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Four volumes of SUITCASE Magazine, with a new issue delivered to your door each quarter
Ask ten skiers what their favourite resort is and chances are you’ll get ten different answers. It’s not that skiers are a particularly fickle lot but rather that there are various clans within the greater ski family, and each demands different things from their dream resort. In honour of these diverse ski tribes and what’s being hailed as the best snow season in 40 years, we’ve pulled together some of our favourite places to ski around the world and thrown in the odd wildcard to get you thinking.
You know who you are: you’ve got all the latest distance and vertical descent tracking apps downloaded to your phone and love nothing more than crunching the stats to figure out how many kilometres of pistes and metres of vert you’ve smashed each day. These are the resorts that will enable you to really stretch your legs and Facebragging rights:
YOUR GO-TO: Méribel, France
At the heart of the sprawling Three Valleys, the world’s largest linked ski area, Méribel offers a jaw-dropping 600km of glorious pistes to tear up. Put your thighs to the test by lapping the entire area in a day, break it up with lunch in Courchevel or Val Thorens or simply follow the epic 3km-long red Combe Saulire piste in Courchevel – the opportunities are endless.
THE ONE YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN ABOUT: Aspen Snowmass, Colorado
The fact that our American cousins call the art of piste preparation “grooming” rather than “bashing” speaks volumes. Picture standing at the top of a mountain with immaculate carpets of snowy corduroy stretching out beneath silver birch forests and you have Aspen Snowmass. With some 500km of piste spread across four mountains, each offers a daily “noon groomer” – a piste that’s freshly prepared at midday and perfect for squeezing in fresh turns before lunch.
THE WILDCARD: Saalbach, Austria
This Austrian beauty deserves to be better known, though fans are keen to keep it off radar and continue lording over the empty slopes. Linking four attractive towns, the ski area encompasses a generous 270km of pistes, the majority of which are blues and reds. That’s not to say it’s all easy cruising; plenty of the reds offer a decent challenge and doing a full circuit will have you covering 72km of pistes and 12,500m in altitude – not bad for a day’s skiing.
What’s not to love about a cheeky smash-and-grab ski weekend? You scan the snow forecasts for a powder weekend, seize the moment and take one day off work to be rewarded with three action-packed ski days and après-ski sessions, returning to work on Monday buzzing with energy and a cracking goggle tan. Just make sure you chose your resort wisely to maximise your day off ROI.
YOUR GO-TO: Chamonix, France
Chamonix is the classic weekend ski destination; just an hour’s transfer from Geneva, it delivers the whole package. There’s epic skiing across four mountains, including the legendary Vallée Blanche off-piste route – the world’s longest off-piste itinerary is 20km long and descends the beautiful Mer de Glace glacier from the precipitous tip of l’Aiguille du Midi – and pumping nightlife in an attractive, historical mountain town. Enough said.
THE ONE YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN ABOUT: Mayrhofen, Austria
Reached within an hour by train from Innsbruck, Mayrhofen is the place to be for those who want a weekend of hard skiing and partying. Its diverse, if relatively modest, ski area (159km of pistes) is more than enough to keep skiers of all levels entertained over a weekend, particularly freestylers, who’ll gravitate to the Vans Penken terrain park. Home to the annual Snowbombing music festival and a winter-long party scene, a Mayrhofen weekend typically requires a quiet recovery week to follow.
THE WILDCARD: Sierra Nevada, Spain
“Que? Skiing in Spain?” you ask. Yes, you really can combine skiing, sun and sangria in one glorious weekend. Sierra Nevada, Europe’s southernmost resort, lies just 40 minutes’ drive through olive groves and fincas from Granada and offers gentle skiing on 107km of sun-drenched slopes, complete with views of the Med. And, if you feel the urge for an après-ski swim, the white-sand beaches of Costa Tropical are just an hour’s drive away.
You’ve been well and truly bitten by the freeriding bug, smitten by its ability to challenge and thrill, and spend hours watching freeride movies and swotting up on the latest secret off-piste stashes. As you keep telling anybody who’ll still listen, you love it as much for the spirituality of being close to the mountains as for the excitement of scoring fresh tracks in a virgin-powder bowl. Here’s your bucket list.
YOUR GO-TO: Verbier, Switzerland
The classic Alpine off-piste destination, Verbier delivers some of the world’s best terrain. The descents are long, steep, easily reached from the lifts and diverse, ranging from skinny couloirs and cliff drops to wide valleys and open glaciers. And it’s not just the terrain around Verbier – the Four Valleys ski area opens up a world of freeriding opportunities from tree-skiing at Bruson to ridgeline skiing on Etherolla.
THE ONE YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN ABOUT: La Grave, France
La Grave represents European freeriding in its purest form: a tiny, rustic town with La Meije, a vast hunk of granite and ice, looming above it. Its “resort” stats are somewhat underwhelming comprising two lifts – a slow-moving, rainbow-coloured gondola and a draglift – and two marked pistes. However, La Grave is simply impossible to beat for “le ski sauvage” (wild skiing), rewarding those who respect the mighty Meije with some of the world’s most challenging freeriding.
THE WILDCARD: Alagna, Italy
One of three resorts linked by the Monterosa ski area, Alagna offers a homely mountain vibe, bags of barely touched off-piste terrain, one of Europe’s biggest vertical drops (over 2000m) and affordable heli-skiing. The catch? The region can be blasted by hot weather from the south. But, hit Monterosa in the right conditions and its couloirs (‘canalino’ in Italian – not to be confused with cannelloni pasta), cliff drops and powder bowls are the stuff of freeriding dreams.
Your little rays of sunshine demand recalibration of your winter playtime routines – your favourite ski resorts become too steep, too noisy and too remote as your priorities become the proximity of nursery slopes, availability of nannies and choice of kids’ clubs. Fortunately, it’s possible to blend the needs of your angels with some grown-up perks, if you find the right resort.
YOUR GO-TO: Les Gets, France
The preferred winter bolthole of well-heeled families from around the world, Les Gets is located just over an hour’s drive from Geneva and delivers an endless supply of nannies, patient ski instructors and family-friendly chalets and hotels. Furthermore, its position within the vast Portes du Soleil ski area – 600km of pistes, encompassing 12 villages in France and Switzerland – means there’s more than enough terrain to keep adults happy while the little ones are being looked after.
THE ONE YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN ABOUT: Breckenridge, Colorado
Granted, a transatlantic flight isn’t a child-friendly transfer but if your kids are already veteran travellers, a trip across the Pond could be a family winter holiday game-changer. American resorts are incredibly well set up for children with dedicated kiddie ski trails, mini terrain parks, friendly (English-speaking) instructors, go-safe slow zones and teen-specific ski classes. Add to that affordable self-catered accommodation and great advance booking deals and it starts to look rather appealing.
THE WILDCARD: LAAX, Switzerland
Still relatively unknown outside of Switzerland, LAAX is a youthful resort that’s perfect for families with slightly older children, and just an hour-long hop from Zürich. Budding freestylers will thrive in its four excellent terrain parks and pioneering indoor freestyle academy while little rippers (and their parents) can make the most of the 224km of pistes and seriously impressive freeride terrain.
The Posh Spice of the ski world, you fully embrace the old-school glamour of skiing, lapping up the excuse to wear fur on fur, pout at nut-brown instructors from behind oversized sunglasses and sip magnums of Cristal in the hot tub. After all, what other sport enables you to dazzle diamanté from your helmet, goggles, ski suit AND skis?
YOUR GO-TO: St Moritz, Switzerland
Resorts like Courchevel and Kitzbühel might have their luxury moments but St Moritz is the mothership of Alpine hedonism. This is where winter tourism started, complete with ice-skating waiters in tuxedos delivering champagne and caviar to fur-clad guests on silver trays. It’s still a fabulously heady mix of five-star hotels, exclusive private members’ clubs, shopping to rival Bond Street and flash events like White Turf (polo on snow) and the Cresta Run. Oh, and there are 350km of scenic, diverse pistes if you’ve got time left over for skiing.
THE ONE YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN ABOUT EARLIER: Zürs, Austria
Zürs is a picturesque smattering of ultra-luxe hotels and chalets hunkered beneath thick snow blankets deep in the Austrian Alps. Although it feels a million miles away from the humdrum of everyday life, Zürs is actually part of Austria’s largest ski area, Ski Arlberg, a whopping 305km of pistes stretching to neighbouring Lech, St Anton and beyond. Brilliantly, the resort limits the number of lift tickets sold each day to keep lift queues at bay and ensure guests enjoy crowd-free skiing.
THE WILDCARD: Deer Valley, Utah
Deer Valley prides itself on pampering its guests to the point of spoiling, even banning snowboarders from the resort to ensure the pistes are kept in prime condition for skiers. It’s a world of luxury hotels, sprawling chalets and complimentary ski ambassadors to usher you around the mountain. Somewhat refreshingly, people do actually come to Deer Valley to ski and they’re handsomely rewarded with 101 manicured pistes, 800 acres of tree-skiing, six powder bowls and Utah’s steepest couloirs.
Everyone loves a bargain and saving pennies on a ski trip is an extremely worthwhile endeavour – if only to secure more funds to spend on fondue and Jägerbombs. But a cheap deal is not such a beautiful thing if you find yourself in a rabbit hutch without a snowflake in sight. To save you from disappointment, we’ve picked out some truly snowy steals.
YOUR GO-TO: Baqueira Beret, Spain
Those in the know joined the Spanish royal family years ago and made Baqueira Beret their winter bolthole, not only because the resort serves up awesome tapas but because it’s a stylish with inexpensive accommodation, low lift pass prices and Europe’s cheapest heli-skiing. Stay in a quaint B&Bs in one of the medieval hamlets dotted around the main town and you’ll have change for heli-skiing, which costs from €290 per person for two drops.
THE ONE YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN ABOUT: Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
It might seem counter-intuitive to suggest crossing the Atlantic to save money but Whistler Blackcomb offers exceptional advance booking deals. For the price of a week’s skiing in Europe, you could find yourself playing in North America’s largest single resort (think 200 pistes, 16 powder bowls and three glaciers) for a fortnight. As they say over there, it’s a snow brainer.
THE WILDCARD: Söll, Austria
This small but lively Tyrolean resort is the skiing bargain-hunter’s dream. It provides direct access to the vast SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser – Brixental area (one of Europe’s largest with 284km of pistes spanning nine villages), inexpensive yet quality accommodation, great value dining and suitably rowdy après-ski. It’s also a good option for families, thanks to free skiing weeks for children, special lift prices for teenagers and short transfer times from Innsbruck and Salzburg.
You know how you have that one incredible friend who knows their city inside out? That’s us. We take the world’s most dynamic destinations, hand-pick the best bits and give them to you in one place. This is the kind of guide that you don’t need to run by a local – it was written by one. Eat your heart out, shop until you drop, drink like a fish, dance your socks off, sleep – then repeat.
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