How’s that winter ski holiday coming along? Readying yourself for the perfectly groomed slopes of Verbier once again? Sharpening your elbows for crowds of Courchevel? Or, are you all about getting away from the masses and heading off the beaten track into uncharted territory? If the idea of untouched powder has your thighs burning with anticipation, then you’re in the right place.
We tasked Mathieu Crepel, one of the biggest names in modern snowboarding (with World Championship medals, world-firsts and Olympic bibs to his name) for the resorts we should place in our crosshairs if we’re looking to get knee-deep in the finest powder this winter season.
From Russian luxury and Japanese party towns to super serious American slopes, here’s where the Frenchman, and Quiksilver athlete, recommends you pay a visit…
The one for future world champions: La Mongie, France
Mathieu says: “I grew up riding in La Mongie in the French Pyrenees. It’s not huge compared to the well-known places in the Alps, but there’s a massive amount of freeriding you can access really easily – just grab a lift, walk for five or ten minutes, and you’ll be standing in some really amazing backcountry powder.
The resort definitely shaped the way I ride today, in that I love to hit everything from jumps to cliffs, powder to tree runs. I only managed to get there once this year, but it was the best day. I had friends and family, all the spots I remember riding as a kid, and the best powder conditions all day long.”
Stay here: Let loose the inner Bond villain cackle you’ve tried ever so hard to suppress whilst staying at The Observatory atop the 2,877m Pic du Midi. Expect Instagram-winning sunsets, traditional dinner services and panoramic views from your room, in a setting that looks straight out of Goldeneye N64.
Drink here: Make like a local and follow Mathieu’s lead: “Start your day early, ride hard until 3pm, then pull up a seat at the slopeside L’Etape Du Berger, which is the place for local meat and wine. Spend the rest of your afternoon chilling with a bottle, a plate of charcuterie, and your friends.”
The one with all-day powder and all-night parties: Niseko, Japan
Mathieu says: “One thing I’ve learned is that if you want good apres, you’ve got to follow the Australians. That means, Japan. Not only is it a popular destination for Aussies, but Japanese powder so famous that it has its own name, Japow.
In terms of resorts, Hakuba is one of my favourites because it has a really great local feel, and I spent a great New Year’s Eve at a Rastafarian bar there. But if you want an even mix of powder and party, Niseko is where to go.”
Stay here: The Glasshouse, a five-bed, uber-cool designer chalet, is nestled in Niseko’s largest village, Hirafu. Plenty of bars and restaurants are nearby, if you can bear to leave your £20,000-a-week lodgings with uninterrupted views of Mount Yotei, traditional Hinoki bath and private concierge.
Drink here: The insanely cool and cosy Bar Gyu+ is the place to be seen, even if it is incredibly tricky to locate. Also known as The Fridge, the coolers are stocked with the best Japanese craft beers, and the shelves with vinyl.
The one with heavenly tree runs: Mount Bachelor, USA
Mathieu says: “When I meditate, I picture myself riding the perfect tree run. I imagine I’m cruising through trees, slashing off wind lips, doing tricks off little jumps, launching off boulders… a big variety of things. Mount Bachelor is where I go to find all that in the real world.
The mountain is an old volcano, and the resort hugs it all the way around. I filmed here for my new movie, Shaka, and always have loads of fun in its top-quality powder. And the trees! The trees runs are amazing. I love it.”
Stay here: Centre your lodging search on the nearby Bend, just a 20-minute drive from the slopes. It’s where you’ll find the Oxford Hotel – this small city’s only boutique hotel. It was named the third-best hotel in the US by TripAdvisor last year thanks to its luxe services and eco-friendly ethos.
Drink here: You thought London was overflowing with craft beer? What Bend lacks in hotels it more than makes up for with hops, with 22 craft brewery taprooms to get stuck into. We suggest starting with Crux Fermentation Project, 10 Barrel, and the famous Deschutes.
The one with the lavish luxury: Sochi, Russia
Mathieu says: “Courchevel is a bit too easy to recommend when it comes to luxury powder, and I like Val d’Isere. But a more interesting shout is Sochi in Russia. I can’t lie, it used to be a really shitty resort, but the Russians pumped so much money into it for the 2014 Winter Olympics that now it’s all top-quality six-seater lifts and gondolas.
Krasnaya Polyana is the town at the bottom, and you’ve got some spectacular five-star hotels to choose from, as well as enormous clubs for apres. The skiing and boarding is really big, intense and steep, but the Sochi lift passes aren’t scarily expensive. For luxury, fun, and something that’s a bit different, it’s gotta be here.”
Stay here: The palatial Rixos bagged itself the title of Europe’s Best Luxury Mountain Hotel at 2017’s Luxury Hotel Awards. One look at its world-beatingly beautiful spa and pool, and it’ll top your list, too.
Drink here: SKY Club is dripping with Russian glamour and lasers (25,000 of them!), and invites the biggest names in electronic music to come and helm its late-night parties every Friday and Saturday.
The one that beats the rest: Mount Baker, USA
Mathieu says: “You need to go quite early in the season, when it’s at its driest and coldest, but, for me, Washington’s Mount Baker is best powder resort in the world. It’s not big, only has slow old-school double or single lifts, and there’s nowhere to stay or party here – you’ll find accommodation in one of the nearby towns and village.
But the snow absolutely dumps, and the slopes stay ungroomed. It has trees, it has cliffs, it has little gullies, it has everything. If you’re all about the powder, you have got to ride here.”
Stay here: Pocket-sized Mount Baker isn’t exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to places to rest your snow-battered body. But the huge, hidden-away and high-end Snowline Grand Lodge, in one of the closest communities to the mountain (and complete with a private outdoor fireplace built into the hillside) ticks all our boxes.
Drink here: We’ve heard some pretty special things about Graham’s Bar and Restaurant, a ‘spit on the floor pub’ near the town of Glacier, just a 30-minute drive from the snow. All good things, though, such as its bagfuls of historic character, local beers, and serious American booze soakers, like the locally-sourced meatloaf and Ruben sandwiches.
Find more information about Mathieu’s new film, Shaka, here
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