Skiing and Après-Skiing in Lech, Austria

Ahh, summertime… perfect time to reminisce about, what else?  Winter!  Yes, the warm, humid days of the Atlanta summer make me long for winter…  (Well, I have to say that it is not like we are in the midst of a heat wave (we are under 90F still) but a little drama doesn’t hurt when writing the intro for this post, right?)

So, in this post, I want to share of my time this past February skiing in Lech, in the Vorarlberg region of Austria – its westernmost region.  I have skied in Utah, Colorado, the Chilean Andes but had not skied in the Alps – an item in my bucket list.  I needed that to change and the opportunity arose to ski in Austria with a college friend.  After some research and word-of-mouth feedback, Lech seemed a great spot to check out, on the high-end of skiing towns in western Austria.

Driving to Lech

Driving into Lech from tiny Liechtenstein (where we had stopped on the way from Munich – a slight detour), the scenery along the S16 highway was amazing – trees and slopes covered with fresh snow.  The drive was not too long (2-3 hrs perhaps?) and soon enough we left the highway to get to Lech via Stuben and Zürs.  We hit some cool through-mountain and mountain-side “tunnels” and, eventually, approached Lech, all covered in fresh snow at around the time where the early “quitters” were leaving the slopes.drive, driving, Austria, Lech, Vorarlberg, winter, snow, road

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Tunnel through the mountains

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The “tunnels” to keep roads passable – and protected

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Entering Lech

Lodging in Lech

It took us a bit to find our destination for the first night in Zug, just a couple of kilometers off the main part of Lech.  We had a slight incident whereby our original pension (Stierfall) had overbooked itself and they got us booked in the place next door but that was not all a bad thing as the second place was nicer anyway (Stäfeli, Hotel-Garni).

Zug, Lech, Vorarlberg, church, village, Osterreich, kirche, snow, winter, Alps

View from the hotel

Staying in Zug seemed less than ideal since we could not just walk to Lech (well, we could but the road was narrow, no sidewalks, potentially icy, etc.).  However, either we could drive down/up OR take advantage of the great shuttle buses that operate taking people in and out of Lech to neighboring villages.  We had a shuttle stop just down the small hill from our hotel which was cool and made it all easier.

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Tiny church right by the shuttle stop in Zug

Due to being high season that week we went (“spring break” in Austria and some other European countries), we were unable to find accommodations for two nights in a row.  So we checked out of the hotel the next day and later that day checked in to our second hotel in Lech.  This time, we were very lucky with the switch-a-roo.  Yes, we had another incident with overbooked places.  But, this time, not only was the place better but it was in PRIME location, pretty much at the end of the slopes that deposit skiers right in the heart of Lech.  All we had to do, was cross the main street and we were at our hotel, the Hotel Tannbergerhof.  It was not only a phenomenal location but the second story suite we were assigned to looked right at the end of the slopes and the street below.  Wow.  How I wished I had stayed there a whole week!

Lech, Vorarlberg, ski, skiing, Austria, lift, slope, snow, blue sky, Osterreich

View of the end of the slopes from my hotel window (notice the end is a mogul run)

Another option that I would recommend considering is staying in Oberlech, a series of hotels/inns in the midst of the slopes above the town of Lech (hence the area’s name).  It sure makes it easy to ski when you do not have to deal with shuttle buses and the like (not that I had to from my second hotel intown!).  Plus, easy to go for a quick re-charge nap and keep skiing later in the afternoon!  Oberlech offers plenty of places for refreshments in the middle of the skiing day which was very much to my liking!

Oberlech, Lech, Austria, ski, skiing, slopes

Oberlech area

Eating in Lech

Now, one thing we did not realize is that most people have their dinner at the hotel they stay at and those restaurants have just the tables needed for their guests. It felt like most or all restaurants we found were part of a hotel. If you don’t make reservations ahead of time for any possible open table, you find yourself (like we did) unable to just walk in to a restaurant and get a table. We lucked out eventually as one of the restaurants we walked into had just had a table cancel so we were able to eat a real meal.  At least, hunting for a restaurant allowed us to enjoy exploring the town at night – it was a winter wonderland indeed.

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Lech at night

Lech, Vorarlberg, Austria, ski, ski town, snow, night, winter

In the heart of the town by the Lech River

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The meal was worth trekking around town!

For the second night, we made reservations ahead of time. The hotel staff at Tannbergerhof had recommended a couple of places in Oberlech so we followed their advice. It was an adventure… We took the gondola up to the area and then walked trails (sometimes covered in ice at that time of night) roaming around a little lost until we finally found our place. We did a poor job of either listening to OR following the directions several people gave us and, apparently, got very close to the place without realizing it. It was dark and much colder than I expected (we were in higher altitude than in Lech and I was not prepared for that) and I was hungry! Anyway, we found the place eventually to my great relief. The meal, as anywhere else, was simply delicious.  The cool thing is that the staff was not just seasonal workers coming into the area. These were local folks, working the local restaurant near the farms that their family had owned for generations – pretty cool.

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This warmed me up after the cold hike to the restaurant!

During the day, having lunch was easy as people are out skiing and there are plenty of tables available.  We chose to have lunch in one of the hotels in Oberlech where I enjoyed a phenomenal schnitzel with a glass of wine.  The sun was bright and it was a good break from the skiing.

Schnitzel, lunch, Oberlech, ski, skiing, Lech, Austria, mittagessen

Mmm!!!

And now, skiing Lech!

During that lunch, we met a couple from Munich who has an apartment in a nearby village and they come all the time since it is so close.  They explained how Lech and neighboring villages connect through ski runs/paths and the occasional lift/gondola (to eliminate the need for loading up in a shuttle).  They shared how they spend the whole day traversing the area from place to place skiing without ever walking or taking a shuttle.  Sounds phenomenal to me – wish I had had much more time there to do just that!

Lech, Vorarlberg, ski, skiing, Austria, lift, slope, snow, blue sky

Up towards the first run of the trip!

I had not skied in a few years but found my skiing legs, as usual, pretty quickly.  Blue runs quickly stopped being intimidating.  We went up high for our first run and ended up going slightly off track downhill on a slope between two runs, crossing a long pile of snow.  Don’t know how we got confused and got off the run but it was fun (after I was done with it).

Lech, Vorarlberg, ski, skiing, Austria, lift, slope, snow, blue sky

The side slope that I accidentally skied through – apparently not the only one to do so

It was not to be the only ‘confusion’… At the end of the slopes in Lech, one can take a sharp right turn down a normal run to end up across from my hotel OR one goes straight down a mogul course which is a shorter distance (see earlier photo taken from my hotel room). I had no idea it was a mogul run (blessed ignorance…) and went through it. At first I thought it was just a couple of bumps until I realized where I was. I decided to just go for it as if I knew how to tackle moguls (which, of course, I know because I have watched winter olympics on and off – and I have stayed in Holiday Inns).  I have to say, that I did actually quite well navigating the moguls.  Perhaps some unknown instinct within me?  I am glad I did it – it was fun!

The slopes were usually quite broad and the skiers not typically as rude or aggressive as they can be back home…  OK, some went REALLY fast but you could tell they knew what they were doing and not endangering others.  I will say, though, that most people there seemed to be seasoned skiers vs. the casual once-a-year or once-every-few-years skiers we have at home *myself included* which made me feel safer in my underskilled skier status.  They would know how to navigate around me should I stagger or fall and were not doing non-sensical things.  I had one epic fall and a minor one.  Nothing untoward happened to limbs or bones, thankfully – all good fun!

Après-ski and “during”-ski in Lech

But the best part of this are the stops to refresh oneself.  The first morning, we happened upon a small watering hole up high where a waitress had to help me with a stubborn jacket zipper that would not open (or would it??…).  There I discovered that a beverage of choice is seltzer water with white wine.  I took one of those as I figured the lower alcohol content was better since we were just starting the skiing.

Oberlech, Lech, Austria, ski, skiing, slopes, apres ski

My first stop!

Later on, in Oberlech, we ran into a few places that were hopping with the lucky souls who get to ski there.  One had pumping music and great views so we plopped ourselves down at the bar for a beverage.

Lech, Vorarlberg, ski, skiing, Austria, lift, slope, snow, blue sky

View of Lech from Oberlech (my 2nd hotel in the middle of it all)

Oberlech, Lech, Austria, ski, skiing, slopes, lodging, apres-ski, bar

Incredible setting for a beverage in Oberlech!

When we finished skiing, we ended up at the bar area in front of our hotel, right by the street.  A happening spot, it was right under our suite’s windows.  Being that it is right at the exit of the slopes across the street, the spot was teeming  with folks who had wrapped up their day.  An Aperol spritz was in order as was people-watching.  Ahh… I love skiing and I love doing it somewhere where there is a scene to take in!  Hope to return someday!!

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My Aperol beverage

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Pin this image to your travel board!!

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Photo Essay: Skiing in July

No, no, I am not referring to water skiing but to snow skiing!  Snow skiing in July, you may say?  Yes, in the southern hemisphere, in wonderful Chile!

A few years ago I was fortunate to work in Chile for a whole year and one of the many things I enjoyed was the closeness of the ski resorts in the Andes to Santiago, where I lived.  I got to go twice to Valle Nevado with a co-worker.  Though the distance is short, there is a stretch of the road with three dozen curves or so (they are numbered – for the impatient, I assume!).

So here are some photos from those July skiing days!

 Do you have a favorite place to go skiing?  I certainly enjoyed skiing in this awesome place but I do have a favorite elsewhere!

Photo of the Week – Sunset over Alta

A decade or so ago, I tried skiing in Alta, Utah for the first and only time. But it is not only because I did not like it: I LOVED it. But the friends I ski with live in Colorado and when I’ve gone to visit and go ski, they have chosen ski areas closer to them (and I am not complaining: I’ve discovered many a place I like there too).

Among the many things I loved about my time in Alta was the time we went up in a cat to a ridge to watch the sun set. A relative of my friends worked grooming slopes so he got special permission to take us up on a fun ride to the ridge.

Nothing like a beautiful sunset!
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Photo of the Week – The Mountains of Utah

Ah, this picture really makes me long for winter (or a trip to the southern hemisphere where IT IS winter!).  Taken many years ago while I skied awesome Alta, I long to return to those wonderful slopes and setting.  I need to ski next year as I missed this season and I also have Europe in my sights for a ski trip…

Are you a ski fan?  What is your favorite place to ski?  Where do you want to go ski?

Alta, Utah, ski, mountains, vista, photography, freedom, sports, outdoors, photo

A Year (or the World?) Ends… Either Way, I Travel

Well, today is the day the apocalypse was to happen.  I guess a few hours are still left so maybe I shouldn’t count my eggs just yet.  BUT, if the end did happen, guess what?  I can still blog from purgatory and you KNOW that would be an incredible travel story.  Just hope it is not one of being stuck there forever, like when I was stuck in Europe because of the Icelandic volcano (which did turn out well) or someone else’s horrible travel story.  Also, if the world did end, purgatory looks a lot like my house (and if the world did NOT end, I need to make some minor changes at home…).

So the end of anything usually calls for some reflection and be it the end of the world or the end of the year, I feel like reflecting on my very busy 2012…

A Texas tweetup in January

January saw me taking what felt like a bold step – to travel somewhere to meet people I met online.  At first that has an almost dirty sound to it, doesn’t it?  But I had been talking on Twitter with these three folks for many months and they were clearly people I would enjoy meeting in person and exploring with.  So off to awesome Austin, Texas for the Texas tweetup!  There I met in person @kirkcole, @L_e_a_h, and @LolaDiMarco.  Unfortunately, a severe cold hit me on the day I traveled so I was not able to partake in all the activities but enjoyed a good day’s worth of laughing and eating in Austin!

Photo of people reflected in the fender of a car

Can you find the Austin tweetup fab 5 in the picture?

Normal in February – and other months

Traveling to DC for work permeates every month this year so my normal continued in February.  Recovered from the Austin tweetup and post-Christmas parties in January, February was time to relax and be home (or in DC). Over the year, I got to check new things in DC that I had not explored yet in the last year.  Doing the White House tour was a long-time bucket list item that I finally made happen.  I continued exploring and enjoying many of the DC’s finest hotels like The Mayflower, the Sofitel Lafayette, and the Renaissance on 9th St.  DC is a wonderful town if you get out and explore.  Its many beautiful brownstones and local eateries are a joy to explore.

March Madness:  Mile High Skiing

The traveling continued in March – this time a great ski trip with dear friends to Vail and Breckendridge, two places I had been dying to try for many years.  The trip did not disappoint and neither did my skiing, not having skied since Valle Nevado, Chile in the Andes in 2010.  Vail and Breck WILL be in a future ski trip for me, I can tell.  The bowls of Vail where incredible:  one bowl, then another one behind it, then another.  It seemed to never end!

Statue of skier in Vail, Colorado

How thoughtful! Vail had a statue of me at the base of one of the slopes!

Amicci en Italia and diving into eastern Europe in April

April finally brought about the “long”-planned trip to Italy with two sets of great friends.  Though mainly focused on Rome (a city I love re-visiting), a side trip to finally see Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast was built into the itinerary.  It did not disappoint, especially our guide in Pompeii, one of the preeminent experts on Pompeii!.

But I took advantage of being on the other side of the pond to add another iconic destination I had never explored:  Dubrovnik, Croatia.  Its tiled roofs and architecture combined with the natural setting of its location made it a magical place for me.  Of course, ever eager to see more, I decided to get further into eastern Europe while in Dubrovnik by doing day trips into Bosnia & Herzegovina (Mostar) and into the beautiful mountains and bays of Montenegro!  These day trips were short, obviously, but they definitely opened the appetite to see more of these countries and this part of Europe.

View from up high of Kotor Bay in Montenegro

One of the ridges that divides Kotor Bay into 2 bays in Montenegro

Re-charging, re-connecting, and exploring Chicago

May saw a second tweetup, this time in the Windy City since we were eager to connect with other travel bloggers we had been chatting with for awhile.  The Windy City tweetup had a little bit of everything:  from French goodness (courtesy of the Sofitel Water Tower), Charlie’s Angels, boat tour, fallen traffic lights (not our fault!), doughnuts, cold coffee, good food, drinks (repeat), and the mob.  It was a very fun weekend indeed meeting @workmomtravels, @travelingted, @jettingaround, and @elatlboy in person.

Posing in front of the Bean in Chicago at Millenium Park

Being tourists at The Bean

More fun with fellow travelers and good learnings

In June, TBEX, a travel bloggers conference, held its North America conference in Keystone, Colorado (very close to Breckenridge where I’d just been 3 months before; who knew I would be returning to the area so soon!).  Besides the interesting learnings, the reception at the mountaintop on Friday night and the ensuing party at the pub at base (free!) really made the weekend a lot of fun and a good time to meet others who share the travel bug and re-connect with others.  Among the great folks I met (too many to list all!):  @BlBrtravel, @stayadventurous, @captainandclark, @lazytravelers, @budgettravelsac, and @travelrinserept.

A trek with a purpose in Romania and a true relic of the USSR

Romania had been a mysterious place that I had always dreamed of seeing.  Not because I knew I would love it but it just called to me.  A wonderful opportunity came my way to do a hike in the Transylvanian Alps with Trekking for Kids, a non-profit seeking to bring improved lives to orphaned/at-risk children around the world.  We worked with the orphanage and just “were” with the kids before and after a hike through some beautiful landscapes around Brasov – we even saw castles other than Dracula’s!  An experience I will never forget every which way, including it was my first multi-day hike ever!

Sphinx-like rock in the Bucegi Mountains near Omu Peak, Romania

Who knew there was a Sphinx atop the Transylvanian Alps (near Omu Peak)??

Since I was headed that way, I decided Romania (more precisely, the town of Iasi, Romania’s cultural capital) would be a great springboard to explore Moldova.  So with my great guide, I explored churches, monasteries, towns (including the capital, Chisinau), and wineries in this little known former Soviet socialist republic still working to undo decades of horrible communist dictatorship.  I am SO glad I made the time for this unpolished gem at the edge of eastern Europe!

The trip ended with a one-day, two-night in awesome Paris, my home away from home in Europe.  Always love re-visiting my favorite areas and still finding new things to enjoy!

Time with Family in Tampa on my sister’s birthday in August

August also included a trip to Tampa where my family lives – always good to be with them, and enjoy good Cuban food and TLC!  I had just been there in June (when I visited the impressively set-up Dali museum) but my Mom turned 70 while I was in Romania and my sister was hitting a milestone birthday of her own in August so I just HAD to go and celebrate with them!

Rest in September

In September, I took a break from travel.  Well, non-business travel… But read on, the year of travel is not over!

Architecture and Wine:  Tuscany or Bordeaux, you say?  No, Virginia in October!

I finally succumbed to friends’ suggestion that I explore Virginia wine country with them.  I had been wanting to do this for a long time but other travel got in the way.  I took advantage of being in the DC area for work to go ahead and spend a weekend with them in wine country.  And got out RIGHT BEFORE Sandy passed by!  As you can read in my writings about this central part of Virginia, Monticello, Charlottesville and the countryside are filled with early colonial history and architecture as well as delicious wines.  And there are close to 200 other wineries in the state to be found and explored!  I was glad to have this opportunity to see more of my own country and other places will be in my sights in 2013 (like Michigan and Wisconsin thanks to friends from Chicago who write about these places!).

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

OK, now I rest ‘xcept for Thanksgiving in November

So, my fun travels wrap up for the year save for visiting family again in Tampa where I discover yet another new place for good Cuban food!  Someone STOP the madness! 🙂

I reflect back on the year and I am amazed at how much I have been able to see of places I have always wanted to see.  And this is setting aside the twenty-something weeks of work travel to DC!   The bucket list shrinks and yet I add new places I learn about.  I consider THAT my most important key performance indicator – a never-ending travel bucket list!

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and the best in 2013 for you and yours!

Ski Gear – from Hell?

Imagine… 10,000 years from now.  Civilization has disappeared.  Climate change eliminate snowfall.  And some visitors come to the planet to find many items humans had used.  Many will make sense, others will only make sense if they see videos/pictures, and yet others will never, ever, make sense to them.

I just used some of those items that may never, ever, make sense.  I went skiing.

Oh, skiing is an awesome thrill:  the challenge, the scenery, the speed, the almost-falls, the feeling of the air in the face, etc.  I LOVE skiing.  But I HATE ski gear.  I don’t hate it when I look at it at a store.  I don’t hate it when I see others wearing it.  I hate it when I have to deal with my own.

Which psycopath determined that one ought to compress one’s calves into a piece of hard plastic (or whatever boots are made of!)?  Or made the boots so incomprehensibly difficult to put on?  Or made those snap locks so painfully hard to snap?  And what tyrant designed the first ski park such that you have to walk carrying a sh–load of gear across steps and areas with lots of people to watch one stumble or struggle?  Who was the brilliant engineer who designed skis to be so long that a small turn of the body as you carry them can destroy a small building or knock out an innocent?

Yes, I love skiing.  I REALLY do.  But I do suffer through dealing with all that gear.  As my friend and skiing guardian angel said, maybe there ought to be the equivalent of a pool-boy/girl or personal butler for skiing, carrying your gear, putting it on for you, and carrying you to the actual lift?  Just a thought…

Pictures of the Week – Alta: Ski Heaven

Many moons ago I resumed skiing after a long hiatus.  Friends’ parents decided to invite me to their annual family ski trip AS A SURPRISE to my friends.  I arrived first in Salt Lake City and made my way to the awesome house at the foot of the Alta ski resort.  Their surprise was a great moment and I thank their parents for creating the opportunity.

But I loved re-kindling my enjoyment of skiing and no better resort than Alta since snowboarding was a no-no!  My friend’s brother worked at the resort and got us to go on one of the monster machines they use to groom the slopes at night for a beautiful sunset ride.  We brought wine and cheese as he drove us up – a thrill ride for sure given the size of the machine and the slopes.  But we were rewarded with the view below which I have played with a lot.  Check out the view and some of the results of my playing.  I would love to hear what you think!

The Magnificent View

Playing with B&W

My Favorite

Photos of the Week – Sights of Chile

I loved Chile from a 3-month stint there 20 yrs ago before I went back in Dec 2009.  I have written about what I saw, did and felt in other entries in my blog so I won’t repeat myself, but I continue to long to go back even after spending all of 2010 in Chile…  Why?  Well, take a look below and read my other entries about Chile (http://ilivetotravel.me/tag/chile/)

Lagunas Altiplánicas in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile

Near the Lagunas Altiplánicas

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Tourists REALLY enjoying the Torres del Paine scenery

Punta Arenas

In Punta Arenas

North of Puerto Natales in Chile's Patagonia

North of Puerto Natales in Chile’s Patagonia

Near the Salar de Atacama in Chile

Near the Salar de Atacama in the Atacama desert

Fonicular and stairs in Valparaiso, Chile

The hills of Valparaiso! Steps and foniculars!

Skiing in Valle Nevado outside of Santiago, Chile

Skiing in Valle Nevado right outside Santiago

Great summary of the juxtaposition of old and new in Santiago: the Cathedral and a building across the street

Great summary of the juxtaposition of old and new in Santiago: the Cathedral and a building across the street

Scenery from the Cueva del Milodón in the Chilean Patagonia

Scenery from the Cueva del Milodón in the Chilean Patagonia

Saving the best for last... What I really miss is seeing this just about every day I was in Santiago...

Saving the best for last… What I really miss is seeing this just about every day I was in Santiago…

Skiing When I Should Be Burning Up

I am getting to spend a heck of a lot of time in Chile lately, as in the last few months.  A great bonus is that it is winter here right now.  Since the Andes are LITERALLY right there, mountains + winter = skiing!

I hadn’t skied in like 7 yrs when ski season started here.  Ski resorts are within an hour, hour and a half from Santiago so I definitely had envisioned trekking up to the slopes and checking the Andes ski scene out…

By now, I have made a couple of day trips up to what some say is the best of the ski slopes around here, close to Santiago.  I am not sure it is the true but it does not matter to me.  The point was I was going to ski!  The place is Valle Nevado.

Driving up there involves first a set of 39 sharp curves, each numbered as you pass them but also with many curves that are unnumbered… I wonder if that is a ploy to keep the number of signs needing posting down or to not scare travelers with a much higher number of curves… Anyway, after that initial set, you drive a little bit on semi-flat terrain before you hit another set of curves, not as bad as the first set.  The landscape in this second part is amazing.  I must say that somewhere in the first set of curves you can look back towards Santiago and see part of the city – the Marriott hotel almost being the only recognizable thing as it is a tall orange rectangle!

I have to say getting going on skiing again was a little scary at first.  I had to find those legs!  After a couple of practice runs on greens, I finally made it to blues.  There was something different in the slopes and I can’t quite put my finger on it.  But, it was a phenomenal day to be at Valle Nevado with fresh snow from the day before – viva Chile, mierda!

The second trip to Valle Nevado was 4 weeks later – this past Saturday.  There had not been a lot of snowfall plus some of the snow had begun to melt.  So conditions were far from perfect.  Yet, it was fun and I was much more comfortable with my legs than the first time.  After one green run, my fellow skiers convinced me to try a red – so I went for it.  Reds are between a blue and a black for medium skilled or expert skiers.  After doing my first one (Diablada), I felt flattered.  I was at least a medium skilled skier!  We did that slope again and then we went for a longer red run called Sol.  I love it!  I did well not only going down steeper slopes but also on speed.  Now, they tended to have wide runs which made me more comfortable taking the risk.  Later in the day, I went down a run named Polka which on the map seemed easy for a blue.  One segment of it seemed like it must have been a black as it was not only sloped downward but sideways too and it was quite narrow.  I had to slide down 🙁

All in all, not only was I pretty damn happy about having moved up to reds and feeling comfortable with them but I also got to skip burning up in the summer from heck Atlanta has had!!  Next up:  Vail in 4 months?!

Heading on up!

 

Anyone out there who has visited Valle Nevado and other Chilean ski slopes?  If so, would love to hear how VN compares to other places in Chile.

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