Harvey Bierman is a championship skier with loads of info about the snow sports he knows and loves. He offers us tips including, learning to ski, back country skiing, and a nuanced comparison of skiing and snowboarding.
Harvey goes on to discuss what makes a great ski resort, offering his choices of the best international and U.S. ski areas.
He ends with a personal memory of his favorite ski experience.
Harvey Bierman is Chief Digital officer for Christy Sports. He is one of the few people who can claim to have won a high school and collegiate ski racing championship in the same state.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to many guidebooks.
Contact Lea! @lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.com.
New episodes drop every other week, on Tuesdays. Please tell your friends, family and colleagues about us, and follow, rate and review this award-winning travel podcast!
Lea Lane 0:06
Hi, I'm Lea lane an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. Have you ever traveled on a ski trip as an avid skier, a beginner or just someone who enjoys mountain views and partying? Our guest on this episode is Harvey Bierman, Chief Digital Officer for Christy Sports. Harvey is one of the few people who can claim to have won a high school and collegiate ski racing championship in the same state. We'll be talking about skiing in general and then discuss some of our favorite ski areas worldwide and in the States. Welcome Harvey to Places I Remember. (Thank you.) So you started off skiing in New Jersey. In fact, during high school, I hear you took the chairlift at Hidden Valley home each day; the school bus dropped you off in the parking lot.
Harvey Bierman 1:07
I did yeah. I literally took the chairlift home when it was open from
Lea Lane 1:11
How did you take it home? Walk your home.
Harvey Bierman 1:14
I literally walked to the chairlift from the parking lot and my computer froze and I took the chairlift to the top; my home was right at the top of the chairlift.
Lea Lane 1:23
Oh, you were destined to be a ski person I can see that. So what has made skiing special for you?
Harvey Bierman 1:29
There's probably three things about skiing that I love so much. One is the individual expression sport. Everyone has their own style or their own enjoyment that they get out of skiing. It might be the upgrade part, it might be being outside, it might be being with friends or family. For me it's the apex of the turn, just the geometric biometric physics part of it is so rewarding when it's done well. And you know, there's a saying you've never skied the perfect turn. As much as you might have thought the last turn you skied was the best turn you've ever skied. There's something about it you can improve. And that construct of constant improvement is something that probably mirrors my life.
Lea Lane 2:06
How interesting is that? Especially so in powder, snow, or doesn't matter if you're on icy terrain? Or is it always a feeling?
Harvey Bierman 2:14
You know, it's probably a concept that ski racers have more than others. But it doesn't really matter. I'm sure you know, people that jump off cliffs feel that there's something about their time in the air. That wasn't accurate. All right, guys in the park or gals in the park probably have the same point of view. Clearly powder skiing. I just got back from a trip to Steamboat this last weekend and had a foot of fresh snow. And you know, every run there was one or two turns that I wish I could have skied better. So I think it transcends all skiing styles and skiing personalities.
Lea Lane 2:42
Interesting. How about some quick tips on learning to ski for beginners?
Harvey Bierman 2:48
Yeah, be ready. I guess don't have high expectations. Don't go beyond your ability. When you start, get a lesson, get the right gear, set yourself up for success. And enjoy the progress. Right? Recognize that day one is going to be pretty horrible, and you might not feel great. Get back out there for day two, because it will be better. And I guarantee you on that third day even better.
Lea Lane 3:12
Absolutely. I mean, I like going on a mountain where I feel comfortable, where I can handle it. And then I can go up to the next one satisfied, but I'm not rushing to Black Diamonds. I was in the bunnies area a long time but it was so satisfying. And when I was beginning and learning, I would sing a song to myself. It would happen to be Long and Winding Road by the Beatles. And it was very pleasant. I got me in the zone and I forgot all the little things, you know, you worry about. You just sort of feel it a little bit even as a beginner. So I really enjoyed that part, feeling I was getting better because I stayed at it.
Harvey Bierman 3:45
Yeah, I was joking. Just this weekend when I was skiing. Usually there's songs in my head when I sing, if I don't have music going. I actually was humming Christmas carols for some stupid reason.
Lea Lane 3:54
That's appropriate. I've heard to focus on your outside ski. Is that true?
Harvey Bierman 3:59
I don't think anything's quite so simple about skiing. But yes, as a general rule and it's the outside ski that creates the turn. It's a little more nuanced and not quite as technical, maybe as that sounds, but the downhill outside ski is the one in fact that helps you change direction.
Lea Lane 4:15
I was talking with my sons when we first went skiing and it happened to be in Jersey in Vernon Valley. We went to we lived in the New York area. And they gave us a quick lesson. It was too quick because we thought you just go straight down the hill. So all of us just went off the lift straight down the hill. And I remember my younger son, You're doing great! You went really fast. And we didn't know what we were doing. We thought hitting someone was the way to stop. But I've learned since that it's the pleasure of turning as you say, and it's a good thing I learned it. Tell us about backcountry skiing.
Harvey Bierman 4:47
There's a lot of flavors of backcountry skiing, but generally it's human powered uphill and human powered downhill. Sometimes it happens outside of a resort just on what we call it the side country. So you take the chairlift up and maybe head out a gate and explore a run outside of the perimeter of the resort. Sometimes you drive or walk or hike to some mountain in the middle of nowhere or maybe somewhere close. Just power yourself up the hill via your skis or snowboard, and then enjoy the ride down on your own.
Lea Lane 5:13
Yeah, this is not for beginners, am I correct? It's not for beginners.
Harvey Bierman 5:17
It's not for the ill equipped and then it's also not for the uninformed. Depending on where you live. Depending on the terrain, it can be very dangerous. Avalanches can happen naturally, on any slope that is over a certain degree. And knowledge of the snow, knowledge of the conditions knowledge of the terrain, knowledge of just the natural paths of snow is really critical. And unfortunately here in Colorado, and Utah and many of the Mountain States of the West, there's deaths every single year related to avalanches by the most informed and the most skilled backcountry skiers. So it's not something to take lightly. It's also very interesting. It's a little bit of European culture coming back into the US. The Europeans have been very much into backcountry skiing.
Lea Lane 5:57
What do they call it off piste. Yeah. A-T. Okay. I mean, there's no patrol, they are usually. So you're really on your own. The trails aren't groomed, and it's for people who are risk takers, but also know what they're doing and are informed as you said,
Harvey Bierman 6:11
Yeah, with one exception. There it is, you know, you're on your own with the elements. And you don't realize how much areas do to control, maintain and provide a safe experience. There's actually a scary here in Colorado called Bluebird Backcountry, which formed about three or four years ago, who's brought controlled terrain to backcountry. So it's basically a backcountry ski area. But it's patrolled. It's avalanche mitigated, and it's intended to bring people into the backcountry in a controlled, safer environment.
Lea Lane 6:37
Well, you mentioned snowboarding just now. It's become very popular in recent years. What's the biggest difference from skiing,
Harvey Bierman 6:37
The differences are many besides obviously, the equipment and standing sideways versus facing downhill; it's a different sense of movement. Because of that it is much more of a skateboard or a snowboard movement. Whereas skiing is much more of a skating movement, and may be very nuanced. There's something different about having your feet planted sideways versus independently moving vertically.
Lea Lane 7:06
You keep your knees bent correctly the whole time.
Harvey Bierman 7:09
Yeah, I mean, obviously, you want to bend your knees in all those winter sports, the terrain is always moving. But the way in which the device moves across the snow, snowboarding is very much a surfing feeling. Skiing can have that surfy feel. But because you're facing downhill and going directly down the fall line versus across it, as you're often doing snowboarding, it's a very different feeling. It also has two very different learning curves. I like to say that skiing is generally easier to be intermediate than it is snowboarding. And I mean that both like physically and just emotionally on your body. Falling on a snowboard those first couple of times is very hard. There's a basically a fulcrum movement, call it a scorpion, lots of different kinds of funny terms to basically describe what it feels like when somebody grabs your feet, and you're still moving.
Lea Lane 7:55
That's why you see young guys doing it.
Harvey Bierman 7:57
But once you get on a snowboard, you find that it's generally easier for someone to progress to a higher level afterwards whereas skiing is so technical, beyond that intermediate level that it takes a generally a longer period of time for people to become you know what I'd call expert skiers versus expert snowboarders if that makes sense.
Lea Lane 8:16
There are other trends in mountain sports such as snowcat skiing and heliskiing. Can you tell us a little bit about those two?
Harvey Bierman 8:22
Sure, you know, everyone's always looking for the next adventure. And you know, backcountry is one way to get outside of the controlled environments or the groom trails, but that's you empowered so you're only basically able to go where your legs can take you in, you know in daylight. With a snowcat or with a helicopte obviously you can get much farther and do a lot more in a shorter period of time.
Lea Lane 8:42
What is a snowcat by the way? Explain that.
Harvey Bierman 8:45
It's basically two snowmobiles side by side with a cab in the middle think of it that way. So it's like a big truck that goes on snow. So yeah, it's really adventurous. heli skiing has been around for forever, it's just become much more accessible.
Lea Lane 8:59
You drop people off at a mountain?
Harvey Bierman 9:02
You basically get in a helicopter and fly to the peak of the mountain get dropped off, ski down, get picked back up there and do it again.
Lea Lane 9:09
Sounds fun for the right people. Have you done it?
Harvey Bierman 9:15
Yes,I have. It's exhilarating.
Lea Lane 9:18
You don't jump out of the helicopter. They land? Just checking, Okay.
Harvey Bierman 9:23
Unless Red Bull is there with a camera you're not.
Lea Lane 9:26
Very good. Now do most people rent equipment and what are some suggestions for gear?
Harvey Bierman 9:31
Equipment has changed so dramatically in the areas and I'd say that the percentage of people who rent has increased pretty significantly over the last you know, call it 10 or 20 years, mostly because it allows you not to have to keep up with buying new gear as the gear gets more innovative. The second one is just the whole sharing economy. You know that people are much more comfortable with borrowing year borrowing equipment, cars, scooters, bicycles,
Lea Lane 9:55
Used to do it with bowling shoes.
Harvey Bierman 9:59
So is a great way for any skier of any ability to get to a destination much easier. You don't have to travel with gear and try different and new gear all the time, and progress without having to make what can be a $1,000 investment in your own gear.
Lea Lane 10:13
What makes a great ski resort or a great ski area?.
Harvey Bierman 10:16
So everyone has their own belief system on this one, right? I can share you mine. I'd say if I'm going skiing frequently, it's accessibility. Right? It needs to be easy to get to. You said Vernon Valley, right? Vernon Valley- Great Gorge now known as Mountain Creek I believe, is in existence today because it's incredibly accessible to tens of millions of people right? Location, Location, Location. So that's what makes that ski area great, you know, I don't think anyone tell you the snow quality at that ski area would be awesome. Oh, no, of course or having lived in Vernon, New Jersey, the nightlife right? Oh, no. But then when you go on a vacation or you want to be on a destination and stay overnight, you know, you're going to look at much more than the snow, the accessibility, you gotta look at the snow quality, right, the chances of fresh snow, the food and lodging thosse costs, maybe for the diversity. And then on the hill really depends on the group you travel with. One of my favorite ski areas in the world is Vail. There is no place on earth like it right. And it has a lot to do with -- I ski with a lot of different people, a lot of different abilities. And it's a mountain that basically from any run, any skier of any ability can have an amazing run down every single time. It's built that way. So diversity of terrain is another one. And then obviously lots of opportunities around accessibility too for there's amazing resort destinations in Idaho and Montana, as well but they get a little bit harder to get to then, you know, some of the ski areas outside of Salt Lake City, which are literally a half hour drive from the airport.
Lea Lane 11:41
Right, access to airports. It's always great when you travel. You don't think of it first, but it's very important when you want to get home. Apres ski you mentioned before-- how would you define apres ski?
Harvey Bierman 11:52
Again, I think it depends on who's on your left and who's on your right. As a father of two kids. Oftentimes my apres is how close is the hot tub. Is there delivery? And can I sleep quickly, right? In my younger years, I used to travel a ton to Vermont and Killington. Because I could be out till 12, or one in the morning, having a really great time with my friends and you know, easy easy access back to where I needed to sleep for the night. So apres means something different to lots of different people. There are really great towns that offer diversity of apres be it right after the hill, with acoustic singer in a bar to, as I said, you know, slopeside hot tubs to maybe even a movie.
Lea Lane 12:30
I think people who don't ski, who accompany skiers, are more interested perhaps in that aspect of what to do when you're not skiing. So yeah, that's something to think about as well. Now, let's discuss a couple of your favorite international ski resorts and ski areas. What would you recommend?
Harvey Bierman 12:47
The two that come to the top of the list from the US, but because it's in North America, I'll mention Whistler Blackcomb. It's a good segue, right? Whistler is ginormous, it's probably the best word to describe it. It has a tram that connects from one peak to the other, there's an option to take a glass bottom version of that tram. And if it doesn't scare the bejesus out of you, then good for you. But it is incredibly high, an incredibly large mountain great diversity of nightlife and at pray, relatively easy access out of Vancouver. But what makes it great is it's basically 5000 vertical feet of skiing. So there's almost always guaranteed good snow the higher you get up, and the diversity of this game, there's terrain for everyone. And then there's terrain for very few people. And there's not a lot of mountains in the world that have the type of extreme off piste terrain that Whistler has. And it's the closest experience you can get to a very European-centric at or off-piste experience in North America. The other thing Whistler has is accessible daily heli skiing, which is an incredible journey. You know, my next favorite are in Europe would be Verbier, also known as the Four Valles. And it's the quintessential European ski experience. It's really not a ski area, and the way we think about it here in the US where you pull up to a parking lot or to a lodge and there's a mountain in front of you with a bunch of lifts in the s___. It's really basically interconnected communities of high alpine living and those communities are literally connected by skiing. My personal ski experience there led me on a journey off piste that took me about 20 miles as the crow flies from one end of the valley to the other to have a bowl of soup at the end of the day. (Wow.) I ended up skiing down the side of a dam that was built during World War Two.
Lea Lane 14:29
Damn good. Yeah.
Harvey Bierman 14:31
And had to take a bus, two trams for chair lifts, a surface lift and a train to get back to where I started. It was an incredible experience.
Lea Lane 14:41
Amazing. Yeah, there are others like that; there's as Courcheval.
Harvey Bierman 14:44
Yeah, Courcheval. Val d'Isere is probably the most famous, you've got the the Matterhorn there in the background, and
Lea Lane 14:50
Well, Zermatt is the city near there. Yeah. Wonderful, you're talking about villages and towns. That's a great one. Yeah.
Harvey Bierman 14:59
I mean, It's just yeah, it's just it's really for those that are into the Nordic Alpine experience. There's nothing like being in these European villages and experiencing
Lea Lane 15:10
What about Japan? There's a place.
Harvey Bierman 15:12
Yeah, I mean, most people that are experienced skiers hear the word Japan, their mind immediately goes to Japan how it's really describes the northern part of Japan, Sapporo, where powder skiing has been brought to the masses through the ski movies every year; the amount of snow they get in northern Japan, the quality of the powder is incredibly high, very hard to get to. My skiing experience is a little more pedestrian. I was on a business trip in Tokyo for over a weekend and my team that I was working with at the time took me on a bullet train out to a ski area that's just an hour outside of Tokyo. It's called ____. And it's literally as you mentioned, the Vernon Valley of Tokyo, an hour from the city. Tons of people get out there every weekend to ski, experience the Nordic lifestyle, they get a tremendous amount of snow, but their elevation is incredibly low. So the quality of that snow can be very questionable. And probably the most interesting thing about that area and just the culture of skiing, is the trails are literally lined with ropes, and no one would dare enter the back country or side country. That's despite how good this no might be. (Very cultural and it Yeah, and it does it you know, it shows you how cultural skiing is, and how it gets adopted and evolved, you know, from region to region.
Lea Lane 16:27
How about summer skiing in South America? What are a couple?
Harvey Bierman 16:31
Lots of folks live their life chasing snow, and they spend their winters in the mountains of Colorado and then they spend their summers or they spend winter number two in the mountains of the Andes at Portio and things like that. I've actually had the privilege of of skiing here in North America in the summer. I used to spend my summers as a kid on Mount Hood in Oregon skiing a glacier there at a time it was an incredible experience, a great way to progress as an athlete and super fun to just ski from eight to 12 in the morning, when the snow is good. And then go rafting and mountain climbing and biking.
Lea Lane 17:04
You mentioned, Vail already, is one of your favorites. A few other top US ski resorts that you'd recommend.
Harvey Bierman 17:11
No list would be appropriate without Jackson Hall (in Wyoming) in Wyoming very much big mountain skiing you know some of the best skiers in the world. Obviously Corbett's Guar, which is one of the most famous cliffs and all of skiing in the world. Very fun to just watch people peer over the edge or peer over the edge yourself if you're not going to take the adventure. Snowbird in Utah and super easy to get to from the airport: incredible skiing incredible snow interconnected with another ski area called Alta. I've gotten older, I've gotten a little bit more (family oriented?0 family oriented, maybe just pampered and for me no list is complete without Deer Valley. Only for skiers, still not open to snowboarders. And the icon pass has made it a little more accessible. But an incredible experience to ski groomers, to eat incredible food, to have amazing views being in a great little city. I'm a big fan of Deer Valley. I will admit.
Lea Lane 18:02
I've been there. Yeah, that's great. Where else?
Harvey Bierman 18:05
A Colorado local can't not mention Arapahoe Basin, you know keep it real.
Lea Lane 18:10
That's called A-Bay, right -- locals say A-Bay.,
Harvey Bierman 18:11
A- Basin right? Lots of lots of the beach lots of different ways. In fact, my my dog is actually named after one of the most famous chairlifts here in Colorado, called the Pally lift, great skiing early and late. You know, they'll open in October, they'll ski through May, sometimes into June, actually skied on my son's birthday, which is June 20, once here in Colorado, which was incredible. Call it the white ribbon of death early on in the season, but there's nothing like it now, you know, on skis after a hot summer, and you can always count on team at A-Basin to get that resort open and ready to rock early.
Lea Lane: So you haven't mentioned any Eastern skiing, resorts. I know, I grew up in the east, I lived in the east. What's the problem there?
It's a problem. I think I mentioned Killington earlier -- incredible nightlife. I ski raced all throughout the Northeast as a kid. So I know the area very, very well. I taught the kids to ski in New Hampshire at Gunstock, which is a great family mountain in New Hampshire. But you know, my favorite ski area in the east is probably Sunday River. And mostly because (in Maine) mostly because it's the best simulation of a Western experience: long wide runs, good natural snow at times, very well spread out, lots of different peaks. Went through tremendous investments in the 80s and 90s to expand. A little bit of a pain to get to. A couple of others that I'll throw out there that you kind of can't get away from would be Jay Peak, you know, in northern Vermont. Been through some interesting financial times if you follow along, but now kind of outside of those; they get the most snow of other resorts. They have, you know, a tram which is really super cool. Again, hard to get to, so not that busy but really great snow and and you mentioned that you know, I can't not say at Vernon Valley, Great Gorge slash,
Lea Lane 19:49
We're giving them a lot. Yeah.
Harvey Bierman 19:51
It's hard. I'm a Jersey guy. I spent more time on that mountain as a kid.
Lea Lane 19:56
So beginners, you know, for a lot of people we started (the gateway right), Yeah, the gateway place. Well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember. So Harvey, please give us a personal memory of a special skiing experience.
Harvey Bierman 20:11
For me I alluded to it earlier. So a couple years ago, I've had the privilege of being at Whistler/ Blackcomb with a group. And one day they surprised us with a trip in the heli. So we took about an hour van ride to find the helicopter. So it was staged very far from the mountain. It had not snowed in Whistler in about three weeks, but it had been unusually cold. So when we got into the heli, we went up, and the guy decided to go to a location. That was another 40 minute flight from where we found the helicopter because they hadn't been there in years; they had done so much powder skiing, recently that they needed to go a little further out to find on tracks now. And they were hopeful that because it had been so cold for so long, that the snow would be good. I can tell you: eight lift rides in the helicopter later, our day was done; they had to change our guide out after six runs because she could no longer keep up with us and needed to tap out because normal day is six helicopter rides. And to this date, the group I went with and I, you know, look at the pictures speak of the memories and talk about recreating. And it's one of those things, you know, no trip will ever be as good as that one. It'll be good in some different way. It was my first time doing the heli skiing, and I can't wait to take my kids in a similar experience before my body gives out.
Lea Lane 21:30
Yeah, do it before but that's one of the rules of travel. Yeah, memories are great. They stay forever. (Yep.) Well, thank you, Harvey Bierman, Chief Digital Officer at Christy sports. You've given us a great overview of skiing. It's cool, and it's hot. And it's an invigorating pastime that we can combined with travel for a terrific vacation. Thank you so much. And maybe I'll see you on the slopes sometime maybe in Vernon valley, but it's not called that anymore. Thank you.
My book Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries is available in print, Kindle, and I read the audio version. You can follow me on forbes.com where I write five travel posts a month. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. And I'd love to hear from you on any of my links in the episodes show notes or on my website placesIrememberLealane.com Until next time, make some travel memory