Ten Of The Best Ski Resorts For SceneryNovember 20, 2013
Chris Gill, Dave Watts, The Daily Telegraph, November 21, 2013
The views of the adjacent peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains are breathtaking — seen at their best from the ski runs of Wengen and Grindelwald, and the runs and village of Mürren, set across the Lauterbrunnen valley.
Mürren has a wonderfully scenic long run of some 1300m vertical from the Schilthorn summit, in good conditions all the way down to Lauterbrunnen — 16km and 2175m vertical. The snow on the top half of this run is usually the best in the region. The skiing in Mürren is mainly tough intermediate stuff. Wengen and Grindelwald share a much bigger area of easier slopes and Grindelwald has its own separate area of sunny intermediate slopes. Wengen and Mürren are charming, car-free and reached only by cog railway or cable car. Grindelwald is a traditional mountain town with a long history of mountaineering.
Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk ) Hotels in Wengen and Grindelwald. Inghams (01483 791111; inghams.co.uk ) Good selection of hotels in all three resorts. Switzerland Travel Centre (020 7420 4934; stc.com ) Hotels in all three resorts from three nights or more.
St Moritz has a glorious setting in a broad, high, remote valley where the river Inn (as in Innsbruck) forms a series of pretty lakes. The resort constitutes two blots on this lovely landscape (Bad and Dorf), but they don’t seriously affect the wonderful views of the glacier-draped peaks to the south-east, forming the frontier with Italy — notably the 4049m Piz Bernina. The views from the slopes above St Moritz are spectacular, but across the valley on the ramshackle snowy terrace of the Fuorcla Surlej refuge you get one of our top three terrace views in the skiing universe. St Moritz is a glossy town (well, two towns) rather than a village.
With countless five-star hotels, furriers and jewellers, it is an easy place to dislike, but it’s no trouble to get away from the bling and savour the surroundings. The slopes are fragmented (two worthwhile areas are well out of town, on the way to Italy) but add up to an excellent intermediate area, with some challenges in all four main sectors.
Alpine Answers (020 7801 1080; alpineanswers.co.uk ) Wide variety of hotels. Club Med (08451 541 904; clubmed.co.uk ) All inclusive prices that make even St Moritz affordable. Inghams (01483 791111; inghams.co.uk ) Two 4-star hotels and one 5-star hotel.
The Matterhorn as seen from Zermatt
Zermatt is special because of one remarkable mountain — the unmistakable, pyramid-shaped 4478m Matterhorn, which dominates the landscape from virtually all over the ski area. On the train ride to the Gornergrat summit,sit on the right-hand side for the best vistas. From Gornergrat itself there are fabulous views of the Monterosa massif and tumbling glaciers — beaten only by the cable car ride to Klein Matterhorn, with amazing views of crevasses down to the left and stunning 360 degree panoramas from the viewing platform at the top.
The pistes suit confident intermediates best. There are few easy cruises but in good weather you can head over to Cervinia in Italy for those. Most tough runs are 'itineraries’ that aren’t groomed or patrolled and are usually mogul fields. Experts should take a guide and explore the off-piste or heli-skiing. The town is charming, car-free, a mixture of ancient (old wooden barns) and modern, but has grown a lot in recent years.
Inghams (01483 791111; inghams.co.uk ) Chalets and wide choice of hotels. Ski Total (01483 791933; skitotal.com ) 13 chalets, some with sauna, steam or hot tub. Skiworld (08444 930 430; skiworld.co.uk ) 5 chalet-apartments, three very smart.
The views from the slopes and the town are dominated by the vast Monte Bianco massif. And the vistas from the high points at Cresta d’Arp and Cresta Youla, especially, are stunning. A new two-stage cable car up Monte Bianco itself is currently being built and is due to open for the 2014/15 season. The first two stages of the old cable car are working for this season but the top stage is closed, meaning you have to climb 120 steps to access the Vallée Blanche run down to Chamonix (see Chamonix entry) and it’s a climb on snow to the famous Toula glacier off-piste run on the Italian side.
The village is charming with a traffic-free core of narrow cobbled streets. The pistes are limited in extent, suit confident intermediates best and are well-served by rustic restaurants
Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk ) Mainly 3-star hotels and a few apartments. Mark Warner (0844 273 7316; markwarner.co.uk ) Central chalet-hotel; Momentum (020 7371 9111; momentumski.com ) Intimate knowledge of resort;
Madonna di Campiglio
We’ll concede that Madonna di Campiglio occupies the second rank in the Dolomites scenic stakes, behind Selva, the Sella Ronda and Cortina, off to the east. But by any other standard it is exceptional; the magnificent Gruppo di Brenta that towers above the narrow, wooded valley has the familiar Dolomite drama in abundance. There are fab views across the valley from the slopes on the west of the resort; but arguably the most striking views are from the linked slopes of Pinzolo, which get you close to the high-point of Cima Tosa.
The pistes are varied and extensive, with some challenges dotted around but the majority of the slopes offering glorious easy cruising. The linked slopes of Folgarida and Marilleva have more to offer the aggressive intermediate. Campiglio itself is a smooth, charming little town with a car-free central area that’s lively in the early evening, in the Italian fashion.
Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk ) 3-star and 4-star hotels; Momentum (020 7371 9111; momentumski.com ) 3-star to 5-star hotels; Zenith (0203 137 7678; zenith holidays.co.uk ) Hotels and apartments.
The Dolomite scenery is unique: cliffs rise sheerly out of the top of the slopes and provide a stunning background. More than most places, this area requires sunshine rather than snowfalls, which interfere with your scenery-gazing without bringing any real benefit — off-piste is more-or-less banned, and one of the world’s best snowmaking systems ensures reliably good pistes. The slopes are generally easy and short — ideal for gentle intermediate cruising.
The Sella Ronda itself is a circular tour of around 23km of pistes and 14km of lifts around the Gruppo del Sella — a mighty limestone massif. It is well within the capability of an average intermediate in a day. But there are several areas of slopes off the main circuit that are well worth exploring from the main villages of Selva, Corvara, Arabba and Canazei — all traditional but varied in character and size.
Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk ) Range of hotels in Selva and down the valley in Ortisei, plus chalets in Selva. Esprit (01483 791900; espritski.com ) Chalets of all sizes in Selva, with comprehensive childcare on hand. Total (01483 791933; skitotal.com ) Three chalets in Selva, four in Arabba.
Skiing in Megève
The slopes of Megève are prettily wooded, but if that was the full extent of the resort’s scenic appeal it wouldn’t merit inclusion here; the surroundings are the key. To the west, the rocky Chaïne des Aravis adds drama, even if it is better seen from La Clusaz. But to the east is the big one: Mont Blanc. From the top of the slopes at Mont Joly, the view of the highest peak in the Alps towering 3700m above the valley floor is a knockout; for us, the descent of the Epaule piste is a slow ritual of repeated stops simply to stare.
The village of Megève is delightful (with a car-free core), the mountain restaurants numerous and excellent, the pistes great for cautious intermediates (though spoilt for the mileage-hungry by the high proportion of slow lifts).
Momentum (020 7371 9111; momentumski.com ) Swanky and more modest hotels; Ski Collection (0844 576 0175; skicollection.co.uk) Smart apartments on edge of town; Stanford (01603 477471; stanfordskiing.co.uk ) Cheap and cheerful chalet-hotels, plus smarter options.
The mountains above Chamonix are truly spectacular. Mont Blanc, at 4810m, is western Europe’s highest summit and is flanked by jagged peaks and tumbling glaciers. There are stunning views from the ski areas on the opposite side of the valley, Le Brévent and La Flégère. Everyone should take the breathtaking ride to the Aiguille du Midi at 3842m for close up views of the Mont Blanc summit. Experts and adventurous and fit intermediates should not miss the off-piste run (to be done only with a guide) from there down the Vallée Blanche, with gaping crevasses and towering seracs — 24km long if the whole run to Chamonix is open.
Chamonix is a big, bustling traditional mountain town with an atmospheric car-free centre. Its ski areas are fragmented, with Le Brévent and La Flégère reached from or just outside town and Les Houches, Balme and Les Grands Montets reached by bus or train. Les Houches and Balme have the nearest thing to easy cruising in the valley, while Les Grands Montets is a Mecca for off-piste experts.
Inghams (01483 791111; inghams.co.uk ) Good selection of chalets, hotels and apartments; Peak Retreats (0844 576 0173; peakretreats.co.uk ) Range of apartments, a non-catered chalet and a central hotel; Ski Weekend (01392 878353; skiweekend.com ) Chamonix specialist for over 25 years.
The view over frozen Lake Louise to the stunning Victoria Glacier is jaw-droppingly spectacular. Tom Wilson, a railway pioneer, discovered it in 1882 and said: 'I never in all my exploration have seen such a matchless scene.’ It can be appreciated from many of the rooms of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel, and there are views from the ski area of it and hundreds of other peaks and glaciers.
The slopes are a short bus ride from the tiny 'village’ (not much more than a few hotels and shops). Two other ski areas — Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay — are reachable too. All three are set in the unspoiled Banff National Park. The Lake Louise area itself offers lots of variety with green, blue and black runs going from the top of every lift. The Front Side has mainly groomed cruising trails while the Powder Bowls, over the ridge, have lots of challenging open bowls.
Canadian Affair (020 7616 9911; canadianaffair.com ) Low cost flights and key hotels; Frontier Ski (020 8776 8709; frontierski.com ) Luxury lodging in and near Lake Louise; Ski Independence (0131 243 8097; ski-i.com ) Hotels from 3- to 5-star.
The pristine slopes of Heavenly
US resorts aren’t renowned for spectacular scenery. But Heavenly, which spans the California-Nevada border, is a remarkable exception, with stunning views on the California side over the huge blue Lake Tahoe. On the Nevada side, you get remarkably different views down to the arid Nevada 'desert’. The high-rise casinos of South Lake Tahoe town are a conspicuous part of the lake views from the lower slopes, though not from above mid-mountain.
The wooded mountain offers extensive slopes by US standards and some outstanding tree skiing that you don’t encounter in the Alps. There are gentle slopes with widely spaced trees that provide a perfect introduction, and steep gnarly slopes with tight trees to challenge experts. Après-ski here is unique too — with gambling and shows to the fore. The casinos offer the added bonus of cheap, high-quality lodging — subsidized to attract punters from around the US.
Ski Independence (0131 243 8097; ski-i.com ) Good range of hotels and apartments; Ski Safari (01273 224060; skisafari.com ) Wide range of lodging from budget to 5-star; Skiworld (08444 930 430; skiworld.co.uk ) Good range of hotels and apartments.
The 2014 edition of Where to Ski and Snowboard, Britain’s only annually updated ski resort guidebook, is in all good bookshops. It is available online to Telegraph readers at a special discount price of £14.99 including post and packing — £4 less than the bookshop price and £8 less than the usual mail order price. Go to wheretoskiandsnowboard.com/telegraph .