No doubt prompted by the imminent publication of our ski special, it started snowing in the Alps last week â€” with the white stuff settling all the way down to village level in many places. Fret no more. The season is almost upon us.
If the thought of blasting down pistes has got your muscles twitching, nowâ€™s the time to firm up your plans. In these pages, we offer plenty of inspiration: the must-ski resorts; the kit to salivate over; a blizzard of great deals, tailored to your budget. We even cajoled an Olympian, Chemmy Alcott, into revealing her five favourite ski spots around the world.
It all adds up to the only guide you need this winter. See you in the mountains.
Read the special edition in full below, or use these links to skip to your preferred section
- Fresh tracks: what’s new on the slopes
- Chemmy Alcott’s top five ski spots
- Saved by the powder hounds
- Make a beeline for the mountains â€” at any cost
- It’s not just for Christmas â€” a permanent base in the mountains
- Chalet or shan’t I â€” resort quiz
Fresh tracks: what’s new on the slopes
In Utah, Park City has just joined forces with its neighbour, Canyons: a new lift between the two, and a single ski pass, has created the largest ski area in America. But itâ€™s not just the size that counts â€” or the busy nightlife on Main Street. What really matters is the immaculately groomed pistes. Spend a day bombing about on these and youâ€™ll think youâ€™re Ted Ligety: which is fitting, as the wunderkind of American ski racing grew up here.
A week starts at Â£966pp, including flights and transfers; ski-i.com
A piste of a resort
It has long been known for its intermediate-friendly pistes, fast lifts and buzzing aprÃ¨s-ski, and this winter Saalbach-Hinterglemmis adding superb off-piste to that list, thanks to a new gondola linking it to next-door Fieberbrunn. In a stroke, it will become one of the most well-rounded ski areas in Austria, as well as the largest. Go in January or early February for the best chance of soft, bracing snow.
A week in January starts at Â£420pp, B&B, including flights and transfers; neilson.co.uk
Stretch out the apres-ski
Not everyone wants to dance in their ski boots until 2am, so the tour operator Inghams is trialling a more health-conscious holiday this winter. Guests at the chalet-hotel St Christoph, in St Anton, Austria, will be able to finish off their skiing day with an hourâ€™s free Pilates each evening â€“ giving them the chance not only to relax and develop their core strength, but to steer clear of JÃ¤gerbombs in bars such as the MooserWirt.
A week starts at Â£769pp, chalet-board, including flights and transfers; inghams.co.uk
Headcams are out. This winter, the drone is the must-have gizmo, thanks to the launch of the lightweight, self-guiding Lily, which follows a wrist-mounted tracking device as you ski, filming gobsmacking aerial footage as it goes. The cameraâ€™s promotional video caused a sensation when it was released in May. A launch date has yet to be set, but you can place an order now.
Pool your resources
Courchevel is one of the poshest ski destinations in the world, so we probably shouldnâ€™t be surprised by the ambition of the French resortâ€™s new leisure complex. Set beneath an undulating grass-covered roof and flooded with natural light, Aquamotionhas several pools (both indoor and out), a surfing simulator, a three-lane slide, a 110-metre wild-water rapid, a climbing wall and a spa. Courchevel Village (aka Courchevel 1550)is a short walk away.
See the sights
The new Aerospace goggles, from Julbo, are officially aimed at ski tourers, who get much too hot and bothered for ordinary goggles on their walking ascents. But anyone who works up a sweat when they ski will understand the appeal of these lookers. Pull the lens forward and it creates a large gap around the frame, through which fresh air can pour. Any fogging should clear in seconds.
From Â£122; snowinn.com
Few mountain festivals are better run than Snowbombing â€” the annual week of dance music and mad-for-it mayhem in Mayrhofen, Austria. So there are high hopes for its new French offshoot, Transition, a pre-Christmas party (December 13-19) in Avoriaz, headlined by Dizzee Rascal, with torchlit processions, pool parties and a host of DJ sets. Itâ€™s affordable, too: a weekâ€™s shared apartment accommodation, return coach travel and a festival wristband startat Â£224pp, self-catering. transitionsnow.com
In good hands
These Lithic gloves, from Arcâ€™teryx, promise dry hands and a firm grip, however soggy the snow. Two kinds of waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex are used to cope with different levels of wear and tear, and thereâ€™s clever variation in the padding, too: itâ€™s thickest on the back of the glove, because thatâ€™s where your hands get coldest. Seams are taped as well as stitched, to stop the melting snow sneaking in.
From Â£159; joe-brown.com
The go-anywhere ski
Is this the winter to push your skiing off-piste? Then click into a pair of Pinnacle 95s, the all-new, all-terrain skis from the Seattle-based company K2. Theyâ€™ll carve confident lines on groomed snow, float over freshly fallen powder and give you a stable, reassuring platform on chopped-up crud.
Â£400, without bindings; ellis-brigham.com
Le Totem, in Flaine, is the first in the new Terminal Neige chain of mid-priced hotels from the multitalented Sibuet family. Bedrooms blend chestnut tones and raw concrete, while Native American prints, log fires and a Pure Altitude spa set the scene downstairs. Not everyone warms to the French resortâ€™s sharp-edged architecture and modernist sculpture, but the piste skiing is first-class.
Doubles from Â£111 a night, B&B, terminal-neige.com
House rules: share that fondu (Getty)
Mind your chalet manners
The classic British ski holiday is in a shared chalet. Itâ€™s great value, someone else does the cooking and cleaning, and you have good company to swap yarns with. Should be a dream, no? Well, that depends on how everyone behaves. Here are my ground rules:
1 No man boobs at brekky
A few years back, some bloke Iâ€™d only just met thought it was OK to show everyone his nipples over coffee and cereal. He sat there topless, and probably thought he was doing us all a favour because heâ€™d bothered to put some trousers on. Cover up, please: youâ€™re not at home.
2 Donâ€™t make a pass at the chalet staff
You can leave the serial-dating Tinder lifestyle at the airport, thanks very much. I want the people in the kitchen to be relaxed and chatty, not terrified that youâ€™re going to try to snog them as they serve the black-cherry clafoutis.
3 Go to your room if youâ€™re going to fiddle with your iPhone
The sofas in a chalet are a sacred place, where people gather at the end of a strenuous day to swap stories of their pratfalls and have a bit of a giggle. So donâ€™t sit there like a black hole of self-absorption, sucking all the sparkle out of the room.
4 Donâ€™t eat all the cake at teatime
Itâ€™s blowing a blizzard, and for the past hour, the only thing that has kept me going is the thought of a cup of tea and a slice of victoria sponge. If youâ€™ve eaten it all, I will fill your ski boots with custard.
5 Give me Â£20…
…because Iâ€™m collecting staff tips for the end of the week.
Chemmy Alcott’s top five ski resorts
Chemmy Alcott was Britainâ€™s best Olympic ski racer â€” and now sheâ€™s retired, sheâ€™s having more fun on the slopes than ever. Hereâ€™s where youâ€™ll find her
I retired about 18 months ago and really worried that Iâ€™d struggle. I thought Iâ€™d miss racing too much. In fact, Iâ€™ve rediscovered my passion for the mountains. Nowadays, instead of skiing at 80mph, I ski at 40mph with a smile on my face.
I live in London, and it takes me about two weeks of being at home to want to get back to the Alps, so summer is normally quite tough. The start of a new season is always exciting. That ferry ride on the way out goes so slowly, because I just want to get there.
AprÃ¨s-ski is a new thing for me. I never really got it until I went on a trip to Val dâ€™IsÃ¨re recently. We skied all day, then we went and danced on the tables until 7pm, then had great food, then were in bed by 10pm. Amazing.
Iâ€™ve also learnt to enjoy other snow sports, such as cross-country and, particularly, snowboarding, which I absolutely love.
Iâ€™ve probably skied more over the past 18 months than ever before. When youâ€™re a racer, itâ€™s all about a couple of quick runs, then recovery, analysis, that sort of thing. Now Iâ€™m skiing from the first to the last lift, and loving it. Iâ€™m making up for lost time. Here are five ski spots where Iâ€™ll definitely be spending plenty of time in the coming years.
St Anton, Austria
The first time I went there was for the world championships, yonks ago. I remember coming up the lift and seeing a James Bond-style gondola stretching from one peak to another, and it opened up to a huge bowl of off-piste skiing. I thought it looked like the most heavenly playground ever.
Itâ€™s quite an extreme environment â€” the skiing, the eating, the aprÃ¨s-ski. Everything is done hardcore in St Anton. Austrians are the barmiest about skiing of all the Europeans, and have a dedication that surpasses all others. Thereâ€™s a really steep run that I particularly love, with views of a waterfall. St Anton itself is pretty â€” really well laid-out and all pedestrianised. Best apres-ski Krazy Kanguruh is a couple of hundred metres up the hill. Someone is always wearing a ridiculous outfit â€” a stupid onesie or something â€” and itâ€™s great fun. The â€œKKâ€ is owned by the double world slalom champion Mario Matt, who retired this year (krazykanguruh.com).
Verbierâ€™s pretty wooden chalets (Christophe Boisvieux)Flaine, France
Flaine is close to my heart, as it is where I started skiing â€” my family have a tiny apartment there. Iâ€™ve been skiing here for 31 years. I know what Iâ€™m going to get, I know who Iâ€™m going to bump into, and it never fails to entertain. Built in the 1960s and 1970s, itâ€™s not exactly a pretty place, but the skiing is good and itâ€™s accessible. You fly into Geneva and, an hour later, youâ€™re up the mountain. There are no cars in the village, you can walk onto the pistes and you know youâ€™ll be on the first lift in the morning, because thereâ€™s no reason not to be.
Flaine is a bowl, so it gets really good snow, and thereâ€™s a run called Gersthatâ€™s one of my favouritein the world. On a powder day, you feel like youâ€™re heli-skiing, as there are so many types of terrain on the way down. Itâ€™s got this dodgy old Poma [drag] lift, which is all part of the enjoyment â€” it takes quite a long time to get back up.
The Flying Dutchman, in La ForÃªt, is not particularly fancy, but itâ€™s where everyone tends to go. You always head home with something orange, like flowers or a hat (flaine.info).
If I could ski at only one more resort in my lifetime, this would be it. I just keep finding more and more treats there. I first used to go to take part in the High Five by Carlsberg event, which is at the end of the ski season, and sees amateurs and pros racing against one another in various disciplines. It was the one night out I had a year.
The town is beautiful â€” all lovely wooden chalets, and very quaint. Itâ€™s unlike the rest of the ski world, where hotels tend to be modern and monochrome. Itâ€™s upmarket, though, with a W hotel, and Richard Branson has a chalet. Iâ€™ve not met him, but Iâ€™ve hung out with James Blunt. Heâ€™s a regular: so much so that they named a chairlift after him, because thatâ€™s where he used to kiss girls.
Given the affluence, youâ€™d think it would be quite refined, and the clubs certainly are. But the Mont Fort has a great pub environment. Itâ€™s ski-in, thereâ€™s an outdoor space, and itâ€™s always quite messy. Every year, I spend a night working behind the bar for a laugh (pubmontfort.com).
Duty bound: St Antonâ€™s liveliest bar takes its aprÃ¨s-ski very seriously indeedValle Nevado, Chile
If you really canâ€™t wait until the following winter in Europe, this is a great option for some off-season downhill. Valle Nevado is east of Santiago, and you can see the city lights down below from the mountain.
Itâ€™s kind of ugly architecturally â€” there are only a few hotels perched up there, and theyâ€™ve got all these old lifts imported from Europe, which are never used â€” but you donâ€™t go for the hotels or the â€œsceneâ€. You go for the skiing. Thereâ€™s so much of it, and almost never any queues. The sunsets there are the most beautiful Iâ€™ve ever seen. The other advantage of this area is that youâ€™re pretty close to the coast, so you can ski and surf in the same day â€” which is my idea of perfection.
Not much to speak of, really. The big hotels all have pools, and sometimes there are DJs performing around them, but thatâ€™s about it. As I say, the ideal place just to concentrate on your turns.
Iceland is the perfect antidote to the super-resorts of the Alps. There are no pistes to speak of, so youâ€™re either ski touring or heli-skiing â€” often in places where nobody else has before. Itâ€™s beautiful, with these white, luminous mountains falling away to the deep blue of the ocean. From the top, it really does look as if you could ski into the water. The colours are so vibrant because each brings out the other.
Thereâ€™s a little bit of hardcore terrain, chutes and so forth, but mostly itâ€™s medium and not foreboding. For a medium or advanced skier, the place is a gem. But beware â€” the weather can change in the blink of an eye and itâ€™s vital that you have a local guide. I went with Viking Heliskiing (vikingheliskiing. com), who were so knowledgeable about the area, and understood exactly how to prepare us for that. For more information, check out visiticeland.com.
Vikingâ€™s own lodge is set on natural springs, so theyâ€™ve drilled down and have 47C water coming up straight into hot tubs. That was my aprÃ¨s-ski.
Chemmy Alcott was talking to Duncan Craig
Chemmy Alcott (Hansi Heckmair)
Chemmy answers your essential questions
1 Iâ€™m at the top of the slope and Iâ€™ve bottled it. What should I do?
Focus on one turn at a time, instead of looking at the bottom of the mountain. Just breaking it down can really help. If itâ€™s still not happening, you could always take your skis off, walk up (never down) and take the chairlift back down. Itâ€™s shameful, though.
2 My thighs are starting to ache after only a couple of blue runs. Am I allowed to rest?
Resting is for the chairlift. In fact, thereâ€™s a huge amount of resting time in skiing. If itâ€™s the start of your holiday, you may not want to go hell for leather, then ache for the rest of it. In my book, though, you get more for your money by skiing more â€“ so do your pre-holiday exercises.
3 Thereâ€™s one more hour until the ski lifts close and Iâ€™m offered a second schnapps. Do I accept?
It depends on the conditions. If itâ€™s mushy and at the end of the season, youâ€™re not going to miss out. Some people ski better if they have a little tipple â€“ but you need to know your limits.
4 I overdid the aprÃ¨s-ski the night before. Can I lie in?
No, no and no. Thereâ€™s a lot to be said for aprÃ¨s-ski. I get it now. Youâ€™ve worked hard, youâ€™re on your holidays, so go out and have fun by all means. But you have to get up. Waste the best snow of the day and youâ€™ll regret it. Instead, ski in the morning and sleep it off with an afternoon siesta.
5 How should I fall?
You always fall as if youâ€™re a jelly. The worst thing you can do, which is what 99% of us do, is brace yourself. Thatâ€™s when accidents happen. Iâ€™ve had eight concussions in my career, which are the nastiest crashes to watch, and I never hurt anything because I was a jelly. Nothing was tense.
Saved by the powder hounds
Nick Rufford was buried in a snowy grave. Air was running short. Would the Alpine rescue dogs find him in time?
Nothing ruins a day on the slopes like an avalanche. It comes out of nowhere, a wall of snow and ice travelling quickly enough to overtake even a fast-moving skier. In Europe, one in 10 avalanche victims dies from impact injuries; for the others, trapped beneath several feet of snow, the clock starts ticking. The average victim has 15 minutes to be rescued before it is too late. Most perish from asphyxiation, not hypothermia. Last season was one of the most lethal in recent history, in part due to a big increase in the popularity of off-piste skiing and snowboarding.
Iâ€™ve got time to dwell on these sobering facts because Iâ€™m lying 6ft below the snow surface, unable to move. Iâ€™m entombed somewhere off the edge of the vast Mont Blanc piste, in Val dâ€™IsÃ¨re. To get here, I skied on a closed piste, and the nearest human being could be miles away. Hopefully, Faro and Elliot, the two rescue dogs that I know are hunting me, are closer.
Yes, my premature burial is an exercise â€” aimed at proving the dogsâ€™ ability to sniff out a trapped skier.
Rescue dogs were used in the days before groomed pistes and ski lifts to save intrepid explorers who ventured up mountains with barrel staves strapped to their feet. Now, with casualties rising, they are in vogue again â€” an old-world solution to a new-world problem.
Some skiers carry electronic tracking devices â€” called transceivers â€” but rescuers canâ€™t be certain a victim is equipped with one, plus, they may break or get torn loose in an accident, or run out of battery power. Dogs are more reliable, and better than humans at combing large areas quickly. For these reasons, the traditional pooch is still a vital part of the rescuerâ€™s toolkit.
But Iâ€™m beginning to wonder if the French mountain rescue team who have staged this demo for me havenâ€™t gone a step too far in an effort to prove a point. â€œIf you start to panic, just call us on your phone and weâ€™ll come and get you out,â€ were their last words. But my mobile phone is in front of my face (positioned there for filming) and I can see that the signal is fading in and out, from one bar to none. Not much hope of making a call, then, even if I did manage to press any buttons with my numb, gloved fingers.
If you get ice forming in the air pocket, you know it’s a done deal. It becomes like having a plastic bag over your headI calm myself with the thought that I couldnâ€™t be in better hands (or, rather, paws). Elliot is a five-year-old border collie, owned and trained by Sandra Vuillermoz, a member of Val dâ€™IsÃ¨reâ€™s piste rescue service. Faro is younger and slightly less experienced, but already has a rescue to his credit â€” a skier buried by a huge snowslide in the Arcelle region last March. But for Faro, the man would have been dug out dead rather than alive.
Elliot and Faro are part of a team of three border collies and one mÃ¼nsterlÃ¤nder that comprise the Dog Squad. (Yes, the French use that phrase.) They start training as pups to sniff out victims from hundreds of yards away, under masses of snow. To them, itâ€™s a big game, their natural instinct honed by a year of training. Typically, they have a 10-year working life.
Thatâ€™s longer than in the old days, when dogs would sometimes be retired with snow blindness. Now they have â€œliquid sunglassesâ€ â€” eyedrops that help block ultraviolet rays and reduce the risk of eye damage.
Vuillermoz has let them loose at the top of the piste, which means that if they work their way methodically down the slope, they will have to comb an area at least a kilometre square before they arrive at where Iâ€™m buried. The clock is ticking. I canâ€™t feel my hands and feet. The air is getting stale.
You may have heard that if you are trapped by an avalanche, you should spit, see which way the saliva runs across your face to work out which way is up, then dig in that direction. In fact, it doesnâ€™t really matter which way is up. Being encased in snow is like being frozen in concrete, and it is highly unlikely that you will be able to dig anywhere.
In the silence, I contemplate the words of Henry Schniewind, an avalanche expert who gave me a handy check list to gauge the danger of going off piste. Here are five tips that could save your life.
â€œNumber one, heed the danger rating (a five-stage scale â€” from low to very highâ€” usually posted at the tourist office, some lift stations and on the web). Two, are you on a slope that has not been regularly skied in the past few weeks (virgin snow is tempting, but can be deadly)? Three, is the slope â€” or the slope above you â€” steep (avalanches typically start on slopes of 30 degrees or more)? Four, if you can, take an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe pole (and know how to use them). The fifth is, surprisingly, the most important: are you in a party of skiers that has been gripped by â€˜powder frenzyâ€™? People make less rational decisions in a group setting.â€
All obvious points; all often overlooked by the growing numbers venturing off piste.
The physiology of avalanche victims and why they perish is still being studied. Dr Colin Grissom is based at the Intermountain Medical Center in Utah, near the Park City ski area. â€œAfter 15 minutes, the chances of being dug out alive fall dramatically,â€ he says. â€œEven if you have an air pocket in front of your face, the moisture in your breath will condense and freeze in the snow. If you get ice forming in the air pocket, you know itâ€™s a done deal, because ice is not permeable to air. Then it becomes like having a plastic bag right over your head.â€
Iâ€™ve been buried now for more than 14 minutes and the snow in front of my face has turned to ice. In my frost-covered orange ski jacket, I look like a frozen fishfinger, and Iâ€™m beginning to think that Iâ€™ve had my chips.
Then I hear a muffled bark. The next minute, thereâ€™s scrabbling and a wet, shiny nose breaks into my snow coffin. Itâ€™s Elliot, with Faro not far behind. He pulls me out into the mountain sunshine. Vuillermoz is standing there, leaning casually on a snow shovel. Smiling, she assists as, with trembling fingers, I reach inside my jacket for a hip flask.
Never has a sip of schnapps tasted so good.
For more information on Val dâ€™IsÃ¨re, visit valdisere.com. Nick Rufford was a guest of Le Ski (01484 548996, leski.com), which has a week at Chalet La Saulire from Â£609pp, half-board, including flights and transfers; easyJet (easyjet.com), which has returns from Gatwick to Geneva from Â£43; Snowdrone (snow-drone.com), which has private transfers from Geneva to Val from Â£226, one-way, for up to four people; and Snowberry (snowberry-valdisere.com), which offers ski and boot hire from Â£106pp for a week. Henryâ€™s Avalanche Talk (henrysavalanchetalk.com) runs off-piste courses from Â£123pp. Nickâ€™s rescue adventure was made possible with the help of TDCski (tdcski.com) and Progression Ski (progressionski.com), both of which offer private lessons from about Â£170 for three hours; and Jelly and Ice Cream (jellyandice-cream.com), which offers childcare from Â£123 for an eight-hour day
Make a beeline for the mountains â€” at any cost
Whether youâ€™re looking for a quick burst of no-frills excitement, off-the-scale indulgence or something in between, thereâ€™s a ski break to match your budget
Unless stated, all prices are based on two people sharing. Chalet-board includes breakfast and afternoon tea on seven days, and dinner with wine on six nights
Live the high life in Val dâ€™Isere
Since opening in 2002, Eagleâ€™s Nest has been a landmark in this French resort, perched on a plug of rocknear the Face â€” one of the best black-rated pistes in the world. The interiors have had a Â£550,000 refit, so the already astounding level of luxury has been ratcheted up a notch or three. It must be booked in its entirety, so pick a group of 11 like-minded sybarites, then get ready for a week of hell-for-leather skiing and serious hedonism. The chalet has a pool, a games room, a sauna, and menus devised by the 2014 MasterChef champion, Ping Coombes.
One week from January 24 costs Â£1,575pp, chalet-board, including flights, transfers and an in-resort driver; scottdunn.com
Eagleâ€™s Nest (Rich Roberts)A special Bond in Austria
This winter, why not add a 007 edge to your skiing? Spectre, the latest James Bond movie, is released on October 26, and the Ice Q restaurant, in SÃ¶lden, plays a supporting role in one of its punch-ups. Never mind the fisticuffs â€” itâ€™s a sensational spot for a mountaintop lunch, as part of a week spent cruising the resortâ€™s long, snow-sure intermediate pistes. Check in at the five-star Das Central for a few Bond-style trimmings: as well as an indoor pool and 10 saunas, it has 30,000 bottles in its wine cellar.
One week from February 28 starts at Â£1,695pp, half-board, including flights and transfers; skisolutions.com
Powder junkies, listen up. The Pacific Ocean climate anomaly known as El NiÃ±o is back, and one of its possible effects is heavier than average snowfall in the southern Rockies. All of which makes the gorgeous former mining town of Telluride an even more tempting prospect. Combine its scintillating downhills with the precipitous terrain at Crested Butte and you have the makings of a memorable experts-only adventure. You wonâ€™t be living the life of luxury, but you may as well be, given the envious glances youâ€™ll attract once youâ€™re home.
Ten days in mid-January start at Â£1,829pp, with a mix of B&B and self-catering, including flights and 4×4 hire; skisafari.com
Martin Bell AcademySplit the difference in Chamonix
You donâ€™t have to jump into a helicopter to have an exceptional snowboarding experience. Follow Neil McNab up a mountain instead. McNab holds one of the top mountain-guide qualifications and is a leading practitioner of splitboarding â€” a branch of the sport that involves hiking up powder fields and riding back down. Methodical and disciplined, He is also an inspiring surfer of the snow. Homely rather than overtly luxurious, pretty Le Faucigny, in Chamonix, will be your base.
Five nights from Â£469pp; hotelfaucignychamonix.com. A five-day splitboarding break for competent off-pisters, from February 22, costs Â£1,235;mcnabsnowboarding.com. Fly to Geneva with easyJet
Serenity of the Dolomites
Not every skier loves the rattle and hum of modern resorts. If you long for a more serene encounter with the slopes, target the Adler Mountain Lodge instead. Itâ€™s a 15-mile drive from the nearest town, lost in a landscape of snow-covered meadows and easy pistes, and within sight of the magnificent Sassolungo massif. When the lifts shut each afternoon, silence reigns supreme. The hotel is a calm and luxurious mix of unvarnished wood, leather and wool, with just 18 suites and 12 private chalets.
One week from January 24 costs Â£1,895pp, full-board, including flights and transfers; snow-wise.com
Stepping up to the plate: Marcus Wareing (Simon John Owen)Family fun in Zermatt
Canâ€™t keep up with your kids any more? Then sign them up for the five-day Martin Bell Academy â€” part of Powder Byrneâ€™s Easter programme in this spectacular Swiss resort. Itâ€™s designed for 11- to 15-year-olds who are already confident skiing on black pistes, and the former Olympian will take them even further, taking them into the bumps, trees and powder. While theyâ€™re pushing their limits, you can treat yourself to a lunch or two at Zermattâ€™s stellar array of mountain restaurants.
One week from March 27 at the four-star Hotel Schweizerhof starts at Â£2,846pp, half-board, including flights and transfers. The academy costs Â£645pp; powderbyrne.com
Culinary masterclass in Courmayeur
Never mind Heston Blumenthal. Look whoâ€™s on the guest list for his Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience in the Italian resort this winter: Clare Smyth, the first female chef in Britain to hold three Michelin stars. Sheâ€™s head chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, in London, and will be cooking alongside Marcus Wareing and Sat Bains at a big set-piece dinner on January 9, as well as a rustic supper at Maison Vieille, a mountain restaurant, the day after. Pray for moonlight â€” the view of the south face of Mont Blanc is something youâ€™ll never forget.
The event runs January 8-11. Three nights in five-star accommodation start at Â£3,850pp, half-board. The price includes flights, transfers, a lift pass and two half-days of ski guiding; momentumski.com
Centre stage in St Anton
Feeling strong? Then roll up your sleeves and get stuck into St Anton. The pistes are tough, the off-piste is even tougher, and as dusk falls, the Austrian resort buzzes with a powerful party atmosphere. To get the best out of it, stay in the middle of town at Chalet Seeberger, on the pedestrianised Dorfstrasse. New to Powder Whiteâ€™s programme this year, it sits above a parade of shops and is a five-minute walk from the main hub of lifts and pistes, as well as the point of return from the MooserWirt â€” the slopeside bar where every serious aprÃ¨s-ski evening begins.
One week from January 17 costs Â£649pp, chalet-board; powderwhite.com. Flights to Innsbruck start at Â£71 with easyJet;return rail travel from Innsbruck to St Anton costs Â£31.50 (oebb.at). The total is Â£751.50 â€” not including your beer money
Parts of the foundations of the Strasserwirt hotel, in the Osttirol, date back to the 6th century. But the decor is much newer; itâ€™s just been renovated by its architect owner, and the result is both chic and unshowy. Treats include beds lined with Swiss pine, which has a gorgeous and strangely soothing smell, and pig-out teas every afternoon. Book one of the big Egger-Lienz suites and youâ€™ll have the perfect base from which to dive into Austriaâ€™s secret kingdom of skiing, where optional day trips beckon to small, underused ski areas such as Sillian and St Jakob.
A week from January 24 costs Â£391pp, half-board; strasserwirt.com. Fly with easyJet to Innsbruck from Â£147 return, hire a car with Carrentals.co.uk from Â£61pp, factor in Â£50pp for fuel, and the total is Â£649pp: fantastic value, given the quality of the accommodation and skiing
All smiles: St Anton attracts a buzzy crowdSelf-sufficient in Les Arcs
Arc 1950 is a clever bit of architecture: a wraparound development of pretty self-catering apartments with a car park hidden in the basement, and enough shops, bars and restaurants in the snowy centralplaza to fill a week of holidaymaking. Thereâ€™s a Brit-friendly ski school on site, and little pistes lead from the back door of every rÃ©sidence into the intermediatesâ€™ playground that is Les Arcs. For families who donâ€™t mind driving across France and cooking once they get here,this a brilliant spot for a February half-term holiday: cheaper than a chalet or a hotel, and as cosy as a down-filled ski jacket.
One week from February 13 costs Â£504pp, based on four sharing a two-room flatt;ernalow.co.uk. Add return ferry crossings (from Â£20pp at poferries.com), Â£74pp for fuel and tolls from Calais, and Â£100pp for food, and the total is Â£698pp
Youâ€™ve got two options in Courchevel 1650. Either throw yourself into the hurly-burly of the worldâ€™s biggest properly integrated lift system, and ski your legs to jelly on some of the most celebrated pistes in the Alps, or keep it local and potter on the confidence-boosting slopes immediately above the village â€” most visitors to Les Trois VallÃ©es never find them, and the atmosphere is blissfully quiet as a result. Either way, Le Skiâ€™s piste-side Chalet Rikiki is the perfect launchpad, with the surfing simulator at the Aquamotion pool complex nearby if you wnat to add a little spice to your aprÃ¨s-ski regime.
One week from January 31 costs Â£942pp, chalet-board, including flights and transfers; leski.com
SBalance of powder: El Tarter, Andorra (Jay Haysey)teep learning curve in Verbier
Will this be the winter when you finally start skiing powder and moguls? Make it a certainty by joining the Warren Smith Ski Academy in this Swiss resort for five days of intensive surgery on your ski technique and an introduction to life beyond the pistes. Courses cost Â£429pp, including two evenings of video analysis; snap up the current Inghams deal on a week from January 2 at the central Chalet de Verbier tocreate a complete package for Â£1,028pp.
A week starts at Â£599pp, chalet-board, including flights and transfers; inghams.co.uk
Child-friendly in Andorra
Need a little help on your family ski trips? Neilsonâ€™s Hotel del Clos is standing by with on-site nurseries and kidsâ€™ clubs, evening childcare, a games room and a snow garden for outdoor play. Adults and teenagers can join the new Mountain Experts programme, run by qualified ski instructors, which guarantees at least two free ski-technique clinics a week. El Tarter is part of the Grandvalira network of broad, easy-skiing intermediate pistes, so thereâ€™ll be plenty of room to practise afterwards.
A week from December 27 starts atÂ£981pp, chalet-board, for a family of four, including flights and transfers, but not childcare; neilson.co.uk
Come on, Dad: family skiing in Tignes, France (Tristan Shu)Chateau living in Alpe d’Huez
First-time ski holidays donâ€™t come much smoother than a week at Club Chateau, a chalet that sits in a little island of hotels in this French resort, surrounded by one of the biggest cirques of nursery slopes in the Alps. The interior is heavy on weathered wood and stone, all warmed by a crackling fire, and at the start of the day, all you need do is walk outside, turn right, and youâ€™ll be at the ski-school meeting point.
A week from January 24 costs Â£1,049pp, chalet-board, including flights and transfers; vip-chalets.com
Snow-proof in Tignes
Itâ€™s hard to beat this French resort for a family Easter trip. Almost all the skiing is above 6,800ft, and the glacier reaches up to an eye-watering 11,000ft, so even in a spring thaw, it offers sumptuous piste skiing for all abilities. Mark Warnerâ€™s Chalet Hotel Aiguille PercÃ©e, in Tignes-le-Lac, is the ideal base. Not only does it have its own nursery and kidsâ€™ clubs, itâ€™s just a short walk from Le Lagon â€” a public pool with a brilliant three-lane slide for family splashing once the lifts shut.
A week from April 3 starts at Â£1,179pp for a family of four, including flights and transfers, but not childcare; markwarner.co.uk
Slope off to Bulgaria
If youâ€™re new to skiing, you donâ€™t need a resort with hundreds of miles of piste. By targeting pocket-sized, cheap-as-chips Pamporovo, in Bulgaria, you can treat yourself to a hotel stay for the price of a studio flat in the Alps. The meticulous ski school has plenty of experience of teaching Brits, and lessons run for four hours a day, either side of lunch, so youâ€™ll make steady progress. Particularly if you can avoid the postprandial snooze.
A week from January 23 at the Hotel Snezhanka, which has a pool, costs Â£394pp, half-board, including flights and transfers; crystalski.co.uk
Padded up for action in Serre Chevalier, FranceFree lift pass in France
Got the energy required to drive to the Alps, and the self-discipline to cook for yourselves when youâ€™re there? Then cheap ski holidays are a doddle â€” especially if you catch one of the free-lift-pass deals on offer in low-season weeks. The midsize and eternally underrated resort of Serre Chevalier is a great option, with some wonderful intermediate-friendly pistes.
A week from January 2 at a studio apartment in MonÃªtier-les-Bains starts at Â£183pp, based on four sharing, including a six-day lift pass worth Â£181;serrechevalier-reservation.com. Add Â£100pp a week for food, Â£28pp for return ferry crossings (poferries.com) and Â£95pp for fuel and tolls from Calais, and it still comes to only Â£406pp
Mix it up in Mayrhofen
Last year, winter got off to a painfully slow start in the Alps, and some low-lying resorts in the west were still snowless at Christmas. Selling festive ski holidays for 2015 is hard work as a result, and theyâ€™re already being discounted. In Mayrhofen, Austria, good snow is guaranteed because of the Hintertux glacier, lying at the top of the valley, which is open all year. In any normal winter, thereâ€™s also great skiing for all abilities immediately above town â€” ranging from a mountain thatâ€™s more or less set aside for beginners all the way to Harakiri, one of the steepest pistes in the Alps.
A week at Chalet St Lukas costs Â£569pp, chalet-board, including flights and transfers; inghams.co.uk
Lift your spirits Alba di Canazei, in the DolomitesTake refuge in the Dolomites
â€œWhy didnâ€™t I come here sooner?â€ is the reaction of many Brits to the Dolomites: and no wonder, given the scenery, confidence-boosting pistes and superb, family-run mountain restaurants. Powder junkies will balk at the dryish climate, but for everyone else, the chance to ski beneath sun-drenched cliffs and crags, with a glass of prosecco and a plate of spicy pan-fried prawns beckoning at the Rifugio Emilio Comici (rifugiocomici. com), is catnip. Alba di Canazei makes a great low-cost base, with anew gondola offering speedy access to the famous Sella Ronda circuit of pistes.
A week from January 23 at Cesa Rotic costs Â£509pp, half-board, including flights and transfers; crystalski.co.uk
Lofty Val Thorens
With lower prices and quieter slopes than the February half-term, Easter can be a canny time for a family trip, provided you aim for a snow-sure high-altitude resort. Val Thorens, in France,
is one of the loftiest, set at 7,500ft and offering skiing for all abilities up to 10,500ft. Itâ€™s also well stocked with inexpensive self-catering apartments. Yes, youâ€™ll have to cook if you want to keep a lid on prices, but at the Hameau du Kashmir, life wonâ€™t be too shabby â€” it has an indoor pool, a spa, and a games room, as well as two restaurants for those evenings when you canâ€™t face opening the fridge.
A week from April 2 at a two-room apartment costs Â£387pp, self-catering, including return Eurotunnel crossings; skicollection.co.uk. Add Â£100pp for food, and Â£74pp for fuel and tolls, and the total is Â£561pp
Piste and quiet Snowshoeing in Zell am SeeBunk up in Val dâ€™Isere
Another ingenious way to ski cheaply is to stay with Ucpa, a French sport-for-all organisation that runs holidays at some of the most famous resorts in the country. In Val dâ€™IsÃ¨re, the accommodation is in four-bunk rooms, right in the middle of town, and the price includes three big meals a day, equipment hire, lift pass and 12 hours of tuition for all levelsexcept beginners.
A week from January 9 costs Â£637pp, all-inclusive, including return coach travel from London; action-outdoors.co.uk
If affordable Alpine atmosphere is your priority, head to pretty Zell am See and its Julie Andrews landscape of lakes, forests and round-topped mountains. Although thereâ€™s snow-sure glacier skiing nearby on the Kitzsteinhorn, itâ€™s best to go midwinter, to maximise your chances of getting cold, soft snow on the local mountain, the SchmittenhÃ¶he. It tops out at 6,500ft, but its pistes include a couple of magnificent top-to-bottom runs: one thatâ€™s ideal for intermediates, the other for advanced skiers.
A week from January 23 at the newly refurbished Hotel Traube, in the pedestrianised town centre, costs Â£600pp, half-board, including flights and transfers; neilson.co.uk
and donâ€™t forget…
In mid-December, January and the first three weeks of March, there are usually more holidays than skiers, and last-minute discounting is the result. If youâ€™re not too picky about the resort, hang on until two or three weeks before the date when you plan to travel and consult specialist agencies such as snowfinders.co.uk, sno.co.uk andigluski.com. Last winter, January weeks at catered chalets were available for Â£400pp, including flights and transfers.
A permanent base in the mountains
These are the hottest new residential developments in the Alps, from low-key to last word in luxe
(Julian Abrams)Courchevel, France: from Â£840,000
Courchevel 1850 is the most fashionable ski destination in the Alps: a magnet for the ultra-wealthy, popular with chic Parisians, Russian oligarchs (though there arenâ€™t as many as there were five years ago) and high rollers from around the world. Life in the resort has never just been about skiing â€” even though it sits within a world-beating 370 miles of pistes. Itâ€™s just as important to splash the cash in Michelin-starred restaurants, designer boutiques and stylish hotels, the latest of which is LVMHâ€™s White 1921, opening in December. Donâ€™t even think about coming without a driver or an army of nannies to chaperone the kids. Now the resort is getting its first residential spa development, the Six Senses Residences Courchevel, which will offer53ski-in, ski-out flats, priced from Â£840,000 for a one-bedder to Â£7m for a five-bedroom apartment. Six Senses is famously indulgent, and the pampering suites and ski concierge will draw buyers looking for a fully serviced status home in 1850. 020 7016 3740, savills.com
(Isabelle Chenal)La Tania, France: from Â£184,000
Tucked away in a forest near the big-name resorts of MÃ©ribel and Courchevel, this low-key ski village offers easy access to the Three Valleys ski area â€” without the hefty property prices. Itâ€™s a modern resort, well equipped for families, and there are seven one- to four-bedroom flats under development at Chalet Caille, a Savoyard-style property five minutes from the ski lift and shops. It will have spacious living areas with huge windows; prices go up to about Â£600,000. 020 8905 5511,investorsinproperty.com
(Paul Cardi)Grimentz, Switzerland: from Â£550,000
A chocolate-box resort with uncrowded high-altitude slopes, Grimentz is gaining a reputation for untracked powder â€” and heli-skiing. A new cable car has linked the village with the resort of Zinal, doubling the ski area to 130 miles, and properties here are half the price of those in fashionable Verbier. Phase two of Les Chalets dâ€™Adelaide has one- to three-bedroom flats, four-/five-bedroom duplexes and custom-built chalets for Â£6.3m. Itâ€™s a ski-in, ski-out development with a spa and a concierge service. 020 7692 0786, markwarnerproperty.com
Meribel, France: Â£4.3m
A combination of chalet-style architecture, a friendly village feel and a setting at the heart of the mighty Three Valleys ski area makes MÃ©ribel a firm favourite with British families. With access to 200 lifts, itâ€™s a great base from which to explore the worldâ€™s largest ski domain, while the designer shopping and lively aprÃ¨s-ski scene make it popular with seasonnaires. Though property here isnâ€™t cheap, your money goes further than it would in nearby Courchevel 1850. Le Hameau des Cimes is a development of four new chalets near the slopes, with easy access to the resortâ€™s facilities. The 3,200 sq ft homes have balconies,six ensuite bedrooms, open-plan living areas with a roaring fire, a garage, a boot room and a massage room.
020 7861 1727, knightfrank.com
Combloux, France: from Â£104,500
If you are hunting for an affordable ski home with the charm of a traditional Alpine village and spectacular scenery, Combloux could be
for you. Itâ€™s near the chic (and expensive) resort of MegÃ¨ve â€” with the same highly prized views of Mont Blanc â€” and only an hour from Geneva, making it an ideal choice for weekend escapes to the slopes. Centrally located and minutes from the lifts, Les Fermes du Mont Blanc is a new complex of 52 studios and one- to three-bedroom flats, with a pool and a spa, and would suit a keen skier who plans to visit a lot. A flexible leaseback deal allows owners to use their home for up to six months a year, then gain 60% of the rental income on the rest. Prices range from Â£104,500 to Â£396,000, and the completion date is December 2017.
020 7590 1624, ernalowproperty.co.uk
Chalet or shan’t I?
Renting is for wimps â€” any self-respecting high-flyer needs their own pad on the pistes. Take our quiz to find out which resort has the edge
Itâ€™s time. Youâ€™ve fallen head over heels in love, and the moment has come to make the relationship permanent. Youâ€™re going to buy a chalet in a ski resort.
But which resort? There are hundreds, and you lie awake at night worrying that if you pick one thatâ€™s unfashionable/ boring/flat/geeky, nobody you know will come when you casually drop the invitation to your first New Yearâ€™s Eve party. Imagine. Itâ€™d be worse than having someone discover a Marks & Spencer label in your clothing. Or finding out that you still have nightmares about falling off the ski lift.
Fear not â€” weâ€™ve made the process simple. Check out the questions in our quiz and pick the answers that most closely apply to you. Then let our explanation of the results guide you to your perfect (second) home.
1 The ski season is approaching. Whoâ€™s on the list to come on the next trip?
a Binky, Lala, Bea, Charlie, Hugo, the Bash-Joneses from Shropshire, and two of your mates from the bank.
b Ekaterina and the children, Granny and Grandpa, your lawyer, your bodyguard and two nieces (who arenâ€™t actually your nieces, and are staying in a discreet hotel on the other side of the resort).
c The guys you met last year heli-skiing on the Kamchatka peninsula.
d Thereâ€™s a whole crowd. Pierreâ€™s polo team and the Wags, obviously, but youâ€™ve heard the Schnitzels from Schloss Umlaut will be there, too. You havenâ€™t seen Otto since business school!
2 What time of the year are you going?
a Early March. Binky used to be a chalet girl, and the owner of the company is still drooling over her. She gets an extra discount from him in the quiet weeks of the season.
b Ten days over new year and the Russian Orthodox Christmas.
c Next weekend. Craigâ€™s been studying the weather charts and reckons thereâ€™ll be a huge dump. Youâ€™ll have to skip your sisterâ€™s wedding, but youâ€™re pretty sure your stepfather will step in and give her away at the altar.
d New year. Isnâ€™t that when everyone goes?
3 What will you be wearing?
a The boys have all got hold of old Bogner one-piece ski suits and neon pink wigs. Itâ€™s going to be hilarious.
b Youâ€™ll be in Kjus. Ekaterina likes Fendi. Your â€œniecesâ€ will be in their underwear.
c Gore-Tex. And the smell of 100 sweaty days of skiing.
d Moncler. HermÃ¨s. Fur. Fillers.
4 Favourite food in a ski resort
a The cake they serve in the chalet at teatime.
b Roast chicken, just like your mother used to make.
c A squashed cheese and ham baguette from the bottom of your rucksack.
d Anything that tastes of Michelin stars.
5 Favourite drinks
a Toffee vodka.
b Vodka vodka.
c Water from your CamelBak rucksack.
d Perrier-JouÃ«t Belle Epoque 2007.
6 Best time of the day?
a Dancing on the tables at La Folie Douce at 4pm.
b When Dmitri from Gazprom sees you order an eye-wateringly expensive jeroboam of Krug at lunch, and comes to say â€œHiâ€. You swap business cards.
c Putting the skins on your touring skis at the start of a two-hour hike.
d Lying in bed at 11.30am with one of the chalet staff.
7 Your fantasy ski resort has…
a All your best friends in it.
b Its own runway.
c No pistes, just powder.
d A Perrier-JouÃ«t ice bar with a really cute Italian DJ, branches of Gucci and HermÃ¨s, and, far away in the distance, a mountain or two.
8 Favourite gizmo
a The Ski Tracks app, which allows you to compare top skiing speeds, even though one of your mates from the bank breaks his leg trying to reach 60mph.
b Your bodyguardâ€™s hip flask.
c Your avalanche-airbag rucksack.
d Your portable smartphone recharger.
9 Disaster strikes when…
a You get in from La Folie Douce and Hugo throws up all over the kitchen. The chalet girls walk out and it takes a Â£200 tip to get them back to cook supper.
b You take Dmitri from Gazprom out to a club and he makes a pass at your favourite â€œnieceâ€.
c You ski a 40-degree couloir in fresh powder. And realise that the GoPro wasnâ€™t switched on when you did it.
d Someone suggests that you actually go skiing.
10 Skiing is…
a The best holiday of the year.
b A great way to do lucrative business deals.
c Why your wife/husband left you.
d An essential fixture on the calendar. But then so are St Barts, Cape Town, the Hamptons and St Tropez.
What your answers mean
You ski hard, party harder, and never whine if youâ€™re scared. Val dâ€™IsÃ¨re and Verbier are both made for you, though the patronage of Prince Harry in recent years means Verbierâ€™s social stock is a little higher. For those who canâ€™t stomach the sky-high prices, how about MÃ©ribel or Morzine?
Skiing for you is all about showing off, doing business and not looking stupid in front of your allies and rivals. Which makes the king of the smoothies, Courchevel, your kind of place. In fact, if you canâ€™t afford its hair-whitening prices, donâ€™t target another resort â€” just buy lower down the mountain instead. The suburbs of Courchevel Village (aka Courchevel 1550) will do.
Chamonix is your natural home, and offers everything from Â£120,000 flats to Â£5m chalets. But this big town may not be pure enough for an adrenaline junkie like you. Target hardcore La Grave instead. It has just one marked run on the glacier; everything else is off-piste.
It looks so easy, wafting around the globe to a series of villa parties and private ski-resort firework displays. But you know that if you donâ€™t show up at new year in the right place, chins will wag. So it has to be St Moritz or Gstaad â€” and thank heavens one of you has a Swiss passport, because buying in either is tricky if you donâ€™t. Villars is the â€œbudgetâ€ alternative.