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Well, it’s that time of year again. The nights are drawing in, the temperature is dropping and we’re all starting to miss the summer. So the obvious thing to do is book a holiday somewhere really cold so we can indulge in a highly dangerous sport that most of us only practise for one week a year, then act surprised when we end up in hospital. Yes, the ski season is approaching.
The arrival of children put the kibosh on my skiing activities while the nippers got to grips with some pre-ski basics, such as how to stand up and walk unassisted. January 2013, however, saw us take to the slopes as a family for the first time, and I soon noticed that, in the six years or so since my last ski holiday, standards and expectations appear to have risen dramatically.
‘The market is virtually unrecognisable from the business I entered in 1986,’ says Andrew Dunn, founder of luxury ski-trip organiser Scott Dunn. ‘Back then, you were lucky if there was enough hot water for everyone to have a shower at the end of the day, rooms had paper-thin walls and the catering was invariably done by charming English chalet girls who often didn’t know how to cook.
‘Now, standards are far higher,’ says Dunn. ‘Meals can be cooked by professional chefs, chalets are equipped with every conceivable digital gadget, and the higher-end properties don’t just have hot tubs, they’re now likely to have steam rooms and indoor swimming pools, too.’
Such luxuries certainly appeal, but for those whose budgets don’t stretch that far, there are plenty of more affordable places to stay with good levels of comfort. Here is our pick of some European destinations in the budget, medium, high and super-luxe price brackets…
According to Tim Heale of chalet agent Chaletline, the secret to bagging a bargain is to be sufficiently versatile (ie, not have children to think about) to book your ski holiday in a seriously off-peak week.
‘Among the worst-selling weeks of the year are the second week of December and the second week of January, before and after the school-holiday peak. If you’re able to travel at those times, and don’t mind taking a gamble on the weather and snow conditions, you can find a week’s skiing for as little as £450 per person – which, nowadays, is just about the rock-bottom price. That sort of money will buy you a flight, transfers and either half-board or catered accommodation with wine.’
Typical of the French resorts that Chaletline can get you to for that amount of money are Les Deux Alpes, La Plagne, its neighbour Les Arcs and La Rosière, which is not only an affordable place to stay, but also a family-friendly resort where lift passes and ski hire are among the best value in Europe.
There are also bargains to be had in the beautiful pilgrimage town of Mariazell, Austria, where £500 gets you a six-night, half-board stay at the traditional Hotel Drei Hasen with a ski pass thrown in (and 50% discount for children under 12).
Also consider a week at Pierremont, a century-old private chalet in Courchevel Le Praz, available as a whole or in two halves, with total capacity of 14 (from £480 per person, based on 12 sharing).
Spending an extra few hundred pounds will take you to the more upmarket resorts of Switzerland and Austria, where you’re likely to get ski-in, ski-out accommodation as well as hot tubs and saunas. At this level, Verbier, Zermatt, Morzine, Tignes, Val d’Isère and St Anton become options.
At the four-star Hotel Banyan in St Anton, £745 buys seven nights’ bed and breakfast in a standard room. The Asian-inspired hotel is a five-minute walk to the lifts and there’s a small spa and indoor pool.
If your ‘mid-range’ budget will extend to £1,140 per person, you could find yourself in the luxurious eight-bedroom Chalet Maurine in Verbier, just off the main street and a two-minute walk to the lifts. The price includes catered breakfasts, teas and four-course dinners with wine.
The Hotel Maiensee in St Anton (pictured above and below) will be of little appeal to those who want thumping nightlife and raucous evenings at the bar, but if you want peace and quiet and ski-in, ski-out accommodation, Maiensee should appeal – not least because of its instant access to some of the finest pistes in the Austrian Alps.
The traditional hotel features wood panelling and beamed ceilings, rustic furnishings and a wealth of cosy seating areas. There’s also a vast terrace with superb mountain views.
Rooms can be typically Tyrolean or ultra-modern (check before you book if you have a preference) and range from standard doubles to 80sq ft suites. Prices, with half-board to include gourmet food, start at £125 per person per night in low season, rising to £310 for a deluxe suite in high season.
And to get the skiing holidays off to a cracking start, the hotel is offering three exciting offers for Square Meal readers.
With more money to spend, even the sky doesn’t have to be the limit, as some of the most upmarket chalets include access to heli-skiing.
For £2,000 per person per week, you can stay at Scott Dunn’s flagship St Anton property, the luxurious Chalet Artemis, complete with bespoke gourmet menus, hot tub, steam room, sauna, swimming pool and private cinema.
Ultra-modern and capable of accommodating 12 people, it’s said to be one of the finest contemporary chalets in the whole of the Alps, with flat-screen plasma TVs and Sonos sound systems in every bedroom, and a vast, top-floor living area with open fire, contemporary artworks and a balcony that looks down on the village. It’s not a ski-in, ski-out chalet, but rest easy, because a chauffeur-driven 4x4 is all part of the package.
If money’s no object and you have the thick end of £25,000 to spend on a week’s skiing, the latest five-star W-Hotel in trendy Verbier might satisfy your needs with its outlandish ‘E WOW’ suite on the top floor.
A whopping 1,980sq ft, it comes with all the usual extras, such as a fireplace, jacuzzi, hot tub – and a revolving bed. If you can be bothered to venture outside, you’ll find the slopes right on the doorstep, along with cafés, bars and shops. For après-ski, there’s the private W nightclub.
Those with a mere £10,650 to spend on themselves might like L’Apogée, Courchevel 1850’s new five-star ski-in, ski-out hotel (pictured below), which offers a private chalet over five floors with five en-suite bedrooms.
Kaluma Travel kalumatravel.co.uk
Scott Dunn scottdunn.com
WHEN TO GO
If you don’t have to factor in children, avoid school holidays. Mid to late January onwards tends to offer the best combination of sunny days and good snow conditions, although weather patterns have proved unpredictable in recent years.
Chalet Artemis, St Anton, Austria; scottdunn.com
Chalet Maurine, Verbier, Switzerland; kalumatravel.co.uk
Chalet Pierremont, Courchevel, Le Praz, France; scottdunn.com
Hotel Banyan, St Anton, Austria; banyan-hotel.com
Hotel Drei Hasen, Mariazell, Austria; dreihasen.at
Hotel L’Apogée, Courchevel 1850, France; lapogeecourchevel.com
Hotel Maiensee, St Anton, Austria; maiensee.com
W-Hotel, Verbier, Switzerland; wverbier.com