Eternal winter: where to ski every month of the year
Not all travellers rejoice at the spring thaw. For skiers and snowboarders, springtime heralds long months deprived of mountaintop thrills, scowling at the sun while cherished skiing gear gathers dust. But why be a slave to the seasons? From Scandinavia to New South Wales, here are our dream destinations to pursue an eternal winter.
January: Salt Lake City, USA
Skiers and boarders discuss Utah’s voluminous powder snow in rapt whispers. State license plates have bragged about ‘the greatest snow on Earth’ since 1985. The hype is well-founded: few North American winter sports hubs enjoy as much snowfall – around 550 inches per season – as the four main resorts clustered around Salt Lake City. Dry and cold weather gives the snow a buoyant quality, ideal for off-piste antics (and a very soft landing). Skiers will revel in the breathtaking views around Alta, while the top pick for snowboarders is vast Snowbird. Meanwhile, wide-open Solitude has a web of challenging black (advanced) runs.
February: Hokkaido, Japan
In Hokkaido, cathedrals of ice and snowy beasts aren’t hallucinations induced by too much sake. Each February, sub-zero sculptures are unveiled at Sapporo Snow Festival. On the mountains, nature crafts its own surreal display: juhyo (snow monsters), formed when trees are blasted with snow and ice, are at their most impressive in February. Ski past battalions of juhyo at crowd-pleasing resort Sapporo Kokusai, one hour’s drive west of Sapporo city, or thunder across legendary backcountry (if you’re a pro). Still yearning to face-plant in fluffy snow? Continue southwest to powder capital, Niseko.
March: Whistler, Canada
While dreaded spring melt creeps into resorts across Europe and North America, skiers in British Columbia continue merrily on the mountains. Eight-thousand-acre Whistler-Blackcomb groans under 12m of snowfall each year, so it’s still at its prime in March. More than 200 well-preened pistes wend across the two mountains, with a mile of skiable vertical that dwarfs other North American resorts. To leave fresh tracks in pristine backcountry snow, grab some avalanche gear and a local guide to explore the lonely snowfields of Garibaldi Provincial Park.
April: Obertauern, Austria
Think quaint chalets and pillowy snow are for wimps? Winter travellers who crave wild, windswept terrain should head to Obertauern, 90km south of Salzburg. From its dizziest heights, around 2350m, you can survey the towering Austrian Alps as you zoom across 100km of pistes – just bring a balaclava to fend off the biting winds. Obertauern was one of the filming locations for Help!, should that inspire you to belt out Beatles tunes from the bubble lift.
May: Riksgränsen, Sweden
Hiding 200km above the Arctic Circle is Sweden’s northernmost ski resort, Riksgränsen. The ski area’s vertical drop, at under 400 metres, doesn’t compete with other European resorts. But expansive off-piste trails, winding among cloudlike snow drifts and frost-rimmed forests, more than compensate. Mix it up by snowshoe trekking around Lake Vassijaure or commanding a fleet of sled dogs, and watch professional shredders in Scandinavia’s Big Mountain Championships. At the end of May, when the sun barely touches the horizon, you’ll need steely willpower to hang up your skis and sleep.
June: Cardrona, New Zealand
While Europeans and North Americans mournfully shelve their gear, New Zealanders are busy waxing their skis. Cardrona, whose winter season kicks off in mid-June, is nestled prettily in the Southern Alps. Half of its 345-hectare pisted area suits novice and intermediate levels, while seasoned snowheads can somersault around the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest half-pipe and park facilities. Just 20km south, Cardrona Distillery is the perfect place to stock up on après-ski fuel.
July: Las Leñas, Argentina
Luxury is best served with a sprinkling of powder snow. Premium ski resort Las Leñas gleams out from the Argentinian stretch of the mighty Andes mountain range. Its slopes climb from 2200m to a vertiginous 3400m, so start slowly to avoid altitude sickness – there’s no more enjoyable way to adjust than in a lavish spa hotel (Hotel Virgo is the fanciest). Best of all, you’re in Mendoza wine country, where aprѐs-ski involves swishing an inky Malbec around your glass while eyeing a steak menu.
August: Perisher Valley, Australia
Dispel images of foaming surf and fan-shaped opera houses. New South Wales is home to a small but hardy community of skiers, who make an annual pilgrimage to Perisher, the southern hemisphere’s biggest ski resort. A valley carved among Australia’s Snowy Mountains, Perisher’s altitude (and more than 200 snowmaking machines) ensure it’s blanketed in the white stuff each August. Snowboard or ski across its 1200 hectares, or clamp on some snowshoes to roam the scenic Rock Creek track.
September: Corralco, Chile
Compared to busier ski hubs towards Santiago, this friendly resort on the southern slopes of 2865m-high Lonquimay is blissfully low-key. After the stormy first half of the ski season, August and September in Corralco have bluer skies and fewer crowds. Its 1800 hectares of snow-lashed terrain is superb for newbie or intermediate skiers and boarders. Only 10km southwest of the resort, the natural hot springs in Malalcahuello beckon to sore limbs.
October: Whakapapa, New Zealand
Fancy snowboarding on an active volcano? Of course you do. Splayed across the northwestern slopes of Mt Ruapehu, Whakapapa is superb for groups of mixed ability. There’s a huge area dedicated to learners called Happy Valley, as well as 24 steep ‘Black Magic’ runs for advanced boarders, skiing pros, or show-offs with robust travel insurance. It forms New Zealand’s biggest ski area together with sister resort Turoa, which boasts the country’s loftiest chairlift, the Highnoon Express – don’t look down.
November: Ruka, Finland
Southern hemisphere resorts shutter their chalets, northern ones wait anxiously for snowfall – November is the cruellest month for skiers. Luckily far northern Ruka, a frosty fell in eastern Finland, has 200 days of snow per year, plus snowmaking machines to keep the hills downy and white. Most thrilling are Ruka’s 500km of cross-country skiing and snowmobile trails, threading among forests and frozen lakes. During night skiing sessions every Friday, you might even see the pistes glow green under the Northern Lights.
December: Val Thorens, France
Finish with a flurry of snow in Val Thorens, Europe’s highest ski village. Posing from a 2300m perch in the French Alps, this purpose-built winter sports retreat accesses the largest linked ski area on the planet, Les Trois Vallées (Three Valleys). Glide down 600km of slopes, schuss more than 300 cross-country trails, and dip into villages like pretty Méribel and low-key Le Praz for hot chocolate. As steam curls from your chocolat chaud, with a panorama of mountains piercing the clouds, you might find yourself dreaming ahead to another year of wintry adventures.
First published in April 2016.