All year skiing: From China to Chile
Updated: 2012-12-23 08:19
Treble Cone, the largest ski area on New Zealand's South Island, offers super-wide runs for intermediates as well as long, steep trails and cliff-studded chutes for expert skiers. Provided to China Daily
Killington resort, Vermont of the United States is a paradise for snow fun.
There is always snow, but what can you expect if you want to ski any time of the year? Writers who have traveled the world on skis let you know what you can expect during ski season around the world, month by month.
SILVER STAR, Canada
Chances are, you've never heard of Silver Star, a resort with an unpretentious mom and pop feel that is outshone by Whistler Blackcomb far to the west. But this resort in the sunny Okanagan Valley, about 5.5 hours east of Vancouver, offers the perks of a larger operation.
The place has just six main lifts (not including a connector T-bar and magic carpets) on a measly 1,914-meter-high summit, but those lifts deliver you to 1,240 hectares of skiing on 115 named runs with a decent 760-vertical-meter drop.
You can also cross-country ski on some 100 gorgeous km of groomed trails - some of which are reachable from the ski lifts, a rare treat.
In the village below, you'll find a lovely but sleepy base area of brightly painted frontier-style buildings that house a modest spa, an enticing bakery, several restaurants and - not much else. Go elsewhere to party. (skisilverstar.com)
COLORADO, UNITED STATES
When the United States Army veterans Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton hiked up an unnamed Colorado mountain in 1957 in search of good ski terrain, they discovered the vast potential of what would become Vail, now one of the country's biggest and best-known resorts.
Fifty years after first cranking up its lifts, Vail celebrates its golden anniversary this winter with a packed slate of events.
In addition to reliable snow across the area's 193 trails, this February features two multiday on-mountain events.
At the Winter Mountain Games presented by Eddie Bauer, Feb 8-10, athletes race in categories like ice climbing, ski mountaineering, snowshoeing and on-snow mountain biking.
And the Burton US Open, the world's longest-running snowboarding competition, has moved from Vermont to Vail, where it runs Feb 25-March 2. (vail.com)
SHIGA KOGEN, JAPAN
There is a different reason to visit. The region, just east of the city of Nagano, is home to some of Asia's best skiing, particularly Shiga Kogen, a network of interconnected resorts with more than 50 lifts and hundreds of runs.
You can ski for days without taking the same run twice, and the high altitude - above 1,980 meters - gives the area one of Asia's longest ski seasons, from late November to the end of April. And Shiga Kogen's sprawling size means that the slopes are rarely crowded, with lifts that often have no lines at all.
Many of the ski area's hotels are built around hot springs. Visit Jigokudani Monkey Park to see macaques meditating in the water. (ski-shigakogen.net)
VALDEZ, UNITED STATES
For many expert skiers and snowboarders, heli-skiing is the holy grail, and there's no more sought-after destination than Alaska, where the terrain is steep and wild and the snowpack is generally more predictable than in other, more avalanche-prone regions.
April's longer days and milder weather make it a perfect time to go. One entry point can be found 48 km from Valdez, on Thompson Pass in the Chugach Mountains.
The recently reopened 24-room Tsaina Lodge lies next to the helipad for Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, which operates within a 6,470-sq-km permit area of glacier-carved terrain that makes the typical ski-area run seem like a highway on-ramp. (valdezheliskiguides.com)
VALLE BLANCHE, FRANCE
From the Place de l'Eglise in Chamonix, France, the icy summit of 4,810-meter Mont Blanc looks miles up and away, which it is - more than 3,650 vertical meter over town.
Though Western Europe's highest peak offers plenty of skiing year round for those willing to hike for it, lazier mortals have far easier options for finding snow in early spring.
The Vallee Blanche, a glacier-filled gash northeast of Mont Blanc, is arguably one of the most spectacular backcountry ski runs that adventurous snow hounds could hope for.
The journey starts with a cable car up the Aiguille du Midi, a 3,840-meter-high rock needle sewing up the troposphere. It's all downhill from there.
During good snow years, the gentle, blue-like run of the "classic route" following two glaciers can last a whopping 19 km with upward of 2130 vertical meters of skiing.
No need to rush with views like these: a fiendish jawbone of the Alps' most impressive and storied peaks - the Aiguille Verte, Les Drus and, of course, Mont Blanc. Be forewarned: The Vallee Blanche is not a resort run, and every year people fall into crevasses, so hire a guide. (high-alpine.com).
Summer skiing is a novelty more than anything - a few hours of scratching around on glaciers in shorts and a T-shirt - but even so, the experience can be pretty great, especially in a place as visually exotic as Zermatt.
Home to the Matterhorn, the Swiss ski resort claims to have the highest and biggest summer skiing operation in Europe with about 24 km of runs and eight lifts open all summer long to reach terrain as high as 3,810 meters.
Up there on the Theodul glacier, powder days are possible, sure, but best to come slathered in sunscreen and ready for fast, carving runs down Interstate-wide beginner and intermediate slopes that plummet as much as 975 vertical meters. (zermatt.ch)
TREBELE CONE, NEW ZEALAND
Some Southern Hemisphere ski resorts appeal to North American skiers more for the novelty of skiing in summer than for the challenge and variety of terrain. Not Treble Cone, the largest ski area on New Zealand's South Island.
This 550-hectare resort straddles four above-treeline basins, offering super-wide, impeccably groomed runs for intermediates as well as long, steep trails and cliff-studded chutes favored by expert skiers.
Snow quality is another draw, as the resort's location on the eastern edge of the Southern Alps acts as a magnet for storms dumping dry powder.
Lodging is available in the pretty lakeside town of Wanaka, 25 km east, or in Queenstown, 100 km south. (treblecone.com)
TIFFINDELL, SOUTH AFRICA
Tiffindell, South Africa's only ski and snowboarding resort, opened in 1993 near Rhodes, on the remote southern slopes of the Drakensberg Mountains.
But the resort closed in 2010 after falling into disrepair during a legal battle between the owner and property developers. In July, Lew Campbell, who owns an artificial ski-training slope in Johannesburg, bought Tiffindell at auction for about $730,000.
He's invested another $560,000 in building upgrades, snowmaking machines and ski equipment. The 192-bed resort reopens year-round in January 2013.
It has snow from June to August, but let's be honest: It will never compete with the big leagues. Skiers can expect sunny and dry winter days, and apres-ski aficionados bored with Aspen's bourbon milkshakes may get a kick out of Tiffindell's boerwors, a South African spiced sausage. (tiffindell.co.za)
Portillo offers an old-school ski-resort experience about 160 km northeast of Santiago, in the Andes, attracting a loyal clientele that includes many North Americans.
The ski area's 35 runs range from gentle groomers to nerve-rattling steeps, and all are above tree line, showcasing views of lofty peaks and glistening Laguna del Inca.
In typical South American style, the partying goes late, with dinner at the Hotel Portillo served after 8 pm, live music nightly at the bar and post-midnight shimmying at the disco. (www.skiportillo.com)
TEMPLE BASIN, NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand's public ski fields have been an anomaly in the skiing world since they opened in the 1930s.
Temple Basin, two hours northwest of Christchurch, on the South Island, has been the kingpin of the Kiwi fields since 1948. Since it doesn't open until July, Temple typically stays open until late October.
The wide, treeless bowls - set in the Tolkien-esque beauty of Arthur's Pass National Park - are perfect for novices and intermediates. Experts typically head straight for the thousands of acres of backcountry hemming the resort's boundaries. The fields were designed to provide cheap skiing for club members, and an all-inclusive three-day package runs $340. (templebasin.co.nz)
KILLINGTON, UNITED STATES
Killington is capable of pumping 720,000 gallons of water an hour through 240 snow-making guns to cover 30 hectares of terrain with 30 cm of snow.
No wonder it has consistently been one of the first Eastern resorts to open in the last two decades. The resort's seven peaks have the highest vertical drop in the East (930 meters), the tallest being Killington Peak (1,290 meters).
The K-1 gondola is the fastest way to the top, and the fastest way down is Cascade, a thigh-burner directly under the lift. When the sun goes down behind the Green Mountains, there is only one place as rowdy as the hill: the Wobbly Barn, which, built in 1963 from 10 dilapidated outbuildings, is still giving the greatest apres parties in New England. (killington.com/winter/index.html)
So you want to ski the Great Wall of China? Well, you can't, really, but you can ski in sight of it, albeit as more of a novelty trip than a serious ski adventure.
About an hour north of Beijing, where one of the many tendrils of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) wall traces a spine of the Yanshan mountain range, lies Huaibei Ski Resort.
Its stark stripe of white snow standing out in the brown landscape tells you one thing you need to know about skiing near Beijing: Winters there are bone dry.
All the ski resorts within driving distance of the capital rely heavily on artificial snow, and that means ice becomes a hazard as the day wears on.
If you are set on more serious skiing, you can take a three- to four-hour drive from Beijing to Wanlong Ski Resort, a newer, more expansive area than Huaibei. Wanlong has more than 20 trails and attracts a more upscale crowd. While you can't see the Great Wall, you are not far from it.
New York Times Syndicate
(China Daily 12/23/2012 page16)