by Telegraph Ski and Snowboard, The Telegraph, September 27, 2017
Snow-sure slopes, jolly mountain atmosphere, the certainty of fireworks and a good chance of a torchlit descent - here’s our pick of the best places to ring out the old year and raise a glass to the new.
Unless otherwise stated, prices are per person based on two sharing, half-board, plus include flights and transfers for seven days. Chalet board means half-board plus afternoon tea and wine with dinner.
Best for terrain parks
The ski area shared by the villages of Laax, Flims and smaller Falera has been developed in recent years to target a youthful market, and particularly snowboarders. Its four terrain parks set at over 2,000m on Crap Sogn Gion (Crap translates as peak in the local dialect) are key to the area’s appeal.
In total, the parks offer over 90 features such as rails, boxes and kickers as well as two halfpipes – the larger one is the world’s biggest, a massive 200m long, 22m wide and 6.9m high. There’s also a dedicated freestyle slope and, new for 2017/18, a daily Snowpark lift pass for 52CHF, covering all four. There’s also the Freestyle Academy, an indoor adventure hall with a skate bowl, ramps, jumps, trampoline, foam pit and airbag, open until 9pm. The ski area also has plenty for freeriders, with a range of ungroomed but marked and patrolled freeride runs as well as vast off-piste areas.
The sharp, modern and convenient Rocksresort development at the Laax lift base is the focus of much of the après, with several bars and clubs and a minimalist, cubic apartment hotel. Also part of the Rocks, the Riders Palace is a gleaming designer hostel in glass and stone, with a stylish lobby bar. International bands and DJs perform at the Palace club.
Where to stay
Four-star Hotel Signina is right by the lifts in the Rocksresort and has a spa, sauna and pool. From £1,216, Erna Low.
Best for intermediate cruising
Les Deux Alpes, France
Les Deux Alpes has three major assets: guaranteed snow cover, long cruisy runs for intermediates and one of the finest terrain parks in Europe. A top altitude of 3,568m means that even in the worst winters for snow visitors are never in serious trouble here. What’s more, it has some of the most vibrant après in France.
The mountain’s unusual shape means that some of the most difficult runs are at the bottom, while up on the glacier there are mostly easy blues. As well as intermediates, this is good for beginners, who even during their first week on skis or snowboard can access more terrain here than in other ski areas. But at the end of the day even wobbly intermediates are advised to download rather than tackle the icy valley runs. Les 2 Alpes Freestyle Land at 2,600m includes a terrain park on the glacier with a halfpipe and superpipe, and a family park. Plus, the off piste in adjoining La Grave is extraordinary.
Le Pano Bar, on the mountain opposite the Jandri Express mid-station, is where the party begins, with a DJ from 3pm till 5pm. Later on the action moves on to some 30 bars in town. Pub Windsor claims to be the first bar to be built when the resort opened, and is still going strong. The atmosphere is welcoming, there’s a choice of 100 beers and it’s open until 2am. Avalanche Club has been going for the best part of 20 years and is an institution for the late-night crowd. Open from 11.30am to 6am, it has a mix of dance and house music with themed nights.
Where to stay
Chalet Les Rouses is a traditional wood-clad property with eight en-suite bedrooms and a sauna. It’s well placed for restaurants, shops and nightlife, and the Vallée Blanche chairlift is 200m away. There is a special meal and midnight treats for New Year’s Eve as well as a celebration breakfast on January 1. From £1,119 chalet board, including equipment hire and area lift pass (saving £350), Skiworld.
Best for wild dancing
Sölden’s intermediate-friendly, high-altitude slopes are within an hour’s drive of Innsbruck airport. Its appearance as a backdrop in the 2015 Bond film SPECTRE has put it on the radar of many more Britons. A new cinematic James Bond installation is opening for winter 2017/18 next to the ICE Q restaurant that was used as a location in the film.
Sölden’s reputation for reliable snow stems from the two glaciers linked into the ski area, Rettenbach and Tiefenbach. The slopes are much more extensive than the statistics (32 lifts and 144km of piste) suggest, because the three mountains above are well connected, without annoying paths between them. Sölden also has two of the most powerful feeder gondolas in the world. The 10-person Giggijoch gondola, opened for 2016/17 season, is capable of uploading an impressive 4,500 people an hour while the eight-person Gaislachkogl at the far end of the village ascends to a heady 3,050m. Although most of the pistes are intermediate, there are also plenty of off-piste opportunities too.
Sölden is not the prettiest resort, stretching for 2km along the main valley road, with hotels and shops dotted around and no real centre. But has no shortage of club venues for dancing in the new year, and its nightlife is younger and wilder than that of its more conservative, family-friendly neighbour Obergurgl nearby. The biggest club is Katapult, which hosts massive dance nights with international DJs and show dancers, including on New Year’s Eve.
Where to stay
The four-star Hotel Erhart is a five-minute walk from the main Gaislachkogl gondola. It’s a contemporary hotel situated in a quiet location with its own spa and free entry to the pool and indoor recreation centre at the nearby Freizeit arena. From £965, Crystal.
Best for North American adventure
Banff is a jolly tourist town with plenty of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. There are three different ski areas to choose from, each easily accessible by ski bus. Although prices on the ground are not super cheap, a holiday here needn’t cost the earth because tour operators offer great-value packages. That’s because there are a lot of lodgings to meet peak summer demand – the town sits at one end of a scenic drive through mountainous national parks.
Each of Banff’s three very different ski areas is a free bus ride away. Norquay is only a few minutes’ drive, but tiny, with just 190 acres of terrain including a good nursery area. Sunshine Village, 20 minutes away, is a fair size (3,358 acres), and is known for steep terrain and plenty of snow. Lake Louise, 45 minutes away, is the largest area, with 4,200 acres of terrain – it’s best suited to intermediates and experts.
There are more than 100 bars in the town, which holds a family-friendly New Year’s Eve street party with entertainment, activities, games, campfires, food booths, storytelling and music as well as fireworks at midnight. The après ski lounge at the Juniper Hotel Bistro has great views overlooking Banff. Kick off the evening with a Banff Fog cocktail, which includes vanilla Galliano, Grand Marnier and Earl Grey tea, served hot with cinnamon. Elk & Oarsman kitchen and bar on Banff Avenue is also good for drinks and snacks.
Where to stay
Four-star Banff Caribou Lodge on the main street is affordably priced, has a warm, homely atmosphere. As well a homely atmosphere it has a fully equipped spa and excellent steak restaurant. From £1,159 room on ly, Inghams .
Best for New year on a budget
It takes almost three hours to get to Livigno from Innsbruck, and longer from Italian hub airports, but it’s worth it for the low prices and reliable snow. The village is strung out along 10km of mountain road that comes to a full stop in winter at 1,816m, near the Swiss border.
It’s a great resort for beginners and low intermediates, with terrain on both the Mottolino and Costaccia/Carosello sides of the valley. Five terrain parks are geared to different levels including beginners and children. The main one is on Mottolino with kickers, rails, an airbag and a superpipe; a second, at Carosello is aimed at intermediates. For experts, Livigno has a series of managed off-piste routes as well as the rare opportunity for affordable heliskiing.
Livigno has a special tax status that dates back to Napoleonic times. There’s no VAT, which makes drinks, petrol and consumer goods some of the cheapest in Europe. Many of the old wooden houses in the traffic-free village centre have been converted into atmospheric bars, restaurants and clubs. There’s a massive New Year’s Eve party at Stalet near the bottom of the Carosello 3000 lift, and Camanel di Planon, up the mountain on the Mottolino side, hosts a sit-down meal followed by DJ set.
Where to stay
Hotel Galli is located in the San Rocco area, directly opposite the ski school and lifts, making access to the Carosello side of the mountain quick and easy. It has a cosy bar and wellness area with a sauna, steam room and whirlpool baths. From £745, Neilson.
Best for varied après
The old farming village of Ischgl has developed into a sophisticated tourist centre, with smart hotels and cavernous bars offering full-throttle nightlife. There’s no glacier but its altitude (1,400m), combined with some of the most sophisticated snowmaking in the Alps, pretty much guarantees at least adequate snow cover.
The main ways up the mountain are by heavyweight gondolas, and the slopes best suit mileage-hungry intermediates who enjoy covering lots of ground before returning to the resort for some of the wildest table-dancing in the Alps. For something different, there’s Skyfly – two parallel 2km zip-wires from Silvretta mid-station to the village. The exciting ride can be done with skis or board attached behind in a harness.
Ischgl’s clientele tends to be about 10 years older than the 20-somethings who pack into the Mooserwirt on the slopes above St Anton. From 3.30pm, the atmosphere in the village and at the foot of the pistes is electric and very good-natured. Arguably the most unusual bar in town is Niki’s Stadl, with its song and dance entertainment. The music is oompahpah Germanic, but the whole place buzzes. Pacha on the other hand is a little bit of Ibiza in the Tirol, one of four après venues run by the Hotel Madlein and that attracts VIP guests.
Where to stay
The luxurious Chalet Hotel Abendrot is central but set away from the noisy main drag and is an easy walk to the Fimba and Silvretta lifts. On New Year’s Eve there’s champagne and a celebration menu. From £1,531, chalet board, departing on December 26, Ski Total.
Best for a city ski break
This is one of Austria’s most beautiful cities, boasting a medieval old town of narrow cobbled streets and colourful buildings along the River Inn. As well as being the Tirolean capital, Innsbruck is also a ski resort, with considerable charm and fine restaurants.
The OlympicWorld lift pass covers 300km of piste in nine ski areas, including Kühtai and the Stubai Glacier, all easily reached from Innsbruck by free ski bus. The nearest ski area is Nordkette with 11km of mostly red pistes and a small terrain park, just 20 minutes from the city. The access funicular’s four stations were designed by architect Zaha Hadid. They’re striking and contemporary buildings that are an integral part of the cityscape. From the top of the Nordkette area at Hafelekar (2,256m), novices can admire the city and Alpine views, and experts can tackle Karrinne, a challenging off-piste run.
On New Year’s Eve the centre of Innsbruck becomes a party destination from 9pm - at midnight Strauss’s Blue Danube strikes up, and there’s waltzing in the streets. Alternatively, try the Cloud 9 club up at Nordkette, which has DJs and dancing, and gives a bird’s eye view of the firework displays in the city. Lifts run until 2.30am.
Where to stay
The historic Hotel Weisses Kreuz in the centre of town has 40 rooms, a handy a boot room, and the ski bus stop is just a three-minute walk. From £838 B&B for four nights including flights but not transfers, Ski Weekends.
Best for experts
With its luxurious chalets and hotels, challenging high-altitude terrain and vibrant après, Verbier exudes cool cachet. The slopes are snow-sure and the scenery spectacular, and from the top of the ski area – Mont Fort, at 3,330m – the views reach as far as the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. The combination of altitude and extensive snowmaking mean it’s pretty safe to book a holiday here early in the season.
The slopes here best suit confident, adventurous skiers and snowboarders, and Verbier’s challenging itinerary routes (loosely marked but not formally controlled or patrolled) are where many experts spend their time. Epic downhill highlights for New Year’s Day could include the 900m-vertical route from Col des Gentianes to Tortin, or the 1,000m vertical Vallon d’Arby down to La Tzoumaz on the edge of the ski area.
For après celebration, Le Mouton Noir champagne bar on the mountain has a sunny terrace and professional dancers during high season, while fur and Gore-Tex meet in a dozen languages and all ages on the sunny terrace of Le Rouge at the bottom of the eponymous piste. Resort life is concentrated in venues within a short stagger of the après hub of Place Centrale, the main lift base at Médran and the buzzing street between the two. The sound of live bands pounds from the glassed-in terrace of the Farinet from late afternoon, as revellers dance on tables in their ski boots. By contrast, the minimalist Nevaï hotel has a stylish cocktail bar with balcony.
Where to stay
The central Xtra Chalet de Verbier opened in 1948 and is now run by Inghams. It has 31 newly renovated rooms, a bar and lounge, and offers a convenient and affordable base. There’s a special celebration meal on New Year’s Eve. From £1,029 chalet board, Inghams.
Best for beginners
Passo Tonale, Italy
This compact, value-for-money village lies at 1,880m, with lifts going up to 3,088m. It’s one of the few Italian resorts to be snow-sure from late October to mid-June, thanks to the Presena glacier at 3,000m. Generally quiet during the week, the village was developed mainly to service the slopes, and a road runs through the middle.
Passo Tonale’s gentle open slopes form a near-perfect nursery area for learning to snowplough and gaining confidence - if booking lessons be sure to ask for an English-speaking instructor. The gondola to the glacier means even non-skiers and beginners can enjoy the views of the Italian Alps from the top - the only run down is red. For those seeking more advanced slopes, there are lift links to Ponte di Legno and Temù.
Passo Tonale comes to life during the Italian holidays and at weekends, and there are plenty of lively bars in town. For a special meal, Hotel La Mirandola, above the main resort, dates back to the 12th century, and the restaurant has a oodles of atmosphere and can be reached in the evening by snowmobile.
Where to stay
For a warm welcome and friendly service, the three-star, family-run Hotel Adamello is hard to beat. Good food, including a Trentino-themed gala buffet, is served and there’s also a children’s games room. From £609, including €100 hotel credit, Crystal Ski.
Best for a big ski area
Val d'Isère, France
Linked to neighbouring Tignes to form the Espace Killy ski area of 300km of pistes and 90 lifts, Val d’Isère offers high quality, snow-sure slopes for everyone from complete beginners to veteran powderhounds. On top of that, the standard of piste grooming is extremely high and the lift system is constantly being upgraded - the Solaise access gondola, updated from a chairlift to a 10-person gondola for the 2016/17 season, increased capacity by 40 per cent.
Though the slopes in Val d’Isère can be enjoyed by all, the ski area is best suited to strong intermediates and better. A blue run here could easily be classified as a red in another resort, while black really does mean a serious challenge. Even in high season, such as at new year when lifts are at capacity, Val has a major advantage – no less than eight main mountain access points, so rush-hour queues are easily avoided.
On-mountain après is at La Folie Douce, at the top of the La Daille gondola. It rocks from mid-afternoon until the lifts close, with DJs, musicians and dancers on an open terrace. Bananas near the bottom of La Face run is one of Val’s liveliest après bars, while Cocorico at the Rond Point (almost at the foot of Solaise) is also popular. Dick’s Tea Bar no longer opens at après time,
but has DJs and live musicians every night from 10pm until 5am. Le Graal is Dick’s main rival as a late-night club - the main event is the Electrograal clubnight on Wednesdays, with live music.
Where to stay
Aspen Lodge is a smart apartment block, centrally located on the main street, with suites of various sizes and a full concierge service. It’s convenient for the slopes as well as shopping and nightlife, and there’s a New Year’s Eve dinner. From £1,159 chalet board in the three-bedroom Aspen Lodge Suite for six people, VIP Ski.