Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

The world's 50 best ski resorts

Pila, Italy
'This resort is great value,' says Vanessa. 'It sits above the town of Aosta, which is perfect for shopping on an afternoon off. There's a good lift system, wide pistes for practising turns and it's excellent value for money for a first visit to the snow. There's some onslope accommodation for ski in/out - or stay down in Aosta for a more Italian experience, with coffee shops and restaurants galore.'
Pila, Italy
'This resort is great value,' says Vanessa. 'It sits above the town of Aosta, which is perfect for shopping on an afternoon off. There's a good lift system, wide pistes for practising turns and it's excellent value for money for a first visit to the snow. There's some onslope accommodation for ski in/out - or stay down in Aosta for a more Italian experience, with coffee shops and restaurants galore.'
LaRosiere, France
'Linked to its Italian neighbour, La Thuile, you can get two resorts for the price of one here,' says Roger. 'Beginners start on the good nursery slopes and short lifts close to the main village before progressing to the longer blue runs.'
Sainte-Foy Tarentaise, France
The slopes here are generally free from crowds, which is a big bonus when you're trying to master the basics. It also has a much smaller ski zone than nearby Val-d'Isère and Tignes, so beginners won't be overwhelmed. It's also very pretty and quiet, so it scores high for relaxation too.
Morzine, France
Increasingly popular with British skiers in recent years, this is an attractive old Savoyard town with easy access to pistes of all abilities across the Portes du Soleil area. There are a number of decent ski schools and enough gentle nursery slopes to keep the novices busy.
Alpbach, Austria
'A gorgeous little village with nursery slopes on the edge of town, so beginners can enjoy wandering the picturesque and pedestrianised village centre between their exertions,' says Arnie. 'Then, when they can hold their own, they can upgrade to the delightful tree-lined slopes on the main ski area.'
Passo Tonale, Italy
A good progression of runs is the key to the perfect resort for beginners, says Roger, and that is what you will find here. 'Experts might find the resort rather limiting, but first-time skiers will love the gentle slopes on which they can perfect their newly learned skills. Stay at the Hotel Adamello for friendly staff and good food.
Flaine, France
'Certainly not a pretty resort to grace the front of a chocolate box,' says Roger. 'But the wide range of slopes for first and second-week skiers makes this a good choice for beginners. Despite the unattractive village, the views are impressive and it's well laid out. Stay in one of the Pierre et Vacances-run apartments for good quality accommodation close to the lift.'
Soll, Austria
'An abundance of pistes that are perfectly suited to beginners and great for confidence-building,' says Vanessa. 'The nursery slopes are conveniently situated at the bottom of the mountain. This resort is also well-known for lively après-ski, too, but it rarely gets overcrowded and is a traditional Austrian village.'
Soldeu, Andorra
Well set up for beginners and intermediates, this is probably the best-known resort of the Pyrenees. Some find it lacking in atmosphere, but there's plenty of skiing and the British-run ski school has a reputation as one of the best.
Buttermilk, Aspen, US
'In the US, they call complete beginners the ?never-evers' and where better to begin than the gentle slopes of Buttermilk,' says Arnie. 'The often overlooked bunny slopes rank as the best beginner terrain in Colorado. US instructors are among the most friendly and patient in the world.' Be aware that Aspen Mountain itself has no nursery slopes.
Niederau, Austria
'The resort where so many British families took their first faltering turns,' says Arnie. 'Gentle slopes, friendly instructors, lively après-ski - also known as gemutlichkeit - and picture-postcard scenery in a quiet valley cul-de-sac.
Puy St Vincent, France
With the emphasis on skiing for beginners and intermediates and a notable absence of raucous night life, PSV (as it's known) is the perfect place for families looking to unwind and enjoy themselves, rather than the adrenaline junkies burning the candle at both ends.
Smugglers' Notch, US
'Probably the resort with the biggest litany of family activities in the world,' says Arnie. 'You name it and families can do it at this friendly Vermont resort, be it on the slopes or off. The emphasis is firmly on the children, either with or without the parents. There is only one child-free restaurant there.'
Lech, Austria
'I came here for the first time last winter withmy family and we all loved it,' says Vanessa. 'The Arlberg ski school was excellent, with timed lessons from 10am to 3pm, so you can have a good ski without the children if you want and still have time to be with them at the end of the day.'
Les Arcs 1950, France
A purpose-built resort that has avoided looking like an NCP car park, says Roger. 'The village atmosphere appeals to families, who recommend the group lessons for children with the local Spirit ski school and the nursery for those who are too young to take to the piste. But book early.'
Vemdalen, Sweden
This small, quiet resort has a dedicated kids' area, a crèche and ski school with English-speaking instructors. There's also child-friendly entertainment in the evenings with discos and film screenings. The ski school motto is 'it's never too late to learn', but there is also great off-piste for the more advanced
Wengen, Switzerland
'With the nursery slopes right in the heart of the village, this resort is one of my favourite for taking my children away skiing,' says Vanessa. 'It has a small compact centre and is car-free so it feels safe, friendly and perfect for families. The two ski schools are both very good for children, too.'
Whistler, Canada
A major part of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, this resort secured huge investment to upgrade its facilities. This means the childcare facilities are world-class - you can ski with a complimentary pager so you need never worry about the kids - and there are masses of activities, including sledging, snowmobiles and sleigh rides.
Val Gardena, Italy
It seems obvious that the Italian resorts will be good for families as their love of children is legendary - and not exaggerated. Lots of hotels have the teddy bear mark, which means discounts for children - and there is a wide range of slopes, three ski schools, baby sitters and crèches.
Champoluc, Italy
Time for Roger to declare an interest - he runs ski trips this northern Italian resort. 'It's friendly and relaxed and many families return year after year,' he says. 'We have a British ski school, a British-staffed nursery and the Italian hoteliers welcome children with open arms.'
Courmayeur, Italy
'Don't forget your fur coat and designer poodle to accompany you on a stroll down the chic cobbled main street, with its smart shops and stylish bars,' says Roger. Visits to Le Privé and Bar Roma are a must and the recently renovated ancient thermal baths in the nearby village of Pré-St-Didier are well worth the short taxi ride.
Meribel, France
In the centre of the 3 Valleys, Meribel has plenty of bars and restaurants, says Vanessa. On the piste at the end of the afternoon, start at the Rond Point where there is always live music and a crowd on the terrace, and after dinner head for the central square where you can have beers in the English-run Dick's Tea Bar or a more low-key evening at La Taverne.
Saalbach, Austria
It appears to be a truth, almost universally acknowledged, that no one does après like the Austrians. This underrated ski resort has five clubs and the action at Bauer's Schi-Alm (opposite the church) starts early and the rock songs are loud. You have been warned.
Ischgl, Austria
'It doesn't get more après than here,' says Arnie. 'Or more noisy. The party scene is huge and raucous and mainly fuelled by German tourists letting off steam. Rival bars vie for who can produce the loudest singing while scantily dressed girls dance on top of beer barrels.' Say no more.
St Anton, Austria
The après scene starts at the end of the afternoon on the mountain at either the Mooserwirt or the Krazy Kanguruh, says Vanessa. 'If you survive until the evening after the wild partying there, then carry on to the Hacienda or the Piccadilly, where you can dance till dawn.'
Cortina, Italy
One of Italy's most glamorous ski resorts, it's not for those on a budget, but if you can afford to splash out, the setting is stunning, the shops are designer and the people-watching is legendary. And just once in après-ski let's talk about the great food rather than the great drinking opportunities.
Baqueira-Beret, Spain
Spain's premier resort, although the partying takes precedence over the skiing. You have been warned. It's almost unknown in the UK as there aren't many places to stay, but the skiing suits all levels. Expect to rub shoulders with the weekend crowd from Barcelona and Madrid - oh, and the King of Spain.
Kitzbühel, Austria
The appeal of the après-ski here is that young and old will find something to keep them busy at the end of the skiing day, says Roger. 'Head to the family-run Rupprechter for the homemade strudel, or chill out at the Streifalm Bar - and don't forget your trunks for the steam room, Turkish baths and herbal mud treatments at the Aquarena.'
Verbier, Switzerland
'So many party places to see and be seen in here,' says Arnie. 'But this is still one of the best ski resorts in the world and it will demand skiers' attention the morning after the night before. Burning the candle at both ends is a rite of passage here and if money is no object, try a night at the infamous Farm Club.'
Val-D'Isère, France
After a day on the mountain exploring the vast Espace Killy ski area, Val-d'Isère can party as hard as it skis, says Vanessa. 'La Folie Douce is new on the mountain après-ski stop-off and after dinner (assuming you find time to eat) carry on at one of the many bars including Bananas, Moris Pub and Dick's Tea Bar.
Girdwood, US
'Big-mountain skiing doesn't get much bigger than in Alaska, where the Chugach Mountains offer towering spines, steep couloirs and vast pitches of the deepest snow,' says Simon. Aweek's heliskiing won't come cheap, but you'll have exclusive access to some of the world's best terrain from your base in this town.
Alta, US
Pacific storms whip east across the desert before sucking moisture from the Great Salt Lake and moving on to dump up to 60ft each winter of what Utah claims is the 'greatest snow on earth'. This former mining town, turned sleepy, backwards resort and cult destination for serious skiers, gets the best of it.
Hokkaido, Japan
'Japan's northernmost island is fast becoming a hot destination for powder hounds,' says Simon. 'You won't find world-beating steeps, but take a guide to lead you through what should be chest-deep snow of the finest quality on the cherry-tree studded, volcanic slopes of Furano and Niseko. And be sure to acclimatise for a few days in Tokyo.'
Arabba, Italy
'This resort gives easy access to the Marmolada glacier with its excellent high-altitude skiing,' says Roger. 'It's surrounded by the pink towering cliffs and spires of the Dolomites and known for its natural good snow on steep slopes. You'll be able to enjoy long descents without the crowds that spoil the more well-known extreme-ski areas of Europe. Don't forget the Hidden Valley.
Chamonix, France
'Quite simply overpoweringly challenging for any skier or boarder prepared to take on some of the most testing couloirs and steepest off-piste - and even on-piste - slopes in the world,' says Arnie. 'Although Chamonix does have easy skiing, this is fundamentally the playground, and sometimes the burial ground, of the world's most gung-ho skiers.'
Andermatt, Switzerland
'An off-piste skier's dream,' says Vanessa. 'Huge descents, starting with the often powder-filled bowl beneath the Gemsstock cable car. Or head over to Hospental for deserted off-piste. The Sonne Hotel is ideally located in the centre of town.'
Revelstoke Mountain Resort, British Columbia
Mount Mackenzie has been a haven for tourers and heliskiers for decades, but it wasn't until 2007 that the peak outside Revelstoke, an increasingly hip former mining town, got shiny new lifts that now serve one of the world's greatest ski areas, says Simon. 'Designed by skiers for skiers, it's also the perfect base for exploring the snow-heavy Selkirks.'
Alagna, Italy
'Another first visit for me last winter,' says Vanessa. 'This is a tiny, remote ski resort but worth making the journey if youwant vast, wild off-piste terrain. Take a guide from guidealagna.com for an unforgettable experience.' Helidrops are also possible.
Jackson Hole, US
Home to rock-strewn chutes and plummeting glades, as well as a liberal (by US standards) out-ofbounds policy, Jackson Hole offers some of America's most challenging skiing, says Simon. 'Teton Village has après-ski with a Wild West twist - the perfect place to gird yourself for the infamous Corbet's Couloir over beers and wings.'
La Grave, France
'Don't even think of skiing here without a guide,' says Arnie. 'It's 7,000 vertical feet of steep, ungroomed terrain with the risk of avalanches and crevasses. Many of the couloirs are death traps, so make sure you're not in the wrong one. People do die here. But the skiing is fabulous if you keep safe.'
Les Alpes, France
There's a well-defined snowboarding vibe in this bustling resort, says Arnie. 'It's snowboard city here and once the boards have been stored for the night there's lots of late-night partying - as long as you can talk convincingly about tricks in the park.'
La Thuile, Italy
'Great value,' says Vanessa and popular with boarders. 'Few T-bars, miles of cruising slopes and a lack of queues make this resort ideal.' After fresh snowfall the powder can remain untouched for days on the slopes, which are mostly north and east-facing. Also amazing value heli-boarding on the Rutor and Miravidi glaciers.
Laax, Switzerland
'With its wide, sunny slopes and a snowboard pipe that claims to be the largest in Europe, this is a snowboarder's paradise,' says Roger. Freeriders can cruise the pistes and those who prefer to impress can enjoy the bumps and jumps in the Crap Sogn Gion. Budget travellers will like the Riders Palace.
Val Thorens, France
'Snow-sure and part of the huge 3 Valleys ski area, this is up there with the best,' says Vanessa. 'Their lift system is modern and fast, so no struggling with drag lifts, and the sheer size of the area means groomed pistes, steep gullies and plenty of off-piste for the adventurous.'
Mayrhofen, Austria
A popular choice with the panel, this one.Vanessa commends its lively party scene and Roger recommends the Vans Penken terrain park with its extensive range of rails, boxes, jumps and a halfpipe. 'Freeride experts can also enjoy the Harakiri - Austria's steepest piste,' he says.
Heavenly, California, US
This resort has just announced that it will be building a new terrain park under the Tamarack Express chair lift that will be called Ante Up. The slope-style park will be made entirely from recycled materials, including tyres and snowmaking pipes. There are four snowparks in total - and the quality powder is fantastic and very accessible.
Avoriaz, France
A mecca for snowboarders, says Vanessa. 'There is a vast off-piste terrain and world-class snow park. It's also a ski-in, ski-out resort, so the snowpark is just a lift ride away from the resort and has some huge jumps for the more experienced riders. Plenty of bars for the après, too.'
Jasna, Slovakia
Slovakia has been building a reputation as the next big thing - and while it still needs investment, it's picture-postcard pretty and there's a good mix of terrain. At the height of the school-holiday lift queues, the three freeride zones, which have no lift access, and which require a good two-hour walk, will scare off the part-timers and offer great boarding.
Nakiska, Canada
This resort, close to Calgary, has also been busy building over the summer months and is opening a new rail park with 18 different features for the new season. They also want to be the first Canadian resort to open - on 30 October - so if you can't wait to get going, here's the place.
Mammoth Mountain, US
'California is where snowboarding really started,' says Arnie, and snowboarders flock here from LA and San Francisco, especially early in the season when sketchy snow cover means skiers are still fussing over whether to risk their edges andwaiting for one of the area's legendary snowfalls.

Whether you’re looking for black-run thrills, après partying or beginner’s tuition, Kate Watson-Smyth has the essential guide to the world’s top spots for powder

This week’s panel

Vanessa Fisherworks for the Ski Club of Great Britain (www.skiclub.co.uk);

Arnie Wilson is editor of ‘Ski+board’ magazine and has skied 680 resorts. In 1994, he skied every day for a year and into the ‘Guinness Book of Records’. His next mission – to ski all 37 skiing states in the US – should be completed this winter;

Simon Usborne works on ‘The Independent’ news desk and started skiing when he was 6;

Roger Walker runs Ski2travel company.

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