Above: Taking a breather near the Alpensia Pyeongchang Resort in South Korea.
Discover Asia at its wintry best. Here are five destinations with the white stuff
By Lauren Kelana
** Where: Heilongjiang, northeast China.
** Why: Host of the 2009 Winter Universiade, Yabuli has fast emerged as China’s premier ski destination. There are more than 30 kilometers of well-groomed slopes in and around Sun Mountain, serviced by state-of-the-art chairlifts and gondolas.
** Stay: The 284-room Club Med Yabuli (doubles from US$236, all-inclusive) is the first of five dedicated ski villages planned in China by the French hotel group. Family-oriented activities include ice-skating and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
** Getting There: Yabuli is a three-hour drive or train ride southeast of Harbin, the Russian-influenced provincial capital of Heilongjiang.
** When: Yabuli’s ski season runs from December to April. If you’re traveling in January, plan a stopover en route to take in the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival (Jan. 5–Feb. 5), which showcases massive sculptures carved from blocks of ice from the frozen Songhua River.
GORKHI-TERELJ NATIONAL PARK
** Where: Eastern Mongolia.
** Why: Summer may be peak season for tours of the Mongolian steppes, but winter in Gorkhi-Terelj, a preserve of alpine woodlands and glacial lakes within easy reach of Ulaanbaatar has a magic of its own.
** Stay: Unrecognizable from its former incarnation as a Russian holiday camp, the three-year-old Terelj Hotel (976/9999-2233; doubles from US$200) offers Mongolia’s most luxurious lodgings. Top-notch heating systems, cashmere blankets, and plenty of mulled wine and hot chocolate are guaranteed to keep guests cozy; those wishing to stray outside can try ice-skating or sleigh rides.
** Getting There: Well-paved roads connect the 52-room Terelj Hotel to Ulaanbaatar, a 90-minute drive.
** When: Snow usually falls in eastern Mongolia between November and April; the coldest months, January and February, can see temperatures drop to -30°C, and are perhaps best avoided by all but the most diehard winter enthusiasts.
** Where: Hokkaido, Japan.
** Why: From skiing to snowboarding and snowshoeing, there are plenty of powder-fueled activities to be found in Niseko on Japan’s northernmost island. Check out the legendary backcountry or take in the view of Mount Yotei from one of the area’s many onsen hot springs.
** Stay: The Hilton Niseko Village (81-136/441-111; doubles from US$205), located at the base of Mount Niseko Annupuri, is a ski-in, ski-out resort hotel with 506 contemporary rooms.
** Getting There: Niseko is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital city.
** When: The long Niseko ski season runs until early May, while night skiing is open from December to April. In February, nearby Sapporo hosts its annual Sapporo Snow Festival (Feb. 7–13).
** Where: Taebaek Mountains, Gangwon-do, South Korea.
** Why: South Korea’s mecca of snow, the Pyeongchang district in the country’s northeast is home to Seoraksan Mountain, a popular year-round adventure destination. It’s also bidding to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
** Stay: The InterContinental-managed Alpensia Pyeongchang Resort (82-33/339-0000; doubles from US$155) is Korea’s newest luxury alpine-style resort.
** Getting There: From Seoul, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Pyeongchang along expressways 35 and 50.
** When: The snow season here lasts from November to early April. Visit in January to double your fun by attending one of the area’s ice festivals; the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Mountain Trout Festival (Jan. 3–30) is among the best.
** Where: Himachal Pradesh, northern India.
** Why: The onetime summer capital of the British Raj, Shimla offers a pleasant escape from the heat of the Indian plains. So pleasant, in fact, that the town—a sprawl of Victorian-era villas and modern concrete tenements in the foothills of the Himalayas—draws hordes of visitors during the summer months, making it unpleasantly crowded. Winter offers a quieter season in which to explore this historic hill station.
** Stay: The Oberoi group’s Wildflower Hall (91-177/ 264-8585; doubles from USD$521) is a stately homage to Shimla’s colonial heyday. A reconstruction of the former summer residence of Lord Kitchener, the six-story lodge is located outside town amid a forest of pine and cedar. Of the 87 guest rooms, only suites come with fireplaces, making them well worth the upgrade.
** Getting There: Kingfisher Airlines operates a daily 45-minute flight between Delhi and Shimla.
** When: Shimla’s crisp winter runs from December to February. Home to Asia’s oldest ice-rink, the town holds an Ice Skating Carnival each January, complete with fancy-dress competitions and ice hockey.
Originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Where to Go for Snow”)