It can often be a habit for us winter sports fanatics to veer towards going on holiday to a well known and well advertised resort.
These big resorts, with the examples of Val d’Isère, Courchevel, St.Anton, Zermatt and Vail, are top places with excellent ski areas but some of their smaller neighboring resorts can also reveal very much hidden gems in both terrain and atmosphere. Small resorts doesn’t necessarily mean small ski area; take Les Coches or Peisey Vallandry in the Paradiski area, or St Martin de Belleville within Les 3 Vallées. Smaller resorts which do have a smaller ski area, such as Les Saisies or Chinaillon, tend to be less busy over peak times, which means less time in queues, more time on the slopes! It is also worth saying these lesser known destinations can be much friendlier on your wallet in terms of buying an après ski drink or going out for a meal and if it is quieter slopes during the peak periods you want, these may fit the bill.
Here’re a few examples of this type of resort and their main benefits along with some ideas for accommodation:
This area is just over an hour from Geneva and very unknown especially to the British skier. If you count the whole Les Aravis area which includes La Clusaz you have over 70 runs ideally suited for all abilities and especially for the intermediate skier or boarder. Quiet slopes and grassy pastures underneath the snow pack mean that despite the lower altitude (1000 metres at resort level) the conditions remain good all season and the lifts experience very few queues. Chinaillon is a charming village in the centre of the area and is extremely family orientated and with a distinctive Haut Savoyard feel – no worries about getting a bad fondue or Tartiflette here.
This is a new and very luxurious residence at the foot of the slopes with everything you would expect from a CGH or MGM property. This is suited perfectly for families wanting a good quality apartment and a resort with plenty of charm. They also have larger 3 and 4 bedroom units for groups and is it not as well known – it’s better value!
Not far, as the crow flies, from the more well known resort of Zermatt, Saas Fee has a distinctively similar feel with high altitude skiing, breathtaking scenery and a car free resort. You also see those little electric taxis and horse drawn carriages buzzing around the place exactly like its more well known neighbor. The ski area is extensive and has some good challenging pitches and a very efficient lift system. You can also expect to pay much less than Zermatt in terms of eating on the mountain and it has a less touristy feel about it without the Matterhorn spotters! Saas Fee will give you that true Swiss Alpine resort experience without breaking the bank.
Where to stay? Hotel Allalin
This hotel is a top choice and in the centre of the village and has been owned by the famous Zurbriggen family for generations. You can expect top food and excellent service and pay a fraction of the price of a similar standard hotel in Zermatt.
Just over an hour from Innsbruck, this is a real hidden gem and those who like big ski areas can also ski the neighboring resort of Ischgl which combines to make the huge Silvapark ski area. If you are not up for partying until the small hours like they do in Ischgl, then Galtur will give you the relaxing and enjoyable holiday you are after. It’s own ski area is excellent for all standards and you can expect reliable snow conditions with its top peak reaching over 2800 meters.
Where to stay? Hotel Wirlehof & Hotel Almhof
When I visited these hotels a couple of years ago I was blown away by how good they were. Both are in prime locations for getting on the slopes and are run by the same family. They have excellent leisure facilities including your traditional Austrian wellness centre’s and serve delicious Tyrolean specialities.
Getting more and more popular every year Sun Peaks is an alternative to Whistler & Banff, if you are wanting a great ski holiday in Canada. It’s three peaks provide top class terrain and the whole area is actually only second to Whistler as far as size is concerned in British Columbia. If you are looking for a ski in/ ski out resort with good reliable dry powder this is the place to try. Don’t let the one stop flight with Air Canada put you off as it is only a short 45 minute transfer from Kamloops and it is well worth it! The village is lively and has a wide range of restaurants to explore as well as all the off the slope activities you can expect from a great resort. Less queues are a major plus point and as it is further inland you can expect colder and drier snow conditions.
Where to stay? Delta Sun Peaks Resort
The Delta Sun Peaks Resort is THE place to stay in Sun Peaks and very good value considering it is a 4* plus hotel. Ski in/ ski out with excellent facilities makes it perfect for couples and families alike and their new Residences units are simply stunning and give you a condo style option.
This is a gem of a resort and still a well kept secret, with a larger ski area than Vail when you count Moonlight basin in its lift ticket. I skied here last year and I’m still raving about it and unbelievably it is still an unknown entity as far as US ski enthusiasts are concerned. Terrain is in abundance and some of the slopes from the top of Lone Peak are as challenging as you get in the US. A little harder to get to but more than worth it and I haven’t experienced a less crowded resort in my life with no queues and excellent snow conditions. Despite the small village it still has more than enough good dining options and the resort every day publishes a “What’s on programme” for each day including live bands, comedy and special meal offers. I can recommend Big Sky to those who like to ski a big variety of slopes and want to try somewhere new in the States.
Where to stay? – Huntley Lodge
The Huntley is an affordable and slope side located hotel with great facilities and possibly the most impressive breakfast buffet I’ve ever seen. It has a friendly bar and great steak restaurant and you can expect nice spacious rooms.
I hope this has given a few ideas and though it is easy to go to where you know or have heard of you can often find the place that is ideally suited to you if you are willing to not necessarily follow the flock!