This sounds like a tough gig, doesn’t it? Going all over the country — heck, all over the world — to review ski resorts. Where do I sign up?
This is the job that Heather Burke slicked into 25 years ago when she started her websites, LuxurySkiTrips and FamilySkiTrips. Both offer travel tips and reviews for resorts all over the world. They’re a great way to gain info about a resort from someone who’s actually skied there, so you can plan your trip more easily. Heather also writes about skiing for a wide variety of ski and travel publications, and is the family ski blogger for Boston.com.
I recently spoke to Heather to find out more about how she does what she does.
SD: So tell me, Heather, how’d you get started reviewing ski resorts?
HB: I grew up skiing, even taught skiing in college at UVM [University of Vermont], but when it came time to teach my own kids to ski, I found out how incredibly complicated it is. So I started FamilySkiTrips.com to help fellow moms with tips on how to pack, how to find the best ski schools, how to get the most from a ski lesson…that was 1995! Then Luxury Ski Trips evolved soon after as I reviewed over 150 ski resorts, top mountainside hotels in the East, West, Canada and Europe. I love being editor of both sites. They’re my babies.
SD: How many resorts do you review in a year?
HB: Typically, about 10 new ski resorts annually, though last year we visited the Italian Dolomites and skied 14 in 10 days! I think I’ve done more than 160. I remember being on a flight from Montana with my daughter, Aspen, and suggesting she write down all the places she’d skied by age 16. She filled every space on the cocktail napkin –- over 70. The guy seated next to us was flabbergasted.
SD: What do you look for when you evaluate a resort? What is it that puts it in your top ten?
HB: For me, a ski resort needs great terrain and scenery above all – I just love being on a beautiful mountaintop. But convenient on-mountain lodging, fun places for après ski, a few shops, maybe dog-sledding or snowmobiling, give a ski trip that certain “je ne sais quoi.” Finally, the vibe from the locals –- the feeling you get from the liftline to the lunch line– matters. It’s not easy to make my top 10 ski resorts list. I’m a skiing critic.
SD: If you had to choose your favorite resort for each area of the country, which would they be and why?
HB: In the East, I love Sunday River – lots of terrain, swift lifts, some of the best snowmaking and grooming in the biz, plus plenty of on mountain lodging and ski in ski out dining. It’s a happy place. Stowe is also special to me; the Front Four are classically steep and worthy, while the new Spruce Camp base village and the Stowe Mountain Lodge are cushy and swank – a brilliant combination. Out west, I love Big Sky and Whitefish –- both big mountain Montana skiing, amazing scenery, nearby Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks — respectively, but I have been asked to stop sending people out to the last great ski state. So, shhhh.
SD: What’s your favorite way to après?
HB: First, I feel strongly about getting out of my ski boots, changing into something a bit more stylish, a SKEA skirt and stylish midlayer for après ski. I love a little wine by a fire with ski stories, true or exaggerated, or a live band, beer and nachos, with whomever I’ve had the pleasure of schussing with that day.
SD: Do you have a favorite ski bar?
HB: After visiting Europe, American après ski pales. The Austrians in particular know how to celebrate the end of ski day. Still, I love Sunday River’s Foggy Goggle where you have a view of the ski slopes, live music and fun people. Cannon’s Cannonball Pub has the best memorabilia. Out West, the Trap Bar at Grand Targhee is an all out ski party – people dancing in ski socks. Whitefish’s Bierstube is epic too, where the locals outweigh, outdrink and outdress the skiers from away every Wednesday.
SD: I know you have a number of travel tips on your web site. What would be your top tip for someone going on a ski trip?
HB: I learned the hard way that its an expensive hassle (read: time & money) to forget things – mittens, goggles, long undies. So now I pack like-a-pro with checklists for everyone in the family.
Q: Any booking advice that can save skiers money?
HB: Midweek skiing is the bomb. You pay less for more acreage, more cord, no lines, and better lodging. Taking your kids out of school is educational if you take them to ski school, right?!
SD: What’s your favorite hard snow ski? Powder ski? All Mountain?
HB: I like a versatile all-mountain ski, My Rossignol Experience 88 do it all from gripping and ripping, to plowing through fluff and even slush. They carve on dime, and come in a softer ladies version: the Rossi Temptation. I also love Blizzard’s Black Pearls. A girl should always have pearls.
SD: As we all know, all good things have to come to an end. So what’s your favorite activity for the off season?
HB: I love to waterski. Early morning glass on a lake in Maine is as close to first tracks in snow that I can find in summer. Stand Up Paddleboarding is a great pre-ski work out too, requiring balance and core and quad strength, just like snow skiing.
Ski Journalist Heather Burke resides in Kennebunkport Maine, when she’s not skiing the globe. Her husband-photographer captures their ski adventures. See www.luxurysktrips.com and www.familyskitrips.com for more.