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RANGE ROVER: Ski bucket list: Part I

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EASTERN DREAMS Couldn’t we all use a little JaPow, like at Nozawa Onsen, right about now?

As a travel writer with a typically heavy winter schedule, this time of year usually finds me occupied by work assignments that can take me not just out of town, but to other countries and continents. I know I have been particularly lucky in this and am grateful for all the travel and the chance to experience ski cultures—and the unique people who populate them—around the world. 

This year is different, however, as I haven’t left B.C. since March and haven’t set foot outside Whistler since September. But it’s got me thinking about what I might have been doing, and what I have done, and what the best of some of those things have been. I’ve written about many of these before in books, magazine articles, and even this column, but it seems like a good time to reflect on what a good Bucket List might be for other ski hounds. 

So, in this and my next column, I’m offering 50 places, things or experiences that have enriched my ski life and that I think might enrich yours. It’s only my opinion, of course, so you should take them with a grain of salt—but take them when you can:

1. Japan. JaPow and Japanuary have officially been a thing now for a decade. Don’t miss out on the most consistently deep and frequently refreshed snow on Earth.

2. Ex-ski-bum Swedes Niklas Möller and Eric Spongberg opened Ski Lodge Engelberg in Engelberg, Switzerland in 2008 to instant success and international notoriety as a freeride centre-of-the-universe. Staying there is a trip unto itself, but the skiing is out of this world.

3. Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, is home to historic ski areas Alta and Snowbird whose fluffy, lake-effect powder has been called “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” If you haven’t been already, you’re due for an in-depth analysis.

4. With its blend of traditional lifestyle, ancient village, and recent salvation from oblivion, there’s no other ski area remotely like the freeride heaven of La Grave, France.

5. Bella Coola Helisports in the eponymous B.C. Central Coast town was voted “World’s Best Heli-skiing Operation” three years in a row for good reason. It’s also the world’s first carbon-positive heli-op, buying more in carbon credits, tree plantings and old-growth forest protection that it emits.

6. Hotel Eiger in Mürren, Switzerland, reflects the musty parlour-pomp of Victorian travel and early ski-resort creation, but the James Bond vibe and views to the Eiger-Junfraujoch-Monch Massif remain unparalleled.

7. A pilgrimage to the alpine Mecca of Chamonix, France, is de rigeur, the most urgent reason being a chance to ski the planet’s biggest lift-served vertical (2,755 metres) run from the Aguille du Midi down the Valleé Blanche before climate change swallows the Mer de Glace Glacier.

8. A list of ski pilgrimages wouldn’t be complete without the Austrian Arlberg—the “cradle of modern skiing” where Matthias Zdarsky and Hannes Schneider turned a Norwegian winter utility into a bona fide sport.

9. In the far north, hard on the border with Norway, the Swedish resort of Riksgränsen is full of special stories. One of those is built around the stone remnants of an historic rail roundhouse: Small, cozy, Niehku Mountain Villa is the most exclusive heli/ski-touring lodge in the world—with the coolest wine cellar going.

10. Summer ski the Southern Hemisphere in Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, or Australia. All have legit mountains and ski-culture experiences.

11. If you have a need for speed, freshly groomed Ruthie’s Run on Aspen Mountain is probably the world’s finest combination of fall-line fun and well-preserved snow. 

12. Whether you’re skiing it in thigh-deep powder or chest-high bumps, the Tram Line in Snowbird, Utah delivers the dubious bonus of a captive audience of 150 skiers zipping past you overhead.

13. Iceland. It’s so hot right now. Particularly the Troll Peninsula, where, whether you intend to ski-tour or heli-ski, you’ll experience comfort in rural isolation at Jökull Bergman’s Klængshóll Lodge near Dalvik.

14. As the longest run with the biggest drop in North America, Whistler’s Peak to Creek on a powder day is like an in-bounds heli-ski run. If you can handle the 5.5-kilometre, 1,530-vertical-metres non-stop you deserve your beer reward at Dusty’s in Creekside.

15. The Dolomiti Superski circuit weaves a huge figure-eight through several ski areas in Italy’s scenic Dolomites. It can be pulled off in a day if you don’t stop to ski a couloir along the way. Plan to finish at Vinoteca bar in Cortina.

16. The Hobacks at Jackson Hole, Wyo., offer an otherworldly powder experience in a place with generally otherworldly skiing. Get them before the sun does.

17. Ski Canada’s only big-mountain co-op, Shames Mountain in Terrace, B.C. Far flung, yes, but also renowned for the most insane slackcountry of any North American ski area.

18. If you long to ski to the edge of a Norwegian fjord, the town of Stranda offers the best mix of resort skiing, spectacular fjord scenery, and plenty of off-piste exploration with Oscar Almgren’s Uteguiden.

19. Do a Roadside Ski Tour: the Duffey Lake Road and Rogers or Kootenay passes in B.C., Teton Pass in Wyoming, Loveland Pass in Colorado, Col du Lautaret in France—and hundreds more.

20. For gawd’s sakes, ski the Swiss Alps. Do I really have to explain why?

Next time: numbers 21-50—more places to ski, stay, eat and tell stories about.

Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn’t like.

 

Editor's note: This column was updated Jan. 18, 2021 to reflect that the Peak to Creek run on Whistler Mountain is 5.5 kilometres, not 11 km as was previously written.