Who needs skis? Try a sled, or even a bike
From avalanche transceivers to woolly hats complete with false beard and moustache, innovations on the pistes continue apace
Sunday 06 November 2011
The other activities
Try out downhill mountain biking on snow at Les Menuires in the French Alps this winter. Roc'n bike costs €35 (£30) per person, including ski pass, bike and protective wear and gives participants two 4km-long descents under the watchful eye of a qualified supervisor.
Check out British-made Bobskis, a new high-performance sledge that's faster and more agile than most thanks to a unibody design made of lightweight PolarPol. You don't even have to go abroad to put it through its paces; the sledge works equally well on 5mm of rubbish British snow. Prices start at £45.
For another cool new way to slide about, try the Hammerhead sled, which is available to test in the UK's three SNO!zone indoor snow centres at Milton Keynes, Castleford near Leeds, or Braehead near Glasgow.
Need convincing? Well, I'm told "[they] have a patented G-Steering system, front polycarbonate and rear HDPE skis and are precision engineered to deliver muscular performance and bomb-proof reliability". So there.
Like zip wires, Alpine coasters are becoming increasingly popular year-round attractions in ski resorts. You take the chairlift up and get into a roller coaster car, which, unlike a conventional roller coaster on flat ground, uses gravity to send you back down the hill via various loops and bumps. The latest will open this winter as Les Planards in the Chamonix Valley. At 1.3km long, it features waves, flip flaps, jumps and twists, and, what's more, there are no age limits.
More than half of us now wear helmets, and they just keep getting better. Bollé's new Synergy adjustable helmet (£86) has a hybrid shell construction which consists of an ABS shell on top for impact and penetration protection and an in-mould shell on the bottom keeping it lightweight. The helmet also has two ventilation systems: an active ventilation system and a forced air-flow system to keep your head from overheating.
Polartec, the company that brought us the now ubiquitous fleece in the 1980s, has never actually had a go at making a waterproof breathable outer material for extreme conditions until now. That changes this winter with the company's new NeoShell material used in the Zion Jacket (£280) from Marmot , which combines the superior breathability, ventilation, and stretch of a soft shell with the waterproof performance of a hard shell. The jacket has just won an Apex design award and comes in three colours – red, blue and black.
"Powder skis used to be big, fat and straight. Brilliant in soft snow, terrible everywhere else," says Steve Wells, ski hardware buyer for Ellis Brigham. "Over the past few seasons this has all changed as radical new side-cuts and profiles/cambers have been perfected. Now there's a huge choice of skis that float effortlessly through deep snow, transition to variable and bad conditions without missing a beat, and lay down carves on hard pack like they were built for piste. All done with impeccable handling and the smoothest turns." Wonderful. Mr Wells recommends the Atomic Bent Chetler (£465), Salomon Rocker2 (£500), Armada JJ (£520), or Line Mr Pollard's Opus (£460).
If you want to test new gear on the snow before you buy, the Snowsport Industries of Great Britain will bring together more than 20 top ski brands at Braehead SNO!zone indoor snow slope next Saturday, 12 November, then Milton Keynes SNO!zone on Saturday 19 November, both days from 11am-4pm. Up to three hours on the snow costs £30 if you book in advance through the venues using booking code SIGBBIGSKI, and there's no additional cost to test skis.
If you're one of the growing number venturing off piste to enjoy freeriding, remember it's vital to know what you're doing and be carrying the right kit. Take a pre-season avalanche awareness course, organised in conjunction with the Ski Club of Great Britain at venues across the UK. And invest in an avalanche transceiver as part of your equipment. These are getting ever better and coming down in price, too. For example, the new Axis from Arva (£275) helps you to be found and allows you rapidly to locate others buried in an avalanche, offering both digital and analogue search modes to detect simultaneously multiple victims with a search width of 50m.
On a lighter note, I hear the Beard Beanie (£39.99) from Rosetta Trading is the "must have" this winter. A hand-knitted hat, beard and moustache rolled into one, not only do you get instant woolly facial hair but it'll protect your face from chilly Alpine weather and snow burn.
Tour operators and lodgings
Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski .co.uk); Inghams (020-8780 6680; inghams .co.uk); Club Med (0845 367 6767; clubmed.co.uk); Erna Low (0845 863 0526; ernalow.co.uk); TheMOOSER (themooser.at); Kaluma Ski (01730 260263; kalumatravel.co.uk); Rosapetra Spa Resort (00 39 436 869 062; rosapetracortina.it); Neilson (0870 333 3347; neilson.co.uk); Thomson Ski (0871 971 0578; thomsonski.co.uk); Villa Gella (villagella.com; pictured below); The Ski Club of Great Britain (020-8410 2022; skiclub.co.uk); Frontier Ski (020-8776 8709; frontier-travel.co.uk); Ski Independence (0131-243 8097; ski-i.com); InsideJapan Tours (0117-370 9733; insidejapantours.com); Esprit Ski (01252 618300; espritski.com); PGL (0844 371 2424, pgl.co.uk); Ski Solutions (020-7471 7749; skisolutions.com); Peak Retreats (0844 5760123; peakretreats.co.uk). Big Horn bighornrevelstoke.com).
Resorts, venues and events
Are (skistar.com), Glenshee (ski-glenshee.co.uk); Le Massif (lemassif.com); Alpe d'Huez (alpedhuez.com); Les Orres (lesorres.com); Nassfeld (nassfeld.at); Laax (laax.com); Kimberley Alpine Resort (skikimberley.com); Aspen (aspensnowmass.com); Brian Head (brianhead.com); Eagle Point (skieaglepoint.com); L'Alpe Fleurie (alpe-fleurie.com); Baqueira Beret (baqueira.es); Heavenly (skiheavenly .com); Valmorel (valmopass.com); Davos Klosters (davosklosters .ch); Crans Montana (crans-montana.ch); Aosta Valley (aosta-valley.co.uk); Chamonix Valley (chamonixparc.com); Val Thorens (valthorens.com); Obergurgl (obergurgl.com); Obertauern (obertauern.com); Les Menuires (lesmenuires.com), Mt Hutt (nzski.com); Afri-ski (afriski.net); The Snow Centre (thesnowcentre .com); SNO!zone (snozoneuk.com). Dick's Tea Bar (dicksteabar.com); Big Snow Festival (nomud.com); The Brits (the-brits.com; inset left).
Kit and gadgets
Bobskis (bobskis.com); Bollé (bolle.com); Marmot (marmot .com); Ellis Brigham (ellis-brigham .com); Arva (arva-equipment.com); Rosetta Trading (rosettatrading.co.uk).
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