Monday, September 30, 2013

Ski Canada's Whistler and its ethereal bowls

Article and photos for this guest post provided by London traveller Martin Nolan.

For ninety percent of people, the words “Whistler Blackcomb” mean absolutely nothing. To the other ten percent it’s a place to be treated with hushed reverence. A Mecca for powder hounds. A playground located to the north ready for exploring. To that ten percent it is a skiing paradise.

Whistler slope in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada
To the ninety percent, all ski resorts are the same, right?  They all have mountains, snow and chalets.  But to an expert skier each mountain is as unique as the snowflakes that settle on them. Each one has its own curves and individual characteristics. Whistler is a Mecca for skiers because it offers pure escapism.
If you try to tell that ten percent that Whistler in British Columbia, Canada, is the same as everywhere else, they would probably glare with a look that says; "you just don’t get it". Then they would tell you how different Whistler is (and I didn’t realize how much until I went with Crystal Ski). After they have gone over how beautiful the sprawling resort is, they will tell you about the Jewel in Whistler;s Crown. The Four Glory Bowls.

Carving Whistler--on skis
For those who aren’t powder hounds, you might think that bowls are nothing to get worked up about. You eat out of one every morning.  But for a skier, a bowl is different. It’s a large open terrain with drops, shoots and gulleys, and Whistler has some of the best.
One problem with Whistler is that there’s too much choice. Skiers generally don’t handle choice too well, so when you give them a choice of four, they can look like a rabbit caught in the headlights. In reality, the choice is simple: It is either Whistler Bowl or the West Bowl.

Whistler Bowl is by far the least challenging. An effortless ride up the lift takes you to the entry point. Once you are inside, it’s wide open with plenty of fresh powder to leave your mark on. As you get further down, there are more than enough surprises to keep you entertained. Don’t let the first five minutes of fast paced, easy riding, fool you. The docile old girl has more than a few tricks left up her sleeve, as you’ll find out when you near the bottom.
Whistler's West Bowl.
The West Bowl is a completely different proposition--a bowl not for the faint-hearted. The rowdy drop in from Cockalorum will have the heart’s ventricles at bursting point. Blood will be shooting around the body, trying to bring oxygen to the muscles as adrenaline sets in. Reactions need to be razor sharp with twists, turns, lumps and bumps at every section. Every inch of the body is used to navigate the bowl. The aches and pains from a run may feel worse than spending the day wiping out.

At the bottom you'll feel an overwhelming sense of euphoria no matter which bowl you ski. There's a moment when adrenaline and relief meet, and everything around you has an ethereal feel. You question whether that just happened. The only way to find out is to head straight back up that lift and put it to the test.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ridgway, Colorado retains its Old West flavor

Ridgway—we had never heard of the town built in the Uncompahgre Valley at the foot of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. But since we arrived at this old railroad town about lunch time, driving from Ouray to Telluride, we decided to stop and look around.

You can't miss the soaring eagle in Ridgway's historic section.
The July day was sunny and warm, so we walked around the four-block historic business district along Lena and Cora Streets. The first thing that caught our attention was the enormous eagle sculpture beside the old fire station—and the antique red fire truck parked in front.

Founded by Otto Mears, the Russian immigrant and entrepreneur who built the railroad that went through the town, Ridgway almost disappeared when the trains quit coming in 1950s. But loyal citizens worked hard to keep this town of 700 inhabitants going, revitalizing its western heritage and adding modern offices and recreational facilities.
Relics from the past on display

Many original 19th century buildings along dirt roads (The only paved street is Hwy 62, also called Sherman Street, that runs through town) have been renovated and now serve as restaurants, shops, and offices (a new fire station now serves the community). National Register of Historic Places plaques were a common sight. This pleasant community is a throwback to a simpler time, a fact that—along with its authentic buildings—has made Ridgway a favorite location for filming Western movies.

RIGS outfitter provides many different
water-based activities
We stopped at RIGS, Ridgway Independent Guiding Service, to ask about a white-water rafting tour when we returned in a couple of days.  Owner Tim Patterson, started his business 13 years ago as a fishing guide and has added a variety of water adventures, both mild and wild, on the Upper and Lower Uncompaghre River. Since water levels were currently lower than normal, we decided a kayaking trip in the Gunnison River would be just the thing to kick our adrenaline levels up a notch.
Original buildings frame dirt roads in Ridgway

We then ambled over to Kate’s Place, a lovely al fresco bistro that specializes in using fresh, local ingredients. Since it was Sunday, the restaurant serves breakfast until closing time at 2:30, and the fluffy pancakes delivered to a nearby table were tempting. But we opted for lunch fare, and Larry ordered a Reuben sandwich with home fries. I had a cup of creamy corn chowder followed by a hot roast beef sandwich. Both were delicious.

Dine in the outdoor courtyard of Kate's Place,
just right of this historic building.
Ridgway is a good example of why visitors shouldn’t judge a town on first impressions. Only on our return visit a few days later did we come to appreciate Ridgway’s ideal location as a hub for outdoor recreational activities.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier


Monday, September 23, 2013

Cruising the Amazon River in Peru

A riverboat trip through Peru offers wildlife sightings, jungle excursions, encounters with a shaman, and stunning scenery. It's also heaven for serious bird-watchers and folks like me who are just learning the basics about the many species found in this tropical environment.

Read more about our adventures cruising on the Amazon River in Peru in my article for Arizona Highroads.

River people fishing on the Amazon River at sunset

River reflections when boating on a tributary of the Amazon

Larry on a jungle walk

We fished for--and caught--piranhas

Riding in a skiff through the jungle
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Skiing in Italy: five resorts to check out

Ski in Italy's mountains

As the summer season disappears from view, now would be the time to pick up a last minute ski holiday to look forward to during the impending winter season. Whether you wait for Christmas to pass or you decide to treat you and your loved ones to a pre-festive stint on the slopes, Neilson ski holidays inItaly would place you in a prime position to enjoy every second.

Italy is a great place for holiday ski vacations
Armed with some of the best après ski facilities in Europe and an incredible array of groomed runs and off-piste opportunities, Italy has something for every capability. Here are five of its best resorts for you to choose from.
Miles and miles of well-groomed runs, snowsure north facing slopes and a quaint ski village that provides relaxation when you need it – what more could you want from this Dolomites resort? You’d like access to the Marmolada Glacier on the cusp of the Sella Ronda circuit? OK, Arabba has that too!

Olympic class pistes, a terrain park perfect for kicks and tricks and a vibrant town that oozes modern, authentic Italy, Bardonecchia has runs to suit all proficiencies, with excellent non-skier opportunities too.

Ski Corvara
A fun-filled resort that has a buzzing après ski scene (including the awesome ski boot tea dance!), there are plenty of gentle slopes for the beginners and families while access to the Sella Ronda circuit also appeals to the more advanced skier too.

Ski Livigno
Beginners, intermediates and families are well catered for in this fabulous resort and the excellent snow record means that your chances of great ski opportunities are high. The resort also offers a 3km pedestrianised centre, scattered with a great selection of bars, restaurants and shops.

Ski Sauze d' Ouix
Sauze d’Oulx
This resort is the place to go if you’re after a party-mad atmosphere to keep you busy when you’re away from the slopes. Thousands of people return year after year because of the awesome atmosphere and is particularly suited to intermediate and advanced skiers.

Wherever you choose, Italy is a perfect destination for skiing and boarding during this winter.
Sponsored post and photos provided by Neilson holidays.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Touring the San Juan Mountains by jeep

We’re standing at an elevation of almost 13,000 feet at the top of California Pass in the San Juan Mountains, transfixed by a brilliantly blue lake below that mimics the deep hue of the sky.  It’s clear, sunny day, perfect for exploring mountain trails in southwestern Colorado.

Looking down at the deep blue lake from California Pass
Larry and I are on a jeep excursion with Mild2Wild Rafting and Jeep Trail Tours. For several hours we’ve been jostled on sharp hairpin turns as we ascended to this high point of our journey.  Snow lingers on the mountains, and some folks can’t resist an opportunity to crunch their feet in the winter remains. We climb a rock hill to better appreciate the wilderness and natural beauty all around.
California Pass is almost 13,000 feet elevation
We had boarded a van in Durango that arrived a little more than an hour at the quintessential western town of Silverton. Along the way, we crossed Coal Bank Pass and Millers Pass, each just under 11,000 feet elevation. Fields of white, yellow, red, and purple flowers brightened the roadside.  Our guide pointed out North Twilight Peak, which is over 13,000 feet and gets the last sunlight of the day.

Jeeps from Wild and Mild outfitters
At Silverton folks in our group pile into four-wheel drive military style vehicles and pick-up trucks outfitted with benches that seat 8-12 people.  Our driver, Mace, who has been in Colorado for three years, takes us on a graded dirt road past Mayflower Mill, a mine that was in operation until 1982. Self-guided tours are available to peruse this scene often used for movies.  

Beautiful fields of flowers bloomed in July
We pass by the remnants of old mining towns including Eureka, now a ghost town abandoned when the Sunnyside Mine closed.  Concrete structures built after 1919 remain standing. In its heyday up to 1200 tons of ore were mined a day, with 35 per cent of material mined yielding gold. At Animas Forks, which was settled in 1858, we got out and walked around the dilapidated buildings, including the Duncan House with two floors, and a house that had the first inside bathroom.

Trails took us to several old mining towns.
We’re driving on an old railroad bed along a toll road with a 70 percent grade going up. I let my body hang loose like a wet noodle to absorb shocks from rugged terrain. We learn that the San Juan Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountains, are one of youngest, steepest, and most complex ranges in U.S. Only 10 percent of skiers come here because it’s so challenging.

Trains traveled only three mph on this steep path. Mining could be an easy way to make money, although the process was often dangerous. More than 200 deaths occurred from avalanches alone during the active mining period.

Mace tells about Otto Mears, a Russian immigrant, who had a huge impact on this area. He was responsible for constructing 500 miles of roads, and he purchased trains and built railroads. He was also a chief negotiator with Utes because getting to the mines involved crossing Indian territory.

Gorgeous views, but I'm glad we let the experts drive on these
treacherous trails!
Throughout the tour we’re enthralled by outstanding views all around. Landslide areas are visible, and forests of spruce trees become more noticeable as we begin our descent after Hurricane Pass.  Downhill is fairly treacherous with loose rocks, tight turns, and steep inclines. About 15 miles from Silverton the road improves, and we relax a bit knowing lunch and a train ride back to Durango await.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Saturday, September 14, 2013

New shows at Silver Dollar City's National Harvest Festival honor American cowboy

The big-sky, adventure-loving culture of the Great American Cowboy flavors fall fun as Silver Dollar City presents a new show for the National Harvest Festival.

Texas Trick Riders perform at
National Harvest Festival
The show features the Texas Trick Riders, a high-action Western stunt show, craftsmen from around the country and top Western musicians. With a theme saluting the cowboy, the festival runs September 12 - October 26 at the Branson, Missouri theme park.

The Ozarks' leading fall festival layers in full-gallop thrills with the new Texas Trick Riders show, bringing precision trick riding, daring stunts and expert horsemanship to Silver Dollar City's Red Gold arena. Led by Austin Anderson, a third generation entertainer and professional horseman, the show presents stunts from Roman riding to flying vaults, with a troupe of 7 stunt riders and 9 horses. The show runs through October 6.

Watch amazing stunts performed  at Silver Dollar City
The Western stunt show "The Pinkerton Man" returns with a bigger cast and expanded fight scenes -- a musical production show that features high-flying action and special effects, including dramatic 3-story falls, high-slide rappels, hero fights, pyrotechnic effects and explosions, with professional stunt men and women leading a cast of 16, plus live animals. The production, presented within the 4,000-seat Echo Hollow Amphitheatre -- the only venue big enough for all the action, also features comedy and original live music performed by the Sons of the Silver Dollar.

Western artist Don Dane
A major focus during the National Harvest Festival is craftsmanship, as the park features 125 top craftsmen from around the country joining the 100 demonstrating craftsmen of Silver Dollar City. Featured festival crafts include weaving, jewelry making, stained glass, basket making, gourd carving, leather crafting and painting. For its five-decade presentation of craftsmanship, Silver Dollar City was named "The Home of American Craftsmanship" by the U.S. Congress.

Guests can experience more thrills with the park's new ride, the world's most daring wood coaster called Outlaw Run, recently named 'Best New Ride' of 2013 worldwide. Winner of the industry "Golden Ticket" Award, the $10 million ride sends passengers soaring through the Ozark Mountains on a wood coaster that includes several firsts: the world's first and only double barrel roll on a wood coaster, with a 720-degree (double) barrel roll; the only wood coaster to twist upside down with a record-breaking three inversions; the world's steepest wood coaster with a first drop of 162 feet (more than 16 stories) at 81 degrees - nearly vertical. It is also the second fastest wood coaster in the world, reaching a top speed of 68 miles per hour.

Watch demonstrations for homemade soap.
Salute to the Great American Cowboy features legendary Western star and water color artist Buck Taylor, September 19 - October 26. "Buck Taylor's Cowboy Emporium" showcases a variety of Western crafts from bronze sculpture to barbed wire art.

A variety of award-winning Western musicians will perform at the Opera House. Cowboy Poet Chris Isaacs presents stories and poems in the style that made him a three-time winner of the Academy of Western Artists "Will Rogers Award," and Cowboy historian Rex Roberts showcases authentic cowboy memorabilia.

Chuck wagon historian and chef Kent Rollins, a cattle rancher and chuck wagon cook whose talents have landed him on the Food Network's "Chopped" and "Throwdown with Bobby Flay," demonstrates trail-side cooking.

Extreme Mustang Makeovers' expert Fred Woehl tames and trains rescued wild mustangs during the festival. A horseman with 35 years' experience training horses, Woehl works with the National Parks Service and the Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse & Burro Program.

Glorious fall colors highlight the train ride at
Silver Dollar City near Branson, Missouri
Additional  harvest activities include demonstrations of sorghum and apple butter making on the Square and harvest-time foods served up throughout the park, with favorites such as homemade soups and stews, smoked turkey legs and hearty skillet meals cooked on open grills.
Silver Dollar City is open Wednesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., and 9:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

Information and photos courtesy of Martha Hoy Bohner, senior publicist for Silver Dollar City Attractions.


Friday, September 13, 2013

VISITicket city passes now on sale

One of the most economical ways to see a new city is by purchasing a pass that allows you to visit multiple popular attractions. VISITicket is an online company that provides affordable sightseeing passes for tourists in a variety of destinations. As summer travel draws to a close here are some deals that are available at reduced prices. All expire on September 16, 2013.

Las Vegas Power Pass Attractions Pass End of Summer Sale
Save 35% off the regular price of a 5 day Las Vegas Power Pass.

Honolulu Power Pass Attractions Pass End of Summer Sale
Save 35% off the regular price of a 5 day Honolulu Power Pass.

Honolulu MealTicket dining pass End of Summer Sale
Save 35% off the regular price of a 5 day Honolulu MealTicket including breakfast, lunch and dinner at popular restaurants in Honolulu in one affordable dining package.

Las Vegas MealTicket dining pass End of Summer Sale
Save 35% off the regular price of a 5 day Las Vegas MealTicket, a package including breakfast, lunch and dinner at popular restaurants in Las Vegas.


Monday, September 2, 2013

The new frontier: Cuba opens for U.S. travelers

So near and yet so far--Cuba has been off-limits for American visitors for more than half a century. But now certain U.S. travel companies have been licensed to provide specific journeys, thus allowing adventurous travelers to satisfy their curiosity about this once-forbidden Caribbean island.

My husband Larry and I jointed  a People-to-People excursion that American travel company International Expeditions is licensed to provide.  The immersive itinerary uses local guides and offers visitors opportunities to interact with Cuban artists, farmers, and biologists as ambassadors rather than simply as tourists.
Teatro Tomar Terry, an historic building in the beautfiful city of
Cienguegos, our first destination in Cuba
 Our journey covered 1,100 miles of Cuban territory where we learned about Cuban culture during visits to Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Bay of Pigs, Las Terrazas, Vinales, and Havana. Other destinations included visits with naturalists at Topas de Collantes National Park and the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Zapata Peninsula.

Located just 90 miles off the U.S. coast, Cuba is the largest and westernmost of the West Indies islands. With the Caribbean Sea on its southern coast and the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico to the north, Cuba is in a strategic position for access to the U.S., a fact Russia took advantage of during the Cold War with the U.S. in the 1950s. When Cuba-Soviet relations soured in the late 1980s, Cuba lost its primary source of aid, and the economy further deteriorated as sugar cane plantations decreased.
Sunset on the Caribbean Sea at Hotel Ancon near Trinidad

As tensions increased, a politically-charged embargo was enacted by the U.S. After hurricanes in 2005 and 2008 devastated homes and crops in Cuba, some embargo restrictions were lifted in 2009, and attempts to restore diplomatic relations ensued. Official U. S. policy today is focused on encouraging democratic and economic reforms and respect for human rights, which are still culturally light-years from our own country’s ideals.

A fifth generation member of the Santander
family created beautiful pottery.

Rather than emphasizing politics, the People-to-People tour aims to engage participants in meaningful interactions with individual Cubans to foster a better understanding of the country and its people.  Our young Cuban guide said she would tell us about the Cuba she knows and lives—her reality not necessarily what we may have thought before coming, That honest approach allowed us to accept her views and learn from them.

If you like to be among the first to experience new destinations and you appreciate travel off the beaten path, consider traveling to Cuba. Go with an open mind and a willingness to enjoy the good things the country has to offer—hard-working people, beautiful mountains, excellent bird-watching opportunities, lively music, and architecturally historic buildings.

A young organic farmer is proud of his produce.
As tourism increases--more from Europe and South America than the U.S--hotel and retail chains will likely pop up, thus diluting the authenticity of the experience. Despite the fact Cuba still has many problems, the people love their country and are hopeful for a better future. As Americans we can appreciate their loyalty and learn from their enduring spirit.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier