Just because you’re in the desert doesn’t mean you should give up skiing
This Spandex-clad, chilly, mountain-top activity could quite possibly be the last thing in which you’d expect to partake while living in Bahrain. But, as another winter descends and Christmas draws closer, the thought of being in a cosy log cabin after an energetic run on the slopes gives us butterflies. Surprisingly, it’s not at all difficult to get to local and world-class resorts from the kingdom. Here’s our guide to getting a piste of the action, starting close to home.
Go indoors in Dubai Who said that skiing is all about the great outdoors? At the Middle East’s first indoor ski resort, Ski Dubai (www.skidxb.com), there’s no danger that you’ll go careening off the edge of a mountain. It’s huge, covering 22,500sqm, and you can do some serious damage on the black run or in the Snow Park (featuring bobsled, tobogganing, snowballs etc), the largest of its kind in the world. An adult two-hour pass is BD18. For an entirely bizarre yet cosy chalet experience, stay at the next-door Kempinski Hotel, with its views over the slopes, from BD365 a night (www.kempinski.com).
Swiss style in Lebanon Lebanon is commonly dubbed ‘the Switzerland of the Middle East’. It has five ski resorts, all within reasy each of its capital, Beirut, which are bizarre yet brilliant (timid skiers, be warned – the Lebanese ski like they drive!). They’re fairly cheap compared to their Alpine counterparts too: a weekend day-pass ranges from BD9 to BD14.7 depending on the resort, while ski hire is around BD3.6. Faraya is the largest, with a buzzing après-ski scene; The Cedars has the longest season and impressive natural beauty; the family favourite is Laqlouq; Mzaar Kfardebian is the tamest; and Qanat Bakish a less crowded option. Lebanon is also one of the few places where you can ski and swim in the sea on the same day, so it’s not uncommon to spot snow demons in skimpy Speedos alongside burqa-clad ladies on skis. For info, see www.skileb.com.
Hit the Himalayas Head to India for the perfect off-piste exploration. The slopes in the Indian Himalayas are among the most beautiful, and even if you’re going too fast to notice, think of the monkeys and bears watching you from the forests as you head down into deserted valleys, surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the world. There’s not a fondue or vin chaud in sight, either – instead, you’ll most likely find curry and chai at the gondola stations. Check out heli-ski resort Manali (www.himalayanadventure.com), which offers up to 3,500m of vertical descent during its January-to-February season, and the prettier Gulmarg in Kashmir, whose sole ski lift is also the world’s highest. You can also book guides, accommodation, transfers and ski hire at www.kashmiralpine.com.
Ski Iran Not the first place you’d think of to book a ski holiday, but it can, most certainly, be done, and makes for a unique notch on the ski belt. The two best resorts are an hour (40km) by car from Tehran. Both Dizin and Shemshak have first-rate facilities and gob-smacking views, but the real selling point of this destination is its advanced skiing. Choose from 23 runs, chairlifts, three gondolas and a black run to make your stomach churn – it snakes down from Sichal Peak on Mount Damavand (an impressive 3,550m) and eventually joins the beginner routes halfway down. Stay at Hotel Dizin for as little as BD27.5 per night, or get a cottage in the main village for BD20 per night. Ski and accommodation can be booked at www.letsgoiran.com, or see www.dizinsnowboard.com for more specific resort info.
Be a Kazakhstan cruiser Head into the Asian ski resort of Chimblak, where the hills surrounding Almaty have ideal beginners’ routes and a snowboarding park. Though this area is often a tad misty, which can ruin your chances of getting a tan, the longest run is a respectable 3.5km and lift passes are dirt cheap at BD9.7 during the week, or BD12.1 during the weekend. See www.kazakhstan.orexca.com for more details.
On budget in Cyprus We can’t all afford the glitz of St Moritz. Unusual European ski locations such as Slovenia, Romania, Czech Republic and Croatia all offer cheap alternatives, but perhaps the most unexpected bargain ski spot is on Mount Olympus in Cyprus’s Troodos area (www.skicyprus.com). Built by the British army after World War II, little has changed since the resort was taken over by the Cyprus Ski Club in the ’60s. Consequently, it’s not one for serious skiers, with its mere four lifts, 16 trails and infrequent snowfall: the season runs from mid-January to mid-March. But it is cheap. In 2009, the last time the ski pass prices were updated, a full-day pass was just BD11.5, while neighbouring guesthouses start at BD10 a night for a double room. Overall, it’s great for a break during the winter weeks, when it’s less overrun by locals in pastel ski suits, and when prices are considerably cheaper than spring. The best bit? Come the afternoon, you can relax on a glorious nearby beach.
Carve like a pro in Canada If you’re a skilful slopester and have a longer stretch of snow time to play with, you could qualify as an instructor during an 11-week course at Fernie, Banff, Whistler or Red Mountain in the Canadian Rockies with Nonstop Ski & Snowboard (www.nonstopski.com). Training begins on January 10 2011 and prices start from BD3,530 – among the best value in the market. If you just want to improve your style, the company provides ski camps, ranging from six-week ‘Master the Mountain’ off-piste courses to two-week trips taking in all four Canadian resorts. They’re great for singles and start at the much cheaper price of BD1,270.
Austria’s Hannibal on ice No, not an ice-skating serial killer, but a spectacular open-air theatre show that takes place every April on the Rettenbach glacier stage, 3,000m above the lively Sölden resort. Hannibal: The Crossing of the Alps follows the story of Carthaginian military commander Hannibal, who trekked over the Alps to Rome accompanied by 60,000 warriors and a herd of animals including 37 elephants, during the Second Punic War in 218BC. Phew. Taking place on April 15 in Sölden, the show features 500 actors playing the warriors, including skiers, climbers, acrobats, skidoo-riders and parachutists, coupled with music, video and pyrotechnics. What’s more, the ski season starts to wind down around this time, so expect cheaper rates and rooms. Hannibal: The Crossing of the Alps is on April 15 2011 in Sölden. For ticket details, see www.soelden.com.
An Antarctic encounter It’s the most impressive place to ski ever, so it’s not surprising that a custom-designed Antarctic adventure (www.adventure-network.com) will cost you the equivalent of the deposit on a one-bed flat in the Marina (more than BD8,000!). So for similarly wild terrain, long daylight hours and ultra-remote, super-steep 2,000m runs dropping into three different fjords, look no further than the tiny Arctic oasis of Kangaamiut in Greenland. It’s still steep (in price terms), but that’s because there are just three slots in which to enjoy this heli-skiing spot next year – April 25-May 1, May 2-8 and May 9-15. They’re each limited to 15 people, who’ll stay in houses rented from the locals and enjoy home-cooked meals after their challenging days out. Trips start at BD4,400 including everything except drinks and flights (www.greenlandheliskiing.com).
Clubbing on ice The biggest, Snowbombing, in Mayrhofen, Austria (www.snowbombing.com), is infamous for its fancy dress-themed street party and Arctic disco – a nightclub made entirely of ice. It returns on April 4-9 with a headline set from The Prodigy. Andorra has its own version, The Big Snow Festival, which is back on March 13-20 with a similarly clubby vibe (www.thebigsnowfestival.com). For a more boutique feel, try the Black Weekend in Chamonix (www.blackweekend.com), which last year featured underground electro sets from the likes of Busy P and Drums of Death.
The history of skiing
The origin of the ski itself is a bit hazy, but, remarkably, skis are believed to date back 5,000 years: there are ancient drawings of ski-type footwear from that time.
It’s thought that they were invented in the Sayan Mountains in Asia and were used in Europe during and after the Ice Age.
The word ‘ski’ is originally old Norwegian.
Not a skier? Go for the ice sculpture and festivals. They’re pretty common now, with local artists hacking snow and ice into glorious shapes. We recommend the following:
Austria: The Shapes in White festival takes place on January 10 at ice-cool resort Ischgl. It will offer some of the finest frozen work going. www.ischgl.com.
China: Up in Harbin, by the border with Russia (where it gets really, really cold), this family-oriented annual ice sculpture festival kicks off on January 5 and runs until February. www.chinaholidays.com.
Japan: Head to the Sapporo Snow Festival on February 7-13 for ice sculptures that line Odori Park, the grounds at Community Dome Tsudome and the main street in Susukino, turning the area into a winter wonderland. www.snowfes.com.
Sweden: The Kiruna Snow Festival, from January 29-31, includes a scooter jump show, kick-sled race, winter fair, reindeer race, winter fashion show and more. www.snofestivalen.se/english.
US: Fun snow-based activities and events take place at North Lake Tahoe Snowfest from March 4-13. Expect on-mountain competitions, dining, parties, live music and parades. www.tahoesnowfestival.com.
At the risk of sounding like a concerned parent, getting stuck at the top of a mountain with a broken limb is not fun, in the sense that you may never be found. In this day and age of budget internet cover, there’s no excuse to be uninsured. Take a look at the following:
Budget: A week’s worldwide ski holiday policy can be had for as little as BD5. You’ll need an international credit card to book. www.ski-insurance.co.uk.
Mid-range: Virgin Money is reliable and won’t skim on the details. Get a week’s cover for anywhere in the world from BD20. www.virginmoney.com.
Gold class: For absolutely no worries at all, buy an American Express policy for BD150. It will cover you for 120 days per trip, there’s no excess and you’ll be covered for BD8.8 million in medical claims. www.americanexpress.com.