Skiing in Sweden’s biggest wintersports resort is different. Here are five things you’ll notice straight away.
1. Big, unpopulated landscapes
It’s a real thrill to fly into Ostersund airport – about an hour’s drive from Are in Sweden, and the main point of access for foreigners. There’s almost nothing there – a tiny terminal building, a couple of planes and then, yawning out beyond, an endless stretch of farmland and snowy forest. It seems like you’re on the edge of a vast wilderness, and that sense of remoteness never leaves: not something you’ll ever feel ploughing through the suburbs of Annecy in a transfer bus to the French Alps.
2. Metropolitan style
The irony is that this little resort, surrounded by moose and frozen lakes, has the kind of shops, bars and restaurants you’d expect to find in a hip city suburb. You can thank the close ties with Stockholm for that – and it’s hard to think of a resort in the Alps that can match it for good looks and cool metropolitan atmosphere. You’d have to go to one of the cute and well-connected Colorado ski towns like Aspen or Telluride to find something similar.
3. Consistently good food
It’s a fact that hasn’t yet seeped into the global consciousness: but the Swedes are amazing cooks. Well, they are in Are, anyway. The food here is sensationally good – and sooooo refreshingly different from the usual mountain schtick. The use of the local berries is particularly interesting – lyngen berries with reindeer, cloud berries with almonds and coconut, to name just two. But overall it’s the balance of the flavours and the precision of the cooking that stands out – along with a complete lack of fussiness. Those guys from the Michelin guides should come to Are and blast their stars around with a bazooka – paying particularly attention to Buustamons on the mountain, and a very hip little joint in town called Supper.
It was the cream cakes that hooked us in at the start – but actually it’s whole bakery/coffee shop scene here which is cool. If the Swedes did’t actually invent it, they’ve certainly taken modern cafe culture and made it their own, because nowhere else does that laid back, chatty, and calming atmosphere as well as they do. Here, the best places to go are Gradda Are, at Brunkulla, near the VM8 lift, and the Bahnhof Cafe in the middle of town. The cream cakes, by the way, can be found at the mountain restaurant at the top of the VM8 lift.
5. Night skiing
Are’s floodlights were put in for the 2007 World Ski Championships, and they’re bright enough for broadcast television. They’re so bright, in fact, that you’ll only get better visibility on a day of full sunshine. It’s no wonder then that they’re such an integral part of the skiing scene, and you can find a floodlit slope somewhere in the ski area every night of the week. If you can’t see the video we shot under the lights above, check it out here.
Add to that 100km of well-balanced pistes – which are more or less deserted on weekdays – and a stack of other winter activities to try – and it’s no wonder we’ve met several British skiers here this week who are back for their second or third holiday. Some are even wondering if there’s a way they can settle here…