We’re never going to be able to recommend all our favourite European ski resorts. After all, the Alps stretch through France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia. So, facing that level of analysis paralysis, we’re picking three ski resorts we’d love to travel to again for the 21/22 season.
Austria has 400 ski resorts that cover about 7,000km of slopes and maintains its position as being one of the most popular ski regions in Europe. Especially for the Brits who descend on the region en masse each season. You’ve got two main choices when considering the Austrian ski region: the high-altitude resorts to the west of Innsbruck, such as St Anton, Sölden, St Anton and Obergurg; or head out east to the likes of Mayrhofen, Kitzbühel, Zell am See and Saalbach.
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Generally, you’ll find more reliable snow in the higher resorts and the deep valleys to the west of Innsbruck, but a considerable investment in state-of-the-art snow-making facilities means there are just as many snowsure destinations to the east too.
We’re headed to Lech, a luxury resort at the heart of the Austrian Vorarlberg region. Lech has had a remarkable snow record over the years and is now part of Austria’s largest skiable area thanks to the Flexenbahn gondola. The resort offers access to 303km of pistes and 200km of ungroomed runs in the Arlberg area. But the local slopes are expansive without having to consider going further afield. You’ll find steeps in Valluga above St Anton and relaxing blues above Oberlech.
The greenhorns amongst you will find some really helpful learning slopes and areas on the far edge of Lech and Oberlech, above the main village. If you consider yourself an intermediate, you’re pretty spoilt for choice in the region. There are 255km of well-groomed reds and blues in the Ski Arlberg area.
Hoping to get even further from the crowds? Lech-Zürs is the only region in Austria that offers heliskiing for groups and solo riders alike. The Mehlsack summit is the go-to for the season’s black-and-diamond-run skier, whereas the Schneetäli-Orgelscharte is the better choice for intermediates.
If you’re looking for a challenge, come during the winter, when the annual White Ring Ski Circuit race takes place. If you’re not making your way up a mountain at all, there’s still a range of activities for ground-dwellers. The town has curling, ice-skating, a vast network of alpine walks, boutiques, cafes and luxury spas aplenty.
Once you’re off the mountain, try the ice bar down at the Hotel Krone which also hosts the K Club or visit the Archiv bar and the Fux Jazzbar. You will also want to make your way to the champagne bar at the Hotel Montana.
If you’re looking for lodgings, try the Schneider family-run Almhof Schneider. The property has been going since the 20s and the family can easily trace their origins back to the Lech valley as far as 1451. The hotel has 35 suites all tastefully decorated in individual alpine themes. The Hotel Almhof Schneider is situated in a strong location, not far from the main town centre at the foot of Sclegelkopf. The hotel specialises in traditional Austrian cuisine in its gastronomic restaurant. Finish up your day with a drink on the terrace bathed in sunshine or meet friends for drinks at the hotel’s American-style bar.
If you’re looking for that chalet chic ambience with traditional touches, Hotel Arlberg is next door, also managed under the Schneider family. Opened in the 1950s under the gables, this rather switch members club style property has depth of character and comfort. It’s interiors are designed to create a warm and elegant feel with a selection of alpine ephemera, from antlers to frescos. Whilst keeping a modern edge, the tasteful interior is sympathetic to its heritage.
The Hotel Arlberg has 51 deluxe rooms split between the Jagdhof, which holds its signature suites and the original Residence.
There is no shortage of fine dining and local rustic fare at the Italian fine dining restaurant La Fenice, the traditional Austrian Stube or, of course, a relaxed lunch on the terrace. Chef Patrick Tober covers all three of the hotel’s restaurants and, as a homegrown talent, is keen to make his mark on the local dining scene.
We’re certainly no strangers to the alpine delights of Verbier, which boasts world class skiing across 410km of slopes. We’ve visited the region several times covering both chalet and hotel accommodation in the region which continues to go from strength to strength. Given it’s just over 90 minutes drive from Geneva airport, Verbier is the go-to weekend skiing destination.
Perched high on a sun-drenched plateau in the centre of the 4 Valleys, Verbier town is a combination of hundreds of wooden chalets, apartment blocks and well-known aprés scene that draws patrons from all over the world.
Since the merger of Bagnes and Vollèges, the newly-minted ski area of Verbier – Val de Bagnes – La Tzoumaz offers a total of 300 square-km of freeride, touring and alpine skiing and boarding across six varied locations.
Verbier is certainly vast and offers a range of options for experts and the beginner alike. The resort’s itinerary runs offer some great ‘marked’ off-piste territory, including the Mont Gele and Col des Gentianes Tortin. From the Medran lift station you can find everything from cruiseable reds to technical terrain such as La Chaux and Lac des Vaux. If you’re headed for the nursery runs at Les Esserts, you can call on a host of ski schools from Oxygène to Altitude.
The resort is also incredibly snowboarder friendly with a decent terrain park accessed from the La Chaux chairlift. You’ll also find the Thyon park worth a visit with its jumps, rails and formidable airbag. If getting air isn’t your thing, pull up, order a drink and watch a host of beginners and intermediates hit the bag. You’ll also find fantastic powder days in Bruson, accessible with the 4 Valleys lift pass.
Now, if you’ve missed the last few ski seasons for obvious reasons, you’ll certainly want to consider investing in some new alpine hardware. The team at First Track Lab are renowned for creating prototype snowboards, skis, wakeboards and kitesurfs with over a decade of R&D taking place at their workshop in Le Châble. From December 2021, they’re opening their first DIY ski shop. Who could pass up the opportunity to work with the team over 2 half-days to design, test and build your own skis for the season.
Another must is the big jump. It’s one thing to throw yourself down a well-pisted run, but to throw yourself out of a chopper at 4,000m isn’t for the faint of heart. After a short 15-minute flight in the Écureuil B3 light helicopter, you’ll experience a 40-second rapid transfer to the ground at nearly 200 km an hour. Of course, you’ll be securely strapped to a professional tandem pilot, but if you’ve got over 100 jumps under your belt you could consider taking a wingsuit lesson.
Whilst Verbier is an alpinist’s paradise, it’s aprés scene is on another level. You’ll be spoilt for choice with the region’s huge range of bars, restaurants and clubs. Many of the resort’s bars and clubs only come into their own after 11pm – so if you’ve got an early lift plan, be prepared. You’ll want to visit Le Rouge, Mont Fort Pub and, after hours, the Farm Club.
Verbier has a huge selection of high-spec chalets and hotels to suit all group sizes. Try Le Chalet d’Adrien for postcard-perfect views overlooking the town. Style-wise this is a traditional outfit with wood panelling and antique furniture throughout. The hotel’s south-facing sun terrace is a very popular spot to take a knee and enjoy a variety of culinary flavours from nearby Italy. La Table d’Adrien has one Michelin star and 16 Gault Millau points, and offers Mediterranean dishes created with local artisan ingredients. We visited the hotel’s restaurant for Sunday lunch and can’t recommend it enough. Curl up afterwards by the fireplace with a drink in hand and a mountain view.
If you’re looking to get completely amongst it, the W Verbier caters to a well-heeled international clientele who appreciate the 60-second walk to the Medran ski lift. Located at the bottom of the home run, the W quickly made a name for itself in the town with a strong aprés program each season. The W has six restaurants, bars and cafes, alongside a cigar room that’s part of the popular Living Room bar. The hotel’s rooms are a mixture of the traditional and contemporary, and pay homage to typical Swiss design. Laidback luxury is heavily cultivated here across 123 rooms and a penthouse with jacuzzi.
Given the piste has been extended and now ends at the front of the hotel, the W was Verbier’s first ski in/out hotel. That said, if you’re all mountain, then everywhere can be a home run.
The Trois Vallées has 600km of pistes accessible via 166 lifts. Courchevel sits at the end of the network, offering some of the best snow on its many north-facing slopes. The local slopes are made up of 150km of great runs: 10 black, 35 blue, 23 green and 32 red.
The resort is made up of the relaxed Courchevel Village (1550), picturesque Le Praz (1300), the rather lively Courchevel Moriond (1650) and distinctly upmarket Courchevel (1850). You aren’t far from a beginner zone with ski schools across all four village bases. The most extensive are in the Pralong area and Courchevel Moriond.
It’s worth taking the tidy selection of long blues and wide reds in the upper areas of the Chanrossa and Saulire-Creux sectors and, if the conditions are good, the lengthy reds down the wooded slopes to La Tania and Le Praz.
If you’ve packed your mountaineering gear or your Av pack, there are plenty of mid-piste, powder-heavy slopes and brutal, mogulled black pistes. If you’re looking for a challenge, try the steep couloirs in the flank of La Croiz des Verdons. Courchevel currently has one snowpark in the Verdons area just above the centre. For more freestyle, try Le Park and Moon Park on the furthest side of the next valley.
You’ll find twelve Michelin starred restaurants between the villages, so come with an appetite for the top-notch food scene and you might be able to stage 12 reservations across the week. The first gastro restaurant in the area was Le Chabichou: go for the gourmet and remember its generally understood that the higher the altitude the more zeros on the bill. La Cave des Lys is a great option for fine wine lovers, with tapas-style dining and an array of local cheese, many of which are made and matured in house.
The main resort village has an array of boutiques, art galleries and jewellers along its alpine streets. After all, this is Courchevel where you’ll have just as much fun people-watching as you will tearing up the slopes.
It’s also home to its very own altiport, which is suitable for jet and helicopter arrival, taking a mere 30 minutes from Geneva.