There's been joy across the Alps over the past couple of weeks, with an incredible amount of early-season snow at high-altitude resorts.
Some, including Verbier, Ischgl, Les Deux Alpes and Val Thorens, decided to open early to capitalise on all that lovely powder. Envy-inducing pictures have been all over social media of happy skiers and snowboarders in France, Italy, Switzerland and Austria.
If you’re worried about your carbon footprint, check out some of the tour operators offering a range of rail travel options. Inghams launched new train packages for this season to 22 resorts across France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland – and they’re competitively priced against air travel. Or try French company Travelski, which offers packages to Val Thorens, La Plagne, Les Arcs, La Rosière, Tignes, Val d’Isère, Courchevel, Les Menuires, Méribel and Les Deux Alpes that include rail travel, transfers, accommodation and ski passes. You are required to change trains at Lille, but it’s a relatively painless way to start off your ski holiday.
However you decide to travel, put these ski resorts on your wish list.
Best for: fans of long runs at high altitude.
The scene: intermediates looking for Bond gadgetry and glamour.
Anyone who has seen James Bond in Spectre will remember the cubeshaped Ice Q restaurant perched at the 3,048m summit of Gaislochkogl mountain that doubled as the film’s sinister clinic. The views are as divine as the cuisine — not surprising, as the same owners run the luxurious five-star Das Central in the heart of Sölden.
While you’re at Gaislochkogl, you’ll have to pop into 007 Elements, a sleek, futuristic museum which delves into the world of Bond via compelling cinematic installations. Even if you’re not a Bond fan, Sölden has plenty to keep you entertained. Not one but two glaciers ensure you’ll have plenty of snow even during drier periods, and its 145km of pistes have enough to keep everyone happy. The village is bookended by gondolas serving the Gaislochkogl and Giggijoch sectors and their large networks of cruisy blues and some steep reds.
Once you’re in Giggijoch, you can carry on even higher to the Tiefenbach and Rettenbach glaciers that go up to 3,249m. To get the best views of the ski area — and if you’ve got about four hours to spare — follow the Big 3 Rally route that winds its way for 50km between Giggijoch and Gaislochkogl. Intermediates who want a thigh-busting run can tackle the 15km piste from the top of the glacier and down a 1,880m drop. If it looks familiar, it’s because that run also had a starring role in Spectre.
If you stay for at least three days, you automatically get a lift pass that includes the ski areas in neighbouring Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, which is within the same Ötz Valley as Sölden. But you’ll want to make certain you’re back in the village in time to enjoy Sölden’s famed après-ski parties and lively night life. The hottest place to stay is the newly renovated Das Central, with its beautifully done rooms and suites in modern Alpine style. But the hotel’s big show-stopper is the Summit Spa, which offers wellness up in the clouds, and has a rooftop Infinity pool that provides a panorama of peaks as you swim in the clouds.
Book: Das Central Hotel, Sölden, Austria offers double rooms from €200 per person per night. centralsoelden.com/en.
British Airways flies from Gatwick to Innsbruck from £144pp and from Heathrow from £196pp, to book visit ba.com/Innsbruck.soelden.com
Alta Badia, Italy
Best for: Food fanatics.
The scene: Stylish Italians including chef Giorgio Locatelli.
Foodies flock to the gourmet capital of the Dolomites every winter for Alta Badia’s mouth-watering culinary calendar, A Taste of Skiing. Come on 9 December and join the Gourmet Skisafari, skiing from hut to hut as Michelin-starred chefs show off their skills.
The skiing is just as divine in this glorious setting – and you’re right on the Sella Ronda ski circuit. Experts will love the Gran Risa black run, one of the most challenging on the World Cup circuit. Corvara is the buzziest of Alta Badia’s six villages, and don’t miss the twice-weekly late-night party in Club Mortizino at the top of Piz La Ila.
Les Arcs, France
Best for: Mileage-hungry intermediates.
The scene: Everyone from families to green-minded rail buffs.
With a funicular railway leading directly from Bourg-St-Maurice, Les Arcs is one of the easiest ski resorts to reach by train. If you don’t fancy the futuristic architecture of Arc 1600, 1800 or 2000, head over to the more traditional-looking Arc 1950, which is celebrating its 20th birthday this winter. Wherever you stay, you’ll have 200km of fantastically varied terrain to explore – and double that if you include La Plagne on your lift pass.
No one is left out here: there are challenging black runs around the forbidding peak of Aiguille Rouge, sheltered tree-lined runs around the Peisey-Vallandry area and some superb freeride terrain. Party animals will want to hang around Arc 1800 at Chez Boubou and La Folie Douce, while Arc 1950 has George’s Wine Bar and O’Chaud for classy cocktails.
Best for: Luxe-loving intermediates.
The scene: A fashionable crowd following Euro royals and Sebastian Vettel.
Lech’s serene air of understated luxury has always been a draw for skiers who like a bit of sophistication on the slopes. It’s also one of the snowiest parts of Austria, and a decent bet if you want a white Christmas in this scenic corner of the Arlberg region.
Intermediates in particular will love the sunny slopes that lead up to the pretty hamlet of Oberlech, and there’s always the option to ski over to boisterous St Anton. But there’s plenty of off-piste action in Lech itself, and the après-ski at the lively Schneggarai hits the sweet spot.
La Rosière, France
Best for: Border-hoppers.
The scene: Families and Italophiles.
You get two countries for the price of one in La Rosière, part of the Espace San Bernardo ski domain. Its family-friendly, south-facing slopes are directly linked to La Thuile over in Italy’s Aosta Valley, so you can ski across the border and have lunch on a sunny Italian mountain. And you can go heli-skiing in Italy, which is illegal in France.
While the skiing in La Rosière is more suited to beginners and intermediates, there’s also the Mont Valaisan sector, a huge playground of freeride terrain and a network of red runs. It’s definitely not a party resort – more a place to relax and take in sublime views of the Tarentaise Valley while diving into a cheese fondue at Le Flocon or in the Igloo Village.
Book: Mountain Heaven offers catered holidays at the five-bedroom Chalet Valeriane, which is opposite Les Eucherts’s main chairlift, sleeps 10 and features an outdoor hot tub. A week costs from £8,990, which includes breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner. larosiere.net
Jackson Hole, US
Best for: Powder hounds.
The scene: Hollywood A-listers – Harrison Ford, Sandra Bullock, Brad Pitt – lying low.
Jackson Hole’s famed “cowboy powder” is only of many attractions to this Wild West-like resort in Wyoming’s Teton mountain range. Hollywood actors like to come here to get away from the glitz of Aspen and Vail and soak up the decidedly unflashy atmosphere in the resort’s two mountains.
Nervous beginners might want to stick to the gentler slopes of Apres Vous mountain, but powder hounds head to Rendezvous mountain where the mantra is deep and steep. Colbert’s Couloir is legendary among expert skiers – you start with a 20ft freefall off the cliff before whooshing down the narrow slope. Celebrate afterwards with margaritas at the raucous Mangy Moose in Teton Village.
Best for: High-altitude seekers.
The scene: Sporty groups and families.
High-altitude Tignes, with its Grand Motte glacier and direct links to Val d’Isère, is one of your best bets for snow all season long. If you’re skiing with a gang of mixed abilities, you’ll all find plenty of thrills in Tignes, with its wide blue pistes and seriously challenging black slopes including the practically empty Johan Clarey black run. While it’s easy to ski over to Val d’Isère and party at La Folie Douce in La Daille, for ultimate convenience, end the day at the Loop Bar in Tignes Le Lac and catch live bands at the foot of the Trolles piste.
Best for: Scenery lovers.
The scene: Traditionalists and laid-back cruisers in search of old-world charm.
Three equally gorgeous resorts make up the Jungfrau ski region – Wengen, Mürren and Grindelwald – and between them you can ski in the shadow of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch mountains. Cruise along Wengen’s wide blues and reds, and save some energy for the 4.4km Lauberhorn, the world’s longest downhill World Cup course. Exquisite, car-free Mürren is the place to check out the glorious Schilthorn run, while few can resist a ride on the Jungfraujoch Railway, the highest in Europe at 3,454m.
Les Menuires, France
Best for: Budget-conscious beginners and intermediates.
The scene: Families in search of ski-in/ski-out and architectural ski nerds.
Les Menuires has come a long way since its creation nearly 60 years ago. Its brutalist architecture has been softened by more upmarket chalets, but this family-focused resort is still one of the best budget-friendly ways to enjoy the Trois Vallées.
Confident skiers can easily go beyond neighbouring Val Thorens and St-Martin-de-Belleville to reach Méribel and Courchevel, and there’s lovely skiing to be had in La Masse in Les Menuires itself. Join the party at Chalet du Sunny, where there’s cheap beer and dancing at 2,500m.
Book: Travelski offers seven nights’ self-catering at Apartment Les Mélèzes in the Réberty area from £989pp, including rail transport from St Pancras, bus transfers and local lift passes. lesmenuires.com