Category Archives: United States

5/4/13 – April skiing: where to go for a last blast

Fabulous spring skiing in Ischgl two years ago. This year, those brown patches are white

Fabulous spring skiing in Ischgl two years ago. This year, those brown patches are white

To round off this snow-blessed winter in the Alps and escape the persistent winter chill of home, if you have a few days and a few pounds to spare I suggest you go skiing.

I have a final trip booked, to Val d’Isere – not a usual haunt of mine as I generally head for Austria, Italy or Switzerland, but it will be a nice change. Last time I stayed there, apart from one short press trip a couple of years ago, was when I was training to be an Inghams rep nearly 20 years ago.

Anyway, if I didn’t have that trip booked, here are the places I’d consider…

1. Engelberg in Switzerland. The top slopes are open till May 26, the town is lively, there’s accommodation for all budgets (including a youth hostel) and it’s only an hour from Zurich airport. There are also some brilliant local guides. Read more about that in my Telegraph article from last season about where to join off-piste groups.

...and when the slush sets in, here's what you can do instead

…and when the slush sets in, here’s what you can do instead

Zermatt, where the views are at their best at the end of the season

Zermatt, where the views are at their best at the end of the season

2. Zermatt in Switzerland. It’s open till May 5, the town is vibrant, busy and full of ski mountaineering folk – and the shops, for once, are offering plenty of end-of-season bargains on gear (not forgetting the pyjamas, nighties and underwear, at Calida, towards the top of the main street). Again, there’s lodging for all budgets. But it’s far from the airport, so go for a week to make it worthwhile. Read more in the insider’s guide (and here is page 2) I compiled at the start of this season.

3. Obergurgl in Austria. It’s open till April 28, and with the village at about 1,900m and most of the skiing between there and 3,000m, there’s very quick access from hotel or b&b direct to the snow. What’s more, there’s fantastic touring, with a great choice of day tours. It’s less than 90 minutes from Innsbruck, and if winter flights have tailed off by the time you want to go, you can fly to Friedrichshafen, Salzburg or Zurich instead. Read my recent piece in the Telegraph, and my off-piste article from last year, to find out more.

4. Ischgl in Austria. The lifts aren’t due to close until May 1. I went late in the season a couple of years ago and despite it not being a good snow year, there was excellent cover thanks to super-efficient snowmaking earlier in the season. There’s good touring nearby in the Silvrettas – hire a guide and stay overnight in the Jamtal Hut (open till May 4), for instance. Keen apres-skiers will know its reputation for lively bars, which is merited – read more in past blogs of mine, such as this one, by entering ‘Ischgl’ in the search box on the right.

Just think of the tan you will get

Just think of the tan you will get

Other late-season favourites of mine are St Anton in Austria, which stays open till April 21; Alagna/Gressoney/Champoluc in Italy (only till April 14, sadly – but lift passes are free till then if you book three nights locally, and it’s amazing value for food and drink); or Cervinia in Italy, which shares Zermatt’s slopes but not its prices (open till May 5). An underrated place probably not on your radar is the Engadine, where Diavolezza/Lagalb stays open well until May 20, and Corvatsch until May 5. The area offers excellent ski touring too – and don’t be put off that it’s in the St Moritz area: there are hostels and modest b&bs as well as swanky hotels.

Of course, you could always plump for Colorado or Utah, where a snowstorm is meant to be heading right now, or for snowy Scotland, where conditions are excellent.

I’ll leave you with the details of four great cut-price deals that landed in my inbox  this week from Inghams, which might be worth a look if you can make a dash for the Alps at the last minute. I’m sure the other tour operators have similar offerings at equally appealing prices.

St Christoph, Austria. £349 for a week’s chalet-board (that means half-board, including wine with dinner and CHOCOLATES afterwards) in a chalet hotel with a pool and doorstep skiing, including return flight from Gatwick to Innsbruck on April 13.

St Anton, Austria. £349, chalet-board, similar to above. There’s no pool but the place, Chalet Gampen, looks pretty good, with whirlpool, sauna and all that stuff. Departing from Gatwick on April 13.

Tignes, France. £369 at Chalet Hotel Le Dome, described as ski-in, ski-out. Similar deal as above, flying to Chambery on April 13 from Gatwick – easily the best airport for Tignes, being about 90 minutes away.

Val Thorens, France – the high-altitude end of the Three Valleys. £369 at Chalet Anais, departing from Gatwick on April 13, flying to Chambery.

Happy holiday-hunting, if you have time!

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, France, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland, Transport, United States

12/1/13 – Obergurgl apres-ski: David’s Hut

The Oetztaler Alpentornados at David's Hut

The Oetztaler Alpentornados at David’s Hut

Jolly, traditional, Tyrolean music in Obergurgl, I was glad to discover in December, is alive and well, even though the band at the excellent Nederhut is more inclined to high-volume “ruck’n’roll” than it was when I worked there 15 years ago (see my Telegraph article on Obergurgl – out in print in the Telegraph Saturday travel section today – for more on “then and now”).

On a Thursday evening before Christmas, our family group of three generations – aged nine to 72 – booked in to a fondue/Schweinshaxe (pork)/meat-on-stone evening at David’s Hut (Davids Huette), a few hundred yards downhill from the Nederhut and a place I knew mainly for its outstanding spaghetti Bolognese.

We walked up from the village (25 minutes from the centre, on a lane that starts steeply and flattens out); other groups arrived by taxi. It was beginning to snow.

The van of the promisingly named band, the Oetztaler Alpentornados, was parked outside; tables were filling up, mostly with German guests; a few teenage locals were drinking Weizenbier at the bar; a 20-strong British group, celebrating a birthday, were colonising one corner.

We’d booked meat fondue, mostly the chunky bourgignonne variety, but three of us had Chinoise, which came in jucier, thicker slices than usual. The sauces included sweet chilli as well as cocktail, curry, sour cream and chives, tartare and an unpindownable pink one. Salad arrived first, then rounds of chips to go with the meat.

The meal was spot on, as was the service – the friendliest I’ve encountered anywhere in the world, let alone the Alps. I first met the four longstanding chief waiting staff when working in the village in the mid-1990s, and the fact they’re all still happily there says a lot about the place (David himself is in the kitchen, or behind the bar).

But how was the music?

The band started sedately, circulating around the hut to give each set of tables a kind of private performance before plugging themselves in.

About five songs later, one of the Weizenbier-drinkers jumped up and danced energetically, all on his own. Here he is (in action on Youtube).

A few waltzes later Inge and… ah, I’ve forgotten this great David’s Hut longtimer’s name, I’m sorry to say… took a break from fetching, carrying and pouring to show how Austrian dancing is done.

Here they are – move over, everyone from Strictly (and of course we were rather amateur by comparison, too, when we had a go).

The Tornados played for well over an hour without a break, using a tableful of tuneful little metal bells for several songs – watch and listen here – and getting diners to come up and play them.

They finished their first set with a ‘Polonaise’ or conga around the benches and tables and out of the window onto the now-snowy terrace.

I was glad to see our neighbours join in: usually Brits find it too embarrassing to jig round in a queue holding onto a stranger’s shoulders from behind and being similarly grasped themselves. Usually, they pretend not to understand when beckoned to the line by a German, or they find some excuse such as finishing a drink or ordering another. But these ones were well fuelled by rounds of birthday schnapps.

As the Tornados rested at the bar in readiness for their second set, we paid up (about 45 euros each) and headed back to the village, the fresh snow beneath our feet and in our heads the swinging sounds of mountain music mingling with excitement about the next day’s powder…

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Link to film, Music, Transport, United States

25/12/12 – Mikaela Shiffrin’s first World Cup win

Obergurgl, where the US team trains

Obergurgl, where the US team trains

When I went up a T-bar with Mikaela Shiffrin’s mother in January last year, she told me her daughter had been “rippin’ since she was tiny” (in English: skiing like a demon).

I was there to watch the 17-year-old American racer practising slalom on the Kirchenkar run in Obergurgl, where the US team trains. Then, already, she had broken records by becoming the youngest female racer to stand on a World Cup slalom podium for decades.

I interviewed her for Fall-Line magazine’s ‘Day in the Life’ series, in one of last season’s issues, an article you can read here:

Day in the Life of Mikaela Shiffrin

Now, a few days ago, Shiffrin has won her first World Cup race, a night slalom at Are in Sweden. I’m delighted – she was down-to-earth, focused and impressive in every way.

You can read more about the 17-year-old here on Planet Ski, and watch an interview with her by the ski reporter James Cove. There’s more detail on her win at Are here.

Shiffrin has moved from one to watch to one to beat. I wish her the best of luck at the Schladming World Championships in February!

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Filed under Austria, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Racing, United States

17/12/12 – Flow State, the latest Warren Miller film: the verdict

Powder skiing in the Bernese Oberland

Powder skiing in the Bernese Oberland

It wasn’t the outrageous big air, the fearsome steeps, the 1,000ft rag-doll falls or the ravishing powder turns that will stick in my mind from the ski film I saw last week.

During the 90 minutes of Flow State, the latest Warren Miller release (the man himself is in his 80s and someone else makes the films these days), there was footage from Alaska, Hokkaido, Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Kaprun, Utah and California. Even modest little Murren in the Bernese Oberland, where I usually go in January to race the Inferno, got a look-in.

None of these was as mesmerising as the closing five or so minutes, shot in Svalbard, in the far north of Norway, during the 24-hour daylight of the Arctic summer.

The view that made me catch my breath was shot from high up the mast of the Arctica II, a heavy-duty, 62ft sailing boat, showing the bow moving slowly and deliberately through intricate slabs of sea-ice.

Jackie Paaso and Aurelien Ducroz go boat-skiing in Svalbard

Jackie Paaso and Aurelien Ducroz go boat-skiing in Svalbard

This was a more intrepid version of the Norwegian boat-skiing trip I went on in April quite a few degrees farther south.

For Flow State’s pair of ski tourers (Jackie Paaso, the only female pro skier in the film, and Aurelien Ducroz), on the agenda were Polar bears, walruses, first ascents and skiing under the midnight sun as well as climbing on skins from fjord to peak.

Give me snow, any day

Give me snow, any day

The footage was unmissable, and I wanted to join them – though I might not have been brave enough to leap into the sub-zero sea or go water-skiing on a pair of K2s.

Flow State (see the trailer here) is a mixture of brief clips of astonishing daredevil footage, some of it frenetically jumbled together, and around a dozen five-or-so-minute “stories”, when the pace slows and two or three skiers or boarders go on some kind of mission.

Apart from the Norway foray, my favourite missions were:

  • The current and former World Cup racers Tommy Moe, Daron Rahlves and Marco Sullivan fishing, rafting and heliskiing in Alaska.
  • Another trio blasting down the powder-laden avalanche barriers in Niseko, Japan, to the soundtrack of a Japanese drumming band.
  • Vintage footage of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division learning to ski and survive in wintry Colorado – and fascinating interviews with some of the original members, who became lifelong ski fanatics.
  • Travis Ganong, another World Cup skier, demonstrating perfect, effortless powder technique while heliskiing in Alaska.

It was also great to peer through the stone arches of Murren’s Allmendhubel funicular  and see a local guy, Sascha Schmid, and a Canadian big-mountain skier, Hugo Harrison, sashaying down in powder.

At one point the commentary inferred that they were skiing down the Eiger. Maybe they were, but I wasn’t convinced, and I think I spotted another tiny error in this section: something or someone was said to be “more local than Lederhosen”, but as far as I know, that Alpine suede legwear really belongs in Austria and Germany (Swiss traditional men’s clothing looks more like this).

The soundtrack was excellent, and high-energy, but those of you who know me won’t be surprised that I’d have liked to have seen more Swiss music, which did feature in the film for a few seconds – I’m not sure where they found it in midwinter in Muerren, but it looked like, possibly, the Alpenruh, where the pair seemed to be staying.

I also loved seeing the old-school freestylers, Jonny Moseley and Bob Howard, dressed up in crazy technicolour 80s garments, complete with big hair to go with their big air and ballet moves.

Aurelien Ducroz in Svalbard (picture by Alex Witkowicz/WME)

Aurelien Ducroz in Svalbard (picture by Alex Witkowicz/WME)

In fact most of the skiers in Flow State wore bold, bright clothing, which, I hope, means I am on trend this winter with my own pink trousers and orange jacket (to be revealed in a future post, I expect). Just a shame I’m not quite up to those double back-flips and vertical faces…

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Filed under Canada, Gear, Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland, Transport, United States

10/2/12 – Aspen: first impressions

Aspen airport, a tricky spot to touch down, but worth a try to avoid the four-hour bus ride

Yesterday, I skied in the US for the first time. I’m lucky enough to be in Aspen – and even luckier in that I’m here on a press trip, researching articles for the Telegraph and Fall-Line magazine.

We arrived on a Frontier Air flight from Denver, only just making it in, as a snowstorm was settling over the valley. Aspen airport, which is 10 minutes’ drive from downtown, apparently has a “three-mile rule” on visibility, and locals say that landing there is like threading a needle.

Silver Queen gondola, which ascends from downtown Aspen. The red bubbles contain an iPod dock

We circled for 20 minutes before a hole in the blizzard allowed us to land, but unless the pilot had supersonic eyesight, I don’t think there was more than a mile of viz. Definitely better than a four-hour bus transfer from Denver, though.

Great news, for us, anyway, that it was snowing, as there was 10cm of fresh by morning and it was still coming down. Our first day, on Aspen Mountain (aka Ajax), which rises directly from the town centre, confirmed all the cliches I have read and heard about skiing in America.

There were no queues.

The pistes were pretty much empty.

The snow was light, fluffy and easy (maybe we are lucky on this trip, but at least it’s living up to its reputation).

Simon Usbourne, from the Independent, and one of our guides, Ted Mahon

There were unlimited off-piste opportunities, with nearly every inch of the inbounds area ripe for exploration.

Portions at lunch were LARGE.

There was free water, coffee and suncream handed out all over the slopes.

The visibility, even in bad visibility, was fantastic, because of the trees.

There was even something resembling a "Dumb and Dumber" jumper in the Sky bar, a great apres haunt

There was a lot of smiling and yipping, and great deal of this: “What’s up, dude?” “How’s it going?” “Sick, man.” “Awesome.” “Beautiful.”

In short, I loved it. Even on Ajax, which isn’t an especially large acreage, there is an astonishing choice of runs – mostly on gladed slopes, some quite steep.

Over the next days we’ll be exploring the other mountains – and seeing more of the town, especially beyond the fur-coat-and-jewels brigade, for which Aspen is famous.

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Filed under Off-piste, Transport, United States