From blue waves (yesterday’s blog) to blue snow…
That’s quite some snowboarding isn’t it? Thanks to Zanman819 for publishing it.
We were down on the famous St. Tropez beach yesterday, Pampelonne for those of you who know it, and had the most impressive waves… minimum of 12ft and thundering in, one on top of the other – that might not sound much to an avid surfer, but for us here in the Med, it’s HUGE. The gusts of wind were so strong that we were able to lean back into them at a 45 degree angle and still stand on our feet! We had a wonderful walk and then took refuge in one of the (tongue-in-cheek) wonderfully expensive beach restaurants to recover!
But, we were here to talk about SNOW not WAVES, so back to the mountains…
Where are the REALLY FUN places to go skiing and snowboarding this season?
Whistler must be somewhere at the top of everyone’s list, despite their recent unlucky lift accident – where happily there were NO casualites. Where Whistler has been so clever is in its constant improvements and progressions to stay ahead of the game and cater for all new fads. Its funparks are the best in the business, its pistes are always corduroy in the mornings, its freeriding terrain is easily accessible and – due to the proximity of the Pacific – often blessed with powder. This year’s newest offering is the Peak-To-Peak gondola which will directly link Whistler and Blackcomb mountains for the first time and further increase the scope of the place. This is not the gondola which collapsed on 17th December – that one was on the Blackcomb mountain side – not that that should worry you now… they will be making damn sure it doesn’t happen again!
Whistler is also the site for the 2010 Winter Olympics, so the forward-thinking park shapers will be experimenting with their snow shaping tools in readiness for the upcoming event.
Whistler’s highest lift is 2,284m. There are 40 pistes for beginners, 110 for intermediate level and 50 for advanced.
Explore over 8,100 acres of terrain, Terrain Parks and Half Pipes, Tree forts, Kids Adventure Parks, 200 marked trails from beginner to advanced, restaurants and chair lifts. Trail Map
That’s one destination for Canada.
How’s about America? Well, there’s Mammoth Mountain in California. The highest lift here is 3,369m and there are 19 pistes for beginners, 63 for intermediate level and 53 for advanced. Mammoth offers a very long season – lifts open at end of October and continue until early to mid-June. Some of the best riders come here to get ready for the forthcoming season – there’s cheap accommodation, three world-class parks and two fully-maintained superpipes. And, most importantly for Mammoth’s credibility… Shaun White has a yearly season pass. What further credentials do you need, hmmm?
Download Trail Map (2mb)
Now, across to Europe.
The choice is enormous and an individual’s opinion of the ‘best of…’ in each country will vary enormously. Enormously. However, I’m going to go for Val d’Isere. It’s high. It’s varied pistes are wonderful. The aprés ski is second to none. It’s season is long. And for a little more precise detail… Val d’Isere shares its ski area with Tignes. Tignes offers a fabulous choice but it is a modern purpose-built resort. Val d’Isere, on the other hand, has managed to retain its old world charm with wooden chalets in abundance and high-rise apartment blocks are definitely not ‘de riguer’. The highest lift is at 3,450 m, and there are 80 beginners’ pistes, 35 intermediate runs and 16 advanced. Between them, the two resorts share an incredible rideable area, complete with two fantastic funparks, the most well-maintained half-pipe in France and some unbelievable off-piste. Tignes is cheaper than Val d’Isere… for the moment. This is a dream skiing area accessible to everyone… from 1550 m to 3456 m, 300 km of slopes, 2 glaciers and 94 ultra-moderns ski lifts.
Interactive ski map (Lifts opening conditions)
Switzerland. Oh Switzerland. How to choose a resort here. I suppose I would have to plump for Verbier although it’s a difficult one. Switzerland has so much to offer – it contains dozens of worthwhile ski resorts, but Verbier is the premier ski resort of French-speaking Switzerland, with an unpretentious panache and a fun-filled atmosphere, but don’t get me wrong here – as my memory recalls… it’s not cheap, and if you want to know what the chic-est of the chic will be wearing this year – go to Verbier. However, that said, it lies at the heart of a sprawling, high-tech network of cable cars and gondolas that will connect you to such relatively unknown satellite resorts as Veysonnaz and La Tzoumaz. The resort is favored by world-class athletes for the difficulty of many of its slopes and it has two snowparks.The skiing in and around Verbier can be broken up into 4 areas, namely: Verbier, La Tzoumaz/Savoleyres, Bruson and Mt Fort/4 Valleys. All areas are quite distinct from one to the other, offering different types of terrain of varied difficulty. Passes can be bought for each of the areas individually or one pass that covers all. It lays claim to 94 lifts in the Four Valleys, accessed via a fancy electronic hands-free pass system. There are 410km of pistes.
One report I read claims that Verbier is spiritually positioned somewhere between Zurich and the Fulham Road. That says it all!
Now here’s a resort I don’t know – in Austria. Mayrhofen. The highest lift is at 3,286 m and there are 45 runs for beginners, 90 for the intermediate level, and 22 for advanced. This is a resort for those of you who are young, hip and slightly cash-strapped. The Zillertal Valley near Innsbruck is rapidly gaining a reputation as Austria’s hottest snowboarding spot. Mayrhofen is the main resort and is the biggest draw thanks to a world-class funpark that sits next to a super-fast four-man chair and is serviced by the biggest shaping crew in Europe. But if that isn’t enough to hold your attention for a week’s trip, the next-door resort of Kaltenbach is rapidly turning into one of Europe’s best freeride spots. Zillertal is also one of the cheapest destinations in the Alps and for this reason it is popular with hordes of young seasonnaires and gap year riders.
and for a better idea, go to www.mayrhofen.at .
Livigno, Italy is next in line. Note here that I am doing one resort ONLY per country. If you feel there is a better resort than the one that I’ve written about please, please do tell me! Back to Livigno – the highest lift is 3000 m, and there are 28 beginners’ pistes, 36 intermediate, and 10 advanced runs. It is said that it’s Italy’s best resort with an incredibly well-maintained funpark, a huge area to explore (with few crowds), and with a very vibrant snowboard scene. An added advantage is that, due to an ancient law, the whole valley is tax free… and any help you can get against the strong Euro this winter should be fervently embraced!
And finally, here’s an off-the-wall one – Niseko, Japan. It doesn’t have many runs, but it is supposed to be the second most snowiest resort in the world. Which one is the first? Mount Baker in Washington… but it doesn’t offer what Niseko offers. Niseko’s highest lift is only 1,308 m, and there are not that many runs: 22 – beginners, 0 for intermediates!!! and 17 for advanced skiers. However, it has got two funparks, a pike, a rail park and incredible arctic conditions which ensure perfect powder. The slopes are open from 8:30 a.m. through to 8:30 p.m. every day through the season. And then of course there is the cultural diversity – après ski noodle bars, saki and hot onsens, and a volcano in the background of your photos. Now that’s different. Plus they have an ice bar which, apparently, is one of the places to party.
Click image for full sized version of the Niseko Hirafu pistemap
Wherever you go, I hope you have a wonderful winter holiday.