THIS ISN'T just a playground for the rich, Aspen has far more sport to offer than just celebrity-spotting. It is really four resorts in one, from Aspen Mountain, or Ajax as it is known locally, whose home slopes alone would terrify all but the experts, to Buttermilk, whose gentle pistes are ideal for beginners. A free bus service links these two areas with each other and with Snowmass, 12 miles away, and Aspen Highlands, which means a huge variety of skiing is immediately accessible.
With the introduction of the British Airways scheduled flight from Gatwick, it's much easier to get to Colorado; go direct to Denver, and then either pick up a four-wheel drive vehicle or take a connecting flight straight into Aspen.
Accommodation ranges from ritzy to rowdy, with plenty of medium-priced condos in between. They usually have an outdoor hot-tub - a perfect form of relaxation. Restaurants can be pricey, but in the best American style there is always a cheap deal to be found: the main courses at Cache Cache, on South Mill Street are usually much cheaper at the bar than they are at a table. The shops stay open late, there is a cinema in town, and plenty of bars and clubs. The only hazard is that you could get mistaken for somebody famous.
FERNIE, BRITISH COLUMBIA
THE BRITISH skiers who flock to the Canadian west usually stay at Whistler, near the coast, or Banff, in the spectacular heart of the Rockies (with skiing at Sunshine and Lake Louise). But there are alternatives between the two. Fernie is one that has the makings of international stardom, which explains why the astute owner of Lake Louise, Charlie Locke, bought it last year. What's so special? Just great terrain and great snow - coupled with its location, three hours' drive from Calgary.
Fernie Snow Valley, it used to be called. Its average annual snowfall of 350 inches puts it up with the snowiest resorts in Colorado and stormy Whistler, without the latter's risk of rain and heavy snow. The terrain has something for everyone except the high-mileage piste-basher. The main lifts up the central ridge access countless fierce black descents. Two new quad chairs have been installed since last winter. The lift-served terrain has more than doubled, and the vertical is now a respectable 850m. Fernie Alpine Resort, as it is now known, is gradually developing at the foot of the slopes. Fernie itself, a couple of miles away, is a dreary mining town. But they probably said that about Aspen before the money arrived.
The author is co-editor of `Where to Ski and Snowboard' (Thomas Cook, pounds 14.99)
MONT TREMBLANT, CANADA
WEIGHING UP the pros and cons of skiing on North America's eastern seaboard is simple: the New England resorts are much closer to home (and therefore cheaper) than those out west, but the skiing is less heroic and the snow harder, the environs less appealing and the weather, at best, more changeable. At Mont Tremblant in Canada, however, the balance shifts. The weather remains a problem, and the skiing still lacks bite; but other factors weigh in its favour.
It's in the French-Canadian province of Quebec, which adds an exotic flavour (although everyone speaks English). Unlike New England ski areas such as Killington, where the shops and restaurants are down on the highway, Tremblant has a proper village at the foot of the slopes - albeit one built since 1991. That was when ski giant Intrawest took over and began a pounds 400m investment programme, creating the village (to an Alpine design by the world's leading ski-resort architect, Eldon Beck) and improving the ski area.
The slopes are attractive, well served (this season there is a new, heated eight-seat gondola to the 951m summit), and challenging enough for skiers up to a high intermediate level. The best piste of all is, unusually, a green run, Nansen, which disappears into the forest for 6km, dropping 600m to pop out of the trees at the village.
All the major operators except First Choice and Neilson offer holidays in Aspen, as do many independents, including Ski Independence (0990 550555) and Ski the American Dream (0181-548 2421). Trips to Fernie are available from Inghams (0181-780 4444), Frontier Ski (0181-776 8709), Ski Safari (0171-262 5069) and Skisarus (01959 540796). All the major operators except Airtours offer holidays in Mont Tremblant, as do Ski Independence, Frontier Ski, Ski Safari, Ski the American Dream (0181-548 2421) and Skiers World (01222 764477), among othersReuse content