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Do the ski-season stretch

Globetrotting puts skiers on slopes year-round

By Marnie Hunter

Portillo, Chile, attracts champion skiers from all over the world.
South America
New Zealand
Tour operators

(CNN) -- There's no need to put your gear in storage now that the ski season has started to melt away.

Resorts in the Southern Hemisphere keep skiers on the snow from mid-June to October, and a number of resorts in the United States, Canada and Europe offer late-spring and summer skiing.

Much of the best Southern Hemisphere skiing is in South America, and most of the skiers who hemisphere-hop are passionate about the sport.

"They have to be skiing fanatics," said Charles Weston, a Carlson Wagonlit Travel agent in the Chestnut Hill area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who has booked many South American packages.

"When the summer comes most people are focused on doing summer things, but there are a few who can't think of anything but snow all year."

Will Wasson, founder and expedition leader for Snofari Expeditions, deals primarily in guided trips to Chile and Argentina.

"We specialize in South America more than New Zealand or Australia just because the Andes are big, much bigger than mountains in either of those other two countries," he said.

Wasson, who spends his winters in Telluride, Colorado, as head of the Telluride Freestyle Team, customizes trips to his customers' interests and the amount of time and money they want to spend.

"It can be done very affordably, it just depends on the level of lodging," Wasson said.

Wasson often arranges for clients to ski at a cluster of ski areas over several days from a base outside of the more expensive resort areas. One weeklong itinerary in Chile includes ski days at Valle Nevado, La Parva, El Colorado and Portillo.

Portillo, about 100 miles from Santiago, is one of South America's top draws for international skiers, and many of the world's ski teams train there during their summers. The resort centers around one hotel and there is no town, so crowds are limited.

"Every time I go there in the summer either the Austrian men are there, the American women, or the Canadian men or the American men," said Gerry Wingenbach, author of "100 Best Ski Resorts of the World" (Globe Pequot, 2003).

"So you rub shoulders in a real ski atmosphere with the best skiers of the world, but you have very few people there."

Termas de Chillan in Chile and Bariloche and Las Lenas in Argentina also attract international snow seekers.

Package trips to the resorts can be arranged through travel agents and tour wholesalers.

Weston estimates a South American ski package runs about $1,000 more per person than a comparable package in the American West because of the price of airfare.

Ski New Zealand

While the mountains may not be as high as the Andes, New Zealand's Southern Alps still offer challenging skiing from June to October.

"The best place to go in New Zealand is Queenstown, which is a very cool place," said Bruce Rosard, president of tour wholesaler Moguls Mountain Travel.

"It's kind of the adventure/adrenaline capital of the world and skiing is one of the many cool things to do there in the winter."

Queenstown also gets high marks in Wingenbach's "100 Best" book. The town serves as the base for skiers heading to Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, since there are no slopeside accommodations.

Dazzling fjord views make skiing in northern Norway unique.

The nature of the amenities in both New Zealand and South America can be quite different from some of the world's most well-known resorts, Wingenbach said.

"You're not going to find the upscale luxury spa accommodations in New Zealand or Chile that you will find here or in Europe," he said.

The views are the most stunning part of skiing in New Zealand, said Earl Saline, a ski and snowboard school instructor in Winter Park, Colorado, who has spent several seasons teaching at Cardrona Alpine Resort on the South Island.

"You're up on the snow field looking down onto green pastures, rolling fields, things like that," he said. "So you drive up out of the green ... to the resorts and the views are just astounding."

Extended season

Traveling to the Southern Hemisphere is not the only way to extend your ski season.

A few days of glacier skiing in Europe may provide a nice change of pace from the museum and cathedral circuit.

Zermatt, Switzerland, offers some of the most extensive summer skiing in Europe, with eight lifts open all summer.

At Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada, glacier skiing and riding lasts through August 1, weather permitting.

Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, Mammoth Mountain in California and Mount Bachelor in Oregon are among a number of North American resorts that try to stay open into June and July. A permanent snowfield on Oregon's Mount Hood allows Timberline resort to operate year-round.

For the true adventurer, spring skiing in the Arctic Circle may be the thrill you're looking for.

Resorts like Sweden's Riksgransen provide a comfortable base of operations, but the backcountry skiing is what makes the long trip worthwhile. Helicopter skiing is popular in Sweden and from mid-May to mid-June skiers can ski all night under the midnight sun.

In Norway, Arctic Voyager touring company takes skiers to the backcountry by way of the fjords.

The company, based in the northern city of Tromso, conducts customized four- to seven- night ship-based skiing expeditions from late March to mid-May.

This spectacular nature adventure is not for the casual skier, company founder Mats Forsberg cautioned. There are no lifts in the backcountry, so skiers should be prepared for some strenuous exercise.

"You're out in the wilderness, there is absolutely nothing out there," he said. "So you have to do the climbing up by yourself, by your own strength, and you have to do the skiing downhill by your own strength."

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