A snow escape to remember
Leslie Woit finds treats for the body and spirit in America's snow-capped peaks and valleys
Friday 30 November 2012
Hang out with the hardcore
How about hooking into a harness and being lowered by rope into a 40-degree couloir like a ski film star? Silverton Mountain, Colorado, America's coolest anti-resort with just one chairlift and no grooming, is for advanced and experts only. With a fresh-tracks-for-the-few policy, the average winter's snowfall of over 400 inches is more than enough for the roughly 80 skiers you'll share the mountain with each day. And now it's even gnarlier with the opening of new runs that require rappels in or out of couloirs and big snowy aprons. Ride the chair, but be prepared for a hike (or buy a heli drop) to places such as the Mad Dog, Close Out Couloirs off Storm Peak, and Hidden Valley – a large bowl with no access except via 100ft rappel. Avalanche equipment is essential.
Despite their "all thrills no frills" attitude, if you're staying in Aspen, The Little Nell will zip you over from Aspen Airport in a private helicopter and even throw in a packed lunch. A one-day heli-ski trip starts at $19,140 (£11,962) for four people (001 970 920 4600; thelittlenell.com).A rappel-rich day at Silverton is $425 (£265) per person. A lift ticket costs from $49 (£30), or $99 (£62) with a guide (001 970 387 5706; silvertonmountain.com).
Party with attitude
Celebrate in style at Jackson Hole, on the edge of Yellowstone National Park, with the Tetons at your feet. With Elevated Après at the Vertical Lounge, there's room for you and your loved ones to lift off toward the top of Rendezvous Mountain on your own private aerial tram. It's stocked for the journey with chilled champagne and nibbles, such as buffalo carpaccio and Snake River caviar, which you consume as you soak up the Wyoming panorama.
At the top, two more delectable courses created by executive chef Wes Hamilton of Couloir round out an evening high above the Wild West landscape. This county teems with moose and elk and claims the highest concentration of billionaires in the USA. Ride 'em cowboy. Available throughout the winter from $8,000 (£5,000) for private bookings (001 307 733 2292; jacksonhole.com)
Ski like an Olympian
Keep the flame burning with the Ultimate Mountain Experience, a new winter sports fantasy camp in the Canyons, Utah. Under the direction of former US Olympic team coach Phil McNichol, six ex-Olympians will whip you – gently but firmly – into on-slope Olympian shape. The coaches have reached the tops of their game in every discipline from downhill to moguls and from park and pipe to snowboardcross. After a few days with these guys, Team GB will be hot on your tail.
Hide out six miles away in the split-level pool of the St Regis Deer Valley Hotel (001 435 940 5700; stregisdeervalley.com), one of the most exclusive hotels in ski country; the Astor Suite is available from $640 (£400) per night and includes a butler. Its private funicular is the first in North America, and provides ski-in, ski-out access to Deer Valley's famously smooth slopes. A private ski beach has loungers to watch the hoi polloi slide past. The Ultimate Mountain Experience is from $1,275 (£797) per person for three days (001 435 649 5400; canyonsresort.com).
Heaven is a hot tub
Lie back and think of the excellent skiing you've just enjoyed with the apres ski Haute Tub service at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek resort in Colorado. Here a perfectly placed piste-side hot tub for six can be reserved for your exclusive use. Slip into the outdoor bath of warm bubbles while your dedicated waitress brings the champagne, tasty truffle popcorn, warmed towels and robes. You'll be pleasantly fatigued after a day on the 150 groomed pistes – though not from schlepping to and fro: escalators sweep guests up and down the different levels of "beachfront" village that include adult ski school, rentals, lift tickets, restaurants, shops, galleries and outdoor ice rink. Base area attendants abound to help retrieve forgotten gloves or goggles in guests' rooms or SUVs. Pack the Manolos: heated sidewalks ensure the only slipping or sliding will be on skis. The Haute Tub service is from $300 (£190) per hour (001 970 949 1234, beavercreek.hyatt.com).
Get the inside scoop and the best lines from Aspen insider Chris Davenport, former World Extreme Skiing champion. You can hire "Dav" for a day of on- and off-mountain hospitality. You'll feel like you already know him: he's appeared in more than 30 ski films, including some by Warren Miller Entertainment, and was first to climb and ski all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks in under a year.
You'll get a head start on Aspen Mountain in a private snowcat, skiing on your own pair of Davenport's signature Kastle FX Series skis, designed by the man himself. With an action photographer to record your perfect turns, you'll look great when you break for a gourmet picnic lunch and later as you raise a glass together at the Veuve Clicquot piste-side pop-up bar. After you've tracked up a mountain's worth of pristine powder, Dav will lead the way to après ski at Ajax Tavern and for bit of Aspen's other favourite sport: people watching. You'll be back at the St Regis in time for a massage at Remede spa followed by dinner with Dav at Aspen's most fashionable table, Matsuhisa, Nobu's only mountain outpost. The package costs $1,500 (£940) for up to four people, plus photographer $500 (£315) ( chrisdavenport.com).
Heli-skiing is a one-stop shop guaranteeing adrenaline, excitement and endless drinks-party credibility. There are two approaches: sign up for a single day with an operator at a resort, which is ideal for first timers and solo skiers looking to join a group. Day trips (and longer) are available in Colorado at Telluride Helitrax; in Idaho with Sun Valley Heli-Ski; in Nevada at Ruby Mountains; in Utah at Powderbird Guides, in Washington with North Cascade Heli-Skiing; and at Jackson Hole, Wyoming with High Mountain Heli-Skiing. New this year out of Lake Tahoe, California is Pacific Crest Heli-Guides. For more information, see usheliskiing.com.
The second approach is the ultimate challenge: AK (the US Mail code for Alaska). It's the freerider's white dream. There are more heli-accessed steeps, chutes and drop-offs there than anywhere in the world, and its particularly stable snowpack makes its sheer, long faces the stuff of dreams and movies.
Ride with the big boys at operations such as Valdez Heli Ski Guides, founded by the legendary Doug Coombs, a boutique operation serving some of the best and wildest terrain on the planet from the new Tsaina Lodge. In the heart of the Chugach Mountains, Chugach Powder Guides leads you to the goods around the sea, sky and peaks of the North Gulf Coast. Come June, US Downhill legend Tommy Moe leads Kings and Corn weeks – spring heli-skiing mornings followed by heli-fishing in the afternoons. Points North Heli-Adventures promises powder and adventure on expedition-size scale. For the ultimate blow out, the wealthy can hire a super-yacht with its own helicopter off the AK coast. The price? From £235,000 per week for eight to 12 people, including six days' guided heli-skiing, seven nights' accommodation, meals, skis and safety equipment, organised through Elemental Adventure (020-3059 8787; eaheliskiing.com).
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