Breckenridge's Peak 6

Want to keep your finger on the pulse ahead of the new ski season? Heather Hamacek rounds up the latest developments for 2013/14, from a new ski area in North America and a record-breaking lift in the Alps to the trend for custom-fit and flexible gear.

What’s new in ski resorts?

In France, Val Thorens welcomes a new six-person high-speed chair lift complete with two ‘chondola,’ gondola cabins, making access to the popular La Folie Douce bar accessible to non-skiers. Alpe d’Huez, meanwhile, has added the Télémixte des Jeux lift, a combined installation of six-person chairs and eight-person gondolas that transports 3,900 people per hour, a new world record.  Over in Tignes, the Tignes les Boisses base area has been redeveloped with more of a family focus and is now renamed as Tignes 1800 with direct access to 300km (187 miles) of slopes.

Breckenridge SkiingBreckenridge has added the new Peak 6 area
Vail Resorts

Anyone heading to the Austrian Tirol will find access to fresh freeride terrain at Ischgl, with the new Piz Val Gronda cable car soaring up to 2,400m (7,900ft) . Skiers in the Arlberg resorts of Lech and Zurs have an additional 64km (40 miles) of pistes to enjoy thanks to the new Auenfeldjet gondola link that opens up the snowy slopes of Warth-Schröcken.

Across ‘The Pond’, the largest ski resort expansion for more than a decade has reached completion in Breckenridge, with the new Peak 6 ski area boasting an additional 220 hectares (543 acres) of skiable terrain. Queues in Vail, meanwhile, will dramatically reduce this season with the addition of a new six-passenger chairlift, increasing capacity by 33% and furthering the success of last year’s Gondola One.

What’s new with tour operators?

As the battle between British ski tour operators and the French government over ski hosting moves through the courts – the government looks to uphold new legislation to insist on ski guides qualified to the French standard – some ski operators are working with French ski schools to offer ‘social skiing’ with local guides. Crystal, for example, is joining up with Evolution 2 in 11 resorts.

Crystal has also expanded its portfolio this year with new packages to three Norwegian resorts: Beitostølen, Geilo and Hemsedal. The operator has also pushed out free Wi-Fi in all of its European chalets – perfect for alpine adventurists who wish to immediately share their experiences with friends and family back home.

Hemsedal Skier JumpHemsedal is one of Crystal's new offerings
Creative Commons / Pål Berge

Over in Sweden, Skiworld has added non-ski activities to its existing packages that are ideal for those not committed to spending their whole holiday on the slopes. Spend a night at the ICEHOTEL, for example; or head inside the Arctic Circle for a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

Fresh on the ski scene, Cosmos – in partnership with Monarch airlines – is offering packages to 12 Austrian resorts, seven French resorts and six Italian areas using the airline’s hubs: Grenoble, Friedrichshafen, Munich, Innsbruck, Verona and Venice.

What’s new off the slopes?          

If tackling the slopes isn’t enough, resorts are adding an increasing selection of adrenaline-fuelled activities. Leading the line this year is Val Thorens with the opening of Europe’s highest zip wire, allowing a bird’s eye view of the spectacular landscape during the heart-pounding ride. Dangling from the 1,300m-long (4,300ft) wire, riders travel between Orelle and Val Thorens, descending up to 250m (820ft) above the glacier.

Revamped and raring to go this December is Val d'Isère’s redesigned ice driving circuit, where petrol heads can drive, go ice karting or take a trip on a snow groomer.

Après addicts are already salivating at the thought of Ibiza-style hedonism in Alpe d’Huez this December, with the opening of La Folie Douce and its unique brand of live music and DJs from 2.30pm to 5.30pm each day.

What’s new with hotels and chalets?       

The Koh-i Nor is Val Thorens’ new jewel this season. The lavish hotel’s luxury ski apartments are located on the Plein Sud ski slope, allowing easy access; and there are two opulent eateries run by Michelin-starred chef Yoann Compte to enjoy. Scott Dunn offers seven-night stays here on a half-board basis from £1,417 per person (based on two sharing and including return flights and private transfers).

Scott Dunn has also added two new chalets in Val d'Isère. Exhibiting true cosy alpine style, Chalet Genepy is actually built into the side of the mountain and hosts up to 12 people from £1,675 per person for seven nights. The smaller sister property, Le Lievre Blanc, sleeps up to six people from £1,955 per person for seven nights and combines traditional charm with chic design.

Koh-I-Nor ReceptionLodge in style at the new Koh-i Nor Hotel
Scott Dunn

Funky hotel chain W is coming to Swiss resort, Verbier, this December – the company’s first Alpine offering. Its 123 suites include signature W beds and cosy fireplaces; and the hotel features a relaxing spa and on-site dining. Rooms start at £312 a night.

Never wanting to be outdone in the luxury stakes; Courchevel also welcomes a new hotel, the 55-room L’Apogée at the top of the former Olympic ski jump in Courchevel 1850’s Le Jardin Alpin. Rates start at £772 a night.

What’s new in ski gear?

As the hike and ride trend grows this season – and increasing numbers of skiers look for the next full-on freeride experience – outfitters are focusing on adventure-ready apparel. All leading brands are releasing boots specially designed for hike and ride, with greater ankle movement when walking and a better performance downhill when skiing. For high-end touring boots, brands like Scarpa are creating boots focused on back-country skiing. 

Salomon has released the X-Max W, featuring Custom Shell heat moulding technology that creates a custom fit for women, following the release of the similar X-Max boot for men last season.

Helping to keep skiers toasty however low the mercury goes, Sidas has released the new Central Woman Heat V1 Liner with heating technology that starts at the top of the foot rather than the bottom. Ember, meanwhile, will be releasing a new heated glove that boasts four levels of heat, touch-screen compatible index and thumb, lens squeegee for goggles and a waterproof zip pocket – these are expected to be in the shops by February.

Ski gear collage Savoury 7s, X-Max Ws and Sidas heated liners are new to the market
Rossignol / Snow+Rock / Sidas

Rossignol’s Soul 7 and Savoury 7 skis are changing the ski game with their honeycomb Air Tip technology. With less weight in the tips of the skis and its ‘Powder Rocker’, the swing weight decreases dramatically making these skis perfect for off-piste action.

Snowboarders can now truly customise their boards with Lobster Snowboards’ Nose Job. Boards come with a squared-off nose with a set of tools and templates to carve out the nose and tail of the board to their own design.

As for slope fashion, tight is in. Tighter snowboarding pants are flying off the shelves while traditional bulky snowboarding gear is left behind. For skiers, fashion is going in two directions. For back-country freeriders, skiwear is very waterproof with a vortex pro shell and considerably more resistant. For on-piste skiing, stretchable fabrics are in. It’s all about a fitted cut.

It’s now easier than ever to film your adventures on the slopes. The new GoPro Hero 3+ features 20% smaller housing and 30% improved battery life than previous models, and offers improved image quality and four times faster built-in Wi-Fi.

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