Lake Tahoe all year, all good

The alpine destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list

Simply known as “Tahoe,” the region is named for the spectacular lake at its center, which spans 22 by 12 miles and plunges more than 1,600-foot-deep, making it the largest alpine lake in North America. On a clear day, the lake reflects the cloudless skies above, making it appear a fantastical sapphire blue. This is only one of the magical and majestic attractions of Lake Tahoe.

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Its natural beauty has brought generations of visitors to Tahoe to enjoy all that the lake and the mountains that surround it have to offer. While winter may be the most popular time to go, for the world-class downhill and cross-country skiing – which often lasts through late spring and into summer – Tahoe is a year-round destination.

When the snowcaps melt, the mountains become an outdoor adventure wonderland. Snowmobiling, dogsledding, and snowshoeing give way to camping, rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The lake becomes a water sports playground, for fishing, boating, parasailing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and even swimming, for those enjoy the refreshment of the chilly alpine waters.

Westward Yo

After I moved to Washington, D.C., from Los Angeles two years ago, I lamented that my long-weekend getaways to Tahoe were over. The one-hour flight from LA was easy; but I figured that the cross-country trip would be too long a haul for a short stint. I am thrilled to say, I figured wrong. My four-day jaunt in spring 2019 proved to be the perfect West Coast ski escape.

It was a crazy winter in D.C. in 2019, with temperatures dipping into the teens one day and soaring into the 60s and 70s the next. Snow skiing on the East Coast is generally a three out of 10, but the iffy weather this past season rated local skiing one to nil, leaving me no choice but to head west if I wanted to hit the slopes.

While the logistics of a Tahoe trip are a bit more complicated than when I lived just one state away, I made it there with my ski pal, Craig, without too much hassle, with a bit of advance planning. I didn’t even have to miss a day of work to travel. At 5 pm quitting time, we caught an evening flight out of DC, which put us on the ground in Reno around midnight. At first, we dreaded our late arrival, but it ended up being a convenient and time-saving plan.

Flying into Reno is the easiest route to Tahoe. The Reno airport is small but serviceable, with many rental car options right on premises. There are also slot machines the minute you walk out of the jetway, for those who can’t wait to try their luck. There’s also a number of airport hotels, perfect for those like us who fly in late at night.

Easy Come, Easy Go

Rather than wind our way up the mountain in the dark, chancing icy roads, we settled in at the Best Western Airport Plaza Hotel. It’s located directly across from the airport, so we opted to walk across the road and wait to rent our car the next morning, to save on rental fees. Another bonus was getting a good night’s sleep closer to sea level, avoiding the altitude insomnia that some visitors experience until they acclimate to the elevation. The hotel was affordable, clean, and has all the basic amenities, including a fast-service restaurant serving a $10 breakfast.

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Gear Up, Get Out

As our four-day trip was relatively short amount of time to spend on a skiing excursion, we wanted to make the most of every minute, which meant streamlining some of the schlepping and waiting in lines to rent and return equipment that is part-and-parcel of the ski experience.

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As I always do whenever possible, I reserved ahead of our trip using Black Tie Ski Rental Delivery concierge service. Their laid-back and expert fitters bring the gear — all performance and demo quality — to your hotel, with a couple size and style options in their van, to fit you in the comfort of your hotel room. If you have any issue with your skis, they will come to the resort and meet you slopeside to adjust or replace your skis. When done, you give them a call to come pick up the gear at the base of the mountain or at your hotel. Easy peasy, and a timesaver that removes one of the biggest hassles of skiing and gives you more time on the slopes.

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Wish Up on Northstar

As we cruised the scenic road around the lake heading to one of my favorite resorts, Northstar,  we marveled at the glorious aqua hue of the water, mirroring the clear blue skies. A lone paddleboarder left a wake like a slice in the still water. Even though the trip from South Lake Tahoe to the north shore took us over 45 minutes, we didn’t mind, as the breathtaking drive was premium site-seeing in itself.

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As is common in Tahoe, the weather changes quickly, and soon we were driving in freezing rain. By the time we pulled into the parking lot at Northstar, tiny snow grains were falling heavily.

As we sat on the tailgate of our car buckling up our ski boots, the precipitation came down so quickly that within minutes our beanies looked like snowcaps. Despite the falling snow, the temperatures were moderate, which is another reason to love skiing in Tahoe. We suited up for our day of spring skiing, wearing just our base layers and light jackets.

It was my third trip to Northstar, and it was a charm. Northstar is resort development done right. The resort resides on the California side of the lake, known as the North Shore, above Incline Village, where life is a bit slower and laid back than in its neighboring town of South Lake Tahoe.

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Surrounding the main lodge at Northstar is a complex of shops, restaurants and low-rise luxury condos that overlook the red brick plaza at the center of Northstar Village. The resort is a lively place, great for people watching, as an array of skiers and boarders dressed in bright colors scurry about, clunking in their boots, pulling wagons full of gear and kids.

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Powder Power

Northstar is a true ski-in and ski-out resort, where the slopes literally bottom out at the front doors of the resort’s condos. The resort properties are designed for ideal convenience for guests, who can get onto the slopes within steps of their accommodations, with minimum hauling of equipment.

One of the easiest ways to traverse the resort is to catch the gondola from the village and ride it mid-mountain to base camp, where you can hop on one of the three chair lifts leading to several beginner and intermediate runs.

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As a family oriented resort, Northstar features plenty of long mellow trails for kids and beginners. Because there are so many options, the bunny slopes are not overly crowded, which makes for a more relaxing experience when you have young children along.

As intermediate skiers, Craig and I found that the runs were fairly appropriately rated, noting that West Coast downhills are considerably more advanced than those on the East Coast. The blue runs sported some steep drops, but because the Sierra snow is so light and powdery, it’s easier to maneuver in than on icy East Coast slopes.

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Our goal was getting in 10 good runs for the day, with a break for lunch. With the swift-moving quads and six-person chair lifts, we were never in line more than a few minutes. The slopes were groomed overnight, and the conditions were excellent. We progressed from our first-of-the-season run on the Lumberjack green-rated trail and quickly graduated to the blue-rated Flume connecting to the satisfyingly challenging Powerbowl.

Mountains of Food

For lunch, we headed to the Zephry Lodge, the must-see on-mountain lodge with floor-to-ceiling windows featuring breath-taking vistas of the Sierra Nevada range. Even if you aren’t skiing or riding, you can dine at the lodge, which is accessible to all mountain guests with a lift ticket.

Just before our last run of the day, we rode the Comstock Express to the top of Mt. Pluto to the Summit Smokehouse, which offers a wide selection of craft bears along with BBQ and sausages; and it boasts some awesome views of Lake Tahoe from 8,610 feet above sea level, overlooking the untouched backcountry.

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For Apres Ski, the Northstar Village is the place to be, where you can put up your boots, get an adult beverage (or hot cocoa), hang out at the outdoor Rink Bar, and listen to music. You can make s’mores and socialize by the firepits or rent skates and glide around on the ice rink in the middle of the plaza. For dinner options, Rubicon Pizza Company is very popular – just get in early before the crowd, or you may wait a while to get seated.

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Luxury Tahoe

When you truly want to splurge for a meal on the mountain, Manzanita, is the finest dining in Lake Tahoe, located at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, which is the first AAA Five Diamond resort in the Lake Tahoe area.

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For starters, we enjoyed the light and fluffy potato roll buns with four sauces, fresh-made butter, jam, hummus, and a cheese vegetable dressing. Because it was on the menu and we couldn’t resist having elk when in the mountains, we shared the hearty and satisfying elk meatball appetizer, which was served with smoked marinara sauce and a salsa.

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While seafood at a mountain resort might seem like an odd choice, the crab pasta dish was absolutely delicious and flavorful, with plentiful crab, served in a cream sauce. We also tried the duck, which was cooked perfectly, and we rounded out the meal with the vegetarian sofritas, a dish featuring garbanzo beans, “chicken of the forest,” mushrooms, and vegetables.

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Besides to dine at Manzanita, another reason to visit the Ritz at its hidden-away location, mid-mountain at Northstar California Resort, is to experience the wonderful mix of luxury and rustic, at this contemporary mountain retreat. It features a 17,000 square foot spa and fitness center and an inter-mountain gondola that connects the resort to the nearby Village at Northstar.

During the summer months, the Ritz hosts Lake Club, an exclusive waterside venue that offers al fresco dining, water activities, and direct access to the lake. Recently the resort added a new amenity of high-performance MasterCraft elite X-series powerboats, operated by the premier Elevation Surf Charters, offering guests the experience the best of summer in Lake Tahoe with wake surfing aboard boats, to romantic sunset cruises.

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Lodge Life

Whether you choose luxury or roughing it in Tahoe, there’s an ideal accommodation to meet your needs, from privately owned condos to large hotels, including flashy casino hotels on the Nevada side of the border.

We hung our beanies at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe as our home base for the trip. It’s nestled in a tree-lined residential area, so it truly feels like a chalet in the mountains. The hotel carries on that lodge theme in their interior décor and design, with stone walls, large sofas, and burning hearths in the lobby, where guests can lounge and socialize by the fire.

Across the street, the hotel’s restaurant, the Lone Eagle Grill, is situated on Lake Tahoe’s beach, sporting a spectacular view of the lake with snowcapped mountains behind it. We lucked out with last-minute reservations and got a table by a window, where we watched a gorgeous sunset. The restaurant’s interior was almost as impressive as the exterior, with oversized modern alpine décor worthy of a Game of Thrones set. The food was equally superb, especially the famous mountainous torched meringue Baked Tahoe dessert.

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Day Tripping

We had the luxury of a full day of downtime between ski outings, so we did what one does while visiting a mountain wonderland — we headed for the hills. First, we donned some snowshoes, courtesy of the Hyatt, and we headed out equipped with a map of local parks from the Hyatt concierge.

There are many trails for snowshoeing for those who want to explore the snowy lakeside on foot. Sand Harbor State Park is about eight minutes from the Hyatt. In the summer, Sand Harbor is known as a hub for boating, kayaking, paddle boarding and other water sports, and in July and August it plays backdrop for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.

We opted to drive a bit farther, to Spooner Lake State Park, which is about 16 minutes away, At this spectacular park we enjoyed an aerobic one-hour snowshoe excursion, where we traipsed along the frozen, snow-covered beach, admiring a 360 view of beauty all around us.

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Snow, Snow, Everywhere

Even during peak season, Tahoe never seems crowed. The restaurants, shops, and most importantly the slopes never feel overcrowded, perhaps because there are 18 resorts where visitors can spread out.

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Each resort has its own personality and style, offering something for everyone. We couldn’t get to every resort, so we chose to hit two of the best – for their own reasons – in a single four-day trip. After a day at Northstar, we headed to Diamond Peak, known as one of the most affordable resorts in Tahoe. Not only is the price right for lift tickets, this little gem of a resort boasts some of the most gorgeous views of Tahoe, with trails that look like they empty right into the lake.

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Even during dry seasons, Diamond Peak is usually snow-covered, thanks to dozens of snowmaking guns that help keep the base thick and skiable no matter the weather. The day we visited the resort, high winds had closed down most of the other area resorts, but Diamond Peak also has the advantage of a position between the mountains that partially shield the primary runs, so most of the lifts remained in operation despite 30- to 40-mile-per-hour gusts.

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Riding and Sliding

When in Tahoe, and snow’s aplenty, visitors can make the most of snow sports activities, including dogsledding, tubing, snowshoeing, and my favorite, snowmobiling. Zephyr Cove Resort is the only game in town when it comes to snowmobiling, so be prepared for a long line of people at check-in, even if you’ve made reservations. The good news is that the company has been doing this for many years, so registration is fairly organized and efficient.

After our tour group loaded us into the Greyhound-sized buses and traveled about 14 minutes to the state park where snowmobiling is permitted, the amiable guides then divided up the groups and gave a brief lesson on riding. Hint, if you don’t want to tip over, hang a butt cheek off the side when your turn, to keep your ski rudders on the ground.

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The guides ride ahead and use hand signals to let followers know when to slow down or stop. At one point our tour was slogging along slowly behind a group that had the misfortune of having a very timid lead rider holding up her group because she just couldn’t get the hang of the machine. Lucky for everyone, we were allowed to pass.

Once we got out on the trail, we let lose. I saw my speedometer hit 40 at one point. My wild ride was exhilarating, until my ski rail caught an edge, and my machine jerked abruptly almost hitting a tree — where I observed several scuff marks in the bark from previous accidents. After that, I let off the gas but still rode at an exciting pace. I could hardly wait to get back on my machine after our mid-tour hot cocoa break, and I didn’t want the ride to end. Overall, the experience was tremendous fun, and better than I expected as part of a large group tour.

A Winning Last Night

Our Tahoe jaunt was coming to a close, and in keeping with our running theme of maximizing our vacation time and ensuring travel logistics as painless as possible, we opted to stay in Reno on our last night, so we could get out quickly in the morning.

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While I’m not an avid gambler, I have always enjoyed the grandeur of casinos, and Peppermill Reno Hotel Resort did not disappoint. This AAA Four Diamond resort features 1,621 guest rooms and a plethora of restaurants of every variety. Even the standard guest rooms are luxurious, elegantly appointed, and incredibly spacious, with a huge bathroom that rivals the size of most hotel sleeping rooms.

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The sprawling property has so many dining options it was hard to choose, but we decided on Italian at Biscotti’s, which ended up being a great choice because we had worked up hearty appetites, and the portions were enormous. Despite the its scale and level of amenities, I was glad to learn that the Peppermill is an eco-friendly resort, featuring many innovative energy saving technologies, such as on-site geothermal grids for heat. This fascinating venture involved the hotel drilling 4,400 feet to tap into a vast reservoir of natural geothermal activity more than three quarters of a mile underground to heat the property’s two million square feet of hotel, resort and casino.

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A Destination for All Seasons

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My last trip to Tahoe won’t be my last. And I plan to go back during summer to see and experience the mountains without skis, well, maybe water skis, in a wet suit. Now that I know how to manage the logistics for a cross-country span of under four days, I plan to put Tahoe on my list of places to travel as often as possible. Every year would be nice. Twice a year would be nicer.

 

Six gifts that will make graduates toss their caps

The ultimate grad gift guide

Commencement is a time of celebration, whether your grad is going on to middle school, high school, college, or the world. Mark this rite of passage with a gift that stays with them for the years ahead.

A great, long ride

It will be a long summer, so give your grad a longboard that will carry them forward, down the street, or across the quad. The RazorX Longboard Electric Skateboard ($199.99, ages 9 and up) features a 37.5-long, 5-ply bamboo deck and custom, reverse kingpin trucks for smooth traveling at speeds up to 10 mph, powered by 125-watt, geared, rear-wheel-drive motor, and operated by a handheld digital remote control. Way cooler than walking, and less hassle than locking up a bike, your board can be picked up and carried with you when you’re done riding. It makes getting to college algebra fun! Be sure to observe all regulations regarding use of skateboards on campus.

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Sound at your command

Whether your grad is a Wi-Fi aficionado, binge watcher, movie buff or a gaming fan, the Polk Command Bar ($249.95) will give their AV system a resoundingly smart make over. The Alexa-compatible sound bar can play and control music across multiple Amazon devices and be integrated into a television speaker set up and works with 4K and HD TVs, with built-in dual HDMI 2.0b inputs to ensure 4K HDR content looks great; or the bar can stand alone to deliver outstanding sound, activated by voice or remote control. The smart speaker features Bluetooth capability, modes for ideal music and movie listening, and the ability to adjust voice levels so that the user can customize their superior sound experience. A sub-woofer component adds even more depth for a full surround sound experience.

Big good wolf

Your grad is growing up, but you never outgrow your favorite blankie. Give them the comfort of a cuddly cover to snuggle up with on the couch, in their college dorm, or keep them warm in their first apartment. The Thermarest Argo ($89.95) throw blanket is filled with lightweight eraLoft insulation that is water-resistant and luxuriously soft, to keep them cozy and warm wherever they go. Its cinch cord at the bottom edge cinches around feet to keep out drafts, and stuffed into its own pillow pouch, it’s perfect for taking along on road trips. Comes in a Tomato red or Wolf Print.

Grade-A shades

Grads will hear a lot of platitudes as they head onto the next leg of life’s journey, like, “May the wind always be at your back,” and, “May the sun shine warm upon your face…” But for those times when the glare is a bit too bright, they can look cool, and truly be cool, wearing Sunski sunglasses, the eyewear brand that is not just great for its winning styles and excellent fit but also because they are fairly priced and made from recycled materials and are 100-percent sustainable. Sunskis shield peepers from harsh rays with looks for the beach, sporting, outdoors adventure and everyday life, and even mini frames for kids. ($58-$98, kids $38).

 

 

Can you noise cancel me now?

Your grad can block out annoying college roommate, or they’re annoying squabbling brother and sister, or simply indulge in an immersive stereo experience with the MIxCder E9 ($69.99) noise canceling headphones. These premium-yet-affordable over-the-ear Hi-Fi stereo headphones won’t break the bank but will give your grad rich tones for their tunes to enjoy privately. They feature Bluetooth connectivity for wireless use, Active Noise Canceling technology, 30-hour battery life, foldable design, built-in microphone and an included airplane adapter for listening on the fly.

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Just-in-case case

Every grad knows that the school of hard knocks teaches life’s best lessons, but that doesn’t mean your phone needs to suffer slings and arrows, or scratches and dents, which is guaranteed not to happen if you keep it in a Pelican GO case ($39.95). This tank-of-a-phone-case seals out water, dirt, snow, and dust and is constructed so heavy-duty that it’s the preferred protector for divers, firefighters, police and military. It can also hold credit cards, keys and other personal items and can tag along on a backpack by a carabiner or hang from a tent hook by its handle.

 

 

 

Mountain chic: form and function

Nine essentials you need to elevate your style and performance on your next alpine excursion

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Head to the hills in fashion, equipped with attire and gear that will outfit you for the outdoors.

A little ditty

Basic economy air travel can save you a few bucks if you pack right, or it will cost you an arm and a leg if you exceed the stringent airline requirements for a “personal item.” Sling the Eagle Creek 15L National Geographic Adventure Series ($24) backpack over your shoulder, and tote along all the essentials you need while you’re in the air and on the ground. It features a 15-inch laptop sleeve, a top zip pocket for quick access items, internal zip and slip pockets, and a padded moisture-wicking back panel, and durable and wipeable bottom. Plus, this handy bag gives back, as a portion of each purchase funds the work of scientists, explorers, and educators around the world.

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Thin is in

Less is more when it comes to packing for an outing in the outback, which is why though Cotopaxi Fuego Hoodless Down Jacket ($230) fits perfectly in your to-go wardrobe. This lightweight fitted jacket is big on warmth but can be compacted into its tiny drawcord ditty bag to fit in your backpack, or even a purse. It’s 800 fill RDS – certified down insulation, baffled in a ripstop nylon shell, is built to last and is versatile enough to go from a hike in the hills to your next night out.

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Under the hoodie

For the man who likes to live life large and outdoors, the Black Diamond Forge Down Hoody (sale priced $149.25) jacket, featuring the super insulation power of ALLIED Feather & Down, the most premium quality down fill on the planet,  is the perfect packable, versatile outerwear for alpine missions of any discipline.  The adjustable hood can accommodate a climbing helmet, and the underarm gussets allow for added arrange of motion when you need it. When the weather warms up, the jacket compresses into its own chest pocket and can be hooked on your belt with an integrated carbineer clip loop.

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Warm kid, happy kid

Kids love the outdoors, but when they’re cold, the fun is over for them and everyone who’s along on the adventure, so keep young outdoor enthusiasts warm and keep the adventure going with the Helly Hansen Jr Barrier Down Insulator ($120). It features ALLIED down in a super lightweight poly rip stop shell that’s reversible for two different looks. It has two handy pockets and Lycra bands on the hem and cuffs to keep the jacket snug. When the adventure’s over, it packs up into its own pocket.

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Catch a case

In the backcountry or back at the lodge, your smartphone can be essential equipment, loaded with trail maps, navigation apps, and of course a camera to capture those selfies at the peak, so protect your device with an Otterbox case that’s made to withstand bumps and drops. The shimmering Stardust case from the Symmetry Series Clear Case ($42.46) features fortified drip protection yet has a slim profile so it can easily slip into your pocket. For extra protection cover your screen with the Alpha Glass Screen Protector ($39.95) to shield against scratches and smears.

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Casual comfort

Dressing down doesn’t mean you can’t be stylish. Unwind after your alpine adventures in Mountain Khakis, the casual but fashionable clothing line built for comfort and function. The designers thought of everything when it comes to active apparel, with strategic pockets, articulated knees, and packability, such as the Classic Fit Cruiser Pant II ($94.95) in flattering styles for men and women, made of stretchy, quick-drying, wicking fabric, perfect for hiking and trout fishing or power lunching and jet-setting.

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Top off your classic casual look with a the go-anywhere gauzy plaid Women’s Jenny Tunic Shirt ($74.95) or the Men’s Passport EC Long Sleeve Shirt, ($89.95), made with a silk-weight, easy-care fabric, and featuring a hidden right chest security pocket with zipper closure perfect for passport, phone, cash and cards.

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If you want to really get down to nature, try Mountain Khaki’s newest collection made with soft, warm, and quick-drying SeaWool, a blend made of crushed oyster shells and blended with recycled Polyfill and PET bottles.

Global clothes

Sustainability means using natural resources in a balanced way in which the resources can be replenished, now and in the future. When it comes to clothing, Toad & Co., knows something about sustainability, as spring 2019 marked the brand’s crossover to 100 percent sustainability. The company also sustains its community with a social program that donates funds and helps people with disabilities. The eco-clothing line features garments made with a minimum of 80 percent sustainable fibers, such as hemp and bamboo, in fashionable, versatile styles suitable for outdoor adventure, or suiting up for casual day at work, such as the breathable, feminine jersey shirt, the Tamaya Tres Tunic ($65) and the comfy form-fitting Flextime Skinny Pant ($85). To find out more about Toad & Co. and their social program, check out this video.

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Down under

No one will know what you’re wearing underneath, but you will know, by the comfort and performance, that in Runderwear you’re wearing power underwear. Runderwear’s Women’s Support Running Bra ($60) is designed specifically for runners looking for reduced bounce, maximum support and comfort. A soft fabric layer against the skin prevents chaffing, along with non-slip, adjustable straps, vs. a one-size-fits-all racer back. Sizing runs small, so larger busted women need to order up one or two sizes. Men can enjoy comfortable, chafe-free running adventures with maximum support in Runderwear Men’s Long Boxer Briefs ($35).

Right step

You’ve heard of slow cooking, now there’s slow fashion, which means buying items that last. Step out in style and sustainability in ethically produced Mohinders’ slippers and flats for men and women ($145-$185). These classic woven sandals are made using a 37-step process in Athani, India, by a multi-generational cooperative of master shoemakers. Made with water buffalo leather, each shoe is hand-tanned using a vegetable-based solution of water, acacia tree bark, myrobalan nuts and no chemicals. These raw-looking sandals soften with time and wear to become your favorite footwear, for years and years.

 

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Great Wolf Lodge is all (blue) ears for Autism

Great Wolf Lodge raises funds and awareness for people with autism with Blue Wolf Ears campaign

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The indoor water park resort brand that brings together families to play and make memories is helping to support those with autism, through a fundraising campaign and efforts to make their activities more autism-aware. Great Wolf Lodge’s 16 locations across the US and Canada will donate $5 to Autism Speaks for every pair of Blue Wolf Ears sold throughout the month of April. The resort is also partnering with experts at Autism Speaks to explore ways to make the resorts more welcoming for people with sensory differences and other autism-related challenges.

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The limited-edition version of the resort’s signature wolf ear headbands are part of a “go blue” campaign to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorder. All proceeds from the Blue Wolf Ears campaign go directly to Autism Speaks, with a goal of raising $50,000 to support its mission of enhancing lives across the spectrum at every stage of life. Last year alone, the non-profit aided more than 1 million people through Autism Speaks-funded programs and resources.

The Blue Wolf ears effort includes a social media campaign in which Great Wolf Lodge guests to post a photo on social media of themselves or a family member wearing their blue wolf ears, using #GreatWolfCares. For each post using this special hashtag, Great Wolf Lodge will make an additional $5 donation to Autism Speaks, up to $20,000.

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Get down, stay warm, feel good

What you need to know about down-filled wear and gear

Most outdoors adventures know that the best defense against frigid cold is down-filled outerwear and sleeping bags, but many don’t know the basic facts about down – how it works, and how to care for it to keep it doing its job.

Getting the down low on down

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For starters, there is a wide variety of what is called “down” in the industry, so a consumer must understand what true down is. Down is not an actual two-dimension feather. It is the fluffy three-dimensional filament cluster that lies underneath a bird’s feathers, like what covers the proverbial fuzzy duckling before it gets its feathers. In case you wondered why down products are primarily made out of duck or goose down, it’s because these big birds yield more down. Duck happens to be used in down products more commonly because it is a more common food source, and down is a byproduct of the meat industry.

Lofty ideals

Fill made of those spheres of soft and lofty fluff are what constitute true down, and this material is what traps heat and provides insulation from cold. For this reason, it pays to be an educated consumer in order to choose products with high quality and pure down, not a mix of feathers and down, or down that has not been processed properly in order to maintain its loft and heat-holding qualities.

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Fill power to the people

Like with diamonds, down has many grades that may not be visible to the eye, especially once the down is under the cover of a jacket shell, but the categories of down make a difference in its performance. Fill power, which relates to the size of the down cluster, is one of the terms used to describe down quality. All things being equal, higher fill power down is warmer because it can trap more air. However, heavier weight fabrics will compress a higher fill power down, removing the loft and, thereby, its ability to insulate. In these cases, a 700-fill power down works better and costs less than a 900-fill power down.

Being baffled is good

Besides the superiority of the down material, the quality of a down-filled product depends on the way the product is constructed. It sounds rather simple to stuff coats and sleeping bags with down, but there is a lot more to it. The way that down is contained in baffles or channels in the shell of these items has an impact how effective the down is in keeping in warmth. Using a higher fill power down in small baffles can be a waste of money. If the down cluster is too big, it will be compressed and not be able to do its job as it is put into the jacket. Again, a lower fill power will work better with smaller baffles and be more economical.

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The how is why

 The reason some down fills are better than others has to do with how it is sourced and cared for before it is put into your coat or sleeping bag. Processing has a lot to do with the quality of the finished product. It’s easiest and most cost effective to wash down with harsh detergents and dry it quickly with high heat. This processing method, however, will remove most of the natural oils found in down that keep it pliable and resilient. If the down loses too much of its natural oil, it becomes brittle and will break down quickly, reducing performance and useful lifespan.

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Feel good about your down

While it may be imperceptible to the user, where and how down is sourced and processed makes a difference, as harvesting down can impact the animals involved and our planet. Some down is sourced from birds that are plucked live, force-fed, or otherwise inhumanely treated. Industry leaders in ethically sourced down, like ALLIED Feather & Down, which supplies down for brands like the North Face, Helly Hansen, Outdoor Research and Slumberjack, carry the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certification which ensures that the down used to make their products is ethically sourced. They also use sustainable practices, like using recycled water for their washing process. For conscious consumers, Track My Down details the origins of the down a brand uses.

 

Down forever – caring for your down-filled products

Once you have chosen the best down product for your needs, keep it in great shape with these wear and care tips from ALLIED Down & Feather.

What do you do if your down jacket gets soaked from rain or a fall into the water? 

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The primary element in the destruction of down products lies in improper drying. Drying too fast and too hot will make the down brittle, but not drying thoroughly will cause the potential buildup of mold and bacteria which will destroy the loft. Tumble dry low until completely dry. This make take several cycles. Add three clean tennis or dryer balls to the dryer to help re-fluff the down as it dries

How do you clean a down jacket? 

Machine wash on normal cycle with a mild detergent, preferably using down product specific, in cold water, followed by an extra rinse cycle without detergent.

How do you store down jackets and sleeping bags off-season? 

Your down products should be stored in an area away from high humidity. The product should also be allowed to breath and stored uncompressed to retain the down’s resiliency and high loft.

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How do you repair a tear? 

Many outdoor stores will sell adhesive patches, like NoSo, that do a great job sealing up holes.

How long should a good down jacket last? 

If properly taken care of, a down jacket will last for years. Typically, the shell material will wear out before the down loses its loft, so the durability of the shell will generally determine the lifespan.

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Stuff you need for summer, when the weather is hot, the pool is cool, the kids are out of school

Moms NoVa

Here’s what you need indoors and outdoors, for fun in the sun and summer entertaining

Glide through summer

Cruise through the neighborhood, head to the pool, or coast over to your BFF’s house, and arrive like a rock star on the Razor Hovertrax DLX 2.0. This ultimate Nirvana-on-wheels hoverboard features a self-balancing deck that makes it easy to mount and maneuver, and the anti-slip rubber traction platform lets you stay in control for a smooth and easy ride. The exotic finishes and multi-color LED lights will make your entrance memorable, and the 60-minute extended-life battery will keep you going for the long haul. The powerful but silent motor can move you at up to 9 miles per hour, and the shatter-resistant polymer frame and fender bumper keeps your board looking sweet ride after ride.

Mighty bike

The bike paths beckon over summer break, and the serious cycling kid will…

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Gearing up the family for outdoors adventure

Essentials for outdoors r-n-r with the family

Get out and enjoy the great outdoors with these proven products that will keep you going – climbing, camping, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and doing whatever you do in the wild, in style, comfort and with gusto.

Get down tonight

When the weather outside is frightful, it’s time to get down. Really good down. Every outdoors aficionado knows that not all down-filled puffy jackets or sleeping bags offer the same warm, wearability and durability.

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The difference is the quality of the down. ALLIED Feather & Down insulation is the industry gold standard, with superior loft, proprietary multi-wash cleaning and drying process for freshness allergen-free comfort and certified as sourced ethically and responsibly. Look for ALLIED Feather & Down in top-rated outerwear and sleeping bag brands like Slumberjack, Helly Hansen, and The North Face.

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Puffed up

Cuddling up by the campfire or huddled in a camp chair for a chilly soccer game, the Rumpl Original Puffy Blanket ($159) provides a comfortable layer of warmth that goes anywhere. This all-purpose throw blanket, made with the same technical materials found in premium sleeping bags, comes in bright colors and patterns, including the latest design, a collaboration between artist and outdoor adventurer Stickfort and camping gear companies Rumpl and Yakima, is a beautifully printed blanket inspired by the Pacific Northwest sunset. A portion of the proceeds will directly benefit the environmental preservation non-profit group Friends of the Columbia River Gorge.

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Lock and ride

Most cyclists love their bikes, but they don’t love lugging around a heavy, bulky bike lock for securing their wheels when they park. The lightweight but sturdy Otto DesignWorks Ottolock ($55 and up) is a tough, smash-proof cinch lock that is compact enough to tuck one into a pocket or seat bag. They unlock using a resettable, three-number combination, so there’s no key to keep track of—perfect for a stop by the brewery at the end of a ride.

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Boom tunes

Remember the boom boxes of yester-yore, balanced on a shoulder and pumping out tunes people could hear a block away? The go-anywhere compact bottle-sized BoomBottle MM ($129.99) has captured that grand, satisfying surround-sound acoustics of the famed traveling stereo with its two 12W speakers and two 45mm passive radiators, providing a full-range of crisp highs and deep bass tones, all situated in an IP67 rated dust and waterproof enclosure. This rugged, waterproof wireless speaker can travel anywhere, and it even has a MagicMount magnetic base to keep it stuck to metal surfaces. Available at Costco and other retailers.

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Soft hands, warm hearth

Out in the wilderness, catching dinner, chopping wood, and building a bonfire, your hands can get dry, rough and sore. Take along Lansinoh’s HPA® Lanolin Minis and apply soothing salve to hands, lips, heels and any exposed skin that needs protection from the elements. Originally developed as a nipple cream for nursing moms, this ointment is 100 percent natural, containing just a single ingredient, HPA Lanolin, providing a barrier layer that hydrates skin without perfumes or other harmful additives. A three-pack of .25-ounce minis is $10.99, available at CVS and Walmart.

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Eyewear for life

Good eye wear is more than a fashion statement, but who says you can’t look stylish while shielding your peepers from glare? Sunski sunglasses, the recycled plastic eyewear that supports the environment with every pair sold, are ideal for the beach, the mountain, or anywhere the sun shines. Sunski’s polarized lenses protect her eyes from harmful rays, and they stay put thanks to a fit for active lifestyles. Designed by San Francisco surfer dudes and tree huggers, Sunski frames, are quality crafted from industrial scraps and guaranteed forever.  Available at sunski.com. $55-$68, kids frames ($38) also available.

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Best foot forward

As Del Griffith expressed so eloquently, nothing’s worse than when your dogs barking. Whether you’re pounding the pavement, hiking through the woods, or standing in a stream in waders all day, your feet will thank you if slip Sof Sole insoles into your footwear. Freshen up the insoles of an old favorite pair of boots or give new life to your worn-out trail running shoes with the Sof Sole Airr Insoles ($27.99), for all-day comfort of a COOLMAX moisture-wicking top-cover and the and shock-absorbing relief of Polymer Gel that your puppies will love.

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Patch it up

A great down jacket will last for a decade or more, but accidents happen, and that’s why there’s NOSO Puffy Patches. Fix up those tears and snags in your favorite outerwear with this permanent rip-stop nylon fixer that will seal up holes in your coat, backpack, sleeping bag, tent or other gear with just the sun or a clothes dryer to activate the adhesive. They come in six colors and 13 shapes that are so fun and stylish, you might just want to stick them on for fashion. $14.95 for a pack of 3.

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Eat, love, tell

Pack a picnic basket that will tantalize your taste buds, with True Story Foods, purveyors of ethically sourced meats that are wholesome and delicious. Every meat-loving and health-conscious foodie will find something tasty to chew on, like organic apple & wildflower honey chicken sausages, organic grass-fed beef hot dogs, or organic bacon and tenderloin from Non-GMO fresh pork. The culinary carnivore on your list can enjoy premium flavor every day in a brown-bag lunch, with sliced deli cuts like black forest ham, oven roasted turkey breast or uncured Italian dry salame.

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