I love this time of year, when one season has entered it's twilight and another is filled with expectation. When it comes to following the winter north, Australian skiers and snowboarders are spoilt for choice with North America, Japan, Europe and even the Middle East, India, Korea and China on offer.
There is talk of another record-breaking season, like last northern winter in the USA and Canada, when snow dumps were limitless and winter fought with spring for rights to the months of April and May. But then there is always "talk" before a winter with long term forecasts bantered about and hopes of colder temperatures and more precipitation. La Nina was the phrase of last winter and it would appear it is heading their way again.
Snow It All has done some research for those considering cashing in your dollars for Yen, Euro or Greenbacks on what's new this northern winter to help get you in the mood.
In the USA, Ski Utah have launched their Yeti Pass for 2012. Snap it up for US$499 and ski all 14 resorts in the state known for uber dry light fluffy snow in major abundance. The Yeti Pass is good for one lift-pass at each of the resorts including Snowbird, Alta, Park City, Deer Valley and The Canyons. Perfect for road trippers.
Still in Utah, an extra 350 skiable acres have been added to Powder Mountain's already extensive snowcat terrain. Powdermountain boasts over 7000 skiable acres of inbound and guided backcountry terrain.
Helicopters are firing up across the way at the Canyons Resort in Park City, a mere 30 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport. The Canyons will be offering heli-skiing pick up from the resort with Wasatch Powderbird Guides for the first time this winter for those wanting to experience some legendary Utah powder.
Want to ski Utah but travelling alone? Mecca Travel Company have a Solo Skiers Tour so you can join fellow solo travelling skiers from January 29 to February 10 with 12 nights accommodation, nine days skiing at six resorts from $2380 per person twin share.
Vail, Colorado has the best season pass on offer, the Epic Season Pass for US$649 with unlimited access to seven resorts, no blackout dates. This season Vail is opening the doors on a new Nobu restaurant, Beaver Creek has a new highspeed quad-chair and DoubleTree by Hilton opens at Breckenridge.
Copper Mountain, also in Colorado has a new chairlift and Crested Butte has a new zipline with five lines and three suspension bridges. Aspen welcomes a new chairlift at Buttermilk which will cut chairlift time from 18 minutes to seven and the already swanky St Regis gets even more glorious with a US$40 million refurbishment.
If money is no object (lucky you), the Colorado Ski Country USA gold pass has your name etched on it. For US$3000 you can ski 21 Colorado resorts including Aspen, Telluride and Steamboat with no blackout periods. The pass is fully transferable so you can share it amongst your friends, colleagues, clients.
If you can afford that then you can afford the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole ultimate ski and snowboard package. From US$6200 to US$9200 depending on single or double occupancy per person you will spend one day riding Jackson Hole, one day at Grand Targhee cat skiing, one-day heli-skiing and one-day guided backcountry skiing being whisked between days in the comfort of a Mercedes SUV.
Further afield, Bogus Basin in Idaho have also been spending up big with a new $5million high-speed chairlift and Big Sky in Montana opens five new gladed trails adding twenty plus skiable acres to their already impressive five and a half thousand.
In Canada, Revelstoke Mountain Resort is offering 'sled skiing' this winter within the dedicated cat skiing terrain. Advanced and expert skiers will be sledded to the top of the run and picked up at the bottom. Sled assisted ski touring is also up for grabs.
Australian family favourite, Silver Star Mountain, has teamed up with Eagle Pass heli=skiing to offer resort guests heli skiing direct from Silver Star Mountain. The powder paradise known as Fernie has a new Polar Peak chairlift, accessing 22 new runs in above treeline powder bowls.
Marmot Basin in Alberta has two new chairlifts this season, a high-speed quad-chair for the upper half of the mountain and a triple-chair lift for the lower.
Canada created the ultimate skiing experience, heli-skiing, commercially founded by Hans Gmoser in 1968. His company, Canadian Mountain Holidays, now has 12 lodges deep in the heart of the backcountry.
This year, Australian skier, Toby Withers, director of Travelplan, will be hosting his own week at the private Bobbie Burns lodge, usually reserved for million-vertical-feet skiers and big wigs. For $12,292 per person from February 11 to 18, you'll join a private group of like-minded skiers of all levels and abilities. For $6137 per person you can ski the Adamants Lodge the week before Christmas from December 15 to 22.
Hakuba, Japan is the place of the moment. Nestled in the Hakuba Valley in the heart of Nagano on the main island of Honshu, Hakuba has a plethora of resorts in the one valley with options to discover neighbouring resorts like the feudal town of Nozawa Onsen and twenty one linked resorts in Shiga Kogen.
This year Liquid Snow Tours is offering day trips from Hakuba to Shiga Kogen for a day filled with snow mobiling and some time at the monkey onsen where snow monkeys soak themselves in thermal springs surrounded by snow.
Electro music lovers head to Europe this winter. Morzine is hosting Basscamp, an electronic music and snowsports festival for the first time this year. Expect international DJs and dancing till dawn.
Rudegirls Snowboard Camp, by Rude Chalets, runs this year from January 8 to 15. For 699 pounds, chicks with snowboards will receive daily tuition, mountain hosting, lift pass, Burton snowboard rental, airport transfers, half board and unlimited wine (priorities, priorities). All this in Avoriaz in the French Alps.
AIRLINES lifting their game
The good news for Australians wanting to by pass the hell that is Los Angeles airport (surely one of the worst), there is an alternative to access Canadian and American ski fields. Air New Zealand fly via Auckland to the other gateway city of San Francisco daily with economy, premium economy and flat bed business.
New to the route is the Economy SkyCouch, three economy class seats that are yours to use how you will, as a kids play area, a stretch out space or as a flatbed, as the foot rests rise to horizontal to create space for a sleeping couple. The 'Twin Seat' option is also available at check in for NZ$99 you can purchase an empty seat next to you (subject to availability). If you haven't seen the hilarious Richard Simmons Safety Video from Air NZ you can see it here.
Even better news for Aspen is the launch of American Airlines direct flights from Los Angeles. Skiers can fly the super smooth A380 with Qantas direct from Sydney via Los Angeles with a mere two and a half hour layover before a direct flight to Aspen, arriving at midday. Return departure is at the end of the day to connect with the Qantas flight home, meaning one more day of skiing.
It's big news for Aspen's competitor, Park City, who up to now was one of the easiest accessed resorts for Australians flying into the USA with Qantas. Though be warned Aspen airport is far smaller than Salt Lake City's international airport, which can accept all sorts of jet planes regardless of weather. Either way the competition is hotting up and that can only be good for Australians wanting to make the most of the current exchange rate.
Most Australians also don't know that it is also possible to fly direct to Jackson Hole and Sun Valley from San Francisco and/or Los Angeles which in turn are accessible with Qantas, Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and United Airlines. Again, the airports are smaller and subject to weather conditions. Snow It All, however, can attest to the ease of access by plane of both.
Where will you be skiing or riding this northern season? Got any secret gems you would like to share? What do you love about skiing north of the equator? Post a comment on the blog below.
TORAH BRIGHT TALKS WITH SNOW IT ALL
Snow It All had the pleasure of spending some time with surely the sweetest gal on the snow circuit, Torah Bright, in Perisher this season where she was enjoying the snow, some time out with family and mixing it up with the local Perisher kids and crew plus riding in her self titled Super Pipe!
We asked her about backcountry powder, fear and her push for the Sochi Olympics.