Snow way: skiing for all
Is snow blindness preventing you from finding the perfect piste? Here are 10 resorts to suit all sorts of skiers – and non-skiers
Val D’Isère. Photograph :JP NOISILLIER
On a budget
Want to ski without breaking the bank? In a word: Borovets. Bulgaria’s oldest and largest ski resort has a good mix of beginner and intermediate slopes.
As to the value, how do we count the ways? Not only are the prices low – around €1.20 for a small beer, €13 for a three-course meal – but the added value is great too. For example, the transfer time from Sofia is 90 minutes. There’s night skiing too, so you can get your money’s worth on the slopes right up until 10pm.
Keep costs even lower by going self-catering. A week at the Yagoda & Malina Chalets, amid the pine trees just outside Borovets, costs €359 each, including Dublin flights departing January 11th. Okay, so you stop en route in Frankfurt, but come on, did you see that price?
With young children
If you thought rounds of “are we there yet” are soul destroying in a car, trying hearing them on the snowy trudge from hotel to slopes, carrying skis.
Well it’s one complaint you won’t hear at the family friendly resort of Avoriaz, in the heart of the Portes du Soleil ski area on the Swiss/French border. Most accommodation is of the ski in/ski out variety, while the streets are ski runs. The whole place is car-free so the only traffic you’ll have to worry about is of the horse and sleigh kind.
There’s an indoor waterpark, Aquariaz, with chutes and flumes (perfect for tired little legs), a kids’ snow park and, at the Village des Enfants ski and snowboard school – again right in the centre – kids get lunch and tea as well as their own après-ski activities.
A week self catering in Le Douchka Apartments for two adults and two children costs from €1,532. crystalski.ie
With older children
There is a view that while kids outgrow the family summer holiday all too soon, they’ll ski with you forever (as long as you’re paying). In truth, teens don’t want to spend all their time on the slopes with mum and dad. What’s more, after a certain age, you’ve a snowball’s chance in hell of getting them back into ski school.
Companies such as Powder Byrne have all this figured out with Freezone – free group guiding for adventurous teens. In the Swiss resort of Zermatt it also offers the Martin Bell Ski Academy, where teens get tips from professional racers.
Zermatt is a good resort for teens. Perched high in the Swiss Valais, at the foot of the mighty Matterhorn, there’s a buzzing high street and a nicely atmospheric car-free village to explore.
Prices start at £1,109 (€1,310) per person sharing a standard double B&B for a seven-night stay in the gorgeous Schlosshotel Zermatt, including flights and transfers. A five-day stint at the Martin Bell Academy costs £585 (€691). powderbyrne.com
If you’ve never skied before and want to give it a lash, have a laugh and enjoy a fun holiday without taking it all too seriously, then the lively Andorran resort of Pas de la Casa is the place to go.
With lots of English-speaking instructors, and indeed, loads of English-speaking visitors (it has been compared to Ibiza on ice), it’s as well known for its hectic après- ski as for the number of novices it attracts.
In fairness, the authorities are keen to ditch the “beginners” tag and move the Pyrenean resort upmarket, especially now that it is linked to the Grandvalira ski region with over 200kilometres of pistes.
But the fact remains that Andorra is consistently among the cheapest ski packages available from Ireland, which makes it great for families starting out on the slopes together. There’s duty free shopping to indulge in when aching muscles need a break from the slopes.
A week’s package at the slopeside Aparthotel Olimpiades costs from €867 per person, departing February 9th. topflight.ie
On a city break
City break or ski holiday? Who says you have to choose? Opt for Oslo and you’ve world class ski facilities on your door step, with an entire city as your après ski.
There are loads of options. Cross country skiing is free and half an hour from the city centre (via public transport) at Holmenkollen, gateway to more than 2,000kilometres of cross country trails through forests. Around 90kilometres are lit until 10pm. For downhill skiers and snowboarders, Oslo has the Oslo Winter Park Tryvann, with 18 slopes, 11 lifts and a vertical drop of 381 metres.
Because of the ease of access to the ski facilities, any city centre hotel will do. The average nightly rate for a double at the Thon Opera – on top of the city’s central station – is €235 in February. thonhotels.com
Is there anything worse than going skiing only to find there’s no snow? Avoid the uncertainty and head to Tignes. Situated in France’s famous Espace Killy ski region, thanks to its high altitude – 60 per cent of its 300 kilometre slopes are above 2,500m – it has the most reliable snow in the Alps. Added to that are glaciers which guarantee visitors a ski holiday for 10 months a year.
It’s actually two resorts in one; sharing the snow-sure credits with Val d’Isère. The skiing is vast and varied, with great off piste and board parks, but it’s also very comprehensive, with all sorts of activities on offer, from bungee trampolining to ice diving.
Stay in a catered chalet, Chalet Airelles, departing January 11th for seven nights, from €792 per person, based on four adults sharing. crystalski.ie
Resorts in France tend to be purpose built, designed by skiers for skiers. Not the place to go for chocolate-box pretty, the only scenery that counts is that beneath your skis.
Head for The Three Valleys, made up of eight resorts including Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens. You can ski across 600 kilometres of slopes and because of its high altitude and the number of north and north-west facing slopes it has an excellent snow record.
Val Thorens, at 2,300 metres, is Europe’s highest ski resort. Experts come for the fabulous powder snow on the glaciers of Peclet and Chavière, the mogul-bashing on the long steep Cîme de Caron black run, and the infamous Couloirs of Courchevel.
A week’s package in the ski-in, ski-outVillage Montana apartments, two minutes from a lift, costs from €1,233 per person sharing, departing March 1st. topflight.ie
Zell am See is a good bet. Christmas-card pretty in winter, it’s actually a summer lakeside resort which, thanks to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, offers skiing for 10 months of the year. Consequently the town is well stocked with accommodation, which means good value isn’t hard to find.
It’s also one of the prettiest resorts in Austria, with cobbled streets and a pedestrianised centre and loads of lovely Christmassy things to do. Browse the atmospheric Christmas market, listen to the carolling choirs and ice skate on the frozen lake.
Skiers and boarders are well catered for, with easy access to the slopes surrounding Zell as well as neighbouring Kaprun and Schüttdorf.
A week half board in the Lebzelter, a traditional hotel in the pedestrianised centre of Zell, departing December 21st, is from €973, based on two sharing. directski.com
The chic Swiss resort of St Moritz is where winter sports were born. Set high above the Engadine Valley, its natural ice toboggan track, the Cresta Run, is world famous, while its frozen lake plays hosts to all sorts of glamour sports – including horse racing, an annual polo tournament and ice golf.
There are half a dozen distinct ski areas and slopes to suit all levels. For the less avid skier, the apres ski is lively and, like the designer shops that grace its every corner – Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton are all here – expensive.
A week at Chalet Chesetta, which accommodates up to 12 people and has a gym, sauna, wine cellar, home cinema, chef, butler and housekeeper, costs £48,186 (€57,126), departing February 2nd.
It includes breakfast, tea, dinner, champagne and canapes every night, but not flights. skiinluxury.com
The problem for skiers with non-ski partners (how did you ever end up together?) is how to get them to opt for a ski holiday.
The solution is to pick somewhere that isn’t all about the slopes. Austria’s Bad Gastein was first and foremost a spa resort, whose healing waters travellers have visited for centuries, which means the town has options for snow-averse visitors.
The town is elegant, with Belle Epoque buildings and a romantic town centre waterfall. Say all that like you care and you’ll be free to enjoy the region’s 210 kilometres of pistes with impunity.
A week’s half board at Hotel Norica costs from € 1,170 per person sharing, departing February 15th. topflight.ie