Head North for the Winter

Skiing at Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta.By Rachael Oakes-Ash

AUSTRALIAN skiers and boarders are the number one international inbound market to North American ski fields including Whistler, Park City, Aspen and Telluride. As a result, USA and Canadian resorts court the Aussie ski dollar with competitive deals that favour consumers.

Put simply, there has never been a better time for Australians to head north of the equator for some snow and ski action in North America. Add new chairlifts, new terrain and new ski passes targeted towards Australians to the mix, and the upcoming ski season just got a whole lot better.

US-based Vail Resorts’ acquisition of Perisher in Australia was huge news earlier this year, with the $176 million deal including the sale of resort areas Perisher Valley, Smiggin Holes, Blue Cow and Guthega. And no doubt, Vail will be actively encouraging Perisher skiers and boarders to venture further afield to the ski giant’s other resorts in North America.

The already heralded Epic Pass for US$769 got a whole lot better for antipodeans when Perisher was added to the mix, with ski enthusiasts now able to purchase the 2015/2016 pass and receive unlimited skiing at Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Park City and Canyons. They can also make the most of the southern ski season, receiving unlimited skiing in Perisher in 2016.

But as Vail’s portfolio continues to expand, other resorts are doing their bit to reel in travellers. Aspen, which counts Australia among its top overseas markets, responded with the launch of the Aspen Ski 30 pass which provides 30 consecutive days of skiing in Aspen Snowmass between 1 January and 17 April, 2016. Priced at US$630, the pass essentially pays for itself within just seven days, and comes with a kids ski free offer.

The Max Pass in North America is another ski pass that’s making waves in the Australia market, giving skiers and boarders access to 22 mountains with five days at each. Totalling 110 days of skiing and boarding with no black out dates, the pass extends to Big Sky in Montana, Steamboat in Colorado, Blue Mountain in Canada, and is priced from US$699 for the 2015/16 season.

Not to be outdone by Perisher, Thredbo also announced a partnership with The Mountain Collective to roll out a ski pass that offers two days of free skiing at Sun Valley, Alta Snowbird, Lake Louise Sunshine Village, Mammoth Mountain, Jackson Hole, Whistler Blackcomb, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows – and now Thredbo. Priced from US$389, the pass also includes 50% off all day passes at Mountain Collective resorts which are purchased after the two-day ski free offer.

If that doesn’t capture the eye of the Australia market, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming is celebrating its 50th birthday this season with free beer on Australia Day. The resort is also opening a new Teton high speed quad chairlift which will be open for the upcoming northern season, offering advanced skiers easier access to the backcountry terrain at Granite Bowl.

While we’re on the topic of chairlifts, the much anticipated Park City Gondola which will link Park City Mountain Resort to Canyons in the US will open this coming season. The eight-seater gondola will connect the two ski areas, creating the largest resort in the US with 7300 acres of skiable terrain across 14 bowls and 300 ski trails. The plan also includes a new restaurant, new chairlifts, and snowmaking enhancements to improve Utah’s skiing proposition on the global stage.

Aspen Snowmass has also announced some improvements for the upcoming season including a new US$8 million High Alpine chair lift project which almost halves the ride time to under six minutes. The party-loving Cloud Nine restaurant at Aspen Highlands will also receive an interior upgrade over the summer, just in time to open the doors for the winter season. The plan is to retain the retro feel and combine it with some contemporary design elements.

In other developments, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in California are forging ahead with plans to install a gondola between the two resorts. The idea is to create a link to carry 1400 skiers per hour over two miles in around 13.5 minutes. While the ambitious project was originally flagged for completion for the 2015/16 season, it’s now more likely to be up and running the following season.

Further north in Canada, Sunshine Village in Banff is currently in the process of installing a new lift for the 2015/16 season. The high speed quad Doppelmayr chair will replace the Tee Pee Town double chairlift and will feature heated seats, footrests and even “bubble covers” for wind and weather protection . Marking the first chairlift of its kind in Canada, it will transport an impressive 1200 people an hour.

There’s more good news for Australians heading to Canada, with Qantas announcing more Sydney to Vancouver flights in the 2015/16 northern season following a successful trial period last northern winter. From peak time in December 12 to January 25, the airline will fly three times a week on a three class Boeing 747.

The outlook is good for the upcoming northern ski season, but Australians can expect more news out of North America as the season approaches.

Rachael Oakes-Ash is a regular blogger and can be followed on social media @misssnowitall.

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