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.”

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.

The Intersection of Nature and Luxury in the Galapagos

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The Intersection of Nature and Luxury in the Galapagos

July 25, 2019

The sleeping baby sea lion doesn’t budge as I take its picture, although its mother raises a wary eye. A pair of blue-footed boobies shelter their newborn as I pass and, farther down the path, I give a wide berth to bull sea lions fighting for dominance. Welcome to the Galapagos Islands—where up-close encounters with an amazing array of wildlife are a daily occurrence.  

Undersea volcanoes formed this isolated string of islands some 600 miles west of Ecuador. Temperatures rarely vary, given that the Galapagos are situated on the equator. The nutrient-rich Humboldt current that flows north from Antarctica during the summer and fall and the warmer Panama current that dominates the climate through May converge here, creating the conditions that support one of the world’s most diverse and unique ecosystems.

The Galapagos are a photographer’s paradise. Made up of 13 major islands, 17 smaller ones and some 40 massive rocks that jut out like garden sculptures from the water, these islands and the surrounding sea are home to some 9,000 animal species. Birds, lizards and sea lions display no fear as humans walk among them. You might see pink flamingos and penguins in the same day, spot fleet-footed Sally Lightfoot crabs scurrying across the sand and male frigate birds that puff up their red breasts to attract females. And of course there are the islands’ famous giant tortoises, the world’s largest. It’s no wonder the Galapagos are a UNESCO World Heritage Site designated as a unique “living museum and showcase of evolution.” 

Visiting the Galapagos, you’ll wonder why no country claimed them for centuries. In 1535, the Bishop of Panama described the landscape as “worthless, because it has not the power of raising a little grass, but only some thistles.” Spain later claimed the islands that, over time, were home to privateers and whalers. Finally, no one raised any real objections when Ecuador laid claim to the archipelago in 1832. 

Not long after that, in 1835, Charles Darwin famously visited here and, though he only went ashore four islands for a total of 19 days, the rich samples he collected formed the heart of his theory of evolution. Most visitors today still visit the Galapagos by boat, albeit with far more conveniences and amenities than Darwin ever imagined. The Ecuadorian government created the Galapagos National Park in 1959, and later added the Galapagos Marine Reserve, to avoid overcrowding and overuse. Cruise ships are given permits to visit specific islands and limit the number of people who can go ashore to 11 guests and one naturalist guide. Every ship’s itinerary is designed to reveal a mix of islands, animals and marine life, but larger islands such as Santa Cruz are on almost every ship’s itinerary. 

While sailing between islands, you’ll pass smoking volcanoes and watch frigatebirds—sailors call them “pirates” of the sea—dive-bomb to steal fish plucked from the sea by other birds. After a day visiting the islands, you can relax on the deck and watch dolphins and whales cruise by the ship. For adults and children who love animals or just have a zest for learning, the Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s best open-air classrooms. After returning home, many visitors describe their Galapagos cruise as one of the top trips of their lifetime. 

Santa Cruz 

The fishing boats are in on Santa Cruz. A knife slashes through a freshly caught fish, cutting off a fillet for the evening meal while a pelican waddles down the gangplank and tumbles into a fishing boat in search of fish scraps. You wander through the fish market on Puerto Ayora’s waterfront, dine in local restaurants, and shop in stalls filled with souvenirs, clothing and swim gear. The village is also home to the Darwin Research Center, where scientists and volunteers conduct research and offer environmental education that encourages conservation. Santa Cruz is a must-stop on the cruise circuit; travelers come to learn about the islands, Darwin’s research and to see Diego, a centenarian giant tortoise from Española who has sired dozens of offspring. An island tour also may include a trip into the island’s interior, where giant tortoises wander freely in the native grasses and lumber past the guayabillo and pega pega trees. So few giant tortoises and turtles are left because their meat was a major part of the diet for pirates, whalers and early residents.

Bartolomé

On a Barren Spit of Land Called Bartolomé, you can hike to the tip of a volcanic cone that offers a panoramic view that includes Pinnacle Rock, which U.S. airmen used for target practice during WWII, as well as nearby Santiago and other islands in the distance. Walking up, you pass lava rocks in red, orange and green hues. The black lava is so slick you can almost see your face in it. If you sunbathe on the crescent beaches near Pinnacle Rock, you may share the sand with sea lions. Bartolomé is the mating and nesting site for the green sea turtles between November and January.

Española

Step on Española’s shore and look around the black lava rocks for Christmas iguanas, so nicknamed because their skin takes on a blotchy, reddish tint during mating season. As you walk toward the island’s steep cliffs, don’t be surprised if a brazen hood mockingbird lands on your shoulders in search of food. The blue-footed boobies, with their black faces rimmed in white feathers, might remind you of a mime. When the waved albatross run toward the cliff and leap off, don’t hold your breath wondering if the birds are going to fall into the ocean. It’s just the way these large birds start their flights. Native to Española, the waved albatross abandon the island from January to March, returning in April for the nesting season. 

Rabida Island

The pink flamingos feeding in the saltwater lagoon on Rabida Island ignore you as they feed on the tiny shrimp larvae that give these birds their color. Rabida is a multicolored island, with a maroon-tinted beach and scarlet cliffs courtesy of the lava that once spewed from a volcano’s spatter cones. High on the cliff, blue-footed and Nazca boobies nest in the cracks in the rocks. While snorkeling, you might see a baby sea lion toss a sea cucumber around just like a youngster throwing a rubber ball up then catching it. You might even see manta rays and sharks.

Isabela Island

Seahorse-shaped Isabela Island was formed by the merging of six volcanoes, some of which are still active. When cruising past, watch for fumaroles, or steam vents, rising from the Volcan Chico area on the Sierra Negra volcano. Although there are four permanent settlements on Isabela, the largest island in the archipelago, cruises often stop at one of the secluded coves and beaches. Isabela is a birder’s paradise: Keep an eye out for flightless cormorants, mangrove finches, Galapagos hawks and blue herons, and look for Galapagos penguins bobbing in the water as you kayak through a quiet cove.

Fernandina

At 700,000 years old, Fernandina is the youngest island in the archipelago. One of the calderas on an active volcano blew in 2009 and created pyrotechnic images for people cruising by the island. When you get off the zodiac that ferries you from the cruise ship to shore, step onto the rocks carefully so you don’t hurt those scarlet and yellow Sally Lightfoot crabs scurrying by your feet. Look at the tiny lizard sunbathing as it sleeps on the head of a motionless iguana. In the water, hungry iguanas are swimming, heads bobbing underneath as they find food in the water. With bodies that don’t hold heat well, these marine animals huddle together on the rocks to soak up sun. As you follow a path going higher on the island, your naturalist guide points out the cactus growing in cracks between the pile of lava rocks. Look at the flightless cormorants, birds endemic to Fernandina and Isabela. These birds with scruffy-looking tiny wings can no longer fly, but they’re stellar at swimming and diving for prey.

The Three Best Golf Courses in Hawaii

The Three Best Golf Courses in Hawaii

July 19, 2019

It’s not an overstatement to claim that playing Wailea’s golf courses, all clustered within a 2-mile stretch on Maui’s southwestern shore, is a benchmark experience for mainland golfers. Few places boast as many sweeping ocean vistas from nearly every hole, well-conditioned courses, challenging layouts from highly acclaimed course architects and top-notch service. Not to mention the perfect year-round weather that graces this southwest region of the island. These three standouts exemplify Wailea’s best. 

Old Blue Course

Wailea Golf Club’s Old Blue course is perpetually rated among the most enjoyable on all of Maui, and packs as much vivid scenery and as many wide-open fairways as anyplace you’ll play golf. From its relatively easy, straightaway par-4 first hole traversing toward the ocean to its expansive back nine fairways, Old Blue is an ideal first course to play during your vacation, especially if you’re still in a travel fog or your game is rusty. This 40-year-old gem was designed by Arthur Jack Snyder, who has a reputation for maximizing fun without taking away the challenge of a good design. Holes are forgiving, and you’ll often find your ball rolling back toward the fairway—whether your shots veer right or left. The large greens roll true and are perpetually in terrific condition.

That said, Old Blue is no cakewalk. The afternoon breezes can be brisk, making the open fairways seem like wind tunnels. There are also plenty of bunkers—many of them greenside—but the fluffy sand makes for relatively easy bunker shots. Greens hold the ball well, but beware of the optical illusions: Locals say that all putts break toward the ocean and move faster in that direction, despite how they might appear. You’ll swear that some putts break uphill. 

The front nine feature continual rolling undulations along the fairways and greens, with some uphill tee shots and downhill approaches—many with mesmerizing ocean views. Holes six and seven each have a fairway tree that challenges your drives, particularly if you draw the ball on the tee shot. Speaking of trees, the back nine fairways are nearly all tree-lined. And because this side can be more susceptible to wind, the trees become much more reachable. In fact, the wind can stump even the most-seasoned golfers who may often think that every hole plays into the breeze. No doubt, if you want to play a gorgeous, well-rounded course on Maui with magnificent views from most holes, Old Blue is a must.  

Many of Wailea’s courses offer stunning ocean views, and while the scenery is a major bonus when playing here, the steady offshore breezes—particularly in the afternoons—can pose a challenge to golfers unaccustomed to playing in the wind. Rather than adjust your swing, however, the trick is to “treat the wind as a friend, not as a foe,” says Eddie Lee, a PGA Teaching Professional with the David Leadbetter Academy at Wailea and two-time Aloha Section Teacher of the Year. Lee offers these tips for making the most of Wailea’s breeze. 

Makena Beach & Golf Resort 

The south course at Makena Beach & Golf Resort is among the most challenging on Maui, with narrow fairways and plenty of hazards. It’s a well-rounded course, however, and offers plenty of rewards for golfers who take the risk. 

Another unique jewel designed by Jones, this is a phenomenal 6,914-yard test that can be difficult. There are hills, hazards, tough hole designs and less-than-forgiving terrain that force you to think through every shot before you swing, or you’ll suffer the consequences. Fairways are relatively narrow and are bordered by mature trees—which means they can snag inaccurate shots— and regardless of which tee box you drive from, you will hit traps if you’re not careful with direction and distance. with direction and distance. Aside from the varied distances from one set of tees to the next, you’ll also find the angles of your tee shots, the elevations and the direction to the hole to be completely different, offering a unique playing experience from each tee. Course highlights include the 12th hole, a 185-yarder over a canyon and toward the deep blue Pacific that is, perhaps, the prettiest par-3 in the state. Then there’s the 620-yard, par-5 14th hole that descends 200-plus feet and also plays toward the ocean. The generous greens are not as enormous as those at Old Blue or the Emerald, but they roll perfectly true, smooth and fair. Beyond all the challenges this course presents, you’ll walk away feeling sufficiently tested and with lingering impressions of the dramatic ocean views.

Wind In a cross-breeze situation where the wind is blowing from left to right, open up your shoulder slightly and position your toe-line, in relation to your hips and shoulders, slightly left of the intended target line. Take dead aim at the target with your club face, and your body will naturally align in that direction. “That’s the key,” Lee says. “Aim with the club face, not your body.”

The opposite is true in this case. Keep your toe-line aligned slightly right of the intended target, aiming your club face directly at the target.

Downwind shots offer a tempting situation—when else can you hit a Tourworthy drive? But beware of overpowering your swing. A general tip: “When it’s breezy, swing easy,” says Lee. The wind will flatten the launch angle and your ball will go out, not up. It’s also a good idea to select one club down from what you’d normally use at the given distance. In Hawaii, says Lee, every 10 mph of wind generally equates to a one-club adjustment.

Headwind shots generate drag, which sends the ball upward. To avoid losing yardage, play your ball position from your normal setup, widen your stance and focus on maintaining rhythm and balance on your backswing. Your downswing is the key. Slightly arch and raise your left wrist bone so that your hands lead the clubhead, and keep the clubhead low to the ground through the hitting zone (approximately 10 inches before and 10 inches after you hit the ball), which will send the ball on a lower trajectory with less curve.

Emerald Course

Your next stop should be one of Old Blue’s two sibling layouts. The nearby 6,825-yard Emerald Course is an outstanding Robert Trent Jones Jr. design and plays in the same fun spirit as Old Blue— but with a bit more of a bite. Jones’s self-described mission at the Emerald, which opened in 1994, was to make it up to “24-karat gold” standard. Mission accomplished! The fairways are narrower than Old Blue’s, the greens are large and the pace of play is nice and breezy. There are ocean views from every hole, which often compete for your attention when you’re trying to make quality swings at the ball. In fact, many shots seem to play longer than they appear on the Emerald because of these expansive views. But fear not, the fairways slope toward the middle, coercing mishits safely into the short grass. Texas Wedgers will rejoice in the well-manicured fairways that practically goad them to putt from far off the green, as the aprons roll just as smoothly.

As an added touch of generosity by Jones, many of the tee boxes are elevated so that drives travel downhill and pick up some added distance. Bunker sand is even softer than Old Blue’s, making for fairly predictable play. Greens hold well, too, so you needn’t worry about shots bouncing and rolling well beyond their landing points. Emerald also boasts Maui’s only double green, which serves holes 10 and 17. A greenside lake can also come into play on both holes. As is the case at many resort courses, Jones made the 18th hole relatively easy—in this case a par-5—to allow golfers to end their round on a high note. 

There are ocean views from every hole, which often compete for your attention…. In fact, many shots seem to play longer than they appear on the Emerald because of these expansive views.

Where the Pros Go for Bonefishing​

Where The Pros Go For Bonefishing

July 18, 2019

I catch a nearly imperceptible flash out of the corner of my eye, like a shooting star. A silvery shimmer, the tip of a fin or even a dark shadow creeping along the alabaster seafloor is usually all that betrays the stealthy bonefish who come to feed in these shallow saltwater inlets. Of course my guide, Teddy, is the first to spot the actual fish. “He’s right over there,” he says. “Cast about five yards out at 3 o’clock.”

I strain through my polarized sunglasses and try to make out the silver-sided bonefish cruising off our bow. I squint into the early-morning sunlight and send my line arcing in the general direction, trusting my guide’s eyes more than mine. “Too close. You scared him off,” he says. “You have to lead him a bit, and lay your line out there gently so you draw his attention without spooking him.” I’m with my father and several other men on a guy’s trip in the Abaco Islands, a crescent–shaped cluster of sun-drenched isles in the northern Bahamas. We’re taking a break from our usual daily routine of deep-sea fishing into the early afternoon, followed by evenings filled with booze and seafood, to angle for bonefish in the intertidal flats that pocket the islands.

Our group is separated into two boats, and my father and I have a feeling that our hosts, who have fished here many times before and were sounding a bit too cocky about their prospects this morning, have claimed the veteran guide for themselves, leaving us with the younger and presumably less experienced guide for our first bonefishing experience.

We’ve scarcely had a strike despite hours of spotting and casting, and we fear our inkling may prove true. However, we’re steadfast in our resolve, and take turns standing poised on the small casting deck at the bow while Teddy silently poles the aluminum-hulled skiff across the water from an elevated platform mounted at the stern.

Unlike deep-sea fishing, going after bonefish isn’t a cast-and-wait proposition. It’s an all-in affair that’s more akin to hunting with a fishing rod. To fish effectively, an angler must know where the fish are likely to be, and keep a keen eye out at all times—first spotting his prey in the water before launching a strategically placed and well-presented cast that, with any luck, entices the fish to take the bait. But that’s only half the game.

These skittish fish, nicknamed Grey Ghosts, are known for their cunning nature, and—pound for pound—fight with a strength and speed that far exceeds their modest size. Once on the line, most will shoot off on a dead run like a sprinter out of the blocks, then stop on a dime and reverse direction, or zip under the boat and give themselves just enough slack to spit the hook. It’s no wonder that bonefish are among the world’s most prized saltwater game fish to catch on a fly rod, and many anglers consider landing a trophy-sized bonefish to be the pinnacle of the sport. But first you have to find one. Capt. Rick Sawyer, 55, has made it his life’s work to know where the fish are. An island native, he’s been guiding professionally on Abaco since he was 15, and concentrates his fishing area on the 75 square miles or so of water that ring his home on Green Turtle Cay, a small island just north of Treasure Cay.

“Bonefish like to be the first fish on the flats and the last fish to leave,” he says. “I make my decision on where to fish based on the tide and the wind direction, and there’s certain areas I fish at different stages in the tide that I know are likely to produce fish.” Seasonality also plays a role. Smaller fish congregate in large pools—sometimes as many as several hundred—during the spring and summer. Beginning after the first full moon in November, the big schools of smaller fish leave and the larger fish come in.

Sawyer says a good day of bonefishing on Abaco means catching four to five fish— sometimes as many as 20 small ones in the spring and summer. However, it’s also just as easy to spend a long day and not catch a thing. To maximize clients’ chances of enjoying a productive day of fishing, Sawyer recommends that they practice casting before arriving on the island and heed their guide’s advice when it comes to finer points such as how to cast the line quickly and accurately, especially in windy conditions.

“People ask me all the time, ‘How was the fishing?’ and I say, ‘The fishing was great, but the casting sucked,’” Sawyer says. “If you have a really good fisherman, then you’ll have a really good day of fishing. But if you have someone who can’t see the fish, can’t present the fly or can’t get the line out there far enough, then you’re in for a long day.” And while luck favors the well prepared, there are no absolutes on the flats.

Even after you find the fish, you might “spend two hours chasing them and they won’t eat,” Sawyer says. “And then you might get a slack tide or a change in the wind, or the sun shines at just the right angle, and they’ll start biting. “I like to say that bonefish are like women—unpredictable.” All you can do is present yourself well and hope for the best.

Back on the boat, the sun has reached its zenith and beats down relentlessly on the small skiff. We’ve scarcely had a nibble all morning but are determined to keep our attention sharp, despite the baking heat. We decide to try one more location before calling it a day. Teddy cuts the motor, and we set about the now familiar routine of scanning, casting and waiting when suddenly I get a strike. I set the hook as the fish takes off on a run. I enjoy a brief fight before bringing him close enough to the boat for us to net, snap a photo and release. My next cast also nets another fish, and when my father takes a turn he lands several as well. It seems we’ve found a school of bonefish feeding nearby, and for whatever reason the fish are striking at seemingly every cast. “I’ve never seen them quite like this,” remarks Teddy. “This is special.”

We’re in high spirits on the boat ride back, with the long morning all but forgotten. Our crew in the second boat is unloading their gear as we glide up to the dock. “How was the fishing?” one asks. “Catch anything?” We learn that, despite having three fishermen in their boat, they’ve landed only two small fish all day. “It was fantastic. We caught a ton,” I say, barely suppressing a grin. “Beginner’s luck, I guess.”

The Travel Bag You Need For Your Next Vacation

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The Travel Bag You Need For Your Next Vacation

July 16, 2019

Weekly business travelers, travel hobbyists, and annual vacation takers have more in common than one might think. Regardless of how often you travel, the desire to have everything go smoothly from start to finish is universal, and the ability to pack completely and efficiently is necessary. And while there’s no way to ensure a quick airport experience or a timely arrival, there are ways to optimize your experience and make it as relaxing as possible, and it starts with the right travel gear.

Traveling pros shouldn’t be the only ones enjoying the reassurance of the best travel products. So before you head out on your next vacation, do your research and be sure to invest in gear that combines the functionality and portability you need to ensure the most efficient travel experience from the moment you step out of your front door.

One travel bag in particular stands out among the rest: the Signature 2.0 Garment Duffel from Vessel Bags.

This duffel’s unique functionality allows travelers to pack every type of garment they’ll need on their trip. Even materials that wrinkle easily are no match for the Garment Duffel’s design and interior. Now you don’t have to worry about finding an iron the moment you get to the hotel or restoring your clothes to their pre-packed glory: the Garment Duffel is specifically designed to keep everything looking as fresh as it did before you traveled across the world with it packed in your bag.

The superior single-zipper system allows the bag to be opened up flat, like a traditional garment bag, so travelers are able to pack and unpack their clothing with ease. And when it’s time to hit the road again, the Garment Duffel can be zipped back up to act like a standard duffel bag.

Worried the Garment Duffel isn’t large enough to hold your stuff? With the capacity to hold up to three full suits, two separate, interior shoe compartments and additional space within the duffel itself, travelers will be able to pack everything they need. And if you’re just making a quick trip, the Garment Duffel comes equipped with a shoulder strap for quick and easy carrying, and it meets international carry-on requirements so you don’t have to go through the hassle of checking a bag.

Experienced travelers aren’t the only ones who deserve the ease and convenience of thoughtfully designed luggage. If you have a vacation coming up and you’re intrigued by the idea of efficient packing and opening your luggage to wrinkle-free clothes, invest in a Garment Duffel before you take off. Whether you’re packing that new dress, an extra pair of shoes or your freshly pressed suit, they’ll fit perfectly in your new bag.

Garment Duffel 2

Enjoying your travel experience begins with the right gear. Inefficient packing and overstuffed luggage are a thing of the past. With the Garment Duffel’s highly functional and sleek design, you won’t have to worry about bulky luggage at the airport, on the train or as you make your way up to your hotel room. And when you arrive at your destination, you won’t have to do laundry or seek out an iron to restore your clothing to its pre-packed state. Instead, you’ll be able to settle in and relax knowing that your things were taken care of from start to finish.

It really is easier to enjoy your vacation when you have everything you need, and one of the best ways to ensure that is to use the best gear—like the Garment Duffel. It doesn’t matter how often you travel, your desire to have everything go smoothly and to pack efficiently and completely likens you to a travel pro. Whether you’re heading into town or traveling far away, with the right gear, you’ll feel right at home.

Experience San Francisco Like a Local

Experience San Francisco Like a Local

July 15, 2019

Universally considered one of the greatest cities on the globe, San Francisco has an irresistible and international allure. So what’s the best way to enjoy her world-famous splendor? With the wide eyes of a visitor and the leading hand of a knowledgeable local (ahem, that would be me).

I confess… I cannot remember the last time I roamed Fisherman’s Wharf, climbed to the top of Coit Tower or said hello to the chatty sea lions relaxing at Pier 39. However, I have been gleefully shopping, eating and cocktailing my way around town—from South of Market to Pacific Heights and the Mission District—for the better part of 17 years. Ding, ding, ding! Precisely why you should take my proverbial hand and let me steer you toward some of my favorite neighborhood haunts, buzzy dining spots, amazing boutiques and cool cocktail bars not plastered in every guidebook known to man. What of all those world-famous icons, museums and attractions? Absolutely worthy of their acclaim—and a visit. But you don’t need me to tell you that. The ultimate goal of this insider’s tour to the City by the Bay is to help you experience the mind-blowing hills, stunning Victorians and mouthwatering chocolate through the eyes of a still-smitten local—New Yorker by birth, San Franciscan by choice

Get Your Shop On

San Francisco often gets a bad rap for its fashion sense. But one thing is certain: it’s impossible to impeach the city’s shopping scene – one I have been successfully mining over the years. Indeed, the city is a buyers’ paradise, stuffed with an eclectic mix of boutiques and department stores. Here’s an introduction to some of my favorite local shops in neighborhoods you may not know. 

Hayes Valley 

Meet my hands-down favorite place to score giddy-inducing fashions. Think of this neighborhood, anchored by Hayes Street, as the SoHo of San Francisco, except teensier and without a recognizable chain store in sight. In other words, welcome to the coolest cluster of independent boutiques in town. You’ll find hip and sophisticated women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, fabulous footwear, and funky housewares and home furnishings all within five square blocks. The best way to tackle it? Just wander—and lust. 

This airy and still-newish boutique woos both genders with an ultra-chic bounty of coveted clothing from the likes of Comme des Garcons, Acne and Alexander Wang. Excellent customer service and amazing accessories by local artists add to its allure.

A hipster favorite—it’s all about promoting and selling new, emerging and ecofriendly local designers. The perfect spot to purchase gifts, edgy tees with San Francisco graphics, fun jewelry and decidedly cool baby and kids clothes.

The MO of this happy little shop: sleek and simple with a Scandinavian twist. Cool kitchen gadgets, jewelry, home accessories and unique gifts are stylishly displayed along with products by Marimekko, Design House Stockholm and Alvar Alto.

The whimsical windows of this cavernous menswear spot will demand that you enter, while the Americana vintage vibe and fresh mix of denim, sportswear and workwear are sure to keep you interested. Styles run the gamut from fullon fab Zig-Zag shoes for $20 to investment pieces by Rag & Bone and Paul Smith. Crazy-cool curios with a manly-man slant add to the fashion fun.

Don’t forget to cure your shopping munchies! Refuel at these hotspots before you get back to the main course–shopping!

Blue Bottle: A new cult of java lovers can’t get enough of this local, organic coffee. Look for the kiosk (and the queue). 

Miette Confiserie: Kids of all ages will eagerly get their sweet fix on here. Scrumptious candies by the pound, cupcakes and macaroons will have you sufficiently sugar rushed in no time.

La BoulangeThis French cafe is the perfect stop for an au lait and chocolate croissant, salad Nicoise or croque monsieur.

How about a side of Bar – bary Coast history with your shopping? Situated in the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid (north and west of the Financial District), this little-known enclave has an Old World feel with its beautiful brick and ornate cast-iron buildings dating back to the Gold Rush days. It’s home to the city’s finest arts and antique dealers, as well as modern design stores and two of the best women’s boutiques in the city. Meandering these historic blocks is a wonderful way to spend a couple of only-inSan Francisco hours. Grab a bite at Bix—a San Francisco institution—or the more casual but equally historic Old Ship Saloon. Prefer a champagne break? Pull up a couch at The Bubble Lounge.

Whether you’re in the mar – ket for a new masterpiece or just window-shopping, take a whirl through this almost-30-year-old gallery, one of the city’s finest, specializing in 19th- and 20th-century European and American paintings with a focus on California artists.

Ladies, prepare for 4,000 square feet of uber-chic fashions in a landmark building, formerly occupied by Ernie’s restaurant, featured in Alfred Hitch – cock’s Vertigo. What’s being served up nowadays is a meticulously edited menu of sophisticated designer clothing. Name-dropping just a bit to whet your appetite… Helmut Lang, Rick Owens, Viktor & Rolf. Throw in gorgeous accessories and footwear? Swoon-worthy is an understatement.

La Boutique L’art et la Mode

A relative newcomer, this insouciant boutique continues to make a positive impression on local stylistas who flock to the bright bi-level space for innovative European designer collections. Another plus: It’s also part contemporary art gallery and event space. Ooh la la!

Even though the best way to sop up the local flavor is to hit the boutiques and neighborhoods, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give Union Square a proper nod. It is, after all, the city’s central shop – ping hub overflowing with department stores (Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Mar – cus, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Barneys New York and Nordstrom) and designer storefronts (Prada, Gucci, Hermès, Bottega Veneta, Louis Vuitton and just-opened Mulberry). Also noteworthy: Maiden Lane, just off the square (between Geary and Post Streets from Stockton to Kearny Streets), a cobble – stone, pedestrian-only street clustered with more luxury stores (Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Diptyque and Tory Burch) and outdoor cafes. Local highlights include Manika Jewelry, Glory Chen and Gump’s, the 150-year-old legendary retailer that sells artful objects, jewelry and home décor. (Just look for the red awnings.) 

Around the City in 5 Plates: 

San Francisco is a veritable foodie heaven with an innovative and ethnically diverse restaurant scene, an excess of superstar chefs and a gastronomic reputation that rivals the best in the world. The perfect way to get a taste? Eat like a local and chomp your way through the city from taco truck to Tony hotspot, one palate-pleasing meal at a time.  

Chef Thomas McNaughton brings us upscale Cali cuisine married perfectly with a desirable location in the center of culinary hipsterdom—the Mission District’s 20th Street corridor. The bright space has a rustic-urban feel with equal parts indoor and outdoor dining. Refined yet simple dishes with an emphasis on local ingredients will have you at first bite. Two to try: ham, greens, herbs, marinated bread and white cheddar; and squid, avocado, celery and pine nut mousse. More adventurous types should go for the daily tasting menu—you don’t know what you’ll get until it’s served.

Location, location, location. That and a mean latte have made this coffee-shop-cum-bistro the go-to hangout for venture capitalists, techie bloggers and tech rockstars themselves. It all makes sense when you consider that the eatery sits across from the Caltrain station (the commuter hub between the city and Silicon Valley), nearby AT&T Park and a slew of startups. The deal-making all goes down in a hip industrial space (carved from the refrigerated room of a one – time creamery) with both indoor and outdoor seat – ing. Best bets on the menu: breakfast sandwiches, salads and savory crepes. Also find a selection of beer and wine.

All hail the city’s first permanent food truck pod. Finally, we truckie devotees can stop stalking and obsessively checking Twitter to find out what abandoned space or hidden alley is the location du jour for scrumptious falafels, tamales, pies or po’ boys. The park is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and you’ll find a rotating group of six to 10 trucks at any given time. (Curry Up Now is my fave.) No doubt, this is food truck dining deluxe— there’s covered seating, free WiFi and on-site park – ing, regular movie night screenings for clarity and a soon-to-open beer garden.

Finding a tasty burrito in San Francisco, especially in the city’s Latin-meets-hipster Mission hood, isn’t exactly like discovering the Holy Grail. But if dining among locals at an authentic, colorful and comfort – able taqueria that delivers consistently fresh and flavorful food sounds appeal – ing, this one’s for you. You can’t go wrong with anything on the extensive menu— enchiladas are universally lauded, but I say fish tacos all the way. And make sure to order one of the signature (yummy) agua frescas.

I have a special place in my heart for Charles Phan’s Vietnamese restaurant, which opened the same year I moved to the city. There is one reason I have remained loyal over the years as it moved locations and welcomed siblings and accolades galore—the food has never failed me. Now, long settled in its stunning Ferry Building location, with breathtaking views of the Bay and its namesake bridge, it has solidified itself as one of San Francisco’s culinary gems. What to order? Daikon rice cakes, shaking beef and cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab. And that’s just for starters.

San Francisco 101: A Nugget of History

Right around the same time those 13 colonies were declaring their independence, Spanish settlers were building a church near a beautiful bay, 3,000 miles away. That house of worship was dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, nicknamed San Francisco. Fast-forward 75 years or so and the Gold Rush was on, Levi Strauss was selling his first jeans to the miners and California became the 31st state (1850). The 20th century began with a tragedy: the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed 80 percent of the city. But the tide had turned by 1915, when a newly reconstructed and grander metropolis debuted at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. 

Lay of the Land 

San Francisco proper consists of 40-plus diverse and distinct neighborhoods, plus an ever-evolving crop of trendy, new micro-hoods. Daunting for visitors? Perhaps. But the good news is that many of the must-explore neighborhoods are clustered together and easily accessible by car, taxi and public transportation (bus, cable car, streetcar and underground). Most areas are walkable, but hills of varying steepness will greet you at some point during your travels. Here are your options: Inhale and take it one block at a time; find an alternate route to your destination (there usually is one); or hop back in your car (or hail/call a cab).

When to Go

The best time to visit is between September and November, when Northern California is at its warmest and sunniest. Of course, every time of year has its own appeal. The holiday season through February is the least touristy, most rainy and best for fog watching (you have to see it to believe it). Spring is lovely and dry although still quite cool. Summer is the busiest time with visitors, so be sure to make reservations for must-do, -eats and -sees well in advance of your trip. Warm layers are another must. That famous quote about the coldest winter being a San Francisco summer is so brilliant because it’s true. 

The Clock Strikes Cocktail Hour

San Francisco has long loved its cocktails. Today, it’s home to an ever-burgeoning scene where cocktails-from classics to cuttingedge and complex varieties – are stealing the spotlight. Thirsty? Mix and mingle at this trio of utterly unquenchable nightspots. 

Slip on your fedora and take a trip back in time to Prohibition days at this stunning speakeasy. An incognito entrance, passwords and a revolving bookcase are all part of the fun… and kitsch. Bourbon and Branch is known for its curated offering of hand-selected spirits and an extensive menu of cocktails, from old-school classics to market-fresh varieties made with produce from the morning run at local farmers’ markets. Knowledgeable slingers are always game for creating personalized libations (order a cosmopolitan at your own peril). Reservations and taxis are highly recommended; food is not served.

Lion Pub

It’s always a roaring good time at this unmarked lounge, beloved by pretty much all who know about it. You’ll find a chill scene complemented by a cozy fireplace, dim lighting and non-blaring dance music; things tend to get more hopping as the night progresses. But the ambience wouldn’t mean much, of course, without the signature libations (ahh! those cocktails) made with fresh-squeezed juices (orange, grapefruit, cantaloupe, strawberry, mango and watermelon). Mojitos, margaritas and, my favorite, the fresh basil vodka gimlet are all simply delish.

Après work to late night, every hour is happy at this Financial District favorite. Lots of wood, exposed brick walls, a fireplace and vaulted ceilings decorated by 300 Kentucky-imported whiskey barrels add to the cozy-slash-hip ambience. Bourbon lovers, especially, will be in their element as it’s the bar’s raison d’être. Not a fan of the hooch? No worries. The massive menu is loaded with amazing local beers, superstar artisanal cocktails and boutique California wines. Like me, most regulars flock for the specialty punches, intended for four, served in oversized glass bowls. Cheers!

Treat Yourself to These Top Spa Experiences

Treat Yourself to These Top Spa Experiences

July 8, 2019

After a day of air travel or a long stint in the car, a trusty deep-tissue massage is just the ticket for relieving sore muscles or working out tight knots. Lately, however, I’ve been trying to expand my horizons a bit when I travel—especially since resort spas are an ideal place to try new treatments. After all, what better place to pamper yourself than on vacation, with a treatment you just can’t find at home? Following are some spa services to consider on your next trip. Some of them are trendy (will we still see diamond facials on the menu in five years?) and others are timeless (ancient Thai techniques have been practiced for centuries). But all are worth experiencing.

The Diamond Standard

Do minute amounts of diamonds, gems and crystals in lotions and oils truly help purify, brighten and polish your skin? Personally, I think the jury’s still out on that one…but if you have a free hour on vacation, plus a couple hundred dollars to spare, a diamond facial or gemstone massage may leave you with baby-smooth skin for the rest of your trip.

At Trump SoHo in New York City, the Harmonizing Gemstone Treatment will feed your body with essential trace elements, while semi-precious stones are applied to each chakra to rebalance the body’s energy. The Five Diamond Gemstone Facial at ARIA in Las Vegas features a special serum rich in micronized diamonds and extract of pure orchid to smooth fine lines.

Asian Influence

You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to experience the soothing and spiritual influence of therapists well schooled in the art of Thai massage. East meets West in many resort spas, where traditional European-style facials are on the menu right alongside the ancient Chinese art of reflexology, Javanese Lulur ritual or Hindu Ayurvedic massage.

Interestingly, there is a vast array of Asian therapies in the Caribbean’s Six Senses Spa in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Herbal packs with turmeric and lemongrass are applied to the skin in the Thai Herbal Compress treatment (which is said to improve one’s qi flow).

Indigenous Ingredients

Using locally sourced products that feature extracts made from area plants, fruits and flowers has become the norm at spas worldwide. You’ll find seaweed concentrate at oceanfront resorts and essential oils infused with alpine wildflowers at mountain spas. Same goes for clay, mud and salts used in body wraps and scrubs

The Transpiration treatment at Spa Montage in Deer Valley, Utah, ends with a rhythmic massage using nutritive aspen-bark extract. Spa services at Le Sereno on St. Barts use skincare products by Ligne St. Barth, manufactured on the island.

Whole-Body Wellness

Instead of offering isolated treatments that make a guest feel good, many resort spas offer wellness coaching, nutrition counseling and personal training that can help vacationers effect beneficial changes in their health long after they’ve returned home. While you might not be able to fit in a visit to the dietitian during a busy workweek, perhaps you can take some time out of a beach day to seek counsel on a long-lingering health concern with an expert practitioner.

At Hualalai Resort on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast, book a session with a chiropractor, acupuncturist, physical therapist or even a holistic sound/energy healer.

Just for Men

More often than not, I’ll walk into a resort spa’s co-ed relaxation room to find robed men waiting for therapists to call their names. Indeed, spa services are hardly just for the girls; men find therapeutic massages hugely beneficial to sports performance and overall well-being. Gentlemen’s facials cater to male skin with non-perfumed products, and special shaves hark back to the classic, old-fashioned barber shop.

I love that the Esperanza Resort in Cabo San Lucas appeals to men’s tastes with the Mexican Beer and Lime Facial, which features steam – ing hot towels to open pores and a massage that eases tension in the neck, shoulders and scalp.

A spa treatment can be a microcosm of an entire vacation: local ingredients, new experiences and a willingness to sit back and submit to the ministrations of trained professionals. Step outside the norm and relax into a new space.

Why the Tetons in Wyoming Are a Must-Visit for Adventurous Travelers

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Why the Tetons in Wyoming Are a Must-Visit for Adventurous Travelers

June 21, 2019

Reaching the summit of Buck Mountain, the hard work should be done. Over two days, you’ve climbed 5,000 feet from the valley floor. Last night you camped—in a tent, in a snowfield—near one of the highest lakes in Grand Teton National Park, Timberline Lake. At sunset, you watched the Teton Range throw its profile—a shadow of it—down on Jackson Hole. This morning, you tackled the final 2,000-some feet to Buck’s summit, negotiating a knife-edge ridge that, to the north, fell away thousands of feet. It was as exhilarating as it was terrifying. 

Now standing on your school bus-sized aerie with the dozen other members of your group, the South, Middle and Grand Tetons loom to the north. To the east, on the far side of the valley, mountain range after mountain range stretches into the distance. Winding through the valley floor, the Snake River lives up to its name.

Of course you want to take photos. Using a trick learned two days prior, on another, less-exposed but equally beautiful summit elsewhere in the range, you carefully take off your backpack and secure it to the slope using webbing and a carabiner. It’s important your backpack doesn’t go over an edge. You don’t want to lose the snacks in it. More importantly, you don’t want to lose your skis, which are tightly lashed to its exterior. You didn’t climb 11,938-foot Buck just to climb it. You’ve climbed Buck to ski its East Face.

One of a handful of skiers in Exum Mountain Guides’ annual four-day Live to Ski Camp, you’re already a seasoned backcountry skier, able to handle 6,000 feet a day of climbing, familiar with the use of an ice axe, crampons and basic knots, and confident skiing steep slopes with pitches of up to 45 degrees. You’ve applied—all applicants have to submit a skiing résumé, and Exum guide and camp co-founder Zahan Billimoria says less than half are accepted—to this camp because there’s even more out there you want to explore. But this exploration you want to do requires climbing and skiing skills beyond what you currently have; the Tetons provide an ideal setting for such a high level of education.

Grand-Tetons-Jackson-Hole-Wyoming

“There’s a huge gap between being a proficient backcountry skier who hunts for powder all winter long and developing the skills to go ski steep, high-consequence terrain that might involve a rappel or some belaying,” says Billimoria. “That’s what this camp was designed for—to help backcountry skiers bridge that gap to becoming solid ski mountaineers.”

Ski mountaineering, as its name suggests, combines skiing with mountaineering. General backcountry skiing involves skiers skiing up (also known as skinning) a mountain before skiing down. Ski mountaineers do the same, but often rely on technical gear such as ropes, harnesses, crampons and ice axes to navigate the trickiest parts of a route. While ascending, ski mountaineers might transition from skinning to carrying skis on their backs so that they can climb up an ice waterfall. (For the final 2,000 feet up Buck, you have your skis on your back; not because you had to ice climb, but because it is too steep to skin.) Skiing down, ski mountaineers might rappel a section that is unskiable (such as a cliff band or ice waterfall). General backcountry skiing has little objective danger aside from the current avalanche hazard and obstacles such as trees. Ski mountaineering is often in high-consequence and steep terrain where a slip or fall, on the ascent or descent, may result in serious injury or death.

A ski mountaineer might ski on belay, with a rope attached to her climbing harness while a partner above works the other end to prevent significant sliding after a fall. Mail Cabin, a lovely valley on the west side of Teton Pass that has tree skiing and numerous open bowls (and where Exum does single-day guided trips) is backcountry skiing. The North Face of Spalding Peak, which you skied on day 1, Skywalk above Avalanche Canyon (day 2) and the East Face of Buck, your final exam for the camp, are all considered ski mountaineering.

“The reason we’re so stringent about participants’ experience and skill level is that we’re really committed to delivering an A+ experience for the people who are ready,” says Billimoria, who grew up in Switzerland and has been rock and ski guiding for Exum for six years. “There are lots of learning and skill-building opportunities for intermediates, but really none for high-level people who want to take it to the next level and eventually tackle alpine-style objectives like Denali, Shuksan or the Grand Teton.” The applicants who made the cut for the camp range in age from early 20s to early 60s. The majority are in their 40s. In my camp, I was one of two women.

While Buck involved a night of camping, the first two days focused on instruction and skill development like constructing anchors or skiing on belay. Each of these days we were back in Jackson in time for dinner. We could have learned about anchors to belay off or rappel from in a conference room, but that’s not how this camp goes. Instead, guides found a giant boulder in the middle of the Meadows, a flattish area at nearly 10,000 feet up Garnet Canyon and beneath the Middle Teton, and had everyone practice building anchors. 

First, though, we climbed 12,240-foot Spalding Peak and skied its 1,500-foot North Face, practicing skiing on belay at its very top, where the pitch approached 50 degrees. Skiing on belay, one end of a rope tied into your harness and the other end in the hands of Exum guide and co-owner Nat Patridge above, wasn’t as burdensome as you expected. Patridge asked that you count out loud to three. “Turn every time you get to ‘three,’ ” he said. (Turning at consistent intervals sets up the belayer to smoothly feed out the rope, rather than getting hung up and having the rope pull you backwards.)

The next day we learned more about skiing on belay—and got to belay some of our fellow campers—while skiing runs off the north face of Albright Peak. Each day, camp guides challenged us to think more and more for ourselves, a skill necessary in the mountains. “There’s no one correct way to do this stuff,” Billimoria, and the four other instructors, repeated over and over. “We want to show you several different ways and then you can make the choice that works for the specific situation.”

Stepping into your skis on the summit of Buck, you know the hard part is not over. Also, you’ve decided that skiing the top part of the face on belay works best for you. Considered one of the classic ski mountaineering routes in the Tetons, the top of the 1,200-foot East Face nears 45 degrees in pitch. About two-thirds of the way down, the face is bisected by a 200-foot- tall cliff band. To the left of the cliff band there is a break in the rocks you can ski through, but a fall high on the face, when you’re still above the cliffs, is disastrous. There’s little likelihood of being able to self-arrest before flying off the cliff. You’re fairly certain you’ve got the skills to ski the top without falling, but, since falling has such high consequences, why take the risk? “A rope isn’t a weakness, but a really valuable tool,” Billimoria says.

Making your first turns off Buck’s summit, you’re smiling. Actually, no. Smiling doesn’t do it justice. You’re beaming. A goofy grin owns your face. You’re still concentrating and focused and don’t want to fall—being on belay saves you from the cliffs below but not from the ribbing of fellow campers— but missing is the steely taste of fear you’ve had before at the top of intimidating lines. You’re going to enjoy this. Four turns in you let loose a yelp. The Haute Route was great and so is heading out of bounds from the top of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s tram, but carving turns through the corn snow—spring conditions, when avalanches are less likely, are the best for ski mountaineering—on a ginormous mountain face, that from the valley floor looks vertiginous, is something else entirely. You wonder if you’ll ever be truly happy skiing “usual” runs and routes again. You want to climb and ski every peak and line in the Tetons.

And that’s the stoke Exum is hoping this camp brings you. “Every big mountain skier wants to ski the Tetons. They are kind of without comparison. They’re certainly the greatest of all the accessible ranges in the U.S.,” Billimoria says. “Pair that level of terrain with the history of Exum Guides and also with skiers who have the desire and curiosity to learn how to safely explore serious mountains and you’ve got something unlike anything else offered anywhere.”

Teton-Jackson-Hole-Wyoming

Ski mountaineering has no single inventor or father, but, in the U.S., Bill Briggs, who first moved to Jackson Hole in the late 1950s, is pretty close. In the 1960s and early 1970s, he did first ski descents of the Middle Teton, South Teton, Mount Moran and Mount Owen. But it was his 1971 ski descent of the Grand Teton that really showed what was possible with the sport. In 2008, Briggs, who still lives in Jackson, was inducted into the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.

Closer to the present, few people have done more to promote and celebrate ski mountaineering in the Tetons than Steve Romeo, who, before his death in March 2012 at age 42 in an avalanche in Grand Teton National Park, blogged about ski mountaineering adventures big and small in the range on TetonAT. com. (Although no new “trip reports” are being added to the site, Romeo’s family and friends maintain its archives.) “He helped put the Tetons on the map for our generation as the premier destination in North America to test your skills as a ski mountaineer,” says Billimoria, who was a former ski partner of Romeo’s. This camp took its name exactly from Romeo’s motto, “Live to Ski.” “We wanted to be part of Steve’s legacy,” Billimoria says.

Back on Buck, you’re past the section where a fall would take you over cliffs and about to enter the couloir that lets you ski through them. You feel like you’re doing nothing so much as living to ski. Pointing your skis into the 15-foot-wide swath of snow, you vaguely remember responsibilities and to-dos and meetings and annoyances, but those intrusions last a mere millisecond. You’ve still got nearly 3,000 feet of turns before you’re back in the real world … if you can ever fully be in it again after having had your eyes opened to what you’re capable of.