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Snow It All can almost smell the fresh dry northern powder in the air. The countdown is well and truly on for the northern ski season as snow Down Under loses its battle with tussock and bushland for mountain space.
The dollar may have dipped below parity with the Greenback, but never fear dear Snow It All readers, we've found the world's cheapest ski resorts so you can still boast about your snow adventures at the next dinner party without having your bank manager repossessing your skis.
There are websites like Liftopia and Liftticketscheap that have minions searching 24/7 for the best discount lift deals on offer every day, but if you're willing to get married then you can score a free lift pass at Loveland ski resort in Colorado. There is a catch, and it's not the one wearing your ring. You have to ski on February 14 and marry your beloved in a communal ceremony on the top of the hill in order to score a free lift pass for the day for both of you.
Too much of a commitment? Well, wait until you're 70 and you can ski for free all season long at Monarch ski resort in Colorado, Snowy Range in Wyoming, Bogus Basin and Soldiers Mountain in Idaho. Another five years and you'll be skiing for free at Snowbasin in Utah.
Not a senior? Bridger Bowl in Montana's lift pass is $48, Mt Baker in Washington is $51 and Alyeska in Alaska has passes for $60.
Don't be fooled by the 21-kilometre unsealed road to Castle Mountain in Alberta in Canada. This is one impressive ski hill (though hill doesn't do it justice) with no lift queues, super friendly locals and some seriously good terrain for all levels. For a mere US$65 you can ski here all day long and that's before any multi-day passes or discounts.
Further north near Nelson in Canada sits one of the best gems in the Rocky Mountains. Whitewater Ski Resort is laid back skiing at its best with some wicked expert terrain for those who can handle it and powder pockets for the less ambitious. It is worth the visit for the mountain lodge restaurant alone. Oh, and it's $62.50 for a one day pass.
Japan has always been a cheap option (when the exchange rate is in our favour) with the average lift price converting to $A40. Ski two mountains, Madarao Toyota and Madarao Kogen, one one $26.50 lift pass this season. Enough said.
If you don't mind unpredictable electricity, the sound of distant gun fire and a high chance of Delhi belly and altitude sickness then Gulmarg is worth a shot (pun not intended) in India. The Kashmir ski resort has a very basic infrastructure but it does have long, long fall lines, tree skiing and loads of Himalayan culture plus a $10 lift pass.
Avalanches are prevalent here so don't go out immediately after a snowstorm, no matter how tempting it looks, and take a guide. Not just any guide either, do your research, better still, go with Hotham Ski Patrolling legend Bill Barker, his crew are safety obsessed, unlike many other Western-owned operations in the region who are more interested in the hashish supply into the village.
When it comes to Europe head East. Serbia has Kopaonik offer half the lift price of the more traditional resorts. Expect to pay around $40 for a lift pass here and places like Kolasin in Montanegro and Papova Shapka in Macedonia.
Sadly that's it for Snow It All for 2011. We've had a big year with some major prize giveaways - overseas ski holidays, heli skiing, cameras, gear and more. We've debated the big topics and stirred up some fun. Snow It All will be skiing in the name of research over the northern season to bring you the best of the best in 2012. In the meantime, as they say in Cali - peace and powder.
Where will you ski this northern winter and how will you save dollars while doing it? Share your snow holiday tips and post a comment on the blog below.
PHOTO OF THE SEASON
Snow It All asked seven of Australia and New Zealand's finest ski and snowboard photographers to submit their favourite image from this season.Camilla Stoddart from Wanaka, Chris Hocking from Falls Creek, Andrew Railton from Mt Buller, Charlie Brown from Mt Beauty, Dan Himbrechts from Sydney, Steve Cuff from Jindabyne and Darren Teasdale from Sydney each sent us a pic that summed up the season for them.
We then asked them each to vote on the seven images entered for the Peer Photographer of the Season Award and asked our Fairfax editor, Craig Platt to also vote with our Eurovision song style voting system of three points for favourite, two points for second and one point for third.
No photographer was allowed to vote for themselves and Snow It All wasn't allowed to vote at all though if we could we'd have chosen Dan Himbrechts image of a solitude snowboarder hiking before first lifts.
A three way tie ensued so we went to Tess Cook, the editor of Mountainwatch to cast her votes alongside Ruth Duncan, the pictures editor for the Sun Herald travel section and finally we had a winner.
Our fabulous friends at Air New Zealand understand the importance of imagery in the world of snow, you may remember the pop up art gallery of snow images at Martin Place in Sydney and Southern Cross Station in Melbourne. They gave us return flights for two from Australia to New Zealand for our winning photographer. New Zealand is a photographer's paradise and summer is even better than winter. Our winning photographer will have plenty of photographic fodder to play with over the coming months. You'll find the top contenders in the gallery above or click here.
Camilla Stoddart will be winging her way around New Zealand with her trusty camera and friend in hand for a quintessential Kiwi summer. Congrats Camilla!
Which photo is your favourite and why? Comment on the blog below and share your thoughts. Who do you think should have won?