A Mancation to Heavenly Mountain, Lake Tahoe

Skiing Heavenly affords a spectacular view of Lake Tahoe © 2014 D Leiberman/news-photos-features.com

by Andrew Kessel, Eric Leiberman & Dave E. Leiberman

We are three buddies who met at summer camp as kids and have continued our friendship through the years. Two of us ski and one of us boards and we all love the mountain. Living in different cities, moving to different corners of the U.S. through our careers, we’ve found ski mountains to be ideal reunion spots. This year, we set out for Heavenly Mountain, on the south shore of Lake Tahoe.

There are many superlatives that could describe Heavenly. At 10,067′ elevation, Heavenly is the highest resort in the Lake Tahoe area. The five-mile trail from the summit is the longest on the West Coast and the 3,500′-vertical is also unmatched. In a normal ski season, the 30 lifts, 97 runs and 4,800 acres spanning two states offer an incredible amount of choice and variety for skiers of all levels, with 20% of the trails suited to beginners, 45% for intermediates (Heavenly is literally blue-trail heaven), and 35% for expert/advanced skiers. There is also tree skiing where some of the undiscovered powder lies.

Heavenly is set amidst the El Dorado National Forest and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest—600,000 acres of open space. Being able to take trails that cross between two mountains and two states was a unique experience for us. In all, there are 29 lifts (15 in California and 14 in Nevada). We could easily appreciate why Heavenly is one of the most popular West Coast ski resorts and was named “Best Ski Destination” for 2014 by USA Today Readers.

Andrew makes his way down the moguls at Heavenly Mountain © 2014 D Leiberman/news-photos-features.com

We spent much of our first ski day at Heavenly Mountain on the California side, racing down High Five off of Canyon Express and descending into South Lake Tahoe. We also took a few relaxing runs down the green circle trail Maggie’s and challenged ourselves to the black diamond, mogul-filled Waterfall. This was Picabo Street Day.

Day Two was Tough Conditions Day. We ventured over to the Nevada side after hearing that there was more variety and challenge to the trails. The Nevada side was usually windier and on this day the wind was blowing so hard you could feel yourself being pushed uncontrollably as hard snowy pellets hit the face. Many of the harder trails were made more challenging because of an unusual lack of snow. (Heavenly averages 360 inches of snowfall at the summit, 125 inches at lake level, and has snowmaking covering 73% of the mountain trails; it also typically gets 300 days of sunshine.)

Andrew skis through the trees at Heavenly Mountain © 2014 D Leiberman/news-photos-features.com

As the day went on, trails and lifts were shut down one by one as conditions became more adverse. We heard good things about the runs off of Dipper and Comet but unfortunately arrived too late to try them. We enjoyed a more protected, easier run on Boulder Bowl before deciding to finish the day back on the California side. This is the reality of any ski vacation and luckily at Heavenly the diversity of choices can help mitigate difficult conditions.

Sunday brought the blessing of Blue Bird Powder Day. After a few inches of fresh snow overnight, we experienced Heavenly’s famous brilliant sunshine; skiers and boarders ditched their jackets for spring-like tee-shirt riding.

Coming upon the carved bear on Heavenly Mountain. Finely carved statues continued greeting us as we made our way through the un-skied powder in these majestic woods © 2014 Eric Leiberman/news-photos-features.com

We encountered the wooden carved statues in the woods off the Powderbowl run on Heavenly Mountain’s California side. First, a beautiful snowy eagle appeared. Next, a snow covered bear peaked out from behind his cover. The finely carved statues continued greeting us as we made our way through the un-skied powder in these majestic woods. Towards the end of the woods below we saw blue water in a multitude of shades. This, of course, was the expansive and gorgeous Lake Tahoe thousands of feet below us.

At around 1 pm, halfway up the mountain, we discovered Steins. Steins is like a Nashville hangout at 8,070 ft. above sea level: picnic tables, cold beer, various types of sausage, cornhole, and sunshine. There are chairs for snoozing.

One of our favorite parts of Heavenly was the dedicated lift for the terrain park at Groove Park. The park includes many features accessible for a wide range of skill levels. The lines were also surprisingly small considering it was a Holiday weekend. The environment is serene, tranquil, and bucolic. There are designated rest stop areas for beginners, and skiers of all levels are consistently treated to amazing views of Lake Tahoe near the base of the mountain. There is an extra fee to ski the slalom track ($6) at the Epic Mix Race Center on the California side.

Filling your stomach before, during or after skiing is easy at Heavenly. Besides on-mountain spots like the Sky Deck Burger Bar or Steins, which offer a plethora of options including brats, chili bowls, beer, and chicken corn chowder, there are plenty of restaurant options. Each of the base lodges offers a unique variety of cuisine. Stagecoach has meatball subs, Boulder offers diner fare, East Peak has Pizza and BBQ, Tamarack is known for their pulled pork and turkey, and Booyah’s supplies great microbrews with great views for the après-ski.

And if you want to break away from skiing or riding the mountain, you can do tubing, sledding and ski biking from the on-mountain Adventure Peak.

One-of-a-Kind DJ Cat

The dual personalities of Heavenly—a snowy wonderland on the mountain and a pulsing hotspot in the town—come together in a new program introduced this season: DJ Cat.

Partnering with Aaron Hagar, son of legendary musician Sammy Hagar and owner of Rat Runners Garage, Heavenly has retrofit a retired grooming machine and overhauled it into a state-of-the-art mobile DJ station.

“There is a reason we’ve been dubbed as the wild child of Vail Resorts. At Heavenly, we like to push the limits and do things a little different,” said Pete Sonntag, vice president and chief operating officer of Heavenly. “Teaming up with someone as creative as Aaron was a special treat, and we are absolutely blown away by what we were able to accomplish together between our teams. The end result will definitely surprise and delight people.”

Complete with a high-tech DJ platform and a Kicker Audio speaker system that rivals anything seen at a nightclub, Heavenly’s DJ cat is the first of its kind and like nothing else in the industry. Custom-built components provide premium sound through about 52 speakers and 12,000 watts of QSC brand amps. Three remote-controlled actuators open the doors and roof of the lightweight aluminum unit and a 55 inch flatscreen television enhances the visual experience.

Throughout the season, guest DJs will spin tunes on the DJ cat.

The party shifts indoors at 3:30 p.m. as the Heavenly Angels host Unbuckle at Tamarack, North America’s No. 1 après ski party. With half-price drinks, food specials, swag, a live DJ and lots of dancing, Unbuckle is a great transition to a night out in South Lake Tahoe.

Heavenly’s events exude high energy. On April 5, 2014, the second annual High Roller Hold ‘Em event will take place on the World Cup run. Infusing an X Games-worthy big air competition with a little South Lake Tahoe casino gambling twist, High Roller Hold ’Em features a monster big-air jump, a $50,000 jackpot and, new this year, a 2015 X Games Big Air event exemption for the overall winner.

It is one of the few ski areas where you may well time your visit so you can ski and golf on the same day.

Heavenly Summer

After the ski lifts close (on April 20 this year), Heavenly Mountain Resort offers a different sort of outdoor wonderland in summer. The mountain is open Friday-Sunday for sightseeing, dining and hiking from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

The Heavenly gondola © 2014 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Heavenly Gondola: You can ride on the Heavenly Gondola and take a day in Tahoe in any season. You board the gondola from the Heavenly Village and soar 2.4 miles up the mountain to 9,123 feet, nearly 3,000 feet above the lake. The ride itself offers unparalleled views of the Desolation Wilderness, Carson Valley and, of course, the sparkling waters of Lake Tahoe.

The Observation Deck: Two-thirds of the way up the mountainside, the Observation Deck offers the best sightseeing venue on the South Shore. Skirting massive granite boulders, the 14,000 square-foot deck provides high-powered viewing telescopes that give you a close-up look at some of the destination’s best-known landmarks including Emerald Bay, Mount Tallac and Cascade Falls.

Café Blue: The resort’s only year-round mountaintop bistro is located on The Deck. Café Blue is a casual al fresco eatery with an alpine flair, offering gourmet snacks such as antipasto platters, shrimp cocktails, specialty sandwiches and an impressive selection of fine regional wines.

Tamarack Lodge and Bar: Heavenly’s new restaurant has rustic chandeliers, floor to ceiling windows and seating for 500 inside and 250 outside on the patio. Signature menu items include tri-tip from the smoker, artisanal pizzas and a salad bar.

Adventure Peak: Located at the top of the Gondola, Adventure Peak offers two distinct high-altitude outdoor experiences in the winter and summer months. During the summer months, Adventure Peak offers hiking on three routes ranging from 16 miles to four miles roundtrip; summer tubing; a 25-foot climbing wall; a Spyder Climber; and, new for summer 2014, ropes courses, Aerial Tour, and zip lines.

There are also boat rides on Lake Tahoe, and golf.

Easy Access to Tahoe South

Recently named one of the “Best Airports for Skiers” by SKI Magazine, Reno Tahoe International Airport has also added a number of new flights including Houston, Portland and other key gateway air cities. RTIA provides easy and convenient access to Tahoe South with the six-lane, 65-mile-per-hour I-580 freeway bypassing Pleasant Valley and Washoe Valley. The 8.5-mile divided freeway features new anti-icing technology. Daily shuttle service is available via South Tahoe Express.

With direct daily shuttle service to Reno and even Sacramento (Amtrak also runs from San Francisco and there are several other bus options) you may be able to skip the car rental and still have great easy-access skiing and après-ski fun with little to no inconvenience. Within a certain proximity to Heavenly Village you may even be able to jump right on the Gondola to Tamarack Lodge on the mountain.

From New York City, Atlanta, and San Francisco, South Tahoe proved a meeting spot that not only worked, but exceeded our expectations. It was an ideal reunion site for two brothers and a childhood friend.

Ski Heavenly, 800-HEAVENLY, www.skiheavenly.com, info@vailresorts.com.

See also:

Montbleu Casino Resort Proves Ideal for Guy Ski Getaway to South Tahoe

Vail Resorts’ 2014-15 Epic Pass Now on Sale

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© 2014 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.

Great Vibe, Value, Access Make Copper Mountain Great Choice for Guy Getaway for Skiing the Colorado Rockies

The breathtaking view from the Copper Mountain summit.

Take advantage of Spring Skiing Deals through April 14 closing

by Andrew Kessel, Eric Leiberman & Dave E. Leiberman

We are three buddies who met at summer camp years ago and have kept up our friendship even after going to different colleges, careers and starting work in different cities and decided to meet up for a long weekend skiing.

With air connections and fares to Denver being reasonable for all of us – coming from New York, Boston and Austin – the Rocky Mountains of Colorado was particularly alluring.

We looked for a mountain with a wide variety of trails, great ski-and-stay packages, a plethora of activities off the mountain, and a little something “extra.” The ideal spot: Copper Mountain – a couple of hours drive from Denver International Airport, right off Highway 70, so we wouldn’t waste a moment we could otherwise spend on the slopes.

The Colorado Rockies are of course famous for its champagne snow – we would describe it as talc. To supplement this supple natural stuff if Mother Nature is stingy at the beginning of the season, Copper has some of the most advanced snow making technology, a bonus  for hosting the US Ski team. They stop making snow in December and let nature do its course. If you are coming from out East, the snow will feel so much softer and gentler on your knees

What we notice almost immediately when we arrive is that Copper exudes a youthfulness, a spirit, an energy.

That energy is everywhere at Copper – from the color scheme and typeface that evoke the Go-Go ’80s, to the music that is piped into the plaza, to the on-mountain lodges and terrain parks, and on the shuttle buses that take you among the three base villages. And it’s infectious.

It’s not just the atmosphere, it’s also the programming on and off the slopes, most notably Woodward-at-Copper, which is a unique indoor/outdoor skiing/snowboarding training facility and program, as we discovered.

Copper Mountain was one of the first purpose-built ski resorts, with three linked base villages nestled in the valley, against the three different mountain areas.

Eric gazes out at Tenmile Range in the Colorado Rockies from the summit of Copper Mountain.

Copper’s layout takes advantage of the mountain’s naturally divided terrain, from most difficult trails in the east to the easier trails in the west. There’s significant trail variety across the mountain and skiing (or riding) from one side of the mountain to the other is surprisingly easy.

Nevertheless, if you are skiing in a group of people with mixed skill levels you can still find something for everyone on each part of the mountain. You won’t find yourself pushing across level grounds to get one from chair lift to another. You always feel you’re at home, never lost, with plenty of interesting trails to explore.

Copper Mountain ski terrain is contained entirely within National Forest Service land (hence the April 14 hard season end-date which is federally imposed, but there is still plenty of spring skiing).

The views are spectacular – and we get that sense of invigoration and renewal that comes from being 14,000 feet up in the crisp air and sparkling snow, the endorphins pumping.

At the summit, we look out to The Tenmile Range, with more than a dozen peaks. The back side of this view is Breckenridge Mountain.

At the American Eagle, lift you can take a break and meet many of Copper’s patrol staff, while enjoying pleasant conversation and sipping free hot cocoa. You may also wish to snap a few photos of the incredible panorama found out back behind the cabin. If we had arrived one week later for Safety Week (the last week of January), we could have stayed until the end of the day to join patrollers for the last sweep of the day!

The Super Bee chair lift carries as many as six skiers/riders and gets you from bottom to top of the mountain quickly. The Union Creek lift is less than one year old.

The lift system is such that we never have much of a wait, even on a busy Saturday.

In another example of guest-centered focus at Copper, there are conveniently located trail maps built into the chairlifts helping us map out our ski routes through the day.

At mid-day we take advantage of the noon-groomer, a trail that’s closed until noon so that even afternoon skiers can enjoy some fresh conditions.

There’s a nice lunch on the patio at Jill’s restaurant if you want to take a break but . Flyer’s is a hip option right at the top of the American Flyer chair lift.

After lunch we take a very pleasant run under the American Flyer chair lift on Alliroo Alley, which connects to Liberty and took us all the way down the mountain.

On our second day on the mountain we opt to ski some of the more difficult trails on the east side of the mountain, like Too Much, a trail chock full of moguls off of the Alpine lift which pounds our knees – and is a great excuse to take a break  at JJ’s BBQ restaurant in East Village.

At JJ’s we enjoy slow-roast and smoked brisket and pulled pork sandwiches inside a decadent and beautiful old saloon style building. We highly recommend the waffle fries and special green chili with pork. We hear the truffle chips at Incline are outrageous. Live music begins at JJ’s around 3 pm, making it a great place to hang after skiing.

Everywhere you go on the mountain you find close connections, friendly staff and an overall aura of positive energy that pervades Copper’s culture. While getting ski rentals at the main sport’s center, Ash Lanter, who’s worked at the shop since July, actually had us singing “Lean on Me” while trying on ski boots.

Woodward-at-Copper

Eric practices a jump into a pit of foam at the Woodward-at-Copper indoor training facility.

Perhaps one of the biggest draws outside of the ski mountain to Copper is Woodward-at-Copper, in its the newly built (opened in 2009) Red Barn training facility.

Woodward is one of two unique facilities (the original is in eastern Pennsylvania) that allow adventurous thrill seekers to practice jumps, tricks, and other stunts in a safe, yet playful indoor park. We are curious and excited about hitting the “big” jump in facility but we need more time to build up to it. But we are still able to take advantage of the “drop-in” program where you can spend hours or a day at the facility.

The key here is the focus on progression (Woodward’s mantra is “dedicated to progression”) from beginner to expert with a well-thought strategy for transitioning to the mountain. We were surprised and impressed to hear that Phoebe Mills who manages Woodward was a former Olympian and current Olympic judge.

Inside the Red Barn is a multi-functional playground of sorts for skateboarders, skiers, snowboards, and even gymnasts. They have different trampolines for different levels and different purposes. These trampolines are stationed next to foam pits you can gently fall or flip into or soft objects that are meant to bounce into, off of, or onto. Some people get lessons in groups and others have purchase annual passes and can come whenever they choose.

Besides the skate park, there are rails and half-pipes you can practice on, and several jumps of different sizes. There’s also a great audience viewing deck in front of the two biggest jumps. The large jumps empty into larger foam pits, are always supervised, and have cords that you can use after going off of a jump to help pull yourself out of the pit. The instructors help trainees build up to the bigger jumps and the increasingly difficult tricks (usually combination of flips, spins, and directions you can hit the jump).

The half-pipe at Copper Mountain.

After doing Woodward indoors, we check out the incredible Woodward Park on the west side of the ski mountain. This is where you get to apply outdoors what you have practiced in the indoor facility.

The jumps and man-made obstacles are clearly marked by skill level and allow the most advanced skiers opportunities to try some dare-devil type moves on some of the most monstrous jumps in the country. There’s also an amazing half pipe (we wish we had the opportunity to see the Zawgg, the machine that builds the pipe, in action). Advanced reservations are highly encouraged, visit www.woodwardatcopper.com.

One other great benefit of skiing at Copper is the already-included-with-your-lift ticket cat skiing. Just about everywhere else, you pay dearly for a cat skiing experience, but Copper offers this on a first-come, first-served basis. The cat machines allow skiers and riders to access otherwise hard-to-reach places on the mountain with amazing “free-riding” opportunities. Cat skiing leaves from the West Village and while intended mostly for experts, also offers a few mellower terrain options.

The panoramic view from cat skiing the back country at Copper Mountain.

In this backcountry, you can’t help but think about avalanches. Copper has three methods of avalanche control for periods of increased snow fall and bowl skiing including: directed skiing, where you ski the paths created by patrollers; Boot packing, where patrollers use their ski boots to create paths and Pit Digging, in which patrollers take intricate samples of snow from the pits they’ve dug to determine safety levels. Interesting fact; if you cause an avalanche that causes property damage in Colorado, you have to pay for it.

High Energy, High Altitude

Copper has a lot of high-energy activities that really enhanced our experience off the mountain.

Dave takes a ride on Copper’s new Alpine Rush Zipline.

The new Alpine Rush Zipline, which opened in 2012 and operates year round,  is a family-friendly ride features with a dueling-design that allows two guests to fly side-by-side as they soar 30 feet above Copper’s bustling West Lake ice skating rink. The flight travels 300 feet across the lake, reaching speeds of up to 30 mph.

One of the best qualities of Copper is its vibe – it is an atmosphere, it’s energy. The atmosphere is less glitz and more friendly, accessible, and simultaneously unpretentious and hip.

In Center Village visitors are greeted by several beautiful pillars at burning stones. It seems like it would be a really fantastic performance space, which we heard they utilize for their “music on the mountain” concerts, over the last few years.

Each December Copper hosts a “Grand Prix” where over 400 professional and aspiring amateur athletes come to compete in various sports. It’s one of the longest running tours in sports history now in its 16th season, and fourth year at Copper. The Grand Prix was recently elevated to a World Cup event and athletes can now qualify for the Olympics.

But any time you come you can enjoy the village of Copper which organizes periodic en fuegos, bonfires in one or more of the pit locations around the villages.

Per capita, Copper Mountain probably offers more eating and entertainment options than many of the bigger nearby ski mountains. Copper Village features a number of great bar, café, and restaurant choices a short distance from the accommodations and lifts,  so that we had a hard time choosing. There’s also some great deals and options for more affordable dining like the $5.99 lunch entrée special upstairs at Copper Station in the East Village.

CB Grille is Copper’s most upscale restaurant, yet is comfortable. The features exquisite American cuisine with local music entertaining guests while dining. The beef tenderloin is phenomenal and the lamb t-bone steaks were also fantastic. If you are looking for seafood, the linguini seafood dish is excellent and the Ahi Tuna appetizer is another great option. C & B feels like your hip uncle’s artsy and hip apartment, decorated with modern art.

We also highly recommend visiting Pizza Carlo’s after a day on the slopes and suggest trying their amazing buffalo chicken pizza with a Mediterranean side salad. If you are looking for a great après ski drink deal Pizza Carlo offers $3 beers.

Many of Cooper’s restaurants are located in the Center Village and clustered around the ski slopes, but if you are willing to venture a little further out, you can find some real gem’s like Tucker’s Tavern. The owner and chef, who comes out to greet us while we eat, is a German aficionado and offers guests a unique experience with his selection of great German beers and cuisine such as the wiener schnitzel.

If you are looking to go out for some drinks after eating and looking for something a little more playful, nearby Mulligans features beer pong, billiards, corn hole, and other games which tend to cater to a younger and sometimes more local crowd.

For those not inclined to the winter sports, Copper offers a year around experience of fun-filled activities. The Wanderlust Festival, where visitors can practice yoga and listen to great live music, takes places July 4-7. During the summertime, guests can also take advantage of an extensive network of mountain biking trails. For families with kids, the pond at Copper Village fills up with bumper boats. Parents may choose to play golf at the mountain while their kids can play mini-golf.

The accommodations at Copper are excellent with several condominiums right in Copper village, just steps away from the ski mountain.

We stay at Passage Point, one of the condo units located in Center Village. Built in 2000, Passage Point offers 133 units comprised of studios, one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms, three bedrooms and a four-bedroom unit.  Our unit has comfortable bedrooms and plenty of amenities. Our favorite part of Passage Point are the three spacious and mesmerizing light changing outdoor hot tubs. It is also great having easy access to a gym when we want a break from the ski mountain.

Three amigos: Copper Mountain is an ideal destination for three friends from three different cities to meet up for a weekend getaway.

We find the ease of getting around extended well beyond the mountain. There are free buses to get to nearby Frisco (a town with some grocery stores and access to other proximate locations like the historic town of Breckenridge) as well as local free shuttles to get around Copper.

We have a blast at Copper Mountain. It is definitely a place we look forward to returning.  The service is great, the air fares to get there are reasonable from almost anywhere, and the friendly atmosphere combined with the exciting ski trails make Copper a great choice.

Copper Mountain is ideal for spring skiing. Check out the spring break deals at the website, www.coppercolorado.com

Copper Mountain Resort is located just 75 miles west of Denver and 20 miles east of Vail off Interstate I-70 at exit 195, easily accessible from both the Denver International Airport and Eagle County Airport.

Copper Mountain Resort, 209 Ten Mile Circle, Copper Mountain, CO 80443, 888.219.2441; general info, 866.841.2481, coppercolorado.com.

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© 2013 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.