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.

What a Thrill! Learning to Snowboard at Attitash Mountain, New Hampshire

A panoramic view from the summit of Attitash Mountain (photo by Evan Rubin).

By Evan Rubin and Samantha Mazzia

We’re on the summit of Attitash Mountain on our second day of snowboarding, where we can fully take in the breathtaking panoramic view of the New Hampshire’s White Mountains.  We count more than 20 mountain peaks, coated in layers of dense trees and snow.  The roads twist around and through the valleys, reminding us of our mesmerizing drive up to this region striking views of mountain ranges and frozen waterfalls. Nature at its purest.

After researching the best drivable destination for novice snowboarders we decided on Attitash Mountain in Bartlett, New Hampshire (www.attitash.com, 800-223-7669). Their web site clinched it for us: photos of the wintry mountain terrain. It was the perfect atmosphere for what I was looking for, but what sealed it was the value-packed Three-Clinic Package for novice snowboarders. The 3-day package ($130 for ages 13 years and older) includes novice lift tickets and rentals as well as three hours of on-snow lessons the first day, and 90-minute, on-snow instruction days two and three. The focus of the program is to calm your beginner’s fears and to make you feel like an accomplished novice snowboarder by the end of the third lesson.

The program exceeded our expectations, as we quickly lost any initial fear during the first session; by the second day’s lesson, we were working on intermediate skills. By the third day, we were eyeing the black diamond trails for a return visit.

Attitash is a prime location for beginners because the slopes are “forgiving” – that is they are wide, and you have plenty of room to maneuver and practice turns.

Attitash offers 67 trails, of which 20% are considered “green” – suitable for beginners; 47% novice, and 33% advanced trails. The resort also has two terrain parks.  The lift tickets give you access to both Attitash Mountain and its sister ski area Wildcat Mountain (both are owned by Peak Resorts), about 20 miles away, for a total of skiable 535 acres.

Day One

Attitash Mountain opens weekdays from 9 a.m. and weekends from 8:30 a.m. Lessons are offered twice a day, at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. This gives you plenty of time to practice before and after your lessons.

The lodge where you check in and pick up rental equipment is located at the base of Attitash Mountain. The friendly staff were really helpful in getting us the correct equipment.  We met our instructor for our first day’s lesson Mikey-O.  The instructors are very patient. No matter how many questions or how long it would take to catch onto something, they kept an upbeat, positive attitude and always moved at a comfortable pace specific to each individual, even in a group setting.

Mikey-O identified the proper snowboard based on our height and leading foot.  He showed us a technique to find out which foot you lead with (have someone gently push you from behind and the first foot you step out with is your leading foot).  As our eagerness was intensifying, he led us outside and showed us how to get in and out of the bindings as if we were on top of the mountain.  In this pre-lesson phase, we were taught how to “skate” with only one foot strapped in.  We were able to experience what turning would feel like on our toes and then on our heels.  It was a relief to get a taste of being on the board would be like before we progressed to the slopes.

Every beginner starts on the “Snow Belt,” a small, inclined hill.  We skated to a motorized conveyor belt, where we stood upright as we were pulled to the top. This hill introduced us to the very basics of being in motion and stopping.

Once we were comfortable going down the Snow Belt, Mikey-O brought us to a ski lift for the “Learning Center” slope.  He gave us a rundown on how to get on and off a lift safely (this is not as easy as it looks).  To ensure our safety, our instructor signaled to the operator to slow the lift down as we skated off the first time.  We noticed throughout the three learning days that the ski operators were very attentive and helpful.

Evan gets ready to take the plunge as a first-time snowboarder (photo by Samantha Mazzia)

Finally, we were on top of the mountain. Gazing down, the adrenaline kicked in, and we strapped our second foot into the binding.  After teaching us how to distribute our weight, we were able to accomplish other simple snowboarding techniques; for example, leaning into a turn.  Mikey-O also gave us invaluable tips on how to fall safely and reassured us that everyone falls, including him, but if you fall correctly, you can use that momentum to get back up.   One by one, we followed his instructions, and as we reached mental checkpoints, he gave us individual pointers.

During our first three-hour lesson, we also learned how to travel down the slope using more advanced methods of turning, such as the “flying leaf,” where we would zigzag across the hill while angled on our heels.  And with that, we were finally able to accomplish snowboarding down the slope without stopping, working toward that wonderful flow that we see the more experienced snowboarders manage. We’re snowboarding!  We’re really snowboarding!

Mikey-O, as well as our other instructors, ended the lesson with what to focus on while practicing in order to advance to the next level.  Using the techniques we learned in our first session, we snowboarded fluently down the Beginner’s slopes until the lifts closed in the late afternoon.

Day Two

After breakfast in the lodge, we decided to attend the 12:30 p.m. class so we could practice what we learned the previous day before the lesson.

Our second day instructor, Mike Fischer, started us on the Learning Center slope to evaluate our skill level from the day before. As only the two of us were in the class, he focused on our individual development. After snowboarding down the Beginner’s slopes a few times, Mike F. saw that we were ready to try an intermediate slope, even though we didn’t feel as confident in ourselves as he seemed to feel in us.

We rode the lift to the Summit at 1,750 ft above the base of the mountain (2350 ft above sea level). We skated over to a posted map of the trails where we could also take in the breathtaking view. Lush evergreens surrounded us, and we were entranced by the jagged mountain range snaking off into the horizon.  In the distance, the peaks were being engulfed by thick clouds with breaks blue sky and the sun’s vibrant light. It is snowboarding that brings us to this place, and the exhilaration you feel being outdoors that keep you going back up.

A spiral staircase next to the lift led to a circular overlook where visitors can sit and enjoy the 360-degree panoramic view, learn about the scenery from another posted map, and take photos. Before taking the staircase, we made sure that our boards were flipped upside down with the bindings dug into the snow.  It would have been a long way down on foot if we lost the boards.

Our instructor, Mike F., brought us to the head of the intermediate trail, where he took advantage of the long ride down to advance our techniques.  We built on our current abilities (such as they were) and focused on how to comfortably connect our turns.

Mike exercised a “mirroring” method to improve our heel and toe slides while in a controlled leaning position.  By having our hands resting against his hands he rode backwards in front of us down the trail.  Doing this effectively helped us understand how to maintain our balance.

Taking in the interesting scenery as we traveled down the mountain, we realized the trail was long enough to relax, get into a rhythm and have fun.  Mike explained that one of their philosophies as instructors is to get us comfortable enough to go down any slope by showing us around the mountain and teaching us how to explore the different trails.

Day Three

Evan and Samantha on the Attitash summit, no longer first-timers, feeling like real snowboarders after three days of lessons.

After arriving at the clinic area in the morning, we were greeted by two instructors who started our lesson with a fun, warm-up game of musical boards. Focusing on situational awareness, Ryan Holden showed us how to be more cautious of other people and our surroundings.  At the end of the lesson, our instructors left us with a demonstration of more advanced techniques, which gave us something to progress towards.

Looking back at the three days: in our first class we learned to turn leaning forward and backwards, leading with our head and our shoulders. In the second class, we practiced linking turns. In the last session, our other instructor, James Dumphy, showed us how to rely more on our legs to improve transitioning between turns.   He kept reminding us to “stay loose,” and “most importantly, have fun.” And with all of this thorough and enthusiastic training, we were able to do just that.

We spent the rest of the third day “shredding” down the mountain, exploring the various intermediate and beginner trails, and without falling!

Attitash Mountain and Bear Peak trails link together, which give beginners the ability to navigate all over the mountains. We also noticed that some of the advanced, black diamond trails run through forested terrain – maybe we’ll try them during our next visit.

Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster

There are more ways to get down the mountain at Attitash than on skis or snowboard:

One of the unique year-round attractions of Attitash Mountain is the Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster,  a thrilling ride of 4,300 feet of banked curves and dips down the Attitash mountainside. You ride in two-person carts set to twin stainless steel tracks, just like a rollercoaster, reaching speeds up to 25 miles per hour, dropping 316 vertical feet on the way down.

Tickets are $12/ride ($10 with lift ticket or season pass), or purchase a three-ride package for $30 ($25 with lift ticket or season pass). The ride is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The Coaster will close with the Resort on March 31, 2013, and reopen for Summer operation over Memorial Day weekend.

New for 2012/2013 Season

Peak Resorts, which owns Attitash Mountain and its sister mountain, Wildcat, have made significant improvements for this season, much of it making the mountains more appealing and accessible to beginner skiers and riders like us.

Attitash has opened new learning terrain which is available for free! Two new lower-mountain beginner trails were added to the Bear Peak base area, serviced with a renovated, handle tow, surface lift can now be used at no charge.

“We are committed to beginner skiers and snowboarders,” said John Lowell, General Manager of Attitash Mountain Resort. “This new, and free, learning area is just the start of a Learn2 branded initiative between Attitash and Wildcat [Attitash's sister mountain, 20 miles away] that includes related terrain, surface lift and snowmaking improvements for this season, as well as new, affordable all-inclusive ski school instructional programs valid for use between the two ski areas that are designed to be inviting and easy when introducing beginners to a lifelong sport.”

Over $50,000 was invested creating the trails, adding snowmaking enhancements, renovating and installing the new free surface lift at Bear Peak, and also relocating the conveyor belt surface lift on the Attitash side to better enhance the experience for novice skiers and snowboarders using the learning slope there. New rental equipment was also purchased to enhance the beginners’ experience.

Another improvement this season is that Attitash Mountain Resort relocated its terrain park to Bear Peak. The new Abenaki Park is situated on Lower Mythmaker and Kachina and can be accessed from the mid-station of Abenaki Quad. Abenaki Park is the next progressive step for Peak Resorts to utilize a crew of innovative park groomers and cutters and central fabrication shops to develop and maintain freestyle terrain areas and parks that are appropriate for each resort. The move will also allow for expanded intermediate terrain on the Attitash side opening up Thad’s Choice for all skiers and snowboarders.

Twenty miles from Attitash is its sister mountain, Wildcat Mountain, where your lift ticket is valid, adding variety to longer stays.

For beginners, it means yet another opportunity to enjoy the spectacular view from the summit.

Well known as an expert skier’s mountain Wildcat has added improvements for beginners and in fact, has New Hampshire’s longest summit-to-base novice trail, Polecat, which runs 2.75 miles with spectacular views of the Presidential Range.  For beginner skiers/riders, there is a new surface lift and beginner terrain at the base area plus the gentle learning terrain on the Snowcat Slope. Intermediate terrain includes top-to-bottom winding open runs like Lynx, voted Most Scenic Trail in the North Conway Area by National Geographic. If you like steeps, tree sking and moguls, you’ll get your heart pumping skiing various lift lines and tucking in to your favorite secret stash.

“The legend of Wildcat Mountain is that it’s a super, challenging mountain,” said Josh Boyd, General Manager of Wildcat Mountain. “The truth is that it has excellent learning terrain, including New Hampshire’s longest, summit-to-base, novice trail, but we’ve lacked a surface lift for new skiers and snowboarders; one that would aid our ski school teaching beginner adults and children. I’m happy to say we now have that surface lift this season.”

Peak Resorts, which owns Attitash and Wildcat, made $500,000 in snowmaking improvements and hardware for both ski areas this season. A total of 101 tower guns were installed at the two resorts. Attitash installed 40 new tower guns adding to its already impressive snowmaking system. Wildcat Mountain added 61 tower guns to its arsenal, installed on the Bobcat & Cheetah trails.

Wildcat Mountain is a year-round destination with Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range directly across the way. The view and the landscape of Wildcat Mountain attracts summer and fall visitors to ride to the 4,062-foot summit on the Wildcat Express, the high-speed quad in winter months but a Scenic Gondola in the summer months. You can explore The Way of the Wildcat Trail at the base area, or, for thrill-seekers, absorb the scenery on our four-person ZipRider zip-line, which operates in the summer months.

Lodging

The only on-mountain lodging at Attitash is the Attitash Grand Summit Hotel is nestled slopeside at the base of Bear Peak. The all-season resort hotel affords 143 guest rooms, ranging from spacious standard hotel rooms to multiple bedroom suites with full kitchens.

The hotel is ski in/out in winter, but in spring and summer, the Grand Summit Hotel  provides shuttle access to Attitash Mountain Resort, where you can enjoy the resort’s attractions including the Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster, Alpine Slide, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Waterslides and more. In the fall, one of the most popular attractions in the valley is to take the Conway Scenic Railroad Dining Car and enjoy a meal prepared on-board by the Attitash Culinary Team, as you experience an excursion to Crawford Notch during peak foliage.

There are also any number of quaint inns, lodges, cottages, hotels and motels in the area (see the website, www.attitash.com).

Attitash Resort is open for snowboarding until March 31, 2013, and offers free shuttle service to some hotels, free Wi-Fi in the lodge and free parking. The base lodge has pleasant dining places as well as the rental shop. Go to the Resort website (www.attitash.com, 800-223-7669) for discounts and promotions.

Attitash Mountain Resort, Route 302 Bartlett, NH 03812, 800-223-SNOW (7669), 24-hour Toll-free Snowphone: 877-677-SNOW, www.attitash.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.