Skiing: Why skiing Brits cross the pond

A significant number of skiers cross the Atlantic to sample the delights of American and Canadian slopes. Why? Because they have attractions that the British just can't find in Europe's traditional winter playgrounds.

For many skiers it's a puzzle why anybody would want to ski in North America. The beautiful, challenging Alps, the cradle of British skiing, are both cheap and accessible - and, relatively speaking, on our doorstep. So why would skiers undertake the long trek across the Atlantic?

Ask that of John Bennett, whose Ski Independence has specialised in North American skiing holidays for the last five years, and he comes up with instant answers: for good service; uncrowded pistes ("It's said that when all the seats on all the chairlifts at Aspen's Snowmass mountain are filled, each skier will still have an acre of skiing to themselves once they get off"); guaranteed snow; good-value eating and drinking, and the wide variety of things to do apart from skiing. When prompted, he will add the fact that everyone over there speaks our language fairly well, too.

Nobody could argue about the service, but sometimes it would be nice if just one waitress admitted that she didn't really care how you are. Uncrowded pistes? Generally, yes - but what's true of Colorado's Beaver Creek (Bennett says: "The chances of hitting another skier there are infinitesimal") doesn't apply to Killington in Vermont on a busy weekend.

Guaranteed snow is fair enough, too, but there's a big difference between the real, powdery stuff in the West and the partly man-made snow that can switch between slush and ice and back again in the wildly fluctuating temperatures of the East Coast.

The good value in restaurants and bars is certainly a persuasive argument for North America, where - unlike France - standards don't necessarily drop at higher altitudes.

When it comes to the variety of things to do, Bennett was talking not only of British skiers' tendency to mix skiing with sightseeing (on popular combined packages such as Whistler with Vancouver, and Mammoth with San Francisco), but also about the wide range of in-resort activities.

He should, I think, put the common language higher on his list: skiers are generally gregarious and North America is almost the only winter- sports destination where Britons can sit in a bar or on a chair-lift and be sure to find themselves in conversation with their neighbours - except when the latter have flown in from Mexico, Brazil or Japan.

So what about the skiing? Perhaps Bennett didn't mention that, as it is difficult to generalise about North American resorts, this varies widely. Over the last few days I've heard a New Zealand photographer sing the praises of Taos in New Mexico for its desert setting, adobe architecture and wicked skiing; learned that Richard Branson's favourite resort is Mammoth in California, and been told that the average British skier chooses Whistler/Blackcomb in Canada and Breckenridge in Colorado above other North American resorts.

Add the epic Jackson Hole in Wyoming and the beautifully-designed Mont Tremblant in Quebec and you have an extraordinary range of types of skiing - but only the last has anything like the sort of ski village to which Europeans are happily habituated. Tremblant's is in fact a modern pastiche, artfully achieved. Many US resorts seem more closely modelled on motorway service stations. Alpine skiers also take mountains for granted, but they're in short supply in North America: despite many exceptions, the general rule is that you ski on high hills - often very high, up to 4000m - rather than on rugged, spiky peaks like those in the Alps.

But there are enough advantages to have doubled the number of British skiers going to North America in the mid-Nineties, a time when the weakness of both the US and Canadian dollars against the pound made a skiing trip across the Atlantic at least less expensive, if not exactly cheap. Since then the overall numbers have stabilised, the major recent development being the rapid growth of Canada against the US - a trend that now seems to be over, despite the low value of the Canadian dollar. The debacle of the 1997/8 season, when flight capacity to the Colorado resorts expanded way beyond demand, has made big operators more wary of the North American business. But the specialists - Bennett included - remain confident about the loyalty of the nine per cent of British skiers who ski there, even though the premium charged on what are already comparatively high prices seems to have hit transatlantic business over the millennium particularly hard.

Those specialists have the benefit of the huge range of resorts to keep their regular customers stimulated. Even this year, when most operators have been reluctant to launch new destinations due to the complications caused by the millennium calendar, Bennett has introduced Purgatory in Colorado, Deer Valley in Utah, and Sunday River in Maine to Ski Independence's 1999/2000 brochure. The first two are selling slowly; the third is going down a storm - both for him and for other operators, too.

Trying new resorts is an almost risk-free process for habitues of North America. They know that the resort won't be a charming ski village, that the skiing will be safe and somewhat sanitised, and that the lift queues will be organised with almost military precision. But they know, too, they'll get a great welcome. Not just as North American service personnel are good at that, but also as anyone who stays for a week (or more) is a highly valued customer. Most Americans get only a couple of weeks' holiday a year, so ski resorts have to compete not just with one another but with the Caribbean, with cruise liners and with Europe. That's why the facilities and services have to be so good. Ski in North America, and you get the benefit of that.

Suggested Topics
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    General Cover Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?