5 best North American skiing: From major resorts to quirky diversions
1. Whistler Blackcomb
, British Columbia
Though it’s enormous and known by skiers the world over, Whistler Blackcomb somehow still feels “intensely spiritual,” said Susan Reifer in Ski magazine. The resort’s two main mountains are surrounded by glaciers and “alpine lakes so vivid they look like something from a dream.” By many measures, Whistler is North America’s largest mountain resort, sprawling over 8,171 snow-covered acres. Whistler Village meets the demands of its diverse visitors with spas, restaurants, and hotels that appeal to “yogic meditators and hedonists alike.” Of course, the slopes are the main draw here, and some of the best snow is found away from the most wellcarved runs. Somehow, developing a familiarity with the terrain here “transforms a person—even one who is not naturally gifted—into the most capable of skiers.”
2. Banff National Park
A trio of resorts in Alberta offers a pleasingly laid-back take on Canadian skiing, said Christopher Reynolds in the Los Angeles Times. Unlike the far livelier scene 10 hours west at Whistler, the resorts Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, and Norquay offer stellar slope experiences without the bustle. Stunning peaks line the horizon in Banff National Park, where the three resorts feature a combined 8,000 skiable acres. About 4,200 of these are at Lake Louise Ski Resort. While making your way up the Glacier Express chairlift to one of the more than 145 runs there, you can take in a view of the valley and spot skaters on Lake Louise, a partially frozen lake sitting under a glacier. An apr?s-ski scene in the town of Banff provides a chance to warm up, as do nearby hot springs.
3. Silverton Mountain
The old-school, roughing-it conditions at Silverton keep “the soul of skiing” alive, said Christopher Steiner in Forbes.com. At 13,487 feet, Silverton Mountain is North America’s tallest ski peak and has no cut trails. A retired school bus pushed up against the snowpack serves as the mountain’s rental shop, and the base lodge consists of little more than a large pole tent with a wood-burning stove. Yet a range of skiers from “ski bum bros” to hedge fund managers takes advantage of the 1,819 acres of skiable terrain accessible by a single chairlift. Skiers also use the resort’s helicopter access to 22,000 more acres of raw slopes. The base lodge offers beer on tap, but more drinking options—as well as modern dining and lodging—are available only six miles away in the historic mining town of Silverton.
4. Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole is a resort that attracts hardcore skiers who want to “challenge and scare themselves,” said Dina Mishev in The Washington Post. It continues to offer some of the stiffest tests a skier can find in America, but the resort is also evolving to expand its appeal. New lifts added over the years have made some intermediate terrain more accessible, while existing trails have been improved and widened. Visitors may bump into celebrities in Teton Village, but the real thrills are on the 116 named ski trails and “a 3,000-acre experts-only playground of unpatrolled, ungroomed, uncontrolled terrain.” For advanced skiers, nothing matches the bowls, glades, and chutes of Rendezvous Mountain. On Rendezvous’s steep side-country couloirs, “falling is not an option.”
Many winter enthusiasts in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula enjoy snow without skis, thanks to “fat bikes,” said Melanie D.G. Kaplan in The Washington Post. “A cousin of the mountain bike,” a fat bike has tires about twice as wide as its relative, and with about one-third the air pressure. “The ride is steady and slow,” but the special gear allows for better control on snow. “Beginners and experts alike can’t help but wear a grin” when fat biking, and the fad has spread from its birthplace in Alaska all across the country. Marquette recently expanded its Noquemanon Trail Network, a hot spot for cross-country skiing, to include a 15-mile snow-bike trail that’s considered one of the best in the country. Not that you don’t have other options: “If you’re headed somewhere snowy this winter, chances are you’ll find fat-bike rentals.”Berlin, 25 years after the Wall
A quarter century of freedom has done a number on the Berlin I once knew, said Zofia Smardz in The Washington Post. Back in the 1980s, West Berlin was “an island of freedom in a communist sea” and East Berlin “a forbidding fortress of a place, gray and lifeless.” But then the Wall that seemed as if it would last forever came tumbling down, the Cold War standoff between the Soviet Union and the West ended, and the “chic and fashionable” Berlin I loved busted loose. With the 25th anniversary of the Wall’s fall approaching, I decided to go back, landing in a Berlin that’s vigorously erasing its old dividing lines. Today, “it’s all one big, sprawling city—open and free and exhilarating.”
Of course, remnants of the Wall remain. What I find at Checkpoint Charlie shocks me: Near a replica of the guard booth where American MPs once checked the papers of people hoping to pass between West and East, tourists flood souvenir shops while actors in military garb pose for photos at $3 a shot. Boisterous street signs advertise curry sausage shops, while a couple of tiny, neon-painted cars drive by, honking. An “air of revelry” enlivens this display of “capitalism with a capital C”—and “I love it.” A Wall memorial on Bernauer Strasse offers a more sobering experience, though I spot some girls doing cartwheels nearby as I walk along a row of metal rods indicating the Wall’s route.
The spirit of giddy renewal feels especially strong in the Mitte district, “the formerly forlorn heart of Berlin.” Deluxe hotels and other towers are rising, and a “glitzy” restaurant now sits on the roof of the Reichstag, the 19th-century parliamentary building that sat largely abandoned throughout the Cold War. After dinner there, my husband and I stroll the spiraling walkway inside the building’s large glass dome and admire the Brandenburg Gate below. Berliners can now casually wander through the gate, but I’m sure the young international crowd I see rarely ponders how amazing that is. “That whole East-West thing? So 25 years ago.”Wandering storybook Dubrovnik
The Croatian city of Dubrovnik “excels at playing versions of itself,” said Davin O’Dwyer in The Washington Post. Located on a “spectacular” stretch of the Dalmatian coast, the so-called Pearl of the Adriatic has been so fastidiously repaired since the bombardment it suffered during the 1990s’ Croatian War of Independence that you’d need a guide to spot the damage. Recently, Dubrovnik’s walled Old City has gained millions of new admirers by filling a featured role in the hit HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones. “A perfect real-world substitute” for the capital of Westeros, the latemedieval city core is “a town-size living museum”—and a true architectural marvel.
The Old City’s main thoroughfare, the Stradun, struck me as “one of the most perfectly proportioned streets I’ve ever walked along.” The wall’s main gates lie at either end, and the gates’ adjoining bell towers “act as visual exclamation points book-ending the gleaming stone pavement and the cream-colored buildings in between.” Narrow lanes branch off that central spine, leading up or down flights of stairs that “keep framing the city in stunning vertical shafts”—creating postcard views of a cathedral’s dome, say, or of stacked terra-cotta rooftops. Even so, the Old City’s “most breathtaking attraction” has to be the mile-and-a-quarter-long walkway atop the wall that rings it. “The finest view of all” came where the wall meets the Minceta tower and “the collage” of bell towers and red rooftops was set against the sea beyond.
The revival of the Old City and its global embrace have pushed out many longtime residents, and that thought was playing on my mind when I returned to the Stradun on my last day. At Orlando’s Column, a monument to a Norman knight, a large group of men dressed like medieval guards surrounded a chained prisoner who seemed to have been badly beaten. But then a director yelled, “Cut!” and I was struck by the notion that Dubrovnik is particularly good at offering the illusion that past and present, reality and fiction, can coexist in one place. “It’s an illusion, in truth, that I didn’t want to end.”A Cuban town barely touched by the 20th century
Trinidad, Cuba, is a place that time has “blessedly” passed by, said Linda Mack in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A frequent stop on guided tours of the island nation, this town of 60,000 was built on sugar money and slave labor, but more than 1,000 of its colonial-era buildings remain intact, and its historic center feels “far from fossilized.” Walking its ankletwisting cobblestone streets recently, I was surrounded by one-story 18th- and 19th-century houses occupied by multigenerational families and spilling with life. “Doorways opened to restaurants and bars and the music that is everywhere in Cuba.” Loosened restrictions on U.S. travel to communist Cuba have slightly increased the presence of American tourists in Trinidad, but it remains a world apart. On its narrow streets, automobiles are outnumbered by horse-drawn carts.
Our group arrived shortly before sunset one day, after a long bus ride through mostly unpopulated countryside. Trinidad is set back from the sea against the Escambray Mountains, and we enjoyed mojitos on the terrace of our state-run resort before descending the dark cobblestone street into town. At Casa de la M?sica, one of three venues that offer music nightly, we joined locals spread among open-air bistro tables to listen to salsa and watch a fire-eater. Some of the town’s old villas, we later discovered house the private restaurants called paladares, which have become Cuba’s hottest attraction. A highlight of our stay was a dinner at Sol Ananda Paladar, a restored 1750s villa where chandeliers of varying styles hang from wood beams and a bongo-playing female singer and her three-guitar band played a great set while we ate.
Fourteen thousand slaves once worked in the region outside town known as the Valley of the Sugar Mills, but their owners lived luxuriously in town. Many of their villas are now museums, including one focused on archaeology and another on the decorative arts. The Municipal History Museum is “even more sumptuous.” Its many rooms enclose a large courtyard, and a three-story tower offers panoramic views across the city’s roofs toward the distant ocean and the nearby mountains.Kerala, India—‘God’s Own Country’
In most any other corner of the world, local inhabitants couldn’t invoke a slogan like the one above without sounding “unbearably self-satisfied,” said Davin O’Dwyer in The Washington Post. But Kerala, the state that hugs the southwest coast of the Indian peninsula, is beautiful enough to wear the label comfortably, especially given the variety of religious communities that share and embrace the land. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and even some Jains peacefully coexist here, as is apparent in “the busy juxtaposition of towers, minarets, and spires that sit cheek by jowl in every city, town, and village.” Though each vista offers a new variation on lush green, the landscape of Kerala
is otherwise “as diverse as its people”—encompassing stunning beaches, a lacework of backwater canals, and the “glorious” hillside tea plantations of the Western Ghats.
After a short stay in Fort Kochi, a quaint heritage city, my girlfriend and I journeyed to Eravikulam National Park to soak in an unrivaled view of the state’s rolling western countryside. Anaimudi mountain, a forbidding peak whose name means “Elephant Head,” loomed to one side as we looked out on the tea plantations arrayed below us. Near the hill-station town of Munnar, the tea bushes “cling to the hills like a soft emerald carpet,” while paths created for the pickers cut patterned grooves—“as if some god-like cartographer had inked contour lines on the mountain slopes.”
We took an overnight cruise along the Malabar Coast before enjoying “one of the quintessential Kerala
experiences”—a slow voyage in a kettuvallam, or thatched houseboat, through the canals and rivers that crosshatch a vast expanse of emerald-green rice paddies. Pretty cottages and churches often lined the way, and children at play stopped their games to wave to us. Once, when we paused for lunch, we watched a duck herder in a canoe using a long stick to expertly chaperone hundreds of waterfowl toward the riverbank. The entire excursion was so serene that it wove “a kind of meditative spell, like a deep-tissue massage for the soul.”