BEST FOR CRAZY PEOPLE
WANT to go somewhere genuinely new and yet nonetheless outrageously awesome? Try Revelstoke. Deep in the Canadian Selkirks, this remarkable resort only opened in Winter 2007. It is still, partially, a work in progress, but when it’s complete, it will be North America’s largest ski area, with a colossal 10,000 acres of skiable terrain.
Currently, there are three thousand acres open, which isn’t bad in itself. And what acres! Located near to the famously avalanche-prone Roger’s Pass, Revelstoke gets a phenomenal 12 metres of snow every year – more than any other large resort in the Western world. If you like big mountains, huge open powder bowls and expanses of deep, untouched, superbly dry and fluffy snow, you should go to Revelstoke. Go now. Get hold of some great big fat skis and fly out, because there is probably nowhere better in the world for off-piste skiing.
Uniquely, the resort also owns local heli-ski and snowcat operations (where skiers are taken to inaccessible zones by the tracked vehicles more usually used for piste bashing). Both are based minutes from the lifts, meaning that you can combine a world class heli-ski trip with resort skiing or cat skiing.
That ought to be a welcome innovation, given that ordinarily, heli-skiing can mean expensive days spent playing Monopoly while you wait for the clouds to clear.
The best place to stay at the moment is probably the Nelson Lodge, a shiny new, traditional-style hotel at the base of the ski area – the only hotel with ski in, ski out access. Closer to the main town, the Hillcrest is also well recommended.
There are also enough decent restaurants and bars around to keep you satisfied. Manning’s restaurant is a particularly good bet – an authentically Canadian bar to kick back in, have a beer and watch the ice hockey. Other places worth trying include the Woolsey Creek Café or the Kawakubo if you fancy some sushi.
But don’t hang around too long, because the lifts start running at 8:30 and you will want to be on the first one. Let’s get this straight – Revelstoke is a resort for passionate skiers. It is not a place for snowy shopping and vin chaud drinking. Nor, unfortunately, is it easy to get to – the resort is a five hour drive away from Calgary, itself an eight hour flight away. But if skiing fresh powder every day amid hibernating grizzly bears appeals to you, it is well worth the effort.
BEST FOR APRES
ST ANTON, AUSTRIA
LIKE dancing on tables in your ski boots while chugging Stroh 80 mountain rum and jagerbombs? Try St Anton. There is something about Austria and après ski drinking that is really quite wonderful. Where else, after an excellent days skiing, can you find yourself surrounded by pretty blonde girls and unkempt snowboarders singing “ich bin ein Icelander” at the top of their voices? At four o’clock in the afternoon? Nowhere, that’s where.
The best place to start is probably the Mooserwirt Bar. Situated a good 500 metres up the mountain, you will inevitably be drawn to its big open deck on your afternoon run down, especially if it’s sunny. Get there early and watch as it slowly fills up with young Austrians in racing gear so attracted to cheesy euro-pop that they seem to be practically pulled in off the slopes as though by gravity.
When the party hits its peak, usually at around five or six, you will need impressive self control not to get carried away. The night is young, and you don’t want to hit closing time only to realize you’ve lost your skis and you’re still half way up a mountain.
If you make it down the mountain in one piece, the next place to go is the Kandahar, where people still in their ski gear will be dancing well into the early hours. You may also want to try out Scotty’s bar, which tends to attract a quite British crowd of season workers, ski instructors and the like. You can then pick up a pizza at Rosanna’s next door before going to Bar Cuba for the evening – if you’re still standing.
Of course, to justify après, you need the main event, so knock back a few aspirins and go up the mountain, because you won’t want to miss out on the skiing. St Anton is part of the Ski-Alberg ski area which also includes Lech and Zurs, and it offers quite vast and mixed terrain for keen skiers to explore.
The number of beginner-friendly runs is rather limited, but if you are quite adventurous, it is worth getting a guide for a day or two, not least because the best off-piste from the Valluga summit is only accessible to those skiing with a professional. Lech also has a reasonable-sized snow park for those keen to pull a few spins.
St Anton is located in the Austrian Tyrol, one of the prettiest bits of the Alps. To get there, it is easiest to fly to Innsbruck and then take a direct train to the centre (about 90 minutes). Alternatively, you can fly to Friedrichshafen or Zurich and get a shuttle bus or a train respectively.
TIPS FOR SKIING WITH MATES:
1. Make sure you’re going with at least one person of approximately your ability. There is nothing more frustrating than having to spend all day skiing blue runs because you didn’t bring along anyone willing to use a transceiver. Except possibly being left floundering on the bunny slopes when all of your friends go in search of powder.
2. Never offer to teach someone to ski. Not your friends, not your siblings and definitely not your other half. Not only will you lose half your holiday to being an instructor, learning to ski is painful and you will get the blame when your pupil falls over badly or gives up in a huff. If you have beginners going, tell them to get an instructor.
3. If you own your own gear, be careful when booking flights. Ryanair charges an astonishing £40 each way to carry your skis – or £50 if you don’t book the carriage online. Swissair will take your skis for free, as will BA, but only if your total weight allowance doesn’t exceed 20 kilos. If you’re a snowboarder, consider buying a single bag which will carry all of your gear and clothes in one.
4. Take the right gear. If you’re going skiing in December or January, you will want lots of layers, including leggings and icky looking thermal tops. You should also take goggles, because there are few things worse than skiing in a blizzard in sunglasses. Of course, if you’re planning a trip for late March, take a light jacket, wrap around sunnies and be ready to drink the sunshine in.
5. Get insured. Many standard travel policies won’t cover you properly if you want to ski off-piste or in the snow-park, while many will have outrageous excesses or limitations. If you’re quite adventurous, it is worth spending a few pounds more to be secure. Unfortunately, none of the policies City A.M could find cover you for injuries incurred while dancing on a table drinking Jagerbombs, so also don’t be an idiot.
BEST FOR THE CULTURALLY ADVENTUROUS
WHEN you tell people you’re going skiing in Japan, many will look quizzically at you and wonder why, when the Alps are a mere few hours away, you would go to Japan to ski. Unless that is, they are very keen skiers. Over the last few years, extreme skiers and snowboarders have been drawn to Hokkaido – Japan’s northernmost island – like pilgrims to Mecca. Why? Well, try bottomless powder every day. Most French resorts manage about five metres of snow a season. The biggest and most famous Japanese resort – Niseko – gets closer to 15.
That’s not the only reason you would want to go though. Skiing in Niseko is completely unlike skiing anywhere in Europe. When you get off the wonderfully old school gondola, you will be faced with the distinctly Fuji like Mt Yotei directly opposite, which you will probably stare at for a while before dropping down to ski through a forest of gorgeous shirabaka trees.
On a good day, you might get to see a Japanese corporate outing of tens of awkward looking salarymen dressed in identical snow gear.
Probably the most distinctive skiing is to be had in the evenings when the runs are lit up by floodlights, but there are other things to do then as well. The best place to stay to ski the Niseko area is the resort town of Hirafu, a buzzing hive of bars and restaurants staffed by an odd mix of Japanese and Australians.
Bar Burunba is a good place to get a Sapporo beer and chill out, while if you want a more authentically Japanese night out, the Alpen hotel has a karaoke room, as well as vending machines that sell beer in the lobby. For food, the town has an excellent collection of Japanese restaurants, though when you are on the mountain, stick exclusively to the Lookout Café for excellent katsu curries.
Getting to Niseko is a bit of a chore unfortunately. You have to fly from Tokyo or Osaka to Sapporo, and then a train from there, making for a very long direct trip. For that reason, it is probably best to combine a ski trip with a longer trip to the rest of Japan. If you have the time though, and the money, Niseko offers a very different sort of ski trip – mostly in a good way.
STILL THE BEST FOR EVERYTHING,
VAL D’ISERE, FRANCE
ADVENTURE is good, but sometimes, you will want somewhere reliable, convenient and amazing to ski every year without ever getting bored. Val d’Isere is just that resort. It has everything, from attractive old-school chalets to big, functional hotel blocks, world class off-piste to a huge snow park and quiet hotel bars to fantastically crazy (if overpriced) nightspots. And that’s before you even try Tignes, the other half of the expansive Espace Killy area, which covers nearly 25,000 acres of snowfields.
If you are going with friends of a mixed abilities, Val d’Isere is perfect. Total beginners can learn without forking out for a lift pass on five free lifts at the bottom, while when they get a little better, there are 100 blue and red runs to zip around, all served by unusually comfortable and quick lifts.
For experts, there are some incredibly tough black runs, including the famous Double M, while the off-piste is simply splendid, and with much of the resort above the 2,000 metre level, exceptionally reliable too. When the snow is falling, you can have an excellent day just lapping the Pyramides chair above le Fornet trying out small cliff drops.
And though the nightlife is not quite as crazy at St Anton, it is still damned good. Resort veterans hang out in the (very British) Dick’s Tea Bar, which has just been refurbished this year. Among other things, you can now order a ski boot full of booze. Other places worth checking out are Café Face, which has the cheapest beer in the resort, and the Moris Pub, which gets a few good lives acts.
Getting there is easy – you can fly to Geneva, Lyon or Chambery or else get a train from Paris to Bourg St Maurice and get a transfer from there. Accommodation is also varied and can be found relatively inexpensively, especially if you can ski in the low (non-half term) season – the youth hostel is a particularly cheap option. Be careful though – plan badly and all your careful austerity will disappear very quickly on two or three mountain lunches.