Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Is a Great Destination for Intermediate Skiing? A Perfect "10": On-Piste, Off the Beaten Path



Living too far south for much snow and working too many hours to get away often, I am an "Intermittent Intermediate" with no hope of improving. The greatest challenge is finding a destination that is hard enough to be interesting but still easy enough to ski down when I am traveling solo. Since classifying a run's level of difficulty varies from mountain to mountain, too often I find it doesn't work for me. Especially surprising was the difference between skiing Lake Tahoe's Heavenly Valley and Sun Valley or Big Sky. In the US Northwest where Intermediate slopes looked like the Matterhorn, I had to go to Plan B: counting bison at Yellowstone. After such near misses, I developed a personal checklist for finding the best destinations for Intermediate skiing:

    Number and type of slopes designated as Intermediate
    Snow quality and typical conditions
    Apres-ski activity/restaurants and nearby lodging
    Affordability/Attractive pricing
    Convenient access to airports
    Friendly environment
    Interesting location/different but workable
    Ski instruction availability/timing
    Weather/temperature on the mountain
    Proximity to a Plan B/alternative sightseeing

Preferring the road less traveled by, I sampled an active volcano, New Zealand's Ruapehu/Whakapapa. Living North of the Equator, I was especially excited about skiing in our summer. In addition, with the North Island's mild climate, I was able to go white water rafting one day and skiing this active volcano the next day. On later trips to other slopes, sporting a sweater with a Kiwi on skis was a great icebreaker.

On to Hafjel, Norway which had all the right advantages even traveling alone. The snow was fantastic although it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit at the base. Ski instruction was great and classes friendly. The price was right and a local bus ferried skiers throughout the day from Lillehammer. Better yet, sending postcards back home from that Olympic venue gave my skiing ability an undeserved boost I could dine out on for the rest of the year. If only my luggage had arrived when I did, it would have been perfect.

Still struggling at times to keep up with better skiers, I finally hit pay dirt. I found the perfect "10" skiing in Andorra. I was immediately excited about seeing a new country, albeit a rather small one, based in the Pyrenees. The mix of four languages, Spanish, Catalan, French and English, made it feel exotic but still easy to get by. Ski lessons were very helpful with a small group of well-matched Intermediates. It was a really friendly atmosphere with part of the class practising English and the others Spanish. After lunch, a Dutch classmate and I took the afternoon working to perfect our parallel turns.

Every day the sunshine was brilliant. Even at lower elevations, there was no ice. The local villages provided multiple apr├Ęs-ski and dinner options at a good price. Lastly, the access was easy flying in to Barcelona. The February weather in Northeast Spain was temperate not unlike California. That made it an ideal way to combine an active, outdoor trip with a cultural one viewing Gaudi's stunning architecture.

If I can't get a perfect "10", I opt for finding a destination off the beaten track. Whatever the ski conditions, I can always relish the adventure and have the pictures to prove it.