Take to the slopes: The best ski destinations ahead of Christmas season

Catherine Murphy brings you her top ski picks for the season ahead

Take to the slopes: The best ski destinations ahead of Christmas season

Catherine Murphy brings you her top ski picks for the season ahead

Best for Christmas

As a result of last season’s excellent snow conditions, Christmas holidays in the Alps are back in fashion. Choose a pretty village with festive vibes and access to high-altitude slopes.

You won’t get higher in France than the new Refuge de Solaise hotel in Val d’Isere, France. Situated at 2,551 metres it’s only accessible via the Solaise gondola or on skis which spells cosy Christmas bliss in our book. Do make sure to enjoy the festivities down in cosmopolitan Val d’Isere too.

In Wengen, Switzerland, the streets are decorated and on Christmas Eve, local families attend Midnight Mass then gather for hot chocolate and home-made ringli doughnuts. Car-free Wengen is a special mountain village with charming cog railway access to the slopes and stunning views of the Monch, Eiger and Jungfrau peaks.

It also boasts its very own James Bond: stuntman Stefan Zurcher, who has worked on many Bond movies, lives in the village. Stay at the lovely Schonegg hotel for culinary Christmas treats (wengen.com). Kitzbuhel in the Austrian Tirol takes Christmas seriously. In fact, the resort extended its Christmas markets last season adding more stalls selling handcrafted produce, a twinkling forest of fir trees and a petting farm to keep the children entertained. Relax with a white wine gluhwein and soak the atmosphere up as local choirs sing in the main square.

Kitz works hard to deliver great snow from late October so you won’t have to worry about having enough white gold to ski on.

Best for Beginners

France’s Les Deux Alpes ski terrain is shaped like an inverted triangle with the easiest skiing near the top of the mountain. This means that beginners get to enjoy the area’s great views on their first ever ski holiday. Nursery slope access is free so beginners only pay for lift passes as they progress on to blue slopes. Better still, the resort recently invested €10m in a blue run, the Jandri 1, which takes beginners and intermediates safely from top to bottom of the mountain.

LDA is best for beginner groups in their 20s and 30s with lots of nightlife on offer.

Irish visitor figures are significantly up to the Austrian Tirol — almost 20% —and while we love Soll, Westendorf and Kirchberg, Ellmau is our pick for beginners this season. A new hotel, the Tirol Lodge, is situated right next to the new Hartkaiserbahn gondola which will make life much easier for parents laden down with kiddie’s ski equipment. Not forgetting the outdoor heated pool, panoramic sauna and access to over 280km of slopes.

This beginner learned to ski in the Bulgarian resort of Borovets but since then, Bansko has taken over as a beginner’s paradise with good infrastructure, shaded tree-lined runs lower down and very welcome cheap prices in the resort. Check out travelsolutions.co.uk for ex-Dublin packages.

Best for Families

The Catalan Pyrenees in Province de Lleida, Catalunya is ideal for families who want to get on the road. Fly into Barcelona, spend 24 hours exploring Gaudi’s La Pedrera and tasting tapas on a Food Lovers city tour, then hop in the car and drive to the mountains. Catalunya is dotted with family-friendly resorts like La Molina, La Masella in La Cerdanya, Port Aine and the jewel in the crown — Baqueira Beret in Val d’Aran.

For cheaper prices, stay in three-star hotels like Eth Solan or Riu Nere in La Vielha and drive up to Baqueira Beret to ski each day and fly home from Toulouse. catalunya.com

La Rosiere, Espace San Bernardo in France is a Famille Plus resort which means families are well catered for. The resort is opening a new ski area this winter — Mont Valaisan — with five new red pistes served by two new chair lifts and more freeride options for advanced skiers in the family — all at 2,800m high with great views of Mont Blanc.

The Hyatt Centric hotel, which opened last winter, offers a ski concierge (who will literally place your skis on the snow for you to step into), doorstep skiing and glorious views of the Aiguille Rouge from the outdoor hot tub. larosiere.net

Serfaus in the Austrian Tirol, with 198km of pistes spread over a series of sunny open bowls and links to nearby Fiss and Ladis, is a firm family favourite and has just been added to Crystal Ski’s Irish programme (crystalski.ie).

Dedicated children’s areas, family-friendly restaurants and an almost traffic-free village centre make Serfaus a safe and appealing destination for young families.

The Dorfbahn underground railway which shuttles guests to the gondola will amuse youngsters — it floats on air, has no track, no platforms and no vibration.

A six-day lift pass costs from €152 per adult and €104per child.

Best for Adventure

Tick a biggie off that bucket list and hop into a Blackcomb Helicopter to explore the ice caves at Pemberton Ice Cap near Whistler.

This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience with a picnic on the snow after you’ve bathed in the ice blue of these magical caves. Top the trip off with cocktails back at the Four Seasons resort, made using slabs of ancient ice from the caves.

Don’t stop there — continue your customised adventure with a day’s skiing in the company of Olympian skier Greg Dixon and lunch at the gorgeous Christina’s on the slopes. hellobc.com whistler.com At Engelberg, Switzerland, off-piste skiers will be impressed by the fact that Engelberg had some of the deepest snow in the Alps last winter.

It’s well-known for off piste routes like Laub, Gross Sulz, Klein Sulz and Galtiberg while experienced ski tourers can also experience the ‘haute route’ between Engelberg and Andermatt, another off-piste paradise and home to the Gemsstock mountain.

Stay at the cosy Spannort hotel and do as the Swiss do — take the train from Engelberg to Lucerne for the city’s fabulous carnival in early February. engelberg.ch

If you dream of skiing in true wilderness but want your own private lift to take you there, go heli-skiing in Riksgransen, the world’s most northernmost ski destination.

Think of this as a seventh heaven once-in-a-lifetime trip with a certified guide on-board to find the best fall line for each drop in vast mountains.

Suitable for expert off-piste skiers, a seven-night trip is available through skisafari.com with heli-ski costs of around €370 for three drops.

Best news from the Alps

Bad Hofgastein, famous for its thermal spas, has a new claim to fame this winter.

The brand new €85m Schlossalm Cableway will open in time for the season, taking skiers up the mountain in double quick time, cutting out a middle station change and offering easier access to the slopes.

This is great news for the legendary Ian Dempsey Today FM ski trip which returns to BHG on January 26 for a week of ski and party, bookable through topflight.ie

Topflight Holidays have added glamorous Madonna di Campiglio in the Brenta Dolomites in Italy to their programme this winter and while the resort has been popular since the days of the Habsburg Empire, it also embraces the new. Stop off at the newly renovated Chalet Fiat on the mountain — home to the best panna cotta in the world and also to eight new luxe suites.

If you can bear to drag yourself away from sparkling wine and fine dining in the village, you’ll adore staying in this mountain hideaway and waking up to glorious views of the Adamello glacier.

There are also new ways to book ski lessons. A number of new companies are helping skiers and boarders to change the way they book lessons.

Maison Sport, SkiBro and Ongasa all allow you to book private instructors and to chat with them online pre-lesson to discuss your tuition needs.

Prices are estimated to be 15% cheaper than traditional ski school prices and the system, which began in France, is beginning to spread through European resorts.

And finally, the three best fondues in the Alps

At Hotel Zur Sonne, Andermatt, Switzerland, just when you think your fondue is finished, a waiter mixes raw egg into the crust, creating a delicious crusty cheesy scrambled egg.

At Refuge Lapisa, Chambery, Portes du Soleil, France, not only is this mountain eaterie tiny and charming, here they make their fondue using beer instead of white wine.

Afterwards, ski the Gran Paradiso run for beautiful views.

The little ski village of Vaujany, linked to Alpe d’Huez, will serve fondue in a ski lift this winter.

Following the renewal of the Enversin telecabine, skiers can now fill up on cheese in some of the lift’s sleek new Porsche Design gondolas.

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