Whether it’s softer powder, shorter waits or better travel tales to one-up the guys back home, every seasoned ski and snowboard buff eventually starts itching for something new, so we’ve tracked down the most unexpected winter sports destinations around the globe. Raised eyebrows guaranteed.
Ski Under The Midnight Sun
Riksgränsen, Sweden: It’s midnight, do you know where your ski buddies are? If you’re in Riksgränsen, they’re probably on the pistes — and so are you. The ski season in Sweden’s northernmost resort begins when others are wrapping up for the year, but it extends into May and early June, which means visitors can ski under a sun that never sets. Wide, often gentle slopes dusted with fresh powder make the region a solid choice for families and newbies, while 13 marked off-piste areas give seasoned skiers a run for their money. Cross-country and (surprisingly affordable) heli-skiing are popular, too, with thousands of miles of unpeopled winter wonderland waiting to be explored.
[Photo: Lars-Henrik Snow/Flickr]
A Piste On A Plant
Waste-to-Energy Plant, Copenhagen: Skiers in Denmark are more likely to be shuffling along cross-country-style than swishing down a piste, but come 2017, it’ll be possible to do just that — in Copenhagen, no less. Currently under construction, the new Amager Resource Centre will provide clean energy to well over 100,000 homes by burning 400,000 tons of the city’s trash each year, all while housing a park on its sloped roof, complete with climbing walls, green areas and 1,500 metres of pistes for year-round skiing.
[Image via BIG]
Go Downhill Down Under
Ben Lomond, Tasmania: This oft-forgotten isle has been asserting itself more and more lately, emerging as a must-do destination not just for its eponymous devils, but also for its foodie credentials, Hobart culture scene and Tamar Valley wines — and now, for its potential as a Southern Hemisphere ski destination. Visitors drive through rain forests and cross a mountain plateau to reach Ben Lomond, the island’s only vehicle-accessible alpine resort, offering 7 lifts and encompassing Tasmania’s second highest peak, the 1,572-metre Legges Tor.
[Photo: Lauchlin via Wikimedia Commons]
No Snow, No Problem
Dune Skiing, Namibia: One day, German expat Henrik May discovered there was little difference between the dunes of his adopted home, Namibia, and the slopes of the Swiss Alps. And just like that, he turned one of the world’s most unlikely ski destinations into its most intriguing. May now operates guided downhill, telemark and cross-country skiing tours in the Namib Desert, with the assurance that most well-practiced skiers can get the hang of the unusual surface after just a couple of runs. Bonus: Getting to tell everyone you once skied in a swimsuit.
Viva Frost Vegas
Las Vegas, USA: Turns out, Sin City has a sporty side, and it’s not about to let its location — in the middle of the Mojave Desert — stand in the way of having it all. Drive about an hour from the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip to find yourself in the snow-capped mountains of Lee Canyon, at the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort. With 11 runs, 4 lifts and a dedicated snowboard fun park, it’s not the biggest, glitziest ski resort in the American West, but it’s perfect for combining winter fun with some epic nightlife.
[Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Wikimedia Commons]
Ski A Volcano, Hit The Beach
Mount Etna, Sicily: It’s a wonderful world we live in, where it’s possible to spend the morning carving up slopes and the afternoon walking on the beach. We don’t mean waking up in Aspen and flying to LA by lunchtime, which you could do, but you could also just go to Sicily. Mount Etna, Italy’s tallest summit south of the Alps, is located along the island’s northeastern coast and has been colonised with two modest ski resorts in operation from December to February. Swathes of virgin snow near the peak beckon off-piste adventurers, the thrill doubled by the knowledge that under the powder lie layers of frozen black lava. Back home, travellers can brag not only that they skied and sailed in the span of a day, but also that they took on the largest active volcano in Europe.
Cerro Mirador, Chile: For a small ski resort, Cerro Mirador has some serious bragging rights. It’s the world’s southernmost ski resort, for one, and from its peak skiers can spot the sea — the Magellan Strait and Tierra del Fuego archipelago, to be exact. Its technicals are modest — 2 lifts serve 11 pistes ranging in difficulty, mostly intermediate — but its ease of access (only a half hour from Punta Arenas), the unusual texture of the wind-driven snow, and the iconic vistas all conspire for a one-of-a-kind ski experience.
[Photo: Axe via Wikimedia Commons]
100% Chance Of Snow… In Dubai
Ski Dubai: Literally anything you want, you can have in Dubai. And that includes world-class skiing. This city of unlikely excesses boasts a 22,500-sq-m indoor ski resort, adjoined to the famously cavernous Mall of the Emirates and boasting five slopes, including the world’s first indoor black piste. There’s a fun park for snowboarders and a play area offering sled runs, climbing towers and an ice slide, not to mention a small population of penguins that are allowed out of their enclosures at certain times of the day. Even when desert temperatures soar in summertime, Ski Dubai defiantly maintains a climate of -4°C.
Ski Bunnies, Snow Monsters
Zao Ski Resort, Japan: Situated in the Tōhoku region of Japan, Yamagata Zao Onsen Ski Resort is one of the country’s most popular places to gear up in winter. It’s not just the 57 courses adapted for skiing, snowboarding and snow scooting (think: scooter meets snowboard), nor its reputation for having some of the best powdery stuff around — what keeps crowds coming back are the ‘jyuhyo’, or ‘snow monsters’, that form when trees ice over and are coated in fresh snow, creating an other-worldly landscape for skiers. The natural volcanic hot springs (‘onsen’) that beckon after a day on the slopes don’t hurt the region’s approval rate, either.
Bless The Snow Down In Africa
Tiffindell Ski Resort, South Africa: Travellers trade surf boards and safari jeeps for ski boots and lift passes when they visit South Africa’s only ski resort. Open for three months during the Southern Hemisphere winter, Tiffindell offers about 1,000 metres of ski runs, one lift, a fun park and mostly artificial snow. It may not be anything to brag about in and of itself, but when you’re surrounded by the stunning Drakensberg mountains sipping an après ski reward at South Africa’s highest pub, life is good.
Carving In Kashmir
Gulmarg, India: Neither India nor the Himalayas register high on the list of must-ski destinations — unless we’re talking about the Kashmiri village of Gulmarg. Ever since the world’s highest ski lift opened here in 2005, tales of a mountain heaven heaped like clockwork with fresh-fallen snow have lured travellers to this off-piste promised land. Aside from 2 small drag lifts and a couple of groomed trails, there are only the superlative gondola and kilometres of wild terrain beckoning free riders, so if you’re planning to do some serious skiing, bring a guide. Also check current travel advisories before planning a trip, as a volatile political situation periodically renders the region unfit for travel.
Slavic Ski Sanctuary
Jansá, Slovakia: If it’s more bang per buck you want, then think past pricey Alpine resorts and look further east to the Carpathians and the slopes of Slovakia’s Low Tatras region. With 35 kilometres of pistes and 5 official free-ride zones, it can’t exactly compete with mega-resorts, but it’s got more than enough powdery runs to keep everyone going, while cheap beer and hearty Slavic eats ensure high spirits on the mountain.
Article by Jessica Keller
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