With the season’s first snow already on the ground in the northern hemisphere, Aussie skiers and snowboarders are turning their attention overseas.
David Withers, the managing director of ski travel specialist Travelplan, says Colorado, in the US, is consistently the most popular destination for Australians.
Japan is wildly popular, too, especially the resort of Niseko, where Australians go for the powder snow.
Here’s our take on where to ski around the world this northern winter.
Why you’d go: American snow resorts are big and polished, with good lift systems, ski schools, kids’ programs and snowmaking. The restaurants and bars are on trend, and many resort towns have a wild-west cowboy vibe. Apartment accommodation is ideal for groups or families.
What’s hot: Aspen is among the most popular Colorado resorts for Australians, pipping Vail.
Why you might hesitate: The US dollar is very strong, meaning it’s expensive for Aussies at the moment.
Something else to consider: Resorts close to capital cities can be crowded on weekends.
When to go: January is the most popular time for Australians because of school holidays, but it is an expensive month for airfares. Americans like to ski in February when it gets a bit warmer. March is less crowded, and accommodation and airfare costs are reasonable. If you want a white Christmas expect to pay top dollar.
Notable resorts: Aspen has four mountains (Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk), which deliver variety for all levels. The town has celeb cred, and you could end up in the gondola with a star like Jack Nicholson. Aspen used to be very expensive, but these days costs are more in line with other US resorts. Jackson Hole and Telluride have a great cowboy vibe (Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank in Telluride) and challenging skiing. Snowbird is famed for its powder snow. Steamboat is known for family skiing.
Why you’d go: The smaller internal resorts – such as Sun Peaks, Big White and Panorama – are good value and family friendly. Whistler-Blackcomb is hugely popular. It’s big and ticks the boxes for terrain, lifts, nightlife, restaurants, bars, shops and accommodation with ski-in and ski-out convenience.
What’s hot: Week-long helicopter skiing holidays are all the rage if you have $A15,000-plus to spend. Stay in a remote lodge and access untracked snow daily. Heli-ski operators include outfits such as TLH and CMH, which is already almost sold out for 2021.
Why you might hesitate: The resorts aren’t that high, which brings snow reliability into question at some mountains. On the other hand, A-grade snowmaking is now widespread in Canada.
Something else to consider: If you’re staying in Banff (and many Aussies do), keep in mind that the resorts (Lake Louise, Sunshine and Mount Norquay) are out of town and spread out. Be prepared for a daily road commute (shuttle buses available).
When to go: Similar to the US, the busiest time for Australians going over is January, but it’s less expensive in February and March. There are some good prices in early December too.
Notable resorts: Whistler-Blackcomb is the country’s No.1 resort, with tonnes of terrain and a huge village with lively nightlife. Its variety makes it ideal for all levels. Lake Louise is lauded for its terrain and views, and the castle-like Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel is nearby in a spectacular mountain setting. If you’re hard core, head for Kicking Horse.
Why you’d go: In many areas, resorts are clustered close together (such as St Anton, Lech and Zurs in Austria), so you can easily access several during one holiday without changing accommodation. Village ambience and excellent food are other strong points.
What’s hot: On-mountain dining (lunch or dinner) with Euro classics such as fondue, schnitzel with sauerkraut, and charcuterie platters.
Why you might hesitate: Accommodation is dominated by hotels, which are perfect for Europeans who tend to go skiing for three or four days at a time. As lovely and charming as the hotels are, they’re not as practical for Aussie families who typically go to the European snowfields for trips of 10-plus days. The apartment scene is developing, but nothing like in the US or Canada.
Something else to consider: Low-altitude resorts sometimes fail to deliver the white stuff.
When to go: January and February are best for snow quality and depth. Prices drop after January 8, but beware of early February when some countries have school holidays and resorts can become crowded.
Notable resorts: Cortina (Italy) oozes class and boutiques and is good for intermediates. St Anton (Austria) is a busy party resort for the younger crowd. Lech and Zurs (Austria) have picturesque villages, Euro charm, and are suited to all levels. Chamonix (France) is for experts.
Why you’d go: The depth and quality of snow is usually outstanding and the Japanese are very friendly. Immerse yourself in the hot springs, the culture and the food. There’s also a shorter travel time from Australia (compared to flying to the US, Canada and Europe) and the time difference is minimal, meaning jet lag is not a major factor.
What’s hot: Catching a bullet train (shinkansen) from Tokyo to resorts such as Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen.
Why you might hesitate: The cost of apartments can be higher than Aspen in the US and Whistler-Blackcomb in Canada.
Something else to consider: It can be crowded during Chinese New Year (January 25-February 8 in 2020).
When to go: February and March are less crowded than January.
Notable resorts: Niseko is wildly popular among Australians. It is known for its dry powder snow, which blows over in weather patterns from Siberia. The slopes aren’t particularly steep, so Aussies can handle it well. Furano is known as a family friendly resort. Nozawa Onsen is good for all levels and has a traditional-style village and hot springs. Hakuba also has terrain for all levels and is the place to go for tours to see the famous snow monkeys bathing in hot springs.