THE 50 BEST GREAT WAYS TO GET HIGH THIS WINTER

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Which are the best resorts in which to learn to ski? Which are the best places for families? And where should you go to find the most challenging runs? This week, in association with The Good Skiing and Snowboarding Guide 1999, we unveil the skiers' favourite 50

10 RESORTS FOR BEGINNERS

10 RESORTS FOR INTERMEDIATES

10 RESORTS FOR EXPERTS

10 RESORTS FOR FAMILIES

10 RESORTS FOR SNOWBOARDERS

THE EXPERTS

This week's "50 Best" has been compiled with the help of Peter Hardy and Felice Eyston, editors of The Good Skiing and Snowboarding Guide 1999 (Which? Books, pounds 15.99). The definitive work of reference on where in the world to ski and snowboard, The Good Skiing and Snowboarding Guide 1999 offers expert assessments of 500 resorts on five continents, with essential information on accommodation, eating out and apres ski, as well as skiing both on- and off-piste.

l Offer: Independent readers can save pounds 2 on the cover price of the Good Skiing and Snowboarding Guide 1999. Send a cheque for pounds 13.99 to Which? Ltd, Castlemead, Gascoyne Way, Hertford SG14 1LH, quoting the code IN/GSSG.

1

LAKE LOUISE, CANADA

Last winter, an estimated 25,000 British skiers made the journey to this remote and beautiful corner of Alberta. Though the skiing area is limited by European standards, there's enough to keep most happy for a 10-day holiday, and even the most jaded of powderhounds could not fail to be impressed by the scenery and the lack of blatant commercialisation. And because of Lake Louise's policy of ensuring an easy way down from each major lift, novices can share the pleasure of roaming the mountain almost at will.

Lifts: 11. Pistes: 100km. Tourist info: 00 1 403 762 4561.

2

ALPE D'HUEZ, FRANCE

Alpe d'Huez, birthplace of the ski lift, serves Les Grandes-Rousses, the fifth-largest ski area in France, and one of increasing importance to the British market. This is not a purpose-built resort, but so great are the additions to the original village that it has all the convenience of one - though traffic remains a problem. A genuine all-round ski resort, Alpe d'Huez boasts excellent nursery slopes, good intermediate runs, long black trails and serious off-piste opportunities on challenging terrain.

Lifts: 85. Pistes: 220km. Tourist info: 00 33 4 76 11 44 44.

3

ASPEN, USA

Aspen still suffers from its dated image as Hollywood-on-ice: but what all celebrities here have in common is a love of skiing. Aspen has some of the best in North America for all standards: Aspen Mountain is riddled with short, sharp and quite steep double-black-diamond (advanced) chutes, while Bell Mountain has great mogul fields on its several faces. The resort itself retains the low-rise appeal of the original Victorian mining town, and there is wall-to-wall apres-ski.

Lifts: 41. Pistes: 4,416 acres. Tourist info: 00 1 970 925 1940.

4

SMUGGLER'S NOTCH, USA

Smuggs, as the locals call it, has established itself at the cutting edge of the family market, and regularly wins awards for child-friendly facilities, visible in its accommodation, restaurants and nightlife. Lifts all fall within a 300-yard radius of the apartments, and the ski-school is "outstanding". As for the skiing - it's mainly benign, interspersed with some tricky mogul slopes, which keep parents happy. The only disadvantage are the numbingly low temperatures.

Lifts: 8. Pistes: 60 runs. Tourist info: (0800) 897159

5

LES ARCS, FRANCE

Les Arcs' undulating slopes make it ideal for snowboarding, which actually made its European debut here. The resort boasts a wealth of unusually long, smooth runs, and a dedicated snow park with seven jumps and a quarter- pipe. Freestylers favour the wavy terrain of Les Deux Tetes' black run and the red La Cachette, while hard-boot fans will enjoy Froides Fontaines, superb for a carving work-out. The red Grand Renard is a natural downhill course, superb for big turns. The Peisey sector is also well-suited to snowboarders.

Lifts: 77. Pistes: 200km. Tourist info: 00 33 4 79 07 12 57.

6

MAYRHOFEN, AUSTRIA

Mayrhofen has taught generations of British skiers to love the low-lying Tyrol. Many remain intensely loyal to a resort that is particularly good for beginners, especially children, who have ther own play area. Adult beginners take the cable car to reach the range of blue (easy) runs on the Ahorn (also a good learning area for snowboarders), or choose Penken mountain, which has at least one ultra-flat, beginner itinerary: the "Horberg Baby Tour". Mayrhofen has four ski schools - and most students give the teaching high marks.

Lifts: 30. Pistes: 99km. Tourist info: 00 43 5285 6760.

7

BRECKENRIDGE, USA

Equipped with the infrastructure of a small city and the restored charm of an old mining "boom town", Breckenridge remains a leading player in the evolution of American skiing and snowboarding. It now successfully exploits its high altitude and ample natural snow to attract hard-core snowboarders and telemark skiers, though two of its four peaks largely consist of medium-standard cruising, and there is an intermediate way down from just about all four.

Lifts: 19. Pistes: 2,301 acres.

Tourist info: 00 1 800 934 2485.

8

CHAMONIX, FRANCE

Chamonix is the climbing and skiing capital of Europe. It is not so much a single resort as a chain of unconnected ski areas set along both sides of the valley dominated by Mont Blanc. When enthusiasts talk of Chamonix, they really mean Les Grands Montets, a favourite with expert skiers and snowboarders for some of the steepest and most demanding powder in the world. The rush for Les Grands Montets is fierce in perfect conditions, but the area is so enormous that skiing it out quickly is beyond even Europe's most dedicated first-track pack.

Lifts: 52. Pistes: 140km. Tourist info: 00 33 4 50 53 00 24.

9

BEAVER CREEK, USA

Beaver Creek was the first computer-designed ski area, and its luxury accommodation consistently wins awards. Long, winding, uncrowded trails and family-orientated facilities make it infinitely more peaceful than nearby mega-resort Vail. Ample fluffy snow is usual from mid-Nov to April, and most skiing is intermediate, on rolling, varied terrain. Fort Whippersnapper is an extensive ski-in ski-out playground for children, and there are various after-ski children's and family programmes.

Lifts: 14. Pistes: 146 runs over 1,625 acres. Tourist info: 00 1 970 845 5720.

10

AVORIAZ, FRANCE

Avoriaz was the first resort in Europe to appreciate the importance of snowboarding, and the first to build a half-pipe. Now hailed as the world's snowboard capital, it is home to the British Snowboard School. There's great free-riding terrain around Arare, while the Bleue du Lac piste, with its funpark and permanent half-pipe, is recommended for freestylers. Alpine riders will find the Arare piste hard to beat for high-speed carving; off-piste areas include Les Cretes, Le Fornet and La Suisse.

Lifts: 42 (219 in linked area). Pistes: 150km (650km in linked area). Tourist info: 00 33 4 50 74 02 11. 11

COURCHEVEL, FRANCE

The French regard the Trois Vallees as their premier destination, and Courchevel as the most fashionable stop of all. It doesn't come cheap, but has an astonishingly efficient lift system - even at peak periods you'll struggle to find long queues - and a seemingly endless network of moderately graded runs. The area around Courchevel altiport is rich in excellent beginner runs, with enough length to help build confidence - and once the basics have been conquered the area lends itself to easy exploration. Given a single week's holiday, you'll barely scratch the surface.

Lifts: 67 (200 in linked area).

Pistes: 600km in linked area. Tourist info: 00 33 4 79 08 00 29.

12

CERVINIA, ITALY

Italy's most snow-sure resort, and a favourite with the British, is within easy reach of Turin and Geneva. Intermediates are well catered for - certainly, anyone used to the intimidating pistes in Chamonix (see No 8) or Val d'Isere (see No 38) will find the gradual pitch of Cervinia's both ego-boosting and useful for advancing technical skills - while accomplished skiiers can enjoy the greater challenges offered in Zermatt (see No 48), with which Cervinia's substantial area is linked (the resorts now offer a joint lift pass).

Lifts: 25 (41 with Zermatt). Pistes: 80km (180km with Zermatt).

Tourist info: 00 39 166 949086.

13

CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, ITALY

If we had to single out one ski resort in the world for the sheer beauty of its setting, combined with an attractive town and a truly all-round winter- sports resort, it would be Cortina d'Ampezzo, in the craggy Dolomite mountains. Despite its upmarket reputation, there are plenty of pleasant, family-run hotels with reasonable prices and characterful bars. Recent architectural additions are in a style in keeping with the town's dramatic surroundings, and the centre is mercifully traffic-free. Plus, of course, you'll find long, challenging runs for accomplished skiers.

Lifts: 52. Pistes: 140km. Tourist info: 00 39 436 3231.

14

FLAINE, FRANCE

Flaine lies at the core of France's fourth-largest ski area. Architectural visionaries may view it as an interesting example of the Bauhaus school of design, but most visitors view it as a disaster area created in the 1960s at the same time as Les Menuires, Chamrousse and other French resorts of its generation. That said, the resort is within easy reach of Geneva; it is car-free, and has excellent facilities for families; its skiing is extensive and varied; and its proximity to Mont Blanc provides an unnaturally favourable snowfall for its altitude - all of which adds up to an attractive, no-hassle package, especially good for family groups.

Lifts: 80 in linked area. Pistes: 265km.

Tourist info: 00 33 4 50 90 80 01.

15

LES DEUX ALPES, FRANCE

Snowboarding takes pride of place here each October as an aperitif to the winter ski season. Les Deux Alpes is the venue for the World Snowboard Meeting and the Grand Prix Les Deux Alpes - "the highest and biggest exhibition of snowboarding on the planet". Fixtures held on the Glacier du Mont de Lans (3,200m) include giant slalom and half-pipe. The snowpark, on La Toura piste in winter, moves to the glacier in summer, and includes boarder-cross, a half-pipe, plus barbecue and sound system. And there's great apres-ski for those who like lively, noisy bars and discos.

Lifts: 63. Pistes: 200km. Tourist info: 00 33 4 76 79 22 00.

16

CHATEL, FRANCE

Chatel is one of 13 villages in the Portes du Soleil, among Europe's largest skiing areas - and when the snow is good, there are few better ski circuits than this. Chatel itself has easy nursery slopes and plenty of tree-level skiing to which novices can graduate after a few days; less-confident snow users will enjoy the long, sweeping runs at this end of the Portes circuit. One reporter describes it as an "excellent resort for a couple not too worried about apres-ski, but who want to ski gently in breathtaking scenery".

Lifts: 38 (219 in linked area). Pistes: 650km in linked area. Tourist info: 00 33 4 50 73 22 44.

17

MERIBEL, FRANCE

"The heart of the Trois Vallees" is Meribel's marketing slogan. As such, it is bang at the centre of what many skiers rightly regard as the greatest intermediate playground in the world (71 per cent of its pistes are graded as intermediate). The resort itself is expensive, but it has stayed faithful to the original concept of a traditional village - every building has been constructed in local stone and wood in harmony with the mountain setting. And it has such a strong British chalet-holiday tradition that in some bars French is either the second language or not spoken at all.

Lifts: 75 (200 in linked area). Pistes: 150km (600km in linked area). Tourist info: 00 33 4 79 08 60 01.

18

JACKSON HOLE, USA

Jackson Hole is the Jerusalem of skiing and snowboarding, the pilgrimage point for all true adherents to the faith. One of the few US resorts with unlimited off-piste skiing, it has a hardcore of devoted fans who see it as one of the last wild frontiers of macho mountainside. Some new terrain has been opened up for intermediates, but really you need to be either a beginner or an expert to enjoy it; anyone in between risks having their confidence slaughtered by the daunting steepness of the Teton Mountains in this remote and beautiful corner of Wyoming.

Lifts: 52. Pistes: 140km. Tourist info: 00 1 307 733 2292.

19

LA CLUZAZ, FRANCE

La Cluzaz is a large, spread-out resort off the Autoroute Blanche, on the way to Chamonix. Less than two hours' drive from Geneva, it's easily accessible to British skiers, many of whom have bought apartments here. The heart of the village is mainly traditional, built around a large church. Non-skiing activities include swimming and snowshoe excursions, while the skiing itself is best suited to beginners and intermediates and is ideal for family groups - La Cluzaz has a "3 Kids" rating as one of the best-equipped resorts for children. The one real drawback is its lack of altitude - the village is at 1,100m, which is extremely low by Haute Savoie standards.

Lifts: 56 (96 in linked area). Pistes: five ski areas. Tourist info: 00 33 4 50 32 65 00.

20

ISCHGL, AUSTRIA

Ischgl is the focus of the Silvretta ski area on the Austrian-Swiss border, which has established itself as a major snowboard centre. The new Paradise Funpark at Idjoch is claimed to be the largest in Europe, with a vertical drop of 350m, a half-pipe and 30 obstacles. Wealthy young Germans still dominate what has always been an expensive resort, but the British are gradually discovering it, and many of the regulars consider it to be the second best in Austria (after St Anton, see No 33) - an assessment that takes both the skiing and the nightlife into account.

Lifts: 42. Pistes: 200km. Tourist info: 00 43 5444 52660.

21

KILLINGTON, USA

Killington opened for skiing in 1958, when the first tickets were sold from a converted chicken coop. These days, the large skiing area, ease of access and vibrant nightlife make this east-coast resort one of the most popular US destinations for British skiers. Killington's seven peaks provide plenty of skiing for all standards, with beginners safely corralled on their own hill - an arrangement that benefits everyone. The weather can be extremely cold, but compensation comes in the form of state-of-the-art snowmaking equipment and good apres-ski that starts as early as 3pm.

Lifts: a $50m expansion is currently underway, with 35 lifts planned by the year 2000. Tourist info: 00 1 802 422 3333.

22

COURMAYEUR, ITALY

Bubbly Courmayeur is the favourite resort of the Milanese, a clientele for whom lunch is frequently a greater priority than skiing; as a result, it boasts some of the finest mountain restaurants in the Alps. The village itself is attractive, with smart boutiques and welcoming bars lining its medieval streets. The sunny, east-facing Checrouit bowl has many shortish, intermediate runs that are served by a variety of lifts including a six-seater gondola. As one reader puts it: "Completely compelling. This is real Italy, garnished with real skiing."

Lifts: 25. Pistes: 100km. Tourist info: 00 39 165 842060. 23; SNOWBIRD, USA The state of Utah produces the finest, driest powder snow in the world, and Snowbird is generally considered to be the home of "champagne powder", a dream... 23

SNOWBIRD, USA

The state of Utah produces the finest, driest powder snow in the world, and Snowbird is generally considered to be the home of "champagne powder", a dream substance of talcum-like flakes that have been freeze-dried in their journey over the desert. Though the resort itself is no beauty, it's a paradise for strong skiers - with the exception of one blue run, all the trails from the main Hidden Peak are black or "double-black-diamond". Snowbird's off-piste terrain is superb, too, and the key to it is the Cirque Traverse from Hidden Peak. From this narrow ridge, skiers can drop off both sides into chutes and gullies that can be exhilarating in fresh, deep snow.

Lifts: 8. Pistes: 2,500 acres. Tourist info: 00 1 801 742 2222.

24

MORZINE, FRANCE

The Portes du Soleil is one of Europe's three largest circuits. Straddling the French-Swiss border, it consists of a baker's dozen of ski villages - including Avoriaz (see No 10) and Chatel (see No 16) - and is an ideal place for learners, with easy nursery slopes and plenty of tree-level skiing to which novices can graduate after a few days. Morzine's British Alpine Ski School gets rave reviews from reporters, and is described by one as "everything the ESF is not - with small classes and good advice in one's mother tongue. Highly recommended." You'll need to book their services well in advance, however, especially during school holidays.

Lifts: 82 (219 in linked area). Pistes: 650km. Tourist info: 00 33 4 50 74 72 72.

25

KEYSTONE, USA

Keystone's skiing is laid out on three interlinked mountains, each progressively more challenging: Keystone Mountain, with 55 easy, meticulously groomed, rolling trails; North Peak's 19 shorter, more difficult runs; and the huge Outback area, an excellent introduction to advanced riding. The Black Forest's four narrow, heavily bumped, tree-line runs here are particularly adored by snowboarders. Keystone also has one of the biggest and best-designed funparks in America. Area 51 features numerous pipes in a 20-acre (8-hectare) terrain garden and is lit at night; its Ski and Snowboard School is rated among America's top five.

Lifts: 20. Pistes: 1,756 acres. Tourist info: 00 1 970 496 2316.

26

LA THUILE, ITALY

This lesser-known resort is blessed with an extensive but gentle ski area. Linked with La Rosiere, across the French border, the wide-open slopes are well suited to beginners and intermediates, and are supplemented by much tougher runs through the woods above the resort. La Thuile's most notable feature, however, is the lack of crowds - even at New Year - as the hordes head for more fashionable resorts. The lift pass includes a day-out in Les Arcs and in Sainte-Foy, the best-kept secret of the Tarentaise.

Lifts: 15 (33 in linked area). Pistes: 130km.

Tourist info: 00 39 165 884179.

27

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND

Those who profit most from Davos are intermediates with the energy to ski all the hours the lift company allows. Nearly all the marked runs are red or blue, most are invitingly wide, and several of these sweeping runs - for which Davos is famous - are over 10km long All five ski areas offer plenty of easy terrain, so there is no excuse for not ranging far and wide. The resort itself attracts a wealthy, cosmopolitan crowd whose tastes are catered for by designer boutiques and exclusive shops specialising in furnishings, art and jewellery.

Lifts: 22 (55 in linked area). Pistes: 344km.

Tourist info: 00 41 81 415 2121.

28

VERBIER, SWITZERLAND

Verbier was nothing but Alpine pasture before the 1950s. Now its sprawling chalets and apartment blocks provide the base for Europe's best lift-served off-piste skiing: glaciers, couloirs, bowls and day-long itineraries, none requiring mountaineering gear, are nowhere in the world more abundant - you could devote an entire book to the subject, and you are certainly advised to employ the services of a good local guide to get the most out of a holiday here. Val d'Isere (No 38), Chamonix (No 8) and Zermatt (No 48) are routinely beaten by Verbier skiers in annual resort-versus-resort extreme competitions - not surprising, then, that one reporter should note that here even beginners are best described as "aspiring experts".

Lifts: 96 in linked area. Pistes: 410km.

Tourist info: 00 41 27 775 38 88.

29

OBERGURGL, AUSTRIA

Situated at the head of the remote and beautiful Otztal, Obergurgl is Austria's leading ski destination for families. Its high altitude guarantees snow from November until after the latest of Easters, and there's plenty to keep less adventurous snow-users and families occupied in its truly magnificent surroundings. Complete novices start on nursery slopes set well away from the village, near the cross-country track. Children aged seven and under ski for free; Obergurgl Ski School takes children from five years old; and the kindergarten will look after your non-skiing children aged between three and five.

Lifts: 24. Pistes: 110km.

Tourist info: 00 43 5256 6466.

30

MAMMOTH, USA

Lying 300 miles to the north of Los Angeles, Mammoth has an average annual snowfall of over 27ft and a tree- line as high as 9,000ft. Riders are well catered for: the Unbound, reached by the Thunder Bound Express quad, is the newly expanded funpark, with two terrain parks, a half-pipe and a wide array of jumps and obstacles; it's floodlit till 9pm at weekends. Also try the steep, challenging Dragon's Back chute and Hemlock Ridge. Upper Dry Creek has numerous walls and drop- offs, and you can follow the run into trees to arrive at Lower Dry Creek, a natural half-pipe.

Lifts: 31. Pistes: 3,500 acres. Tourist info: 00 1 619 934 2571

31

MEGEVE, FRANCE

One of France's oldest resorts, Megeve has made a comeback after a decade in the doldrums. A combination of extensive gentle skiing, excellent child facilities, lavish hotels and enticing restaurants, all set in a village rich in ambience, acts as the lure for a new generation of skiers. The upmarket image is still here, with designer boutiques and 32 brightly painted sleighs, owned and driven by local farmers. There are no noticeable architectural eyesores, and recent additions are in a sympathetic chalet-style.

Lifts: 82 (190 in linked area). Pistes: 300km. Tourist info: 00 33 4 50 21 27 28.

32

KITZBUHEL, AUSTRIA

One of the most attractive ski destinations in Europe, Kitzbuhel is a walled, medieval settlement of heavily buttressed buildings. Its world renown is based largely around the annual Hahnenkamm downhill race, although the skiing is largely intermediate; anyone with a couple of weeks' ski experience can manage the celebrated Ski Safari, an enjoyable, pisted itinerary marked by elephant signposts. A diverse clientele includes wealthy, fur-clad Germans and younger, often more financially challenged skiers from Britain, Holland and Italy, all adding up to an alpine social melting- pot with few equals.

Lifts: 28 (60 in linked area). Pistes: 60km. Tourist info: 00 43 5356 62901.

33

ST ANTON, AUSTRIA

St Anton is to skiing what St Andrew's is to golf. The Arlberg region, of which it is the capital, is the birthplace of modern technique, and the awesome quality of the mountain means that its star has never faded. Other resorts have risen to dominate the world stage, but St Anton still ranks among the top five for truly challenging skiing and high living. Depending on the snow conditions, almost all of its skiing can be considered advanced. The off-piste possibilities are virtually limitless, and an experienced skier would be well advised to view the services of a local guide as part of the basic cost of a holiday.

Lifts: 42 (86 in linked area). Pistes: 260km. Tourist info: 00 43 5446 22690.

34

RISOUL, FRANCE

An underrated, purpose-built resort, with extensive skiing and a reputation for reliable late-season snow, Risoul attracts a mainly family- and budget- orientated clientele. It is best for beginners and intermediates (though experts can find some challenging terrain): the green (beginner) runs are some of the most attractive in Europe, while two chair-lifts give access to easy terrain for wobbly second-weekers. Les Pitchouns creche is conveniently located above the tourist office, and takes children from six months to six years of age; both the ski schools have children's learning areas.

Lifts: 54. Pistes: 170km. Tourist info: 00 33 4 92 46 02 60. 35; TELLURIDE, USA An old mining town in a beautiful box-canyon in the San Juan Mountains, this resort has been radically altered by the construction of the Mountain Village...

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