Tip Sheet

Splendor In The Trees

Racing through fresh powder at Colorado's Steamboat resort, snowboarder Julie Paller weaved through the forest, dodging trees left and right. The run was untouched, and all she could hear was her board brushing against the snow. In that moment, the mountain was all hers. There were no annoying beginner skiers, no lifts overhead--and best of all, the course didn't look like the freeway at rush hour. It was as if she were "floating on a cloud."

At one time, only daredevil skiers ventured into the trees and onto the untouched powder. But thanks to snowboards and wider skis that give more control and float through deep snow, more intermediate ski bums are skipping groomed trails and heading for the trees.

The ski resorts couldn't be happier. While no statistics exist on the number of resort visitors skiing the trees today versus in the past, experts agree that more skiers of all abilities--not just experts--are trying it every year. Though off-piste skiing is plentiful in Europe, this year even American resorts like Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Solitude and Aspen are creating more "glades," or cleared trails through the woods for less experienced (blue) skiers. They're a throwback to the first days of skiing, before resorts cut wide swaths of trees, and machines rolled and packed the snow.

Even if you're a first-timer, the best place to learn is France's Chamonix-Argentiere (www.chamonix.com), the mecca of off-piste skiing. Several companies, like Ski Weekend (skiweekend.com, 33-08700-600-615), offer specialized courses there for beginners. If you're headed for the States, you'll also have plenty of runs to choose from, such as those at Breckenridge's Peak 7 (breckenridge.com) or Jack Rabbit Alley at Colorado's Beaver Creek resort (beavercreek.com). Vermont's Stratton Mountain Resort (stratton.com) even has beginner glades with extra-wide spaces between trees. While the trees are tightly spaced and thus more dangerous in expert glades, intermediate trails allow for less exacting turns. But they both require some new techniques; take lessons, and wear a helmet. On the packed snow found on the big runs, skiers pressure an edge to turn, but in deep powder, skis never touch a hard-packed surface, so turning requires a kind of rhythmic bounce with even pressure on both skis. "Learning to ski powder is like learning to ride a bike," says Breckenridge COO Roger McCarthy. "At first you wobble and only get 10 feet, but once you can go 100 feet and link four turns, you've got it for life."

Don Mathes may be proof. At 70, he has tried almost every glade run at Steamboat but says it always feels different because "I go where the trees direct me." If he takes multiple runs through the same glade, he moves over eight meters every time so he's always in untracked powder. Even so, his retiree friends don't get his tree obsession. "My 70-year-old buddies think I'm crazy," he says. "It's the trees that keep me young."

Surfing For Tunes

Looking for cheap music on the Internet that won't land you in jail? tip sheet found several sites that offer easy and fun downloads. They aren't free like the peer-to-peer networks, but at least they're legal.

iTunes Music Store (apple.com/itunes): Apple's digital-music jukebox charges 99 cents per tune and offers free 30-second song previews. Choose from rock, rap, jazz, blues, pop, Latin, New Age, folk, inspirational and reggae.

Classical Music Online (personal.classical.com): This site allows unlimited hours of listening for $4.99 per month. For $9.99, it throws in 10 downloads. And if you are fussy about listening quality, opt for the premium monthly subscription ($14.99), which works best with high-speed connections.

Dotmusic on Demand (dotmusic.com): This European site offers dance, pop, rock, indie and reggae; [Pound sterling]4.99 buys a month's worth of downloads (about 50). For now, though, the site supports only PCs.

Vitaminic (vitaminic.com/main): The Vitaminic network targets young European music fans and offers tunes by some emerging artists free of charge. Subscriptions that include unlimited downloads and online listening range from $39.99 for six months to $69.99 for a year.

TRAVEL | A Ho-Ho Holiday

If taking your kids to see Santa at the local shops has lost its excitement, then why not visit Mr. Claus in his natural habitat? No, not in the North Pole but in Lapland, Finland. Tour companies offer packages where families can meet Santa; go on reindeer, husky or snowmobile rides, and visit Santa Village, where elves busily sort mail from children around the world. Families can stay for a long weekend (starting at about [Pound sterling]550, including flights) or take a single-day excursion (about [Pound sterling]250) into the snowy woods. Trips to Lapland have become increasingly popular, and this year the Finnish Tourist Board is expecting about 100,000 visitors in December alone. And it's not just fun for the kiddies; according to Steve Mitchell, director of sales for tour operator Emagine, several prospective grooms have popped the question in front of Santa's sleigh. There are loads of tour packages--Emagine (santa tours.co.uk) and Canterbury Tales (canterbury-tales.com) are two of the most established operators. The tourist board also has details of trips on www.visitfinland.com.

A Seedy Pleasure

The pomegranate is a truly maddening fruit. Served chilled, its juice-filled seeds burst in your mouth with a delightful, tart snap. If only they weren't so difficult to extract from their rubbery, bitter white skin. Fortunately, there is more than one way to eat a pomegranate. Tip Sheet gathered some novel serving suggestions:

ENTREES: Andrew Dornenburg, coauthor with Karen Page of the cookbook "The New American Chef," suggests coating fish and meat with pomegranate powder before cooking. "It adds an extra zing, and it's also beautiful," he says. Reduced pomegranate juice can also be used as a glaze to finish off meats, or in salad dressing. Juice and powder are available in grocery stores or at kalustyans.com.

DRINKS: The pomegranate martini is the latest "it" drink on the New York City bar circuit. The gourmet site star chefs.com suggests combining 60ml of pomegranate juice, 60ml of vodka and 7.5ml of simple sugar syrup. Then shake with ice and strain.

DESSERT: Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over cheesecake or flowerless chocolate cake--anywhere you might use raspberries in summer.

Tiny Crib, Big Sound

On one side of your apartment is the kitchen. The other side doubles as your living room, bedroom and movie library. Your home theater? It's that small TV set at the foot of your bed. If this sounds anything like your apartment, listen closely: you can turn that little set into a surround-sound mecca even if you don't have room for five speakers--much less a microwave.

That's where inventor Niro Nakamichi comes in. His Niro 1.1 Pro system ($799 at www.niro1.com) consists of a single front speaker, subwoofer and DVD player. But when we tried it, the sound seemed to come from five discrete locations--something that normally requires a true multichannel speaker system. While home-theater buffs probably won't replace their 5.1 systems any time soon, it's a great solution for those who want to be surrounded by sound, not wires.

Superstatins To The Rescue

Most patients who take statins to lower their cholesterol probably don't know why they're on one brand instead of another. Truth be told, neither do their doctors. Until last week there wasn't much evidence that one brand was better than the other. But the results of a Cleveland Clinic study released last week showed that patients' average LDL levels dropped to 110 on Pravachol and an astounding 79 on Lipitor--and some doctors are now switching to Lipitor as their prescription of choice. That doesn't necessarily mean you should switch if you're on another statin, though. "A lot of the media coverage said drug A was better than drug B," says Dr. James Cleeman, coordinator of the National Institutes of Health's National Cholesterol Education Program. "But you can't conclude that from this study. It wasn't a head-to-head comparison." Patients took either 40mg of Pravachol or 80mg of Lipitor (which was already known to have a stronger milligram-for-milligram effect). The Lipitor patients had lower C-reactive protein levels, lower cholesterol and less arterial plaque. But both drugs reduce the risk of fatal heart attacks. The upshot: if you're new to statins, ask your doctor about Lipitor. If you've already got a drug that works for you, stick with it--but keep an eye out for more studies.