Why British Columbia Nailed the Winter Olympics

January 4, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Posted in British Columbia, Canada, resorts, skiing/snow sports | Leave a comment
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British Columbia's superlative skiingby Max Pesling

Gold-medal fever’s headed our way again — for the third time in Canada, but just the first in Canada’s westernmost province. It’s fair to say that reasons number one and two why British Columbia is hosting the 21st Winter Olympics this February 12-28, followed by the Paralympic Games March 12-21, are the appeal of world-class Vancouver and nearby Whistler Blackcomb.

Vibrant yet laid-back, sophisticated yet outdoorsy, Vancouver will be hosting various ceremonies, events, and of course parties, but there’s only so much in the way of winter sports you can get done in a city — you need those soaring mountain resorts. And in this rarefied catgory, Whistler Blackcomb, a two-hour drive away, has become North America’s biggest ski area and a world star. Known for its dozen Alpine bowls, 5,280 vertical feet, and more than 8,000 skiiable acres, all 200-plus runs will be open before and after the Olympics (when it hosts events including Alpine racing, Nordic, luge, bobsled, and skelton), and 90 percent of them even during the games themselves. Serving up a wide variety of dining, shopping, clubbing, and miscellaneous fun, by now Whistler’s a phenomenon.

But it’s far from the province’s only superb center of snowy action (in fact, some would even say not the best), and in fact various Olympic teams consider several good enough to have their athletes living and training there at this very moment. So here’s a quick primer covering eight of the best of BC’s 19 resorts. Chances are you’ll be able to nab some good deals on lift passes and accommodations season — even, in some cases, during the games themselves — yet still get a chance to cross paths with an international bevy of Olympians in training.

Apex Outside Penticton in the Okanagan Valley 250 miles (420 km) from Vancouver, this under-the-radar gem is a hot practice spot this winter. So watch for an international crew of freestyle ski athletes doing their thing on the bumps, jumps, and some of North America’s driest, fluffiest powder. With a 7,250-foot elevation, it’s a little quieter than other BC resorts, and a bit more geared toward advanced levels.

Big White Also in the Okanagan, outside the town of Kelowna a few miles from Apex, B.C.’s second most popular winter resort has an elevation of just over 7,600 feet and 2,565 skiable acres celebrated for their dry powder and good for beginners and intermediate. With three hotels and more than 250 condos, cabins, and more, it’s got a pretty admirable apres-ski scene, too, including a shopping mall, spas, nine eateries, and eight nightspots.

Kimberley A good 6,500 feet up in the Kootenay Rockies 510 miles (850 km) east of Vancouver, here’s another lesser-known gem with lots to do for all skill levels (strongest on intermediate), plenty of powder, new year-round, $6-million facilities, 1,800 scenic acres, and also a fair bit of good après-ski and activity when the white stuff goes bye-bye.

Mount Washington On Vancouver Island, 75 miles (125 km) by road and ferry from the Big V, it’s not hosting events, but it is hosting plenty of Olympians, because its 5,209-foot elevation, temperatures, and ambience are similar to Whistler Blackcomb’s; more than 23 Nordic and Alpine teams from ten countries will be training and kicking back here until show time. Indeed, for scores of elite snow jocks, Mount Washington has become a second home.

Red Mountain Just over the Washington State border and 385 miles (640 km) east of Vancouver, this former gold mining town in the Monashee Mountains boasts a pair of impressive peaks with a 2,887-foot drop and is top rated for powder, service, and overall experience. And January 22-24, it’ll be hosting the Canadian Freeskiing Championships during the its annual winter carnival; front and center this year will be the Olympic torch relay.

Revelstoke Over the past three years, this West Kootenay railroad town 360 miles (600 km) east of Vancouver has morphed into BC’s most talked about new winter destination. Besides some of the newest equipment in the business (including a new on-hill helicopter, cat-ski, and mountain education/backcountry adventure center), you’ll find North America’s longest top-to-bottom trails. And of course the historic town itself is quite the charmer.

Sun Peaks When it comes to ogling Olympians and Paralympians in training, gliding on some fab powder, or just plain relaxing, it doesn’t get better than this sun-splashed trio of peaks on 3,678 acres near Kamloops, 210 miles (350 km) miles east of Vancouver. It’s where national alpine ski teams from Canada and Europe (especially mighty Austria) gather in advance to steel their nerves against scary-steep runs, and home to Canada’s top winter Olympian, skier Nancy Greene Raine (drop by the lobby her Cahilty Lodge to check out her impressive trophy cabinet, and don’t be surprised if she even offers to let you hang one around your neck). It’s all affordable, walkable, and lift lines minimal — what’s not to like?

Whitewater Intimate, mellow, and a bit off the beaten path, this resort in Nelson, 390 miles (650 km) from Vancouver (not far from Red Mountain) has been long known as the place for some outrageous champagne powder — sometimes topping 45 feet (13 meters) in a season. An “Olympic Gear-Up Winter Carnival” is being held here January 30.

Tripatini Surveys Hot Destinations for 2010

December 28, 2009 at 11:03 am | Posted in Africa, Asia, Barbados, British Columbia, Canada, Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda, Central America, Colombia, Croatia, cruising, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Florida, Honduras, Iceland, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macau, Mexico, Middle East, Montenegro, New Mexico, Panama, Rwanda, Slovenia, South Africa, South America, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia, Suriname, Turkey, Turks and Caicos, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe | 2 Comments
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by David Paul Appell

It’s that time when the travel-hungry are scouring the media for word of the coming year’s “it” spots. We can play that game too, so, besides popular perennials, here are 29 we see looming larger on twenty-ten’s worldwide vaycaydar:

For Americans at least, tight times mean Florida will tempt folks sticking closer to home; better deals down south include  Fort Lauderdale and up north the Panhandle. The latter’s now marketed as the “Emerald Coast,” trying to softpedal the “Redneck Riviera” image; comparisons to Sardinia’s glam Costa Smeralda are laughable, but there are some fetching towns, inns, and some interesting attractions — but above all sugary beaches along a stretch including  Destin, Fort Walton, Apalachicola, St. Joe Beach, and Pensacola. Another hotspot due for a boost this year is Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is popping the corks for its 400th anniversary (and while you’re out here, add a couple of days to explore some cool nearby towns like Acoma Pueblo and Gallup.

The big story this year is inevitably the province of British Columbia, with cool cities Vancouver and Victoria, stunning coastal and mountain scenery, eco/adventure tourism, and swell snow sports. The reason is, of course, is the attention focused on Vancouver and ski resort Whistler Blackcomb, hosting this February’s Winter Olympics.

The so-called Maya Riviera, on the Yucatan Peninsula’s Caribbean coast stretching southward from Cancun, continues evolving whether big luxury resorts, mass-market all-inclusives, exquisite small inns, or budget digs. Some also see a bump for Mexico City, whose pollution and security issues can be finessed with some common sense and which offers one of the world’s great urban experiences — and what other burg has not just a stunning Aztec pyramid complex (Teotihuacan) on its outskirts but several right in town — one smack in the middle of downtown?

This winter/spring, more ships come online and cruising is likely to stay strong, thanks to heavy discounting. Beyond the usual suspects, keep your eye on buttoned-down Barbados,  where some resorts and dining spots have been updating of late, and scenic St. Lucia, with luxury properties coming online fairly recently (Jade Mountain, The Landings) or refurbing (Cap Maison); there’s also a movement toward sustainable — and less pricey — town and country tourism. Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos also keeps adding fab resorts without sacrificing its limin’ vibe. Finally, could this be the year for Cuba, when the self-defeating, un-American, yet stubborn travel ban is dropped or relaxed for all U.S. citizens? Hold not thy breath, but anything’s possible, and if it happens, go — unsavory regime notwithstanding, it’s one of the world’s great travel and cultural experiences.

Eastern Europe has been on a major upswing ever since the Berlin Wall fell. But even 20 year later, some destinations are still growing or even just emerging. Examples of the former include Croatia and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. And lately we’re hearing more about Croatia’s neighbors, Slovenia and Montenegro. Both serve up stunning mountains with eco/adventure, historic cities and towns, and Adriatic seacoast with fine beach resorts. And this year, Montenegro welcomes AmanResorts’ fancy-schmancy Sveti Stefan, on an island of medieval architecture. On the western side of things, Icelands a nice land, with its superb eco/adventure, cool capital Reykjavik, short flight time from Europe and New York City, and some of the most affordable prices in years, thanks to the recent economic meltdown.

In Central America, everybody’s jockeying to be “the next Costa Rica” — even El Salvador (who knew?). But watch Honduras; ’09 tourism plummeted due to its political crisis but should be back on track — and hungry — once the new elected government debuts in January. Highlights: Maya ruins, colonial towns, exceptional eco/adventure, world-class diving.  Panama, too, with great rainforest, beaches, one of the hemisphere’s loveliest colonial quarters (Panama City’s Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and barefoot Caribbean isles like Bocas del Toro and the San Blas, home to the autonomous Kuna Indians. In South America, Colombia‘s overall continuing security and economic progress will feed that diverse country’s tourism, especially to another colonial stunner, Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, and happening capital Bogotá (whose colonial quarter’s also nothing to estornudar at). Rising on the radar is the continent’s smallest and only Dutch-speaking country, Suriname, a multi-culti charmer with a cute, sleepy little capital and some of the hemisphere’s most unspoiled eco offerings.

With the steam let out of Dubai, look to UAE capital Abu Dhabi, also developing a-plenty yet without sacrificing traditional culture and flavor. On the Mediterranean, with political crisis at bay for now, Lebanon is still rockin’ the casbah — well, at least Beirut is, while the beach resorts, Roman ruins, and even wine country outside the capital provide a lower-key counterpoint. Up on Turkey‘s “Turquise Coast,” meanwhile, a resort town and region called Dalaman is currently hot, for example outstripping Spain’s Majorca as among the Brits; allures include beaches, soft adventure, nightlife, and historic/archaeological sites.

The tourism offerings in staid ol’ Singapore are getting something of a 2010 shot in the arm, with the elaborate, Vegas-style casino-resort Marina Bay Sands; the also elaborate Fullerton Heritage Complex crammed with shopping, dining, and lodging; and Sentosa Island’s Resorts World, with a Hard Rock Hotel and a Universal Studios theme park. Another “city-state” (now a semi-autonomous part of China) seeing some new action is Macau, where, again, it’s Vegas-style casinos that’ve been complementing the Portuguese colonial architecture and fueling a local boom. On a less glitzy, more laid-back note, since Sri Lanka ended its civil war last May, more travelers will be returning to its historic towns, Buddhist temples, and breathtaking beaches.

From Kruger Park to Cape Town to the winelands, South Africa is on the upswing again, thanks to interest generated by Hollywood hits like Invictus and District 9, and especially June’s soccer World Cup. Lower on the radar, the story of the year may well be the rebirth of safari tourism in Rwanda, 17 years after its genocide, and, believe it or not, Zimbabwe, despite still being a political and economic basket case.

A Cold Yet Cool Reception This Winter at Sweden and Quebec’s Ice Hotels

December 2, 2009 at 11:06 am | Posted in Canada, Quebec, Sweden | 1 Comment
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by David Paul Appell

That time of year again — starting next week, chilly chic is back again, thanks to those clever Swedes (followed by crafty Quebecois). First up, from December 10 to mid-April, the Swedish Lappland town of Jukkasjärvi, up north of the Arctic Circle, will be the site of the 59,200-square foot (5,500-square-meter) 20th edition of the original ICEHOTEL (you fly into Stockholm, then connect onward to Kiruna; British Airways can also whisk you direct to Kiruna from Heathrow, believe it or not). For rates from 1,350 krona (US$197) a night per person, you can sleep in one of the 80 artist-designed rooms and suites carved from snow and ice (with thermal underwear and sleeping bags, of course), or in a more conventional, heated hotel annex. While you’re up here, activities include sauna, snowshoe, snowmobile/dogsled tours, ice sculpture lessons, and visits with the local Sami people. If you can’t make it this time around, they’re planning to open it a month earlier next winter.

Meanwhile, for those on the other side of the Atlantic, in Canada’s Duchesnay winter resort area a half hour from picturesque Quebec City, the Hôtel de Glace marks its tenth winter this January 4 to April 4. It’s quite a bit plus petit (32,000 square feet/3,000 square meters), but just as, er, cool as its Swedish inspiration, with similar amenities and activities (but no Sami, of course). An overnight in one of its 36 rooms and suites starts at CAD 219 (US$208) per person, or you can just stop in for a tour and a bracing gulp at the ice bar. A votre santé glâcée!

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