Once the domain of the jet set and seriously sporty types, skiing resorts have in recent years relaxed their attitude and upped their game, gradually expanding their appeal to non-skiers Yes, you can now go on a skiing holiday without even stepping a ski-clad foot on to the piste or worrying if your non-skiing partner or kids are having fun.
Many destinations now offer a host of snow-bound activities without the slog or expertise that skiing demands. There’s the tamer snow stuff, such as sledging, snowmobiling, frozen-river hiking, sleigh rides, snowshoeing (sliding through snow on snowshoes) and ski joering (horse-drawn skiing – like water skiing on snow), with most available at the popular resorts like Chamonix in France, or the Dolomites in Italy.
Or, for something more alternative, try building your own igloo. Stay in one of the resorts in the Grand Massif area in the Alps, France (it has some 265 kilometres of ski runs) and take a two-day trip to the resort of Les Carroz where you can sleep in an igloo built with your very own hands and awake to a hearty breakfast. Dh560, www.alps-trekking.com.
One of this year’s hottest winter holiday trends is the fusion of skiing and horse riding – an ultra-active combo that guarantees a total-body workout. You can ride and ski from the Strasserwirt Hotel – a 700-year-old rustic inn in the Kitzbühel Alps, in the Tyrol region of Austria. It has its very own ski school and riding school where you get several daily one-to-two-hour horse rides, which they fit around your skiing programme.
If your partner or kids would rather not partake of either pony or piste action, then there’s cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, a floodlit toboggan run, a snowpark for the little ones and a sauna and steam room with mountain views. A seven-night half-board stay with riding (eight lessons and two one-hour rides), a horse sleigh ride and transfers is just Dh3,235. Email email@example.com.
More fast and furious, adrenaline seekers should try ice climbing – Val Gardena in the Dolomites (www.valgardena.it/en) is known for this; paragliding over snow-capped mountains – Soll in Austria is a paragliding hot spot; and the latest in cutting-edge winter sports, snowkiting and snowbiking (the latter is a snowboarding alternative, where even the most difficult terrain is open to explore) – both can be done at the ski resort of Obertauern, Salzberg, Austria (www.skikoch.at).
You can also ski the 4,205-metre volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii; or if you’re totally fearless, attempt the highest ski slope in the world – the 5,000-metre Chacaltaya glacier in Boliva. And for daring snowboarders, travel to Myolio in Japan (two hours from Tokyo on the Bullet train) where you can ride downhill through birch trees (à la James Bond). There’s even skiing in the dark… try night skiing in the Alyesha Resort in Alaska, which boasts some 1,400 skiable acres on the mountainside.
WELLBEING WINTER WONDERLAND
But if you’re more ‘chill’ than ‘thrill’ try a wellbeing skiing holiday. Wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important part of the winter wonderland experience, with snoga (skiing plus yoga) a hot holiday trend, and it’s easy to see why. Any ski pro worth their skiing salt loves yoga for the strength and balance it offers. Not only does it boost stamina so you hit the slopes hard, but your body and mind will be relaxed and renewed. Adventure Yogi (www.adventureyogi.com) offers week-long breaks in La Rosiere in the French Alps. Start your day with a dynamic one-hour yoga class to get you pumped up enough to tackle those tough powder runs, then unwind with a longer, more relaxing yoga session post-piste. Afterwards, pamper yourself with a massage, have a dip in the hot tub or simply enjoy a glass of wine in front of a roaring fire... bliss! SnowYogi holidays take place on March 2-9 and 9-16, priced from Dh4,000, full board, excluding flights.
Alternatively, book a seven-night snoga retreat with Ski Yogi (www.skiyogi.com) in Austria. The package costs Dh4,665 and includes twice-daily yoga classes, a six-day ski pass, breakfast, ice skating and end-of-day saunas.
A sauna, in fact, along with a deep-tissue massage, is the perfect post-ski activity, according to the pros, as it helps reduce the onset of muscle soreness. Combining your skiing holiday with a spa one is also a trend, and is more than just about off-piste pampering. So, where to go? In Europe, we’d recommend The Cambrian. A member of Design Hotels, it’s nestled in the Swiss Alps, with easy access to 210 kilometres of pistes and has an indoor pool and a 750-metre spa area, including a Finnish sauna. Seven nights here in January 2013 start from Dh11,600 for two (www.designhotels.com). Or, try the five-star eco resort Residence & Spa Vallorcine, just 15 kilometres from Chamonix Mont-Blanc, where you can ski, skate or dog-sledge in the morning (there’s plenty of white stuff until the end of April) and relax with a hydro-massage or up-stream swimming in the afternoon at the five-star Spa by Cinq Mondes, which boasts a skating rink, indoor pool and two Scandinavian saunas. Visit www.chamonix-vacances.com.
Alternatively, head East to Japan, which is now well known among skiers for its deep powder, plus its volcanic landscape provides thousands of natural hot springs to take advantage of after a day on the slopes. The Niseko resort on Japan’s island of Hokkaido has great snow and night skiing – stay at the Green Leaf Hotel (www.greenleafhotel.com), which has ski-in/ski-out access, a fabulous spa and hot springs, including an open-air bath fed by a 40˚C mineral spring. Bliss!
While food has always played a big role in the après-ski scene, many resorts have upped their gourmet game in recent years. For foodies, France and Italy are hot spots. The mountainous Savoie Mont Blanc region in France boasts a whopping 31 Michelin-starred restaurants. Sample lunch in the L’Auberge du Bois Prin in Chamonix from Dh130 or try the chef’s table at La Bouitte in Saint Martin de Belleville (www.savoie-mont-blanc.com). Meanwhile, the French skiing area of Courchevel counts seven Michelin-starred restaurants among its gastronomic offerings, including Le 1947 (Cheval Blanc Hotel) run by chef Yannick Alléno. Italy is also a favourite destination for hardcore foodies, and the Alta Badia ski area in the Dolomites has three Michelin-starred restaurants, and it offers Gourmet Ski and Wine Ski Safari packages (email firstname.lastname@example.org) – ski by day and try different foods and wine from Southern Tyrol by night.
While skiing and food have always had a relationship, skiing and sunbathing have not. But this hybrid holiday is winter’s hottest trend, offering the chance of both snow and glow. At Africa’s highest ski resort – Oukaimeden Resort in Morocco (www.oukaimeden.resortskiholidays.com), 3,000 metres up the slopes of the Atlas mountains, you can sun beach-side by day and ski by night. Or try Sierra Nevada – not only the best ski resort in Spain, but it claims to be the only place in Europe you can sunbathe in the morning and ski in the afternoon. Stay at Villa Santo Tomas in Nerja which is 30 minutes from both mountains and beach. Buy a ski and sea day trip (Dh465) and you can stay a week at Nerja Villa for just Dh815, inclusive of lessons (www.skiandsea.co.uk).
RIGHT PEOPLE, RIGHT PLACES
But it’s not just about what activities resorts offer, but also whether they cater to your circumstances or needs. First up, families. While many resorts these days have ski schools for kids, many more still don’t quite get it right when it comes to family-friendliness. And that’s where the Kinderhotel Group (www.kinderhotels.co.uk) comes in. All hotels within this consortium are awarded ‘smileys’, a system of ranking for child-friendliness on resorts across 34 locations in Austria, Germany and Italy. Sporthotel Achensee (www.sporthotel-achensee.com) an hour from Innsbruck, Austria, for example, gets top marks: it has a large junior emporium in the basement – think theatre, disco, a climbing wall and an area for babies, with a sleeping room. There’s also a ski school and pool and all ski life happens directly outside the hotel. If that’s not convenient enough, it has family suites (two bedrooms and a living room) with baby snack-packs in the fridge, separate toiletries for kids, and an incredible 60 hours of free childcare. And it’s a resort that embraces kids without adults having to compromise (there’s a glass of Prosecco waiting when you arrive). A seven-night all-inclusive stay (excluding flights) for a family of four is Dh11,390.
But it’s not just families having all the fun. The first catered chalet for single people, Cold Fusion (www.coldfusionchalets.co.uk) in Chamonix, offers week-long packages for organised skiing and socialising just for singles. For Dh4,950 a week, you get ski lessons, Geneva transfers, a champagne reception, breakfast/evening meals, two ski tours and hot tub/sauna use.
If, however, you’re part of a pair and you want something more romantic, opt for a snow-covered eco pod in Switzerland, a wooden hut for two, in the Flims Laax Falera area, with endless slopes and a snowpark. Dh360 per night for a two-bed pod, with Dh52 for breakfast. Book via www.laax/com.en.
IF YOU LOVE A PARTY… as much as the piste, Meribel, in the heart of France’s 3 Valleys, is the place to be. Les Saint Peres in Parc Olympique (www.lessaintperes. com) is a top winter season party venue, with DJs until the small hours. For a more local vibe, Le Poste de Secours bar is where the French locals love to party. To top it all, La Folie Douce (www. lafoliedouce.com) a popular club from Val Thorens and Val d’Isere, is opening in Meribel this season. Visit www.meribel.net.
IF YOU'RE ON A BUDGET...head for Eastern Europe. Just a few hours from Prague in the Czech Republic, ski areas Bozi Dar, Harrachov and Vrchlabi are cheap to use. Bozi Dar (an hour’s drive from Prague) costs just Dh29 a day, plus there’s lots of open space and no queues. Stay at hotel Santa Anna (www.hotel-anna.com) which will set you back just Dh294 per night.
IF YOU WANT TO ‘GO GREEN’…try Whitepod, Les Cerniers in the Swiss Alps (www. whitepod.com), which fuses luxury and eco-friendliness and is just an hour from Geneva. The white canvas geodesic tents blend perfectly with their surroundings and each has a terrace, woodburning stove and Scandinavianstyle bathroom with warmed spring water. Enjoy the 10 kilometres of pistes and a get-away-from-it-all time in the mountains. Prices start at Dh1,385 per night.
IF YOU DON’T WANT TO GO FAR…visit Lebanon, a two-hour flight from Dubai. From Beirut, drive an hour to Beirut’s biggest skiing destination, Mzaar Ski Resort, Kfardebian Village= (www.skimzaar.com). It has 42 slopes and there are lots of hotels, including the Intercontinental Mzaar Lebanon Mountain Resort & Spa, which has direct access to the slopes, a spa and skidoo tours
IF YOU WANT TO SKI IN SUMMER... there’s a ski resort in Africa, high in the mountains of Lesotho – a little country surrounded by South Africa – that operates from June to August. Though the mountain does get snow, it also relies on snowmaking and most runs are bunny slopes. Or opt for Timberline in Oregon, which is the US’s only year-round skiing destination
IF MONEY IS NO OBJECT...create your own tailored luxury holiday with Alpine Guru (www.alpineguru.com), a company that creates bespoke ski holidays crafted to your needs and desires, so you can select everything from your hotel to your ski instructor.
IF YOU WANT PEACE... the picturesque mountain town of Geno, Norway’s oldest ski resort, with 40 alpine slopes, is blanketed in snow from November to April, and there are never queues. It also hosts the Ice Music Festival in January 24-27 where ice instruments are played.