'Tis the season to head north

By Jennifer Ennion

St Anton in Austria has a reputation for great bars and nightlife. Photo / Michael Dow
St Anton in Austria has a reputation for great bars and nightlife. Photo / Michael Dow

Travellers wax lyrical about spending a Christmas in the northern hemisphere.

Friends and family are often held captive by stories detailing romantic sleigh rides, backcountry snowmobiling tours and drinking glühwein at winter markets.

With the New Zealand dollar still strong, 'tis the season to venture to cooler climes.

To get the (snow) ball rolling, here's our pick of the world's best luxury ski resorts to visit for the 2013-14 season:

ST ANTON - AUSTRIA

If you're after plenty of pow, St Anton, in the Arlberg region in western Austria, is the place to head.

With an average seasonal snow depth of seven metres, St Anton is a mecca for Kiwi powder hounds, especially as the resort cops a decent amount of sunshine too.

The highest lifted point within the resort is 2811m above sea level, while the pretty village sits at 1305m.

There are also 280km of marked ski runs and 180km of open free-riding terrain, and helping you access it all are 79 cable cars and lifts.

The mountainside is dotted with log cabins for those super chilly days when you need to warm up with a cup of steaming apple punch.

When it's apres time, St Anton has a reputation for great bars and nightlife.

Another bonus about visiting St Anton is its proximity to other world-class Arlberg resorts - Lech, Zurs, Stuben and St Christoph.

Aside from downhill pursuits, visitors can also enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

The 2013/14 winter season in St Anton starts on December 6 and lasts until April 27.

St Anton in Austria has a reputation for great bars and nightlife. Photo / Michael Dow
St Anton in Austria has a reputation for great bars and nightlife. Photo / Michael Dow

ST MORITZ - SWITZERLAND

Think the über rich when planning a trip to St Moritz, in the Upper Engadine in Switzerland.

Designer boutiques the likes of Gucci, Chopard, Cartier and Louis Vuitton line the streets, underneath rows of fairy lights at Christmas time.

But it's not all about looking good here, although that is a large part of any visit. St Moritz also offers serious terrain for skiers and snowboarders.

At the resort's highest point is Piz Nair, at 3057m. From here, experts can tackle Piz Nair Wall - a "100 per cent vertiginous drop" - which was the start of the men's downhill in the 2003 World Ski Championship.

For those of us who are a little more relaxed on the slopes, there are 350km of terrain to choose from.

The village itself rests at 1856m above sea level and at its side is a large frozen lake where polo matches are held every year (January 30-Feb 1 in 2014).

There is also tobogganing, 150km of winter walking trails and a 200km cross-country ski network. Skiing has already begun for the season, with limited runs on the Diavolezza slope having been open for skiers and snowboarders since October 19.

St Moritz offers serious terrain for skiers and snowboarders. Photo / Thinkstock
St Moritz offers serious terrain for skiers and snowboarders. Photo / Thinkstock

VAL D'ISERE - FRANCE

It may not be France's ritziest ski resort but it is one of its most famous.

With 300km of slopes, plenty of free-ride opportunities and a snowpark, Val d'Isere caters for advanced riders, beginners and children.

The valley is higher than most, at an altitude of 1850 metres.

"In years when lower resorts have suffered, Val d'Isere has rarely been short of snow," reports the UK Telegraph.

"Even in a poor snow year like 2010/11, decent skiing was still available right until the end of the season," the article reads.

"Once a big dump of snow has fallen, the resort's height means you can almost always get back to the village."

As for the village, it's very traditional, with a resort centre just for pedestrians.

Foodies will also be in their element here, with a plenitude of dining options offering regional cuisine.

In Val d'Isere the 2013/14 season runs from November 30 to May 4.

Picturesque Val D'Isere caters for advanced riders, beginners and children. Photo / Thinkstock
Picturesque Val D'Isere caters for advanced riders, beginners and children. Photo / Thinkstock

VAIL - UNITED STATES

The home of the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships (March 3-8), Vail has a reputation for serious action.

But for the less-extreme of us, there are three terrain parks and plenty of powder-laden back bowls.

There is also a large nightlife scene in Vail that allows visitors to hop between taverns, patios, lodges, bars and karaoke clubs.

If you're more interested in alpine towns than alpine skiing, be prepared for the shopping. From jewellery boutiques to stores selling outdoor gear and cowboy boots, to art galleries, everyone will be happy.

After all of that, spoil yourself with a trip to one of Vail's many resort spas.

The season runs from November 22 to April 20.

Vail is home to three terrain parks and plenty of powder-laden back bowls. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Vail is home to three terrain parks and plenty of powder-laden back bowls. Photo / Sarah Ivey

KICKING HORSE - CANADA

Although Kicking Horse in British Columbia offers narrow chutes as well as gentle slopes for beginners, heading out of the resort on a snowmobiling tour is a must for every visitor.

On powder days give the on-piste terrain a miss and bash through the backcountry on a sled. There are even trail rides for first timers.

Aside from sledding, you can keep busy on the ice rink at the base of the slopes, in the tube park or on a snowshoeing tour.

For something different, sign up for a lesson in telemark skiing or hit the cross-country ski trails.

If you want to stick to downhill pursuits, Kicking Horse reaches an elevation of 2450m and 45 per cent of terrain is for advanced riders and 15 per cent expert.

To refuel after an action-packed day, hop aboard a gondola and head to the top of the mountain for lunch at the very rustic but elegant Eagle's Eye Restaurant.

The resort is 2.5 hours' drive west of Calgary in Alberta and is open for winter from December 13 to April 20.

Forty-five per cent Kicking Horse's terrain is for advanced riders and 15 per cent expert. Photo / Chris Figenshaw
Forty-five per cent Kicking Horse's terrain is for advanced riders and 15 per cent expert. Photo / Chris Figenshaw

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