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Austria's alps from the top of Obergurgl, Solden's nextdoor neighbour.

Austria’s alps from the top of Obergurgl, Solden’s next door neighbour.

Salut from Sölden! Last March we explored this monstrous ski resort situated in the Ötztal Valley of the Austrian Tirol.

Back home in North America, we know it for the World Cup ski race it stages on its glacier every October. But Sölden is a lot more than just a glacier — it has more than 70 lifts and 186 miles of ski terrain.

This photo was snapped at the tip of Obergurgl, Solden’s next door neighbour, in the midst of the glorious Tirolean alps.

Our adventures in Sölden have been documented (by two 10 year olds) in the latest Winter edition of SNOW Magazine.

For more on exploring Solden, see www.Soelden.com

 

Lori Knowles

Lori Knowles

 

Lori Knowles is a ski and travel writer/editor based in Toronto, Canada. She is the editor of SNOW Magazine. See past work at LoriKnowles.com or follow Lori on Twitter @LoriExploring.

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Lori Knowles

Lori Knowles

I guess a Tuesday at the start of November is as good a time as any to start planning our 2014/15 ski season–yours and mine. In truth, as someone in the ski biz, it’s been on my mind since July… or earlier. But I’ve waited ’til now to get you revved up, otherwise your engine might burn out.

I hope to tell you the few tidbits I get now and then on new stuff in the European and North American ski markets: new ski lifts, new runs, glades you can’t miss, or an apres-ski experience neither of us can pass up. Let’s see how it evolves. Hopefully the info will help you plan our next ski trips.

I’ll start with some news from a sunny ski area in British Columbia (BC) called Sun Peaks. Here it is, in a photo courtesy of Sun Peaks Resort, taken by Adam Stein:

The Village at Sun Peaks, BC. Photo by Adam Stein, courtesy of Sun Peaks.

The Village at Sun Peaks, BC. Photo by Adam Stein, courtesy of Sun Peaks.

Sun Peaks is in idyllic ski spot in near the Canadian city of Kamloops. Its village is auto-free, its runs flow along a consistent and excellent fallline, and its trees are spacious and not too steep, which gives any ski area an A in my playbook.

Tree skiing at Sun Peaks. Photo by Adam Stein, courtesy of Sun Peaks Resort.

Tree skiing at Sun Peaks. Photo by Adam Stein, courtesy of Sun Peaks Resort.

All this you can learn by visiting its website. My news is this: For 2015, Sun Peaks has expanded to a point at which it’s now Canada’s second largest ski area. That’s pretty big — Canada’s largest is Whistler. This season Sun Peaks has grown to more than 4,200 acres of in-bound ski terrain with the addition of two new areas: West Morrisey and Gil’s.

“New runs in the West Morrisey area will be expert ability level and utilize the same aspect as the popular Static Cling and Agitator ski runs,” says a recent press release. “The second section, Gil’s—a popular backcountry ski area at the top of Tod Mountain—will see the area’s vertical double with the creation of a lower ski out back the main ski runs.”

A panoramic shot of Sun Peaks taken from Mt Morrisey. Photo by Adam Stein courtesy of Sun Peaks Resort.

A panoramic shot of Sun Peaks taken from Mt Morrisey. Photo by Adam Stein courtesy of Sun Peaks Resort.

In short, this expansion just might move Sun Peaks onto your short list of top spots in Canada to visit. I hope so. As I said, the resort is idyllic.

That’s it for today. More tidbits soon — news to help you explore your ski travel options. Let me know how your planning is progressing. I’m @LoriExploring

Lori Knowles is a ski and travel writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. She is the editor of SNOW Magazine. See past work at LoriKnowles.com or follow Lori on Twitter @LoriExploring.

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show swapI spent Thursday afternoon and evening touring the new Toronto Snow Show. It’s in a new location, with a new name, and a re-energized vibe.

I met more than one person who’d headed toward Exhibition Place before realizing The Toronto Snow Show is now at the International Centre, close to Pearson International Airport. For a downtowner, the show is far… but the location’s not bad for skiers in the GTA. Plus parking is free.  The show is on now through Sunday, October 20. Download the handy iPhone app for directions and hours.

Now for scenes from this year’s show:

1) Toronto graffiti artist SKAM is creating art on site; stop by and watch. Also enter to win one of his pieces.

Graffiti artist SKAM at the Toronto Snow Show

Graffiti artist SKAM at the Toronto Snow Show

2) Vail Resorts’ new Epic Mix app is very cool. Track your runs, earn icons, calculate your vertical. Stop by the Vail booth for a demonstration. And don’t forget to ask about the new Epic pass… $729 US for skiing all season at Vail resorts in Colorado, Utah, California… even Europe!

Vail's new Epix Mix App

Vail’s new Epix Mix App

3) The women of SNOW Magazine stopped by Quebec’s booth to snap a Quebec Original postcard. You can too… with or without the boas and Elton John sunglasses!

Bonjour Quebec!

Bonjour Quebec!

4) Only in Aspen! The Colorado ski destination gets creative with funky art on its lift passes. Here’s a sample… so much fun. Check them out at Aspen’s booth, and find out more about skiing Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Buttermilk and The Highlands.

Ski Pass Art

Ski Pass Art

5) Blue Mountain’s gone high tech with iPads in its booth. Stop by to browse.

Blue Mountain booth

Blue Mountain booth

6) A parting shot from the Pro Am Rail Jam:

Pro Am Rail Jam, photo courtesy of Toronto Snow Show

Pro Am Rail Jam, photo courtesy of Toronto Snow Show

For more on the Toronto Snow Show, follow my tweets @LoriExploring.

Lori Knowles is the editor of SNOW Magazine. View her work at www.LoriKnowles.comFollow Lori on Twitter @LoriExploring

All photos copyright Lori Knowles.

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SKAM, a Toronto graffiti artist, will be demonstrating snow art at the Toronto Snow Show

SKAM, a Toronto graffiti artist, will be demonstrating snow art at the Toronto Snow Show

Toronto skiers, it’s time for the Toronto Snow Show.

Here are five reasons why you should go:

1. The Toronto Snow Show (October 17-20) has a new name, a new location, and a new vibe. Once known as the Toronto Ski Show, it’s joined this latest century with a name that encompasses all you can do at a ski resort besides simply skiing–namely, snowboarding, tubing, skating, XC skiing, spa-ing, shopping, eating. All stuff you can do in an environment of snow. The show has moved from Exhibition Place to the International Centre–free parking, and closer to those of you living and skiing outside metro Toronto. And organizers have promised a new vibe–graffiti artists, a rail jam, a snow park. I’m hoping they’ll rev us up for the coming of snow.

Graffiti2. Art and snow are two of my favourite things and this season the Toronto Snow Show promises them both. SKAM, a Toronto graffiti artist, will be onsite with six demonstrations throughout the weekend. This guy’s work is pretty cool. I’m keen to see what he creates in the theme of snow. For a schedule of live demonstration times, visit http://tssts.sportshows.ca/skam_grafitti_demonstrations/.

3. There are $10,000 in cash giveaways to pro and amateur skiers and riders competing in the Pro-AM Rail Jam during the show. Admission is free… at least, it’s included in the cost of Snow Show Admission. Plus, new this year is an area in which you can try your own tricks. The Burton Riglet Park is a mini terrain park with features that will help you get the sensation of snowboarding.
4. Two-for-One lift passes are on sale at the Snow Show with the price of admission. Participating Ontario resorts include Blue Mountain, Horseshoe, Mount St. Louis, Brimacomb and Snow Valley.
Exploring the floor for new ski fashion.

Exploring the floor for new ski fashion.

5. My favourite: browsing. That’s right, browsing. At the Toronto Snow Show you can shop for jackets, pants, equipment, goggles and helmets. You can swap or purchase inexpensive equipment at Canada’s largest ski and snowboard Swap, organized by the Canadian Ski Patrol. And best yet, you can visit ski areas booths from all over Canada, the US and Europe… all to plan your next ski vacation.

For more info on the Toronto Snow Show, see www.TorontoSnowShow.com
Follow my #SnowShow tweets @LoriExploring
Lori Knowles is the editor of SNOW Magazine. View her work at www.LoriKnowles.comFollow Lori on Twitter @LoriExploring
Photos supplied by the Toronto Snow Show.

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Hello, and welcome to SNOW.

Snow Magazine, Winter 2014

Snow Magazine, Winter 2014

This is the first edition of SNOW Magazine for the 2014 ski season… and the very first created by our new team:

1) Barbara Sanders, Publisher/Founder

2) Anne-Marie Boissonnault, Creative Director (YQB Media)

3) Laura Doherty, Graphic Designer (YQB Media)

4) & Me… Lori Knowles, Editor.

Inside, there are features on Banff, Lech, the sexy Sachs ski dynasty of St. Moritz, and Tremblant, which is turning a tenacious 75 this ski season. And don’t miss our 007-inspired Fashion Feature: For Your Eyes Only–2014 Ski Fashion is Shaken, Not Stirred!

SNOW Winter 2014 is available on newsstands and Zineo.com. Visit www.TheSnowMag.com for more info, and the latest on life, lifts & luxury.

Lori Knowles is the editor of SNOW Magazine. View her work at www.LoriKnowles.comFollow Lori on Twitter @LoriExploring

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My ski days are sweet here in Portillo, and not just because of the sweets they serve at afternoon tea daily.

We pushed away from the all-yellow Hotel Portillo at the awesomely early hour of 10 am. Our first ride up dropped us at the training point of the Austrian ski team. These enormous species were picking up speeds of about 70 kph as they passed by, all duded out in their helmets and speed suits, bibs sporting names like Franz, Hans and Josef. When we stopped to watch for a mo, Peter asked an Austrian coach where they’d be training this afternoon. “I hope ve don’t train this afternoon,” he said in perfect Austrian English. “Ve have been verking since vile you vere sleeping. Ve are wery tired.”

The Austrians

At that we hung our heads and skied on, trying to rack up some kilometres of our own before we were totally embarrassed. The pistes of Juncalillo (YUNK-a-LEE-lo) catch the most sun in the am, so that’s where most of Portillo’s skiers ride in the mornings. We snaked down the groomed track first. In subsequent runs we got off-piste to ski the crud and small bumps—it’s quieter there. As in most places, the bulk of skiers ride the groomed tracks, leaving the good stuff untouched and uncrowded.

Portillo View

By noon we’d made our way to the Plateau—the side of Portillo that catches the afternoon rays. The terrain here is so vast, you’d need a fisheye lens to capture it on camera. We rode the El Plateau lift, then the slingshot Condor (more on this bizarre lift later), and traversed over to the off-piste of Plateau Superior, largely avoided by the masses.

Not that there are any masses at Portillo. There are very few day skiers here, most are vacationing on ski weeks at Hotel Portillo, and the hotel’s capacity is capped off at about 400. So there’s never a line-up. And if you like to ski off-piste, you encounter little traffic.

Lunch was at the mid-mountain Tio Bob’s, a.k.a. Uncle Bob’s. Bob Purcell was Portillo’s original owner; his nephew Henry Purcell now runs it. Tio Bob’s is a little slopeside hut, much like alms of Europe. From here, there’s an hypnotic view of Laguna Del Inca (Inca Lake) and the surrounding snowcapped Andes. Skiers throw off their gear and take up residence at picnic tables. Food is off the grill—chicken, salmon, sausage, soup and enormous salads.

Lunch at Tio Bob's

I didn’t want to leave my perch, but I had a date with some Mexican tour operators who promised to guide me through Garganta (translation: throat), akin to the Couloir at Blackcomb. The sun-softened snow on Garganta was perfect, as is its pitch: steep and slightly bumpy, just the way I like it.

Our ski day ended with zip along the Austrians’ closed downhill training course courtesy of Robin, Portillo’s ski school director. It was all part of Portillo’s daily ‘ski with ambassadors’ program, during which you’re toured around for free by the area’s experts.

By 5 pm it was time for tea in the dining room—a sweet cap on an extremely sweet day of skiing.

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It’s a cruise ship kind of start to the day here in Portillo, Chile. We wake up a little later than we would on a normal ski vacation—8 am instead of 7. But then, nothing about this ‘ski vacation’ is normal. For one thing, it’s August. For another, we’re south of the equator.

We saunter into the communal dining room for breakfast in flip-flops and sweats. Red-coated waiters are buzzing about like bees around honey. Their sprinter’s pace is diametrically opposed to the slowness of the skiers they’re serving. There are at least four Chilean waiters to every single, unhurried guest, and judging by their haste, I think these waiters have had a lot of Columbian coffee.

The ‘guests’ on this skiing cruise ship are an interesting mix. South American families fill one side of the room. They’re dressed in some of the happiest skiwear I’ve seen—shiny pink puffy jackets, lime green ski pants, multi-coloured hats (not helmets) and wide-framed, jewel-encrusted sunglasses that Elton would have drooled over in his heyday.

Another part of the dining hall is filled with English-speaking skiers, many of them, I’m told, are from Vail and Aspen. Many of them have little kids in tow, who spend much of their time bombing around the hotel, gleeful to be free and out from under supervision. I see a lot of Obermeyer and Kjus on their parents, some Patagonia on the more mountaineering types. Blonde hair. Deep tans. More sunglasses.

Another part of the room seems to be taken up by long-haired guys, mostly American, some Canadian, from places like Utah and British Columbia. They wear mostly t-shirts and ripped jeans, and stab at their iPhones through breakfast. I peek, naturally, and they’re not doing anything particularly important on those mobiles—there are more than a few Angry Birds at the breakfast table.

I haven’t mentioned the ski racers at breakfast. That’s because they’re not here. They’re Austrian national team members, after all, and they’ve been out on the slopes since before the lifts opened. One imagines 6 am breakfasts of muesli and fruit, yogurt and energy drinks packed with stuff transported overseas in packs by their coaches. The Austrian team members—all hugely tall and muscular, with shaved heads and massive thighs—keep mostly to themselves here in Portillo. They’re the only ones not on a casual schedule.

Breakfast for us is eggs, fruit, yogurt, cheese, fresh rolls and loads of coffee, all served with lightning speed by those buzzing waiters. We load up, then saunter from the dining room to prep for skiing. Our boots and skis are handed to us by valets… like I said, Portillo is a ‘ski cruise ship’ experience.

Lori Knowles is the ski columnist for the Toronto Sun.

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You could have teleported me to Pluto and I don’t think the feeling would be any weirder.

Last night I fell asleep on an Air Canada flight somewhere over Canada. This morning I woke up on that same Air Canada flight somewhere over South America. It was summer when I went to sleep, winter when I woke up. I had shorts on when I left and  a ski jacket when I arrived. The world’s a weird place… so big yet kind of small.

My husband and I flew Toronto direct to Santiago, Chile… why? What else… to go skiing in Portillo, Chile. The South American seasons are upside down–it’s summer in Canada when it’s winter in Chile. Something quite novel for a diehard skier like me, who’s always looking for new journeys to snow. This one did not disappoint.

Our driver’s name was Mario. An apt name, considering his Italian driving style. He spent more time in the oncoming traffic lane than he did in his own. My nails dug divots into Peter’s arm every time we went around a corner on the wrong side of the road. “Do you think he knows there’s a car coming the other way?” I’d hiss. Peter would just smile. “Sure. Mario’s a good driver.”

Mario spoke no English, and neither of us speak Spanish beyond “Hola” and “Gracias.” Yet somehow he engaged us in a full conversation. As we snaked up into the Andes from Santiago–a three-hour drive if there’s no snow falling or worse (avalanches) we learned about the seemingly vibrant trucking trade between Chile and neighbouring Argentina, Chile’s vineyards that are all lined up at the side of the road, the role of the Gaucho (cowboy) which is actually an Argentinian word but is used here, too, and the wonders of Patagonia in the southern section of Chile to which, suddenly, I am yearning to visit.

The road to Portillo runs upward like a black ribbon through brown ranchland as it makes its way into the Andes. Santiago itself is all lowrise and sprawling. It’s a massive city with more than 6 million inhabitants–more than the rest of the country–yet it’s not filled with skyscrapers like New York, Chicago or even my home,  Toronto. Somehow it’s more low key.

Once out of the city you’re immediately into ranch land. Gauchos (I promise I will find the local name for them soon) ride horses along the roadway. I don’t know what they’re doing, but they appear to be working. They wear large, round straw hats and colourful ponchos. Most have huge, swooping mustaches (the gauchos, not the horses). I’m not kidding.

Mario kept warning us we would encounter a lot of truckers on the way to Portillo. I wondered why he’d warn us of such a thing, yet sure enough, there they were… an absolute ton of truckers. We likely encountered 4- or 500 in a single three-hour trip. Apparently the ski road to Portillo is also an international highway linking Chile with Argentina, Brazil etc. It’s they only way there, which seems incredible. The road is only a two-laner and is as steep as any I’ve encountered in the alps, with loads and loads of switchbacks. At one point we counted 29 switchback turns in a space of about two kilometres. Let me show you a picture: 

Once we reached the snowline we came across at least three transport accidents, most in the ditch with front wheels hanging precariously close to a cliff’s edge. The trucks’ general ascent, as a result, moves at a snail’s pace. Hence Mario’s favour of the ‘other lane, not our own.’ We must have passed 100 transport trucks along the route… many of them happy to honk at us.

The best part was spotting the dozens and dozens of cars pulled off to the side of the road, their occupants tumbling out to run toward the snow adjacent to the highway. Mostly Chileans, perhaps from Santiago, they’d pull on rain pants or whatever waterproof garb they could find. They’d grab sleds (that looked, by the way, suspiciously like flutter boards), then hurl themselves down the pistes–mom, dad, three kids all piled on the same board.

About 2/3 of the way up the steep part of the access road (a.k.a. international highway!), Mario pointed to the sky and told us to look at the ski lift. I forget which word he used for ski lift, but it was nothing I’d heard before. We pressed our noses to the window and sure enough, there was a triple chair moving rapidly above us, right over the swtichbacks and the hundreds of truckers. It was moving much faster than us. “We should ride the lift,” I told Peter. “It would be faster than us, even with Mario!”

But it wasn’t long before Hotel Portillo was looming in front of us, a massive, all-yellow rectangle of a thing that lords itself over acres and acres of wide open, treeless slope. Mario reeled in, we threw open the van doors and let our sneakers touch the cold ground–a long way from the summer lake we’d just left. We shivered and said thanks, handed over a tip, then entered the all-yellow hotel.

About to start: our skiing adventure.

Lori Knowles is the ski columnist for the Toronto Sun.

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Smuggler's Notch under the sun.

The sun shone all day on Smuggler’s Notch, warming up the snow and spreading smiles on the faces of the families vacationing here. I’m not sure my kids noticed; it was their first day of ski school–ahem, Snow Sport University (SSU)–and they were a little nervous.

The morning began in a flurry: mostly me rousting tired kids to brush their teeth and eat their cornflakes. After a winter of rigourous ski racing, the two boys were reluctant to go to ski school on their March Break, and our daughter was just plain scared. But we did our best to keep it light. We careened out of the condo at 8:55, just in time to pull the skis out of the locker and meet the SSU bus, which swung into our drive promptly at 9:00 and produced a smiling ski pro to check the kids in and put them at ease. Everyone boarded without complaint or comment–there wasn’t even a peep from my four-year-old–which eliminated my anxiety completely, and left my husband and me to quietly catch our own shuttle the short distance to the lifts.

While Peter and I explored Smuggs in the sun and snapped photos all over, the kids were learning hockey stops and glades. We spotted our two boys only once, part of a massive pack jetting down under the chair. Did they look happy? Hard to tell with helmets and balaclavas hiding their faces. Instead of worrying about it, we went for a HUGE lunch at Morse Mountain Grill sans kids–an unusual treat.

As for the kids, as part of SSU’s all day program, they were fed a hearty lunch of pasta and garlic bread at lunch. Around 2:30 the massive pack of SSUers flocked into SSU headquarters to wind down and watch a magician in action. They ended the day with some colouring. When I arrived, the boys were waiting for me at the door, but Gracie was reluctant to leave her new friends.

Kids returning from a day at Smuggs' Snow Sport University.

We got the goods on ‘how things went’ at SSU over Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the Village after skiing… at least, we tried. Eight year old boys don’t give you much info–turns out, four-year-old girls are far more expressive! The boys were most impressed by the fact that in a single day they moved from Level 5 to Level 7, and they clutched their ‘report cards’ with pride. That’s about all I got out of them; the only complaint was the lack of pizza at lunch. Did they want to return the following day? “No thanks, mom. We wanna go zip-lining.”

As for our little daughter… she was totally impressed by her own ‘hockey stops’, and was insistent she wanted to return  to ski with her ‘friends’: the gaggle of chattery five-year-old girls clad in pig tails and pink.

Fine with me. I found Smugg’s Snow Sport University to be well-organized, welcoming, and generally a ‘happy place’ for kids to be. Best part: SSU provided a rare opportunity for my husband and me to ski alone, ride the lifts together, and eat lunch without messy-faced kids… all with the sun shining brightly.

Lori Knowles’ ski column, Inside Edge, appears in the Travel section of the Toronto Sun. Follow her adventures on Twitter @LoriExploring.

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Riding the chair at Smuggs.

Nostalgia has hit me like the sweet smell of freshed-baked cookies coming from my mother’s kitchen.

Our first day of skiing on March Break at Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont rocketed me back to the ski days of my 1970’s childhood, when riding two-person chairlifts and shouting “SINGLE” were common actions at the foot of every run; when narrow trails instead of broad, treeless freeways snaked like strips of ribbon down the face of a mountain; and when families of skiers actually met one another in the liftline, on the chair, in the hot tub or over a picnic lunch instead of roaring past each other headed for another high-speed lift.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not lamenting the loss of slow, fixed-grip chairs and straight skis. I’m simply saying that once in while it’s nice to be reminded of happy times in one’s past, and that on the slopes (as in life), it’s actually nice to slow down once in a while.

We’re here skiing Smuggler’s Notch with three children–two of our own, and one cousin–whom Smuggler’s Notch knackered thoroughly and completely. Over the course of the day, we likely only took a total of 10 runs, but with  3,640 feet of vertical, those runs were l-o-o-n-n-g… not to mention bumpy.

We warmed up on a seriously fast, groomed blue cruiser called Chilcoot, with one parent leading, the three kids inbetween, and another parent bringing up the rear. Our four-year-old daughter kept right up with the 8-year-old boys, her skis splayed out in flying wedge and her hands tucked in tight by her sides (for added speed). It’s astonishing how quickly kids learn to ski well if you start them early.

On following runs we’d split at the top: I’d take the boys on some blacks and Peter would take Gracie on the blues. What’s fantastic about this ski area is a family can ski together… yet apart. Runs at Smuggs tend to meander down the mountain, crossing over one another frequently like the braids in Gracie’s hair. As a result, we’d meet at several points on each run. We’d discuss our conquests, then we’d shoot off again, promising to meet at the next junction.

At the bottom of each trail we’d brag of our adventures. Favourites for Gracie and Peter included Rumrunner, Father Bob’s and Black Snake. Favourites for the boys and me were the glades we found, including Moonshine and Doc Dempsey’s Glades. The runs are steeper and the bumps are a lot bigger than I’d anticipated when I steered them down those remote, skier-less tracks for the first time… but the boys never uttered a peep of complaint, and seemed glad to hop on one of the slow, double chairs at Smuggs to rest. I think a high-speed six-pack would have stressed out their legs completely.

All were also more than happy to head into the Madonna Lodge (more nostalgia) at lunch to nosh on pizza and soup in a bread bowl–in that tired state, both were the best we’d ever tasted!

We had HUGE plans for activity at the end of the day: swimming, tubing, hours in Snugg’s Fun Zone. But we only managed two of the three, and by 9:15 pm all five of us were sleeping soundly. Overall it was a smashingly successful first day at Smuggs… and for me at least, sweetly nostalgic.

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