ADVENTURERS, FAMILY FRIENDLY TRAVEL, NATURE
Christmas might be over but there’s still plenty of winter to go. Pure white snow, deep-green pine forests under bluebird skies and a cosy cabin bar – a good alpine location can provide the quintessential winter wonderland experience that makes the colder months the highlight of your year.
The undisputed centre of American winter vacationing must be The Rocky Mountains. Utah and Colorado are the principal states for snow sports and host numerous resorts, the most famous perhaps being Aspen Snowmass and Vail, both situated in Colorado. The later dates back to 1962 and boasts over 5000 acres of developed skis and snowboard terrain, plus the longest ski run in the region, the four-mile Riva Ridge. Aside from the skiing Vail village is known for its luxury facilities, including spas, bars and high-end restaurants. Snow-mobiling, snowshoeing, Gondola rides and other non-ski related activities are also available. Snowmass meanwhile is the biggest resort in the Aspen area and is known for its family-friendly facilities and atmosphere. Elsewhere in Colorado Crested Butte Mountain is home to North America’s steepest run, Rambo, while Beaver Creek, although smaller, is higher, more geared towards intermediate and advanced skiers, and has an overall more compact feel. In the state of Utah Park City resort is just a 35-minute drive from Salt Lake City and boasts impressive facilities thanks to its role as host of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Northwards to Canada and The Great White North, where snow is absolutely assured from late autumn to spring in all parts of the country and winter adventuring is a way of life. With miles of pistes and fantastic infrastructure and facilities Whistler resort is perhaps the most famous ski resort in the world, and less than a two-hour drive from sparkling Vancouver city. The town itself is bustling, picturesque and full of snow and winter-themed activities aside from skiing and snowboarding. In Alberta province Banff Park is as enchanting as it is vast. Close to Calgary and with stunning alpine landscapes Banff boasts lakes, hot springs, sleigh-rides and a labyrinthine cave network. Visitors to Banff during winter also have a good chance of seeing the majestic Northern Lights. Further east Blue Mountain Ski resort in Ontario lies less than a half day’s drive away from the mighty Niagara Falls. Alongside it’s 364 acres of skiable terrain and a lift capacity of nearly 27,000 the resort hosts snow-tubing, mountain coasting and snowshoeing. Non-snow-related attractions include spas, shopping, and numerous bars and eateries.
Whistler Blackcomb mountain
Austria perhaps boasts the best combination of winter sports and the beauty of the traditional European alpine aesthetic. Capital city Vienna becomes a patchwork of quaint winter markets serving traditional food and drink, including mulled wine and chocolate. As abundant as the markets are the ice-rinks, set up in stunning locations such as Wilhelminenberg Palace and in front of the Vienna Konzerthaus. Smaller towns such as Innsbruck and in particular UNESCO world heritage site Hallstatt become charming, gothic winter hideaways during winter, full of cosy bars and restaurants with views across snow-covered rooftops and treelines. Salzburg might not have the same small- town charm, but it makes up for it in grandiose architecture and cityscapes. There are various winter concerts held in honour of the town’s most famous son, Mozart, and an ice-rink is constructed in the square that bears his name. For skiing the valley of Wildschönau is snow-sure, has over a hundred kms of slopes and is situated in the stunning Kitzbühel alps. Alpbachtal Wildschönau is perhaps the most popular resort in the region. Kitzbühel, Zell am See-Kaprun and the the Ötztal Valley are also very worthwhile ski locations.
Well-kempt, well-managed and navigable Switzerland is ideal for a multi-stop winter tour. Skiers and snowboarders are spoilt for choice in Switzerland. Compact but as charming as it is functional Zermatt town is the highest resort in the Alps and thus incredibly snow-sure. The imposing and dramatic Matterhorn provides fantastic vistas to admire from the chair lift. Not far away is the esteemed St. Moritz, a two-time Winter Olympic host and one of the oldest winter sports venues in the world. So picturesque is the scenery in a Swiss winter that just moving between destinations can be an experience: the Glacier Express offers one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world. Moving between Zermatt and St. Moritz, it winds its way through snowy valleys, gullies, over dramatic bridge and passes through the famously beautiful Oberlap Pass. Not quite so high but just as stunning Lake Geneva offers views of the snow-capped alps, and the surrounding parks and gardens blanketed in snow provide an incredible sense of tranquillity and stillness.
Outside of the Alps various other locations in Northern Europe are also well worth a visit. Many German and Danish towns, notably Berlin, Copenhagen, Munich and Cologne, host traditional winter markets selling local produce and provide a cosy winter atmosphere. Although less celebrated than their more alps-based counterparts Obersdorf and Garmisch resorts in Germany still have an impressive quantity of slopes and ski facilities. The intimate bars, canals and rustic architecture of Amsterdam in The Netherlands meanwhile take on a different kind of beauty when viewed under a blanket of snow. Further north still the nations of Scandinavia are famous for their cross-country ski cultures and arctic beauty. Husky and reindeer sleigh-riding is frequently available, and The Northern Lights can be viewed throughout much of the region. Further afield and off the usual tourist trail Iceland is known for its soothing and geothermal outdoor spas.
Holidays aren’t just about palm trees and white sands; a winter holiday that embraces chillier, snowier climates can be just as fulfilling – maybe even more so – than your tropical summer excursions. Plan a journey, book your ski lessons, and make the most these winter wonderlands!
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