Ski holidays don’t have to be about champers ’n’ chalets in Chamonix. There’s a winter holiday for you, whether you’re an off-piste adventurer, a hilltop hedonist or a glamorous snow bunny.
An Antarctic encounter
It’s the most impressive place to ski ever, so it’s not surprising that a custom-designed Antarctic adventure will cost you the equivalent of the deposit on a one-bed flat in Hackney (more than £14,000!). So for similarly wild terrain, long daylight hours and ultra-remote, super-steep 2000-metre runs dropping into three different fjords, look no further than the tiny Arctic oasis of Kangaamiut in west Greenland. It’s still steep (in price terms), but that’s because there are just three slots in which to enjoy this heli-skiing spot next year – April 25-May 1, May 2-8 and May 9-15. They’re each limited to 15 people each time, who’ll stay in houses rented from the locals and enjoy home-cooked meals after their physically challenging days out. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime experience…
Hard partying and the Alps go together like skiing and bad Spandex, not least because there are plenty of music festival packages luring hedonists their way. The biggest, Snowbombing, in Mayrhofen, Austria, is infamous for its fancy dress-themed street party and Arctic disco – a nightclub made entirely of ice – and it returns next April with a headline set from The Prodigy. Over in Andorra, they have their own version, The Big Snow Festival, which is back for 2011 with a similarly clubby vibe. For a more boutique feel, opt for the Black Weekend in Chamonix, which last year featured underground electro sets from the likes of Busy P and Drums of Death.
Planet-friendly accommodation may be springing up all over the planet now, but the seriously energy-conscious among you should snuggle up in a sustainable, carbon-neutral igloo. Iglu-Dorf has igloo villages across seven different locations in the Alps and the Pyrenees, including Andorra, Zermatt and St Moritz, some of which are available for overnight stays and even feature a whirlpool spa or sauna. Minimise your carbon footprint (and your overdraft) even further by travelling by train to your destination, which, according to the new Snow Carbon website, is more eco-friendly than any other transport method.
There are more than 20 winter pride festivals around the world, emphasising the gay-friendly side to ski resorts with specially laid-on après ski activities and nightlife. The oldest, Aspen’s Gay Ski Week (January 16-23 2011) is in its thirty-fourth year this season and will carry a Wild Wild West theme – don’t miss the Tree Trunks and Hunks party on January 19, where there’s hot-tub fun after the dancefloor antics, and check out new Argentinean nightclub, Hunter Bar. Over in Whistler, WinterPRIDE is a week from January 30 and has lesbian-focused events too. Closer to home, European Gay Ski week moves from Tignes to Alpe d’Huez in France this season, from March 26 to April 2.
When it comes to cuisine, skiing holidays don’t have to mean a steaming raclette and cold meats. Plenty of resorts cater for intrepid foodies as well as skiers, and the Alps are a melting pot of cuisines. Zermatt in Switzerland has been dubbed a gastronomic capital thanks to its top-notch mountain pitstops, and even gourmet-themed guided tours, available through luxury chalet specialists Mountain Exposure. French resorts Courchevel, Chabichou, Megeve and Chamonix, meanwhile, all boast at least one Michelin-starred restaurant each too. The Pistes Gourmandes food festival in Val d’Isere is from March 21 to 24 next year and comprises competitions, debates, lectures, demonstrations and cookery classes for adults and children.
Gourmet Ski Guiding
Gourmet Ski Guiding costs from CHF 275 (around £182) for one to four people per day if staying in a Mountain Exposure family chalet (www.mountainexposure.com). For more information on Pistes Gourmandes, see www.valdisere.com.
Hit the highest ski lift
Escape the hustle of European and US resorts this season at one of the world’s far-flung powder paradises – perfect for off-piste exploration. The slopes in the Indian Himalayas are among the most beautiful, and even if you’re going too fast to notice, think of the monkeys and bears watching you from the forests as you head down into deserted valleys, surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the world. There’s nary a fondue or vin chaud in sight either – instead, you’ll most likely find curry and chai at the gondola stations. Check out heli-ski resort Manali, which offers up to 3500 metres of vertical descent during its short January-to-February season, and the prettier Gulmarg in Kashmir, whose sole ski lift is also the world’s highest.
If you’re a skilful slopester and have a longer stretch of snow time to play with, you could qualify as an instructor during an 11-week course at resorts Fernie, Banff, Whistler or Red Mountain in the Canadian Rockies with Nonstop Ski & Snowboard. Training begins on January 10 2011 and prices start from £5,995 – among the best value in the market. If you just want to improve your style, however, it provides ski camps, ranging from six-week ‘Master the Mountain’ off-piste courses to two-week trips taking in all four Canadian resorts. They’re great for singles and start at the much cheaper price of £2,150.
Lebanon is commonly dubbed ‘the Switzerland of the Middle East’. It has five ski resorts, all within easy each of its capital, Beirut, which are bizarre yet brilliant (timid skiers, be warned– the Lebanese ski like they drive!). They’re fairly cheap compared to their Alpine counterparts too: a weekend day-pass ranges from £15 to £25 depending on the resort, while ski hire is around £6. Faraya is the largest, with a buzzing après ski scene; The Cedars has the longest season and impressive natural beauty; the family favourite is Laqlouq; Mzaar Kfardebian is the tamest; and Qanat Bakish a less crowded option. Lebanon is also one of the few places where you can ski and swim in the sea on the same day, so it’s not uncommon to spot snow demons in skimpy Speedos alongside burqa-clad ladies on skis.
We can’t all afford the glitz of St Moritz. Unusual European ski locations like Slovenia, Romania, Czech Republic and Croatia all offer cheap alternatives, but perhaps the most unexpected bargain ski spot is on Mount Olympus in Cyprus’ Troodos area. Built by the British army after World War II, little has changed since the resort was taken over by the Cyprus Ski Club in the ’60s. Consequently, it’s not one for serious skiers, with its mere four lifts, 16 trails and infrequent snowfall. But it is cheap. In 2009, the last time the ski pass prices were updated, a full-day pass was just €23, while neighbouring guesthouses start at €20 a night for a double room. Overall, it’s great for a short break during the winter weeks, when it’s less overrun by locals in pastel-coloured all-in-ones, and when the prices are considerably cheaper than spring. The best bit? Come the afternoon, you can relax on a glorious nearby beach.
Troodos ski season
The Troodos ski season runs from mid-January to mid-March. For more details on the resort and accommodation, see www.skicyprus.com.
No, not an ice-skating serial killer, but a spectacular open-air theatre show that takes place every April on the Rettenbach glacier stage 3000 metres above the lively Sölden resort. ‘Hannibal: The Crossing of the Alps’ follows the story of Carthaginian military commander Hannibal, who trekked over the Alps to Rome accompanied by his army, numbering 60,000 warriors and a herd of animals including 37 elephants, during the outbreak of the Second Punic War in 218BC. Phew. To recreate the historical story in authentic locations, there are 500 actors playing the warriors, including skiers, climbers, acrobats, skidoo-riders and parachutists, coupled with music, video and pyrotechnics. Powerful stuff. What’s more, the ski season starts to wind down around this time, so expect cheaper rates and rooms.
‘Hannibal: The Crossing of the Alps’ is on April 15 2011 in Sölden. For ticket details, which will be released in December, see www.soelden.com.
Who said that skiing is all about the great outdoors? At the Middle East’s first indoor ski resort, Ski Dubai, there’s no danger that you’ll go careening off the edge of a mountain. It’s huge, covering 22,500 square metres with snow, and you can do some serious damage on the black run or its Snow Park (bobsled, tobogganing, snowballs etc), the largest of its kind in the world. It’s part of one of the world’s largest malls (you sense the theme here…), perfect if you love the shops as much as you do the snow. For a wholly inauthentic chalet experience, book one at the next-door Kempinski Hotel, with its views over the slopes, from £617 a night.
Snow festivals are pretty common now, with artists hacking snow and ice into glorious shapes in Sweden (Kiruna Snow Festival), Japan (Sapporo Snow Festival), China (Harbin) and the US (North Lake Tahoe Snowfest) and beyond. But some of the finest frozen work can be seen at the Shapes in White festival in January at ice-cool resort Ischgl in Austria. International sculptors are encouraged to submit their designs and ten artists are invited to line the slopes with pieces to create a giant open-air gallery. This year’s theme is – topically – vampires, so expect the fanged ones to be on show until the end of May when, presumably, they’ll melt in the sun.
Shapes in White Festival
Sculpting starts on Jan 10 2011 and the awards ceremony is on January 14. For more information visit www.ischgl.com.
Scotland’s weather is unpredictable at best, but 2010’s serious-ish snowfall meant that it had one of its best seasons in years. Take a chance this year: the country has five snowy regions to pick from, spanning the Nevis Range, Glencoe, Glenshee, Cairngorm and the Lecht. The highest, Nevis, sits on the mountain of Aonach Mor, the eighth highest peak in Britain, and has a total of 12 lifts, 24 runs and extensive off-piste skiing running from December to May. There’s even an artificial ski slope for total beginners. Flexible pass options suit skiers and boarders on all budgets (a full day-pass is £29) and there is a huge list of hotels to self-catered lodges to choose from in the area.