Snowboarders are commanding their own brand of vacation in the snowy peaks, and resorts are listening with everything from exclusive pistes to music festivals.
Steep thrills: top 10 snowboarding destinations
In many ski resorts, snowboarders are considered a bit of a menace. The two-plank majority look upon the single-plank minority – with their baggy pants, their wide, sweeping descents and their insistence on turning every little bump into a display of acrobatics – with suspicion and fear. The loud scrape of a snowboard coming up behind you makes even the most dauntless skier feel slightly tense.
Some resorts, however, welcome boarders with open arms. They build them huge snow parks for freestyling (tricks and jumps), and they offer them wide expanses of untouched powder for freeriding - such as exhilarating off-piste descents - plus guides and helicopters to take them there. In these resorts, the two-planked skier is often in the minority and the snowboarder is king. Hip bars and hotels cater for the cool crowd and boarder-centric resorts such as Mayrhofen attract all kinds of events, including cutting-edge music festivals. Here are our 10 favourite places in the world to snowboard.
1 Mayrhofen, Austria
Just 70 kilometres from Innsbruck, the quaint Tyrolean village of Mayrhofen - or "Big M" as snowboarders know it - is fast becoming one of the hottest boarding spots in Europe. There are 157km of pistes to be explored in the Ziller Valley. Alternatively, head to the world-class Vans Penken Park - it covers one entire slope and boasts a half-pipe, 11 jumps and 34 boxes. Go in early April for the now-legendary Snowbombing music festival - past headliners include Dizzee Rascal and Fatboy Slim. The action centres on the well-located Hotel Strass (www.hotelstrass.com; 00 43 5285 6705), with double rooms from €62 (Dh320) per person, including taxes. For snowboarding lessons, try Skischule Mayrhofen (www.skimayrhofen.com; €45 [Dh227] for a two-hour lesson). Lift passes cost from €41.50 (Dh214) per person per day.
2 St Anton, Austria
Austria's best-loved resort gained a pro-level snowpark last year, but the main attraction of St Anton for snowboarders remains its mind-blowing off-piste. With consistently excellent powder, steep cliff drops, tight chutes and a vast ski area comprising 280km of piste, this is easily one of the best freerider resorts in the world. For wide, steep powder fields, head for the Kapall area. Heli-skiing can be arranged and numerous companies will guide you beyond the marked areas. St Anton is very much a party town with a vibrant après-ski tradition, so if it's peace and quiet you're after, try one of the smaller resorts nearby. The historic Schwarzer Adler hotel (www.schwarzeradler.com; 00 43 5446 22440) has double rooms from €107 (Dh557), including taxes. Lift passes cost from €42.50 (Dh219) per day.
3 Laax, Switzerland
Laax is the spiritual home of snowboarding in Switzerland and one of the few European resorts where people on two planks appear to be in a minority. Expect the boarder-density to increase this year with the opening of Europe's first indoor freestyle training centre, the Laax Freestyle Academy, next weekend (freestyleacademy.laax.com), with lessons from 43 Swiss francs (Dh161). Once you've mastered those jumps on forgiving surfaces, head to the newly expanded Crag Sogn Gion snowpark, which boasts the largest half-pipe in Europe and has hosted several Burton European Opens. The resort has undergone large-scale modernisation in the past few years: the centrepiece is the flashy new Rocks Resort, with restaurants, bars and 160 self-catering apartments. A two-bedroom apartment at the resort (www.rocksresort.com; 00 41 81 927 9797) starts at 1,029 francs (Dh3,852) per week, including taxes. Lift passes cost from 55 francs (Dh205) per day.
4 Saas Fee, Switzerland
Thanks to its high-altitude glacier and excellent snowfall record, this Swiss resort attracts snow lovers all year round. Indeed, many boarders prefer to come here in the summer, when the crowds dissipate and the Allalin Freestyle Park, with its newly expanded Olympic-standard half-pipe, opens for business. But Saas Fee is great all year round, particularly for beginners who can hone their skills on a good selection of easy slopes and parks. Eskimos (www.eskimos.ch) run an excellent snowboard school, with two-hour lessons from 35 francs (Dh131). The beautiful, traffic-free village comes alive in the evenings and the baggy-trousered brigade can be found at Popcorn, a bar-cum-snowboard shop, enjoying the après-ski while their gear gets mended. Stay at Hotel Schweizerhof (www.schweizerhof-saasfee.ch; 00 41 27 958 7575), with double rooms from 178 francs (Dh667) per person on half-board basis, including taxes. Lift passes cost from 65 francs (Dh243) per day.
5 Tignes, France
You don't go to Tignes for a gentle, easy-going ski holiday: you go for the difficulty, speed and head-spinning array of precipitous descents - the resort, set at 2,100 metres, has only one green slope. Advanced snowboarders will love it for its enormous Palafour Comb snowpark, the biggest in Europe, and a wealth of off-piste in the wider Espace Killy ski area - the best in the Alps, some say. Don't risk the backcountry on your own: book a guide through Evolution 2 Ski (www.evolution2.com). The resort has enjoyed major redevelopment recently but it's still relatively cheap, and you can ski on the glacier year-round. Snowboarders in the know stay at the friendly Dragon Lodge (www.dragonlodge.com; 00 44 870 068 0668), with double rooms from £199 (Dh1,175) per person per week, including taxes. Lift passes cost from €44.50 (Dh229) per day.
6 Avoriaz, France
Snowboarders have always been welcomed with open arms in Avoriaz - they are even awarded a special passport, and beginners can learn at the boarders-only school, Emery (00 33 450 74 00 36). Intermediates will probably get the most pleasure out of this spectacular cliff-edge resort because of its position at the centre of Portes de Soleil, which claims to be the largest lift-linked ski area in the world with some 650km of pistes, most of them red and blue. You can tour around here for a week without doing the same run twice. Freestylers are catered for, too, with an interesting variety of parks, including the quirky woodland-themed Stash Run and the huge Arare Park for those in search of big air. The best hotel in town is Dromonts (www.christophe-leroy.com; 00 450 740811), with double rooms from €126 (Dh649) per person, including taxes. Lift passes cost from €41 (Dh211) per day.
7 Mammoth Mountain, California
Ski resorts don't get much more agreeable than Mammoth Mountain in California's High Sierras, where the season stretches from October to July and the sun shines 300 days a year. But it's not just about having fun in the sun: this is where some of the world's best boarders come to train, including the Olympic gold-medallist Shaun White. No wonder: Mammoth Mountain boasts seven parks over a 36.4-hectare area, with three pipes and more than 50 jumps. Recent $100 million (Dh367m) investments into lifts and services add to the appeal. The only downside are the weekend crowds: avoid them with a trip to sister resort June Mountain, where your ski pass is valid. For upscale accommodation more reminiscent of Aspen, try Westin Monache (www.westinmammoth.com; 00 1 760 934 2526) with double rooms from US$240 (Dh881), including taxes. Lift passes cost from US$72 (Dh264) per day.
8 Jackson Hole, Wyoming
This far-flung Wyoming resort is known as the extreme snowboarding capital of the US, because of its cliff-like runs, long narrow chutes and rocky terrain. This is where expert snowboarders come to test their limits. Forget the unexceptional snowpark and head straight to the summit for the awe-inspiring powder run through Rendezvous Bowl to the Hobacks, dropping more than 1,200m. If you really want your nerve tested, try the notorious Corbet's Couloir, "America's scariest ski slope", which begins with a nine-metre free fall. The resort doesn't get too crowded, and with more than 1,000 hectares of in-bounds terrain, there's plenty of space to fill. Powder is best in January and February. Stay at Terra (www.hotelterrajacksonhole.com; 00 1 307 739 4000), a boutique eco-hotel in Teton Village, with double rooms from US$356 (Dh1,308), including taxes. Lift passes cost from US$72 (Dh264) per day.
9 Whistler/Blackcomb, Canada
This resort, encompassing the twin mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb, 125km north of Vancouver, consistently ranks as the best in North America. The accolade was reinforced last February when the 2010 Winter Olympics came to town. The piste map, taking in more than 2,830 hectares of ski-able terrain, is more like an atlas. Whistler has the spectacular views on sunny days but snowboarders tend to head for Blackcomb, which has more tree runs and the world-beating Nintendo Terrain Parks. Avoid the holidays, when crowds arrive, and visit in early December or January. Stay at the foot of the Blackcomb at Fairmont Chateau Whistler (www.fairmont.com/whistler; 00 1 604 938 8000) with double rooms from 456 Canadian dollars (Dh1,670), including taxes. Lift passes cost from $138 (Dh506) for a minimum stay of two days.
10 Niseko, Japan
If you like powder, it's safe to say you'll like Niseko, on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The resort gets an average of 15m of snow per season, making it the second-snowiest in the world after Mt Baker in the US state of Washington. Freeriding is the main attraction - but don't take too much advantage of Japan's easy-going off-piste policy: for safety's sake book a guide. The downside of all the powder are the cold Siberian winds that carry it here. On the plus side, the food is superb and not expensive, boarders of all abilities will find lots to suit them and the floodlit resort is open till nine every night. Stay at the secluded Hotel Kanronomori (www.kanronomori.com; 00 81 136 58 3800) with double rooms from 10,000 yen (Dh455) including tax. Lift passes cost from ¥4900 (Dh223) per day.