Ski season kicks off in earnest this month and Catherine Murphy has selected a range of options to suit all tastes and budgets.
SKIING in snow-sure resorts is our number one priority when booking a ski holiday but as resorts adapt to changing climate patterns, the trend is to offer a broader range of attractions, from Alpine coasters to piste-basher driving.
The good news is that the Alps have already had substantial snowfall and some glacier resorts are preparing to open for the season. If you’re quick off the mark, you could hit the slopes for the October bank holiday on the Stubai glacier or in Kitzbuhel, Austria.
Let us help you on your way with our top picks.
BEST FOR ADVENTURE
Courchevel, Les Trois Vallees, France
Learn to drive a piste-basher on a private circuit but only after a professional briefing on how to handle 470cv. If that sounds like a beastly drive, test your steering skills on the resort’s new XXL toboggan run instead with four tunnels, a 15% gradient and 450 metre descent. Take the adventure indoors at Courchevel’s massive Aqua Motion centre — learn to ride the wave pool in front of amused onlookers, brave the water slides or nurse ski injuries in the centre’s new cryotherapy chamber; courchevel.com.
Ski the Nederberg off-piste route with a local guide (kitted out with an ABS safety system). Next, fly right into the centre of Ischgl’s lively apres scene on a zip line. The Skyfly whizzes you 50 metres above ground at up to 85km an hour and best of all, there are two cables side by side so you can fly across the valley with a friend. Finish your day with a culinary adventure at the Paznaunerstube in the five-star Trofana Royal hotel – the tasting menu and matched wines are memorable; ischgl.com.
Alpe d’Huez, France
Fancy a family adventure? Alpe d’Huez will launch the 4-Season Alpine coaster just in time for the new season, in Les Bergers sector. This luge-on-rails takes its inspiration from theme parks so think mini roller coaster in the snow with banked bends, waves and jumps on a 1,000 metre floodlit circuit. Alpe d’Huez’ winter calendar is also full of more serious adventure events like the World Snow Kite Masters in late January, ski touring races and the Sarenne Snow bike race in mid April; alpedhuez.com.
Hone your off-piste skills in one of Europe’s most adventure-focused resorts with an ISTA (international snow training academy) avalanche safety course. A one day Discovery course (approx €200) will teach you all about basic back-country risk prevention and the skills needed to stay safe in the mountains. The course follows a typical day in the back-country and includes snow profiling, learning to calculate risk factors and crisis management with a simulated search for avalanche burial victims; ista-education.com and verbier.com.
BEST FOR COUPLES
Mottaret and Chambery, France
Combine city and ski for romance and adventure. Start your trip with a short stay at 14th century Chateau de Candie just outside the medieval city of Chambery, with dinner in the chateau’s gastronomic l’Orangerie restaurant. Next, stay at Hotel Mottaret in Meribel Mottaret — think all-inclusive packages, boutique style, live jazz and rock music, champagne in the hotel’s outdoor hot tub and doorstep skiing; skifrance.co.uk.
Hotellerie de Mascognaz, Champoluc, Aosta Valley, Italy
This little hamlet, set above the resort of Champoluc and with views of the Monte Rosa, is at the top of our lust list. An ancient mountain village (dating from 1323) has been transformed into a luxuriously rustic cluster of chalets, accessible only by snowmobile or on foot. There are two cosy restaurants, a spa and an indoor pool so it’s a proper mountain cocoon. Prepare to be enchanted by a remote hideaway which was favoured by early 20th century poets and artists as the ultimate retreat; hotelleriedemascognaz.com.
Aspen, Colorado, USA
Fun-loving and adventurous couples will adore Aspen. Famed for its stylish hangouts and art galleries it’s also a tough ski mountain, offering ski touring, off piste skiing in the Highland Bowls and the annual Power of Four ski mountaineering race which sees elite and recreational athletes racing all four of the area’s peaks.
Aspen can be whatever you want it to be — hang out in the historic Jerome hotel drinking Aspen Crud cocktails, enjoy live music at Belly Up or step into the Little Nell’s impressive wine cellar; aspensnowmass.com.
La Rosiere, France.
The brand new Hyatt Centric hotel will open its doors on December 15 and while it also caters for families, we think couples will love its Summit spa, views of Mont Blanc from the outdoor hot tub, mirrored walls around the indoor swimming pool to reflect the mountains and cosy luxe bedrooms. If you like to truly relax on holiday, there’s a concierge to organise everything your heart desires and if you’re seeking adventure, you can directly access heliskiing. The resort is linked to La Thuile in Italy; hotellarosiere.com.
BEST FOR FAMILIES
The French Pyrenees
For diy family ski holidays and friendly, compact, reasonably priced ski areas, the French Pyrenees are a great option. Fly to Toulouse, hire a car and explore La Mongie (famous for the Grand Tourmalet), Luz Ardiden and Cauterets. Stay at the Hotel de Londres in Luz Saint Sauveur for access to Luz Ardiden and in Cauterets, stay at the Lion d’Or, a quintessentially French, family-run hotel that’s just a stone’s throw from the nearest spa; grand-tourmalet.com, cauterets.com and luz.org
Kitzbuheler Alpen — Ski Welt, Tirol, Austria
A perennial favourite for Irish skiers with great snow-making facilities, reasonable prices and a range of unspoilt Tirolean mountain villages to choose from. This winter, resort bosses are making things even easier for families with free bus and rail links between resorts like Westendorf, St Johann, Kitzbuhel and Kirchberg. This is perfect for advanced skiers in the family who want to experience a ski safari by exploring a different area each day. Each village has a rail station so moving around is easy. Stay at the newly renovated Hotel Post in Westendorf or the Explorer in St Johann and invest in the AllStarCard to access all ski areas. Topflight Holidays offer packages to this region; topflight.ie and kitzbueheler-alpen.com.
Arinsal, Pal, Andorra
Andorra’s Vallnord region is ideal for families with wide open slopes for beginners in Pal and lots of blue and red pistes to progress to in Arinsal. For most families, budget is an important factor and in-resort prices are so reasonable.
This, coupled with excellent ski school tuition, is one of the reasons why a recent ski survey showed Andorra to have a high loyalty rating amongst holidaymakers. Keep an eye out for half-price lift passes and holidays from €389 per person from directski.com.
Charming Innsbruck is an absolute joy for families in terms of easy access, with a number of resorts just 20 minutes from the airport.
The ‘Olympic Ski World Innsbruck’ lift pass covers nine snow-sure areas including Nordkette, Patscherkofel and Kuhtai, with terrain that varies from family-friendly to high altitude and truly challenging.
Muttereralm is a family favourite with a kids park and slopestyle area while Patscherkofel is home to an Olympic bobsleigh course and the scene of legendary Franz Klammer’s 1976 Winter Olympics win. Just 20 mins from Innsbruck airport, Kuhtai is Austria’s highest resort and boasts great off piste terrain for more advanced skiers. Choose from a range of three and four star hotels with crystalski.ie (direct flights from Dublin) and for apres-ski, enjoy the history, cuisine and conviviality of Innsbruck.
BEST FOR BUDGET
Kranjska Gora/Bled, Slovenia
Stunning scenery, culture and great prices make Slovenia a top destination for groups or families. Uncrowded slopes mean it’s easier for beginners to learn on the slopes of the Julian Alps. For budget-conscious families, the lakeside resort of Bled offers easy skiing and off-slope activities for the children. Intermediate skiers and nightlife fans will be challenged in Kranjska Gora while beginners should go to Vogel.
Crystal Ski offers packages to Slovenia (with buy-one-lift-pass-get-one-half-price offers); crystalski.ie.
Val Cenis, France
France and budget are not two words you often read in the same sentence and in a recent survey, France scored poorly on price satisfaction amongst skiers. But there’s always an exception to the rule and we think Val Cenis is it. Comprising of two charming villages which offer excellent value for money, Val Cenis is great for beginners, intermediates and families with an authentic French alpine feel, traditional cuisine and local markets. Crystal Holidays offers packages to Val Cenis; crystalski.ie.
For first time skiers on a budget, Bulgaria is a no-brainer. Equipment hire, lift passses and lessons can be half the price or less than in many Alpine resorts while food and alcohol prices are even cheaper. Bansko is Bulgaria’s top resort with a charming old town centre and modern lift system. banskoski.com.
If you’re budgeting time rather than money, take advantage of a growing number of companies offering flexi ski breaks including Pierre&Vacances (France, Andorra), travel-solutions.co.uk which offers short breaks from Dublin to Borovets in Bulgaria, Flexiski (St Anton, Morzine, Les Arcs 2000), Ski Weekends (including Sierra Nevada in Spain, French Pyrenees, Norway, Italy, France and Austria) and Irish chalet operator highlife.ie which operates 11 chalets in the French Alps.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved