[The day I ditched snowboarding...and fell in love with skiing]

Learning to Ski at Mammoth, California

Trudging clumsily off the bus and towards the village gondola, I clutched my skis awkwardly, trying to look like I knew how to carry them. The knot in my stomach was tightening by the second, so I concentrated on breathing steadily and trying to take my mind off what I knew was coming: humiliation, frustration and, ultimately, tears. You see, I was about to have my very first ski lesson as a last-ditch effort to master snow sports. I’ve written about my chequered past with snowboarding before (read about it here) and since publishing that post I’ve not so much as touched a board. When Brendan announced that he wanted to spend his 30th birthday snowboarding in California my heart sunk. California sounded amazing. Snowboarding? Not so much.

I don’t know when or why it happened, but one day the idea came to me that I should try skiing instead. In Australia skiing is considered old fashioned and uncool by many, including the group of friends I first went snowboarding with, so the idea of trying it had really never crossed my mind before. Still, I was desperate to try something – anything – that would allow me to enjoy spending time on the mountain with my husband without it ending in tears and tantrums. So with a glimmer of hope almost entirely overshadowed by sickening fear I arrived at the top of the gondola on Mammoth Mountain for my introductory ski lesson.

Learning to Ski at Mammoth, California

As soon as I met Rachel I was immediately at ease. Rachel has been a ski instructor for a number of years and I was grateful that she didn’t try to tell me that my fears were silly or that I should have switched from snowboarding years ago. She exuded a confidence in my abilities far beyond my own which is exactly what I needed, so I began to relax as she talked me through the basics of skiing and gave me some recommendations for our upcoming visit to Lake Tahoe. By the time I even touched my skis I was having more fun than I thought I would have in the entire lesson. Rachel pointed to the ski lift and the run beneath it and told me that if I did well enough we’d end the lesson there. I told her not to hold her breath and then trudged through the snow, feet securely attached to my skis, towards the magic carpet to try my very first downhill run.

Learning to Ski at Mammoth, California

Miraculously on that gentle, short slope, alongside a group of excited four year olds, I didn’t fall. I didn’t even almost fall. I gently slid down the nearly horizontal slope and, dignity intact, came to a stop at the bottom. French fries and pizza. So far so good.

Learning to Ski at Mammoth, California

I chalked up my initial gravity-defying feat to beginner’s luck as we progressed to the next level of learner’s slope (complete with a T-bar – which used to be my nemesis –  and which suddenly on skis became a breeze to ride) and I practiced starting, stopping and turning on the way down. An hour or more had passed and not once had I fallen, cried or frozen in panic. French fries. Pizza. Perhaps if snowboarding instructions could somehow be linked to deliciously decadent foods I’d have better luck with the sport.

I’m certain Rachel got sick of me exclaiming ‘I can’t believe how much better this is than snowboarding!’ every few minutes, but I was genuinely in shock at how much easier I found skiing and how much more natural it felt. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suddenly a pro but I could get down the slope without major disaster and believe me when I tell you that’s worth celebrating.

Learning to Ski at Mammoth, California

Before long Rachel led me to the lifts to try my first real run, an easy green, but a real ski run nonetheless. I sat on the chairlift and took a moment to marvel at the spectacular views across the Californian mountains and the stunningly beautiful day – the sky was blue, not a cloud was in sight and I was so warm that a jacket was merely a convenience in which to carry my lift pass and phone. At the top, I dismounted the lift without a problem and a few seconds later was skiing (really, I was doing it!) down Mammoth Mountain. Granted, I was travelling at a snail’s pace, but in my mind I was flying, and it felt amazing!

I suppose I learned a number of lessons from this experience, some personal and some which may be of value to you:

1. I am so stubborn I’ll continue doing something long after it’s made me miserable
2. Trying new things can have surprising – and life-changing – results
3. I will never (I know, never say never, but really…never) snowboard again. Ugh.
4. The value of a great instructor can never truly be measured. Rachel made my lesson fun and completely non-threatening, and I am so grateful to her for that!
5. If you, like I did, struggle with snowboarding…try skiing. Really.

Mammoth Mountain is a short flight from Los Angeles and boasts 3,500 acres of skiable terrain. Thanks to Rachel for making my first skiing experience a fun one, and thanks to Christie from Mammoth Lakes Tourism for the fabulous photos!

Learning to Ski at Mammoth, California

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[Please Vote: Travel Blogger Awards]

Elle Croft Stylish Travel

A little over four years ago when I nervously hit publish on my very first blog post (which was, in case you’re curious, an Oscars red carpet roundup) I never thought anyone other than my Mum would read it, let alone the thousands of you who kindly visit this site every month. And never did I imagine that I’d be nominated for a blogger award…in fact, I didn’t know such a thing even existed! But here I sit four years later, still surprised that anyone other than my parents reads my posts, and humbled to be nominated in the ‘Super Stylish’ category of the lowcostholidays Travel Blogger Awards 2014.

I’m sharing the category with some pretty stylish travellers, all of whom deserve the title of Super Stylish, and I can’t wait to meet them all at the awards night on April 16. In the meantime if you have two seconds to spare, please head over and vote for me (no signup required; it literally takes two seconds). And just to remind you that I do post about style and not just Las Vegas, here are a few of my very own Super Stylish blog posts:

Fashionable Flyers 

A roundup of the most glamorous airline staff in the skies.

Elle Croft Stylish Travel

An Unconventional Bucket List

My stylish travel wishlist; the most fashionable places and events around the world!

Elle Croft Stylish Travel

What’s in My Travel Bag?

Talented designer Kristina Hultkrantz created this stunning illustration of my travel essentials.

Elle Croft Stylish Travel

The Ultimate Cruise Packing Guide

Are you going on a cruise? Here’s how – and what – to pack for your trip.

Elle Croft Stylish Travel

A Fashionable Guide to Antwerp

A guide to the fashion hotspots in Belgium’s capital of cool; Antwerp.

Elle Croft Stylish Travel

Thanks for reading my blog, and please take a second to vote for me in these travel blogger awards. Thank you!

blogger-awards

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[10 Essential Tips for Visiting Las Vegas]

10 Tips for Visiting Las Vegas

I’ve been to Vegas twice now. When I left the first time I swore I’d never return, but eventually I decided I’d like to give it another chance to see if there was more to it than I first thought. After spending 48 hours in Sin City in February, I left feeling like I’d barely scratched the surface of what can only be described as a weird place. Not bad, just unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. Looking back, I wish I’d known these tips before I arrived but there is always next time (and believe me, I never thought there would be a future visit). If you’re heading to to Las Vegas for the first time, here are ten essential tips to ensure you make the most of your trip.

1. Stay for long enough

10 Tips for Visiting Las Vegas

One night is simply not enough time to see Las Vegas. In fact, even two nights felt far too short. It’s easy to assume you can see and do everything in a quick weekend stopover, but don’t be fooled. In one night you’ll manage to marvel at a couple of hotels, grab a bite to eat, see a show and wander a casino or two. That’s if you don’t go to bed. Plan to stay for three nights or more and you’ll get to see and do a range of all that’s on offer, meaning you can get under the skin of this city without having to rush around like a crazy person.

2. Make dinner reservations

10 Tips for Visiting Las Vegas

Don’t even think about showing up at a restaurant on the strip without a reservation, especially if you have to be somewhere afterwards. When we tried to get into a number of restaurants near the hotel where we were seeing a show, we were told that the wait time was at least two hours, even for a casual burger joint. Eventually we had to settle for hot dogs which, although delicious, were definitely not what we had in mind for our night out. Granted, it was a Saturday night, but no matter when you visit it’s wise to plan ahead and make a reservation to avoid being disappointed.

4. Monorail

10 Tips for Visiting Las Vegas

For simple up-and-down the Strip journeys, take advantage of the monorail that runs from the MGM grand at the south end right up to the Sahara in the north. A single journey costs $5 but if you plan to use it more than twice, grab a 24-hour ticket for $12 and ride it as many times as you like. Be warned though; finding the station entrances within the maze of the hotel casinos is next to impossible. Ask someone for directions to avoid wandering aimlessly.

4. Taxi!

If you’re planning on going anywhere that the monorail doesn’t travel to, catching a cab is really the best way to get around. There is some public transport in Las Vegas but the services are few and far between. You can walk all along the strip if you choose, although it’s hot. And much further than you expect it to be. To get around, the best option is a taxi which costs around $20 (including tip) no matter where you’re travelling in the Las Vegas area.

5. Allow enough time

Everything takes forever in Las Vegas. A simple monorail journey can take an hour by the time you’ve found the station, bought your ticket and found your way out at the other end. The simple act of walking through a hotel can take an outrageous amount of time, what with getting lost and gaping at the incredible hotel interiors. This is one of the reasons why a short visit to Vegas just doesn’t work. You might think you have time to do five things in one day, but in reality you’ll be lucky to achieve two.

6. All casinos are the same

10 Tips for Visiting Las Vegas

The hotels are as varied as they are plentiful, but the casinos inside really are all the same. Smoky, jangly, devoid of clocks, fresh air and daylight…I suppose I must add a disclaimer that I really don’t see the appeal of gambling, so to my untrained eye I just can’t tell the difference. Jump between hotels for their entertainment and incredible themed decor, not for their casinos.

7. You cannot do it all

If you lived in Vegas for a year and had nothing but free time and cash to burn, you might just be able to see and do everything that Sin City has to offer. On a vacation to the city however, there’s no way. Make a list of the top five things you don’t want to leave without doing, and make a point of experiencing these things while you’re in town. Anything else you happen to see or do is just an added bonus.

8. Consider a car

If you are pressed for time, renting a car may be a good option for you, as it’ll save you waiting for cabs or navigating the monorail. Work to your own schedule and avoid having to take a group tour, and if you really want an all-American experience, grab some vintage wheels and cruise along the Strip in style.

9. See another side of the city

10 Tips for Visiting Las Vegas

Las Vegas has an unexpected side, and it’s worth taking some time to discover it. From mob history to vintage signs and even a container park that doubles as a shopping centre, there’s so much more than casinos and flashing lights in this city. Take a look at the other side of Vegas for inspiration.

10. Get out

Las Vegas is surrounded by a wealth of natural beauty and man-made wonders. There’s Hoover Dam, an engineering feat that’s just half an hour from Vegas. The Grand Canyon, which should be on everyone’s bucket list, is not much further and there are beautiful desert and mountain landscapes for miles. If you decide to rent a car go and explore, starting with a picnic at Lake Mead, and if you don’t have your own transportation simply book into one of the myriad tours available. Vegas is just a drop in the ocean of spectacular scenery that makes up Nevada, so don’t make the mistake of ignoring all that lies waiting to be seen nearby.

Have you been to Las Vegas? What tips would you add?

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[Las Vegas...But Not as You Know It]

Las Vegas - Not As You Know It The coffee is hot and fresh, the pastry warm and the setting tranquil: it is 9am in Las Vegas and although a vast majority of the city’s hotels are clanging and jingling at this time of day – at any time of day – Four Seasons Las Vegas remains an oasis of smoke-free, casino-free, hype-free paradise. Here at PRESS, the hotel’s bar set in its airy and bright lobby, much-needed morning coffee and pastries are served on the same comfortable armchairs that we sipped glasses of wine from the previous evening. For a city with such a strong identity in gambling, bright lights and a free pass to debauchery, it has a hidden side; a side with glamour and class and, dare I say it, soul. If you’re intrigued by Las Vegas (and let’s face it, everyone is intrigued by Sin City) but you’re not interested in the lifestyle associated with the infamous destination, be encouraged that there is another side hidden beneath the glitzy facade. It’s Vegas, but not as you know it.

Where to Stay:

Las Vegas - Not As You Know It

I mean this with all sincerity when I say if I’m ever back in Las Vegas again I wouldn’t even consider staying anywhere but the Four Seasons at Mandalay Bay. If you’ve ever stayed at a Four Seasons property you’ll know that their service is always second to none which is enough reason to stay there, but in addition to this the view of the Strip from our room was simply breathtaking and more importantly, the experience of staying in a hotel without a casino was the difference between me enjoying Las Vegas and wishing I hadn’t bothered giving it a second chance.

Las Vegas - Not As You Know It

Did you know that it’s legal to smoke inside casino areas in Vegas? Imagine waking up, walking down to your hotel lobby for a coffee and being hit with a wall of smoke and jingling, flashing slot machines. That would be enough to ruin my day, and it’s what you get in most Las Vegas hotels. Not the Four Seasons. The hotel is located within Mandalay Bay and offers guests full use of all that the resort has to offer in case you do want a more typical Vegas experience, such as casinos, numerous pools and even a shark aquarium. In addition to wine and coffee bar PRESS, Four Seasons Las Vegas offers two other dining options: Charlie Palmer Steak and Verandah, a laid-back Italian restaurant that truly feels like a hidden gem. More on that later, but suffice to say Four Seasons Las Vegas is nothing short of an essential escape right in the heart of the Las Vegas madness.

Where to Shop:

Las Vegas - Not As You Know It

When it comes to retail therapy in Las Vegas, you’ve certainly got options. From boutiques within hotels (there’s a lovely Hervé Léger store inside the Venetian that’s worth a browse) to the sleek Fashion Show Mall and a number of high-end designer stores right on the strip, you’ll find whatever you’re looking for and much more. But for a calmer, less Vegas shopping experience, jump in a cab up to the North Las Vegas Premium Outlets. There are a number of reasons why I recommend this location for shopping; firstly, the crowds are thinner than the on-strip retailers; secondly, the mall is outdoors which means you can enjoy the Nevada sunshine while strolling between stores and finally, there’s a great range of retailers we don’t get here in the UK (or which we pay exorbitant prices for) offering major savings. Kate Spade, J. Crew, Fossil, Calvin Klein…they’re all there, and they’re all heavily discounted meaning you can walk away with a suitcase-worth of new clothes for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home.

Where to Eat:

Forget the infamous buffets of Las Vegas and choose instead to treat your tastebuds to some of the world-class dining that has infiltrated the city. There aren’t many other destinations in the world that offer such a vast array of restaurant options, including a huge number of kitchens run by celebrity chefs. There’s Charlie Palmer’s Aureole, complete with acrobatic wine ‘Angels’; Chinese-Mexican fusion by José Andrés at China Poblano and CUT by Wolfgang Puck, to name just a few. Don’t miss some of the lesser-known, but equally worthy restaurants in town too. Verandah at Four Seasons serves authentic, hearty Italian food in a tranquil setting, and their gluten free pasta is the best I’ve ever had. Their signature dish is pasta cooked in a jar which I allowed myself a small taste of and then promptly wished I hadn’t, because I wanted to devour the lot. If you prefer the street food end of the dining scale, head downtown to the trendy Container Park to dine with the locals and then wash your meal down with a pint from the new kid in town, craft brewery Banger Brothers.

What to See:

Las Vegas - Not As You Know It

There are some elements of Las Vegas that simply must be embraced and enjoyed, and the city’s theatrical and musical entertainment is one such thing. As with dining, there are very few places in the world outside of Vegas where you have this much choice. From Britney (above – yes, I did!) to Cirque du Soleil (all eight of them), the fun literally never stops in Sin City. Go out for a fabulous dinner you’ll never forget and follow it up with a show that rivals London’s West End and New York’s Broadway. All of this without even coming close to the smoke-filled haze of the popular hotels, the sub-par buffets or the typically tacky tourist traps. This is a different Vegas. One that you might even want to come back to. One that keeps showing you new and unexpected gems.

It’s Vegas…but not as you knew it.

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[Vintage Vegas: The Neon Boneyard]

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

“That’s where my parents got married in 1941″, said my driver Bill, gesturing towards a pastel yellow building sandwiched between two taller, more modern structures. I craned my head as we drove by to catch a better look at the quaint old chapel, but by then Bill was showing me something else. He pointed out what had been the tallest building in Las Vegas when he was growing up there; a squat, 2-story structure that has now been engulfed by the impressive high-rises of the strip.

Bill has lived in Sin City for his entire 70 year life and has story after fascinating story to tell about his hometown. Despite the fact that he’d make an excellent guide, I wasn’t on a tour with Bill; he was the friendly driver who picked me up from my hotel to take me to Gun Garage, and who also kindly dropped me at the Neon Museum where I was to begin my quest to find the vintage side of Vegas. Our conversation during the short ride across Vegas just proved my theory that you really don’t need to scratch the surface of Las Vegas too hard to find a hidden, rich heritage behind all of the modern bright lights of the casinos and hotels.

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas The best place to begin searching for the bygone glamour of Vegas is the Neon Museum; a surprising looking building right in the heart of Downtown Las Vegas where disused neon signs from around the city go to die. Their final resting place is called the Neon Boneyard, which is every bit as cool as it sounds. Visitors can take a one-hour guided walking tour of the Boneyard, which is what I had the pleasure of experiencing on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas.

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

The guides are extremely knowledgeable and know so much more than just the history of the signs themselves; they tell stories about the people who made them, the people who bought them and the restaurants and casinos they adorned before being lovingly added to the Boneyard’s collection. The tour is a photographer’s dream, with bright colours, interesting shape piled upon interesting shape and small details in rust and lightbulbs that just beg to be captured on camera.

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

The hour went by in no time as we absorbed an unusual side of Las Vegas’ history through these disused signs, learning about the intricate art and evolving trends of neon sign-making since the 1930s. And the Boneyard isn’t all. La Concha, a striking motel lobby built in the 1960s, is home to the Visitors’ Centre and is a fascinating piece of Vegas’ history itself.

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

While you’re in Downtown Las Vegas there are plenty of other ways to dive into the history of the city. The Fremont Street Experience, on the first paved street in Vegas, pays homage to the origins of the glitz, glamour and gambling the city is famed for today. Just around the corner you’ll find a relatively unknown taste of yesteryear; the Mob Museum. My interest in organised crime was suddenly piqued after Bill recalled that his fondest memories of his city occurred before the Mob was kicked out. “But didn’t they do bad things?” I queried, knowing nothing about them at all. “I guess. But they did them somewhere else”, Bill replied matter-of-factly and, unexpectedly, I found myself wishing I’d made time for the Mob Museum. It’s on the list for next time, as is a thorough scouring of the best vintage shopping in Vegas, as discovered by London fashion blogger Carrie of WishWishWish.

In the end I only managed to scratch the very surface of the rich history of Las Vegas, but it was clear to me that the city is eager for visitors to see more of its vintage side. It’s easy to dismiss Las Vegas as a purely modern marvel, built for the sole enjoyment of hedonistic tourists, but those who seek the fascinating secrets of its past will be rewarded with a Las Vegas experience more authentic than any touch-screen slot machine or novelty cocktail glass can offer. And if you’re lucky like I was, you’ll hear the best stories first-hand from someone who knows and loves the city of Las Vegas; someone who knows that there is beauty in its history; someone who has made it, even in part, the city that it is today.

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

Visiting the Neon Boneyard:

The Boneyard is only available to the public through an hour-long guided tour. Tours are available seven days a week and tour times vary based on the season. Reservations are highly recommended but not required; ticket prices for day tours are $18 for general admission and for night tours it’s $25.

*Just letting you know: The Neon Museum generously provided me with a tour of the Boneyard in exchange for an honest review of their facilities and services. My writing and my opinions, as ever, are all mine.

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

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