World Places and News

First tracks: news from the slopes for the season ahead

First tracks: news from the slopes for the season ahead

October 10
17:34 2018
Booking.com


The £1m ski trip

Ever since the late 19th century, when British aristocrats pioneered the winter sports holiday in the Swiss Alps, skiing has been something for the wealthy, or at least the comfortably off.

Now, though, growing demand for unique new experiences, as well as for ever greater levels of comfort, is driving ski-holiday prices to unprecedented levels. For the coming winter, James Orr Heliski is offering what it bills as “probably the most expensive ski holiday ever”, a week-long trip to Greenland on board the Cloudbreak (pictured). With a crew of 22, the 72m yacht sleeps 12 guests in six bedrooms, with interiors by the French designer Christian Liaigre. On the rear deck, a helicopter is on standby to whisk guests to the top of some of the world’s least-visited mountains, with the prospect of powder skiing and first descents. The price: £83,000 per person assuming all the berths are filled, or to put it another way, £1m per week.

Nor is this a complete outlier: Elemental Adventure is marketing new heli-ski trips to Greenland on board the Legend, a 77m former Soviet icebreaker now transformed into a lavish superyacht with space for 26 guests and 30 crew. Like the Cloudbreak it will spend spring 2019 in Greenland (where a week’s trip for a group of 12 heli-skiers would cost €800,000) but Elemental Adventure is also planning to use it for a ski-touring trip to the Antarctic. And if the snow conditions start to turn, guests on the Legend can always retreat to the Balinese spa, or take out the jet skis or the three-person submarine.
heliski.co.uk; eaheliskiing.com

The top table

A computer-generated image of the Refuge de Solaise, high above Val d’Isère

A former cable-car station high above the French resort of Val d’Isère is to be reborn as a restaurant and what developers bill as “France’s highest hotel”. The Solaise was the resort’s first cable car, running from 1942 until it was replaced in 2016. Its top station, 2,551m above sea level, is now being converted into a hotel with 18 bedrooms, three apartments and a 14-bed dormitory. All were due to be ready for December but heavy snowfalls last winter have delayed the project, so only the dormitory, restaurant and penthouse apartment will be ready, with the rest completed next year. As well as guaranteeing peace and great views in the evening, and first tracks in the morning, the elevated position means that guests enjoy several more hours of sunshine than those in the village below.

The “highest” claim is debatable, though, depending on where you draw the line between hotel and mountain refuge — France’s highest accommodation, 3,815m up on Mont Blanc, may be a refuge in name but it has a restaurant and even serves champagne.

The Solaise penthouse sleeps 24, from €15,000 per week; dormitory from €100 per night (Ski Solutions has packages).
skisolutions.com; lerefuge-valdisere.com

Colorado thinks big

Skiing in the new Beavers sector of the Arapahoe Basin © Dave Camara

Arapahoe Basin, the Colorado resort known for its steep slopes and a season that regularly extends into June, is due to complete a major expansion, adding almost 50 per cent to its acreage. A new chairlift, Beavers, will take skiers into a 377-acre area of pistes and backcountry glades, while experts prepared to make a 30-minute hike can access “The Steep Gullies”, a 91-acre zone of double-black-diamond couloirs. Meanwhile, another celebrated Colorado destination, Crested Butte, has become the latest to be snapped up by Vail Resorts. After six years of acquisitions, the group now owns 18 resorts worldwide and has seen its share price rise fivefold.
vailresorts.com; arapahoebasin.com

Small is beautiful

One of the converted mountain huts at Anako Lodge in La Forclaz, Switzerland © Olivier Maire

Some of Switzerland’s tiniest ski areas are striking back at the mega-resorts by banding together to offer a single annual lift pass.

The Magic Pass launched last winter, covering 25 areas (the largest, Crans-Montana, with 24 lifts; the smallest, Conthey, with just one) and priced at little more than a week’s pass at a major resort. The results were striking: the resorts saw skier numbers rise by 48 per cent on the previous season, with locals spending more time on skis and visitors making road trips around multiple small resorts. This year, five more areas have joined up, including the unspoilt farming villages of Evolène, Arolla and La Forclaz in the Val d’Hérens. Evolène, for example, has just four ageing lifts, mainly used by locals, and yet boasts a vertical drop (from the highest lift to the end of the lowest run) of 1,273m — more than US big hitters Vail, Breckenridge and Aspen. Smallest of the three is charming La Forclaz, a sleepy hamlet with three lifts, two restaurants, stunning views of the Dent Blanche and a unique place to stay: Anako Lodge, a collection of seven ancient mountain huts given slick internal makeovers.
magicpass.ch; anakolodge.ch

Rail grail

A computer-generated image of the new ‘Excellence class’ carriage on the Glacier Express

The Glacier Express, the train that runs between the Swiss resorts of St Moritz and Zermatt, is to introduce carriages for those who feel first class isn’t exclusive enough. The “Excellence Class” has just 20 seats per carriage (compared with 48 in second), all next to a window, and passengers are served multi-course lunches and afternoon tea. The train takes almost eight hours to cover the 180-mile route (including 291 bridges and 91 tunnels) and has long been marketed as the “world’s slowest express”. It may now also be the most expensive — Excellence Class costs SFr712 one-way, or £3 per mile.
glacierexpress.ch

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