I do love skiing. I have been skiing for quite a few years, much longer than I have been blogging. I don’t have a lot of pictures from the earlier ski trips but I do have some insights and opinions of the places I have skied before.
Here is the roundup of some ski resorts from around the world :
Skiing in France
Learning to ski in France is great as you learn to parallel ski in style and taught by in a French accent by a hot French ski instructor. The difference in skiing styles is really obvious when you ski in North America. Most of the ski resorts in France that I have been to have been purpose built. They are perfectly adequate if not a bit soulless. However, the skiing and apres ski do make up for some of that.
- Courcheval – Courcheval reeks of money. Loadsa money. Recently a Russian tycoon offered to buy up every single free standing chalet in this ski village but not many people took him up on the offer. There are some really expensive shops in town (just like Bond Street) and there is even a private airstrip on one side of the mountain.
If you have not skied here, you won’t believe the number of beautiful people (mainly tall blond Russians) swanning around in their Chanel ski gear and matching Chanel skis. We stayed in a chalet with catering so most evening meals were in the chalet. Lunch however was in a variety of restaurants around the mountain.
The skiing is extensive around here. We had a ski guide all week who took us on some fabulous ski runs and led us to nearby villages for lunch. Lunch in Courcheval is not for those on a tight budget. Not a single lunch was less than €50 per person. One day we had a long leisurely lunch on a sunny terrace while enjoying a large platter of Fruit des Mer and bubbly. Then we had to ski over a couple of mountains to get back.
- Chamonix – My brother in law has a flat here so we skied here quite a bit. Depending on the weeks of the season that you visit, it could feel a bit like Chelsea on the Alps. There is a massive ski area so you can ski here for two weeks and not ski the same run twice. The town offers a lot of choices for Apres ski. It is relatively easy to get here from Geneva, hire a car and drive up in about 2-3 hours.
- Meribel – This is now a very big resort and very family friendly. There
- Val d’Isere – This is a favourite resort with British ski companies. There are so many options available from all inclusive hotels to chalets. The ski area is fantastic and extensive.
- La Plagne – This is a purpose built French ski resort. Great for beginners as there are vast and long blue runs to practice on. As most the runs end up at the village, you can ski in and out of the all the apartment blocks. A big plus.
- The Vosges – As a ski resort, it is probably not somewhere you would go as a destination holiday. This is the French side of the Black Forest, not far from Strasbourg. It’s a bit of an obscure place to go skiing but we were staying in a dinky cottage in the Vosges and skied here over the weekend. It is not so much a ski resort as a local snow covered mountain with a couple of ski lifts. There is adequate skiing for a weekend. We had a ton of fresh snow when we were there so the skiing was fab. Food at a local restaurant nearby was typically Alsatian, Tarte Flambee onion tart, hunks of boiled meats and chou croute, in abundance.
Skiing in Switzerland
I love skiing in Switzerland as the ski resorts are very well run. Most of the ski resorts are actual Alpine villages where people live the year around and are not purpose built like the French ones. Most of the larger resorts have a large variety of ski terrain, from very beginner friendly well pisted slopes to terrifying off piste skiing. Some resorts now offer heli skiing too. Accommodation is mostly on the luxury end of the scale or from my experience anyway (although alternatives are available). Look out for are great deals via Ski operators.
- Verbier What’s there to say about this resort. It is exactly as depicted in the Chalet girl film, lots of fun at the Milk Bar apres ski. The ski area is quite extensive and lots of different level ski slopes. It tends to get a bit over crowded during half term and school holidays. Being one of the more popular ski resorts for the Brits, you will hear a lot of British accents. Lots of chalets are run by British companies and plenty of English speaking ski instructors.
- Leukerbad A small but perfectly formed ski resort that only locals or old European families seem to frequent. I went with friends whose family have had a flat here for yonks. The skiing is great but not that extensive, so perfect for a weekend ski trip. A good place to take it a leisurely pace. It’s also not touristy at all. The people who come here are locals or people who have a holiday chalet here. No yobs on the slopes.
In the village, there is fantastic Raclette only restaurant with an open fire where they heat up a massive wheel of cheese. They serve this with never ending bowls of new potatoes and gherkins. Love it. Leukerbad is an old spa town with a natural hot spring. So the clever municipal council took advantage of this and built a shiny modern spa facility with a massive swimming pool filled with natural hot spring water. After skiing but preferably when it is dark, you can have a swim in the pool, even the outdoor bit. It has all sorts of water massage jets around the pool. Lie back in the warm water, watch the steam rise against the background of gleaming stars over the snow capped mountains. There is nothing more perfect than this place.
- Haute Nendaz – this is a smaller resort in Valais, part of the 4 Vallees ski area. I skied here when I was a relative beginner so I can safely say that there are a lot of lovely long meandering blue runs and some accessible red runs. Didn’t have the skill to ski any black runs so can’t comment on that. The ski pass here gives you access to either just this resort or if you are more adventurous, you can opt for the one that covers the whole 4 Vallees ski area.
- Wengen – We drove down here after work on Friday from Luxembourg, bombing it down the German Autobahn in a car driven by a crazy Swedish woman. We made it just in time for the last train up the mountain. Wengen is picture postcard pretty, just what you expect from a Swiss ski village. The main thorough fare is full of quaint shops. It’s a lovely car free village, a vast ski area and I remember it being tremendous skiing. My Swiss German only extend to a few numbers but I managed to make myself known in the shops with a combination of French and some sign language.
- Klosters/ Davos The ski area is absolutely massive with runs to suit any ski or snowboard level. I was here with friends from Zurich who had a chalet. We didn’t ski on the same run twice. It is very easy to reach the chair lifts from anywhere in town. Some are even ski in and ski out. Every apartment and chalet seemed to have their own hot tub which was an absoulte must after a hard days skiing. In the evenings, there are a lot of great restaurants and bars, all within easy walking distance. We also did a bit of illegal tobogganing on a lower ski slope at night, which was great fun but possibly quite dangerous. Our friends grew up skiing here so they knew all the secret spots for all sorts of snow related shenanigans. If you ask the locals, they will show you where to go.
- Gstaad – We skied here with our all region ski pass and loved it. Everyone is super stylish and dressed in the latest ski gear. This ski resort is so posh that they offer you blankets on the chair lifts and there are wind shield on the side of the chair lifts. I think Roger Moore has a home there.
- Cran Montana – This is up the road from Crans Montana and you can ski here for a day on the same pass for the whole area. You will need to car to get between the villages. It is not a massive ski area but there are some very interesting runs.
- Villars – Quite a varied ski area but enough variety for different levels of skiers. It’s very family friendly and the extended ski pass allows you to ski in quite a few other resorts in the area. The Diableret glacier is easy to get to and offers a whole different ski opportunities. You can ski back to the village through easy blue runs that run through the scenic forests. The ski season is quite long here due to the glacier. Of course, it is also one of the more exclusive and stylish Swiss resorts, it’s not for those on acheap.
Skiing in Spain
I had never skied in Spain before my trip to the Spanish Pyrenees. Our short trip was to the Catalonian Pyrenees, a short drive from Barcelona. There are quite a few ski resorts in this area including Baqueira Beret where the Spanish royal family skies. On our trip we visited 2 places, Boi Taull and Pont Aine. You can read a more detailed review about the trip here.
Skiing in Canada
I spent 2 weeks in Whistler / Blackcomb and stayed on the Whistler side but skied on both Whistler and Blackcomb through the easy ski lift system. In that time, I don’t think we skied the same runs more than a couple of times as the ski area is so extensive. (They have since added a mountain top gondola which connects the 2 mountains and have extended the ski area too.) During the time we were there, it snowed constantly which means we had brand new knee high powder snow to ski on most mornings. The snow in Whistler is different from that in the Alps. It seems much drier, lighter and fluffier.
Skiing in powder snow is a whole new skill which will help you discover muscles where you never had them before. You fall a lot as you learn to balance and float over the snow. Carving skis will be of no use. When you inevitably crash, you can spend a very long time searching for your skis under the snow.
Another thing I learnt the hard way on this ski trip was that skiing in a blizard is not much fun. You get a bit snow blind and unless you have ski goggles with right polarising lens, you will not be able to see the slopes at all. It can also get very cold on the chair lift too.
The Whistler and Blackcomb resorts are enormous with lots of mileage of ski runs. They have very new and very fast chair lists that move very quickly so there are hardly any queues. Strangely, all the ski lifts seemed to be manned by Aussies. From the bottom, they have 5 or 6 person chairlifts which transports you to the top very swiftly.
Some of the runs end up back in town which means that you can ski down and grab some sushi for lunch. Not only do they have some fab sushi restaurants in town, it is really reasonably priced too. No expensive soggy French hot dogs here. Whistler town is quite big with lots of shops and a big choice of restaurants. There are also lots of sports massage places at quite reasonable prices too.
The accommodation here ranges from gorgeous piste side chalets to nice hotels to well equipped and spacious apartments. This is one of my favourite ski resorts for the vast number of ski runs, friendly ski guides, lots of restaurant choices and the favourable Canadian dollar.
Skiing in USA
- Lake Tahoe – The ski area here is made up of many small resorts along the lake.
- Heavenly – One of the bigger resorts with a much wider ski area.
- Sugar Bowl – as the name suggest, best to ski on the unpisted bowls. It’s quite fun for cruising.
- Kirkwood – good skiing when there is snow but not that big.
- Squaw Valley
- Alpine Meadows
All these trips to Tahoe were over various trips to San Francisco. It takes about 3 hours to drive up and it’s highway most of the way. Be careful as you get closer to the mountains as the roads can get icy. Rental cars are not equipped with snow tires or chains and driving can be treacherous. The ski resorts have quite handy parking lots at the bottom of the mountains with bus transfers to the top. This saves you from manoeuvring the narrow and icy mountain roads.
Skiing in Lake Tahoe is quite varied. Some of the larger resorts like Heavenly have a good number of runs so you can stay there for a week. My trips here tended to be for just a weekend, so the smaller resorts with fewer runs was not an issue. The mountains are not that high here so the runs tend to be quite short. Not anything like skiing in the Alps or Whistler. In some of the smaller resorts, you can end up skiing the same few runs repeatedly through the day which can get a bit boring. There are never massive queues on the lifts. The best alternative is to ski a different resort every day since you have to drive anyway and they are not too far apart.
My favourites are Heavenly and Sugar Bowl which as the name suggests is just like a bowl of sugar with no pisted slopes. You can ski off piste down any route you fancy and it is not too steep too. If you come here in the late season, there is enough snow but it can get quite warm and you ski in just a t-shirt. Those postcard pictures of girls skiing in bikini tops is not just for the photo but is actually possible.
In America, the slope grading system is different to that in Europe. Their Black Diamond is like a Swiss Red and the Double Black Diamond is like a black.
There are choices of ski passes for either just one resort or ones that will give you access to several resorts. In San Franscisco, we have found quite a few deals for discounted ski passes. Check at the tourist office for deals. Ski lessons or guiding is quite cheap around Tahoe. All the resorts have very handy ski rental places and are not overly expensive. I once booked a group lesson for about $30 and ended up having a half day guided ski tour as no one else showed up.
The good thing with having a car is that you can detour via Reno on the way back. We have quite a few mandatory stops at casinos in Reno for a Prime Rib buffet after a day of skiing (lots of meat, piles of prawns, Alaskan crab legs and bananas foster for about $20). It’s quite an experience.
There are lots of choices for accommodation around Lake Tahoe. Pick the ski resort and find the accommodation after that. There are nice hotels to cheaper motels and they all seem to have an outdoor hot tub, California style.
My skiing bucket list
Chile to ski the powder on the Andes there which I hear is exceptional. What’s better is that you can fly off in the summer from the Northern hemisphere to chase the snow.
Finland – to ski up near the Arctic Circle with the added benefit of being able to spot the Northern Lights on the same trip
Aspen, Vail, Sun Valley and Jackson Hole. Just because.