Life
William Ham Bevan 6 Jan 2017 10:00am

The best ski resorts for guaranteed snow

There’s nothing worse than travelling to a ski resort and discovering rocks and muddy pasture where there should be an endless expanse of well-groomed piste. To avoid disappointment, the trick is to choose a destination with a reliable snow record – whether through high altitude, north-facing slopes, a special microclimate or out-and-out cheating. William Ham Bevan digs out five lesser-known resorts where you’ll have every chance of finding good snow cover

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Caption: William Ham Bevan digs out five lesser-known resorts where you’ll have every chance of finding good snow cover

Austria takes a big hit whenever there’s poor snow coverage in the Alps, as so many of its ski areas are at low altitude. Hintertux, at the end of the Ziller Valley, is an exception. The lift system on the Hintertux Glacier stretches up from the base village at 1,500m to an altitude of 3,250m, and it’s the country’s only ski area to remain open 365 days a year.

There’s terrain for everyone, and Hintertux is a good resort for families aiming to spend some time skiing together. Though officially classed as red, many of its long, open pistes are well within the capabilities of a second-week skier or boarder. It’s not a noted place for challenging runs, but a Zillertal lift pass grants access to the many and varied ski areas around nearby Mayrhofen.

Where to stay

If you stay in the village itself, you’re faced with a bracing 10-minute walk (or courtesy shuttle bus) to the lifts each morning. Fortunately, two of the best hotels are adjacent to the bottom station of the gondola: the cuckoo clock-like Hotel Gletscher and Spa Neuhintertux, and the family-friendly Hotel Hintertuxerhof.

Après-ski hotspots The Austrian style of après – straight off the hill, ski boots and all – is something people either love or hate. If you’re the former, you won’t do better than a visit to the raucous Hohenhaus Tenne at the foot of the gondola. Later on, the party moves to the village. The Papperla Pub, owned by the same chain, stays open until 4am.

Eating out Dining off the mountain is pretty much confined to hotel restaurants. Some are very good, such as Hotel Alpenhof. Its use of local ingredients – including beef from its own farm and bread from the village bakery – have earned it a loyal clientele and a mention in the Gault-Millau guide.

Riksgränsen, Lapland, Sweden

Travelling 160 miles inside the Arctic Circle to be sure of snow may seem like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. And when you look at the statistics for Riksgränsen – Europe’s most northerly ski resort – you may wonder how it could possibly be worth the schlep. The ski area, which straddles the Norwegian border, has just six lifts and 29 marked pistes, serving a vertical drop of less than 400m.

Some other figures may explain Riksgränsen’s appeal. Take to a helicopter and you’ll have 200 mountains and 2,000 square miles of untracked snow to explore. Unlike almost everything else in Scandinavia, the heli-skiing is very affordable – and thanks to the midnight sun, you can find yourself sashaying through perfect powder at 1am. What’s more, the season runs from the middle of February well into June.

If you don’t want to leave terra firma, you’ll still find some seriously good off-piste and touring opportunities. It’s with good reason that nearby Nordalsfjall mountain has hosted the Scandinavia Big Mountain Championship for the past 25 years, attracting the world’s most fearless freeriders.

Where to stay

Riksgränsen is not quite St Moritz. The resort is a small clump of oxblood-red buildings around the rail station, and the largest of them is the Hotell Riksgränsen – a friendly place with cosy, unfussy rooms. It’s not to be confused with the budget Hostel Riksgränsen, where youngsters tend to congregate. A definite notch up is the chic Meteorologen Ski Lodge, a converted customs house that dates back to 1903.

Eating out

Restaurang Lapplandia is the place to go for northern specialities such as reindeer, Arctic char and cod, often served with cloudberry coulis.

Après-ski hotspots Grönan, underneath the main hotel, is the only game in town for apres-ski – often with live music. This being Sweden, not even the akvavit shots are as eye-watering as the bar prices.

Orelle, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Part of the vast Three Valleys, Val Thorens is the highest resort in Europe and one of the most snow-sure. It has rocketed upmarket over the past decade, with every season bringing more five-star hotels and super-chalets, but there’s a back door into its fantastic terrain for budget-conscious ski bums.

Orelle, in the neighbouring Maurienne Valley, has a fast gondola lift that can whisk you up into the ski area in 15 minutes flat. It’s a great choice for a last-minute weekend break, as you don’t have to brave the congested roads of the Tarentaise Valley: Orelle is just off the A43 autoroute that links Lyon with the Fréjus tunnel to Turin.

Once you’re up the gondola, just two further lifts take you to the summit of the Three Valleys at 3,230m. If you really want to make an entrance, you can soar across to Val Thorens at 60mph on Europe’s highest zip wire.

Where to stay

Orelle is no more than a roadside hamlet, but a few rental properties are nearby. Residence Orelle 3 Vallées offers no-nonsense studios and apartments geared to skiers, plus a restaurant and spa on site. There are further options in Modane – around 15 minutes away by car – and a good range of budget billets in the town of St-Jean-de-Maurienne, 25 minutes away.

Eating out

If you want to splurge some of the money you’ve saved on a gastronomic blowout, it’s best to do it during the day. It’s a measure of how Val Thorens has come up in the world that it now boasts two Michelin-starred restaurants, Le Jean Sulpice and L’Epicurien. For the ultimate day of pistes and feasts, book ahead at the three-starred La Bouitte at St Marcel, lower down the valley.

Après-ski hotspots If you’re staying in Orelle or its surrounding hamlets, the options are simple: the hotel bar or an early night. Whatever you do, don’t think of getting too cosy at a bar in Val Thorens. The two-hour taxi journey via Albertville will wipe out your holiday slush fund.

Snowbird, Utah, US

With its twin resort of Alta, Snowbird has often been judged the third-snowiest ski area in the US. But its attraction for skiers is a matter of quality as well as quantity. The dry, fluffy Utah powder, combined with Snowbird’s fearsome bowls, gullies and chutes, make it the ultimate steep ’n’ deep destination. The names of the double-black-diamond trails – among them “Get Serious”, “Fields of Glory” and “The Keyhole” – give some idea as to their nature.

The neighbouring Alta ski area, accessible with a combined lift pass, doubles the total terrain – as long as you’re on two skis. Alta is one of the few remaining resorts to prohibit snowboarding completely, though the ban is challenged on a yearly basis.

Where to stay

In Snowbird, the newly refurbished Cliff Lodge is difficult to beat for ski-in, ski-out convenience, spacious rooms and fine canyon views. Many visitors stay in Salt Lake City, just half an hour away by hire car. However, the road to Snowbird is rumoured to be the most avalanche-prone in the US – and whenever it’s closed, those staying up the mountain will already be carving up the fresh snow.

Eating out Snowbird is a corporate town, so there’s a hint of sameness among the eateries. However, the flagship Aerie restaurant stands out for its eclectic fusion menu, panoramic picture windows and dictionary-length wine list.

Après-ski hotspots Forget what you may have read about Utah’s arcane liquor laws: since 2009, there’s no need to pay for “private club” membership to drink at a bar. The Tram Club offers an all-American après experience, with glacially cold beer on tap, baseball and hockey memorabilia on the walls, and 13 big screens to show whatever sporting action is on.

Ski Dubai, Dubai, UAE

If you want your snow absolutely, unquestionably, 100% guaranteed, the obvious place to look is a desert city with an average daytime temperature of 25C. Ski Dubai, located in the gargantuan Mall of the Emirates, is an indoor ski resort with a chair lift, 85m of vertical drop, 3,000 square metres of terrain and a fun park with jumps and rails. A complex system of insulation and refrigeration ensures that the real snow is kept in perfect condition – something appreciated by the colony of penguins that live there as much as by visiting skiers and boarders.

Where to stay

The Kempinski Hotel is built on top of Ski Dubai, and if you book one of its Aspen Ski Chalets you can sit at the window in your fluffy bathrobe and keep an eye on the slopes below. The suites are decorated in ski-lodge style, complete with fireplace, antler chandeliers and marble bathrooms.

Eating out

If you’re truly determined not to shatter the illusion of being in Mitteleuropa rather than the Middle East, head to the aptly named Après at the foot of the ski slopes. Here, you can feast incongruously on Swiss cheese fondue and other carb-rich mountain favourites, such as wood-fired pizzas.

Après-ski hotspots

Dubai isn’t famed for its mountains, so you’ll have to head to one of its many sky bars if you fancy a drink with a view. Top of the tops is At.Mosphere on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa, which enforces a dress code and substantial minimum spend per person. Further options include Bar 44 for fine cocktails and a panorama over the Jumeirah Palm, and the rooftop Mercury Lounge on the Four Seasons Dubai Jumeirah Resort.