With lively après ski facilities and something of a reputation over Christmas, it would be easy to dismiss Chamonix as a place for the young. To do so however would be a disservice, because travel outside of the Christmas period and you’ll appreciate just why this is one of the world’s greatest ski destinations.
Chamonix Valley, France
The legendary 17km Chamonix Valley, nestled in the north-west Alps at the foot of Mont Blanc, has something for everyone. In fact, there’s such a diverse range of skiing and snowboarding opportunities, serving beginners through to experts, that you’d be hard-pressed to beat it. It also boasts the world’s largest lift-served descent at Vallée Blanche, a 20km off-piste ski route with a vertical descent of 2,700m. However, ultimately it will be the truly incredible views that will stick with you for a lifetime. Off the slopes, snowkiting, luging, tobogganing and husky rides are popular and there’s the famous Montenvers rack railway that takes you to the bottom of France’s biggest glacier, the Mer de Glace. As a fully-functioning year-round holiday destination, Chamonix comes with all the extras so you can dine out at Michelin-starred restaurants like the Auberge du Bois and Albert 1er, relax in the leisure centre with its solarium, Jacuzzi and sauna or take your chances in the casino.
Italy’s ski resorts tend to have a more relaxed, friendly vibe where the emphasis is on providing an all-round holiday experience. Food and having fun are just as important as the skiing and it’s a formula that works if the British love affair with destinations such as Sestriere, Courmayeur and Sauze d’Oulx is anything to go by.
Sestriere, home to the 2006 Winter Olympics, is connected to the vast Milky Way ski area and its 240 miles of piste are perfect for intermediaries on a budget. With the highest lifts and ski slopes at 2,840m above sea level, snow is guaranteed, but 90 snow cannons are also on hand to cover 10km of trails (about 60 slopes) no matter what the weather. There are even illuminated pistes for those who fancy skiing after dark. When you want a break from the slopes you can enjoy everything from mountain walks, horse-riding and ballooning to indoor sports, massage and solariums. Then when you feel the urge to refuel, 20 apres ski bars and over 30 restaurants are more than happy to oblige.
France might be the most popular skiing destination for British skiers but Austria is fast catching up, helped partly by slightly lower prices for food and drink and a reputation for its après ski partying. But if there’s one place the party animals are unlikely to be heading then it’s Seefeld in the Tyrol region of the Austrian Alps, which enjoys a more leisurely vibe. At 2,100m above sea-level it isn’t snow-sure but 150 snow cannons provide artificial coverage for 90 of the slopes (about 41km). Particularly suitable for beginners through to intermediates, there are some 46km of downhill ski runs, while the longest piste is 6km. Seefeld is served by six five-star hotels with spa and sports facilities that can be accessed even by non-residents. Away from the slopes, activities include fishing and horse-riding, while the Tyrolean capital of Innsbruck, just 40 minutes away, offers a vast on- and off-slope scene, as well as year-round skiing on the Stubai glacier.
World-class skiing facilities, views that make your heart ache and off-piste activities to suit everyone are just some of the features that define Europe’s ski destinations. With so much right on your doorstep why consider going further afield? Whilst you’re at it, consider your cover options on your winter sport holiday.