What is a great destination for intermediate skiing? A perfect “10”: on track, off the beaten track

Living too far south for much snow and working too long hours to get away often, I am an “intermittent intermission” with no hope of getting better. The biggest challenge is finding a destination that is hard enough to be interesting but easy enough to ski when I’m traveling alone. Since grading the difficulty level of a race varies from mountain to mountain, all too often I find it doesn’t work for me. Especially striking was the difference between skiing Heavenly Valley and Sun Valley or Big Sky in Lake Tahoe. In the US Northwest, where the intermediate slopes resembled the Matterhorn, I had to resort to Plan B: counting bison in Yellowstone. After those near misses, I developed a personal checklist for finding the best destinations for intermediate skiing:

  1. Number and type of slopes designated as Intermediate
  2. Snow quality and typical conditions
  3. Apres-ski activity/nearby restaurants and accommodation
  4. Affordability/Attractive Prices
  5. Convenient access to airports
  6. friendly environment
  7. Interesting location/different purpose feasible
  8. Ski Instruction Availability/Schedule
  9. Weather/temperature on the mountain
  10. 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 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, which 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 were friendly. The price was right and a local bus shuttled skiers throughout the day from Lillehammer. Better yet, sending postcards home from that Olympic venue gave my skiing an unearned boost that I was able to dine out for the rest of the year. If my luggage had arrived when I arrived it would have been perfect.

Still struggling at times to keep up with the top skiers, I finally made it to the dirt. I found the perfect “10” skiing in Andorra. I was immediately excited to see a new, albeit quite small, country based in the Pyrenees. The mix of four languages, Spanish, Catalan, French and English, made it feel exotic but still easy to deal with. The ski lessons were very helpful with a small group of well matched intermediates. It was a very nice environment with part of the class practicing English and the rest 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. The local towns provided multiple après-ski and dinner options at a good price. Lastly, access was easy by flying into Barcelona. February weather in northeastern Spain was mild, not unlike California. That made it an ideal way to combine an active outdoor trip with a cultural one to see Gaudi’s impressive architecture.

If I can’t get a perfect “10”, I opt to find a destination off the beaten track. Whatever the ski conditions, I can always enjoy the adventure and have the footage to prove it.

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