A common question amongst winter sports enthusiasts is: what is the best ski resort in the world? Of course there is no correct answer, but many column inches have been dedicated to the question, including on this blog! The Daily Torygraph, which for all its political failings does a good job of covering winter sports, analysed what its readers researched and came up with the following list:
- St Anton, Austria
- Chamonix, France
- Courmayeur, Italy
- Les Deux Alpes, France
- Val Thorens, France
- Les Arcs, France
- Morzine, France
- La Plagne, France
- Val d’Isère, France
- Cervinia, Italy
- Tignes, France
- Mayrhofen, Austria
- Zermatt, Switzerland
- Méribel, France
- Alpe d’Huez, France
- Courchevel, France
- Kitzbühel, Austria
- Lech, Austria
- Obergurgl, Austria
- Flaine, France
It is an interesting list, dominated by French resorts, perhaps addressing a certain demographic’s idea of what is a good package holiday destination. Nowhere from North America? No Wengen. No Cortina. No Borovets for the budget conscious? Morzine over Avoriaz? Nonetheless a selection of resorts you can’t fault. Not my list though.
In 1993 World Media And Events Limited launched the World Travel Awards and, buoyed by the success of this, launched the World Ski Awards in 2013. It’s only a bit of fun, although I am sure it brings business not only to the organisers but also the award winners. The approach is straightforward: votes are cast online by professionals working within the ski industry, and by ski tourism consumers, at the World Ski Awards website.
Every year the awards are associated with a three day networking event, culminating in the awards ceremony, this year held in Kitzbühel over 16th-18th November. World’s Best Winners for 2018 included:
Ski Resort – Val Thorens (France)
Freestyle Resort – LAAX (Switzerland)
Ski Hotel – W Verbier (Switzerland)
New Ski Hotel – Fahrenheit Seven Courchevel (France)
Green Ski Hotel – rocksresort, Laax (Switzerland)
Ski Boutique Hotel – Aurelio Lech (Austria)
Ski Chalet – Chalet Les Anges, Zermatt (Switzerland)
New Ski Chalet – Chalet des Cascades, Les Arcs (France)
Ski Tour Operator – Sunweb
As well as awards for the best in the world, there are also country awards, with votes for the best ski resort in Switzerland going to Verbier.
The Daily Telegraph reports on the scariest airports to land at that cater for skiers and snowboarders. For winter sports enthusiasts with a fear of flying, these are the ones to avoid!
The following airports are classified as category C, i.e. they require pilots to have special training before they can land there:
What makes for these airports to be designated as Category C? The Torygraph goes on to explain: “Challenging visual manoeuvring within the valley, made harder by low-level wind shear (a sudden change of wind velocity and/or direction), come as standard. The approach is fraught with challenges for the aircraft’s captain, who is the only one allowed to fly the plane – the first officer isn’t qualified.”
I can certainly vouch for Innsbruck as the scariest. It is quite an astonishing experience to look out of the cabin window for the approach to the airport, with all the surrounding Alpine peaks seemingly almost close enough to touch as the pilot twists and turns through the descent.
However if you want a really white-knuckle ride into your ski resort, try the small airport in the resort of Courchevel. It is Europe’s highest tarmacked runway and is too short to safely accommodate most types of aircraft. Fewer than 100 pilots have the special “Qualification of Sight” licence required to land there.
Of course there is an alternative if you are not minded to fly for a ski holiday – take the train! There are over 50 ski resorts with railway stations right in the resort (including all those named above). Visit Snow and Rail for more details.
I reported last week on the English Show that the warm weather and dry conditions were hitting the ability of resorts to make a decent base, and that even a cold snap in mid-December would be followed by unseasonably warm weather. A week later, my prognosis seems to have been borne out, and even Courchevel in France has cancelled events because of poor snow conditions. My advice remains “go high”. You can find which resorts have the highest runs at the Swiss Winter Sports and Snow and Rail websites – on the resort finders you can click on the columns to sequence the tables by any field. High resorts like Zermatt and Verbier, for example, benefit from high glaciers and villages above the ski line, so you can be sure you can ski all the way back into the village. Freezing levels seem to be hovering around 1500m, so any runs above that altitude looks fine, although the snow forecast for the next couple of days comes with warm weather so the snow may turn to precipitation on even some middle stations. The temperature then dips a little and gives way to a period of sunny weather over Christmas where you can be sure the resorts will desperately be churning out the artificial snow on runs where they can establish a base. The good news, or bad news if you plan to ski over the New Year, is that the weather will change after Boxing Day, with blizzards expected by New Year’s Eve and, although the temperatures will still be a little on the high side, this should ensure good snow cover right down to the high valleys into January.
Austria has some glaciers but on the whole the resorts and runs are low, and the country has suffered from too little or not enough snow, with temperatures too mild to use snow-making machines. Italy has fared a little better, and I have had good reports from Cervinia. France should be OK if you go to somewhere high like Tignes.
It is a shame for many resorts, as some visitors will surely cancel plans to ski or snowboard. There seems to have been something of a resurgence too, with most resorts reporting higher levels of planned hotel occupancy over Christmas than last year, especially in Switzerland.
I’m spending Christmas in Bad Ragaz for Pizol. The valley run to Wangs probably won’t be open or much fun if it is, but since I am on the other side of the mountain, that is no great loss. There is also an easy backcountry run from the top of Pizol you can walk up to without skins, although you will need to carry your skis or board beyond the last lift. I also plan to spend a few days in Chur which has easy access to some of the best resorts in Graubünden ahead of the New Year – plenty of altitude nearby in resorts like Flims/Laax.
Many pages at my web site have webcams so you can check out the snow conditions for yourself. If they don’t follow the links to the resort web sites in case they have any other web cams set up.