Resorts have been pounded by the white stuff, making it the perfect time to snap up a deal, writes Rachael Oakes-Ash.
THE northern hemisphere snow season is now two months old with another three to go so there's still time to take advantage of a strong Aussie dollar and an even stronger snow season, particularly in Europe.
Parts of North America were, until recently, yet to get the promised La Nina season of last year that delivered record snowfalls. Utah, Colorado and some parts of Canada were having a below-average season until a recent snowstorm dumped a much-needed foot or more on key Colorado and Utah resorts.
The Pacific north-west resorts of Whistler Blackcomb and Shames in British Columbia, Canada as well as Alyeska in Alaska and Mount Baker in Washington have been getting the most snow. The Canadian resort of Fernie received 75 centimetres in a January 17 snowstorm and nearby Island Lake Lodge (islandlake catskiing.com) is calling a three-metre base at their summit.
Jackson Hole in Wyoming received more than a metre in the recent storms that also changed the state of play of Utah resorts, which had been skiing below average.
The really good news is if you're a strong intermediate-to-advanced skier, the heli-skiing lodges of interior British Columbia are experiencing the best conditions in North America this season.
Californian resorts have been doing it very tough with little, if any, natural snowfall until last weekend, when more than 30 centimetres started to fill in the much-needed gaps and more followed throughout the week. Japan and Europe have been pounded with snow, Japan declaring its best season in 10 years and Austria its best in 50 years, after a dire start followed by a snowstorm. The storm dumped metres of snow on the European Alps, hitting Austria and France hardest and leaving holidaymakers stranded.
Anything can still happen but in the meantime we've chosen the resorts offering the best snow and some good deals north of the equator to go with it.
The hidden gem of Schweitzer in Idaho (schweitzer.com) has been benefiting from the snowstorms hitting Canada and has a 224-centimetre base. Three nights in slopeside accommodation for a family, lift passes for two adults and all children under 18 start from $US1154 ($1097) during the Sandpoint Winter Carnival in February.
Jackson Hole in Wyoming (jacksonhole.com) has a 211-centimetre base and its own airport at Jackson. The resort has "kids fly and stay for free" deals and $US299 return flight offers from Los Angeles. Conditions apply.
Points North Heli-Adventures (alaskaheliski.com) have a couple of seats left for a week of heli-skiing with the best snowfall in North America so far.
$US4895 will get you seven nights accommodation, six days of possible heli-skiing, all meals, guiding and equipment.
Air New Zealand has flights to San Francisco via Auckland from $1712 for travel between March 11 and 31. 13 24 76, airnewzealand.com.au.
If you have the time, and an intrepid nature, head to Shames (friendsofshames.ca) near Terrace, British Columbia. This boutique mountain boasts a mere 102 hectares, is open from Friday to Monday each week and has a 345-centimetre base on its mid-mountain. The locals are bidding to save the resort and raise $2 million; your lift ticket could help and with all this powder, it could be the best $C45 ($42) lift pass you've bought. Whistler Blackcomb (whistler blackcomb.com) has been hit hard by the Pacific north-west La Nina snow cycle. Expect a 216-centimetre base up top and 165 centimetres mid-mountain.
Travelplan has a seven-night package staying at Delta Whistler Village Suites from $1059 in March. 1300 754 754, travelplan.com.au.
Kicking Horse (kickinghorse resort.com) has had almost five metres of snowfall so far this season. You'll find them on Canada's famous "powder highway". Ski Max offers seven nights at Glacier Mountain Lodge in Kicking Horse, return transfers from Calgary and a six-day ski pass from $1333 a person from February 1. 1300 136 997, skimax.com.au.
Now is the season to heli-ski in Canada. CMH (Canadian Mountain Holidays) has availability on a seven-day heli-ski trip at Galena Lodge from March 24 to 31 including 30,000 guaranteed vertical metres, all meals and snacks, full lodge accommodation, transfers and guiding from $8207 a person, twin share. 1300 754 264, skicmh.com.au.
If it is anyone's season this season, it is Europe's. St Anton (stantonamarlberg.com) in Austria has a top mountain base of 510 centimetres and nearby Lech has 380 centimetres.
Gstaad (gstaad.ch) in Switzerland has 380 centimetres and the pedestrian-only village of Saas Fee (saas-fee.com) has 360 centimetres.
In France, Chamonix (chamonix.com) has the goods with 367 centimetres and La Plagne (la-plagne.com) has 300 centimetres.
Club Med has the best deals for Australians wanting to cash in on the snow. Book before the end of today and save up to $450. The all-inclusive ski-chalet holidays include all meals, snacks and bar drinks, accommodation, transfers, lift passes and lessons. Seven-night packages start at $1898 for an adult and $1515 for a child at La Plagne with similar deals at Chamonix and Val d'Isere. 1800 258 263, clubmed.com.au.
Travelplan offer seven nights in Chamonix from $782 a person, twin share, at Les Balcons du Savoy in a studio in March with six-day lift pass. 1300 754 754, travelplan.com.au.
Qantas is getting in on the European ski action with deals from Sydney to London from $1799 return for travel in February and March. The sale is on until January 31, so get in quick. qantas.com.au.
Even in a bad year, Japan has more snow than most other resorts. Niseko (nisekotourism.com) in Hokkaido has a base of 350 centimetres and the main island resorts of Nagano are not far behind, with Nozawa Onsen (nozawakanko.jp/english/) on 315 centimetres, Myoko Kogen (myokokogen.net) on 310 centimetres and Hakuba (hakubatourism.com) on 240 centimetres.
Value Tours has a seven-night package at Niseko Landmark in a two-bedroom apartment, including a five-day lift pass and return airport transfers from $1216 a person based on four people. Conditions apply. Must book by February 28. 1300 361 322, valuetours.com.au.
In Hakuba, Liquid Snow Tours has a seven-night package in a deluxe two-bedroom Phoenix Hotel chalet with a six-day lift pass, transfers, resort hosting and dinner at Mimi's restaurant at the Phoenix. Also included in the deal, kids ski for free. From $1495 an adult and $1245 a child. (03) 9017 1142, liquidsnowtours.com.
Jetstar offers flights to Osaka or Tokyo from the Gold Coast or Cairns that start from $369 one way, conditions apply. 13 15 38, jetstar.com.