Flaine is a good option for snow

The ski season has got off to a slow start in parts of Europe due to a lack of snow, while elsewhere the snow has been falling freely; but as the season starts to get into full swing, resorts are now able to showcase their latest features. We’ve selected our top ski resorts for 2011/12.

Best ski resorts for snow

Flaine 200Flaine has expanded its snowmaking capabilities
Office de Tourisme de Flaine / J L Rigaux

Last year’s La Niña led to near record-breaking snowfalls in western Canada and predictions of a repeat for 2011/12 are ringing true. Whistler Blackcomb has reported the third snowiest November on record (312cm/123 inches), with snowfalls picking up again for Christmas, and all 3,307 hectares (8,171 acres) of North America’s largest ski area are already open. Heading north, Alaska’s December snowfalls have been epic, with Alyeska receiving a whopping 102cm (40 inches) in one night alone.

After a nail-biting and decidedly patchy start to the European season, a massive storm in mid-December resulted in truckloads of powder being dumped across the Alps. Snow depths doubled in places, including Flaine, whose base rocketed from 100cm to 200cm (39-78 inches). What’s more, additional snowmaking facilities had been added to a number of runs in the resort ahead of the 2011/12 season.

Best ski resorts
for spas

Onsen 200Ease the aches and pains in a spa or onsen
Lifesize / Thinkstock

New for the French Alps this winter is the Deep Nature Spa at Arc 1950 in Les Arcs, opening on Christmas Eve. Plunge into indoor and outdoor pools, chill in an ice cave, sweat it out in the hammam and outdoor sauna chalet, or take advantage of the resident physiotherapist to rub your aches away.

For a truly natural (and naturist) experience, immerse yourself in a Japanese hot spring, or onsen, in Niseko; the sodium-rich waters are a traditional remedy for muscle and joint pains. Cocooned amid snow-covered boulders and pine trees with incredible views of Mount Yōtei, the onsen at The Green Leaf Niseko Village (entirely refurbished in 2010) is complemented by a top-notch spa, where signature treatments include The Shredder (a quick foot massage) and The Steeps (an Oriental deep-pressure massage).

Best ski resorts
for families

family ski 200Åre and Keystone offer family fun this season
Photodisk / Thinkstock

The USA excels at entertaining its younger guests. Young skiers will go wild for Keystone in Colorado, which has expanded its kids’ adventure zones and enlarged its snow fort, complete with maze, slide and lookout tower. This is also the third year of Kidtopia, the resort’s children’s festival, which runs over several weekends throughout the season. Events range from fireworks and face painting to Riperoo’s village parade and a kids’ medieval dinner (think mini baked potatoes, chicken drumsticks and cookies).

Youngsters will be enchanted too by Åre in Sweden, where a new illuminated fairytale world on the slopes depicts stories of Swedish legendary creatures and ancient myths – the aim being to encourage families to give night skiing a go.

Best ski resorts for

Ski the 10th 200Vail's new The 10th restaurant has mountain views
Vail Resorts / Ric Stovall

Gourmets are spoiled for choice in France’s glitzy Courchevel 1850, which boasts a flurry of Michelin-starred restaurants, including three 2-star eateries (Les Airelles, Le Chabichou and Cheval Blanc), and the newly awarded 1-star Le Strato. In Switzerland, Zermatt has earned a solid reputation for gastronomic flair, and was given its first Michelin star in 2011 at Ristorante Capri.

Europe doesn’t hold exclusive rights to fine dining, however. Back in Colorado, Vail’s latest culinary venture, The 10th, opened in December and promises ‘a focus on modern Alpine classics’. Game Creek meanwhile is strictly members only at lunchtime, but dinner is open to all – arrive by gondola and snow cat then tuck into elk flavoured with achiote, a side of green chilli macaroni, mustard greens and Fresno pepper.

Best ski resorts
for après-ski

Apres ski 200Let your hair down after a day's skiing
Stockbyte / Thinkstock

Forget Dicks in Val d’Isère or the Krazy Kangaruh in St Anton. Pernod and glühwein are out and vodka and caviar are definitely in as Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics host city Sochi makes its debut in Crystal’s 2011/12 brochure. The après-ski scene might still be a little rough around the edges, but after a few glasses of Russian champagne, will you notice? Hangover guaranteed.

And if you miss out on the northern hemisphere ski season, fly south to Queenstown in New Zealand – as visited by Mike Tindall and other members of the England rugby squad, whose controversial capers were caught on camera in perennial backpacker favourite Altitude bar.

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