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
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
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
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
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

    SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

    SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

    Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

    £85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

    Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor