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When I first suggested hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to my husband, Adam, it was, if not exactly a joke, at least an off-the-cuff idea. We were on a short section hike at the time, rambling along a 5-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail near New York City. In that environment, with the birds singing and leaves rustling in the wind, hiking for an additional 2,575 miles sounded romantic, a shared adventure that we would remember for the rest of our lives.

But it didn't take long for that off-the-cuff remark to turn into a shared reality. For nearly five months in 2014, we embarked on the intense emotional and physical journey of thru-hiking the PCT, travelling from the desert of southern California, through the high reaches of the Sierra Nevada, and along the volcano corridor of the Pacific Northwest before ending in the remote wilderness of the North Cascades at the Canadian border. Along the way, we shared more than we had planned: tears, sweat, base layers, and even toothbrushes. But we were in love, so no problem, right?

It’s easy to let the romantic and adventurous appeal of a thru-hike cloud out the reality of its emotional and mental challenges—and that goes double for couples hiking together. On a thru-hike, your partner will see everything: the good (you’re likely in the best shape of your life), the bad (bonking after your first 25-mile day), and the ugly (who knew you could get a blister inside of another blister?).

There was a lot from that first thru-hike that we learned about each other: our strengths and weaknesses, how to lean on one another when the going got tough, and what foods we didn’t want our partner to eat before climbing into the tent. Here’s what we learned along the way.

Sharing Gear

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That look you get when you ask to use your partner’s toothbrush.

Eric Schmuttenmaer

This one’s a no-brainer when you’re travelling as a team, right? Not exactly…

Laura: You’d think it would go without saying that couples would share everything they can on-trail to save weight. But we knew couples who carried their own stoves, separate food stores, and even separate tents. And some of them thought we were crazy for sharing as much as we did—we eventually got a two-person sleeping bag (turns out I don’t kick as much in my sleep as a certain someone was worried I would) and stopped carrying separate toothbrushes (hey, everything weighs something, right?. Although it wasn’t really a conscious decision—we just realized at one point that we had forgotten whose was whose.)

Adam: The biggest reason not to share your gear is if you think you won’t always be hiking together, which is something you’ll want to talk about in advance. Sometimes people want the opportunity to hike alone, or maybe one of you is a morning person who likes getting an early start and the other is a night owl who tends to sleep later. Another reason is that some people prefer to be responsible for their own stuff, like water and food. If you prefer to make decisions about what you’re going to be eating or how much water you’re going to be drinking without any spousal wrangling, it may make sense to keep track of your own nutrition essentials. But most couples prefer to make those kinds of decisions jointly.* *

Divvying Up Who Does What

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Couples that treat blisters together, stay together.

Dangerous…Dan

Splitting up chores might be as much of a pain in the backcountry as it is in the frontcountry, but, hey, at least there are fewer of them.

Laura: It can take longer to do chores at first because the routines you had in the frontcountry kind of go out the door on a thru-hike—there’s no trash to take out or bed to make, and the lawn doesn’t need mowing. But when you get to camp at the end of a 20-mile day, putting up the tent can seem surprisingly overwhelming for what a small task it is. Basically, the more you can communicate about what you’re doing, what still needs to be done, and what you need help with at the beginning of your hike, the faster you’ll fall into an automatic routine where you get to camp and start getting set up without needing to talk at all.

Adam : I agree that frontcountry routines don’t always apply in the backcountry, but it can help to try to split up chores by what you are both most apt do. For example, if you’re the one who makes coffee in the morning, make coffee on the trail. If you make the bed at home, be the one to set up the inside of the tent. That being said, it’s also important on a thru-hike to stretch yourself from time to time and switch it up. Don’t let your partner be the only one to handle a particular chore. At the very least, this will help you to appreciate the person who is making the coffee all the more.

It’s also helpful to remember that splitting chores is just as important in-town as it is on the trail. Maybe more so, as the faster you can get through town chores like laundry, the sooner you’ll be able to relax and enjoy a beer with your new trail friends.

Hiking Together

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If you look very, very closely, you can see an eye roll of epic proportions.

Dangerous…Dan

The couple that hikes together, stays together. (Or you can just enjoy your together time when you meet up later).

Adam: I’m not a fast hiker, so I’m rarely hiking far out in front of other people. I think it’s a good safety precaution to keep your hiking partner in your line of sight. If I’m the slow one in a group, I try to make sure I can still see the person if we’re not actively having a conversation. If I’m the fast one, I try to look over my shoulder every so often to make sure the other person is in sight.

Laura: We’re pretty lucky, in that Adam and I match pace pretty effortlessly and tend to want breaks around the same time. And that was something we knew beforehand, from years of hiking and running together. I think it does help to have a background of shared backcountry travel experience or even just training together.

Since we know that our tendency is to match one another’s pace, if we see that one of us dragging, we’ll have that person hike at the rear. We find that usually helps release that person from the not-insignificant mental load of trying to set their own pace. If one of us is really dragging, we’ll slow down and reevaluate our plan for that day or section.

I think it’s fine for a couple to hike separately during the day and meet up at camp. It just requires an extra layer of communication (such as picking out a campsite in advance for the next day), and knowing it will be tougher to stop early or hike longer. And you’ll have to double up on some gear like a water filter or maps, which can increase the weight you’re carrying. But, in the end, your pace is your pace and there is only so much you’re going to be able to do to adjust it to the other person.

Fighting

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One of the great truths of life on a long distance trail (and everywhere else): You will get in fights with your partner.

Dangerous…Dan

Every so often you meet a couple who swears they never fight on trail. Don’t believe them.

Adam: It will happen—you are going to fight at some point. Sure, thru-hiking is about digging deep into yourself (and maybe your relationship), but it’s also about addressing elemental bodily needs. If you aren’t fighting over something that’s actually wrong in your relationship, you’re going to fight for less significant but still pressing reasons: You’re hungry, or you’re tired, or because you need to use the bathroom. So before you start a fight, try to ask yourself: Am I angry because I’m hungry? Am I angry because I’m tired? And know that you need to ask your partner those questions too, and to not take offense when they ask you. The simple act of asking your partner if she needs a snack could mean the difference between a pleasant stroll and a rage hike.

Laura: Thru-hiking is sometimes really hard, and exhaustion can bring out the worst in people. You aren’t always going to be as supportive or understanding of what your partner is going through as you would want to be. Try to remember that if you feel like you’re on your last legs, your partner might be too, and cut them some slack if you can.

Something that also worked for us was to get really attuned to our partner’s cues and behavior, so that we could prevent bonking whenever possible. I now know all the different ways my husband can say "I’m OK" and which ones mean he is not OK, and it’s time to adjust accordingly.

Finding Your Trail Family

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Trail families are great, but don’t forget to carve out some one-on-one time with your partner.

Dangerous…Dan

This will be one of the best parts of your thru-hike. For your relationship? Not so much.

Her: We met some amazing people during our 2014 PCT thru-hike, and I wouldn’t take back a single mile we hiked with them. But we didn’t end up hiking with anyone but one another during our Colorado Trail, and we enjoyed that experience too, in different ways. One reality of thru-hiking is that, for the most part, the herd is following the same two-foot wide path, at the same time. It can be surprisingly difficult to find a few minutes alone together, and if you’re hiking with a trail family, it can be impossible. But it’s important to carve out that time together, even if it means missing a section of trail with your new friends.

Him: It’s pretty incredible how you can meet someone on trail and, within a week of knowing them, feel as if you’ve known them for years. That can also make it hard to have a private conversation with your partner, who you have actually known for years. Your trail family, just like a real family, won’t always know when you need space, so you need to do what you need to in order to keep your relationship a priority.

Trail Talk

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“So, how ‘bout this weather?”

Dangerous…Dan

Months on end of backpacking with your favorite human makes for the best conversations.

Laura: One of the best things about thru-hiking is that it eliminates so much of the background noise of the real world, and leaves you alone for days and weeks on end with nothing but your own thoughts. You’d think that would mean you end up having a lot of really deep insights about the direction of your life, for example or how to be a good person. Sometimes that does happen, but for us, we found ourselves paying attention to all the weird memories, ideas, and emotions rambling around in our minds and sharing them.

During our first thru-hike, we made up songs for the trail towns we hiked through, named our future children, tried to imagine what our cat was up to without us, and dissected fights that had happened years prior. And sometimes we didn’t talk at all—one of the key lessons we learned was how to be mere feet away from one another and still give that person space when they need it.

Adam: Maintaining an open mind about conversation is key. Start with the day-to-day, then do a deep dive, and end by talking about your innermost thoughts or dreams. In between you will probably talk about things that are objectively boring, or gross, and that’s fine as long as it’s interesting to you. You’ll develop theories about everyday events you know nothing about, like how water comes out of the ground, and talk for two hours about it.

Looking Good

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Nothing says sexy like smelly undies and a nice pair of Crocs.

Dangerous…Dan

You don’t need a shower or clean clothes every day, but making an effort is an important way to show your partner that you still care about your appearance (and, just as importantly, not repelling them).

Laura: Your idea of what clean means will change over the course of a thru-hike. Sometimes that’s a good thing, other times it’s not. I try to do the best I can with what I’ve got and to encourage Adam to do the same, even if he doesn’t always listen. If there is a stream, use your bandana to wipe some of the dirt off your legs. If there is a lake, jump in it. But there are going to be times when you get pretty gross, and there isn’t going to be much you can do to clean up all that dirt and sweat and grime. You just have to go with the flow (and the B.O.) and embrace this part of the adventure. * *

Adam: It’s important in a relationship to be look good for the other person, and that doesn’t just go away on the trail. I really strive to be cleaner than I think I need to be on trail. I try to wash up a little bit more than I would ordinarily. For instance, I wouldn’t normally care about how clean my feet are at the end of the day, but I know it’s important to Laura, so I try to clean them up for her—even if she is less than thrilled at the job I do. I was also pleased to see that my insistence on carrying extra wet wipes "just in case" meant that we had another way to keep clean when water resources were scarce.

It’s Just You and Me, Baby

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If you’re able to get through this together, then you can get through anything.

Dangerous…Dan

One of our biggest lessons from our first thru-hike is that there is a big difference between hiking together for five miles and hiking together for 2,600 miles. The easy rapport we had during that initial conversation was helped by the familiarity of our surroundings: being close to civilization, with hot showers and comfortable beds waiting back at our apartment. Once we were out in it, there were some rough waters to navigate before we got into a groove with another.

Laura: It can be tempting to see how you fare on a thru-hike as a microcosm for your whole relationship—if you’re able to get through this together, then you can get through anything, and if you can’t, well, maybe it’s better to cut your losses now, right? While there may be some truth to this, thru-hiking is only loosely related to the "real" world. Some couples with strong relationships find that they are incompatible hiking partners, and some couples who meet on trail find that they are incompatible in the real world.

One of the best things you can do for your relationship before an adventure like a thru-hike is promising to take the good with the bad. And to be flexible. If hiking with your trail family isn’t working, set out from the next town without them. If splitting your pack weights evenly is slowing one of you down, let the other person take a larger share of the load. There isn’t a right way to thru-hike as a couple—there is just the way that works for you.

Adam: Yeah, and I was right that what works for us is to always carry extra wet wipes.

Laura: If nothing else, at least that way we’re always able to wash our feet at night.

Written by Laura Lancaster for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Dangerous…Dan

hiking

The 2,140-acre Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville has long enchanted hikers, campers, and cyclists with its vibrant fall foliage, scenic trails, and resplendent views.

Yet a relaxing day at the park can quickly turn sour.

A 24-year-old hiker experienced this firsthand in February 2017, when she went missing after hitting the trails at Monte Sano for an afternoon trek. As the sun set and temperatures neared freezing and she still hadn’t returned, her worried boyfriend called the police.

Fortunately, local agencies found the missing hiker the following morning; she had a few scrapes and cuts but was otherwise unharmed, according to local media reports.

The frightening story had a happy ending, but it underscored how quickly things can go wrong, even in popular parks and on well-trafficked trails.

For that reason, it’s important that hikers carry what are known as the Ten Essentials whenever they head outdoors. The Ten Essentials are 10 items that every hiker should bring on every outing, in the event of emergency.

The Ten Essentials first appeared in the 1974 book Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills and were updated in 2003 to account for technological advances and specific needs. Here, an overview on what the Ten Essentials are all about—and why you need them for every hike.

1. Navigation

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A compass is a crucial tool for helping hikers orient themselves when lost

Matt Biddulph

As convenient and commonplace as smartphones are these days, it’s risky to count on your digital device as your only navigational tool for a number of reasons. GPS and other location services will drain your battery, rainy conditions may render items useless, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get service in the sticks.

Instead, go old-school when it comes to navigational aids, which can be a lifesaver when you take a wrong turn or walk off-trail, even after a few steps. At minimum, carry a compass, and stash a paper map in your pack (whether a guidebook, website printout, or fold-up map). Topographic maps, in particular, provide elevation gains and usually account for landmarks—both pieces of information that can prove vital in case of emergency.

2. Sun Protection

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Sunglasses can protect against harmful UV rays; stash an extra pair in your pack.

Andy Rogers

There are few more painful feelings than hiking with a sunburned dome at the height of summer. Protect yourself from excessive sun exposure with a pair of sunglasses and a tube of sunscreen, both of which block the UV light that scorches your skin.

Check with your sunglasses manufacturer (or at the store) to learn more about the lenses’ UV-blocking capabilities. For sunscreen, aim for a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or 30, and keep in mind that you’ll need to reapply more often in hot temperatures (in other words, throughout an Alabama summer).

And don’t forget about sun protection when exploring on (or near) snow, ice, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. Even on cloudy days, these can reflect light and make life miserable if you aren’t equipped with proper protection.

3. Insulation

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Layering up before going outside helps you adjust to weather changes.

Joseph

Conditions in the outdoors can change in an instant, so it’s important to bring layers of clothes to account for unpredictable weather. While you’re at it, throw a pair of gloves and a hat into your pack—they take up so little room and can make a huge difference if the temperature drops unexpectedly.

Ideally, the first layer should be a moisture-wicking shirt that helps your body remain warm in cool conditions (or cool in warm conditions). Whenever possible, avoid cotton, as it absorbs sweat and moisture and can cause chafing.

The next layer should be for insulation, which traps air near your body and keeps you warm. This where your wool and down sweaters, shirts, and vests usually come in handy. Finally, come prepared with an outer "shell" layer to protect against wind, rain, snow, and other nasty conditions. Some (but not all) “shell” jackets are breathable, and most (but not all) are waterproof; what you use should account for the climate you’ll be in.

4. Illumination

Bring a headlamp, lantern, or flashlight for low-light conditions and for alerting responders to your location. Headlamps have the benefit of hands-free use and usually have a long battery life; most headlamps also include some kind of strobe setting that helps search-and-rescue units find you in foggy conditions and dense forests.

Lanterns and flashlights, meanwhile, benefit from powerful beams and lightweight portability. Whatever you choose, be sure to check the batteries before setting off, and don’t forget to pack spares.

5. First-Aid Supplies

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A portable first-aid kit can help with cuts and other accidents along the trail.

DLG Images

Many outdoor and some department stores sell compact, portable first-aid kits with gauze, bandages, ointments, and other essentials for treating small cuts, scrapes, blisters, and bug bites. These are usually adequate for day trips and short outings, but for longer, overnight treks, your kit will need to be more robust.

That said, don’t be shy about stocking up if other needs persist. For example, mosquitoes can be especially annoying in Alabama, so it’s a good idea to toss a bottle of repellent into your pack before hitting the trail. Likewise, portable hand warmers will keep you warm in chilly conditions.

6. Fire

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Make sure your lighter has fluid in it before relying on it to start a fire while camping, especially in chilly conditions.

Joseph

In addition to being a comforting presence at a campsite, a fire can literally save the day in a precarious situation. But you have to be able to create it, and with that, you’ll need a fire-starting essential, which can be matches, lighters, or an emergency fire-starting kit. Your choice may depend on the conditions in which you’ll be hiking.

Matches (either waterproof matches or conventional matches stored in a waterproof container) can start fires quickly and easily, and they make for ideal back-ups when conventional lighters run out of fuel. Pro tip: Consider packing along a little paper, dryer lint, wood chips, and petroleum jelly-covered cotton balls to help start a fire (and keeping it going).

7. Repair Kit and Tools

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Duct tape works as the best temporary fix for any rip or tear in fabric, or just about anything.

woodleywonderworks

Your repair kit and tools depend on your needs, climate, conditions, outdoor comfort level, survival skills, and gear. The longer you’re out, and the more gear you carry, the more you’ll want for repair and safety.

At the very least, consider a pocket knife or multi-tool; the latter is especially helpful for screwing glasses back together, repairing gear, preparing food, opening cans, cutting cloth, and more. Other optional accessories include patch kits for air mattresses, trowels for digging holes, extra screws for glasses, and duct tape—for repairing seemingly everything. There’s a reason many veteran adventurers always carry a roll of duct tape in their packs.

8. Nutrition

There’s very little downside to bringing extra food on a hike, even a short one. Be sure to pack a few snacks, as well as an extra meal’s worth of food (if not two). Aim for non-perishable items that won’t wither in extreme conditions, including jerky, gels, trail mix, granola or energy bars, dried fruit, chips, and crackers.

9. Hydration

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Nalgene bottles are perfect for water storage, and they also serves as a great source of light if you shine your headlamp through the bottle!

John Loo

There’s no magic formula for figuring out how much water to carry. So keep your distance in mind when deciding: The longer you hike, and the more strenuous your trip, the more water you’ll need. Always bring at least one full bottle of water, as well as water purification tablets or a portable purifier for longer trips (if water sources are available).

Whatever you do, be sure to rehydrate before you feel parched, and remain mindful of how much water you have left. (Remember that scene from the book-turned-movie Wild, when hiker Cheryl Strayed was out of water on a particularly grueling stretch of her hike?)

10. Emergency Shelter

If you become lost or otherwise stranded, shelter can play an important role in keeping warm and guarded against the elements.

If packing a tent seems excessive or unwieldy, consider a lightweight tarp, foil emergency blanket (commonly called "space blankets" for their resemblance to something an astronaut might wear), sleeping pad, or even garbage bag—all of which can make an unexpected night in the outdoors a little more bearable.

Written by Matt Wastradowski for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Heath Cajandig

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Ask Aspen local Tony Vagneur what he remembers most about skiing in the old days, and he answers immediately: “the cold.”

Circa 1949, when Gore-Tex was a long way off, layering wool was the only way to attempt to ward off the frigid temperatures. Factor in an hour-long lift line and a 30-minute ride up what was then the world’s longest chairlift—with single seats—and idle time adds up to freezing digits.

“By the end of the day, my hands would be numb and as they warmed up the pain was a killer,” Vagneur, still active on the slopes at 71, recalls. “But that was part of the game. Skiing was so much fun. We didn’t care if we were cold.”

If there’s anywhere in America that showcases how skiing has evolved from its humble origins, it’s Aspen. In 1950, it was a sleepy ranching and mining town when it hosted the first worldwide skiing competition held in the United States. Today, the four resorts that make up Aspen-Snowmass have a combined 41 lifts serving 5,500 acres of terrain.

But there’s a lot more about skiing that has changed, in Aspen and across the world, than just the size of the resorts. Here, a look back at the olden (and some might say golden) days of skiing—and how things are different now, from incredible improvements in gear and technology to the not-so-incredible price hikes, and everything in between.

The Cost

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Back in the day, a solo trip up the lift was the only way to go.

Chuck Battles

On Dec. 15, Snowmass will celebrate its 50th anniversary with $6.50 lift tickets, honoring the price from 1967. Resort officials were reportedly shocked when they sold some 12,000 of them by early November, and subsequent sales required a lodging purchase.

The popularity might be in part because lift tickets in peak season can top $150 here. Of course, nothing is as cheap as it was in 1967, but the cost to hit the slopes at big resorts has risen astronomically. Nowadays, a family ski trip can easily run into the thousands of dollars (though, by choosing more old-school resorts, you can help your budget a bit; more on that below).

The Gear

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Ski fashion has come a looong way over the decades.

Chuck Battles

In the old days, breaking an ankle or fracturing a leg was almost a rite of passage for skiers. That injury rate was due in part because of the gear: Skis were long, skinny, and fast, and didn’t release during a crash—which happened a lot, because they were not ideal for turning, especially in deep Colorado powder. Over the years, boots got stiffer, bindings safer, and skis shorter and wider.

At first, Vagneur and his old-timer friends considered these newfangled models skis to be cheating. “Then we skied on them and said, ‘Oh God, this is great.’”

But like many skiing innovations, there’s a downside to making it easier and more fun to ski powder. The hill gets tracked out quicker, including the trees, which used to be too dangerous for sloppy-turning skis.

“Because of these skis, everyone can ski powder pretty much, so all the good stuff gets used up in a hurry and people go looking for it out in the trees,” says Vagneur. “It’s pretty damn hard to find a stash. I’ve got one place up there nobody seems to be able to find and I’m not talking about it.”

The Technology

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Cell phones have revolutionized the way skiers can document carving it up on the slopes.

Aspen Snowmass / Jeremy Swanso

In the old days—in this case, before everyone had a cell phone in their pocket and a GoPro on their helmet—skiing offered a way to disconnect. If someone needed to find you while you were on the slopes, too bad for them, but good for you—you were essentially off the grid until the lift lines closed.

These days, even when the weather is so cold fingers turn blue trying to activate an app, the lift ride has shifted from quiet introspection among the trees or chatting with your fellow rider to nonstop connectivity: taking pictures, uploading shots of that epic powder to Facebook or Instagram, trying to track down friends (or even checking work e-mail if you’re taking a “sick” day.)

Sure, there’s an upside to all this access: You can instantly get the snow report, check what others are posting about conditions, or upload a lift selfie or GoPro video of your powder run. But something is unquestionably missing—that feeling that it’s just you and the mountain. If you lost your friends, you knew you’d meet up again for après at the bar, where an in-person account of that epic line you hit beats an Instagram post any day.

As for another noteworthy technological innovation, the automatic pass scanner, you’re not likely to find many skiers or lift attendants pining for the old days of punching tickets.

The Terrain

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Many resorts, including Aspen Highlands, have expanded their terrain over the years.

Aspen Snowmass

In the old days, nobody dared to ski Highlands Bowl. “It was almost a sure bet you’d die if you went up there,” Vagneur says. “We had a lot more respect for avalanches in the old days.”

Today, it’s the crown jewel of extreme terrain of the Aspen Highlands resort, reached only by hiking, double-diamond terrain that has been called the most intense skiing in Colorado. There's a monument to three patrollers killed in a 1984 avalanche up there.

Wider skis and adrenaline junkies chasing more extreme terrain have led many resorts to allow access to this sort of avalanche-prone terrain above timberline, the slide risk mitigated by modern avalanche control techniques.

You won’t find many skiers who lament the opening of more terrain, but Vagneur does believe it has changed the culture of skiing as the race to fresh pow becomes ever-more intense. “A lot of it is just competition—who gets the first tracks, who does the first 100,000 vertical feet,” he says. “To me, who cares? You just go up there and have fun.”

The Vibe

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An off-duty cop or killer costume? You decide.

Aspen Snowmass

Just as depicted in the classic ski film Aspen Extreme, every winter a new cycle of would-be ski bums arrives in town. The cars have changed—now it's more likely to be a Subaru stuffed with worldly possessions instead of an old Ford van—but Vagneur still sees the same types year after year: the guy with a PhD washing dishes in a restaurant by night, trust-funders living in a fantasy world, A-listers who come to Aspen to see and be seen.

(One thing he hasn’t seen much of over the years, however: clothing-optional skiing. Vagneur recalls one spring day when an attractive woman decided to ski topless, to his and his friends’ delight. With the proliferation of cell phones, stunts like this are much less common.)

The days are gone when they all knew each other or recognized each other at the bar from riding the lift together. The resorts are too big; the population too transient. And fast-moving lifts mean a conversation that might have taken 20 minutes is over in five—and that’s if you even manage to chat with someone who’s tapping away at their phone the whole way up.

But the more things change, one thing has remained for Vagneur: a love of skiing, of being out in the mountains, in the snow and crisp air, surrounded by amazing views. “When I was a kid, I’d go out there with my buddies and we skied most days in the winter,” he says. “We [still] laugh a lot and have a good time. We find runs we like. We’re in our 70s and still ski bumps.”

5 Spots Where You Can Get a Throwback Experience on the Slopes

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You don't have to look too far for a throwback experience.

Aspen Snowmass

Craving an old-school ski experience? Here are five ski resorts and towns where you can travel back in time for a nostalgic day on the slopes.

Arapahoe Basin

A true Colorado “locals” hill just down the road from the mega-resorts of Keystone and Breckenridge, A-Basin has free parking a short walk from the lifts, affordable tickets, and a fun, festive atmosphere. They also have the longest ski season in North America, usually from October to June (and sometimes July!)

Bridger Bowl, Montana

If you live in Bozeman and see the blue light atop the Baxter Hotel flashing, it might be time to take a “sick” day—because that means this nearby ski area has fresh snow. Locals are the bulk of those on the slopes, since most visitors opt for snazzier resorts in the northern Rockies, like Jackson Hole. But that’s all the more reason to book a trip, since Bozeman is mostly a summer tourist town and rooms are cheaper in winter.

Mad River Glen, Vermont

“Ski it if you can” is the well-known slogan for this rustic ski area, which has the gnarliest terrain in New England. It’s also skier-owned, which means you don’t buy a pass but a share in ownership that gives you a voice in how the area is managed. It also has one of only two still-operating single-seat chair lifts in the United States.

Homewood Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe, California

You don’t have to drop a fortune to ski California’s crown jewel at this family-friendly resort at the west shore of Lake Tahoe. Enjoy jaw-dropping views like other Tahoe resorts—the lifts begin almost at the shores of the lake—without the steep prices of other areas. So many modern ski resorts focus on real estate as much as the skiing, but you won’t find a slopeside condo here—just lots of wide runs, a laid-back vibe, and excellent skiing.

Wolf Creek Ski Area, Colorado

You won’t find many ski areas whose owner is up the ridges with a snorkel, dropping avalanche bombs. This southern Colorado resort is known for its rustic vibe and deep powder, and with 450 inches a year, they claim to have the most snow in Colorado—130 inches more than Snowmass, for a lift ticket ($70) that’s less than half the price. Lines are unusual, and powder lingers for days for those willing to hike a bit.

Written by Scott Rappold for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Aspen Snowmass

How To Protect Your Eyes From The Sun

Make sure your sunglasses are doing the job.

Summers are getting hotter every year—the vast majority of us have become well acquainted with the crucial ways to protect our skin when heading outside for long periods. However, it’s not just skin that needs protecting from the sun – our eyes can also be damaged by UV radiation.

Fortunately, the straightforward solution is to stick on a pair of quality sunglasses.

What kind of short-term and long-term eye problems can UV rays cause?

In the short term you’re looking at something called photokeratitis, which is basically sunburn for your corneas. If you spend too long out in the sun – I think one study has shown it’s about six hours in direct sunlight – then it can cause quite red, painful eyes. The symptoms generally resolve themselves and after about 48 hours it tends to disappear.

There are more damaging long-term effects like cataracts and macular degeneration, which can be accelerated by UV exposure. You can also get skin cancer on the eyelids and fatty tissue building up on the white parts of the eye.

The eye is ten times more sensitive to UV light than skin and although it has natural protection, it can still be quite exposed to damage.

How much time spent in the sun without protection puts you at risk? Is up to six hours OK then?

I would say it can be shorter [than six hours]. It depends on how much UV exposure there is as well. The strongest levels of UV light are between 10am and 2pm, and it’s a lot stronger during the summer months as well. Also you’re more exposed at higher altitude. It depends on a lot more than just the duration of time that you are outside.

Are reflective environments especially risky?

Yes. A reflective surface – when you’re out skiing or fishing, say – reflects a lot more light, and it’s more scattered. It doesn’t necessarily increase the chance of UV damage, but it definitely causes more irritation to the eyes in terms of glare.

What should you look for in terms of protection when buying sunglasses?

You want to find a pair of sunglasses that protect against 100% of UVA and UVB rays [this may be labelled as UV400, which protects against wavelengths up to 400 nanometers, covering both UVA and UVB rays].

This may mean it’s described as protecting against 99% of UV light as there is also UVC radiation, which has a shorter wavelength but doesn’t penetrate the ozone layer.

Also, look for something that protects against HEV light. Sunglasses have a grading system between one and four. So four is the darkest tint that sunglasses can have, which blocks out 95% of visible light. They’re for people working in really bright conditions or in high altitudes. They’re not for people who drive for example, because of the amount of light they block. Most people tend to go for a category three, which is a little bit lighter. It blocks out 85% of visible light. But all of them should say they protect against UVA and UVB – that’s the important thing.

If you’re in a brighter environment, or at high altitude, you also want them to be quite big and maybe wraparound to give you more coverage.

Can you get contact lenses that protect the eyes from UV rays?

Yes you can. Most contact lenses have the technology to protect against UVA and UVB, which is brilliant, because that will protect the internal parts of the eye. It does, however, mean that there are parts of the eye that are exposed to UV light, so it’s still a good idea to wear sunglasses on top so you’re still protecting the eye and its surroundings.

Written by Nick Harris-Fry for Coach and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Coach

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Weekend backpacking trips are one of the greatest gifts of the summer. You can get so much in just two to three days: a breathtaking vista, a serene mountain lake, a secluded old-growth forest. The only problem is that all too soon you’re back at the trailhead, preparing for the long drive home and wondering how you’ll get through five more days before your next big adventure.

Usually, this is when hikers start to google “Appalachian Trail Town Guide” or “PCT Gear Checklist,” but if you aren’t quite ready to quit your job and sell your house, there are other long trail options, ones that can be squeezed in alongside life’s many other responsibilities. And since these trails don’t get the same press as the jewels of the triple crown, the odds of getting a week of breathtaking vistas all to yourself are even better.

1. Benton-Mackaye Trail

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A 270-foot suspension bridge crossing the Toccoa River on the Benton MacKaye Trail in North Georgia.

Richard

States: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee
Season: Year round
Duration: 2-4 weeks
Learn more: BMTA.org

The Appalachian Trail is widely considered one of the most social trails in America, and no wonder as thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike every year. But if you’re looking to experience what the AT might have been like before its fame grew far and wide, look no further than the 300-mile Benton-Mackaye Trail. It shares its southern terminus (Springer Mountain) with the AT, but quickly veers to the west, deep into the Appalachian Mountains and away from the crowds. Here you’ll find the small wonders this corner of the world is known for: deep, lush forests, blooming wildflowers, and cool, bubbling creeks. While this trail is well-maintained by a devoted group of volunteers, amenities are kept at a minimum compared to other trails in the region. The good news is that a lack of established shelters and infrequent signage mean that you’re even more likely to have this trail all to yourself. (If you only have time for a section hike, be sure to check out the best Benton Mackaye day hikes in Georgia and in Tennessee/North Carolina.)

2. John Muir Trail

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Camp vibes along the John Muir Trail

Rick McCharles

States: California
Season: Summer
Duration: 2-3 weeks
Learn more: PCTA.org

The granddaddy of them all, the John Muir Trail offers a wholly unique adventure for intrepid backpackers: 211 miles of trail without a single road crossing. Starting at a mere 4,000 feet in Yosemite Valley, you’ll soon leave behind the crowds as you climb up above the treeline and into the high country where no fewer than eight mountain passes await you. Make no mistake about it, the remoteness (not to mention the difficulty) of this trail requires serious training and planning, so be prepared to cross snowfields, wade through swollen rivers, and safeguard your food from the area’s notorious bears. The majority of JMT hikers are headed southbound, but you’ll still see plenty of northbound hikers along the way, as the PCT shares 170 miles of trail through the High Sierras. The only real downside to this trail is its popularity as most reservations are snapped up months in advance of hiking season.

3. Lone Star Hiking Trail

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The Lone Star Trail as it passes through the Stubblefield Lake Recreation Area

Adrian Delgado2012

State: Texas
Season: Year round
Duration: 1 week
Learn more: LoneStarTrail.org

Leave behind the noise and crowds of Houston and travel an hour north to find the solitude and quiet you’ve been craving on the Lone Star Hiking Trail. Tucked away in the Sam Houston National Forest, this 128-mile pine needle-cushioned footpath takes you deep into the backcountry along serene, bubbling creeks and over gentle slopes. As you hike, you’ll wind your way through dense stands of magnolia trees and miles and miles of hardwoods, home to woodpeckers and bald eagles alike. This is one of the few long distance trails that can be hiked year-round, and might even be best in winter, when the scorching temperatures of Texas are moderated. Another bonus: no permit is required to get started, and maps can be downloaded for free at the volunteer-maintained website.

4. The Long Trail

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The Theron Dean Shelter on the Long Trail of Vermont

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States: Vermont
Season: Late spring through late fall
Duration: 3 weeks
Learn more: GreenMountainClub.org

America’s obsession with thru-hiking may well have started with the Long Trail, the country’s oldest long-distance route, and the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail. Traveling the length of Vermont, the bulk of its 272 miles trace the ridges of the Green Mountains, traveling along remote streams and through alpine sedge, and climbing the state’s highest peaks: Camel’s Hump, Killington Peak, Mount Mansfield, and more. But this trail is known less for the views than as a rugged journey through a thick forest of hemlocks, eastern white pines, sugar maples, and balsam fir. Be aware that while this trail doesn’t reach the same elevations as its Western cousins, it offers significant terrain challenges for the novice and advanced hiker alike. Expect scrambling, slippery log crossings, and rough trails. Today, the LT shares 100 miles of trail with the AT, but while the latter stops midway through Maine, the LT takes you all the way to the Canadian border.

5. The Mid State Trail

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A Mid State Trail footbridge in Alan Seeger Natural Area of Rothrock State Forest

Nicholas A. Tonelli

States: Pennsylvania
Season: Spring to fall
Duration: 5-7 weeks
Learn more: Hike-MST.org

If you’re looking for something a little longer, and little wilder, check out the 522-mile Mid State Trail running straight down the middle of Pennsylvania. Straddling the Appalachians and the Allegheny plateau, this path is unusually solitary and remote, even as it brings you within spitting distance of established communities (and one or two ghost towns). It accomplishes this by keeping hikers above the fray, traveling from the highest knob and steepest ridgelines, across densely forested highlands, and up and around rolling hills. Like many of the trails in this region, the route is scattered with boulders of varying shapes and sizes, making it difficult to cover ground quickly. But, unlike those other trails, the secret’s not out on this one yet, and it’s a toss-up which you’ll see more of as you hike: bears or backpackers.

6. Ozark Highlands Trail

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The Ozarks in Autumn

OakleyOriginals

States: Arkansas
Season: October through June
Duration: 2 weeks
Learn more: OzarkHighlandsTrail.com

If your ideal wilderness trek is one where you won’t encounter another hiker for days on end, the Ozark Highlands Trail should be near the top of your list. But even if you start out in search of the trail’s peaceful valleys and lonely vistas you’ll stay for its smaller wonders: delicate waterfalls, remnants of bygone pioneers, and impressive rock formations, like the Narrs: a narrow catwalk of stone snaking along the Buffalo River. While reasonably well-marked, this trail is more rustic than most, so be prepared for your feet to get wet (and stay wet) during its many stream crossings. Fortunately, there are a number of ancient structures scattered along the way where you can air out and dry off. Procrastinating thru-hikers may rejoice that this one doesn’t require a special permit to get started, but know that the remoteness of the terrain and the difficulty of resupply (there are only two POs and no grocery stores along the way) mean it requires just as much, if not more, planning.

7. River to River Trail

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Illinois' Garden of the Gods State Park, one of the highlights along the River to River Trail

Curtis Abert

States: Illinois
Season: Spring through fall
Duration: 1-2 weeks
Learn more: fs.usda.gov

Even if you don’t have the time to hike the entire 6,800-mile American Discovery Trail, you can still tackle an important leg of it: the 160-mile River to River Trail travels across southern Illinois, from the Ohio River to the Mississippi. If you’ve never been to this part of the country, you’re in for a real treat. Towering slot canyons, sandstone sculpted bluffs, dense deciduous forests (hike this one in fall if you can), and, of course, sweeping views of two of the most iconic rivers of the Midwest are but a few of the treasures to be found along the way. While the forests surrounding this trail look untouched today, don’t be fooled, as you may be following an ancient wagon trail, long overgrown. A word of caution: since this trail is not maintained to the same standards that you’ll find in established wilderness areas, aspiring thru-hikers should come prepared with serious navigational skills.

8. Shore-to-Shore Trail

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore from above

Josh Grenier

States: Michigan
Season: Spring through summer
Duration: 2 weeks
Learn more: MTRA.org

Begin your adventure by dipping a toe into Lake Huron at one of two starting points on the eastern half of the 220-mile Shore-to-Shore Trail. As you travel west, wander through warbler territory, join up for a section of the 4,600-mile North Country Trail, and then skirt the more popular tourist destinations as the trail winds across the rolling hills that characterize the middle of the state. End your trip with a plunge into Lake Michigan via the steep bluffs of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. While there are many upsides to choosing this thru-hike, one downside is that heavy equestrian use can make this trail more challenging for those traveling by foot. Expect longer distances between established campsites (20-25 miles), deep grooves along the path, and maps that are more focused on the needs of thru-riders than thru-hikers.

9. Tahoe Rim Trail

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Overlooking the Desolation Wilderness

Jeff P

States: California and Nevada
Season: July through September
Duration: 1-2 weeks
Learn more: TahoeRimTrail.org

While Tahoe’s beaches are packed with tourists you’ll be high up on the ridgeline enjoying stunning vistas on this 165-mile loop around the lake’s perimeter. This one is anything but routine, traveling through densely wooded forests, up high mountain passes (there may be snow early in the season), and around the shores of shimmering lakes set against the moonscapes that are specific to this region. The TRT also shares a footpath with the Pacific Crest Trail for 50 miles through the Desolation Wilderness, offering ample opportunity to get some insider info before you plan next year’s big hike. Give yourself a minimum of a week to complete if you’re doing it all in one shot, or break it out into 14 separate day hikes and earn your Weekend Warrior stripes. Added bonus: since the TRT is a loop rather than an end-to-end thru-hike, transportation planning is a snap.

10. Wonderland Trail

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Encircling Mount Rainier for 93-miles, the Wonderland Trail is worthy of any backpacker's bucket list

John Strother

Located: Washington State
Season: July through September
Duration: 1-2 weeks
Learn more: RootsRated.com/how-to-thru-hike-the-wonderland-trail

Discover 93 miles of pure heaven circumventing Washington’s most iconic peak. Its jaw-dropping spectacles include fields ablaze with wildflowers of all colors, bridges hundreds of feet over raging rivers and waterfalls, and a new angle from which to see the mountain up close and personal every single day (at least as long as PNW’s infamous weather cooperates). While you’re not climbing Mt. Rainier (14,411 feet), expect significant elevation change (22,000 feet in all) as you climb up and over its many ridges. The Wonderland Trail’s reputation has grown in recent years from a local treasure to a national destination, but if you have a flexible schedule this might just be the perfect year to hike it. A glitch in the reservation system for 2016 means that all reservations are now first come first serve, making it easier than ever to secure a last-minute spot on a once-in-a-lifetime thru-hike.

Written by Laura Lancaster for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by John Strother

20181004-BCBS-rookiebackpacking

“Where is it? It has to be here somewhere.”

I was standing in a parking lot in Yellowstone National Park staring at a mess of gear strewn across the pavement.

“Where’s the rainfly for the tent?”

One thousand miles away in my apartment in Dana Point, Calif., that’s where it was. Because I didn’t double-check all of my gear before I departed for Wyoming, I didn’t realize the rainfly was in a stuff sack in my closet. So, during a 70-mile journey through the soaking Yellowstone backcountry, I struggled each evening to fold and shape a rectangular blue tarp into a dome-shaped fly. The word “origami” comes to mind.

That wasn’t my first backpacking trip, but my failure to thoroughly check my gear was the type of mistake novice backpackers make all the time. And they don’t make mistakes because they’re dumb or careless. It’s because you can easily mess up when you’re doing something for the first time. Plus, it’s simply not easy to organize all the possessions you’ll need to leave civilization and explore unknown territory. If you’re new to backpacking, do yourself a favor and take heed of the following rookie mistakes. With a little knowledge, you’ll improve your chances of a successful first outing.

Mistake 1. Not Reviewing Gear and Supplies Carefully

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Check off each item on your list as you place it in your backpack.

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I was actually lucky that I realized in the parking lot that I had left the rainfly behind, because I was able to duck into a general store and purchase a tarp. But, many novice backpackers don’t realize they’ve forgotten something until they reach their backcountry camp. To avoid this problem, create a gear list weeks in advance of your trip and begin immediately acquiring the items you need. Don’t wait until the last minute to purchase things, except maybe stove fuel if you’re flying to a destination.

A week or so before you depart for your trip lay out all of your gear and supplies on the floor in your home. Then, check off each item on your list as you place it in your backpack. This will give you time to pick up things you may have forgotten about. Also, avoid washing clothes at the last minute, because things tend to be hectic right before a trip, and there’s a good chance you’ll leave something in the dryer. Before you leave civilization for the last time and go the trailhead, do one last shakedown of your gear.

Mistake 2. Not Testing Gear Before A Trip

Several years ago I loaned a camping stove to friends who were heading to Alabama’s Sipsey Wilderness for their first backpacking trip. When they returned, they told me they had fun but confessed that they owed me a new stove. They hadn’t tested the stove before they hit the trail, and when it flared up while making dinner, they were startled and kicked it into the Sipsey River. While that did a great job of putting out the flame, the current carried away the stove, and they ate a cold supper.

To avoid such a disaster, be sure that you know how to use every piece of gear before you hit the trail. It’s common for people to arrive in camp without having ever set up their tent, and they spend some very frustrating moments trying to figure out which pole goes where as darkness quickly descends. Keep in mind that you might arrive in camp not only late, but also tired, hungry, dehydrated, and not thinking clearly. It’s not a good time to learn how to use something for the first time.

The most important thing to test before your trip is your hiking shoes or boots, especially if you’re wearing leather boots that you have to break in. You don’t want to discover during the first day of a trip that your footwear causes blisters.

Mistake 3. Arriving at the Trailhead Much Later Than Expected

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If you arrive at the trailhead much later than expected, you’ll have less time to reach your first campsite.

Austin Ban

It’s a familiar scene for people heading out on their first backpacking trip: You planned to pull out of the driveway at 9 a.m., but two hours later you haven’t left yet, and you’re dashing around the house trying to find sunglasses, or some other important item. Then, you realize you forgot to put gas in the car. Once you’re finally on the road and approaching the trailhead, you lose your cell signal and make two wrong turns.

Travel delays can have big impact on backpackers. If you arrive at the trailhead much later than expected, you’ll have less time to reach your first campsite. During the late fall, winter, or early spring, when the days are shorter, you could end up hiking and setting up camp in darkness, which is a pain, especially if you’re not experienced.

To avoid this scenario, gas up your vehicle the night before the trip and load as much gear as possible. On the day that you plan to drive to the trailhead, wake up pretty early to give yourself buffer time in case you have to search for something you misplaced. If possible, plan to hike only a few miles on the first day of your backpacking trip. If you’re delayed, you’ll still have time to reach camp at a reasonable hour.

Another option is to drive to your general destination a day early and stay in accommodations relatively close to the trailhead. This will allow you to start hiking relatively earlier, even if you get sidetracked.

Mistake 4. Attempting Unrealistic Hiking Mileage

During my first backpacking trip as a teenager, my buddies and I showed our overly ambitious hiking itinerary to the park ranger, and he said flatly, “You better eat your Wheaties.” Naturally, we ignored him, and we suffered so much we still talk about it today.

One of the biggest mistakes beginner backpackers make is building trail itineraries that are too ambitious and don’t take into account physical abilities, difficult terrain, and high elevations. If your itinerary requires you to hike 10 miles each day and climb several steep hills, you’re going to be pretty worn out. Plus, you’ll have little time to relax around camp and just enjoy yourself. If possible, hike a few miles the first day and gradually increase your daily mileage over the course of the journey.

People who have been backpacking for several years will tell you they’ve made plenty of mistakes and learned many hard lessons on the trail. So, if you’re new to backpacking, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have your own mishaps, and that’s OK. That’s part of the adventure. But, if you’ll heed the advice of experienced hikers, you can minimize your foul-ups and spend more time enjoying the wilderness rather than stressing over things that you left in your closet, or kicked into the river.

Written by Marcus Woolf for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL.

Featured image provided by Glen Jackson

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Whether you’re hiking in the mountains, the desert, or anywhere in between, preparation for the natural elements is a big part of planning any outdoor trip. Exposure on a hike can mean many different things, none of them good: lack of shade or shelter, prolonged time spent at altitude or in extreme temperatures, natural obstacles, and biting or stinging insects. They can vary from mild annoyances to possibly life-threatening injuries—and all should be taken seriously. It’s important to reduce your risk where you can and plan for the worst-case scenario when you’re far away from help. Cover these bases, and you’ll be well on your way to making sure you remember your outdoor adventures for the right reasons.

Temperature

The human body operates best when its core is between a relatively narrow range of temperatures—anything much warmer or colder, and things start to fall apart. Before you head out, know the average highs and lows for the area where you’ll be hiking and plan as if you might have to spend more time in the wilderness than you expect.

If it’s likely to be very hot, wear clothes that wick moisture and help regulate your body temperature, like a short-sleeved button-up shirt that will vent as you sweat. Bring along plenty of water: In hot climates, you should be drinking two to four liters per day. If you’ll be out for more than a few hours, consider an electrolyte replacement as well—or at least plenty of salty food.

Extreme cold is easier to plan for—you can only take off so much clothing, but you can always add more. Dressing in layers is essential, allowing you to open or remove clothing quickly and avoid sweating. Once you stop, the body cools fast, so be ready to put on a snuggly fleece midlayer or insulated jacket. Bring along some shelter in case you find yourself out in the cold longer than expected. It doesn’t have to be a proper tent, but a cheap emergency blanket, bivouac bag, or warm parka can go a long way in helping your body to retain heat when you really need it.

Wind

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The wind can knock you off your feet, and it also can contribute to you losing body heat.

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Not only is wind miserable to be caught out in, but it also can cause you to lose heat rapidly. Exposed hiking, where there are no trees or ridgelines to block the breeze, often means spending hours at a time in the wind. If the area where you’ll be hiking is known for being unusually windy (or if the forecast indicates significant gusts), bring along a lightweight layer to block the wind and retain body heat. If you’re spending the night outside, set up your tent so that it’s aerodynamic, rather than broadside to the wind. Cook downwind of your shelter and consider bringing along a windscreen or having a companion block the breeze as you light the stove. And don’t forget the silver lining: You’re far less likely to battle pesky bugs on a windy day.

Precipitation

When the rain starts to fall, the last place you want to be is high on an exposed ridgeline. In addition to getting wet (and increasing the risk of hypothermia), you’re in danger of being struck by lighting, which tends to hit the tallest thing around. As a precaution, if you’re hiking in an alpine zone, always plan to be back down below treeline by early afternoon, when thunderstorms often roll in. You should avoid hiking above timberline on days when there are thunderstorms in the forecast. If you do happen to get caught in an electrical storm, the best place to be is in a forest with uniformly sized trees—steer clear of any that stand above the rest.

If you’re not in an area where lightning is of particular concern, you’ll still need to keep yourself dry. A waterproof outer layer is great, but it’s even more critical that it can vent to keep you from sweating too much—your clothes won’t keep you warm if they’re wet.

Sun

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When there’s no shade on the trail, make sure you bring some along with a wide-brimmed hat.

Lyndsey Marie

It’s crucial to take care of your skin, not only for your long-term health but because you’ll be dehydrated and dysfunctional if you burn to a crisp. Cover up as much as possible with UPF clothing and apply sunblock (at least SPF 50) to any visible skin, like your face and hands. If you’re unlikely to find shade on a hike, bring your own—a wide-brimmed hat will afford you protection from sun and keep your face and neck from burning.

Altitude

Many exposed hikes in alpine areas are also at high altitude, in which case you’ll need to be prepared to recognize signs of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). AMS can happen to anyone, and it’s not entirely understood what causes it, as some people will hike or climb at altitude for years without incident, and then suddenly experience it without warning. Early signs of AMS include headache, feelings of fatigue, and nausea; if they’re not addressed, they can worsen considerably until you’re confused and having trouble with fine-motor skills or even walking. The only surefire way to treat AMS is by descending as rapidly as possible. Symptoms typically occur beginning at elevations as low as 8,000 feet, so if you’re feeling unwell, consider the altitude.

Insects

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Forested areas are beautiful, but make a plan to keep the insects from destroying your fun in the outdoors.

Jachan Devol

Bugs can turn even the most pleasant hike into a nightmare. If you’re out for days at a time, it can get tricky to continually re-apply repellent sprays, which is why it often makes sense to wear your insect repellent. Some clothing manufacturers offer gear with tighter weave in the fabric, as well as built-in repellent. In addition, wearing light colors can help you see pesky biting bugs before they’re a problem. Use in combination with your preferred repellent for an effective method of keeping insect bites at bay, even when you’re out in the thick of bug season.

All of these issues can be largely avoided—or at least alleviated—with proper planning and having the necessary gear handy when it’s needed. Do that, and you’ll be spending more of your time enjoying the outdoors and less of it longing for something you left at home.

Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Andrew Deslauriers

2017_SPRING_067

With the arrival of warmer temperatures and a more laid-back atmosphere, spring skiing is a magical experience: costumed characters barreling down the slopes, sundeck moments toasting the fun at all-day après, and savoring that seasonal favorite of conditions, corn.

Whether you’re looking for family fun during a spring break with the kids or a spirited getaway with friends, here are seven spots in North America for the best spring skiing that deliver an experience to remember.

1. Best for Families: Park City Mountain, Utah

An easy drive from Salt Lake International Airport, Park City is a delightful resort that provides plenty of on- and off-slope fun for everyone in the family. Beginners and accomplished powder junkies will find options galore on the 7,300 skiable acres of terrain. Meanwhile, daycare and private and group lessons tiered to age and abilities (and starting at a wee three years old) help little ones and older kids build the confidence to develop skills, while giving mom and dad some time of their own on the slopes. When the lifts close, the village’s cozy restaurants keep the smiles going.

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One of the perks of spring skiing? Après that lasts all day, like the round-the-clock party at Mammoth.

Peter Morning/MMSA

2. Best for Foodies: Vail, Colorado

The magic doesn’t just happen on the slopes in this culinary savvy ski town: It’s also found in the 100-plus restaurants spanning all types of genres, from barbeque joints to international fusion. Longtime favorites like Sweet Basil are must-do spots, while newcomers including the Craftsman and Matsuhisa have kept up the city’s food scene on-trend and always relevant. For an even deeper dive into the town’s culinary roots, check out the annual Taste of Vail festival.

3. Best for Nightlife: Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, Canada

Whistler Blackcomb is one of the world’s top resorts, as well as the largest in North America. But aside from its magnificent slopes, the village packs a punch when it comes to après-ski and nightlife. Its pedestrian-only alpine village is perfect for bar-hopping between classic watering holes like Merlin’s Bar and Grill, Garibaldi Lift Co. (known among locals as GLC), and Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub, to the late-night club scene found at Maxx Fish, Tommy Africa’s, and in the underground at Garfunkel’s. And the Whistler World Ski & Snowboard Festival, which is scheduled from April 10 to 15 in 2018, all but guarantees as hard a party off the slopes as on.

4. Best for Breweries: Mount Bachelor, Oregon

This mighty peak and resort stands as a defining stratovolcano in the middle of Oregon, with a ton of fun skiable terrain and gorgeous views. And—a big plus for beer connoisseurs craving world-class pints for après refreshment—it’s a short drive from the brew mecca of Bend and its 19 breweries. From the iconic Deschutes Brewery to the hoppy creations of Boneyard Brewery, there’s something for everyone in this buzzy scene. Most breweries are open for tours, but Bend’s ale trail tours offer self-guided exploration of brewery stops—a justifiable reason for missing first chair the next day.

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Mammoth Mountain, California, is a favorite for springtime skiing and a prime spot to catch some rays while you hit the slopes.

Peter Morning/MMSA

5. Best for Park Riding: Mammoth Mountain, California

The Eastern Sierra Mountains in the spring are a delightful mix of snow, sun, and, at this SoCal favorite, an enticing array of terrain park features. The Unbound Terrain Parks of Mammoth have been built up on a ton of creativity and innovation that help to make them one of the best spots for terrain parks on the continent. Five parks, a 22-foot superpipe, and multiple jib and jump lines ensure you’ll discover something exciting to spice up your ski or snowboard chops. And you’ll have plenty of time to savor all this action, since Mammoth’s season stretches as far into the year as June.

6. Best for Hardcore Types: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is infamous for Corbet’s Couloir—a double black diamond, 40-degree pitch that can be entered through tantalizing big air drops or through a steep, narrow slot. But if Corbet’s is a tad too ambitious, there are numerous other ways to test your mettle on the 54 black diamond runs and 21 double blacks that comprise about 50 percent of the resort’s terrain. From the Aerial Tram, you can witness many of these expert lines, from the couloirs off of Headwall to the classic side country off of Cody Peak.

7. Best for a Great Local Vibe: Arapahoe Basin, Colorado

Known as A-Basin among locals, this Rocky Mountain resort has some of the highest-elevation skiing in North America at 13,050 feet, as well as one of the longest seasons, from October through June. But beyond that, Arapahoe Basin has earned fame for its memorable tailgate experience. From March until closing day, the parking spots that line the resort transform into spirited shindigs, with resort goers sporting funky gear, onesies, and sometimes no shirts at all. BBQ’s, music, and ski-in ski-out service mean prime time for socializing and fun, both before and after hitting the slopes.

Written by Trevor Husted for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Peter Morning/MMSA

Pass Creek Yurt

If you’re looking for a special kind of treasure hunt, make it a quest to rest your head in the many yurts tucked within the Colorado backcountry. Nomadic tribes of central Asia first crafted yurts hundreds of years ago to use as portable shelters as they followed their herds. It turns out, they were on to something. These round, tent-like structures offer a magical place to spend the night.

There’s nothing quite like lying in a toasty bed, wood crackling in the stove, as you gaze up at a spiral of ceiling beams that meet at a skylight dotted with stars. When morning comes, rub the sleep from your eyes, throw on a pot of coffee, and greet the crisp mountain air on your private hillside, surrounded by wilds that call you to explore.

The woods of Colorado are sprinkled with rentable yurts that range from simple to stately. Unlike Colorado’s backcountry huts, with yurts, you get the whole place to yourself. Most yurts sleep six, and come stocked with woodstoves and firewood, propane cook stoves, cookware, and beds with mattresses and pillows. (Tennessee Pass even provides bedding.) Be prepared to haul water from a stream and treat it, or melt snow in the winter. Bring a flashlight for navigating to the outhouse at night. Some yurts have lights, some don’t.

Keep in mind that winter backcountry travel involves avalanche risk. Get trained in avalanche safety, and bring beacons, shovels, and probes. You’ll have to leave Fido at home. Dogs are prohibited in the winter in order to keep the snowmelt pure.

Here are five backcountry yurt options to get you daydreaming:

1. Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, Cookhouse, and Sleep Yurts

Tennessee Pass Yurts
The Tennessee Pass Yurts are nestled in the woods near Leadville

Tennessee Pass

Nine miles west of Leadville, the Tennessee Pass Sleep Yurts come in at the swanky end of the spectrum, with comfy log beds, down comforters, fresh drinking water, and oodles of other creature comforts. If you’ve never ventured into the backcountry overnight, this is a great place to start. Four yurts are nestled in the woods just 1.3 miles from the trailhead. The folks at Tennessee Pass will even haul your bags, so you barely have to break a sweat—unless you opt to explore the 15+ miles of groomed snowshoe and Nordic ski trails on the property.

Tennessee Pass Sleep Yurts
The inside of the Tennessee Pass Sleep Yurts is comfy and inviting

Tennessee Pass

The yurts come stocked with cookware and dishes, but if you don’t feel like cooking, don’t despair. Just meander one-third of a mile down the trail to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse—a fine dining restaurant where you can tuck into a gourmet four-course dinner. It’s also open for lunch on weekends. If you can’t break away from your cozy abode, order catered meals delivered to your door (breakfast year-round; dinner in winter only). Then throw another log on the fire.

Tennessee Pass Cookhouse
Diners journey one-third of a mile from the sleep yurts or a mile from the road to get to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse

Tennessee Pass

The Tennessee Pass Cookhouse is also open to those who aren’t staying overnight. It’s just one mile up the trail from the road. Call ahead for reservations.

The Tennessee Pass Sleep Yurts rent for $225 per night and sleep up to six people.

Dinner at the cookhouse is $85 per head, which includes a headlamp and skis or snowshoes to get you there.

2. Colorado State Forest State Park Yurts

North Fork Canadian Yurt
North Fork Canadian Yurt in Colorado State Forest State Park

Never Summer Nordic

Plug Colorado State Forest State Park into Google Maps and you’ll see its claim to fame right next to the pin : "Enormous park featuring moose and yurts." This state park encompasses 71,000 acres of stunning mountain scenery just over Cameron Pass 75 miles west of Fort Collins. Never Summer Nordic Yurts operates seven yurts in the park and four just outside the borders, one-quarter to three miles from the road. Alpine bowls and ridges beckon backcountry skiers and riders in the winter. Hiking, mountain biking, and fishing provide plenty of summer fun.

You’ll need a flashlight, as there are no lights in the yurts, although a lantern is provided.

The Never Summer Nordic Yurts rent for $80-120 per night and sleep four to nine people. You’re welcome to cram three more people on sleeping pads on the floor, but that makes quarters pretty tight.

3. James Peak Yurt

James Peak Yurt
With its mellow approach, the James Peak Yurt is a great choice for families

Cameron Martindell

This rustic yurt—open weekends and holidays from Thanksgiving until the end of April—is nestled in Roosevelt National Forest off Peak to Peak Highway 16 miles south of Nederland. The two-mile approach crosses no hazardous snow areas, so this is a good yurt for those who lack avalanche training. Note that part of the route is often blown clear of snow, so be prepared to take off your skis or snowshoes for a spell.

Use the James Peak Yurt as base camp for snowshoeing, or ski 45 minutes to Jenny Lind Gulch, where mellow, open slopes give a great taste of backcountry skiing for beginners. (Avalanche training recommended.) When night falls, fire up the propane lights and amuse yourself with the yurt’s collection of books, magazines, and board games. Then tuck into your sleeping bag when the day’s adventures cause your weary eyelids to droop.

The James Peak Yurt costs $175 per night and sleeps six.

4. Leadville Backcountry Yurts

Leadville Backcountry Yurts
The Leadville Backcountry Yurts are perched at 12,000 feet

Leadville Backcountry Yurts

The Emma and Marceline yurts just outside of Leadville offer high-alpine living at 12,000 feet. It’s a healthy five-and-a-half-mile trek up, climbing 1,200 feet, so make sure your legs and lungs are primed for adventure, and your backcountry skills are in top form. Once you settle in, channel your inner lumberjack and split logs for the woodstove. (Flannel shirt not provided.) Play cards (provided) by the light of the gas lantern. Thousands of acres of public land out the door promise mountains to climb, bowls to ski, and breathtaking vistas.

In the summertime, you can drive a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle right to the door.

The Leadville Backcountry Yurts range from $85-115 per night, depending on season, and sleep five.

5. Pass Creek Yurt

Pass Creek Yurt
Privacy, peace, and serenity reign at the Pass Creek Yurt

Wolf Creek Backcountry

Run by Wolf Creek Backcountry, the Pass Creek Yurt sits just below the Continental Divide at 10,250 feet in the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado. It’s a one-mile bike or hike in the summer, or a three-mile winter ski to get to this yurt, which comes complete with hut shoes and astounding views. In the summer, bed down in the yurt by night, and explore the Continental Divide Trail by day. In the winter, heavy snow and challenging terrain can keep backcountry skiers busy for weeks.

Pass Creek Yurt
The Pass Creek Yurt has a well-equipped kitchen

Wolf Creek Bakcountry

The Pass Creek Yurt costs $119-169, depending on the month, and sleeps six in bunk beds.

Written by Avery Stonich for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Wolf Creek Backcountry

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To go backcountry skiing or snowboarding in Colorado is to answer the call of the wild. Gone is the tame safety of inbounds terrain; instead you gain the satisfaction from a day spent scampering in the mountains and earning your turns. And when untracked lines take the place of lift lines, a smile is sure to spread across your face.

But take heed: Colorado’s backcountry is serious business. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Take an avalanche course.

If you plan to venture into the backcountry in Colorado, you must learn how to recognize avalanche terrain and avoid it when necessary. Our continental snowpack can be dicey, with weak layers that are prone to slide. Do yourself (and everyone else) a favor and take an avalanche course.

A Level 1 course is three full days—one day in the classroom and two days in the field. This will empower you with basic knowledge to start making terrain choices, and open your eyes to how much more you need to learn. At worst, it will scare the crap out of you. At best, it will instill a healthy respect for the backcountry and inspire you to learn more.

After taking a course, you have to practice. Check Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasts, go with more experienced skiers, and ask a lot of questions. (And check out our story on the topic, Know the Snow Before You Go: Colorado Avalanche Awareness.) When in doubt, stick to slopes that are fewer than 30 degrees.

Hone your turns.

You don’t have to be an expert to go backcountry skiing or riding. But you should be comfortable in a wide variety of terrain and conditions (powder, trees, wind-blown crust, or whatever else Mother Nature throws your way). Hone your turns inbounds before venturing farther afield. And get in shape so you can rip even when your legs are wobbly from climbing. The stakes are higher out of bounds, where there is no warm hut or ski patrol to rescue you.

Get the gear.

A splitboard (left) is a snowboard that separates into two pieces for skinning. Alpine touring skies (right) are lightweight, with special bindings that maximize climbing efficiency.
A splitboard (left) is a snowboard that separates into two pieces for skinning. Alpine touring skies (right) are lightweight, with special bindings that maximize climbing efficiency.

Avery Stonich

Unless you’re a telemark skier, you’ll need an alpine touring (AT) setup—lightweight skis with AT bindings, which allow you to lift your heels for climbing and lock them down for descents. Tech bindings are best because they are lightweight and efficient for climbing. You’ll also need alpine touring boots—lightweight boots that attach to pins in tech bindings and have two modes, "walk" and “ski”, to adjust the stiffness for uphill or downhill.

A common rookie mistake is to buy frame bindings that claim to "do it all." These are alpine bindings on a rail with a releasable heel. At first glance, they seem like a great choice because they perform like alpine bindings and allow you to free your heels for climbing. But they’re heavy. And when you unlock the heel, the whole rear of the binding comes with it, which is a heavy load to lift with each step. Trust us: Skip the frame bindings and get a true backcountry setup.

Snowboarders use splitboards (or snowshoes) for backcountry touring. A splitboard is a snowboard that separates into two halves and has adjustable bindings for climbing. If you’ve never skied, it will take some practice to get the hang of walking on two sticks. Consider going for a few short test runs before tackling a big climb.

Whether skiing or snowboarding, you’ll need "skins" for climbing. These faux-hair strips stick to the bottom of your skis or snowboard and glide in just one direction, allowing you to “skin” (aka glide or climb) uphill.

Other essentials include avalanche safety gear—a beacon, shovel, and probe. Take an avalanche class so you know how to use them. You also might consider springing for a special airbag backpack that can inflate if you’re caught in an avalanche.

Find a like-minded friend.

Never go backcountry skiing or riding alone. You need a buddy to dig you out or help you in an emergency. Find a friend and take an avalanche class together, then geek out about snow safety over beers afterward. Also tag along with people who have more experience than you and ask a lot of questions. But be wary of the "expert halo," and don’t assume that someone with more experience has all the right answers for you. Ask questions to find out why they make certain decisions, learn enough to make terrain assessments on your own, and pick ski partners who have the same goals and risk tolerance as you.

Sign up for a group tour.

Guided ski club trips by Paragon Guides rotate among various locations, a great way to get familiar with different places.
Guided ski club trips by Paragon Guides rotate among various locations, a great way to get familiar with different places.

Avery Stonich

The best way to learn how to backcountry ski is to go backcountry skiing. If you’re looking for company, or want a chance to pick up tips from the pros, sign up for a backcountry tour. Vail’s Paragon Guides backcountry ski club heads out at least weekly from December to April. Join for a day for $99 or sign up for a six-pack for $500.

If you’re a lady and want to learn without the pressure of testosterone, sign up for a Chicks with Stix clinic out of Ouray or a Backcountry Babes course out of Breckenridge.

Try cat skiing.

If you want to try skiing or riding in the backcountry but don’t want to buy all the gear (yet), try cat skiing. This will give you the feel of being in remote, unpredictable terrain without having to work too hard for it. For beta, read our story, Cat Skiing in Colorado: What to Know and Where to Go.

Go on a hut trip.

Jackal Hut is one of many 10th Mountain Division huts to choose from
Jackal Hut is one of many 10th Mountain Division huts to choose from

Ed Ogle

Once you’ve had a taste of the backcountry, sink in a little deeper by spending the night. Colorado has dozens of backcountry huts where you can reserve a bed. Check out our stories, Colorado Hut Trips: 8 Insider Tips for Planning Your First and Cozy Up in a Colorado Yurt: 5 Unique Backcountry Stays, for all the intel you need to turn your backcountry outing into an overnight adventure.

Written by Avery Stonich for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Avery Stonich