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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...
Not Everyone likes the hustle and bustle of resorts like Val d'Isere, Meribel or St. Anton, some people prefer a more relaxed affair yet still want great skiing, so where to go?
With this is mind I had a word with a few of Igluski's resort experts to get the lowdown on how to avoid queues, packed out restaurants and crowded pistes. The team appear to have skied every major resort and many hidden gems, so after banging some heads together here are our Top Resorts To Avoid the Queues.
The French Resistance
France is by far the most popular destination for British skiers, with the big three ski areas — the Espace Killy, Three Valleys and Paradiski accounting for 41%* of British ski holidays. That at least gives us a starting point: for world class, vibrant resorts that cater for everyone then head to the Espace Killy, Three Valleys or Paradiski, but for a more relaxed, less hectic week on the slopes where jumps to mind?
Back in the '60s Megève was the height of chic winter holiday destinations, with a stunning village and a boutique feel. Today it still offers a fantastic ambience and great skiing and the crowds have moved on to the trendier Tarantaise resorts. So for chic, boutique elegance head to Megève.
Montgenèvre is a picturesque alpine village that sits on the French-Italian border. Accessing the Milky Way it offers a huge ski area, yet being among the southern French resorts it has become a forgotten gem. Think families, cheese and vin chaud on a calm sun terrace after a great day on the mountain.
Italy has long been home to some of the best value skiing in Europe, both the Milky Way and the Super Dolomiti ski domains offer huge ski areas, Cervinia is linked with the ever popular Zermatt and from La Thuile you can ski over to La Rosiere in France's Tarantaise Valley. But these resorts, are, well, very popular and therefore not what you are after.
There are some hidden gems in the Dolomites but if you head to the lesser known resorts of Gressoney & Champoluc you can enjoy the flattering skiing underneath Europe's second largest mountain, Monte Rosé. The resorts are in the beautiful Gressoney Valley and the former hot-spots now offer a more serene family experience than the espresso-fuelled fun of Passo Tonale.
The Jung Swiss
Switzerland is renowned for beautiful, charming, chocolate box resorts. It is known for great skiing, glaciers, cheese and chocolate. It is also offers some of the world's most exclusive and famous resorts, just think of St. Moritz, Davos, Klosters and Zermatt. But Switzerland also offers some stunning, quiet resorts with incredible skiing and minimal crowds.
The Jungfrau region must be one of the most stunning ski-able valleys in the world. From the resorts of Mürren & Grindelwald you can enjoy one of the most picturesque train rides to resort, taking in the Eiger, Mönch and the Jungfrau. Mürren is know for its steeps and the legendary 'Inferno' run, whereas Grindelwald offers great cruising and awe-inspiring views.
Austria is a place of split personality, on the one hand you have the famous raucous après ski — from St. Anton's Mooserwirt and Krazy Kanguruh, to the champagne bars of Ischgl & Lech, on the other hand you have the great family skiing on offer in Zell am See, Kaprun and Kitzbühel. Both these personalities offer great holidays, depending on your taste, though they are not far enough from the beaten track for some.
One of Austria's most enchanting resorts, Alpbach, is often forgotten, due to it's smaller ski area, but shouldn't be discounted. The beautiful, traditional village has 52km of piste with 1500m of vertical drop and there are plenty of resorts with less vertical, less pistes and are far less attractive that we visit each year (think Bulgarian resorts for a start). Alpbach offers a charming village, perfect for families on their first trip together or those who enjoy skiing in a more intimate resort.
Now Obergurgl may not be the most attractive of Austria's resorts, but the purpose built village sits at the bottom of a glacier and the combination of great intermediate skiing and a limited amount of accommodation means less lift queues than its surrounding resorts. Linked to Hochgurgl it offers a decent sized ski area and a calm family atmosphere.
Well technically it's British Columbia, but the Canadian province offers some of the finest powder and most famous resorts in the world. You could head to Whistler for the holiday of a lifetime, but being one of the top resorts in the world draws in the crowds.
Head a little further north into Interior B.C. and visit the powder haven of Big White. The name says it all really, the resort regularly receives somewhere around 9m of snow a season, so powder skiing is part of everyday life there. The resort boasts (quietly of course) one of Canada's largest ski areas, fluffy, dry, powder and saloon-style, wooden-clad, gold-rush charm.
Heading inland toward Banff National Park you stumble across the resort of Revelstoke. This is one of Canada's newer resorts, where huge investment has been put into the area in recent years. Revelstoke boasts the status of being the only resort that offers piste, cat and heli-skiing all under one umbrella. This may be an escape for the more advanced skiers and snowboarders among us, but it oozes mountain charm without the queues — especially when you're being taken from spot-to-spot on the back of a snowcat.
The American Mid-West is home to some of the United States' finest skiing, from the world class resorts of Aspen, Breckenridge and Vail to the deep, dry powder, and perfect pistes, parks & lifts. The celebrity filled resorts come at a price and are very popular, yet there are again some forgotten gems to discover.
Beaver Creek is the luxury resort on offer, much like Megève it offers a stunning setting, great hotels and a real feel of elegance. The resort could happily compete with its busier neighbours but chooses not to. This calmer mountain and luxury accommodation are the perfect escape for those looking for a great holiday away from the crowds and are happy to pay the price.
Heading a little further west into Utah is Park City, famous for the Sundance Film Festival and boasts three mountains — including the skier only Deer Valley. The resort has a real American-West feel to it, Park City also boasts its own distillery (which will banish those no alcohol rumours) and some superb skiing.
We all love something different about skiing, I swear by Meribel and Morzine, our Sales Manager is St. Anton through and through and of course there are the Val d'Isere, Whistler and Les Arcs fans among us. The great thing about skiing is there is a mountain, resort or even hotel/chalet to suit all of us. I love chalets, big mountains, fun atmosphere and après ski, others prefer charming villages, family run hotels and understated elegance. They key is to find your own spiritual home in the mountains.
* Stats taken from Igluski 2010/11 bookings
Now we've all heard of the Green Cross Code and most of us grew up walking to school with lolly pop ladies keeping us safe from speeding cars, but did you know there is a code of conduct for the mountains?
There have been more and more cases of piste-rage hitting the press over the last few seasons, including a story on PlanetSki where an adult had to be restrained for hitting a 15 year old girl! With this in mind I thought I would share the F.I.S. Code of Conduct with you, so you can go on holiday with the peace of mind that you are skiing responsibly.
F.I.S. Code of Conduct
The code of conduct is really common sense and has been devised so we can all enjoy the mountain and ensure that accidents, which do happen, are dealt with safely and swiftly. Hopefully the only concerns will be skiing safely and respecting others, which includes not skiing over their equipment in lift queues. The mountains are there to be enjoyed.
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