Piste de re­sis­tance

When our ski sea­son is over, look north for a cool snow hol­i­day, writes Barry Oliver

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

HE north­ern hemi­sphere of­fers a be­wil­der­ing se­lec­tion of pos­si­bil­i­ties for snow bun­nies. The US state of Colorado alone has 22 classy re­sorts and con­tin­ues to at­tract Aus­tralians in droves. (We’re the sec­ond big­gest over­seas mar­ket af­ter the Brits.) But, sacre bleu, how can any­one ig­nore the French Alps with their vast win­ter play­ground of long runs and sta­teof-the-art lifts?

Then there’s Canada with a clutch of mustvisit win­ter re­sorts in Al­berta and Bri­tish Columbia, where Whistler’s new gon­dola link to Black­comb has been grab­bing all the head­lines. Ja­pan can re­ally turn on the snow as well and of­fers an af­ford­able hol­i­day with a cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence. It also has the ad­van­tage of be­ing closer to home. Oh, and did I men­tion the Swiss Alps or Italy’s Dolomites? Here’s a brief look at the tip of the enor­mous north­ern hemi­sphere ice­berg:

COLORADO, US

The boast at Colorado is that de­spite awe­some snow (10m last sea­son) there are about 300 days of sun­shine a year. The snow sea­son runs from Oc­to­ber to May but can last un­til June. The early sea­son, Novem­ber to Christ­mas, is a good time to go: the re­ward is un­touched runs and short lift lines. Fe­bru­ary and March, known for huge snow­falls, are the best bet for pow­der hounds. www.colorado.ski.com.

Aspen: Celebrity-favourite Aspen steals the head­lines but there are four moun­tains — Snow­mass, Aspen Moun­tain, Aspen High­lands and But­ter­milk — of­fer­ing more than 500km of ter­rain un­der one lift ticket. In­sider tip: Take a snow­mo­bile ride to the Ma­roon Bells, among Aspen’s most-pho­tographed peaks. www.as­pen­snow­mass.com.

Steam­boat: It’s claimed the term cham­pagne pow­der was dreamed up here to de­scribe light and fluffy snow. Steam­boat’s heart is its gon­dola, which ef­fi­ciently whisks skiers and board­ers to mid-moun­tain in 10 min­utes; from there they spread out on 165 trails across 1214ha. The old ranch­ing town of Steam­boat is a wel­come di­ver­sion. In­sider tip: Take to the slopes with Billy Kidd, a for­mer Olympic cham­pion and the re­sort’s di­rec­tor of ski­ing. www.steam­boat.com.

Tel­luride: This 100-year-old town is set in a box canyon sur­rounded by 466m-high peaks. A free gon­dola takes vis­i­tors to Moun­tain Vil­lage, the hub of win­ter ac­tiv­i­ties. With the open­ing of Rev­e­la­tion Bowl, Tel­luride has more than 1000ha of ter­rain. In­sider tip: Try a half-day heli-ski­ing trip; you don’t have to be an ex­pert. www.visit­tel­luride.com.

Vail: The re­sort’s 11km of back bowls were blan­keted with more than 12m of snow last sea­son. Re­sort staff say find­ing el­bow room is no prob­lem with just two skiers an acre (0.404ha) on av­er­age. Vail is claimed to have more groomed ter­rain ‘‘ than any­where on the planet’’. Apart from the bowls, there are 128 trails. In­sider tip: Take an in­ter­ac­tive tour on the web­site to get a taste of what’s on of­fer. www.vail.snow.com.

CANADA

The snow is re­li­able and the Cana­di­ans are so po­lite on the slopes (well, that’s my ex­pe­ri­ence); there is also good on-snow ac­com­mo­da­tion, of­ten with an out­door hot tub, a de­light­ful ex­pe­ri­ence when it snows. Most vis­i­tors fly to Van­cou­ver, then take a short lo­cal flight to the snow. The ski re­sorts are pop­u­lar with Aus­tralians, both to visit and for work, so it’s not un­usual to hear a ‘‘ g’day mate’’ greet­ing or two. The buzz is all about next Fe­bru­ary’s Win­ter Olympics. http://au.british­columbia.travel; www.trav­e­lal­berta.com.

Whistler: The lat­est big event at Whistler has been the open­ing of the Peak 2 Peak gon­dola (in De­cem­ber last year), which links it with Black­comb moun­tain, 4.4km away. It pretty much has the lot on 2428ha, from he­liski­ing to snow­mo­biles and tub­ing. About 90 per cent of the re­sort will re­main open dur­ing the Olympics. In­sider tip: Get a feel for the two moun­tains by ski­ing with a lo­cal in its com­pli­men­tary moun­tain hosts scheme. www.whistlerblack­comb.com.

Big White: Big White is, well, big. About 1147ha of pa­trolled ter­rain, 118 runs and five bowls ac­cessed by 16 lifts. Even the snow­fall is big: about 8m in an av­er­age sea­son. Ski-in, skiout ac­com­mo­da­tion with slopes to suit all ages and abil­i­ties, from easy groomers to steep off-piste runs. In­sider tip: Ex­pe­ri­ence Sil­ver Star on the same lift ticket: a weekly shut­tle runs be­tween the re­sorts. www.big­white.com.

Sun Peaks: About a 45-minute drive from Kam­loops, this re­sort has 117 runs, the long­est a cruisy 8km, on 1456ha, 11 lifts and 40km of cross-coun­try ski­ing. Dog sled­ding is a pop­u­lar di­ver­sion. In­sider tip: Take to the slopes with for­mer Olympic cham­pion Nancy Greene. It’s free. www.sun­peak­sre­sort.com.

Lake Louise: Here there’s 1699ha of ski­able ter­rain with the ma­jes­tic Cana­dian Rock­ies for com­pany. Gen­tle slopes and long cruisy runs for be­gin­ners. Ex­perts can ex­plore chutes, glades, gul­lies and re­mote bowls. In­sider tip: Ex­perts will find some of the most chal­leng­ing ter­rain in the Rock­ies. www.skilo­uise.com.

FRANCE

The French Alps of­fer a daz­zling to­tal of 357 re­sorts and 25,239ha of slopes (with an army of 1400 groomers to keep them in shape). It’s just as well there’s a lot of room as about eight mil­lion snow en­thu­si­asts flood here ev­ery north­ern win­ter (a mere 3000 of whom are Aus­tralians). Most fly into Lyons or Geneva. www.skifrance.com.

Cha­monix-Mont-Blanc: This re­sort of­fers a 22km off-piste ski run; there are more than 155 km of slopes on six ski ar­eas around Mt Blanc (four in the Cha­monix Val­ley, one each in Cour­mayeur, Italy, and Ver­bier, Switzer­land). One ski pass cov­ers the main ski ar­eas. In­sider tip: Don’t miss rid­ing on Aigu­ille du Midi, the high­est ca­ble in Europe, reach­ing 3842m. www.cha­monix.com.

Val Thorens: At 2300m, this is Europe’s high­est re­sort; sit­u­ated in the Three Val­leys, on of­fer are 600km of slopes, thanks to links with sev­eral other re­sorts. Ac­com­mo­da­tion is ski-in, ski-out and with more than 50 restau­rants and bars, it’s the place for nightlife. The sea­son here can be long: from De­cem­ber to April is not un­usual. In­sider tip: Try the 6km to­bog­gan run, France’s long­est. www.valthorens.com.

Courchevel: Sit­u­ated in the Three Val­leys, Courchevel is known for its safe and ex­ten­sive ski area. There’s a mul­ti­tude of lux­ury ho­tels and chalets, mostly ski-in, ski-out. Two of the 60 restau­rants have Miche­lin stars. With 1000 in­struc­tors on hand, there’s no ex­cuse for not im­prov­ing your tech­nique. In­sider tip: For an un­usual di­ver­sion, take a snow scooter tour. www.courchevel.com.

Val d’Isere: Ski­ing is a tra­di­tion in this cen­turies-old vil­lage. The win­ter play­ground is vast, with 300km of runs and 94 ski lifts mov­ing skiers across more than 1200ha of ter­rain; off-piste ski­ing is al­lowed. As Serge Tchenko, the re­sort’s mar­ket­ing man­ager at Val d’Isere, said on a re­cent visit to Syd­ney: ‘‘ France is still a free coun­try.’’ In­sider tip: Fol­low the tracks of the 2009 ski world cham­pi­ons on the leg­endary Face de Bell­e­varde. www.vald­is­ere.com.

SWITZER­LAND

En­ga­dine St Moritz: This snows­ports re­gion, which has hosted two Win­ter Olympics, is the largest and most var­ied in Switzer­land with 350km of ter­rain and 56 lifts. St Moritz, a favourite with the in­ter­na­tional jet set, is among the world’s most exclusive re­sorts and was the birth­place of win­ter tourism in the alps. In­sider tip: Adrenalin junkies will en­joy to­bog­gan­ing down the icy Cresta Run. www.myswitzer­land.com.

Ver­bier: Pic­turesque Ver­bier lies close to France and Italy in the heart of the Four Val­leys win­ter­sports mecca. From its sunny plateau at 1500m, Ver­bier of­fers great views. In­sider tip: Chal­leng­ing off-piste ski­ing, if you are up to it. www.ver­bier.ch.

Zer­matt: At the foot of the ma­jes­tic Mat­ter­horn, Zer­matt is a charm­ing, tra­di­tional win­ter re­sort. Elec­tric cars and horse­drawn sleighs and car­riages are the only trans­port per­mit­ted. In­sider tip: Zer­matt em­braces three ski­ing ar­eas, which all en­joy good snow and a long sea­son. www.zer­matt.ch.

ITALY

The snow ad­dicts at www.ski­italy.com point From Europe to Ja­pan, there’s some­thing for every­one in the north­ern ski fields. From far left, the French Alps; Sun Peaks in Bri­tish Columbia; the pic­turesque vil­lage of Vail in Colorado out there’s more to their home­land than pizza and pasta. ‘‘ Italy is not only home to the high­est moun­tain in Europe, Monte Bianco in Cour­mayeur, but it has some of the best and liveli­est ski sta­tions in Europe.

‘‘ You say you like fash­ion­able ski­ing? How does Cortina d’Am­pezzo grab you? This well­known re­sort is the site of Olympic fame past and is smack in the mid­dle of one of the most beau­ti­ful moun­tain ranges in Italy, the Dolomites.’’ www.ski­italy.com.

Cortina: Known as the pearl of the Dolomites, Cortina of­fers 110km of down­hill tracks and 58km of cross-coun­try trails with nev­erend­ing carousels served by 37 lifts. For those who want some­thing dif­fer­ent there’s ice-skat­ing and sledg­ing. In­sider tip: Brave­hearts may like to take part in a spot of ice­climb­ing. www.skiare.com.au.

JA­PAN

Af­ter a hard day on the slopes vis­i­tors can soak up Ja­panese cul­ture and de­li­cious food as well as the coun­try’s fa­mous nat­u­ral hot springs. Qual­ity snow from Novem­ber to April and reached in less than 10 hours from Aus­tralia. www.japan­guide.com.

Niseko: The ski ar­eas of Grand Hi­rafu, Niseko Vil­lage, Hana­zono and An­nupuri, all on the north­ern­most is­land of Hokkaido, have be­come pop­u­lar with pow­der hounds and can be ski­ied on one all-moun­tain pass. The Hana­zono ski fields form part of the greater Niseko ski area, one of the largest in Ja­pan. In­sider tip: The pow­der ski­ing in Straw­berry Fields is un­for­get­table. www.ski­hana­zono.com.

Rusutsu Re­sort: Near the base of Mt Yotei, 79km west of Sap­poro, the three moun­tains and 1700ha of ter­rain are ser­viced by 18 lifts, four of them gon­do­las. There are 37 runs, the long­est 3.5km. Other ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude dogsled­ding, snow­mo­bil­ing, snowraft­ing and tub­ing. In­sider tip: The peak of Mt Izola of­fers the best ter­rain with long and chal­leng­ing runs and panoramic scenery. www.rusutsu.co.jp.

Hakuba: This is a huge ex­panse of ski coun­try of­fer­ing an in­cred­i­ble va­ri­ety of ter­rain. Ten re­sorts, in­clud­ing Happo-One, Go­ryu-Toomi and Hakuba 47, are spread along the 3000m-high ranges of the Ja­pan Alps on the main is­land of Hon­shu. There’s a wide choice of ac­com­mo­da­tion, in­clud­ing tra­di­tional ryokan. No short­age of snow with about 10m in an av­er­age sea­son. In­sider tip: Don’t miss the snow mon­keys at Jigoku­dani Mon­key Park. www.ski-hakuba.com. Barry Oliver is Travel&In­dul­gence’s ski writer.

The white stuff:

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