Article by Jimmie Mcdowell
Working for AITO (the Association of Independent Tour Operators for those who don’t know) has some unusual benefits, the most exciting of these is the in depth specialist knowledge that our members can offer. In the field of ski holidays, for example, we represent over 30 independent tour operators who deal predominantly in ski packages and winter sports – that’s a lot of knowledge that I have ready access to.
And from dipping into this resource, I’ve been able to compile a concise list of ten ski resorts that 10 of our members endorse on their websites. The immense combined expertise these ski operators boast means that I, despite not being a huge winter sports buff, feel confident to take their word and promote these as AITO’s favourites.
So here are AITO’s top ski resorts. Narrowing the list down to the 10 best ski resorts was a real challenge, given that AITO members offer over 175 between them!
1 St Anton – Austria:
Skiworld recommend St Anton as one of the best ski resorts in the world, and their endorsement seems to be matched by the World Alpine Skiing Championship organisers, who gave the resort the honour of hosting the event in 2001. The peaceful village nearby is a stark contrast to the buzzing internationally renowned ski slopes, but the two seem to fit together perfectly despite their obviously different feels. As the resort attracts ski enthusiasts from all over the world, there is a real cosmopolitan feel to the resort, although English remains the dominating language on the slopes.
Off of the slopes, St Anton’s main street provides plenty of distractions, giving shoppers opportunity to search for jewellery, music, antiques, clothing and local crafts. The latter are worth a special mention, as traditional woodcarvings from the region are exported all over the world.
But what of the slopes themselves? Well, they’re not for beginners, that’s for sure. It’s been said that in St. Anton, a blue run is a red, while a red is a black – they’re pitched at experts and ambitious intermediate level skiers, but those that have the ability are sure to find the slopes endlessly rewarding. The only downside to it is that unless there’s been a fresh snow-fall, conditions are sometimes less than perfect, because of the south-facing aspect. That said, if you’re in luck with the snow-fall, then you’re guaranteed to have one of the best European ski holidays of your life.
2 Courchevel – France:
No list could be complete without mentioning Courchevel – with its stunning reputation, the only downside is the premium price point often bandied around by ski operators when dealing with this most exclusive resort. Regarded as many as the best ski resort in the world, Courchevel offers some of the best ski holidays in Europe – albeit at a high price! One of the best things about the region is that the 600 kilometres of pistes offer a challenge for all abilities – beginners need not leave their comfort zone on the ample green pistes, while those of intermediate ability can ski a challenging selection of red and blue runs. Those feeling particularly daring can head straight for the secret powder stashes that await experts on the black runs – some of the steepest in Europe.
The resort itself lives up to its exclusive reputation with some of the most exciting and expensive nightlife on the European ski holiday circuit. Courchevel 1850 attracts some of Paris’ top cabaret acts and DJs as well as a variety of other entertainments from places to be pampered to bowling and a cinema. The more traditional village centres of Courchevel 1300 and 1550 have a lower key atmosphere with a selection of lively pubs and traditional mountain cuisine.
3 Aspen & Snowmass – USA:
There are 4 mountains in this region, offering a skier over 5,000 acres of skiable terrain and 341 trails allowing everyone from beginners to experts to find an exciting variety of routes on their holiday. This is one of Colorado’s most attractive resorts, and the fact that all the four mountains are covered by the same lift pass means that this ski resort can offer excellent variety – especially if you are experienced enough to take on some of the more challenging runs in Aspen Mountain and Highlands, with their exciting mix of tree runs, gullies and chutes. Beginners and intermediate level skiers are well served as well though, with a large selection of wide cruisers at Buttermilk and Snowmass.
The town was originally defined by its mining trade, but with the ski traffic it has developed into one of the finest ski communities in North America. There are 100 bars and restaurants competing for your attention and an eclectic selection of boutiques and galleries to explore while you take time off the slopes.
4 Verbier – Switzerland:
One common complaint that people used to have with this famous ski resort was its long queues and poorly planned lift transport. Nowadays, things have improved considerably and the reputation of the resort should improve alongside. Verbier is still considered one of Europe’s top ski resorts, and manages to attract skiers from all over the world every year – courtesy of its excellent skiing opportunities for experts and a legendary nightlife. There are over 410 kilometers of pistes and it has an excellent snow record.
The downside to the excellent ski opportunities offered to experienced skiers is that it offers little in the way of entertaining runs for beginners, with just a handful of blue runs at Bruson. And while there is a variety of off-piste entertainment available including a sports centre, swimming pool and skating rink, beginners are still better served looking at other ski holidays in Europe or further afield..
5 La Rosi