Snow Report: The new season delivers fresh areas to explore
Resorts in Austria, Italy and North America are creating new domains and adding extra slopes, says Patrick Thorne
Sunday 25 November 2012
This winter there's a novelty in Europe and North America: new pistes to ski. Top of the list of fresh possibilities is in Austria: a whole new area, the Tirolean "Ski Jewel" (skijuwel.com), which opens on 14 December. It's been created by linking the ski areas of Alpbach and Wildschönau (better known in UK brochures as Niederau, Auffach and Oberau). A new lift and ski run have helped to create a single area with 145km (90 miles) of piste.
Between 1960 and 1980, the amount of mountainside in Europe and North America that was transformed into ski slopes was remarkable. Thousands of ski areas opened, creating more than 10,000km of piste across formerly little-used land. But then came market saturation, a demand for a higher-quality winter holiday experience – and in some places the available land just ran out.
For the past three decades, ski resorts have been fine-tuning their offers. They've added alternative activities; faster, more comfortable lifts; better accommodation; and, above all, snow-making systems to ensure season-long snow cover.
Ski Jewel was 11 years in planning and has cost the communities concerned €13.5m (£10.8m). According to the resort directors, it was a hard-fought battle, but one they felt needed to be won if their ski resorts were going to stay in business.
"Together we have a chance to survive," said Peter Hausberger, managing director of the Bergbahnen Alpbachtal. "For the Wildschönau and the Alpbachtal to have a future, they both need to offer a modern and sustainable ski area and a natural experience."
The "new" area is in the Tirolean top 10 (out of 80 ski areas) in terms of size, but the operators are keen to stress that lift passes remain affordable. A six-day adult pass costs €197 (£158). Most larger areas are well past the €200 mark for six days. (Children are free up to the age of seven, and qualify for half price until age 15).
While Austria has a new ski area this winter, several of Italy's leading resorts are getting bigger. Cervinia, Madonna di Campiglio and the giant Dolomiti Superski region have announced they've converted about 15km more mountainside, with 10 separate new ski slopes between them. The reason for building new pistes is explained by Diego Clara of Dolomiti Superski (dolomitisuper ski.com). "If there are new lifts, such as the new Lorenzi gondola above Kronplatz, the extra lift capacity can mean the old slope gets overcrowded, so they need another slope to handle the increased skier traffic."
Whether the new pistes result in bigger totals in the "overall kilometre of piste" figure published by big ski regions remains to be discovered. Some regions measure precisely their skiable kilometre total every time a new run is added; others stick to a round number. Dolomiti Superski, one of the world's largest, with 1,200km of runs, is in the latter camp: the number won't change despite 6km of new slopes for 2012-13.
"The 1,200km of slopes is a figure we use for marketing. The exact figure may be more than 1,200km, but we think that 1,200km is a good number to communicate," said Clara.
A little to the west, Madonna di Campiglio (campigliodolomiti.it) is creating three new ski runs. The most significant is the new Pancugolo run, which features a steep initial descent before levelling out a little as it joins the celebrated Canalone Miramonti slope which ends right in the centre of the village. Together they form a single 1,700m-long piste, which has been approved for World Cup racing.
At Cervinia (cervinia.it), which shares a giant cross-border area around the Matterhorn with Zermatt, there are two new intermediate level pistes: "Gran Roc" and "Vallone 5", created within the Pancheron and Cretaz sectors.
Across the Atlantic, resorts tend to add hectares rather than kilometres to their ski terrain. For the past decade the terrain of choice has usually been "gladed", which means skiing through lightly wooded slopes. Snowmass in Colorado, one of Aspen's four ski areas (aspensnowmass.com), will open nearly 100 hectares of new terrain just before Christmas. The newly accessible Burnt Mountain slopes will offer rolling, low-angle meadows, glades and spectacular views – but will be graded at advanced black-diamond level primarily because of the narrow, quite steep traverse out of the area back to the Two Creeks lift.
And in the north-eastern corner of North America, Stoneham (ski-stoneham.com) ski area near Quebec City in Canada will add two new gladed runs. La Biche (the French word for "doe") is a new intermediate trail in the Family Zone, and for the more advanced L'Urubu (a bird of prey) is a steep new double-black-diamond 300m descent.
However, if you want to relive that 1960s-80s expansionist feel, head to China where new resorts are opening by the dozen each winter. New for 2012-13 is Changbaishan Resort (bit.ly/ChiSki), with 43 ski runs in the Changbai Mountains in the north-east of the country along the North Korean border, featuring luxurious Sheraton and Westin hotel complexes at the base.
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