The Best year-round skiing
Written by Brian Johnston
It’s March, and the mountains of the northern hemisphere are poised on the edge of spring. Sunlight is melting the snow, and by late April ski resorts will have closed, and be re-energising themselves for a more modest influx of summer hikers. But passionate skiers and snowboarders needn’t despair: the southern hemisphere awaits the winter. For an experience of eternal snow and year-round skiing, here are some top destinations.
Mont Tremblant, Canada – End of November to mid-April
State-of-the-art snowmaking equipment ensures that this resort, 80km north of Montreal, has a long season. In January though, the snow is all natural, covering the 100-odd trails and draped over the Laurentian Mountains, which provide fine vistas in the background. The skiing is varied, with schools for learners and steep challenges for the advanced, plus two snowparks for boarders. Adjacent Mont Tremblant National Park has snowmobiling, ice climbing, and dog-sledding. The elegant resort village is agreeably pedestrianised (and cobblestoned), allowing for relaxed après-ski lingering in its shops and restaurants.
Mzaar, Lebanon – December to March
Sitting at Kfardebian in the Bekaa Valley near Beirut, Lebanon’s best (and the Middle East’s largest) ski resort offers some 80km and 600 vertical metres of groomed runs, topping out at 2,465m with the chance to spot Beirut in the distance. The season sometimes stretches into April. Wide, easy slopes at the foot of the mountain cater for beginners, while upper runs are more suited to intermediate and advanced skiers. Incidentally, this may well be the only ski resort to boast ancient ruins: check out the Roman tower and Phoenician temple.
Jackson Hole, USA – November to April
The likes of Jack Nicholson and Uma Thurman ski at Jackson Hole, a Wyoming resort that, while attracting the rich and famous, retains a rugged cowboy flavour that lures outdoor types. Deep powder snow and the stunning Teton Range are reason enough to ski, snowshoe, or take snowmobile rides here. The more sedate can enjoy the warm waters of the pool at its luxe resort, from which steam rises gently. Snow surrounds you, and a vista of the Snake River Range flaunts itself on the horizon: Jackson Hole to perfection.
Hakuba, Japan – December to late April
Japan is a ski destination renowned for its very regular season, with as much as 15m of snow falling from December to the end of April. Hakuba, one of the Nagano Winter Olympic resorts in the ranges of the northern Japan Alps, offers magnificent skiing. But it also lures with the distinctive culture of Japan beyond the slopes, from snow festivals to hot spring resorts and temples. You can also visit the snow monkeys of nearby national parks. Many visitors add stopovers in cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto, extending the experience beyond just skiing.
Zermatt, Switzerland – Year-round
The Klein Matterhorn glacier is one of very few places in Europe where you can ski in May, thanks to its elevation at 3,883m, or a whopping 2,200m ascent from Zermatt village. The world’s highest and largest summer ski field has over 20km of runs and seven lifts, while boarders can enjoy a snowpark and two halfpipes. The fun is all over by early afternoon, when the sun starts to wet the snow. Above it all, the iconic Matterhorn peak looms. Views are breathtaking – though it may be just the effect of the altitude.
Queenstown, New Zealand – June to early October
The flight into Queenstown is spectacular, with the whole range of the New Zealand Alps laid out beneath you, cut through by glacial lakes and valleys. This is certainly one of the world’s most scenic ski destinations, a magnificently sited town surrounded by several ski fields, including Coronet Peak, Treble Cone, and The Remarkables. If you enjoy skiing more as a day out than a fitness challenge, you won’t be disappointed with the undulating terrain, variety of runs, several options for a sunny lunch – and those marvellous views on the horizon.
Perisher, Australia – June to first week of October
Missed the northern ski season? Don’t despair: head Down Under in June and the aptly named Snowy Mountains are just hitting winter. The Australian resorts offer a unique snow holiday experience through to September, on slopes dotted with eucalyptus trees and surrounded by the Kosciuszko National Park. Perisher offers 47 lifts for skiers and boarders across seven mountain peaks, and has a lively winter music festival and energetic nightlife. You can also experience good backcountry skiing, and hike to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak.
Cerro Catedral, Argentina – Mid-June to mid-October
By August in Argentina the ski season is in full swing – and continues well into September. This popular resort sits among jagged granite peaks near Bariloche in southern Argentina and has the largest terrain of any South American resort, with 37 lifts and 120km of runs, mostly suited to intermediates. There’s a good range of off-piste slopes for an additional challenge. Views over Bariloche’s Lake District are jaw dropping. The only downside: the sometimes-wet snow, since the resort sits at just 1,030m above sea level.
Portillo, Chile – June to October
This exclusive resort, two hours northeast of Santiago, is one for the experts, renowned for its steep terrain, challenging chutes, great off-piste skiing, and spectacular setting in the Andes on the shores of Inca Lake. When the snow is good, it’s brilliant, and short snowstorms are generally followed by bluebird days that provide the best of sunny skiing. Less-than-expert skiers needn’t worry: long, well-groomed runs will also allow you to get a taste of this fabled South American ski destination, and a good ski school gets beginners on their feet.
Tignes and Val d’Isère, France – October to mid-May
Tignes lies just 15 minutes from Val D’Isére and is open 10 months of the year for glacier skiing on La Grand Motte and La Grande Casse. Val D’Isére itself started life as a farming village, and is now a sprawling collection of restaurants, supermarkets, holiday apartments, and chalets, hiding original slate houses at its centre. No one claims it’s the prettiest ski resort, but it offers outstanding and scenic skiing. You will never have to ski the same slope twice on your ski holiday and, for the experts, the area is noted for its off-piste runs. The vibe is youthful and energetic, without the old-fashioned snobbery of some neighbouring resorts, and restaurants and nightlife provide a party atmosphere.
Kitzbühel, Austria – November to April
Fashionistas in pink ski outfits and furry hats set the tone in Kitzbühel, an Alpine town of cobbled streets and pastel-coloured houses. Fashion boutiques and chic cafés abound, but not everyone is here just to look good. Kitzbühel has some of the best skiing in Austria, including the famous World Championship Hahnenkamm run. There are also terrain parks for boarders and superb off-piste powder. The sheer variety is impressive; take a bus up to Hollersbach and you can spend the day on a ski safari back to Kitzbühel without resorting to the same chairlift.
Levi, Finland – December to April
Are there better places to ski in December? Certainly, though Finland’s most extensive ski resort offers great accommodation, restaurants, and an enviable ski infrastructure, as well as guaranteed snow. But Levi sets itself apart on several counts, among them husky and reindeer sledding, ice karting, snowmobile safaris, and even ice rally driving. Plus the kids can embrace the winter festivities at Lapland. Also unforgettable is the spectacle of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) unfolding in the sky in a kaleidoscope of violets, electric blues, and eerie greens above the region’s frozen lakes and forests.
Resorts in the European Alps are well geared towards families. Look for the ‘Families Destination’ logo in Switzerland and ‘Famille Plus Montagne’ logo in France, given to resorts with a range of equipment rentals, accommodation, entertainment, childcare, and play areas for children. Of the major ski resorts, Verbier, Wengen, and Klosters in Switzerland, Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis in Austria, and Flaine and Avoriaz in the French Alps are great for kids, with facilities such as ski schools, toboggan runs, and dedicated kids’ play zones. In North America, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge in Colorado and Heavenly in California come out top for family-friendly amenities, such as child-friendly ski runs and non-skiing mountain activities and events; as does Sun Peaks in Canada with its skating rink, bungee trampoline, and tube park.