The Alps for Everyone

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Thinking about Europe but not sure where to start? Some of these destinations may not readily come to mind. Lots of resorts bill themselves as all things to all skiers, but Leslie Woit has no problem pigeon-holing the Alps for those who already know their priorities.

in December 2013 issue


Haute Maurienne

Best for families and budget bunnies

Shhh. We won’t tell if you don’t. The Haute Maurienne Valley is one of France’s last great secrets. Just over the peak from some of the big Tarantaise motorway resorts, you’ll find 150 km of quiet ski runs linking a handful of low-key Savoyard villages amid the pristine landscape of Vanoise National Park. Family activities vary from the natural and indoor skating rinks and Family-Plus-approved sledding tracks, to a swimming pool and snowshoe trails. A holiday here costs a fraction of its high-rent neighbours. Val Cenis makes a great budget base, especially for any novices in the group who’ll love the longest beginner trail in France and two beginner kindergartens. The lovely stone houses of Bonneval sur Arc are hidden over the hill from heavyweight Val d’Isère. And Orelle is now linked to Val Thorens, offering a quiet back door to the massive terrain of the Trois Vallées, which of course includes Courchevel. From C$280 per person, per week in Val Cenis: accommodation, ski passes and ski rentals included. Just keep it quiet.


Best for beer fests

Hold on to your hosen! Just 85 km from Salzburg, you’re in the beer-bearing barmaid bosom of Austrian hospitality. Saalbach-Hinterglemm Ski Circus is a galaxy of cozy huts and pulsing DJ Otzi discos dotted around 200 km of pistes. The slopes are ringed around two villages, and you can ski the circuit in either direction. Zoom upwards on the sophisticated lift system, and when you need a break, try a vodka fig shot at the Alte Schmiede, the old smithy complete with pig stall from 1882. At the Westernstadl, there’s a cowboy theme that’s rendered surreal by horses in the corral. Try a fried-potato-and-egg Gröstl at the out-of-the-way Spielberghaus, with its own three-km toboggan piste. Après ski doesn’t “get going” here—it never stops! Prime singing and swilling destinations include Bauer’s Schi-Alm at the foot of the nursery slopes, and Goaßstall at the bottom of the Hinterglemm pistes (you know you’re in the right place when you see a live goat giving you the eye). Later on, The Lounge offers a slick line of table-dancing Dutch, and at der Why Not why not let the leather-knickered men noodle your knodel. In the atmospheric mountain hut stakes, Saalbach-Hinterglemm goes full throttle.


Best for mileage mavens


GPS at the ready? If size matters, base yourself in the heart of the largest interconnected resort system in the world—Méribel. Les Trois Vallées is not just fanciful marketing, it truly is three valleys all joined up over 600 km of pistes. Accommodation at Méribel is almost entirely made up of catered chalets staffed by young Brits on their gap years. From Méribel midpoint you can ski down to the charm of Les Allues, up to the heights of Val Thorens (think baggy-pant budget crowd at après ski), over the hill to the golden groomers of Courchevel (fur, fine dining and celebrities), and be home in time for afternoon tea—or perhaps a few toffee vodkas at the Rond Point. Perfect for map-readers and anyone not keen on hearing much French.


Best for dramatic drops and chalet parties

Danger, excitement and a cast of beautiful skiers from around the world. It could be the screenplay of “Four Valleys and a Funicular”—or just another day in Verbier. Two hours from Geneva in the French-speaking canton of Valais, Switzerland, Verbier is a mecca for good skiers, from Scandinavian ski bums to planeloads of Brits brought in on Inghams and Thomson ski holidays to minor Royals. Attracted by outrageous terrain (names like Stairway to Heaven are no accident) and a real, if sprawling, Alpine village filled with gap-year-staffed chalet accommodation, they also enjoy the benefits of Swiss-supersize mountains laced with French joie de vivre. Raclette, fondue and other cheese-based menus abound, and nightclubs like the Farm Club don’t open until midnight. You’ll need the après-ski nap moment to survive.


 Best for drama queens

Cham’s reputation as the Alps on steroids hangs on the spectacular peaks that surround the whole scene. Chamonix attracts its share of the shovel-and-backpack hardcore, and certainly has much to offer them. You have to be up for it to take a bus or drive to each ski station, but don’t knock it: a full lift pass covers the bus and 11 areas. The main ones are Brévent, Flégère, Grands Montets (whose cable car is a doozy at 3,275m) and Le Tour. On the menu of any strong intermediate and above is one of the all-time classic routes: the Vallée Blanche—a guided day-long tour that involves a few hairy steps hanging onto a fixed rope followed by hours and hours of cruising through speech-defying, serac-dappled snowscapes. Stop for lunch at the under-new-management Requin refuge to admire the magnificent Géant glacier close-up.


Best for sun-drenched panoramas



Sun is the specialty here. Perched high on a south-facing, light-dappled bench, Crans-Montana is a large town (two really, Crans and Montana), dominated by apartments and hotels of the blocky variety, but the southerly view toward the Matterhorn and the Dent-Blanche make up for any architectural tedium. With flattering beginner slopes and super-cruising on the legendary Piste Nationale downhill course, this place attracts everyone from Roger Moore to top racers (the women’s World Cup race is March 1-2) and yummy mummies from Geneva. Inexpensive and charming, the high huts are a good bet for lunch. Splash out for a glühwein at newly reinvented cable car terminal Chetzeron, now a design destination hotel with a tasty menu. Want a cheap laugh? New this season, Momentum Ski Festival promises a three-day Alpine party of live music, comedy and DJs, March 13-16.


 Best for foodies and fur

If all ski resorts served Italian food like this, we’d never eat anywhere else. Located on the most stunning side of Mt. Blanc, Courmayeur is a way of life for bella figura Milanese and a good-value, must-eat destination for us all. Scenic intermediate slopes are on the menu—joined with a properly Italian restaurant-to-lift ratio. It’s classic touring country: invest in a 20-minute walk at the 2,625m top of Cresta Youla, and you’ll build an appetite on an epic two-hour couloir-and-meadow run down. Wherever you journey, be back in time for a seriously fun on-mountain lunch at Maison Vieille (go for the rosemary focaccia and homemade pasta of the day, to start). Plan at least one dinner at multi-course Maison de Filippo or Auberge de la Maison for Aosta Valley specialties of game, mushrooms and chestnuts. The excellent and affordable local wine is tough to come by outside northern Italy so don’t be stingy. Afterwards, join the evening promenade of gelati and fur coats. Word has it you can rent one if yours is at the cleaners.


Zell am See-Kaprun

 Best for water therapy (both frozen and frothy)

Lakes, mountains and guaranteed snow. With a lakeside position and elegant car-free town, Zell am See has pleasant pistes nicely cut through the trees that are augmented by Kaprun’s snow-sure glacier—ideal for intermediates and families, and served by 53 state-of-the-art lifts. Always within reach of an inexpensive beer and tasty sausage, there are also miles of cross-country trails and forested snowshoe hikes. You can skate for miles around the lake’s edge, or get in on a game of Eisstockschiessen (Austrian curling). The bravest can have a go at ice kiting on the frozen lake, where you can reach speeds up to 100 kph ( The Zell Leisure Centre offers a pool and slides. New last season, the warm, wet welcome of the spectacular Tauern Spa World—a bubbly oasis of saunas, steam baths and pools, with six restaurants and children’s area—is an affordable dip into decadence at the end of a day on the mountains.,







Leslie Woit
To top