It's that time of year again when we're preparing to don our salopettes and hit the slopes. Although the resorts in western Europe are great and understandably popular, we like to get off-the-beaten track here at Bradt, so we've created a list of our favourite alternative skiing destinations.
© ninara, Wikimedia Commons
Although renowned for its ancient ruins and fascinating culture, there are numerous mountain-hiking areas and ski resorts in proximity to the Iranian capital , where you can easily spend a full day walking or even stay overnight if you decide not to return to Tehran the same day. The northern suburb of Velenjak is home to Tochal ski and hiking. Known as Bam-e tehran, ‘the roof of Tehran’, Tochal (3,964m) is the most popular and central Tehrani hiking spot. Getting here requires a taxi ride (up to 180,000 rials) to the corner of Velenjak Street and Daneshju Boulevard. Consider this the ‘0’ station. From here it is a short walk through the parking lot and past a cafe area to where you can take a bus (5,000 rials) or walk around 2km to the first station. From here, yet again you can walk 3.5km up or take the cable car to the second station, where you need to change and purchase another ticket if you wish to continue on to the final, seventh station.
Aside from hiking and camping, the big draw in the Karakol Valley is winter skiing (and snowboarding) between late November and mid-March. The Karakol Valley has one of the best and most popular ski resorts in central Asia and has been mentioned by Forbes magazine as one of the top ten places to ski in the world. In Soviet times the ski resort, at 2,300m, was used for Olympic winter sports training. The resort has a total of four chair-lifts and over 20km of trails and runs, and equipment including snowboards can be hired from the lift base.
© TwoWings, Wikimedia Commons
From December to March, the Chimgan Ski Resort is packed each weekend with Tashkent’s beautiful people and a host of foreign adrenalin junkies. Though not comparable to European resorts in scale (there are only half a dozen or so slopes, none more than 1,500m in length), it’s a popular excursion nonetheless and a cheap place for beginners to develop a taste for the powder. The majority of skiers take the chairlift up Great Chimgan (3,309m), the highest peak, to race down the Kumbel track, but it is also possible to fly up to 3,000m and be deposited on virgin snow. Asia Adventures has heli-skiing packages from US$500 per day but, if your budget won’t stretch quite that far, a day’s lift pass is a snip at US$10. Ski and snowboard gear is available to hire. Central Asia’s premier winter sports festival takes place here, and attracts a mixture of professional and amateur skiers, snowboarders and mountaineers.
© Borovets Ski Resort
The northern part of the Rila Mountains is the location of the oldest winter resort, Borovets, where there are views across to Mount Musala, the highest peak in the Balkans. Snow cover is generally good from mid-December until April. Now a busy package holiday resort, Borovets has 58km of runs varying in length and difficulty, with something for beginners, intermediates and advanced alpine skiers. There are three main ski areas: Sitnyakovo (1,350–1,780m), Yastrebets (1,340–2,369m) and Markudzhik (2,144–2,550m). The runs at Yastrebets are considered the best and this is where international competitions are held. There are also 35km of cross-country tracks.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
On the slopes in Bjelašnica © Tourist Association of Bosnia & Herzegovina
For some, Sarajevo reminds them of its glorious debut as Winter Olympic Games host of 1984. The glory days have passed for now, but the Olympic-style skiing most certainly has not. While there was considerable damage to Bjelašnica and Igman mountain ski centres, Jahorina went largely untouched – and all three centres offer great skiing and snowboarding for a mere fraction of the cost of ski resorts in the West. The lifts are not high tech and there aren’t many posh alpine villas, but no-one can dispute the quality of the slopes, snow and fun to be had skiing on these Olympic mountains.
The snowy slopes of Jahorina © Tourism Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina
One of the beauties of skiing in Sarajevo is the proximity of the mountains to the city centre. If you prefer to stay on the mountains, by all means do so, there is a growing selection of excellent accommodation facilities, on Jahorina Mountain in
particular. But if you’d like to combine your ski holiday with a Sarajevo getaway, all three ski centres are no more than a 45-minute drive from the city. As the sun sets at between 16.00–17.00 in winter, it’s a great opportunity to get the best of both worlds and pop into the city for dinner, a film or a play, or just bar hop before hitting the slopes the next morning.
There are three main ski resorts in Macedonia: Mavrovo, Popova Šapka and Kožuf. Mavrovo is the most popular by far, with a day pass costing 1,200MKD. It is the best-equipped in terms of facilities, hotels, restaurants and bars, but it is also the lowest of the three ski resorts, going up to only 1,860m (from a base lift of 1,255m). Popova Šapka and Kožuf both offer more exciting terrain, but are also prone to high winds. Popova Šapka ski resort, set between 1,708m and 2,510m, has been long in need of funds, and charges 800MKD for a day pass. Kožuf, having only opened in 2007, is still in the process of being completed. It lies between 1,480m and 2,150m and charged 900MKD for a day ski pass in 2014. Children under eight years old and adults over 65 go free. There is also some skiing on Pelister, Kruševo and Galičica.
© Snownjeri, Wikimedia Commons
Kosovo's premier ski resort, the Brezovica Ski Centre was built for the 1984 Olympics in Yugoslavia and still provides the best skiing in the country for cheap prices. A manager of a Western ski resort might suffer a heart attack at the absence of safety arrangements as the crowds congregate right on the pistes intermingled with sleds and teenagers shooting down the slope out of control on pieces of plastic. The operating slopes include one beginners’ slope and one steep black/red run on the front of the double chair and a red on the backside. The pistes are neither marked, nor groomed. For all these reasons and the absence of snow patrols, helmets are a good idea and while there is great off-piste skiing to be had, small avalanches are not unheard of. Go with a friend and bear in mind that there is no real rescue service and limited health care.
© Fu-Rui, Wikimedia Commons
Located at the foot of Mount Postăvarul, Poiana Braşov in Transylvania is the best-equipped ski resort in Romania. Modernisation in 2010 expanded the ski area and lengthened the slopes. The resort is an excellent destination for families with young children, who can learn to ski on the gentle Bradul slope. Beginners soon progress on to the main ski area and, by the end of the week, most will be skiing all the way back to the village on the long, confidence-building blue run from the top of Christianul Mare. Romanians adore children and this is the perfect, and well-priced winter break destination.
In Nova Scotia, there’s downhill skiing near Windsor (and within an hour’s drive of Halifax) at Ski Martock, off Highway 14, approximately 9km from Windsor and 71km from Halifax (take Exit 5 from Highway 101). A quad chair and T-bar rise 183 vertical metres. It’s good for beginners and families. A one-day lift pass costs CAN$40. New in 2012, the OnTree at Ski Martock is an outdoor attraction involving climbing, obstacles and ziplining (CAN$39). You’ll need to sign a waiver, and must arrive at least three hours before closing.
Ski Wentworth has the highest vertical in the province at 250m and the largest area of downhill skiable terrain in the Maritimes. A quad-chair, T-bar and ‘magic carpet’ get you to the top of the 20 trails, three of which are open for skiing after dark. Learn-to-ski or snowboard schools are offered. There are numerous packages and offers, but a basic one-day lift pass is CAN$42. There is also a rental shop, and for pendant-, après-, and en place de-ski, visit Ducky’s Pub & Restaurant in the main lodge. Snowmobilers can purchase a trail pass to explore over 170km of groomed trails.
The ski season in Chile lasts from mid-June until early October and all the resorts are an easy day trip from Santiago, although it takes 11/2 hours to reach Valle Nevado. A series of tight switchbacks climb to Farellones (2,470m; 32km from Santiago), the oldest of the Mapocho Valley ski stations. It has a few nursery slopes (and relatively low-quality ski rental) and is now a residential base for the resorts higher up the hill, especially Villa El Colorado (2,430m), just 2km further by road and rather less as the skier flies. This is Chile’s most popular ski area, with the best après-ski, and is pretty busy at weekends. The road continues for 5km to La Parva (2,650m), a smart enclave of private apartments where the Santiago élite gathers.
La Parva – the largest ski resort in the southern hemisphere © Alfredo Cofré, Wikimedia Commons
Turning right at the entry to Farellones, it’s 14km to Valle Nevado (3,025m), the highest and most modern of the resorts, and the most popular with northern-hemisphere ski companies. It looks much like Les Arcs or any modern French ski resort, with apartment blocks with ski jump roofs, and French and Italian restaurants – no surprise, as it was built by a French company in the 1980s. Offering a combined ticket with La Parva, it has the largest ski area in the southern hemisphere, and the best skiing and snowboarding in this area, especially on weekdays. Heli-skiing and heli-boarding are available, but real experts should head for Portillo.
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