Winter wonderlands

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Hit the highest ski lif

Escape the hustle of European and US resorts this season at one of the world’s far-flung powder paradises – perfect for off-piste exploration. The slopes in the Indian Himalayas are among the most beautiful, and even if you’re going too fast to notice, think of the monkeys and bears watching you from the forests as you head down into deserted valleys, surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the world. There’s nary a fondue or vin chaud in sight either – instead, you’ll most likely find curry and chai at the gondola stations. Check out heli-ski resort Manali, which offers up to 3,500 metres of vertical descent during its short January-to-February season, and the prettier Gulmarg in Kashmir, whose sole ski lift is also the world’s highest.
An all-inclusive 10-day trip to Gulmarg, Kashmir, excluding international flights, is Dhs9,200 (www.mountaintracks.co.uk). Guides, accommodation, transfers and ski hire are also available via www.kashmiralpine.com. For more information on skiing in Manali, see www.himalayanadventure.com.

Middle Eastern slopes

Lebanon is commonly dubbed ‘the Switzerland of the Middle East’. It has five ski resorts, all within easy reach of its capital, Beirut, which are bizarre yet brilliant (timid skiers, be warned– the Lebanese ski like they drive!). They’re all fairly cheap compared to their Alpine counterparts too: a weekend day-pass ranges from Dhs85 to Dhs150 depending on the resort, while ski hire is around Dhs35. Faraya is the largest, with a buzzing après-ski scene; The Cedars has the longest season and impressive natural beauty; the family favourite is Laqlouq; Mzaar Kfardebian is the tamest; and Qanat Bakish a less crowded option. Lebanon is also one of the few places where you can ski and swim in the sea on the same day, so it’s not uncommon to spot snow demons in skimpy Speedos alongside burqa-clad ladies on skis.
For more information on skiing in Lebanon, see www.skileb.com.

On a budget

We can’t all afford the glitz of St Moritz. Unusual European ski locations such as Slovenia, Romania, Czech Republic and Croatia all offer cheap alternatives, but perhaps the most unexpected bargain ski spot is on Mount Olympus in Cyprus’s Troodos area. Built by the British army after World War II, little has changed since the resort was taken over by the Cyprus Ski Club in the ’60s. Consequently, it’s not one for serious skiers, with its mere four lifts, 16 trails and infrequent snowfall. But it is cheap. In 2009, the last time the ski pass prices were updated, a full-day pass was just Dhs110, while neighbouring guesthouses start at Dhs95 a night for a double room. Overall, it’s great for a break during the winter weeks, when it’s less overrun by locals in pastel-coloured all-in-ones, and when the prices are considerably cheaper than spring. The best bit? Come the afternoon, you can relax on a glorious nearby beach.
The Troodos ski season runs from mid-January to mid-March. For more details on the resort, see www.skicyprus.com.

Snow sculpting

Snow festivals are pretty common now, with artists hacking snow and ice into glorious shapes in Sweden (Kiruna Snow Festival), Japan (Sapporo Snow Festival), China (Harbin) and the US (North Lake Tahoe Snowfest) and beyond. But some of the finest frozen work can be seen at the Shapes in White festival this January at ice-cool resort Ischgl in Austria. International sculptors are encouraged to submit their designs and 10 artists are invited to line the slopes with pieces to create a giant open-air gallery. This year’s theme is – topically – vampires, so expect the fanged ones to be on show until the end of May when, presumably, they’ll melt in the sun.
Shapes in White continues until the end of January. For more information, see www.ischgl.com.

By Oliver Robinson
Time Out Dubai,

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