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13 family-friendly dive sites for your kids

Caymanislands
  • Cayman Islands

If you’ve got young explorers at home who dream of swimming alongside Nemo or meeting a sea turtle up close, your next vacation may be the right time to introduce them to snorkeling and scuba diving. At coastal locations around the world, resorts and dive shops tailor programs for families and kids so they can begin chartering their course as the next Jacques Cousteau.

The Basics

Kids as young as 8 can learn scuba, though they must be at least 10 to become certified, according to theProfessional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), which provides certification for scuba divers.

Through PADI’s “Bubblemaker” classes, hosted at many dive centers around the world, kids 8 and older can learn how to use scuba equipment and breathe underwater in shallow environments, usually a pool. When they turn 10, they can be certified as Junior Open Water Divers; a PADI certified adult must accompany them, and they will be limited to a depth of 40 feet. At age 12, the depth restriction is removed.

If you or your children feel they’re not ready yet, snorkeling is a good alternative; they can join the fun and literally get their feet wet for scuba diving.

  • 1. Grand Cayman Island

    Cayman Islands

    Kids will love Stingray City by Grand Cayman Island, where they can pet and swim with stingrays in shallow waters, as well as snorkel. Folklore has it that kissing a stingray gets you seven years of good luck. Other shallow dives in the area ideal for Junior Open Water Divers include the underwater USS Kittiwake, a sunken Navy submarine rescue ship that is best known for its recovery of the Challenger space shuttle debris. Out of the water, families can search for blue iguanas, try stand-up paddleboarding, embark on an authentic pirate ship cruise and more.

  • 2. Bonaire Island

    Buddy Dive Resort Bonaire

    This Caribbean island, known for shore diving (from the beach, rather than from a boat) is a popular spot for divers year-round and has outstanding programs for kids. Divi Flamingo Beach Resort, the largest resort on the island, is a great headquarters for your family vacation. Younger kids snorkel right off the shore and can rent a dive light for nighttime snorkeling in the shallow waters in front of the resort. Children 10 and older can participate in the resort’s half-day junior dive experience or get scuba certified in the junior open water certification course. Oh, and did we mention kids stay free from April through mid-December?

    Another hotspot in Bonaire is the Buddy Dive Resort, which has a Buddy Rangers program for kids 5-10. The class combines snorkeling and scuba diving by teaching kids how to snorkel using scuba equipment. Kids 8-10 can join the PADI Seal Team to master a variety of “aqua missions,” like diving a pretend wreck or practicing a search and rescue operation using real scuba gear. Both resorts offer the PADI Bubblemakers program, as well.

    Bonaire is ideal for novice divers, as there are no strong currents, no big seas and short boat rides to dive sites. There are also many family-friendly activities like kayaking the mangroves, exploring small caves and children’s kiteboarding.

  • 3. Fiji

    Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort

    At the Vomo Island Resort on a 255-acre private island in Fiji, kids 10 and older can practice scuba in an enclosed area up to 40 feet deep as part of the PADI Discover Scuba Diving course. When kids aren’t underwater or hanging out at their beachfront villa, the resort offers plenty of activities to capture their attention, including kayaking, fish feeding, hiking, volleyball, tennis and golf. They can also head to the specially designed Kids Village with its media room, play areas and craft tables.

    At the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort in Fiji, started by the son of legendary diver Jacques Cousteau, teens can participate in dives with adults while also enjoying teen-specific activities, including snorkeling a site called “shark alley,” coral planting, volleyball, lessons in Fijian and spearfishing with local teens in the nearby village. For the younger set, the resort offers PADI’s Bubblemaker program and SASSY, a dive that combines snorkeling and scuba.

  • 4. Monaco

    Ecole Bleue Monaco

    At L’Ecole Bleue (The Blue School) in the principality of Monaco on the French Riviera, you can train with an expert diver. Started by Pierre Frolla, a free diver who holds three world records, the school offers lessons at Monaco’s Larvotto marine park and teaches kids to be good stewards of the sea. The school has training in marine biology, underwater excursions, scuba diving, snorkeling and free diving for beginner to advanced divers. Children’s courses are held between April and October and range from two to five days.

  • 5. Hawaii

    Kauai Down Under

    Hawaii, with its mild weather and abundant activities for all ages, is always a popular destination for families. Take one of the daily complimentary scuba lessons in the Saltwater Lagoon at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa in Koloa and then head out on an ocean dive to a brilliant Hawaiian reef with an instructor from Seasport Divers.

    The Sheraton Kauai Resort has its own on-site dive team, which can help guests become dive certified poolside. Once certified, the Kauai Down Under crew ferries divers to dive sites, including the Sheraton Caverns, located just off the shore from the hotel.

  • 6. North Carolina

    UNCW MarineQuest

    The coast of North Carolina is a surprisingly excellent spot for scuba diving, with lots to see in the Atlantic Ocean. At Kure Beach, kids 12 and older dive in waters that are home to 5000 historic shipwrecks, plentiful porcelain plates and prehistoric fossils like megalodon teeth, which dot the ocean’s natural ledges. Plus, if your pre-teen or teen wants to get certified, he or she can do so in as few as three days.

  • 7. Mustique

    The Cotton House

    On the beautiful Caribbean island of Mustique, kids can try the Bubblemaker program out of a pool and actually in the ocean. The Cotton House Resort on the island lets kids practice scuba diving in their “house reef,” located right in front of the resort. There they explore a real ocean environment complete with fish, coral and more. Popular dive sites in Mustique include Coral Glen, Dry Rock, All-awash and Sharks Cave.

  • 8. Australia

    Tourism and Events Queensland

    Scuba diving doesn’t get much better than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Kids 12 and older can join an introductory dive with Calypso Reef Charters, where they’ll learn basic skills and then practice them on a 30-40 minute small group dive in the reef. Families with younger kids (8 and older) can sign up for the SunReef Bubblemaker program. Be sure to keep your eyes open for Nemos (clown fish), anemones, turtles and more as you explore the world’s largest barrier reef as a family.

  • 9. Belize

    Las Terrazas

    If the land down under is too far away for a school break, try Central America. Belize is home to the second largest coral reef system in the world. Las Terrazas Resort, which offers oversized townhomes ideal for families that want the amenities of home, has an on-site dive shop with daily diving and scuba instruction. Kids not only can participate in the Bubblemaker program; they can become Junior Open Water Certified while on vacation. The shop also customizes dives for families to sites that include Ambergris Caye, The Blue Hole, Stann Creek District, The Elbow and Turneff Atoll.

  • 10. Florida

    Stephen Frink/ Florida Keys News Bureau

    Florida’s Paradise Coast is regularly named a top destination for families, and it offers plentiful diving to boot. Explore wrecks and reefs, along with marine life like nurse sharks and sea turtles. Many area dive programs like Scuba Marco in Marco Island offer the Bubblemaker and other junior dive programs.

    The Florida Keys boasts North America’s only living coral barrier reef, and a great dive site is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Younger kids can snorkel (see if they can find the Christ of the Deep statue) or take a ride aboard a glass-bottom boat. Junior Open Water certified divers and their adult family members can join one of two daily dive tours from different locations in the park; most sites are no deeper than 50 feet.

    Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Key West, has a non-certified divers resort course ideal for families who are not certified scuba divers. The course gives participants certification for just one day, starting with a pool lesson in the morning followed by two dives with an instructor in the afternoon to reefs in the tranquil Gulf of Mexico waters.

  • 11. Mexico

    Cabo Adventures

    Another destination that makes for a quick weekend or fall or winter break getaway is Los Cabos, Mexico. The Amazing Snorkeling program at Hilton Los Cabos* is open to ages 5 and older and lets kids “power-snorkel” with water scooters (a personal motorized handheld craft that propels you through the water) in the clear protected waters of a cove in the Sea of Cortes. Kids 12 and older can join introductory dives at the resort, including its 30-minute beginner scuba family activity. Los Cabos offers ideal diving conditions year-round and access to underwater reefs, as well as rock formations in the Gulf of California and the Mexican Pacific. Hilton Los Cabos offers plenty of out-of-the-water activities for kids, as well as Spanish lessons, cooking classes and even a teen Jacuzzi party!

  • 12. Bermuda

    Island Tour Center, courtesy of the Bermuda Tourism Authority

    On the Caribbean Island of Bermuda, you can have an unusual underwater adventure that’s open to kids 5 and older: an undersea walk wearing a “water helmet,” which looks similar to a vintage diving suit. Stroll through the area’s turquoise waters among its colorful fish and golden coral just as if you were on land. No scuba certification required.

  • 13. Mozambique

    Azura Retreats

    At Azura Benguerra, a luxury resort in Mozambique the adventure begins as guests travel to the resort by helicopter. Kids 8 and up can hone their scuba skills in the PADI 5 Star Dive Centre, with a training pool and a full selection of PADI courses. Once everyone is accustomed to safe scuba practices, kids head off with their instructor to dive no deeper than 40 feet in the warm Indian Ocean, where they can explore six reefs that are home to clown fish, green and leatherback turtles, humpback whales, reef sharks, moray eels, whale sharks and manta rays.

     

Categories: Fun in the Sun | Leave a comment

Mystery American buys tropical island in the Philippines

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The American buyer has bought a 25 year lease on a paradise island called Fuga in the northern Philippines. (WWW.LAMUDI.COM.PH)

Ever wanted to buy your own private island?

One anonymous American billionaire has done just that and plunked down $2 billion dollars for a stunning 25 thousand-acre paradise in the northern Philippines. But despite its hefty price tag, the buyer has only been given a 25-year lease on the island.

For those who are doing the math, that $78 million a year.

Called Fuga, the island boasts crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, and sprawling green hills.

“With its vibrant and buoyant real estate market, buying property is becoming more fun in the Philippines,” Jacqueline van den Ende, of property website Lamudi Philippines, said.

It’s unclear if Fuga will be developed as an exclusive resort for the public, a private tropical hide-away or something else.

Buying a private island has become the latest must-have among the rich and famous. Several celebrities, including Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson, Leonardo DiCaprio or Richard Branson have taken the plunge as well as many business executives.  And you’d be surprised to know that some private islands are not as expensive as you think.

Websites such as Private Islands Online are offering a wide range of islands – developed or undeveloped, inhabited or uninhabited – for prices as low as about $30,000.

But Fuga isn’t just about beautiful beaches.  It has a poor indigenous population that lacks basic necessities like running water, good health care and education.

We think a luxury compound in Turks and Caicos sounds better.

Categories: Exotic Locations | Leave a comment

Terror and triumph on Whistler’s via ferrata

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  • ViaFerrata1.jpg

    Rupert Davies, of Whistler Alpine Guides, maneuvers the via ferrata. (Blane Bachelor)

I’m standing on a rebar rung, clinging to another rung, hundreds of feet off the ground on a near-vertical stretch of Whistler Mountain – with nowhere to go but up.

But first I have to go sideways, across a sizable chasm with a horrifying expanse of open air below.

“So, has anyone else besides me ever cried up here?”

And I can’t move.

I’m having what feels like my first-ever panic attack – my breathing is labored, my hands and feet are cemented in place, and I honestly think these could be my last moments. I can hear my mom’s voice in my head: “I BEGGED her not to do it!”

Then I hear another voice, a real one, from a few feet below: “Trust your boots,” it says calmly, matter-of-factly.

The voice comes from Rupert, the friendly, redheaded guide who has done this so many times before – eased an adventure-goer like me back from full-blown fear into the business of finding her next foothold. So I do what he says: I trust my boots. I pull my foot off the rung and swing it through space to find the next one, my hands following.

My boots hold, and for now, my sanity does, too. And so it goes for the next couple of hours: rung by rung, step by step, section by steep section on Whistler’s via ferrata – Italian for “iron way” – a trail of iron rungs and cables fixed into the mountainside that create a vertical route to the top. It’s a great way for non-rock jocks like me to experience dizzying heights and spectacular views once available only to hardcore climbers.

The first via ferratas weren’t developed for adrenaline-seekers. The Italian army built them during World War I to move troops and supplies quickly through the Dolomite mountains. Climbers discovered them in the 1960s, and since then hundreds of via ferratas have popped up throughout Europe and in countries including Malaysia, New Zealand and Japan.

They’re less commonplace in the United States – a handful of sites includes Yosemite’s Half-Dome, though it’s not usually referred to as a via ferrata – thanks to government regulations against permanent climbing anchors. This high-altitude adventure, which has been operating in Whistler for about 10 years, is a big reason I’ve come to this ski-obsessed town in British Columbia in the summer.

Unfortunately, the steady, chilly rain is anything but summery as our group of four – another woman who appears to be in her late 30s and a pair of fit-looking guys in top-of-the-line mountain gear – arrives for the excursion. We’re good to go as long as there’s no lightning – it’s not exactly safe to cling to metal thousands of feet off the ground in such conditions – but the added challenge of wet, slippery rungs doesn’t exactly calm my twitchy nerves.

We fit our helmets and harnesses inside the equipment outpost of Whistler Alpine Guides, the tour operator that runs Whistler’s via ferrata. No one says much – except for the quiet conversation between Rupert and the guys, who have taken him aside to ask about the safety waiver (which I’ve already signed).

That the most alpine-adept in the group have questions is a tad worrisome, but I take it as a good sign that everything seems to be cleared up. Then Rupert comes back over and asks if anyone has ever used an ice ax.

Not me. And apparently I don’t have any common sense, either. Who am I kidding that, with my fear of heights, with a knee that’s had two surgeries and with limited climbing experience, I can actually do this?

But by then Rupert has handed us our ice axes, and off we go. With Whistler’s 7,160-foot peak looming ahead, we’re soon using the fearsome-looking tools on a long stretch of crunchy snow. Rupert shows us how to move across ­– by kick-stepping footholds and using our axes for support.

Soon comes the first challenge: scaling an aluminum ladder – the kind you can buy at Lowe’s – affixed to the rock, while roped together for safety. Nico and Stefan, who I’ve learned are from Belgium, glide up effortlessly, as they will for the next three hours. It takes me and Karine, who’s from Montreal, a bit longer.

For the rest of the way, we are attached to the reinforced steel cables and rungs by our safety lanyards, which we connect and reconnect via locking carabiners as we climb. But when you’re scaling a sheer rock face thousands of feet in the sky, it’s hard to remember that there are such devices in place to keep you from falling.

Instead, in the tricky spots – and there are several – I try to focus on breathing normally. But my breath still comes out in gorilla-like grunts, along with a constant stream of obscenities and sometimes tears. I’m in decent shape, but I’m getting my butt kicked – physically and emotionally.

Over and over, Rupert assures Karine and me that we’re doing great. Meanwhile, Nico and Stefan climb so quickly that we can no longer see them, and Rupert regularly calls out to check on them and tell them where to wait. They tell me during one break, without a trace of arrogance, that they’ve hiked to mountain lodges in Europe, burdened with wieldy packs of camping gear, along even more difficult routes.

But being overshadowed by these elite alpinists, who channel both Speedy Gonzalez and Superman, doesn’t deter my own glory and overwhelming sense of relief when we reach the summit. The final pitch looks like a doozy – a sheer stretch that seems well past vertical under the jagged ridgeline – but Rupert assures us that we’ve already done much harder parts. And once again, he’s right.

Nico and Stefan applaud as we take our final steps up to the plateau of the summit. We take a few minutes to catch our breath, high-five and admire the spectacular view of snow-capped mountains before we head to the chairlift that will take us down.

“So, has anyone else besides me ever cried up here?” I ask Rupert as we walk, my legs still shaky.

“I was crying,” Karine says right away. We all laugh, and I feel a little less of a wuss.

“People start the day nervous, with a lot of anxiety,” Rupert says. “And once you get them through the hard sections, their sense of reward is really noticeable. There’s this big sense of accomplishment and the buzz from the afterglow.”

Which is certainly true – the view from the top is even more amazing because I feel I’ve really earned it. I haven’t felt this proud of myself in a long time.

But I’m also craving a different kind of buzz: one that can be found in a bar, on terra firma.

If You Go:

The Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort in British Columbia operates a via ferratathrough tour operator Whistler Alpine Guides. Trips run June through mid-October, take about four hours and cost about $108, including equipment.

A word of caution:  While this is open to those with no prior climbing experience, it is strenuous, so you may want to consult with your physician before planning a trip.  Also altitude sickness can start as low as 5,000 feet, so take precautions.

Categories: Extreme Adventures | Leave a comment

The most dangerous trips in the world

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  • Reinhard Dirscherl / Alamy

For your next vacation, take a walk on the wild side.

Sitting on the beach or going for a nice stroll are so yesterday. Why not try climbing one of the steepest cliff faces in the world or swimming with live jellyfish? Some of these outlandish vacation excursions might not be everyone’s speed but if you’re feeling adventurous, it’s nice to have a few options.

  • 1. Jellyfish Lak – Eil Malk, Palau

    Reinhard Dirscherl / Alamy

    Remember the jellyfish scene from Finding Nemo? That’s pretty much exactly what Palau’s Jellyfish Lake is like. Located on Eil Malk Island, this marine lake is home to millions of jellyfish that slowly migrate across the water each day, following the path of the sun. Tourists can obtain a pass to visit the island and snorkel among the golden jellies and moon jellies. Although these stingers are (mostly) harmless, you may feel a twinge around sensitive body parts. Be careful not to dive too deep into the pool—the lower level contains dangerous amounts of hydrogen sulfide, which can be deadly.

  • 2. Villarrica Volcano – Chile

    Gary Cook / Alamy

    The Villarrica volcano in southern Chile is a go-to destination for the craziest of daredevils. During the summer, thousands of tourists attempt to hike to the top of the volcano (one of the few in the world with an active lava lake) on guided tours. Come wintertime, even braver groups climb the glacial slopes while dodging crevasses and avalanches. If neither of those seasonal options appeals to you, there’s always the ultimate feat of courage: bungee jumping from the skid of a helicopter right above the volcano’s bubbling crater. Could anything be better for your next relaxing vacation?

  • 3. North Yungas Road – Bolivia

    Stock Connection Blue / Alamy

    The path from La Paz to Coroico, Bolivia, is a treacherous one. The North Yungas Road weaves precariously through the Amazon rainforest at a height of over 15,000 feet. When you consider that frightening elevation—not to mention the 12-foot-wide single lane, lack of guardrails, and limited visibility due to rain and fog—it’s easy to see why this 50-mile stretch of highway has earned the nickname “The Death Road.” While 200 to 300 drivers used to die here annually, North Yungas Road has now become more of a destination for adventurous mountain bikers than a vehicular thoroughfare.

  • 4. Teanupoo – Taiarapu-Ouest, Tahiti

    National Geographic Image Collection / Alamy

    Surfing is a perilous sport in and of itself, but the risk increases exponentially when Tahiti’s famous Teahupoo wave becomes a factor. The top-heavy swells of the wave can reach heights of up to 21 feet, making it a popular destination for professional (and daring) surfers. There have been five recorded deaths at Teahupoo since 2000, mainly due to the razor-sharp coral reef located a mere 20 inches below the water’s surface.

  • 5. Mt. Hua – Huayin, China

    LOOK/Getty

    The peaks of Mt. Hua—or Huashan, located about 75 miles east of Xi’an in northwest China—boast a variety of beautiful temples and some of the best sunrise views you can imagine. To get there, one must simply side-step across rickety 12-inch-wide planks while holding on to loose metal chains—thousands of feet above the ground. Sound fun? Just note that many spots of the “bridge” are broken or missing and hundreds of people have died while trying to reach the scenic summits over the years. So, uh, don’t look down?

  • 6. Corbet’s Couloir – Jackson Hole, Wyoming

    Jan Schuler / Alamy

    If there’s one U.S. location on every expert skiier’s bucket list, it would have to be Corbet’s Couloir, located at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming. Otherwise known as “America’s scariest ski slope,” Corbet’s is more than 10,000 feet high, has a double-diamond rating, and drops down at a 60-degree angle. The biggest feat for skiers, however, is the initial jump over the mountain’s cornice—depending on snow conditions, the free fall ranges anywhere between 10 and 30 feet.

     

Categories: Extreme Adventures | Leave a comment

Take a walk in the clouds on new suspension bridge between mountain peaks

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A mock-up of Peak Walk.Glacier3000.comrwewerert6rerre

Need a little fresh air?

Try taking a walk nearly 10,000 feet above ground on this suspension bridge that will link two peaks in the Swiss Alps.

The new bridge will link two mountains: Glacier 3000 and Scex Rouge and soar 9,700 feet into the sky. According to Glacier 3000’s website, this 350 foot bridge will be the first of its kind.

Features of the bridge include a partial glass floor that allows walkers to gaze into the drop below and it will be strong enough to support up to 300 people at a time. The project is called ‘Peak Walk,’ and will provide stunning views  of the surrounding vistas including Mont Blanc and Eiger mountains.

Made from steel cables, the bridge has been designed to stay open year round and will be strong enough to withstand winds of up to 155mph, reports the Daily Mail.

Peak Walk is estimated to cost around $3.4 million and has already faced construction delays due to poor weather conditions in the Swiss Alps over the summer and workers having a difficult time acclimating to thin air at high altitudes.

Though the bridge is the first of its kind as it will the tallest suspension bridge connecting two peaks, the honor of the tallest suspension bridge goes to theTitlis Cliff Walk in Obwalden, Switzerland, which connects a mountain to a chair lift station, 9,977 feet above sea level.

Categories: Extreme Adventures | Leave a comment

High-tech hunting gear for the fall season

Hunting

Hunting

Polaris Ranger XP 900(John Linn, Adventure Studios 2014)

Weekend hunting excursions don’t have to be all about long hikes on deserted trails and turkey calls at 5 a.m. This gear is designed to make your trip easier. You can pack up your gear for easier transport in the woods, text your hunting party even from a secluded deer stand and ride back to the campsite in style.

1. Blackout SS Compound Bow

Price: $600

The technology alone in this compound bow will make you want to hunt more often. At just 3.5 pounds, it’s light enough to carry all day, yet the bow has unusual power – arrows launch at 335 feet per second. The camo bow lets you adjust from 26.5 to 30.5-inch draw length, and there’s a new single-cam design to transfer power quickly when you strike.

2. Tenzing TC SP14 Shooter Pack

Price: $250

This hunting pack big selling point is its rear rifle holder and pouch. Compression straps and the large cavity in the back can also accommodate a crossbow. For hunters into technology, there are nine compartments (two of them are zipped to hold expensive gear) for a smartphone, binoculars and a rangefinder.

3. Kyocera Brigadier

Price: $99 with Verizon contract

This smartphone is military-grade rugged, meaning you can drop it or even step on it a few times, and it can withstand extreme temperatures, vibration, blowing rain, low pressure, solar radiation, salt, fog, and humidity. Its screen is scratchproof and extra durable, and – as a bonus – it works on Verizon, which has the best coverage even in remote areas. Just remember to put it on mute when you go deer hunting.

4. Seek Thermal Camera

Price: TBD

This camera, which plugs into the power port of a smartphone, enables you to see wild game in total darkness just by using an app on your Android phone or Apple iPhone. Thermal imaging cameras can cost thousands and add bulk to your hunting pack. The company behind the camera has not announced pricing or availability, but it’s one to “keep an eye on” for now. (According to this Fox Business report, the case will cost under $250.)

5. Jetboil Flash Cooking System Camo

Price: $100

You’ll want this camouflaged cooking system when the hunt is over. It has a 1-liter insulated cup that attaches directly to the burner. Push a button to ignite, and you can boil water in just two minutes. There’s a strainer at the top, so you can drink coffee or soup. Three small legs on the fuel canister pop out for stability.

6. 2015 Polaris Ranger XP 900 EPS Hunter Deluxe Edition

Price: $20,799

Polaris went all-out this year with its hunting utility terrain vehicle (UTV). There are two rear gun scabbards (holders) for easy access from the left and right sides. And you don’t have to be an expert all-terrain driver, because the XP 900 has power steering and engine braking (it slows automatically when you let go of the gas pedal). And its 68-horsepower engine helps you get to your deer stand or turkey call location faster.

Categories: Hunting | Leave a comment

Taking the Kids — to Vermont for fall foliage, and more

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tert464565

Fall into a pile of leaves this autumn.VermontVacation.com

Red maple, or hemlock?

The trees in the northern Vermont forest look a lot different when you’re looking at them 75 feet above the ground through branches that anchor zip lines — as long as 1,000 feet — on a zip line canopy tour.

If you think visiting Vermont in fall is just about the foliage, glorious as it may be, think again. There are mountains to climb, golf and disc golf, kayaking, canoeing and mountain biking to try.

“Our mission is to educate and inspire and help families connect with nature,” says Michael Smith, the managing partner of ArborTrek here in Jeffersonville, Vermont, near Stowe, who has built zip line courses around the world. Let’s not forget the chance for a shared adventure. Eight zips, two rappels (40 feet) and crossing two bridges 35 feet off the ground. That and the running commentary on the flora and fauna have made this a top-ranked zip line in the country and worth the $99.95 tab, said guests who were back for a second and third time.

Safety, of course, is a prime concern, with highly trained guides, courses inspected daily and harnesses checked and triple checked, said Smith, who is on the board for the Association for Challenge Course Technology. He notes that today there are as many as 1,000 zip line and aerial adventure parks just in the United States and Canada. A decade ago, there were no more than a dozen.

Families of all stripes and ages (kids can zip as long as they are at least eight and weigh 70 pounds. Some customers have been in their 90s) are attracted to the thrill and the chance for a shared adventure in the woods.

On the adjacent obstacle courses, since kids are clipped in, they can climb a tree without parents worrying they are going to fall. The lowest course allows parents with young kids to share the adventure — the zips are just a few feet off the ground and there are bridges, nets and ladders. The cost is just $29.95 for kids.

But the challenges get harder — more than 70 elements in all. Do you think you could cross an accordion bridge 28 feet above ground? Only half of those who attempt the most difficult parts of the course succeed, Smith said.

If you think visiting Vermont in fall is just about the foliage, glorious as it may be, think again. There are mountains to climb, golf and disc golf, kayaking, canoeing and mountain biking to try. Besides the 50 or so miles of trails around Stowe, Vermont, Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Jeffersonville has added beginner and intermediate terrain, along with an entire program to teach newbies. It’s a lot different riding a bike on a single track, avoiding rocks and tree roots, explained program director Rick Sokoloff, who gave my husband and our friend, Enesi Domi,15, a lesson one morning on a recent visit. “A lot more work than I thought it would be,” said Enesi, who preferred the rush of the zip line adventure.

It’s also not as expensive as you might think, especially if you avoid the peak foliage times and come midweek with young kids who are not yet in school. Smugglers’ Notch, with its roomy condos, for example, touts the cheapest rates of the year and half-price child care from infants through age seven in its Autumn Fest deal — so you can try the zip line or play golf while the kids are happily entertained in the well-appointed Treasures Center.

We opted to stay in Stowe, one of my favorite New England towns; its historic downtown looks like what you would expect a New England town to be — white church steeple, small shops and buildings dating back more than 200 years, and plenty of good restaurants like Crop, with its in-house brewed beer and locally sourced eats. Then there are the mountain views at the recently renovatedTopnotch Resort, which is not only kid-friendly (think s’mores around the fire pit at night and indoor and outdoor heated pool) but also pooch-friendly and they fashion their menus at its two restaurants from local farms. (The heirloom tomatoes honestly were nearly too pretty to eat!) I loved that we were right on the town’s five-plus-mile Rec Path along the river. There are townhouses for larger family groups and a great award-winning spa that offers treatments for teens and kids should you want to bring them along. Let’s not forget the fresh-baked cookies every afternoon, the riding stables and tennis academy. “We don’t want to leave,” one mom with two young kids confessed.

That may be because “Stowe is a real mountain community with the same spirit it has always had, and a lot of history long before skiing,” says Chuck Baraw, whose family has run the Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa for more than 50 years. Young families will love the onsite playground and the complimentary apres-ski activities in winter.

Whatever your kids’ ages — and however long you have for a Vermont break this fall — they won’t get bored. Not with corn mazes to try, apples to pick, cider to sample, and, of course, the chance to tour Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in nearby Waterbury. You can also watch glassblowers at work at Little River HotGlass Studio or tour a Vermont farm. For more ideas, check out the Taking the Kids Great Fall Getaways section.

Show kids where eggs and milk come from and teach them a lesson in sustainability at the nonprofit Shelburne Farms, about a 40-minute drive south of Burlington, where they can join the Chicken Parade, gather eggs at the fanciest chicken coop I’ve ever seen, card and spin wool, milk a cow, watch cheese being made, make friends with the baby goats, join in farm chores at the Children’s Farmyard or go for a walk on the hiking trails — the farm is some 1,400 acres stretching down to Lake Champlain. Teachers come from all over the country for workshops to help them learn how to inject lessons in sustainability into the classroom. Come Sept. 20 for Shelburne Farms 36th Annual Harvest Festival. Without the kids, opt for a stay at The Inn, the spectacular 24-room lakefront inn that was originally the family home.

The best part, says ArborTrek’s Mike Smith: The chance to let go in the woods and “scream your brains out.”

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Divers explore national parks’ underwater treasures

parks

parks

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The national parks still have hidden places—a few million acres of geological gems, stunning wildlife and historical artifacts unknown to most because they lie not on land but underwater.

The Submerged Resources Center, a small team of archaeologists and photographers, is tasked with exploring the parks’ watery depths. It grew out of the National Reservoir Inundation Study, which investigated the impact of dams and reservoirs on historic and natural sites between 1976 and 1980. The dive team now helps bring the parks’ submerged treasures into public view. “We have the same purpose as the other National Park Service offices,” to protect natural and cultural resources, says Dave Conlin, the SRC’s chief. “We’re just underwater to do it.”
Slideshow: Underwater in America’s National Parks

It’s an enviable beat: One assignment took the team to the warm, crystalline waters of Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park to record 17th century cannons and anchors amid the marine graveyard of some 200 ships. Another had them kicking holes through trash in the icy Hudson River, exploring the Ellis Island ferry, which transported newly arrived immigrants to the U.S. mainland and sank in its slip a few years after being decommissioned. In 1989, decades after the U.S. military tested nuclear bombs at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, the team conducted the first systematic underwater radiation analysis of the area. Only afterward was the area designated as safe for recreational divers.

Divers also explore the Interior West’s lakes, recording their history and geology and working on vexing conservation problems. In Yellowstone National Park in the mid-’90s, as introduced lake trout began outcompeting native trout, divers helped managers locate the exotic fish’s spawning grounds, inventorying boat wrecks and hydrothermal spires in the process. In 2002, after a private diver discovered a B-29 Superfortress bomber that crashed in Lake Mead in 1948, the team studied it over a two-year period before opening the site to guided dives. In 2004, they helped rangers at Olympic National Park in Washington solve the 1929 disappearance of Blanche and Russell Warren, recovering remains from a 1927 Chevy 170 feet below the surface of Lake Crescent. This past November, the team traveled to American Samoa to help local rangers combat a starfish invasion that threatened to destroy the park’s reef, while also training on high-tech “rebreather” gear.

Diving must become second nature for the crew to map and photograph underwater resources. “What we do is specialized. It requires a lot of education,” says Brett Seymour, deputy chief and lead photographer. Using the best equipment, like rebreathers, allows crew members to dive safely in diverse environments. And there’s a side benefit: The rebreathers are nearly silent. Where before the sound of his own breathing masked the ocean’s noises, now Seymour hears the crackling of shrimp, and if he’s lucky, the songs of humpback whales.

  • 1. National Park of American Samoa

    Brett Seymour, NPS Submerged Resources Center

    The vibrant reef lies just inches below the surface at Ofu Beach, American Samoa.

  • 2. Yellowstone National Park

    Brett Seymour, NPS Submerged Resources Center.

    An NPS Diver examines dormant geothermal spires in Yellowstone Lake believed by geologists to be 11-13,000 years old.

  • 3. American Memorial Park, Saipan

    Louis Lamar, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

    NPS Photographer Brett Seymour films a Japanese Aichi E13A WWII torpedo bomber, also know as a “Jake”, in Tanapag Lagoon, Saipan.

  • 4. Isle Royale National Park

    Brett Seymour, NPS Submerged Resources Center

    NPS Archeologist Dave Conlin explores the prop of the SS Henry Chisholm resting at 145’ in the frigid waters of Lake Superior.

    Check out more amazing underwater photos.

    More from The Active Times

    The Most Amazing Scuba Dives on the Planet

    The World’s Most Thrilling Cliff Diving Spots

    The National Parks: Ranked!

    America’s National Parks Most in Peril From Global Warming

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Sub-Zero surfing: Chasing waves in the Arctic

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Whiteout blizzards, icy water that rarely tops 40 degrees and numb fingers and toes aren’t exactly synonymous with surfing.

But for a growing niche of hardy wave-seekers, those daunting conditions are part of a less-traveled journey to surfing nirvana: scoring that perfect, never-surfed-before swell in a remote cold-water place like Norway, Iceland, British Columbia, Newfoundland, Alaska or Russia.

“As a culture, surfing has always been rooted in the idea of going further and deeper and getting farther away.”- Chris Burkard, surf photographer

“It’s so rare in this day and age that you’re able to discover a new wave, and it seems like all the warm-water places are all fished out,” said Patrick Millin, a pro surfer from San Diego who has been chasing waves in Norway since 2007. “When I first [arrived in Norway], I thought, ‘This place is so unexplored.’ And there’s so much to explore….

“We found like five waves that no one had ever surfed,” Millin continued. “It was like the Gold Rush. We were waxing our boards and saying, ‘I’m going to be the first one to surf it, and I’m going to name it.’”

A recently released, 8-minute film, “Arctic Swell: Surfing the ends of the Earth,” offers a thrilling peek into the triumphs and challenges of surfing in frigid conditions.

Part of a behind-the-scenes series showcasing photographers, the SmugMug film documents the work of Chris Burkard, a California-based photographer for Surfer magazine, as he shoots a group of three surfers, including Millin, along the shores of Norway’s far-flung Lofoten Islands.

“As a culture, surfing has always been rooted in the idea of going further and deeper and getting farther away,” said Burkard, a self-described “cold-water fanatic” who has spent a large part of the last decade chasing down waves in arctic climates. “That’s one of the raddest things about it, and I think that’s what we really tapped into.”

Though it contradicts the image of sun-soaked beaches, suntans and flimsy board shorts, surfing in non-tropical environments isn’t new. The invention of the neoprene wetsuit in the 1950s opened the door to cold-water coasts that had been previously impossible – or, at the very least, quite unpleasant – to surf for extended periods of time.

But in recent years, cold-water surfing, also known as extreme or Arctic surfing, has been riding a wave of popularity. Several factors are at play: improvements in wetsuit technology, the explosion of social media platforms to share dramatic images of surf juxtaposed with snow, and the growth of adventure travel in general.

As a result, tour operators that specialize in extreme surfing are seeing an uptick in business. Artic Surfers, which has offered custom surfing and outdoor adventure excursions around Iceland since 2012, now hosts surfing trips year-round. Customers pay up to $3,915 for a seven-day “Surf and Snow” tour that includes Arctic surfing and backcountry snowboarding. Co-founder Ingó Olsen says men and women from 15 to 65 have paddled with the group.

In places like Iceland, “where the weather is changing its mind every 15 minutes,” it’s important that first-time visitors find an experienced guide, he said. Equally important is being fit to handle the unique demands of cold-weather surfing: hauling a board over rocky, snow-covered beaches, for example, and having the stamina to paddle through frigid surf.

“To be comfortable, you need to know what you are doing or be guided by one that has the knowledge, be physically up for the challenge and use quality equipment that fits with the weather and other conditions you will be in,” Olsen said.

More people are participating, but Arctic surfing has a ways to go before it becomes mainstream. First of all, there’s that little matter of the cold air and frigid water. Even with the insulation of a neoprene wetsuit, “if you get flushed with water when you fall down, it’s like you’re getting electrocuted,” Millin said. “The water is so cold it feels like fire. It strips your air away.”

Burkard added that the mental aspect of dealing with the cold is as tough as – if not tougher than – the physical challenges.

“You’re managing your level of consciousness, because the colder it is, the harder it is to make good decisions and think through things,” he said. “There are so many elements to contend with.”

Then there’s the matter of expenses. Nordic countries are notoriously pricey: Norway, for example, was recently ranked by the World Bank as one of the top two most expensive economies in the world. And Alaska, another popular spot for cold-weather surfing, isn’t easy on the wallet, either, with food and lodging prices that are often double those in the Lower 48.

But despite the myriad challenges, proponents say the thrill of scoring a wave – or, in Burkard’s case, an epic photo of someone scoring a wave – in an ethereal landscape of glaciers, snow-capped peaks and snowy, empty beaches is unparalleled.

“When you’re in the water and it’s freezing and you have all these elements working against you, when they do come together, it makes it all worthwhile,” Burkard said. “You feel a little more alive. That’s what why we seek out these wild places.”

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Ultimate guide to Colorado ski country in summer

BeaverCreekVillage

BeaverCreekVillage

  • BearCreek Village

Wildflowers, deep blue skies, the scent of pine on the breeze, an average high of 75 degrees.  The Colorado Rockies are paradise for those who love the great outdoors.  And during the summer, area ski resorts get retooled for warm-weather sports and summer concerts and more.

Here is your ultimate summer guide to the Colorado ski country in the summer.

  • 1. Pick your village

  • BeaverCreekVillage

    Beave rCreek Village

    There are plenty of mountain villages, each with their own charm and character. Head to Aspen for a modern, en-vogue vibe, with its lovely downtown filled with enough shopping and restaurants to keep you busy when you’re off the trails. Vail Village, modeled after an old world alpine village, is more compact and is bustling with people and activities — all within walking distance.

    Nearby Beaver Creek, more quiet and quaint, is set apart within the valley and has its own village, golf course, dining and shopping. Adventure seekers tend to flock to Breckenridge known for its extreme sports, along with its authentic western downtown at the mountain’s base.

  • 2. Take a hike

    Jack Affleck/Vail Resorts

    Getting out on the trails, at every turn is another fantastic view of snowcapped peaks, turquoise lakes and plummeting valleys. For first-time hikers, take a quick 20-minute bus ride up to the Maroon Bells (a lovely set of twin peaks) near Aspen and enjoy an easy, but beautiful hike around the lake beneath two of the most photographed mountain peaks in the country. You might even come across a moose, as we did. If you’re staying closer to Vail, another gorgeous but not too strenuous hike takes you from Piney Lake to Piney River Falls, a huge cascading waterfall that rewards you at the end of this view-packed trail. A more advanced hike, due to its uphill climbs, is the hike to Beaver Lake at Beaver Creek, which takes you through pine forests and plenty of snow any time of year to a high altitude mountain lake.

    When hiking, be sure to bring plenty of water and load on the bug spray to avoid the mosquitoes and biting flies. Afternoon storms are also common, so an early start is best.

  • 3. Grab a gondola

    Carl Scofield/ Breckenridge Resort

    Every mountain area has its own gondolas, and hopping a ride is a wonderful way for all generations to enjoy the spectacular views you only get from on high without having to make the trek up there by foot.

    Beaver Creek is currently installing a combination lift that will have both enclosed gondolas and open air chairs before it hosts the Alpine World Ski Championships next February. Breckenridge’s enclosed gondolas are also fun as they literally swing back and forth as you go up the mountain.

    Most lift tickets are good for the entire day, so plan to use them multiple times perhaps as a lift up before you hike down the mountain, to enjoy lunch or dinner at a mountaintop restaurant or just to take in the sights.

  • 4. Kid-friendly fun

    Jesse Starr/ Vail Resorts

    Get the kids away from their electronics and into the great outdoors for adventures that will grab their attention more than Minecraft. Most of the villages, like Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Aspen and Vail, offer kid-friendly fun like bungee trampolines, panning for gems, rock climbing walls, mini golf and more.

    Beaver Creek is a particularly great spot for kids with many activities designed for families. There’s a free children’s museum geared toward the younger set and free outdoor movies at the base of the mountain during summer months. If your kids want to see a real cowboy in action, take them to the free Beaver Creek rodeo every Thursday during summer. As an extra bonus, every day at 3 p.m., the village hosts cookie time where a chef roams the village, handing out freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies.

    For more adventurous families, try Adventure Ridge at Vail where you can tackle a ropes course or ride the zipline (there are even mini versions for kids younger than 7) or head to Breckenridge for a ride on the super fun self-controlled Alpine Slide or Alpine Coaster at their Summer Fun Park.

    If parents want a day to themselves perhaps for a longer hike or more daring adventure the kids are not up to yet, send them to kids day camp. Most resorts have them.  Beaver Creek offers a program for children 5-13 that gets them involved in mountain activities so they hardly even notice you’re gone.

  • 5. Wet ‘n wild

    Beaver Creek Resort

    It wouldn’t be right if you came to Colorado and didn’t get a little damp. With so many rivers, streams and lakes, there’s plenty of ways to get wet. But be prepared that the water is actually ice melt from the mountains, so it can be a touch chilly.

    Sage Outdoor Adventures offers white-water rafting for all levels and abilities throughout the area. Kids are welcome on trips through more calm rapids, and you can also hop in a kayak attached to the raft or tube down the river.

    Fishing is also abundant in the Rockies. Try a guided fly fishing trip with Gore Creek Fly Fisherman or enjoy regular bait fishing at area ponds and lakes. Just be sure to purchase a fishing license online or at a local shop.

  • 6. Ride a bike

    Jack Affleck/ Vail Resorts

    If you’re looking for a true challenge and adrenaline rush, mountain biking the Rockies would certainly qualify. Some cyclists choose to bike both up and down the mountain while others ride a gondola or lift to the top and then just cycle down one of the many bike paths.

    Families can also enjoy biking the Rockies, but without having to pedal steep inclines and descents. Rent bikes for an afternoon from a local bike rental company like Beaver Creek Sports and head to flatter terrain in a valley. Try biking the Eagle River in the town of Avon, close to Beaver Creek and Vail, where you can listen to the gurgling mountain stream as you ride past mountain scenery. There’s even a playground along the way where you can stop to give everyone a rest and a little play time.

    VBT Vacations also has a bike tour that hits many of the highlights of the Rocky Mountains. On their Colorado: Biking the Rockies​ tour, cycle past the Maroon Bells and along the Rio Grande Trail, ride down Vail Pass to Breckenridge and even get in some white water rafting.

  • 7. Where to refuel

    Beanos Cabin

    All the activity you’ll be getting in the Rockies means you have to keep your body fueled and ready. The good news is that the dining in these mountain villages is fantastic. Be sure to enjoy a meal at a mountaintop restaurant like Mamie’s Mountain Grill at Beaver Creek (about a 1-mile hike from where the lift drops you off), the Sundeck in Aspen and Bistro Fourteen or Talon’s Outdoor Deck at Vail Mountain.

    One of our favorite experiences was dinner at Beano’s Cabin on Beaver Creek Mountain. Take a one-hour horseback ride or 20-minute wagon ride up the mountain where the restaurant is nestled amid breathtaking views (you can see deer grazing to boot). Then, enjoy a five-course gourmet meal that even the kids will love while listening to live music.

    Other restaurants include the kid-friendly Blue Moose Pizza with locations in both Vail and Beaver Creek (be sure to order a pack of chocolate chip cookies to go), Toscanini Italian restaurant in Beaver Creek with great views of the village ice-skating rink (which does operate in summer) and the Beaver Creek Chophouse (with a restaurant in Vail, as well) where a magician entertains your kids so you can appreciate your spectacular steak. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention Rimini Gelato at Beaver Creek where you must sample the peanut butter flavor, which tastes scrumptiously like peanut butter pie.

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