This is what she likes about Vail and Aspen:
*Big ski areas
*A decent chance of sunshine
*Lots of intermediate-friendly trails/pistes
*Good quality-snow and painstaking grooming
*A choice of restaurants at night
And this is what she doesn’t want on her holiday:
*Too much travelling
*Too much hassle getting from hotel to the slopes
She prefers hotels and apartments to chalets, is flexible about dates, and has a budget of £4,000 for two people, including flights, transfers, lift passes and ski hire.
Here’s what we suggest:
But first, a caveat. Actually, there isn’t anywhere else in America – or Canada – which will reproduce the Vail and Aspen experience. Big Sky in Montana was one option our reader was considering. But although it’s one of our favourite American resorts we wouldn’t recommend it in this case – because it’s a long haul from the UK to the nearest airport, Bozeman (17-18hrs outbound), doesn’t have a developed restaurant scene and suits more advanced skiers best. In other words, it fails in three of our reader’s key categories.
So we’ve had to think laterally, and we’ve come up with three very different options instead.
1. The Italian Dolomites: spectacular scenery…
…a vast, intermediate-friendly ski area…
…high standards of grooming…
…and fantastic restaurants.
Yes, yes, we know the Dolomites are a long way from North America – but they do tick a lot of our readers’ boxes. Set amidst spectacular scenery, they enjoy a sunny climate, and are home not just to a vast network of intermediate-level pistes, but also one of the best restaurant scenes we know. A handful of them are Michelin-starred: but there are many simpler, cheaper places which also serve standout food – such as the Baita Checco in the Val di Fassa, and the Rifugio Salei, pictured above, on the famous Sella Ronda circuit of pistes.
There are several resorts to choose from – including Canazei, Selva and Corvara. Given our reader’s desire to get skiing each morning with the minimum of hassle, then we reckon the four-star four-star Hotel Aaritz in Selva is a good spot. It’s just across the road from the key Ciampinoi gondola, which will whisk her up towards some of the best skiing in the region. A week there will cost about €1,200pp half-board, in late January – which is a good time to ski the Dolomites (before the crowds and spring thaws come). Fly to Verona with easyJet or BA, pick up a hire car from Rhino, and if you factor in six-day lift passes costing €231, and ski hire at around €100, the holiday will come in comfortably under budget.
But there are cheaper options: for example if you target Canazei in the Val di Fassa, and book through a tour operator. With Crystal, for example, one week from January 25 at the four-star Hotel Astoria, which has its own pool, costs £809pp half-board, including flights and transfers.
2. Val Thorens: okay, so you can’t see a thing when it’s snowing…
…but it is home to oodles of intermediate-friendly skiing…
…which is right on your doorstep…
(as is the fabulous l’Oxalys restaurant)
…and when the sun comes out, OH MY.
If you like intermediate-level pistes, then you have to consider the Three Valleys too – the vast French ski area offering 600km of groomed and waymarked trails, which is home to Meribel, Courchevel, Val Thorens, Les Menuires, St Martin and La Tania. Any one of these will provide the basis for a sumptuous week of non-stop skiing (provided you don’t travel during a peak week, over New Year, in February or over Easter). But for someone like our reader, who enjoys her food, likes her creature comforts, and wants oodles of skiing right on her doorstep, Val Thorens is the canny choice.
Lots of people will tell you its full of students and rabbit-hutch self-catering apartments: but that’s only because they haven’t been recently. This young, dynamic resort has been spending heavily on its infrastructure, and has attracted several new high-end properties as a result. One of the best is the five-star Altapura, which is a fraction of the price of its upmarket rivals in Courchevel and Meribel – and will provide our reader with a very comfortable base within her holiday budget. Okay so the blonde, minimalist, Apple-Store interiors take some getting used too. But there’s no arguing with all the space you get, the facilities, and the ski-in, ski-out location.
Early March is a good time to go. The sun will be gathering strength, but because Val Thorens is so high, and is blessed with so many north-facing slopes, the snow is likely to be in fabulous condition. You can book direct: flying to Geneva with the likes of easyJet, BA or Jet2, and picking up a hire car from carrentals.co.uk. Doubles start at €170pp a night half-board, a six-day lift pass will be about €270 (2014 rates were not available at the time of publication) and a week’s ski hire about €100. Or you could book direct with a tour operator. W/c March 1, Inghams has a week at the Altapura for £1,597pp, half-board including flights and transfers.
3. Beaver Creek: Colorado corduroy…
…plus wide, uncrowded trails…
…equals intermediate heaven
(provided you don’t wander onto Birds of Prey).
It’s also home to some interesting venues for dinner…
…and Vail is just around the corner.
As I said – we can’t think of an American resort which ticks all our readers’ boxes, and isn’t Vail or Aspen.
But Beaver Creek comes close. It’s just round the corner from Vail (a quick 20-minute run without traffic), and although it’s fairly compact, it’s home to a cracking array of trails. In fact, when it comes to variety, it has more to offer in its 1,815 acres of than either Vail (5,289 acres) or Aspen (5,505 acres). Over on the western side of the ski area you’ll find a selection of no-sweat, easy-skiing trails. It’s the perfect place to warm up your ski legs and work on your technique at the start of the trip. Then, as your confidence blossoms, you can move on to the steeper stuff higher up. For the most part the groomed trails will challenge rather than terrify an intermediate – although that can’t be said of the vertiginous Birds of Prey run, which doubles as a downhill course whenever the World Cup comes to town.
After two or three days our reader can then jump on the $5 shuttle to Vail and quadruple the amount of skiing on offer. Vail’s ski area is covered by the Beaver Creek lift ticket.
Beaver Creek is an upmarket resort, and accommodation isn’t cheap. But if she shops around, and books this summer for next March, our reader can probably bag direct BA flights to Denver, as well as decent accommodation, plus minibus transfers within her budget. Though it’ll save her a bit of hassle if she books with a package with a North American ski specialist. With Ski Independence, one week from March 3 at the ski-in, ski-out Charter currently costs £1,686pp B&B, including direct BA flights and minibus transfers. However, the price of lift ticket and rentals will bust her budget, a bit. Advance-purchase lift tickets vary in price, but if you buy this summer, six days of skiing costs $510, and ski hire around $300.
Need any help with your ski-holiday conundrums? Then email us at email@example.com.