Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Big Island, Hawaii - The Volcanos

On day 7, the 9th of August, we left Maui for the Big Island of Hawaii. We flew into the Hilo airport and our hotel, the Royal Kona Resort was located in Kailua-Kona the complete opposite end of Hilo. So after we picked up our rental convertible, we decided to drive north along the Hamakua coast to the Waipio valley lookout. We started with the 4 mile Onomea drive, an incredibly lush drive that goes through moss covered trees, glimpses of sea cliffs that remind you of Jurrasic
park and narrow wooden bridges. Further north, we stopped at Akaka and Rainbow falls. The country side was all fields, I think it was sugarcane plantations and a lot of orchards.

From Waipio valley we turned west to drive towards the Kohala coast then south west on to the Kailua-Kona coast. The landscape on the drive west was very different from the lushness of the Hamakua coast. Initially, a lot of rolling hills covered by pasture with Mauna Loa in the
background. The further west we went, the more the volcanic rock. There were places where it was all black rock... nothing grew. It was so barren and seemingly charred. This drive south west was long and tiring. It was just about dark by the time we got to our hotel. The town of Kailua-
Kona was very pleasant. There were a lot of restaurants and cheap eats and night life just within walking distance from our hotel. Our hotel itself was very comfortable, oceanfront with tennis courts and a small private cove with a small beach but there was nothing fancy about it like a Sheraton.

The following day we went out to breakfast at a local bakery nearby. I loved their fresh baked croissants and hubby loved their coffee. The kids ate fresh baked danishes. We then stopped at the local farm market next door and picked up some fresh fruit. I stocked up on lichees. Then we drove south along the Kona coast towards the Volcano National Park. We saw lots of Kona coffee plantations. Further south we stopped at Punaluu, the black sand beach.
The sand is really as black as it can get, looks as if made out of soot just much coarser. The beach was big with lots of tourists. The travel guides say the beach is good for swimming and surfing, but we found it to be quite rocky and the sand quite coarse not much for swimming. There were a few kayakers and they seemed to be having a good time. We also stopped at Hookena beach park, a small beach surrounded by sea cliffs. The beach itself and the shoreline was mostly rocky.
Finally after a late lunch, much later in the afternoon we entered the volcano national park.
The drive from Kona to Volcano national park with a few stops took almost 4 hours.

The park was amazing and an anti-climax at the same time. It was wondrous to walk on living breathing and an active volcano. It was simply amazing to stand on a wind swept cliff and see the place where the molten lava must have flowed into the deep waters, where the lava just swallowed up the road. But, seeing the same volcanic rock everywhere, the same scalded landscape almost felt like an anti-climax too. Originally, we had planned to hike across the Kilauea Ike crater, but due to the long drive and the fact that we had stopped on a couple of beaches along the way, no one in our family was in the mood for long hikes. We ended up hiking the Thurston lava tube and the devastation trail both easy and short trails. If you are going to do the lava tube hike, every family member should have their own flash light. After a certain point there are no lights in the tube and it is so pitch dark that you can't even see your own nose. After the hikes we drove down to the coastal area of the park via chain of craters road where the lava swallowed up the road back in in 2003. The view of the coastline
with the surf smashing against the clifs was gorgeous. It was windy. Once it started getting dark we drove back to the Crater Rim drive to the summit of Kilauea volcano. As it got darker you could see the red glow of the lava in the crater and massive amounts of white fume. During our trip a portion of the crater rim drive had been closed as a new vent had recently opened and the fumes were very blown close to the road causing sickness.

Day 3 on the big island, we decided to venture up north along the Kohala coast. On one side of the road the landscape was dominated by lava rock meeting the ocean and the other side of the road was dominated by the majestic presence of snowcapped Mauna Kea volcano. We did not have enough time to drive up the Mauna Kea summit (hosting the worlds largest observatory facility) but it's presence dominated our drive up the Kohala coast. This northern end of the island seems to be undergoing quite a bit of development as all the large and new luxury resorts are being built on this side of the island. We drove all the way north to Puuhonua historical state park. On the way back we stopped at Anaehoomalu bay beach and the Hapuna Beach. Hapuna beach is one of the most popular and most visited beach on big island. It is a huge white sand beach with gentle rolling surf. There are showers right off the beach and a small fast food vendor. While the beach was incredible, it became hard for us to spend much time there as there was absolutely no shelter on the beach, no trees, no facility to rent beach shades nor umbrellas. Since we did not have our own beach umbrellas, after a while it became very hot and hard to stay in the bright sun. Anaehoomalu beach on the other hand was a smaller beach compared to Hapuna but it had plenty of natural shade. The entire beach was covered with palm trees. The sand was coarser and pebbly so beach shoes are needed. This was our last day in Hawaii.

Overall, our trip was beautiful we loved every single minute of it. Maui is a paradise. The beaches, the warm water, the gently flowing cool breeze, the sunny days, the hula dancing, it really is as beautiful as on the postcards. The people are very nice and friendly. The Big Island is entirely dominated by the presence of volcanoes and volcanic activity everywhere. There is the molten lava everywhere, the snowcapped peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and the Volcano National Park. Both very different but incredibly beautiful islands. It's a pity Hawaii is so far away from the east coast. I do look forward to another opportunity where we may get to visit Oahu and Kauai this time.

Maui, Hawaii - Our search for Guri Guri

It was summer. It was time to leave the Beltway inferno. So, this past August, we decided to go on an adventure in search of Guri Guri.
The only place on earth where Guri-Guri can be found is on the paradise islands of Hawaii. Accordingly, on August the 3rd, we boarded a United airplane departing Dulles Airport with Maui as our destination. We landed at Kahului airport at approximately 2 pm on a beautiful sunny day. After we picked up our rental car, a jeep, our first stop in our search was Costco. Thats right, you read it correct, if you are looking for something, anything, you gotta start at Costco. Unfortunately, we didn't find any Guri-Guri there, but we did buy bottled water, cookies,
milk, trail mix, cereal, and a slice of pizza each for lunch.
Once armed for our adventure ahead, we started our drive to the Kanaapali resort area.

The drive from Kahului airport to Kanaapali took approximately an hour. For the most part, the road was one lane each way with no traffic until we got to the town of Old Lahaina. For those of us who live in the nations capital, even the traffic of Old Lahaina was barely noticeable. We were staying at the Sheraton Maui. A beautiful resort hotel on the north west end of Kanaapali beach
next to the famous black rock and a short hop skip and a jump away from the Whaler's Village. At the check in we were greeted with leis and a refreshing Mai Tai. By the time we settled in our
ocean view room it was almost time for the black rock cliff diving ceremony, an enactment of a Hawaiian legend. We grabbed a Mai Tai from the lagoon bar and settled down on the beach with the most beautiful sunset as our backdrop awaiting the ceremony. The ceremony seemed to have historical and mystical roots. A Hawaiian warrior dressed in ancient Hawaiian garb ran out from the Sheraton onto Ka'anapali Beach, where onlookers and sightseers were sitting along
the beach, in boats and catamarans and some even wading in the water to watch the ceremony. The warrior climbed up the Black Rock, known in Hawaiian as Pu'u Keka'a, and lit the torches that were fixed upon it. He offered lei to the heavens above him, addressing the Hawaiian gods, and then beautifully dove into the calm ocean below. The ceremony itself lasted barely 10 mins, but it created a beautiful and magical ambiance for
our evening and for our whole trip.After the ceremony we walked to Whaler's Village, a small shopping mall with lots of restaurants, convenience stores, trinket vendors, and high end shops like Rolex, Gucci and Tiffany's. Our first order of business was to look for Guri Guri but no luck there. We did grab a light dinner and after 20 plus hours of non stop traveling, we called it a night.
Our following two days, day 2 and 3 in Maui were spent almost entirely at the Kanaapali beach. We bought cheap snorkeling gear from the ABC store in Whalers Village and spent our days snorkeling near the black rock or lounging by the pool. A couple of times a day we’d walk to the Whaler’s Village for some froyo, or pizza or simply for an evening stroll. The evening of day 2, we went to the Luau feast organized at the hotel grounds.

The kids got to see the roast being taken out of the pit and carved, they enjoyed the various hula and fire dance performances following
the feast. Luaus are never cheap and the food is never great this one was no different. But you gotta do Luau at least once. This was the first time for our kids, the 2nd for us. The other
evenings, we would go either to Whaler’s Village, or to Old Lahina town– an old capital of Hawaii now a beach town with restaurants like Bubba Gump and Hard Rock Café for dinner.
Twice we saw free hula dance performances by the local dance troupes at the Whalers Village. I really enjoyed the Polynesian hula more than the Hawaiian hula. The dances were beautiful and those performed by the kids were especially
moving. We tried several restaurants– Leilanas, Cheeseburger In Paradise, Hula Grill. None of these restaurants were cheap, but they were not outrageous either. The food was good but nothing to rave about. For lunch, I really enjoyed the fish tacos at most of these places. Sushi at Sansei seafood near Napili bay was great. It was fresh and good and expensive and the restaurant was crowded. We ended up eating at the bar due to the long wait. One restaurant need a special mention. Called the Gazebo, a small, hidden but a very popular family restaurant overlooking the Napili bay serves a killing breakfast. One of our friends had recommended this place and we definitely second their recommendation. The day we decided to go to gazebo was pouring, and having heard that it is usually crowded, we went a bit early too, but still there was a line waiting when we got there. We waited approximate 30 min before being seated. It was well worth the wait. My husband and kids had the famous pineapple and macadamia nut pancakes, while I tried their omelet. Food was great and big portions too. On day 4 we decided to take the road to Hana. We never quite made it all the way to Hana but we did stop at several beautiful
beaches and
overlooks along the way.

We enjoyed watching surfers at Ho'opika beach park, the body surfers at Paia beach, and a couple of other beaches where we stopped for a short while. Every time we came across a shopping center of any kind, we would stop and hope to find Guri-Guri. Up until now we had no luck.
After 4 very beautiful, warm and sunny days that were spent beach hunting, snorkeling and lounging by the pool, we decided to see the sunrise at the summit of Mt. Haleakala, the world's largest dormant volcano that peaks at over 10,000 feet. We got up around 4 am, packed grumbling kids still in pajamas in our jeep with blankets and drove two hours to the crater rim. We ended up seeing the sunrise on our way up the mountain, unfortunately, missing the sunrise at the rim by about 30 mins. The sunrise was still beautiful, the sun peaking out of the early morning haze and the top of the volcano still enveloped by the clouds. However, more amazing were the changes in the landscape. We went from lush flora at the sea level to barren, no

vegetation tundra type landscape at the crater, 10,000 feet up within a matter of 2 hours and 37 miles. The temperature went from comfortable cool no jackets required to freezing and windy need a winter parka at the rim. The crater colors were outer wordly (if there is any such word) I remember standing by the rim and thinking,
perhaps all of Mars looks like this crater. All red and brown, and grey and rocky. On the way back down the volcano we saw loads of tourists downhill biking. Truth be told, downhill biking 8000 feet looked very dangerous to me especially with the sharp S road turns, chilly temperature and strong winds at the top, but hey whatever gives the big rush.
Day five in Maui arrived and we had not yet found Guri Guri. We had not even found anyone who could tell us where we could find some. We asked our hotel staff, we asked folks at the various restaurants but no luck. Either we were completely mis-pronouncing the word and were beginning to think whether such a thing even existed. Perhaps our quest was going to be futile. Our plan on day 5 was to go on a snorkeling excursion with a guided sailing charter. We had selected Teralini as our operator as they operated right from the Whalers Village. Our excursion included two snorkeling spots, all snorkeling gear and a hot BBQ lunch with a total tour duration of approx 4-5 hours. The catamaran was wide, very stable, clean and open, the gear was sanitized, the staff was friendly and most importantly our tour left right on time. We were served juice, coffee and a continental breakfast almost right away. The first snorkeling stop was at Kapalua bay a small calm bay with abundant marine life. Our second stop was at Honolua Bay. Honolua bay was beautiful. The bay water was deeper, completely calm and very clear. There
were tons of turtles, corals and every kind of colorful underwater life I could have imagined. We spent a lot of time here, coming out of the water only to get warm and then jumping back again. The staff never made us feel rushed. There were cut fruit, cookies and chips available to snack on. After spending about an hour and a half of snorkling here, our group headed back. Enroute we were served the hot BBQ lunch. There's was ample food and well prepared too. The best thing about the staff, oh yes....they knew where we could find Guri Guri. yippee!!! finally !!!
Day 6, our last day in Maui and best of all we knew where to find the Guri Guri. Right after breakfast (at Whaler’s Village) we left to seek out the only place left on the island of Maui in the town of Kahului that still served Guri Guri, a place in the Maui Mall. A tiny shop, in a corner of the mall, not crowded at all, and hard to spot ,there it was...the Tasaka's Guri Guri.

The phrase Guri-Guri is thought to originate during the Hawaii's plantation days in the late 1890s. This treat was supposedly sold to Japanese plantation workers as "goodie-goodie", who pronounced this as "guri-guri". The name stuck. The treat is best described as something close to a sherbet and a gelatto. I confess, I like sherbet and gelatto more than I liked Guri Guri, but it was a worthy excuse for a trip all the way to Hawaii.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

New York City

There are many many travelogues already written about trips to the New York City. There are just as many travel guides, articles and so forth. This post is only about what WE did. We had a great time, and we hit only a few of the major tourist spots.

Like most big cities, I feel New York city is also best seen on foot. Take a section at a time and just walk around. Our trip was over the July 4rth it was pretty hot. We reached the city on Friday evening and left on Monday morning.

First things first, avoid taking your car into the city if possible. In the past we have parked the car in New Jersey and taken the train in. This time for various reasons we had to take our car in. We paid $54 a day just to park. Second, if you do end up taking your car, just park it. Use taxi or Metro to get around.

We reached the city on Friday eve around 5 pm. Parked our car (no small feat) and checked into our hotel. We stayed in Time Square itself. Great for night life, crowded, fun, very central to just about everything..did I say crowded. All the theaters were within a block or so. Unfortunately, this time we did not see any play...there is only so much you can squeeze into three days. After checking in, and changing into comfortable shoes, we went out for dinner at Bubba Gump. Great food and casual ambiance..especially if you love seafood. After dinner, we walked to Empire state building.

Empire State building is open until 2:00am. Even at that time of the evening (must have been about 8 pm), there were a lot of visitors. We bought the express pass for $42 some dollars per person from one of the peddlers on the street. Express pass promises to put you in front of every line (security line, ticket line and elevator line). The peddlers simply give a receipt that you have paid for the ticket. Inside the building, you turn in your receipt and pick up the actual tickets. Since there were many visitors buying express passes, and even more peddling these passes, there were tons of people in front of us. Each of the lines was pretty long, though at that time of the day they were moving fairly well. We saw the IMAX movie about the building (part of the pass).. and what a waste of time. The jerkiness in the movie made me dizzy and sick. The night view from the 86th floor observation deck was amazing. For miles and miles in all directions you could see the whole city lit up. It was beautiful..crowds and all. I think the visit to Empire State building is definitely a place to visit at night. We did not go up to 102 nd floor (costs another $15 per person). We walked back to our hotel. The streets were full of people, lights and music. After all it is a city that never sleeps....

The following day, early in the morning, we took metro from Time Square to Battery Park. Our goal was to take the ferry to Statue of Liberty & Ellis island in the morning to avoid the summer heat and crowd. We reached the ticket counter around 9:30 am. Ticketing was pretty fast, but at boarding point there was a huge line. Took us about 45 min to an hour to board. BTW that early in the morning, there were no food, tea or coffee stalls in battery park. The ferry was full and the ride as pleasant as we could expect. At least it was not terribly hot at that time of the morning. Statue of Liberty was majestic. It was amazing to see how huge the statue itself is. We did not get to go to the top of the crown. You had to book the tickets months in advance. We then took the ferry to Ellis Island. Grabbed a bite to ear there. Food was cold and expensive..not worth the money we spent but we did not carry any breakfast with us. By the time we got back to Battery Park (around 1 pm), the lines were huge.. even bigger than what we had in the morning. We heard the wait was approx 2+ hrs to board.. and the heat index was at its peak. My recommendation, visit to Statue of Liberty is best done as early in the morning as you can. From Battery Park we took the metro to China town. What an experience.. crowded... tons of food peddlers every where. We had chinese food for lunch.. can't remember the restaurant's name.. but there was tons of choice. Bought some fresh lychees from a vendor and walked back to our hotel in time square. A long afternoon walk. After a couple of hours rest, we strolled in time square just taking in the crowds, the sights and sounds. We visited the Toys R Us at times square and ate brooklyn style pizza from one of the many pizzerias.

Sunday we decided to go to walk to the Rockefellar Center and to the Central Park. At Rockefellar Center, we bought tickets to NBC studio tour. They take you to 3 live studios (we saw Dr. Oz, SNL and another one). The tour was fun for the kids. At the end of the tour they got to be the weatherman and the news anchor. Due to summer season, there was no live show taping going on. But the tour guide (an actual intern) that in fall you could call ahead and get free tickets to one of the show tapings and become part of the audience. We skipped standing in line for the early morning show. The kids were too sleepy. Save that for another time.

After Rockefeller center, we strolled inside FAO Swartz store and the Apple glass cube. It was great to get cool here and just spend some time window shopping. Snacked on kebabs for lunch from the street vendors in this area and then walked inside the central park. It was hot and muggy. We saw the central park zoo, the boat house etc. Kids had lunch at the boat house cafeteria. Because we had chosen to walk from time square to rockefeller center and then central park, we could not really carry a picnic lunch but I think that would have been fun alternative. After spending some time, we walked back to time square and to our hotel. It was a long walk and we were beat. I think we all slept for a few hours. That night we had dinner at Dallas BBQ. The restaurant was large, the service was fine, the prices were reasonable and it was crowded. The food was OK. Not sure I would go there again, but it seems it was a popular place to eat. Think I am a Bubba Gump fan. After dinner we walked to the Hudson to see the Macy's July 4rth fireworks show. We left early and finished watching the fireworks from our hotel room.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My First Half Marathon

If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon."

- Emil Zatopek, 1952 Olympic Marathon gold medalist

On May 16, 2010 at 7:00am, My friends and I kicked off together from the start line and ran a Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon, all 13.1 miles of it. The journey was simply incredible.

Almost everyone I meet asks me, why did I run this marathon? I thought about it deep and the honest answer is, I simply wanted to know if I could. During the entire race, I remember saying to myself... "This is for me, this is for me...". And that's why I did it.

Four months ago, when a friend suggested that we run a half marathon, I never seriously thought that we will actually ever enroll in a race let alone finish the race. Later I thought, what the heck lets at least start walking together and see how far we can take it. Well, we took it all the way to the finish line.

I started this journey with a dozen friends. While the journey is not yet over, I did finish the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon with every single one of them and enjoyed every single moment of it. I could not have done it without their motivation, support, encouragement, camaraderie and most of all their humor.

We started our training in November. Because of the cold weather we started our baby steps by walking inside a mall. Some of us created our own training calendar. Others followed a marathon training schedule. I started by creating my own schedule with cross training, strength training and jogging, but inevitably found myself focusing only on two things, cardio and slowly increasing endurance every 2 weeks. The first few times we barely managed to walk 3-4 miles in 2 hours. Every week we added 2-3 miles more. Once the weather got warmer, we started training outdoors. Most of our training was on flat trails and most of us walked. There were a few among our group that ran. By race day, every one of us had completed at least one run of 13 miles, even though it took us a full 4 hours.

The night before the race, we all got together at a good Italian place, filling up on carbs. Since the race was out of town, we stayed in a hotel. That night there were plenty of jokes and humor going around but none of us slept well. It was probably the combination of excitement, nervousness about getting up early the next morning, and the fact that we were not sleeping in our normal beds.

On race day, we all got up and dressed in time uneventfully. Ate bananas and bagel and not to forget the all important Advil. The day was a bit overcast, a bit cool. The expo center (near the start/end line) was full of people most of them standing near the portable pottys. We all stretched, made multiple trips to the porta potty just in case and joked around to get rid of the nervous energy and then lined up. As a group, we stood in the back with the slow runners & walkers. At 7 am, after the national anthem and a loud cheer, the race started. It was amazing to see 7000 people all start running almost at the same time. The street was lined by people, both kids and adults, all cheering with bells in hand. For the first two miles, there were plenty of fellow runners all around us. As the miles increased, the runner crowd dwindled. The faster runners went way ahead and novices like us tried hard to maintain our pace. It was soo encouraging to see the cheering crowd, from the bagpipers to boy scouts to families handing out water and tequila shots and kids with their school bands. Every single cheer, every single bell, every single note of music and every single smile from a fellow runner added that much energy to my step. I stopped to take a bathroom break around mile 4 and then a few pictures at mile 6...god knows whose camera was used but at that moment it did not matter.

I had trained as a walker, but because of the varying elevation of the course I had to jog most of the way to maintain with my pace. Some friends ran past me. I passed a few friends. There were the three of us from our group who stayed together. Though still jogging, my pace slowed as I hit a wall around mile 8. It was 1 hour and 46 min since the race had started. The sun also came out and we started to really feel the heat. The runner crowd dwindled. Most of the fast runners had long gone past. Other repeat runners almost towards the end of their races. We the novice runners who were still midway were likely the ones who had something to prove to ourselves. For me, my race time did not matter, I just knew that I had to finish the race. Periodically, I slowed and waited for friends to catch up and then took off again. I saw a few fellow runners stop. This was the end of their race. They stopped and waved and became part of the cheering crowd. Still others ran past.

Mile 10 to 11 were the hardest. This was the biggest climb of the race with a 200 ft elevation. I was with two of my friends. There was no way we could jog up this hill so we three just walked together.

The last mile seemed the longest even though the finish was in sight. There were tons of people lined up on both sides cheering. My husband later asked, "when you saw the finish line did you get an extra burst of energy?". No, I replied, it was the people who were standing and cheering us along that last mile. Since it was too embarrassing to just walk amidst their cheers, so I simply ran that last mile. I now know what Forest Gump must have felt.

The finish was too sweet and the journey simply amazing. All I know is, this was only the first half marathon race, the last one is yet to come. I don't know why I will run the next race. I just know that I will.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Skiing near Washington DC

Snowshoe Ski Resort, WV

Snowshoe Ski Resort is the largest ski area in West Virginia with the region's highest vertical drop. In my opinion it is the best ski destination within DC’s driving distance, approximately 5 hrs from DC. Because of the distance you need at least a long weekend to really get the most out of your trip. You can just as easily spend a whole week there without getting bored. We have been there twice and each time for the whole week. One of those two times, there was plenty of snow, and skiing was great. The second time, there was almost no snow and it rained 3 of the 6 days we were there. We were miserable. That just reflects the unpredictability of this mid atlantic region.

Snowshoe has 14 lifts and some 60 trails spread across three areas: the main Basin area, the Silver Creek area, and the Western Territory (I believe they have added another northern tract area which did not exist when we were last there). We did not ski the Western Territory. Both the main basin area as well as silver creek have plenty of green and blue trails. In fact there are over 40 blues and greens between these two areas. The rest being black diamond and double blacks. I really like the silver creek area which is down the road from the main basin (there is free shuttle service between the main village and Silver Creek). Silver creek ski area is smaller than the main basin area but has wider trails and less crowds. Perfect for novice and beginners. Main basin has some nice long trails, but they are narrower, and when the trails get crowded it does get a bit scary. I would say snowshoe is a place that is fun for all levels of skiers.

Probably the worst part about Snowshoe was getting there. There is really no good route to get there, it is very much off the beaten path. The trip involves many miles of travel over narrow two-lane roads in a very rural area. We went in December in our mini van. There were a couple of sections where we thought we were stuck for good, but managed to make it to the top. I have heard going there in Feb, in any vehicle other than a 4 wheel drive is impossible and a big risk.

There are plenty of lodging options both for the budget minded as well as those seeking luxury accommodations. The village is a fun place to be after skiing with plenty of high end dining options.

For ski lessons this is a great place. I found the instructors really friendly and knowledgeable.


Of the various ski areas near Washington DC, I would probably rank WISP either as #2 or #3. Wisp is the only ski resort in Maryland, located near Deep Creek Lake, approximately a 4 hour drive from the Washington DC area. The resort has 26 trails and 7 lifts. Bottom line, WISP seems a great place for beginner to intermediate skiers. There were 6-8 wide and real easy greens, 8-10 blues (blue- greens IMO) and 7 blacks (advance blues IMO) trails requiring more skill. I'd say the black trails were steeper and much shorter than the blues and some had moguls but none were difficult.There were enough trails at WISP to spend an entire weekend skiing but not enough for a full week. For someone with advance skills and someone who likes to ski only black diamonds, this is probably not the place for you.

On a downward note, it seems WISP has a theft problem. The day we reached there, my son’s new skis were stolen within the first 3 hours (we had come inside the lodge for a hot chocolate break). That left a really bad taste and almost ruined our holiday. I heard of similar thefts while I was standing at guest services to report the stolen skis. They said not much they can do other than urge us to check in our skis the next time. Well.. adding security would be a start. We saw a fair number of ski patrol and resort employees, but not enough security personnel.

As for accommodations, there seemed plenty of recently constructed private homes for rental both at the top of the mountain as well as just outside the resort area and further out nearer the lake. The area seems to be undergoing a major development explosion. We saw many newly constructed homes for sale and plans for future resort expansion.

Some trail details: Lift #s 2 and 3 are the two main 3 person chairs that take you from the lodge area to the top of the mountain. At the top you can go right towards North Campus, to the left towards the backside of the mountain or come back towards the lodge area. The trails coming back to the lodge area are nice blue-greens criss-crossing the mountain and running through the trees with a couple switchbacks.

The trails towards lift # 6 & 7 (north campus) such as little and big dipper are long, wide and really nice for beginner skiers. The blues in that area such as Ace’s run and whip saw require a bit more skill and were fun blues. The trails toward the back side, were more intermediate to advanced skiers.

Keep in mind that WISP is an east coast, mid atlantic ski area where conditions can be very unpredictable. We just came back from WISP (Feb 2010 when DC area broke all snow records), the conditions were perfect, there was plenty of natural snow that the resort did not need to make any snow. The skiing was fun.


Liberty is a fairly small ski area, with about 15 trails and approximately 90 minutes from the DC area. This is by no means a ski destination and is good for day trip only. They have a front and back area, with the front being more heavily traveled. Crowds don’t seem to be a big problem, except on weekends when schools in DC area are out. Most of the trails cater to beginners though on the back end they do have a trail or two that cater to those with advanced skills.

Liberty seems to have defined itself as a beginner’s area. It’s a small ski area with easy and short trails making novices and beginners feel comfortable. It is a great place to learn to ski or snowboard.

Whitetail ski area is the youngest of the ski areas and close to Washington D.C. about 90 minutes drive. The area features 3 lifts, including a high-speed quad. Similar to Liberty, Whitetail is not a ski destination but is good for a day trip. Not much in the way of expert terrain. A couple of steep trails down the front of the mountain.

The beginner area is served by its own lift off the left side of the resort (as you're facing the slopes from the lodge). The intermediate trails are straight ahead and are served by the high-speed quad. The advanced trails are off to the right and are served by their own lift. No trail crosses a trail of a different skill level. It's great in that beginners don't get intimidated by expert skiiers racing past and experts don't get annoyed by beginners who stop in the middle of trails. But a group with skiiers of different abilities and can't ski or ride the lifts together.

The intermediate slopes down the front face of the mountain seem to be the most popular area. All intermediate slopes are fairly steep, but not difficult. The trails are wide heading straight down the hill. Towards the end of the day the moguls inevitably appear as the day wears on.

Wintergreen and Massanutten

Other two ski areas close to Washington DC are Wintergreen (approx 3 hr drive) and Massanutten (2 hr drive). I have visited both areas a couple of times in both summer and winter but never skied either of them. Similar to Snowshow, Wintergreen is a destination ski resort in that you need at least a long weekend to enjoy there. Wintergreen is right below the Shenendoah national park and makes for beautiful drive.There are plenty of activities to do but the resort caters to mostly high end skiers. They have gourmet dining, plenty of lodging options generally towards the more luxury oriented skiers. They also have private homes available for rental. The trails seem long and narrow.

Massanuttun is approximately 2 hours from Washiongton DC area. The resort seems to cater to novice to beginner skiers. I have heard more about snow tubing in Massanutten than sking. There are plenty of lodging options. With an indoor water park, tubing, mini golf and go carts you can probably spend an entire weekend at Massanutten and have a fun time. Massanutten is approx 1 1/2 hour north of Wintergreen and much more affordable.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Steamboat vs Park City skiing

This is a comparison between skiing in Steamboat Springs, CO and Park City, UT. Keep in mind we are destination skiers from the east coast, so my impressions will not necessarily be the same as that of a local skier.

Most important of all the snow conditions. We have been to Steamboat twice, both times during the peak holiday season and both times we got plenty of good snow, plenty of crowds and plenty of really cold weather. We have been to Park City only once, during the peak holiday season in 2009. We were a bit disappointed by the lack of natural powdery snow and the really cold weather, which residents said was unusual for that area. We saw a few bare patches and got a few deep scratches on our skiis but for the most part the resort had snow machines working full time. Surprisingly, over Christmas, Park City did not have the big crowds we saw at Steamboat (not complaining) but people did show up after the Christmas day. Both resorts allow skiers and snowboarders.

Since we have young kids, we generally enroll the kids into a 5 day ski program. This way they ski with an instructor who knows the mountains much better than we do and learn new skills that allows them to explore the mountains much better.

Both Steamboat and Park City offer different ski school options. At Steamboat we have now tried the 5 day Desperado ski program as well as the private instructor. The 5 day (Desperado) ski school was fun. The best thing was the NASTAR race. There were approx 6-8 kids in each group, a bit too many in my opinion. The instructors would stop for hot chocolate and snack in the mid morning and then again for lunch. Since the same instructor stayed with the same group for all the five days, towards the end they would know each child’s strength and weakness and what they needed to work on. This program was much more affordable; it included lift tickets as well as lunch (so we did not have to worry about meeting up with kids just to feed them). During the morning drop off, we would find out which area/trails the instructors were going to ski that day and made it a point to ski in the same area so we saw the kids periodically during the day showing off their new skills.

The private instructor route was really nice too. The best thing was that the kids got to go on trails that the ski school would not take them on. Also, the instructor worked with each kid on their specific strengths and weaknesses. As expected, the biggest issue is the cost. Unlike ski school, private instructor program does not include lunch so you have to meet up with the kids a couple of times to feed them snack and lunch. Since Steamboat has kids ski free program with a paying adult, lift tickets was not an issue for either program. Given a choice, I think our kids will pick the private instructor over the ski school.

At Park City, we have only tried the ski school. There were a max of 5 kids per group based on sex, age and the skill level. The kids were assigned to a group every morning based on first come first basis. Sometimes they got the same instructor while other days they got a different one. Initially we were disappointed by the change in instructors. But on day 3 our son mentioned that he did not like his instructor as they were going on the same trails again and again and the trails were not challenging enough for him. So on day 4 we switched instructors and our son loved his new instructor (who took the group on trails and bowls we could not have taken our kids and taught the kids new tricks). Our kids did not mind new faces in the group either, after a while they noticed that there were only 2 or 3 instructors dealing with that age/sex/skill combination. So the kids basically rotated within those 2- 3 groups. Similar to Steamboat, the kids stopped for mid morning hot chocolate and snack and then again for lunch. Unlike Steamboat, the lift tickets at park City were not included in the ski school price. Therefore, the cost of ski school at Park City was significantly higher than at Steamboat. In both places, the instructors would meet with parents at the end of the day and give a detailed report of which trails they skiied, how each kid did and what each kid needs to focus on.

Bottom line, from a cost perspective, Park City Ski school was the most expensive followed by Steamboat private instructor and then Steamboat ski school. In terms of fun, our kids say they prefer going with the private instructor.

As far as the overall resorts go, both Steamboat Springs and Park city are awesome and huge resorts. Both are well suited for families with young kids and adults alike. They both have tons to offer in terms of variety of slopes, the terrain, the clubs and ski schools. We have been to Steamboat Springs a couple of times each for a weeklong trip and even then feel that we barely scratched its surface. The mountains are massive, and there was not enough time nor skills to really see it all. We found ourselves getting comfortable with a few trails in each section and did those trails multiple times a day. Steamboat seems to have more options for Green and blue-green trails. Park City has more options for blue-greens and blues. Park City is organized in sections and there was enough in each section to spend one full day.

The base area at Park City is really well developed probably because Deer Valley and Canyons are very close by. The restaurants, bars, lots of high end shops, were all approx a mile away from the ski base. There were free city buses running between the base and the town. Despite a weeklong stay, we never got a chance to visit Deer Valley or Canyons. The Park City Mountain is big enough to spend full 5 days of solid skiing without feeling that we have seen it all. The town area in Steamboat was further away. The Steamboat mountain itself had more restaurants to enjoy than the Park City mountain.

In Park City, we stayed at the Silver Star ( area. Really nice and upscale condos. The customer service was great. In the morning we would take the free shuttle from the condo unit to the base (a 3 min ride) in time for ski school and in the evenings we would ski down to the condo directly. Since we do not like to eat out everyday, the nightlife was not an important consideration for us. We reserve condos with full kitchens so we cook hearty breakfasts before heading out in the mornings and dinners several nights a week. Taking the shuttle to town to enjoy the occasional dine out, and shopping for souvenir was good enough for us.

For a destination skiier, the next category is things to do other than skiing. Park City has a mining history. The town has a museum to commemorate its history but other than that it is just like any other ski town. Salt Lake City and Utah itself have some great National Parks, abundant fossil sites and other fantastic site seeing places to make a great destination. Steamboat Springs has a small western town feel to it. It has several natural hot water springs nearby, which were loads of fun to visit on the day we did not ski. Both resorts have tubing nearby.

An important Park City tip we got from a local skier the day we were returning: You can buy lift tickets for Park City for less at the Costco in Salt Lake City than buying it from the resort itself. The costco is near the Salt Lake City airport and a short cab ride away.