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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
What’s a hiker’s worst and most common enemy? Bears? Weather? No! It’s the common, but painful, blister.
Even a short day hike can seem like a death march when you have blisters, but there are ways to prevent this suffering, or at least reduce the pain. The key is to know potential pressure points where a blister can form, and to know how to recognize when one might be forming. Plus, you can take certain precautions before hitting the trail.
Now, that’s not to say that you can reliably prevent all blisters from forming. But, you can definitely minimize the risk, pain, and possible infection with just a little pre-hike prep.
What Causes a Blister?
First, we need to know what causes blisters in the first place. There are many things that can cause a flare-up, including sunburn, mosquito and bug bites, and allergies. But the most common cause is friction.
Friction can be produced in a number of ways. When your skin is wet or damp it becomes very soft, and even the normal rubbing of your socks against the skin damages cells to a greater or lesser degree. If you have a simple wrinkle in your sock or a tight spot in your boot that puts undue pressure on a single spot on your foot, that rubbing will cause a blister. And, even if you wear gloves to do trail work, a blister can form due to the friction between the gloves and your skin when you use maintenance tools.
While blisters are painful, keep in mind that it’s actually the body’s way of repairing the damage caused to your skin cells. When the skin becomes damaged, the liquid that is formed within the blister acts as a buffer to prevent further damage to the skin and also aids in healing.
An Ounce of Prevention
Luckily, there are some common sense preventive measures you can take to avoid a painful, hike-ending blister:
Make sure your boots fit properly. If possible, buy them from a store whose staff members can precisely measure and fit your foot. Also, top-notch footwear and outdoor gear stores will have small ramps that allow you to see if your foot remains secure in the shoes or boots while ascending and descending. When you’re trying on footwear, wear a sock that is similar to what you’ll wear while hiking.
Consider buying an aftermarket insole to improve the fit of shoes or boots.
Before putting on socks, make sure your feet are clean and dry.
Avoid cotton socks. They retain water and sweat. Purchase either synthetic or wool socks.
Make sure the sock fits. You don’t want it too loose so it can slip and rub, or too tight where it will cause pressure points on your foot.
If your socks get wet, change into a dry pair immediately.
If you have areas that are prone to blistering, cover those areas with moleskin or adhesive tape to prevent problems later.
Check your feet often during breaks.
As soon as you feel uncomfortable friction in your shoes or boots, act quickly to prevent a blister from developing or worsening.
Prevention also means having the right gear with you just in case a blister begins to flare up while on the trail. There are basic blister kits available online or at your favorite outfitter, or you can simply pack the following:
Molefoam (which is thicker than moleskin)
2nd Skin (this is perfect to use on a hot spot when it flares to prevent cell damage)
Heed the Warnings
The key to preventing a full-blown blister is to recognize when you’re getting a “hot spot,” which signals that a blister is beginning to form. A hot spot is a small area that is red and feels a bit sore or hurts. It’s a sure sign that something’s up.
If you find that you have a hot spot forming, stop hiking and take care of it immediately. Take off your boots and socks, dry your feet, and then cover the spot with a circular piece of moleskin that will reduce the friction on the spot.
Even if you take all the proper steps to prevent a blister, there is still a chance that one will form during a hike.
If you get a small blister—less than the size of a nickel—cut a circular hole in the center of a piece of Molefoam, which is much thicker than moleskin. Center the hole in the molefoam over the blister, stick it down, and you’re ready to go.
If it is a larger blister, avoid draining it if possible. The liquid helps the healing process, and even though it’s rare, opening a blister increases the chances of infection.
There are times, however, when a blister is just too painful and you need relief. In that case, you will need to drain and treat it.
Wash your hands and the blister with antibiotic soap.
Sterilize a needle over a flame or with alcohol.
Insert the needle at the base of the blister.
Coat the blister with an antibiotic ointment and place a bandage or piece of gauze over it.
Just like you did for a small blister, cut a “doughnut hole” in a piece of Molefoam, center the hole over the blister and stick it down.
Fill the doughnut hole with an antibiotic ointment and cover the wound with adhesive tape.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL.
Keep your footwear looking and smelling box-fresh as the weather turns.
Forget the weatherman. Forget your iPhone’s forecasting app. And absolutely forget your quick peek out the window and hapless attempts at predicting what the elements might throw at you today. There is a far more accurate and clearer method of predicting whether or not summer’s finally come to an end – your feet.
Yep, taking a quick look at your trainers after a stomp around outside will tell you exactly how far we’ve fallen from the sunny season. Gone are the days of nonchalantly throwing on your pristine white Stan Smiths and returning them back to their home beside the door in the same box-fresh condition. Now, with autumn upon us and winter looming up behind it, you and your smart-casual kicks, running shoes and trendy trainers have wind, rain, mud mines and sludge puddles to look out for when stepping out of your front door. And we’re sorry to say, the odds are not stacked in your favour.
But there are ways to level the playing field. Seven ways, in fact. Scroll down and discover our seven favourite trainer care products, all ready to extend the life of your trusty, tasty sneakers and not let the stinkin’ weather get the best of them…
Best For… Your Box-Fresh Streetwear Beauties: Crep Protect Spray
Rain, Pepsi, dog slob, even chocolate sauce is no match for the witchcraft that goes into every Crep Protect product, as the jaw-dropping video above proves. Crep Protect spray is now so entwined in the fabric of streetwear trainer culture that we bet almost every “sneaker freak” has a can of this at hand whenever a fresh pair lands on his or her feet. One coat of this magic stuff will keep your suede, nubuck and canvas shoes protected from liquids for up to four weeks.
Best For… Smart-Casual Emergencies: Jason Markk Quick Wipes
Clean and crisp white leather trainers (the sort you’d never dream of taking to the treadmill) have very much become a smart-casual staple of late. From classics like Adidas’s Stan Smiths all the way up to designer offerings from Prada and Balenciaga, throwing on a pair with your tailored chinos and tieless white shirt will have you joining the ranks of the most stylish relaxed professionals. But you’re only ever one spilt red wine or fumbled mini burger canapé away from undoing the look. Keeping your kicks crisp is key, and these catastrophe-ready Jason Markk Quick Wipes will ensure you’ve got that covered, no matter what your boss’s soirée throws at your feet.
Best For… Rescuing Your Mud-Messed Runners: Sneaky Cleaning Kit
Of course, there’s a strong possibility that you’re looking at this article through tear-filled eyes, wishing you’d learned how to protect your fave trainers before setting foot outside and absolutely ruining them to such a state that redemption seems impossible. If that’s the case, this one’s for you – a premium three-piece cleaning kit from Sneaky. Consider this pack the defibrillators you need to fire your footwear (suede, leather, nubuck, synthetic or canvas) back to life, with a self-foaming cleaning solution, a hog-hair brush and a microfibre towel all there to get you back on your feet again.
Best For… Your Cycling Shoes (And Everything Else): Muc-Off Foam Fresh
Put simply, if you’re cycling to work this autumn, make sure Muc-Off’s Foam Fresh is in your work drawers. Not only will it refresh your trainers after a pedal-powered pebble-dashing, but it’ll gently agitate dirt and grime away from all the other soft materials you may have worn while riding too.
Best For… Your Luxury Leather Numbers: Red Wing Leather Protector
If you’re going to trust anyone with your leather daps, let it be Red Wing – purveyor of the most hardcore and beautiful workman’s boots your hard-earned can buy. This spray is described as “one of the most advanced products available” in the leather protection game, and promises to push water, salt and grease to the surface of the material so it can be wiped away. Your feet are in safe hands with this.
Best For… Ironing Out Your Creases: Forcefield Shoe Crease Preventers
Listen, we need to talk. It’s bad news. It’s your toe box. It’s just too creased. Please accept our condolences at this tough time. Not a clue what we’re talking about? We don’t blame you – we only just realised the importance of looking after our toe boxes on finding Forcefield’s Shoe Crease Preventers. According to Forcefield, any true fan of sneakers knows that stains are only half the battle when it comes to keeping their prized possessions looking mint. A creased toe box – the material that sits about your toes – is a dead giveaway of well-worn trainers. Popping these things inside the front of your shoe will keep things good and straight. Oh thank God!
Best For… Unstinking Your Kicks: Sof Sole Fresh Fogger
Is there a visible stench-fug rising up from the pile of shoes by your door? Have your concerned neighbours posted a note through your letterbox to check that you’re still alive in there and not stinkily rotting away? Do your think your kicks could be used as a weapon of modern chemical warfare? Please, do yourself, your neighbours and your planet a favour and de-smell your shoes using Sof Sole Fresh Fogger. Quickly.
From the Smokies to the Rockies, and the Everglades to the highest point in Maine—and everywhere in between—the United States is full of world-class hikes. Whether you’re a hardcore peak bagger, out for an ambitious day hike, or are obsessed with the panoramic views for your Instagram feed, there’s always something thrilling to lace your hiking boots up for. Here, we tapped RootsRated editors for intel on some of the best hikes in the United States. Use them as inspiration for your next outing—or as a reason to plan a trip.
Teton Crest Trail, Wyoming
There are a lot of really great hikes on this list, but Wyoming’s Teton Crest Trail might just take the cake as being the most epic. For 35-45 miles (depending on your route), this slender singletrack path cuts a dwarfed, serpentine figure as it slices through the heart of one of America’s most stunning mountain ranges, linking together its very best features along the way. Over the course of two to five days, hikers will pass through wildflower-filled meadows, over airy mountain passes, past glacially-fed tarns, and across expansive basins that swallow up hikers and spit them out as tiny, inconsequential specks against the jagged backdrop of the Tetons. In short, this trail will skew your perception of what constitutes a bucket-list worthy hike. Pro tip: Permits are hard to come by, but because the trail weaves in and out of national parklands and national forestlands, if you camp in national forest designated areas, obtaining a permit isn’t necessary.
Roan Mountain, Tennessee
Ask any Southeastern backpacker what the best overnight trek in the region is, and the majority will tell you: the 14-mile traverse of East Tennessee’s Roan Mountain Highlands via the Appalachian Trail is a true standout. Not only is it home to one of the most unique shelters on the entire A.T. (the Overmountain Shelter, better known as “the barn” because it’s, well, a two-story barn), but it also offers up some of the best grassy “bald” hiking in America. Think of it almost like the Southeast’s version of ridgeline hiking: You’re above the trees, surrounded by a sea of billowing grasses in the foreground and a sea of bluish-gray mountains sprawling into every direction in the background, with nothing in the way to obstruct these views. The only downside? Cameras rarely do Roan justice.
Buckskin Gulch, Utah
In a region as labyrinthine and loaded with slot canyons as Southern Utah, it’s difficult to say that Buckskin Gulch is the definitive best slot canyon hike in the region. But it’s certainly the longest and the deepest … and, yeah, probably the best, too. For 13 miles, these narrows snake through a mazy tunnel of towering red rock walls, often no more than a wingspan’s width apart and so tall that they block out sunlight. Some hikers choose to link up with nearby Paria Canyon for an overnight 20-mile trip, but for day hikers, it’s just as rewarding to park at the Wire Pass Trailhead and embark on an out-and-back distance of your choosing. The important things to remember with this hike are largely water-related: First, flash floods are a very real threat, so be sure to check the forecast and plan accordingly. Second, bring more water than you want to carry; the dehydration creeps up quick in the desert.
Mount Katahdin, Maine
The tallest mountain in Maine and the North Star, northern terminus of the famed Appalachian Trail, Mount Katahdin is truly legendary. It juts upward out of the sprawling expanse of lakes, ponds, and deep woods that define Baxter State Park and towers over the land with a commanding presence. The most iconic way to reach the summit is via the vertiginous spine of the 1-mile Knife’s Edge Trail. Along its impossibly narrow and serrated saddle, hikers scramble from Pamola Peak across Chimney Peak to South Peak and finally to the 5,267-foot summit of Katahdin. Once the (likely fog-shrouded) summit photos have been snapped, a roughly 5-mile descent via the Appalachian Trail will take hikers back to the Katahdin Stream Campground trailhead 4,100 feet below.
Grayson Highlands, Virginia
In a word, the Grayson Highlands of Virginia are breathtaking. In 19 words, they are an almost make-believe land of high mountain meadows, 5,000-foot peaks, thick rhododendron tunnels, and mystical wild ponies. Like most state parks, there’s a large variety of activities to pick from (camping, bouldering, fishing, and horseback riding), but arguably the best way to get a comprehensive taste of the park’s character in a condensed snapshot is to hike the 8.5-mile out-and-back to the summit of Virginia’s highest point: Mount Rogers. The route starts out from the Massie Gap parking area along the Rhododendron Trail. It links with the Appalachian Trail, traveling through grassy pastures sprinkled with boulder outcroppings, and then eventually connects to the Mount Rogers Spur Trail, which twists through a lush, mossy forest to the summit.
Clouds Rest, California
The 14.2-mile round-trip hike to the Clouds Rest summit offers an exceptional taste of what Yosemite National Park is all about. As you’re standing atop its 9,926-foot perch, high above Yosemite Valley from a less-witnessed vantage point than the famous Half Dome buttress, with a giant sea of granite and coniferous pines and sequoias below, it’s hard to feel anything but utter awe and respect for your surroundings. The trailhead is located in the northeast corner of the park. From here, it’s a 7-mile mostly uphill trek whose elevation chart vaguely resembles a healthy year in the stock market—a few spikes up steep ridges here, a few dips into gullies there, but with a pretty consistent uphill hockey stick growth toward the summit. What the chart won’t illustrate, however, are all the glorious intangibles along the way—babbling snowmelt streams, sequoias so stout you’d need a group of five to fully hug them, ever-expanding panoramas as you ascend, the tranquillity at the summit, and of course, the icy plunge in Tenaya Lake as a refreshing reward once you return to the trailhead.
Wheeler Peak, New Mexico
It’s weird to think that the tallest peak in New Mexico would be overshadowed by anything within the immediate vicinity. But with Southern Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park some two hours to the north, and the cultural hotspot of Taos about 45 minutes to the south, that’s kind of what happens to Wheeler Peak. Don’t let this lack of regional recognition fool you, though: The 8.2-mile round-trip hike to this lofty summit in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is one of the best in New Mexico and a true lesson in uphill slogging. Averaging about 800 vertical feet per mile, this trail takes hikers through lung-expanding evergreen forests and then up lung-crushing climbs above treeline. What you’ll remember other than the impressive summit panorama will be the near endless collection of switchbacks that seem to pinball you back and forth, side to side, and up-and-up through a seemingly infinite sea of scree. Patience—and quad-strength—are both virtues on this hike.
Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
For Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, the 72 miles of the A.T. within the Smokies represent one of the most revered sections of the entire 2,200 mile route. For long-weekend backpackers, this stretch represents one of the most efficient and spectacular ways to get an intimate taste of America’s most visited national park. Whichever way you slice it, the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies is a spectacular hiking experience teeming with old-growth forests, incredible biodiversity, challenging climbs, sprawling mountain vistas, and a booming population of fearless and curious black bears. You can’t go wrong with any day hike section you choose along this route, but to really maximize the experience, a 4-5 day excursion that covers the entire 72 miles is your best bet. Overnight permits are required, so make sure you plan in advance.
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
You don’t need climbing skill or equipment to scale Yosemite’s iconic Half Dome. Using steel cable handrails, hikers can ascend 400 feet up the backside of this granite monolith to reach its summit of 8,840 feet, with panoramic views of the Sierra Mountains in all directions. From the Yosemite Valley floor, Half Dome is a strenuous, 12- to 14-mile round-trip hike. Break up the journey by hiking 4.7 miles to Little Yosemite Valley to camp. Then, hike 3.5 miles to Half Dome and hit the cables early before they’re super crowded. Usually, the cables are accessible May through October, and permits are limited, so set a reminder to snag one as soon as they open on March 1. Don’t forget to pack plenty of water and bring sturdy gloves.
Rae Lakes Loop, Kings Canyon National Park
The 41.4-mile Rae Lakes Loop showcases some of the most stunning scenery in the High Sierra. Beginning at 5,041 feet in a forest of pines, cedars, and cottonwoods, the trek requires nearly 7,000 of climbing for hikers to visit emerald meadows and cobalt lakes surrounded by mammoth granite towers. While the hike includes the heart-pounding, 2.1-mile ascent of Glen Pass at 11,998 feet, grades are generally moderate and water is plentiful along the way. To avoid several intense climbs, do this hike clockwise. Due to high demand for permits, book as early as possible to March 1, when permits are released, and hike in May to avoid summer crowds.
Appalachian Trail, Georgia section hike
Northbound AT thru-hikers begin their 2,200-mile journey in Georgia, where the trail climbs high, exceeding 4,000 feet of elevation, to offer epic views from rock outcrops and sublime walks through emerald forests of rhododendron, mountain laurel and moss-covered boulders. Stretching 78.6 miles, the Georgia portion of the AT is not only beautiful but also challenging, with steep, rugged terrain that strains less-seasoned hikers and causes some to abandon their dreams of hiking to Maine. If a thru-hike is a little too ambitious for you, the Georgia AT includes many access points, so several day hikes and short trips are possible. If you begin at Neels Gap you can visit the Mountain Crossings gear store to mingle with thru-hikers and see the only point where the AT passes through a manmade structure. From there, make the steep climb to the summit of Blood Mountain to explore a unique stone trail shelter and enjoy a remarkable view of Appalachian ridges rolling to the horizon.
Florida National Scenic Trail
One of the most iconic trails in the Southeast, this 1,300-mile route stretches from the state’s Panhandle all the way to Big Cypress National Preserve at the southern end of the state. But you don’t have to tackle the whole thing to savor some of its highlights, from serene marshland to spectacular wildlife viewing. Take your pick from a number of excellent section hikes: A few recommended routes include the 11-mile stretch from Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs, one of the trail’s oldest sections, and hikes around Hopkins Prairie, where you’re likely to see sandhill cranes and eagles. Campgrounds, both primitive and traditional, are interspersed along the way, so you can easily turn your day hike into an overnighter.
The Dipsea Trail, Marin County, California
Don’t let this trail’s whimsical name fool you: The approximately 7-mile stretch is a doozy, with nearly 688 steps—in the first mile—and long uphill stretches for nearly 2,000 feet in total elevation gain. Even so, doing the Dipsea is a must for any Bay Area hiker or active-minded visitor, with forests that look like they’re lifted from a fairytale book, flowy single-track through majestic redwoods, and a finish at the Pacific Ocean. The trail is also home to one of the most infamous trail races in the country (and the oldest): The Dipsea Race, which has drawn hardy runners to battle its roots, ruts, and other ankle-twisting obstacles since 1905. Whether you run it or hike it, you must do it.
Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, Santa Cruz, California
You can hike its sections separately, but to really experience the essence of this 31-mile trek, one of the best in the San Francisco Bay Area (if not all of California), it’s best to make a true adventure of it, with two overnighters on trailside campgrounds. Built over seven years by a local nonprofit, the trail treats hikers to roaring waterfalls and towering coastal redwoods and passes through two excellent state parks, Castle Rock and Big Basin, before culminating at the Pacific Ocean. Another big plus? With a start in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the trail is all net downhill. No surprise, then, that reservations fill up fast, so plan ahead and be patient—it’s well worth the effort.
Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, New Hampshire
The iconic 6,288-foot Mount Washington in the White Mountains is a challenging and worthy summit, especially in the winter. While many are drawn to its eastern slopes to ski Tuckeman’s Ravine, a select few hike the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail on the western side to the mountain’s peak. This demanding, approximately eight-mile round-trip route challenges hikers with steep and exposed sections, icy scrambles, and the threat of erratic weather and strong winds. But the stunning views, frozen waterfalls, and exhilaration of standing atop New England’s highest peak make the cold toes, burning lungs, and treacherous trek worth it.
Longs Peak, Colorado
Longs Peak’s 14,255-foot summit looms over Colorado’s northern Front Range, a mountainous beacon summoning the adventurous. A journey to the top of Longs is a truly epic undertaking—even for fit hikers. The standard ascent route via the Keyhole is a 15-mile outing with more than 5,500 feet of elevation gain and is usually done in a single 10-to-14-hour push. Most begin in the darkness around 2 am, catching the sunrise above treeline about five miles in at the famous boulder field. Crossing through the Keyhole dramatically changes the character of the hike from a steady, class-2 cruise to a wild, exposed, class-3 scramble along well-marked ledges. A tough push up a loose gully called “The Trough” grinds up to 14,000 feet, where there is still work to do. A steep scramble through the “Home Stretch” exits atop the surprisingly flat, broad summit block. After all that work, there’s still the challenge of getting down safely. Big, bold, and tough, Longs is one of the most amazing adventures in the Rocky Mountains.
Mount Frissell, Connecticut/Massachusetts
At 2,454 feet, Mount Frissell stands in the heart of southern New England and New York’s rolling Taconic Mountains. When the full force of the changing seasons paints the trees in hues of red, yellow, and orange, this hike makes a strong case as the most beautiful in the region. A modest, 1-mile trail start from Mount Riga Road in Massachusetts and gently climbs through scrub oak to the summit of 2,289-foot Round Mountain before continuing to the top of Mount Frissell. Unlike most hikes, however, you’ll get the best views beyond the summit. Passing into Connecticut, hikers come across the highest point in Connecticut at 2,380 feet on the south slopes of Mount Frissell—keep going! At 0.5 miles past the highpoint pin is the Connecticut-New York-Massachusetts tri-point marker, and roughly another mile past that are the panoramic views of rolling farmland and distant Appalachian mountains from 2,311-foot Brace Mountain. Return the way you came for excellent views of neighboring mountain domes to the north.
Peak One, Colorado
At 12,933 feet, Peak One is more than 1,400 feet lower than Colorado’s highest peak, but what it lacks in elevation it makes up for in unmatched views. Access is easy, with the trailhead located right off highway I-70. Hikers climb past the ruins of an old mining town before breaking treeline. A class-2+ ridgewalk reveals the depth and beauty of Colorado’s high country. Dillon Reservoir sits at the foot of the peak to the east, where the mighty Front Range 14ers stand in the distance. The northern views are dominated by the mysterious and challenging Gore Range, while far-off Sawatch Range mountains decorate the western horizon. A fun, brief scramble ascends the summit. Turn around at that point for an 8-mile out-and-back with more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain—or keep traversing along the Tenmile Range to Tenmile Mountain and beyond. Hiking from Peak One to Peak Ten is one of Colorado’s big point-to-point testpiece adventures.
Humphreys Peak, Arizona
The highest point in Arizona, 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak is an ambitious peak to bag, with an impressive history to ponder as you conquer it. Geologists speculate this strato-volcano once stood much higher until it experienced a Mount St. Helens-style eruption that resulted in its trademark bowl and diminished height. The Arizona Snowbowl ski area is set on the flanks of the peaks San Francisco Peaks, of which Humphreys is the tallest. A hike to the top travels through pine forests and out of treeline along a well-maintained trail through chunky volcanic rock. Admire the power that shook the land as you take the final steps to the airy summit, where views span out into the lowlands that transform into far-off deserts and canyons. It’s about nine miles round-trip, with 3,000 feet of elevation from the standard route on the Humphreys Peak Trail.
Greenstone Ridge Trail, Isle Royale National Park
Located on an island in Lake Superior that’s 45 miles long and just nine miles wide, this national park is so remote you’ll have to take a ferry or seaplane to access it. But once you do, you’ll have your pick of 165 miles of hiking trails that cover spectacular terrain, including the ruins of an old copper mine and a lighthouse that dates back to the late 1800s. Many hikers flock to the Greenstone Ridge Trail, which runs along the spine of the island, but the Minong Trail is a 52-mile trek that’s slightly harder, but with far fewer people and just as stunning views, wildflowers, and up-and-close wildlife viewing. Choose from several out-and-back routes, or make it a point-to-point overnight trip (there are 36 first-come, first-serve campgrounds) and you just might catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
All injuries are quite literally a pain, but with most knocks and niggles you can at least avoid some of that pain by taking the load off the part of the body that’s suffering. It might mean avoiding the gym for a couple of weeks or sticking your arm in a sling, but at least you won’t be suffering so much on a day-to-day basis.
This is not something that’s usually an option with foot pain. Unless you’re able to stay in bed until the issue goes away you are going to be using your feet every day, which means the pain is always there with you. And that’s no fun at all, so it makes sense to do your best to avoid foot injuries.
The best way to do that is to identity any minor existing or potential foot issues early and take action to ensure that they don’t become major problems. This guide to identifying and fixing the ten most common foot problems will help.
Research by the College of Podiatry shows that 90% of foot pain is caused by footwear, and the second most common reason to seek help for feet is blisters. The single best way to prevent the friction between shoe and foot that causes blistering is to make sure shoes fit properly – meaning they are not so narrow they squeeze the foot and that you have a good, clear 1cm between your longest toe and the tip of the shoe.
Repairs: Use Vaseline or foot balm to protect your skin from chafing. Try a specialist product like Eucerin Dry Skin Intensive Foot Cream (£8.80) or a fragranced one, such as Burt’s Bees peppermint foot lotion (£12.35), which stops them whiffing as well. If you do get a blister, never pop it. Cover it in a plaster and if it bursts, apply antiseptic.
2. Fungal infections
According to research from the National Institute of Health 25% of people have a fungal infection of the foot at any given time. These can be intensely itchy and cause white, soggy skin or dry, cracked skin between the toes, or reddening and blistering on the rest of the foot. Fungal infections can also spread to the toenails causing the nail to thicken and yellow.
Repairs: Wash feet daily with warm-to-hot water and dry them carefully using a different towel from the rest of your body. Apply anti-fungal talc or cream. The warm, dark and sweaty environment of shoes is the ideal breeding ground for the fungus, so avoid airless trainers and choose a sock that keeps them as dry as possible, such as those that combine cotton or wool with Coolmax fibres. There’s no point sorting your feet out and then reinfecting them in damp shoes so alternate footwear daily (they take 24-48 hours to dry completely). Airing your feet is really important and when they are a bit more sweaty than usual after a run or workout and you want speed up the drying process, spray them with surgical spirit.
3. Corns and calluses
Corns are concentrated areas of hard, dead skin, which arise as a result of pressure usually over a toe joint. Calluses are areas of dead skin on the sole of the foot.
Repairs: Keep them at bay by sloughing off hard skin using a pumice stone gently in the bath, and by wearing properly fitted footwear with extra room in the toe area. Steer away from corn removing solutions and medicated pads and never cut away dead skin with a knife as this can sometimes increase irritation and discomfort. Favour doughnut-shaped pads for corns on the top of the foot. A mini-sander for feet, such as the MicroPediMan, is great for removing dry skin and getting rid of corns and calluses. It creates a snowstorm of skin as it buffs the old skin off, so don’t get carried away with your sanding.
4. Heel pain
There are many causes of heel pain. You may have a heel spur, which is a bony growth on the heel, or it could be that one of the tendons that connects to the heel is inflamed due to overuse – known as achilles tendinopathy, and something that’s common in runners. The discomfort can be gradual or flare up after a tough exercise session.
Repairs: In the first instance treat by icing, applying a compression bandage and keeping it elevated. If the pain persists, see a podiatrist. When it comes to achilles tendinopathy in particular the latest recommendations from physiotherapists advise against complete rest. In fact exercising the tendon makes it stronger so it can handle the load of your exercise. You can do this through calf exercises like the calf raise.
5. Back pain
Back pain affects 40% of the population. A 2013 US study revealed that Americans with flat feet are 50% more likely than those with normal or high arches to develop low back pain. Not all back pain is down to foot problems, but even a short amount of time in the wrong shoes can cause stress and pain to your vertebrae and the soft tissues that support them. Walking the wrong way can cause sciatica, bulging discs and other degenerative spine disorders.
Repairs: The shoe heroes here are properly supportive ones, such as a well-fitting trainer with insoles, and failure to get your shoes fitted properly can lead to months of pain and days lost at work.
6. Broken toe
A broken toe is one of the most common fractures. They can occur due to dropping heavy objects on them or being stubbed.
Repairs: Only go to A&E if your toes are cold and numb, turn blue, or the toe is bent at an angle or has an open wound. If pain and swelling doesn’t clear up after a week or so, consult a doctor and he may send you for an X-ray, but the pain and the treatment are pretty much the same whether the toe is broken or not. Keep the injured foot elevated as much as you can; if it is the little toe, strap it to the next one to create a natural splint. All footwear is painful with a broken toe, but a shoe with a stiff sole, such as a walking or hiking boot, will help your mobility.
7. Damaged metatarsals
The metatarsals are the five long bones of the mid-foot and even though, unlike your toes, they are fixed and encased in your foot they are still prone to acute fracture (due to sudden impact) and more prone to stress fracture (due to repeated strain during sports or activity). Metatarsalgia is the most common reason for the wearing of the moon boot and particularly common in runners and footballers.
Repairs: Overpronation, or excessive flattening of the foot, can lead to stress fracture and this can be avoided by making sure that you are fitted by a specialist with the right sports shoe both for your foot and your chosen activity. Orthotics and shock-absorbing insoles can also help prevent pronation and stress fractures.
8. Arch pain
The plantar fascia is the ligament that connects your heel bone to your toes and supports the arch of your foot. If it is over-stretched this can cause inflammation and pain in the arch of your foot. This is a very common injury in runners and a waking nightmare that causes you to feel pain with every step.
Repairs: Flip-flops, sandals, Crocs and canvas plimsolls have little or no arch support, and wearing shoes like these all the time can lead to arch pain, so alternate your footwear. The pain is often extreme in the morning when you first get out of bed, so try doing some foot exercises before putting foot to ground.
Foot stretches can keep the achilles tendons and the plantar fascia from getting too tight and relieve some of the pain, so we’ve put together five stretches that can help with plantar fasciitis. Rolling a spiky massage ball under the arch of your foot is also a treatment worth trying.
Verrucas are warts that spring up on the bottom of the feet and around the toes. They are pretty harmless but can be painful. Verrucas are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is highly contagious and thrives in damp places such as changing room floors and communal showers.
Repairs: You could catch a verruca just by walking across the same floor as someone who has one, so always wear flip-flops or plastic shoes when changing after the gym or swimming. If you get one, wear special protective verruca socks when you swim. Folkloric types recommend cleaning with vinegar then applying duct tape for several days to drive them out.
10. Ingrown toenails
This happens if a toenail cuts into the flesh of the toe, which then becomes swollen, painful and can become infected.
Repairs: Avoid them by cutting nails straight across and never cutting them too low at the edge or down the side of the nail. You will need to wear open-toed shoes or sandals while it heals. If pain and swelling continue, see a podiatrist who will remove the spike of nail and cover the wound with an antiseptic dressing.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
Winter has finally decided to show up in Vermont, and now that the temperatures have dropped and the white stuff has started to fall, the call of the slopes can be answered. Luckily, there are a handful of options within an hour’s drive of downtown Burlington. So grab your gear and figure out which mountain will keep you happiest as you shoosh through the powdery stashes you’ve been waiting for since November.
1,238 Likes, 5 Comments – Robby Kelley (@snooprobbyrobby) on Instagram: “I skied something other than slalom today. #😨😮😲 @worldproskitour tomorrow. 📷:@rc.s”
Big things come in small packages, and Cochran’s Ski Area is no exception. While it’s the smallest mountain on the list, Cochran’s churns out Olympic skiers and medal-winning racers like no other. The nation’s first nonprofit ski area is owned and operated by the legendary skiing family, the Cochrans, and has a mission of “no child will be denied the opportunity to ski or ride.” Located in Richmond about 20 minutes outside of downtown, Cochran’s is where most local kiddos get their start on the slopes. Cochran’s has two rope tows, night skiing, and an amazing community vibe.
373 Likes, 12 Comments – Bolton Valley (@boltonvalley) on Instagram: “Last year was epic and we aim to continue the trend. Season pass sales end on September 25. Don’t…”
Nestled in the middle of the mountain-top community of Bolton Valley, Bolton Valley Ski Resort is a local favorite. It has an average snowfall of more than 300 inches, and its 6 lifts and 71 runs—including three terrain parks—keep both novice downhillers and expert veterans entertained. If the inbounds skiing isn’t making the grade, Bolton has some of the best backcountry around—skin up and explore the variety of off-piste trails, take a lift up and ski off the back, or enjoy the challenging glades. And the best part about it, it’s affordable. Families can ski here together without breaking the bank, and there are awesome deals for college students throughout the season. To add to it all, Bolton has night skiing, a nordic center, and a sports center where you can take a dip in the pool or lounge in the hot tub.
3. Stowe Mountain Resort: 55 Minutes from Downtown
Stowe Mountain Resort is one of the biggest draws in the area for tourists during ski season. Located on the side of Mount Mansfield just outside the bustling downtown Stowe, this upscale resort is a massive winter wonderland come true. The skiing and riding is incredible with 13 lifts, 116 trails, and 485 acres of skiable terrain. The lift lines here can get long, especially for the summit gondola, but it’s worth the wait. The views at the top are unreal, and the ride down isn’t so bad either. And if hitting the slopes isn’t your thing, there are numerous other activities you can participate in right on the property, including ice skating, cross-country skiing, relaxing at the spa, or enjoying a meal at the Cliff House, Stowe’s own cliffside restaurant on the shoulder of Mount Mansfield.
Smugglers’ Notch Resort , lovingly referred to as ‘Smuggs’ by locals, was named the “Number One Kid Friendly Resort in the East 2016” by Ski Magazine . Its family-friendly vibe will have all members of your family, from toddler to teen, in a happy state of being. Smuggs’ three mountains, eight lifts, and 84 runs offer a huge variety of terrain—ranging from beginner to expert—with an added option for backcountry skiing in Smugglers’ Notch . Located in Cambridge, the resort is a small village unto itself and offers numerous amenities, including plenty of options for lodging, dining, and entertainment, all within walking distance of the lifts. And the daycare here is top of the line, so parents can get out and enjoy the slopes while the little ones stay happy and toasty.
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If you’re a skier through-and-through, you may have just found your happy place at Mad River Glen in Fayston. To start, it’s one of only three skier-only resorts left in the United States. While you don’t have to worry about any run-ins with snowboarders here, you still have to stay on your toes because Mad River has some of the most challenging terrain in the area.
The mountain’s five lifts and 45 runs all live up to the mountain’s famous motto, “Ski It if You Can.” If that’s not enough to bring a smile to your skiing face then maybe this will: Mad River is the only major mountain resort in America to be skier-owned and operated, and is home to the nation’s last remaining single chairlift.
If you are willing to add a few minutes onto your drive, Sugarbush, in Warren, is one of New England’s largest resorts with 16 lifts and 53 miles of trail. Or, if your looking to head north, traveling about 90 minutes will bring you to Jay Peak, famous for being the mountain that gets the most snow on the East Coast.
By the time I skied my 100th day this season—skinning up Alta at sunset after a rogue May storm dusted the mountain with a few inches of fresh snow—the outing felt both special and normal. Special because every ski day is a high-five from life. Normal because I’d spent the whole season getting re-accustomed to skiing multiple days per week like I did ski-bumming for many years.
These days, I am a homeowner. I have a career; I have garden tools; I fill out weekly timesheets at work. But I found myself putting off too much of my weekly fun until Friday happy hour. Yes, I still skied every weekend and holiday, with frequent dawn patrols thrown in for good measure. But skiing, to me, is what tennis balls are to Labradors. So, realizing that my indoor days had grown a bit more frequent than my outdoor days, I felt a wistful pang in my soul.
So, this season I decided to fully renew my vows with skiing and see what would happen if I balanced my full-time job with skiing 100 days, which is the elusive numeric benchmark at which a skier knows they’ve proverbially gone all-in.
It meant balancing work and mastering life logistics—and, oddly, I often had to defend the way I chose to spend my time to people who see “priority” and “play” as separate line items on the schedule. Here’s what I learned—and how some of my hard-earned lessons might help other people trying to do a better job of getting out more.
1. There’s quality in the quantity.
By doggedly committing to multiple dawn or dusk patrols per week, and skiing every single Saturday and Sunday between November and May, I rode through some amazing days and some laughably poor conditions. This gave me the opportunity to remember why skiing in any conditions is always more fun than not skiing.
By pushing through all the cruddy and icy snow days, I was in strong shape to shred all day long on good days. The “bad” days just felt like training for the great ones—and they weren’t exactly a chore. Not with Passion Pit on the playlist, toddy in the Thermos, and swooshing to be done.
I also found creative ways to take photos even when the snow was not prime for hero shots. I documented backlit clouds against the silhouette of the chairlift cables. I photographed the way raindrops looked on my goggle lens on the soggiest day of the season. I filmed a blustery storm rushing in and blanketing Solitude resort after it fell silent, closed for the season, with no one present but the mountain and myself.
When you find quality in the quantity, you revel in the imperfections of any mountain day. The point is rolling with whatever the day brings, and photographing your adventures is a fun way to celebrate their uniqueness, warts and all.
2. Savor the rewards of getting out no matter what the weather.
My friend Elizabeth and I hiked up Brighton in a wild spring lightning storm. We acknowledged that this didn’t align with safety protocol, but we were pretty sure the lift poles would get zapped first. Halfway up the mountain, we were drenched and ready to surrender. But suddenly the rainstorm subsided, the clouds parted, and we finished our adventure beneath an otherworldly, fiery sunset. If not for this 100-day goal, we never would have thought to go ski touring that evening, and that magical sunset would have never imprinted our memories.
The bottom line: You’re outside. You’re so, so lucky.
3. Learn to embrace slap-happy exhaustion.
I made good use of the resorts that allow inbounds skinning before they opened for the season (thank you, Brighton and Alta ) then jumped into full throttle mode in December. Holiday time off work conveniently coincided with a prodigious storm cycle, so I skied 17 days in a row. I gobbled each day’s powder refills like a glutton; my energy sharply deteriorated on the 14th consecutive day, when every chopped-up snow patch threw me like a bucking bronco. (That day I ended up leaving the hill early and then slept for 10 hours, which recharged me enough to respectably click into my bindings the next day.)
As the season continued, I incorporated dozens of backcountry dawn patrols, dusk patrols, shared moments of inbounds play with friends, and mind-clearing solo outings into my quest. Soon I broke past the exhaustion barrier, and my energy picked up steam. I got used to skinning back-to-back days lugging a heavy pack. I made a game out of timing my mogul turns to the tempo of Scissor Sisters’ “Running Out,” repeating the exercise for hours on end, laughing at the fact that I was training so hard just for the sake of it, not for any particular event.
And wouldn’t you know it: I got stronger as a skier and could push through big days without flagging. I was already a competent skier, but now I laid into my turns faster, more aggressively and confidently than I ever have before.
4. Become a master juggler.
I generally mapped out my ski schedule a week or two in advance, studying multiple weather forecast websites and placing my bets accordingly. I found a few committed dawn-patrol comrades, and we decided together which days were most likely to be good. We all had to be at work by 9 am, so we were on the same strict timeline. Trailhead by 5:30, summit by 7:30, back to the car by 8, and rush off to work after a three-minute shower. These days always left us a little short on sleep, but we felt like we had a special secret coming into office meetings after sunrise powder turns.
I set Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays aside to ski, heading to quieter backcountry enclaves on busy resort days. The day-job folks in the ski crew coordinated days of paid time off to line up with the snow forecast. Often, the bet paid off handsomely. Other times, storms came late or underperformed, leaving us using precious time off to ski dust on crust—then watch as others posted glorious powder shots on social media the next day when the storm finally set in. But in the end, all that careful planning was crucial in hitting my 100-day mark.
5. Cross-training is key.
Doing any one sport repetitively in your teens and 20s is no big jazz. But in your 30s and beyond, it calls for committed cross-training and stretching. Skiing four days a week was cause for my lower back to threaten mutiny unless I added two or three weekly yoga classes to my schedule too. This meant I was investing even more time to be able to ski, but it was well worth the effort.
All this high-elevation activity also meant I had roughly the daily caloric requirements of an adolescent rhinoceros. I ate and ate and ate, carrying Thermoses of stew or macaroni and cheese in my backpack. I bought Kind bars in bulk and never turned down a glass of nature’s recovery drink, beer.
My gear took a slightly heavier beating than usual; I broke three boot buckles and logged three visits to the shop to repair the core shots suffered by my ski bases. I ran my aging touring bindings into the ground.
6. Find support in unexpected corners.
I did have to defend or at least explain my 100-day ski season to some, but I was overwhelmed by positive support from many others in my life, some of whom don’t ski but were simply happy to watch me insist on having fun and see my goal to completion. Coworkers cheered me on with supportive comments on my Facebook page. My roommate pre-programmed our coffee maker the night before so it would help me wake up for dawn patrols. One friend told me she’s terribly intimidated by skiing but got a pleasant thrill from my accounts of high-up couloirs and chutes.
And I realized along the way: Happiness isn’t an insulated emotion. It isn’t contained. When you’re happy, people around you are a little happier too.
7. Never underestimate the power of play.
Ultimately, I sure slept less and multitasked more. But I insisted on spending a baseline amount of time outdoors doing something I care deeply about. Playtime is encouraged for kids, but as adults, we often cave to the notion that we just don’t get to do that anymore. We live lives with infrequent reprieve from tension, to-do’s, and screen time.
But a miracle drug is out there—literally, out there. Outside. It’s where we blow snow off pine boughs just for the fun of feeling like a smoke-blowing dragon. Where we howl like coyotes at the bottom of powder runs. Where we crank the pre-game music in the parking lot. Where we get numb, dirty, tired, silly, runny-nosed, sore, and … fulfilled.
Having hit my numeric goal, I’ve discovered the real goal that underlies it, which is prioritizing play amidst a full adult life. I’ll keep going out until summer shrivels the Wasatch’s last lingering snow patches. And I’ll await impatiently for next October’s snowflakes to fly. I may or may not carefully count my ski days next season, but prioritized play is definitely my new normal.
The resort ski season may be winding down, but spring snowpack still clings to the upper heights of the Pfeifferhorn, Superior, Wolverine, and Coalpit. Spring can be prime time for hiking and booting up tall, steep lines with relatively low avalanche danger.
Steep season is the new spring season. And to commemorate, we caught up with notable local pro skier Noah Howell for a steep ski clinic. Howell has made quite a name for himself by billy-goating up dangerously high and remote mountains, then descending them with a level of grace unpossessed by most mortals. He’s skied darn near everywhere, adventures he documents on his blog, but he mainly calls the Wasatch home.
Over the course of a sunny afternoon on Mt. Millicent at Brighton, Howell shared a few of his go-to tips for sliding down things that scare you a little. Here are a few takeaways that just might help you up your game.
Lesson 1: Steep skiing is all in your head.
“Steep skiing” can mean quite a few things, and it’s all relative. For some of us, it means staying in control on a narrow line inbounds. For other folks, it might mean a committed no-fall couloir in a faraway place where you have just your thoughts for company.
According to Howell, “Steep skiing is a mental game that you can push as far as you like. Most skiers have the ability to make the leap of faith into the air and finish the turn safely, but the mind will fight you.”
So how do you overcome those scary thoughts when you’re trying to push the limits a bit? “Start where you are comfortable and safely work out of that by choosing safe lines free of rocks and trees, with clean run-outs,” he says.
Lesson 2: Proper technique puts you in control.
At the top of a somewhat tight space between some small cliffs—not exposed, but good for practicing methodical, controlled hop turns—Noah demonstrated a helpful trick: shortening your ski poles a bit so they force you forward into an assertive stance, firmly in the driver’s seat.
He bounced in place a little before initiating his turn, then used his upward momentum to drive his ski pole downward and swivel around it. The result: a perfectly controlled turn within a narrow space, executed with near-McLeanean precision.
“Keep your hands out in front like you’re shooting pistols,” he explains. “The biggest mistake I make and see is letting the uphill hand trail behind. This will throw you into the back seat and take you off balance.”
After a couple of practice laps hop-turning down Milly, things started to gel. You can make a sloppy hop-turn (slop turn?) expending all your energy jumping upward and turning in the air, or you can make a tighter, more efficient turn in which you press down on your pole, unweight your skis, and simply swivel around.
“One of the best ways to learn, too, is to watch videos of people doing this well,” Howell says. “There are guys who just make it look effortless. Watch what they do, mimic what they do.”
That being said, he clarifies that steep skiing basically only looks pretty in movies, in which the best skiers’ best lines are edited together. “In real life, it’s survival and you just need to do what works to get down safely. Making it look good is just a bonus.”
Lesson 3: On high-stakes lines, everything matters more.
When you’re skiing steeps, every movement you make is more consequential, with less room for error. You’re often in mixed conditions where controlling each turn is critical and you’re forced to adapt as you go. And keeping your cool is critical.
“This is a huge aspect to steep skiing,” Howell says. “Breathing is key for me. It’s almost a meditation, telling the mind to settle down and letting the body do what it’s capable of. Confidence comes from lots of repetition and time spent working up to new levels. I also prepare mentally through visualization.”
But, speaking of scary, what’s the most gripped he’s ever been at the top of a line?
“When I was in Baffin Island, we climbed a 3,500-foot virgin couloir to ski,” he recalls. “We found six inches of snow on top of ice towards the top, but it felt like it would stick and we could descend it. I worked my way down first and al the snow peeled off the 50-degree slope. I was left with my edges barely gripping the ice. I sat there frozen, waiting to blow it at any minute and go hurtling down the chute to my death.
“For some reason, I was very calm and collected. My edges held, and I was able to slowly and cautiously side-step down 20 feet till I found good edge-able snow. My friend had to down-climb using crampons and ice tools. It wasn’t till afterward that I completely freaked out.”
A final lesson from that anecdote: Never be too proud to sidestep. (And always wear your helmet.) Study the moves of people who are better than you. And call your mom at the bottom of the run.