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by Gabriella Le Breton, The Daily Telegraph, October 28, 2016
Unless otherwise stated, prices are per person for two people sharing a room for a week, half-board, and include flights and transfers.
Burgeoning luxury in an off-piste paradise
With magnificent views and above average snowfall, the Montafon valley in Austria’s Vorarlberg region is making a name for itself. Surrounded by the towering Silvretta, Verwall and Rätikon mountain ranges, Montafon envelops 11 villages. The four main ones – Schruns, Gaschurn, Silbertal and St Gallenkirch – give access to the the region’s largest single ski area, Silvretta Montafon, with 140km of pistes. The total ski area, covering 225km of piste, is mostly red and blue runs, but has world-class off piste, including some of Europe’s best ski touring.
Montafon has a burgeoning reputation as a freeride and touring destination Credit: Philipp Tschanhenz
Schruns is the main village, with the most hotels – including two four-stars – restaurants and shops, as well as direct access to Silvretta Montafon and another smaller ski area called Golm, with 43km of pistes. The village of Gaschurn is home to the region’s smartest new hotel, MOLodge, and offers direct access to Silvretta Montafon, as well as the Silvretta-Bielerhöhe area, mainly for ski touring itineraries.
Earn your turns
Montafon is good for tranquil family holidays but since Silvretta Montafon hosted an event on the 2015 and 2016 Freeride World Tour qualifying circuits, its reputation as a freeride and touring destination has grown.
In a sport where virgin powder is increasingly hard to find, Montafon also offers the luxury of lots of challenging, untouched off piste. Silvretta Montafon offers bags of playful terrain, and there’s also lift-accessed freeriding at Gargellen. This is Montafon’s highest village and is home to 32km of pistes and the Nidla off-piste route, which is legendary for its length and consistent pitch.
On piste, Montafon’s steepest is the black Diablo, a 30-degree corker at Golm. And Snowpark Montafon in Silvretta Montafon is Austria’s largest terrain park, with over 40 kickers, rails and boxes. A Montafon lift pass covers the whole region plus Brandertal, with a further 64km of pistes.
Where to stay
The four-star MOLodge has 26 stylish rooms, a spa and a Gault Millau toque-rated restaurant. Located in the centre of Gaschurn, it’s near the Silvretta Montafon access lift. Half board in a double room costs from €165 per person per night ( molodge.at ).
The spa area at the four-star MOLodge Courchevel 1850, France
Unabashed glitz in Europe’s largest linked ski area
There are four options for staying in Courchevel – Le Praz at 1300, Village at 1550, Moriond at 1650 and Courchevel at 1850. Prices escalate as altitude increases, reaching astronomic levels at Jardin Alpin, the enclave of swanky chalets served by its own lift on the slopes above the highest resort. Courchevel 1850 is the winter home of glamour, caviar and excess. We might balk at the prices but it’s hard to fault the well-groomed pistes, efficient lifts and multilingual instructors, who are adept at handholding and ego-massaging.
Hedonism on snow
Packed with ultra-luxury chalets, Michelin-starred restaurants and swanky clubs, Courchevel 1850 is the undisputed hot spot for glossy celebrities to ski and be seen. High rollers can splash out £50,000 a week for a chalet, feast on oysters and then pop cases of Cristal at Le Mangeoire’s glamorous piano bar. If you must descend to Courchevel Moriond, keep the glamour alive at the four-star Portetta hotel, the snowy sibling of the UK’s Pig hotels.
Gentle, manicured slopes
One of the world’s largest ski areas, the Trois Valleés offers 600km of pistes linked by 165 lifts. It’s all accessible from Courchevel but for beginners and early intermediates the 150km of local slopes provide ample entertainment, with some challenging off-piste terrain too.
Courchevel is the winter home of glamour
The Courchevel valley is ringed by four main mountains – Col de la Loze, Saulire, Chanrossa and Signal. Col de la Loze’s gently wooded slopes are ideal in bad weather while Saulire is the largest and busiest, with lots of red and blue pistes including the long, wide Combe de la Saulire red and the Courchevel couloirs under the cable car. The blues and reds of Chanrossa and Signal are usually quieter than the other areas.
Where to stay
The five-star Cheval Blanc in Jardin Alpin has 36 sumptuously decorated rooms and suites. There’s also a two Michelin-starred restaurant, Guerlain spa, chic White Bar and a cigar lounge. The Oxford Ski Company ( oxfordski.com ) has half-board packages from €11,445 per week for a superior room.
A bubble of Italian exuberance and jaw-dropping scenery
Set in a granite amphitheatre created by the Dolomites, Cortina d’Ampezzo is blessed with one of the most beautiful backdrops of any resort in the world. Less than 50km as the crow flies from Austria, it’s undeniably Italian yet thoroughly South Tirolean, imbued with Italian and German influences, as well as the ancient native Ladin culture. Cortina’s slopes are best suited to intermediates, though many visitors prefer to shop for fur, antiques and jewellery, go ice-skating, snowshoeing, sledging or watch the many sporting and cultural events hosted during the winter.
Cortina is blessed with a beautiful backdrop of the DolomitesCredit: DG Bandion
When in Rome
Cortina can appear impervious to the pressure on resorts to renovate dated hotels and replace old lift systems. A laid-back attitude is required to truly love it – from its confusing one-way traffic system to the somewhat chaotic buses that link its ski areas.
Adopting the local pace of life requires minimal effort as you join fur-clad Italians in their ritual passeggiata (evening stroll) along Cortina’s main promenade, the Corso Italia. Dominated by an elegant green and white campanile (bell tower), the Corso is flanked by candle-lit restaurants, intimate wine bars and chic boutiques. Locals stop and chat outside the Co-op general store, duck into the Enoteca wine bar for apéritifs and enjoy late suppers at the chic converted hay barn that is El Toula.
Scenic blues and reds
For all its gloss, Cortina is, at heart, a mountaineering town, as confirmed by the magnificent granite spires towering above it. The ski area is divided into four sectors which, though not linked, are close to each other and accessed by free shuttle bus. The town itself has two lifts, one giving access to the Faloria sector, and the other to Tofana. Cinque Torri and Lagazuoi are two smaller areas. Each sector is very different in terms of terrain, elevation and aspect, making for truly varied slopes.
The Corso Italia is dominated by an elegant green and white bell towerCredit: DG Bandion
The majority of them are ideal for intermediates although beginners will flourish on the tree-lined blues of Socrepes in Tofana, and Mietres in Faloria. Advanced terrain comes in the form of some challenging blacks (notably Forcella Staunies, a wide colouir at the top of the Faloria sector) and little-known off piste revealed by local guides.
Where to stay
One of Cortina’s two five-star hotels, the Cristallo Hotel Spa & Golf is set in private gardens a few minutes from resort, with a free shuttle into town and to the lifts. Decorated in the Gustavian style of hand-painted woodwork, it's all about old-school glamour. Ski Solutions ( skisolutions.com ) has b&b packages from £1,730 including flights and transfers.
Eagle Point Resort, Utah, USA
Private mountain luxury and powder heaven
There are few mountains out there you can book for exclusive use, but Eagle Point Resort in Utah is one of the best, and most affordable. From Tuesday to Thursday (except for Christmas and New Year), up to 200 guests can have Eagle Point’s 600 acres of terrain (including five lifts and 400 pistes) and ski-in/ski-out accommodation to themselves. Plus the resort receives more than Utah’s average 11.5m of snow each winter.
Small and mighty
Resort accommodation comprises 40 cabins and condominiums. There are two lodges – Canyonside and Skyline – with a restaurant each, while Canyonside has a bar, disco, grocery and rental shops as well as outdoor hot tubs.
You can exclusively book the ski area of Eagle PointCredit: Henry O Welles
The nearest town is Beaver, just under 30km away; Las Vegas is three and a half hours’ drive away. Booking Eagle Point exclusively costs $10,000 per day, which sounds steep but between 200, it’s just $50 per person and includes equipment rental and lift passes.
Utah’s big little secret
Eagle Point’s five lifts connect two mountains, the higher of which offers sunny, tree-lined green and blue runs. The second is a long ridge that runs above a neighbouring lake, with black diamond runs, such as Hoodoos and Donner’s Descent, which drop more than 450 vertical metres at a consistently steep pitch to the resort base. The Lookout hut on the ridge serves warming hot chocolate before the plunge down.
Eagle Point has five backcountry gates, giving access to untouched terrain – as long as you have a guide and avalanche safety equipment. It links straight back to the resort. For something more gentle, a local favourite is a 2.4km top to bottom combination of runs – Big Horn,Tunnel Vision and Narrows.
Where to stay
The Village Condos are around the base village, strolling distance from Canyonside Lodge. Sleeping from one to 10 guests, all have fully equipped kitchens. Accommodation is booked through the resort ( eaglepointresort.com ), costing from $79 per night for a double bedroom apartment, plus a one-off $30 cleaning fee.
Lech Zürs, Austria
All the frills plus exceptional snowfall
Marketed as one, Lech and Zürs are two of the world’s most exclusive resorts, with almost 100 five-star and four-star hotels between them in total, as well as the world’s most expensive chalet, Chalet N in Oberlech, a traffic-free enclave accessible by cable car from Lech. High up in the Arlberg region, the villages attract the rich and famous not just because of their opulent hotels but also for the well-groomed slopes, extensive off piste and exceptional snow. On average, Lech receives more than 7m of snow a year, while Zürs receives nearly 12m.
Lech is the epitome of Alpine charm, complete with ancient timber chalets, a meandering river and onion-domed church. In addition to smart hotels, lively bars and more award-winning restaurants than any other village in Austria, Lech is home to the Strolz department store, where a pair of bespoke ski boots costs about €800. Smaller, newer and higher than Lech, Zürs is a romantic smattering of luxurious hotels and restaurants.
Ski the White Ring
Separate but linked, Lech and Zürs are part of the 350km of pistes that make up the Arlberg ski region. All are covered by the lift pass, but many guests stay close to home as the grooming of local slopes is superior.
However, the 2016/2017 seasons sees the opening of four new lifts that will link the St Anton side of the Arlberg to the Lech side, making access between the different resorts easier. The main lift is the Flexenbahn 10-seater cable car linking Zürs with Alpe Rauz in Stuben during a six-minute journey.
Closer to home, the 22.5km Weisse Rausch (White Ring) circuit is popular with intermediates, who can follow blue and red pistes in a loop around Zürs, Oberlech and Lech over the course of a day. Lech Zürs also offers some of the region’s best off piste, with powder stashes off the top of Zürs’ Trittkopf mountain, into the hamlet of Zug, where a chairlift returns to above Oberlech.
Where to stay
The four-star Hotel Gotthard in Lech has large, bright and tasteful rooms and there’s an extensive wellness area with an indoor pool. Crystal Ski Holidays ( crystalski.co.uk ) has packages from £1,320 per person for seven nights half-board, including flights and transfers.
Suave sliding and a sophisticated town
In 1914, Baroness Noémie de Rothschild decided that France should have its own St Moritz and set about transforming the Savoyard farming village of Megève into a glamorous holiday destination. It remains the epitome of aristo chic. Glittering boutiques, snazzy restaurants and lavish hotels line the ancient cobbled streets and town square. Above the town, gently undulating slopes provide flattering pistes that make everybody look, and feel, great.
Gourmet cuisine and scenic surroundings
Just one hour’s drive from Geneva, Megève is encircled by wooded pastures that lead up to impressive mountains looking on to Mont Blanc. It’s home to seven five-star hotels, one three-Michelin-starred, one two-Michelin-starred and one one-Michelin-starred restaurant, as well as several of the world’s finest mountain spas.
Dotted around the hills above town are some of the most sumptuous chalets in the Alps but if you want – and can afford – to stay in them ask nicely, as their private owners carefully vet potential guests.
Low and gentle
Megève’s slopes are extensive and ideal for beginners and intermediates, with predominantly gentle pitches and plenty of tree-lined runs for low visibility days. At the top of the Mont Joux lift there’s table-top dancing at the new Folie Douce restaurant and après bar, which has spectacular views of Mont Blanc.
Megève has three main ski areas, Rochebrune, Mont d’Arbois and the quiet Le Jaillet, all of which are reached by different cable cars from the town. Megève’s lifts are now owned by the Compagnie du Mont Blanc, which operates Chamonix’s lift system, meaning visitors can buy a Mont Blanc Unlimited lift pass, and access nearby Les Contamines, as well as the separate resorts of Chamonix, Courmayeur and Verbier. This is handy early and late in the season, when low-lying Megève can suffer from unreliable snow cover.
Where to stay
Part of Sibuet’s stable of properties, Les Fermes de Marie is a collection of restored old timber chalets comprising cosy rooms and suites, two restaurants and the original cowshed-chic Alpine spa, L’Altitude. Scott Dunn ( scottdunn.com ) offers packages from £2,100 per person for seven nights half-board, including private airport transfers.
Discreet luxury with extensive, barely touched off piste
Loved by the rich and royal, yet with only a sprinkling of fancy chalets and gourmet restaurants, Klosters oozes authentic charm and remains low-key. There are no five-star hotels but there is a kebab shop. The most popular stores are Co-op and Gotschna Sport, where a range of fat skis and touring equipment nods at the impressive off-piste terrain that lies on Klosters’ doorstep.
Klosters offers plenty of off-piste terrain for experts
By royal approval
Prince Charles is such a loyal fan that a chairlift is unofficially named after him and Wills and Kate shared their first public kiss here. Yet it’s rumoured that the party scene is too tame for Harry, mostly involving après beers at Gaudy’s Graströchni umbrella bar, on the foot of the slopes. This is followed by cocktails in the piano bar of Hotel Chesa Grischuna and dancing at the pub-like Casa Antica in the town.
For many, sunny afternoons are spent sleeping off long lunches in sheepskin-clad deck chairs outside the Berghaus Alte Schwendi – a cluster of huts by red piste 10.
The plush chalets around Klosters are discreet, focusing on simple luxuries like fire-warmed dining rooms rather than home cinemas.
King of off piste
People come to Klosters for the slopes, rather than to be seen. In addition to the acres of varied and accessible off piste, Klosters shares 300km of pistes with neighbouring Davos. Short hikes into the backcountry are rewarded with long runs that start in powder bowls and end in sleepy hamlets.
Chesa Grischuna is a five-minute walk to the Klosters cable car
The slopes are spread across five mountains – Parsenn and Madrisa are accessed from Klosters. Parsenn, with its long red and black pistes, is the largest ski area, and also links Klosters to Davos; Madrisa’s blues and gentle reds are ideal for learners. From Davos, the separate ski areas of Little Pischa, billed as the secret freeriding mountain and Jakobshorn, are reached by gondola. The fifth area, Rinerhorn, is good for families and rated by locals for off piste.
Where to stay
The cosy, wood-panelled three-star Chesa Grischuna is a five-minute walk to the Klosters cable car. Previous guests include Winston Churchill, Audrey Hepburn and Prince Charles. PT Ski ( ptski.com ) has packages from £1,015, b&b, including ski hosting, concierge service and airport transfers (excludes flights).
Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA
Pampering service for skiers and snowboarders
“It’s not exactly roughing it.” Beaver Creek’s slogan says it all. This resort delivers remarkable levels of service, including covered moving walkways to the lifts, staff to carry your gear and free freshly baked cookies served daily at 3pm. It also has manicured corduroy pistes, the only regular men’s World Cup Downhill course in the US, Birds of Prey, and acres of accessible yet challenging terrain.
The 45-room, four-star Osprey
The resort has three hubs – Beaver Creek Village, Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead, linked by lift and shuttle bus. The villages have direct access to the lifts and diverse shopping, accommodation and dining options. There’s even a free Dial-A-Ride bus service around the three hubs.
Beaver Creek Village is the main hub, with the most hotels, condos and restaurants as well as an ice rink, day care and rental shops. Bachelor Gulch is anchored around the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel while Arrowhead Village is mostly private and rental homes.
“It’s not exactly roughing it”: Beaver Creek’s slogan says it all
Beaver Creek’s ski area spans the three mountains after which the base hubs are named, plus Grouse Mountain and Larkspur Bowl, both between Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch mountains, and all areas are lift linked. Extensive beginner and intermediate slopes criss-cross Bachelor Gulch, Arrowhead and the top of Beaver Creek Mountain – from here down to its base is a huge 1,018 vertical metres. Grouse Mountain and Larkspur Bowl offer black diamond runs and powdery glades.
So you never “rough it”, Guest Service Ambassadors are always on hand to carry kit, offer tips on the best places to go, provide free sun cream and snacks, and host mountain tours – including some just for women.
Where to stay
The 45-room, four-star Osprey is a stone’s throw from the Strawberry Park Express chairlift in Beaver Creek Village. This fine boutique hotel has all the bells and whistles you’d expect – ski valet, 24-hour room service, a pool and spa. Ski Independence ( ski-i.com ) has b&b packages with flights and transfers from £1,447 per person for seven nights or £1,866 per person for 10 nights.
Baqueira Beret, Spain
Sunny, snowy and swish, with varied slopes
Snow and heliskiing might not leap to mind when considering Spain. However, the sophisticated town of Baqueira Beret is the Pyrenees’ only Atlantic-facing resort and it benefits from weather patterns that see it doused in more snow than many better-known European resorts. Add to that diverse terrain, no lift queues and some of Europe’s cheapest heliskiing and it’s little wonder King Juan Carlos of Spain built a mansion here.
The secret’s out
Although low-key b&bs and locals’ tapas bars still abound in the sleepy medieval hamlets around the main town of Baqueira, swanky new hotels such as the five-star Val de Neu are springing up, complete with facilities like their own gondolas and chairlifts, lavish spas, hip bars and discos. Be ready to set the body clock to Spanish time – locals hit the slopes after 10.30am, take a late lunch, then tapas and a siesta before dinner at 10pm, primed to hit the nightclubs at 2am.
Baqueira Beret’s ski area is spread across three main zones, Baqueira, Beret and Bonaigua, which are linked by an efficient lift system. Intermediates thrive on the many blue and red runs, which are complemented by challenging black pistes and five unpisted marked itineraries. There are acres of off-piste terrain in the Bonaigua and Beret sectors, including some tree runs around Lac de Baciver.
Baqueira Beret offers inexpensive heliskiing (from €290 per person for two drops). Splash the cash you’ve saved on the chopper on après drinks at the Louis Roederer Champagne Terrace of the five-star Val de Neu, near the Esquiros ski lift.
The five-star Val de Neu is the place to stay in Baqueira Beret
Where to stay
The five-star Val de Neu is every inch the slick, contemporary luxury hotel. A snowball’s throw from the lift, it has a spa and four restaurants, including one where children eat under the supervision of staff. Kaluma Travel ( kalumatravel.co.uk ) offers b&b packages from £625 excluding flights and transfers.
A cultured town with slopes served on the side
Since the Sixties Gstaad has been the home and playground of authors, artists, silver-screen stars and James Bond (well, Sir Roger Moore). Despite offering extensive terrain, many visitors pay only passing homage to the slopes, preferring to stroll Gstaad’s fairy light-bestrewn streets or attend the high-brow concerts, recitals and art gallery events that take place throughout winter.
Hunkered down in the Saanen valley and surrounded by mountains, Gstaad lies in the heart of farming country. But weather-worn timber chalets aside, the upmarket hotels and designer boutiques lining its main promenade (Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Cartier and Louis Vuitton to name but a few) reflect its sophisticated nature.
Rarely a month goes by without an impressive festival or event, from the New Year Music Festival and Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad winter music series to the Hublot Winter Polo Gold Cup and Hot Air Ballooning week.
Join the glitterati sipping bellinis at the Gstaad Palace Hotel or go new school, dining on gourmet burgers and knocking back Bellevue Smash cocktails in Le Grand Bellevue hotel.
Gently does it
With 220km of pistes, Gstaad has much to offer. Most of the pistes are blues and gentle reds, ideal for beginners and families. The terrain is incredibly scenic, with lost-in-time Alpine villages and red trains straight out of a vintage Swiss tourism poster to take you from village to village. The local Gstaad-Zweisimmen-Rougemont ski area with 150km of pistes is made up of five separate hills. All are covered by the Top Card lift pass, along with nearby Château d’Oex’s 30km of runs and more distant Glacier 3000 at Les Diablerets, with 25km.
Grand old Gstaad hotel meets Soho House style in Le Grand Bellevue
Homberg is the largest of the local ski areas, with 85km of runs, followed by Eggli on the opposite side of the village, which has 50km of runs. They are connected by free shuttle bus, as are the smaller local hills of Wispile, Wasserngrat and Rellerli. Given that many visitors prefer to eschew the mountain altogether, or relax on the sunny terraces of restaurants such as the Sixties-chic Saanewald Lodge and the modern chalet-style Hamilton Lodge (both in Hornberg), the slopes are usually quiet.
Other than Glacier 3000, many of Gstaad’s slopes are low-lying, making snow cover unreliable. If you’re desperate for fresh powder, arrange a day’s heliskiing with Swiss Helicopter ( swisshelicopter.ch ).
Where to stay
Le Grand Bellevue is what happens when the young new owners of a grand old Gstaad hotel inject it with Soho House style, add a casual Michelin-starred restaurant, a cool bar with a 17m-long Chesterfield, a sushi bar and a world-class spa. Rooms cost an average of £625 per night, bookable through Camel Snow ( camelsnow.com ), which also offers a free concierge service to help arrange extras from ski lessons to spa treatments.
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This article was written by Gabriella Le Breton from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.