Five of the Best European Ski Resorts
The ski season is well and truly open with most European ski resorts seeing some of the best snow conditions for years. For those of us whole can’t get enough of the fresh mountain air, the fluffy powered pistes and the warm glow of an open fire in the chalet look no further. We’ve rounded up six of the best European ski resorts to kick start the planning for your next trip.
Val Thorens, France
With an altitude of 2300m, the highest in Europe, Val Thorens is the undisputed king of early and late season skiing. It’s towering altitude guarantees snow cover from November until early May and means that ski-in ski-out features heavily amongst the variety of slope side accommodation. As part of the interconnected Les Trois Vallées ski area, claimed as the largest interlinked ski area in the world, the right lift pass will give you access to over 600km of pistes and trails with runs taking you through to Les Menuires, Courchevel and La Tania.
Val Thorens is famed for its party lifestyle and it doesn’t take long on the slopes before those après feelings start kicking in. Mountain side bars La Folie Douce and 360 Bar get the party started in the early afternoon with DJ’s and live music until the lifts close. Then it’s only a short ski down into the main village where there’s a plethora of bars, restaurants and clubs including La Malaysia, the self-claimed largest club in the French alps, to see in the small hours of the morning.
The slopes and terrain in Val Thorens are suitable for all abilities and the six surrounding glaciers provide plenty of opportunity for some breath taking off-piste scenery.
A short hop over from Val Thorens into the valley next door and you’ll find a collection of small resort villages which combine to give Méribel. Nestled in wooded alpine surroundings, the town’s insistence on the use of local stone, slate and wood has ensured traditional chalet-style architecture and a refreshing lack of the large concrete block style chalet-hotels that litter some resorts.
Positioned right in the central valley of Les Trois Vallées, it has over 45 lifts of its own with run difficulty almost evenly split between blue and red. Many of the lower runs are tree lined with some nifty off-piste areas to explore.
Back down in town, Méribel is a firm British favourite (which may or may not be a plus) and the main village, Méribel centre, has a great selection of bars and clubs to keep you entertained until the small hours. Do bear in mind that the spread out nature of the five villages that make up the resort does mean that travelling between them in the evening when the lifts have shut can be a minor annoyance. With a small amount of pre-trip planning however, you can source yourself a top chalet location that suits your needs.
Bansko is easily Bulgaria’s top ski resort. Around two hours drive south from the capital Sofia, Bankso is situated next to the Pirin national park, a UNESCO world heritage site, located in the Pirin Mountains. The resort saw significant levels of investment in the early 2000’s which brought it right up to international standard and rightly into the international spotlight.
With a population of around 10,000, Bansko is a sizeable town whose modern chalets, apartments and hotels sit close by to the traditional stone built dwellings found in the heart of the old town. The ski area is compact compared to some of the other resorts mentioned here, but 75km of pistes spread over two mountain sides offer excellent choice for the beginner or intermediate skier. The après scene is lively, with a number of animated bars both slope-side and downtown. Overall, Bansko is on the more affordable side of the spectrum and is well worth a visit if you fancy exploring beyond the Alps.
Dominated by the mighty Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, Chamonix is considered a must visit for any serious ski or snowboarder. Frequently rated as one of the top 10 ski resorts worldwide, the site of the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924 offers spectacular mountain scenery to go with some of the most rewarding runs in the French Alps.
With the resort sitting at 1035m and the top lift reaching 3842m, the large vertical range offers lengthy fun runs below the tree line and high altitude glacier-based adventures up top. It’s known for its challenging pisted terrain and renowned for its off-piste. Europe’s longest off-piste run, the Valle Blanche, runs from the top of the stunning Aiguille du Midi station (a marvel in its own right) 20km back down to town through some of best scenery in the Mont Blanc massif. Altogether 5 ski areas provide 170km of piste, though they are unfortunately not all lift-linked.
The town itself is large and attractive, with a wealth of boutique shops and traditional restaurants. After dark there are numerous bars and pubs, with most featuring live music, and nightclubs L’Amnesia and Le Tof keep the party going until morning. Close access to the Mont Blanc tunnel allows easy access to the Italian resort of Courmayeur which makes for a nice day excursion and skiing is also included on the Mont Blanc Unlimited pass. Chamonix considers itself a premium destination, however, and that comes with a slightly premium (though definitely still affordable) price tag.
View from the Aiguille du Midi lift station, Chamonix
Sited in the beautiful Zillertal Valley, the steam train that is the Austrian resort of Mayrhofen certainly shows no signs of slowing down. A firm favourite with Brits for decades, Mayrhofen is an attractive traditional style big village which successfully juxtaposes quaint Austrian charm with a pulsing in-your-face nightlife scene loud enough to knock your socks off.
Split between two mountain sides, Mayrhofen features 136km of runs serviced by 57 lifts. The mainly red runs should suit the intermediate skier perfectly but Mayrhofen is not without its challenges. With a gradient of 78° the infamous Harakiri, for instance, is the steepest run in Austria. If you’re feeling really adventurous you can opt for the aptly named Zillertaler Superskipass, which gives you access to a whopping 515km of pistes in four areas across the entire Zillertal valley.
When it comes to après, Mayrhofen barely makes it through lunch before the mountainside festivities begin to warm up. A decent selection of bars surround the top station of the main Penken gondola and the village offers everything from lederhosen clad chaos to sophisticated cosy cocktails. Plus, if that’s not enough hold out for the annual Snowbombing festival held in early April. Expect an eclectic mix of live acts, DJ’s and (6000) people spread between makeshift mountainside stages and underground nightclubs.
Getting the best deal
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