Michael Sharwood had the last ski run of his life all worked out: a run down the Blackcomb Glacier on his 80th birthday.
Like many of the best laid plans it didn’t eventuate as what seemed to be the most innocuous of falls ended his skiing days three years short in January this year.
But Michael doesn’t want your sympathy. He’s skied 110 resorts over 52 years. He’s travelled the world. He’s made life long friends. He conceived (well, conceived of!) his only daughter on a chairlift in Aspen.
This is his story. And a thank you to the sport he loves so much.
Spring was smiled upon in Mammoth and seen as an opportunity to actually get out of the house …
The countdown to the season’s end in the northern hemisphere is on.
Some places have a month left, some even two. There’s even one that has four months left. That’s right, FOUR months!
So where to go? Some places have definitely fared better than others but there really is something for everyone to see out the spring.
The numbers coming out of Mammoth Mountain just blow my mind. They’ve had 520 inches of snow at 9000 feet and the current base at the peak is almost 30 feet or around 9 metre of snow. Bearing in mind it is still early in March so it is unlikely to have even peaked yet. Another number I like there is 4 – July 4 that is. That is now the earliest closing date for one of California’s finest.It’s a big mountain (3500 acres) with big terrain and while there’s not the 101 alternative activities here like a number of other US resorts if you’re coming for the riding (there’s also great park and ‘pipe facilities) you won’t miss out.
Mammoth … signs are, ahem, good for a terrific spring.
Best all-round region
Take your pick of any of the Tahoe resorts to be honest as they are all copping it in what will go down as a season of legend (the best in 22 years). If I was looking at a destination region this spring the area would certainly be it. If you’re an Epic Pass holder you could do a lot worse than the Heavenly-Northstar-Kirkwood triumvirate, with the former two extending their seasons until April 23 (Kirkwood remains at April 16). Heavenly ticks the family box (and has amazing views), Northstar does solid groomers and has a great park while Kirkwood has some ball-tearing terrain. Elsewhere Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows is the next big pick having had 600″ + of snow and a season that’ll run well into May. There’s a grab bag of other little resorts worth a visit such at Mt Rose on the Nevada side, Sierra at Tahoe and Sugar Bowl.
Heavenly: The views go ok.
Best big mountain
“The relentless, active winter will continue for the forseable future …” So said the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration but a day or so ago of areas such as Jackson Hole which have now tipped 500″ and are looking at a 600″ season. Jackson is putting some numbers on Colorado and even Utah in 2016/2017 and you are hardly going to getting a better spring to sample its undeniable wares. Slated close seems to be April 9 but you’d have to think there’s still a chance to extend given the conditions. And what of Jackson? Super terrain (you need to cross off Corbett’s Colouir from your bucket list, don’t you), sensational snow and while sometimes criticised for lift queues and rider traffic, expect it to thin out in spring. Get there.
Whistler is always the obvious candidate in BC, and its solid season (300″+), great facilities and closing date (Blackcomb is May 22) keep it on the list. But for mine if you want to get away from the madding crowds, it might pay to get into the interior to get your stoke on. With a base approaching 10 metres it should end up being an above average season here – and this my friends is a well above average mountain. With the biggest vert in North America 1713m (5620ft) , some serious touring terrain and a slated closing date of April 16 it is worth your consideration. Within three hours drive of another classic and later opening spring destination in Lake Louise, (closing: May 7) this would make a great late-season big mountain combo too.
Revelstoke: Big mountain, big spring ahead.
Japan can be a tricky one in spring. Places like Nozawa Onsen in Honshu have had a great season (around a four metre base currently) and should stand up until April. But things can soften very quickly on the main island at this time so it’s advised not to leave it too late. On balance I would probably look to Hokkaido and specifically Furano. There’s been some nice top-ups in March (around 50cm so far) and given its location east of Niseko, will tend to keep the snow longer. Closing date is usually around May 8 and they should see that out this season. Big vertical (they run downhills here) , interesting terrain and touring options, solid facilities and it’s still very Japanese (unlike Niseko). Prices should be very friendly for accomodation etc at this time of year too.
While not quite a winter of discontent in Europe it has been a mixed bag at best. Early storms. Wet storms. Extended dry spells. It’s been one of those seasons where it has been best to go when it’s on and avoid extensive forward planning. That said if you find yourself on the continent over the next few weeks it will pay to be high. Amsterdam aside that makes one of your better bets Val Thorens. At the pointy end in the French Alps , it’s the last of the Three Valleys areas to close (May 1) and it enjoyed a very handy top up of about 70cm over the last week. Temperatures have been cold recently and the base is almost tipping three metres in the high alpine so it should remain one of your more reliable options.
Val Thorens: Looks passable at night.
If you are checking this out from Australia and are thinking about a US trip during the April school holidays, Air New Zealand seems to be doing some pretty good deals via Auckland at the moment. As is always the case most flights skyrocket during the holiday period but if you can stomach the extra travel time you could be saving yourself $A2000+ for a family of four. Return to LA looks to be in the $A1200 zone per person up against the $1750+ I’ve seen elsewhere.
If you are hiring a car the need for a 4WD should have lessened too which will save you $$$. Stay tuned for a rant sometime about the bullshit games US car hire companies play with 4WDs …
Laying one down or just laying down – who cares when you’re Euro Carving!
People often ask me, “Hey, The Snow Gauge, what’s the next big thing in snowboarding going to be?”
My standard response went: “Go away heathen snowboarder – I don’t care because I ski”.
Now I can actually reply with a face straighter than what their binding set-up is about to be: Euro Carving.
That’s right my snowboarding friends. Pack away the softails and your triple corks because things are about to get hard all over again!
Truckloads of snow for Japan in 2016/17? The suggestions are there might be. Pic: Myokokogen.net
From the USA to Japan and even Europe I’ve tabled the key resorts with expected opening dates, what if any snow has fallen and taken a broad look at what forecasters are predicting for the season in each of the regions.
Hopefully it will help you with your choice of where to head this northern hemisphere winter!
I spent some long hours toiling away on flight comparison site Skyscanner and came up with some very interesting information for those thinking about a northern hemisphere ski or snowboard trip this winter.
I’ll leave it for some other time to extol the virtues of various ski resorts across the globe or compare the prices of various accommodation or lift pass prices. Here, purely and simply, is the dirt on flying from Australia to the US, Canada, Japan or Europe – when to go, when to avoid and where to save a buck or two. Other points include:
– The sneaky time to get to the States (in school holidays)
– Why Europe actually represents awesome flight value
– How to save real money if you are prepared to stop off
– Some Japan hacks too.
Riding the rapids: Whitewater BC. Pic: Whitewater Facebook
The biggest and most popular ski resorts in the world didn’t get there by accident. Amazing alps and reliable snow sure help, but serious infrastructure and marketing are just as big a part of the pie.
While it’s nice to sit in the latest gondola, dine at the finest on-mountain restaurant and tuck into bed at a five-star hotel there’s often a flipside to the largess: namely crowds, costs and competition for first tracks.
Solution? The tween resort.
Not something Nick Kyrgios does between his legs (did I just say that?) – they are ski areas in between. Affordable and not too big. Yet they are not too small that you can’t spend a week there.
Following are my favourite ‘tween’ resorts in Japan, Europe, the US and Canada. What’s yours?