Michael Bennett is the third generation to run his family’s travel company, Ski Independence. He started skiing at Hillend, Edinburgh’s dry ski slope, at the age four before graduating to real snow in the Alps on family ski holidays in the 1970s. Michael has skied all over Europe and North America and now enjoys taking his own young family skiing, most recently to Val d’Isere and Avoriaz. His most unusual ski resort experience has been an unforgettable hour carving corduroy in Breckenridge before the resort opened officially for the day. “Absolute heaven,” he recalls.
Here, he picks ten more activities that will make a ski holiday unforgettable.
Winter sports holidays aren’t just about going downhill fast. Choose your resort with care, and you’ll find a range of activities on offer that’ll change the way you think about the mountains. What’s more, many are not the exclusive preserve of skiers and snowboarders. So if you’ve got non-skiers in your group, they’re a sure-fire way to make their holiday just as memorable as yours.
Ski through the bamboos and swim in a natural hot pool
The off-piste and tree-skiing in Niseko is phenomenal and, even if you’ve never tried powder before, this is a great place to learn. With over 15 metres of light, dry snow on average every winter, 914 vertical metres of amazing terrain and 40 ski lifts, Niseko is certainly impressive.
Japanese tradition says that, to experience the full effect of an onsen, you should visit a hot spring every day for three weeks. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a one-off visit though. The most unusual experience is relaxing in the hot water of an outdoor orrotenburo, where you can lie back and take in the gorgeous surroundings.
The resort is dominated by nearby Mount Youtei, an extinct volcano, unlike the two ski resorts on Mount Etna in Sicily, where the volcano occasionally erupts and wipes out the slopes and lifts.
Stay there: The Green Leaf Hotel is in a quiet slope-side position with the buzzing town of Niseko-Hirafu a 15-minute ride away (buses run until 2am). Two local artists have helped to create the hotel’s contemporary interior.
Further information: Niseko Tourism.
Step back in time
Take a vintage rail journey on the Montenvers Mer de Glace cog railway for some spectacular views. The little red train takes about 20 minutes to climb the 1000 metres, with the track meandering up the mountainside, running through forest, via tunnels cut through the rock and over viaducts. You arrive at the foot of the Mer de Glace (‘sea of ice’) up at 1913m where you’ll find the Gallery of Crystals, a hotel, the Panoramique restaurant, Refuge Montenvers and the Bar des Glaciers.
Down below is Chamonix itself, a large town of Edwardian villas and stately old hotels at the foot of the Mont Blanc, surrounded by astonishingly beautiful scenery. It is one of the most hard-core ski resorts in the world and the town has a livelier apres-ski scene than almost any other French destination.
Stay there: Hotel Heliopic is conveniently set at the foot of the Aiguille du Midi cable-car and is a short walk from the resort centre. The chic hotel has cosy rooms with modern alpine decor and a 500m2 spa with an indoor swimming-pool and ice grotto.
Zip-wire over the Alps
One of the most fun non-snow activities is zip-wiring. Some places have just one wire, often stretched across a small gorge. Others have heated platforms built high up in the forest canopy and linked together by a network of thick steel cables. Whichever you do, you’ll be safely strapped into a harness and will be given a helmet to wear. The Tyrolienne speeds you over the valley at over 100 kmph from the Orelle peak at 3230m to the top of the Funitel in Val Thorens at 3000m. It takes under two minutes and anyone aged eight to 88 can have a go.
Stay there: The cutting-edge Hotel Altapura offers a laid-back vibe and the rooms are decorated in minimalist style. The excellent facilities include the Pure Altitude Spa with sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and fitness area, an indoor-outdoor swimming-pool, three restaurants, an in-house ski shop, a playroom and kids concierge.
Sitting at the foot of the slopes, the centre of the resort is 400m away and is accessible via a free shuttle service.
Further information: The Tyrolienne (+33 4 79 56 87 22).
Try heli-skiing and cat-skiing in Canada
Surrounded by fabulous views of the Monashee and Selkirk Mountain ranges, Revelstoke is primarily a destination for expert skiers who want to heli-ski without risking helicopter ‘down days’. If the weather means you can’t fly, you can ride the gondola or a take a snowcat ride instead. Without leaving the marked trails you can find some great skiing – the North Bowl has some particularly steep and deep terrain. Revelstoke also has the longest vertical in North America and one of the best powder records of all Canadian resorts.
Stay there: The Sutton Place Hotel has luxury accommodation, is ski-in ski-out and located right next to the gondola. The modern rooms all offer great views and the hotel’s restaurant, Rockford Wok Bar/Grill, serves a good selection of Asian-themed dishes.
Further information: Revelstoke Reservations.
Spend the night in an igloo
The Igloo Village above Gstaad is open from the end of December until the start of April each year and sleeps 42 people. Amazingly, it stays intact despite having lots of hot offerings, such as a sauna and hot tub, barbecue and open fire. The igloos themselves vary from standard ones to Romantic Igloos and Igloo Suites. To get there, you take the Gondelbahn Saanenmoeser-Saanerslochgrat gondola to the Saanerslochgrat mountain restaurant. From there it’s a five-minute walk to the igloos where dinner (and, in the morning, breakfast) are on ice.
Down in the resort you’ll find cobblestone streets and traditional wood-clad buildings, with exclusive boutiques and elegant restaurants making this resort equally popular with non-skiers. For skiers there are 200km of quiet slopes covering four areas, including glacier skiing at Les Diablerets that’s reached by bus.
Stay there: On the other six nights relax in considerable comfort at The Alpina Gstaad, which is a recent addition to the resort, and has been designed with lots of attention to detail. There is an indoor swimming-pool, Jacuzzi and a Six Senses Spa complete with saunas and steam rooms.
Further information: Iglu Dorf.
Ice-dive under a frozen lake
Plunge, in a dry-suit, beneath the surface of the ice-covered lake at Tignes. No previous experience is needed, but considerable sang-froid is necessary. You won’t see any fish as they are asleep at this time of year, but the buzz lies is the kaleidoscopic colours created by air bubbles and the refraction of light on the ice. The danger factor is low, as you are attached by rope to a guide who is standing on the surface.
Stay there: Residence Le Nevada is located in the centre of Tignes Val Claret, and 150m from the slopes. The residence is made up of four luxurious, adjoining chalets with a lounge with open fireplace as well as a spa centre with indoor heated swimming-pool.
Further information: Evolution 2.
Stay in an eco mountain refuge
The five-storey Monte Rosa Hutte took two years to build above Zermatt at 2883m, and it looks more like a space shuttle station than a mountain refuge. The aluminium shell houses a wood-panelled interior, and the building produces 90% of its power from solar energy. The 120-bed ‘hut’ is quite a lot more comfortable then other Alpine refuges and you get to it by traversing (there are crevasses, so you need to be accompanied by a guide) off-piste from the Rotenboden station on the Gornergrat railway line.
Stay there: One night is enough for most people, but you can spend the rest of your week in comfort up the mountain at Hotel Riffelalp which is one of the only five-star hotels worldwide to be inaccessible by car. A 20-minute ride on the Gornergrat mountain railway followed by a five-minute walk (the hotel’s concierge will greet you at Riffelalp station to take your luggage) brings you there.
Further information: The Monte Rosa Hutte is open from mid-March.
Hot-air balloon over the Rockies
Aspen is an attractive Victorian silver-mining town that’s a favourite among Hollywood A-listers. It certainly has the accommodation, restaurants, and boutiques to match. Oh, and the skiing on four different mountains is sensational, too. When you’ve tackled the skiing, how about trying something different? Hot-air ballooning is a dazzling activity where you float over Aspen’s Elk Mountain Range shortly after sunrise. It’s so peaceful and, with a bird’s eye view, you’ll feel like you’re soaring right up there with them.
Stay there: The Limelight Hotel is right in the middle of Aspen, a short distance from the Silver Queen Gondola and all the bars, restaurants and shopping.
Further information: Above It All Balloon Company.
Go boat-skiing in the Arctic Circle
Just 1000km from the North Pole, comfortable Lyngen Lodge is on the shore of Lyngen Fjord and sleeps 16 people. The nearest town is Tromsø, two and a half hours away.
Early each morning, the Spirit of Lyngen boat whisks you across the fjord to the snow-covered shore at the base of one of the area’s 60 peaks. From there you climb up to the summit on touring skis, from where you descend almost 2km on pristine snow. Then it’s down the home run to a snowy beach where the boat awaits to whisk you to the next powder field – or back across the fjord for a wallow in the hot tub at the lodge. You can even fish off the boat on the way home. When back at base, a private chef rustles up dishes with a Norwegian coastal twist.
Stay there: Lyngen Lodge is a luxury boutique lodge, providing a great destination for the ultimate Arctic experience.
Further information: Lyngen Lodge.
Ride the Olympic bobsleigh
The old town of St Moritz is surrounded by gorgeous scenery, towering mountains, a beautiful lake and an average of 322 days of sunshine every year. Not everyone knows that the Winter Olympic Games took place in the resort in 1928 and 1948, and that you can still ride the Olympia Bob Run, which is the oldest bobsleigh run in the world – as well as the only natural-ice track in existence that hosts international races. The four-man ‘taxi’ bobsleigh reaches speeds of 130kph and comes complete with a professional pilot and brakeman.
Stay there: Hotel Nira Alpina is set above St Moritz in the hamlet of Surlej (5km from the resort centre) and has direct access to the pistes and the Corvatsch cable-car via a private walkway from the hotel.
Further information: Olympia Bob Run