Escape From Sand To Snow

Nobody denies that Ski Dubai is a phenomenal feat of engineering, with its perfect pistes rising out of a desert city. But in the heat of the Emirati midwinter, even inexperienced skiers sometimes yearn to whizz down real snow, on real slopes, in real mountains. Lucky, then, that some of Central Asia’s best resorts are just a short-haul flight away…


The Greater and Lower Caucases have developed their own distinct ski scenes in the last decade or so – the former offering more dramatic peaks and longer seasons, the latter more consistent snowfall. Some visitors swear by the relatively quiet and family-friendly slopes at Bakuriani, but Gudauri remains Georgia’s biggest and best all-round resort. English-speaking instructors and route guides cater well to holidaymakers while the pistes range from wide, gentle runs for kids and beginners to rocky, narrow chutes higher up.Turkey


Tufandag, which means “blizzard mountain”, has seen heavy investment as part of Azerbaijan’s growing tourist sector and more locals take up skiing on their own doorstep. A multilingual ski school and all the requisite apres-ski venues and restaurants are now in place, as well as a suitably luxe five-star property at Qafqaz Mountain Resort. Its main rival is Shahdag, the country’s first purpose-built winter sports hub, which is positioning itself as the Courchevel of the Caucases, albeit with only 17 kilometres of blue and red ski runs.


The highest, longest and steepest runs in Turkey are way out east, in the furthest, coldest corner of Anatolia, around Mount Palandoken. The ski centre built for the 2011 Winter Universiade championship has got a lot busier in the last few years, but experienced skiers can still find mostly empty stretches of deep, fresh powder, up to three metres thick, toward the peaks, while the lower reaches have good facilities for families.


Even Prince Harry of Great Britain has helped to put Shymbolak in Kazakhstan on the map – a relatively compact resort with only about 15 kilometres of runs, though some begin at altitudes of over 3,200 metres. It’s a former training ground for the Soviet Olympic winter sports teams, so it’s got plenty of challenging angles for the average skier, as well as wide, shallow runs for the less confident.


Mzaar Kfarbedian, about an hour outside Beirut, is generally considered the best-appointed resort in the country, and the peak at Mazaar itself is where the most experienced skiers head for steep runs on deep powder. The views look right out over the Mediterranean, which is close enough to give visitors the fairly unique option of lolling on the beach or floating in the sea after a morning on the pistes. You can also visit the nearby ruins of an ancient Phoenician temple and a Roman tower. Dome Jabal El Dib is a good bet for beginners, with its slopes and long, winding backcountry trails, while The Cedars is an old-school, almost antique ski area with good beginner slopes.