Winter, we are ready for you! For anyone that skis or snowboards, the best time of year is now. And if you haven’t hit the slopes before, there is no better time to start than this year. We’ve found 10 European ski areas which all have something exciting to offer. So, what are you waiting for?
Ischgl, it has long been said, is the European centre for the glamour side of skiing. A Party-Peak and entertainment hotspot throughout the whole season, its famous winter-opening and -closing parties, resplendent with world-renowned stars and starlets, are only slightly more opulent than any other party, any other night. The density of après-ski bars per capita is high, as is the amount of alcohol consumed. But, and this is important, Ischgl’s slopes are even better than its nightlife.
There is no more historic backcountry mecca in European skiing than Kitzbühel – the site of one of the first alpine ski descents in Europe. Kitzbühel is huge, with 54 cable cars on site, and it has challenging steep pistes and 200 square kilometres of treacherous backcountry skiing here that should excite thrill seekers. Kitzbühel is so steep it’s where the Austrian ski team chooses to practice and it has the most famous ski school on Earth – the Red Devils – to help you perfect your backcountry skiing.
Mayrhofen has one of the world’s top snowboard parks – and it’s rated Europe’s best. The Burton Park here has huge table-top jumps that attract Europe’s biggest names in skiing and snowboarding – and so do Mayrhofen’s legendary après bars, which rock out every night of the week. Mayrhofen is also home to the world’s steepest groomed slope. Called Harakiri Piste after the Japanese ritual of suicide by Samurai sword, its name should tell you all you need to know about it. People line up to watch daredevils and thrillseekers take to the slopes.
Ötztal Valley, Austria
The Ötztal valley in Tyrol offers you a lot of winter fun, from ski touring to snowshoeing, cross-country skiing (almost 95 miles of cross-country trails) or about 125 miles of specially prepared winter hiking trails that lead to excellent wellness facilities (for example in the Aqua Dome), different ski resorts and unique types of accommodation.
Chamonix has one of Europe’s tallest resorts so the snow is more consistent here than in most other resorts, and there’s also over 170 kilometres of piste so skiers can slowly gain confidence before taking on some of the world’s most infamous backcountry terrain – sometimes just metres from the lifts. There are more ski guides here than anywhere else on Earth, on hand and ready to help you down backcountry chutes. It’s also home to France’s most lively après ski environment (it was practically invented here) – why not share a drink with some of the world’s craziest extreme skiers who live here each winter.
La Plagne, France
La Plagne is one of the best places for beginner skiers in Europe with its wide, easy slopes. There’s beginner areas throughout the whole resort – 62 percent of the mountain is suitable for beginners and intermediates, totalling a massive 132 ski runs. La Plagne is actually made up of 10 villages – for beginners it’s best to stay higher in villages such as Belle Plagne and Plagne Centre, as many of the best beginner slopes are up high above the treeline. It’s a beginner and intermediate skier playground up here and if you pick it right, you’ll never wait for a chairlift. Easy, wide slopes can be found throughout the entire top of the mountain, as well as plenty of ski schools offering multi-lingual instructors.
Les Arcs, France
Les Arcs really caters for the beginner ski market. On some sections of the mountain you don’t need a ski pass, you can simply buy 1, 2, 3, 5 or 10 trips on the chairlift, meaning you don’t feel you have to ski all day to get your money’s worth.
On some parts of the mountain you can even ski for free – meaning you won’t have to pay for a lift pass till you really want to make proper use of the mountain. For those ready to take the next step, Les Arcs offers a lot of easy intermediate runs which are not a big step up from the beginner slopes – they’re very wide and not particularly steep compared to most French resorts. There are also many short lifts just beside the village for beginners.
Les Deux Alpes, France
Perhaps the biggest thrill for beginners at Les Deux Alpes is that it turns normal ski resorts upside down – some of the best beginner ski runs can be found at the very top of the mountain. And at Les Deux Alpes that’s a long way up – 3,200 metres to be precise. In fact, beginners can ski down a glacier, on some of Europe’s deepest snow, and take in spectacular views extending all the way into Switzerland and Italy. There’s 222 kilometres of ski runs at Les Deux Alpes – so when you develop your skills, you’ll have access to intermediate runs all across the mountain.
Meribel is a great place for beginners learning how to ski, and more confident skiers can ski one of the world’s largest linked ski areas – Trois Vallées. Meribel has lots of easy, flat slopes and with its sheltered setting behind steep-sided mountains, weather for learning tends to be more favourable than other places in the Alps. There’s also plenty of restaurants and cafes right beside the slopes and one of the first British ski schools to set up in the Alps is located here.
Val Thorens, France
The full name, Val Thorens in the Trois Vallées sounds cute, but Val Thorens is the highest resort in the Alps at 2300 meters of altitude. In fact, this is higher than many of the other mountains. Because of this, the highest ski resort in the Alps (launched by pioneers with foresight in 1971) is also one of the first French ski resorts to open in the season and the last to close.