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Anyone who's been skiing regularly over the past 30 years may now have notched up some different ski resorts and areas to the mainstream Alpine retreats, and found them a bit different to the usual resorts of France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy that the majority of European skiers are used to.

For instance, anyone who's been to northern Finland in the depths of winter will remember how odd it feels skiing in nearly permanent darkness, still with almost no idea of the surrounding landscape after 7 days of being there ! Or how strange it feels landing in the heat of Malaga before heading for mainland Europe's most southerly major ski-area at Sierra Nevada.

Thirty years ago, not many people from the UK or Ireland would have entertained the thought of skiing in the Arctic Circle or next to the Mediterranean, however, both these areas are now regulars in many annual ski brochures.

But where are the really unusual ski areas and the most unlikely ski resorts in the world ? Read on for our top 10...

1. Dizin (Iran)

Dizin

It's not Iran's geography that makes this such a surprise to many people (Iran is actually one of the world's most mountainous countries) but the ups and downs of the country's political history. However, many of Iran's ski resorts (and there are plenty - at least 20 that we're aware of) were setup before the 1979 revolution. Dizin is the largest ski resort in the whole of the Middle East and has, because of its altitude (2600 - 3600m), a snow record that would be the envy of many alpine resorts - the season lasts consistently from December to May.

Dizin has 23 pistes, 15 lifts and a surprising array of accommodation and restaurants.

Best get your visa sorted before you travel there though !

Website: irandizinski.com

2. Tiffindell (South Africa)

Yes, that's South Africa. Hard to believe, but it's true. Yes, we know South Africa has mountains but not many people think it would be viable to attempt the creation of a ski resort. The South Africans did though, developing Tiffindell since 1993 on the slopes of Ben McDhui, the highest mountain in the Eastern Cape province at a height of 2700m.

Snow-making is claimed to 'guarantee' snow for 100 days of the year on the 1km main slope and some small beginners slopes, however there are plans to increase that to almost 10km of pistes.

The Apres Ski is centred around South Africa's highest bar - Ice Station 2720 and there is accommodation at the resort for about 150 people.

It's not exactly easy to get to Tiffindell though. So if you're thinking of just popping up there to get a few runs in, then possibly think again - with travel times of nearly 5-10 hours from most of the big South African cities, it's not exactly on the doorstep of the main South African cities. However, the novelty factor might make it worth the effort for real enthusiasts - a bit like creating a game reserve in the middle Switzerland. Hmm, now there's an idea...

Website: www.tiffindell.co.za

3. Mont des Brumes / Baraque de Fraiture / Val de Wanne (Belgium)

Baraque de Fraiture

The Belgian ski areas are one of our personal favourites in this top 10, purely because the majority of people in the UK expect Belgium to be completely flat, just like its neighbour Holland. Well a lot of it is, but head down to the beautiful tree-covered hills of the Ardennes in the south and the landscape changes enough to provide Belgium with not one but two ski areas !

Let's not kids ourselves, the areas we're talking about are very limited - Monte des Brumes has a top altitude of 530m and a vertical drop of 180m, a 1km piste (an 850m long red that extends a further 150m into a beginners slope), but 1km is better than 0km !

Just down the road at Trois Ponts, Val de Wanne has a ski piste, luge and tubing slopes, 7 lifts and 12 snow making canons. With the area benefiting from the effects of the colder continent, the crazy Belgians can get a surprising number of days in. And with all those lovely Belgian abbey beers on offer, the bars are half decent too.

Also in this area is Baraque de Fraiture, the third highest point in Belgium at 2139 feet. Baraque de Fraiture has 3 small slopes, 1000m, 700m and 350m long.

Websites: www.montdesbrumes.be and www.devalkart.be and www.ski-baraquedefraiture.be

4. Serra da Estrela (Portugal)

Serra da Estrela

Another fantastically unexpected offering from Europe, this time served up by Portugal. And you thought people only went on holiday to the Algarve ? Well, you wouldn't be far wrong - the country's only ski resort is extremely small with just 4 lifts, 130m of vertical descent and 10 pistes.

Given Portugal's latitude and with a top height of just under 2000m, snow can't be guaranteed but it doesn't stop the locals heading there at the weekends and testing the lift capacity to its limits. You may also see the resort referred to as the Vodafone Ski Resort, because the communications company sponsored the whole place from 2005 for a number of years.

Website: www.skiserradaestrela.com

5. Auli (India)

Auli

India now has a few small ski resorts, and Auli has overtaken the likes of Gulmarg and Shimla as the country's premier spot, even being picked to host the Asian Winter Games in 2009. Set in the Himalayas in a region bordering Tibet, it's fair to say that you won't be disappointed with the scenery on offer.

The resort of Auli features India's longest gondola - a 4 km ride up from Joshimath, taking you from just over 1000m up to 3000m. The ski area is hardly vast - with runs of just over 3km, and the season is notoriously unpredictable, with late January to early March being the best bet for a good covering of the white stuff.

Following disappointing falls in recent winters the local government is now investing in snow-making machines and an artificial slope. But if you fancy a trip there don't expect it to be easy... the nearest airport is 273km away and the nearest train station is even further - 300km !

Website: gmvnl.com (tourism site)

6. Afri-Ski (Lesotho)

Afriski

"Le..where ?" you ask. You know, Lesotho - that small country sat smack bang in the middle of South Africa, completely surrounded by it.

With only one other ski resort in southern Africa (Tiffindell), Afri-Ski is a purpose built resort that was developed to attract the market of the wealthy neighbouring South Africans.

Despite a high altitude of 3222m, there's no guarantee of snow, although there are snow making machines. The ski-season, weather permitting, normally runs from June to August, with a 1km slope and a couple of lifts. Accomodation directly within the resort is limited to a lodge and some chalets.

If you ever pay a visit it's worth noting that you'll need to take plenty of folding - the entire resort runs on a cash-only basis, with no credit cards or cheques. Now that's something you don't get at St Moritz !

Website: www.afriski.net

7. Cedars (Lebanon)

Lebanon really is one place where you can ski in the morning and then head less than an hour down the road for a swim in the Med. The country has a number of other ski resorts (Laqlouq, Faraya-Mzaar, Faqra) with Cedars in the north being the oldest although Faraya-Mzaar is probably now the best known.

The length of Lebanon's ski season can be surprisingly long thanks to the high altitude of the resorts, and can last a good 4 months anywhere between November and April.

The Cedars resort is named after the tree that was once prolific amongst the country's mountain ranges and even appears on their flag. The government built the country's first ski lift there way back in 1953 and has added many more since, including a new gondola that now takes skiers up from the 2095m base to the top height of 2870m.

Website: www.skilebanon.co.uk

8. Oukaimeden and Mischliffen (Morrocco)

Utter the word Morrocco and everyone thinks of Marrakech, Casablanca and baking hot temperatures. Not many people think of snow and skiing. But with the Atlas Mountains running down the spine of the country, both do exist.

There are 2 resorts offering a limited amount of skiing, Oukaimeden just south of Marrakech, normally has snow in January and February and has a small number of ski lifts and runs. Mischliffen, near Ifrane, also has a couple of lifts and a number of slopes.

It's worth noting that the conditions and facilities can be very unpredictable. Whilst the prices can be low, ticket offices are often small shacks, and there aren't restaurants on the slopes. Temperatures in January and February can still reach the 20's so you'll need to get out early to enjoy any snow.

Oh yes, and just the small matter that the lifts often don't run. However, we have heard strange tales of donkey's being used to get skiers up the slopes !

9. Mount Hermon (Israel)

Mount Hermon

The summit of Mount Hermon is actually on the border of Syria and Lebanon, and rises to 2814m. However, the southern section of the mountain falls within the Golan Heights and has been controlled by the Israelis since 1967 and is the highest point in Israeli controlled areas.

The first ski lift was installed a few years later in 1971, but it wasn't until the early 1980's when things really started to take off and the ski area developed. The ski area ranges from a base of 1600m up to 2073m, with 5 lifts serving 2 blacks, 7 reds, 3 blues and 1 green piste. There are a couple of mountain restaurants, a ski school and a snowpark has recently been created. There's no actual village at the skiing area itself, with the nearest accommodation found at Neve Ativ and Majdal Shams.

Website: hermonski.co.il

10. Mount Parnassos (Greece)

Think Greece, think hot summer holidays.

But... Greece also has a surprisingly large number of ski resorts and areas.

Despite its location next to the Mediterranean, Greece is covered by a lot of mountainous terrain, and some of it is high enough to warrant a number of ski areas and lifts to have been created over the years. The first ski-lift in Greeece was installed way back in the 1950's at Seli in the north of Greece, and there are also records of people skiing there right back in the 1930s.

However, it's further south that you'll find Greece's largest ski resort, the Mount Parnassos ski complex was created in the 1970's, and with a resort altitude of 1600m, north-facing slopes and a top lift height over 2200m, Parnassos can boast a reasonable length of ski season that can often last until April.

There are two main locations making up the area, Kellária and Fterólakka, and the areas link to create 36km of slopes, made up of 13 lifts and 19 pistes.

Website: www.parnassos-ski.gr


Ski Areas and Resorts that would have made the list, if you could still ski there...

There are a few resorts that could have made our list but thanks to global warming are no longer running...

Chacaltaya in Bolivia would have definitely made the top 10 but the glacier totally disappeared in 2009. It had been retreating rapidly since the 80's but was still expected to last to at least until 2015. The ski area was known for a number of firsts - it was the world's most equatorial, had the highest lift in the world (17,300 feet!) and had South America's first tow rope, installed back in 1939. Before the effects of global warming it was considered too cold to ski there in the winter and there were many stories told of the hair-raising drive up the road to the lifts, with talk of bus drivers drinking alcohol as a source of Dutch courage before the icy drive up there !

Unfortunately the only possibility of skiing at the once infamous resort is now just on occasional snowy days.

Haut Asco on the Mediterranean island of Corsica used to have pistes and a few lifts but they haven't been used for a few years now.

Other Unusual Ski Areas and Resorts Worth a Mention...

Other places that are worth a mention include...

Australia: ok, so it's pretty much common knowledge amongst keen skiers that Australia has created a reasonable ski-industry for itself, but your average Joe on the street would express complete surprise if told this, assuming that the whole of Australia lives off barbies and in fear of bush fires for 365 days of the year.

Kazakstan: (you know, the homeland of Borat) has a couple of ski resorts, with Chimbulak in the mountains near Almaty being the best known.

Mexico: Monterreal in the state of Coahuila has a couple of artificial runs and lifts but it is actually possible to ski here on natural snow for a short period between December and January.

Turkey: not surprising to anyone who knows anything about Turkey's geography (don't forget that the countries highest peak, Mount Ararat, is actually higher than Mont Blanc), but again many people don't realise what a vast place Turkey is and only know it only as a summer destination. There are a number of resorts offering skiing, with Uludag and Palandoken amongst the most popular.

Cyprus: another location more associated with summer holidays, but there is a small ski area on the slopes of Mount Olympus.

England: Closer to home, and whilst you can't call them ski resorts, England does have a number of very small areas with lifts and groomed pistes.

Finally, there are a whole host of other strange places that don't have resorts or prepared slopes, but where you can do a bit of unexpected extreme skiing: Indonesia, Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya to name but a few. But we'll save that top 10 for another day...




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