A little skiing a lot of times is the only satisfactory way to deal with what is nothing short of an addiction. The question is how to achieve maximum days on snow with minimum time out of the office. The secret lies in fine detail at the planning stage. Nothing can be done about air traffic delays or fog-bound airports, but no controllable factor must be left to chance.
Carry your ski clothes and ski boots as hand luggage and hire skis in the resort. Time spent waiting at luggage carousels is time wasted. For ultimate ski weekends away you should, ideally choose a resort that has a short transfer time.
Specialist ski weekend tour operators will pick up your lift pass in advance and make arrangements for you to hire skis the following morning before the lifts have opened for the day. Some will book ski guides or instructors as well as restaurants on and off the mountain. Here is our choice of resorts for ski weekends:
Spectacular Views, Great Food, and a Charming Town to Boot
Courmayeur is almost as easy to get to as Chamonix, and offers a very different experience – one that’s been championed by UK operators for being perfectly-suited to the average British weekend. There’s plenty of extreme skiing here, but what appeals to most people is the compact ski area of steepish pistes, and the top-notch mountain restaurants. If you want to chill out, eat well, and do a moderate amount of skiing – rather than scare yourself witless on some gnarly glacier descent – it could be for you. And the views of the sunny side of Mont Blanc are mind-blowing, too. Momentum is the acknowledged Courmayeur expert: but Snow-wise, Mark Warner, Butler & Lloyd, and Ski World can also arrange weekend breaks here.
A Hard-Core Reputation, but a Secret Soft Side Too
The long, deep valley in which Chamonix sits is home to more world-class extreme skiing than any other resort we can think of – or anyone else can think of, for that matter. As a result, the resort is packed with bearded Swedish freeskiers and have-a-go British boarders who fancy their chances on the glaciers.
The gentler, pisted slopes are less impressive, but for a long ski weekend there’s more than enough to keep intermediates happy – so long as they don’t mind commuting up and down the valley to find it. At the weekend, the bars are jumping, too. One more thing to bear in mind is that there are some super-luxurious hotels in town. Remember it the next time you plan a romantic getaway. Tour operators offering weekends/short breaks here include Ski World, Flexiski and iGoSki.
Great Bars, a Reasonable Selection of Pistes, and Arguably the World’s Best Powder Run
Engelberg is where Luzern goes to play at the weekend, and its bars are much bigger and better than a small resort deserves. There’s some fine on-piste skiing, provided you go in a cold, snowy winter (because a lot of the gentler ones are at a fairly low altitude, and face south). What really makes this place special, however, is the eye-popping off-piste, which includes the Laub – a 1100m slope, which never wavers from a 30-45 degree pitch, and never once is broken by trees or cliffs. Weekend breaks here can be booked with Momentum, Flexiski, Snow-wise and Erna Low.
30 Minutes from Innsbruck Airport and Blessed with Some Cracking Reds and Blacks
It’s hard to believe Kuhtai is so close to Innsbruck airport. Small, high, and hidden up a quiet mountain road, it feels more Canadian than a resort that’s virtually a city suburb. Most of the skiing is between 2000 and 2500m, which is high for Austria, and the north-facing slopes in particular are a joy to ski until mid-March.
Confident, athletic intermediates will like it best. Off-pisters should keep an eye on it too – though if there’s a dump on the day they arrive they may find themselves battling in from Munich. Innsbruck airport closes quickly when the visibility is bad. Skiweekends can organise a trip here.
Chic but not so Cheap
Megeve has a lot going for it. For a start its focal point is a central square surrounded by lovely 18th-century buildings, with a fine medieval church. There are some great hotels, restaurants and a buzzing nightlife – all of it chic although none of it very cheap (there are exceptions, such as Stanford Skiing, which has some reasonably-priced accommodation).
Nearly all the skiing takes place between 1100m and 2400m, which is low by modern standards, but the hilly terrain means that you don’t need as much snow cover as you do for rockier terrain. Because the resort is not known for it expert skiing, you’ll be able to find some virtually untouched off-piste among the trees and on the rolling slopes after a fresh snowfall. One of the best things about the resort is its proximity to Geneva airport – perfect for a weekend’s skiing.
Bargain-Basement Prices and Superb On-Piste Skiing. Just Don’t Expect to Party till Dawn
Pila is one of those ski resorts that fashion forgot – a ramshackle collection of apartment blocks and the odd family-run hotel, with precious little in the way of mid-week nightlife. No matter: the price of accommodation here is low, flights to Turin are cheap, and best of all the pistes are superb. A group of self-sufficient intermediates will have a ball here. For weekends in Pila contact Ski Solutions.
Pretty, Car-Free Village, Glacial Scenery, and a Fantastic Top-to-Bottom Run
Saas-Fee is too far away from the big airports for a two-night weekend. But for three or four nights it’s near-perfect, especially if you like your skiing on-piste and your nightlife cosmopolitan, rather than British and pubby. Like many of the resorts featured here, the on-piste skiing is limited in extent, but of the highest quality, and over a short break you won’t be bored. Highlight is the long, fast, 1700m descent from the top of the lift system, all the way back into town, on a series of varied and exciting pistes. Inghams and SNO can arrange ski weekends to Saas Fee.
Classy Town at the Bottom of the World’s Most Famous Downhill
Kitzbuhel is home of the Hahnenkamm, the most fearsome of all World Cup downhill courses. It’s also the scene of a huge all-night party over the race weekend (always the last weekend in January) – when half of Austria rolls into town to watch its heroes compete. At any other time of the season, however, this is a civilised and upmarket resort, with a picture-postcard town centre and – despite the Hahnenkamm’s reputation – lots of intermediate-friendly pistes. There is one drawback: Kitz’s slopes are almost all below 2000m, so don’t plan a trip there until you’re sure it’ll be a cold winter. Weekends here can be arranged by Snow-Wise.
Le Chable, Switzerland
Verbier’s Bargain Basement
Verbier has a buzzing weekend scene – but a lot of it is generated by the lucky s*ds who own property there. So how do you join the fun if you don’t have Swiss banker’s income? Simple: you stay in Le Chable, 700m down in the valley below. That makes it sound completely out of the loop, but the lift up into the resort runs between 8.30am and 6.45pm, and takes nine minutes. From there, the Medran gondola will whisk you up to the sensational off-piste terrain beyond. Weekends can be booked through Interhome.
The Hairy-Chested Hub of Italy’s Three Valleys
Gressoney is the middle of three valleys, which make up the Monterosa ski area, south of the Swiss border. It’s a narrow, almost claustrophobic, place – but there’s no doubting the splendour of the Monterosa massif at the far end. Up there, you’ll find ten separate peaks that break the 4000m barrier, as well as some of Italy’s best heli-skiing. The lift-serviced terrain is pretty hard-core, too – and the only thing that’s holding it back from A-list status is the relatively dry micro-climate. So watch the weather reports, and go at the last minute. Momentum can organise Gressoney weekends, while Ski2 specialises in neighbouring Champoluc, which shares the ski area.
Davos and Klosters, Switzerland
A Big Choice of Mountains…and Hotels
Davos is rather like Chamonix – a proper, working town, surrounded by mountains. Klosters is the smaller and more friendly neighbour sharing the main Parsenn ski area. These mountains are well suited to intermediates, and they enjoy a colder climate than the French Alps. As a result the quality of snow, on piste at least, is usually excellent. There’s a wide choice of hotels here, too. There are two downsides: the first is that although the ski area is huge, the lift system is bitty. The nightlife, particularly in Davos, is a little underpowered for a resort of its size. Inghams offers weekends in Davos and Klosters.
1000m Too Low but a Great Place for a Last-Minute Break
Morzine is a lively town close to Geneva, with good links up to the big Portes du Soleil lift system. Sometimes, when the weather’s warm and wet, the only way to get back down into town is on a tractor-mower, but in a cold and snowy winter there’s sensational skiing both on piste and off. The secret is not to book a holiday here months in advance: check the snow reports and go for it at the last minute, if conditions are right. You could also try neighbouring Les Gets. Several operators can arrange weekends here, including Skiology, Erna Low, SNO, and Ski World.
St Anton, Austria
Reliable snow and a huge ski area
The attractive and vibrant town of St Anton also has some excellent skiing – particularly for proficient intermediates to experts. It makes a good destination for weekend skiing because there is a station in the resort centre, which makes transfers easy from several airports. Now that the resort has linked on piste with Lech-Zurs, the sheer size of the area makes St Anton an even more inviting destination. Kaluma and Scott Dunn offer weekends here.
Sauze d’Oulx, Italy
One of the Closest Resorts to an Airport
The excellent access road from Turin, which was improved for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, means that it takes one hour door-to-door from the airport to the resort. There are plenty of little B&Bs here, so you can always book in somewhere for the weekend. The lift system links with Sestriere and several other smaller resorts in Italy, as well as Montgenevre over the border in France. Crystal Ski and Iglu offer short breaks here.
What to Pack for a Ski Weekend
Here is a quick checklist:
Ideally you’d fit all of these into your hand luggage, to do away with the airport bag drop – and waiting at the luggage carousel when you arrive.
• Ski gloves
• Ski socks
• Goggles and sunglasses
• Base layer
• Mid layer (could be worn on the journey)
• Neck warmer or scarf
• Ski jacket (carry/wear on the journey)
• Ski trousers
• Beanie and helmet (helmet could be rented)
• Snow boots or trainers (wear on the journey)
• Shirt or top for the evenings
• Small sunblock and mini sized toileteries in a see-through washing bag
• Passport, credit card, phone
Ideally you’d rent equipment (skis/board, helmet, boots), although you could fit in a helmet packed with your accessories.
If you’re looking for some tips on how to make the most of a ski weekend, see our feature on the Perfect Ski Weekend