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The Top 5 Ski Resorts in the United States

December 6th, 2012 | Posted in Lifestyle

More than 4,000 feet of the finest vertical in the world awaits skiers at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

When I became serious about skiing, I wanted to know where, exactly, I should be spending my time and my money.  I approached the problem as an engineer might.  I used quantitative methods: which resort gets the most snow, which has the largest vertical drop, where are the fastest lifts, the most runs, etc. But stats don’t tell the entire story when it comes to grading a ski resort. I’ve found that pairing raw data with the input of raw experience gives the most reliable results.  To know a mountain’s virtues, faults and secrets, you must ski it. Not once, not twice, but days upon days, preferably with a local who will minimize the time you schlep and maximize the time your’re skiing something interesting.

So, in the name of interesting skiing, I’ve constructed a Top 5 resorts list according to proprietary, exacting and regularly calibrated metrics. I’ve boiled all of these data points down, consulted superheros, accounted for human error and put the data into a master algorithm that produces an output of a resort’s Pure Awesomeness Factor. In the biz, that’s called a PAF score. A perfect PAF score, which has yet to be produced by man, is 100 . In the name of getting you to the best ski destination possible, here are the top 5 PAF scores in the United States:

Jackson Hole: ridiculous.

1. Jackson Hole, Wyoming (PAF = 99): There’s long been a Four Seasons hotel installed at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Such an institution implies all that one would expect: fancy snacks, celebrity sightings, rich cowboys and s’mores bars — all the normal trappings of your first-tier destination resort.  But the thing that separates Jackson Hole from the rest of North America’s grade-A mountains is that it has, rather impossibly, managed to retain all of its soul.  This is still a place where the best skiers in the world, before skiing off of 50-foot cliffs, gulp down waffles and Budweisers inside a mountaintop shanty called Corbet’s Cabin.  Jackson is still the place with the best backcountry skiing in the world.  It still gets more snow than anywhere not called Alta.  It still has The Tram, the greatest ski lift on earth. For those building their game to rock star level, Jackson’s Steep and Deep camp, which begat imitations across the resort world, provides four days where all skiers can count on improvement.  The program, run several times a year, attracts all different kinds of people with different appetites for risk–the one common theme: everybody is good and trying to get better. Nobody’s too good for Steep and Deep; cheeky campers can have their ego shaved by a trip down the tram fall line with olympic downhill gold medalist Tommy Moe.  The big skill gainers at camp shimmy their ski tips up to the edge of Corbet’s Couloir.  But actually pushing in is another matter.

Its hardcore credentials intact, Jackson has become a place that works well for families.  Its Kids Ranch keeps tots well-fed and weaving through cones on their skis.  It’s the perfect weaning ground for the next Eric Schlopy.  The Bridger Gondola moves people quickly from the base to a point two-thirds up Jackson’s ridiculous 4,139 vertical drop, where the black diamond folk can find thrills and the groomer folk can find long, wide highways all the way down.  About that way down: this is Jackson’s greatest asset.  There’s no hopscotching from fall line to fall line on this mountain.  The entire resort is one contiguous, unrelenting and glorious slope that points where it’s supposed to point: down.  Those searching for wandering, time-wasting cat tracks might want to consider Colorado.  For inquiries on something scenic like a movie (the Tetons), prolific like the Himalayas (450″ of snow) and a fun that’s a little bit different from anywhere else, try Wyoming.

2.  Alta and Snowbird, Utah (PAF = 98): For those looking for a weekend of skiing, there is no better option than these side-by-side resorts that occupy a splendid apron of Little Cottonwood Canyon just 30 minutes from downtown Salt Lake.  That nearly 2 million Utahans live so close to skiing that truly defines world-class is a fact that remains a secret to most of the country.  If you’ve flown to Denver and schlepped west for the last 10 years–or just two–please stop.  Go to Utah.  Just go.  You won’t see the insides of Denver International for a long time after that, I can assure you.  You’ll think you just discovered the Lost Dutchman’s mine and the gold–all of it–is yours and yours alone.  And my, is there some gold!  Alta and Snowbird average 600″ of snow a year–100% more than your typical Colorado mountain–and, to be fair, more than just about anywhere not in Alaska.

The Alta-Snowbird party scene lacks, well, it lacks.  But there’s no shortage of plush accommodations, beginning with Snowbird’s Cliff Lodge, a wonderful modern building whose raw, reinforced concrete edifice evokes the work of architect Paul Rudolph, a brilliant shaper of glass and poured stone.  The Cliff Lodge sits snug at the base of Snowbird, with expansive mountain views for every room in the house.  Those sleeping in Little Cottonwood may, on rare occasions, be served with a legendary treat: getting “interlodged.”  This happens when the road into Little Cottonwood gets closed due to heavy snowfall and avalanche danger.  It can take hours sometimes for crews to place the right amount of explosives to clear avalanche paths and pop the road open.  During that window of time, Alta and Snowbird often get some of their slopes skiable well before the road is cleared.  That means heliskiing-style powder available only to the small band of people who slept the previous night in the Canyon.  There’s nice lodging at Alta and Snowbird, but there isn’t a lot of it, which is why getting “interlodged” remains one of the most hallowed privileges in North American skiing.

Pay for your ticket with one view of Colorado Avenue.

3.  Telluride, Colorado (PAF = 89): If you’ve been to Telluride, you understand why it’s on this list.  Seeing this town’s main street framed against one of the more magnificent box canyons in the world, the spire of its old courthouse saluting a battalion of serrated San Juan peaks, pays for the plane ticket.  As for that plane ride, Telluride has a reputation for being hard to reach.  It’s a tag that gets Dave Riley, the CEO of the resort, bristling.  “It’s simply not true,” he says.  “It’s easier to get in here than a lot of other Colorado resorts, and the drive is better.”

Riley speaks the truth.  Landing in Montrose leaves skiers with a 50-minute car ride to the promised land, a path that winds through the charming town of Ridgway while passing by some of the most ridiculous vistas outside of Switzerland.  One of the choicest spots travelers pass is the Double RL Ranch, belonging, of course, to billionaire Ralph Lauren.  Compare that with the white-knuckle drive, next to semis and thousands of other skiers, up I-70 from Denver to Colorado’s Summit County. And once you’re in Telluride, the need for a car falls away.  There’s no better Main Street than Telluride’s in the Rockies outside of Aspen’s and Park City’s.  Telluride’s old town is connected to the upper town of Mountain Village (it’s an actual town) by a gondola that runs from dawn to midnight and is free for all.  There are many mountains you can visit that, technically, don’t require you to have a car.  But none of them give you the pedestrian nirvana that Telluride does.

Now, for the skiing.  Telluride’s venerable runs leading toward old town remain some of the most charming in North America: the fall lines are true, the peaks overhead are 14,000-footers and the town below is a gem.  But it’s the new terrain, opened during the last several years, that elevates Telluride to a true skier’s mountain.  The mountain opened its backside, Revelation Bowl, a classic and continuous Western fall line, in 2008.  Better lift access was also provided to the shoulders of Palmyra peak, which offers a bevy of expert chutes, nooks and steeps.

Squaw Valley’s funitel lift is unique within the United States.

4.  Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows (PAF = 84): Being on the north side of Lake Tahoe guarantees that winter will always be interesting at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, mountains that share a unique vista of Lake Tahoe, terrain and, the most interesting part, snowfall.  These resorts never seem to have that routine winter, where 300 inches fall and locals eventually confuse memories of it with other years.  No, in north Lake Tahoe, the snow either goes completely bezerk, leaving resorts with shrinking parking lots, dangerous and persistent avalanche conditions and, yes, epic skiing; or the snow simply won’t show for multiple weeks at a time, ruining many a ski bums’ winter plans.  And then there’s the variability of Tahoe’s snow.  One day, it might be light, just-right powder, but just as often the area gets what people call Sierra Cement: warm snow packed with moisture thanks to the nearby Pacific Ocean.  The same clouds later head across the deserts of Nevada and western Utah, where their moisture content gets dispersed, setting Utah up with what its license plates call the Greatest Snow on Earth.

But if you hit Squaw/Alpine on the right day, there are few places with comparable terrain.  There’s a reason that many of the world’s best extreme skiers are bred on these lifts.  Squaw’s legendary chairs include KT-22 and Granite Chief, which lead to all kinds of couloirs, chutes and hucks.  Squaw sports one of the few true mountain trams in the United States (Jackson, Snowbird, Big Sky, Jay Peak) and the only U.S. funitel, a high speed gondola that runs on two wires, which allows it to continue operations in rougher weather and when wind events kick up, as they often do in the Sierra.   Squaw’s Palisades are famous for their enduring steepness and an upper cliff band that’s played a role in hundreds of ski movies.  A likely unknown fact to many readers under 40: Squaw Valley hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics.  There remain plenty of monuments to the games, but Squaw has overhauled its base village to compete with the sprawling villages of other Tahoe resorts, such as Heavenly on the south end of the lake.

There’s nothing in the U.S. bigger than Vail’s 5,289 acres.

5.  Vail/Beaver Creek, Colorado (PAF = 82): These resorts are far more separate than the other mountain pairs on this list, but they’re still relatively close together, run by the same company (Vail Resorts), and different enough that, when put together, they offer skiers the most formidable destination along Colorado’s I-70 corridor, the highest-density collection of big resorts in the United States.  Vail and the Beav benefit from being on the right side of Vail pass, which funnels them a bit more snow than their brethren on the East side of the pass (Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Keystone).  There’s been some Colorado bashing going on in this piece (I kid!) but I’d be remiss to not offer some guidance to the one-gazillion tourists who ply central Colorado’s mountains every winter.

The terrain at Vail is arguably the best of the central Colorado bunch and inarguably the largest in the U.S. at 5,289 acres. But its vastness makes it easy to waste time at Vail–find a spot you like and work it.  The Beav gives skiers a more manageable trail map.  Its most famous run, a World Cup downhill track dubbed Birds of Prey, is a steep but still moderate black diamond mogul run on most days.  If you happen to catch Birds of Prey after it’s been groomed slick and bare for a race, you’ll understand why this course was one of the few that intimidated Austrian ski immortal Hermann Maier.

You do pay a price to go to Vail or Beaver Creek.  The lift tickets at both resorts are among the most expensive in the country ($105) and many of the cheap locals’ season passes include a handful of blackout days for Vail and the Beav.  There’s a good reason for the blackouts, however: people.  I skied Vail on a New Year’s Eve powder day a few years ago with 21,000 other people.  There were lift lines more than two hours long.  But I will admit that being one of the first people into Blue Sky Basin that day was a true treat.  So enjoy Vail, but try it on a Wednesday.

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Life Insurance with Dual Protection Benefits

October 7th, 2011 | Posted in Uncategorized

By Steven Schiewe/CIC, President GII

Planning for the future, we all want to do that, but many of us are just too busy or distracted to achieve this wish or desire to prepare for our financial needs in our later years.  Life insurance with “dual protection benefits” could be your answer to being prepared to cover costs of both long term care and end of life benefits.

The Dual Protection Life & Long Term Care insurance product can offer a unique double faceted benefit of providing both living and after death benefits for the insured, financial assistance to pay for professional long term care when assistance with basic life functions becomes a reality and eventually as a life insurance benefit for your assigned survivors .  Asset protection is a major goal in your estate planning and this unique product can achieve alternative solutions which will give you a financial sense of security.

When you can no longer perform some of the basic activities of normal daily living you may need assistance or long term care.  These 7 basic activities of normal daily living (NDL) are:

  • Eating
  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Toileting
  • Transferring (walking)
  •  Continence
  • Cognitive

Long term care can be provided in a nursing home, assisted living facility, some public facilities and even assistance can be provided in your own home.   The American Council of Life Insurers in 2007 stated approximately one in four Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 and 62% of those over 85 years old suffer some limitation of these normal daily living activities.  Furthermore in their February 2007 Long Term Care Pricing Research Study it was stated that the average annual cost to provide care in a nursing home could be as high as $65,000 and today in 2011 we can assume that cost is even greater now.  The study looked further into the future and projected in 20 years time that same cost for long term care assistance in a nursing home could be as much as $207,000.

The question now is who is going to pay for this necessary service?  There are many people that believe Medicare covers these costs.  Medicare coverage is actually very limited, and it is likely that you will be paying large out-of-pocket amounts for the service.  And did you know that health insurance normally does not provide a long term care benefit.  So, would you prefer to self-insure for this potential event in your life, or would you rather prepare for it now in a way that will protect your assets from being drained rapidly in the event long term care becomes necessary?

Planning should be done while you are able to clearly think about what is important to you as you reach your later years… before it is too late you should consult with your insurance agent and perhaps in coordination with your attorney to build a financial protection plan employing this unique product that is both Life Insurance and Long Term Care coverage.  Plan now for your future financial needs; speak with your Grosslight Insurance agent about this unique Dual Protection Benefit coverage.  Our professional agents can help to make your future be more secure and less mysterious about who will pay for your needs in the later years.  Highly-rated and financially sound insurance carriers underwrite and issue your policy.  Prepare now and pay for some of those large expenses you may incur as you grow older; plan now and perhaps you will not have to deplete your “nest egg” or portfolio or put the financial burden onto someone else.

Weathering the Big Chill: ICE and States Crack Down on Illegal Workers

October 7th, 2011 | Posted in Uncategorized

Monitoring the Virtual Water Cooler: Employees on Facebook and More

October 7th, 2011 | Posted in Uncategorized

National Public Radio recently aired a story about how employees working at IBM feel compelled to have a Facebook page. And it’s not just the newly minted, tech-savvy twentysomethings, either.

IBM managers “all the way up the chain” are on Facebook—and if you’re not, “You feel like you’re doing something wrong,” one employee said. The company actively encourages employees to use sites such as Facebook during working hours to build professional networks and exchange business ideas.

IBM is clearly not the only company employing growing throngs of Facebook loyalists. Facebook representatives say it’s fastest-growing demographic of users is the 35-and-older crowd.

But most businesses don’t have a social media culture like IBM’s. Instead, more than half of all U.S. companies prohibit the use of such sites at the office. Such policies may create more problems than they solve.

Advocates argue that social media function like the next generation of water-cooler chitchat. They say companies shouldn’t banish social media use just because they’re afraid of it or don’t understand it.

It’s not all positive

While social media sites can create positive networks and foster a sense of community and camaraderie among employees, they can also create real headaches for employers. What should you do when social media lets you learn too much about some of your employees?

Take, for example, a New Jersey lawsuit against Houston’s Restaurant in Hackensack (Pietrylo v. Hillstone Restaurant Group). An employee there created a workplace discussion group on his personal web page. The group was flagged “private” and was available by invitation only.

One member of the group, a hostess at Houston’s, showed the “private” MySpace discussion group to a Houston’s manager. Other managers soon learned about the group and asked the hostess to provide them access, which she did.

Management was irate when it saw that the discussion group included sexual comments about employees and customers, disparaging jokes about the company and references to drugs and violence. The restaurant fired both the creator of the MySpace discussion group and a contributing employee.

Privacy issues, legal concerns

The terminated employees sued, claiming that the company violated the federal Stored Communications Act and invaded their privacy. Guess how that turned out. The court found Houston’s liable for both violations. The award: The maximum amount of back pay available to the employees.

That’s a unique situation. Generally speaking, few laws prohibit employers from taking adverse employment action against at-will employees for their off-duty conduct.

With so many employees using these sites, it’s likely that some employees will invite management to join their Facebook pages or blogs—perhaps without realizing the full consequences.

Suppose if, instead of making some disparaging jokes about the company, an employee posted explicit pictures from her moonlighting job as an exotic dancer, or used a Facebook page to tout neo-Nazi sentiments or white supremacist ideas? Might the manager be inclined to terminate the part-time stripper on the basis of those pictures? Would the employer arguably be obliged to terminate the neo-Nazi once it learned of the employee’s racist and violent views?

What’s in your policy?

Before your company creates a policy on social networking, consider whether your business is in a heavily regulated industry (such as pharmaceuticals) or an industry that requires a particularly high level of confidentiality. The added legal complexities in those industries may weigh in favor of being extremely cautious about embracing social media as part of your company culture.

If you do decide to encourage employees to use social media at work, make it clear to all employees that they have a duty not to disclose confidential company information or trade secrets. That duty should extend even to social networking sites employees may consider “personal.”

Warn employees that they cannot defame the company or its employees. Be clear that any violation of the policy will result in discipline, up to and including immediate termination.

The lines between personal space and the workplace continue to blur. Odds are good that many forms of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, are already thriving in your workplace. Who knows what technology is next.

As an employer in the 21st century, it’s best to make a conscious decision about how to address those issues with your employees. Proactively develop a policy so you don’t get stuck doing damage control—perhaps becoming the latest talk heard ’round the virtual water cooler.

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Strawberry Shortcake

October 7th, 2011 | Posted in Lifestyle

Strawberry shortcake is the new It dessert, as FC’s Evan Barbour discovered; inspired iterations are all over the web. Check out recipes from a few favorite bloggers and visit their blogs for more inspiration. (Images: courtesy of the respective bloggers).

Strawberry Shortcake Cookies

Tracey from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures says she’s not sure she should call these “cookies” because their tender, fluffy texture is more like a scone. Whatever she calls them, we want some.

Get the recipe

Strawberry Shortcake Pancakes

What could be better than waking up to a tall stack of Angela’s (from Oh She Glows) strawberry shortcake pancakes? Nothing.

Get the recipe

Balsamic Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar is one of those underappreciated flavor combinations; that’s why we love Culinary Cory’s simple recipe.

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Strawberry and Cream Cake Kebabs

When Jessica from How Sweet It Is wanted to add some fun to her strawberry loaf cake, she put it on skewers and poured on the strawberry glaze. Genius.

Get the recipe

Strawberry Chocolate Shortcake

Karly from Buns In My Oven actually uses her double-chocolate bread for the base in this tasty improvised dessert.

Get the recipe

Strawberry Shortcake Popsicles

Naomi from Bakers Royale notes that her popciles are fast, easy, and low-cal, but we love them because they’re so darn cute!

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Chocolate Doughnuts with Strawberry Glaze

Jodie from Eat on the Cheap’s delicious-looking doughnuts with fresh strawberry glaze have ruined bakery doughnuts for us forever. We think that was the idea!

Get the recipe

Red Velvet Strawberry Shortcake

Amanda at I am Baker brings strawberry shortcake to new heights with a four-layer cake: two layers of white cake, two layers of red velvet decadence, and four layers of strawberries and airy whipped cream.

Get the recipe

Coconut Strawberry Shortcake with Cashew Cream

Healthier than your average shortcake, these little gems are nutritionist-approved, and Emily from A Nutritionist Eats guarantees they’re delicious, too.

Get the recipe

Strawberry Shortcake Trifles

It’s a sweet life for Grace, who hides a layer of strawberry jelly in her trifle, along with a sweet, decadent layer of sponge cake.

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Raw Strawberry Dreamcake

A Dash of Compassion’s Nicole doesn’t only offer up a dreamy “cheesecake” recipe, she also gives a lesson in how this raw-ingredient dessert comes together—and stays together.

Get the recipe

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The Green Thing

October 7th, 2011 | Posted in Lifestyle

In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. The former generation did not care enough to save our environment.”

He was right, that generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Back then, they returned their milk bottle, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But they didn’t have the green thing back in that customer’s day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into  a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.

But she was right. They didn’t have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s diapers because they didn’t have the throw-away kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts – wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that old lady is right; they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

Back then they had one TV, or radio, in the house – not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief, not a screen they size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything for you. When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

9 Steps to Avoid Negligent Entrustment

October 7th, 2011 | Posted in Uncategorized

Agents can provide meaningful service to their clients by warning them about the risks of negligent entrustment.

Negligent entrustment arises when one party (the entrustor) is held liable for negligence because he provided another party (the entrustee) with a dangerous instrument, and the entrusted party caused injury to himself or a third party, or damaged property, with that instrument.

One way a business can find itself at risk of negligent entrustment is by allowing an employee to drive a vehicle on company business, when management knows or should know that the driver intends or is likely to drive the vehicle in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm. This can happen when the employer chooses to overlook the fact that an employee has a history of substance abuse, anger management and/or reckless driving.

The legal theory supporting negligent entrustment is that the company has a legal duty to investigate the driving records and qualifications of all potential drivers, and take action to prevent drivers from operating vehicles in an unsafe manner during the course of company business.

With general liability coverage there is a specific exclusion for “bodily injury or property damage arising out of the ownership or entrustment to others of any aircraft, auto or watercraft owned or operated or rented or loaned to any insured.” No matter how much general liability coverage an insured carries, there will be no coverage for a negligent entrustment incident.

Unlike general liability, a business auto policy has no exclusions for negligent entrustment. Yet even with coverage, an insured may not have enough insurance if one of its employees is involved in a harmful accident.

Because anyone with permission to drive a vehicle on company business is classified as being an insured, it is important for a company to define its permission policy before an incident occurs. Otherwise the insurance provider will do so after a claim has been filed. The rule of thumb in creating a permission policy is to ensure flexibility without creating a personal use permission policy that is too broad.

When it comes to negligent entrustment, it is also important to remember that punitive damages are not insurable in most states. Since punitive damages are meant to punish employers, to do otherwise would be against public policy.

Following are some guidelines for your clients to use to avoid the potentially devastating consequences of negligent entrustment:

  1. Read the literature on negligent entrustment to understand the risks.
  2. Teach by example, especially when driving with young employees.
  3. Put clear safety policies in writing.
  4. Enforce clearly defined driver guidelines with zero tolerance.
  5. Pre-screen all individuals who are granted permission to drive on company business.
  6. Monitor and enforce drug and alcohol policies.
  7. Review the driving records of all those with permission to drive on company business annually.
  8. Mandate training modules for all at-risk drivers.
  9. Maintain company vehicles to meet stringent safety standards.

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