by Peter Hardy and travel writer, The Telegraph, February 5, 2018
Unlike the recent record-breaking snow cover in the Alps, British success on the slopes at the Winter Olympics has been thin on the ground since Alpine skiing first became an Olympic sport in 1936. But all that may be about to change from next weekend in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Away from the pistes, our men and women have clocked up a respectable 33 medals since the first Winter Games was held in Chamonix in 1924, in disciplines ranging from skeleton and bobsleigh to skating, ice hockey and curling. We’ve even had a courageously comic go at ski jumping… stand up Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards. But glory at Alpine skiing, enjoyed by about a million of us each year, remains utterly elusive.
However, Lancashire slalom specialist Dave Ryding heads to South Korea as one of the world’s top 10 and a serious podium contender alongside the great Marcel Hirscher – the finest and most lauded Austrian skier of his generation. So far, he’s had a string of World Cup wins this season in slalom. No pressure then.
Snowboarder Katie Ormerod and freestyle skiers James Woods and Izzy Atkin could also join the party. And let’s not forget Poole-born Andrew Musgrave, a superb cross-country skier. He famously described his performance at Sochi as that of “a tranquillised badger” and hopes to do better. Of course, we have lots of potential – once again – among our Paralympians, too.
For the most part, though, we have doggedly followed the Victorian creed of Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympics. He famously said: “The most important thing is not to win, but to take part”.
Britain has been taking part, more in the bulldog spirit than with serious podium expectations, since 1936, when we first sent alpine skiers to Nazi Germany’s Winter Games in Garmisch. The harsh facts are that we are a lowland nation and success comes only at a huge price in the form of mostly private funding.
If you’re a Brit, you’re on your own – at least in the essential childhood and early teen years. The groundwork to glory usually starts with a family holiday or school trip and then has to be layered brick by painful brick before you get out the corporate begging bowl. By comparison, every small ski resort in the Alps has, at any one time, a whole squad of talented youngsters in training, with funding readily available for equipment and expert coaching.
Success means finding a way of spending a minimum of 300 days a year on snow in two hemispheres – plus full-time coaching, clothing and access to factory boots and skis. As with Formula One racing, you don’t buy the winning equipment over the counter in a high-street shop.
Despite these handicaps – and remember, you’ve got to have exceptional talent in the first place – there’s a whole list of notable British ski Olympians who have done us proud. Alain Baxter from Aviemore won a slalom bronze at Salt Lake City in 2002, only to lose it because he’d used a US-bought Vicks inhaler for a blocked nose. In similar circumstances, Canadian Ross Rebagliati lost the first gold for snowboarding at Nagano after testing positive for marijuana but was allowed to have it back.
British snowboarder Jenny Jones won slopestyle bronze at Sochi in 2014. Konrad Bartelski, Martin and Graham Bell, along with Chemmy Alcott, Finlay Mickel, Gina Hawthorn and Divina Galica all stand high on my personal podium.
The forecast by UK Sport for this Winter Games is for at least four medals and maybe as many as 10. Dave Ryding, along with the rest of us, is hoping that at least one will be for Alpine skiing.
The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, begins on Friday and continues until February 25.
1. Innsbruck, Austria
1964 & 1976
Curiously, the capital of the Tirol is not seen as an actual ski resort by UK skiers – yet the double Olympics put Innsbruck and the surrounding region on the map as one of the best ski destinations in Europe. The top of the ski jump has a worrying view of a graveyard.
A funicular from the town centre takes you up towards the city’s own, astonishingly steep, ski area. Nearby are Igls, where the great Franz Klammer won in 1976, and Axamer Lizum, centre for most of the ski events of both Olympics. Kitzbühel and the SkiWelt, Mayrhofen and Obergurgl are all within easy reach. The Olympic museum is the best in Europe.
Where to stay
At four-star Hotel Zillertal from £625 B&B with Crystal Ski.
2. Squaw Valley, USA
Squaw, on the Californian shore of Lake Tahoe, had just one chair-lift when it won the right to host the games. But, backed by the Disney empire, what a difference an injection of $80 million (£56 million) makes.
Today it has joined forces with adjoining Alpine Meadows to offer 6,000 acres of skiing linked by 43 lifts. Visit the Olympic museum and take your own place on the podium.
Curiously a young Frenchman called Jean Vuarnet produced the biggest legacy of the games. Returning to his native Morzine with downhill gold around his neck, he was given the job of creating futuristic Avoriaz and links to the dozen villages of the giant Portes du Soleil. After two such momentous feats, it’s sad that he’s best remembered for his sunglasses brand.
Where to stay
Deluxe suite at Squaw Valley Lodge from £1,189. San Francisco flights and car rental included, but not meals with Ski Independence .
3. Albertville, France
The women’s races took place in Méribel and the men’s slalom in Les Menuires. The Blue Riband event, the men’s downhill, went to Val d’Isère. The course on the infamous Face de Bellevarde is so technically difficult, steep and fast that Austrian racer Patrick Ortlieb from Lech complained about it… just after he had won gold.
In both giant ski areas some of the most enjoyable terrain and sensibly priced accommodation is located away from the main resort centres.
Where to stay
Reberty above Les Menuires is a charming hamlet, purpose-built in traditional style. Chalet Neve has doorstep skiing and a reputation for fine food. From £715 with Powder N Shine. Le Laisinant is a cluster of stone houses on the road from Val d’Isère to Le Fornet, with easy direct mountain access. Chalet de Pierre from £620 with YSE.
4. Calgary, Canada
The great Alberto Tomba dominated in both giant slalom and slalom. Finnish ski jumper Matti Nykanen won double gold, but his performance was eclipsed by Eddy “The Eagle” Edwards, who flew into last place.
The Alpine skiing events were held at Nakiska on Mount Allan, which still has just six lifts and only 1,000 acres of skiing. But the true legacy of the skiing was the development of winter tourism in the scenic Banff National Park, which had previously attracted mainly summer visitors.
Where to stay
Six nights at one of the three-star inns of Banff from £775. Price includes flights and transfers, but not meals with Ski Safari.
5. Vancouver, Canada
Most of the men’s and women’s ski events were held in Whistler, where brilliant British skeleton racer Amy Williams won gold. But much of the other spectator interest was at Cypress Mountain, closer to Vancouver. Ski cross was introduced for the first time, joining snowboard cross, which had made its debut four years earlier. The sport, in which four skiers or boarders race each other down a steep serpentine course with giddy jumps, provides addictive television viewing.
In the lead up to the Games, Whistler attracted investment that included the Peak-to-Peak gondola, which spans its twin mountains. The resort offers top-to-bottom skiing and is justly the most popular ski destination in North America. Snowcover is reliable but the climate is harsh.
Where to stay
In Whistler at Coast Blackcomb Suites from £1,273. Price includes breakfast, flights and transfers with Erna Low.
6. Chamonix, France
Britain had a tally of four medals including curling gold at the first Winter Olympics, but Alpine skiing was not included. As a nation we’d discovered it as a holiday sport in Switzerland some 30 years earlier. However, the French, who organised the Games, had yet to recognise it. But Chamonix, already a centre for climbing and mountaineering, soon made up for lost time and became the capital of European extreme skiing, which takes place in five main areas. You don’t have to be an expert to ski here, but the nature of the separate ski areas makes it inconvenient for mixed ability trips and family groups.
Where to stay
In a two-bedroom apartment sleeping five people in the smart Cristal de Jade complex next to the Aiguille du Midi cable car. Self-catered fly-drive price from £368 with Peak Retreats.
7. Salt Lake, Utah
One of the attractions of Salt Lake City is that nine ski resorts are located within a 45-minute drive of its international airport. The city is now seriously considering bidding again for 2026.
The legacy of 2002 was a 50 per cent expansion in the number of skier and snowboarder visits in and around the Mormon capital. Snowbird and Alta are renowned for providing the cream of Utah’s fabled powder skiing. But Park City, with its choice of restaurants and hotels, is the best holiday destination resort.
The skiing is now linked to The Canyons, making it the largest ski area in America with 265km of pistes. There’s also talk of linking to glitzy Deer Valley, on the far side of the town, although it is one of three resorts in the US that continues to ban snowboarding.
Where to stay
At four-star Silverado Lodge on Canyons Resort Drive from £1,134 B&B with SNO .
8. Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
Toni Sailer of Austria became the first skier – Jean-Claude Killy was the second at Grenoble, 12 years later – to win three gold medals. For the first time at a Winter Olympics, his feat was watched by an international television audience.
The town, in the Dolomites, is dominated by a green-and-white bell tower and is surrounded by soaring 3,000m cathedrals of limestone that turn a surreal pink at sunset. The racetrack on Tofane, where Sailer won gold, offers some of the most dramatic scenery in the resort, but even when not prepared for racing it is insanely steep and it’s best to keep your eyes fixed on the next turn.
Where to stay
At four-star Hotel Alaska with Venice flights and private transfers. From £848 with Momentum Ski.
9. Turin, Italy
Ski events were centred around Sestriere, Sauze d’Oulx and the other resorts of the Via Lattea or Milky Way that span the French frontier, with 400km of mainly intermediate skiing. In preparation for the Games, the lift system and roads were dramatically improved and access from Turin airport takes little more than an hour.
The scenic 3km women’s downhill at San Sicario Fraiteve is a must for anyone wanting to carve a few steep turns in their own Olympic dream.
Thirty years ago, Sauze d’Oulx developed a reputation as an alpine Magaluf, but has long since cleaned up its act to return to the charming mountain village it once was.
Where to stay
Park Hotel Gran Bosco is a comfortable three-star family run hotel. Prices from £449 based on three persons sharing with Inghams.
10. St Moritz, Switzerland
1928 & 1948
The second Swiss Games in 1948 was the first to feature the full range of six Alpine skiing events for men and women. Skeleton on the Cresta Run as well as bobsleigh on the world’s only natural track down to Celerina are lasting legacies of both games.
St Moritz is best known for its wealthy clientele, men-only Cresta and alternative sporting events such as horse racing, polo, golf, and even cricket on its frozen lake. But don’t let this and the supporting glitz detract from the fact that it has superb skiing for all standards.
Four main sectors provide 350km of piste. The main nursery slopes are at Corviglia above the town centre, while Corvatsch on the other side of the valley has more advanced terrain. Diavolezza and Lagalb are a bus or train ride away.
Where to stay
At four-star Hotel Monopol from £1,169 with two-for-one equipment rental with SNO.
All holidays are per person for seven nights and include flights, transfers, and half-board accommodation unless otherwise stated.
This article was written by Peter Hardy and travel writer from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].