Friends in High Places
It's snow season, you’ve got a crew together and you’re itching to get out on the slopes. There’s only one problem: there are so many different resorts to choose from that you’d swear the whole planet was covered with snow and mountains. Which it isn’t – yet.
Of runs in Tignes and Val d’Isère
Obstacles in Flachauwinkl’s Absolut Park
Snow per year in Steamboat, Colorado
That’s where we come in. Or, more accurately, we and our panel of experts, from gear gurus to snowboarding journalists and travel specialists. Between us, we’ve come up with a foolproof list of resorts to put at the top of your wishlist, whether your priority’s parks or pints (or both, or neither), from Europe to North America and beyond…
The ski and snowboard season’s upon us once again, and maybe this is the year when you break your resort habit and find a new place to shred. Let our experts guide you through the resorts and gear you need to know about this winter
BEST FOR: EARLY SEASON SNOW
ED BLOMFIELD SAYS: “Once summer’s over, the anticipation of getting back on snow can feel unbearable, so around November we always boost over to Tignes for a few days to enjoy the first laps of the season. If the early snow is any good you can ride 1,300m of vertical from the Grande Motte down to the village at Val Claret – more than most other resorts in January.” WE SAY: Tignes shares a massive expanse of rideable land with neighbouring Val d’Isère, and some of it – namely the Grande Motte glacier – is open year round. Once autumn comes around they gradually start opening runs, and the super-early and super-keen can get the freshest of first tracks and make the most of (relatively) competitive prices. Tignes’ collection of brutally ugly apartment blocks means it isn’t the prettiest of resorts, but you’re unlikely to be worrying about that once you’re out on the mountain.
INFO: The Dragon Lodge offers simple accommodation with a warm welcome, from £30 B&B per night in October and early November. dragonlodge.com; easyJet flies to Geneva from £37. From there it’s around a 2h50 transfer. easyjet.com
ST ANTON, AUSTRIA
BEST FOR: PLANE-TO-PISTE
MARK BRIGHAM SAYS: “Many head to St Anton for the legendary après at MooserWirt and Krazy Kanguruh, but the pretty village is the gateway to the Arlberg ski region’s 300km plus of terrain. I’ve taken the 8am Gatwick to Innsbruck flight and been on the slopes by 2pm, making it a great short break destination. One of the main draws is ‘the loop’, which is now easily reached with the Flexenbahn cableway, meaning that the areas of St Anton and St Christoph, Stuben, Zürs, Lech, Oberlech as well as Schröcken and Warth are all easily accessible on skis.” WE SAY: As a gateway to the Arlberg ski region, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to put down your roots than St Anton. As well as easy access to the rest of the region, you’ll find 1,500 vertical metres of skiing across the Kapall, Schindler and Valluga peaks just outside of town. Experts can explore more than 120 miles of deepsnow runs and off-piste routes with the help of a guide, too.
INFO: Ski Independence offers packages from £774 per person (based on two sharing) for four nights’ B&B at the four-star Hotel Banyan including return flights to Innsbruck and shared transfers. ski-i.com
LA PLAGNE, FRANCE
BEST FOR: THE SNOW TRAIN
MICHAEL BRABIN SAYS: “Austria, France and Italy have the largest linked ski areas with tons of mixed pistes, so as an intermediate skier you can take your pick of Europe’s best and best-known. France is home to purpose-built, high-altitude super resorts that rank high on convenience. Les Arcs and La Plagne are linked by the doubledecker Vanoise Express cable car, so you’ll have one of the world’s largest ski areas at your ski-tips, with its tree-lined skiing, glaciers, long and cruisey runs, and good off-piste. Not so keen on flying? Take the Eurostar snow train directly from London to the French Alps.” WE SAY: With 73 blues under its belt, La Plagne is full of wide-open, easy-on-theknees skiing – making it perfect for both returners just settling back into their boots as well as the seasoned pros looking to practice their downhill carving, although there are a decent number of reds and blacks on offer, too. You’ll often find yourself stumbling across a piste-side, er, seat at one of the many world and European training camps and events held throughout the season.
INFO: Crystal Ski Holidays offers packages from £671 per person (based on two sharing) for a week’s half board at the three-star Hotel Terra Nova in La Plagne including Eurostar snow train from London St Pancras to Bourg St Maurice and transfers (this price is for departure on 5 January 2019). crystalski.co.uk
FAMILIES & BEGINNERS
BEST FOR: FIRST TIMERS
MICHAEL BRABIN SAYS: “Originally a goldminers’ village, Rauris has now been transformed into a picturesque resort and families are well catered for in Rauris: 32km of uncrowded pistes and runs with all levels of difficulty for the skiers and boarders; for the youngest members of the family, the ski school runs the Adventure Kids Club offering childcare for children from two years and can be booked locally for single hours, half days or full days.” WE SAY: With gentle slopes and easy transfers, the Austrian resort of Rauris makes a great choice for first-time skiers – but it’s also ideal for families and those looking to simply avoid the crowds. We like it because it’s an Eco Aware resort, which means it’s doing its bit for the environment with energy-saving, recycling and fuel- and traffic-reduction initiatives.
INFO: Crystal Ski Holidays is offering a limited number of free child places (flights and accommodation) to those who book early. From £1,718 for a family of four including lift passes for all, skis, boots and helmets, flights from Birmingham to Salzburg, transfers, a week’s stay at the three-star Rauris Apartments in Rauris, (based on departure on 5 January 2019). crystalski.co.uk
RESORT: COURCHEVEL 1650, FRANCE
BEST FOR: SPOTTING CELEB FAMILIES
MARK BRIGHAM SAYS: “Courchevel is the perfect mountain village with possibly some of the most expensive mountain restaurants you will ever eat at. I spent the week before Christmas here with my family staying in an Inghams chalet. Highlights include the Aquamotion pool, sledding and ice skating; a great ski school for the under fives, while over fives can enrol with the fantastic New Generation Ski School; endless amounts of terrain; celeb spotting; and some great post-skiing drinking establishments (Le Bubble Bar is a personal favourite)”. WE SAY: A stay in Courchevel gives you access to more than 150km worth of piste, but take into account the excellent links to neighbouring resorts Meribel, Val Thorens, Les Menuires and St Martin, and that distance jumps up to 600km – more snow than you can cover in a season, never mind in a half-term break. But with speedy lifts and fast-moving queues, you can give your lift pass a run for its money and still be back in time to pick the kids up from ski school.
IF THE EARLY SNOW IN TIGNES IS GOOD YOU CAN RIDE 1,300M FROM THE GRANDE MOTTE DOWN TO THE VILLAGE AT VAL CLARET
INFO: Inghams offers packages from £1,098 per person (based on two sharing) for seven nights half-board at the four-star Fahrenheit Seven Courchevel, including flights from Gatwick to Geneva and transfers. inghams.co.uk
RESORT: STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, COLORADO, US
BEST FOR: FAMILIES WITH OLDER KIDS
MARK BRIGHAM SAYS: “The Boat is a favourite of mine; I worked a season there in 1998 and have visited regularly since. From wide pistes and tree runs to challenging backcountry terrain, there’s something for everyone across the 165 trails and 3,668 vertical feet. Downtown Steamboat Springs is an western town so you can find yourself rubbing shoulders with cowboys, too. Highlights include the tree run down Morningside, the annual Cowboy Downhill, and the Double ZZ barbecue restaurant in town.” WE SAY: A short flight over the Rockies from Colorado’s state capital of Denver, Steamboat is a winter playground that’s full of classic American hospitality and a little bit of Western charm. It’s also one of ten destinations you can visit in the Rockies with an Ikon Pass, making it great for multiresort trips to the likes of Aspen and Copper Mountain in Colorado, and Jackson Hole over the state line in Wyoming.
INFO: Ski Independence offers packages from £1,294 per person (based on two sharing) for seven nights B&B at the four-and-a-half-star Steamboat Grand Resort, including flights from Gatwick to Denver with Norwegian and shared transfers. ski-i.com
BEST FOR: FAMILIES LEARNING TO SKI
JORDAN KELLY-LINDEN SAYS: “There’s nothing worse than whiny children splayed on the slope, refusing to shuffle the last 10 metres down the piste. Thankfully, you (hopefully) won’t have any of that at Trysil in Norway. With wide runs and effortless blues, it’s packed full of dedicated kids’ slopes and children under the age of seven even get to take the lifts for free. But if the kids do sack it off, most accommodation options go big on ski-in ski-out – which means you can just slide the kids through the door and into the hands of all the great child-care on offer throughout the resort.” WE SAY: Scandi resorts may not get quite the same buzz as the Alps, but if you’re looking for an extra-long season, with snow guaranteed deep into spring, they should be your go-to. Trysil is Norway’s largest ski resort, with 68 slopes, 30 lifts and a snow park open November to late April.
INFO: Departing in February half term, Ski Safari offers seven nights at the four-star Radisson Blu Mountain Resort & Residences, starting from £1,395 per person for a family of four (children under 12 years old) in a two bedroom apartment, B&B, including flights to Oslo and transfers. Includes lift passes, rentals and ski lessons for everyone. skisafari.com
FOOD & NIGHTLIFE
PAS DE LA CASA, ANDORRA
BEST FOR: APRÈS FOR BEGINNERS
MICHAEL BRABIN SAYS: “Ask an aficionado and they might just claim that Austria has the best après in the world, but if you’re a mixed group or are just cutting your teeth out on the slopes, there’s one resort that’s just as much fun off the snow as it is on. Pas de la Casa in Andorra may be small, but it’s got one of the best ski schools in Europe and a large and varied ski area, and it packs a big après punch. It’s a proper little party town with a huge selection of bars and restaurants, duty-free shopping and a well-earned reputation for brilliant nightlife.” WE SAY: If you want to go wild this winter, then Pas de la Casa is the place to ski. Pas de la Casa forms part of the Grandvalira area, a stretch of the French border which carries from here all the way over to Encamp, Grau Roig, Soldeu, El Tarter, and Canillo, with 67 lifts and 123 runs.
INFO: Crystal Ski Holidays offers packages from £505 per person (two sharing) for a week’s half board including flights from Gatwick to Toulouse and transfers at the three-star Hotel Katmandu (price is for departure on 24 March 2019). crystalski.co.uk
BEST FOR: APRÈS WITH A VIEW JORDAN KELLY-LINDEN SAYS: “This one time, in Verbier… Well, you probably know how this one goes. But Verbier isn’t just about making memories – and videos – of your hungover mates. With beautiful snowcovered chalets, 410 kilometres of runs, plus huge swathes of off-piste, and 93 lifts to its name, it’s also a skiers’ paradise, which means you can hit the slopes – or the shots – as hard as you like. WE SAY: Yes, Verbier is known for its parties and prices, but it has plenty of other strings to its bow, with snowsure terrain, a scenic setting and it’s easy access from the UK – not to mention 80 lifts serving more than 400km of runs. The top of the ski area at Mont Fort reaches a dizzying 3,330m, giving splendid views over the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, and it’s a pretty safe bet for snow both early and late in the season.
INFO: Stay at Le Farinet to be at the centre of the action: a seven-night room-only stay is priced from £2,220 for a standard room with en suite, sleeping two. Return direct flights from London to Geneva are priced from £49 with easyJet. easyjet.com; Return train transfers from the airport or border railway station directly to destination are available with the Swiss Transfer Ticket which is priced at 141 CHF. verbier.ch
SELVA VAL GARDENA, ITALY
BEST FOR: MICHELIN STARS
MICHAEL BRABIN SAYS: “Want to combine sensational skiing with blistering culinary prowess in Europe’s most famously foodie nation? Make a beeline for South Tyrol, Italy’s northernmost region encompassing ski resorts Kronplatz, Selva Val Gardena, Ortisei, Corvara and Colfosco. South Tyrol has 26 stars and a population of just 500,000 – that’s an absolute ton of gourmet food per capita. Several starred chefs take up residencies in the region’s mountain huts, creating a circuit of slopes and magnificent menus to rival the Sella Ronda circuit itself: a mouth-watering string of ski-in, ski-out lunch stops to keep you sated all week.”
WE SAY: There’s plenty for hardcore snow fiends here to go alongside the stellar food: the Dolomites are home to 12,000km of piste across 12 resorts that are all linked by bus, effectively making them the world’s largest ski area. Kronplatz has brilliant skiing for all levels, from gentle blues to blacks used by the Italian ski team for training, while Selva Val Gardena gives you access to the World Cup Saslong.
INFO: Crystal Ski Holidays offers packages from £619 per person (two sharing) for a week’s bed & breakfast at the two-star Hotel Garni Romantica in Selva Val Gardena, including flights from Gatwick to Verona and transfers (this price is for departure on 12 January 2019). crystalski.co.uk >
FROM WIDE PISTES AND TREE RUNS TO CHALLENGING BACKCOUNTRY, THERE’S SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE IN STEAMBOAT
PARKS & POWDER
BEST FOR: POWDERHOUNDS
ED BLOMFIELD SAYS: “Once upon a time St Foy was the secret stash spoken of in hushed tones among in-the-knows; today, Arêches-Beaufort takes that crown, thanks to its non-existent queues and thickly forested steeps that offer the chance of epic powder laps even in a storm. Sure, the list system is ancient and you’ll struggle to order a pint of Guinness from a seasonaire on their gap year, but that’s all part of the charm.” WE SAY: Arêches-Beaufort might sit just offradar, but it won’t stay that way for long. The whole place is set against the backdrop of Mont Blanc, which also conveniently means the area gets exceptional snow. Yes, there are few restaurants and shops and not much in the way of après, but you get easy access to three separate ski areas (Arêches-Beaufort, Les Contamines and Les Saisies), plus it’s where Beaufort cheese is from. Enough said.
INFO: Peak Retreats offers seven nights selfcatered at La Cle des Cimes from £782 per apartment. Includes Eurotunnel crossing from Folkestone to Calais. peakretreats.co.uk
SUNSHINE VILLAGE, CANADA
BEST FOR: BACKCOUNTRY JORDAN KELLY-LINDEN SAYS: “Canada has some of the best skiing in the world and for those who like to take things off-piste, Sunshine Village in the Banff National Park is the place to be. You have to be kitted out with full avalanche kit and have a partner on hand to be allowed anywhere near them, but it’s worth it to access the Wild Wild area (pocketed with powder-filled bowls and rocky chutes) and Delirium Dive (hello, 50-degree slopes and dizzying drops).” WE SAY: Home to 120 runs, 13.6km2 of skiable area, two terrain parks and an absolute ton of annual snow (914.4cm, if you’re asking) Sunshine Village is the crème de la crème of Canadian skiing. But it’s about way more than just that: this is the heartland of Banff National Park, one of the most beautiful pockets of the great outdoors in North America. So when you’re not shredding it in all that snow, you’ll just be coming to terms with the fact that the place is actually real.
INFO: Iglu Ski offers packages from £1,538 per person (based on two sharing) for seven nights room-only at the four-star Sunshine Mountain Lodge, including flights from Heathrow to Calgary, plus transfers to and from the airport in Canada. igluski.com
BEST FOR: FREESTYLE LOVERS
ED BLOMFIELD SAYS: “Austrian resorts consistently beat the French when it comes to building (and crucially maintaining) terrain parks. Flachauwinkl is a sundrenched corner of the mountains near Salzburg, whose ‘Absolut Park’ is becoming famous among skiers and snowboarders who like to get airborne. Jumps and rails for every ability can be found along a series of routes that wind down its forested slopes for more than 1.5km – all serviced from an express chairlift and >carefully groomed. When you’re done shredding, there’s an indoor skate ramp at the bottom with valley views. You won’t find a better freestyle set-up in Europe.” WE SAY: With two snow parks and accommodation for every kind of budget, Flachauwinkl is a freestyler’s dream. Check out the huge, wood-carved Burton the Stash park for minimalist (and often slightly comedic) backcountry shredding, or hit up the timed piste or speed course if you’re looking to pick up the pace.
INFO: There’s a great selection of chalets and apartments to rent in the Flachau area on Airbnb. airbnb.com; Ryanair flies from Stansted to Salzburg from £34 return, from there it’s a 50-minute transfer. ryanair.com
MOUNT TOMAMU HOKKAIDO, JAPAN
BEST FOR: EPIC POWDER
JORDAN KELLY-LINDEN SAYS: “Your off-piste skiing options are pretty restricted in Tomamu, but fear not, because this resort on the island-prefecture of Hokkaido tends to get 8-10m of snow a year and you’ll find plenty of spots to get knees deep in it. Aim for the countryside slopes on the north side of the mountain to properly luck out, and when you’re done for the day, don’t forget to check out the indoor wave pool in the nearby Hoshino Resort – a great way to loosen up those muscles after a day of carving (or tumbling) through the powder. WE SAY: This dramatic resort in the centre of Japan’s northernmost island is about way more than just the skiing. The snow shoeing here is great, and it’s also the ideal place to chow down on fresh seafood and the country’s fabled wagyu beef while sipping on award-winning spirits brewed and distilled in the prefecture. Our best bet for a week enjoying that pristine Japanese powder is an all-inclusive stay at Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido, where the price includes your ski pass.
INFO: Seven nights at Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido costs from £2,997 per person (based on two sharing) including flights. clubmed.co.uk ◆