copter is fantastic, but once you touch down on a remote ridgeline with thousands of untracked powder below you, the real fun begins. Leading the way is a high-altitude, all-star roster of guides. There’s Joe Shults, who’s spent 30 years in the Telluride area working as a professional ski patroller, snow safety director, and heli-ski guide. There’s Matt Steen, who recently worked as an avalanche forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. And let’s not forget Angela Hawse, one of only eight women in America to attain the prestigious certification from the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association. Rounding out the crew is Brian “Speed” Miller, who co-founded Helitrax back in ’82 and is renowned as the area’s consummate avalanche forecaster. As Hawse says, “Most heli-ski guides are the best in the industry because it’s such a sought after job.”

At the landing zone, you step out onto what feels like the top of the world, the guide grabs your skis and waves off the helicopter. Once it’s gone, the peak becomes startlingly quiet and pristine. You click into your bindings, then shoot down virgin fluff to the lower landing zone where the copter will meet your group. The guide will normally go first, asking you to stay either left or right of his track, yet the snow you ski will be fresh, unmarred by other human beings. You’ll make as many turns as you like, but feel free to fly straight down. The sensation of high speed without friction is mind-altering, bucket-list stuff. When you reach the bottom, you’ll be grinning madly and fired up to do it all over again. Helitrax normally provides skiers with six runs a day, which usually translates into 10,000 to 14,000 vertical feet of descent. In contrast to the massive helicopters of British Columbia operations, Helitrax’s Bell 407 limits the experience to a small, agile group of four close friends or family plus the guide. Translation: no waiting for strangers. You’ll spend the non-skiing time shooting photos, eating snacks and lunch (included), and raving about the turns and scenery.

Expert skiers can choose to take it up a notch. If enough talented people can form a suitable group, Helitrax will fly them to test pieces such as Upper Waterfall, a wide-open, undulating roller coaster of a run that funnels into five little couloirs known as the Waterfall Chutes. Or, better yet, Sheep Chute. Lacing its way between imposing walls of rock, Sheep Chute pinches down to a width of 30 feet before opening to a more manageable, less claustrophobic 70 feet. The entire chute falls steeply (40 degrees) for 1,500 exhilarating vertical feet. Ski that, and no one will doubt your abilities anywhere.

 Such options argue favorably for heli-skiing the Lower 48. Sure, British Columbia is where the sport was invented, and its mammoth operations are ever impressive. But their heli-ski lodges are incredibly isolated, with no charming Victorian town like Telluride to see or visit. They may serve incredible food, and offer downtime yoga, but you always know the nightlife highlight will be more cribbage games with the boys. Alaska can be even more trying. The finest Alaskan skiing happens out of Valdez, a dreary sea-level oil town. Because Valdez receives maritime weather (as opposed to Telluride’s continental systems), gray clouds can cancel flying for days, even weeks, at a time. As such, there’s a name for the misery that envelops a soul when dreams of the perfect ski trip wither away under day after day of low ceilings: Valdisease

 But at Telluride, there is no chance of Valdisease; your flight home ends right at the mountain village, where you can walk back to your room (or drive back to your house), freshen up, and then meet your family for dinner, maybe pointing out the window at the remote high alpine mountains that you skied today, carving lines no one else at the table—or the restaurant for that matter—could.

Mountain Adventures to Experience with Your Family This Winter

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Mountain Adventures to Experience with Your Family This Winter

July 26, 2019

If you’re looking for a departure from beaches and boardwalks this summer, consider an unconventional mountain escape that’ll have you oohing and ahhing over expansive vistas. Fill your lungs to the brim with fresh air, and feel your heart pound with exhilaration. However you prefer to balance exercise and adventure, your family will cherish these unforgettable experiences forever. 

Get Here: Trips depart from Aspen Paragliding’s downtown Aspen office mornings at 6:45, 8:30 and 10:30. Arrive 15 minutes early, and plan two hours for the experience.  
Be Prepared: Bring a wind jacket, sunglasses, walking or running shoes, and your camera.  
Suitable For: Children 3 and older, and adults who can run 20 steps. aspenparagliding.com $225 per person.

You’d think soaring through the crisp, mountain air mere feet from the peaks as the sun peers over 14,000-foot summits is an experience exclusive to red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and the occasional helicopter or small jet. But when you sign up for a ride with Aspen Paragliding, you too can take flight on the Rocky Mountain thermals. This is as close as you can come to truly flying as you step off a cliff, arms spread, to catch the updraft and ride the breeze. In Aspen, the experience begins when you pile into a four-wheel-drive truck for a winding drive up the Aspen Mountain service roads as marmots and deer and even the occasional bear or elk scamper out of the way.

Step out of the Jeep onto one of two well-manicured grassy runways—high-altitude greenbelts that in the winter are Walsh’s and Ruthie’s ski runs. Enjoy the sights while your pilot lays out the paraglider and helps you into your harness, which doubles as your seat while you’re in flight. The pilot attaches himself to the paraglider and to you with Kevlar straps called risers. When the wind is right, he says, “Go,” and you sprint 10 to 20 steps downhill. Seconds later, you feel the tug of the wing above you, you run faster, and then your legs are moving but they’re not touching the ground. You lift off and you’re floating above a maze of snowless ski slopes.

The wind is brisk but not overly so, and the smell of earth is quickly replaced by fresh air and ozone as the ground sinks below you. The pilot scoops you onto a wooden plank seat, and your hands are free to snap photos as you meander and serenely glide 3,000 feet down to Aspen Valley. Spot a hawk playing in a thermal, and your pilot will steer you to join the bird as it hovers in the sky. Panoramic views in all directions let you pinpoint Aspen’s famed Wheeler Opera House, the craggy Maroon Bells, the cleft of Independence Pass and Highlands Bowl, which still hides snow in its gullies.

Alex Palmaz, owner of the company and its lead pilot, learned to paraglide in Aspen 20 years ago from the school he now owns. Since then he has flown more than 4,000 tandem flights, and 6,000 flights in all. If you’re game, he’ll let you steer. Brake toggles control the wing overhead. Lean left, look left and pull the left toggle, and the wing sweeps left. It’s the same to the right. Lean; look; brake. Best of all, you needn’t worry about the landing as each passenger harness has a bottom-mounted airbag to make your return to Earth gentle. You may not spend more than 20 minutes in the air, but the memory will last a lifetime.

Get Here: Tyax will pick you up in Vancouver or Whistler and fly you via float plane to the start of the trip.
Time Commitment: Ride for one to seven days. For the true hutto-hut experience, we recommend spending two to three nights.
Equipment: Bring your own hydration pack to carry water, snacks and an extra layer, and a sleeping bag liner for the huts. Tyax provides breakfast, lunch and dinner, and transports your bags each day.
Suitable For: Intermediate and advanced riders, teenage and older.  $1,980 per person, two-night trip.

As the float plane skitters to a splashy stop on Lorna Lake, or perhaps one of the other puddles sprinkled throughout Canada’s South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park—150 miles, and a 90-minute flight, from Vancouver—your skin prickles with delight at the silence and serenity of having millions of acres of virtually untouched wilderness seemingly to yourself. There is no hum of other planes or cars; not so much as the braying of an odd farm animal. You’ve flown here because there are no roads or rail lines into the park. Lorna’s waters lap gently at the shore as you wait for your guide to retrieve your bike from the bowels of the five-seater Dehavilland Beaver. Helmeted and ready, you mount your trusty steed and ride off into the mountains. 

Wind your way over shale-littered passes with sweeping views of the jagged Coast Range, snow occasionally crunching beneath your bike tires. Then race downhill through sprawling meadows—a rainbow of endless azalea, Indian hellebore, arrowleaved groundsel, Indian paintbrush, Sitka valerian and lupine quivering as you whiz past. You’re in the capable hands of the Tyax Wilderness Resort & Spa’s expert mountain bike guides, and you’re pedaling toward the first of as many as six simple and comfortable huts—each with its own personality, but all with soft beds, hot showers and hot, hearty meals—that will be your home each night. Bike for three, four or seven days, three to eight hours a day. Awake each morning to snow-capped peaks reflected in a mountain lake, with a lone heron gliding silently by. If you’re truly adventurous, skip the shower and take a frosty dip in the glacier-fed lake. After breakfast, it’s another quad-burning climb to the top of a pass followed by the sweet reward of a sweeping descent through mineral stained soils, the crumbling remnants of old lava flows and breezy groves of iridescent aspen. 

You might see a string of packhorses delivering your bags to that night’s cabin or possibly a faraway grizzly digging for grubs or chomping on fireweed. The single-track isn’t technical—it was beaten in by gold-seeking prospectors and their stock animals, and First Nations hunters in pursuit of deer, bear and mountain goats. But the adventure is remote and hard-charging—the kind of experience that creates an iron bond between you, your fellow travelers and a special place few people get to experience.

Get Here: Drive 90 minutes from Park City to Ogden to meet your guides, who provide harness, helmet and lanyard.  
Be Prepared: Bring sunscreen, a small backpack, light snacks and lots of water; and wear light hikers, approach shoes or running shoes.
Suitable For: Children 8 and older. Pass on this adventure if you’re afraid of heights. mountogdenviaferrata.com $100 per person. 

Have you ever imagined yourself scaling a cliff Stallone-style, your fingers pinching barely-there ledges as you athletically slither your way to the summit? If it sounds exciting and ruggedly romantic, yet you lack the skills, (rock) face time or Sly’s catlike reflexes, don’t sweat it. You can book an afternoon at Mount Ogden Via Ferrata in Utah, a 90-minute drive from Park City, and experience the thrill with much less risk. Italian for “iron road,” via ferrata is a semi-assisted way to traverse rock walls using fixed iron cables and ladders that let you StairMaster your route up a cliff; no technical rock climbing skills, knots or ropes required. The technique originated in the Italian Dolomites during World War I as a way for troops unskilled in mountain climbing to move quickly and efficiently through Italy’s peaks as they fought the Austrians on ever-higher ground. In the U.S., via ferratas are purely recreational. The Mount Ogden routes are some of the best in North America, designed by American alpinist, climber and Ogden resident Jeff Lowe. If you’re fit enough to climb a long ladder, agile enough to clip a carabiner to an iron rung and comfortable with heights, you’ll scamper up mountainsides with ease whether you’re 5 or 65.

Ogden’s Waterfall Canyon, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, can be steamy hot in the summer. It’s a short and dusty walk to the shady grove at the base of the demonstration wall, where your guide fits you with a climbing harness and helmet and issues you via ferrata’s signature hardware: a shock-absorbing Y-shaped lanyard that connects your harness to the route’s metal rungs. Your shoe rubber grips the rock as you carefully choose slabby foot holds and navigate from rung to rung. You work one side of your lanyard then the other up the iron ladder so that you are always attached at one point or the other. Once you have the basics, it’s a 15-minute hike through a boulder field to the waterfall for which the canyon is named. Cool off with a splash in the water; then it’s time for your first ascent. Your focus is sharp as you carefully pick your way around loose cobbles, reach your foot for the next rung and pull your hips toward the next secure clip. Three routes meander 350 feet up craggy Mount Ogden. The rock is hot and dry, but a light breeze cools you as you wrestle your way to the summit, where you’re greeted by bird’s-eye views of the Great Salt Lake basin and the jagged Wasatch Mountains. 

Fishing Tips from Families That Love to Fish

Fishing Tips from Families That Love to Fish

June 17, 2019

There is something inherently familial about fishing. Maybe it’s because most of us get introduced to the sport by our dads or grandparents or a favorite uncle. There’s something reassuring about making a cast or feeling a fish tug at the end of a line. Maybe it’s because fishing, like family time, can sometimes be frustrating and lead to cursing fits; yet we always— happily—come back to it.

For many families (especially the one I married into) angling along the Big Wood River, which runs past America’s original ski resort of Sun Valley and right through the heart of central Idaho, is a big part of their heritage.

“The Big Wood River is a great place to learn how to fish, especially fly fish, with its easy access and abundant, aggressive fish,” says Dave Faltings, when asked why “The Wood,” as locals sometimes call it, is so popular with families. Faltings knows. He has been managing the guides at the world-famous Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum for over a quarter of a century now.

Faltings explains that because of its diverse regulations—some stretches are catch-and-release only, while others are stocked regularly and allow healthy bag limits—the Big Wood has long been an extremely popular fishery for anglers of all kinds.

“It’s a really diverse river,” he says. “It’s nice for kids and fun for families who want to keep fish because there are places where it’s allowed. But it’s also a great place to learn to fly fish, because it’s a healthy freestone river so you don’t have to be perfect to catch a fish like you do on spring creeks. And there are also a lot of wild fish, which appeals to seasoned anglers.”

For all the aforementioned reasons, plus its numerous easy-access points along Idaho’s Scenic Highway 75 and close proximity to the world-class resort community of Ketchum Sun Valley, anglers of all ages and abilities return to The Wood year after year. And for five generations now, my family has been casting amongst them.

So when I take my two young sons, Jack and Sam, down to the river or to one of several “kids’ ponds” sprinkled near its banks, it dawns on me that what we’re doing consists of a lot more than fishing. Like many kids, my dad taught me how to fish … but that took place far away from the Northern Rockies. “Pops” would take my brothers and me out along the rocky shores south of Boston to drown worms for flounder, or to Sandy Neck along Cape Cod to shore-cast for stripers.

I don’t remember the catching ever being too good or ever thinking about how lucky I was to be fishing. But I do remember the thrill of feeling a fish fight against my line: the mystery, the challenge, the long periods of quiet waiting interrupted by bursts of excitement.

Now, decades later, I find myself casting on waters of a much different sort. I traded the saltwater tackle for a fly rod, the worms for wooly buggers, the salty sea for the swift currents of Rocky Mountain rivers. And now it’s my turn to be dad, passing on the gift of fishing. Yes, the gift.

And like a lot of dads in this situation I occasionally feel overwhelmed—not just by all the gear, extra clothing and wind knots from hell you have to deal with, but by how much there is to teach my young sons, beyond cinch knots, how to cast or the proper way to handle and release trout.

The Big Wood is, after all, the same river where their grandpa fished each summer when he was a boy and where he was first introduced to fly fishing by his own grandparents, who would come over from eastern Idaho each year to fish the picturesque trout stream. So I must teach them to treat the river with respect.

The Wood is the river where their grandma fished as a child herself. She and her sisters would be roused out of bed by her dad “at some Godforsaken hour to go catch trout,” she says. Raised on farms not far from the river’s banks, their grandma ate so much trout as a child she can’t even stand the smell of it now. So my boys must learn to appreciate the river, how it flows through our family heritage and all that it provides—which is far more than food and fun.

If trout are your favorite sport fish, then you’ll have a hard time finding a better place to angle than the Sun Valley, Idaho, area. The region offers nearly year-round easy access to spectacular fisheries like the Big Wood River, the Copper Basin and the blue ribbon, spring-fed Silver Creek. Countless mountain streams and lakes teeming with trout are tucked into the mountain ranges encircling Sun Valley: the Boulders, the Pioneers and the Sawtooths. It’s easy to find a quiet place to cast.

With long, warm days, summer is peak season on Silver Creek, the landmark preserve famous for its monstrous rainbow and brown trout as well as its mind-blowing mayfly hatches like the brown drake. East of Sun Valley, Copper Basin is a secluded spot well worth the excursion. Three species of trout beckon anglers to isolated waters with a great mix of pools, pocket water, riffles, and runs.

The Big Wood and a small stretch of Silver Creek remain open to fly fishing through the autumn, which can be downright fantastic as the leaves fade and drop from the trees and hungry trout rise to midges and blue-winged olives. Even the winter angling (catch and release, barbless hooks only) on the Big Wood River can be terrific, so long as it’s not too cold for down jackets and long johns. Midday and, surprisingly, snowy days are best. Double Headers—fishing and skiing in the same day—are quite common for Wood River Valley residents and visitors.

The Big Wood closes for spawning from April 1 until Memorial Day weekend. These early spring days beckon anglers north toward Stanley and Challis to chase after the seasonal sea run trout known as steelhead that make their way up the Salmon River.

These are the same fishing holes where their East Coast, Big City granddad learned the simple joy of casting a fly rod amongst the glorious backdrop of crystal clear water coursing through the mountains. It’s also their dad’s other “office.” It’s where I sneak off for a couple of hours of mental health now and again, and why I usually come back smiling. For just like other rivers much more famous than the Big Wood, there’s something magical and healing about its waters. So my boys need to learn to enjoy it all, for that’s what fishing and being a kid—heck, a human being—is really all about.

It’s during those quiet moments, when the river and the wind whisper and my son quietly and sincerely scouts the water that I’m reminded there are times in life when it’s best to just shut up and fish. And I’m reminded of the joy of simply being, and sharing, and that there are few better places on earth to do so than the Big Wood River.

Antarctica: Losing Yourself and Finding Everything Else

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Antarctica: Losing Yourself and Finding Everything Else

May 16, 2019

Nothing can prepare you for the epic underside of our planet. I keep a list of the things I’ve seen that were, at first, nearly impossible to grasp. A few of these landmarks took seconds—even hours—to comprehend: the Grand Canyon, Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal, Ethiopia’s underground rock-hewn churches, Miss Brazil flipping her hair at a barbecue, Machu Picchu and the ice-wrapped Himalayas. After hiking through Nepal’s mind-boggling landscape, I forecast that sensory overload as matchless. Then, I beheld Antarctica.

This frosted otherworld hypnotizes with glimmering, blue-green icebergs drifting among glacial citadels. Whales hiss, seals snore and penguins return your gaze. This everlasting winter wonderland gives new gist to finally “hitting bottom,” way down under. Extremes of climate, landscape and awe found on no other continent await those who venture here. The 1,800-mile-long Transantarctic Mountains rival the Rockies in height, but only the crests break through the ice sheet. The boom of cracking glacial crests echoes through valleys as chunks of ice fall hundreds of feet into sea water.

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There are glaciers elsewhere: the lingering bits in Montana’s Glacier National Park are predicted to melt by 2030. New Zealand’s Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers, attractions I marveled at in the ’80s, now seem puny. Alaska and Norway have significant offerings, but Antarctica is a glacier that’s roughly the size of the U.S. and Mexico combined—and constantly calving icebergs into the ocean. It’s a live show.

The UN-sponsored 1959 Antarctic Treaty mandated that this continent only be explored with peace in mind—no hunting, fishing, industry, exporting, oil drilling or weapons testing. However, lawlessness prevailed here before 1959. Antarctic shores are littered with whale-bones, the unsettling legacy of a now outlawed whaling industry. The white continent lingers as an example of how our planet intended on enduring the eons. Your mind wanders during your time amid the ice. The wildlife, surviving despite being utterly vulnerable among relentless challenges, reminds us that pining and whining wastes precious time.

When you step ashore, you’ll no doubt encounter penguins—upright birds that can’t fly— that often seem as playful as puppies. Mingling with them, provided they’re willing, is enthralling. Penguins quack like a band of trumpeting kazoos while flapping their wingfins gaily. Photographing them is similar to shooting a moderately amused child; you lose them if you break the spell. Their quack soundtrack melds with whimpering seals (hairy, puppy-faced dolphins with flippers and reeking of musky low tide), screeching gulls, pleading terns, thundering glaciers and the air-releasing whooshes from whale blowholes. This is nature. Most shore excursions are about the environment, but a few of them visit research stations that double as shopping binges. Royal bargain: At Port Lockroy, a British research station, international-anywhere stamps cost $1. Similar landings and offerings to mail via Chilean post cost $5 while Argentina charges $7 for their stamp. Hmm.

And then there’s the actual trip to get here— via what can be some of the earth’s most torrential wave action. The Drake Passage is the confluence of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and it separates the South American continent and the Antarctic Peninsula. Splash in its funneling of the circulating waters around the bottom of the world, and you have Earth’s strongest current; it makes the Gulf Stream seem negligible. The westerly winds, uncompromised by mountain ranges, can blow up to 100 miles per hour. Imagine navigating this 100 years ago. Even today, there’s still no one to stamp your passport here.

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Ships rolling in waves make some people nap. Even when not on the brink of a nap, most passengers are mellower on the boat than they’d be at home—the only tension is possibly missing something gorgeous. Someone on watch is always willing to discuss life at sea, whale watching or storm navigating, even at 4 a.m. Barring ice-bashing tight spots, the captain is usually available for a chat.

Once back on land in Ushuaia, you might experience a bit of greenout—the alarm experienced by long-term Antarctic visitors upon returning to terra firma and seeing grass and trees. “Dock rocking ” is the swaying sensation felt on land after being at sea for a long time. Mine resembled a two-beer buzz and lasted days. When you wake up from your Antarctic dream, enlightened and bewildered, you’ll miss the sweet air. Penguins are happier than clams—now you know why.