How to Plan a Last Minute Snowboard Trip on the Cheap

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Lake Tahoe on the Cheap

This past week a hole opened up in our schedule, and we realized that if we played our cards right we may be able to take off in the middle of the week.  This realization occurred only three days out. We quickly hashed together a plan to head toward Lake Tahoe, where I could finally learn to snowboard and Chris could get back to the sport he loves.

Mountainize in Tahoe

We’ve lived in San Francisco for over a year, and I’ve yet to learn how to ski or snowboard.  We didn’t have a ton of money to spend, but we knew we wanted it to happen.  In the past when similar opportunities presented themselves we would quickly become overwhelmed with all the details involved, and resign ourselves to staying home – but not this time.  If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation, or just want to save a bit of money next time you head to the slopes read on.

Chris Binkley snowboarding

1.  Go doing the week, or any other off time.  We headed out Wednesday evening and practically had the mountain all to ourselves.  If week days are out of the question, look into other off-peak days such as during The Superbowl or when it hasn’t snowed in several weeks (they’ll still have snow on the mountains, even if it’s man-made).

2.  Don’t think you have to make a giant time commitment.  We would often put off such a trip due to the assumption that we’d need to take a long weekend or more off of work to make it worth it.  All-in our trip lasted about 36 hours, and it was still incredible.  Even if you don’t live within driving distance to a mountain you can head to the airport on a Friday afternoon, spend Saturday and Sunday on the slopes and fly back late Sunday.  Sure, it’s a whirlwind but sometimes those are the best kinds of vacations.Cloud Plane Photo

3.  Look around at the different resorts for deals, and don’t be afraid to check the so-called pricey resorts.  We thought we could only afford the bottom of the barrel of Tahoe resorts, until we did some price comparisons.  Sure, we still couldn’t afford Squaw’s $100 lift ticket, but we were able to find several great deals from many of the resorts.  If you do enough hunting around the resort’s website you’re bound to find a deal that applies to you, such as Squaw Valley’s “Fly & Ski Free”, if you fly in early that day they’ll hand you a free lift ticket for the rest of the afternoon.

Board on the cheap!4. Once we had it narrowed down to a few choice resorts, I did some googling.  I was able to find an even lower rate off the resort’s lift ticket on and are also worth looking into.

5. Lodging: You’ve got to sleep somewhere.  I’ve known folks who “camp” in their car outside the resort to avoid paying for a hotel.  While we weren’t going that extreme for this trip, we still didn’t want to pay out the nose for a place to sleep.  Though we had connections to a friends and family rate at Marriott, there were several other great options available.  Take 30 minutes to read the reviews and you’ll save yourself from a cheap room so dirty the floors turn your socks black.

Rent Your Gear

6.  Gear: Whatever you do, you’ll always save money getting your gear somewhere other than the resort.  If you don’t own your own, look into sports stores for rentals.  You can rent a board and boots from Sports Basement for $15 and save $30 off the resort price.

7.  Package Deals: Depending upon your needs there may be a package deal that works for you.  I found a beginner package that offered a 2.5 hour lesson, gear rental and lift ticket for around $50.  Sold!  Though, be leery of the package that seems to offer things you weren’t looking for in the first place.

Snowboard on the cheap

8.  What to wear?  If you know you want to go skiing or snowboarding, but you know you don’t have the pants or the jacket for it – start shopping for sales now.  I scored an end-of-season deal on insulated water-proof pants long before we began planning this specific trip.  Also, ask your friends if you can borrow their gear.  To the beginner: my advice would be to invest in the waterproof pants at first, as there isn’t much of a substitute there.  Whereas, you can get away with layering under almost any decent winter jacket.

9.  Food!  We packed along some cliff bars as backup fuel, but we knew we wanted to enjoy at least one meal out.  The night we got into town, we hit up a local brewery for pizza.  Our hotel room came equipped with a fridge which we were able to stash our leftovers in, allowing us to stretch the one meal into breakfast as well.  Look for rooms with fridges, bring along a cooler or stick the food outside if it’s cold enough, to pull this off for yourself.

Snowboard Cheap

10.  Gas.  If you’re driving to get to and fro, it’s definitely worth it to use an app like GasBuddy to track down the cheaper fuel along your route.  Nothing stings more than fueling up, getting back on the highway and passing a station offering gas for 15cents cheaper than what you just paid.

Those are our tips, based on our most recent experience.  What are you’re favorite ways to shave off a buck or two while still having a great time on a ski or snowboard trip?

I Would Move There: Profile of a Mountain Town Joseph, Oregon

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Joseph is a small mountain town in northeast Oregon. Situated six hours east of Portland at 4,150ft above sea level, and surrounded by the towering Wallowa and Seven Devils mountains, Joseph is a rather picturesque small mountain town.

Mountain Town: Joseph, OR


With a population hovering around 1,000 Joseph maintains a thriving main street (yes, they literally have a Main Street) equipped with local breweries, bank, library, cafes, and art galleries.

Mountain Town: Joseph, OR

The physical town of Joseph is less than one square mile.  Though, the community is often referred to as Wallowa County, as the surrounding unincroporated areas add to the recreation and other opportunities.  The county borders Idaho to the west and Washington to the north.

Joseph, OR Mountain Town

Enterprise, the closest larger town, is just five miles away with larger town comforts such as a Safeway grocery store and a BJs warehouse club.


For such a small town Joseph has plenty of events and celebrations packing the calendar.  From a classic car show, to traditional Fourth of July celebration, triathlons, Native American celebrations, sled dog races and more.  For the locals, a summer-long farmers market with accompanying concert series offers access to local fresh produce.

Joseph Or Bronze Bike Rally

While there isn’t exactly a dedicated bicycle shop in town, the local hardware store has kept up with local demand by expanding their bike offering to an entire room.  Several of their employees were even sent to the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, OR to be schooled on the basics of bikes.

A beautifully pristine lake nestled between snow capped 9000′  mountains, nearby Wallowa Lake offers camping, hiking and boating.  There is even a tram that can be taken up to the top of the mountain.  Bring along your mountain bike, and you’ve got the equivalent of a shuttle-ready mountain biking nirvana.

Wallowa Lake

There is also a recreational train, the Eagle Cap Train, offering relaxing scenic rides through the local mountains.

There is a local ski run, void of the tourist drawing amenities it is a locally-run area.  With one t-bar and one rope tow up the mountain and a 640′ elevation gain its the perfect little mountain for kids, beginners or just drama-free fun.

Ski Wallowa Or

Local Business

For such a small town there is a shockingly long list of local storefronts:

Joseph OR Main Street

Joseph’s Sheep Shed is a local yarn shop and fiber gallery.

Bee Crow Bee is a local shop offering a line of carefully handmade bath & body products.

Mad Mary is a shop offering “everything fun & fattening”.  It’s a fun gift shop and soda fountain all in one.

Downtown Joseph Or


Lodging options are plentiful.  From B&Bs like Barking Mad Farm where you can stay in a turn of the century farm house with views of the mountains.  To the basic Indian Lodge Motel and the East Street Cottages.

Barking Mad Farm


Though they certainly feel all four seasons, the weather in and around Joseph is rather mild, as being in a valley surrounded by mountains shelters the area from many of the extreme weather fronts.


The local economy, while healthy, does rely on government jobs (being the largest area employer).  Average income hovers just below $30k, with the average two bedroom house priced around $100k.

Welcome to Joseph, OR


The lifestyle in Joseph, OR is summed up pretty well by the county chamber:

“When you are 65 miles from a McDonald’s or a Wal-Mart, and two and a half hours from a mall, you will find a whole new definition of the phrase for quality of life – It’s a “way of living”.  Here, the focus is definitely not on consumption.  It’s on family and community.  It’s on entrepreneurship.  And perhaps above all, it’s on outdoor beauty and recreation.”

Fish Trap at Wallowa Lake

We first heard of Joseph when Russ & Laura rolled through and interviewed Dan Price.  Then Tammy at Rowdy Kittens visited while on a writing retreat.  Joseph, by all accounts, is a delightful mountain town.


This is the first in a series of posts profiling mountain towns.  Let us know where your favorite mountain town is to see it featured in a upcoming post.  


Infinite Use: Zip Ties

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There are items which seem to hold an infinite number of uses, that are worth carrying on any outing whether an outdoor adventure, a day at work or anywhere in between.

Zipties are one of these infinite use objects. They weigh almost nothing, take up almost no space at all, and are so simple a young child could use them.

Zip Tie Love

Zip Tie Heart

Zipties have the original intent of lashing together electronic cables. They are wonderful for this purpose, and can help to streamline and clean up a tangle of wires behind your computer or entertainment center.

Most often zipties are made from a hard nylon material. Their brilliance comes in their secure one-way ratcheting system. Once tightened down they do not let loose.  They can be tightened further but can not be loosened. This feature is what allows you to feel confident in their use.

Zip Ties

Depending on your intended use and amount of preparation time available, it can be a good idea to have several styles of zip ties around. They come in various lengths, thicknesses and colors. For outdoor use there are UV-resistant variety available. For weight bearing and truly heavy duty use I recommend the variety with a metal tab as part of it’s rachet system. There are also ziptiees made entirely of stainless steel.

Given their low per-piece cost, zip ties can be utilized without much concern.

I have zip ties holding my lights on the front of my basket.

Zip Ties on my Bike Basket

Lighting mount zip tied to the front of my bike basket.

Zipties also fasten my basket to my handlebars.Bike Basket Zip Ties

Bike Basket mount arms zip tied to my handlebars.

Zip ties can help secure luggage, bags or anything else with zippers, shut.  Before heading away from camp for a hike, ziptie your tent doors shut.  No, this isn’t the end-all be-all of security but it does provide a hindrance, and also a way for you to know if anyone went snooping when you where away from your bag or tent.  Clip them open with scissors or a pocket knife upon your return.

Zip Tie Zippers

Jason from Gear Talk uses zipties to hack his own Nalgene style bottle for his back country adventures.

Zip Tie Cap Keeper

Need to lash an extra piece of gear onto your pack while hiking? Zipties to the rescue!

The friendly folks at Dutch Bike Co. have documented their DIY snow tires using zipties.

Zip Tie Snow Tires

Did the pull to your zipper snap off? Throw a ziptie on there for easy zipping.

I’ve used a ziptie to secure a trash bag onto a picnic table while camping on a particularly windy night.

Simply Bike uses zip ties to decorate her bike.

Lovely Bicycle uses zip ties for a clean look to her after-market dynamo lighting installation.

Keep in mind that depending on the color of your zip ties, they can become an almost invisible helper.

Alternately, they can also become a style element:

Zip Tie Art

Then there are those who just enjoy the style of the zip tie and what it represents:

Zip Tie Ring

The best ways to utilize zip ties really are only limited to your particular situation and a little creative thinking.

Zip Tie Repair

Where have you used zipties before?


Chris’ Hack: How to Grind Fresh Coffee While Camping

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Since moving to San Francisco we’ve picked up some snobby coffee habits:  We love our french press, we buy whole bean coffee and grind it fresh every morning.  It really isn’t that much effort, and it makes a world of difference.  Coffee used to be something I’d begrudgingly drink when I had to wake up extra early.  It’s now become a simple daily pleasure.

When we go camping we like to eat well, and enjoy some of the little pleasures from home.

When we would head out for a weekend camping we used to grind up enough coffee for the trip, and bring it along.  Now, due to Chris’ ingenuity we’ve got an even better method.

The Grinder to Use

This is the pepper we bought from Trader Joe’s a few months back.  It has a built-in pepper grinder.

Once the pepper was all used up, Chris had the idea to see if it would work for coffee.  I was skeptical, but we put it to the test.

The tools at hand: whole bean coffee, pepper grinders.

The tools to create hand ground coffee without power.

We filled the former peppercorn grinder up with the whole bean coffee:

The pepper grinder turned coffee grinder.

Grind it up, and this is what you get:

Hand Ground Coffee without power

A beautiful coarse ground coffee.

Whether camping or traveling this is a simple, compact, power-free method to have fresh ground coffee anytime, anywhere.

This is the first in an ongoing series of Chris’ Hacks. Don’t miss out on these posts! Sign up to receive free email updates from