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Destinations

Skiing in the American Rockies

Being high above the snowline is an unforgettable experience anywhere, but the American Rocky Mountains can lay claim to some of the best snow destinations of all.

With their majestic peaks, wilderness vistas and vast back bowls brimming with pristine powder snow, the Rockies have it all. In Colorado, there are 300 "blue sky" days a year and an annual snow dump of around nine metres, which generally falls at night, leaving the days sunny and fine.
Besides the spectacular scenery and weather, there are three other irresistible reasons skiers and snowboarders cross the Pacific for a skiing holiday in North America: value, vertical and variety.
Thanks to competition among US ski resorts, prices have taken a tumble and with a stronger Australian dollar and competitive air fares, it's now possible to ski in Colorado for eight days/seven nights (airfares included) for less than $3500.
Then there's the sheer joy of skiing down those immensely long, immaculately groomed runs — some of which are 5km in length. Plus, there is great variety. In Colorado alone, there are 25 alpine resorts in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
Even if you don't ski, there's plenty to do: from snowshoe tours and snowmobile safaris to spa treatments, hot springs in the snow and retail therapy. And don't forget about the bars, restaurants, nightclubs, sports centres, swimming pools and cinemas.
In North America, ski lifts start to run in November, but good snow usually comes in December. A white Christmas is something to think about, but book early and you'll pay less. In January and early February, there are colder days and better-quality snow, whereas in late February and March, there's sunnier weather with generally reliable snow cover. Some areas stay open until April for spring skiing with cheaper deals and sensational weather.
Aspen Snowmass
Colorado, USA
This frontier town is so well known for its glamour and being a celebrity haven that you can lose track of the natural wonders of its four mountains and for skiers and boarders these qualities run deep. Of course, the glamour is worth a word — especially around the town of Aspen, where you can spot Hollywood stars, admire the Victorian architecture and gaze at the peaks above.
Aspen mountain, which springs up at the end of the main street, has some of the more challenging terrain, with steep, fast-groomed runs. Buttermilk is a curious mix, with parks and pipes for snowboarders, but also some very good learning terrain for eager beginners. Aspen Highlands is a gem for skiers who want to stretch their legs and hike to the spectacular bowl above the highest lift and it also has some excellent groomed runs. Finally, Snowmass is simply vast, with a ski-in/ski-out village and some of the world's best cruising terrain.
Places to stay: Couples and sharp skiers should stay in Aspen; families and learners are better off in Snowmass.
Skiing area: 2424ha
Longest run: 8.5km
Vertical drop: 1343m
Terrain mix: 25 percent beginner; 43 percent intermediate; 42 percent advanced/expert.
Visit: www.aspensnowmass.com
Jackson Hole
Wyoming, USA
At the top of Jackson Hole's highest lift, the Aerial Tram, you are at the peak of the skiing world, high in the Teton mountain range, looking way down on the Snake River as it winds its way through the valley.
The river was named when the West was still a wild place. The valley might have been tamed now, but close by is the world-famous Yellowstone National Park and there's still plenty of wild terrain on this mountain to please the adventurous.
Jackson Hole is most renowned for its steep and challenging terrain, with long runs on difficult faces or through tight couloirs or deep gullies filled with snow. It also has areas of excellent cruising terrain for developing skiers and snowboarders.
The best places to stay are at Teton Village, below the ski runs, but the Jackson Hole township, about 20 minutes away on a shuttle, is well worth a visit for its eating, shopping and Western-style bars and boardwalks.
Places to stay: If you stay in town, there is some excellent value to be had in winter.
Skiing area: 1100ha
Longest run: 11.5km
Vertical drop: 1260m
Terrain mix: 10 percent beginner; 40 percent intermediate; 50 percent advanced/expert.
Visit: www.jacksonhole.com
Steamboat
Colorado, USA
Steamboat has been called a cowboy town — but only in the sense of boots and stetsons — so don't be surprised to see skiers on the slopes in full cowboy clobber. In January 2008, hundreds of them will take part in the 34th Cowboy Downhill Race, a colourful, slightly surreal sight.
Steamboat is famous for "champagne" powder snow. In fact, it claims to have coined the term to describe the way its light, dry, fresh snow floats around as you ski through it. It has also put its stamp on the term "champagne corduroy" to illustrate the standard of grooming on its main trails — not that Steamboat is unique in having good grooming, but it does have some of the best on its beautiful aspen-lined trails.
Billy Kidd, a US Olympic medallist, lives here and hosts a run down the mountain for all comers each day he's in town and it's worth tagging along. A natural entertainer, Billy offers excellent tips for skiers based on his racing background. After a hard day's skiing, visit the hot springs in town and have a long soak — it's bliss.
Places to stay: The mountain village has ski-in/ski-out accommodation and motels, hotels and self-catering places in Steamboat itself, a town with a western flavour and an entertaining main street to explore.
Skiing area: 1176ha
Longest run: 4.8km
Vertical drop: 1118m
Terrain mix: 13 percent beginner; 56 percent intermediate; 31 percent advanced/expert. Visit: www.steamboat.com

Travel essentials

Contact Travelplan (tel: 1300 130 754; www.travelplan.com.au) has ski holiday packages to the resorts above. For the best deals, book early.

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