Popular Mechanics has published an online article “The World’s 18 Strangest Ski Resorts” that we think is a complete joke. First off, some of these places are not even ski resorts. Second, how are places like Kitzbuhel or Telluride strange?
Anyway, take a look at the list and see what you think.
The World’s 18 Strangest Ski Resort
While it seems the slopes have taken a backseat these days to chair lifts, parking-lot size and crowd-control at the lodge, there are still some ski areas where the ride down is what counts. Whether capitalizing on natural terrain, creating snow where snow has never been or reaching with blades spots that humans had yet to unearth, here is a look at 18 of the most unusual places to ski.
Kitzbuhel – Tyrol, Austria
Why It’s Unique: Kitzbuhel hosts the Hahnenkamm downhill, an annual race that attracts more than 60,000 international spectators. So steep in certain sections that it cannot be groomed by machine (Austrian soldiers stomp the surface with their boots). A slope called the Streif is also dowsed with water to level it out before the Hahnenkamm. It is the most feared downhill on the World Cup circuit, with a starting-gate drop of 5462 feet leading to the infamous Mausefall jump. The Streif has unsurprisingly been the site of many career-ending falls since the race began in 1931. Lucky for you, with the exception of Hahnenkamm weekend, the course is open to the public, though challenging weather often prevents it from opening completely.
The Mount Hermon Ski Resort – Israel
Why It’s Unique: As you drive up to it through the Golan Heights, you pass blocked-off mine fields. The mountain is dubbed the Eyes of the Nation for the view it gives deep into Syria. The Israeli Defense Forces maintain an observation post there, patrolled by the specially trained Alpine Unit. The military base is visible from the ski area, and certain sections of the mountain are restricted to IDF use.
Skiing at Hermon offers an unusual link to the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the Bible it is referred to as Ba’al Hermon, Sion, Sirion and Senir. The Gospels say that Caesarea Philippi is located at its base, and the mountain is also thought to be the site of the Transfiguration.
Gulmarg – Kashmir, India
Why It’s Unique: The highest slopes of Gulmarg are accessible by a single gondola, which pick people up at 8,694 feet and drop them off at 13,058 feet. It is operated by the government-run Jammu & Kashmir Cable Car Corporation. Service is plagued by a spotty power supply and only intermittent ski patrol access to avalanche control explosives (the explosives program was still operating on a trial basis as of 2008). Few have the chops to ride the gondola’s upper terrain, so those slopes are almost exclusively used by expert skiers and snowboarders.
Mauna Kea – Hawaii
Why It’s Unique: A county road that exists to allow scientists access to the observatory also birthed Mauna Kea’s skiers and boarders, locals who take advantage of Hawaii’s rare exposure to snow. With no lifts, no trail maps and no ski patrol, the terrain is best left to the experts, who usually take turns picking the others up after each run. A surfboard has even been known to make an appearance when the famous pineapple powder comes calling. The Mauna Kea Snowboarding Championship was established in 1994 and still continues, weather permitting, to attract international competitors.
Ski Pucon – Araucania Province, Chile
Why It’s Unique: Hike 2 hours from the top of the resort’s highest lift to gain access to the peak of Pucon’s at the edge of the Villarrica Volcano. Chile’s most active volcano frequently spews smoke, and a trip to the peak provides a look at the bubbling magma inside. The lava-gouged half-pipes and treeless slopes you’ll pass on your ride back down reveal evidence of past eruptions.
Slush Cup at Sunshine Village – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Why It’s Unique: The 2011 season will mark the 83rd annual Sunshine Slush Cup, a full weekend of events to celebrate the closing of the mountain for the winter. The festivities revolve around the Slush Cup itself, a cold, half-melted pool that costumed skiers try to jump across. Judges award prizes to the skiers who clear the jump, and hand out additional awards for Awesome Air, Best Belly Flop, Excellent Enema and various other titles determined by each year’s particular mishaps. Voted one of the top-three spring parties in North America by Skiing Magazine, it’s a safe bet that with a little beer, everyone goes home a winner.
Woodward at Copper – Copper Mountain, Colo.
Why It’s Unique: While most snowboarding camps are able to function only during the winter months, Copper is a year-round affair. Opening in February of 2009, the Barn is a 19,400-square-foot indoor training facility featuring 6200 square feet of Snowflex. Unlike Liberty Mountain’s Snowflex Centre, Copper’s use of the material is focused on training for more specific skills; the material provides both jumps and cliff drops that lead into foam pits rather than full runs. Skiers and boarders can do day- or week-long camps (which run through summer) or drop-in sessions, where they are free to use the jump line, rail garden, quarter pipe, log jib or spring floor.
Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre – Liberty University, Va.
Why It’s Unique: Snowflex is the first snow-free ski park in North America. The name “Snowflex” refers to a terrain technology akin to white Astroturf: a monofilament fiber stitched into a carrier layer resting atop a foam shock pad. A sprinkler system sprays the material with friction-reducing Britonmist, produced by Snowflex manufacturer Briton Engineering Developments. The park hosts 500-foot runs, open to students and the public for year-round skiing.
Courchevel – Tarentaise Valley, France
Why It’s Unique: While skiing the Alps may be a challenge, the real difficulty is in getting there. And though it’s no surprise that this chunk of the largest ski area has its own airport, Courchevel is no beginner’s course: Pilots must obtain certification before being permitted to land on the runway. The 1700-foot strip, with an 18.5 percent grade, requires planes to take off downhill and land going uphill. All this assumes that pilots first manage to successfully navigate through the Alps. Then, of course, you need some ski skills to handle the slopes once you arrive.
Middlebury College Snow Bowl – Middlebury, Vt.
Why It’s Unique: Only two colleges in the eastern U.S. still own ski areas, making the Snow Bowl a unique source of pride for the school. Snow Bowl Patrol is entirely staffed by student volunteers, who must receive both National Ski Patrol and Outdoor Emergency Care certification through a course run by the college. In addition to hosting a number of collegiate competitions, the Snow Bowl is home to the annual ski-down procession. The tradition, started over two decades ago, is the final event of a midwinter celebration in which graduating “Febs” (Middlebury students who began their freshman year in February) ski down the slope in their caps and gowns.
Pic du Midi – Pyrenees, France
Why It’s Unique: A cable car transports both researchers and the public to the observatory, making Pic du Midi a desirable spot for extreme skiers and stargazers alike. While the terrain is advanced and completely unmonitored by officials, riders are required to sign a waiver before heading down the 3281 foot drop. In the past, use of Pic du Midi was forbidden without a professional mountaineer along for the ride, a recommendation that is still clearly posted on the site. Gear manufacturer Quiksilver has begun a partnership with the mountain to use it as an official test site for its extreme sports attire.
Telluride – Telluride, Colo.
Why It’s Unique: Telluride’s main draw is its public transportation system: A free gondola that connects it to its sister town Mountain Village, and a midway point with access to hiking and ski trails. It’s the only one of its kind in North America. Another superlative: The Telluride Regional Airport is the highest commercial airport on the continent. While you’ll have to travel 45 miles before reaching the nearest stoplight, the city was actually the first in the world to have electric lights, as well as the world’s first alternating-current power plant. And two more fun facts to leave you with: There is not a single chain restaurant or shop in the city (woo hoo!), and the first-ever bank that Butch Cassidy robbed, in 1889, was in Telluride. He walked away with $24,000.
Mt. Baker Ski Area – Mt. Shuksan, Wash.
Why It’s Unique: At 647 inches of average annual snowfall, Mt. Baker receives more powder than other ski areas in the U.S. During its 1998 to 1999 season, Mt. Baker broke the world record for highest recorded yearly snowfall: 1140 inches. The mountain has no corporate sponsors, no TVs, no ATMs and no gondolas. Just snow. As host to the longest running snowboarding competition in the world, the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom, it is also often referred to as the birthplace of snowboarding.
Bamiyan – Afghanistan
Why It’s Unique: While it’s clearly not earning resort status anytime soon, Bamiyan offers the no-nonsense skier a unique anti-resort experience—don’t expect to find chair lifts. Instead, hike up a hill and take a rare shot at entirely unexplored terrain, which of course comes with one big risk as well: watch out for avalanches. Niche travel companies are beginning to organize trips to Salang Pass, near Kabul, with stop-offs to Bamiyan using privately operating guides. Getting to Bamiyan involves a flight to Kabul and an 8-hour “road” trip via the Sibher Pass, however, it may be quite awhile before ecotourism finds a steady foothold.
Mount Ruapehu – New Zealand
Why It’s Unique: Mount Ruapehu is one of three active volcanoes that together form Tongariro National Park, which is also a World Heritage Site. Coming in at 9177 feet, it is the tallest of the trio and it’s also a good deal more famous: You may remember Ruapehu as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. Ruapehu is the most active of the three volcanoes. During the last eruption, in September 2007, lava flowed down Whakapapa; a rock from the blast severed a climber’s leg. There is now an advanced early warning system in place, and lifts and cafes have been moved out of the path of the lava.
Ski Dubai – Dubai
Why It’s Unique: There have been indoor ski runs in the past, but none has been as ambitious as Dubai’s, which boasts the world’s first indoor black diamond. Visiting the Middle East without snow gear? A lift ticket buys rental skis, snowboards, and suitable outerwear.
Chamonix Mont Blanc – France
Huckleberry Canyon – Sierra-at-Tahoe, Calif.
Why It’s Unique: Before the resort adopted Huckleberry into its boundaries, there was no official access to the area’s 320 acres of expert-only terrain (including cliff drops, cornice drops, rock chutes and open bowls). Even with the addition of lifts opened up by the partnership with Sierra-at-Tahoe, it’s still a trek to the top, and any route down the all-double-black-diamond canyon still requires a significant hike back out.