Falls Creek offers excellent skiing and scenery in Australia (photo: Falls Creek Alpine Resort)

Exotic Ski Resorts in Unexpected Places

By Crai S. Bower

World travellers long to stamp their passports with as many countries as they can. Skiers on holiday tend to traverse the globe a little differently—after all, there are only so many locales with snow-covered mountains and the infrastructure to access them. But downhillers don’t have to focus solely on the Rockies and the European Alps. Here’s the scoop on how to carve your name in the powder from India to Patagonia and every exotic ski resort in between. And be sure to contact AMA Travel to find out how you save on flights, accommodations and ski packages here in Alberta and around the world.

The Land Down Under isn’t all sun, sand and surf. Falls Creek Alpine Resort in southeastern Australia offers rare ski in–ski out access in a picturesque setting—not to mention ideal conditions for beginner to intermediate skiers. The 450 skiable hectares, serviced by 14 lifts, is large by Victoria standards. When conditions are favourable, the groomed black diamonds off the Summit chair make excellent training slopes for solid intermediate skiers wishing to up their game. (Experts can head to nearby Mount Hotham for greater challenges.) Falls Creek is also loaded with eclectic après-ski food-and-drink options, which add to the alpine fun. Note, of course, that the Australian winter is Canada’s summer; Falls Creek’s ski season typically runs from June to October.

Although it’s no longer so unusual to go skiing in South America (the continent’s cred is secure thanks to investment and year-round pro training), a trip to the Patagonian Andes should still inspire envy in all but your most well travelled friends. Outside the Argentinian city of San Carlos de Bariloche, Cerro Catedral glistens from the tips of its granite spires to the dreamy resort village at its base. The Catedral Alta ski resort itself spans 1,200 hectares, and while its 37 lifts can clog up during peak season (July), advanced skiers can traverse away from the more congested zones to enjoy a broad off-piste playground.

AMA members save big at these local ski hills

Hokkaido is hot for skiers. The northernmost of Japan’s main islands is known not only for its reliably huge (and fluffy!) annual snowfall, but also its fabled geothermal springs that rejuvenate downhillers after a day on the slops, plus its authentic culture and sublime amenities. Furano Ski Resort, on the edge of Daisetsu-zan National Park in central Hokkaido, recently started allowing access to its gorgeous sidecountry and glades—a serious plus for advanced plankers who prefer going off-piste. Closer to the coast, Niseko United connects four ski areas, with dozens of runs that cater to all skill levels and boast some of the world’s best inbounds powder. Varied accommodation options, numerous restaurants and other creature comforts help ensure every part of your ski vacation is easily accounted for—beyond another overnight dump of snow, of course.

If you’re up for a little adventure, Gulmarg is probably the most boast-worthy of exotic ski resort destinations. It’s located in Kashmir, a territory long claimed and disputed by India and Pakistan, but the Himalayan town itself is fairly remote (thus mostly isolated from political unrest), and multiple locally based Western guide services are available to arrange every facet of your trip—to some of the best untracked backcountry skiing environments on the planet. Jump off the gondola at 4,000 meters above sea level and shoot down 1,200 meters of expert terrain. Or ski through the trees below Gulmarg to end up at a smattering of local shrines.

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An alpine village ringed with chalets in the Middle East? This Lebanese ski resort, less than an hour outside of Beirut, was first envisioned in the 1930s. It ultimately came into being in 1960 when the first chairlift was installed on Mount Lebanon, making the original Faraya-Mzaar ski resort (now simply the Mzaar Ski Resort) older than Lake Louise. More than 40 slopes cast away from 19 chairs, and the best views and terrain are found descending from the 2,240-metre Nabil Peak.

Admittedly, skiing at Oukaimeden—in the Atlas Mountains south of Marrakesh—is more of a “You’ll never believe what we did in Morocco” activity than a leg-burning expedition for expert skiers. Still, the chair ascends to an altitude of 3,258 metres, you can rent gear and snag a lift pass for less than $40, and the five rarely crowded runs do offer something of a challenge, as they tend to be less-than-perfectly groomed (beware of hard-packed moguls). And hey, you’re skiing in Africa!

We can help with all your ski-vacation arrangements, no matter where in the world you’d like to hit the slopes. Contact AMA Travel online, by phone at 1-866-667-4777, or by visiting an AMA centre near you.