Ski Through Economic Storm Guilt-Free

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As the first flakes of snow begin to fall, you may find yourself feeling guilty about taking that annual winter ski trip.

Among the barrage of financial storms and Dow downpours, you've probably even considered canceling the tradition altogether. After all, showing up in your fur-trimmed Bogner on Buttermilk may send the wrong message to clients and coworkers struggling in an ailing economy.

But for those who can't imagine uttering the word "January" without the mention of Chamonix or Courchevel, we've scoured the globe for the glitziest ski destinations for this winter. Grab your ski poles, tuck in that Prada ski label, and follow us down the world's chicest slopes.

Courchevel 1850, France
Place to stay: Cheval Blanc
Guilt-free fact: A stronger dollar means more buying power.

The winter yang to St. Tropez's yin, Courchevel is just about the chicest word in the ski vocabulary. Part of Les Trois Vallées, the city is divided between four ski towns designated by its elevation in meters. The most fashionable is also the highest one, Courchevel 1850. Winter is reliable anytime after December, when the snow conditions are most ideal with groomed runs, vertical cliffs and jaw-dropping glacier runs. The on-mountain ESF Ski School allows visitors to cast their instructor online from a selection of Hollywood-style headshots.

In the past, no visit to Courchevel was complete without a stay at the Byblos Courchevel. But 2007 marked its final year as the hotel took on a new identity as Palace des Neiges. The newest it-hotel is the Chateau Cheval Blanc, owned by Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH.

The ski-in, ski-out hotel is a winter wonderland with a logo, complete with in-house boutiques Dior and Louis Vuitton. The all-suites hotel is outfitted in sleek Wallpaper-inspired interiors, terraces with mountain views and private hammam where you might bump into Tom Ford or Stella McCartney.

Mammoth Mountain, California
Place to stay: Westin Monache Resort
Guilt-free fact: Most associate the ski town with rundown Alpine-theme motels and condos.

Once known as the ski resort everyone in L.A. and San Francisco drove five hours to get to just to check into a Comfort Inn, Mammoth Lakes has arrived, complete with daily nonstop flights on Horizon Air from LAX starting mid-December. Once you get there, you can enjoy the expanded main village with its Intrawest chalet-inspired architecture, Starbucks outpost and zippy gondola to some of the most consistent ski slopes in North America. While the skiers won't be sporting one-piece Bogner or sipping Chateau Lafite at apres-ski, the high men-to-women ratio means Mammoth Mountain is prime singles country.

Mammoth Mountain's snowy peaks are suddenly chic.

Until the Ritz Carlton Residences opens in 2010, check into the Westin Monache Resort, which boasts an all-new design concept that mixes in architecture you'd find at a W with the business amenities you come to expect from
Starwood. Add to the fact that condo-style rooms feature kitchenettes, plasma-screen TVs and modern bathrooms accented in granite, and you'll quickly realize it's the best choice within a 200-mile radius. Don't forget to hit the outdoor pool scene of thawing bodies that like to go for the occasional 2 a.m. skinny dip.

Cortina D'Amprezzo, Italy
Place to be: Cristallo Palace Hotel and Spa
Guilt-free fact: It's one of the most affordable ski towns in the Alps.

Located in Italy's Ampezzana Valley and cradled on all sides by the Dolomites, this former mountain hamlet exploded onto the global scene following the 1956 Olympics and subsequent influx of glitterati through much of the '60s. After a quiet period in the '90s, Cortina is once again Italy's answer to St. Moritz. This glamorous ski town is dotted with fur-hat Russians and Milan fashionistas frequenting winter outposts of Bulgari, Benetton and Gucci located just 100 miles from Venice.

Cristallo Hotel and Spa is the best hotel around, an old-school luxury palace located a short walk form the main ski lifts. It's as posh as you can get, with state-of-the-art spa and decadent outdoor pool that steams and bubbles from mid-December through late March. The hotel's restaurant is housed in a glassed-in gazebo opposite its recently renovated Monkey Club, known for its red-lacquered walls and exotic wood floors. The bar is the most famous après-ski scene in Cortina, offering nightly DJs and touring jazz bands for legendary winter parties

Park City, Utah
Place to be: Dakota Mountain Lodge (opening in January)
Guilt-free fact: Quickly becoming the new Aspen for billionaires on winter hiatus

It has hot new hotels, chic new restaurants and that ubiquitous film festival that brings just the right dash of Hollywood. Park City has been on fire since the Salt Lake Olympics, consistently adding village venues, upgraded runs and expanded lodging options that have made it Aspen's biggest competition. Visitors arrive to Salt Lake City and make the speedy highway journey up the mountain and into the resort town.

 

A Suite at Dakota Mountain Lodge at Park City.

 

After the big opening of the Sky Lodge in early 2008, the city is preparing for yet another grand hotel debut with the Dakota Mountain Lodge. Located at the base of the new Frostwood Gondola at the Canyons, it's the first ski lodge from Hilton's Waldorf Astoria Collection.

 

An alpine-inspired façade with gabled roofline contains a two-story lodge with in-house eatery, après-ski lounge and outpost of Green Door Spa. Condo-style guestrooms include bi-level suites with full stainless-steel kitchens, tumbled stone fireplace and leather-accented living areas aimed to please fickle design aficionados.

 

Bansko, Bulgaria
Place to be: Kempinski Hotel Grand Arena
Guilt-free fact: Bulgaria? Such ski modesty will be applauded by even your most frugal friends.

 

While most people can't even locate it on the map, Bulgaria is currently the hottest ski destination in Europe. With a new hotel and shiny new ski facilities, Bansko is currently the hottest ski town in Bulgaria. Its ski seasons run longer than most in Europe, starting in mid-December through May. The town of Bansko is just 100 miles from the capital city of Sofia, along a terrifying road of meter-deep holes and poor paving. Bansko arrives like a hillside Metropolis that's the ski version of Dubai with super hotels and spectacular Doppelmayr Gondola lift.

 

It could just as easily be in Verbier, this Alpine-inspired luxury hotel operated by Europe's Kempinski Hotels. The site offers an ideal base at the footsteps of the Pirin Mountains next to the gondola station that connects the village to the ski slopes and snowboard park. A stylish design palette of beiges and creams mix leather cubist furnishings atop industrial-grade bases. Spend the money for the suite, with its upgraded furnishing and private check-in area exempt from the town's notoriously slow and inefficient service.

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