25 OCT 2012: Some clients can hardly wait to strap on the skis or snowboard for their winter fix of adrenaline rush. Others however, might wish to skip those wildly adventurous sports altogether and indulge in post piste pampering at the spa or nestling up to a crackling fire armed with a cup of hot cocoa and frothy marshmallows.


With white powder vacations just around the corner, you know Old Man Winter’s getting ready to knock on your front door, especially once the reps from the annual Ski, Snowboard and Travel Show arrived in Toronto.

So what’s to come?

I got to riff on the latest winter happenings with some of our favourite snow destinations, and boy is there a white powder battle going on.

In a loosely conducted unscientific poll, Travel Industry Today asked “So any snow yet?” to various reps from Quebec, Vermont and Colorado.

The results are in: Vail, Colorado slams into first place with snow reported back on September 17.

“We had our first snow a couple of weeks ago,” laughs May Lilley, international communications manager with Vail Resorts inside King Street West’s chi-chi Brassai Bistro, talking about the first snow of the season that made the headlines. (Note: you know you’re in ski territory when snow fall reports hit the local newspaper).

Who’s a close second on the snow action?

That goes to Vermont. “We were so excited just this past Sunday (Oct 7) we got our first dusting,” proudly asserts Candice White from Sugarbush Resorts who shows me some i-phone snaps on the local ski runs at the Hotel InterContinental.

Quebec's Mont-Sainte-Anne, Station touristique Stoneham & Le Grand Vallon instantly circulated an email with pretty pictures of the snow action hitting its slopes. “First snow in Quebec’s mountains” declared Lisa Marie Lacasse on October 12, Chef de service des communications.

Now for the 2012-2013 snow season report:

Quebec


Our easterly neighbours get a massive “A” for enthusiasm and excitement. Over 35 reps from the biggest snow regions along with some new faces gathered at the Fairmont Royal York’s Ball Room for the annual Discover Quebec trade show to help showcase winter in all its glory.

Francois Jean Viel, director of tour & travel with Destination Quebec says, “Ski is a major activity in Quebec. Don’t forget we have the Snow Hotel in Montreal and the Ice Hotel in Quebec. We have small activities around the major activities so you can do snowshoeing in Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham, and in Montreal you can skate or play hockey with a local company. Soon we are going to have a one-hour webinar with travel agents.”

Webinar dates: November 7, 15 and 21, 2012.

For details contact Francois Jean Viel (fjv@isabelgil.com)

Go glam with properties like the four-star Chateau Mont Sainte Anne, the Esterel Suites Spa & Lac on Lake Dupuis or hit those fab B&Bs and historic inns around The Eastern Townships.

In Quebec City, Carnival with jolly mascot Bonhomme, is great for family fun and young adventure-types who enjoy slumbering outside in the Hotel de Glace. Another huge draw attracting a big audience is the Red Bull Crashed Ice. Picture crazy high speed skaters charging past famous landmarks. “It’s free to watch,” says Marie-Eve Perron, account executive with Quebec City Tourism.

Watch for new travel products from Tourisme Abitibi-Temiscamingue, a new destination at the trade show. Martin Poitras with Tourisme Abitibi-Temiscamingue says it’s a great winter spot for natural surroundings, has ample ski-doo activities, and is roughly a four hour drive north from Toronto.

Helicopter tourism is a new trend. Think of Niagara Falls and Las Vegas with their propeller tours but finally, says Manon Boissinot, a rep with GO Helico, Quebec City has its own leisure helicopter tours. A 15-minute ride gets you panoramic vistas of the Chateau Frontenac, Montmorency Falls, the Citadelle and other scenic images of the fabulous historic walled city just beneath your feet.

For total overhaul, North America’s largest day spa, the Nordik Spa-Nature in Chelsea has seven different spa experiences ready to transform you. Next time float in body temperature salt water through an intricate cave system. Marianne Trotier, a rep from Nordik Spa-Nature says floating there for one hour is the equivalent of a five-hour sleep. Not bad R&R for workaholics.

Daniel Gauthier co-founder of Cirque du Soleil has a winter wonderland rail odyssey with Le Massif De Charlevoix which offers two other-worldly rail trips. One route heads to the base of Le Massif for outdoor adventure. The other rail ride is the Baie-Saint-Paul Discovery. It snakes along the frosty St. Lawrence River and chugs by the most postcard perfect villages. You swear you stepped back in time to the pages of a classic fairytale. Clients can even overnight at the new Hotel La Ferme in Baie Saint Paul.

Vermont

You gotta love some of the locals' take on winter. Forget barometers and high-tech weather forecasting – just take a look at the position of those hornet nests.

At one ski resort lift operators have been predicting winter forecasts by how high hornets build their nests. “They are saying this is a great indicator of a big snow season this winter,” says Candice White, Sugarbush Resort’s vice-president of marketing.

Now if Mother Nature doesn’t kick in the white stuff au naturel, then the mega snow guns standing on guard around these resorts will. At Smugglers’ Notch, the resort reports over $1-million in snowmaking techniques have been invested. Stowe Mountain Resort says it continues to invest in its state-of-the-art snowmaking operations with an additional $4.7 million in new equipment and upgrades. From a skier’s standpoint, they tell me the new snowmaking increases the potential for early season terrain plus it increases the overall snow quality.

Vermont’s vibe is relaxed as millionaires are more likely to sport cowboy boots than Italian-made Berlutis. Take Win Smith, a Vermont local, and the owner of Sugarbush Resort. The former vice president of Merrill Lynch International, as Candice explains loved skiing so much “he skis 100 days of the year, and lives only seven minutes away” that he saw this resort as a good investment opportunity. He’s so unassuming, Win is known to act as a guide and takes guests on a personal ski tour.

In the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, Jay Peak Resort is super busy and there’s lots of business buzz. The company recently announced a $500-million economic revitalization initiative purported to be the largest of its kind in Vermont.

When I bumped into J.J. Toland, director of communications at Jay Peak Resort, he says the phone’s been ringing off the hook.

“The March inventory is gone. We are for the most part 100 percent booked,” he says adding it’s the first time there’s been such limited inventory when visiting Toronto. He attributes this success to a lot of pent up demand from last year along with a new $25-million water park called the Pumphouse Indoor Water Park. “It weatherproofs the ski vacation.”

Watch for a new airport in Newport. “We’re going to be expanding it by 1000 feet,” he says of the latest Jay Peak Resort acquisition.

Do I hear a Porter Airlines opportunity? J.J. hopes so. “Hopefully we’ll have Porter fly through there,” he smiles.

Currently Porter Airlines has doubled its capacity this winter season to Burlington, Vermont. There will be four weekly flights departing Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Between Dec. 15 and Jan. 6 flights will operate on Saturdays in place of Fridays. The seasonal service is available Dec. 15 until April 8, 2013.

Vail Resorts

Often dubbed the “king of luxury resorts,” Vail Resorts based in Colorado has come a long way since first opening Vail in 1962.

Since then, over the years the mega resort company has been busy adding resorts like Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly and lately acquired other properties in California near Lake Tahoe known as Northstar and Kirkwood.

What’s this mean for clients? More selection and the price is unbeatable with the Epic Pass, says May Lilley, international communications manager with Vail Resorts.

“The best season passes in the ski industry just got better for this ski and snowboard season,” she says, adding the pass provides unlimited, unrestricted skiing at all the resorts and is available for US$679. “It pays for itself in less than six days.”

In the throes of mega-investments across the board, Vail Resorts has reportedly invested $85-95 million at the seven ski resorts.

In a nutshell, here are the top reasons to head to Vail this winter season:

⋅ A brand new 10 person gondola will serve as the gateway to Vail Mountain through Vail Village. It’s got heated seats and has Wi-fi “There’s nothing like it in the world,” says May.

⋅ Vail’s celebrating 50 years this season. Watch for huge events and concerts all season around the festivities.

⋅ Vail is known for its powder snow and May says, “All of our resorts average 300 days of sunshine a year.”

⋅ Beaver Creek’s known for Cookie Time with its daily 4 pm chocolate chip cookie ritual with a chef on site carrying a silver tray of the goodies. Besides this complimentary snack, May says this ultra exclusive resort takes luxury to a whole new level. “There are guest services people in yellow everywhere. If your kids have dropped their gloves or you forgot your lift pass they will run back to the condo, give you a cell phone to allow you to make a quick call, Its all the bells and whistles.”

⋅ At Keystone you can have unlimited number of kids ages 10 and under ski free. “It’s the most competitive kids ski free program in North America,” says May and adds this program applies to a minimum two nights booking.

Pretty much a fantasyland for any ski/snowboard type, Vail’s paid close attention to its discerning clientele. Families like to hang at Keystone, a thrilling destination amusement park in snow for kids. Watch for Kidtopia, a bunch of children’s programming that keeps getting “bigger, crazier every year.” I hear staff spend weeks crafting rides like secret tunnels. It’s all part of the Keystone’s free programming.

After perusing some of these winter options, what’s holding you back?




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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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