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BW Businessworld

The Snow Slide

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The winter chill is here, so stop warming your chairs and move it! Get going and get away for a while, it'll do your system a lot of good. Okay, so you can't jump and run right away, but you can start planning, right? This time, we say, go somewhere where it's really COLD, such as ski resorts. There's nothing more exhilarating than tearing down icy slopes against the onrushing, bitter-cold wind. And the fun is greater if you went to a place that is less celebrated, but no less exquisite than the world's best known ski resorts. So, here's a delectable menu of unusual options.

Among the most spectacular ski experiences is one in the land of the midnight sun — Riksgränsen, the northernmost ski resort in the world (in Sweden), 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Locally, it is called heaven and hell; heaven because of the sheer variety of terrain available (though top elevation is just 909 metres); and hell because the weather could turn vicious in a moment. The resort is open from February to early July. Between mid-May and July, the sun doesn't set on Riksgränsen, meaning you can put on your skiing shoes or snowboard even at midnight. If you're lucky, you'll have the Aurora Borealis for company. While there are several pistes (marked or groomed ski trails) for the conventional skier, Riksgränsen is off-piste heaven (think of it as the skiing equivalent of offroading).

What has Vladimir Putin been in the news for lately? Hmm… let's see… racing an F1 car, hunting, fishing, driving cross country, um… Alina Kabaeva... the list is long. But what we're getting at are pictures splashed all over of him skiing at Krasnaya Polyana, in the midst of the breathtaking West Caucasian mountains. Located in the European part of Russia, it takes just a two-and-a-half hour flight to reach Krasnaya Polyana from Moscow. The place is gentle compared to Riksgränsen, with more inhabitants, and lots of well-maintained pistes. Its best slopes are on the northern slopes of the Aibga Ridge, with the longest being 4 km in length. Heli-skiing (the helicopter drops you off at a remote, off-piste place) can lengthen the trail to 7 km and provide a vertical of more than 2,000 metre. Best time to visit is December-March, but the mild climate is a bother; so it's best to check the snow levels (on the resort's website) before booking the tickets.

Down Under, Thredbo is thunder! Pardon the borrowed punchline, but Thredbo, in New South Wales, Australia, is truly the southern hemisphere's most sought after skiing destination. A relatively upmarket resort 500 km south of Sydney, Thredbo provides Australia's longest ski runs and the most vertical alpine terrain. Seasoned skiers could check out the Funnel Web, the steepest run on the mountain. When not skiing, one can indulge in a variety of self-guided bush walks or a joyride on the 700-metre Thredbo bobsled on a fun track full of wild straights, twists and turns. To unwind, there's the Schuss Bar or the Keller Nightclub. Best time to visit is now.

From the land of the midnight sun to the land of the rising sun. Yes, Japan too has plenty of snow, and some cool ski resorts as well. One such resort, Hakuba Valley, is just a three-hour train ride from Tokyo. It has 10 resort areas and more than 200 runs for both skiers and snowboarders of all ability levels. Plus, a base snow cover of more than 10 metres every season makes Hakuba an ideal location for the regular skier. There is also a collection of natural hot springs that help you unwind after a tough day on the slopes. The resort is open from December until the beginning of May. And the best time to visit is mid-December to mid-March.

This one's slightly on the eerie side. The Balkans, or more precisely, Transylvania, home to Bran Castle of Dracula fame, is a fast emerging hotspot for skiing enthusiasts. The amenities, though, aren't worth shouting about; what you can be sure to get is inexpensive, hearty food, uncrowded slopes and stunning scenery. Skiing, rather cross-country skiing is more popular here than snowboarding. The best known ski resort in the region is Brasov-Poiana. It is perfect for beginners with 15 km of slopes marked blue, red and black according to difficulty level. And don't worry, Count Dracula isn't among the hosts.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 22-11-2010)