The skiing market around the world is evolving and destinations are becoming increasingly unique. Traditional hotspots such as Switzerland, France and Austria are still flying high, but discerning ski devotees consider a few other, more unexpected ski destinations to be must-see and must-do pilgrimages. The rest of us are following suit – ski resorts in places like China are struggling to keep up with demand. The beaten slopes of many European resorts are being challenged by extraordinary and less expensive slopes in places like Iran, India, Chile and South Korea. The expanding skiing experience is all about offering something fresh and different, while exposing tourists to world class slopes and diverse cultures. Piste Cats Ski Holidays sheds light on a few of the world’s most unusual ski destinations.
1. IRAN… WHERE THE PARTY NEVER ENDS.
Your biggest problem on Iran’s epic slopes may be choosing which party to go to, as Iranians are very sociable and they love to party. Most people don’t associate Iran with snow sports, but it’s their best kept secret. Iran boasts a popular ski culture that was ignited by the Germans in the 1930’s. Since then it’s grown significantly. Dizin, Iran’s highest and the Middle East’s largest ski resort, offers a good range of facilities including ten lifts and a combination of green, blue, black diamond and double black diamond slopes. At 2700m, its base is higher than the summit of most Alpine resorts. Dizin and Shemshak are excellent for backcountry explorations and offer some of the best powder skiing in the world. They say the snowflakes here have a special shape that make for perfect powdery snow. Enjoy a unique skiing experience, while being treated like gold by some of the friendliest people in the world.
2. CHINA… THE BIRTHPLACE OF SKIING.
Most people think of Scandinavia as the birthplace of skiing, but in fact it’s China. Rock paintings dating back to over 10 000 years ago were discovered in Xinjiang and depict men using skies for hunting purposes. Today there are over 200 ski resorts nestled in the country’s five main mountain ranges. The Changbaishan ski region, located in the Jilin Province, is considered to be the most beautiful mountain area in Northeast China. The snow quality easily rivals the best Alpine regions of France and Italy. The pistes and trails at Changbaishan are well-groomed and snowfall is plentiful from November until early May. Skiers find themselves in a winter fairyland with the softest of snow. The Tianchi Lake or “heavenly lake” is a famous scenic spot and lies some 2155m above sea level. China’s new wealth, generated by its rapid economic growth, is leading to rising interest in the sport. If a ski holiday in China is on your bucket list, Heilongjiang and Jilin (China’s Northern provinces) are as good as it gets for skiing and cultural travel.
3. CHILE… WHERE SNOW ADVENTURE MEETS CULTURE.
Chile boasts a number of top ski resorts perched high up in the majestic Andes mountain range. This skinny South American country is renowned for its weird shape – it’s 18 times longer than it is wide. It is a land of startling geographic and climatic diversity: from hot arid deserts in the north to the chilly expanses of Patagonia in the south. Santiago, Chile’s vibrancy capital city, is a dynamic and contemporary metropolis located in the heart of Chile’s fertile central valley. It’s full of character, a thriving arts culture, a trendy restaurant scene and a hopping nightlife. A host of ski resorts are situated near Santiago, including the three valleys, South America’s largest ski complex. The three valleys offer some of the finest mountain resorts in the world and consist of La Parva, Valle Nevado and El Colorado-Farellones. This makes Chile the ideal destination for snow adventures and culture.
Over 20 ski resorts are located in the southern half of the country. One of Chile’s most internationally recognised ski centres, Portillo, is known as the centre of the boutique ski resort culture. Since its lodging capacity is relatively small, lift lines are minimal and fresh skiing tracks are plentiful. Snow quality is excellent and views of the jagged Andean peaks, the crystal clear waters of Laguna Del Inca and steep white slopes are simply spectacular. Slopes are suitable for all levels. An abundance of back country bowls are perfect for advanced skiers and boarders.
4. SPAIN… SUNBATH AND SKI ON THE SAME DAY.
The Sierra Nevada, home to Europe’s southernmost ski resort, is located 32 km from the centre of Granada, Spain’s most magical city. In 1996 Sierra Nevada’s excellent slopes attracted people from across the globe for the World Alpine Ski Championships. The highest summit, Mulhacén, is 3481m above sea level and over 2500 hectares of skiable slopes are on offer. The resort has capacity for 30, 000 skiers per hour. The ski season normally lasts from the beginning of December until the end of April. Its Mediterranean location means that sunny days are very common, even in winter. You can ski in the morning and spend the afternoon sunbathing. Sierra Nevada and Granada are famous for its lively nightlife and its friendly Spanish hospitality. Granada offers a uniquely Spanish cultural experience complete with tapas, flamenco, Moroccan bazaars and UNESCO world heritage sites such as Alhambra.
5. INDIA… EAT CURRY AND SKI HIMALAYAN STYLE.
India isn’t an obvious destination for skiing, yet there has been a resort at Gulmarg since the days of the British Raj. The mesmerizing Himalayan regions of Kashmir, Himachal and Ladakh boast several ski resorts attracting interest from ardent skiers from around the world. There are many reasons to ski in India – it costs less than it does in the Alps, the world’s highest Gondola lift has recently been completed in Kashmir and India is a fascinating country to explore. Besides their obsession with cricket and Bollywood, Indians are warm and vivacious people. Like the curries on offer, skiing in India is pretty fiery. India will provide you with ski travel stories for the rest of your life – stories that will require no embellishment!
6. TURKEY… SKI ON A VOLCANO.
Turkey’s high altitudes and chilly winter conditions offer exciting skiing and snowboarding terrain. During winter, snow reaches approximately three metres in height and the higher peaks of Erciyes are permanently covered in snow. Skiing in Turkey has been picking up momentum since 1933 with clubs forming around Bursa, Ankara and Erzurum. Erciyes Ski Centre near Keyseri is one of Turkey’s skiing hotspots. It is located in the heart of Turkey and sits on a volcano at 2150m above sea level. Skiers flock to this resort to explore its 12 kilometers of slopes, its off-piste valleys and gullies covered with powder snow. Located 150km’s from Istanbul, the Bursa – Uludag ski center also offers après ski facilities, including chair-lifts, ski-lifts, slalom and giant slalom courses, beginner’s slopes and an ice skating rink. The total length of ski tracks is about 20 km and the longest one is about 2000m.
7. SOUTH KOREA… SKI AMONG PROFESSIONALS.
Korean winters last from December to March and the weather is usually cold and dry. Heavy snow in the north and east makes for great skiing conditions. Ski resorts in these regions boast huge water theme parks, hot springs, wave pools and waterslides. Pyeongchang, a town located 182 kilometres from Seoul, bustles with winter sport enthusiasts who rush to the area’s ski resorts. Regarded as one of the best ski regions in the world, the 2018 Winter Games will be hosted in Pyeongchang and surrounds. The Yongpyong Resort, affectionately known as the “Alps of Korea,” is one of the country’s best. With altitudes between 700- 1500m above sea level, it bears the distinction of being the first ski resort in Korea to offer modern facilities. It can accommodate more skiers at a time than any other venue in the country and has built a strong international reputation, after successfully hosting the World Cup Ski Championships and the Winter Asian Games among other international ski competitions. The resort offers 28 slopes and 15 lifts (including a 7.4-kilometer round-trip gondola) that make for a comfortable and exciting getaway.
8. KYRGYZSTAN… CAN YOU PRONOUNCE PERFECT POWDER?
Few people can pronounce Kyrgyzstan (keer-guh-stan), let alone find it on a map – but international obscurity aside, this Central Asian nation boasts some truly wicked slopes. 80% of the country is made up of mountains, with perfect powder, so adventure and skiing is in high supply. The nation’s most popular ski area, Karakol, was originally built as a training course for Soviet Olympic teams. Karakol’s four lifts generally operate from November to April and its runs accommodate all levels. In addition the resort offers heli-ski packages. Kyrgyzstan also offers cultural gems such as Bishkek – one of the greenest cities in Central Asia. There are about 150 different kinds of trees and bushes planted along the city’s streets. Some of the sights worth seeing include the Osh Market and the Frunze Museum. If a low-cost grand skiing adventure is what you’re looking for, look no further than Kyrgyzstan.