The wintry blanket of white will fall on any patch of ground over about 1500 metres in Australia turning our thoughts to all things skiing and shredding. But while Down Under has some great hills for horsing around, let’s face it, the more impressive slopes are scattered elsewhere across the globe. Here’s our dream list of must-go snow destinations and why you’d want to check them out:
Whistler – Blackcomb, Canada
This one is for those who want the best of everything. And they’ll get it on this so-called mega mountain. Perched in British Columbia’s Coast Mountains, it hosts two co-joined areas – Whistler and Blackcomb. Its claim to mega-fame? The most snow, the longest, steepest vertical drops, the largest terrain parks, the most runs, and the biggest coverage of any ski area in North America. Its glaciated alpine terrain boasts endless blankets of powder, making it a Mecca for the freeski fraternity. The ‘village’ lacks the ye olde feel of European counterparts, being built specifically for the modern boom in recreational ski tourism, but it has cultivated a play and party-hard heart with a bunch of excitement on and off slopes. Downside? It’s expensive. www.whistlerblackcomb.com
Meribel is one of a few resorts in the 3 Valleys ski area, one of the world’s largest ski areas. Meribel is perhaps the pick of a great bunch because it’s located in the middle valley, making it prime real estate and super easy to ski in any of the three valleys without feeling rushed. It offers fantastic skiing for all abilities, great night life and is family-friendly, making it an ideal pick for the masses no matter what powder play you are chasing. Another nice vibe about Meribel is that it has been developed with low-level chalet style buildings rather than high-rise apartments, so it has a friendly, village atmosphere and is low impact on the otherwise stunning mountainscapes in which it nestles.
Telluride, United States
A Victorian-era silver-mining hamlet set deep in a box canyon in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, Telluride is a remote magnet for powder hounds looking for a mix of exhilaratingly steep runs and a little – or a lot – of luxe when it comes to the mountain high life. The main attraction is 1200 vertical metres of ridiculously awesome skiing. Down in the village, there are no stoplights, neon signs, or billboards, just fine wine lists and funky mountain culture bars. If the sheer beauty of the ranges doesn’t take your breath away, the altitude will being 2669 metres in town and 3810 metres once the lift spits you out at the top. From up there, everything looks like fun, especially for the skilled with lots of terrain texture. There is also enough for the intermediates and beginners to stay amused and in town, lots of playground with bumps, bowls and chutes in every corner of the resort. If you’re up for the hike, on offer is some of the most extreme terrain in the US and heli-skiing can be booked. If that’s not enough, there are also multiday routes for backcountry adventurers.
St Anton, Austria
Boasting 340km of pistes, 180km of off-piste itineraries and over 55 square-kilometres of challenging off-piste terrain, it’s no wonder St Anton is consistently rated in top ski resort lists worldwide. Located in Austria’s Arlberg region, it is also in one of Europe’s snowiest regions, meaning the quality of the snow, and consistency, is up there with the best you’ll find across the globe. Off-snow, the resort is awash (as you would expect in middle-Europe) with fancy hotels, high end shopping and all the glitz and glamour a top mountain resort should sparkle with. The only caveat here is that you need to be more on the advanced or at least intermediate level to get the most from the resort as beginner runs are sparse. www.stantonamarlberg.com/en
Like a little sushi and the odd hot spring session with your snow trip? Try Niseko, up there with the best in the world, thanks to frigid weather patterns pumping down from the north (Siberia). Thus the mountains on Hokkaido, the Japanese island where Niseko reigns supreme, are renowned for having some of the most consistent, lightest powder on the planet. Niseko is actually five interconnected resorts (Annupuri, Higashiyama, Hirafu, Hanazono and Moiwa – four of the five being skiable with one lift ticket) perched on the slopes of 1300-metre Mount Niseko Annupuri. There’s fresh powder more days than not on its expansive and not usually crowded off-piste terrain, making it ideal for those in search of untracked patches. Tree runs like the legendary Strawberry Fields and Miharashi are a Niseko speciality as is night skiing, with huge stadium lights extending the session well into the dark hours. You can even combine the two for deep-powder runs through illuminated night time forests. Once you’ve put your exhausted every possible hour you can spend on skis, you can relax in one of dozens of onsen, or hot springs and then of course enjoy the traditional Japanese fare.
Kicking Horse, Canada
A reviewer warns of Kicking Horse: don’t bring your grandma here. That is unless she’s a rodeo riding snowboarder or skiing. The resort has 45% black runs and 15% double-black diamond runs, meaning the majority of the slopes here are intense but also intensely good. So long as you are skilled enough to ride them, so it’s a good one for hardcore hounds. There are easier runs for beginners, but this mountain is definitely geared toward advanced and expert. There is a good run that goes for 10km, from top to bottom, which is good for an extended if leg tiring ‘get to grips with the mountain’ session. It is the fourth longest run in North America. Kicking Horse Ski Resort is in British Columbia, Canada, about a three-hour drive from Calgary.
Best of the Rest
There’s to many sweet snowy spots to be a powder hound around the globe, we couldn’t leave you with just six! Here’s our rapid-fire selection of another ten must ski, board, throw-a-snowball and down-a-mulled-wine at resorts.
Zermatt, Switzerland – families, intermediates, experts and ski tourers, snow park, ski safari, heli ski, high end to mid range lodges and accommodation.
Chamonix, France – all encompassing mountain with beginner through expert, ski or snowboard, full range of accommodation from basic chalets through exorbitant plush hotels.
Crested Butte, Colorado, United States – known for the extreme ski and snowboard terrain, and off piste, this one is an adventure snow bunny paradise. Accommodations are largely condominiums and hotels, some of which are rather ritzy. www.skicb.com
Aspen, Colorado, United States – known for being known as Aspen, and for its black diamond runs, meaning it’s aimed at knarly skiers. Lots of quality accommodation on offer but Aspen also has a homespun vibe, meaning there is everything down to couch surfing via Air B’n’B.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Northern Italy – once home to the Winter Olympics (1956), offers a little something for all skiers, from families and beginners through to freestylers on snowboards, and notably, those who love their après. www.dolomitisuperski.com/en/cortina
Murren, Switzerland – varied terrain and big vistas dominate the friendly resort which caters to a range of skiers and boarders, but perhaps more favours the beginner to intermediate, more so than the hardcore. Night life is quiet, accommodation mostly mid-range.
Banff, Canada – plenty of variety here, with bowls, steeps and terrain parks to explore, while beginners can get to grips with their slip style on miles of green and blue runs. All this in an area so spectacular, the United Nations has declared it a World Heritage Site. Accommodation tends toward the big hotel lodges.
Alyeska, Girdwood, Alaska – located near Anchorage, Alyeska fits into the steep and deep category perfect for adventurous skiers. Includes alpine bowls, some tree skiing and tree-lined runs. Freestylers can also play in the terrain park and super pipe. The main lodging at Alyeska Resort is the Hotel Alyeska, a ski-in ski-out 304 room hotel at the base of the tram.
Fox Peak, New Zealand – an uncrowded gem suited to skint ski bums and advanced riders with an adventurous spirit. Plenty of gullies, chutes and bowls. There is a ropetow, but no lifts. There’s not a lot of accommodation on the mountain, except Fox Lodge on weekends, which is just down the hill.
Wanaka / Treble Cone, New Zealand – this one is for heli-skiing and boarding; one of the best places for it in the world with some steep and knarly mountains with big views. 45% is rated as advanced or expert with the highest amount of black runs in the country. Only 10% for beginners. Accommodation is chic and stylish but low-key with a focus on opulent B&Bs.
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