by Matt Hampton, The Telegraph, March 16, 2018
If your appetite for the usual slopeside après is beginning wane, try evenings in the city instead. There are plenty of ski areas near urban - indeed urbane - city centres, some close enough to be linked by direct cable car or funicular railway, others simply within an an hour or so’s drive.
The trick is to find those that not only offer a the chance for vibrant city break, but also have a ski area worthy of a proper ski holiday, not just a couple of runs.
Staying in a city adds an entirely different dynamic to a ski holiday - outside the bubble of the resort, you meet the locals who live and work in the region year round, and get more of a feel for the country you’re visiting. The bars are a little smarter and the food more varied. Shops too, are stacked with more than just this season’s Gore-Tex. And when was last time you visited a museum or gallery in a ski resort?
Staying in the city may of course not always be practical for the whole week - consider the option of staying in resort and taking a day trip, or staying on for a couple of days of culture before heading to the airport.
Here’s our pick of six favourites where you can pack two holidays into one:
Best for relaxed intermediates
Named for emperor Augustus, back in 25BC Aosta was a staging post for legionnaires on their way to fight the Gauls. They subdued the local tribes first, then set about impressing them with a magnificent set of building projects, including the obligatory stone arch, bridge and road back to Rome. An hour and a half from Turin, as well as Roman ruins the city packs in good shopping and excellent restaurants (not just just hearty Alpine fare but fish and vegetarian options), and the slopes of Pila are just 20-minutes away by gondola. From the top station at snow-sure 2,700m there are magnificent views towards Monte Bianco (don’t dare call it Mont Blanc) and Mont Cervino (don’t dare call it the Matterhorn). And the slopes? Its 70km of cruisy pistes best suit families and intermediates and are as beautiful as the city.
Need to know
Inghams offers seven nights’ B&B at the four-star Hotel Duca d’Aosta from £749 including Gatwick flights to Turin and transfers. Half board at the three-star Lion Noir in Pila itself is from £729.
Best for big ski area/varied terrain
There are ski hills right in the city of Vancouver – or above it anyway. Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain and the smaller Mt Seymour are open all winter, with fine views over the city – especially at dusk. But anyone coming all this way will want to visit Whistler.
Two hours to the north by car or taxi transfer bus, it is Canada’s largest resort, spread over two mountains with terrain to suit everyone from piste cruisers to hard-core couloir divers. The village isn’t especially beautiful, but the après is so lively even city-dwellers come up for the night. The pan-Pacific influence is strong, with good sushi just as likely come dinnertime as hearty Canadian fare.
Vancouver seems relaxed by comparison, but its waterfront location is beguiling and the distinct mix of neighbourhoods makes for a cosmopolitan weekend.
Need to know
Ski Safari has a 10-night trip with eight nights’ room only at the four-star Crystal Lodge in Whistler, and two nights’ room only at the three-star Sandman Hotel in Vancouver from £1,139, including flights and transfers .
Best for a choice of resorts
Innsbruck/Olympia SkiWorld, Austria
How many ski resorts does Innsbruck boast? It depends where you mark the city limits, but the 1976 Olympic host has nine separate ski areas with over 260km of varied slopes between them, all covered by its Olympia SkiWorld pass. These include Kühtai, Austria’s highest resort set at 2,000m, and the snow-sure Stubai Glacier, which is open from October to June. Nordkette is the nearest, with a funicular right from the city centre, but all are within easy reach by free ski bus (Kühtai 45 minutes, Stubai 50), so you can enjoy the slopes by day and the city by night. Innsbruck styles itself as the outdoor capital of the Alps – and has fair claim to the title. Its streets buzz in winter with après skiers, still in their kit, making the most of the cosmopolitan bars and restaurants. In summer, the snow melts to reveal an impressive network of mountain bike trails, again accessible by public transport. And high above the city is Zaha Hadid’s iconic ski jump – a soaring reminder of Austria’s Alpine heritage. She was also the architect behind the modernist stingray-like funicular stations.
Need to know
Crystal has seven nights’ B&B at the three-star Hotel Zillertal in Innsbruck from £799, including flights and transfers.
Best for easy cruising
Granada/Sierra Nevada, Spain
What could possibly compare with the grandeur of the Alhambra? The Penibético Mountains come close. It is hard to believe there are any ski resorts this near to the Costa del Sol, but Sierra Nevada actually boasts some of Europe’s highest peaks. An hour by bus from Granada - with its Moorish architecture and the ancient streets of the Albaicín quarter - it sits at a snow-sure 2,100m, topping out at 3,282m. It’s not an enormous area (just over 100km best suited to intermediates), but enough for a week.
The après scene swaps tartiflette for tapas and paella, and typically doesn’t get going until very late. When it does, it seems like it may never end. While a day out from Sierra Nevada is easy enough, it’s well worth top or tailing a ski trip with a night in Granada – in the UNESCO recognised city, you will certainly feel you are further from home than southern Spain.
Need to know
Iglu Ski has seven nights’ half board at the three-star GHM Hotel Monachil in Sierra Nevada from £907 with flights from Gatwick.
Best for sunny snow-sure slopes
Nice/Isola 2000, France
If beach and piste on the same day sounds unlikely – indeed exhausting – just think of the bragging rights. Choose the weather window wisely, and you can enjoy a morning dip on the Côte d’Azur and a vin chaud on the terrace of a mountain restaurant in the afternoon. The transfer from Nice to Isola 2000 is less than two hours by road, so a Med to mountains mash up is entirely feasible. The appeal of promenading along the sea front and visiting the art galleries of Nice (Matisse was a resident) needs little introduction, though Isola 2000 is one of the lesser-known French resorts. At the easterly edge of the Alpes Maritimes, it was conceived in the early 1970s by a British Army officer – and one-time Olympian - Peter Boumphrey. His building legacy was greater than his Olympic record, delivering a sunny but high-altitude (the top station is at 2,610m) alternative to the mainstream resorts of the Alps. The 120km of slopes best suit families and improving intermediates rather than experts, but it also has a high-altitude terrain park.
Need to know
Erna Low has seven nights self catering at the three-star Les Terrasses d’Azur in Isola 2000 from £196 per person not including flights and transfers.
Best for good value challenges
The wild east beckons – and is one of the best-value alternatives to the Alps. The former Soviet republics have long been touted as the bargain basement of skiing – cheap and functional if not especially beautiful.
But Slovakia’s Tatras Mountains combine decent accommodation with a wild, unspoilt environment and some challenging slopes. It helps that it is easier on the wallet, too. Wizz Air flies direct to Poprad, gateway to the mountains and a worth a visit for its Baroque old town. The region’s most developed ski resort, Jasná, is an hour away in the lower portion of the Tatras. It is quite small by Alpine standards, 50km of runs, but the appeal lies in its uncrowded slopes, modern lifts and ease of getting off piste. There are steep runs with ungroomed powder, but also plenty of beginner-friendly terrain. And the annual Bikini Ski Race puts the shenanigans at the Folie Douce to shame. The women’s movement hasn’t come quite so far in Eastern Europe.
Need to know
Jasna Adventures has seven nights’ half board at the Dragon’s Lair Chalet in Jasná, including lift passes and airport transfers, from £595. Flights to Poprad from London Luton with Wizz Air start at under £150 return.