Ski resorts with Michelin-star restaurants, ultra-luxury chalets, après-ski of fondue or sushi, and slopes that are steep and deep are more than a few reasons to point your ski tips overseas for the northern winter. Here are our top picks of where to go.
Words by Flip Byrnes
Nowhere does luxury quite like Europe and there’s a blizzard of competitors when it comes to choosing the most luxurious resort to plant your poles. Switzerland’s chocolate box of resorts includes St Moritz (stmoritz.com) and Zermatt, but the biggest news out of Europe this season is the opening of Switzerland’s ski area SkiArena Andermatt-Sedrun. It isn’t a brand-new ski area, but rather a merger of those on the Oberalp Pass (the Gemsstock, Nätschen-Gütsch and Sedrun-Oberalp Pass ski areas), with more than 120 kilometres of runs. After 10 years and A$184 million, 10 new high-speed, high-capacity chair and gondola lifts have been installed and the Schneehüenerstock-Express gondola lift opened last season, completing the access between Uri and Graubünden, two culturally diverse cantons in Central Switzerland.
If you prefer to go where the monarchs do, try St Anton in Austria where everyone from the British to Japanese royal families have visited. In France, Courchevel 1850, part of Les Trois Vallées, is the obvious choice. To arrive like a rock star, fly into the tiny snow-covered Altiport airfield. Right below is the Le Cap Horn restaurant deck for lunch with the rest of the European elite. Then there’s the combined ski resort area of Val D’Isere and Tignes, formerly known as Espace Killy, with 300 kilometres of pistes and 78 lifts. It’s also home to La Folie Douce, a mountain restaurant that is the alpine equivalent of Ibiza. For the best people watching on the planet, retire to the VIP lounge upstairs, or join the daily party on the outdoor terrace with cabaret show, live DJ and raucous table dancing. Val D’Isere, is in the midst of a gargantuan five-year, A$320 million upgrade to expand the village and connect it with the slopes. This includes a 10-person, A$16 million gondola serving the highest altitude (2,551 metre) hotel in France. The new Refuge de La Solaise, a 70-year-old cable car station turned luxury boutique hotel, officially opens later this year. Get in quickly for the 380 square metre penthouse apartment with views worthy of a
James Bond film set.
In Canada, heli-skiing is king. Three hundred-and-sixty-degree views of jagged peaks, and all you can hear is the sound of your breath in the frigid air, the crunch of snow underfoot and the thump of your heart while surveying the untracked slope before you. Ski gloves down, it’s the most exclusive and euphoric experience on snow and nowhere does it better – probably because many other countries don’t allow it (including the majority of Europe). CMH Heli has been operating for 50 years and if solitude is the ultimate luxury, you get it here with a 1.2-million-hectare playground. The total CMH tenure is 23 times larger than all the skiable terrain of every resort in North America combined, or one third the size of Switzerland and almost half the size of the Alps. There are 12 lodges across a number of mountain ranges, but it’s hard to go past the Valemount Lodge, which has its own pool, gourmet chef, 500 runs to conquer and a helicopter on call.
Oh, Telluride, how much I love thee. Is it your utterly unique setting tucked in a majestic box canyon, the farm-to-plate restaurants, or the teeny town of just eight blocks studded with Victorian-era architecture? Whatever your expectations of this 140-year-old former mining town tucked deep in a Colorado pocket, they will be exceeded. Under the big-name reputation runs the throb of a tight-knit ski-town community with a quiet sophistication. Sure, land owners may include Oprah Winfrey and Ralph Lauren, but Telluride’s vibe is more denim than diamonds. Head up to the town of Mountain Village, just shy of 3,000 metres in the thick of the ski action, or down to Telluride itself – connected by a free 13-minute gondola ride. At Mountain Village, choose from the newly reopened ski-in ski-out hotel Lumière with Inspirato (Black Tie Ski rental will even do in-room fittings). For an evening you will never forget, go to Tempter House, one of the highest lodgings in North America. Arriving is part of the adventure. Perched at 3,656 metres above Tempter snow-chute, the Telluride ski patrol delivers you to the five-star home where you can relax by the fireplace or in the jacuzzi, or enjoy gourmet food by a private chef. Then head down to a smorgasbord of terrain. Experts love the pure fall lines that descend straight into town and the more sedate groomers, such as the seven kilometre-long Galloping Goose. Telluride’s slopes excel in the spring, when its high elevations and northern exposures help preserve snow for
an extended Rocky Mountain high.
Further north at Jackson Hole in Wyoming there’s a strong advanced terrain tribe. There is also plenty to do for beginners at the new Solitude Station, a ski area accessed by the recently opened Sweetwater Gondola. Here you’ll find a ski school perfect for the kids, a covered surface carpet lift, and rental and dining facilities, all within a two-minute gondola ride from the base. Jackson Hole is also home to an aerial tram (nicknamed by the locals ‘Big Red’) that will take you to Rendezvous Peak. Grab a waffle or hot chocolate from Corbet’s Cabin before skiing back down, and in summer there are plenty of hiking trails into Grand Teton National Park, where you can get close to nature, such as bison, moose and bald eagles. While, at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, there’s an outdoor skating rink surrounded by shops, hotels and bars, all within skiing distance of the aerial tram. Stay at Caldera House, a boutique hotel in Teton Village with four and two-bedroom suites, all with chef’s kitchen and mountain views, where they custom adventures to suit your needs, whether it’s dog sledding or a horse trek with Wyoming cowboys where you can sip a Wyoming whiskey and watch the sunset over Teton.
Up in Montana, Big Sky Resort lives up to its name. For one thing, it is big at 2,300 hectares. If you want to get lost and feel a little solitude, this is the place to do it. Not only does it sit alone, tucked away from any competitive resorts, but it has hundreds of hectares of blue terrain sprawled across the mountain (for a thrill, head up to the knife ridge of Lone Peak). Lift lines are almost non-existent, and with the brand new Ramcharger eight chairlift and Shedhorn four chairlift, there’s even more slope time. You get the (snow) drift – if you like your skiing with oodles of space and a topping of local character, the expansive Big Sky beckons.
When we say Japan is for serious snow lovers, we don’t mean you have to be an advanced skier, but you do have to really like snow. Say, 10 to 18 metres of it. Snow can fall all day and all night, and dumping directly from Siberia it’s not just snow, it’s powder. Japan has plenty of positives though – minimum jet lag from Australia, a fascinating culture, post-ski onsens and delicious cuisine. Add in urban stop-overs in kaleidoscopic Tokyo or traditional Kyoto, and it’s quite a ski holiday cocktail. It’s tempting to head for the quieter ski nooks such as Nozawaonsen and Myoko Kogen, if you have a yen for traditional Japanese life. But luxe-lovers head for the bright lights of Niseko. Not only can you ski four different interconnected resorts on the one Niseko United pass (making it Japan’s biggest ski area), there are great backcountry opportunities, including side country access via boundary gates (Japanese tend to stick to the marked pistes) and an endless selection of restaurants and bars.
Pad around in traditional Japanese robe and slippers at The Vale Niseko after soaking in a penthouse balcony onsen, zen out in a forest-cloistered villa at Zaborin Ryokan, or lie awake at night trying to devise creative commands for your private butler at seven-bedroom Hakuchozan. The new kid on the luxury block is Skye Niseko. Skye isn’t short on charms, including its location at the top of Hirafu Village, 160-seat restaurant, après-ski bar, onsen, gym and wellness spa. The latter two are the perfect places to recover from a French fusion degustation at Michelin-starred Kamimura, soba noodles at Anthony Bourdain’s favourite (Rakuichi’s) or a night at The Fridge Door aka Bar Gyu (entered via a fridge door). New kid on the block is Hinode Hills, in the heart of Niseko Village, which opens in December. The apartments have ski-in access and stunning views of Mount Yotie. There’s also an in-house onsen and variety of dining and retail venues. And with the Rugby World Cup and Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, the travel flavour of the year is the land of the rising sun, or in this case, the falling flake.
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