In Europe, new kosher ski options that won’t break the bank


Skiing has always been something of a rich man’s sport.

Between the costs of travel, accommodations, lift tickets and lessons, a family with children can easily drop upward of $6,000 for a few days on the slopes. If you keep kosher, the costs can be even higher.

No longer. Over the past decade, Jewish entrepreneurs have been crafting affordable alternatives to Europe's handful of $250-per-night kosher ski lodges. The result is that nowadays, hundreds of observant middle-class families flock each winter to Europe’s Alpine slopes.

“With the financial crisis, few can afford a Jewish four-star hotel,” says Dolly Lellouche. She and her husband, Chlomo, run D'holydays, a travel agency that operates a two-star “kosherized” hotel — a regular hotel that is temporarily made kosher to accommodate an observant clientele. This year, D'holydays took over the Hotel Grand Aigle at Serre de Chevalier, a major resort in southeast France.

The newer, cheaper alternatives to all-year kosher hotels include kosherized hotels like the Grand Aigle, which are typically available to kosher travelers for just a week or two; do-it-yourself options, where agencies or groups of friends rent ski apartments and prepare food themselves; and discounted kosher trips run by Jewish nonprofits.

Ideal Tours, a Jerusalem-based travel agency, lists several kosherized ski hotels operating in world-class ski locales such as Courchevel, in France’s Tarentaise Valley, the Crans-Montana resorts in Switzerland and Pinzolo in Italy.

But nowhere are low-cost solutions and workarounds more abundant than in France, a country of more than 550,000 Jews and home to some of the largest ski resorts in the world.

Eli Club, a Nice-based kosher ski agency, will set you up at the Serre de Chevalier at Hotel La Belle Etoile, a three-star establishment, while Club J, another agency, will send you to Hotel La Ruade — both kosherized hotels. Toruman, a Belgium travel agency, and Maagalei Nofesh in Israel offer a range of hotels in which a family of four can expect to bid adieu to $3,000-$4,000 for a week of skiing, Jewish hospitality and certified glatt kosher cooking.

Though still a handsome sum, it is far less daunting than the $6,000-$8,000 price tag for a family of four to vacation at one of Europe’s four-star kosher ski hotels, like My One Kosher Hotel in Italy or Metropol Hotel Arosa in Switzerland.

That’s especially true considering that accommodation is only the beginning. Ski passes can cost an adult another $250 or more per week. Renting gear can pile on another $100 per person. Ski lessons for kids can cost $300. But there are ways to cut down on those costs as well.

“A good hotel should be able to get you a good discount on these expenses,” Lellouche said.

Still, no matter how many stars they have or what peripheral discounts they offer, kosher ski lodges tend to cost substantially more than their non-kosher equivalents, according to Pinchas Padwa, an Amsterdam-based rabbi who has been providing kosher certification to ski resorts in Europe for two decades.

“The overhead of running a kosher hotel in the Alps is overwhelming,” Padwa said. In Switzerland, where ritual slaughter is prohibited, all kosher meat and many other kosher products need to be imported. On top of that are kosher certification costs and special expenses associated with finding cooks capable of making Jewish foods.

To keep expenditures down, some skiers get together and rent non-kosher vacation units for a lower rate. The downside there is vacationers need to bring their own kitchen equipment and a taste for vegetarian home cooking, as they are likely to depend for their nourishment on the limited supply of certified kosher products available at the local supermarket.

“In renting an apartment or choosing a hotel, it’s important to check how close the locale is to the actual piste,” or slope, Lellouche said. Another complication to watch out for is that most ski apartments are rented for one week starting Saturday, an arrangement that deprives observant families of two skiing days.

Young adults or couples without children have more options — especially in Holland, where for the past two winters, Jewish organizations have subsidized a ski getaway organized by the Maccabi Skijar group for about 60 young Jews. Participants pay only $650 for flights from the Netherlands, food and accommodations for eight days in France’s Tarentaise Valley.

The Maccabi Skijar group is predominantly but not exclusively Dutch, with some participants coming from England and Israel, according to one of the group’s three leaders, Maxime van Gelder. This year, skiers will descend on two chalets, one reserved for kosher eaters.

Van Gelder plans to buy kosher meat in Lyon, some 50 miles away, and deliver it himself. “The idea is to help Jews be together and have fun together,” he says.

For Shabbat, the group will be joined by Rabbi Menachem Sebbag, the Dutch army’s top Jewish chaplain and rabbi of the popular AMOS shul near Amsterdam.

The Israeli organization Keneski runs a similar program for singles, but for more money ($1,000-$1,250, flight not included) and in more luxurious surroundings. This year the “Keneskiers” — an international group with a strong Israeli contingent — will stay at the kosherized four-star Royal Olympic Hotel in Pinzolo, Italy.

For the past two years, Keneski brought skiers to My One Kosher Hotel, a permanently kosher, four-star establishment in Canazei, Italy. The hotel owners, Avi and Belinda Netzer, opened their hotel four years ago.

“At first other hotel owners seriously resented us coming here,” Avi Netzer recalls. “They didn’t understand this kosher business and thought competition was fierce enough without our 50-room hotel. It took a while before they saw our hotel brought in clientele that would otherwise never come.”

Menachem Glik, an Israeli who participated in Keneski’s 2011 trip, said his vacation was filled with “suspense, emotions” and even “romance growing on the slopes and on the lift.” At the same time, he says, it was a chance to get in touch with “young people from all over the world, from different cultures and backgrounds and speaking different languages, but with one common denominator” — a love for skiing.

In a remote New Mexican valley, a Jewish skiing legacy at Taos


One of the most wonderful things about skiing is the sense of seclusion, the incomparable quietude and serenity of standing atop a 12,000-foot peak surveying miles and miles of snow-covered emptiness. Somehow the prosaic concerns of the everyday world don’t seem to reach there.

So when I scheduled a few days off last winter from my job as editor of a 24/6 Jewish news outlet to go to Taos Ski Valley in a remote corner of New Mexico, I was looking forward to being completely disconnected from my work life. BlackBerries don’t work on black-diamond slopes.

But one evening apres ski, I made a rather unexpected discovery while flipping through the local coffee table book on the history of Taos. The ski area’s legendary founder, Ernie Blake, whose family still owns Taos, immigrated to America from Germany in 1938. My parochial instincts immediately perked up.

It turns out the timing was no mere coincidence. Blake’s original name was Ernst Hermann Bloch, and the family left Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II because he was Jewish. His remarkable journey took him not just from the Alps to the Rockies, but from a life as an Olympics-caliber German athlete to an interrogator of Nazis in the U.S. Army to founder of a world-class ski area in a state better known for its deserts.

Like so many other Jewish refugee families from Europe, the Blakes assimilated in America. Though he married a Jewish woman and had a bar mitzvah, Blake didn’t talk much with his family about his Judaism, and his descendants no longer really consider themselves members of the tribe.

“We didn’t know we were Jewish, essentially; we didn’t pay any attention,” one of Blake’s daughters, Wendy Stagg, told me. “We did Christmas in a secular fashion. We gave gifts and had a tree. My younger brother is active in Christian churches. The rest of us are essentially agnostic or non-believers.”

But if not for Blake’s religion, he may never have come to America and there would have been no Taos Ski Valley, one of the last family-run ski areas in the country.

The way I saw it, I owed my ski trip to Blake. So between rides up Kachina Peak (elev. 12,481) and runs down Upper Totemoff, I resolved to find out more about this Jewish man behind New Mexico’s largest ski mountain.

Born in Frankfurt in 1913 to a Swiss mother and a German father, Blake spent most of his childhood in Switzerland, where his athletic prowess bloomed on the slopes of St. Moritz and as a hockey player on the ice ponds nearby. If not for his religion, he would have been a shoo-in to be on the German ice hockey team in the 1936 Olympics, which also happened to be the first Games to include alpine skiing.

Blake actually met Hitler once, in January 1933, when Blake, then a pilot in the Swiss Air Force, went to hear Hitler give a speech in Frankfurt shortly before his appointment as German chancellor.

“We were not impressed,” Blake recalled years later in an interview with Rick Richards, author of “Ski Pioneers: Ernie Blake, his Friends and the Making of Taos Ski Valley.”

Blake’s family had never been religious, but that didn’t make any difference in Nazi Germany. In 1938, after a visit by the Gestapo to the family home, Blake’s father made the fateful decision to move the family to the United States.

The 25-year-old Blake ended up in New York, where he took a job in the winter department of Saks Fifth Avenue. On weekends he’d ride the so-called snow train to the Adirondack Mountains to teach skiing.

At the time, the ski industry in the United States was in its infancy. Skis were made of wood, not the fiberglass composites they are today, and until the first rope tow was installed in Vermont in 1934, downhill skiers had to climb the mountain themselves. The first chairlift went up in 1936 at Sun Valley, Idaho.

It was in December 1940 at the top of a chairlift on Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vt., that Blake met the woman who would become his wife: Rhoda Limburg, a Jewish World War I orphan from England who had been adopted by a Jewish New York state Supreme Court justice.

It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but by summer Blake would follow Rhoda to Santa Fe, where Rhoda was taking art classes. The trip afforded Blake his first glimpse of the Taos area—then little more than a sleepy town near one of New Mexico’s active native American pueblos.

That summer the couple decided both to marry and make New Mexico their home. Rhoda, 93, still lives there. Blake died in 1989.

On their honeymoon in Sun Valley, the pair encountered a problem common to ski enthusiasts, which Rhoda said almost ended in divorce: She wasn’t a skier, and he couldn’t abide spending his honeymoon on the bunny hill. They resolved to ski apart, and the marriage held together.

With war raging in Europe, Blake soon joined the U.S. Army as an intelligence officer, interrogating top Nazis, including Hermann Goering, in his native German. Concerned about his Jewish-sounding name, the Army had him change it to Blake.

Blake flew to Europe on the day of the Normandy invasion and joined Gen. George Patton on the front. He was with the Patton when the U.S. Army encountered the first Nazi concentration camp in 1945. The experience, Blake’s son Mickey said, always haunted his father.

Nevertheless, Blake never felt comfortable identifying outwardly as Jewish – though it’s said that he gave generously to the local New Mexico UJA—and Blake kept his new name after the war.

“I feel it’s not fair to be marked, to wave a flag and allow others to make judgments before they know who and what you are,” Blake said in an interview for Richards’ book.

By 1949, Blake and his wife had settled in Santa Fe, where his ski career took off. Blake helped run both the Santa Fe ski area and Glenwood Springs ski basin in Colorado, traveling between the two in a small plane he piloted himself. It was on these trips that he spotted the remote peaks about 20 miles northeast of the town of Taos. He decided to start his own ski area there.

At first, people thought he was crazy. Aside from the logistical challenges involved—getting permits from the National Forest, carving ski runs, buying equipment, hiring staff—there was no established market for skiing in the area. The closest big city was Albuquerque – a place that wasn’t all that big, didn’t have many skiers and had its own local ski hill much closer by. Taos was more than three hours away.

But Blake persisted, and Taos gradually took shape, from a ski hill with little more than a rope tow and a couple of steep runs to the world-class ski area it is today, with 1,300 acres spread over 110 trails serviced by 13 lifts. The area, in the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains, averages about 300 inches of snow per year.

Taos’ distance from a major city and its operation by the Blake family has helped keep its intimate feel. It doesn’t have a ritzy atmosphere or cookie-cutter base village, and it lacks the crowds that have made skiing at other resorts as much about waiting in line as schussing.

Blake’s legacy is still palpable on the mountain. Four ski trails are named after the German officers who tried to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. One slope, Al’s Run, is named for a Jewish doctor friend of Blake’s who supported the development of Taos and so loved skiing that he kept going even after a heart condition forced him to take to the slopes with an oxygen tank strapped to his back.

And, of course, the mountain is still filled with Blake family members, whom you might spot working the register at the cafeteria, as Stagg does, or leading a ski lesson for kids. Until Blake’s death, he was doing some of those things himself.

“It’s a family business,” Stagg says.

One instructor I had recalled the radio spots Blake used to run late in the season, when the spring thaw already had begun. The skiing might not be so good, he would acknowledge in his thick German accent, “but ‘dere are still plenty of girls and ‘dere is still plenty to drink.”

“People here have very vivid memories of him,” said Sam Sokolove, executive director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico. “He was a larger-than-life character.”

Despite the absence of a Jewish Blake legacy, there’s still some Yiddishkeit at Taos. Last Rosh Hashanah, when Sokolove and a few friends were looking to put together a spiritual retreat, they chose Taos. They brought prayerbooks, hired a rabbi and davened in the shadow of Ernie Blake’s magnificent mountain.

Snow Job


Maybe I’m crazy, but each winter I plan a family vacation that is fraught with danger. To reach our destination, we must drive up a perilous mountain road studded with hairpin turns. Oddly, during our ascent, this NASCAR-approved artery is usually choked with fog or hail.

But this is only the hors d’oeuvre: The entrée is when everyone except for me straps themselves to bulky planks of wood before hurtling at 50 mph down icy slopes with names like “Surrender Isle.” I drop everyone off at the ski resort and then hightail it back to the cabin, where Ken waits for me, wagging his tail.

Like me, Ken is risk-averse and agrees that skiing is sheer madness and folly. We cuddle on the couch, I pop in a DVD and wrap my cold hands around a cup of hot cocoa.

This is not laziness. It is a necessary mental health exercise to banish images of my next of kin putting themselves in harm’s way on triple-black diamond slopes. Oh sure, I tried skiing — once. It was a disaster.

My husband had summoned every ounce of perseverance and patience in his DNA to try to teach me this skill, but we were not on speaking terms by the end of the lesson. Falling down repeatedly like a rag doll and getting tangled in skis is not my idea of fun, and I concluded that only fools or suicidal thrill seekers could embrace skiing as a sport.

By my reckoning, a Boggle tournament with serious players ought to be enough excitement for anyone. It is a tacit understanding between my husband and me that he is never to attempt to teach me any other athletic skill ever again.

Our mountain jaunts usually last for three days, but for the life of me, I can’t manage to prepare for them in under a week. I need at least a day to dig up mismatched gloves, hats and mufflers, which otherwise have no purpose in Southern California; two days to shop and cook; and at least three days to closely study the available accommodations advertised on the Internet.

Cabins in our price range are kindly referred to as “rustic.” Last year, we agreed that Casa de Pine Cone, equipped with a miniature pool table and dusty dining room lamp etched with the Budweiser logo, was a touch too rustic for our taste.

This year, I carefully avoided any cabin with the word “Kozy” in the name, because anyone who thinks it’s cute to further degrade our language won’t get a dime out of me. Besides, “cozy” (no matter how you spell it) is code for “so tiny even short people will have to bend over when taking a shower.” I also learned to be wary of cabins with French names, since a “chateau” where we once stayed should really have been called “La Hovel.”

But this year, I succumbed to temptation and booked Bear’s Détente, hoping that the kids might fight less around a dining table where the grizzlies and the black bears finally signed a truce. Bear’s Détente didn’t really do much to engender greater sibling love, but it was definitely a classier joint than Casa de Pine Cone. It had a thick stack of Family Circle magazines dating from 1999 and, in keeping with the European theme, a table lamp etched with the Heinekin logo.

Unfortunately, these trips are working vacations for me. As shlepper-in-chief, I am forced to tramp around in the snow half the day delivering snacks at 10:30 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m. and hand lotion and dry socks at 3 p.m.

For some reason, our designated meeting place is always on the top level of the slope’s multitiered eating areas. Believe me, trudging up all those stairs at an altitude of 6,500 feet should be more exercise than anyone seemingly on vacation should have to endure.

At the end of the day, I collect the entire freezing crew and shuttle them back to our cabin, while the kids clamor for dinner immediately. Despite the multiple snack deliveries, everyone is starving.

All this personal valet service I provide cuts pretty deeply into my DVD watching and hot chocolate sipping time, but I am the mother, and this is my job. In fact, my life on vacation is pretty much just like my life at home, only with pine trees.

One night by popular demand, my husband kindled a fire. This seemed like the perfect cozy finish to a tiring day.

“I’ll just make sure the flue is open,” he said, fiddling around in the fire pit.

“Why is it so smoky in here?” coughed one of the kids, as a haze quickly billowed through the room and the smoke detector beeped in alarm. They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire but not at Bear’s Détente.

By the time my husband found the flue opening, we had smoked out every last bear left in those mountains, while also failing to stoke any meaningful flames. On a happier note, I discovered that one can avoid deadly smoke inhalation by flinging open the front and back cabin doors and allowing the bracing, 20 degree air to clear the place out. I promise you that after an hour and a half, the smoke will be gone and so will the kids, who will be huddled in the car with the heater on.

Still, I consider the trip a success. Even though one son went missing one day, no one ended up in the resort’s mini-hospital, either from skiing accidents or too much family togetherness. Two trips to the local supermarket assured that we had enough to eat, the dog only got sick once and I finally got to finish my movie after only six sittings.

We left in the evening, and I drove us down that harrowing road, trying to think of safer destinations for next year. But I think I am too late. All the kids consider themselves ski bums. But with this designation, they can rent their own locker for snacks and dry socks during the day. There’s only so many times a woman can be asked to interrupt her movie marathon and hot chocolate sipping.

Isn’t that what vacations are all about?

Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books. Read more of her columns on www.judygruen.com.

 

Shabbat on Slopes Takes Wrong Turn


 

To me, skiing is almost a religious experience. When you’re flying down the back bowls, sun on your face, cool air filling your lungs and a warm feeling filling your heart, it’s like you can feel the hand of God.

Last winter, my wife and I went skiing in Deer Valley, Utah.

Deer Valley opened in 1981, and the idea was to create a luxury ski resort with every possible amenity and in the best possible taste. Everything from the incline of the slopes to the way the sun hits them has been considered. The food couldn’t be more delicious, nor the staff more solicitous. It was perfect.

On the last full day of our trip, a Friday, I went downstairs to where the ski report was posted. The report was pretty much the same as it’d been all week: “Spring conditions, 91 groomed trails, all lifts open, Shabbat services at 3:00.” Yes, Shabbat services at 3 p.m.

Deer Valley, in addition to featuring 91 trails, 21 lifts and fantastic food, had Shabbat services on the mountain at someplace called Sunset Cabin. The services were at 3 p.m., shortly before the lifts closed.

Do I go?

Sure, skiing has its spiritual side — the hand of God and all that — but I hadn’t planned on having an actual religious experience. I like Shabbat services, and I’ve found myself atop a slope or two where praying to God seemed my best bet for getting down alive. But did I really want to spend part of the afternoon — my last afternoon — at services?

We hit the mountain. Sure enough, at every lift, between the Kleenex and the urgent messages (“Hannah Silverblatt! Call Danny!”) was a sign: “Shabbat services. Sunset Cabin. 3:00.”

I’m 45, but I remember when skiing was still the domain of tall Aryan people in stretch pants. For years, of course, Jews have taken to the sport with gusto. Indeed, throughout our stay when anyone asked why the slopes were so crowded, the answer was the same: “The New York schools are on vacation.”

When I was a kid, most people still hadn’t seen a bagel, and every year I’d have to explain to my non-Jewish friends what Rosh Hashanah was. So it was quite something to have Shabbat services atop a mountain — in Utah of all places. What an advancement! Yet, the whole thing stuck in my craw.

First off, Shabbat begins at sunset. Even in Utah in March, 3 p.m. simply is not sunset. (Maybe they called it “Sunset Cabin” to distract you.) And besides, how many of these people so anxious to observe Shabbat were planning to take the following day off the slopes? Especially after they’d schlepped to Utah.

I skied all day, going back and forth on whether I would attend services or not.

Suddenly, it was 3 p.m. I was obsessed. Who went to these services? Was this, as it were, Muhammad coming to the mountain? Or had the folks at Deer Valley found a way to bring the mountain to Muhammad?

3:05. 3:10.

At 3:16 p.m., while happily shushing down a crowded slope, there it was. Sunset Cabin sat atop the snow, between verdant trees under a bright blue sky. There were no Stars of David or Hebrew letters, but I knew what it was the moment I saw it.

Perhaps it was the young woman standing in the doorway — it was standing-room only — with an expression of duty and resignation. Was she upset because she couldn’t get inside, or because she wasn’t outside on the slopes? And her resignation seemed to turn into belligerence, or judgment, as she caught my eye and my landsman’s punim outside skiing, rather than inside praying.

Should I catch the rest of the service? What was my problem, anyway?

I slowed down. And, as I avoided the skiers whooshing by — Texans? — I heard the unmistakable sound of many voices raised together, “Yitgadal, v’yitkadash, sh’mei rabbah.”

I knew what I had to do.

This is where I’m supposed to screech to a halt, whip off my skis, breathlessly stagger into Sunset Cabin — tears in my eyes, at one with my brethren, my dead ancestors, the mountain and God himself — and admit how foolish and cynical I’d been.

But, with one last, rather unfriendly look at the woman in the doorway, I sped up and skied on. I was, for lack of a better word, offended. After all, Kaddish is a serious prayer about a serious thing and the thought of intoning these beautiful and important words, then readjusting my goggles and stepping into my bindings seemed silly, stupid and sacrilegious.

Without a doubt, God and nature are a dynamite combo. But shouldn’t religious rituals have some dignity? Shouldn’t they demand some extra effort on our part? Like, say, waiting until Shabbat to have to a Shabbat service? Sure, it’s inconvenient to have a service on a ski slope after dusk; so, um, maybe the service should be somewhere else. Y’know, I’m glad that I can get Krispy Kremes at Dodger Stadium or Starbucks on United Airlines, but isn’t worship just a little different? What’s next — Kol Nidre at the ArcLight? A mikvah at The Grove? For that matter, why have Rosh Hashanah right after the kids go back to school? Let’s move it to June.

As I raced away, I thought: Was this service on the mountain about Shabbat, or was it just another amenity, no different in the end than the free ski boot storage or the famous seafood buffet? And is it really advancement to have a Shabbat service so in service to its surroundings? (3 p.m.? Kaddish, 16 minutes into the service?) Actually, perhaps the greatest sin of this Shabbat service on this most tasteful of mountains was that it was, in fact, just plain tacky.

For sure, I think it’s possible to find God when you least expect to. Like when you’re flying down the back bowl of a beautiful mountain with the wind whipping through your hair. But I don’t think that God should have to look for you there, too.

I love skiing. And I love being Jewish. But to me, religion is not a skiing experience.

David T. Levinson has written for a variety of media outlets. His newest play, “Early Decision,” will have its world premiere in October.

 

Skiing in God’s Country


A California gal for most of my life, I endured jabs and digs about the dearth of culture and the abundance of silicone in our fair city during my two-year stint in New York. (I am neither blessed with blond hair nor an 18-inch Malibu Barbie waistline, nevertheless my East Coast friends had many a laugh at the expense of my geography.)

It was on a weekend ski trip to Vermont that I got to wave my California banner with pride.

As the chains clacked against the Buick LeSabre and the salt ate away at its beautiful maroon paint, Eric, Judy, Mark and I were stuffed inside a rental car for four hours, trying to keep from throwing up from the icy hairpin turns. I know they were silently worshipping Los Angeles as I boasted about Bear Mountain’s fluffy snow and the easy 45-minute drive to Mt. Baldy from the city. As the heater broke and we clung to each other for survival, I reminisced about the time I skied in a tank top.

San Gabriel Mountains

Ninety minutes from the Pacific Ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains host several ski resorts. Unlike the treacherous eastern version of the ascent to the promised land, the gently sloping, well-maintained state highways rarely require chains for much of the winter season.

There are five resorts clustered within minutes of each other. With the exception of Mountain High, the others are natural snow mountains, their open status intricately tied to the whim of Mother Nature. At press time, Mt. Baldy was only operating one chair, and Mt. Waterman, Ski Sunrise and Snowcrest were closed due to a lack of precipitation.

Mountain High

The unique position of Mountain High on the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains enjoys maximum exposure when Alaskan storms roll in, gracing Southern California peaks with snow, says John McColly, director of marketing for Mountain High. And with 95 percent of its resort covered with snowmaking capabilities, even with summer-like conditions in the flats of Los Angeles, Mountain High’s slopes are sprayed with man-made snow and machine-groomed to create a winter playground for a ski season that runs from Thanksgiving to April.

The bad news: Because of its proximity to the city and effective marketing, Mountain High can become very crowded on the weekend. To have a prayer of parking, you must arrive very early.

Now the good news: Mountain High has two distinctly different mountains (East and West). East’s main runs are long and more challenging, and as a result, the intermediate and advanced skier will find fewer beginners to get tangled up with. Mountain High’s Web site also aggressively markets the “uncrowded slopes of the East resort” and the “little to no lift lines” to the “uncrowded terrain park,” which means that it may not stay that way for long.

For more information: jmccolly@mthigh.com

Mt. Baldy

If I ever disappear, send the FBI looking for Mt. Baldy locals desperate to keep Southern California’s best-kept secret just that — a secret.

Enjoying its 50th anniversary, Mt. Baldy is a natural snow mountain, and when Mother Nature has graced us with the white stuff, it offers 800 acres of terrain. Four-hundred developed acres on the front side comprise 26 runs, which is twice the size of any of the other local resorts. It is also the steepest resort in Southern California with a vertical drop of 2,100 feet.

The other 400 acres are on Baldy’s Back Side, the wild and natural runs that locals call “sick” and “ghetto.” By the way, “sick” and “ghetto” are the ultimate in teen-speak, proclaimed by the advanced skiers after negotiating their way between trees and sailing off cliffs. An unusual treat for those looking for extreme skiing in untracked conditions, the Back Side can only be accessed with a personal guide. Plans are underway, however, for development of six lifts and lodging, according to Mendy Cox, manager of Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts.

The closest lifts to Los Angeles, Mt. Baldy is 45 miles from downtown Los Angeles. An additional bonus? Any card-carrying member of a Jewish group will get 50 percent off lift tickets at all times.

Totally “ghetto? That is when we have snow.

For more information: info@snow-valley.com

Bear Mountain

Southern California’s steepest and highest ski resort at 8,805 feet, Big Bear Mountain Resort offers four mountain peaks and eight freestyle zones. Brad Farmer, public relations director for Bear Mountain, says that unlike Summit’s freestyle parks, Bear’s special freestyle features are placed all over the mountain so that skiers can enjoy the entire mountain and not be confined to a penned jumping area.

Like Baldy, 500 acres of back canyon area are available as conditions permit, which means we need to pray for snow to get off the very crowded 198 developed acres on the front side.

Bear boasts of Southern California’s largest beginners’ area, as well as challenging expert runs. Summit, according to Farmer, caters to the intermediate skier.

For more information: www.bearmtn.com

24-hour snow report (800) BEAR-MTN

All other information (909) 585-2519

Mailing address: Bear Mountain Resort, P.O. Box 6812, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315

E-mail: bearmtn@boothcreek.com

Snow Summit

A teenager’s dream come true, Summit has two half-pipes and seven freestyle parks, with no fewer than 200 features such as hits, banks, woops, rails, fun boxes and hips for boarders at every level of ability. Skiing and snowboarding fanatics appreciate the longer hours they can stay on the slopes (weekends 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m.) to be able to squeeze out another ride. Despite the limited number of tickets they sell (and trust me, you snooze past 10 a.m., and you lose), the feeling of being crowded out of your personal space is quite palpable on and off the slopes.

Snow report: (888) SUMMIT-1

General information: (909) 866-5766

Credit card ticket reservation service (909) 866-5841

Mailing address: 880 Summit Blvd., P.O. Box 77, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315

E-mail: info@snowsummit.com

Depending on the level of riding ability, desire to avoid kamikaze snowboarders or to limit driving, the various local resorts offer options to virtually any person interested in spending a fun-filled day with friends.

As for my friends from New York, Eric and Mark now live in Venice and enjoy dating blond, buxom babes. Ah, California.

Skiing With a Purpose


As people shoosh down the California mountains, one group will be getting more than just snow: Torah.

The Jewish Studies Institute held its first winter retreat at Big Bear this week, with 85 people (about 16 families) enjoying the slopes, kosher food, daily minyans and lectures on spirituality.

"Recreate yourself in a spiritual mountain setting," the promo for the Jan. 28-31 trip promised. The seminar’s theme — The Holistic Torah Jew — investigates the integration between Torah and leading a diverse life.

"Has traditional Judaism become too black and white?" asked Rabbi Ari Hier, the institute’s director and head of the retreat. Hier used the movie "Pleasantville," along with sources from the Talmud, to discuss how hobbies such as skiing can be a healthy, religious thing.

Rabbi Gerry "Wild West" Werner also presented a lecture on holistic Judaism, and a musical performance from the Simcha band closed the program on Wednesday night at Northwoods Resort.

Held during many Jewish schools’ winter break, more than 100 people were turned away from the retreat due to lack of space. Hier hopes to continue the program. "Skiing and being up in the snow is a very expansive experience; it takes them out of the black and white experience," Hier said. "I hope that people get a sense of community." — Staff Report

Downhill Doubts


My father has disowned me. We did not get into a fight about the family business — there is no family business. I did not marry out of the faith, and I have no children about whose upbringing we can disagree. The source of our irreconcilable differences is that we went skiing together last year, and he is convinced that I cannot be his natural child.

His theory, which is a little complicated, goes like this: Jews have been enormously successful in myriad activities during the past 4,000 or so years, among them arts, science, finance and, lest we forget, religion. We have been far less successful in the field of navigation and exploration. It took Moses 40 years to get from Egypt across the Sinai, about a three-week walk if you know where you’re going. We did somehow manage to get just about everywhere in the world, but it’s not clear as to whether our ancestors wound up in, say, Spain as a result of a well-considered expedition to spread the word, or if they just made a wrong turn at the Gaza Strip and refused to stop at a gas station to get directions until they hit the Prado.

The theory continues that only a handful of Jews turned right and headed for Northern Europe. As a result, there are no Svens or Larses in our mishpocheh, only Arnies and Murrays.

When I was growing up, the chosen destination for winter holidays was Miami or Maui, not Aspen or Gstaad. Maybe our family just never got the word that it was okay to go outside and play in the snow, but now that I’ve become a somewhat adventurous skier, my father says the three most dangerous words in the English language are “Follow me, Dad.” His reasoning is that it’s crazy for Jews to be skiing in the trees. By that logic, if I ski in the trees, I must be either crazy or not Jewish and therefore not his son. Ergo, I am disowned.

I knew we were in foreign territory on my first ski trip to Deer Valley, Utah. After a rough day on the bunny hill, I returned to the Stein Ericksen Lodge and found the bar packed at 3 p.m. (It turns out that Stein is the first name of Mr. Ericksen, a famous Norwegian Olympian. I thought there was a Jewish partner in the hotel with top billing.) At one table of raccoon-eyed apres skiers was a blond couple wearing white sweaters with a little blue snowflake pattern. These people drink in the afternoon and never spill anything on themselves. In my family, a white sweater is a blank canvas on which one invariably spills his Bloody Mary.

There are many famous Jewish athletes, but every time one comes to prominence, every time Shawn Green comes to bat, we whisper with pride, “Did you know he’s Jewish?” Then we answer back, “Really?” with a prideful little nod of the head, a raised eyebrow, awestruck that the shtetl could ever produce such a lean, limber specimen, as if to say, “Our boy’s pretty good, huh?” Yet, for all the Sandy Koufaxes and Lenny Krayzelburgs, you never hear about great Jewish Winter Olympians.

My mother explained the dearth of famous Jewish skiers by saying, “It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s too fast, it goes down a hill, you could fall and hurt yourself.” After a moment she added, “And those clothes make you look fat.”

I don’t know what it is that says to a button-down businessman, “You’d look good in a red-and-yellow one-piece and a blue hat.” Perhaps it’s the thought that if he falls down and can’t move, people will be able to find him. No one looks good in these clumsy outfits, with the possible exception of Robert Redford, who, I should point out, is not even remotely Jewish.

Then there are the boots. You tighten these eight-pound molded plastic monsters until only the big toe can move one millimeter. Occasionally I hear someone on a chairlift tell me about how comfortable his boots are since he got the ergonomic foot beds. No, Bally loafers are comfortable. Ski boots are anti-Semitic.

Skiing does not come naturally to most people. We struggle with the rhythm of off-weighting, keeping our balance forward, planting the pole, initializing the turns, visualizing the fall line (why do they insist on calling it that?). It could be reasonably asked why people want to subject themselves to this torture test in the first place. Once I reasonably mastered the groomed slopes, I took on the bumps. Again, why? I ask myself that question at the end of every mogul run. I think the answer may lie in the importance of my burgeoning relationships with my chiropractor and my masseuse. For a lot of people, skiing is like taking the very long way, the scenic route, from your condo to the bar.

Maybe there aren’t enough Jews in Canada or enough ice in Tel Aviv to field a hockey team. And with our considerable investment in cosmetic dentistry, we are often precluded from participating in any sport where getting your teeth knocked down your throat is the goal of the opposing team. I tried to talk some friends into forming a luge team, but it holds little appeal for our people. Any sport in which you travel at speeds of more than 90 miles per hour and lead with your genitals is not going to gather a minyan. There are no guys named Arnie or Murray on the luge, and there never will be.