Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Peak Experience at Jay Peak

Jay Peak is one of those places that anyone who has ever skied on the East Coast knows about.  Its legend is made up of deep snow (a rarity in the East) and top quality glades skiing.

I have been lucky enough to ski lots of great mountains over the years and I was surprised that I had never made the trek to Jay.  Afterall, it is only about 4.5 hours from Ottawa.  Needless to say, I was overjoyed when my girlfriend booked a long weekend there for us as a Christmas present.

If you asked me to describe Jay Peak to somebody who had never skied there, I would say that Jay Peak is a place with one foot in the past and the other in the future.  This is a good thing.  The skiing is challenging, the lift lines aren't too long and the crowds on the hills are minimal.  There isn't much by way of swanky lodges but I don't think you go to Jay to have a fancy lunch.  You go there to ski the deep snow and we certainly weren't disappointed.

There isn't much by way of a village at the base of the mountain.  It could be hard for somebody who is used to the McVillages of Intrawest to imagine but it gives the place a unique character.  There is the newly opened Tram Haus Lodge, where we were staying, some condos at little farther up the mountain and a construction site that will be home to the new conference centre and water park (set to open in 2012).  The town of Jay is about 10 or 15 minutes away and there isn't much there but a place for some gas and some groceries.

Let me summarize my trip by talking about a few of the amazing experiences I had there:

Amazing Staff
Every single member of the Jay Peak staff we interacted with was amazing.  Everyone was super friendly and helpful.  It was pretty easy to tell right away that everyone was there to make sure we had a great time.  One of the coolest experiences was taking the tram up one day with Bill Stenger, who led a group of investors to buy the resort in 2008.  Bill was super-friendly and took some time to share some tips on finding great snow with me.

Great Snow
If I am going to travel for skiing, I like travel for deep snow.  My reasoning is simple: if I wanted to ski groomed runs,I could do that at Camp Fortune, which is 15 minutes from Ottawa.  We were lucky to get about 6 inches of snow or more each day so there was plenty of fresh snow to go around.  This picture proves that.

Sounds weird but I appreciated the fact that the Tram Haus had free wifi everywhere.  I hate that hotels try and charge up to $15 for access when it should be complimentary.  I also loved the new RFID system that makes your room key the same as you ski pass. You can use it to get into your locker to get your skis so you never even have to take it out of your pocket.  I should also mention that Jay has a great website but they tend to underestimate the amount of show they get (which is good) and overestimate how warm it is going to be.

If you like to ski, you need to go to Jay Peak
It is obvious that Jay Peak is in the middle of a massive upgrade.  The new conference centre and water park will certainly help the mountain attract the corporate and family business that it needs to push forward.  But don't let this fool you.  Jay Peak is a skiers mountain and the locals are passionate.  That's why their tagline is "Raised Jay".  For people who like to ski, Jay Peak is a must-visit because when it comes to the skiing, it delivers.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

iPhone to Android: What I learned

Android robot logo.Image via Wikipedia
Last week I made a big switch from an iPhone 3GS to an HTC Desire HD that runs on Android 2.2.

The decision to switch was brought on by the fact that I needed to replace my iPhone.  I need a device that can function as my primary content creation device in terms of camera and video, manage my podcast subscriptions, hold and play lots of music and handle lots of social networking applications like Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook.

A few years ago, I had an HTC Touch Diamond that was running the horror that was Microsoft Mobile Windows 6.5, or whatever it was called.  At the time, the phone was somewhat marketed as an iPhone competitor but I have to say that it was terrible.  I barely ever used Windows Mobile Office and it was confusing as to what was MSFT or HTC and what was Windows and what was the phone.  Essentially the integration with HTC's Sense UI and Windows Mobile was terrible. Then Telus had a navigation application that didn't even work.

I eventually upgraded to my iPhone 3GS and was instantly in love.  Everything worked and the mobile browsing experience was amazing.  My fat fingers could type and select content through the browser and although I am not a fan of the "closed" Apple experience, I appreciated that apps and podcasts were easy to find and sync.

The experience of deciding between iPhone and Android was a tough one and I learned three important things:

1) Bad first experience are hard to overcome: sounds obvious but my previous experience which I have since learned were largely due to Windows Mobile 6.5 being a joke, really soured me on HTC.  I know that they have started building great phones but I was really hesitant to go back down the HTC road.

2) Apple is winning the "ease of app" war: I like to keep my eyes and ears open to what is happening in mobile and I still found that my impressions of Android were tainted by the perception that whole application ecosystem was divided and not as convenient as iPhone.  The reality is that there is an easy to use app "Market" and even better, people can email me apps and they are added to my phone in a matter of minutes. The Android app experience isn't much worse in reality but the perception is that it is.

Anyways, I'm loving my phone so far and will keep you updated on how things progress.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

How to Design a Kick @ss SmarComm Event

For the past few years, I've been going professional development/networking to the tune of at least 5 a month.  And that's a conservative estimate.  I am able to do this largely because I am not, married and don't have kids (yet) but also because Ottawa has offered me so many great opportunities to learn and meet new people.  I do my best to maintain a list of events I go to here.

During this time, I have attended large events and small ones.  I have attended loosely organized events and events that were clearly pimpfests for somebody selling a product or service.  Based on my experiences, I have learned a few things that I believe are key in designing a kick ass Smarcomm event.  ("smarcomm" represents the convergence of social media, marketing and commincations).

1) Think outside the box: try and figure out a way that you can go outside the traditional presentation and questions format with the speaker giving their 15 minutes and the audience asking questions.  There are so many different twists like having a presentation of different case studies, panel discussions and "speed dating"type formats that can be used.

2) Keep it small: Lately, I have found myself preferring smaller events to larger ones.  A recent Community Managers Meetup here in Ottawa only had 5 of us show up and it was great to sit around and chat freely about what we're up to and where things are going.  I have come to realized that events are often about the number of butts you put in seats but for the reasons I outline in #3, I am finding smaller events are helping me push my knowledge boundaries much more than large ones.

3) Go past Smarcomm 101: By now, we've all read "Trust Agents" (if you haven't, go get it right now) and we understand the reasons why we need to thinking about the "new reality".  Some may not agree but frankly, if you're still not getting in early 2011, you probably never while I'd have to wonder where you've been for the  past 5 to 10 years.  Personally, I think the big events tend to stick to the 101 stuff and the smaller events give me the opportunity to push into specifics and get guidance on "what now?".

4) Keep it informal: You can be professional and be informal at the same time.  I think an event where there is an eye kept on the time and the flow of the event is a must but that doesn't mean that you have to be a robot.  Hold your event in a cool restaurant or a neat bar that encourages people to relax while learning. I usually go to events at night and after hammering it out at the office all day, it's nice to combine an after work beer with the opportunity to meet new people and learn new things.

5) Twitter: Frankly, this is Smarcomm 101 itself but if you're doing anything local in this space, you gotta beat it up on Twitter.  Get the hashtag going, build awareness and encourage people to connect on Twitter before, after and during the event.  I don't see enough people trying to get feedback on their events so they can make them better... why not use Twitter for this?  I can't tell you how often I find out from people that they didn't find out about something until the last minute because they saw it on Twitter... which tells me that is how people find out about events in this space so don't wait until the last minute to get it going.

I'm sure some people might see things differently and that's fine.  I still go to all kinds of events but I am finding more and more that that I am enjoying the events that really do the above 5 things.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Video: What I'm Into These Days

Figured it was time I got back into putting up some video.  Here it goes:

Items discussed in this post:

McCann's Irish Oatmeal.  Facebook page
Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.  Website.
Lizano Salsa.  Website