What does a resort have to be to be included in the World’s top ten? What exactly makes one resort stand out above others? Well it’s not simply miles of pistes, or expensive hotels, although that may be important to some; nor is it just high-speed heated lifts and fine dining.
Okay: so yes, it’s firstly about the skiing experience; but there has to be more to it than that. In our opinion, there has to be a welcoming connection between the local community, yourself and the mountain. We want to feel like the mountain is our second home, not that we’re simply another faceless paying punter. So putting aside transport links, spa hotels and faux fur moonboots, we’ve pulled together our favourite resorts of the world; places we’d happily call home.
Revelstoke – British Columbia
We still love Reve! A few years ago we put Revelstoke in our World Top Ten, and its inclusion ahead of Whistler caused the message boards to question our judgment.
Well sorry, but we’ve not changed our view – we still love Reve, as it has the lot: steeps, trees, perfectly maintained pistes – all covered in tons of the legendary Powder Highway snow. Some people hate the fact it’s darn hard to get to. But we love that half of Vancouver doesn’t arrive every time there’s a fresh dump which, with Revelstoke’s snow record, is most weeks.
The icing on the cake, almost literally, is that the snow here isn’t the wet maritime stuff of coastal resorts; it’s a much lighter continental snow that steep and deep dreams are made of. Like well-aged whisky, Revelstoke is well worth that little bit of extra effort.
Top Tip: Fly via Calgary, and break up the journey by visiting the fantastic resort of Kicking Horse for a day or two on your way there.
Book it: Revelstoke has it all, but if you’re still in need of more you can always experience the fantastic local heli skiing at Rogers Pass, with Selkirk Tangiers. Day trip and multi-day packages from £570.
Zinal / Grimentz – Switzerland
Swiss charm with serious kick ass terrain! Zinal and Grimentz nestle between, and are often overlooked for, the busy ski areas of Zermatt and Verbier. But they don’t mind being off radar, as they quietly get along with keeping those in the know grinning from ear to ear.
The tiny village of Grimentz exudes charm, with traditional wooden chalets and rustic restaurants, at a fraction of the price of Verbier. Zinal, higher up the valley, is more modern with instant access to crowd-free slopes and world-class, lift-accessed off piste. Unlike its posh neighbours, you won’t be fighting for a line here and you’ll be riding fresh powder for days after a good snow fall.
Top Tip: Head to Zinal’s Le Trift Hotel and order the goat’s cheese salad. You won’t regret it!
Book it: For just out of resort peace, try Chalet Edelweiss. One week catered stays from £950.
Whistler – British Columbia
Whistler – synonymous with world top ten compilations – is, after much debate, included in ours too. Yes, we know that in our last list we told you why Revelstoke was placed above Whistler, but what we didn’t say is that Whistler is hot rockin’ good too!
Justifiably argued by many to be their number one favourite resort, Whistler Blackcomb keeps people returning year after year for its epic terrain. And it’s easy to see why with 32 square kilometres of mountainside and more than 200 pistes, all of which are covered with a 10-year average snowfall of just under 12 metres. The new Sea to Sky highway helps to cut down on transfer time – especially the weekly Friday night traffic jam. It’s now just two hours to the slopes from Vancouver international Airport, itself accessed by direct flights from London and Manchester. The lodging in Whistler is from hostel to five stars, suiting all budgets and tastes; the après ski isn’t Austria but it’s still good.
Top Tip: Post ski, head straight to the GLC (Garibaldi Lift Company bar) for jugs of margarita, then Caramba for the best wood-oven pizzas in resort.
Book it: Fly direct to Vancouver with Air Transat. Skis and snowboard travel free, with standard checked luggage. Direct flights from London Gatwick and Manchester from £450 return. Birmingham and Glasgow flights go via Montreal.
Cortina d’Ampezzo – Italy
Breath-taking and beautiful, Cortina is quite possibly set amongst the most spectacular mountains anywhere in the world. The Dolomites have numerous ski resorts, many of which could have been in this list, but we chose Cortina not only for its landscape, but for its charming old town too. The skiing here is gentle, and best suited to families and intermediates, but being in such a wonderful setting it’s marvellous to relax, slow down and take in your surroundings. Let’s face it, if there’s anywhere in the world to kick back and have a long mountain-top lunch of fine food and wine it’s Italy.
Top Tip: El Camineto is reputed to be the best restaurant in town.
Book it: Try the guided on-piste Grande Guerra Ski Tour. Guided tours of the route as well as the Sellaronda, are run by Dolomiti Ski and Rock.
La Clusaz – France
A true French classic! We’ve picked La Clusaz over any other French resort as it offers wonderfully varied pistes a 50 minute transfer from Geneva, fantastic lift-accessed off piste, epic ‘hike to’ areas of remote back country, and some of France’s best natural freestyle – after all, it is the home of Candide Thovex, possibly the world’s most imaginative freestyle skier. Sure, Candide aside, many French ski resorts can offer all of those things, but La Clusaz is possibly still France’s best kept ski secret. While other better known French resorts are packed with Brits and Russians, you’ll hardly hear a non-French voice here, and ski outside of the French school holidays, and you’ll almost have the place to yourself.
Top Tip: Don’t miss the traditional, affordable Savoie food at the L’Outa restaurant.
Book it: La Clusaz is the perfect place for a short break. Ski Weekends offers packages from £432.
Castle Mountain – Alberta
Tucked away in Alberta’s south, close to the US border and the state of Montana, Castle is a genuine feel good community resort. But it’s not just the special community that makes it so cool, it’s the mountain too, with the stand out advanced area being the Chutes: a whole mountainside of steep and deep chutes, which are accessed from a single summit trail.
Oh, and did we mention the lift-assisted cat skiing, with its adjacent cat skiing only zone of open bowls, trees, gullies and wind lips? Castle Mountain has the lot; it’s like a mega resort in miniature that’s never crowded.
Top Tip: Castle Mountain is a chilled out place, once the lifts shut, so if you’re looking for more life stay in nearby Pincher Creek.
Book it: Loop the powder with lift-assisted cat skiing from £250 per day.
Niseko – Japan
Nine gates of powder, powder and more powder. Niseko, on the northern Japanese Island of Hokkaido, has a ridiculous average snowfall of over 15 metres. Take a snorkel! Japan’s premier ski resort is actually four interlinked resorts, known as Niseko United.
There’s an exceptional choice of terrain within the United zone, from ungroomed bowls to world-class deciduous tree runs. 180 degrees of this free-standing volcano are served by lifts, with perfect powder pistes, pipe and parks. The other 180 degrees are accessed by passing through one of the nine Niseko Gates.
Once through the gates, you are leaving Niseko United and entering a vast unmonitored backcountry zone of epic chutes, natural half pipes and miles of pristine tree skiing.
Top Tip: If you can get in, eat at soba noodles restaurant Rakuichi.
Book it: Ski Safari’s road trip, ‘Hokkaido Ski Safari’, lets you create your own Hokkaido Island epic. From £2,625, for 14 nights.
Telluride – Colorado
When they struck gold in Telluride, back in Billy the Kid’s day, they also stumbled across a skiers’ paradise deep within the heart of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. These mountains are amongst the newest on the continent, and with such little time for erosion they are sharp and spiky, making for a steep chuted playground at almost 4,000 metres. Telluride not only has world-class expert pistes and ‘hike to’ terrain, but mile upon mile of intermediate and family pistes, all based around an authentic wild west mining town. But what really makes Telluride one of the world’s top ten resorts, is its abundant cold smokin’ super dry powder.
Top Tip: No visit to Telluride is complete without a side trip to Silverton Mountain.
Book it: Home to the town’s oldest bar, the New Sheridan Hotel (rebuilt after a fire) is a historical must. Double rooms are available from £200 a night.
St Anton – Austria
Liver-splitting party central! St Anton is a great resort with a modern infrastructure, accessing 280 km of well-groomed terrain suitable for all abilities. The new Flexenbahn cableway enables skiers to access all areas, without the need for a bus, making Arlberg the largest contiguous skiing area in Austria, and a day trip to Zurs and Lech a much easier possibility. St Anton also has a charming village, a great indoor climbing wall and a large swimming pool complex. None of this really makes St Anton stand out from other Austrian resorts, but like any ski season that’s incomplete without a least one weekend of Austrian revelry, our Top Ten would be incomplete without an Austrian party resort – and it’s in this category that St Anton excels. St Anton après ski is off the charts; Jägerbombs accompany every round, to a backdrop of the ever-present awful Austrian oompah music, and joining a snaking conga of drunken, ski boot wearing Dutch revellers is a local sport.
Top Tip: Don’t miss a night out in the mother of all St Anton après ski bars, MooserWirt.
Book it: Mark Warner has a wonderfully placed hotel located just off St Anton’s main street, so you’ll be able to find your way home easily after your après indulgences. Week-long catered holidays start from £779.
Shames Mountain – British Columbia
Shames Mountain, in British Colombia’s far north, close to the Alaskan border, simply rocks. Not only is it Canada’s first ever locally-run-cooperative ski resort, but it is owned, managed and staffed by the kind of warm skier community you’d love to be a part of. The vibe at Shames honestly makes you feel like you’re one of the gang and handing over your lift ticket fee feels as if you’re making a charitable donation. As for the riding: well, Shames Mountain is a small, functional resort just outside of Terrace BC, yet what it lacks in infrastructure and comfort, it more than make up for with soul, terrain, back country access, community vibe, and first nation inclusion and acceptance.
There are powder filled pistes and tree runs for all, but what’s truly magical is the access to acres of steep and deep back county touring. Within moments of leaving the pistes you’re deep in a magical and remote wilderness of old growth forests and wide open alpine. Pack your skins and go hit it!
Top Tip: Sherwood Mountain Brewhouse is the best place for local beer and chat on tap.
Book it: For a backcountry guided midweek off piste adventure, see Summit Ski Tours. From £280 a day.
(Article source: Snow Magazine)