The Alpine Answers Top 5 Ski Resorts

If you have ever wondered which are the favourite resorts among clients of Alpine Answers, then wonder no longer. Here we look at the top 5 ski resorts from last winter.

Top 5 ski resorts: 5th place – Morzine

In fifth place last season was the pretty, traditional, French resort of Morzine, which is part of the enormous Portes du Soleil ski area. It is easy to see why it is so popular. It has access to hundreds of kilometres of pistes, linking with Les Gets in one direction and Avoriaz in the other. The skiing is especially well suited to beginners and intermediates, making it ideal for families. It is also a very short transfer from Geneva, which is important for its appeal as a weekend destination. Added to that, we have a large range of catered chalets and hotels with some great value options such as The Grange. See more in our resort guide to Morzine.

Chalet The Grange in Morzine

Chalet The Grange in Morzine

4th place – Tignes

The fourth most popular resort in 2015/16 was the high and snow-sure skier’s paradise Tignes. We would all agree that snow quality and quantity is a vital component for a successful skiing holiday and nowhere does better for snow than Tignes. Linked to Val d’Isere to form the Espace Killy, Tignes also boasts a huge amount of terrain to explore, on and off-piste. Tignes is a purpose built resort, resulting in ski convenience and we have a number of ski-in ski-out chalets in Tignes, a good example being Chalet Annapurna 1. See more in our resort guide to Tignes.

Chalet Annapurna 1 in Tignes

Chalet Annapurna 1 in Tignes

3rd place – St Anton

The only non-French resort in our top five last winter was the Austrian resort of St Anton. A long time favourite of ours, St Anton combines a pretty, traditional village which is renowned for its lively après-ski with an extensive ski area best suited to intermediate and advanced skiers. The Arlberg ski area that St Anton shares with Lech, Zurs, St Christoph and Stuben will be further improved next winter with new lifts connecting Zurs and Stuben, which means you can access the full area without the need to go off-piste or take a bus. St Anton has an abundance of catered chalets, including some with early booking discounts such as Chalet Hochkar. See more in our resort guide to St Anton.

Chalet Hochkar in St Anton

Chalet Hochkar in St Anton

2nd place – Val d’Isere

For several years our biggest selling resort has been Val d’Isere but last season it was surprisingly edged into second place. That still makes it enormously popular and the reasons are clear to see. Of course it shares the huge, snow-sure Espace Killy with Tignes but it is also a pretty town with improving après-ski, buzzing nightlife and plenty of other activities and facilities away from the slopes. Val d’Isere also has a huge variety of hotels and catered chalets – there is something for everyone, just one example being the fabulous Maison du Rocher. See more in our resort guide to Val d’Isere.

Chalet Maison du Rocher in Val d'Isere

Chalet Maison du Rocher in Val d’Isere

1st place – Meribel

Top of the charts in 2015/16 for Alpine Answers clients was Meribel. Ideally situated in the centre of the Three Valleys, the biggest linked piste network in the world, Meribel gives the best access to the whole area. You can quickly reach Courchevel going one way or Val Thorens in the other direction. It is perfect for skiers of all levels, with its gentle nursery slopes, mile after mile of pistes for intermediates and some excellent off-piste to keep advanced skiers entertained. Meribel is also an aesthetically pleasing village, having been built in traditional style and boasts an après-ski scene and nightlife options that are popular with British skiers. We have an unbeatable selection of catered chalets in Meribel, many of which have hot tubs like Chalet Bellevue. See more in our resort guide to Meribel.

Chalet Bellevue top 5 ski resorts

Chalet Bellevue in Meribel

Just under half our clients chose one these top 5 ski resorts last winter. We know them better than anywhere and we’re ready to help you find your perfect holiday for next winter.

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Best ski resort in Italy

Much has been written about which is the best ski resort in Italy, after all it comes down to personal taste and experience. So let me tell you about my own experience and why I rate Champoluc as the best ski resort in Italy.

After skiing in La Thuile over the New Year week and a couple of weeks later in February I definitely had the urge to go skiing in Italy again. Never had I eaten so well, had such good snow and experienced a resort so empty of skiers. Next on the list was another ski area in the Aosta valley called the Monte Rosa which encompasses three main resorts, Champoluc, Gressoney and the “freeride paradise” Alagna.  Over the last two years some of the larger English tour operators have cottoned on to the appeal of these lovely Italian resorts and they have sold particularly well. There is the Breithorn chalet hotel which was privately run as 4 star superior hotel in 2014 but has recently been taken over by an English tour operator. As this is one of the first years being managed by this English operator prices are still at an introductory level and as you can see from the rates on our website these are very reasonable for the standard of accommodation. The food and service here will be to a good standard, you have some great spa facilities and it is only a short walk from the centre of town and the slopes.

Snowcat - the road up to the Hotellerie Mascognaz is not suitable for cars

Snowcat – the road up to the Hotellerie Mascognaz is not suitable for cars

The best ski resort in Italy has a secret luxury hotel

There is some great accommodation to suit all budgets, in all three of the main resorts in the Monte Rosa. However, there is one hotel which I really want to talk about which is the Hotelliere de Mascognaz. After hearing a couple of stories of this idyllic 13th century hamlet tucked away in the forest above Champoluc, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t desperate to go. When driving up to Champoluc and even into town you would be none the wiser about the hotel albeit for a little wooden sign on the side of the road and an oddly located car park but I suppose that is part of the charm. The hotel is only accessed by one of the hotel’s many off road vehicles, be it the skidoo, snow cat or the impressive Landrover with attached caterpillar tracks!

One of the traditional buildings making up the Hotellerie Mascognaz

One of the traditional buildings making up the Hotellerie Mascognaz

It is about 7 minutes by one of these vehicles up the mountain and through the forest to the hotel where the trees open to reveal a hamlet of old farmers’ huts and stores. It looks tidy and beautiful but maybe not a 5* hotel? However, what is not totally apparent from the exterior is that these buildings have each been lovingly restored to create something quite spectacular.  The owner of the Village, Paolo Vitelli, has a lot of experience on how to create a luxury space from many decades creating the most exclusive yachts on the planet through his company, Azimut Benetti. Throughout this project Vitelli has maintained the beautiful facades that has been there for centuries. However, the interiors are another matter, this is definitely a 5-star hotel finished with rustic furniture combined with modern luxury touches and exclusive art. There is a main building with a spectacular restaurant with a cosy bar above, a further large building containing an impressive wellness area (pool, sauna, steam bath, etc.) with the most fantastic views and, strewn around the whole area, various large accommodation chalets.

A secluded 5 star hotel experience

The Hotellerie Mascognaz – a truly secluded and personal 5 star hotel experience

The team at the village really are the epitome of classic Italian service, these are some of the most attentive, polite and happy staff I have ever come across in a ski resort and it is a refreshing change to what you can sometimes experience in France. On the hotel’s website there is little description about the food on offer at the hotel but this was a real highlight for me. I am a big fan if Italian cuisine but the Hoteliere de Mascognaz  took this to another level. Each evening we were treated to an amuse-bouche followed by four light and delectable courses, definitely enough to fill you up but not too much that you would struggle to ski the next day. This was paired with excellent local wines from the Piedmont which were particularly good value for money considering their quality.

Heli-sking in the best ski resort in Italy

Many people staying in the hotel will take advantage of the fantastic heli-skiing in and around the Aosta valley and it is something that I would definitely recommend. Heli-skiing here is some of the cheapest in Europe and with prices starting around €145pp per drop you can use the money you have saved by coming to Italy and experience endless untouched powder. If you’re more into cruising on the slopes then the Monte Rosa delivers again. There are 200km of slopes here which will keep even the keenest piste skier occupied for a week with plenty of good red runs and some challenging blacks. In the Champoluc Valley there are three notably charming mountain restaurants providing high quality, locally sourced food in beautifully renovated farm buildings. My favourite was the Rascard Frantze just below the Champoluc mid station but both L’Aroula and Stadel Soussun are very good as well.

Heli-skiing in the best ski resort in Italy - Champoluc

Heli-skiing in the best ski resort in Italy – Champoluc

It seems the Monte Rosa is still a relatively well kept secret and those in the know want to keep it that way. Having shared a chairlift with a local ski instructor in Champoluc we got chatting and after having explained what it is I do she was horrified to hear that I would be promoting the resort on my return. However, how can I keep the best ski resort in Italy a secret? Sorry Helen, it’s just too good not to share!

For more information and to book your ski holiday in the Monterosa area of Italy please telephone and speak to John Fish: +44 (0)20 7801 1080.

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A ski instructor for everyone

Would you consider yourself a good skier? Would you consider yourself a great skier? Even if you are a seasoned pro you know that there is always room for improvement and that there are ski instructors for all standards. You’ve booked a ski holiday, and consider yourself ready to hit the slopes from day one… but how many bad habits have you picked up over the years? The truth is, we can always be better and we can always find new challenges that will excel our capabilities and open up new experiences.

Instruction doesn’t end at being signed off by ski school, saying you’re ready to enjoy your holiday. There are plenty of advanced classes out there, delivered by top-level, professionals. These ski instructors will assess you, go through your technique with a fine-toothed comb, to pick out the bad habits and show you exactly how to take the next step to becoming an exceptional skier. Your speed, style and control will improve significantly and you will thoroughly enjoy the process of becoming one of the stand out skiers on the slopes.

Ongosa find you the perfect ski instructors or mountain guides

Ongosa find you the perfect ski instructors or mountain guides

Perhaps you are already a fantastic piste skier, what about free-style courses? Everyone has seen some impressive people in the park but why not give it a try yourself? You might already be pretty savvy at hitting a kicker and landing with a smile on your face but have you ever pictured yourself doing a backflip and stomping it into the piste. Maybe rails are your thing, you can progress onto a 360 rail slide with the sunshine in the background…pretty fitting for cool photograph wouldn’t you say?

One aspect of skiing which certainly benefits from local instruction is off-piste and backcountry. There’s no better feeling than cutting through an open powder field or slaloming your way down a perfectly poised tree run. It can also be very educational as your ski instructor will teach you about the terrain, snow types and how to spot risky areas. You can also learn how to use life-saving equipment, like a transceiver, properly and what to do in the event of an avalanche. The general thinking is that heading off piste is for the most advanced skiers, but actually that’s not true. As long as you can control your turns and speed you are ready.

One-on-one or a group lesson? The general rule of thumb is the more one on one time you have with an instructor; the more positive impact a lesson will have on your technique. That said if you have a group of skiers or boarders who are at a similar level, then a group lesson can have its benefits too. While your instructor will head home at the end of the day, if you and your buddies have filmed each other during the lesson you can then de-construct each other’s style during après and remind each other of what was taught for the rest of the week. While this may not be the most effective approach, it will likely be good fun and get the banter going.

Let Ongosa take the strain of finding your perfect ski instructors or mountain guide

Let Ongosa take the strain of finding your perfect ski instructors or mountain guide

Whatever your preference is, there is always room for improvement. After all medal winning Olympians have coaches so why can’t you? However, don’t waste your time trawling the web, or leave it to luck once you’re in resort: a service like Ongosa will match you to the perfect instructor, based on your specific requirements and preferences. So let the best instructors observe you, and help turn you into the skier you ought to be!

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Favourite ski resorts in Italy

Like many before me, I went on a pretty awful school ski trip when I was 12 years old to a place called Passo Tonale, and until a month ago I hadn’t been back to ski in Italy since – call it a case of ‘once bitten twice shy’. I have skied all over the world in the last 13 years and have ticked many resorts off the bucket list but after my first experience, the thought of returning to ski in Italy had never really appealed. This season, though, I overcame my aversions to skiing in Italy and after hearing such good things from other people in the office about certain Italian resorts I decided to give skiing in Italy another go. So which are my favourite ski resorts in Italy?

At Alpine Answers we often get hotels and chalet operators in to the office so that they can explain their properties and describe the sort of food and service which they offer to our clients. This gives us a much better understanding of the different accommodation options out there and allows us to recommend suitable options to our clients. One day last summer the Hotel Nira Montana, La Thuile, came in to visit and to talk to us about their new hotel in a little ski town in Italy. I already new the hotel was going to be good because the sister hotel, the Nira Alpina in St Moritz, had received glowing reports from previous clients and had also recently won numerous awards, including best new ski hotel 2015, and luxury design hotel of the year. Due to the praise the Nira Montana group was getting and the reports I had read of a ‘little Siberia’ in the shadow of Mont Blanc I thought the Nira Montana and the town of La Thuile would be a great alternative to the Three Valleys ski area where my family had been skiing for years.

The view down to La Thuile on a snowy January day

The view down to La Thuile on a snowy January day

After Christmas my family and I packed our bags and flew to Milan Malpensa airport; hopped in a taxi and after an hour and a half of driving down the beautiful Aosta valley we arrived in La Thuile. I was a little surprised by how small the centre of the resort actually was, it’s about 500m of local shops and then it is just residential properties but that only added to the charm of the place. The Nira Montana in La Thuile is located just outside the centre, sitting rather unassumingly on the side of the road. However, once inside it is a different matter. The hotel effortlessly combines modern design furniture with discrete functional luxury. It really is finished to a very high standard and we all instantly felt relaxed and at home, the friendly staff only adding to this welcoming atmosphere. At the hotel you can find an excellent spa with a large indoor spa pool, sauna, steam room and numerous relaxation areas but what we really enjoyed was the food. Every night we were treated to four to five courses of truly exceptional Italian cuisine. The homemade pasta was addictive (I just couldn’t get enough.) and on numerous nights we would insist on having three pasta courses in a row.

The restaurant at the Hotel Nira Montana, La Thuile

The restaurant at the Hotel Nira Montana, La Thuile

The skiing and why it makes La Thuile one of the best ski resorts in Italy

We were in resort for the New Year week and sadly the level of snow cover was pretty poor, as indeed it was for the rest of the Alps. However, although the off-piste conditions were not good the piste skiing was in fact perfectly OK. La Thuile boasts an extensive ski area, with 150km of slopes reaching across the border into France, and down to La Rossiere – there is definitely enough piste skiing for a week and plenty of lovely little Italian restaurants to enjoy long into the afternoon such as La Riondet. The lift system isn’t particularly modern or quick in La Thuile but it does the job, over in La Rosiere it is a different matter with plenty of new six man chairs, it’s a joy to do quick piste laps here.

One of the best mountain restaurants in La Thuile, La Riondet

One of the best mountain restaurants in La Thuile, La Riondet

The off piste potential looked so good and so tempting that I managed to persuade two friends to join me on a second visit to La Thuile a couple of weeks later. Wow – what a difference those three weeks made. The snow in late January was sensational and the off-piste tree skiing terrain and conditions were some of the best I have experienced anywhere in the world. The real beauty of it was that as La Thuile is such a sleepy resort we were skiing fresh snow with empty slopes for our entire stay. Widely spaced conifers, perfect for tree skiing, cover the entire bottom half of the mountain in La Thuile so that you can ski for hours without seeing another person. Up top there are large open bowls and plenty of lift accessed off-piste terrain. My own theory for the lack of hardcore skiers in La Thuile is that they will generally head to the free ride Mecca of the Monterose ski area (Alagna, Champoluc and Gressoney) which is just down the road. This is fine by me as it leaves La Thuile empty of skiers tracking out the fresh stuff.

Showing some style in La Thuile - January 2016

Showing some style in La Thuile – January 2016

La Thuile is a great resort and certainly one of the best ski resorts in Italy but it’s not for everyone. It is very quiet; the majority of slopes coming down to resort are relatively steep and it can be windy at the top. However, if you are looking for a good value and authentic Italian experience then I couldn’t recommend it more! Time it right with great snow conditions and you will be in ski nirvana!

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Get skiing in Laax and ‘Happy up!’

If you like your skiing to be fun then we recommend that you “happy up” and get skiing in Laax.  This little known ski area has been voted Switzerland’s Best Ski Resort at the World Ski Awards three years running, and yet still hardly any Brits know about it.

Although the neighbouring resorts of Lenzerheide and Davos are better known Laax is actually Switzerland’s second largest ski resort and offers a mighty 235km of pisted runs and huge areas of off-piste terrain. For some reason Laax seems to have slipped under the radar but this means it attracts very few people from the UK – it has therefore a very Swiss atmosphere and we say “hurrah” for not hearing too many Brits on the slopes. The Laax ski area ranges from 1,100m (at village level) to a lung busting 3,300m on the Vorab glacier. In between top and bottom it has all manner of pisted runs ranging from easy, cruising blues to genuinely steep blacks, and there are several easily accessible freeride areas for the powder hunters amongst you. In fact the skiing in Laax is hugely focused on freestyle skiing and snowboarding, with the world’s longest half-pipe, a freestyle run and freestyle parks ranging from beginner to the pro line where some of the world’s best come and compete each year. However, don’t let this put you off – all this is pro stuff is confined to one side of the main bowl leaving the rest of the large ski area free from flash Harries skiing backwards or riding switch!

Skiing in Laax - the terrain park

Alex in the terrain park

Skiing in Laax – the three villages

The ski area of Laax consists of the three interlinked and distinct villages of Flims, Laax and Falera. As each has its own character there is something to suit everyone. Flims (read our resort guide on Flims) is a large village split by the deep gorge into two halves – Flims Dorf (the main town) and Flims Waldhaus (where the hotels are located). There are several modern lifts from the base of Flims Dorf that will quickly get you into the ski area and it is possible at the end of the day to either ski back to Dorf or Waldhaus. Laax is probably the liveliest of the three villages with the Rocks Resort, built in 2009, which has several restaurants, a huge nightclub and the best après bar in the area. You can also stay in the Rocks Resort in self-catered apartments and have use of the spa facilities of the nearby Signina Hotel. Falera is the smallest of the three villages and is located a bit further west down the main valley and would be perfect if you wanted a quiet location in the Alps.

Skiing in Laax - the Rocks Resort

The Rocks Resort in Laax

Why has skiing in Laax remained the best kept secret?

So why has Laax remained such a secret amongst the British ski industry? I have spent two full seasons and three part-time seasons working as an instructor in Flims and still I have to explain where I spent 6 months of my year. Probably the main reason that this great resort remains something of an unknown quantity with UK skiers and boarders is the lack of catered chalets in the area. Although there are in fact chalets everywhere you look they are all privately owned, or sadly not rentable through UK holiday companies.

Skiing in Laax – the modern lifts make it a breeze

Laax has undergone some serious redevelopment in the last few years with nearly all the old t-bar lifts, much hated by adults and children alike, being replaced with superfast chairlifts. One of the best new lifts was designed by Porsche and slowly spins as you ride up the mountain, letting you take in the spectacular scenery on the way. These modern lifts mean that even at the busiest times of the year the queues and the journey time to the top are both minimal.

Skiing in Laax - the new Porsche chairlift

Skiing in Laax – the new Porsche chairlift

If you are planning on going with your children, the ski school offers several options. There is actually only one ski school in Laax which is available in all three villages but it is a very international and therefore has many English speaking and some native English instructors (like me) as well. I learned to ski in Laax and absolutely loved every single lesson that I had, so much so that I ended up working for the same ski school for five years!

Skiing in Laax - happy Up!

Happy Up!

I cannot recommend Laax enough – it really does have everything that you could want from a ski resort and although is Swiss it’s not nearly as expensive as Verbier or Zermatt. The resort slogan is “Happy Up” and I would wholeheartedly agree – Laax is one of the most fun, laid back and happy resorts that I have had the pleasure of skiing. So, if you want to try a new ski resort and go skiing in Laax why not give me a call? If you want to see some resort maps and more details and images on Laax please check out our resort guide for Laax.

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