3. Schwartzkogel (Itinerary 56), Kitzbühel, Austria
As we all know, conditions make all the difference. It just so happened I was blessed with some ‘best snow in 30 years’ kind of stuff whilst leading in Kitzbuhel last February. That particular descent was very special, but Itinerary 56 makes this list for more than that epic encounter. Schwartzkogel offers incredible bang for your buck.
The route is long, ticks many boxes and you could ski it a hundred times, a hundred different ways. Signing your snowy signatures through farmers' fields, zigging and zagging out of trees, hopping fences… there’s something for everyone, including groups of mixed ability.
Better still, the high ridge you need to navigate to access 56 keeps away fair-weather skiers. I recall the initial fear in some of my group's eyes as whiteout and wind lashed at them upon one visit, but relax, you’re soon in the tree-line for a great run. The cosy chalet awaiting you at the bottom serving up delicious strudel and schnapps doesn’t half hurt either. Prost!
4. Tomamu's abandoned neighbour, Hokkaido, Japan
It’s a little known tidbit that there are more ski areas in Japan than anywhere else in the world. It’s even lesser known that they have just as many now defunct, withering-away monuments to the 1980s ski boom. One of these now sits silently in the shadow of the brilliant Tomamu, about an hour’s drive from Furano.
Accessible by slipping out of the Tomamu boundary, and with a deal of climb and traverse, you can access this former resort. My particular favourite ‘run’ is skiing bouncy pillows down an abandoned lift line, pulling to a powdery stop at the now rusty ticket office and a busy road. You’ve heard of heli drops, but this requires a ‘car drop’. I pulled my skis off as a lorry came whizzing by and it was so good that we headed right back up for more. As a coach of mine regularly used to say: “Never leave good snow in pursuit of good snow…”
5. Highlander, Crescent Spur Heli-Skiing, British Columbia, Canada
The best skiing of my life (so far!). Crescent Spur’s boutique heli operation can be found in the Northern Cariboos and Rockies of British Columbia, and is truly a magical experience. One morning saw cries of a storm day, ‘the heli can’t fly too far, but fear not, we’re heading to MacLeod Creek for the best tree skiing of your life!’
The guides weren’t kidding. Runs like The Quickening, Excalibur, and Highlander pay homage to the classic 1980s fantasy flick. The runs were so good they’ve morphed into an almost mythical memory. It goes without saying it was steep, bottomless and leg-zapping – the full white-room experience. Remember to breathe! All with a shiny blue bird waiting to whisk you back up for seconds. Like the movie, stick a sword in me, I’m done. I probably should have retired after this.
Ryan Crisp Factfile
Ryan made his first turns… at the tender age of 11. Like many Brits, it was on a school trip (Voss
He works as… a photographer, and is a qualified Canadian ski instructor as well as a self-proclaimed Whistler ski bum.
He passed the SCGB leaders' course… in 2012 and will be repping in Whistler in March and April 2020.
His favourite après spot is… Merlin’s at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, especially when local band The Hairfarmers are rocking.
His après tipple of choice is… a Bloody Caesar followed by a visit with Burt Reynolds! Don’t ask.
Top tip… watch or revisit the 1990s classic Aspen Extreme this winter. It’s more than a movie.