20 great winter sports destinations
Whether you’re a snow bunny looking for a bit of glamorous, off-piste fun or a powder hound itching for a fix, there’s plenty of frolicking to be had for all manner of snow lovers.
For snow bunnies
1. Aspen, United States
Aspen has a reputation for being the winter playground of models and moguls, celebrities and socialites. With four mountains to choose from -- Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass -- there’s plenty of terrain for snow bunnies to give chase.
It’s a good idea to conserve some energy for Aspen’s hopping après-ski and nightlife. Grab a few drinks at 39 degrees in Sky Hotel before a sumptuous meal at Nobu’s Matsuhisa or Il Mulino then check out what’s playing at Belly Up.
Nearest airport: Aspen, Colorado, United States.
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2. Courchevel 1850, France
Courchevel 1850 is both the highest in elevation and in prices in the Three Valleys (Les Trois Vallées of Courchevel, Méribel and Les Menuires), which now includes a fourth valley -- Maurienne.
Nearest airports: Lyon, France or Geneva, Switzerland or by rail to Moûtiers Salins.
3. St. Moritz, Switzerland
If you prefer your fun a little less alcohol-fueled, Saint Moritz offers more for the adrenaline junkie. There’s the famed Cresta Run, a toboggan run exclusively for daredevils where the top speed can hit 140 kph.
Or try the Bob run, the world’s last remaining natural ice run from St Moritz to Celerina (1,722 meters). For those who perfer watching men prove their athletic prowess on racing steeds, there’s the annual St Moritz World Cup Polo on Snow.
Nearest airport: Engadin, Switzerland or rail to St. Moritz.
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For snow kiddies
4. Whistler-Blackcomb, Canada
Whistler-Blackcomb is a great place for ski and snowboard-loving parents to introduce their toddlers to the piste. Many of the resort’s facilities have been designed to ensure a great learning experience for young children.
There are designated “Go Slow” and “Family” zones as well as kid centers on both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. In Blackcomb, there’s a Big Easy Terrain Garden and a children’s adventure park complete with a ski-through castle.
There are fully-licensed childcare programs for kids as young as 18 months old so even new mommies get a chance to hit the slopes.
Nearest airport: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
5. Beaver Creek, United States
Beaver Creek loves kiddies. For seven weeks over the winter season, the resort organizes special family activities with complimentary offers for kids.
Outside of those weeks, kids will still have a blast with complimentary après-ski chocolate chip cookies at 3 p.m., and every week there’s storytelling on the hill and an in-village street fair with music, magic and more.
Nearest airport: Eagle, Colorado, United States.
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6. Club Med, Worldwide
Club Med’s all-inclusive resorts (no extra charge for equipment) are known the world over for being family-friendly. Their ski resorts in Chamonix-Mont Blanc and Villars-sur-Ollon offer Baby Club Med childcare for babies as young as four months old.
For older kids, there are tailored programs for different age groups all the way up to teens. From four years old, kids can join their own ski or snowboarding classes. And in their Méribel and Val Thorens resorts, there’s the added convenience of ski-in-ski-out, especially handy for parents who don’t want to have to carry their tired children’s skis.
Various locations in France, Switzerland, Japan and China.
For the snow elitist
7. Yellowstone Club, United States
Yellowstone Club, an invitation-only residential club, lost a bit of its luster when it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008, but it did re-emerge from bankruptcy the next year.
The saga of this exclusive ski domain was documented in a New York Times article, which named a few of its illustrious members who had had to fork out upwards of US$5 million for a home in the development as well as a joining fee said to be US$250,000 and annual fees of US$20,000.
In addition to skiing, there’s also golf.
Nearest airport: Gallatin Field, Montana, United States.
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8. Big Horn Revelstoke, Canada
This private chalet offers heli-skiing in and around Revelstoke Mountain Resort. For C$64,500-75,000 (US$63,690-74,060) during peak months, 16 people get exclusive use of this chalet, complete with its own helipad, for seven nights.
The helicopter costs are extra. The chalet does come with chefs and housekeepers though, and is equipped with a bar, poolroom, private cinema, outdoor hot tub, indoor exercise pool, gym, sauna and massage room.
Nearest airport: Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.
For snow foodies
9. Dolomites, Italy
Foodies can’t really go wrong in Italy, and the Dolomities is a great marriage of Italian cuisine and superb skiing. After a day making the round on the Sella Ronda, which takes skiers from village to village and mountain to mountain, it’s time to re-fuel with some carbohydrates.
A popular dish in this region is the casunziei, half-moon-shaped pasta filled with beet, spinach or other vegetables and are typically drizzled simply with melted butter, poppy seeds and parmesan shavings. To warm-up on the slopes, stop off for a bombardino, a mixture of eggnog, brandy and espresso topped with whipped cream.
Nearest airport: Venice, Italy.
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10. Megeve, France
M is for Megeve, but it can also be for Michelin stars. While skiers can access 445 kilometers of ski pistes connected by 116 lifts in and around Megève, they can also build up calories thanks to the likes of Marc Veyrat, the first chef to score a perfect 20/20 from Gault Millau for both his restaurants, starting with La Ferme de Mon Père (which has since been sold due to Veyrat’s deteriorating health).
Nearest airport: Geneva, Switzerland.
11. Niseko, Japan
Japanese ski resorts are often lacking when it comes to dining, with fast-food joints populating the mountains.
Fortunately, with the boom of international skiers and boarders in Niseko making the most of its four amazing resorts -- Niseko Village, Annapuri, Hanazono and Hirafu -- the scene has improved.
Kamimura Restaurant, owned by Tetsuya-trained chef Yuichi Kamimura and Ezo Seafoods bring this family-friendly area into the culinary world. Those who prefer to stay in have the option to have their dinners catered by Niseko Gourmet or The Niseko Company.
Meanwhile skiers look forward to the opening of Capella's exclusive hotel and residences at the foot of Annapuri where rooms will feature private onsens when they open in 2013.
Nearest airport: New Chitose (Sapporo), Hokkaido, Japan or by rail to Niseko.
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For adrenaline junkies
12. Chamonix Vallée Blanche, France
It’s a 17-kilometer-long, 2,800-meter descent from the top at 3,812 meters. But after the cable car ride up to Aiguille du Midi, there’s the adrenaline-boosting Arête to negotiate.
If the prospect of traversing a narrow, icy ridge with just a rope to hold onto precariously while trying to balance skis or snowboard doesn’t terrify you, then this is one of the most perfect off-piste runs.
Nearest airport: Geneva, Switzerland.
13. Jammu and Kashmir, India
Traveling in the contested region of Kashmir will likely raise anyone’s anxiety levels. And then there’s the high altitude (above 4,000 meters). So this is definitely not the kind of skiing for the faint of heart.
But for those who are experienced, the skiing here is exhilarating and beautiful.
Nearest airport: Srinigar, Kashmir, India.
14. Mammoth, United States
TransWorld Snowboarding gave Mammoth the top spot for its pipe and second place in the overall resort category. It takes guts aplenty to go for gravity-defying glory on a monster pipe, and the six-meter-deep Super Duper, Olympic-size pipe at Mammoth is exactly that.
For those just getting their footing, there’s also the four-meter Canyon pipe and the five-meter Super pipe. For some jaw-dropping, breath-stopping inspiration, check out Olympic gold medalist Shaun White at the Olympic qualifiers.
Nearest airport: Mammoth-Yosemite, California, United States.
For powder hounds
15. Asahi Dake, Japan
Powder connoisseurs say that Hokkaido gets some of the driest, fluffiest powder in the world, and snowfall is pretty much a certainty.
In Hokkaido, Mount Asahi is the tallest mountain at 2,290 meters. It’s also a live volcano, which adds to the excitement. Ashikawa or Furano make for good bases.
Nearest airport: New Chitose (Sapporo), Hokkaido, Japan.
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16. Skagway, United States
There’s not much out here in Alaska in terms of luxury amenities (think quaint bed-and-breakfasts or motels -- the town has a population of less than 1,000), but powder hounds will appreciate the mountain wilderness that offers untracked couloirs and powder bowls.
Nearest airport: Skagway, Alaska, United States.
17. Island Lake Lodge, Canada
There are many ways to get up a mountain, but generally the speedier options make for higher traffic. Heli-skiing is an expensive option to access untracked powder, while snowcats are much cheaper.
Island Lake has four lodges and is the only operation that owns its terrain, around 2,800 hectares.
Nearest airport: Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada.
For snow and springs
18. Dunton Hot Springs, United States
There are hot springs all over Colorado, but few are as charming and luxurious as Dunton Hot Springs. Close to Telluride, this once-abandoned mining town has been restored, complete with an Old West saloon and dance hall, and has enough cabins to accommodate 42 people.
The whole town can be rented for a celebration. In winter, a host of activities from heli-skiing to dog-sledding and ice climbing are available. For those who prefer to watch the snow fall, the outdoor calcium bicarbonate hot spring pools offer the perfect vantage point.
Nearest airport: Durango, Colorado, United States.
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19. Therme Vals, Switzerland
This is the perfect pilgrimage for snow-loving architect buffs. Peter Zumthor designed this modernist temple to the healing waters of Vals.
There are indoor and outdoor calcium sulfate and hydrogen carbonate baths ranging in temperatures from a 14 C ice pool to the 42 C fire pool. Guests can come for the day or stay in the hotel and access nearby Jochtal ski resort.
Nearest airport: Zurich, Switzerland or by rail to Illanz.
20. Nozawa Onsen
The Japanese have perfected the art of the hot spring bath. At Nozawa onsen you can soak in the outdoor hot spring bath while snowflakes fall on your head, then head for a delicious kaiseki meal artfully served in your room.
Nearest airport: Narita (Tokyo), Japan or by rail to Nagano.
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