These resorts have the luxury, the family-friendly vibes, the après scene – whatever you need for the perfect ski trip. Our resident snow pro, Marcus Blunt, has put together a comprehensive guide for holidaying on the slopes.
The ski’s knees
Chamonix is without doubt the extreme skiing capital of the universe. This classic French mountain town attracts hardcore skiers and mountaineers from all over the world wanting to tackle the world famous off-piste snow. Also in France, the town of La Grave is an off-piste skier’s dream. It has just one lift – but this lift whisks skiers up 2,100 vertical metres of un-pisted, unpatrolled and very extreme terrain. Ski guides are essential.
The Swiss towns of Andermatt and Engelberg also attract extreme skiers by the bucket-load due to the huge amount of snow they both receive (the Snow Gods were generous when giving them their micro-climates) and long, challenging off-piste descents. St Anton is Austria’s premier resort for serious skiers, and is rightly near the top of every serious skier’s list. Further east, the small resort of Fieberbrunn is where the locals in the Kitzbühel valley go on a powder day, and is the only Austrian resort to feature on the Freeride World Tour.
Winter Alpine holidays have been popular with British upper classes since the mid-1800s, so there’s no surprise that there are plenty of options available to those looking to splash the cash and indulge. Courchevel 1850 in France has more luxury hotels than you can shake a ski pole at, but if you prefer somewhere a little less showy Megève ticks all the boxes – an elegant French mountain town with top quality hotels, spas and restaurants and a Christmas tree decorated by Swarovski… obviously.
There’s no shortage of luxury ski resorts in Switzerland, but top picks would probably be Klosters (favoured by the Royal Family), or St Moritz (welcoming Europe’s aristocracy classes since the 1850s). Austria’s Lech is probably the country’s only real unashamedly luxurious resort. The stunning town and its five-star hotels have been a favourite with European royals since ski holidays became popular.
There can be no doubt that the Austrians are the masters of après ski. Only the most po-faced of skier can resist the brash but strangely charming recipe of thumping electro-jodel-pop, beer, Jägermeister and dancing on tables. St Anton and Ischgl sit at the top of the pile, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any Austrian resort without a bar filled with happy, drunk people of all ages doing the conga in ski-boots at 7pm.
In France après-ski is a classier affair. Val d’Isere and Val Thorens both have the famous La Folie Douce – a mountain restaurant that turns into an après ski bar-cum-Ibizan-terrace-party complete with DJs, dancers and, strangely, drummers on the roof. Les Deux Alpes also has a great nightlife scene, with bars-a-plenty along with a couple of clubs keeping the party going past five in the morning. In Italy Sauze d’Oulx is where the party is at – and it’s cleaned up its act of the last decade so is no longer Benidorm on the snow.
As a beginner the last thing you want is a frighteningly large resort with experts hurtling past you at an off-putting pace. It’s also important to head somewhere with good ski schools and things to do besides skiing in case you decide it’s not for you.
The idyllic car-free resort of Saas-Fee in Switzerland has a great beginners area which can be accessed on a reduced-price lift pass. In Italy, Cervinia is a good option with its beginners area in the village and plenty of gentle runs from the top of the mountain to the bottom. In France the not-so-well known resort of Les Saisies is a great option – it has two free chairlifts and plenty of runs for those learning to ski. Ellmau in Austria is a pretty Tyrolean village linked by easy runs to the excellent Ski Welt ski area. Soldeu in Andorra is amongst Europe’s best with lots of beginner-friendly terrain and brilliant ski schools.
You can literally throw your hard earned cash at a ski holiday, and it still not be enough to get you on the slopes. But you don’t necessarily have to as there are plenty of options for the budget conscious. Andorran resorts such as Arinsal and Soldeu offer some of the best value in Europe: big ski areas with relatively cheap lift passes, good value hotels, and as Andorra is a tax-free principality your aprés-ski drinks won’t cost the earth.
In the Alps most Italian resorts offer value for money off the mountain, with mountain restaurants serving good food and good prices. Sauze d’Oulx offers some of the best value – inexpensive accommodation and a steal of a lift pass. In Austria Mayrhofen has an abundance of well-priced hotels, and as it is a real, working valley (unlike the purpose-built resorts of France) the prices for food and drink are very reasonable. If you plan on skiing in France and want to keep to a budget, avoid the mega-resorts and head for the lesser known resorts such as La Norma or Chatel.
If you’re taking young children with you on a ski holiday you need to choose your resort with care – screaming kids can be less easy to deal with when you’re wearing ski boots and carrying three sets of skis around. Choose a resort that’s built primarily around convenience, and you’ll have the best holiday a family can.
Avoriaz in France is hard to beat – everything is ski-in, ski-out, and the car-free village means that kids can burn off excess energy sledging until the sun goes down whilst you enjoy a vin chaud. Les Houches in the Chamonix valley has been awarded “familie plus” by the French tourist board, part in thanks to the low-key and relaxed village atmosphere, and part thanks to the husky dog park, goat farm, mountain railways and a tree-top adventure playground.
The pretty Tyrolean village of Alpach has long been a favourite of British families. The nursery slopes are right next to the picturesque village and the ski schools are particularly child-friendly.
Resorts in Lapland such as Levi and Yllas can also be an ideal spot for a magical family holiday. The ski areas are small and compact, and if the skiing gets too much there are reindeer farms to visit, sleigh rides to be had and Northern Lights to marvel at.