Ever since the first public "ski tour" took place in Trondheim, Norway in 1849, our desire to throw ourselves down the side of a mountain on nothing more substantial than two thin planks of wood has remained undimmed.
Each year some 1.7 million Brits take to the slopes. But when it comes to choosing which of the world’s 5,500 plus ski resorts to head for, no one size fits all. With ski season now here, and whether you’re a seasoned pro or a complete novice, an après ski addict or simply in need of some quality family-time, we've rounded up a list of resorts that are perfectly in tune with your needs.
Remember too that Simplexity Travel’s experienced team of travel experts are on-hand 24/7 to book your flights, hotels and ski passes, recommend the best places to eat and help you navigate any problem – no matter how big or small.
Best for Beginners – Courchevel, France
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge – or at least figuratively! You need to choose wisely for your first skiing trip, focussing on resorts that offer great tuition and gentle, confidence-boosting slopes. Because let’s face it, unless you are supremely gifted, for the first couple of days at least you are more likely to be flat on your backside rather than effortlessly snaking down the mountainside. Get it right and it might be the start of a life-long obsession; get it wrong and you’ll be wet, cold and fed up.
In our opinion when it comes to choosing a resort for your first skiing holiday, you can’t go wrong with Courchevel.
Courchevel is made up a number of different resort villages. The best two for beginners are Courchevel (formerly Courchevel 1650), quieter, more low key and popular with families, and the ritzier Courchevel (formerly Courchevel 1850), a magnet for the bold and the beautiful.
A whopping 60% of the pistes in the ski area are beginner friendly, but It’s also a great choice for anyone travelling with more experienced skiers. Whilst you are cutting your teeth (not literally we hope), they can explore the rest of Les Trois Vallées – a huge and varied ski area that also includes the resorts of Meribel and Val Thorens.
And if you need a break from the slopes, there are an abundance of other activities in the villages, including bowling, swimming, horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice-skating, hot air balloon flights, cinema and paragliding. Meanwhile the Aquamotion centre below Moriond boasts indoor and outdoor pools, a diving pool, a surfing area, a three-lane water slide, wild water rapids, saunas, steam room, hot tub and climbing wall!
Where to Stay: Courchevel can lay claim to an incredible 12 five-star hotels – including three in the Palace category, regarded as the absolute crème de la crème. If we had to pick a favourite it would be the Cheval Blanc. With a staff guest ratio of 3.64 to one, private chromotherapy hammams in the bathroom and three Michelin star dining at Le 1947 at Cheval Blanc, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Nearest airports: Chambéry, 90 minutes (110km); Geneva, 120 minutes (190km).
Five More of the Best: Passo Tonale, Italy; Les Deux Alpes, France; Alpbach, Austria; Beaver Creek, Colorado; Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado
Best for Experts – Chamonix, Switzerland
When it comes to satisfying the experts, this usually means skiing the terrain outside the marked runs or skiing routes. Not for the timorous, this allows you to escape the crowds and experience the freshest, deepest and generally least trammelled snow.
Whilst not wishing to be a killjoy, basic common-sense dictates that anyone going off piste should do some in the company of a guide, wear an avalanche transceiver and carry a backpack with shovel, probe and first aid kit.
Chamonix’s extensive off-piste and ski-touring terrain see experts flocking here in their droves. It is to this self-styed “extreme sports capital of the world” that ski instructors and mountain guides come to qualify, and its runs feature on the bucket list of just about every serious skier and snowboarder. Rather fittingly the resort also hosted the first Winter Olympics in 1924.
Throw into the mix some spectacular scenery (including Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe) and a town steeped in Alpine tradition, and it’s not hard to see the attraction.
For more moguls, bowls, steeps, chutes and couloirs than you can shake a ski pole at, head to the top station of the Grands Montets cable car, located at an eye-watering 3,275m. Accessed from the village of Argentière, you can take your pick from two long ungroomed black runs. One of these, Point de Vue, affords dramatic sections of glacier. Meanwhile runs such as the Pas du Chèvre, Couloir du Dru and Rectiligne, also in the Grands Montets ski area, are similarly not for the faint of heart.
There is a lot to keep experts happy elsewhere in the valley too. Arguably the most famous off-piste run in the Alps, the 21km-long Valleé Blanche offers endless variations, depending on your level of skill and experience.
Chamonix also offers ski instruction courses designed to improve both your technical off-piste skiing and mountain safety awareness and skills.
Where to Stay: Recover from the adrenalin rush at the five-star Hôtel Le Hameau Albert 1er, which has been run by the Maillet-Carrier family since 1903. Enjoy Michelin star fare and a glorious spa with its indoor/outdoor heated pool in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
Nearest airport: Geneva, 1 hour (82km).
Five More of the Best: Zermatt, Switzerland; Verbier, Switzerland; St Anton, Austria; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Vail, Colorado
Best for families – Avoriaz, France
Skiing with little ones can throw a whole lot of extra factors into the mix - child-friendly hotels, ski schools and extracurricular activities among them.
Luckily ski resorts have quickly come to realise that the family market is key to their success - being the main drivers of lift passes and lessons sales - and have ensured their facilities reflect this.
Some resorts are family-friendly by means of short transfer times from the airport and the quantity and quality of their beginner and intermediate slopes. Others however have made catering for children a focus.
With nearly 17,000 beds and sleighs the only vehicles, Avoriaz is the ultimate family friendly resort. Of the slew of purpose-built resorts that opened in France in the 1960s, it is probably the best designed, with its wooden clad apartments and chalets sympathetically blending into the surrounding mountains.
At its heart is the famous Village des Enfants, a leisure centre and ski and snowboard school catering for those aged three to 16. Opened over three decades ago, its concept of learning through play has since been adopted as a model in most of the alpine resorts. Staffed by more than 100 instructors, children are offered lunch and tea in the Village restaurant and there are various après ski activities to suit different age groups.
The resort’s reputation was further enhanced in 2012 with the opening of Center Parc’s Aquariaz, a sub-tropical water park built within a huge glass dome.
Where to Stay: Avoriaz is a true ski-in-ski-out resort and most of the accommodation is in apartments or aparthotels. L'Amara is a 5-star south-facing residence whose five buildings are interconnected by heated walkways, meaning you can go from one to another without stepping outside. Here you will also find a kids’ club, children's play area and a baby-sitting service.
Nearest Airport: Geneva, 105 minutes (49.4km)
Five More of the Best: La Plagne, France; Alpbach, Austria; Obergurgl, Austria; Cervinia, Italy; Snowmass, Colorado
Best for Après Ski – St Anton, Austria
Chances are if you are going skiing with a large group some will be beginners, others experts and perhaps one or two even non-skiers. But if one thing is guaranteed to bring everyone together at the end of the day, it’s the après ski.
No one does après ski quite like the Austrians, whether it’s pop ups, ice bars or bierkellers. And nowhere in Austria parties quite like St Anton.
Yes, here in the birthplace of the party on the piste you can take your pick from an eye-watering 80 plus bars and restaurants in one single ski resort.
St Anton’s reputation as the ski world's party capital began in the 1960s, and it is still home to two legendary bars which hark back to this era.
Allegedly selling 5,000 litres of beer a day, Mooserwirt enjoyed the honour of being named the ‘mother of all après ski bars’ by Playboy no less. This is a place that positively encourages patrons to dance on the tables. And you don’t even have to take off your ski boots to do so.
Across the piste, and offering a slightly hipper vibe, is Krazy Kanguruh. Local ski hero and two-time slalom World Champion Mario Matt took over here in 2011, but he has left the winning formula basically unchanged.
Off the mountain, the partying continues at Anton Bar and at Piccadilly Bar in the centre of the village. For those wanting to simply relax and chill, check out Pub 37, a charming little bar with room for yes, you’ve guessed it, just 37!
Where to stay: The four-star Valluga has been given a cool Scandi makeover by legendary Swedish hotelier Mikael Landström. On offer are 26 stylish rooms, with Nespresso machines, Marshall speakers, Dux beds and free minibars.
Nearest Airport: Innsbruck, 75 minutes (96km)
Five More of the Best: Mayrhofen, Austria; Meribel, France; Verbier, Switzerland; Sauze d’Oulx, Italy; Ischgl, Austria
Best for Guaranteed Snow – Val Thorens, France
It’s happened to the best of us. We’ve arrived at our ski resort dreaming of endless well-groomed pistes only to be faced with muddy, rocky vistas.
In the depths of winter, you should be pretty much guaranteed decent snow in most European resorts, but if you fancy holidaying early or late in the season, then high-altitude regions are the safest bet.
Other things to look out for include glacier skiing and north facing slopes. And of course if Mother Nature doesn’t play ball, snow-making facilities are now becoming increasingly sophisticated. Apart from operating Switzerland’s highest lift at 3,899m, Zermatt for instance owns a revolutionary snowmaking system that can make snow in above-zero temperatures. The resort has it ready if autumn temperatures are high on their glaciers and there’s no fresh snow.
If you really want to be certain of snow from November through May then it has to be Val Thorens. The resort is so confident in fact that it has even introduced a unique "Snow Guarantee"!
It really is a case of location, location, location. Situated at the head of Les Trois Vallées – the largest ski area in the world – at 2,300m Val Thorens is the highest resort in Europe.
Here you can enjoy over 600km of runs with not a drop of slush in sight. The slopes are entirely above the tree-line and offer plenty to amuse all levels of skier/boarder. There is some serious off-piste too.
Val Thorens opened over 40 years ago and although its aesthetics might not be to everyone’s taste, over the years it has become a lot more pleasing to the eye thanks to an ever-increasing range of stylish accommodation.
All said accommodation is ski-in ski-out, while the atmosphere in the car-free village is informal and friendly. Plenty of après-ski options can be enjoyed both up the mountain and in the resort.
Where to Stay: Koh-i-Nor is the highest five-star hotel in the Alps, with 35 lavish apartments as well as hotel rooms and a spa. It might be contemporary stone, glass and steel rather than Alpine chocolate box, but it’s no less impressive for that, particularly at night when it sparkles like the diamond after which it is named.
Nearest Airport: Chambéry, 105 minutes (125km)
Five More of the Best: Val d'Isère/Tignes, France; Cervinia, Italy; Saas-Fee, Switzerland; Alta/Snowbird, Utah; Grand Targhee, Wyoming
Best for …. Money No Object – Aspen, Colorado
If you really want to discover how the other half ski, there’s no shortage of absolutely awesome resorts in which to do so.
The uber rich and ski resorts have been joined at the hip since the early 20th century. Skiing was what one did, assuming of course one was a Hollywood star, member of royalty or business tycoon.
Since then thanks to the rise of the package holiday, purpose-built resort and low-cost airline, skiing is no longer the reserve of a privileged few. Yet still the sport remains inextricably linked with luxury.
Alpine stalwarts such as Klosters and Courchevel are packed to the gunnels with Michelin-starred restaurants, five-star hotels, ultra-luxury chalets, designer boutiques, destination spas and helipads.
But if you really want to bump into an A lister - if you can recognise them behind the helmets and goggles that is - it’s got to be Aspen.
Offering 673 acres of powder, eight lifts and 76 trails together with plenty of luxury hotels and après-ski options, it’s easy to see why this exclusive resort is a magnet for the likes of Kim Kardashian, Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Mariah Carey et al. Actor Kevin Costner, who owns a huge ranch just outside Aspen, loves it so much that he wants to be buried here!
That said Aspen is much more than a star-spotter’s paradise. In fact it’s more than just a single entity. The Colorado resort has four separate ski areas known jointly as Aspen Snowmass, all linked by a free shuttle bus service.
Where to stay: If you fancy rubbing skis with the rich and famous then check into The Little Nell, the most famous ski-in, ski-out five-star hotel in the US. And don’t worry if all that fresh air and exercise have made you thirsty. Simply take your pick from one (or more) of the 50,000 bottles of the world’s rarest wines that line its vast cellars.
Nearest Airport: For international visitors Denver International, 3.5 hours (200km)
Five more of the Best: Verbier, Switzerland; Zermatt, Switzerland; Gstaad, Switzerland; St Moritz, Switzerland; Whistler, Canada
Best for Non-skiers - St Moritz, Switzerland
A recent survey by Direct Line Insurance found that each year over a million Brits book a holiday to a ski resort without having any intention of putting on a pair of skis. Instead they prefer to spend upwards of £700 million on admiring the scenery, taking in the mountain air, partaking of alternative activities - with walking, shopping and eating the most popular pursuits - and, of course, enjoying the après ski.
Not wishing to leave these lucrative holidaymakers out in the cold, many resorts are now pulling out all the stops to offer as much off the slopes as on.
Definitely falling into this category is the glitzy Swiss resort of St Moritz. The possibilities here are quite literally endless. Enjoy a spot of golf, polo, cricket - and even horse and greyhound racing - on the frozen lake or take your pick from a choice of winter walks around the Engadin valley.
You can take a stroll down Via Serlas, the highest shopping street in Europe, where you will find all the world’s top luxury brands, or admire some of the local architecture, including a 16th century leaning tower, the bubble-like Chesa Futura house designed by Norman Foster and the Olympic Stadium.
St Moritz is also a foodie heaven, with its plethora of Michelin-starred restaurants and a whole programme of foodie events spearheaded by the St Moritz Gourmet Festival which has been bringing together culinary superstars for more than a quarter of a century.
Non-skiing adrenalin junkies need not feel left out. How about kite sailing, where participants are towed at high speeds across the frozen surface of Lake Silvaplana on boards or skis by huge kites? And if the idea of hurtling down an ice track head-first at 140 km/h while keeping your nose just a few centimetres above the ice appeals, then the legendary Cresta Run is definitely one for you!
Where to Stay: Sure it offers breath-taking views of the surrounding mountains, gorgeous food and traditional décor, but what we really like about Hotel Waldhaus-am-See is that it’s home to the largest whisky collection in the world – over 1,000 blends and malts!
Nearest Airport: Zurich 2 hours 45 minutes (228km)
Five More of the Best: Courchevel, France; Kitzbühel, Austria; Zermatt, Switzerland; Vail, Colorado; Aspen, Colorado
Best for Heli-skiing – Tordrillo, Alaska
Heli-skiing is the ultimate challenge for any experienced skier hungry for acres of deep, untouched powder. Climbing on board a helicopter and leaving the lifts and crowds far behind is truly the stuff of adrenaline-fuelled dreams.
Nearly every heli-ski operator provides “fat” ride-enhancing powder skis (and poles), avalanche transceivers and safety gear, leaving you to bring just your boots, clothes and camera. And although it goes without saying that you need to be a strong piste skier to even consider this activity, you won’t have to actually jump out of a helicopter.
Many of the world’s top resorts offer day heli-skiing as an add-on to a resort-based ski trip. The advantage is that you can still enjoy luxury accommodation, après ski and dining, and if bad weather grounds the flights, you can take part in other activities. It’s worth noting that heli-skiing is banned in France. To get around this some companies take heli-skiers to La Thuile in Italy via La Rosière in France as the two share a ski area.
The more adventurous meanwhile might prefer a 5-7 day heli skiing trip. Generally based out of small all-inclusive wilderness lodges, these are most popular in North America, with Alaska and Western Canada widely considered to be the best of the best.
Tordrillo in Alaska falls into this second camp. From Anchorage, a 45-minute flight to Judd Lake takes you to Tordrillo Mountain Lodge. Rated the best in the world by CNN, the lodge is a luxury retreat featuring two separate wilderness lodges co-owned by Tommy Moe, the first American male to win two medals in a single Winter Olympic Games.
Groups are flown straight from the Lodge’s helicopter pad deep into the 1,000 square mile Tordrillo mountain range, ready to navigate the pristine Alaskan terrain in just a few minutes.
Five More of the Best: Telluride, Colorado; Chugach, Alaska; Zermatt, Switzerland, Mazama, Washington; Whistler, Canada
Off the Beaten Track - Baqueira-Beret, Spain
There are few things a skier or snowboarder values more than secluded stretches of powder, hidden tree runs, tucked away mountain restaurants and no lift queues.
There are still a number of hidden gems in Europe that offer all of the above. Plus they have the added advantage of being more affordable.
One such resort is Baqueira-Beret in Spain, a Pyrenean pearl that has long been a favourite amongst Spanish skiers – the Royal family included – but is now gradually being noticed by the rest of us.
Here you will find 157km of groomed, uncrowded slopes, 78 well-manicured pistes, 35 lifts and an outstanding snow record. Not to mention plenty of places to eat and drink and a laid-back feel. What’s not to like?
With a skiing altitude of 1500 to 2510m, experts have their choice of off-piste routes, or they can have a helicopter drop them off for their own private run. Beginners meanwhile can take advantage of the British Ski School.
And when you’ve had enough skiing or snowboarding, choose from either husky dogs or horses to draw your carriage around the area to see a different side to Baqueira.
Where to Stay: Located just 400m from the nearest chairlift, La Pleta is a five-star fairy-tale-like chalet, with 63 rooms, four restaurants and a luxurious spa.
Nearest Airports: Toulouse 2 hours 12 minutes (178km); Barcelona 3 hours 34 minutes
Five more of the Best: Riksgränsen, Sweden; Romsdalen, Norway; Le Mont-Dore, France; Brian Head Resort, Brian Head, Utah; Mad River Valley, Waitsfield, Vermont
Everyone knows that organising a ski holiday can be hard work. But when it comes to a ski trip, with add-ons like insurance, equipment, tuition and passes, it can be even more of a headache.
Which is where we at Simplexity Travel can help.
One of the UK’s most successful and innovative travel management companies, it is experienced in arranging all types of ski holiday - whether for families, large groups or indeed for team building exercises and corporate entertaining - many with very specific, and at times unusual, requests!
Because Simplexity Travel is not a tour operator, it is not bound to specific resorts and accommodation. What’s more, every ski experience is tailor-made to a client’s needs and tastes.
It is not difficult to see why employing a company such as Simplexity Travel would be so appealing to time-pressed individuals.
Put simply the company can offer a one stop shop, able to organise everything, whether it’s scheduled flights, private jets, helicopter transfers, luxury chalets, private tuition or restaurant reservations.
Its modus operandi however is not only to execute every bespoke trip with perfection and discretion, but to give personal service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A very useful facility should a last-minute crisis affect travel plans.
Simplexity Travel can offer a range of all-inclusive options in the top ski resorts, and those off the beaten track. The company also enjoys connections with the world’s most luxurious private ski chalets, many with indoor swimming pools, outdoor hot tubs, gyms, hammams, private cinemas and Michelin-trained chefs as standard.
For the more adventurous kite skiing and heli-skiing both offer the chance to experience some of the most sensational settings and conditions imaginable. While for those who don’t wish to hurl themselves down a mountainside, Simplexity Travel’s experts will point them in the direction of resorts which can offer non-skiers a myriad of activities.
For more information on Simplexity Travel Management, please see www.simplexitytravel.com or call Mark Smith, Head of Business Development, on 0203 535 9290.