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Ski Blog

Slalom Nights

clock 26th October 2011 | comment0 Comments

A new, regular feature from our in-house games master, Gale Van Rye, who talks about memorable skiing and winter sports games. This week: Slalom (Arcade, 1986 | Nintendo Entertainment System, 1987).

"The heating's broke — use this" Mum said, holding out an extra blanket. I scowled and let her drop it at my bedside. She'd just interrupted my best run yet through Snowy Hill. I skimmed a mogul off-balance and collided with a tree; the worn, sweat-covered pad slumped down into my lap and I reached for the blanket. It was Christmas '91, four years after the release of Rare's Slalom — and yet it didn't feel old or dated — it felt fresh, fast and fun.

Rareware would later go on to be the famed pixel perfectionists behind Donkey Kong Country and Goldeneye. This was their first NES game, yet it played like they were aging pros. It pushed the limit of the NES to the edge, their coding trickery producing the kind of the 3D effects that would not look out of place on Nintendo's follow-up console, the SNES.

It was quick, too. And not just in the computing sense, but in the way that it immediately immersed you from the second your left thumb pressed Up on the d-pad and you ramped up the pace. The slopes either side of you would zip by as you carved the mountain, with the pixilated backdrop range swaying gently in distance. It was that quality of immersion that kept you hooked. Time after time you'd come back, convincing yourself that this time you'll land every jump and add digits to your highscore.

Perhaps it was the satisfaction of whizzing off a mogul, pulling back a trick and then landing gracefully whilst still flying along at full speed that was the biggest pull. Or perhaps it was that despite crashing into the snow after clashing with a sledder, the delay before being back up to top speed isn't long enough to frustrate you into quitting.

It sounds like rose-tinted nostalgia, yet, it still stands proud today. I found myself immediately obsessed again and surprisingly impressed by its ability to captivate me. Since the release of the iPhone, the bedroom programmers are king again. Short, fun games that aren't graphically-obsessed are the ones making all the money. Slalom would hook you in an instant were it on the App Store.

I couldn't go without mentioning the music, either. In those days every bit of data was essential and music had to be crammed in. The skill was to compose something short but that could repeat for long periods of time without sounding annoying. You get sick of repetitive blips and beeps eventually, but Slalom's music was pleasing on the ear, suited the gameplay and helped to draw you in.

Perhaps Slalom's downfall was the inability to save your scores on the NES. It meant lots of scribbling down scores on some paper next to the console. Naturally, you'd need an independent verifier to confirm the score at the time of completion to prevent arguments, as in those days cheating was rife. I still can't help but think of Slalom at Christmas time. Now, where's that blanket?

Images via nestimes.net



La Niña Is Coming, So Where Am I Going?

clock 14th October 2011 | comment0 Comments

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.

Powder Turns on Whistler Blackcomb Oct 6th, 2011

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...



A Change of Scenery — Skiing in Luxury: Europe

clock 7th October 2011 | comment0 Comments

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

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

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.

St. Moritz

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.



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