It’s that time of year again. Winter is fast approaching, and as the bitter air nips you to alertness on your morning commute, you picture being a little bit chilly in an altogether more exciting environment. And you think to yourself: ‘let’s go skiing’.
Your joints have just about recovered from last year’s trip, and you recall the adrenaline- or vin chaud-fuelled daring you showed when accidentally taking a black run in your eagerness for an après ski ‘demi’ or three. You fish out your oversized, ultra-coloured attire from the back of the wardrobe, the snood and the gloves and the goggles that only have a few scratches, not enough to cause concern. And then you think: ‘where to this year?’
There are so many high quality ski resorts in Europe that sifting through the information in order to pick your perfect winter snow destination can be as daunting as a night run after only two days on the nursery slopes. So read on for help in deciding the best ski resort in Europe to match your particular needs.
First thing’s first, though. What are your needs? Pristine snow? Snowboarder-friendly runs? Banging après ski? Plenty of English / French / German speakers? Childcare facilities? (Let’s face it, the little darlings would rather stay out of the cold while you’re hurtling around the mountains, right?)
Best European ski resorts for the snow
Snow, of course, is what any ski or snowboarding trip is all about. While there is obviously no guarantee of perfect snow in any particular resort, it is safe to say that more ‘fresh powder’ appears in some places than in others.
For instance, Alpe d’Huez has a top station at 3,300m, which not only offers fantastic views of the Alps, including Mont Blanc, but the resort also commits to opening between December and April due to its glacial pistes. Add to that many of the runs are south facing, and even if snow is a few days old it should soften in the sun by late morning.
Another glacial option with plenty of slopes above the 2500m mark is Tignes, and sister resort Val d’Isère. Both offer kilometre upon kilometre of top-class pistes for all levels. Val d’Isère is the archetypal Alpine resort for those who appreciate aesthetic beauty and style, and have the wallet to match. Tignes has a wider variety of accommodation in terms of budget, while still giving access to some of the best slopes in Europe.
If you’ve done French resorts to death, an alternative for a snow-sure resort would be Lech in Austria. It doesn’t have a glacier and is positioned at a lower altitude than the aforementioned, but it receives seven metres of snow each winter, so you would be unlucky to miss a fresh fall if venturing here. Sometimes, however, it can be a victim of its bumper snowfall, occasionally closing for days on end. But as long as you’re in the resort at the time, you really wouldn’t complain.
Best European ski resorts for snowboarders
Snowboarders are people too. Some skiers think not, but it is true. And people have needs. The particular needs of the snowboarding clan include plenty of wide, mogul-free pistes – ideally with lots of opportunity for freestyle jumps – as well as a snow park or two to try (or watch) the latest tricks, flips and nerve-jangling half-pipes.
So where better to start than Mayrhofen in Austria? It has a quite outstanding snow park with some massive jumps to tackle if you dare. However, for boarders who want a little more than a bit of space to show off your moves, consider St Anton in Austria which also offers some fantastic free-ride terrain. You’ve got to watch out for the moguls on the often under-graded pistes, but if you are experienced and competent you should find plenty to excite and challenge you here.
Best European ski resorts for the apres ski
For many, no ski or boarding trip is complete without meeting up after a tiring day on the slopes… to get completely wasted. Whatever your tipple of choice, be it vin chaud, lager, wine or jagermeister, you find them all and more in pretty much every resort you might choose.
Having said that, some resorts have much more of a party atmosphere than others. Verbier in Switzerland, for instance, is renowned for the variety and intensity of its après ski. Places to watch out for (though you can’t miss most of them) include Le Pub Mont Fort or Le Croc for chilled vibes, friendly staff and good varieties of drinks. Later in an evening, head on to Taratatas, which really gets going from around 1.30 am, or Marshall’s, a basement-style club that will help you party till you drop.
Perhaps the best destination for après ski in the whole of Europe, however, is Saalbach in Austria.
There’s a good mix of Austrians, Brits and Scandinavians who are all eager to party in the many bars and handful of clubs on offer in the resort. The Hinterhagalm is a great place to start for a few beers that quickly get anything but quiet, while in Bauers Schi-Alm you are bound to see punters balancing on one another’s shoulders while downing some concoction or other. You might even join them.
Best European ski resorts for something completely different
If you fancy a change of scene from the usual Alpine resorts, or your budget won’t stretch to anywhere that charges in Euros, consider one of the following for a ski holiday with a difference.
Kopaonik, Serbia: Kopaonik offers grate value for those on a budget, with a six-day lift pass from around £80, a three-course lunch for about £5 and a beer for 50p. Add to that the 23 lifts and a decent array of picturesque slopes, Serbia is a great choice for an alternative ski holiday.
Zakopane, Poland: Another for the budget-minded, you can get seven nights’ half-board chalet accommodation for around £175 per person, which is substantially cheaper than some of the more traditional resorts. Zakopane is Poland’s winter capital and situated in the beautiful Tatras Mountains. Not the biggest of resorts, but there are loads of bars in which beer is cheap and vodka even more so.
The Highlands, Scotland: Strange as it may seem, there can be a decent amount of snow in Scotland for much of the winter. With a day pass costing in the region of £25, and bed and breakfast accommodation roughly the same, a few days at Glenshee – Scotland’s largest skiing area – might be a great change, especially if you finish your day with a fine single malt whisky or two.
So, in summary: before you pick your European ski resort, decide if you want to make the most of the best snow or party through the night, whether you want moguls or snow parks, and whether or not you can persuade the in-laws to look after the kids. Then you’ll be ready to hit the slopes.