The 50 Best; THE HOTTEST PLACES TO GET COLD THIS WINTER
Saturday 20 November 1999
THE GOOD SKIING & SNOWBOARDING GUIDE
The Good Skiing & Snowboarding Guide 2000 (pounds 15.99, Which? Ltd) is based on research gathered by its editors, award-winning ski journalists Peter and Felice Hardy, and contributors throughout the skiing season, backed up by reports from readers. All the information is independent and impartial, and the Guide contains no advertising or sponsorship. To order a copy of the guide, freephone 0800 252100 with your credit-card number.
BANFF / LAKE LOUISE, CANADA
This attractive little town in the Banff National Park is the most popular North American destination for British skiers, and the main accommodation base for three small ski areas up to 35 miles apart. Of these, Lake Louise boasts that every difficult run is matched by an easy one, allowing groups of mixed ability to ski together. Because of its policy of ensuring an easy way down from each major lift, novices, too, can roam the mountain almost at will. Lake Louise offers a special package for beginners, which includes equipment rental, a beginner-area lift ticket and a half-price pass valid for all areas for the following day, as well as a ski lesson. Instruction is said to be "friendly and positive".
Lifts: 11. Pistes: 100km. Tourist info: 001 403 762 4561.
CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, ITALY
If we had to single out one ski resort in the world for the sheer beauty of its setting, it would be Cortina d'Ampezzo, in the craggy Dolomites. The large, attractive town has an air of faded grandeur and sensational views of the pink rock-faces of Monte Cristallo. The majority of Cortina's skiing is of intermediate standard, with long runs in both the main ski areas: the Sella Ronda (great for anyone of intermediate standard and upwards) and Cortina. Both are covered by the Dolomiti Superski lift pass, and offer an extensive choice of good-value restaurants. "In one week you can only scratch the surface of Cortina's apres-ski," comments one reporter.
Lifts: 7 in Cortina; 52 in area. Pistes: 140km in area. Tourist info: 00 39 0436 3231.
JACKSON HOLE, USA
Jackson Hole, in Wyoming, is one of the last wild frontiers of macho mountainside, with an unprecedented five colour codings for the degree of difficulty of its ski trails. Rendezvous Mountain, with mostly black runs, steep chutes and unlimited off-piste, features one of the longest continual vertical drops in the USA. Snow-users either stay in Teton Village at Jackson Hole, or commute from the town of Jackson, 20 minutes away by ski bus. The latter is a genuine Wild West town, complete with boardwalks, wooden shop fronts and tough bars.
Lifts: 9. Pistes: 2,500 acres. Tourist info: 001 307 733 2292.
SMUGGLER'S NOTCH, USA
"Smuggs", as the locals call it, regularly wins awards for its child- friendly facilities - in fact, you would feel out of place here without children. The skiing is mainly benign, interspersed with mogul slopes to keep parents happy. Teaching features tailored courses where parent and child are taught together, with the emphasis on picking up useful tips to teach your child yourself. Off-piste, too, restaurants, accommodation and entertainment are geared towards families, with tobogganing and karaoke evenings, torchlight parades, fireworks and dance parties for children of all ages. Little ones can spend their days at Alice's Wonderland Child Care Centre, while more proficient children can give the timed Nastar giant slalom course a try.
Lifts: 7. Pistes: 70.
Tourist info: 0800 897159 (freephone).
Of the 13 resorts in the Portes du Soleil, only Avoriaz is a snow-sure base, and it is at this end of the circuit that the slopes are the most challenging. Avoriaz was the first resort in Europe to build a half-pipe, and is now recognised as the world's snowboard capital. Designated areas around Arare are set aside for a half-pipe and a slalom run, with a reduced-price restricted-area pass giving access to these facilities. The funpark is situated on the Bleu du Lac run, while for alpine riders, the Arare piste is hard to beat for high-speed carving. Avoriaz also boasts the International Ski School (ESI) and the French Ski School (ESF), both of which teach snowboarding.
Lifts: 39 in Avoriaz; 212 in Portes du Soleil.
Pistes: 150km in Avoriaz; 650km in Portes du Soleil. Tourist info: 00 33 4 50 74 02 11.
A combination of extensive gentle skiing, excellent child facilities and good hotels and restaurants, all in an atmospheric Alpine village setting, is attracting a new generation of skiers. The resort abounds in green slopes and gentle blues. From Mont Joux, long easy runs descend to Les Communailles near Le Bettex, while the runs into Megeve itself are mostly wide and easy and include a long green piste. There is a drag-lift in the trees at the top-station of Le Jaillet that gives access to mild, pleasant runs suited mainly to novices and early intermediates. Megeve's ski schools have fine reputations, particularly for beginners.
Lifts: 80. Pistes: 300km. Tourist info: 00 33 4 50 21 27 28.
Kitzbuhel is a walled, medieval settlement in which fur-clad Germans mix with younger, often more financially challenged skiers from Britain, Holland and Italy to form an alpine social melting pot. Apart from Innsbruck (see No 25), this is the one resort in the Tyrol that is really suitable for skiers and non-skiers alike. It's essentially for cruisers, with largely intermediate skiing and few pisted challenges for experts. Anyone with a couple of weeks' experience can manage the celebrated Ski Safari: an itinerary of blues and gentle reds that leads up the Kitzbuhel Valley from the Hahnenkamm.
Lifts: 28 in Kitzbuhel; 60 in area. Pistes: 164km in area. Tourist info: 00 43 5356 621550.
When enthusiasts talk of Chamonix, they really mean the Grands Montets at Argentiere. This is a truly magnificent mountain for expert skiers and snowboarders - steep, complex and dramatic, with seemingly unlimited possibilities. On powder mornings, the rush for the Grands Montets is fierce, but the area is so enormous that skiing it out quickly is beyond even the powers of Europe's most dedicated first-track pack. Although open snowfields, bowls and gullies abound between the marked pistes, this is wild and dangerous terrain. The glacier is a web of crevasses and seracs, and to ski here without a qualified guide is to court death.
Lifts: 49. Pistes: 140km.
Tourist info: 00 33 4 50530024.
SELVA GARDENA, ITALY
The resort of Selva Gardena has a quiet, unsophisticated charm that makes it popular with families - especially since children aged seven years and under ski free. With its mainly blue and unproblematic red runs, you would not come here for a challenge, but it is an excellent area for children of all ages to learn to ski. Even toddlers and small children are catered for, with a kindergarten where they can learn the rudiments of skiing among cartoon characters. Instructors are plentiful and patient, and, once away from classes, the surrounding area is ideal for older children to learn or improve their skiing.
Lifts: 81. Pistes: 175 km. Tourist info: 00 39 0471 72277.
Situated in the heart of the Rockies, Breckenridge was the first resort in Colorado to permit snowboarders. It is a bustling "party town" that prides itself on accommodating 26,000 skiers in the 254 restored structures downtown, which date from 1859, and in its self-contained resort/shopping complexes closer to the slopes. Skiing and snowboarding experiences range from the tedious but scenically forested flats at the resort base, to steeps and deeps in the ample chutes above tree-level. Easily accessed bowls and chutes make Breckenridge hugely popular with boarders, who voted the resort's funpark and half-pipes the best in North America. The ski school teaches snowboarding at all levels.
Lifts: 22. Pistes: 2,043 acres.
Tourist info: 001 970 496 4334.
Cervinia's excellent snow record means that novices enjoy good conditions on the nursery slopes before moving up to the green and blue pistes at Plan Maison. There are few resorts where beginners are able to ski runs as high as the well-groomed blue piste from Plateau Rosa down to the village, a drop of nearly 1,500m. Despite some tarting up, the buildings have no authentic mountain charm, but Cervinia is extremely popular both with British skiers and with Italian families on weekends and school holidays, when slopes can become hectic. The length and quantity of Cervinia's flattering red and blue runs add up to hours of effortless cruising.
Lifts: 34. Pistes: 80km.
Tourist info: 00 39 0166 949136.
DAVOS / KLOSTERS, SWITZERLAND
The town of Davos, with its designer boutiques, attracts a wealthy cosmopolitan crowd, while Klosters, a favourite with the British royal family, remains essentially a discreet Swiss village. The core of the Davos / Klosters ski area is the Parsenn, featuring the Weissfluh, the highest point on the piste map, and Kublis, to which it's linked by a 12km red piste. Here you'll find the wide, sweeping runs that made Davos famous, ideal for intermediates with the energy to ski all available hours. The five ski areas offer lots of easy terrain, so there is no excuse for not ranging far and wide. The result, in terms of variety at least, is a lift pass of remarkable value.
Lifts: 22 in Davos; 32 in Klosters. Pistes: 344km in Davos / Klosters area. Tourist info: 00 41 81 415 2121 (Davos); 00 41 81 410 2020 (Klosters).
Verbier deserves to be ranked alongside St Anton, Val d'Isere, Chamonix, Zermatt and Whistler as one of the truly world-class homes of skiing. Not only does it have an enormous range and variety of challenging pistes, but it also boasts some of Europe's most exciting lift-served off-piste skiing. Nowhere is there a more extensive and dynamic menu of glaciers, couloirs and deep powder bowls. And British skiers and boarders - their number was up to 10 per cent last season - are delighted to discover fundamental improvements to the lift system, if not to the resort itself.
Lifts: 96 in area.
Pistes: 410km in area.
Tourist info: 00 41 27 775 3888.
Set among forests of pine, Keystone is a modern, purpose-built sprawl of multi-level complexes, with a superlative range of intermediate terrain and America's most comprehensive snowmaking and night-skiing operations. Keystone's award-winning family facilities include special deals (free accommodation for under-13s; free skiing for under-fives), an all-day nursery for babies from two months old, pagers to keep parents' minds at rest on the slopes, and a children-only ski playground. Really exuberant nightlife, however, is quashed by the preponderance of families with small children.
Pistes: 1,861 acres.
Tourist info: 001 970 496 2316.
The combined resort of Whistler and Blackcomb provides the most challenging skiing and most cosmopolitan atmosphere of any ski resort in North America. Here you can ski or snowboard your heart out on two adjoining peaks that offer plunging powder bowls, sheer couloirs and gladed skiing for all standards. The terrain on both mountains is exceptionally well suited to snowboarders. Blackcomb has a funpark where regular boardercross races are held, and the resort has two half-pipes. Some ski-patrol members use boards rather than skis to make riders feel they have equal status on the mountain. Whistler's apres-ski, meanwhile, is highly praised.
Lifts: 30. Pistes: 7,050 acres. Tourist info: 00 1 604 932 3928.
Although Flaine's Bauhaus architecture has been described as a 1960s disaster area with "no soul", it has a surprisingly international following: the resort is within easy reach of Geneva; its skiing is extensive and varied; and its proximity to Mont Blanc ensures a favourable snowfall for its altitude. Visitors come here for the skiing, and beginners have plenty to choose from - most of the runs that go down to the resort from Grandes Platieres, a high, wide plateau with panoramic views, are graded red or blue. For the real novice, there are slopes in the middle of the village, while improvers can try wide, snaking blues on the mountain's west-facing slopes.
Tourist info: 00 33 4 50 90 80 01.
The Trois Vallees, a substantial chunk of the French Alps, is rightly regarded by many as the greatest intermediate playground in the world: an extensive network of moderately graded runs, linked by an efficient lift system, to challenge all levels of skier. In the middle of this area is British favourite Meribel, an expensive resort that offers more luxury- class chalets and apartments than any other ski destination. As much of the accommodation is catered, there are surprisingly few recommended restaurants - and anyone averse to walking in their ski boots should check out the location of their chalet before booking.
Lifts: 58 in Meribel; 200 in Trois Vallees.
Pistes: 150km in Meribel; 600km in Trois Vallees.
Tourist info: 00 33 4 79086001.
VAL D'ISeRE, FRANCE
Val d'Isere is a destination for serious enthusiasts, blending high- tech skiing and mass-market tourism with a smooth topping of sophistication. The quality of the skiing in the area is so varied and demanding that many international experts will never ski anywhere else. A vertical drop of 1,890m, coupled with 96 lifts, including two high-speed underground railways, six gondolas and four cable-cars, form the hardcore infrastructure. For the expert, however, the real joy lies in the unlimited off-piste opportunities to be found in this wild region on the edge of the Vanoise National Park.
Lifts: 51 in Val d'Isere; 96 in L'Espace Killy.
Pistes: 300km in L'Espace Killy.
Tourist info: 00 33 4 79 06 06 60.
SUNDAY RIVER, USA
The picturesque state of Maine can suffer from sparse natural snow, but the artificial stuff topping up the slopes of Sunday River throughout the winter feels remarkably natural. It gives rise to a range and quality of skiing that compares favourably with that of a medium-sized resort in Italy or France. Even during high season, Sunday River is far enough away from New York not to suffer from the overcrowding to which the Vermont resorts are prone. Furthermore, it is an ideal resort for families with children of all ages, and for all standards of snow- user. Tiny Turns Childcare intersperses play with one-hour private ski lessons until your child is ready for his or her first group ski class. Children aged four to six can join all-day Mogul Munchkins classes, while seven- to 12-year-olds join the Mogul Meisters.
Pistes: 48 miles.
Tourist info: 001 207 824 3000.
LES DEUX ALPES, FRANCE
Les Deux Alpes' primary asset is its height - 3,600m - which means that snow is assured all season, though the best time of year for boarding is in October. The resort is the venue for the World Snow- board Meeting, which claims to be "the highest and biggest exhibition of snowboarding on the planet", and attracts some 15,000 visitors. The funpark includes boardercross and a half-pipe, plus a barbecue and sound system. The Primitive Snowboard School is the specialist for wannabee riders. Les Deux Alpes scores highly for apres-ski among those who like lively nightlife - and don't mind bumping into lots of other British people
Lifts: 58. Pistes: 200km. Tourist info: 00 33 4 76 79 22 00.
SOLDEU / EL TARTER, SPAIN
Soldeu / El Tarter has the best combination of skiing, scenery, accommodation and ambience in Andorra. Readers are unanimous in their praise: "It is especially great for beginners, and the ski school is excellent for all levels. The nightlife is cheap, and suitable for anyone of any age." The ski school is one of the best in Europe, and especially good for British skiers: 110 of its 170 instructors are native English speakers. The area is great for beginners and second-weekers, though one reporter noted that "some of the greens are like cross-country runs".
Lifts: 21. Pistes: 74km.
Tourist info: 00 37 689 0500.
ALPE D'HUEZ, FRANCE
The 3,330m summit of Pic Blanc dominates Les Grandes- Rousses, the fifth largest ski area in France. Alpe d'Huez, its capital, is an all-round ski resort with good intermediate runs and long black trails. Mountain access is multiple; and such is the efficiency of the lift system, capable of shifting 90,000 people per hour, that Alpe d'Huez claims to have dispensed with queues.
Lifts: 85. Pistes: 220km. Tourist info: 00 33 4 76 11 44 44.
ST ANTON, AUSTRIA
The Arlberg region, of which St Anton is the capital, is the birthplace of modern skiing technique, and still ranks among the world's top-five resorts for challenging skiing and high living. Experts head for the northern slopes, dominated by the 2,811m Valluga, although, depending on snow conditions, almost all of St Anton's skiing can be considered advanced; off-piste possibilities are limitless, and a guide can find fresh powder a week after the last fall. An experienced skier wanting to truly enjoy St Anton should view the services of a local guide as part of the basic cost of the holiday.
Lifts: 40. Pistes: 260km.
Tourist info: 00 43 5446 22690.
VAIL / BEAVER CREEK, USA
Vail delivers the largest area of ski terrain of any US resort, plus unbeatable service and guaranteed snow, while its sister resort, Beaver Creek, offers long, winding trails, a lack of crowds and family-orientated facilities. Both Vail and Beaver Creek are essentially intermediate mountains, an ideal training ground on which to perfect your turns. On the slopes, children are well catered for, with a ski playground and good, friendly instruction at the snow-school. Kids can also ski with the Buckaroo Bonanza Bunch, a group of characters who tell stories about the Wild West. Off- piste entertainment is family-friendly, too, and includes a Western evening for children aged five to 13, featuring music, pizza and a Wild West show.
Lifts: 31. Pistes: 4,644 acres. Tourist info: 00 1 970 496 4040.
Innsbruck is mostly used as a base for the big-name resorts in the Tyrol and the Arlberg. These can be reached daily by bus, although a car adds convenience and flexibility. The cost of staying at Innsbruck is lower than at a conventional ski resort, but the choice of restaurants is still wide, and the nightlife varied. Nearby Axamer Lizum is one of the top snowboarding resorts in Austria. Particularly popular with freestyle riders, it boasts a well-maintained funpark with a half-pipe. Alpine riders are also well catered for here, with a high proportion of wide pistes.
Lifts: 210 with a Super Skipass.
Pistes: 520km with a Super Skipass
Tourist info: 00 43 5125 9850.
Westendorf is one of the most attractive of all the Ski-Welt villages, with a genuine Tyrolean atmosphere. Its large size means that revellers have plenty of entertainment to choose from, including "acid house" at Gerry's Inn, Techno at the Wunderbar, and Jello shots at the Mosquito Bar. There is accommodation for all types of parties; the Hotel Post has been particularly recommended for families. Pistes in the Brechhorn area are said to be "an absolute dream, anyone could negotiate them". Westendorf's ski schools have been warmly praised for their ability to cater for learners of every level.
Tourist info: 00 43 5334 6230.
LAKE TAHOE, USA
Located on Lake Tahoe, a glimmering stretch of cobalt-blue water, are Heavenly (on the Nevada-California state-line) and Squaw Valley (on the far side of the lake), the main players on the California ski scene. The former is a resort of extraordinary contrasts: from the top of the Sky Express chair-lift you can turn left to ski in Nevada, with views of the desert; or right, to the Californian side, which overlooks the lake. Intermediates can try virtually every run here. Skiing at Squaw Valley is altogether more demanding, with the highlight a 5km trail from the High Camp area down to the mountain base.
Lifts: 27 at Heavenly; 30 at Squaw Valley.
Pistes: 4,800 acres at Heavenly; 4,000 at Squaw Valley.
Tourist info: 001 702 586 7000 (Heavenly); 001 916 583 6985 (Squaw Valley).
Despite its good terrain and an exceptional snow record, Fernie, in the southeast corner of the British Columbian Rockies, was relatively unknown until a recent expansion scheme elevated it to the status of Canada's fourth largest ski resort. With an extensive array of steeper-than-average terrain and impressive off-piste opportunities, Fernie is, according to one reporter, "not a place for the timid, but strong skiers and boarders will relish it". The actual town of Fernie, three miles to the east, has the potential but as yet little of the glitz of other Rocky Mountain mining towns-turned-ski-resorts such as Telluride (see No 43) or Crested Butte. Accommodation at the rapidly expanding base area includes condominiums, lodges, chalets and townhouses.
Pistes: 2,500 acres.
Tourist info: 001 250 765 8888/3101.
LA PLAGNE, FRANCE
La Plagne remains one of the greatest of all the inter-mediate playgrounds in the Alps. All 10 of its villages are self-sufficient, and each has its own nursery slopes and children's ski school. Aesthetically pleasing it is not, but La Plagne scores highly for convenience. All parts of the mountain have extensive beginner slopes, and some of the pistes offer gradients so gentle that even the most fearful novice should gain in confidence. Unusually, this resort also caters for older children - teenagers have their own classes. While the nightlife is decidedly low profile, the intermediate skiing at least is excellent. Parents of toddlers can get away to enjoy the slopes after leaving their kids in one of 10 nurseries.
Tourist info: 00 33 4 79 09 79 79.
Although Ischgl is only a few miles as the crow flies from St Anton (see No 23), it remained largely unknown to Brits until last year's tragic avalanches. Many regulars consider Ischgl to be the second-best resort in Austria (after St Anton) in terms of both the skiing and the nightlife. The Silvretta area has established itself as a major snowboard centre: the Paradise Funpark at Idjoch, for example - the highest in Europe, it is claimed - has a vertical drop of 350m, a half-pipe and 30 obstacles. The international clientele creates a real buzz when skiing finishes for the day, with the bars in the central area near the church overflowing into the streets when the weather is fine.
Lifts: 41 in Ischgl; 66 in Silvretta.
Tourist info: 00 43 5444 5266.
Mayrhofen has taught generations of British skiers to love the low-lying Tyrol. Large green areas lend the resort a rural feel - cows are kept (and slaughtered) right across the street from the Penken lift station; but it is a party town, too,and the general standard of accommodation is superlative, with many hotels featuring swimming pools, saunas or Turkish baths. Babies are better catered for than adult beginners. The former have their own play areas, whereas the latter ride drag-lifts for all the blue runs on Ahorn mountain and in most cases on Penken, which has one ultra-flat, long beginner itinerary - the "Horberg Baby Tour". Mayrhofen has more than 150 instructors from four competing schools. Despite typical classes of 12, most students give the teaching high marks.
Tourist info: 00 43 5285 6760.
MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN, USA
Situated 480km to the north of Los Angeles, Mammoth has 150 named runs and 31 lifts, which are systematically being upgraded. Every section of the mountain has varied intermediate skiing, except the peak, which offers some steep black runs. Keen skiers should stay in one of the hotels or condominiums at the base of the ski area, as the closest town, Mammoth Lakes, is 7km away. Until recently Mammoth Lakes had no real centre, but this looks set to change after Mammoth's developer invested US $21 million into the area this year.
Pistes: 3,500 acres.
Tourist info: 001 760 934 2571.
RED MOUNTAIN, CANADA
A rugged, macho view of skiing has been carefully conserved by Eric Skat Petersen, who has been running Red Mountain since 1989. By refusing to invest in state-of-the-art lifts, he has kept the pioneering spirit intact, and the terrain has done the rest. Red's hardcore is made up of ski bums, many of whom have small incomes, and enjoy the machismo that goes with the territory throughout the winter. All the pistes have sizeable moguls to add to the general sense of hazard, while most of the runs have open bowls interspersed with gladed sections of varying degrees of difficulty.
Pistes: 83 trails.
Tourist info: 001 250 362 7384.
Valmorel is an attractive, planned family resort with exceptionally good nursery slopes that are closed off to passing skiers and snowboarders. It's one of the best resorts in the Alps for beginners - both adults and children. The latter have a protected nursery area with a rope-tow at the Saperlipopette kindergarten, with a strict ratio of five children per nanny, as well as an enclosed area with toys and their own lift up the mountain. It also has testing enough terrain to keep competent skiers and snowboarders interested for a week.
Tourist info: 00 33 4 79 09 85 55.
Saas-Fee is a delightfully unspoilt resort set against one of the most dramatic glacial backdrops in the Alps. Designer ski shops stand beside working farmhouses where you can still buy fresh milk by the pail. At this high altitude, snow cover is virtually guaranteed, and the long vertical drop of 1,800m provides a wide variety of runs. Snowboarding is big business here, and the Swiss Ski and Snowboard School suffers fierce and healthy competition from the refreshingly radical Paradise Snowboard School. As regards apres-ski, the Crazy Night is the hippest techno venue, while rowdy drinking is frequent at Nesti's Ski Bar, the Go-Inn and the Why-Not pub.
Tourist info: 00 41 27 958 1858.
RISOUL 1850, FRANCE
Although it is increasing in popularity, Risoul is still an underrated purpose-built resort with extensive and convenient family skiing and a reputation for reliable late-season snow. The clientele is both family- and budget-oriented, taking advantage of eating places that are cheap but seriously lacking in cuisine or character. Reporters were impressed by the resort's convenience: "The least amount of walking and the most amount of skiing we have ever done in the Alps." And the difficult location means that it is free of weekend overcrowding. Risoul is primarily a beginner and intermediate resort. The skiing looks easy, and most of it is, although experts can find some challenging terrain. It is possible to ski from Risoul to Vars 1850 and back on blue runs. The green runs, with a children's park and snowmaking at the bottom of Risoul, are some of the most attractive in Europe.
Tourist info: 00 33 4 92 46 02 60.
PARK CITY / DEER VALLEY, USA
These are two of the distinctively different resorts that make up Ski Utah, a market-consortium in the state that produces the finest, driest powder snow in the world. The most central is Park City, which also acts as a bed base for the adjoining ski areas of Deer Valley Resort. Park City's skiing consists of extensive rolling, wooded terrain on the slopes of Jupiter Peak; 48 per cent of the trails are listed as intermediate, and cover every area of the mountain. Deer Valley Resort is a mile northeast, up a winding road lined with multi-million-dollar homes. Skiing here is on three mountains, and beware that the people are as meticulously groomed as the slopes.
Lifts: 14 at Park City; 19 at Deer Valley.
Pistes: 3,300 acres at Park City; 87 runs, 6 bowls at Deer Valley
Tourist info: 001 435 649 8111 (Park City); 001 435 649 1000 (Deer Valley).
Aspen has some of the best skiing in North America for all standards, from complete beginner to advanced. The town of Aspen lies at the foot of Aspen Mountain, and has conserved the low-rise appeal of the original Victorian mining town. Celebrity status attracts higher prices, but with a little care in your choice of apres-ski, it is still possible to have a moderately-priced holiday. Aspen has four completely separate mountains: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. Aspen Mountain is strictly the reserve of good skiers and has no beginner slopes, while Highlands has some of the most exhilarating off-piste terrain in the valley.
Lifts: 39 in area.
Pistes: 4,785 acres.
Tourist info: 001 970 925 1940.
Geilo is a traditional resort midway between Bergen and Oslo. The skiing is relaxed and uncomplicated, ideal for novices and intermediates. Although there are seven notional black runs, advanced skiers will quickly run out of steam. The Vestlia area, with a vertical drop of 244m, has the easiest skiing, including a popular long green run (Bjornloypa), and this is where the excellent ski- and non-ski kindergarten, the Troll Club, is based. The children's ski school is warmly praised, and children under three are well looked after at Geilo's Troll Inn, where they can take part in indoor and outdoor activities. Be warned, however, that lunch is not provided. Adventurous parents, meanwhile, could try Aktivitets Guiding for off-piste skiing, or strike out cross-country.
Tourist info: 00 47 3209 5900.
MONT TREMBLANT, CANADA
Intensive piste-grooming and Canada's largest snowmaking system do much to combat the prevailing icy conditions in this state-of-the-art resort. The old part of Mont Tremblant has been meticulously restored, and the new section artfully modelled on the old quarter of Montreal. The numerous boutiques in the Place du Village are enticing; the resort has a total of 70 shops and restaurants. Part of the mountain has been given over to Xzone, a large floodlit funpark with a half-pipe, jumps and obstacles, while The Edge, with three demanding trails, is reserved for advanced skiers and riders.
Lifts: 11. Pistes: 72km.
Tourist info: 001 819 681 2000.
Situated at the head of the remote and beautiful Otztal, which is a 90-minute drive from Innsbruck, Obergurgl benefits from a high altitude that means guaranteed snow from November until after even the latest of Easters. However, its limited piste skiing can deter serious skiers who might otherwise be drawn to this small, charming village. The wealth of four-star hotels attracts an upmarket, but by no means aloof, clientele - predominantly from Germany, but traditionally bolstered by British families, and despite the village's size, it boasts a surprisingly active evening life. There is plenty to keep less adventurous snow-users and families occupied in the truly magnificent, unspoilt surroundings. Complete novices start on nursery slopes set well away from the village, and improvers can benefit from easy skiing in both Obergurgl's main sectors. Obergurgl is surprisingly active in the evenings.
Tourist info: 00 43 5256 6466.
The Milky Way, or Via Lattea, straddling the Franco-Italian border, is one of Europe's great and still surprisingly undiscovered ski circuits, though the 1997 Alpine Skiing World Championships at Sestriere did much to raise awareness of this dual-nation ski area. Once one of the most fashionable wintering holes in Europe, Sestriere was purpose- built in 1930 by Giovanni Agnelli, the founder of Fiat. Its position on a high, cold and barren pass is not enchanting, but high-quality snow cover is the norm rather than the exception.
Lifts: 19 in Sestriere; 91 in Milky Way.
Pistes: 120km in Sestriere; 400km in Milky Way.
Tourist info: 00 39 012 275 5444.
Telluride is an old mining town situated in a beautiful box-canyon in the San Juan Mountains. Mountain Village Resort, four miles away by road, is connected to the town between 7.30am and 7.30pm by a gondola. Both places are equally convenient for the skiing, though the descents to the Oak Street and Coonskin base-stations via black runs such as Plunge and Jaws are too steep for cautious intermediates. Aggressive skiers head for the double-black-diamond Spiral Stairs, or hike up the ridge towards Gold Hill to the short, off-piste glades. Your choice of where to stay will probably be dictated by the nightlife, which is much better in the downtown area.
Pistes: 1,050 acres.
Tourist info: 001 970 728 6900.
Every skiing nation has at least one ultra-smart resort that lures the "beautiful people" to its manicured slopes, and Lech is one of the most exclusive resorts in Austria. It still caters well for families, however, especially at Oberlech, a satellite 200m up the mountain, which provides a convenient, safe and car-free centre for small children. It is also the site of the main nursery slopes. A number of hotels provide their own creches, so parents can try out some of the excellent intermediate skiing on the Lech / Zurs prepared pistes. Other pluses include short queues, even on the busiest weekends, and the excellent Austrian Ski School in Lech.
Tourist info: 00 43 5583 2161.
Snowbird is generally considered to be the home of "champagne powder" - talcum-powder flakes that have been freeze-dried in their journey over the desert from the distant ocean before being deposited on the steep slopes surrounding Little Cottonwood Canyon. The higher skiing is dominated by bowls, chutes and gullies - an exciting arena for advanced skiers who enjoy powering across steep slopes on ungroomed snow. Intermediates are well catered for, but there is a shortage of novice skiing. However, the development of Mineral Basin, a back-bowl experience for skiers and boarders of all abilities, has expanded the ski area by 25 per cent this season.
Pistes: 2,500 acres
Tourist info: 001 800 232 9542.
WINTER PARK, USA
In the past, one of Winter Park's biggest disadvantages has been a lack of slope-side accom-modation. But that is due to change this season with the opening of the first stage of a base village. On the social side, there is so much choice that the resort needs a separate apres-ski piste map; while the skiing itself is excellent, with long, wide runs, challenging mogul fields, few midweek queues, efficient lifts and perfectly manicured slopes. The resort can be reached directly from Denver at week-ends by a snowtrain ride through the Rockies. Winter Park's wild neighbour, Berthoud Pass, has just two chair-lifts, but these open up 1,000 acres (406 hectares) of some of Colorado's most exciting skiing terrain.
Pistes: 1,414 acres.
Tourist info: 001 970 726 5587.
Recognised as the Edwardian nursery of modern skiing, the Jung-frau region is the most popular in Switzerland with the British, and flourishing thanks to favourable exchange rates and excellent snow cover for the past two winters. One of the area's three principal resorts is Wengen, a pretty, traffic- free place that owes much of its popularity to long medium-to-difficult runs. While location is of little importance for the skiing (if staying high up, you can ski down to the train, which will take you back to your hotel), a long uphill slog after midnight tends to deter visitors from exploring what limited nightlife there is.
Lifts: 21 in Wengen; 45 in the Jung-frau Top Ski region. Pistes: 195km in the Jungfrau Top Ski Region.
Tourist info: 00 41 33 855 1414.
Zermatt, dominated by the Matterhorn, is Switzerland's southernmost skiing terrain, with 30 summits of over 4,000m, and no low season at all. It is one of the most picturesque ski resorts in the world, and heaven for the adept skier with deep pockets and a taste for good living. Zermatt has long been criticised for the inconvenience of its separate ski areas, but the resort was transformed for the 1998-9 season by the opening of a cable-car from Gant to Hohtalli. This effectively links the Sunnegga and Gornergrat areas, so you need never have to take the long and slow, but beautiful train journey up the Gornergrat.
Lifts: 74 including Cervinia.
Pistes: 245km including Cervinia.
Tourist info: 00 41 279 67 0181.
Courchevel comprises four separate resorts at different altitudes, linked on piste but with nothing else in common. Courchevel 1850 is the international resort with the jet-set image, while Courchevel 1650 is less pricey, often called "le vrai Courchevel". Courchevel 1550 is away from the heart of the skiing and little more than a cluster of apartment buildings, favoured by self-catering French families. Le Praz (sometimes known as Courchevel 1300) is a farming village at the foot of the lift system, and a popular, cheap base. All the main resorts are well-served with ESF ski and non-ski kindergartens, though Le Praz and Courchevel 1650 are particularly recommended for their children's ski schools.
Lifts: 68. Pistes: 180km. Tourist info: 00 33 4 79 08 00 29.
LES ARCS, FRANCE
Les Arcs was created in the early 1960s as one of three ski villages sharing the same area. Today it has 200km of groomed runs served by 76 lifts. The undulating contours of its slopes make Les Arcs ideal for snowboarding, and ever since the sport was introduced to Europe from America - the snowboard actually made its European debut here - the resort has played an important role in establishing its popularity. The dedicated funpark between Arc 1600 and 1800 has now been enlarged to incorporate seven jumps, a half-pipe and a boardercross course. The Peisey sector is also well suited to snowboarders.
Tourist info: 00 33 4 79 07 12 57.
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