In a recent poll by Telegraph Ski & Snowboard on social media 60 per cent of skiers said they would consider going somewhere new and quieter on their next trip to the slopes as coronavirus forces the entire industry to rethink its future.
Experts have revealed what the anatomy of Covid-19 ski holidays might look like. From contactless chalets to reduce lift capacity and the potential death of apres, if one thing is for certain our next trip to the mountains is bound to come with a few changes.
And while where we stay, how we eat and who we can ski with are all subject to change, where we might go is also at the forefront of many skiers and snowboarders’ minds.
With the uncertainty around both the safety and logistics of future travel, its understandable that some holidaymakers will be keen, when they’re permitted to, to travel to places where they can continue to avoid large crowds and hordes of tourists. The presents resorts, that would often be overlooked, the chance to shine in the new Covid-19 world.
Despite common misconceptions, off-the-beaten track skiing doesn’t always have to spell rock-bottom prices, dingy digs and a poor choice of slopes. In fact it can cater for all types of skier and snowboarder, especially those with an adventurous streak or looking to add a slice of culture to their winter holiday.
While the steeps of Alaska might not be everybody’s cup of tea neither will the cheap thrills of Eastern Europe. Likewise culture vultures might relish in the adventure of a ski trip to Georgia but families will be better suited to the quiet slopes of Scandivania.
Here we round up the resorts that might thrive in winters to come as people look to social distance on the slopes and head to secret spots in the mountains, which they might never have previously considered.
Best for a different flavour of France
Bareges/La Mongie, Pyrenees, France
Last winter Ski Sunday presenter Graham Bell and his family were surprised to find fewer crowds and lower prices in the Pyrenees, which many overlook, in favour of the Alps, when searching for a ski holiday in France. These two criteria could be at the top of many travellers’ lists next winter.
Only an hour from Lourdes airport, or 90 minutes from Pau airport, Bareges and La Mongie are two hugely contrasting resorts that share 100km of pistes in the Grand Tourmalet ski area – one of the biggest in the Pyrenees. Package prices to these resorts can be half as much as in the French Alps and crowds a fraction of the size.
Barèges is a centuries-old spa town a bus ride from the lifts, while La Mongie is a purpose-built ski station lacking in charm, but convenient for the slopes with a number of ski-in/ski-out options for those wanting to avoid lift or bus queues. Skiing here can feel like going back in time, with a relaxed, polite and friendly atmosphere often drenched in sunshine. The runs suit intermediates best, but there’s also some challenging off piste.
Best for bragging rights
Those with pockets deep enough are bound to find the appeal of heli-skiing and cat skiing in the future Covid-19 world and the slopes of Alaska provide some of the best in the world. Alaska’s leading all-round ski resort is just 60km from the city of Anchorage and set among the spectacular peaks and tumbling glaciers of the Chugach mountains – it’s remote with a capital R.
It’s snow credentials are just as impressive, with an average of 16.5m of snow a year – that’s 30 per cent more than Utah’s powder-pig paradises of Snowbird and Alta. With around 1,600 acres of skiable terrain, it’s not a huge area (one third the size of Vail, Colorado). But the highlight is the wonderful heli- and cat skiing on offer to those keen to isolate themselves from others and sample some of the best backcountry on the planet, for a price.
Best for culture
Skiing in Georgia has been a hot topic recently, with a number of operators trying to tempt Britons to the country and its untapped ski terrain, which lies in the Caucasus Mountains. Gudauri is a 144km drive from Tbilisi airport, set at a high altitude of 2,196m, and is arguably the most well-known and established resort.
With slopes going up to 3,279m the ski season runs from mid-December to the end of April. While Gudauri has 14 lifts and over 70km of runs, and lift-served off-piste opportunities most international visitors come for the heliskiing, which is on offer throughout the ski season from €180 for one 900m-vertical run, including mountain guide and safety equipment – bargain prices for the chance to really isolate yourself on the slopes. Gudauri has grown massively in recent years with new hotels and apartments and restaurants serving exotic Georgian cuisine which has influences from Greece and Turkey as well as Iran
Those craving unlimited isolation will find the country’s slopes get more remote in other resorts including Bakuriani, Mestia, Tetnuldi and Hatsvali.
All this is in easy reach of Britons as the cultural hub of Tbilisi is conveniently served by Georgian Airways from London Gatwick, leading many to claim that Georgia is Europe’s greatest untapped skiing destination.
Best for Swiss charm
Even though these days the Swiss resort of Grimentz is not so secret, its offbeat location means that it has not been overexploited by the demands of tourism and it is all the better for it. The largest and most attractive of the four resorts in Switzerland’s beautiful Val d’Anniviers, Grimentz shares two ski areas, spanning 210km of pistes, covered by a single lift pass with Zinal, St Luc and Chandolin. Grimentz is the largest of the four, with more restaurants, bars and accommodation, reached by a dramatic winding road that zigzags up from Sierre in the Rhone Valley, past sheer drop-offs.
The reward for this scary initiation is the feeling of discovering a secret Alpine hideaway. The village has a charming traditional centre with time-blackened wooden chalets as well as some 1970s additions that are less appealing – think uncommercialised Zermatt on a much smaller and less crowded scale.
Best for scenery
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
Those looking for scenery that oozes with a sense of magnificent solitude will find it by the bucket load in Lake Louise. The resort is spectacularly set in Banff National Park, with great views from the ski area of peaks and glaciers including Canada’s Matterhorn lookalike, Mount Assiniboine. The view from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel of the Victoria Glacier, above the frozen Lake Louise itself, is simply stunning. The presence of the hotel in a remote and scenic corner of the Banff National Park is thanks to a feat of Victorian engineering. The general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway was inspired to build a place for train passengers to rest in comfort while drinking in one of the most dramatic glacial vistas of the Rockies – today it offers one of remote splendour for those looking to escape the masses.
The 4,200 acre Lake Louise ski area offers runs to suit all standards, including lots of ideal intermediate terrain. There is no accommodation at the ski area, but it’s only a couple of miles drive or bus ride away from tiny Lake Louise village. This is a charming, relaxed place to spend a week, with a few scattered hotels, restaurants and bars – and notably very few crowds. For those wishing to break their isolation, the busier town of Banff is a scenic 45-minute drive away. It has two ski areas worth exploring – Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay – as well as lots of bars and restaurants.
Best for American seclusion
Big Sky, Montana, USA
Quiet runs are one of the attractions of American ski areas in general. But the slopes of Big Sky and linked Moonlight Basin aren’t just quiet, they feel uninhabited. On average, the resort gets around 3,000 visitors a day – that works out at about two skiable acres for each of them to enjoy. It’s routine to be on a slope with no one else – the stuff of social-distancing dreams.
And this isn’t because the mountain lacks appeal. The slopes add up to one of America’s biggest areas at more than 5,800 acres – larger than Vail. There’s plenty to amuse all abilities, including gladed tree runs and couloirs for experts, and the snow record is impressive (more than 10m annually), beating that of all the major Colorado resorts.
The resort village at the foot of the slopes, known as Mountain Village, is small, with just a few hotels and apartments and a handful of bars, restaurants and shops set around a traffic-free plaza, plus an underground shopping mall. Most of the lodgings are widely spread around the valley. In general, life off the slopes is just as quiet as on them.
Best for a challenge in the East
Those attracted to the appeal of Eastern Europe’s quieter slopes but keen to still find enough to challenge them will find isolated thrills in Jasná. The resort is the largest and most challenging ski area in Slovakia, offering the best all-round slopes in Eastern Europe. It’s a destination with sufficient terrain and facilities to keep even expert skiers and snowboarders blissfully happy.
From the nearest airport at Poprad, served by Wizzair from Luton, it’s a 45-minute drive to the resort, which is a small purpose-built village with a good choice of modern hotels and restaurants – meaning by design crowds are few and far between.
The 49km ski area is served by five modern gondolas and five high-speed chairlifts among its 28 lifts. Half the runs are intermediate level blues and reds, while 27 per cent are advanced black runs – more than in most Eastern European resorts. There are also substantial off-piste freeride zones that are mainly avalanche protected as well as two terrain parks.
Best for Northern isolation
While many Scandivan resorts, including the likes of Levi, Finland’s largest downhill ski area, claim to have the best view of the Northern Lights, Cat Weakley found a secret spot in Norway that offers a unheard-of alternative. The ski resort Narvikfjellet looms above the port of Narvik, 200km above the Arctic Circle in Norway and in contrast to many Norwegian resorts, has properly steep pistes alongside the more intermediate runs, and affords spectacular views over both the city and Ofotfjord, an inlet from the Sea of Norway. With six lifts in total, serving 15 pistes covering 20km, Narvikfjellet is unquestionably tiny but visit is arguably more than skiing and the sense of being ‘away from it all’ is very real.
A wild-card in more ways than one a ski trip to Narvik offers the opportunity for dog-sledding, a Northern Lights experience or, for the daring, perhaps an overnight stay in a wild wolves’ enclosure at the resort’s Polar Park – all without the crowds and waiting lists of similar off-the-slope experiences in major resorts.
Best for a quiet weekend
La Clusaz, France
Those looking for a quick (and quiet) weekend blast on the slopes, but are keen to avoid the usual honey pots of Chamonix and Morzine will find solitude in La Clusaz. Close to Lake Annécy and within an easy hour’s drive of Geneva airport, the resort has well-groomed intermediate and advanced slopes that are all too often overlooked by skiers and snowboarders driving past on their way towards the Trois Vallées and other famous Tarentaise resorts.
La Clusaz and smaller Manigod share 132km of slopes; 10 minutes away by free shuttle bus are those of Le Grand Bornand and its lift-linked satellite village, St Jean de Sixt. All four are covered by the same Aravis lift pass and comprise a total 220km of terrain.
As well as making La Clusaz an ideal spot for the weekend, airport convenience explains in part why so many Britons have bought chalets and apartments here. However, their presence is muted, apart from the availability of British run holiday rentals and chalets – the resort is mainly frequented by the French, and unlike in some of the big name resorts, holidaying here feels like France.
Best for snow-sure confidence
Obertauern is an ideal destination for those in search of easy intermediate runs in a relaxed atmosphere, far from the razzmatazz or bustling slopes of a major resort. It also has two features that separate it quite distinctly from the rest of the Austrian pack – snow security and ski-in/ski-out convenience.
Obertauern is Austria’s only attempt at a purpose-built destination, and from most hotels here it’s possible to step out each morning on to the piste and slide all the way back home in the afternoon – mitigating the need for public transport. The downside is that it’s never managed to develop from a ski destination into a true ski resort. There’s no real village centre, merely a growing number of hotels with adjacent shops, which is arguably now not necessarily a bad thing.
What’s more, at either end of the season, when other Austrian resorts are struggling to open or to remain open, Obertauern is half‑buried in the white stuff. With lifts going from 1,630m up to a top altitude of 2,526m, snow cover is virtually guaranteed from the end of November until early May.
Best for powder
Japan’s north island of Hokkaido has some of the snowiest resorts in the world. Niseko is the biggest resort there with 30 lifts, three resort bases – Annapuri, Village and Hirafu – and an average of 15m of usually dry, light powder falling every year – that’s around double what Europe’s snowiest mainstream resorts can expect. Despite an alarmingly dry start to the season last winter, it’s not unusual for snow to fall constantly from early December to the end of February.
Niseko has only 55km of pistes, which might sound crowded, but there are many powder playgrounds of perfectly spaced trees, and a couple of backcountry gates that give access to more challenging runs. What’s more, there is an extensive floodlit network after dark, making it possible to enjoy surreal fresh tracks through the trees under artificial light. There is also the chance to try snowcat skiing and snowboarding, with local outfits operating out of disused ski resorts – the options to socially distance are seemingly endless.
Best for families
The second Norwegian entry on our list and already with an international reputation but few Brits are yet to favour the Scandi slopes over those in the Alps. Trysil, on the Swedish border, north of Oslo, may be Norway’s largest resort, with 75km of slopes, but the crowds it attracts are a drop in the ocean compared to those that visit its Alpine cousins – even during peak times like February half term and Christmas.
Set in a forested area with most of the accommodation located below the tree line, Trysil offers cosy cabins, stylish apartments and luxury spa hotels. Much of the accommodation is ski-in/ski-out, which is great news for beginners and families. The vibe in the resort is fairly laid back and unpretentious, with all the amenities a family would need.
While the resort is definitely best suited to beginners and early intermediates, there is some challenging terrain in the Høgegga area, while the volcano‑shaped Trysilfjellet (Trysil Mountain) offers the best part of 360 degrees of runs. As is often the case in Norway, the resort is so convinced of its snow reliability that it offers a guarantee of snow in the village during high season.
Best for summer escapism
A cult resort set high in the Andes, Portillo receives an annual snowfall of 7.5m and consists of little more than the startlingly bright yellow Grand Hotel Portillo. The hotel, which celebrated its 70th anniversary last winter, is set at the foot of the slopes, which consist of two unconnected areas either side of a frozen lake. It’s self-isolation credentials are strong – set at a breathtaking 2,885m in the centre of long and narrow Chile and with a maximum of 450 people staying at the hotel at any one time.
You don’t come here for the limited groomed trails, but for the radical ungroomed terrain reached by hiking from the summits of the lift system. A guide is essential to get the most out of the terrain and there are some highly regarded English-speaking ones resident in resort.
Being so far away, it may be in the far depths of bucket-list possibility as far as UK skiers and snowboarders are concerned, but for intrepid snow-sport fans it offers a place of solitude in the summer months, as the season starts in late June.