Living too far south for a lot of snow and working too long hours to get away often, I am an “Intermittent Intermediate” with no hope of getting better. The biggest challenge is finding a destination that is difficult enough to be interesting but easy enough to ski when traveling alone. Since the classification of the difficulty level of a race varies from mountain to mountain, all too often I find that it does not work for me. Especially surprising was the difference between skiing in Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Valley and Sun Valley or Big Sky. In the northwestern United States, where the intermediate slopes resembled the Matterhorn, I had to go Plan B: counting bison in Yellowstone. After those near misses, I developed a personal checklist to find the best destinations for intermediate skiing:
- Number and type of slopes designated as intermediate
- Snow quality and typical conditions
- Apr-ski activity / restaurants and lodging nearby
- Affordability / Attractive prices
- Easy access to airports
- Friendly environment
- Interesting / different but viable location
- Ski instruction availability / schedule
- Climate / temperature in the mountain
- Proximity to a Plan B / alternative tourism
Preferring the road less traveled, I tried an active volcano, New Zealand’s Ruapehu / Whakapapa. Living north of the Equator, I was especially excited about skiing in our summer. Also, with the mild climate of the North Island, I was able to go rafting one day and ski this active volcano the next. On subsequent trips to other slopes, sporting a sweater with a Kiwi on the skis was a great icebreaker.
To Hafjel, Norway, who had all the right advantages even traveling alone. The snow was fantastic, even though it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit at the base. The ski instruction was excellent and the classes friendly. The price was right and a local bus transported skiers all day from Lillehammer. Better yet, sending postcards home from that Olympic venue gave my skiing ability an undeserved boost that I could dine on for the rest of the year. If only my luggage had arrived when I did, it would have been perfect.
Still struggling at times to keep up with better skiers, I finally made it to land. I found the perfect “10” ski in Andorra. I was immediately excited to see a new country, albeit quite small, based in the Pyrenees. The mix of four languages, Spanish, Catalan, French and English, made it feel exotic but easy to handle. The ski lessons were very helpful with a small group of well-matched intermediates. It was a very pleasant environment with part of the class practicing English and the others Spanish. After lunch, a Dutch classmate and I spent the afternoon working on perfecting our parallel turns.
Every day the sun was shining. Even at lower elevations, there was no ice. Local towns offered multiple après-ski options and well-priced dinners. Finally, access was easy by flying to Barcelona. The February weather in northeastern Spain was mild, not dissimilar to California. That made it an ideal way to combine an active outdoor trip with a cultural one seeing Gaudí’s impressive architecture.
If I can’t get a perfect “10,” I choose to find a destination out of the ordinary. Regardless of ski conditions, I can always enjoy the adventure and have the photos to prove it.