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According to Wikipedia: "La Niña is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that is the counterpart of El Niño as part of the broader El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern. During a period of La Niña, the sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean will be lower than normal by 3–5 °C. In the United States, an episode of La Niña is defined as a period of at least 5 months of La Niña conditions."
This translates in huge amounts of snow in North America, which last year saw many west coast Canadian and US resorts break records in terms of snowfall and powder days. So if La Niña is coming, where am I going to ski this year?
Whistler — It's Got It All
When it comes to riding powder Whistler has it all, from tree-lined skiing and deep powder-filled bowls, to a resort that offers everything you need and want on a holiday. The resort has been synonymous with powder riding and is generally considered one of the top, if not the number one, ski resort and when your locals include the likes of Devun Walsh, you can see why.
Last year was Whistler's third snowiest season ever and if the early winter signs are the same, then it will be another amazing year to enjoy British Columbia's world famous resort. If you do head out there is a local guide, only available in the resort's shops, that will let you in on the locals' secret powder stashes, and don't worry, they are usually in-bounds.
For many Whistler is the ultimate resort, it takes Val d'Isere, adds more powder, deeper bowls, more tree-lined skiing and replaces the French skiers with Americans, well, nowhere's perfect...
Revelstoke — Scare Your Pants Off
Revelstoke is one of the youngest resorts you will come across, though due to its unique set-up, it is becoming increasingly popular. Another British Columbian gem, Revelstoke's claim is that it is the only resort that offers piste skiing, cat-skiing and heli-skiing under one umbrella.
This is the kind of resort where you wake up in the morning and decide what to do, from hitting the resort's slopes to spending a day cat-skiing, as long as you get to the guides before everyone else! The resort oozes the charm of an old gold rush town, and until recently it remained a small resort filled with locals and wild-life. Don't expect über luxury five star hotels, though do expect cold beer, spicy chicken wings and stories of fresh tracks days after the last snowfall.
Beaver Creek — Luxury
Now this is where you will find five star luxury and powder skiing, perfectly placed together. Beaver Creek is known for its perfect corduroy pistes, luxury accommodation and elegant surroundings. On top of that, the Epic Pass (the resort's multi-resort lift pass) gives you access to the nearby resorts of Vail and Breckenridge, so you can follow the snow throughout your stay.
With La Niña hopefully dumping metres of fluffy, white, Colorado powder, Beaver Creek is the resort for the luxury option. The hotels, guides, ski instructors and even ski shops are renowned for offering the best you'll find in Colorado (just don't tell Vail I said that). Beaver is where wealthy Americans, movie stars and those looking for state-side luxury head year-after-year, so with metres of snow on offer, where better to enjoy a spa treatment or glass of fizz after being chest deep in the white stuff.
Breckenridge — Family
Breckenridge is another of Colorado's Epic resorts, though the mountain here is immense and offers more than enough to keep you going for a week. With ten peaks, creatively named peak 1 to peak 10, the huge snowparks, its back bowls and its welcoming atmosphere, Breckenridge is a cracking all round resort to enjoy Mother Nature's finest snow.
Breck, as it's known in the US, offers a great variety in accommodation, from budget through to five star and with the mountain offering such diverse skiing, it is a fantastic resort for a family powder adventure. The resort has a laid back feel, probably due to its close ties to freestyle and freeriding locals, has great facilities and is the highest in the US. So if you need a resort where you can hike the back bowls, send the kids to the snowparks, or enjoy a romantic lunch with the Misses, all in the same holiday, Breckenridge is where to head.
Heavenly — Sun-Filled Powder Days
California and snow are not two words you tend to associate with one another, but the Lake Tahoe area has some of the finest powder and most stunning resorts you can find. Heavenly is the king of the lake, with a huge ski area and a resort that crosses the state lines into Nevada — perfect if you fancy a flutter in the casino.
Due to its closer proximity to the West Coast and the huge lake, that is Lake Tahoe, Heavenly boasts superb snow records and with a La Niña coming, it will no doubt offer some of the best skiing and riding you will find this winter. Add in some Californian sunshine (between snow storms, of course), the stunning back-drop of the lake and the chance to ski the local resorts of Northstar-at-Tahoe, Squaw Valley and Kirkwood, and you've got more variety in terrain then you can manage in one trip.
Hopefully this year's La Niña will share the love with Europe, but if it doesn't it will be worth saving up the extra to ski in North America this winter. From intermediate skiers, to park rats and powder hounds, you'll be glad of the 8+hr flight home, just to put your feet up. Take your friends, your wife or the family, it doesn't matter who you ski with, there is a resort out there perfect for you and hopefully just waiting for you to make some first tracks in its fresh snow...
Having taken a look at alternative resorts in the last couple of weeks, with Austria and Italy, I thought I'd take a look at where to enjoy a luxury ski holiday next.
Luxury ski holidays can mean something different to all of us, for some it's sitting in one of Chardon Mountain Lodges chalets in Val d'Isere, enjoying fabulous food and Perrier Jouët on tap, for others it's about staying in one of Courchevel 1850's exclusive hotels, or enjoying the champagne ice-bars that accompany the après ski scene in Lech.
Luxury skiing is also about the resort you stay in, the mountain you ski and, of course, where to eat, drink and shop. As mentioned everyone want's something different on their ski holiday, so here are a few of our favourite European destinations to burn a hole in your wallet with.
Courchevel 1850 has been synonymous with luxury skiing holidays for longer than I've been alive and will no doubt out live me too. The resort offers the world's largest linked ski area in the Three Valleys, some fantastically flattering pistes around the resort itself and is stunning.
Courchevel is known for its superb hotels, designer shopping and, of course, the James Bond altiport — okay, so it's not actually called that, but you may recognise it from the opening sequence of Tomorrow Never Dies. Courchevel boasts lavish, exclusive hotels, for those who can afford them and also a handful of chalet hotels, for those who can't, but enjoy watching the Prada clad skiers/shoppers and the fantastic atmosphere.
As mentioned, Courchevel is renowned for great hotels, and though they currently seem to be filled with the Russian nouveau riche, there is still an elegantly Anglo-French atmosphere and plenty of wealthy Brits in town. The Hotel Annapurna has to be the reference point for Courchevel's hotels, it has been well established for 36 years and under the same management for the past 20 years — testament to it's reputation. The Annapurna is also closest to the altiport, important for those looking for helicopter transfers or mere James Bond fans.
The Hotel Les Airelles has been a celebrity favourite for years and it's regulars include Eddie Jordan, Mike Rutherford and Chris Rea, as opposed to reality TV stars. The relaxed atmosphere and lavished surroundings, as well as a great location, also add to it's popularity. Now, Le Chabichou, may only be a four star establishment, but boasts the world renowned, michelin starred, Michel Rochedy as it's restaurants head chef. The restaurant received its first Michelin star in 1979 and its second in 1984 and there aren't too many hotels in the Alps that can boast the same level of cuisine!
Lech has been referred to as the Courchevel of Austria, and though it's an exclusive resort, filled with luxurious hotels, offers world class skiing and is steeped in history, it is a very different resort to Courchevel. Courchevel is where the rich happily flaunt their money, Lech is the opposite of this.
Over the Christmas and New Year holidays you won't be able to find a room for love nor money, as many of Europe's elite have the hotels wrapped-up, and have done so for decades. You'll find the owners of Mercedes and BMW, along with their families taking over the resort during the festive season, and though there is always an air of wealth, there types of skiers in Lech never feel the need to show it.
With the big, open, motorway pistes of Lech and the more technical skiing of St. Anton to enjoy, along with this gorgeous, relaxed resort you can see why it is a former favourite of the late Princess Diana.
The Gasthof Post opened in 1937, and like the Annapurna in Courchevel, is the reference point for Lech, the family run hotel has stuck to the same recipe for years and remains a favourite of Lech's regular skiers. Other notable hotels in Lech include the Almhof Schneider, based a the foot of the Schlegelkopf mountain and the luxury chalet-styled, boutique hotel, Hotel Aurelio.
Though Klosters can often take the limelight when it comes to luxury skiing in Switzerland — and when the Royal family are in town there's no surprise to why — St. Moritz is one of the world's most elegant resorts, boasting one of the most iconic hotels in the Alps, Badrutt's Palace.
St. Moritz is the original winter sports resort, if not the first true ski resort. It came to popularity with the Brits at the turn on the 20th century as skiing began to grow as a holiday activity for the wealthy, and has remained a favourite resort for generations since.
Though not as flashy as Courchevel with it's designer shopping, fur jackets & Range Rovers, it is not as understated as Lech. This is a resort that, again offers an air of wealth and chic surroundings. The shopping would be enough the break to average bank account and the skiing is comparable to Val d'Isere — in size at the very least. There are motorway pistes and flattering runs, for the more pedestrian skier and challenging off-piste for the adrenaline junkies out there.
The historic Palace Hotel in St. Moritz opened in 1896 as the successor to the first winter sports hotel, the Krup Hause. The hotel has recently changed it's name to the Badrutt's Palace, but remains one of the most recognisable hotels in skiing. The founder of hotel built the first bobsled run for his guests and the current owners have maintained the reputation of one of the leading hotels in the world.
There are so many great resorts for a luxury skiing holiday, with Val d'Isere, Davos, Klosters and Ischgl to name a few, but Courchevel, Lech and St. Moritz have long been at the top of most people's wish lists and will remain there for years to come. The question is which resort is the right one for you? Whether you are there for the skiing, the lavish hotels or the shopping.
Following on from last week's piece, A Change of Scenery — Austria, I've taken a look at the Italian resorts that offer something a little different to the usual top resorts us Brits tend to head to.
Italian skiing is renowned for its great value and relaxed pace, which almost feels ironic for an espresso-fuelled country, renowned for its sports cars and helmet-less, moped riding nutcases.
Selva is a truly beautiful resort that boasts amazing scenery — the Dolomites change colour throughout the day depending on the light. The ski area is ideal for beginners and intermediates, offering the perfect terrain to build confidence. Elisa Boccara, one of our longstanding sales consultants described the Selva as "the most beautiful ski resort I have ever been to."
For the more experienced skiers there is the whopping 1220 km of the Sella Ronda to explore and though the slopes are not the most challenging, the vast array of terrain and ability to ski in so many different resorts, including Arabba, Corvara and Canazei makes it worth the trip.
The resort itself offers a mix of Italian and Austrian food and culture, making for a quite an original experience and probably more akin to Switzerland, apart from the vast difference in prices! The après ski is more gentle than last week's Austrian resorts, but there is enough to have a good time. Whether on the mountain or in resort you'll find your euros going a lot further, as the typical prices of food and drink are much more reasonable than France or Austria.
Madonna di Campiglio
As one of the country's top resorts, Madonna di Campiglio's popularity with the local market and relatively small number of beds ensures its exclusive — to the British market at least — reputation.
Whereas Courchevel and Klosters are becoming synonymous with nouveau riche Russians, Madonna is better known for hosting Ferrari's pre-season party, thanks to the generous sponsors, which adds a little F1 style glamour. If you head into the resort in mid-January you can expect to see the likes of Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Stefano Domenicali, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jules Bianchi and even Michael Schumacher in town.
The resort is full of Milanese happy to parade the latest fashion every evening in the charming town square. Nearby boutiques, lively Italian bars and attractive cafes all add to the resort's character. Along with all of this there is also 150km of skiing in what is an intermediate skier's dream. It really is like a smaller Courchevel, minus the pretence.
One of Iglu's most renowned ski specialists highly recommends Champoluc, and Thomas Moulton doesn't hand out recommendations willy nilly, "A good skiing buddy of mine raves about the resort — vast empty pistes next to the Monte Rosa with flattering skiing, great Italian food and good accommodation. A West Country group of ours who book every year also expressed similar sentiments. It's well priced too."
Champoluc isn't as renowned as many of Europe's resorts, but for those tired of skiing in Val d'Isere, St. Anton and even Verbier, it offers superb touring skiing, whether hiking the Monta Rosa with a local guide or splashing out on some heliskiing in the nearby area. The resort itself offers great, confidence-building skiing, so for mixed ability groups looking for something a little different, with money to spend, and wanting to stay within a short flight from the UK, Champoluc is a great option.
As with many Italian resorts, Champoluc is quiet during the week, but picks up during the weekend when the Milanese and Turin crowds flock to the their weekend apartments and Italian run hotels. The Relais des Glaciers offer superb accommodation and remains family-run, adding to the charm.
Skiing and snowboarding shouldn't be about skiing the same runs and staying in the same hotels and chalets year-on-year, I am guilty of repeatedly visiting Meribel and Morzine, don't get me wrong, but we should all try and ski somewhere new once in a while. There are so many fantastic, though largely undiscovered resorts out there to experience, and on holiday it makes a nice change to be surrounded by locals, as opposed to bumping into your neighbours, someone off the PTA or the lads from the rugby club.
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