Over the past 20 years no resort has hit the winter sports world headlines as often as Whistler in British Columbia. Coming from way down the world rankings the resort shot to the top of the reader survey popularity charts in North American consumer ski magazines in the early '90s, and has stayed there ever since. Not only a North American phenomenon, Whistler has pulled in package tour operators from all over the world by the dozen in recent years and topped 'favourite foreign resort' polls in countries like Japan. Whistler hosted most on-snow events (except snowboarding, ski-cross and frestyle) at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, fulfilling its creators dreams 50 years earlier of creating a resort to host the Olympic Games. It now attracts more skiers and 'boarders than any other resort on the North American continent. The resort began life as recently as 1966, with its 'municipal inception' a decade later. Since then an incredible 2.7 billion Canadian dollars have been spent making the resort what it is today. The reasons for the unprecedented enthusiasm in Whistler today are many. Perhaps you start with the fact that North American ski resorts are recognised as having the best service standards and lift systems in the world, then you consider that Whistler has the best lift system in North America, with the most high speed lifts in the world. Secondly you might add in to your musings that Whistler has not one but two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, lift-linked together, providing the biggest ski area in North America. Oh, and these two mountains also have one-mile of vertical, which is some of the largest lift accessed terrain in North America. Indeed the 'Blackcomb' effect can't be overstated. Originally developed by Intrawest in the mid 1980s, their first major ski resort project, it provided valuable competition for Whistler mountain for well over a decade before the two came under joint Intrawest control. Whistler is big enough to ensure a vast range of choices on and off the slopes when you're not riding up and sliding down the slopes - around 100 restaurants and 200 shops plus a huge choice of accommodation (more of it slopeside than anywhere else in North America) and activities. Finally there are little things like the proximity to a major international airport; the favourable exchange rate of most countries, including the US, to the Canadian dollar; the status of having the only lift-served summer glacier skiing in North America; the uncrowded slopes; the vast choice of terrain. Of course the residents and fans of Whistler will tell you that these are just the ingredients, and it's that 'something else', the feel of the place, that makes it truly great. The only negative factor that any critics, desperate to find a flaw in the apparently nigh on perfect ski resort, can find, is that its low elevation and proximity to the Pacific can mean rain rather than snow at base level at each end of the season. Whistler's view is that the low base is a boon because, although they have some of the biggest verticals in North America, the top elevation is not as high as resorts in Colorado, so altitude sickness is not a danger for Whistler's guests. The proximity to the coast also means that it doesn't get overly cold - just cold enough for an average 33 foot dump of powder each season.
An ideal beginner resort oozing Tyrolean charm and voted the most beautiful village in Austria by Austrians themselves in 1983 and then awarded 'most beautiful flowering village in Europe' status a decade later by an international Jury during the 'Entente Florale' competition. Alpbach is located in one of the valleys that runs off the main River inn valley, 57km (36 miles) east of the Tyrolean capital, Innsbruck. Alpbach's natural beauty, apart from the generosity of mother nature, can in part be attributed to Alfons Moser, the mayor for more than 30 years from 1945 to 1979. He ensured as early as 1953 that local building regulations insisted that all new construction was completed in the traditional Tyrolean architectural style. The village's 2500 year history has therefore not been compromised by modern development, which includes an excellent indoor pool complex. The oldest houses are in the neighbouring community of Inneralpbach, linked to the skiing of Alpbach and is 4km away. It is a quiet, ideal beginner resort. The area's rich history is well documented. It was christianised in the 8th and 9th centuries by monks from Ireland and Scotland. St Oswald, the former king of Northumbria in England, is patron saint of the village church, which has a steeple dating back to 1440 and a nave to 1754. Copper and silver were discovered in the 15th century and mining continued for more than four centuries, after which farming became the dominant industry until the advent of tourism in the 1930s. This began after the first road reached the resort in 1926 and by 1938 there were 110 guest beds. Although this number has now increased to more than 2700 beds - still a modest figure by modern standards - the resort is clearly proud that it still has just over 100 farms operational, just as a century ago. Because of its isolation until the first half of this century Alpbach has many unusual local 'twists' on traditions, a lot of which survive to this day. Locally produced farmers and miners furniture is still evident and highly sought after by collectors. A local brandy was until recently, produced in one of the five old miner's houses in the village, two of which remain inns, as they were several centuries ago. Among its many claims to fame, Alpbach hosts the European Forum annually when groups of thinkers from all over Europe come together for discussions. Established at the end of the war in 1945, the forum has attracted personalities from the worlds of politics, economics, science and culture for the fortnight long convention. The staging of this annual event was a major factor in the awarding of the European Flag in 1985 by the Europarat organisation in Strasbourg. The resort's international status away from winter sports doesn't end there, the convention centre is named after Paula von Preradovic, who wrote the lyrics for the Austrian National anthem whilst the large lecture hall is dedicated to Professor Erwin Schrödinger, a Nobel prize winner who is buried in the local church yard.
Saariselkä is a popular year-round holiday village which offers a unique selection of activities to visitors. It is located in the "heart of Lapland," a semi-autonomous region which stretches across northern Scandinavia and is home to the Sami people. The resort is in the province of Ivalo on the eastern side of Finland, which continues on to the Russian border. Saariselkä is the northernmost winter sports centre in Finland, 250 km (approx. 160 miles) above the Arctic Circle and a similar distance from the Arctic Ocean to the north. This makes it Finland's and one of the world's most northerly ski resorts. But it is conveniently located just 20 minutes drive from Ivalo airport. Most visitors find the vast wilderness area surrounding the resort stunningly beautiful, with low hills or fells covered in pine forest frozen in suspended animation by temperatures which typically hover a few degrees below zero in the winter, although they can drop to 20 or 30 degrees below. The locals are well prepared for such cold temperatures however, with thermal wear loaned out and a lovely snug feeling once you're indoors. The clear 'blue light' and horizontal winter sunshine is particularly magical. The sense that the wilderness continues on, uninterrupted, up toward the North Pole, gives an exciting feeling of being in a very different type of ski resort to the typical Alpine village for many guests. The area has a higher population of reindeer than people and again most guests enjoy meeting these peaceable creatures. Saariselkä is within the Urho Kekkonen National Park named after Finland's former president. It was once home to legions of gold panners after the precious metal was discovered in the Ivalojoki river, the huts they built are still to be seen in a few remote locations. The first gold claim in Saariselkä was made in 1871 and the first gold rush began. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries a second, larger gold rush began and Saariselkä came in to being. In 1902 the Prospektor gold mining company began work to cart trail from the resort and the first cars arrived in 1914. Development as a tourism destination is relatively new with the resort planned in the mid-1960's and the first modern restaurants and hotels opening in the 1970s. In 1978 Kiilokappeli-chapel was built and the National Park was created on May 5th 1983. Given the northerly latitude there is of course a good chance of seeing the northern lights. With short winter days those chances are even greater. In common with other northern resorts, downhill skiing and boarding is one of a selection of winter sports and activities available but not the dominant one. Guests are equally likely to go snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or dog sledding as downhill skiing. Indeed cross country skiing is far more popular. Saariselkä itself is made up of low lying hotels and other buildings, varying between cosy little shops and cafes to a few giant eateries and nightclub that are the norm in Scandinavia's major resorts in order to accommodate sometimes big lively get togethers. British winter tourism to Saariselkä has been organised by Headwater Holidays (www.headwater.com) for several years and is now also offered by Inghams.
Half a dozen of Andorra’s ski villages, including the best known resorts of Pas de la Casa and Soldeu, share a common ski area called Grandvalira. This is the name by which the ski resort prefers to be known – like a giant French resorts such as La Plagne and Les Arcs – one ski area with ,multiple base villages; however decades of being separate ski resorts mans many people still call the area by individual resort village names like Pas de la Casa and Soldeu. But however important the name may seem to marketing people, the reality is that the experience is the same. Whichever village you stay in you’ll have access to a very big ski area, indeed now one of the world’s 50 largest as well as the biggest in the Pyrenees, and with some of the planet’s most up to date lifts too. These now straddle the border in to France as well as taking up a large swathe of North Eastern Andorra itself. The different villages are of course of different sizes and have different facilities, but the lift pass issued at each covers the full ski area between them all. Andorra itself is a tiny duty free principality in the southern Pyrenees. It’s a country ideally suited to snowsports with its high snow sure mountains and almost Mediterranean. Its ski areas have seen constant development for many decades, growing from “Cheap and cheerful” in the 1970s and 80s to be increasingly sophisticated in the 1990s and since 2000 with modern lift infrastructure, ever expanding ski areas reaching world-class dimensions and resort bases moving up market. Grandvalira came about in 2004 when the previously fiercely competitive resorts of Pas de la Casa and Soldeu, which had spread their ski areas across the mountains to meet each other, finally buried the hatchet and became a single ski area – Grandvalira. It has six key bases or access points, including Pas de la Casa, Soldeu, El Tarter, Grau Roig, Canillo and Encamp. The largest of these is Soldeu which sits between Pas de la Casa and El Tarter. Soldeu is a typically lively, high value, friendly Andorran resort with a larger than average ski area. The biggest investor in skiing in the Pyrenées during the 1990s, the resort added a new eight seater gondola for the 1996/97 season and new hotels. Then for 1999-2000 the resort again made a huge investment with three new six seater chairs together with a second eight seater gondola. It continues to invest as part of Grandvalira today. Soldeu is a modern, dynamic resort set in dramatically picturesque surroundings. First rate for bumps and moguls - Soldeu is a regular venue for freestyle mogul comps. The base at El Tarter is more traditional and many visitors choose to stay in the town of Canillo, 4km (2 miles) down the valley which has the lion's share of the 'off slope facilities' in the area. Access to the resorts is simple with the Funicamp (mountain cable car) making the journey from Encamp, Andorra's most central village, in 14 minutes up to the slopes - a journey which would previously have taken four times as long on a winding mountain road. As well as being one of Andorra's most popular ski resorts Pas de la Casa is also a border town - the gateway into the country from France. The name Pas de la Casa (literally Pass of the House) derives from the days when all you would have found there was a shepherds' hut which served as a landmark for travellers crossing the River Ariege. Nowadays it is a busy border control manned by customs officers checking on the numerous visitors who come here either solely for the duty free shopping or to enjoy the variety of snowsports on offer. It is popular with the young French and Spanish too who frequently make the border crossing to enjoy the unrestricted nightlife in this unique Catalan snow-filled Tijuana. The skiing at 'Pas' was first developed in 1957 by Francesco Viladomat, a local businessman, it started with only one draglift and gradually grew with more lifts introduced every year. Until 1976 the station was on one mountain only, the Peak of Envalira; by the 1980s it had spread to Monmalus and the Peak of Cubil up to the area of Cercle de Pessons and the Cortals d'Encamp. Until the 1950's Andorra's economy centred mainly on the summer pasturing of sheep and cattle and the harvesting of tobacco, rye, olives and grapes while industry was limited to processing these products and the production of handicrafts. Since then tourism has taken over as Andorra's main source of revenue, exploiting its scenic mountains and recognising the massive potential for wintersports. Due to the lack of customs duties and low or non-existent taxes, Andorra has become an important international centre of retail trade attracting millions of shoppers from all over Europe to its duty free haven. The 1990's brought dramatic changes to Andorra and its massive financial investments have brought Andorra's sports facilities, both on and off the mountains, firmly into the 21st century.
One of the world's major ski centres, the Grandes Rousses ski area above Alpe d'Huez is a huge and high domain served by an extensive lift system. The resort itself is one of Europe's highest and largest with a massive vertical drop, crowned by the Sarenne Glacier. Built above the original village of Huez, the resort has expanded in all directions over the past 20 years. Today the resort is big and vibrant with far more shopping and 'things to do generally' off the slopes than in most other ski centres, especially by French standards. Architecturally the place is a mish mash of traditional Alpine chalet style wood and stone buildings, some rather ugly rectangular concrete developments and one tasteful modern construction. There are two huge beginners areas directly above the resort and those going on to the top of the lifts will be able to see a fifth of France, on a clear day, from the top station. The resort has a reputation for both good snow falls and good sunshine with south facing slopes - the areas protected by 900 snow cannon. Alpe d'Huez is one of the most southerly located major international resorts in the French Alps.
Borovets is the oldest and the biggest mountain resort in Bulgaria, well known internationally, in part because of the excellent value it offers compared to other top resorts around the world. Virtually all of the major mass-market international tour operators are here. Borovets is known also as a good place to start skiing in a fun and unintimidating atmosphere, with a highly regarded ski school and without risking a huge spend on something you're not sure you're going to enjoy. The resort does, however, have some expert skiing and a specialist advanced-level ski school to help you make the most of it. Another selling point is the lively and varied nightlife, again fired on by the low prices and exuberant atmosphere. The downside of Borovets can include varied conditions on the piste. Although the north facing slopes have some of the best snow conditions in Eastern Europe this is not always comparable to the Alps. Some visitors have also complained of unhappy experiences in their accommodations and the restaurants, although many report the opposite. Established at the end of the 19th century as a hunting centre for the former royals of Bulgaria, Borovets has gradually developed into a modern ski centre with a wide range of accommodations. Fortunately most of its growth in the modern era has not been too disastrous, with the large hotel complexes generally shaped rather than rectangular, sometimes wood clad and always set within the forest. The resort is situated at 1350m above sea level on the northern slopes of the Rila mountains among ancient pine woods. The local mountain, Moussala (2925m) is the highest on the Balkan Peninsula. It's an easy resort to reach, only 73km (45 miles) from the capital Sofia. The nearest town of Samokov is 10km (6 miles) down the road from the resort. Visitors to Borovets should take a few practical steps to counteract local practical instabilities and uncertainties. You should also take your money in hard currency, such as US dollars, as Eurocheques, travellers cheques and credit cards are not widely accepted. Where credit cards and travellers cheques are accepted there's usually a heavy surcharge of around six per-cent on average. Non mainstream currencies and, for example, Scottish sterling bank notes or torn or damaged money are not welcomed. Many visitors will find they need a visa to enter Bulgaria and should check on this prior to travel.
One of the few serious contenders for the title of "World's Most Famous Ski Resort", Chamonix Mont Blanc (as the resort prefers to be known) has the world's biggest lift-served skiable vertical drop of 2807 metres ( 9209 feet ), one of the world's longest runs through the Vallée Blanche at 22 km ( 13.7 miles ) and staged the World's first Winter Olympics in 1924. Beyond these spectacular statistics is Chamonix's relatively undisputed status as the world's tough mountain sports capital, the subject of endless ski magazine reports each season from editors wishing to prove they descended between the glacial crevasses and lived to tell the tale! For lesser mortals there are plenty of on-piste kilometres to soak up, all dominated by the spectacular scenery of Mont Blanc, Western Europe's highest peak (and Europe's second highest after Mt Elbrus in Russia, although some dispute whether Elbrus is in Europe). Chamonix's history has been traced to Bronze Age times and its current status was confirmed in a report as far back as 1751 when the locals were described as "the most uncompromising men in Europe". Ten years before that Englishmen William Windham and Richard Pococke had been on the first recorded tourist trip, reaching the Mer de Glace. The first skis in the valley were spotted in 1893 and by 1907 one of the world first cable cars, 'Les Glaciers' was in operation (since removed). Six more were to follow between 1927 and 1963. The Mont Blanc Tunnel opened a few years later ensuring first rate access infrastructure in to the future. Chamonix Mont Blanc itself is a lively town with its own character, not just one created every winter season and reinvented every summer. That character reflects the attitude of its residents and of most visitors - a true love of the mountains.
Scotland's best known ski area is 10 miles (16km) east of the lively village of Aviemore. There have been dramatic improvements here in recent years and a vast array of non-ski activities are now available to counter the traditional problem - unpredictable weather.
The resort boomed in the 1960s when the 'Aviemore Centre' a complex of unattractive rectangular hotels and apartments was built, rapidly deteriorating in to an eyesore during the 1970s and 80s and bringing the image of the rest of Aviemore down with it. Subsequent face lifts and new leisure and accommodation options which have developed around the resort and over the past three years or so has sidelined the Aviemore Centre and Aviemore today is very much a 'reborn' resort. The old Centre is now called "Aviemore Highland Resort" (AHR)
The long planned new funicular railway which opened in 2001 provides a more modern, comfortable and reliable method of transportation than the former Car Park and White Lady Chairlifts. The funicular is almost two kilometres(1.2 miles) long and climbs to a height of 1097m (3600ft) taking approximately six minutes to reach the top (slowed down in summer to allow visitors time to take in the scenery). Replacing the Ptarmigan Café is a modern, panoramic restaurant, visitor exhibition and shop. With the completion of the funicular fewer skier days will be lost due to poor weather.
Cairngorm's first chairlift was installed in 1961 and since then the facilities have increased so that there are now 13 of the 17 original lifts and tows providing an uplift capacity of some 8042 skiers per hour enjoying 40km of ski runs which extend into 2 adjoining corries, Coire Cas and Coire na Ciste. Some of the original uplift is not used now due to the increased capacity of the Funicular Railway.
The old gaelic name for the Cairngorm Mountains is "Monadh Ruadh" meaning red mountains - you can see why on a fine summer evening in Aviemore as the setting sun seems to cast a red glow over the pink granite rock of the Cairngorms. After Ben Nevis, the Cairngorm Range of mountains have the highest peaks in the UK with Cairngorm itself being the 5th highest at 1245m (4084 ft.)
As well as being popular with skiers, climbers and walkers the Cairngorms have an impressive range of environmental and scientific credentials. The area is home to the UK's largest National Nature Reserve and Europe's largest privately owned bird reserve. Scotland's largest National Park, Cairngorms National Park, (Pairc Naiseanta A' Mhonaidh Ruaidh) was established here in September 2003. It is the home to a unique and special place, 17,000 people and 25% of Britain's threatened birds, animals and plants. It includes moorlands, forests, lochs and glens. It has also been proposed as a World Heritage Site for its outstanding geological and geomorphologic features. As such it is considered to be one of the UK's best examples of sub-arctic habitat and is home to some of the UK's rarest birds and plants, including snow bunting, dotterel, ptarmigan and the famous Ospreys which breed at nearby Loch Garten.
Ischgl is a large but traditional Tyrolean village below one of Austria's greatest and highest ski areas, crossing the border to be linked with Samnaun since 1978, making a unique Austro-Swiss ski area. Considering its status today as one of the best and largest ski areas in the Tyrol, Ischgl has been something of a late developer. It survived as a predominantly farming community despite hardship causing increasing migration until the late 1950s, with the first cable car opening in 1963. Indeed Ischgl's current success is a remarkable turn-around for a village which once had to send its children over the border to tend cattle in order to make ends meet, a practice so common that the children were even given a name, 'Schwabenkinder'. Although there are now more than 9000 tourist beds, making this one of Austria's biggest resorts, the local population remains below 1500. The 200km (125 mile) ski region is one of the largest in Austria (at least partially) and with a vertical approaching 1400m up to 2872m it is much higher and bigger than some of the country's other big name ski areas like Kitzbühel. Ninety per-cent of the ski area is above 2000m making this a particularly snowsure area with a long season, traditionally culminating in a big 'top of the mountain' concert at the end of April, which in the past has featured some big stars like Elton John, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan and Diana Ross. The concert and many other aspects of the area such as its status as a snowboarding mecca all contribute to make Ischgl one of the coolest resorts in the Alps. The resort's more recent developments have lead to Ischgl being one of the best designed ski areas in Austria and indeed the world. It has hi-tec lifts, including a funitel (ultra-stable high-capacity gondola running on two cables rather than the usual one) and a double decker cable car rapidly accessing the slopes, and slopeside lodging offered by many properties. Although customs regulations between Austria and Switzerland are described by the resort as 'lax', you should still carry your passport as customs official have the right to check it, and observe shopping 'import' restrictions when returning from the duty free shops of Samnaun to Austria and the European Community.
Arguably France's most exclusive resort, well located at the eastern end of the world's largest truly inter-connected ski area (Trois Vallées) and with some of Europe's best on and off-slope in-frastructure, Courchevel would rate in the top 10 selection of resorts around the world for most dedicated skiers. Unsurprisingly Courchevel shares the reputation of St Moritz, Aspen or Lech for exclusivity and high prices but, equally unsurprisingly, the tourist board is keen to point out that it is possible to stay at and enjoy Courchevel 'on a budget'. The view from a distance gives little clue to the presence of exclusive boutiques, luxurious chalets and the wonderful restaurants serving dishes of high gastronomic calibre. The first winter tourists arrived in the valley in the 1930s, with the resort 'taking off' in terms of popularity in the late 1950s and the '60s, particularly with the opening of the Saulire cable car in 1950. Today Courchevel has its own special Charter which ensures hotels, restaurants, shops and other businesses provide the best possible service and open as advertised throughout the season. The resort is made up of five different base stations, all self-contained villages and all known by their altitudes, (1300 which still calls itself Le Praz and the other authentic Savoyard village Saint Bon). The best known of the five, and the one on which the resort's reputation is based, is the highest and largest - Courchevel 1850.
Sunny, high-rise purpose-built centre with direct-to-snow access from all lodging, it is lift linked to La Joue du Loup. SuperDévoluy has a quiet vibe and is perfect for families, not for partying. There's a good skier/boarder mix, prices are good compared to much of the Alps, it's not posh and not for serious big mountain fans or powder perfectionists.
Alta Badia is a pretty Italian area that includes the villages of Corvara, Colfosco, La Villa, San Cassiano, Badia and La Val make up the Alta Badia ski area in the Dolomite region of Italy's South Tyrol. Franz Kostner, a famous mountain guide, was the pioneer of modern tourism in Val Badia. At the end of the 19th century Franz and his brother Ojop climbed many famous peaks including some in the Himalayas. On his return to Val Badia he saw all the possibilities for tourism in the area and started by founding the "Automobile Company" - before then Val Badia was only accessible on foot or by horse-drawn coach. In 1908 along with his wife Ottilie, Franz Kostner opened the first hotel in Corvara, the Posta Zirm which today has one of the most popular night spots in the village - the Taverna Posta. Alta Badia is linked to the Sella Ronda - one of the most famous ski tours in the Dolomites - which has famous skiing valleys radiating off it like spokes from a wheel with almost all of them lift-linked. The Sella Ronda runs around the Sella Massif - a vast, vaguely square shaped mountain of rock that juts out of the earth with jagged sides. Its spectacular to look at but difficult to cut a piste through so there are gentle trails leading around the gently sloping base, the circuit of which is some 25km (16 miles) long and possible to complete in a day. The Dolomites take their name from the French aristocrat and geologist Déodate Guy Silvane Tancrède de Grandet, Lord of Dolomieu. He was born in 1750 in an age when science, exploration and discover were highly fashionable. Dolomieu explored the mountains of Italy, Tyrol and Graubünden but whilst in the South Tyrol he discovered a type of mineral consisting of calcium magnesium carbonate, the main component of the renowned 'pale mountains' which were eventually named after him. The First World War was devastating for Val Badia and the other Ladin valleys. For 4 long years, the Dolomites were the scene of bloody conflicts and battles which ended in the deaths of thousands of soldiers on both fronts. It was above all a war of position where surviving the adverse climatic and living conditions were added to the continuous struggle. The routes and scars of those battles, which had their most hard-fought fronts in the Col di Lana, Tofane and Marmolada, are still recognisable in the Dolomites. At the nearby Marmolada there is a museum to the history of World War 1 in this area and a model of the ice town which was built in the glacier by the elite Austrian mountain troops, the Kaiserjager. The "ice town" was an 8 mile labyrinth of tunnels and trenches carved in ice and rock by the troops and lived in by many soldiers between 1916-17. This incredible feat of engineering is slowly melting as it becomes visible, but other remnants of the era are now the targets of souvenir hunters - items include sardine tins, weapons, used rounds and boots - all over 80 years old. The Dolomites are an impressive example of an area where 3 languages and cultures meet - the German speaking areas of the Tyrol, the Italian-speaking provinces of Trentino and Belluno, and the Rhaeto-Romanic or Ladin areas in the Val Gardena, Badia and Fassa Valleys. Once considered a dialect, Ladin has only recently been recognised as a language. In Val Badia and Val Gardena, the 2 Ladin valleys in the Province of Bolzano, the Ladins are recognised as the third ethnic group and consequently their language and culture are protected. Ladin is now taught in schools, is used in public administration, and there are radio and TV programmes in Ladin. There is even a Ladin newspaper "Usc di Ladins" which is published weekly. This new awareness of the Ladins is confirmation that, for these mountain people, their intention and desire to keep their history, language and culture alive is deeply rooted.
Axams is a pretty, traditional Tyrolean village located on a sunny terrace above Innsbruck and surrounded by the breath-taking scenery of the Tirolean Alps. Both it and its neighbouring village of Gotzens share, the Axamer Lizum ski area 700 vertical metres above. This was a major centre for the Innsbruck Olympics of 1964 and 1976, hosting many of the downhill events. It's possible to ski back down to both villages when snow cover is adequate on black and red runs. The Axamer Lizum ski area suits all standards but there is no slopeside resort, just one very nice four star hotel and several restaurants. Most people choose to stay down in Axams, Gotzens or even Innsbruck. All villages, the city, seven surrounding ski areas and a bus service connecting them all are included in a multi-region pass.
Andalo, with its neighbouring resort of Fai della Paganella, has been a ski destination since the early years of our sport. The two resorts, above the town of Molveno, share the Paganella ski area, which has been fully modernised with new quad chairlifts and almost complete snow making coverage. Andalo, a well equipped but relaxed resort is located on a wide plateau between the Brenta Dolomites and the Paganella massif. The area is surrounded by the magnificent peaks of the Dolomites with spectacular views of the Adige Valley. Paganella was a major stop on the competition circuit in the early years of winter sports and the famed '-Tre' rce was staged here for many years. Mark Girardeli and Ingemar Stenmark competed here. Today Andalo has a wide range of activities available year round and has built a solid reputation as the base for excursions on foot, ski, horseback or on a snowmobile, day or night, with plenty to do in the rest itself too where there's a good choice of bars, restaurants and a lively organised après ski scene.
Alba is an attractive small resort located at one end of the Fassa Valley, with it's own ski area on Ciampac and easy access to the Sella Ronda via the nearby lift access at Canazei. It's also close to the Marmolada Glacier for snow-sure skiing. Val di Fassa is a key and famous ski region in the Dolomiti Superski, rich in history, culture and natural beauty. Its ancient history is dominated by its Ladin heritage and the Ladin language is still spoken, alongside German and Italian. The skiing of Val di Fassa/Carezza and its neighbouring Tre Valli's skiing is spread over eight separate ski areas ranging in size from 10km above Alba to 30km above Moena/San Pellegrino. They officially add up to 150km of trails, but as all are on the Dolomiti Superski ticket, and as the lifts above Canazei lift link to the Sella Ronda circuit which lift links Val Gardena, Alta Badia and Arabba like spokes on a wheel, also all on the Dolomiti Sperski ticket, the area claims there are approximately 200km of skiing "in and around" Val di Fassa. The addition of Val Gardena and Alta Badia make this claim in fact a rather conservative estimate, the reality nearer double that total. Canazei is a very attractive, lively roadside village set below well forested slopes. It has grown to become the largest of the villages in the Fassa Valley, probably due to the fact it is the main resort for direct access to the Sella Ronda. Campitello is a traditional village set back from the main road. The beginners slopes in the village are particularly good and there are several lively bars nearby. Vigo and Pozza di Fassa are particularly attractive villages each with their own cosy ski areas and perhaps the strongest influence of history and culture in the whole valley. The large village of Moena stands on the border of the Fassa Valley and the TreValli sectors of the Dolomiti Superski and is the closest resort in the area to Bolzano.
Located in the Engstligen Valley, Adelboden is a traditional mountain village in the Bernese Oberland - one of Switzerland's main tourist areas. Not so many years ago skiers made up the vast majority of winter holidaymakers visiting the Bernese Oberland but recent surveys have shown that increasing numbers of visitors are now discovering the well prepared hiking paths this region has to offer. Popular with the European nobility and artists of the 19th century, the first English winter visitors arrived in 1901 attracted by the spectacular scenery with its towering peaks, mountain lakes, alpine streams and wild flowers. Situated beneath the Wildstrubel which rises to 10,600ft, Adelboden is located at 1353m above sea level, its southerly aspect ensuring that during the winter months it gets around 9 hours of sunshine per day. The slopes are, however, predominantly north-facing thus ensuring good snow cover throughout the season. This is a modern ski area, lift-linked with neighbouring Lenk by a network of over 210km (131 miles) of pistes. Six miles apart as the crow flies, the two villages are separated by a variety of skiing terrain creating one of the largest and most attractive wintersport regions in Switzerland. The two resorts are essentially quite different, Adelboden is the larger with a more extensive infrastructure. Both centres have gained the prestigious Swiss "family friendly" seal of approval and as such offer facilities and assistance specifically for families. Adelboden has become one of the classic venues for the annual FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup series. Usually timed to take place just before or just after the Lauberhorn race at Wengen its one of the few races still held on the original course down the treacherous Chuenisbergli. This slope requires great technical skills and only big names have made it to the winners list. Italy's Alberto Tomba took almost ten years to master the course before celebrating his first success there while Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark had five wins between 1979 and 1984. During those years the race venue was moved to a higher part of the mountain at Tschentenalp in case of lack of snow. The World Cup race has turned into a mountain party for the 25,000+ spectators with lots of activities and receptions around the finish area and Adelboden's delightful alpine atmosphere making this a very appealling venue for visitors and ski teams.
Originally established by a British winter-sport enthusiast back in the late 1930s, and still very much an Anglo-centric resort, Meribel is located at the centre of the world's biggest linked ski-lift network in France's world-class Three Valleys (Trois Vallées) ski domain.
Davos today is the largest and most successful of the first breed of classic ski resorts. Europe's highest town has successfully consolidated its significance in the early years of winter sports by constantly improving its ski area so that it has remained one of the world's best. At the same time developments in the town itself have kept ahead of the pack and of equal or greater value to Davos are its world class medical institutions and its international status in playing annual host to world leaders in staging the World Economic Forum. The Davos local authority, which includes the town, outlying villages and countryside, is the second largest area within Switzerland, larger even than the city of Zurich. The many facets of this remarkable resort mean that tourist office marketing slogans such as "Europe's most extensive alpine resort" are not exaggerations. The town spreads along the valley floor for several miles with the more concentrated western section named Davos Platz, and the eastern Davos Dorf. The architecture is generally of grand design rather than being particularly picturesque, however the whole is attractive in its way, and the scenery around certainly spectacular. The main off-slope leisure facilities are nicely placed between the two halves and the major access lifts to the ski slopes are also well spaced throughout the town. Davos's growth as a mountain sports resort developed out of its existing status as a leading health resort in the late 19th and early 20th century. In years gone by Davos provided tuberculosis sufferers with sanatoriums, but today there are highly specialised institutes providing, in particular, therapy for allergies, respiratory illnesses and dermatological complaints. At the turn of the last century up to 700,000 overnight bookings a year were being registered from visitors mainly for the health benefits (this was an increase on an annual figure of two visitors in 1866). The resort's importance as a pioneer in winter sports cannot be under stated however: Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, is thought to be the first Scot to travel on skis, travelling from Davos to Arosa and the world's first T Bar lift was installed at Davos in 1934.
VallNord comprises the lift and ski run connected ski areas above Pal and the village of Arinsal, as well as another ski area at Ordino, Arcalis - so essentially three areas for the price of one! Many tour operators and skiers still refer to these villages individually rather than under the new collective marketing name of VallNord. The area has long been rightly famous for its fun and friendly environment, excellent English speaking ski schools and high value, often lively apres-ski, particularly in Arinsal. However the past decade has also seen a distinct move up market with ever higher quality evident on and off the slopes. Some prices have risen as a result of this, but VallNord remains markedly more affordable than the other Andoran ski area. Until the 2000/01 Pal and Arinsal were two separate resorts and of course they remain two separate villages. However for that season the two resorts and ski areas were linked and both resorts began to market themselves jointly. This was followed by another marketing merger, this time with the Arcalis ski area (also known as Ordino). Together the ski areas became known as VallNord. They are the latest of many resort mergers in Andorra so that the country which once had ten or so fragmented ski areas, now officially has just two ski resorts. Since the 1990s Andorra has made massive financial investment into its ski facilities and Pal - Arinsal, as well as the country's other resorts, has seen rapid development. For the 98/99 season Arinsal's first gondola lift was installed reducing the time needed to reach the ski area down to only four minutes. As well as the new gondola in 1998/99 both resorts renewed and extended their snow gardens therefore improving their facilities for children. Arinsal was established in the early 1970s when the Western end of the La Massana Valley was developed. It is an attractive but rather spread out Catalan village, to the north of Andorra la Vella, the capital. The village itself is typical of quaint Pyreneen villages, attractively built in the typical local style slate and stone. The village is only nine kilometres (six miles) from the Spanish border and is famous for its young atmosphere. It is very lively and rapidly expanding (expect building work!). Andorra, is, of course, a country well known for its extraordinary duty free shopping, Arinsal is a year round holiday destination but especially popular during the skiing season when seasonal workers outnumber locals six to one. First opened in 1982 Pal lies at the head of the la Massana Valley to the north west of Andorra la Vella, the country's capital. The ski resort, one of five in Andorra, located between France and Spain in the Eastern Pyrynees. The resort itself is located in the centre of a National Park - an area of spectacular natural beauty, one good reason why people return to this area year after year - another being the extensive duty-free shopping in the country. During the 1990s Andorra made massive financial investment into its ski facilities with all the Andorran ski resorts undergoing major developments . Pal is no exception and in recent years the resort has made several improvements. The opening up of the Seturia sector, mid-way between Pal and neighbouring Arinsal, added three new pistes, a quad chairlift, snow cannons, new car parks and more restaurants. Arinsal has invested in a completely new, modern snow park. The Seturia Sector, mid-way between Arinsal and Pal was also opened up in preparation for the addition of Andorra's first cable car and further extending the skiing area and facilities. The 2000/2001 season saw the consolidation of investments with the spectacular Seturia cable car linking Arinsal and Pal into one extensive ski resort. A first for the Pyrenees, each cabin takes 50 people - on the six minute ride from its base in the Coll de la Botella to its summit at Port Negre, a distance of 2,376m. Ordino-Arcalis, the newest of Andorra's four ski resorts is located in the north-eastern corner of this tiny duty free principality. Although its on the French border there is no entry into France - the access point is on the other side of the country at Pas de la Casa. Arcalis first opened in 1982; very recent in comparison with the other Andorran resorts. This is a purpose built resort with no slopeside accommodation, the closest lodging being at El Serrat 7km (4 miles) away and Ordino approximately 12km (8 miles) away. With the Ski Andorra lift pass it is now possible to ski all of Andorra's resorts on one pass so visirtors wanting to ski at Ordino might also consider staying in the capital, la Vella and travelling to each resort. Ordino is probably the most culturally attractive town in Andorra and, considering the redevelopment which has taken place in the country over the last decade, the old part of the town has remained more or less unscathed. For centuries the Parish of Ordino was devoted to mining and metallurgy but its principal revenue now is from tourism - especially its winter tourist trade. There are still some traditional activities, mainly tobacco and potato farming, and farmers do still raise livestock. Ordino has a distinguished history and in earlier times it was this Parish which housed all the powerful Andorran elders such as the Casa d'Areny de Plandolit in Ordino, a rank which dates back to 1633. The villages of the Ordino valley, with their ancient stone and slate roofed buildings, are totally in harmony with their natural surroundings, perhaps this is why the area has been twinned with the mountain resort of Gstaad in Switzerland. The parish church was built between the 16th and 18th centuries and houses the smallest and most ancient madonna in the principality "la Verge del Remei" (our Lady of Recoverance) in romanesque style. The National Auditorium represents Ordino's strong musical tradition, the outer shell of which dates to 1930 when it was erected as a National Museum. It was then purchased by the Government in 1991 and beautifully rebuilt in local stone and walnut.
Filzmoos is a pretty little village, perfect for families, with a long tradition and dominated by the twin towers of the Bischofsmütze mountain. Filzmoos was a successful mountain resort destination in the area before winter sports when the well to do arrived from Salzburg and Vienna to sample the air so the tradition of hospitality has been deeply engrained here for many generations. Today the resort stages a famous ballooning festival every January and other specialist balloonists gatherings through the season - the Night of Balloons when the balloons are floodlit from within at night time is especially spectacular. The small local ski area is best suited to non-experts, but the village participates in one of the largest lift pass areas in Austria, the Ski amadé. This offers nearly a hundred times as much skiing in neighbouring villages, some of which are lift-linked to one another although not to Filzmoos. In total there are nearly 870km (600 miles) of trails on the pass, served by more than 250 lifts. Back in Filzmoos there is also a big advantage against many of the other picturesque villages in Austria in that the gondola lift base station is right next to the centre and a short walk from most of the accommodation there - this differs from many where it's a long walk or a ski bus ride perhaps a kilometre or more out of the village to actually reach the lifts.
An international resort of town-sized dimensions, Bad Gastein in the Hohe Tauern mountains has a long history of tourism pre-dating winter sports by many centuries. Today it is a town of grand appearance with classically designed hotels with shades of white and pale yellow cutting up in to the skyline. The town grew up, as its name might suggest, on 17 natural healing thermal springs which still rise directly beneath it as they have for the past 3000 years. After a hard day skiing the 250km (170 miles) of trails on the Gastein Valley Pass it's possible to bathe in the open air in the rock swimming pool complex filled by the hot natural springs. Bad Gastein's spa treatments were recognised as far back as the 13th century, but its skiing potential only came to light in the 1950s after the first cable car in Austria was opened here in 1950 and the Ski World Cup of 1958 subsequently drew further attention. However the resort remains as famous for its curative abilities as it does for its winter sports facilities, with the healing powers of the Gastein Thermal Gallery particularly highly praised. This was created by miners digging for gold who discovered that, despite the hard work, their rheumatic pains were getting less, not greater. The sense of the importance of water to Bad Gastein - be it bubbling up through the rocks below or turned to snow on the mountains above, is everywhere, and emphasised most visibly perhaps by the spectacular waterfall that cascades down by the town.
Avoriaz represents a break-through in modern resort design. While ski centres in the 1960s were being 'thrown up' or developing in areas of great natural beauty in France, Italy, Switzerland and North America, Avoriaz was arguably the first to consider the importance of architectural design. Two aspects of design also - firstly the layout plan, secondly the architecture. Built on a cliff edge above the already successful French resort of Morzine, Avoriaz still seems 'space-aged' and unique 40 years on. Sitting on the border with Switzerland, at a snowsure altitude, car-free and in one of the largest lift-linked ski areas in the world, it has a lot going for it. From a great distance it can be seen standing out against the white mountains but, because its style is so important, it appears more as a sculpture than a sprawling resort. Nearer to it, the effect changes to tall angular buildings that shine gold in the sunlight and right up close you realise that this isn't an especially hi-tec construction, the buildings just being clad in natural local red cedar wooden slates with plenty of glass, giving it a rather warm feel. The buildings are supposed to blend in to their natural environment, and in a way they do, although it should be stressed that the resort is well above the treeline on a vast snowy plateau. The architects created a large square in the centre of the resort and put a children's tobogganing slope in the middle. At one side of the square there is an open-air ice rink, on another a festival hall. The resort is designed so that all accommodation is slopeside with access over snow only. Avoriaz has its own TV and radio channels broadcasting events information and snow reports in several languages including English.
Steamboat, nicknamed "Ski Town USA" offers a large ski area, great off-the-slopes activities and a huge variety of terrain. The modern Steamboat resort slopeside ski development is three miles from the old cowboy town, which maintains a genuine feel whilst full to the brim with modern thriving shops (and a few old ones). In terms of après-ski pricing this is a very high value resort, thanks to the competition between businesses and the lack of pretentiousness, used as an excuse for higher prices at some other top Colorado resorts. Steamboat has one of the longest histories in North American and indeed world skiing history and it's picked up many additional attributes along the way. Top of the list for many is the excellent powder snow that falls in abundance here, the resort that invented the term "champagne powder". Skiing started here back in 1913 when a young Norwegian, Carl Howelsen, introduced the sport to the local Yampa Valley Community. He could never have realised the impact he would have on this small northwest Colorado community nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Today, the oldest ski area in Colorado, located in downtown Steamboat Springs, still bears his name Howelsen Hill. On this same mountain, five year olds train towards their Olympic dreams and World Cup competitors fulfill theirs. Today, most of the town's 43 past and present Olympians (that's more than any other town in North America) still call Steamboat Springs home.
One of Colorado's most popular resorts, with North America's highest skiing since 2005, when the resort opened the world's highest chairlift. The ski area is spread over four peaks. Breckenridge is not purpose-built but an original mining town with 171 listed buildings. It is the most popular US destination for European skiers and is consistantly one of the three most popular ski resorts in the US in terms of skier visits with somewhere around 1.5 million annually. The skiing is served by around two-dozen lifts, including an impressive number of high-speed chairs, and spreads over lift-linked mountains with double-black diamond bowl and chute skiing above. Off the slopes its a busy and vibrant resort with an excellent range of eating, shopping and other leisure facilities, made all the more pleasant by the backdrop of historic buildings. In 2007 a new gondola opened connecting the resort toiwn to the base of Peak 8. At the end of the day skiers and boarders can ride back via the Skyway Skiway. The resort's history is a long one - with the Ute Indians knowing it for around 10,000 years as Nah-oon-kara before European settlers discovered Gold in the area in August 1859. It then took less than a week for a town of 360 acres to be established and for more than a thousand miners to arrive. The Breckenridge Ski Area first opened in 1961 with two chairlifts serving a handful of runs on Peak 8, operated by a timber company, After a Denver businessman set up Breckenridge Ski Corporation in 1966 it was bought and owned by Aspen for almost two decades up to 1988 during which time the resort opened Peaks 9 and 10, introduced snow making and installed the world's first high-speed quad, starting the on-going high speed lift technology revolution in 1981. Breckenridge broke the 1 million skier visits record in 1988 when the resort was sold by Aspen to a Japanese company. In 1993 Peak 7 opened and a company called Ralston Purina bought Breckenridge from the Japanese owners. This company merged with Vail Resorts in 1997 to form the largest mountain resort company in the US, owning Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek
Fieberbrunn is a typical and rather spread out Tyrolean village in the Pillersee area which has been attracting winter guests for well over a century. The first lift was built here in 1949 and for the past decade or so the resort has been reinventing itself as a mecca for snow freaks - with fun terrain features, a very snowboarder friendly attitude and a lively après ski scene. The local ski area's top lift height of 2020m is not high compared to many famous Alpine resorts, or the 36km (23 miles) of runs particularly large, the area benefits from legendary snow cover thanks to the local microclimate - which gives it the most average annual snowfall in the Kitzbühel Alps. The resort itself is about 5 minutes away from the ski lifts by ski bus although there is accommodation spread along the road between the two and you can stay on or near the slopes. The resort is on the Schneewinkl area pass with neighbouring St Johann or Waidring and several other famous resorts linked together by a ski bus service. For those with their own transport and staying a week or more it is also part of the giant Kitzbüheler Alpen ticket which covers a large number of ski areas in the region including those of the Skiwelt and Kitzbühel itself - over 700km (450 miles) of runs in total.
Nevis Range is Scotland's, and one of the world's, newest ski resorts. Aonach Mor, the mountain you ski on, translates in gaelic as 'Great Ridge' and at 4006ft (1221m) it is indeed Britain's eighth highest peak, dominated by neighbouring Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK at 4406ft (Ben Nevis is next but one along on the Fort William side).
Since the 1930's adventurous locals have been enjoying skiing on the slopes now known as the 'Snowgoose' - so called because come spring when the snow melts it makes the shape of a flying goose! It wasn't until the 1970's that the area's economic potential began to be realised and a feasibility study was carried out into the building of a ski lift here. It then took until the 80's for the granting of outline planning permission for a ski development. From then on it was just a year to the day from the initial 'sod cutting/ground breaking ceremony' to the opening of the resort just before Christmas 1989.
In keeping with modern resort development requirements, contractors worked to strict guidelines set down by environmental organisations to protect the area - no tracked vehicles were used hence all the movement of men and materials was carried out by helicopter with diggers and dumper trucks being airlifted - if a particular truck was too heavy it was disassembled and taken up in sections - or, as with the pylons, a heavier helicopter was used. The site has been designated an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).
The six-seater gondola - unique to Scotland - provides skiers with a warm, dry ride up to the slopes - something never previously experienced. The ride attracts over 200,000 passengers each year.
The skiing area at Neivis Range practically doubled in size for the 1995/96 season with the opening up of the Back Corries. What was once a massive "wilderness area" was opened up to intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders with the installation of the Braveheart Chairlift. When snow conditions allow it is possible to ski the Snowgoose on Midsummers Day when daylight continues for ALMOST 24 hours.
Brand is a well established ski centre that has been fashionable since the 1950s. It is especially easy to reach on the autobahns from Zurich or Germany. In recent years tourism from further afield has tailed off a little as the masses have headed for the bigger and higher altitude ski areas. Although the spectacularly beautiful local mountain scenery includes peaks like Scesaplana, which towers 2000 metres above the village up to 2965 metres, the ski lifts only go up to 2000m. However as many of the afore-mentioned 'super resorts' become over crowded and the mass of downhillers who only reach the slopes for a week every couple of years realise that they don't actually need 'cities up mountains' and access to far more terrain than they can possibly ski, then Brand's attributes will no doubt return to the fore. Its unspoilt scenery and strong traditions will be major assets in the future. Queues here are rare and being located at the head of a valley, with no through traffic, means that most of the sounds you're likely to hear are those of skiing and après skiing. In the meantime the resort has continued to capitalise on its young, lively and fun image with an enthusiastic program of on and off slope events far beyond its size. Snowboarding and the still more recent 'new trend' sports have been adopted with gusto and there's a great choice of lively bars and things to do besides sliding.
Québec has three main skiing areas; the Laurentians, the Eastern townships and the Greater Québec area which is where Mont-Sainte-Anne is located along with nearby Stoneham Mountain Resort. Both are only 30 minutes from downtown Québec. The average snowfall is 400cm/160in and from mid-November to late April each year the entire surrounding area turns into a vast winter wonderland for all sorts of outdoor activities. Mont-Sainte-Anne's development as a ski resort began in 1943 when a group of pioneer skiers began the initial steps. The exceptional situation of the mountain, overlooking the majestic St Lawrence River and just 40km/25 miles from historic old Québec City marked it as a major attraction point for skiers as well as visitors. These local pioneers undertook, on their own, the development of an alpine skiing trail on the mountain and, in April 1944, the first skiers took to the slopes. Hosting the Canadian Downhill Championship in 1947 marked the beginning of major competitions at the mountain. The access to the summit was not easy at the time and racers as well as officials climbed on foot packing down the snow on the way up. No question of a "rerun" as the journey up took about 3 hours! Some 200 skiers took part in this Canadian Championships and some of the winners have since become legends of the Canadian skiing history; Pierre Jalbert, Rhoda and Rhona Wurtele, Hector Sutherland, Lucille Wheeler. For almost 20 years Mont Sainte Anne became a sleeping beauty, awakening only once or twice a year to play host to a downhill race. In 1963 the town of Beaupré, in co-operation with the Provincial Government, set up the Commission du Parc du St Mont Anne to begin the development of the mountain and the surrounding area. These combined efforts resulted in the official opening of Park du Mont St Anne as a modern ski resort in 1966. The area opened with 10 trails and four lifts, including the only gondola in Eastern Canada. A 90km network of cross-country trails was added to the increasingly popular alpine centre for the presentation of the Junior World Nordic Championships in 1972, thus creating a major cross-country centre complementing the alpine facilities. At the end of the 1970's, these facilities included 27 alpine trails on two faces and 14 lifts with an hourly capacity of 10,750 skiers. The resort plays host to many international competitions from downhill skiing to mountain biking and snowmobiling. Indeed, Québec is the home of the snowmobile and its inventor Joseph Armand Bombardier was a local of the city. The snowmobile, or Ski-Doo as it was originally known, is an essential means of winter travel for many in this area as well as a funmobile par excellence. Big snowmobile events and major competitions attract the best amateurs and professionals in North America as well as thousands of spectators. The winter of 1982/83 was the shortest on record for the resort and disastrous for all Eastern Canadian and US resorts due to lack of snow. At this point it was decided to invest a massive $13 million on a state-of- the-art computerised snow-making system covering 80% of the skiing terrain. This move put Mont St Anne firmly in the major league easily competing with top American ski areas due to its exceptional location and especially long ski season. This investment and commitment to snowmaking has continued through subsequent decades with nearly 300 new guns added in the 2004-5 season which use much less energy than coinventional guns.
The Vialattea is an international skiing area consisting of five Piedmontese resorts, Sestriere, Sauze d'Oulx, Sansicario, Cesana, Claviere and Montgenevre in France. It is one of the world's largest ski-lift linked areas with more than 200 connected runs, for a total of 400km. The 90 lifts range from an altitude of 1350m in Cesana to 2800m at Mount Motta, a peak that gives a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains allowing skiers to appreciate the vastness and beauty of the area. The resort has staged the Alpine Ski World Championships in 1997, many World Cup Events and the XX Winter Olympic Games Torino 2006, the greatest recognition of how much potential. Vialattea is famed for its huge sunny, snowy expanses, panoramic runs that connect ancient and traditional villages with modern towns that provide all comforts and entertainment. The vastness and variety of the area will satisfy the most demanding skiers, thanks to long and difficult runs, as well as those that are approaching this world of skiing for the first time. The major resorts on the circuit include the only French resort, and indeed a pioneer of skiing in France, Montgenèvre, which could be described as one of the original altitude ski resorts. The area, a few hundred metres from the Italian border, has been inhabited since prehistoric times and has seen trans-European travellers passing through for millennia, including famous names like Julius Ceasar, and Hannibal with his herd of elephants and, later on, Napoleon. On the Italian side of the border is Claviere, Italy's oldest resort, which has a border post at one end of the village and is a ten minute walk from Montgènevre if you don't go by ski. The resort is very relaxed, with friendly and hospitable residents and some lovely hotel bars. The circuit dips to its lowest point at the small traditional village of Cesana before climbing up to the rapidly expanding Sansicario, a modern, low-level and tasteful purpose-built complex. This hosted the biathlon events in the Olympics. One of the world's pioneering ski areas, Sestrière was built by the Fiat car company in 1934. The mountain-top Possetto hotel first opened through the winter a decade earlier and more lifts and hotels opened before 1934. It was one of the earliest and still one of the highest purpose built ski stations. Sitting on a sunny plateau, snow cover is guaranteed thanks to both altitude and one of the world's most extensive snow making operations. At the time of its creation it was one of the first resorts in the world with modern hotels and a ski lift system where it was possible to take a family on a relatively economic ski trip - the model copied by the French purpose built centres of thirty years later. Although a very hi tec and modern ski centre, Sestrière is located in an area of great history and culture, dating back to neolithic sites, but rich in Roman and later remains. The resort has a long history of ski racing from the first Kandahar contests of the 1930s through to the world Championships, nearly 100 international world contests have been staged. The list of great racers who have won here over the decades is astonishing and includes Jean-Claude Killy, Ingemar Stenmark, Pirmin Zurbriggen to name but a few. Alberto Tomba won his first ever World Cup race at Sestrière. The World Championship race runs on the Kandahar Slalom and Kandahar Banchetta are open for good recreational downhillers to enjoy. During the Winter Olympics Torino 2006, Sestrière hosted some of the Alpine ski competitions. Sauze d'Oulx is located on a high sunny 'balcony' in the Susa Valley, the resort is surrounded by larch forest above. The trails cut down through this natural amphitheatre have an excellent snow record. Although Sauze still has a delightful ancient heart of stone buildings, narrow streets and a cobbled square with water fountain, as well as locals prepared to dress in traditional attire for ancient festivals, these are all somewhat swamped by the newer developments all around. Sauze d'Oulx has matured to some extent in recent years, and although the resort is still one of the liveliest ski centres in the world, the occasionally unpleasant 'rowdy' element has moved on. The resort hosted freestyle events at the 2006 Olympics. Of course the Vialattea is also one of the few ski areas in the world where you can ski across an international border. Until recently it was necessary to ensure you had a passport on you when you crossed the border by ski lift, but the border guards at the top of Clavière's chairlifts appear to have moved on, thanks to the ending of travel restrictions within European Community countries in mainland Europe.
Ruka, near Kuusamo on the southern edge of Lapland, gives an added dimension to 'cool' as temps drop to 20 below (Celcius) in the dark months of mid-winter. That's not stopped this snug little ski area rocketing on to the world stage, with growth running at ten percent annually. It has been helped firstly by having some of the lowest priced lift tickets in Europe (always a help with prices touching £150 a week in some of the big French and Swiss ski areas) and secondly by developing a core boarding and freestyle culture (partly thanks to a symbiotic relationship with the ticket prices, but an eight month season from October to May is another big plus, who needs Spring and Autumn?). A third strong plus factor is that the resort's snow surety is legend. It is typically one of the first in the world to open in October each year (and one of the last to close each Spring). The icing on the cake was the awarding of the World Freestyle Ski Championships here in 2005 - the biggest ever ski event to be staged in Finland.
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, Marmot Basin is one of Alberta's 6 major downhill resorts. Flanked by the mountains of British Columbia to the west, the prairies of Saskatchewan to the east and the State of Montana to the south, Alberta is the fourth largest province in Canada with a population of 3 million. Its larger in size than most US states and is 3 times larger than the UK. Known throughout the world for its excellent skiing facilities, deep dry powder, miles and miles of runs and bright sunny days, Alberta is a skiers' paradise. Marmot Basin is known as "The Big Friendly" and it lives up to its reputation for being a family-friendly resort with an easy, laid back atmosphere and some of the best glade skiing the Rockies have to offer. In common with many ski resorts, Marmot Basin's first wintersports enthusiasts practised cross-country and the resort was named by Joe Weiss who acted as a guide for cross-country skiers from Whistler's Creek via Caribou Ridge. During WW2 British soldiers carried out alpine training here but it was'nt until the 1950's that the first road was built to connect the highway with Marmot Basin. By 1961 Marmot's first rope tow, constructed from the remains of an old army truck, was installed on Paradise run and developments seemed to take off with the resort gaining a licence to operate and more facilities being added yearly. Marmot Basin's nearest town is Jasper, in the heart of the Jasper National Park. Established in 1907, its the largest and wildest of Canada's mountain parks and contains a superb backcountry trail system as well as 10,878 acres of mountain wilderness and the Columbia Icefields, one of the only icefields in the world accessible by road. Internationally renowned for wildlife viewing, it is home to some of North America's rarest animals, including healthy populations of grizzly bears, moose, caribou and wolves. Jasper is one of many communities which can trace it's history back to David Thompson's explorations. In January 1811 he made an epic winter crossing of the Athabasca Pass, the first recorded trip by a European through the Jasper area. This expedition established the fur trade route, subsequently used for decades as the most practical passage overland to the Pacific. The first ever sighting by a white man of a Bigfoot, or "Sasquatch" as they are known locally, was in Jasper. Bigfoot are to the Rockies what the Yeti are to the Himalayas with several mentions of them in Native American folklore. On his travels in this area David Thompson was recorded to have found some strange footprints, fourteen inches long and 8 inches wide, with 4 toes!
Lake Tahoe is one of the world's leading ski regions, centred on one of the biggest Alpine Lakes on the planet with a great snowfall and snow quality record. There are 13 ski areas to choose from (more if you travel a few miles further out) - each with their unique character and selling points. The best known are Heavenly (now owned by Vail resorts), at the south end of the lake with bases in both Nevada and California and Squaw Valley USA at the north end, which is a former host to the Winter Olympics and has added a new base village in recent years. Other well known resorts include Northstar, which has recently expanded dramatically and also added a new base village; Kirkwood - also with a new base village; Alpine Meadows and Sierra-at-Tahoe. The remaining choices are Sugar Bowl - another rapidly expanding ski area; Diamond Peak; Mt Rose; Tahoe Donner; Boreal; Soda Springs and Donner Ski Ranch. During winter, weather systems from the nearby Pacific are carried north via the Polar Jet Stream to the Gulf of Alaska where they cool before heading south and tracking towards Lake Tahoe. When the weather systems meet with the Sierra Nevada mountains they cool rapidly and the moisture condenses to produce more than 500 inches of snow annually. Most of the mountains top 10,000 ft which produces even lighter powder. The area is renowned not only for its winter activities but also for its diverse entertainment options off the slopes. These include gourmet dining, shopping, gambling and live performances by some of the world's top entertainers. Vast amounts of money have been and continue to be spent on constant improvement of this ski area giant. The total value of recent spending adds up to over $1 billion. These include quarter-of-a-million dollar spends at each of Heavenlyt Kirkwood and Squaw. Heavenly is unique because it exists in two US States, with just over half of its lifts in California, the remainder in Nevada. It can also claim to have the biggest vertical on the western coast of the United States, the biggest ski area in California (and the second biggest in North America) and the highest skiing in the famous Tahoe region. More important than the numbers though is the stunning scenery as you look down on Lake Tahoe, one of North America's largest alpine lakes, and for many visitors the availability of Tahoe's legendary '24 hour nightlife' once they're off the slopes. It was the view, and the 'heavenly relief' of the warm air rising, that lead settlers in the 1800s (arriving in the area from the backside of Heavenly rather than the Tahoe side), to give the area its name. A century later, the name 'Heavenly ' fortunately turned out to be a marketing man's dream. Another of North America and the world's major resorts, Squaw Valley 's history dates back to the late 1940's when the resort's first chairlift was installed. A little over a decade later the resort's meteoric rise saw it hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics. With more than 30 lifts, including North America's first Funitel, serving 4000 skiable acres Squaw is definitely a world class resort. The ski-in and ski-out lodging property, the Resort at Squaw Creek, opened in the early 1990s. Still family owned, Squaw is sensibly following the trend in North America's top resorts and has extended its existing slopeside lodging to create a state-of-the-art $250 million resort village, in partnership with the best in the business, Intrawest. It incorporates over 80 shops and restaurants as well as more than 700 condos. The resort's move into the 21st century has been boosted by the $20 million investment in a new Funitel. This is a combined gondola-funicular system with 46, 28 person cabins capable of transporting 3000 skiers per hour in winds which had, on occasion, caused the resort to suspend operations of older lifts on the higher slopes. The ascent time has also been cut from 12 to 8 minutes. The resort's achievement in hosting the 1960s Olympics is still a topic of conversation more than forty years on. It wasn't just that the area succeeded in staging what was then the world's largest games, with a thousand competitors from 34 nations, a little over a decade after Squaw's inception, but that the resort actually won the bidding five years earlier, in 1955, when it was virtually unheard of outside California. Northstar is one of Lake Tahoe's bigger resorts, thanks to a gradual expansion over the past 30 years. It's owned by the Booth Creek Group who also owns sister resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe, along with four more elsewhere in the US. Northstar has a fast, efficient lift system and an intimate, friendly feel. In the midst of an exciting Renaissance, Northstar is in the process of developing a 'mountain village' at its base, with up-market ski-in, ski-out condominiums, shops, restaurants and they hope a lively après ski scene. The six main Ski Lake Tahoe resorts (Alpine Meadows, Heavenly, Kirkwood, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Squaw Valley USA) are available on one pass for guests planning to stay a week or more. There are two variants - the 'Domestic interchangable' for North American residents who can purchase a 5 out of 6 day, a 6 out of 7 day, an 8 out of 10 day or a 10 out of 13 day ticket at most of the ticket windows of the resorts on the Pass. The second option, for non-North American residents, is the International Interchangable which is only offered through tour operators and travel agents. The Pass covers the 100 lifts offered by all the resorts combined, and one British tour operator believes that the total skiable terrain offered on the pass works out at nearly 800km or 500 miles, which if correct would make it the world's fourth largest area covered by one lift ticket, after the French Savoy Olympic Pass, and the Italian Dolomiti Superski and Aosta Valley passes. Unfortunately no accurate comparison is possible as some of the Tahoe resorts only follow the North American norm of measuring the area of their skiable terrain in acres, rather than the total length of the ski runs - the norm elsewhere in the world. What's not doubted is that the total skiable terrain is 17000 acres, the largest individual area offered by Heavenly with 4800 acres, with Squaw not far behind with 4500 acres. The lifts include numerous high speed chairs, cable cars (or 'aerial trams') and gondolas.
Now officially known as 'Les 2 Alpes', the resort formerly spelt 'Les Deux Alpes' began life shortly after World War 2, when in 1946 the local ski school was formed and three ski instructors employed, with an impressive 45 pupils on the first day. It was in fact based on the old French ski area of La Berarde which sprang up in 1925 after the first road to the area was completed. That was France's second ski area after Chamonix so its had plenty of time to establish its excellent snowfall and sunshine records.
Today with around 60 lifts, including an underground funicular, serving 220km (143 miles) of terrain including year round glacier skiing, over one of the world's biggest lift-served vertical drops, and accommodation enough for over 35,000 guests per night, Les 2 Alpes may safely be regarded as one of the guest success stories of the global ski industry.
Although now more than 50 years old, it was ten years after it began life that the resort really started to take off. Success followed the opening of the Diable gondola in 1956 and a year later the creation of one of the world's first known ski pass - covering all the lifts in the young resort. By 1970 there were 40 hotels and 46 lifts, including two gondolas and six chairs and by 1980 150km of trails were groomed and lift-served.
In 1984 the lifts extended to the current peak of 2568m giving year round access to the glacier ski area with the fast Jandri Express gondola, the world's fastest, up to the glacier opening the following year and one of the world's few underground funiculars, the Dome Express, following in 1989.
A world-class but unpretentious resort offering excellent skiing for all abilities, Winter Park markets itself as 'Colorado's Favourite' on the grounds that more residents of this great skiing state ski and board here than at any other resort. The resort records on average one million skier days each season, it appeals to many because it falls comfortably between the exaggerated "genuine Old West charm" portrayed by some Colorado resorts and the glitzy over-the-top image at the other extreme, Winter Park just seems real! The resort believes its success is due in part to its ten year snow record which is the best in Colorado. This, combined with the resort's proximity to Denver - it's the closest major resort to the capital, only 90 minutes drive, or two hours by ski train - and its status as one of the biggest ski areas in the state, also help. Major changes at the turn of the century saw the construction of a long-awaited base village. However, the ski centre's traditional 'resort base' - the friendly and unpretentious towns of Winter Park and Fraser a few miles from the slopes remain a focus of the resort's off-slope facilities. Winter Park also has a particularly strong reputation for its kids', women's and disabled skiing program.
The intriguing Little Cottonwood Canyon claims the renowned Alta and Snowbird resorts. Alta, a national treasure, reminds skiers of the more romantic days of skiing, and is a favourite of local powderhounds. It has two distinct histories; the first as a silver mining town, the other as a ski area. Silver was discovered in 1864 and Alta's population peaked just before the devaluation of silver in 1873. The first railroad was built at this time with mules pulling the cars uphill while gravity and a strong breakman were relied on to take them back down! This method was used until 1917 when the Denver and Rio Grande railroad completed a narrow-guage railroad to Alta. Throughout the 1920's the railroad was run as a scenic visitor attraction by one of Alta's few remaining inhabitants, George Watson, self-appointed mayor and silver prospector. Alf Engen played a big part in the history of this ski resort; it was at the request of the US Forest Service that Alf first came to Alta in 1935 to see if the abandoned mining area might be viable for development as a ski area. What Alf found was an area almost void of trees because the miners had used the timber to shore up the mines. Nonetheless, he felt that Alta had great potential for a ski area and that it could be restored to a place of exceptional beauty After acquiring 1800 acres of land from "Mayor" George Watson and local mining companies, development of Alta Ski Area began with the construction of Collins, Alta's first chairlift, built from an old aerial ore tramway Opened to the public in 1939 they paid 25 cents a ride or $1.50 for a full day pass. Snowpine Lodge, Alta's first ski shelter was also built and Sverre Engen, Alf's brother, became America's first Snow Ranger, based at Alta his work included snow studies and avalance control. Alta Lodge opened in 1940 providing skiers with the first overnight accommodation. During those early days Alta became an arctic training ground for American army troops in preparation for overseas duty. Ski Aces, Utah's first promotional ski film starring Alf, Sverre and Corey Engen was made at Alta to highlight the scenic beauty of the area. Alta's long established world class skiing reputation is spearheaded by the long-established Alf Engen Ski School. Utah's license plates proudly proclaim, "Ski Utah! The Greatest Snow on Earth." Few winter sports enthusiasts who have sampled the skiing in the land of Zion would argue with this — when the skies begin to fall and the "lake effect" rears its head, Utah does consistently offer the lightest and most abundant snow on the planet. Sometimes, however, the riches can be too abundant. A World Cup race hosted at Snowbasin on a typical February weekend had to be cancelled — the resort received more than three feet of new snow over the course of the three-day event. A small consolation was the great shot in the Salt Lake Tribune of Herman Maier skiing waist deep in powder.
The mountains above the town of Mount Beauty, Victoria, have been a magnet for skiers since the turn of the last century. However, it was not until 1960 that the first lifts were built and the ski station of Falls Creek was born. In the last forty years this purpose-built winter resort has grown in size until today it is the biggest in the territory of Victoria with almost 100 trails, amounting to 80kms of skiable piste. Falls Creek is unusual in Australia being a car-free, ski-in, ski-out resort - you can ski from the door of all of the resort's lodges and in a normal season all the accommodation is accessible on skis. It shares ownership and a liftpass with the resort of nearby Mount Hotham which enables skiers to enjoy an even greater variety of terrain - access between the two is by helicopter, which takes 6 minutes compared with the 2.5 hours by road!
Valle Nevado is a smart, French designed, resort close to the Chilean capital Santiago. It has a look of Les Arcs or Avoriaz to it and the French concept of putting most facilities conveniently together and sheltered from the elements within in a few major buildings. The resort is constantly being expanded with the on-going target of being both top in the southern hemisphere, and potentially one of the top resorts in the world. One of the world's newest major ski areas, opened in 1988, it endeavours to offer both world class snow sports and the highest quality resort infrastructure including lodging, dining and off slope leisure facilities. Valle Nevado is located just 60km (37 miles) from Santiago's international airport, at an altitude of 2855m (10,000 feet), yet still at the foot of the imposing El Plomo Peak, amidst the incredibly breathtaking landscapes of the Andes Mountains. The Chillean capital and South Pacific Ocean lie far below. Despite copious snowfall the resort has an 80% average of sunshine days during the ski season. Skiers and boarders are both very well catered for here. The abundant powder snow is legendary; the ski area - linked to two neighbouring resorts, the largest in South America and the terrain park also the best in South America, attracting annual FIS World Cup events. Heliskiing and boarding is another strength being more affordable and easily accessible than in most other parts of the world, with huge 2,000m off piste verticals to be had.
The giant Monterosa ski area is one of the world's largest, and thanks to recent investment in new lifts you can now ski or board without needing to stop for 180km between the resorts of Champoluc and Gressoney and Gressoney on to Alagna across three valleys. The skiing extends almost up to 3000 metres and there are spectacular views across Aosta Valley and Piemonte. The ski area was 'reborn' for the 2004/5 season when the spectacular Funifor cable car finally completed the long planned link in the circuit between the Valsesia and Gressoney La Trinite resorts (themselves connected to Champoluc). The most internationally famous resort on the circuit, Alagna, is known for its old world charm and having been "preserved from cement" with its Walser buildings dominant. It was founded in the 12th century and is built around the local parish church. Although there's skiing for all standards, Alagna remains a haven for expert skiers, the village sits beneath one of the world's greatest lift-served verticals skiable by many off-piste descents. At the other extreme of the pass, Champoluc at 1570m is the main resort in the Val d'Ayas. Surrounded by pine woods, it offers spectacular views of the Monte Rosa glaciers and the rocky buttresses of Mont Sarezza and the Testa Grigia. Antagnod above at 1710m also has spectacular views as well as well preserved old buildings, including the famous "maison Fournier" once the stronghold of the counts of Challant. Between them Gressoney La Trinite - which is linked to the Monte Rosa circuit and Gressoney St Jean beneath it, which isn't. The architecture is again beautiful, with chalet style buildings and again spectacular views.
Saint Martin de Belleville, a traditional villae of stone, wood and slate and centred on its historic Baroque church is a real postcard savoyard village. Unlike most of the other centres in the 3 Valleys, it has not been purpose built nor expanded excessively to meet tourist demand. However, at 1450m, it is a very high village by the standards of traditional mountain communities. Yet despite its long history the resort is well linkeds in to the vast 3 Valleys, the world's largest lift-linked ski area, by state of the art lifts. Slowly but surely, Saint Martin has made a name for itself, a few kilometres down the valley from its bigger neighbours, purpose-built Les Menuires and Val Thorens, the highest resort in Europe. The local Patois language is still spoken here by some of the older members of the community and a group of locals have recently created a dictionary of the local dialect to ensure the language is not forgotten.
Lillehammer has a long history in winter sports and is generally regarded as Norway's oldest Alpine skiing centre, but its highly successful staging of the '94 Olympics brought to the forefront of the international winter sports world. The community feel of those Games were especially memorable for many. Lillehammer was able to put across an image of a comparatively small community pulling together in a spirit of enthusiastic goodwill, rather than the large and rather bland event organised by big nations in partnership with big corporations, that has tainted the image of the Olympic spirit over the past few decades. Lillehammer remains a charming resort, located on wooded slopes above Lake Mjøsa it is a delightful place of traditional wooden buildings, parks and gardens. There are wonderful views in to the romantic Gudbrandsdal Valley which stretches for more than 200km (125 miles) through the heart of Norway. The success of Lillehammer spear-headed a revival in the fortunes of Scandinavian skiing in the early 1990s, when destinations in Sweden and Norway that had been largely ignored since the 1960s by the rest of the world saw a rapid resurgence in interest. The major selling points were and remain the friendly local people, good childcare, good natural food and a good snow record - assets that had proved popular with the major resorts of the Alps now seen as increasingly over-developed, over-crowded and poor value, with less reliable snow cover. The negatives of Scandinavian skiing - cold dark winters and high prices, were fought with arguments of strong flood lighting on the trails, modern lifts, cosy accommodation and the fact that, overall, prices worked out lower than the Alps. Lillehammer is not in itself a traditional skiing village but, like Innsbruck or Banff, instead is the hub of a number of ski areas which guests can travel out to each day. These include Hafjell, 15km/9 miles away, the centre for slalom and giant slalom alpine events at the Lillehammer Olympics, and Kvitfjell, 50km/31 miles north, Norway's newest ski area, where the downhill courses were especially created for the Olympics. The small Birkbeinerbakken facility, with one drag lift, at Sjusjøen, 20km (13 miles) from the town, is primarily a cross-country skiing centre and was the location for the Nordic events in the Olympics. Nordseter, only 12km (7 miles) from the town, with its three drag lifts is the 'local' family/beginners' area. Finally, there is the Kanthaugen Freestyle Park, which is within walking distance of Lillehammer town centre and located behind the Olympic ski jumps. It is one of the most compact freestyle facilities in the world and includes a 230 metre mogul field with a gradient of 26 degrees, and six take off points for aerials, the highest 3./2 metres in the air. In a triple somersault the jumper is about 12 metres off the ground. There is also a 220m long ballet hill on which lessons are now offered. The Lysgårdsbakkene jumping hill with twin jumps is located nearby, whilst the Olympic bobsleigh and luge track are about 15km (9 miles) north of Lillehammer at a fifth location close to the Hunderfossen Family Park.
In 1995 the four New South Wales ski resorts of Perisher, Blue Cow, Smiggins and Guthega joined forces to form the 'Super Resort'of Perisher, the largest single ski area in Australia. This amalgamation has meant that skiers and snowboarders can now explore an area of 1250 hectares of piste served by over 50 lifts As well as the sheer volume of skiing, there is also a good mix of levels and types of terrain, with lots of interest and challenge for skiers of all standards. The four villages have an alpine feel to them with purpose-built accommodation and cafes right on the piste, although one look at the gum trees which grow halfway up the mountain should tell you that you're not in the alps. The mixture of skiing and the excellent child care and ski instruction make Perisher a good resort for families, while at the same time, snowboarders and the young set will enjoy the frenetic nightlife. Skiers can drive to the resort - snow chains are mandatory, there is a charge to enter the national park where the resort is located but there is plentiful parking. However, there is an excellent Ski Tube which travels from Bullocks Flat - you get off either at Perisher at the base of the mountain or you can carry on to straight up to the summit of Blue Cow Mountain. In 2003 the resort introduced the southern hemisphere's first eight seater chairlift, the Village 8 Express, the first stage of a new resort development.
One of the world's most famous resorts and for many the top resort in North America, Vail is a surprisingly young resort, conceived in 1962 by a gentleman called Peter Seibert. In being wholly purpose-built rather than claiming some tenuous link to the 'Old West' it differs from many other famous Colorado ski resorts. It's different again from the other Colorado resorts that have been started from scratch in that Mr Seibert did a rather nice job - creating a US resort with an Alpine village feel and an ambience that the majority of North American ski centres sadly lack. He was helped on his way by the first business owners in the area - many of them from Austria and Germany, anxious to recreate a little of what they missed from home. The centre of what is now a town has been pedestrianised, further enhancing the holiday atmosphere. Due to its incredible success the resort has inevitably spread out along the sides of the I 70 valley in both directions, with modern developments linked by an efficient shuttle bus to the central Vail Village. More than 4000 staff are now employed by Vail Resorts alone. The resort has also spawned new resorts such as up-market Beaver Creek and the developments at Arrowhead and Bachelor Gulch, as well as buying up near neighbours in recent years, including Breckenridge and Keystone - creating a very appealing group resort lift ticket in the process. Indeed Vail is marketed very much as a 'Valley'. Apart from the resort's own developments they include revitalised original settlements such as the former rail centre at Minturn, home of quaint art galleries and a winery and the tiny community of Redcliff, an 1890s gold-mining centre in a picturesque canyon over Battle Mountain Pass. Avon, between Vail and Beaver Creek (10 miles/16km apart) has developed from a ranching community into the administrative and commercial heart of Vail Valley. Beaver Creek, still marketed alongside Vail, has very much established itself as a unique resort in its own right whilst the newer-still Arrowhead, closest to the local Eagle County Airport, is centred around a Jack Nicklaus-designed Country Club of the Rockies. Because of Vail's phenomonal success, building in the area shows no sign of slowing, to the alarm of some locals and environmentalists from outside the area who are becoming increasingly vocal in their concerns of 'over development'. In common with other Western North American resorts Vail gets huge powder snow falls each season, in Vail's case averaging 27 feet / 842 cms per annum.
A very picturesque resort that is set in some of the most spectacular scenery that exists anywhere in the world, Wengen has welcomed skiers since the turn of the century and is one of the handful of 'original' downhill skiing destinations pioneered by British tourists (it celebrated 110 years of winter sports in the area in 1998). The resort is the base of the famous Downhill Only Club (DHO), established in 1924 when the early English visitors first persuaded the locals to keep the railway running in the winter to get a lift up the mountains, then jump out and ski 'downhill only'. Many members of the Club still return every year, content to go back to the same resort annually, (often the same week in the same room in the same hotel). Wengen first appeared 'on the map' in the 1880s, before alpine skiing was invented, with the construction of the Wengenalpbahn, the first mountain railway in the area. This ultimately went on to reach the legendary Jungfraujoch, Europe's highest railway station, perched at 3454 metres (11,332 feet). Much of today's Wengen was then build on a sunny 'balcony' on the mountain along one main street ending, at the station. It is still reached by the antique but eternally efficient cog railway, which connects with the international European rail network. Car drivers must leave their vehicles in a carpark in the valley and take the train up. No introduction to Wengen is complete without mention of its other legendary and spectacular attraction - the Annual Lauberhorn World Cup downhill course, the longest and many believe the greatest there is.
Sunday River, located in the north eastern corner of the US New England area, in the state of Maine, is a remarkable resort with a significance unique to ski resorts worldwide. Opened by residents of the neighbouring town of Bethel in 1958 it was operated through the 1960s by a group of locals as a minor ski hill. In 1972 it was bought by the then owners of east coast giant Killington. The resort didn't expand greatly during the '70s but it did come under the management of Leslie B Otten who in 1980 bought the resort from his employers and decided to go it alone. At that time resorts were spending heavily on flashy facilities but Otten concentrated on building up his snow making, snow quality and a good trail system, ploughing back profits in to new facilities and then 'riding the real estate boom' of the mid 1980s. Since 1983 more than $136 million has been spent on Sunday River, largely self-financed spending, including dramatic expansion of terrain which is now served by 18 lifts (13 of them quads, an improvement on the 1 chair and four surface lifts Otten began with). Lodging now extends to 6000 beds on the mountain, almost all of them slopeside. There are many reasons for Sunday River's success and it is no doubt a combination of all. Some like the laid back feeling of Maine, untainted still by the 'big city suburbs' feel that infects and for some detracts from many of New England's other famous resorts in Vermont and New Hampshire - it's possible to ski and stay at Sunday River without having the fact that you're in one of the world's top ski areas constantly rammed down your throat. Of more practical importance there is the Perfect Turn learning technique which the resort has franchised out and many other resorts have just ripped off with something similar. Then of course there's the snow-making, the world's largest high-pressure system which is being eternally improved and expanded and is currently capable of converting 9000 gallons of water a minute in to snow. If any further evidence is needed that Sunday River is doing something right somewhere, there is the fact that it is the 'home resort' and the starting point of the American Skiing Company, controlled by Mr B J Fair. Having built up Sunday River and purchased two or three other major New England resorts, Otten launched a new company in 1997 and bought up his former bosses to take over Killington and control of half a dozen other resorts. At its height around 2000 his empire extended west to take in Steamboat in Colorado, Heavenly in California and a small resort by the 2002 Olympic town of Park City in Utah. However by 2007 a financial downturn that had seen Otten's departure several years earlier, the company was back down to three resorts.