Whether you’re a nervous novice, a confident intermediate or an all-out expert, we’ve searched out the top snowy spots for you to get sporty at this winter. Skint, modestly moneyed or flush? Doesn’t matter – we’ve found the best for every budget. So no excuses, winter hermits. Use our guide to pounding the powder, and there’ll be no getting fat on the sofa in front of DVD boxsets. We’ll see you on the slopes!
SKILL LEVEL: BEGINNERS
La Clusaz (laclusaz.com) in France is good for long-term skiiers, as the more days you ski, the cheaper it gets. At about £140 for a six-day pass, it boasts 23 green runs and 30 blue, ranking it among the best resorts in Europe for beginners.The quintessentially French mountain village is a delight, attracting a lot of return visits from skiers and boarders who fall head over heels for its traditional charm. It also gets super-busy at weekends, which is great for a party (although makes for some crowded slopes).
Eastern Europe is great for snow bunnies on a mid-range budget. Borovets (bulgariaski.com) in Bulgaria has pistesof varying length and difficulty, so if it turns out you’re a natural, you can get off the beginners’ runs (of which there are three) and take on more of a challenge. Borovets also boasts a thriving apres-ski scene promoting the message ‘More beer = less fear’ to beginners. Sensible? No. Fun? Yes. Ski passes start at £175 for six days. Once a budget resort to compete with the best of Eastern Europe, Grandvalira (grandvalira.com) in Andorra hasbecome more mainstream in recent years, pushing theprices up a notch. Still, it’s much cheaper than the major resorts of France and Austria. There are 18 green runs – the‘nursery’ slopes – and a whopping 38 blue runs, also with gentle gradients for beginners. There are lots of British-run ski schools, too. The village of Pas de la Casa has the liveliest après-ski scene, with some going so far as to call it ‘raucous’. Soldeu is a little more chilled – go to British-run Fat Albert’s for live music and big burgers. A pass for six days will set you back around £200.
Crans-Montana (tourism-crans-montana.co.uk) in Switzerland is the perfect spot for novices looking for a touch of class to balance out any indignities on the slopes. Stretching across two towns with soul-enriching views across the Rhône Valley (well-known for its wine), there’s also a dearth of British tourists, which makes for a genuine escape from London life. (Though be warned – the Russian clientele is growing.) While there is an upmarket feel to much of it – with designer shops, five-star hotels and even a Michelin-starred restaurant at your disposal – there’s also a good number of bars that keep revellers occupied into the early hours. Train your snow legs on 17 different blue runs, with a six-day ski pass setting you back about £275 from December 21-April 11.
SKILL LEVEL: CONFIDENT
It’s back to Bulgaria for what is arguably the ski capital of Eastern Europe. Bansko (bulgariaski.com) benefits from a long season (roughly December to May) and plenty of good powder. Together with 64km of pistes to explore, this cute medieval town has many cultural monuments and historic sites, while slightly further afield is the Pirin National Park – a Unesco World Heritage site home to epic limestone mountainscapes, glacial lakes, waterfalls and caves. There’s also a wealth of cheap accommodation options at Bansko and a decent clubbing scene. Set aside around £150 for a six day ski pass including skis and poles.
With 13 trails over 500 acres, Happo-one (snowjapan.com) is Japan’s number one ski resort. The views across the Japanese Northern Alps are breathtaking, the powder is deep and dry, and there isn’t the mad rush for tracks you might encounter in European resorts. The Hakuba valley – about 300km northwest of Tokyo – offers plenty of activities, including snow rafting, hot air ballooning, mountain biking and trekking. After a long day on the piste, be sure to head to your nearest onsen (hot spring) to relax those aching muscles. Lift passes, costing about £146 for six days, can also be used in three other ski and snowboard resorts in Hakuba. Alternatively, Alpbach in western Austria (alpbachtal.at) offers slopes suited to those who have graduated from the nursery runs but aren’t quite fearless yet. There is a large British presence here – the largest of any Austrian ski village – but it tends to be a laid back brand of Brit that makes it toAlpbach, owing to the subdued bar scene. A lift pass for six days costs about £175 during high season, with discounted rates for not just kids but teenagers too.
For guaranteed great snow, try Tignes (tignes.co.uk) in France. At an altitude of 3500m, it is one of only two ski areas in the country – the other being upmarket Vald’Isere – listed as a ‘snow-sure resort’ in The Good Ski &Snowboarding Guide from Which? As well as having plenty of self-catering apartments, Tignes is rich in hotels ranging from two to four stars. If you get bored of plain old skiing and snowboarding, Tignes also offers a programme of more offbeat winter sports, including dog-sledding, ice-diving and ski-joring. Ski passes start at about £215 for six days: whether you rank your cost up in a four-star or keep it cheap in a two star is up to you. Aspen in Colorado is a good choice for those fortunate enough not to be counting the pennies. At Snowmass SkiResort (aspensnowmass.com), half of the 90 ski trails are suited to intermediates. Colorado’s second-largest ski resort is also renowned for its crowd-free runs, owing to the sheer spread of terrain (128 acres), and there’s no shortage of firstclass food and drink. A ski pass costs approx £355 for six days.
SKILL LEVEL: EXPERT
In the Tatra Mountains of southern Poland, Zakopane (zakopane.com) offers steep slopes that are definitely notfor novices. Be adventurous and take to the snow in villages such as Bialka, Poronin and Bukowina Tatrzanska, which combine challenging terrain with the traveller’s satisfaction of straying from the beaten path. Big ski jumps can be found around the Krokiew area. Pay £309 for the week, with your accommodation and airport transfers included, and add another £80 if you want lessons too.
For serious skiers looking for a quiet place to perfect their craft, you could do a lot worse than Cesana or Sansicario (vialattea.it) in Italy. Located in the Milky Way area – home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding ranges in Europe, and used for the Winter Olympics in 2006 –Sansicario and Cesana are the perfect alternatives to the region’s larger resorts. So quiet are they that you’ll often get the slopes to yourself. On the other side of the coin, there’sno nightlife and you might sometimes be obliged to share the snow with families. Still, you’ll be paying startlingly low prices compared to the majority of the Milky Way – about £160 for six days. St Anton (stantonamarlberg.com) in Austria provides a party after you’ve taken on challenging runs and off-piste areas, with the Moosewirt bar proving most popular with caners. There’s also great snowboarding for freestylers at Stanton Park. Lift tickets are about £199 for six days .
Drop some serious dollars at Whistler Blackcomb (whistlerblackcomb.com) in Canada – one of the word’s best known ski resorts after it hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics.You can ski and snowboard across two mountains, and the resort has committed to teaching classes of no more than four people, so you’ll receive close attention at the Snow School if you want to go from expert to certified legend. The resort has also just invested $2.5m (£1.5m) in new snow-grooming equipment, so the quality of the slopes will be top notch.A six-day lift pass costs from £235 if you buy it online before November 15. There are also several deals that include accommodation that run until this time, such as five nights’ accommodation with a four-day ski pass for around £58pppn. Book now to bag yourself a bargain.