The past 12 months have been a skier’s imperfect storm: the early end to last season, virtually no skiing for Brits thus far this winter and new Covid restrictions piling up like snowdrifts. It’s therefore almost inevitable that, with pent-up demand high as a mountain and uncertainty set to run and run, people will want to make the most of every possible turn (and tumble) in the seasons to come.
There’s no doubt skiers are keen to return to the slopes at the first opportunity. “Our guests very much want to ski,” says Ceri Tinley, owner of luxury chalet operator Consensio, who explains skiers are transferring bookings to hold their place in the lift queue, rather than cancelling entirely.
Ski holidays, whether later this winter or (more likely) next, will be a welcome escape for many and a chance to clear the cobwebs of lockdown with a healthy dose of mountain air. Encouragingly, with operators adopting a limber approach to booking arrangements, there’s little downside to circling a date in the calendar. “Clients can book with flexible Covid terms, meaning they can book risk free while giving them something to look forward to,” observes Tinley.
While some experts predict there could be an end-of-season surge if restrictions are lifted before winter’s end, many operators have put trips for the next on early sale, to encourage those who remain uncertain to commit to longer-term plans – and so far bookings are booming.
To get you primed, and to make sure your future memories on the slopes last a lifetime, we’ve curated 20 of the very finest blowout ski experiences available. So when the magical moment does arrive – and arrive it will – you’ll be poised for first lifts, first tracks, and first apres ski.
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Do a hut-to-hut trip
Strike out on a snowy safari into the pasta-laced wilds of the Dolomites. Travel by ski with your own mountain guide on a personalised odyssey of groomers and off-piste routes through 1,200km of Ski Dolomiti pistes, the world’s largest interconnected ski area. The best part, on a catered trip like this, is your luggage awaits your arrival at each night’s destination, which include authentic billets such as mountain-top Rifugio Lagazuoi and indulgent five-star inns like the fabled Rosa Alpina, making each stop a new and splendiferous joy.
A seven-night Active Dolomites Ski Safari costs from £5,700 per person, including half-board accommodation, lift pass, guiding, flights, luggage transfers and private airport transfers with Scott Dunn (020 8682 5050; scottdunn.com)
Take the high road
It’s time to put some miles on your skis and tyres. The long and smooth roads of Canada’s Coast and Columbia mountain ranges are peppered with ski areas big and small, from giant Whistler to up-and-coming Sun Peaks. Tank up a hire car and download a value-busting lift pass, such as the Epic or Mountain Collective multi-resort passes, before you go to be extra prepared. In between resorts, there’s a bucket full of adventure behind every pool hall and diner door for a truly Canadian experience.
An 11-night road-trip package, including four nights in Whistler, then Revelstoke followed by Sun Peaks, in a 4X4 vehicle with insurance costs £1,807 per person, including flights to Vancouver from London, with Ski Independence (0131 243 8097; ski-i.com)
Climb aboard a helicopter
Dive into endless powder with a helicopter at your beck and radio call. Deep in the wilds of British Columbia in Canada, between Sun Peaks and Marmot Basin, pioneering Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing celebrates 50-plus years of the art of heli-skiing. Indulge in endless fluff-laden off-piste terrain combined and stay in an exclusive-use chalet such as the Bavarian Estate, where a giant great room, grand piano, private chef and doorstep heli-pad assure sublime privacy.
A seven-day deluxe heli-package costs from CDN$14,784 plus taxes, including unlimited vertical descents, two guides per group, accommodation, meals and equipment rental, excludes travel, with Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing (001 250 673 8381; wiegele.com)
Indulge in a very good lunch
Forget Dry January, you deserve Fancy February or Margaux March next year with your own personal Michelin meal challenge on skis. The biggest feast for your fork is found in Les Trois Vallées, France, home to no fewer than 11 Michelin-star ski-in/ski-out restaurants – from the most-affordable, Le Farcon in La Tania and L’Azimut in Courchevel le Praz, to the traditional elegance of Le Chabichou in piste-side Courchevel, and the roi-des-rois bliss of a table at La Bouitte in Saint-Martin de Belleville, headquarters of all things whipped, creamed and decadently devised by the seriously lovely father and son combo René et Maxime Meilleur. A Gourmet Experience stay at La Bouitte (0033 479089677; la-bouitte.com) with one-night accommodation for two, breakfast and four-course dinner with wines costs from €2,134
Reward the family
You’ve been through the ringer together during lockdown – from Zoom maths to sourdough flops. It’s payback time in the form of some top family-friendly non-ski activities everyone can join. Verbier’s new zipline is the world’s highest and nearly a mile long. See Granny reach speeds up to 100kph (63mph) from the summit of majestic Mont Fort. Or why not don a dry suit and dip beneath frozen Lake Tignes with a qualified diving instructor and one deep breath for luck. Or find out what 4G feels like on the Olympic bobsled in St Moritz, with a glass of fizz included for courage.
Tickets for Verbier’s Mont 4 zipline cost from £38 per adult and £15 for children – all riders must hold a valid lift pass (00 41 27 775 25 11; easyverbier.com). Ice diving in Tignes is for over 15s only and costs from €45 with Evolution2, (00 33 760821012; evolution2.com). The Bobsled run in St Moritz costs from CHF269 per ride (00 41 81 830 02 00; olympia-bobrun.ch).
Full of Far Eastern promise
A foot of fresh powder per day is standard procedure in Niseko, the hottest deep-snow destination in the East. A plethora of swish hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton Reserve group’s Higashiyama Niseko Village this winter and the five-star Skye Niseko, which made waves in 2018. Foodie-fantasy izakayas are popping up all round town, too, meaning there’s never been a better time to dive in and make tracks in Japan.
Nine nights bed and breakfast at the Skye Niseko costs from £3,495 per person, based on two adults sharing a studio, including flights and transfers, with Ski Safari (01273 224060; skisafari.com)
Spend Christmas on the slopes
Spending a white Christmas on the slopes is on every keen skier’s list. Open stockings before heading out for an uncrowded ski day, then enjoy a proper Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and service – without a single family argument. Stroll the traditional Christmas market, lavishly decorated streets, meet Santa on the slopes and hear the sleigh bells ringing in stylish Courchevel. There’s no better ski area than the Trois Vallées for intermediates looking to cover a lot of miles on pistes that are immaculately groomed and backed up by impressive snow-making (essential in the early season). The trees will be lit, the fireworks bursting, and your sprouts washed down with fine French bubbles for a bit of festive bliss.
Le Ski’s (01484 548 996; leski.com) Chalet Bellevue sleeps four in the centre of Courchevel Moriond, just three minutes’ walk from the main lifts. A seven-night stay over Christmas 2021 costs from £1,738 per person, including chalet board for five nights, flights and transfers, plus a special festive menu on the big day and free Trois Vallées lift passes.
Order the curry powder in Gulmarg
Sip fragrant chai, savour heady curries and make gorgeous tracks into the deep Himalayan powder that falls around the Kashmiri village of Gulmarg. A cultural experience such as this doesn’t have to break the bank, either – although it certainly will beat all expectations as one of the most entrancing ski trips of all time. Lift-served slopes rise to 4,000m and the hike- or heli-to terrain beyond is as endless as the stories you’ll collect.
A four-night stay at the ski-in/ski-out Hotel Highlands Park costs from £570 per person, and includes three guided ski days, transfers and breakfast. The final night is spent on a Classic Dal Lake houseboat in Srinagar. Heliski day add-ons cost from £149 per person with Ski Gulmarg (00 886 907 819 131; skigulmarg.com).
Get Georgia on your mind
The Alps can wait. Now’s the time for something exotic. The Republic of Georgia, straddling Europe and Asia and ringed by the towering Caucusus, promises a ski-led romp through snowy millennia of culture, food and wine. From Tbilisi, a rising hotspot for foodies and hipsters, to skiing at Bakuriani and the recently modernised lifts and slopes of Gudauri. Find out what skiing looks like when influenced by nearby Persia, Turkey and the Silk Route.
A nine-night tour of Georgia’s top resorts costs from €2,700 per person, including half-board accommodation, lunches, lift passes, extra cultural excursions, guiding, airport transfers and internal travel, excludes flights, with Mountain Heaven (0151 625 1921; mountainheaven.co.uk)
Head south, way south
The chance to ski – really ski – in summer on active volcanoes, down powder-filled steeps and over sun-soaked corn fields, sipping pisco sour cocktails into the night, only happens in South America. Immerse yourself in the Latin slopestyle at the dramatic resort of Portillo, surrounded by 6,000m high Andes mountains and just over a two-hour drive from the Chilean capital of Santiago. Stay in the iconic bright yellow hotel, which sits next to the mirror-still Laguna del Inca lake at the foot of the slopes, where the fastest skiers in the world come to train and the most beautiful to party.
The season in Portillo runs from late-June to October – slopes are busiest in July and August. A week-long stay at Ski Portillo (00 562 2361 7000; skiportillo.com) in a double room costs from US$2,490 per person and includes seven nights half board and lift passes. Return flights to Santiago costs from £603 with Iberia (iberia.com). Transfers on the hotel’s shuttle costs from US$145 per person.
Go big and stay home
Why leave the UK when you can ski great sporty terrain, drive between five friendly resorts (with the largest, Glenshee, spanning 40km), enjoy home-grown country pursuits and savour some top-drawer whiskies? Skiing in your own back garden is easier than you think – and Scottish skiing offers the ultimate bucket-list experience. For great value, pack up the kids and the pet for a self-catering stay in your own Scottish woodland lodge complete with ski lessons and kit in the Cairngorms. Alternatively, opt for a road trip between all five resorts, but be prepared to be at the mercy of the weather Gods.
Macdonald Hotels’ Aviemore resort (0344 879 9152; macdonaldhotels.co.uk) has a choice of accommodation, including three hotels, as well as woodland lodges, a short drive from Cairngorm Mountain Resort. Guests can book ski specific packages, provided by Ski Norwest, which include lift passes, equipment hire and lessons. A regular bus service runs from outside the hotel to the resort. Stays cost from £199 per night for a three-bedroom woodland lodge, including breakfast, in January 2022.
Watch a World Cup Downhill in the flesh
Chances are you’ve hit 140km per hour in a car – but likely not on skis. From the Mausfalle’s 85-degree drop-off and other fear-inducing turns and leaps taken at warp speed, Kitzbühel’s Hahnenkamm Downhill race turns boys into men and men into rockets. The A-list race event is an institution that attracts up to 80,000 spectators and rafts of celebs each January – it’s a must-see for any die-hard Ski Sunday fan. By tradition, the hottest racers rock up at The Londoner Pub around midnight – and if you think these boys can ski you should see them drink.
The annual Kitzbühel World Cup is scheduled for 18-24 January, 2021 and will take place behind closed doors due to the pandemic, ticket prices and dates for 2022 to be confirmed (00 43 5356 62301; hahnenkamm.com)
Climb up, give back
Keep your karmic balance in check with some quality charitable skiing. Mabey Ski’s Volcano Challenge targets four snowy volcanoes over four days in Hokkaido’s backcountry, deep in Japan’s eye-wateringly wonderful winter wonderland. Hike Annupuri Peak and descend the steep open faces of Shiribetsu and Mount Yotei, the tallest of Niseko’s volcanoes. The guided expedition weaves through some of the best powdery tree skiing and snowboarding anywhere.
The Japan Volcano Challenge scheduled for 21 to 27 February 2021 is currently on hold, check with organisers for updates and future dates. Open to confident skiers and snowboarders who are fit, self-motivated and tasked to raise a minimum $500 for Protect Our Winters, a climate advocacy charity founded by professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones (001 604 757 0104; mabeyski.com).
Test your mettle
Ski straight, ski fast, and shake off the listless cobwebs of lockdown with an adrenalin-infused descent. The oldest, longest, scariest ski race we know, The Inferno is open to all-comers. Mountain top to village with barely a turn in sight, the event in Mürren, Switzerland is a legend, cheerfully frightening skiers since 1928 (possibly against insurers’ best advice).
Entry fee for the downhill race is CHF70, and includes starting number and medal. January 2022 dates to be confirmed, closing date for registration is mid-September (00 33 856 86 80; inferno-muerren.ch)
Do a season
You heard us. Pack up the cat, switch off the boiler, head for the hills. There may never be a right time but there’s never been a better one to hire a billet for the winter and get your hundred days in – in fact it seems more people than ever had researched long-term lets in the Alps during the pandemic. A stylish pied-à-terre, self-catering or serviced, from uber-luxe chalet specialists Consensio will do nicely and they’re one of many to see demand for season-long stays skyrocket during lockdown.
For longer term bookings, the fourth week is free at any of Consensios’ properties (0203 393 0833; consensiochalets.co.uk). Chalet Le Grenier, in Méribel costs from €95,175 for four weeks on a serviced basis sleeping 12 adults.
Tackle a classic
Chamonix lures its fair share of shovel-and-backpack-wearing skiers, but it’s equally beguiling for mere mortals. One of the premier attractions is the Vallée Blanche – a long, illustrious, lift-accessed off-piste route. This all-day alpine expedition dishes up a parade of peaky panoramas – the Mont Blanc massif, Les Drus, Grand Capuchin – through rolling waves of glaciers and icy seracs. The roughly 13-mile ungroomed descent, while not without challenge, can be skied by most competent skiers with the assistance of a guide.
To ski the Vallée Blanche costs €96 per person, including guide, harness and avalanche transceiver, not including lift pass, in mixed groups of up to six. A private day with a guide costs €360 for up to six people, with Compagnie des Guides (00 33 4 50 53 00 88; chamonix-guides.com)
Train, hike and ski Europe’s longest glacier
Ski touring, that most traditional means of alpine conveyance, is back in vogue thanks to the forced closure of lifts during the pandemic. The Aletsch (Europe’s longest glacier) is reached by peak-speckled train ride from the Swiss resort of Grindelwald to the top of the Jungfraujoch (Europe’s highest train stop). After three hours of climbing up on skins, the guided adventure culminates in a rewardingly long, 7km descent to valley bottom. It’s an all-day delight of vistas laced with serious peaks and easy railway access, earning it an alpine gold star.
From March through to May for a day’s ski touring excursion costs from CHF145, to cover the cost of a guide. Equipment hire is extra, from CHF80, with Grindelwald Sports ski school (00 41 33 854 12 80; grindelwaldsports.ch)
Become a ski instructor
Upgrade your alpine status by becoming an instructor. Spend one, two or three months training with top coaches (with plenty of laughs along the way) on a Nonstop ski or snowboard instructor course at resorts in Canada, France and New Zealand. Once school’s out, you should be prepared to take the certification exam with the Canadian or British systems and go on to live out your dreams on the slopes, year-round.
Instructor courses leading to either CSIA (Canadian) or BASI (British) certifications last from three to five weeks (Level 1) or up to 11 weeks (Level 1 & 2) and include transfers, half-board accommodation, lift pass, coaching four days a week, video analysis, career support, avalanche training, social events and day trips. Costing from £3,485 for a three-week course with Nonstop (01225 632 165; nonstopsnow.com)
Slide beneath the midnight sun
Forget après ski and make the most of every minute on the slopes. During Sweden’s endless days, you can ski, ski tour and even heliski under the midnight sun. In Riksgränsen, the most northerly ski resort in the world, your ski day is just beginning – again and again. North of the Arctic Circle, you can ski 24 hours a day until May 23, an out-of-season showstopper like no other.
A private ski touring guide, to help you make the most of the area, costs 5,995SEK per day for up to six people. A four-day stay at the characterful Meteorologen Ski Lodge, Riksgränsen’s oldest building, costs 7,740 SEK, including breakfast (00 46 980 641 0; riksgransen.se)
Push the boat out
Last but by no means least expensive: a truly Bond-worthy experience awaits millionaires aboard La Datcha SeaXplorer 77 expedition yacht. Sailing off Patagonia and Antarctica, this slick number is kitted with two helicopters, full dive centre and decompression chamber, wave-runners, snow-scooters and a submersible. Staffed and cheffed by 25 crew and tricked out for up to 12 skiers, this sea-and-ski ship of dreams can maintain autonomy on water for up to 40 days and 40 nights. From Puerto Montt to the Antarctic Peninsula, heli-skiing highs are led by Powder South UIAGM certified mountain guides, October through December.
Hire of the full boat, based on 12 passengers, two helicopters, two UIAGM mountain guides, costs from €1,020,000 per week plus Advance Provisioning Allowance, with Powder South Heliskiing (0800 404 9183; heliskiguides.com)