What Makes a Ski Run Great?
I’ve just been reacquainting myself with the two best ski runs in Are, Sweden, They’re called Lindsrappet and Gastrappet: two hell-for-leather pistes which tumble down the lower flanks of Areskutan – the main mountain in the resort – and pull up just short of the shores of Åresjön below. They’re both superb, and stand comparison with the best ski runs in the Alps and the Rockies: and it’s got me thinking….Why? What it is about a ribbon of groomed snow that makes skiers turn to each other at the bottom, with grins a mile wide across their faces and say – “YEAH! Let’s do that again.”
Actually, I didn’t have to think that long. After all, I’ve just climbed out of my ski boots. The adrenaline’s still pumping, and the skiing buzz is still strong: it’s at times like this ideas come tumbling out. So here’s my take on what makes a ski run great.
1. The best ski runs are fall-line pistes
Ever heard of the “fall-line” in skiing”? It describes the route a boulder would take down the mountain if you let it roll: straight down. For significant stretches, that’s what both Lindsrappet and Gastrappet offer. You point down the slope and go – surrendering yourself to gravity for turn after scintillating turn. There are few bends to break your rhythm, and no reverse camber to throw your balance. It’s no wonder that this slope is the same one used by Stortloppet, Are’s World-Cup race track – which, sadly, is closed to ordinary skiers.
Here’s another great example of fall-line skiing: the bottom half of the Face in Val d’Isere.
Other great fall-line pistes which immediately spring to mind are the Kandler in Westendorf, Snow Rodeo in Revelstoke, and Zachary in Kirkwood, California. Of course, fall-line skiing doesn’t need to be steep. Easy blues can exhibit the same characteristics, and are enjoyable for exactly the same reasons.
2. They’re neither short nor narrow
Lindsrappet and Gastrappet both drop through 454 vertical metres (1,489 feet): not as far as the Kandler or the Face, but still sustained enough to let you settle in and lose yourself in the skiing. They’re also both wide enough to accommodate two skiers carving big extravagant turns, side by side. That bit’s crucial. There’s no point rattling about on a pair of waisted skis if you can’t get up on your edges and feel the shape of the ski carry you across, as well as down, the slope. It’s only then that piste-skiing really comes into its own.
3. They need a fast lift
A ski run can’t be great if it’s served by a sh*tty lift surrounded by impatient skiers cursing in five different languages. The bad karma of queueing will stay with you all the way back up to the top of the piste, and spoil the next run down. Fortunately, Are’s blue riband runs are also served by its best lift – the mighty VM8 detachable eight-seater chair lift. It’s so fast you’ve barely got time to get your rucksack off before you’re heading back up the mountain – on a seat so wide you’d need a loud-hailer to talk to the guys at the other end.
4. Inspiring views are important too
Look up, and what do you see? It had better be something gorgeous, or else your ski run doesn’t rank amongst the greats. In the case of Lindsrappet and Gastrappet, the view is out over the lake – Åresjön – to a great big empty space that stretches over towards to Norway. The wonder of it all actually makes you want to ski harder.
5. The best ski runs aren’t crowded
The best ski runs are never the ones that join two resorts in a big, interconnected ski area. There’s just too much human traffic on them to be enjoyable. They’re either set apart, in some overlooked corner of the ski area, or kept (relatively) quiet by an intimidating reputation.
Or, in the case of Lindsrappet and Gastrappet, or Snow Rodeo, or Zachary they’re in a resort which is rarely busy. Okay, so in the Swedish school holidays, in mid-February, Gastrappet does warm up a bit, but Lindsrappet’s wickedly steep pitch, right at the start of the run, always filters out the traffic. Even if you’re not strictly comfortable on such a steep slope, it’s worth battling down the first ten turns for the sake of the blissfully undisturbed snow lower down.
Even so, you must always make pistes like this your goal at the start of the day. You won’t be the only person in the resort to have noticed how good they are – and there’s nothing like skiing them when the corduroy is freshly groomed. Or, as they say in Are, Sweden, the Manchester. Yes, really. I’ve got a Manchester Morning booked there as part of the ski school’s excellent, and cheap, programme of clinics and tours, called Skistar Experience. 7.30am at the bottom of the VM8 lift. Bring it on!
Welove2ski is staying in the Tott Hotel in Are – a ski-in, ski-out hotel with a big, airy lounge, a stylish bar, and delicious muffins that come with white chocolate icing. Every skiing day should have room for one of those muffins…