by Adam Ruck, The Daily Telegraph, November 16, 2016
Whistler is the British Columbia resort that ticks just about every box. Glacier, moguls, trees, couloirs, heli-skiing, seamless lift connections and smiling operatives. Plus five-star hotels, great shopping, spas, pubs and clubs. It’s a big place of 10,000 inhabitants with a young crowd of workers and good-timers of every stripe. The party scene is always lively, with a colourful, exuberant peak in late January for the Pride and Ski Festival.
Whistler’s low resort altitude and tall ski areas supply spring weather at the base and prime conditions on high. At the bottom of Whistler Mountain, you can swap winter clothing for shorts and a T-shirt and exchange tall tales of the 41-degree Couloir Extreme over a jug of beer and a mountain of nachos at the Garibaldi Lift Company bar, or enjoy the views on the terrace of the Longhorn Saloon. In Blackcomb, at the bottom of the Wizard chairlift, Merlin’s is typical Whistler: table-dancing après segues seamlessly into cocktails and karaoke. Later on, at Whistler Mountain base, Buffalo Bill’s has themed parties each night. The nearby ubiquitous Irish pub, the Dubh Linn Gate, is great for watching sport and live bands. Whistler’s most popular nightclub, Garfinkel’s, hops every night in the village’s main street.
Whistler has a thriving après scene
Creekside (where the original ski area started, three miles south of Whistler Village) has affordable accommodation. Evenings are quieter here, but Dusty’s is a friendly Wild West pub at the foot of the Dave Murray Downhill piste, with ribs and live music. Roland’s pub is full to the rafters if the Vancouver Canucks are playing ice hockey, and worth a visit for its beer-battered cod and home-made apple pie alone.
Where to stay
Pan Pacific Mountainside offers luxury self-catering accommodation, direct access to the lifts, hot tub, pool and the Dubh Linn Gate downstairs. Ski Safari ( skisafari.com ) has self-catering packages from £1,295 for for eight nights, including flights and transfers.
Livigno sits in a high, remote valley near the border with Switzerland and in 1960 was granted tax-free status to encourage visitors, after which the town developed as an inexpensive ski ’n’ spree resort. Prices have levelled out since the introduction of the euro in 2002 and the Great British Binge factor is less noticeable. Although best suited to beginners and second-weekers, the ski area also attracts keen freestylers, who are fully extended by the terrain parks. There’s extensive and good-value heli-skiing to be had, too.
Many of the old wooden houses in the traffic-free village centre have been converted into atmospheric bars, restaurants and clubs. They mingle with shops stacked with fashion items, electronic goods, drink and tobacco. The overall effect is haphazard and not especially pretty but, with spirits costing £5 a litre (if you’re not fussy about the brand), and 50 or more restaurants to choose from, it’s a good resort for the thirsty self-caterer.
The main après venues are the Stalet pub at the foot of the Carosello lifts and Tea del Vidal at the base of the Mottolino gondola, which stays open until 2am with a different theme each night, and claims to be the birthplace of the bombardino (hot egg nog laced with brandy). After 10pm, it’s time to head to the Bivio Club at Hotel Bivio for live music and theme evenings, Daphne’s Pub for an Irish party atmosphere or Il Cielo for dancing. Livigno has a thriving telemark ski culture and there are fancy-dress slaloms and on-slope gigs at the end-of-season Skieda festival in April, when conditions are often at their best.
Where to stay
The Alpen Village Hotel is made up of seven large chalet style buildings and has newly updated wellness facilities, including a swimming pool, sauna and fitness room. It's located next to the Teola lift and the free ski bus stops outside to transport guests to the bustling resort centre. Ski Solutions ( skisolutions.com ) has packages from £635 including flights and transfers.
An inclusive area lift pass covering several resorts means that safaris from Kitzbühel to Kirchberg, Jochberg, Pass Thurn and assorted hamlets and bus stops en route are a delight. However, these low-altitude resorts – the highest lift station is at 2,000m – don’t come with a reliable snow record. The quality of Kitz’s après, on the other hand, is guaranteed, with traditional Tirolean fun in abundance.
The après scene takes many forms here, from tea, strudel and people-watching at atmospheric café Praxmair’s and thigh-slapping Tirolean evenings every Tuesday at the Streifalm, complete with Glühwein and the traditional woodcutter’s dance in lederhosen, to dancing on the table to live music at the Londoner pub. For a cheaper beer, there’s the Irish sports bar O’Flannigans, or the Lichtl pub in the town centre for karaoke on Mondays and Tuesdays. There is a casino in the Goldener Greif hotel, and Take Five is the suave nightclub for the gold-card crowd, with VIP rooms. Highways and Mangoes are louder and younger clubs and often open until dawn, even in low season.
The Hahnenkamm downhill race boasts some legendary after parties
After the world’s greatest ski race comes the best après-ski party. The strategy of hosting an event to fill the resort and its coffers in low season has caught on far and wide, but no imitator matches the original for the thrill of the spectacle and storm-force celebration. If you’re a racing fan, Kitzbühel on Hahnenkamm weekend (January 17 to 22 2017) is a must for the to-do list, and the downhill itself is one of the greatest tests of courage and skill in sport. The weekend attracts race fans from Innsbruck, Munich and farther afield to ring cowbells and shout themselves hoarse at the foot of the course and on the streets and dance floors of the old town afterwards. Pity the slalom skiers, who have to race on Sunday.
Where to stay
The four-star Tiefenbrunner is one of many stylish, comfortable hotels in Kitzbühel’s medieval pedestrianised centre. It’s not the most luxurious and far from the most expensive, but the hotel has been impeccably run by the Brunner family for more than 200 years. It has a good spa and pool. Inghams ( inghams.co.uk ) has half-board packages from £959, includng flights and transfers.
St Anton, Austria
The cradle of Austrian skiing, St Anton in the Arlberg region is known for its steep slopes, off-piste descents and lively après scene. It is the birthplace of the party on the piste. Pop-up bars, igloo bars and ice bars with thumping music and figs in vodka are commonplace in Austria, but St Anton takes après to a different level, several hundred metres higher up. Most of St Anton’s notorious steep runs – the bowls of the Valluga and the relentless moguls of ski routes (patrolled but not groomed) such as the Osthang – eventually join the same way back to town: blue run 1.
To catch this captive audience, half a dozen bars sit alongside the home run, most famous among them the Krazy Kanguruh and the Mooserwirt – defining après haunts that compete with throbbing Euro pop. The Mooserwirt usually makes the most noise, with an afternoon show that kicks off at 3.30pm with a blast of The Final Countdown.
At 8pm, the music on the mountain stops, and any remaining customers are helped out to slide down the last 500m of choppy piste. After a hiatus while St Anton eats (or sleeps off the earlier après), it all reignites later in bars, pubs and clubs in the village centre. Bar Cuba is a good option for lurid cocktails, and the pub-like Piccadilly has great live music. For late dancing there’s the pumping Postkeller or the more sophisticated Kandahar. Alternatively, have supper around a roaring fire at the on-mountain Rodelhütte, and then toboggan down.
Where to stay
The four-star Valluga has been given a cool Scandi makeover by Swedish hotelier Mikael Landström. Service is outstanding, with a driver usually on hand to take guests to the lifts. Momentum Ski ( momentumski.com ) has packages from £1,154 for seven nights half-board, including flights and transfers.
Méribel is a long-standing British favourite. Not just for the seamless ski cruising its well-linked location at the centre of the Trois Vallées offers, but also for its attractive chalet-style architecture and very lively après, boosted by a large seasonaire population. The party starts several hundred metres up, just before the pistes split to return to the higher base of Mottaret or Méribel’s central village. This is the location of La Folie Douce, a branch of the Val d’Isère institution, which opened in 2012 near the Saulire Express mid-station. Every day, from 3pm to 5pm, DJs, singers and dancers entertain a young crowd in this spectacular setting. Further down the run back to Méribel Centre (aka Méribel Les Allues), at 1,650m, twenty and thirtysomethings meet to drink and dance outside the Rond-Point at around 5pm. The live music here is generally of a high standard – the Feeling started out as the Rond-Point’s house band.
Most of the nightlife is in the larger lower village centre. Among the most famous fun providers was Dicks Tea Bar (again, a branch of a Val d’Isère original), but that has now become O’Sullivans Irish bar. After the refit it is still the late-party venue of choice and is open until 4am. Another good option is the Doron Pub, a typical Alpine sports bar with loud music, sports and cheapish, basic food. The popular Jack’s Bar is similar, with added stand-up comedy. For a more chilled atmosphere (or a break from partying), Barometer, Le Poste de Secours and Aux Petits Oignons offer a seat and low-volume music.
Where to stay
The Inghams-run chalet hotel Les Grangettes is a good-value option in a prime location near the Chaudanne lift station. Its in-house bar, Méribar, closes at 11pm in the interests of sleep quality for those who turn in. Inghams ( inghams.co.uk ) has chalet-board packages from £659 including flights and transfers.
Verbier is the Swiss bolt-hole of choice for the serious player who has plenty of money and enjoys flaunting it. The resort is easily accessible for an energetic weekend via Geneva airport and its ski area is one of the best in the world for serious adventure. This gives an edge to the place and real excitement to the atmosphere, most spectacularly when the world’s bravest freeriders come to town for the Freeride World Tour final, the Swatch Xtreme Verbier (April 1 to 9 2017). Competition and partying will be no less intense during The City Ski Championships (February 2 to 5 2017).
Verbier has a plethora of après options on and off the slopes
New bars and clubs come and go, but the quality of the après scene is remarkably reliable. At the end of the day, the American diner-style Offshore Café serves up smoothies and milkshakes; the Pub Mont Fort is the place for beer and nachos in the company of young Britons and instructors, and the Farinet for live bands, jugs of beer, cocktails, shots and dancing on the bar under its glassed-in terrace. The Fer à Cheval is a lively bar for a drink as the sun sets and the best Swiss approximation of a cheap supper venue. Later on, the iconic Farm Club in the Nevaï hotel, which opened in 1971, continues to attract old Euro-rockers, who buy spirits by the bottle to be kept for next weekend behind the bar.
Where to stay
Number 14 ( no14verbier.com ) is a former hotel transformed by Ski Verbier founder David Pearson and polar explorer Tom Avery into a 13-bedroom luxury chalet fashionably decked out in nifty shades of grey. There is gourmet food, plus stunning views from the hot tub, with champagne on the side. The chalet is ski-in and a taxi service takes guests to the Médran lift. Verbier Exclusive ( verbierexclusive.com ) offers the whole chalet from CHF67,600 for a week, chalet-board, excluding travel.
Les Deux Alpes, France
Les Deux Alpes is an informal, lively place, with few pretensions but plenty of inexpensive accommodation. The resort’s glacier ski area, which peaks at a breathtaking 3,570m, makes this resort popular for spring trips, summer camps and autumn race training. As a result, it has a year-round community and a lively après scene. The southern end, Alpe de Venosc, is the more scenic and animated.
The on-mountain party starts at Pano Bar, at the altitude 2,600m lift-station midway up the Jandri Express gondola, with a DJ every afternoon. That leaves nearly 1,000m vertical downhill still to do, so prudence is recommended. The new Jandri blue run to the village makes it easier to get back down for après. It’s a welcome alternative to the other options – steep, icy blacks or an overcrowded, narrow green run.
The party starts at Pano Bar
Safely down, the beat goes on at The Secret Bar, where live bands play and punters enjoy beer by the jug during its 4pm to 5pm happy hour. There are scores of bars and pubs strung out along the strip, most in the middle near the tourist office and the Jandri Express base station. Smokey Joe’s is a busy sports bar in the centre, with Guinness on tap, Tex-Mex food, a long and inventive cocktail list, live music and theme nights. Smithy’s Tavern also offers those last two (despite its slogan, “The avoidance of sameness”). Pub Le Windsor is a friendly place with 100 beers and almost as many whiskies; Bar Rhumerie specialises in rum; and O’Brian’s is the obligatory Irish pub. At the Venosc end of town, L’Avalanche is last to close at 4am and offers a free taxi service home within the resort.
Where to stay
The four-star Hotel Chalet Mounier is an old farm that many generations of Mouniers have upgraded. Its rustic luxury includes the Michelin-starred Le P’tit Polyte restaurant and a spa, and it has great views of the Southern Alps’ highest peaks. Crystal ( crystalski.co.uk ) has packages from £888 half-board, including flights and transfers.
This charming old village on the sunny side of Mont Blanc, with its cobbled streets and historic buildings, has eating and drinking at its heart both on and off the slopes. Separated from the village by a main road and river, the ski area is neither huge nor the height of convenience, but the views are sublime and there’s an inviting rifugio at every turn of the piste, each with its own home-concocted firewater.
The cable car from Courmayeur to the midmountain cluster of restaurants and pensioni at Plan Checrouit runs until midnight. The best place for a serious evening shindig is Maison Vieille, at 2,000m and with its own skimobile taxi service to and from the cable car. The restaurant is renowned for its New Year’s Eve fancy-dress fireworks party, which you do need to book.
In Val Ferret, a short bus ride away, there are 20km of beautiful cross-country trails and Chalet Proment, another brilliant party restaurant. It is a valdostana chalet, serving specialities of the Valle d’Aosta, including mountain hams, chamois with chestnuts and wild mushrooms and, finally, a wooden grolla bowl of alcoholic coffee that you pass around. For guaranteed hilarity, cross-country ski there and back with head torches.
Via Roma, the traffic-free main street of Courmayeur, is lined with cosy bars and tempting shop windows. At the end of the day, there’s a mass move to bag comfy sofa space and attack the free buffet at Bar Roma. The back room of the Caffè della Posta has a more low-key ambience, but drinks there also arrive with free antipasti. One round leads to another and après becomes nightlife – it can be easy to miss dinner in Courmayeur.
Where to stay
Set back from Via Roma and ideally placed for enjoying the resort, the former hotel Cristallo now operates as a Mark Warner chalet hotel. It has kept its charm, with carved wood, check tablecloths and a cosy feel. Outside school-holiday periods, it is for adults only. Mark Warner ( markwarner.co.uk ) has chalet-board packages from £599, including flights and transfers.
Pas de la Casa, Andorra
Pas, as it’s known to its denizens, is a frankly unattractive resort that has grown up at high altitude on the duty-free side of the French/Andorran border. Part of the extensive Grandvalira ski area, which includes Soldeu, Pas has slopes best suited to confident intermediates. Separated from the rest of the principality by a mountain wall, it has largely missed the facelift that has taken the rest of Andorra upscale. But what it lacks in beauty, it makes up for in après. With a reputation for wild partying, Pas is the winter-sports capital of the Monday night pub crawl, organised by the local holiday reps.
The pub crawl is not a dignified affair, and officialdom periodically pays lip service to discouraging it on grounds of health and safety. It takes in all the best bars and pubs in town and as well as being good cheap fun, it gets people together. The cost – a few euros for a tour of a dozen bars with a free shot in each – is low, but then if you want a free shot in Pas, you only have to ask. A litre of vodka costs the bar less than a small can of Red Bull, so (within reason) they are literally giving it away. Count the cost in headache pills.
Pas offers down and dirty après for bargain prices
At Deja Beer, each table has its own beer tap with a tally on a display screen to encourage competitive intake. Kamikaze Surf is a popular bar/restaurant/club with steaks and burgers served late. La Perla Negra is a pirate-themed bar with DJs, plus a pool table. Disco-pubs KYU and Amadeus stay open late playing house music, as does Bilbord, but with a pop playlist. Watch your step on the way home – the streets are icy, steep, and patrolled by the police.
Where to stay
The four-star Font d’Argent is a shining exception to the usually simple Pas de la Casa accommodation. It’s a clean and smart new hotel with a spa and pool and is well placed for easy access to the slopes and nightlife. Inghams ( inghams.co.uk ) has packages from £649, half board, including flights an transfers.
Switzerland is often thought of in terms of cuckoo-clock Alpine charm, and the old village of Laax, which shares a vast and versatile sunny ski area with Flims, in south-eastern Switzerland, fits that stereotype quite well. But there is another side to the resort, one with a penchant for bold, modern design, which attracts grown-up freestylers. Don’t expect the wild après of St Anton but the lift-base bars at Laax Murschetg are busy and there are a few clubs with big-name bands and DJs playing.
The stylish and extensive Rocks Resort at Laax-Murschetg is the focus of much of the après. The complex has several bars and clubs and the minimalist, cubic apart’hotel caters for rebellious riders tamed by families. The trendy Crap Bar has rails to grind outside, but there are also lots of younger people sitting on their boards sucking a beer outside cosy pub Il Pup in the late afternoon sunshine. Or there’s the new Indy Club for DJs and a party atmosphere.
Laax is known for its extensive terrain parks
Also part of the Rocks, The Riders Palace is a gleaming designer hostel in glass and stone for the affluent youth market – it has a stylish lobby bar. International bands and DJs perform at the Palace Club, known for its legendary events – booking is essential for big-name acts.
There’s also a party atmosphere at the foot of the slopes from mid-afternoon. The WaWa tent plays Euro-dance, or listen to a DJ and live music at the traditional chalet-style Tegia Larnags above Murschetg – pedestrians can walk there in 15 minutes. The chalet is also open in the evening for supper (rösti, fondue, venison) and the slope is lit. For a change of scene, there’s Flims by night. The hub of its party scene is the Arena Lodge in Flims Dorf, which has The Gin & Oyster Club (5pm to 9pm) and the throbbing Arena Club in the basement after that.
Freestylers are well catered for with four terrain parks – including the world’s biggest halfpipe and an array of Olympic sized kickers – as well as the Freestyle Academy, an exciting indoor adventure hall with a skate bowl, ramps, jumps, trampoline, foam pit and airbag, open until 9pm.
Where to stay
Rocksresort is made up of minimalist, stylish buildings housing a variety of modern apartments ranging in size from two to four bedrooms. Ski Safari ( skisafari.com ) has packages from £799 per person for seven nights self-catering, including flights and transfers.
This article was written by Adam Ruck from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.