Want to be the coolest on the mountain?

Perfect powder, hot hotels and revamped resorts. Arnie Wilson unearths this season's stories for skiers and snowboarders
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The Independent Travel

1 On the move in your ski lodge

1 On the move in your ski lodge

Most heli-ski lodges remain rooted to the spot while the clients whirr about in the mountains. But a Canadian company has come up with a lodge that moves too. Or rather floats. Sea to Sky Helisports and Megayacht Adventures (001 604 935 3228; www.seatoskyholidays.com) is hoping to lure wealthy skiers to Vancouver to try heli-skiing from a yacht. The idea is that they take off each morning in an A-Star helicopter to spend the day visiting virgin snow in the nearby Coastal Range before touching back down on the deck. While they enjoy luxury accommodation and splendid food, the helicopter - which accommodates four skiers plus a guide - is lashed to the deck for the night. While the skiers are off enjoying what they hope will be perfect powder, the yacht moves up the British Columbia coast, enabling the heli-skiers to launch themselves into a new area each day. The 230ft yacht, Absinthe, has 11 double cabins, carrying a total of 22 people. Each "stateroom" has an en-suite bathroom, stereo/DVD, plasma or LCD flat screen TV, satellite/cellular phone and email/web access, and "large portholes" to view passing wildlife. The cost - from £6,663 for eight nights - includes a night at a five-star hotel in Vancouver or Seattle, and limousine transfers.

2 Modern makeover for old-world Stowe

How do you revamp a venerable old resort without ruining its charm? That's what the owners of Stowe Mountain Resort - the oldest and most upmarket of New England's ski areas - are grappling with. It won't affect the quaint, Christmas-card village of Stowe itself, with its white clapboard homes and white-steepled church, since Mount Mansfield's slopes are a six-and-a-half mile ride out of town (once described by Charles Leocha, an American writer, like this: "The trolley. Makes. A lot. Of stops. Between town. And. The. Mountain."). A new "alpine community" base village is taking shape, to be known as Spruce Peak at Stowe. And Stowe is investing heavily in new lifts, trails, snowmaking and base lodges. All the buildings will have underground parking, so cars are tucked out of sight. "The trick is honouring the past without allowing our facilities to feel ancient," says the resort's PR director, Kirt Zimmer. Inghams (020-8780 4444; www.inghams.co.uk) offers packages in Stowe, starting from £359 per person. This includes seven nights' room-only hotel accommodation based on four sharing, return flights with British Airways from Heathrow to Boston and transfers. Lift passes and equipment hire are extra and can be organised through Inghams from £221 for six days.

3 Testing trails at Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, just voted the country's top ski resort by America's Skiing Magazine, has opened up some challenging new terrain - the Crags. Previously a permanently closed "inbounds" area, the Crags provides approximately 200 acres and 1,000 vertical feet of expert terrain above the Casper Lift area. The bowls, chutes and some good tree-skiing will all now be accessible via the Headwall "Stairway to Heaven" or from the top of Après Vous mountain. For an averagely fit, expert skier the hike should take around half an hour. The Crags will be snow controlled and, depending on weather conditions, will have a similar opening schedule to Casper Bowl and the Headwall. As well as the new Crags runs, the new JHMR trail map lists many existing runs that were previously unnamed. To celebrate the new terrain, Jackson (001 800 443 8613; www.jhrl.com) is offering a special package to expert skiing and snowboarding guests for $449 (£264) per person, based on four sharing. This will include four nights' lodging, a three-day lift ticket, a mountain guide for half a day with access to the mountain before the public. This will allow guests to get "fresh tracks" in the Crags and other areas. Flights and transfers are not included. The nearest international airport is Salt Lake City.

4 Turin's champion challengers

To many people's surprise - particularly in Sion, the Swiss favourite - Turin was awarded the next Winter Olympics in 2006, and this winter there's a good opportunity to sample the slopes before the athletes. They are mainly in the so-called Via Lattea (Milky Way) resorts of Sestriere, Sauze d'Oulx, Cesana-Claviere, and Sansicario, linked at one end of the circuit with Montgenèvre, a resort just across the French border. Once this entire area was French-speaking, but Mussolini introduced new pronunciations to make the towns' names sound Italian. The Milky Way resorts - which between them provide a fairly easy circuit that can be skied all the way to Sauze and back - share some 400km of marked runs. The region is undergoing major improvements, including new lifts and pistes. You can visit the men's downhill, slalom, Super G, giant slalom and freestyle slopes in Sestriere and Sauze d'Oulx, the slopes where the women's events will take place at Sansicario and the luge, skeleton and bobsleigh locations at Cesana, try cross-country at Pragelato, or even make your way to Pinerolo to try your hand at Britain's national snow sport ... er ... curling. Neilson (0870-909 9099; www.neilson.com) offers packages in Sestriere, starting at £325 for seven nights based on six sharing. This includes return flights from Gatwick to Turin with Thomas Cook, self-catering hotel and transfers. Ski and snowboarding packages including passes, tuition and equipment are additional and can be organised through Neilson from £242 per person per week.

5 Eco-friendly in Quebec

Skiing in Canada summons up images of noble Rocky Mountain peaks blanketed in snow, and major resorts such as Whistler and Lake Louise. In Quebec, the image is a little different. At the little-known but startlingly picturesque "resort" of Le Massif de Petite-Rivière-Saint-François ("Montagne sur Mer"), about an hour from Quebec City, the scenery is provided by the broad and icy St Lawrence river, and the views are breathtaking. The resort has the biggest vertical drop in the east of Canada (2,526ft), and some of the slopes seem almost to hover high above the river, giving skiers a bird's-eye view of ice floes glinting in the chill winter sun as they drift slowly downstream. Le Massif, once known only to the cognoscenti, is developing a significant profile now that C$5m (£2.3m) is being spent to improve it. In August, a battalion of workers swarmed over the site, cutting six new trails, and building a quad lift and snow-making system. Le Massif is part of a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve, and special care was taken over the new runs: a vegetable trellis was created from cuttings, while hay mulch has been spread over each of the steep pitches and around all waterways for added protection. It should all be ready by December.

Frontier Travel (020-8776 8709; www.frontier-ski.co.uk) offers tailor-made packages in Le Massif from £535 per person. This includes seven nights' hotel accommodation in Quebec City, flights with Air Canada from Heathrow to Montreal and eight days' car hire. Lift passes, which are additional, can be organised through Frontier Travel. A six-day pass costs £115.

6 On safari in a gondola

Nothing wrong with the town - Kitzbühel is a delightful, medieval, walled community with gabled houses, archways and colour-washed façades. The problem with the skiing (apart from some of the lowest slopes in the Tyrol) has always been the Safari tour. Or at least, how to get home. The resort's showpiece slopes - not counting the dreaded Hahnenkamm (Cockscomb) downhill, the steeper parts of which should be seen but not skied unless you have Franz Klammer's technique - required you to take a taxi for a shortish distance to get to Jochberg. And later to take a bus - usually packed - to get home from Pass Thurn at the far end of the ski area. Most visitors are keen to try part or all of the Safari, and this winter an important new gondola across the Saukaser Valley between the resort's two main areas - Hahnenkamm-Pengelstein and Jochberg-Pass Thurn - will eliminate the need for the taxi link and, more importantly, enable skiers and boarders to return from Jochberg and Pass Thurn to Kitzbühel on snow.

Made to Measure (01243 533333; www.mtmhols.co.uk) offers tailor-made packages to Kitzbühel, starting at £895 for seven nights, including return flights to Innsbrück, half-board and car hire, based on two sharing

7 Going underground in Val Gardena

In the Dolomites, the breathtaking limestone monoliths named after Déodat Sylvain Guy Tancrède de Gratet de Dolomieu, a new underground funicular almost a mile long - the Gardena Ronda Express - is being built beneath Val Gardena. This is the celebrated World Cup location where Britain's Konrad Bartelski came within 11 hundredths of a second of being the first British skier to win a World Cup downhill in 1981. Val Gardena is home to the resorts of Selva, St Cristina and Ortisei. The funicular, with a capacity of 2,000 people per hour, will run from the arrival area of the Saslong downhill slope in St Cristina to the ski area of Col Raiser and Seceda on the other side of the valley. Guests in Ortisei will be able to reach Selva-Gardena and the 50km Sella Ronda circuit for the first time without using a car or the ski bus. The Sella Ronda tour, circling the breathtakingly beautiful Gruppa Sella mountains, takes skiers through dozens of villages and hamlets and four regions. You can ski it clockwise or anti-clockwise from Val Gardena, Val di Fassa, Alta Badia or Arabba. The route takes you through four passes: Sella, Pordoi, Campolongo and Gardena.

Thomson Ski (0870-606 1470; www.thomson-ski.co.uk) offers packages in Selva from £319 per person based on two sharing. This includes return flights from Gatwick to Verona, transfers and seven nights' bed and breakfast hotel accommodation. Ski packages including passes, equipment hire and tuition start at £276 for six days.

8 A tent for the night in Switzerland

Nestling in the snow at 5,577ft above the Swiss resort of Villars is something new in the way of accommodation for back-country skiers: The Whitepod (07787 515406; www.whitepod.com) - a glorified tent shaped a little like a large igloo, heated all night by wood-burning stoves. "This is not just another hotel," say the owners. "In fact it's not a hotel at all. It's your home in nature, far from the crowds." There's no reception desk and no check-in or check-out. Everything is paid for in advance. Access is on skis or snowshoes. There are five white pods, which all serve as high-tech bedrooms for up to 10 guests, and a huge vinyl window and skylight allow them to gaze out at some of the finest mountain scenery in Switzerland. Meals are served in a nearby chalet. The minimum stay is two nights, at a cost of 550 Swiss francs (£230) per person per night, including all meals and drinks. Although Whitepod "applies strict ecological principles to help the beautiful environment" - and despite the blissful arrangements and silent scenic nights - guests can go heli-skiing by paying an extra Sfr200 (£90).

9 First resort for Four Seasons

The Four Seasons group has opened its first resort hotel in a Canadian ski area: at the base of Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, British Columbia. The "retreat", comprising 273 guest rooms, suites and townhouses, is just minutes from the slopes. It promises "the scenic splendour of one of North America's top mountain resorts, wrapped in Four Seasons comfort and intuitive personal care". It may have learned something from the problems at its counterpart in Jackson Hole, the first Four Seasons hotel to be built in a ski area, which opened last winter. The catering staff were not, it was said, geared up for the idea of swift breakfasts.

The Four Seasons Resort Whistler (001 604 935 3400; www.fourseasons.com/whistler), Blackcomb Way, Blackcomb Mountain. Doubles from C$245 (£107).

10 The hottest destinations

In case you fancy a change of scene, remember you can ski in some unlikely places. Mention India and people look startled - until you remind them that it just happens to be the location for a large chunk of the Himalayas. An $8m gondola is being assembled at Gulmarg, an old hill station in the idyllic but war-torn province of Kashmir, where it's claimed "you can ski for a whole day for the cost of two cups of coffee in the Swiss Alps". The new lift will be 5km long and the first of a major ski area to reach 4,000m. One of the most exciting heli-ski operations in the world, Himachal Helicopter Skiing, operates out of the trekking town of Manali in Himachal Pradesh. Then there's Cyprus (on Mount Olympos in the Troodos Mountains), 13 resorts in Turkey, including Uladag and Mount Palandöken (10,253ft), the highest and biggest, in eastern Anatolia, not far from the borders with Georgia and Iran, which themselves have some fine skiing: there's exciting heli-skiing in Gudauri, Georgia, and excellent slopes near Tehran, at the foot of the Elburz mountains. Greece has several areas, including Mt Parnassus, and Japan claims to have 600 resorts. In Russia, Mount Elbrus (18,510ft) is recognised as Europe's highest peak.

Arnie Wilson is editor of The Ski Club of Great Britain's magazine, 'Ski and Board'. He has skied in more than 600 resorts, and entered 'The Guinness Book of Records' in 1994 after skiing for 365 consecutive days in 240 resorts in 13 countries

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