I’ve been blessed during my life to have lived on several continents, which has allowed me to discover places that I might never have been able to experience otherwise. I started skiing when I was 2 years old, learning on the slopes of the Engadin in Switzerland. Despite being a Verbier regular since the age of 10, I’ve skied in about 15 other countries ranging from Scotland to Armenia. Each trip has been an amazing adventure and it’s hard to choose favorites. I’ve attempted to select five locations that, due to a combination of factors (uniqueness of the experience, quality of skiing and adventure rating) have stood out to me over the years.
In no particular order:
Nevados de Chillán, Chile
When I lived in Santiago de Chile, my ideal get-away was the five hour drive down to las Trancas and the Nevados de Chillán. This place is surreal - a group of volcanoes with hot springs located throughout the valley below it. When there’s lots of snow (and not too much wind), it’s unbeatable. There are only a handful of lifts, with the very long and slow two-man “Otto” being the highlight, as it opens huge swathes of terrain. There’s a great deal of variety on offer, with lots of gullies, gorges and chutes. In terms of human activity, there’s not much to speak of apart from two hotels, thermal baths (that you can literally jump into from the slopes) and the small town of Las Trancas down the valley, which has a few decent restaurants and après ski spots. The main downside is that it can be very windy, and the lifts are shut at the slightest hint of a gust. This unusual location is worth a trip in July or August, and especially if you can spare a bit of time to hang around, because the snow here tends to be unpredictable.
Armenia is a dramatic country with huge mountains that look like giant rolling hills. The terrain is almost lunar - vast, with relatively sparse vegetation. Unexpectedly (to me at least) it’s also very cold here during the winter, and hence Armenia gets a tonne of snow! The main ski area is Tsaghkadzor, which is about an hour and a half north of the capital Yerevan. It’s a small town with impressive ski infrastructure and good vertical, which gives you access to a huge amount of terrain. It’s mostly open mountain, with relatively easy to moderate inclines. Tickets are sold on a ride-by-ride basis, with different lifts being operated by different companies (which can be a bit confusing). The ski rental equipment also looks like it should be in a museum, so take your own gear! The après is pretty decent, with Armenians loving some grilled meat, wine and a good party – so get involved!
Mont Sutton, Québec
This is the one location where there will likely be no powder at all, and you’ll be skiing on icy snow (so leave the powder skis at home and bring your carving skis with you!). Mont Sutton has pretty good vertical, as far as East Coast North American resorts are concerned (600m), and it has unbeatable scenery with some breathtaking views. However, the real fun and challenge is a kind of skiing that’s been perfected in Québec, called sous-bois – basically fast tree skiing. Skiing at lightning-fast speed through dense forest in treacherous snow is what it’s all about over there! It’s a fun and refreshing change from high mountain skiing for a couple of days, allowing you to hone your skills and enjoy some Poutine. Sutton also hosts the largest Swiss National Holiday celebration outside of Switzerland - which makes us like it even more!
I learned how to ski in the Engadin, and there’s no better place to have an amazing day of powder skiing than taking in fresh snow on the Bernina Pass, and these two epic mountains. Lagalb has one long cable car that hauls you up to 2,959m and then gives you endless options for the way down. There are a couple of runs down to the bottom station, but if the snow is great, you can get a local guide to take you down the valley towards Poschiavo – an epic 1,500m of vertical. Diavolezza is a similar beast, but instead has a huge glacier, the Morterasch, which is semi-pisted, so you can follow a safe route down and avoid the huge crevasses. This is one of the most beautiful and memorable runs in the world, ending up at a small train station, where you can catch the train back to the base lift station. Try to avoid peak season at both spots, because they can get very busy.
Sierra Nevada, Spain
Finishing off this list is Europe’s southernmost ski resort (you can see Morocco on a clear day!). The Sierra Nevada are surprisingly large and well snow-covered. The terrain reminds me a lot of South America (La Parva / Santiago), as does the vegetation and the soil. Uniquely, in 45 minutes, you can be in Granada in a tee-shirt, just having just skied at over 3,000m. The terrain is surprisingly diverse, and the upper slopes are fun and challenging. Being located so far south, powder snow is not very frequent and disappears quickly. The upper parts of the mountain are rarely busy, as most of the beginners and casual skiers stay on the lower, easier slopes.