When you’re trying to decide where to go for that dream winter vacation abroad, there’s plenty of places to choose from. Winter resorts are very popular destinations, and it can be difficult to choose from the hundreds of places all proudly boasting the best powder snow, the most beautiful views, the least crowded lifts and every other enticement they can think of.
The most popular ski destination
The undisputed king of winter wonderlands is of course Switzerland (above). No other country has made more out of its alpine heritage than the tiny mountain federation, with its charming, old-fashioned villages, its towering mountains and picture-perfect snowy slopes. Switzerland may have four seasons like the rest of Europe, but most people only ever remember the winters and the snow. Whether its downhill skiing, cross-country skiing or just a gentle glide through snow covered forest, the country offers every imaginable snowy experience, along with an après-ski culture justly famed for its exuberance and delights.
For many winter sports enthusiasts, a trip to the Swiss Alps at least once in their lives is a cherished dream and despite Switzerland’s general image as a hideously expensive country to live in, it is still a surprisingly affordable vacation destination: the Swiss mountains are liberally sprinkled with hotels and residences to suit every budget, from luxury resorts to spartan but comfortable chalets, and the ski resorts are very competitively priced to cater to the hordes of ski enthusiasts who descend on the slopes every winter. St Moritz, Lausanne, Zermatt — these are just a few of the major resort towns which host the country’s annual influx of winter lovers, but there are many, small towns and out-of-the-way resorts where you might not only pay less, but enjoy a quieter time, surrounded by fewer people.
Skiing on the other side of the world
Another popular ski destination, on the other side of the world, is Queenstown, New Zealand. In a country famed for picture-postcard scenery, the landscape around the town is worth at least a poster or two, with its sharp-edged mountains swooping down to the edge of lake. There are over five snow fields within two hours drive of Queenstown, the Remarkables mountain range (which live up to their name) nearby and the fields of Mt Hutt and Coronet Peak within easy reach.
In New Zealand, you won’t find massive on-site resorts ala Switzerland — most skiers will commute from nearby ski towns, spend the day on the slopes, and then drive back. This isn’t as much of a hassle as it first appears, as it provides the wonderful opportunity to go skiing in the morning, play a round of golf in the afternoon, and gorge yourself at a barbeque in the evening!
There are also a number of wilder options for those moments off the snow field. Not for nothing is Queenstown known as the Adventure Capital of New Zealand — almost any hare-brained stunt you can think of is probably offered by some tour operator somewhere in the town. Want to jump out of a helicopter — onto the glacier? Sure, you can find it. Want to go bungee jumping? Well, Queenstown practically invented the stunt. And if you think your courage isn’t up to such wild antics, there’s a fantastic number of bars to help you get your courage up.
On the West Coast
If you’re looking for a ski resort in the United States, there is almost an embarrassment of wealth, as the county has literally hundreds of snow fields. If you happen to be in Seattle, Washington, the choices are easier. In a state famed for the outdoor-oriented lifestyle of its natives, it comes as no surprise that there are a number of major snow fields within easy reach of the city. Steven’s Pass, Mt Baker, the Snoqualmie Pass, Crystal Mountain — these are just a few of the popular ski destinations in the state.
The most popular and most family oriented of these ski resorts is the Summit-at-Snoqualmie, a long-established resort about an hour outside Seattle. The resort offers a Summit Learning Center and a day-care facility, which is great for frazzled parents looking for some time on the slopes together. The resort is located at Snoqualmie pass (50 miles east of Seattle off I-90) and boasts of four ski areas with more than 65 ski runs, enough to exhaust even the most dedicated skier. There are also slopes set up for night-skiing, if you’re feeling adventurous.
A snowy landscape, fierce sunshine
Of course, all these popular ski resorts are great and everything – but what if you want to find a place a little less well known? A little out of the way place where the snow is just as wonderful, the scenery just as spectacular, but with less people to jostle against and fight for the slopes? There are any number of such gems tucked away into the quieter regions of even the most popular ski destinations, where the only people on the slopes are the locals or a few well informed visitors. One such ski destinations in Europe is the Gambarie, which is located in the sun drenched Calabria, the picturesque southernmost extreme of the Italian peninsula.
Popular with Italians, but virtually unknown outside the country’s borders, the Gambarie is perhaps the most spectacular snow fields in the country. Due to its location deep in the Aspromonte National Park, the area is far less commercialized than its better-known counterparts overseas, but what it lacks in glittering entertainments, it more than makes up for in pure, outdoorsy pleasure. The snow field offers over 10 km of gentle downhill slopes, there are many cross country trails, and the area is known for its breathtaking views, with the distant sea always a constant background. The snow field itself is well equipped with ski lifts and chair lifts, and an artificial snow project underway to add more delight to a day on the slopes. If visitors want to stay on-site, there is a comfortable hotel only a few metres away from the slopes, while a bit further afield, there are a wider variety of accommodations, ranging from villas to farmhouse stays.
Despite its isolation and relative obscurity, the Gambarie is a great spot for ski-bugs looking for a more unusual winter vacation destination, without the commercialism of the bigger resorts. Then again, those resorts do offer greater accessibility and wonderful convenience. Both options have their advantages, but whichever one you end up going to for that dream holiday, remember that the most important thing is to have a GREAT time!