Here at Kiwi.com, we’re interested in all aspects of travel. We realise some people don’t just travel for a holiday, but for a more specific purpose. In this article, we’re looking at…
As is normal with these lists, we’re going to try and look at places that might not normally be on your radar when trying to come up with somewhere to go. If you’re European, you might think about Austria or Switzerland; if you’re from the US, maybe Colorado, for example. Hopefully, not only will you discover a bargain, but you’ll get to go somewhere you’ve never been. That’s kind of half the point of travel, right? So, with that in mind, let’s grab our skis and head on out!
Africa for skiing? Absolutely. In the Atlas Mountains to the south of Marrakesh, you’ll find Africa’s highest ski resort, its highest ski lift topping out at 3,258m with five runs coming down from there, plus a decent range of slopes from lower heights.
The village of Oukaïmeden has everything you’d expect from any other ski resort – restaurants, hotels, and so forth – but there is a wider range of unofficial rental places than you might find in Europe, with some fairly dated-looking equipment.
That said, the official stuff is well-priced. Skis and boots can be had for around €15 a day, with lift passes costing around €10. Oh, and it’s probably the only place where shuttle busses are occasionally replaced by donkeys.
Alpe d’Huez, France
In the summer, this part of France is a bit of a mecca for cyclists as they attempt to make the 21-bend climb up the astonishingly steep trail (1,140m in 14km). In fact, their official website counts how many people complete it every day, and keeps a running total for the year. The stage will return to the Tour de France in 2018, but before that, let’s talk about the slippy stuff.
Used for the 1968 Winter Olympics at Grenoble, in the 1970s and 80s, Alpe d’Huez fell out of fashion as more upmarket ski resorts opened at places like Les Trois Vallées and the Val d’Isère. But with 84 lifts and 249km of pistes, making it one of the world’s largest ski areas, it started to attract the more adventurous types.
Nowadays, it’s popular with freeskiers and those who get off on the thrill of tackling the world’s longest black run, a heart-stopping prospect at 16km long.
Jackson Hole, USA
Jackson, Wyoming, is home to three resorts (Jackson Hole, Snow King and Grand Targhee), and little else. The landscape is wild and beautiful, home to elk and beavers, and Jackson itself was established by a beaver-trapper in the 1820s.
Flying in to Jackson Hole airport, you’re greeted with spectacular views of the Teton Mountains and, since 2013, a sleek, modern facility; it’s located only 14km from Jackson itself and is a 30-minute bus ride to the Jackson Hole resort. The possibilities for ski rental are many, with an online rental service meaning that you can just turn up straight off the plane and pick up your gear.
If all that outdoorsy stuff gets a bit too much for you, the town is home to a good many bars giving an “authentic” wild-western experience (read: a lot of pick-up trucks and checked shirts). If you fancy something more cultural, you could visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which contains works by such artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, and Andy Warhol’s series on endangered species.
Appi Kogen, Japan
Charmingly, their website encourages you to “Be Happy in Appi!”, and by fast train this resort is around two hours and 15 minutes from Tokyo. It’s a year-round sports venues, also comprising golf courses, tennis courts, and hot springs for relaxing.
Spread over two mountains and incorporating 45km of runs, there are options for every level of skier – and even some things to do for those who are still too small – for there is a snow play area and even a petting zoo for kids!
There’s skiing from December to May with night-time running an option on most nights and they also run a snowboard school for those who fancy having a go at that. Aside from messing about on the slopes, evenings play host to occasional pop concerts, and if you feel like venturing out of the resort there’s plenty to do in the surrounding area.
The nearby town of Morioka, although not especially pretty in itself, is large enough to provide you with good shops and so forth, as well as a sake brewery that runs guided tours. During the first week of February you can also visit the Iwate Snow Festival; an exhibition of snow sculptures that also includes sleigh rides, a food and drink festival and a giant snow slide!
La Plagne, France
A sprawling confusion of villages set a fair distance apart – sometimes in different valleys – means that planning any trip to this part of France means finding where you’d like to be based and not being too ambitious about it.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as the resort caters mainly for skiers up to an intermediate level, and not being too ambitious about that either. There is a range of wide, gentle slopes to glide easily down and for this reason they can get rather crowded, particularly in February when a lot of countries have a school holiday.
The villages (and I’ll continue to call them that, despite the fact that a number of them are simply purpose-built accommodation for skiers, either standing alone or added to one of the existing settlements) sprang up between 1961 and the early 90s because something needed to be done to maintain the economy of the area after people began abandoning the traditional industries of mining and agriculture.
At the western end of the Tarentaise Valley is the town of Albertville, host of the 1992 Winter Olympics, and nearby is the 14th-century walled town of Conflans, including a Baroque church and an art and history museum.
La Hoya, Nevados de Chillan, Chile
Another resort that, like Appi Kogen, can treat visitors to more than just skiing. Along with 32 different runs, split roughly equally between ability levels, there are also natural volcanic spa pools, and programmes of massage, mud baths, aromatherapy and shiatsu.
When you can finally work up the energy to get out on the slopes, you’ll find South America’s longest ski run, the 13km of the Tres Marias as well as its longest vertical drop, if that’s your sort of thing. Fans of tree skiing are also catered for, as some areas have trails that run through the tree-line, although off-piste these tend to get too claustrophobic and there’s a lot of undergrowth, which means the quality of the snow is not always great.
The resort also offers ski schools for both kids and adults, snowboarding, a Nordic skiing course, dogsledding and, for the more aggressively noisy among you, a park where you can rent snowmobiles and go hooning about to your heart’s content on a specially designed course between the trees.
The Alpensia Resort, South Korea
Hosting many of the outdoor events for the 2018 Winter Olympics (biathlon, ski jumping, bobsleigh and so on), the resort was only built in 2003 on top of fallow potato fields. It’s located around two and a half hours’ drive from Seoul (from where shuttle buses run from the airport and the city three or four times a day) and is relatively small.
Indeed, the longest run is only 1.4km; those wanting longer runs should jump in a car or bus for 10 minutes to arrive at the Yongpyong resort, which is where things start to get interesting.
Yongpyong is owned, oddly, by the Unification Church, them having helped out the resort after it ran into financial problems. This may well get a bit of publicity when the area hosts the more expansive elements of the Winter Olympics in 2018 – namely the slalom, giant slalom, Super-G and their related events.
Anyway, before it becomes the focus of a large part of the world in February, it’s an arrestingly invented place to stay. Even the name claims to be “a combination of the words Alpen, Asia and Fantasia. Together they reflect the resort’s scenic view of the fantastic Alps of Asia.”
After the slightly unusual idea of going to Africa to ski, what about the Middle East? An hour from Beirut, nearly 2.5km above sea level and with 80km of runs, stands the biggest ski resort in the Middle East.
It all began in 1960, when a group founded the Lebanese Ski Foundation, brought a ski lift over from Switzerland, and installed it (along with four chalets) on 160,000 square metres of land. The resort now covers 42 hills, each one offering a stunning view of the neighbouring peaks throughout the season, which runs from December to April. On clear days, skiers can even see Beirut and the coast.
The village of Faraya, just before you reach the resort, can supply you with all the gear and equipment you need, and a full day lift pass for adults costs as little as $27. On top of skiing, the resort offers snowmobiling and snowboarding, and the nightlife is so good that people from Beirut have been known to come and ignore the skiing entirely!
Not far from Salt Lake City, Utah, lies the resort of Snowbird. Due to its proximity to the Great Salt Lake, the arid conditions produce some of the finest powder snow in the world, that stays dry and soft even days after a fresh snowfall.
It really is an all-in-one experience. Each of the five lodges has excellent facilities and the whole place is catered to both experts and beginners; even families with young children can have fun as kids as young as three can join one of the age-grouped ski schools.
Its 10km of runs are a nice mix of gentle and challenging, and of course the whole time you’re not far from Salt Lake City. So even if there are non-skiers in your group, you have, unusually, the option to stay in a large American city as well as having a world-class resort on the doorstep.
Snow Tunnels (Hiihtotunneli), Finland
The Finns are all about cross-country skiing, so let’s end there (you’ll notice I didn’t take the opportunity to make a “let’s Finnish there” pun). The activity centre in Jämi, for example, offers a range of outdoor activities, ranging from the usual (skiing, hiking) to the not-so-usual (snow golf, dog sledging, driver training for snowy conditions).
It also includes a particularly Finnish thing: the ski tunnel. A number of resorts have these. They’re purpose-built tunnels in which there’s artificial snow and the temperature is controlled through cooling ducts, meaning they’re open even when there’s not enough snow on the ground outside.
Heading up to the lakes around Vuokatti in the middle of the country, for example, means similar things – dog sled safaris, ice-skating and cross-country skiing – and will also get you access to their 13 varied routes and slopes, as well as two ski tunnels (one for skiers and one with obstacles for snowboarders).
So whatever you’re looking for – and let’s be honest, the above is just the tip of the iceberg – Kiwi.com will help you find the best deals to give you a fabulous winter of thrills.