News: Ski season 2010-11
Saturday 16 October 2010
Setting off on the right terms
It's the cusp of the ski year again, when the southern hemisphere's ski season is all but over (Turoa in New Zealand will be the last, staying open into "Snowvember") and about 20 glacier ski areas are already open in the Alps. Snowmaking began this week on both sides of North America, too. Austria is leading the way with seven high-altitude ski areas to choose from. With UK tour operators already warning that the February half term is "nearly" booked up, you could steal a march by hitting the slopes in the October half term instead. Zenith (01737 852 242; zenithholidays.co.uk) offers short breaks to the Pitztal and Stubai glaciers.
Any new destinations?
It's another quiet year, with most of the "new" choice being offered by one operator already offered by another, and places that were in the brochures a decade back now making a reappearance. The hedonistic haven Ischgl in Austria and the authentic ambience of Samoëns (00 33 4 50 34 40 28; samoens.com) in France are suddenly very popular. Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk) has an interesting offer in New Hampshire, an easy-to-reach option in the US, with five ski areas on one pass.
Kicking Horse in British Columbia celebrates its 10th season this winter by opening its fourth Alpine bowl, adding around 15 new chutes. In Italy, Madonna di Campiglio has clocked up a century of winter sports and is installing gondolas to complete a long-planned link to the neighbouring Pinzolo. This won't be complete until 2011-12, but we do get new intermediate red and advanced black runs this season.
The media frenzy may have moved on, but the fight against climate change has entered the psyche of almost all resorts, although if it gets as warm as predicted, all the snow guns they're investing in won't work anyway. Almost every new project announced involves installing a lift or snowmaking that uses less energy. Big infrastructure projects include Whistler's new hydroelectric plant, which meets the Canadian resort's entire energy needs.
Meanwhile, the snowcarbon. co.uk website has successfully negotiated with a host of European rail companies to get round the age-old problem faced by skiers choosing between rail or air to the Alps – the fact that all the cheap flights go before the train times and prices are announced. They've arranged advanced fixed prices and made them available through numerous tour operators.
Austrian superlift showdown
Announcements of big infrastructure projects are rather muted for the second year running, after a decade of big property-driven developments. Austria, again, seems to be the exception, where Ischgl, Mayrhofen, Saalbach, Schladming and Sölden have all announced major new lifts. Mayrhofen is the world's first to string eight-seat chairs and 10-person gondolas on the same line, so skiers don't need to unclip their gear on a chair, while a mother pushing a buggy can ride in the gondola behind. But apart from fast, high-capacity, high-speed, comfortable lifts, a common factor in all is stylish architectural design of the lift stations. Schladming has spent £21m on a remarkable new one-stop building shop, hosts the Alpine World Ski Championships in 2013 and is a new option with Thomson (0871 231 5612; thomsonski.co.uk) this winter.
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