Winter has arrived across the country, and while the cold weather has a great many of us thinking of tropical escapes, for those who prefer a little fresh alpine air, the specialists at Gendronski have shared their top ski destinations for the season.
The perennial favourite for Canadians and international visitors alike, Whistler is the biggest ski resort in North America, offering over 200 marked runs, a vertical drop of more than 1,600 metres, an average snowfall of more than 1,100 centimetres and 37 lifts to get you there, including the Peak 2 Peak lift which connects the summits of Whistler and Blackcomb. In fact, the ski season has already started there – it runs from November to May, thanks to summer skiing on the glacier – and between the mountain and the villages, it is a great place for everyone (note: for families, there are reserved zones on the mountain).
Gendron recommends: Spanky’s Ladder on Blackcomb. “This fabulous double black diamond provides the challenge and the breathtaking views you expect from a ski vacation. Just hop on the Glacier Express and you’ll be there in no time. Another great option is Arthur’s Choice, a black diamond run accessible to all. The view of Whistler Valley from here is glorious, the trees are well spaced, the snow is just incredible and the surrounding nature procures a sense of peace with every turn. Just before Arthur’s Choice, you’ll find the Outer Limits, a double black diamond glade run unique for its petrified trees. This sector is a little tighter and has a greater pitch than Arthur.”
Providing access to the longest vertical descent in North America – a non-stop, 1,713-metre drop – Revelstoke raises the bar for the standard in extreme resort skiing.
There aren’t a lot of runs to choose from at Revelstoke, but the runs you do find there are all extremely long that tend to stretch towards the sky more than they do the horizon. The higher you go, the tougher the run, starting out with easy greens and intermediate blues and then moving up to difficult (and perhaps even extreme) blacks. From the highest point accessible using the Stoke lift, all of the runs are black, except for a single blue piste, the aptly named Critical Path.
Gendron recommends: “There are tons of different lines to ski in the North Bowl, where the snow is abundant and the pitch is consistent. Although some of the runs here bear names like Drop in, Mania, Discipline and Powder Assault, it is basically a huge amphitheatre where you are free to roam as you please. Note, however, that the Discipline and Powder Assault runs do have specific starting points located between rock walls – for seasoned experts only. Once the North Bowl is behind you, feel free to take off your skis again to climb up to a section of the Greely Bowl. After these mesmerizing descents, you’ll want to make your way back to the North Bowl again and again!”
Hakuba Valley, Japan
A little further afield, Japan is one of the fastest growing ski destinations in the world, with many options – including the Hakuba Valley – to choose from and fantastic powder to enjoy.
Described as “an authentically rural spot in the heart of the Japanese Alps,” this area offers a dozen or so resorts, including Happo-one, Tsugaike Kogen, Cortina and Hakuba 47-Hakuba Goryu. The first two of these are pretty centrally located while the other two are a bit more off the beaten path, although still accessible by shuttle.
Gendron recommends:“Spend a day ski touring (using climbing skins) using the services of a guide. From experience, I can say that it will help you move out of your comfort zone and explore your surroundings a little more. As far as accommodations go, I stayed at a fabulous hotel where breakfast and dinner were included as part of my package – something of an all-inclusive formula, you could say. As a result, I got to indulge in delectable sushi, okomomiyaki (Japanese crepes) and soba noodles. I also took a not-to-be-missed dip in an onsen (hot springs). These thermal water sources are the perfect place to relax those tired muscles after a day of tearing up the slopes.”
Niseko, with its abundance of snow all winter long (averages one metre per week), is a four-resort mountain that attracts ski enthusiasts – of every level – from around the world. The popularity of the resort has brought many advantages, including improvements to the lift infrastructure, more restaurant options, and an openness to foreign.
Gendron recommends: “One of the high points of any trip to Niseko is when you find yourself at the very summit of the mountain, where no lift can take you. After a short hike, when the weather cooperates – and when the patrollers allow – you can take in the spectacular views of the Sea of Japan on one side while, on the other, Mount Yotei, which happens to be an active volcano. After an intense photo-snapping session inspired by the beauty of your surroundings, you are ready to tackle your choice of two skiable slopes. Best of all, after your one-kilometre powder descent, both of these trails end at the base of the lifts, in sectors on complete opposite sides! You’ll want to start over again and again, especially when the weather is cooperating. After all, if Niseko has this much snow, you’ll understand that it also gets its share of snow storms. Contrary to our low-pressure systems, which move quite slowly, those in northern Japan move incredibly fast. In a three-hour timeframe, you can easily experience sun, cloud, violent winds and… 20 cm of fresh snow!”