|Photo by Freeimages.com/Derek Jones|
Dave Watts, Chris Gill, editors of Where to Ski and Snowboard 2016, The Daily Telegraph, October 5, 2015
From ski area expansions and whizzy new lifts to hot hotels and dog-friendly chalets, we look at the latest developments in ski resorts around Europe.
Saalbach-Hinterglemm becomes Austria’s largest ski area
The big news is that Saalbach-Hinterglemm is now Austria’s largest lift-linked ski area. A new piste down to and new gondola back from the formerly separate neighbouring resort of Fieberbrunn has added 70km of runs, which brings Saalbach-Hinterglemm’s total to 270km. The official total of the former biggest, SkiWelt, is 280km, but Christophe Schrahe, who has measured the pistes of resorts around the world in a consistent way – straight down the middle – makes its total 240km. He has certified Saalbach-Hinterglemm’s 270km as correct.
It also has 95 per cent fast lifts, the highest proportion of any major resort in the world.
Massive lift upgrade in Obergurgl, Austria
In Hochgurgl, Obergurgl 's higher linked ski area, the Kirchenkar drag-lift has been replaced by a 10-person gondola. The plan is that in 2016/17 a second, higher stage will be added. At the base of the new gondola, which is called the Top Mountain Cross Point, there is also a new table-service restaurant open for 2015/16.
SkiWelt installs world’s fastest chairlift
Above Brixen, on the south side of the SkiWelt, the old Jochbahn quad chair has been replaced by an eight-seater, which the resort says is the world’s fastest chairlift, travelling at six metres per second. It’s double the length of the old quad, starting much lower down the mountain but finishing at the same place. In Ellmau, Austria – at the north-eastern corner of SkiWelt – a new 10-seat gondola replaces the Hartkaiser train, doubling carrying capacity. The top station at 1,530m has a new children’s restaurant and ski school, and the valley station has a restaurant, bar, storage and underground parking.
Better French connection at Châtel
In the huge Portes du Soleil ski area, which straddles the French-Swiss border, Châtel, France, has a new blue slope, the Forestière. It links the two local areas of Super Châtel, directly above the village, and Linga slightly further along the valley. This will make doing a circular tour of the Portes du Soleil much easier. The new run goes from Super Châtel down to Vonnes in the valley, where a fast quad chairlift goes up to the Linga area or a six-seater chair comes back up to Super Châtel.
New cable car up Mont Blanc opens in Courmayeur, Italy
The long-awaited new cable car from Entrèves (1,305m) just outside Courmayeur up to Punta Helbronner at 3,460m on Mont Blanc opened this summer. It goes up in two stages with cabins that rotate through 360 degrees on the way to make the most of the views. It starts lower than the old cable car (the top stage of which has been out of action for the past three seasons) and there is a new car park at its base. The new lift makes the famous off-piste runs from the top – the Vallée Blanche to Chamonix and Toula Glacier to Courmayeur – easily accessible.
Flaine to get smart new hotel
The Totem hotel in Flaine, France is reopening after a revamp by the Sibuet family, who run several hotels and restaurants in France. The modern three-star hotel is a boost for Flaine, where accommodation is mostly in self-catering apartments. The Terminal Neige Le Totem is the first of a new brand of affordable hotels, with a spa, gym and outdoor hot tub.
Mayrhofen queue misery relief
The inadequate Penken gondola that goes up from and back to Mayrhofen, Austria is being replaced. There are no pistes down to the village, and queues of 15-30 minutes have been comon. The new state-of-the-art gondola has 24-seat cabins with Wi-Fi and a carrying capacity of almost 3,900 down to the village.
Work has started on a two-year €16 million redevelopment of the Solaise area directly above Val d’Isère
Zermatt replaces T-bar with six-pack
In Zermatt, Switzerland, the Hörnli T-bar that ends above Schwarzsee, below the Matterhorn glacier, has been replaced by a new six-seat chair, starting lower down, making the runs here much more attractive to visit. Also, a new, wider piste following a completely new route replaces the final narrow path down to town from the Rothorn-Sunnegga sector.
Les Deux Alpes gets easy way home at last
Two years in the making and at a cost of €10 million, the long-awaited and much-needed new Jandri blue run in Les Deux Alpes, France, that goes down to the village is a welcome alternative to the existing steep, icy blacks and overcrowded, narrow green run back. It’s now possible to descend almost 2,000m entirely on blue and green runs. A new terrain park near the Jandri gondola base is also planned.
Three new fast chairs in Trois Vallées
A few miles down the valley from Les Menuires, France, at the western end of the Trois Vallées in St Martin de Belleville, the long, slow St Martin 2 quad chairlift from mid-mountain above the village to Tougnète at 2,434m (the link to the Méribel valley) is being replaced by a six-seater, as is the popular Combes link quad chair from Méribel Mottaret towards Tougnète. And the slow double chair from Le Bettex below Les Menuires is now a fast quad chairlift. All three will relieve queues and cut journey times.
All change on Solaise at Val d’Isère
Work has started on a two-year €16 million redevelopment of the Solaise area directly above Val d’Isère, France. A new beginners’ area has been created near the summit, served by a covered moving carpet lift that replaces the drag lift. And on the far side of the summit, two moving carpet lifts replace the short, queue-prone chairlift that returned to the top of Solaise. For 2016/17 the quad chair and cable car from the village are due to be replaced by a 10-person gondola with Wi-Fi and heated seats. There be a tubing area, and a day lodge with a café picnic area, terrace and toilets.
All change on the glacier at Kaprun, Austria
A new two-stage, 10-seat gondola opens on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier above Kaprun. It runs from Alpincenter at mid-mountain (2,450m) to the top of the glacier at 3,030m; chairs alternate with bubbles on the lower stage. The glacier ski area has also been reconfigured. Lifts have been moved to create wider pistes and a new nursery slope.
Inghams ( Inghams.co.uk ) has pulled off a real coup by taking over the former five-star hotel Savoie. It is well located right in the centre of Val d’Isère, and has a wellness centre with sauna, steam room, hot tub and a swimming pool with a controllable current. Inghams will be running it as a chalet hotel, and sharing it with sister companies Ski Total and Esprit Ski. Inghams has also moved into Champoluc in Italy’s Monterosa ski area, taking over a popular, very convenient three-star hotel at the foot of the gondola out of town, now called Chalet Hotel de Champoluc. It is also featuring Fieberbrunn, Brand and Igls in Austria for the first time, and Bardoneccia in Italy.
Extra care for families
Chalet specialist Ski Total ( skitotal.com ) is featuring family-friendly La Tania in the heart of the Trois Vallées ski area for the first time, introducing two six-bedroom piste-side chalets. And family operator Esprit Ski, which specialises in childcare for young children, is now offering special ski classes for teenagers in selected resorts.
More rooms for all
Crystal ( crystalski.co.uk ) has accommodation in seven new resorts, including self-catering four-star apartments in Châtel and Ste Foy in France, four-star hotels in Arabba and Corvara in Italy, a four-star hotel in Engelberg plus options in Pyhä in Finland and Ruhpolding in Germany. Neilson has added six new catered chalets and chalet hotels to its programme, including two converted barns in El Tarter (part of the Grandvalira ski area that includes Soldeu and Pas de la Casa) – these are the only catered chalets in Andorra.
Norway’s reliable and long season is becoming more accessible – Flexiski ( flexiski.co.uk ) has introduced Trysil to its programme and Ski Safari will be going to Myrkdalen, where it has a new Learn to Ski package. Ski Safari also has a new Heli-Ski Safari in Canada featuring heliskiing from Panorama, Revelstoke and Kicking Horse resorts.
VIP ( vip-chatels.com ) has three newly converted penthouse apartments with two or three bedrooms and spectacular views in the centre of Avoriaz, which it is running as catered chalets. This year it is allowing clients to take their dogs to chalets in Alpe d’Huez, Morzine and Zermatt – extras such as doggy treats and a new ball to play with are also provided.
Long-established specialist Erna Low ( ernalow.co.uk ) is featuring short breaks to four resorts in the French Pyrenees for the first time – a great, lower-cost alternative to the Alps.
Peak Retreats ( peakretreats.co.uk ) specialises in lesser known resorts where you’ll find fewer fellow Brits than in the big name places – and for 2015/16 is adding family-friendly Auris en Oisans, linked to the huge Alpe d’Huez ski area.
Ski Amis ( skiamis.com ) is best known for its good-value catered chalets but it also offers self-catered privately owned individual apartments and chalets (rather than the big recently-built residences others usually feature). This season it’s spreading its wings from the big Tarentaise resorts and ski areas such as the Trois Vallées and Val d’Isère-Tignes to include Chamonix and Les Deux Alpes.
Leading agent Alpine Answers ( alpineanswers.co.uk ) has a new website targeted at the luxury end of the market – with hotels and catered chalets.
The 2016 edition of Where to Ski and Snowboard, Britain's only annually updated ski resort guidebook, is available for Telegraph readers to order online 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. Visit wheretoskiandsnowboard.com/telegraph to order.
This article was written by Dave Watts, Chris Gill, editors of Where to Ski and Snowboard 2016 from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.