The Mountains and Volcanoes of Ecuador

Ecuador Geography 

Ecuador, despite its small size, is considered one of the countries with the most variety in the world. The country is divided into three distinct regions by the narrowing points of the Andean range.

Towards the eastern part of Central Sierra, the tropical rainforest Oriente is situated.  To the west lies the coastal lowlands, a hot and humid region but it is a more accessible area.

About 200 kilometers from the western lowlands to the eastern jungle stand two peaks of 6310 m that form the two mountain ranges or cordilleras.

The two cordilleras lie 40 to 60 kilometers apart and run north to south.  The central valley, a fertile region of about 400 kilometers long is situated between the two mountain ranges.  It holds Quito and the majority of Ecuador’s main cities and about half of the country’s inhabitants.

Alexander von Humbolt, a famous German scientist and explorer, once called this Central Valley “The Avenue of the Volcanoes” when he visited Ecuador in 1802.

Ecuador Geology

Ecuador is among the countries having the greatest concentration of volcanoes in the world.  At least eight of the more than thirty volcanoes of Ecuador are considered active.

The Cordillera Real, also called the Easter Cordillera, is older, higher, and larger as compared to the Western Cordillera.

These areas stand on a base of rock bedding of gneiss, mica – schist, and a variety of crystalline rocks.  Heavy volcanic material resulting in some cone-shaped volcanoes of which the 5897 meter Cotopaxi is particularly known for.

On the Eastern slopes of this Cordillera are several peaks that are not volcanic in origin. These are found outside the jungles of the Oriente.  Further to the east, set apart from the Eastern Cordillera by a jungle are other isolated mountains.

Two significant active volcanoes situated on this area are Reventador and Sumaco.

Chimborazo image via Wikipedia
Ecuador’s highest peak, Chimborazo, standing 6,310 meters high, is a part of the Western Cordillera range and is a dormant volcano. This range is covered with more volcanic material than the Eastern Cordillera.  

Because of the active volcanic activity centuries ago, this range has gathered large amounts of porphyritic eruptive rocks from the Mesozoic age.

© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Verbier, Switzerland Ski Vacations

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Verbier is located on a truly sunny south-westerly shelf high high up the Rhone valley in the middle of the vast 'Four Valleys' ski area; it's a reasonably attractive place (particularly if you can afford to steer clear of the traffic-jammed Place Centraie). Despite a drop in UK visitors during recent years to merely over ten per cent, many of these chalets are British-owned and English is still very much the first language in a resort that is filled with fellow countrymen who are out to ski all day and party all night.

The Four Valleys ski area claims an impressive 410km of pistes and 94 lifts, everything accessed by a fancy electronic hands-free smartcard, but you'll perhaps just ski a small portion as the different valleys are scattered far and wide. And as the piste map helpfully suggests: 'Once you get stranded in a different resort, you must to pay for your own return' - with or without your smartcard.

Two gondolas go up from Verbier's main lift station at Medran and leads to Les Ruinettes, just above Verbier's limited tree-line. From here the fancy Funispace whisks away skiers up to Les Attelas at a snowsure 2,700m. The choice then depends on your skill. For experts, a small cable-car goes further up to free ride-friendly Mont Gele for off-piste runs exclusively, while the majority of the on-piste holiday traffic exits downwards, either right to Lac des Vaux, left to La Chaux or directly down to Les Ruinettes and Verbier. All of these runs are perfect for intermediates, although the area can be truly crowded, especially during the weekends.

From La Chaux, the once largest ski resort in Switzerland, 150-person Jumbo cable-car, goes up to Col des Gentianes and another queue-prone cable-car goes on up to the highest point in the Four Valleys, Mont Fort, at 3,330m. Once you get to the top, relax and enjoy the magnificent view for a couple of minutes since it's strictly red, black or off-piste from here on down, having 1,300m vertical of moguls down to Tortin and the connection to the rest of the Four Valleys.

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Guided ice and rock climbing and mountaineering instruction on your way to the top of the Mt.Blanc and other European Alpine summits.

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© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Madonna di Campiglio, Italy Ski Holiday Guide

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Madonna di Campiglio is a league of its own when it pertains to flaunting style on the ski slopes. The ski resort pulls in almost entirely Italian holidaymakers - many of them more engaged in the posing and promenading than with the pistes themselves. Indeed, Campiglio (the chosen abbreviation 'Madonna' is a moderately strong swearword in Italy) can usually feel like the Monaco of the Italian ski circuit, and most especially in the month of January every year, when Ferrari holds their international press conference in town to introduce its drivers for the coming year.

Campiglio's cosmopolitan style can be seen, on a regular basis, showcased in the numerous swanky fashion boutiques, high-class restaurants and  four-star hotels, all in the blissfully “pedestrianised” town center. Prices are quite higher than you may expect, but then this isn't a resort aimed at young hell-raisers on a beer budget; indeed, the nightlife is far from typically hedonistic (although anything tends to go at the out-of-town Zangola club). Campiglio is suitable for beginners and young families: the slopes are seldom disorderly, almost one-half of them easygoing blues and all brilliantly maintained with a first-class system of grooming and a lot of snow blowers.

Being a ski beginners' heaven, Madonna di Campiglio has a lot of long, easygoing blues that even complete newbies would be comfortable cruising by the end of the week. To get things started, ride the free shuttle bus to Campo Carlo Magno, where a good choice of non-threatening nursery slopes help in taking the edge off. Not long after, you will be gear up for the big time, and it doesn't get any larger than the network of winding blue runs that start from the peak of Passo Groste (2,505m; accessed via the Groste gondola at the far end of town), culminating in the Pozza Vecia piste to Campiglio - although watch out for crowds during peak season, as this is one of the more popular runs. Similar epic adventures are waiting at the top of the Pradalago on the other side of the valley: beginners can take the Pradalago Facile from top to town, featuring wonderful sweeping sights through the jagged Brenta peaks.

Madonna di Campiglio, Italy Ski Resort Review

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Bio Hotel Hermitage  GeneralBio Hotel Hermitage
The Spa Complex is Structured in a Typical Chalet Style With Many Environmentally Friendly Elements. The 25-Room Ski Hotel Offers Guests Use of a Lobby

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© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Morzine, France Ski Vacation Travel Guide

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Morzine may look like a sleepy ski resort village, but there's plenty going on under the surface. Morzine is a truly residential ski resort, and its several chalets and restaurants are often family-owned and fittingly intimate as a result. Families favor Morzine for numerous reasons: its ease of access from Geneva means no patience-testing transfers are to be endured, while skiing beginners are well served by a large number of less dramatic pistes and there are excellent children's daycare facilities to keep little ones pampered. For some looking for action, a lot of late night bars line streets in the center.

Morzine suffers from being set back from the circuit of ski resorts that make up the Portes du Soleil area. A great system of free shuttle buses carry riders to and from the gondolas that serve the region - not to mention the cable car to Le Pleney and the gondola to Super Morzine - but a couple of of these (the direct link from outlying Les Prodains : or Avoriaz, most notably) can be quite a trek, and not fun after a hard day's skiing. A better choice is to have a car and drive to and from the lifts: over-crowding has been alleviated by the installation of a new car park near Le Pleney, and nearby Flaine is also an readily accessible alternative when the local snow is poor - which usually is. Morzine's quite low altitude often ends in bald patches, or even worse, rain.

Again, Morzine's setting isn't best suited to using the wide-ranging terrain of the Portes du Soleil. A lot of riders prefer to head first to Avoriaz, either through the cable-car from Les Prodains - a short drive or bus journey from the village - or a really close chairlift accessing the network of slopes over it: from here the Combe du Machon chairlift offers a network of challenging black runs on the Hauts Forts face guiding more advanced riders back to Les Prodains. The Super Morzine gondola, which connects central Morzine to different blue runs going to Avoriaz, with a new six-man chairlift making this a faster, more enjoyable option to the buses.

Morzine, France Ski Resorts Review

Les Portes Du Soleil  GeneralLes Portes Du Soleil
Comprising 11 Apartments in a Single Building With a Wooden Facade, This is a Pedestrian-Only Resort Where Parents and Children Can Move About in a Completely

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© 2012 Athena Goodlight

St Moritz, Switzerland Ski Holiday Travel Guide

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St Moritz's tag line is 'top of the world', which pretty much sums up things for a resort that still able to maintain being ahead of the rest of the ski world. A stroll around the center of St Moritz Dorf may give the impression that the place is totally about money, elitism and little else, and appears to be no place for those on a budget.

But when you scratch the surface of princely hotels and gourmet restaurants, another St Moritz starts to appear - of tapas bars and boutique hotels, snowboard parks and Friday night ski parties on Corvatsch. St Moritz claims to be the cradle of winter tourism in the Alps, with a visit from four English visitors in 1864. Now, nearly a century and a half later, a fresh, more appealing St Moritz is ascending from their shadows, a place that receives billionaires and boracic snowboarders alike.

In St Moritz, the sun allegedly shines an average of 322 days per year. There are three separate ski areas up to 3,000m and, thanks to the World Championships in 2003, a state-of-the-art lift system was built for those who prefer skiing to cricket. All in all, if you could handle the glitz, St Moritz truly is among the best all-rounders.

With an impressive 350km of piste and 56 lifts, St Moritz's skiing area is a strong recommendation for cruising intermediates who can spend an excellent week roaming the well-groomed blues and reds. More challenging terrain is harder to come by, but it does exist - and the off-piste is tough enough for anyone. There are three main ski areas - Corviglia, Diavolezza/Lagalb and Corvatsch.

The sunny home ski region of Corviglia starts directly above the town and could be reached by funicular, gondola, cable-car or chair, depending on which part of St Moritz's sprawl you're in. If you're up the mountain, the lifts keep going up to a snowsure 3,057m at Piz Nair, reached through a 100-person cable-car with a ghost-like mid-station that created the steepest ever start to a men's World Cup downhill -0-130kmh in only seven seconds. 

Youthhostel St. Moritz Youthhostel St. Moritz: Image # 1Youthhostel St. Moritz
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© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Val Gardena, Italy Ski Holiday Guide

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Val Gardena is a three-village valley named for the river that runs through it. This forms the north-western part of the Sella Ronda, arguably the best joined cruising circuit in Europe. The villages are Ortisei, the biggest and lowest, small Santa Cristina and wide Selva Gardena, the most convenient entry point for the circuit. The other elements in the Sella Ronda equation are Alta Badia (where San Cassiano, Corvara and Colfosco are located), Arabba/Marmolada and Val di Fassa (where the main resort is Canazei). The four valleys, separated by passes, encircle the Gruppo Sella, dramatic crags rising out of the meadows that make the pistes. This means that Sella Ronda users can admire the towering rock faces from the safety of terrain that takes you in to ski eternally.

The Sella Ronda is an inner core within the vast Dolomiti Superski area, 460 lifts serving 1,200km of connected pistes on a single lift pass. The Sud Tirol was part of Austria until it was given to Italy after the First World War. This element still show in place names and local culture nearly a century later. For example, Selva and Ortisei are called Wolkenstein and St Ulrich. Val Gardena is also more confused since the bulk of the inhabitants are Ladinos, who speak their own dialect, typically in addition to Italian and German.

The Sella Ronda circuit, constituting 24km of pistes covered by 14km of lifts, is completely marked in both directions: orange signs go clockwise, green ones go counterclockwise. In optimum conditions, it can be achieved within three to four hours by confident intermediates, but that's not counting the rogue queuing factor. Replacing the revered T-bars with high-speed chairs has brought down the original lift time in under two hours, but there are still potential bottlenecks, especially on weekends. Getting stranded in the wrong valley after the lift system closes will cost you an expensive taxi fare. The orange circuit is a lot more user-friendly, with more interesting pistes and less poling, but both give variations planned to stretch the Sella Ronda into a full day trip.

Alpenroyal Grand Hotel Photo #1Alpenroyal Grand Hotel
Well located nearby hiking and ski slopes, the Alpenroyal Grand Hotel - Gourmet & Spa is the first Grand Hotel in the upper Val Gardena valley, the most

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© 2012 Athena Goodlight

La Plagne, France Ski Holiday Guide

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If you like long, snowsure intermediate cruising, there's no single ski resort in the world comes close to La Plagne, with the bulk of its vast slopes north-facing,  over 100 lifts and a terrific sense of adventure as you journey between the various regions.

During its four decades of existence, La Plagne had its share of detractors, who dismiss the area as a soul-less intermediates' paradise, refer to its apartments as rabbit hutches and think the nightlife is somewhere at par with Slough in a blizzard. At some level, these critics are right. Most of the ten resorts that link together to form La Grande Domaine are more concrete than cuckoo clock (with the exception of the lower villages and Belle Plagne), although this was remedied by more sensitive development, and none of the nightlife is wildly inspiring because most people are pleased to ski all day and sleep all night. But what these ten resorts do offer is over 200km of well-maintained pistes in a genuinely snowsure environment. Surely there are a lot of mild motorway blues to flatter, but if you are looking for tougher challenges, then La Plagne has loads of off-piste. Despite its faults, and unlike Slough, La Plagne is a magnificent triumph of size over style and with the state-of-the-art cable-car connection to Les Arcs, the nightlife is not anymore an issue.

The primary skiing, over Plagne Centre and Plagne Bellecote, is between 2,000m and 2,700m. Main access from Plagne Centre is through the Grande Rochette Funiplagne cable-car, which brings skiers up to 2,500m in just four minutes, wind or no wind, though there could still be queues during rush hour. From the top, the options are endless. Some steep, typically mogulled reds lead back down to Plagne Centre, there's an great underused blue going to Plagne Bellecote or you can choose to come down into the Champagny region through the 5km-long blue motorway Geisha, which is as appealing as its name suggests - wide, scenic and south-facing.  The base is served by two chairlifts, one going back up to the Grande Rochette ridge, the other going up towards Roche de Mio.

La Licorne  GeneralLa Licorne
This Residence Reflects the Traditional Architectural Style of the Region and Offers Comfortable and Stylish Accommodation. Guests Can Choose from a Total

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© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Mayrhofen, Austria Ski Holiday Guide

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Each year more and more Europeans make Mayrhofen ski resort their holiday base for several reasons. Many are enticed again and again by the area's traditional Austrian heritage, while younger travelers come for the lively nightlife. Others look at it as an absolutely self-contained resort, while others come back each winter to explore the vast range of smaller resorts throughout the wide Ziller valley.

Mayrhofen is all about keeping a balance - and yet there are some aspects of the ski resort that do not fare as expected. Beginners are not served that well, regardless of the great tuition on offer: blue runs on the primary Penken ski area are only a few and far between, while those on the Ahorn face are neglected because of their inaccessibility. And while seasoned skiers will get more than their fair share of fresh powder off-piste, those searching a complete collection of black runs better look elsewhere.

Perhaps the biggest gripe refers to accessibility: Mayrhofen has no prescribed runs back into the ski resort. Its piste network is entirely above the treeline, and while this makes for snow conditions that are generally excellent, it also leads to late-afternoon crowds as punters jostle to take the last lifts going down. The pros dominate the cons for intermediate riders. The lift areas are extensive; connected with the Rastkogel arena (which also connects to the Eggalm zone), they're also larger than ever, and there's always the recurrent snow of the Hintertux Glacier hovering in the distance when local conditions are poor.

The main ski area in Mayrhofen is the Penken (630m-2,095m), which is always crowded in peak times (lines of up to 45 minutes are normal; to avoid the crush, ride the bus to either Finkenberg or Hippach, both of which have gondolas that take you to Penken). A network of mostly red runs weave their way back from Penken toward the valley, lending you some stunning scenery as they go. There's also a nice black plus some good reds going back to the midway point of the Finkenberg gondola; the runs are longer all throughout, although the same can also be said about the queues getting back up.

Eckartauerhof  GeneralEckartauerhof
This Hotel Offer an Spa Area That Includes a Sauna, an Infrared Cabin, and an Aroma Steam Bath. Guests Can Relax in the Large Garden With a Playground

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© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Megève, France Ski Holiday Guide

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Megève may have long since relinquished its crown to Courchevel 1850 as France's wintertime jet-set capital, but Paris's alpine authorities have eternally played host to the celebrity set and still pulls in many fur coats to its groomed streets in the shadow of Mont Blanc. The pedestrianised medieval center, filled with cute stream and stone bridge, gets its rustic chic down to a T - an 11th-century church and the scrumptious Aallard department store dominate the picture-postcard main square, whilst a fleet of horse-drawn carriages take visitors about the cobbled streets.

The surrounding low-slung ski slopes peak at a genuinely lower-class 2,350m, but this is a world of grass, so a light dusting of snow is enough to open up Megève's extensive, absolutely manicured pistes. The town itself is laden with gourmet restaurants, including the three Michelin-starred Ferme de Mon Pere and luxury hotels having serious price tags attached. For those on a budget, there is life after the Michelin-stars and there are several cozy two-star hotels and simple Savoyarde eateries to keep even non-celebrities happy.

Geneva being only 70km away, an additional bonus is the new out-of-town Princesse gondola. With 900 free parking places at its base, it holds the day-trippers out of town, which does a big favor to Megève's all-too-narrow, traffic-clogged streets. Courchevel 1850 may be more chic, but when it comes to class Megève is still way ahead.

When the snow conditions are right, Megève's skiing is a fantastic expanse of tree-lined intermediate cruising, combined with the best mountain restaurants. Still, with a resort height of only 1,100m, snow cover lower down can be decidedly unsure, though 250 snow cannons are on hand to keep the winter wonderland in place. Serving on the Evasion Mont Blanc ski pass are 117 ski lifts, which likewise handles the resort of Les Contamines. Gondola access coming from the town to the three homegrown areas of Rochebrune, Mont d'Arbois and Le Jaillet is rather smooth, though when you're up the mountain only the two major areas - Rochebrune and Mont d'Arbois - are connected, and then only via an inconvenient cross-valley cable-car.

Alpaga  BarAlpaga
This Family-Friendly Ski Hotel Comprises a Total of 30 Units Including 22 Hotel Rooms. Each Chalet Consists of a Contemporary Living Space Coupled With

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© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Saas-Fee, Switzerland Ski Holiday Guide

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Saas-Fee, dubbed the 'Pearl of the Alps', lives up to its touristic tag. Situated nearly 3,000m down Switzerland's highest mountain, the mighty 4,545m Dom. This village oozes with chocolate-box charm. Yet as a resort, the place has its share of critics, who regard the ski area too small, the village quite cold and would prefer to be vacationing in its more popular neighbour, Zermatt.

Having just 100km of piste, and vast crevasses to catch anyone straying too far from the marked ski trails, Saas-Fee's skiing is seriously limited for a 'big-league' resort; and the ring of mighty peaks that encircle it mean the village doesn't really warm up until spring time. But while Zermatt has become into something of an alpine theme park, Saas-Fee's limitations have granted it to hold its traditional character, featuring cozy restaurants and hotels on the main street blended with rustic 17th-century barns, hanging a couple of feet off the ground to keep the rats from getting in. The barns are now empty and the rats are long gone, but they have left behind one of the most appealing ski resorts in Europe, let alone some of its most snowsure slopes.

The glaciers that surround Saas-Fee mean the primary ski area, which ascends from the village up to a breathtaking 3,500m at the top of Allalin, is rather long and very thin, with pistes threading their way beside a dramatic high-alpine landscape of crevasses. But having a guaranteed snow, a vertical drop of 1,700m, great snowboard facilities and some of the most stunning scenery in the Alps, there's enough to entertain most standards for a week.

 Bashful skiing beginners have some excellent nursery slopes at the border of the village, a walking distance from a warming gluhwein among the several bars that line the snowfront. But anybody will opt to go for the heights. Main mountain access is via the queue-busting Alpin Express gondola/cable-car hybrid, which takes skiers up to Felskinn at 3,000m. From here, there are some adorable sweeping reds going back down the village, or take the chance to go even higher and break three world records while you're at

Saas-Fee, Switzerland Ski Resort Review

© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Lech and Zürs, Austria Ski Holiday Destinations

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Lech is a big village in the woodland background of a sunny valley, and despite the fact that it's been drowned by top-end tourism, it still has the atmosphere of a traditional farming community. In winter, the only through road ends in a pile of snow, creating a wealthy enclave ring-fenced by natural barriers. The Lech river flows parallel to the main street, with chalet-style hotels lining both sides, and a wooden shed close to the main bridge offers shelter for horse-drawn sleighs: there's such a buoyant market that the animals are constantly reined in readiness for their next task.

Lech's patrons are mostly German, but there are also some loyal Brits. They feel safe off and on the slopes - a cocoon of luxury would do that for you. Oberlech, fixed on its own sun-soaked plateau, is charged as a blueprint for the future because it is entirely car-free. Guests park in the multi-storey car park and get into the cable-car (open until 1am) while their luggage is transferred in an access tunnel made as a supply line for the satellite resort. This is not particularly convenient, but the end result is certainly peaceful. Families that have young kids and anyone else who likes a genuine ski-in, ski-out accommodation don't have to look further. The other option is Zug, a couple of kilometers up its own valley but linked into the lift system. It is small and charming, grouped round a traditional church and populated with a scattering of old-world residents.

Zürs is made up of 22 hotels, three of them five-star, which is way above the normal ratio. It stands over the treeline, separated by the only road into the valley. This moonscape placement is not very sympathetic, especially when the snow is beating through the funnel created by the Flexen Pass. All the same, it does mean it has some of the most snowsure slopes in Austria and its ski-in, ski-out credentials are immaculate.

Although all the Arlberg ski resorts are served by the same lift pass, they divide into two zones - Lech-Zürs, and St Anton, St Christoph and Stuben. The slopes in Lech and Zürs are linked in one direction, but not the other. Beginning at downtown Lech, the clockwise circuit starts with the twin Rufikopf cable-cars, which open a blue run to Zürs. Alternatively, there are wide red pistes covered by the Hexenboden and Trittkopf lifts. This terrain is distinctive of Zürs, short swooping descents that ask for fast cruising during good weather; when it closes in you'll be lucky to see across the road.

Ski Total Photo #1Ski Total
A selection of quality catered chalets and hotels in the world famous Austrian ski resorts of St Anton and Lech.  Fly from London or travel independently.  Switzerland, France, Canada, USA

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Davos and Klosters, Switzerland Ski Holiday Guide

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Davos and Klosters, Switzerland; in spite of being established at one end of the Heidi Express, the grey urban sprawl of Europe's highest city, with an out-of-season population of over 13,000, does not evoke cozy memories of the Swiss miss. But for what Davos misses in style of architecture, it makes up for in its facilities and sensational mountain scenes.

Situated in a moderately snow-sure bowl in the Graubunden region, the ski resort can give everything from sanatoriums to the annual World Economic Forum, Bavarian curling and more chocolate than you could possibly fit in your mouth in one week. And surrounding the grey on all sides is the white - 320km of it spread out across four ski areas, plus 75km of cross-country, excellent snowboarding facilities and some of the most extensive off-piste in the Alps. The only negative here is getting between the separate ski areas, though the connecting buses and trains operate with "Swiss precision."

The ski resort in Klosters, a couple of hundred meters down the valley than Davos, is a quite a sleepy place, in spite of its strong royal connections, and has substantially more alpine charm than its neighbor up-the road and this is slightly tempered by the ceaseless hum of traffic on its way through the village.

Davos shares its mountain transport with Klosters, with more than 50 lifts, including a revamped funicular from Davos Dorf going up to the main ski area on Parsenn. This new train has cut back queueing time significantly, which used to reach up to two hours throughout peak ski season.

Skiing and snowboarding beginners can enjoy the mild nursery slopes at Bolgen or Bunda, then cross town and head to the mountain to the wide blue runs on Parsenn. This is the largest of Davos's numerous ski mountains and is linked to the Klosters ski area of Gotschnagrat. It's also home to some truly wide-range terrain and gives access to excellent off-piste. When the snow's good enough, skiing intermediates must set out on the epic 12km descents from the top all the way down to Klosters or Kublis, having a break at one of the cute cafes along the way.

Adventure Hostel Klosters Adventure Hostel Klosters: Image # 1Adventure Hostel Klosters
We offer accommodation for all ages. In addition, we are centrally located in this attractive village

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Alpe d'Huez, France Ski Holiday Guide

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Alpe d'Huez spreads like a sunbather over a south-facing shelf in the French Alps, just a 30 minute drive from Grenoble and at the midpoint of the big Grandes Rousses ski area. The ski resort developed in the 1960s and was one of the venues for the 1968 Winter Olympics, but now a lot of the concrete creativity is beginning to show its age, although a roll down of fresher, more sensitive development has improved the over-all look of the place. The Vieil Alpe quarter, or any of the low-lying villages in the region, is your best bet for alpine charm.

The ski resort extends up to 3,330m at the peak of the Pic Blanc and you don't have to stop skiing until the end of April, even if it's slightly damp underfoot. The downside to this upside is that poor weather can quickly shut the Pic Blanc cable-car and badly curb the resort's best skiing, as well as the celebrated Sarenne run. Although Alpe d'Huez is the fifth largest ski resort in France, it is every bit popular as the top of one of the most laborious climbs in cycle racing. When you drive up the 21 hairpins on the ascent from the valley floor, just count yourself lucky you're inside a car -.the Tour de France goes up this same road each July.

There are 87 ski lifts that serve the Grandes Rousses ski area. If you don't wish to sit on them the entire day, take the Pic Blanc cable-car up to 3,330m and you'll be able to ski for nearly an hour and a half without having to get your pass out once again. Alpe d'Huez bears it all, from some of the best beginners' slopes in France and other more challenging blacks in the Alps. For a combination of both, go for the longest black run in the Alps, the Sarenne, which stretches 16km from the top of the glacier and changes gradient from almost vertical to practically horizontal on its 2,000m descent. It's a run that can be tackled by any competent intermediate, especially now there's an easier route down the steepest part.

Residence Pierre & Vacances L'ours Blanc  LobbyResidence Pierre & Vacances L'ours Blanc
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Livigno, Italy Ski Holiday Guide

Livigno image via Wikipedia
Located at an altitude of 1,800m-3,000m, snow is somewhat assured in Livigno starting November until May, and the place is ordinarily postcard-perfect in heavy snow. It's not a welcome experience going in and out (journeys from 'nearby' airports are seldom less than 200km), and its geographic reclusiveness (it used to be known as 'Little Tibet') has led overtime to Livigno's establishment as a duty-free town.

In Livigno Italy, the mixture of practically free vodka and abundant virgin snow means that more Brits are making the journey to Livigno more than ever, joining the predominantly Italian and German holidaymakers and crowding those rustic cowsheds with their hard-earned cash. Because of this, the road has been expanded, the buses made more and more efficient and more modern hotels and resorts have sprung up on the outskirts. The center of the place, however, remains untouched: Livigno still looks and feels great -although expert skiers are not served well by the surplus of red runs - and on more tranquil days it could still seem like the quintessential winter wonderland.

Livigno is an ideal place for skiing and snowboarding beginners to find their feet. The whole north-western part of the valley is fringed with a line of low-lying blue runs, all of them short and almost all of them accessed with a draglift. The easiest and so far the most enchanting tourist destinations in Livigno are those that face San Rocco, lifts 17A (chair) and 17B (drag): the greatest way to tackle Livigno's lifts is through their numbers, especially when they aren't bound to any noteworthy landmarks. These blue runs go along the valley (lift 22 is a little longer, steeper one) to the assortment of chairs that take skiers to the top of chair 28. More comfortable riders can then traverse a couple of reds to the top of lift 16 (Veta Blesaccia, 2,796m), but either way the blue runs that find their way back to the valley are some of the longest you'll find in the Alps.  The same is true on the flip side of the valley: from the tip of the Mottolino gondola get lift 6 to the top of Monte della Neve (in good weather only; it's among the most exposed chairs in the area), and next, stay on the blue run all the way back to base.

Winter Sports Destinations Livigno, Italy

© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Bad Gastein, Austria Ski and Snowboard Holiday

Bad Gastein has a nearly surreal location. The once internationally popular spa town rises up dramatically from the banks of a gorge, where there's a semi-frozen waterfall that plunges into the River Ache, cascading past the older hotels that loom over the baroque town hall, casino and other revered buildings.

There are four main ski areas in the Gasteinertal (Gastein Valley). The lowest one, Dorfgastein (830m), is joined with Grossarl in the next valley. Bad Hofgastein (860m) is connected with Bad Gastein (1,080m), but Bad Gastein isn't linked with its own satellite area, Graukogel, where some of the steepest slopes are available. Even farther up is Sportgastein (not linked), at 1,600m, a useful but somewhat bland high-altitude ski area that comes into its own in poor snow conditions lower down. There is an abundance of skiing, but because of the aggravating aspect of bussing - or driving - between the resorts, it's better to ski one region at a time. When you include the wide off-piste on Bad Gastein's 2,245m Stubnerkogel and Bad Hofgastein's 2,050m Schlossalm, there is more than enough terrain for everyone.

The Aeroplanstadl ski hut, right on top the Schlossalm mid-station above the Hohe and Kleine Scharte, boasts some home-made dishes (game and pork specialities) and milk coming straight from the cows on its own farm. The Feldinghutte, near Bad Hofgastein's Skizentrum, also uses its very own farm produce. The Achen Cafe at the Europaischer Hof hotel features a sun terrace where you can enjoy coffee and home-made cakes. Skiers having a break at the snow bar at the Hotel Pyrkerhohe at Bad Hofgastein can delight on the splendid view across the Gasteinertal - and take a look at of some bird life.

Apart from enjoying traditional winter activities such as snowboarding, skiing, ice-climbing, ice-skating, curling, walking, tobogganing and sleigh rides, you might also want to indulge in some of the resort's spa treatments. Heated indoor and outdoor pools are plenty, six indoor tennis courts, squash, and horse-riding at the Oberhaitzing Farm. Popular also is the floodlit tobogganing: the Aeroplanstadl-Bad Hofgastein run is 3.3km, and floodlit on Tuesday and Thursday.

Euro Youth Hotel And Krone Euro Youth Hotel And Krone: Image # 1Euro Youth Hotel And Krone
This fantastic new hostel has a wonderful alpine setting and is situated just 100 yards from the train station on a main European line.

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© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Mürren, Switzerland Ski Holiday Guide

Piz Gloria image via Wikipedia
Mürren is crucial in British winter sports history. In 1910, it became the first resort to let in package holidaymakers when Sir Henry Lunn convinced the authorities to run the railway during the winter months. His son, Sir Arnold, started the first ever slalom race in 1922. After six years, he and 16 of his friends climbed on skins to the top of the Schilthorn (2,970m) and set off for Lauterbrunnen (800m), taking with them their own line through 14.9km of powder snow. This has been the first 'Inferno' race. The modern variation, an all-comers' competition having uphill and downhill sections, attracts 1,800 entries, leaving at 12-second intervals.

Though Mürren has the best snow in the Jungfrau area, its pistes are small-scale and not defined. The Schilthorn is the main event, accessed by two cable-cars and familiar to all Bond fans as Piz Gloria in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. All because it is not easily raided, it makes an perfect villain's hideaway, but as a ski mountain it has serious limitations. The most important is the black factor: the starting point is severely steep and quite bumpy if it has not been groomed, while the Kanonenrohr (gun barrel), the sole route back to Mürren, is rocky and readily closed with poor snow conditions, which means that everyone has to download from the mid-station. Add in the wind element, which frequently closes the cable-cars, and the odds on skiing the Schilthorn on any given day are not that great.

The red and blue runs are your other options from the Allmendhubel, reached by train and draglift from the village center, to Winteregg, and the enjoyably open slopes on the Schiltgrat, mulct for a modest cruise before lunch but not precisely the stuff of day-long challenge. When the snow does fall, the powder shots are magnificent, with runs off the back of Schilthorn, into the Blumental and down across the forest to Gimmelwald.

Mürren has first-rate mountain huts, all of them serving Swiss specialities - air-dried meat, rosti and sausages. As its name points out, the Sonnenberg is a favorite with sun-seekers, but the Suppenalp is more ambient. Greatest of all for food and friendliness is Pension Gimmelwald located at the Stechelberg mid-station.

Eiger Guesthouse Eiger Guesthouse: Image # 1Eiger Guesthouse
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Cervinia, Italy Ski and Snowboarding Holiday

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Breuil was a quiet climbing village before Mussolini constructed one of the first purpose-built winter sports resorts in 1936. When modern buildings dominated the skyline, Breuil's rustic ambience soon disappeared, although a couple of old buildings were saved. Nowadays, Breuil Cervinia, set-apart from the more famous Zermatt by the small issue of the Matterhorn, lacks the alpine charm of its near-neighbor and the view of the great mountain. To compensate for its scenic shortcomings, it is marketed as 'Il al sole del Cervino' - the sunny side of the Matterhorn.

The main lifts out of the resort, which start where some ski areas end, goes up to Plan Maison, the principal mid-mountain hub at 2,550m. From here, a gondola, or three fast chairs and cable-car, make the ascent up to the Cervinia / Zermatt ridge and the borderline between Italy and Switzerland. If you're not crossing the border, acres of fast cruising red terrain await you up to Cervinia, with more than 1,200m of snowsure vertical.

If that doesn't satisfy, then it's likewise possible to ski starting at the top of the cable-car down to the village of Valtournenche, an inexpensive, more attractive option to Cervinia's rather stark architecture. At 22km, this is one of the longest runs in the world. The 2,350m of vertical would give you a hearty appetite for a long lunch in one of the simple eateries at Valtournenche's .

Although Cervinia supplies a wealth of skiing, none of it is demanding enough and experts will be enticed to cross the border to sample Zermatt's legendary steep stuff.

The Chalet Etoile is Cervinia's best mountain restaurant. If the weather turns dodgy at altitude, the Rifugio Teodulo, up at Plateau Rosa, serves excellent grappa and genepy. The Bontadini mountain hut has an large sun terrace and dishes up good-value Italian staples in cunning surroundings.

The funpark at the Fornet run, near Plan Maison, has a half-pipe, jumps and a boardercross park. If you want to get even higher, you should book a guide: Cervinia is likewise a big heliski center and there are other rightfully spectacular off-piste descents from the Piccolo Cervino (Klein Matterhorn).

Grivola  GeneralGrivola
The Interior of the Hotel is Embellished and Livened Up by the Bright Colours of the Paintings by Aimé Maquignaz, Magic Mountain Views or Scenes from the

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Marmore  GeneralMarmore
This Family-Run Has Been Welcoming British Guests For Many Years. It Offers Comfortable Accommodation and Relaxed Service.

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© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Crans Montana, Switzerland Ski Holiday Guide

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Crans Montana, set at a super sunny south-facing shelf only 1,500m above sea level, has its comfortable charm (or excellent skiing if the snow is right). But during these times of decreasing snowlines and global warming, this remains a place to book for just three days instead of three months in advance. Not because of the lack of snow that bothers most of its visitors, who come for some skiing, a bit shopping and a few health treatments in this grand alpine rest home that stretches 3km from end to end.

Mountain access to Crans Montana's intermediate-friendly pistes is through four efficient gondolas, at Crans, Montana, Barzettes and Aminona. The gondola from Barzettes gets you directly to Les Violettes, from where a 30-person funitel gondola brings skiers up to the area's highest peak, the Plaine Morte glacier, at 3,000m. From the top, alternatives are limited to a few baby tows or a bountiful 11km-long red going all the way back to the resort that is 1,500m down.

This is Crans Montana's only high-level run and the rest of the action all goes on below 2,500m. If the snow's right, then the mixture of tree-lined pistes, stunning views and gentle gradients can bring out an intermediate's paradise, but too frequently the lower runs are affected by slush, in spite of an impressive snowmaking operation. Speed demons will want to try their luck on the Piste Nationale men's downhill run from Les Violettes, while a more serene time can be experienced on the runs below Petit Bonvin.

Complete beginners have great nursery regions and begin on the smooth greens around the golf course, going up the mountain to the longer blues below Cry d'Er as confidence increases.

The toughest skiing in the area can be encountered beneath the Toula chair, home to the area's exclusively black pistes, but hire a guide and you'll discover there's plenty of underused off-piste both above and below the tree-line.

The restaurant on top of the Plaine Morte glacier features nice views from its terrace, but the best of Crans Montana's numerous mountain eateries can be found lower down. Top of the list for food and ambiance is Plumachit, tucked in with the trees, while there is a lively bar with snacks and sun terrace called Amadeus.

Private appartment at Ski Resort CRANS MONTANA Photo #1Private appartment at Ski Resort CRANS MONTANA
Astonishing Swiss Alps view, 5 minutes from ski pists and GOLF course; 
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© 2012 Athena Goodlight

Laax Murschetg, Switzerland Ski and Snowboard Holiday Guide

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Situated only 150km from Zurich, and much less from the German border, Laax Murschetg might be virtually unheard of in the UK but its appeals are not forgotten by the locals who visit by the bus load every weekend.  Laax Murschetg has skiing up to 3,000m, an area twice the size of Saas-Fee and some of the best snowboarding facilities in the Alps.

Laax Murschetg is linked to Flims and Falera and 29 lifts serve patrons in the Alpenarena ski area. Gondolas and cable-cars leave from the main base stations at Laax Murschetg and Flims and climb up towards Crap Sogn Gion at 2,200m. If you're up the mountain, lifts and pistes go in every direction - the routes back down across the trees are typically red or black, as well as a World Cup downhill piste towards Laax, although above the treeline things start to flatten out gradually. For novices, Flims Dorf and Falera has some un-snowsure nursery slopes. When the snow is poor, there are a few confidence-building traverses (marked in orange on the map) on the somewhat flat glacier.

The mileage-hungry intermediate is the central attraction on the Alpenarena's impressive 220km of piste, with acres of red cruising and having a maximum descent of 14km from the peak of the glacier down to Flims. For a bit of an adventure there are also 40km of unprepared but labeled free-ride slopes for everyone from off-piste beginners to powderhounds; just look for the black diamonds - the more there are, the steeper the ride.

Up at Crap Sogn Gion the No Name Cafe is the best place for an espresso, while the Rock Bar is rocking with splendid views and tunes. For lunch, go on farther down the mountain: Startgels Alpenrose is a cozy spot featuring a strong gourmet reputation.

Laax is featured in the half-pipe World Cup calendar and is one of Switzerland's top boarding destinations. The snowsure center of the action is Crap Sogn Gion, featuring two monster-pipes, boardercross course, a terrain park, and 'park and pipe' lift ticket.

For a place of pampering, the Hotel Signina is recommended, complete with a pool, steam bath, water jets, massage, and acres of Swiss flesh. If that all seems a bit too intimate, step back outside and hop in the free bus to Flims, where the Sports Centre offers everything from ice-skating and Bavarian curling to curling up inside a sun bed.

Backpacker Deluxe Hotel Capricorn Backpacker Deluxe Hotel Capricorn: Image # 1Backpacker Deluxe Hotel Capricorn
The three villages of Flims, Laax and Falera are stretched around the bottom of Mount Crap Sogn Gion. A total of 28 lift facilities and 220 kilometers of slopes

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