The 10 ski essentials

Unusual resorts, ethical snow, ironic ski-wear, boots that fit... Susannah Osborne has the latest news from the pistes
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The Independent Travel

Looking good is what counts

Old school skiers have traditionally been of the opinion that skis should be admired for their performance and not their appearance. So skis have never looked very cool. But for new school skiers - those people who have embraced skiing as a way of life, much like surfers - ski graphics count for as much as performance. Skis have become a style statement and unless the graphics shout, "I'm young and I'm free" your cred rating on the mountain will be as low as the temperature. The brilliant K2 Skis ( www.k2skis.com) are leading the way in the graphic revolution with their much sought-after Public Enemy ski, which costs £390 including bindings (0870 444 5555; www.ellis-brigham.com). The graphic, an urban warfare scene, has been updated three times and is complemented by three metal studs on the tips and the tails. Women's skis are huge this season and the K2 MissDeameanor,price £350 including bindings (enquiries as before), is designed for women with equally gnarly graphics. Other ski brands that are working the visual thing include Armada ( www.armadaskis.com) - one of the first small, rider-owned companies to hit the mainstream - and Faction ( www.factioskis.com), whose block-print graphics have won them many followers.

The ironic all-in-one

Since skiing got its cool back, through the invention of twin-tipped skis, the cognoscenti on the slopes have started to compete with snowboarders for the title of Most Stylish On The Slopes. This season sees the return of the ski suit, but not as you know it. With a tongue-in-cheek nod to the crimes of fashion that still hit the slopes of Europe every winter, out comes the "ironic" all-in-one (in case you dig out your satin-look C&A number each ski holiday, the laugh here is on you). To pull off the look you have to be highly skilled on the slopes and especially in the terrain park, which admittedly is tough, but possible. Paraded on the catwalk of snow - the X Games (the Olympics of free sports) - last year, the Oakley Medic one-piece, price £349.99 (01462 475400; www.oakley.com), is the fashion statement of the season. The women's version, the Fast Operator, costs £299.99 (enquiries as before) and is more subtle, but still daring. If you can't quite bear to be totally zipped in, take a step back and try a matching two-piece, such as Burton's Port Authority Down Jacket, price £230 (00800 287 866 13; www.burton.com) and matching Vent Pants, price £140 (enquiries as before) in swimvest orange.

Ski boots that really do fit

For so long, and for so many, skiing has been a painful experience. If your ski boots have traditionally been vice-like contraptions with a propensity to cause rigor mortis below the knee, there is hope for you yet. Boot manufacturers have worked hard to make ski boots more comfortable. The choice now is greater than ever before, with boots for all shapes and sizes on the shelves. The Salomon 1080 Foil, price £200 (0800 389 4350; www.salomonsports.com), is the boot that pays homage to the company's 1080 ski - the first mainstream twin-tipped ski - and it's one of the most comfortable boots on the market. It comes with shock absorbers in the soles for freestylers who want to touch-down after a jump without rattling their teeth. Salomon's women's range, which includes the Siam 8, price £200 (enquiries as before) and the Irony 8, price £200 (enquiries as before), even has a furry inner for extra luxurious comfort. Getting that personal fit is essential to skiers who have boot issues. Boot liners can be moulded to the shape of your feet; footbeds, or insoles, will support your foot in the boot and even the plastic outer shell can be bent and stretched. But for a fully customised fit, Profeet (020-7746 0046; www.profeet.co.uk) will video-analyse your feet, map your foot-pressure and fully customise a boot, for a perfect ski fit.

Up, up and away we go

The only way is up ... that is for ski resorts wanting to make the most of their terrain and meet the demands of thrill-seeking skiers. The trend towards backcountry, or off-piste skiing, has put pressure on resorts to expand their expert level terrain. American resorts are responding to this by creating in-bounds "managed" areas, which cater to experts and where snowboarders with little or no backcountry experience can try skiing powder in a controlled environment. In Aspen, Colorado (001 970 925 1220; www.aspensnowmass.com), a new high-speed triple chairlift, the Deep Temerity Chair, on Aspen Highlands mountain, will whisk skiers and snowboarders 1,700ft in 7.3 minutes to a height of 12,500ft. The project, which was originally conceived in 1976, will open up 180 acres of new "expert terrain", including Highlands Bowl - an area of steep chutes and deep big-mountain skiing. In neighbouring Breckenridge (001 970 453 5000; www.breckenridge.snow.com), major building work over the summer saw the installation of the highest chairlift in North America, reaching 12,840 feet. The Imperial Express SuperChair will access 400 acres of expert and advanced terrain, which previously could only be reached by hiking. The lift is scheduled to open in mid December with a grand opening planned on 6 January.

Off-the-wall destinations

Fabulous for dropping into a dinner-party conversation: make a throwaway comment about skiing in a far-flung destination, or unheard of resort. Chile and Argentina used to be sufficient to impress, but alas these days you have to try harder than that. Poland is one destination that is on the up. The ironically named Sunshine World (01932 242 707; www.sunshineworld.co.uk) offers all-inclusive packages to Zakopane, Poland, the "birthplace of Polish skiing", where you can test the lifts and T-bars of the Kasprowy Wierch area. One to watch is Macedonia - the country is planning to spend £50m on a new resort in a joint venture with Greece. Called Mount Kuzof, the resort is due to open for 2006-07. And another to know about is Porte de Neiges ( www.portedesneiges.com) on the border of France and Andorra. Andorra's £95.5m decade-long expansion has changed the face of the Pyrenean principality but the next phase of the plan includes extending the Grand Valira resort over the French border to join the tiny ski station of Porté Puymorens to form a totally new resort.

The boutique hotel solution

You don't want a week-long holiday, you don't want the chalet experience - for fear of sharing a dinner table with competitive Jim, who can't even carve. And you don't want the anonymity of a 300-room hotel. It is the ski holiday dilemma. The solution is to find a boutique hotel, where you can come and go as you please and stay as long as you like. Hotel Telemark is a new 12-room chalet-style hotel tucked away in the forest, on the edge of the piste, in La Tania, a lesser known resort in the Trois Vallées. Decorated with suitably suave hues of chocolate brown, aubergine and cream (think small scale Hotel du Vin), it's a far cry from the chintz sometimes found in The Alps. The bar and bistro serves delicacies such as pan-fried tiger prawns with chilli, ginger and garlic on a saffron couscous and fillet of duck with roasted beetroot and parsnip chips, and a chocolate jus - fine alternatives to the ubiquitous fondue and tartiflette. La Tania doesn't suffer from the silly price syndrome of some of the other Trois Vallées resorts, and you get all the benefits of being in one of greatest ski areas in Europe. Hotel Telemark (00 33 479 08 80 32; www.hoteltelemark.com) opens on 16 December. Bed and breakfast costs from €55 (£37) per person per night, based on two sharing.

The package deal with style

A Club Med ski holiday was once likened to going to Butlins on snow. Screaming children, cabaret acts and all-you-can-drink-and-eat deals made for a naff time in the mountains. A discerning skier would not be seen dead nibbling peanuts at welcome drinks. But Club Med has grown up and has become rather attractive. The addition of a Cinq Mondes Spa ( www.cinqmondes.com) to the Chamonix Mont-Blanc Hotel, an Art Deco, architect-designed palace, has added a touch of real sophistication straight from the Square de l'Opéra Louis Jouvet, the flagship Parisian Cinq Mondes. What's more, a new, totally inclusive Club Med deal means that while you are rejuvenating after a hard day on the slopes, you won't have to worry about all the usual hidden extras of a ski holiday. Absolutely everything you could possibly want is now in your ski package: flights, transfers, accommodation, ski passes, ski hire, ski lessons, meals, snacks, beer, wine and soft drinks. You could forget to bring your cash card and make it through the week, no problem. Seven nights at Club Med Chamonix Mont-Blanc costs from £776 per person per night, based on two sharing, including flights, transfers and the all-inclusive package (0700 2582 932; www.clubmed.co.uk).

No pistes, no snow, no problem

As skiing joins the "free" sports gang - skateboarding, surfing, BMXing and snowboarding - so pistes become less important to some skiers.

The snowpark has become a central feature of freestyle skiing to the extent that designers are now employed by resorts solely to craft and shape the jumps, rails and half-pipes you find in the parks. For Park Rats who spend all their time nailing their "switch 360s" (360-degree rotating jumps starting backwards, to you and me), low snow falls are not as concerning as they are to powder junkies. As long as there is snow in the park, the rats will ski. In Europe, Les Arcs Apocalypse Snowpark ( www.apocalypse.ski-lesarcs.com) employs four full-time park shapers and has played host, several times, to the Quiksilver Quik Cup, a major world freestyle event. For details contact Les Arcs Tourist Office (0033 4 79 07 12 57). In America, Mammoth Mountain in California ( www.mammothmountain.com) has three "Unbound" parks, three half-pipes and its own professional team, which includes one of the world's best female freestyle skiers, Kristi Leskinen.

Ethical snow: how to recycle your undies

Patagonia ( www.patagonia.com), the environmentally sensitive maker of outdoor clothing and thermal base layers (essential to a warm day on the slopes), has launched a recycling scheme for its Capilene line of base layers. Through the Common Threads recycling programme, customers post or take their old Capilene base layers directly to one of the company's retail shops. Patagonia then re-uses fibres in the old layers to make the new ones - avoiding the energy-intense process of extracting all the fibres from raw materials. The company plans to make all new Capilene base layers with more than 50 per cent recycled materials by spring 2007. In addition, the company gives 1 per cent of its profits to the "preservation and restoration of the natural environment".

Who are you goggling at?

Fashion has made it on to your face, too. Ski goggles, which once served as vehicles for a ridiculous tan line and for poor eye protection, are now about fashion as well as hi-tech function. What you wear on your face counts. Lenses are made from space-age materials and come in hundreds of shades and tints, frames are unbreakable and each season a new brand enters the market. Anon Optics fits the mould of a young, innovative, in-the-know company - its high-end goggles will get you noticed and protect your eyes. The Majestic spotty, price £60 (00 800 287 866 13; www.anonoptics.com), is a "geometrically precise" women's goggle. Meanwhile, the stripes, tartan straps and neon pink of the Figment range, from £60 (enquiries as before), bring a touch of bling to the slopes. Electric is another buzz word in goggle-land. The Electric EG1, from £75 (00 33 558 70 02 40; www.electricvisual.com) is one of the most sought-after items of eye protection on the market. This season's must-wear is the Rasta-inspired green, yellow and red frame. Find it if you can.

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