Pistes in our time: What’s new for the 2019-20 ski season
The past few years have seen a boom in tourism to Georgia: its cities for their fashion and food; and the Caucasus for hiking and mountain life. Things aren’t slowing down for winter, with several operators offering pricey but enticing new ski adventures to intrepid intermediate-plus downhillers. Mountain Heaven has a nine-night guided group tour departing 6 March, taking in Gudauri (the biggest resort with 80km of slopes), Bakuriani and the country’s newest resort, Mestia, as well as time in Tbilisi (€2,100pp including ski guiding, half-board, lift passes, a show in the capital and wine tasting, excluding flights). Silk Road Adventures has a seven-day break based in Gudauri, with a day of wine-tasting (four departures between January and March, £2,480pp including full-board, car with driver, guide, transfers, lift pass and ski equipment, excluding flights).
Europe’s cheapest resorts
The Post Office’s new family ski resort report has Bansko in Bulgaria as the cheapest in Europe, but the next four cheapest are all Italian: Bardonecchia, which has a historic centre and hosted the 2006 Winter Olympic snowboarding; Sestriere and Claviere in the Milky Way ski area; and the 1,883-metre Passo Tonale. The cheapest French resort was Morzine, in 11th place, followed by Alpe d’Huez in 14th. A self-catering studio in Bardonecchia’s Residence Les Lacs , near the ski lifts and train station, costs €300 pre-Christmas.
With sustainability gaining traction across the industry, there are some interesting innovations. In Les Gets, France, electric snowmobiling is on offer as a kids’ activity by Mountain E-Park (from €20pp, ages 5-17). Val Thorens is to start using a 4WD self-driving shuttle bus to transport skiers around the resort, which is car-free during the week. German firm Kässbohrer is developing an electric piste-basher, the PistenBully 100E. Though it isn’t in use yet, it’s hoped once battery power is extended beyond a few hours, emission-free grooming could take off. And in Canada, it may be possible next winter to fly from Vancouver to Whistler by electric plane. Harbour Air Seaplanes is working with aviation company magniX to turn its whole fleet electric. And there’s a trend for synthetic ice rinks, which don’t use water or electricity and are made from recyclable materials. A new one opens in Orelle, in Les Trois Vallées, this winter.
Bed and Bourg
Bourg-St-Maurice, one of the French Alps’ main railway hubs, is a viable base for the vast Paradiski area, thanks to a funicular train to Arc 1600. A new hostel and hotel in Bourg, Base Camp Lodge (doubles from €67, dorm beds from €24) has 106 rooms and ticks a few sustainability boxes by doing all its washing in-house and offering free transfers to those travelling to France by train.
Austria gets a lift
There are big changes afoot in the Salzburgerland ski resorts of Kaprun and Zell am See, two great neighbouring all-round resorts, the latter of which has a railway station. A major new lift, the 3K K-onnection (terrible name!) is due to be completed by 30 November and will carry skiers from a beginners’ area in Kaprun to slopes on the 3,029-metre Kitzsteinhorn glacier which could previously be reached only by taking a bus to another resort. This link is the final stage in a line of six gondolas that together will cover 12km, the longest run of connected lifts in the Alps. A new lift in Zell Am See connects to Viehhofen in the Glemm valley, from where skiers can catch a bus 5km to the resorts of Saalbach, Hinterglemm, Leogang and Fieberbrunn, famous for steep freeriding. The stylish Active by Leitner’s hotel in Kaprun has lots of wood panelling and a spa (from €92pp half-board with use of spa).
Budget skiing for 18-25s
Action Outdoors, the UK branch of UCPA, a French not-for-profit activity holiday organisation, is launching its first trips specifically for young people. Aimed at 18-25 year-olds, the trips go to French resorts famed for après-ski and varied terrain, including Chamonix, Tignes and Val d’Isère. A beginners’ week in Tignes starts at £491pp, with full-board, 6½-day lift-pass, equipment hire and lessons.
Social skiing in Slovakia
Similarly, the Ski Club of Great Britain is trying to attract young members with fun-focused group holidays for under-39s. The concept was launched last year and been expanded, with 12 new trips to resorts chosen for their “youthful vibe” and après-ski, from Val d’Isère to Jasna in Slovakia. A seven-night trip to Jasna aimed at intermediates includes three days skiing with an instructor and three days social skiing with the group, half-board at the ski-in, ski-out Hotel FIS, with pool and sauna, and transfers, from £999pp, departing 1 March.
A hamlet hotel with huts
Refuge de la Traye, which reopens in December, is in a forest at 1,650 metres in Les Trois Vallées and only accessible on foot or in one of the hotels’ electric vehicles from nearby Les Allues. The refuge was built in 1982 but has been completely renovated to make a cosy and indulgent retreat that looks like a traditional hamlet. Beautiful wooden chalets have seven bedrooms, and there are two mazots (wooden huts sleeping three). A kids’ area with farm, restaurant, spa with sauna and hammam, yoga room and even chapel mean you may never make it to the slopes of Meribel. Mazots from €126pp B&B for three people.
Powder hounds have always loved Andermatt in Switzerland for its steep off-piste runs. But the town has been transformed, with new hotels and new lifts, making it suitable for beginners, intermediates and families as well as experts. Last year the ski area was extended with a lift to the village of Sedrun; this year it has expanded further with another lift, from Sedrun to Disentis. Together there’s 180km of pistes, and an après-ski train back to Andermatt, with a bar and DJ, if you can’t face the return trip on skis. The recently renovated River House Boutique Hotel (doubles from £500 for four nights’ B&B), is in a 250-year-old building by the river and has live music.