As of early December, the ski slopes were open—in China and Dubai, but not, alas, in much of the Swiss Alps. Following the driest autumn on record in Switzerland this year, celebrated Swiss and French slopes like Davos, St. Moritz, and Courchevel had a longer-than-usual wait before finally getting a dose of the white stuff.
Meanwhile, on a 73-degree day in the United Arab Emirates, skiers zipped down the manicured slopes of the indoor ski resort Ski Dubai. In northern China’s Changbai Mountains, ski runs with names like the Trail to Happiness were bringing smiles to the faces of Asian ski bunnies.
As new storms begin to hit Central Europe, things are looking up for the august Alps. But the delayed Swiss ski season gave us cause to look elsewhere around the globe for resorts that either rivaled the grandeur of a Chamonix or Zermatt or offered their own uniquely non-Alpine charm.
Ski Dubai, U.A.E.
You can always count on snow in the desert. Ski Dubai, the Middle East’s first indoor ski resort (Bahrain has plans for the next), keeps its five ski runs, spanning 242,000 square feet, covered with snow all year. The slopes rise approximately 25 stories high and offer varied terrain for beginners and more seasoned desert skiers. The resort’s St. Moritz Café keeps visitors in mind of Switzerland.
If the Swiss Alps are too toasty for snow, you can find more frigid conditions farther north, in Scandinavian ski destinations such as the small Norwegian town of Hemsedal. The Hemsedal Ski Resort is home to Norway’s highest groomed ski slope (at about 4,760 feet). If the northerly location provides snow security, the downside is the short days: during December and January in Norway, sunset comes as early as 3:15 p.m. Fortunately, Hemsedal offers night skiing several times a week.
Taos Ski Valley, N.M.
Alps lovers who can’t make it over this winter will find comfort--and familiar environs--by channeling their energies to the U.S.’s southern Rocky Mountains. The cozy, European-style village of Taos Ski Valley was founded by a Swiss-German immigrant in 1955, and the high-altitude hills are renowned for their challenging runs and light, dry powder. The mountain is also home to an authentic Bavarian lodge (built by another immigrant from Central Europe) and an acclaimed ski school.
Yabuli Ski Resort, China
If you find yourself pining for some downhill action in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province (formerly known as Manchuria), Yabuli is your candidate. China’s largest ski resort (and the training ground for China’s Olympic team), Yabuli sees about 170 snow days per year—the season generally runs from November to late March. In December of last year, Club Med opened its first resort in China here.
Whistler (host of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games) is the more famous of British Columbia’s snowy playgrounds, but a couple of hundred miles inland, the Revelstoke Mountain Resort, situated on Mount Mackenzie and entering its fifth season of operations, offers several enticements: it averages more annual snowfall (reportedly lighter and drier stuff) than its oceanward cousins and claims 5,620 feet of “vertical” (the distance between the base and the highest lift point), the most in North America. Revelstoke has also become a favorite for that rarefied set of downhillers, the heliskiers.