Okay, so just about everything in Are, Sweden is underrated: the on-piste skiing, the restaurants, the apres-ski (at weekends, at least), the quality of the accommodation. We Brits are so fixated on the Alps we can barely even countenance skiing in North America, let alone Scandinavia. So perhaps it’s no wonder we haven’t given it much thought.
But of all the elements that make this cool and classy ski resort such a pleasure, it’s probably the off-piste skiing which is sniffed at the most. Aficionados will tell you that Areskutan, the main mountain isn’t steep enough. They’ll also point to all the hard-core, free-skiing Swedes you bump into in places like Verbier and Val d’Isere. “What are they doing in the Alps if the off-piste-skiing in their own country is so good?” they’ll ask. Hell, I should know. I was one of them.
But actually, that’s b*llocks. This is a fabulous place for off-piste skiing, and here’s why.
It’s Big. BIG
Wherever you stand in the cute little town of Are, it’s hard to see the top of the Areskutan. The peak looks like a little shrunken head on the massive shoulders of the lower slopes. But when you get up there…jeez. The place opens up like some kind of secret kingdom. There are the upper slopes themselves, plus the two hidden valleys called the East and West Gullies, and then the whole of the backside of the mountain, skiing away from the resort. What’s more, because Areskutan is the biggest lump of rock for miles, and most of the terrain is above the treeline, the sense of space is intoxicating. Okay, so I’m a claustrophobic Londoner. I crave space. But my goodness me, it’s wonderful being up there.
The terrain suits most skiers better than an Alp does
The average Alp is an awe-inspiring thing. But it’s also steep, craggy and cut with couloirs. There is that kind of off-piste skiing in Are, Sweden if you want it. But for the most part, it’s more like skiing a fell in the Lake District – albeit a fell that’s been fed on steroids, basted with snow, and left in the freezer. The slopes are big, open and unbroken by trees or rocks. You can more or less make a turn anywhere you want to. On a sunny day, with fresh snow on the mountains, the skiing is flat-out, delirious fun. It’s also much better suited to the skills of the average keen leisure skier – who wants a challenge and a sense of adventure but doesn’t want to feel out of his/her depth.
The snow’s good too
The locals are always apologising about their snow. “Sorry, this is Swedish powder,” they say. They’re underselling it. Above the treeline, it’s almost always wind-affected, one way or the other; and if you’re not with a guide, you can find yourself in an ocean of crust. But elsewhere, you’ll find bowls full of wind-packed powder: silky-smooth, slightly pneumatic, and a joy to ski.
Off-piste guiding is cheap
One of the glories of Are, Sweden, is its Skistar Experience programme. It offers a range of half-day skiing sessions which are a mix of guided tour and skills clinic, and they cost 450 SEK each for three hours. That’s about £45pp. In St Anton in Austria, Piste to Powder charges about £65 for the same kind of three-hour guiding session.
The guides are inspiring
Maybe they’re born that way. Maybe, the chief guide takes them to one side and says, “Guys, sex it up a bit, will you?” Whatever. It works for me. Our own crew of guides – Rasmus, Rikard and Emil – were superb yesterday, skiing everywhere at Mach2, taking air off the smallest knolls and rollers, and generally firing up the group with a display of fast, precise skiing. They combined that with a near-constant flow of conversation about where the best snow might be, what were the sensible lines to take (given the standard of the group), plus periodic re-checking of our transceivers. It was an impressive display of intensity and commitment. I skied better because of it.
The light is beauuuuutiful
Oh God. Have you ever seen a Scandinavian sunset? It goes on forever. Of course, the sun is low in the sky anyway. But it takes an age for it actually to go down, and the colour builds and builds and builds until just the sight of it will make you whoop and holler. The blues, the oranges and the pinks I saw yesterday – I hope I never forget them.
As you can see, I’m a bit blissed out. My critical faculties are possibly clouded by a surfeit of wonder. But f*ck it. Life is too short of days like this. You’ve got to hold them tight and cherish them. Yesterday was my day of the season. Thank you, Are, for giving me that.
Welove2ski is staying in the Tott Hotel in Are – a ski-in, ski-out hotel with a cool lounge and lovely low, leather sofas: the perfect place to write about the perfect skiing day. Thanks guys!