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Mikaela Shiffrin, of the United States, celebrates after completing her second run for a first place finish in the women’s FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup slalom race, on Nov. 26, 2017, in Killington, Vt. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

KILLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin had one of those days on Sunday, the kind her competitors on the World Cup have come to dread.

On a day when cold wind gusts and angry snow squalls raked Killington, Shiffrin won the first run convincingly, and then skied brilliantly on a brutal second course to distance herself further from her rivals.

Shiffrin, who was second in Saturday’s giant slalom to Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, picked up her first win of the season, and made it look almost easy.

She finished with a combined two-run time of 1 minute, 40.91 seconds, 1.64 seconds ahead of Petra Vlhova of Slovakia. Austria’s Bernadette Schild finished third in 1:43.58, a distant 2.67 seconds back.

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Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest person to ever win a gold medal in the slalom at the Olympics, when she won the gold medal in Sochi in 2014. And she’s well on her way to setting herself up to be in the mix for another one in 2018.

Shiffrin raced this weekend at the World Cup of Skiing at Killington and won the top podium spot in both runs of the slalom.

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Want to try a skiing holiday with your children? Mareike Graepel has all you need to know…

If you have ever been on holiday with children, you know that it makes no difference if you travel for three days or three weeks. But if you go on a skiing trip, packing is a completely different story: Ski gear; gloves; looped scarves; helmets; goggles; sunglasses; long underpants and shirts; very strong sunscreen; food and – just in case it might be too foggy to ski (during the winter) or too warm and not enough snow (around Easter) – swimming gear and hiking boots.

If all goes well, though, the entire family should be on the mountain and in the fresh air from nine in the morning and in the evenings the kids gratefully sink into their thick feather pillows and sleep around the clock.

I tried skiing for the first time when I was three and a half, and have passed on her skiing obsession to my husband and daughters. Together they have tried the pistes and slopes in the Tyrolean towns of Galtür and Ischgl.

Four pairs of skies crunch on the snow, which is still frozen and slippery on the mountain. Two of those crunching sounds seem to swing in slow, big curves across the slopes, the other two – coming from two only half-sized skies – sound brief and small.

“Now, quickly down the slope! Speed up, girls!” I shout – and both children change their skies to the ‘chips’ position. That’s what the skiing instructors call it, when the children have to keep their skies parallel and not in the snow plough style, also known as ‘pizza slice’. Alva, the nine-year-old, tries to swerve properly already, Orla is only five and is still keeping her legs in the snow plough position. But now they speed down this short part of the slope at nearly 50 kilometres am hour – we measured their speed on a special slope near the ‘Idalp’, the largest hut on the mountain, the day before. It’s very apparent why skiing without helmets and proper clothing including gloves is unimaginable.

I am thinking back to times when I went skiing with the local sports club in my teenage years, in resorts like the Italian Plan de Corones in South Tyrol, wearing nothing but a strikingly green punk shirt and jeans when strapping on the skis. There are still people who ski without helmets but the percentage is low.

To ask the kids to go as fast as possible is not entirely altruistic – the slower the children get down this slope, the more they have to tramp up the sloping bit at the end – or hope that I will pull them up, looking like a biathlete-wannabe, who pulls a bunch of colourful and giggling mini people behind her.

“If you only knew how often I had to tramp up on the side of the slope,” I tell them for the umpteenth time and they roll up their eyes towards heaven behind their goggles. “We didn’t have conveyor belts to transport us back up on the beginners’ slope.“

I feel old. Several of these belts are in use by the skiing school, the Skisport Akademie in Ischgl, but are open to all beginners. There is also a children’s play area with a tyre carousel in the snow and a small platter lift. The children’s area is located very centrally in the resort – and most importantly already on the mountain, near the Idalp not down in the valley. This is perfect for families who want to enjoy the slopes themselves while the offspring practice with the instructor.

To learn how to ski is not very difficult here, guaranteed. Alva and Orla had their lessons in the next town, in Galtür, where there is also a beginners’ area and great instructors, male and female, who look after all novices, big and small.

Mareike with her husband and daughters Alva and Orla.

Today, there are no skiing lessons anymore, we are exploring the mountain as a family.

We picked easy slopes, marked with blue signs, and a few with a more advanced level marking, some red-sign-posted pistes. With more than 200 kilometres available just in Ischgl, the choice isn’t difficult – we could be on different slopes all day without repeating the same stretch at all. On top, there are freestyle fun packs, short beginners’ slopes, and ski routes for the advanced.

“Pleaaaase, can we take a black one too““ beg the children. That level of difficulty we decide to keep for the afternoon, at the moment it is still too icy and slippery – we need a bit of sunshine first to make the snow a bit softer.

A group is always as strong as its weakest link, a rule that applies particularly when skiing. Everybody waits for the slowest skier, at every turnoff or before difficult stretches. So, the three of us are standing there, waiting – for my husband. Alva and Orla find it easier to dart across the white snow crumbs, due to their weight and shorter skies, they are less scared of falling and are more agile in knees and hips.

The contrast between sky and earth could not be starker. While we let the sun warm us up a little on the side of the slope, we turn our faces towards the sun, and lean on our ski sticks. The deep blue of the sky, cut off by a sharp edge of pure white, only gets interrupted by the glaring yellow dot in it.

At the end of the piste, just before the six-people-chair-lift of the Höllkarbahn, as we continue our way down, I call across the fourfold crunching sounds: “Stop again, we forgot to put on sun lotion!” Normally we do this in the gondola on the way up in the morning, but we were preoccupied with the fact that the kids had signed up to take part in a ski race just before lunch.

With the start numbers of 3 and 199 – no chronological order, we noticed, relieved – both kids wait for their signal at the race slope, lotion-ed up and everything. Among other parents, we wait along the spectators’ line, get mobile phones and helmet cameras ready.

“And here she goes,” says the announcer and he pronounces her name as if she was called “Orrrrrla”. Slowly and carefully she half circles the slalom sign posts.

And before she is halfway down the piste, Alva takes off.

She is much faster than Orla and speeds down the slope – and only just before she gets to the finish line, tries to avoid a collision with Orla and turns too fast, She straddles a gate – which catapults her high up in the air. Both skies go flying, she ends up flat on her back. I am relieved I did not take off my skies and dash down towards her.

When I stop beside her, she is already up, thank goodness, and a skiing instructor as well as another father who is a doctor apparently, check her for injuries. The tears stream down her face despite having remained unhurt, the shock is big – and the confusion. “What happened?“

After we have shown her the pictures and videos, her tears dry up quickly and she says, rather proudly: “Jeepers, I was fast!”

Alva and Orla have fun in the kids’ area in Ischgl.

For consolation (it is not clear who needs more comfort now, the parents or the child), we head towards a restaurant hut – the choice is huge, with 14 different ones in just this resort. At the Idalp, 1,300 people find a space and there is also a kindergarten for guests, so Mummy and Daddy can go skiing without having to worry about their smallies. But today, we pick a smaller, more rustic hut, with a DJ and a dancefloor outside and a hearty and comfy atmosphere inside, the Paznauner Taja. While stalking across the room in their heavy boots, the kids sway to the music and sing along – to a rather X-rated drinking tune, which they don’t understand yet, thankfully.

A total of 162 kilograms of chips get fried in Ischgl’s hut kitchens, 160 Germknödel (yeast dumplings) and uncountable amounts of vanilla sauce get prepared, 183 portions of Kaiserschmarren (a cut up pancake mix with raisins, applesauce and icing sugar) get cooked as well as 5,212 kilometers of spaghetti with bolognese sauce and mountains of parmesan. Alva picks a Germnknödel with vanilla sauce and covered in ground poppy seeds.

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One of the expert skiers in the Elevate Women’s Ski Camp skis powder in the ski area’s Rock Springs Bowl. About 60 women participate in each of the two women’s camps held each winter.

Snow whips at my group of six from all directions. Having just left the warmth of the waffle shack at the top of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s tram, it feels especially cold and wet. Still, standing in our skis, arranged in a line at the top of Rendezvous Bowl, we all begin disrobing our upper halves. Each of us is wearing between three and five layers, but in less than a minute we’re all down to our base layers. Then, Kori Richards starts a countdown: “3, 2, 1.”

At one, each of us removes our last layer, so that all we’re left with are our sports bras.

Something between a cheer and a roar erupts from my mouth. Similarly unspecific but equally joyful noises come from the rest of the group.

A camera is filming and, reveling in our silliness, we wave at it for several seconds, then we put back on our layers. We follow Richards, a 30-something ski instructor with a near-mystical power for noticing when I’m not pressuring the inside edges of my skis enough at a certain point of a turn, and ski away.

Usually in such conditions – poor visibility, strong winds, choppy snow – I’m a solid-but-hesitant skier, like most of the group. But, this run, we’re all on fire, skiing fast and aggressively, and judging by the exultant shouts that continue as we ski down, loving it.

Past the bowl, almost without pausing, we drop into a double-black-diamond run, un-groomed and full of tight trees. It’s like we’re all temporarily possessed by the type of skiers we’ve always wanted to be. Maybe this possession is our earlier silliness graduating to recklessness? But none of us hurts ourselves on this run, and we all agree it was the most fun and strongest run we’d each skied during our two-and-a-half days together. We’re not the same skiers we were three days ago, when the resort’s annual Elevate Women’s Ski Camp began.

– – –

For years, I avoided lessons because I thought skiing was something that could be learned on your own. I spent 10 years doing just that. I got better every season, but never had any breakthroughs. My progression was skiing the same intermediate runs faster rather than graduating up to more difficult runs. It’s fine to be stuck if you’re happy skiing intermediate runs, but I wasn’t.

This realization hit me on a January afternoon in 2007 in Taos, New Mexico, where I was researching a ski story. Taos’s public-relations department knew that I lived in Jackson, Wyoming, home of the ski resort generally regarded as the steepest and most difficult on the continent. They assumed I was more than an intermediate skier because, well, if you’ve lived and skied in Jackson for 10 years, which I had at the time, you have to almost actively work to not be an expert skier. Taos had a former national extreme skiing champ show me around the resort.

She hid well her frustration at my slowness and frequent falls on the resort’s ungroomed, steep runs. In a mid-mountain bathroom stall, I shed hot tears of shame. How could I not have more to show for 10 years of skiing on dozens of days every season in Jackson Hole?

I had also avoided women’s-only sports camps for years. I wanted to learn to ski more difficult runs more aggressively and with more speed. When I thought of a women’s-only ski group, the vibe that came to mind – fairly or not – was more adorable than aggressive. So, returning home to Jackson, it didn’t dawn on me to look at the resort’s women’s-only offerings. I went straight to the regular ski lessons – a ski camp, actually – that the resort is most famous for.

For as long as I can remember and across all aspects of my life, my modus operandi has been to go big. For example: Recently, I broke my wrist. Repairing it required a three-hour operation, a seven-inch surgical steel plate, 14 screws and 31 stitches. Why mess around with a single-day lesson when there’s a four-day camp? Also, I had done one-off lessons here and there. Although each of these gave me knowledge of what I was doing wrong, I felt like a day wasn’t long enough to effect lasting change.

The resort’s four-day Steep & Deep camp is a bucket-list item for many – more than 1,000 skiers (and snowboarders) come here every winter to scare themselves silly in it. About 90 percent of Steep & Deepers are men and about 100 percent have Type-A personalities. Being pretty Type-A myself, Steep & Deep grabbed my attention. Having been founded in the 1990s by then-world extreme skiing champion Doug Coombs, though, it had one problem: the requirement that campers be expert level. Also, its online description promised that the final day could include skiing Corbet’s Couloir, generally regarded to be the most difficult inbounds ski run in North America. The intent of this news was to get wannabe participants psyched up: “Yeah! Lucky you! Corbet’s!” But that wasn’t how I read it. My translation was, “You’ll probably end this camp on crutches.”

Still, I wanted to do it. I signed up for my first Steep & Deep four winters later, in 2011.

– – –

The camp was transformative, and not just for my confidence when I wasn’t put into the lowest group. Coach Bill Truelove taught me about “schmearing,” a type of turn in which you control your speed throughout the entire arc, and helped me learn how to do it.

Since my first Steep & Deep camp, I’ve done three more. And, after skiing at the resort on my own one day in 2013 and having a group from one of the women’s camps blow past me on a double-black-diamond run and seeing how much fun they were having, I’ve also done two Elevate women’s camps. The one in which my group stripped to sports bras – for a funny movie to be shown at the final night’s banquet – was my first.

In all six of the camps I’ve attended, my skiing has made multiple breakthroughs that have stuck with me long after each camp ended.

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Athletes who’ll be making the headlines heading into PyeongChang 2018

Ten athletes and two teenage talents have been named on the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Ones to Watch list for the upcoming Para Nordic skiing season, which will include the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games next March.

Selected by World Para Nordic Skiing, the Ones to Watch athletes are individuals who have the potential to make headlines, especially at PyeongChang 2018.

The list includes a mix of Nordic skiers who won Paralympic and World Championships medals, were prolific on the World Cup circuit, and are also strong spokespersons for the sport.

Ones to Watch for other winter sports, including Para ice hockey and wheelchair curling, will be announced in the coming weeks.

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His misguided immigration and climate-change policies are worse than January rain

This is not the beginning of a partisan smear campaign like the seminal “CHENEY SKIS IN JEANS” bumper stickers popular in Jackson Hole in the early aughts. Once upon a time, years before President Donald Trump subscribed to the human-body-as-depletable-battery school of exercise avoidance, he was a skier. His children fondly remember racing dear old dad to the bottom.* Years later, they told an interviewer that Father Trump would shove them over if they attempted to pass.

No, what follows are just the facts: Trump is a clear and present danger to skiing as an industry. His bombastic speeches and immigration policies are worse than January rain when it comes to the dollars and cents and powder days that support the sport.

In a Wall Street Journal essay last month, Aspen Ski Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan blamed the “xenophobia radiating from the Oval Office” for the dip in Mexican tourism the resort saw last year. Visits by this demographic—a core market for all the major Colorado ski resorts—fell by 30 percent. Think about it: If Mexico’s president called you a rapist and a drug dealer and said he was going to build a wall and make you pay for it, would you book a trip to Cancun?

In response to that tourism falloff and the Trump-propagated national intolerance, Aspen—which has hosted Gay Ski Week and the National Brotherhood of Skiers for years—has launched an ad campaign for the resort built around the slogan, “Love, Respect, Unity, and Commit.” The idea came from an earlier essay Kaplan penned for the Aspen Daily Timestitled “We’re Still Here,” where he spoke for the reasonable folks in the ski town who care about things like, you know, the international community and the environment.

It’s not just tourism dollars that have taken a hit: resorts risk losing employees, too. A few weeks before Kaplan’s Wall Street Jounal op-ed, sources reported that Trump was considering axing J-1 visas—a program that allows students from all over the world to work U.S. ski area jobs in the name of cultural exchange.

You might cry, “But wait, Americans should take those jobs!” Problem is, far fewer American college students with dreams of ski-bumming now take the time off from school. And with unemployment rates hovering just above 2 percent in destination ski towns, there aren’t enough warm bodies to bump heated chairs, flip grass-finished burgers, park the college kids’ Audis, and scrub the foie gras from the mountaintop toilets.

Losing the J-1 visas would be a raw deal for the ski resorts. According to the Alliance for International Exchange, over 70,000 J-1 visa holders added $509 million to the U.S. economy in 2016. “It would be worse than the drought,” Andy Wirth, the president and COO of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, told the Denver Post, equating the loss in workers to the three low snow years that nearly ruined California skiing. “We cannot, as an industry, have Trump sign that two months before we open.”

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If there’s enough snow to ride, there’s enough snow to slide. Such was the case last week, when this avalanche hit in southwest Montana. Photo: Casey Grote

Recently, ski towns and communities across the West were rejoicing at the most beautiful September sight: the first (ROCK!) snowfall of the year. From the Sierra to the Wasatch, and from Aspen to Big Sky, skiers reveled in (ROCK!) the indication that the heat and crowds of summer will soon be replaced by (ROCK!) plundering (ROCK!) powder with their friends.

Mount Bachelor, Oregon, even opened (ROCK!), providing access to a walk-in (ROCK!) jib park. Others hiked for their (ROCK!) (ROCK!) (ROCK!) turns, and dropped the obligatory (ROCK!) social media post.

Utah’s Wasatch received 10 to 20 inches of (ROCK!) snow, with Snowbird even being featured on Good Morning (ROCK!) America. The new snow certainly gets everyone excited, but it’s also a good time to reflect on what it means for those getting their early season turns (ROCK!), as well as the winter snowpack ahead (ROCK!).

After the mountains of southwest Montana received 10 inches of snow late last month, with three to five inches of water content (i.e. heavy AF), the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center stressed a familiar, if slightly unseasonal, reminder: “If there’s enough snow to ride, there’s enough snow to slide.”

Doug Chabot, director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center in Bozeman, advises people to take the same precautions now as they would in the middle of the winter. “They need to bring the same gear, and use proper traveling protocol,” he said Wednesday. “It happens every year: It doesn’t feel like winter and the snow is not very deep, so we take short cuts. No beacon, no air bag, no helmet. But all the same rules still apply.”

“Right now, we’re mostly concerned about injuries,” he added. “Run-out zones will have rocks, or be super thin. And if you’re not careful, you’ll ruin your season.”

The new snow also foreshadows danger ahead. This early snow that fell in the high country will soon be buried by more snow, which Chabot said typically becomes a bad layer of instability during the meat of the ski season. “Even though it’s going to get warm again, snow will remain at high elevations and north faces,” he said. “Not always, but typically, that snow will become a problem later in the winter. It’s going to become a weak layer.”

“Every year, we will start to see human triggered avalanches getting people hurt long before any of the ski areas are open. It happens every year,” said Chabot.

Drew Hardesty, avalanche forecaster for the Utah Avalanche Center, echoed those sentiments via email: “If we expect the September snows to remain in the high northerlies, those approaching the BC with last year’s mindset may be in for a surprise,” he wrote. “In many areas (last season), fatalities were well below average, especially in Utah. Trauma, of course, plays a huge role in early season avalanche accidents. Low-angle meadow skipping in the grass seems to be the ticket.”

2017 season avalanche safety
It pays to be high, especially in September. At Silverton, Colorado, the highest ski area in the country, local patrollers found quality turns, on September 24, 2017. The ski area is scheduled to open in early December. Photo: Courtesy Silverton Mountain

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Afiniti ski group getting dropped off in the Karakoram mountains by a PAF Mi-17 helicopter in the Karakoram mountain range, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, on Feb. 15, 2016.

  • AI firm Afiniti employs three-quarter of employees in Pakistan
  • Company may list next year with more than $2 billion valuation

In the northern snow-capped peaks of Pakistan, Zia Chishti disembarked off a helicopter and skied downhill on a mission to convince investors, clients and company executives that the nation once called by The Economist “the world’s most dangerous place” is now safe for business.

Chishti, who grew up in Lahore, gathered a group from more than a dozen countries including Alessandro Benetton, a heir to the billionaire family that owns the iconic namesake Italian clothing company, and Huawei Technologies Co. rotating Chief Executive Officer Guo Ping earlier this year to Pakistan, the back-end base for some of his TRG Holdings businesses. Last month, his artificial intelligence company signed a deal with Huawei, which will help its push into Eastern markets including China, Japan and Australia.

For Chishti, ensuring his clients understand that Pakistan, which has struggled against internal militant groups, has changed since The Economist report a decade ago is critical because many of his employees who provide customer solutions, sales support and marketing to clients including Sprint Corp. and Caesars Entertainment Corp. are based in the South Asian nation. Chishti has added more people in Pakistan, a move that will also help him keep costs under control as his AI unit prepares for an initial public offering in the U.S.

“Pakistan by any reasonable and adaptive measure is an extremely safe place to do business,” said Chishti, whose office oversees the White House, said in an interview by phone. “All in all it’s a very favorable place to do business and the world perception just has to catch up.”

Despite a widespread negative perception over the country’s security record, multiple military operations have curbed domestic insurgents after a Pakistani Taliban massacre at a school three years ago shocked the nation. Last year, civilian deaths from terrorism dropped to the lowest in more than a decade.

The army’s drive has boosted the confidence of companies, including TRG, and foreign investment is up 155 percent to $457 million in the first two months of the business year started July. Chishti’s TRG, with investments in more than a dozen companies related to outsourcing, has moved into a larger building this year that will fit 3,000 staff in the previously tumultuous port city of Karachi, which has been secured by paramilitary forces against gangsters, militants and political militias since 2013.

An Afiniti ski group skis in the Karakoram mountain range.

Photographer: James Ahmed/Afiniti

Pakistan’s global competitiveness ranking has improved in the past two years, moving above the bottom 20 countries, according to a World Economic Forum report released this week. Crime and theft had the biggest drop in problematic factors for doing business this year along with poor work ethic of labor force.

Chishti latest focus is artificial intelligence company Afiniti that enhances call flows at contact centers. It uses data and artificial intelligence to predict the behavior of individuals and agents before pairing them, rather than connecting callers to the first available agent.

Clients include Vodafone Group Plc, Sky Plc and T-Mobile US Inc. for the company that employs three quarter of its 1,000 staff in Pakistan. Chishti’s TRG holds about half of the company ownership.

The company is planning to list on the Nasdaq Composite Index with a valuation above $2 billion next year, according to person familiar with matter, giving it potential to have one of the largest enterprise software IPOs in recent years.

Artificial intelligence is finding its way into businesses from hedge funds, law firms to beer makers and companies including Microsoft Corp. and Google’s Alphabet Inc. are investing in artificial intelligence driven by a belief that the technology can remake entire sectors of the economy.

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A day skiing at the Yellowstone Club.

“Fresh powder is one of the rarest ­commodities in the world,” says Aaron Brill, co-owner of Silverton Mountain. There’s a reason you’ve never heard of the resort. The private ski club in southeastern Colorado limits access to 80 guests a day—unless someone buys out the mountain. First tracks after lunchtime? It’s an advantage that no name-brand resort can provide: not Aspen, not Vail, not St. Moritz.

All 1,819 of Silverton’s skiable acres can be yours for $14,000 per day. For an extra $900 you get a helicopter and 29,000 acres of sugary, backwoods pow. Reservations are available to the public and sell out months in advance, but guaranteed access goes to 25 “luminaries,” loyal patrons who have earned elite status. For that $14,000, they can bump day-pass holders when conditions are prime. (Skiers who’ve already booked on those days get fairly compensated to come back another day.)

Silverton is among a growing list of membership-based skiing clubs in the U.S. For the first time this year, Vermont’s Hermitage Club allows members to rent the ­194-acre mountain for a day; it costs $60,000 for you and your 99 closest friends. And Colorado’s Cimarron Mountain Club, which opened in September near Telluride, has just 15 memberships, which run a cool $3.2 million apiece. For that, you get a 35-acre slice of the property where you can build the ski home of your dreams, plus unlimited guided or snowcat skiing on 2,000 untouched acres.

“Private ski resorts are the new private jet,” says Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, a Virtuoso Ltd. travel agency. “They give luxury travelers a ­hassle-free, line-free experience, so they can focus more attention on their family and travel partners.”

1999. Its 2,200 acres of groomed corduroy—plus private jet access at the Bozeman airport—are limited to owners of the 864 properties on the mountain. (They range from $3.15 million to $25 million—not including the $300,000 sign-up fee, $39,500 annual dues, and sub-association fees.) “It brought a level of exclusivity defined by a person’s ability to invest in real estate,” says Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. Though it’s not the new kid on the block, it’s certainly booming: last year, Yellowstone saw $700 million in annual real estate sales, compared to $500 million in 2015.

The lodge at the Yellowstone Club.
Photographer: Ryan Turner

And it’s not all about powder-­chasing. Hans Williamson, general manager of Yellowstone, says families love not having to worry about their kids on the slopes as they might in Aspen, where crowds make collisions more likely.

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