As ski enthusiasts look to the new season, Anna Maria Espsatertells us everything we need to know about Europe’s ski scene
Skiers in Europe are pretty spoilt for choice. There’s the obvious old-time favourite of the Alpine/Dolomite region spanning France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein and Slovenia; the Pyrenees along the French-Spanish-Andorran border; Sierra Nevada in southern Spain; the Nordic countries with both downhill and cross-country skiing; and finally Eastern Europe, all offering a variety of experiences for beginners as well as more advanced skiers.
Plane, train or coach to the slopes
Getting to the slopes has never been easier. Not only are there plenty of direct flights, including several low-cost carriers, but you can also take the train – Eurostar offers day and night-time services to three ski towns in the French Alps from 21st December and there are train options available to Italy, Switzerland and Austria. Many countries also connect the different ski resorts themselves by train. Snowcarbon has launched a new resort and journey planner on their website, enabling skiers to plan train journeys to 34 ski resorts in five countries. Another option is to travel by coach, a more economic and therefore also increasingly popular, alternative. Several tour operators have coach itineraries to the Alpine region.
Although the ski market has shrunk since the recession, statistics compiled by the Ski Club show that there are some five million people in the UK who ski or snowboard and many of them choose to take at least one winter sport holiday a year. France remains the undisputed leader for UK skiers with a 34,6% share of the market, followed by Austria and Italy, but the bumper snow seasons in Scandinavia, combined with the added perks of northern lights viewing, husky safaris or a stay at the original Ice Hotel have led to more people venturing further north for a different ski experience. More skiers have also been branching out to lesser known areas in the east or south. Spain, for example, has 35 ski resorts spread around the country and is an excellent bet for winter sun, also for skiers. Downhill skiing remains by far the most popular winter sport, followed by snowboarding and cross-country skiing, but there is also interest in other winter pursuits such as snow-shoeing and tobogganing. Resorts across Europe are currently investing heavily in improved facilities and more varied activities to give visitors an even better experience this winter.
What’s new from Sweden to Spain
Björkliden resort in Swedish Lapland has a new northern lights snow mobile tour, snow and northern lights golf and an Aurora Snow bar. Their ski pass is valid for both Björkliden and Riksgränsen (the northernmost ski resort in Europe), with free daily transfers between the two. The British Ski Centre in the Sierra Nevada near Granada, Spain, is currently planning a number of innovations for this season, including better snow production and more direct access to the pistes. New five-star accommodation in log cabin-style, El Lodge, is also opening its doors to guests at the resort this season. The Austrian Tourist Board is currently focusing on skiing combined with gastronomy, Christmas markets and spa stays. New in Austria for this year is the merging of the Alpbachtal and Wildschönau ski areas, the so-called ‘Ski Jewel’. Kitzbühel has several new lifts, while Hintertux Glacier has a new 10-person gondola, among many other improvements in time for the 2013 Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming. In Switzerland the resort of Arosa is offering a free ski school for kids this winter, while Engadin St Moritz is running a ‘Ski Pass’ included offer. If guests book 2 nights or more via the St Moritz tourist office, the ski pass is included in the price and only cost 25 Swiss Francs per day. Also in Switzerland, the resort of Laax is launching a solar-powered detachable 6-seater chairlift designed by Porsche. The chair can be turned into panoramic mode for even better views of the stunning scenery.
What’s new from France to Slovenia
In France, Avoriaz in Haute-Savoie, is still under redevelopment, but a new jumbo gondola access lift is due to open before the end of this ski season. Val Thorens has already opened for the season (24th November) and is busy gearing up for the World Cup Ski Cross taking place over three days, 17th-19th December. Nearby Courchevel has a new child safety system fitted in the 18 chairlifts used by French ski school. In addition to Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Bulgaria offer some of the best value for money ski deals in Europe, with the resort at Mount Etna in Sicily proving the cheapest according to TripAdvisor. In other parts of Italy a new ski lift connects the two ski areas of Madonna di Campiglio and Pinzolo, Cortina d’Ampezzo has increased snow-making facilities and Alta Badia has a new lift system, increasing capacity to 3,000 skiers per hour. Furthermore, several Dolomite resorts will be hosting the FIS Ski World Cup this season in December and January. Neighbouring Slovenia has been investing in new facilities and ski equipment and this season no less than 15 resorts across the country are offering the Ski Pass Slovenia, which enables skiers to use only one ticket for all the resorts, including Kranjska Gora. The three main products, individual, family or tourist ski pass, can be purchased via the tourist board website or directly in situ. If 15 resorts aren’t enough, Italian and Austrian resorts are less than an hour’s drive away, while there is also first-rate cross-country skiing and a ski jumping centre in Kranjska Gora. There’s been plenty of early snowfall this season and with the Christmas and New Year period falling in neatly with weekend departures this year this is a good time to take advantage of special holiday offers across Europe.