To ski or not to ski?
Major mountain upgrades of recent years are now being complemented with luxurious digs, sumptuous spas, alpine roller-coasters and other diversions that don't require lessons
Never have ski areas seemed less focused on skiing.
Unlike the past two seasons, when terrain expansion and industry consolidation shook up the global resort hierarchy, there are fewer significant ski-infrastructure upgrades to speak of in late 2017. Instead, many of this winter's additions will please travellers seeking to combine snow sports with other activities, or even eschew the former altogether.
That doesn't mean there's nothing new to excite ardent schussers. Indeed, the most compelling ski and snowboard enhancements will prompt them to recharge their GoPros ASAP.
Rather, it means that the major on-hill developments of recent years are now being complemented with luxurious new accommodations, steamy spa complexes, mountainside roller coasters and even a high-tech ode to Agent 007.
Extra expert terrain at Panorama
Follow Outback Ridge east from Panorama's 2,375-metre summit, and you'll reach the four new double-black-diamond trails and 128 acres of expert terrain in this B.C. resort's precipitous Taynton Bowl. There's some hiking involved, what with the new section adding 75 vertical metres to Panorama's total and giving it the third-highest vertical drop in Canada at 1,300 metres. The outermost new trail, meanwhile, extends the mountain's longest run to more than 6.5 kilometres.
Panorama will also become the first ski resort in the Canadian Rockies region to introduce radio-frequency identification technology designed to speed lift access and allow guests to renew lift tickets online. More of these guests may well come from the town of Banff, a two-hour drive to the north, as Panorama recently partnered with Discover Banff Tours to offer a $99 lift and transportation package on Tuesdays.
More information: panoramaresort.com
More black, blue and green in coaster-rich Colorado
As well as being famous for its early openings – this year on Oct. 13 – Arapahoe Basin's prominence is growing among expert skiers owing to 371 new acres of difficult and extreme terrain in its hike-out Steep Gullies area. At the other end of the skill (and sensibility) spectrum, Beaver Creek has created a 200-acre family learning area, Red Buffalo Park, with 13 trails accessed by a new high-speed lift. Intermediate skiers, meanwhile, will be pleased to hear that the Montezuma Express Lift at Keystone has been replaced with a high-speed six-passenger chair serving slopes that are neither too gentle nor near-vertical.
Skiing skill isn't an issue for riders of the state's three new rail-mounted alpine coasters. Steamboat Mountain Resort's "Outlaw," which opened in September, is the longest such attraction in North America at more than 1,800 metres, yet is only slightly longer than Copper Mountain Resort's "Rocky Mountain" and Snowmass Mountain's "Breathtaker," which are slated to launch in November and December, respectively.
Luxury showdown in the French Alps
If you're wondering what Club Med's recently revealed plans for Quebec's Le Massif ski area will yield, the resort chain's new Club Med Grand Massif Samoëns Morillon provides plenty of clues.
Like the new property in the French Alps – and unlike any ski resort hotel in North America – Canada's first Club Med will take an all-inclusive approach whereby everything from lift tickets and child care to dining and après-ski revelry is covered prior to check-in. The scale and amenities of the $120-million Canadian outpost may also echo those of Club Med Grand Massif, which will bring 420 rooms and suites, three restaurants, an expansive spa and heated indoor and outdoor swimming pools to the slopes of the 71-lift ski area near the picturesque French town of Samoëns.
If à la carte ski luxury is more to your taste, there's more of that coming to the French Alps this winter as well. The 71-room Hyatt Centric La Rosière and the 55-room Four Seasons Hotel Megève, both slated to open in December, provide two more upscale options for Canadian snow seekers flying into Geneva or Lyon.
In with the new at Whitewater and Red
"If it ain't broke, don't replace it" could be Whitewater's motto. Forty-two years after opening with a single double chair, the throwback resort in the Selkirk Mountains near Nelson, B.C., has done the unthinkable and replaced said original chair with a new fixed-grip quad lift.
The resort's day lodge, built by local volunteers in 1976, has also undergone major renovations while adding a family play room and snack bar. A 50-seat dining hut, serving much of the same fare that inspired the "Whitewater Cooks" series of bestselling cookbooks, has also sprung up at the base of the (relatively) new Glory Chair. Cellphone service, however, is still sporadic at best.
An hour's drive to the southwest, the even more venerable Red Mountain Resort is also breaking new ground by opening the Josie, the first ski-in/ski-out boutique hotel built in North America in more than a decade.
The best of the rest
Switzerland: Three new lifts have connected the neighbouring resorts of Andermatt and Sedrun, creating the country's largest ski area. andermatt.ch
Ontario: Blue Mountain, the province's biggest ski area, is opening Woodview Mountaintop Skating, a 1.1-kilometre-long ice path through the woods atop the Niagara Escarpment. bluemountain.ca
Italy: The new Piz Seteur gondola at Val Gardena carries skiers up 1,030 metres of Dolomite mountainside in 10-person cabins with heated seats. valgardena.it
Austria: Along with new gondolas for the Innsbruck resorts of Igls and Rangger Kopfl, the nearby Solden area is slated to open a James Bond-themed attraction built inside the summit of the Gaislachkogl Mountain.
Dubbed "007 Elements," the 1,300-square-metre installation will focus on the 2015 feature Spectre, which was partly shot in Solden, and will feature other titles in the 24-film Bond franchise. innsbruck.info, soelden.com
Alberta: The Delta Kananaskis Lodge near the Nakiska ski area is opening the province's first all-season outdoor bath and spa complex. The 4,600-square-metre facility includes a saltwater float pool, heated hammocks and a meditation labyrinth. marriott.com
And Jasper National Park's Marmot Basin is opening four new black- and double-black-diamond runs in a former off-piste area known as "Tres Hombres." skimarmot.com
British Columbia: Just in time for spring skiing, the 88-sleeping-pod Pangea Pod Hotel is slated to open at Whistler Blackcomb in April. pangeapod.com
Utah: Alta Ski Area has replaced its Supreme and Cecret lifts with a new high-speed quad chairlift (named Supreme), and Snowbasin Resort is replacing its Wildcat triple chair with a new high-speed detachable six-pack lift. alta.com, snowbasin.com
Quebec: A new fixed-grip quad chair will make for faster rides up Stoneham Mountain Resort's second peak, while a new shuttle bus service out of nearby Quebec City will provide backcountry skiers with guided access to the slopes of Jacques-Cartier National Park. ski-stoneham.com, quatrenatures.com