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Winter wonderlands

Whether it’s relaxing in chic new hotels in Verbier, enjoying exquisite dining in the Dolomites or horse-riding in the Wild West snow, there’s something new for even the most jaded holidaymaker this season.
Winter wonderlands
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© Liam Doran

Whether it’s relaxing in chic new hotels in Verbier, enjoying exquisite dining in the Dolomites or horse-riding in the Wild West snow, there’s something new for even the most jaded holidaymaker this season.

The iconic Colorado resort of Vail turned 50 in December and celebrated its milestone anniversary
by launching a new gondola and gourmet mountain restaurant, and hosted a series of high-profile events throughout the winter. In addition to a public premiere of Vail’s 50th anniversary film and jubilant free party, the resort will host world-class concerts and sporting events through the season, culminating in Ski Heritage Week (8-15 April, 2013), which will see Vail’s induction into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.

There’s good news for those lucky enough to spend time skiing both in the US and Europe this winter: the 2012/13 Epic Pass not only offers unlimited skiing throughout the season at all Vail Resorts (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood and Arapahoe Basin) but also – new this winter – three days’ free skiing in Verbier. Prices start from $699 (€533) per adult and $359 per child, which pay for themselves after just six days on the slopes.

Luxurious catered Italian chalets are like gold dust, but when former Escada bigwigs Stefano and Giorgia Barbini left Milan to renovate a 16th-century hunting lodge in the Dolomites, they planned to spend more time with their children rather than filling a niche in the hospitality industry. Happily, they have achieved both, with the chic San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge, where guests lap up Giorgia’s superb cuisine and Stefano’s knowledge of local skiing and vineyards.

Located amid dense forest high above the Puster Valley, San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge affords views of the valley and the Dolomites. The silence is broken only by the sound of mountain streams and birds – or helicopters. Although the large, family-friendly ski resort of Kronplatz is just a 10-minute (chauffeured) drive from the lodge, many guests opt to fly by helicopter from the garden to Kronplatz and neighbouring resorts, such as Alta Badia and Val Gardena. The Barbinis also arrange everything from snowshoeing and paragliding to wine tastings and private wellness coaching.

Long the home of après-ski, St Anton is turning over a new leaf with the launch of several hotels, chic bars and restaurants and even a ban on ski boots in bars after 8pm. The snowbum’s loss is the parent’s gain, as St Anton is now a family-friendly resort with excellent nursery slopes, childcare and tuition.

Kaluma Travel, St Anton’s preferred travel partner, hand-picks family-friendly chalets, delivers lift passes and equipment, provides home-cooked menus, iPads, DVDs and toys for the children and offers complimentary accommodation for nannies. Kaluma works with expert instructors who combine ski/board tuition with informal private language instruction – enabling children to absorb new language skills as they enjoy themselves on the slopes.

France’s Three Valleys are bursting with news this winter, from the launch of Méribel’s first five-star hotel, Le Kaïla, and its very own slopeside La Folie Douce restaurant and bar, to the renaming of Courchevel’s villages (1850 is now Courchevel, 1650 Courchevel Moriond, 1550 Courchevel Village and 1300 Le Praz). However, our sights are set on Val Thorens, which welcomes Le Hameau du Kashmir, a cluster of traditionally-styled, slope-side timber chalets comprising a 16-suite hotel and 77 four-star serviced apartments. The new “hamlet” has two restaurants, a crêperie, a spa, a gym, a rental shop and a crêche.

As the highest resort in the Alps, with direct access to the world’s largest ski area, Val Thorens is the ideal destination for those looking to make the most of the winter.

Encompassing over 6,600 acres of working ranch land at the base of Montana’s John Long Mountains, the Ranch at Rock Creek is the ultimate Wild West retreat, with accommodation provided in 12 sumptuous private log homes and the nine-guestroom Granite Lodge. When not appreciating Montana’s pristine beauty guests can try their hand at horse riding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, sledging, ice skating and winter paintballing.

If you’re still determined to get in some turns, there are over 2,000 acres of terrain to ski at the nearby Discovery Ski Area, which caters equally well for families and expert skiers with gentle groomers, steeper trails and bumps, and acres of backcountry to explore.

If you’re a fan of Verbier’s Four Valleys ski area as well as peace and quiet, look no further than Hidden Dragon. This exquisite lodge is the brainchild of a brother and sister team who set aside their corporate careers to create a unique retreat in the Alps. Reflecting the siblings’ Eurasian heritage, Hidden Dragon was built and designed in accordance with Shinto and feng shui beliefs in a secluded Alpine pasture above the village of Veysonnaz.

Aged Swiss timber, stonework and antiques combine with modern design pieces, antique Kimono key fobs, sculptures and artworks from across the world. Add to this a private cinema, a spa with four therapists and a magnificent private wine collection, and it can be hard to leave the chalet (although it does offer ski-in/ski-out access and a chauffeur). Fortunately, the Hidden Dragon team think of everything and provide guests with an incentive in the form of the opportunity to ski or ride with local man Alex Coudray, the vice-world champion freeride snowboarder.

You could say that property development is in the Kirkland blood: when brothers Chris and Michael bought a half-acre plot in British Columbia’s Revelstoke Mountain Resort in 2007, they were continuing a family tradition of development and construction dating back to 1923, when their great-grandfather founded the Bowmer & Kirkland construction group.

Combining their passion for heliskiing and property development, the Kirkland brothers created Bighorn Lodge. North America’s first full-service private lodge, the 15,000square feet timber-framed Bighorn sleeps up to 16 in unparalleled luxury, with eight palatial guest suites, a triple height great room with sweeping mountain views, celebrated chef, private cinema, outdoor hot tub and extensive spa comprising an indoor pool, sauna, gym and treatment rooms.

Bighorn is further exceptional for being the sole property in Revelstoke with a private helipad, enabling the Kirklands to work with experienced local providers to create bespoke heliski packages for their guests. Happily for “heliski widows”, Bighorn’s location at the base of Revelstoke Mountain Resort means those guests who choose not to heliski can enjoy the slopes of one of the world’s largest ski resorts and simply luxuriate in the lodge.

In addition to its exciting new partnership with Vail Resorts, Verbier will see the launch of two sumptuous new chalets, Trois Couronnes and Norte, and the introduction of a new pop-up restaurant, Pot Luck Club, in the ever-popular Le Farinet. The restaurant will replace Casbah, which is moving to the former Coco Club site.

Meanwhile, the inspirational entrepreneur Marcus Bratter, a former Australian ski champion who arrived in Verbier 35 years ago and worked his way up from dishwasher to the town’s biggest hotelier and owner of The Farm Club, continues to expand his kingdom. Having already launched two four-star hotels in Verbier, Hotel Nevaï and King’s Parc Hotel, Bratter launched another property, La Cordées des Alps, in December. This venture comprises a 34-room hotel and 14 serviced residences, available for private ownership. With Bratter’s trademark chic, innovative interiors, an intimate restaurant, a world-class spa, 24/7 concierge service and an in-house ski technician, La Cordées des Alpes promises to set a new benchmark forserviced apartments in Verbier.

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