Verbier, Switzerland. Best for Off-piste skiing & night-life.
During the last few years Verbier’s reputation as a world class resort has grown considerably. It has always been well known for good off piste skiing and crazy night-life but more recently it has taken on a more upmarket glamorous image that has attracted the rich and famous to this jewel of the Alps. The big improvements to the lift system have stopped the old bottle necks from causing serious queuing problems which dogged the old classics like Tortin and Mt Fort in the past. But the terrain is what makes Verbier so special, high altitude lift serviced skiing at its best. Adrenaline fuelled backcountry classics such as Vallon d’Arby, Backside Mt Fort and Tortin offer skiers the chance to experience powder snow days after a storm. Then there’s Mt Gele, one mountain, one cable car, lots of ways down and no pistes. The downside to the reputation is the fact that these areas get tracked out much faster than they used to be. Even though this can be frustrating it should not stop you from experiencing one of the worlds best lift serviced skiing areas, just take lots of cash for that glitzy and crazy night-life.
Queenstown, New Zealand. Best for all levels of skier & scenery.
Although nearby Wanaka has a more hardcore reputation, Queenstown as an overall resort ticks all the boxes. The two ski areas of Coronet Peak and The Remarkables offer a diverse experience that will suit all skier abilities. New Zealand skiing areas are generally smaller than their European and North American counter parts but this lack of size is compensated for the great terrain and scenery available. Coronet Peak is the closest to the town itself and benefits from a good access road. The terrain is varied and there are lots of natural half pipes, kickers, gullies and bowls to enjoy. The Remarkables are called such as their sheer beauty dominates the view from Queenstown, whilst the skiing is gentler than their appearance belies. With a bit of hiking though you can gain access to some great backcountry chutes and bowls. The nightlife is varied and fun with restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets and bars that rock all night long. Head down in August for the winter festival or September if you want quieter spring time skiing.
Lillehammer / Kvitfjell, Norway. Best for quiet piste skiing & families.
Lillehammer was the destination for the 1994 winter Olympic games and a fantastic place for a winter sports holiday. Every year in early March the world cup downhill circuit travels to the ski area of Kvitfjell (White Mountain) for the annual race on the classic Olympic downhill piste. The worlds best downhill skiers travel at speeds of over 100 kilometres an hour down one of the greatest ski runs you will find anywhere. Kvitfjell is about 40 minutes drive from the town of Lillehammer but you can stay on the mountain itself in the hotels or apartments that scatter themselves on both sides of the resort. Kvitfjell is not just about the downhill run as there are pistes to suit all abilities. Closer to the town of Lillehammer is Halfjell which caters for all abilities and has a good lift system and great snow conditions from November to April. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from in Lillehammer as well.
Chamonix, France. Best for Off-piste skiing & non-skiing activities.
Always on the list of classic resorts and although an obvious choice it just can’t be ignored. The town itself is a wonderful mix of old mountaineering history and a modern winter sports destination. Dominated by Europe’s highest mountain, Mt Blanc, and an array of other spectacular peaks, Chamonix can claim to be the mountaineering destination of Europe. The skiing is equally as inspiring with a handful of separate areas spread out across the valley that suit all levels of skier. The most challenging of these areas is Le Grand Montets which is a huge ski area above the village of Argentière which is famous for its steep off piste terrain. Le Brevant, the ski area directly above Chamonix has a great mix of good on-piste skiing and off piste skiing with spectacular views of Mt Blanc and the surrounding area. Any skier has to visit Chamonix on a pilgrimage at least once in their life and experience the atmosphere that oozes ski and mountain history.
Continued in Part 2: Further resorts classified as my best ski resorts.
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