Where to Go in the Western Hemisphere.
A good friend of mine refers to late spring, summer, and fall collectively as “the cruel season.” For him, a day without snowfall is like a day without sunshine. But for those with the will, and the financial wherewithal, good skiing can be had all year round. That’s because, typically, summer skiing means jumping about a flight and heading far north, or south of the equator.
This year, though, is a little different, thanks to huge snowfalls in certain parts of the country. In mid-April, Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth was toying with the idea of keeping the California resort open right through to the start of next season. “I’m actually considering staying open through the summer and fall so it becomes the 16/17/18 season,” said Wirth. “There’s so much snow up there.”
A historically snowy winter in California surpassed 700 inches of snowfall earlier this month, or 250 inches above average, reported Weather.com. “This record-smashing Sierra snow season, contrasting sharply with the pathetic snow totals two years ago, is among the most bizarre ‘drought-to-deluge’ shifts I’ve seen in my 20 years in meteorology,” said Weather.com senior meteorologist Jon Erdman.
And, of course, there’s always a chance that New Hampshire’s Tuckerman Ravine, on the flanks of Mount Washington, will maintain a decent snowpack well into the summer. “My first time skiing in the summer was at Tuckerman Ravine, on August 4th, and I was hooked,” said Hall of Fame extreme skier John Egan of Vermont. “What a great feeling to ski on a warm day.”
However, for most folks in most “normal” years, summer skiing means traveling to more exotic locales. That requires some planning, and a good chunk of change. But for those who’ve done it, the experience has been worth every penny.
“It wasn’t cheap to go summer skiing in Portillo (in Chile), but obviously the plane ticket was a big part of the expense. It was a little weird going to Logan Airport (in Boston) on a 90-degree day in August with a winter parka and ski bag,” said Phil Kluge of Massachusetts. “Portillo is known for its powder skiing. When we were there it didn’t snow, but conditions were great and the weather was spectacular. Blue sky and sunny, every day for seven days.
“If you go there you will not be disappointed,” said Kluge. “They have slopes for all ability levels, from beginner to steeps that challenge even the Warren Miller skiers. Plus, the food, friendliness, and accommodations are great.”
Similar to the old bar joke – “It’s happy hour somewhere in the world.” – good snow can be found someplace any time of the year, said Chris Anthony of Vail, a professional guide. Like Egan, Anthony still has Antarctica on his personal Bucket List.
Growing up, Anthony was a serious alpine racer, and that meant summer training. But those summer sessions on Mount Hood in Oregon nurtured a lifelong love affair with skiing year-round. And he’s not alone. “I feel like people that do summer skiing are even that much more passionate about the sport, bringing that much more of a bond together,” said Anthony, who also serves as executive director of the Chris Anthony Youth Initiative Project. Egan agrees. “I’ve skied on many a birthday – August 19th – and whether it’s a tradition or guilty pleasure, it never disappoints,” said Egan. “Summer just seams too long of a break for those of us who love to slide.
“All skiers and riders should enjoy a summer slide at least once in their life,” he said. “If you poke around the United States, you can find snow, but travel really does calm one’s soul. So head to the Southern Hemisphere for a very cool experience.”
The following is a list of favorite summer locations in the Western Hemisphere. It’s not complete, by any means. But you won’t go wrong with any of these destinations.
In addition to Tahoe in the West, and Tuckerman to the East, there are several reliable summer ski areas in the Lower 48. Roughly 60 miles east of Portland, Oregon, is Anthony’s training area from his youth, the 11,245-foot Mount Hood.
Long a draw for Olympians and competitive skiers of every stripe, the Timberline Lodge is the only North American resort open 12 months a year. The Palmer Glacier is ideal for advanced and expert skiers, due to its white-knuckle runs. Below the glacier, Palmer Snowfield tops out at 8,540 feet, but has lift service and a greater variety of terrain. Expect to share that terrain with a number of camps and organizations.
Visitors to the Timberline Lodge, at 6,000 feet, may also experience a distinct sense of déjà vu, given the inn’s star turn in Jack Nicholson’s horror film, “The Shining.” While the resort is open year-round, the prime summer months are June and July.
Like Anthony, Lisa Densmore Ballard grew up as an alpine racer, which led to summer sessions in Switzerland at the age of 13. Now a masters champion, Densmore Ballard will host a summer racing camp at Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area, Montana, on the outskirts of Red Lodge.
“Skiing on the Beartooth Pass has been on my wish list since I moved to Red Lodge, six years ago,” said Densmore Ballard. “Coaching at this camp is my first chance to ski on the pass. I’m excited. All reports say it’s a fantastic snow year up there.”
Beartooth Basin Summer Ski area, which offers 900 feet of vertical drop from an elevation of 10,900 feet, plans to operate from May 27 to July 2. For details on the June race camp, visit silverrunski.com.
There are plenty of summer backcountry options north of the border, but the best lift-service skiing – and Canada’s longest ski season – is found at the legendary Whistler/Blackcomb Resort in British Columbia. The resort’s Horstman Glacier on Blackcomb Mountain is accessed by a pair of T-bars, and is only open for five weeks (June 10-July 16) to advanced and expert skiers. But if you’ve got the skills, you’ll find your thrills. Don’t forget the sunscreen.
Obviously, heading to the Southern Hemisphere during summer makes sense for ski fans as the seasons flip-flop. The rugged Andes Mountains and bountiful snowfalls are an irresistible lure for any powder hound. “For the last 14 years, I’ve been going down to Portillo, Chile in August,” said Anthony. “This is a very unique place high up in the Andes. It has one hotel, by itself, in a wonderful valley surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks. It is a very simple place, a step back in time, which makes the location that much more special.”
Whether in-bounds or out-of-bounds, Portillo delivers a remarkable ski experience.
“Ski Portillo was amazing,” said Christine Schneider of Colorado. “They say it’s like being on a cruise ship, with mountains and snow instead of water and beaches. It will be very hard to top this experience. Probably impossible.”
Schneider and her husband, Bill, joined her brothers Phil and Peter Kluge for the “once in a lifetime” adventure.
“Skiing in the summer is like cheating nature,” said Bill Schneider. “Mentally you know it’s supposed to be summer, but physically you’re back in the depths of winter. The big attraction for me was getting my ski equipment back out and trading flip-flops for ski boots.”
Plus, Ski Portillo makes planning a snap (thanks, in part, to a superb array of rental gear). “The plan is all-inclusive – lift tickets, room, four meals a day, (including) breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner,” said Christine Schneider.
“People come here from around the world, and you meet them in the hot tub after skiing or in the lounge before dinner or on the slopes,” she said. “There are about 450 guests and a few locals that may come up for the day on the weekend, so there are no lift lines.”
Not to be outdone, Nevados de Chillan, located on the stunning Volcano Chillan, enjoys a well-deserved reputation as having the best snow found anywhere. The natural hot springs, and epic backcountry terrain, are all part of the package.
Also in Chile are the three magnificent resorts of Tres Valles, less than two hours outside the international airport in Santiago. Valle Nevado is massive, boasting more than 7,000 acres of ski-able terrain. Though the resort opens in June, prevailing conditions ensure deep, fluffy powder through October.
Are you feeling the need for speed? The steepest runs of the Tres Valles are found at La Parva. The resort has access to outstanding skiing, with daring chutes like McConkey’s (named after the late, great Shane McConkey) and La Chimenea, but you’ll have to work for your turns. Finally, El Colorado, the area’s “local” resort, has what is generally considered the best terrain park in South America and marvelous backcountry routes.
Longtime ski guide Alfredo Chino Martinez, an Argentine native who now spends half his year in Santiago, Chile, and the other half in Aspen, Colorado. For his money, the two most spectacular settings in Argentina are Las Leñas or Bariloche.
“Las Leñas is all above tree line, great off-piste, big-mountain skiing, great for a snow-cat operation with an amazing guide,” said Martinez.
Need a guide? Martinez recommends hooking up with Aspen’s Claudio Margaride.
“Las Leñas offered some of the steepest and most radical summer resort skiing I have witnessed,” said Egan.
Meanwhile, Bariloche is a true ski town, and one of the most beautiful places on earth, according to Martinez, with an enormous lake surrounding the town. “The mountain is more for carving and race training,” said Martinez, adding that Bariloche has a “lower elevation than Las Leñas, so the snow is not that powdery all the time.”
A short drive from Bariloche is Cerro Catedral, one of the more contemporary resorts south of the equator. Prime time to avoid the crowds is August to early September. The resort draws its named from the giant granite cathedral-like spires. A quick hike into the backcountry rewards the adventurous with spectacular couloirs.
For details on Martinez’s guiding services, visit WhiteTrips.com.
Down Under and Europe
Of course, there are many more southern hemisphere destinations for the summer skier to fill his or her Bucket List. Perisher Ski Resort in New South Wales, Australia, is situated roughly 300 miles southwest of Sydney. The resort, in the Snowy Mountains of Kosciuszko National Park, is actually a combination of four areas – Perisher Valley, Smiggin Holes, Blue Cow, and Guthega. Together, they boast 47 lifts servicing seven peaks, providing good skiing for days on end.
The Southern Alps on South Island in New Zealand is home to Treble Cone, which offers more than 1,300 acres of big basin skiing for intermediates and experts.
“The South Island of New Zealand was real cool in so many ways,” said Egan. “Skiing in a high alpine jungle with parrots was a highlight for me.”
For options north of the equator, consider the Hintertux Glacier in the Zillertal Alps mountain range in Austria, or the Theodul Glacier at Zermatt in Switzerland.
Image: Miles Holden