What's hot in winter sports: the top 10

The new trends, the best deals, the cool gear. Colin Nicholson reveals the latest from the slopes for dedicated piste-bashers
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The Independent Travel

1 Spring-load your legs

"Ski all day without getting tired." That's the Mojo's catchline. Why waste energy bending your knees at every turn, when you can spring-load your legs with a pair of plastic shock absorbers hidden beneath your fashionably baggy ski pants?

Easy to use, the Mojo from Kinetic Innovation is best for red and blue run skiers who are not as fit as they used to be and may be carrying a bit too much weight. Tour operator Crystal is offering a free Mojo – usual price £289 including p&p – for keeps to anyone who books a Crystal trip for groups of eight or more. And a new, improved model became available last week.

Details: skiallday.co.uk , crystalski.co.uk

2 Snap up a freshers' deal

In an attempt to boost the number of skiers and snowboarders heading for the slopes, major tour operators are offering free lift passes, tuition and equipment hire to 1,200 first-timers who book a package through Crystal, Inghams, Thomson, First Choice, Neilson, Airtours or Erna Low. The freshers' ski week offer, which will save an average of £320 per person, is available at 46 resorts in seven countries – France, Austria, Andorra, Switzerland, Canada, Finland and Norway – in the fortnight from 17 January. Last season, Britons took a record 1.25 million winter-sports holidays.

Details: freshersskiweek.com

3 Get on your bike

Snowbikes are now available to rent in more than 100 resorts. Made by Austrian firm Brenter, the newest models weigh as little as 7kg – handy on chairlifts and cable cars – and are such fun you'll feel like a 10-year-old all over again. It's as easy as riding a bicycle. You skid your turns with the snowblades clipped on to your regular ski boots and stop in the same way. However, the bikes are less responsive than skis, so whether snowbikers will replace boarders as the new tearaways of the slopes remains to be seen. Most resorts will sensibly rent out snowbikes only if you pay for two hours with an instructor first. If you're persuaded to buy, the newest models are collapsible and can fit in your hold luggage.

Details: snowbike.us

4 Head to Bulgaria

Bulgaria is beginning work on the latest of its new resorts. Mechi Chal will be a €50m expansion of the local ski hill of the town of Chepelare. The country still offers some of the cheapest deals on the market, although Slovenia is also gaining in popularity.

Details: bulgariaski.com

5 Watch your speed

Reports abounded last winter that Switzerland was imposing speed limits and fines on piste. In fact, the story was triggered by two different initiatives. The not-for-profit Swiss accident insurance service Suva set up a radar speed gun at 13 resorts over the season and encouraged skiers and snowboarders to guess their speed, awarding prizes of a tube of sun cream for answers within 2kmph of the correct figure. The awareness scheme will be extended this season. Meanwhile, certain resorts have large banners giving a speed limit above pistes used by beginners, with faster skiers and boarders directed to less crowded routes. Vercorin is the latest to flag up a 20kmph limit on its Les Chardons piste, which is primarily used by small children learning to ski.

Details: myswitzerland.com

6 Let it snow

Last season records were smashed for the amount of early snow, but snow cannons saved the day for many resorts the year before. The fact remains that most resorts can operate only in sub-zero temperatures, although some resorts inject eco-friendly bacteria into the water that cause it to produce crystals at 2.5C, saving on energy costs. Now comes a technological breakthrough: engineering firm IDE has created an all-weather machine which has been successfully trialled in Israel at temperatures of more than 30C. The resort of Zermatt in Switzerland started using one of these this month to aid all-season skiing on the Trockener Steg glacier. The cannon works by injecting the water into a near-vacuum in a process that was discovered by chance in a gold mine in South Africa.

Details: zermatt.ch , ide-tech.com

7 Take the kids for free

In a number of countries ski resorts offer free lift passes to children aged seven and under, but from this season all the resorts in Andorra will offer lift passes for free to children aged 13 and below whose families book through British tour operators. Andorra – which caters particularly to the British market, with many native English-speaking instructors – is still the fourth most popular country for Britons booking through tour operators, after France, Austria and Italy.

Details: skiandorra.ad

8 Hit the heights

On 12 December, Whistler's Peak to Peak Gondola is due to open, transporting skiers and boarders the 4.4km (2.73 miles) from Whistler's Roundhouse Lodge to Blackcomb Mountain in 11 minutes. Previously, skiers and boarders had to ski back down to the village to swap mountains. With 28 sky cabins each holding up to 28 people, total capacity will be 4,100 passengers per hour. The highest vertical point is over Fitzsimmons Creek at 415m (1,361ft) and it will have an unsupported span of more than 3km (nearly two miles). The investment is part of Whistler and Vancouver's preparations to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. However, such openings have not always been without hiccups. The Vanoise Express, which was due to unite Les Arcs and La Plagne into one big ski area – Paradiski – last season, suffered technical problems. It is due to reopen on 20 December.

Details: whistler-blackcomb.com

9 Go green

This season will see hotels used by British tour operators rated by independent experts for their environmental credentials. The new Travelife scheme, run by the UK's Federation of Tour Operators, will see hotels apply for bronze, silver and gold awards for their contribution to sustainability, from energy and water usage to recycling. The programme is due to be expanded to include other aspects of winter resorts in coming years.

Details: fto.co.uk

10 Get heated

The Finnish resort of Yllas will this season feature a gondola cum sauna. Bookable by groups of up to 12 people at £100 each between 7pm and 9pm, the gondola can hold four people at a time on the 4km round trip, giving everyone two turns as the rest sweat it out in a sauna apartment at the top station.

Details: yllas.fi

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