The Art of the Slopes
The Sami, who skied for hunting purposes during the era of the Roman empire, have declared themselves as the originators of skiing. Often referred to as the Lapp, these were the indigenous people who spoke the Sami language throughout Lapland and adjacent areas of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia.
Beginning about the ninth century, the Vikings also adopted skis. In fact to this day, skis are a valid means of transportation in rural areas of Russia and Scandinavia.
In Europe, the sport of skiing developed after Fridtjof Nansen’s account of an 1888-89 trans-Greenland expedition on skis, related in the book The First Crossing of Greenland.
Prior to about 1860, maneuverability was a major challenge for skiers due to the primitive binding that attached the ski to the boot at the toe only. The restrictive leather strapping made skiing downhill or on steep slopes all but impossible even for the most accomplished skiers.
But according to frequently-debated legend, a Norwegian named Sondre Nordheim tied wet birch roots around his boots from the toe straps and back around the boots’ heels in order to anchor them firmly against the skis. Once dried, the birch roots became stiff, providing greater control and stability than the mere leather toe straps alone. Downhill or Alpine skiing’s characteristics of speed and turns then became the new and true reality.
Back then, Alpine skiers would ascend to mountain heights on foot in order to descend on skis. The antiquated task greatly hindered the number of downhill runs to be skied in the course of a day. A succession of devices in the 1930s from rope tows to chairlifts and gondola lifts soon eliminated the exhausting climbs on foot, making it possible to ski multiple runs a day, sparing the determined downhill skier overexertion from multiple climbs.
Fast forward to the 1950’s, TV coverage generated a tremendous boon in the worldwide popularity of skiing. Television, followed by the introduction of snowmaking machines to guarantee adequate snow for vacationers, worked wonders for what is now one of the most popular winter sports around the globe.
As with any sport, there are some risks involved. For every 1,000 Alpine skiers on the slopes in a given day, medical attention is required for an average of two to four persons. Knee injuries alone account for about nearly one third of all occurrences. Most accidents are attributed to user error, which is why it is wise for beginners to take instruction in order to establish a foundation for safety.
World Class Skiing: St. Moritz
For the true skier at heart, or the one who envisions his or herself as such a person one day, Switzerland’s beautiful-beyond-words Engadine Valley village of St. Moritz is the paradise from which ski dreams are made. To reach the area known as winter’s quintessential playground for royal and elite is the equivalent of a dream with eyes wide open. Upon arrival at Zurich’s airport, the most prestigious means of making the 125-mile trek begins by boarding a train to Brig. From Brig, transfer to the Glacier Express for six uninterrupted hours of snow covered dreams into St. Moritz.
Situated in the southeast region of Switzerland, at an elevation of 5,978 feet, where it borders the nearby countries of Austria and Italy, St. Moritz is surrounded by sublime, picture-perfect beauty to be discovered from every angle.
Tourism in the region traces back to September 1864, when hotel pioneer, Johannes Badrutt opened Krup Hause, the region’s first cold weather winter resort. In 1896 St. Moritz became the first town in the Alps to install electric trams – the same year in which Badrutt opened his then latest and greatest hospitality industry creation, the Palace Hotel.
Later renamed Badrutt’s Palace, the property, with its palatial décor, Epicurean cuisine and service nonpareil became an instant hit among the elite. Modern day add-ons include Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s Le Relais & Nobu restaurant and the crème de la crème of designers boutiques; exotica from around the world at Glattfelder; elbow-rubbing with royalty at Hanselmann’s Bakery, home of the Engadiner Nusstorte – a sweet and divinely delicious nut cake, followed by a cigar at Peter Gautschi. Amidst such wealth, naturally there would be extraordinary nightlife, thanks in large part to the infamous Dracula Club.
Other sites to see in St. Moritz include the town’s very own leaning tower (across from the nearby Kulm Hotel) and the architectural wonder of Englishman Norman Fosteran, who created a perfectly round residential design he named Chesa Futura, or house of the future.
Kempinski Grand Hotel des Baines is the only five-star, medium size luxury resort and casino in the lower valley of St. Moritz. It is the home of an amazing wellness center including the one of a kind Mauritius Spring, a well that since 1519 has been known for its healing properties. Between the well, the cuisine, and great vistas, the resort is a favorite of five times World Cup winner, Marc Girardelli.
A native of Austria, Girardelli has literally been a champion since the age of eight. Following the achievement of world-class athlete status in February 1983 – an honor bestowed upon him after achieving first place in the slalom in Gällivare, Girardelli became a star around the globe and a sports icon with cult status. His performances above and beyond all others earned him the crystal ball in 1985, 1986, 1989, 1991 and 1993. To date, no other professional ski racer has managed to topple his World Cup winning status!
In recent years Kempinski St. Moritz has offered guests the opportunity to experience Alpine skiing through a partnership with Girardelli, in its Kempinski Ski Days program.
Avid skiers participating in the program would hit the slopes with Girardelli immediately, while less experienced skiers were partnered with one of the hotel’s Prada-adorned ski instructors in an effort to get the basics down pat. Having instructed at a skiing school of his own for more than a decade, Girardelli is well suited and patiently poised to turn an either somewhat apprehensive or quite-courageous wannabe skier, into an avid and enthusiastic skier in no time.
Currently producing ski-wear for various ski teams, clubs and schools, Girardelli finds time to organize incentive programs with companies around the globe, in between lessons to such special clients as Sao Paolo’s Alberto Jorge.
“Usually I ski in Europe. But if I am in the USA, I like to ski in Aspen or Vail,” explains the legendary skier who recently skied in Jackson Hole, which he describes as “very nice and challenging to ski.”
If interested in the opportunity to ski with Girardelli, “The best way is, to contact me on my web site, marc-girardelli.com or marcgirardelli.com. I am 10 days in Aspen at the end of February 2013. If somebody would like to meet, no problem.”
Girardelli’s believes the most important tips for skiers at any level are:
1. Center position yourself on the skis.
2. Always wear properly fitted boots.
3. Use a set of well (professionally) prepared skis.
The Takeaway: To challenge the common perception of Switzerland as financially out of reach to the average tourist, hoteliers throughout the Engadin valley have partnered to offer a holiday ski pass. For just CHF 25 (close to $27) per person, per day, the Hotel Ski Pass is available now through May 20, 2013, with more than 100 hotels (in all categories) participating. Visit engadin.stmoritz.ch/skipass-inclusive.
World Class Skiing: Vail
The village of Vail, CO, is the sister city to Switzerland’s St. Moritz. In the past, the two destinations have offered interchangeable ski passes. But in the current season, it’s about the gold, as Vail celebrates its 50th anniversary season.
Although Dec. 15, 2012 marks the official Golden Anniversary date, the celebration began a month earlier with the debut of a state of the art gondola replacing Vista Bahn Express Lift (#16). Carrying up to 10 skiers/snowboarders on a 7.5-minute journey from the base of the village to Mid-Vail, in WiFi cabins with heated and cushioned seats, the Leitner-Poma of America gondola is the first and fastest of its kind in North America.
To further coincide with the celebration, a series of events including the annual inaugural season event, Snow Daze, will feature a stellar lineup of bands, including headliner Wilco, a Grammy Award-winning Chicago-based alternative rock band and others performing throughout the Dec. 10 through 16celebration. Visit vail.com for more details.
Also, for the third time in its 50-year history, Vail is set to serve as the official hub of the 2015 FIS World Alpine Ski Championship ceremonies and festival events from Feb. 3 through 15, with nearby Beaver Creek to host the actual races. The 2015 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships are expected to showcase athletes from more than 70 nations, with an estimated audience of 1 billion televised viewers worldwide. Visit vailbeavercreek2015.com
But in the here and now, both Vail and Beaver Creek are set to begin offering the EpicMix. Starting in mid-December, a special chip inside the plastic card pass gives skiers an accurate measurement on territory covered while skiing Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and Keystone in Colorado and Heavenly and Northstar in California and Nevada, all of which can then be shared among family and friends. Visit epicmix.com
On the hit list of area attractions consider adding the Beaver Creek Food & Wine Culinary Weekend. The Jan. 24 through 27 slope-side event will feature such renowned chefs John Besh, Tim Love, Gail Simmons and Sam Talbot, as well as local host chefs all charged with the task to produce a palate-pleasing food and wine extravaganza from après-ski to first tracks.
For boutique lodging in the area, the award-wining Osprey at Beaver Creek is the pack leader. With just 26 steps between the hotel’s ski valet entrance and the Strawberry Park Express Lift, no other ski-in/out resort in North America can beat it.
The Takeaway: A recent partnership between Vail Resorts and Verbier, Switzerland, has resulted in the Epic Pass for the 2012-13 season. Holders thereof can enjoy three days of free access to the Verbier ski resort, including Les 4 Vallees, the largest ski area in Switzerland, as well as Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon, with unlimited, unrestricted skiing at eight world-class resorts in the United States as well. Visit epicMix.com.
World Class Skiing:
Aspen & Big Sky
Perhaps no other US ski destination can compare to star studded Aspen, CO. Founded as a mining camp during the Colorado silver boom, its name was derived from the abundance of aspen trees in the area.
Aspen/Snowmass is investing more than $15.5 million in capital improvements for the 2012-2013 season. Major projects include Elk Camp, a new mid-mountain restaurant and events center steps from the top of the Elk Camp Gondola in Snowmass.
The Little Nell, Aspen’s only Five Star / Five Diamond resort, is scheduled to open a newly renovated restaurant named Element 47. The $13-million-dollar project on track for LEED certification provides seating for up to 300 guests, with summer and evening event space. Visit aspensnowmass.com.
The Takeaway: When sold in conjunction with discounted lodging, seasonal discount offerings include:
• The Perfect Storm: A free day of skiing with a 4-day minimum purchase, valid Jan. 5 through Feb. 7, 2013, when booked by Dec. 17.
• Powder Play: Buy one, get the second half-off (lift and equipment) with a 3-day minimum purchase, valid March 1-8, 2012, when booked by Jan. 28.
• Kids Ski, Stay and Eat Free: In April with a 3-day minimum purchase of a comparable adult ticket, valid April 1-14, 2013, when booked by March 11. Offer includes a 10 percent discount on lessons for ages 7-12.
• Spring Escape – FREE DAY with a 2-day minimum purchase, valid April 7-14, 2013, when booked by March 25.
Finally, if your intent is to avoid the crowds, Montana’s Big Sky Resort – less than one hour’s drive from Bozeman airport, is a top contender for pristine ski powder, less the crowds. It’s one of the few world class ski destinations having runs where you may be the lone skier at any given time. Visit bigskyresort.com
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