5 AMAZING HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS IN EUROPE FOR SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING
Are you watching the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang these days? Lot's of great winter sports going on there at the moment, with Germany and Norway currently at the top of the medal board. Watching the games and the beautiful winter scenery is really making me long for the snow.
Luckily for me though, in just over 2 weeks from now I (Sara) am traveling to Bad Hofgastein in Austria for a week of skiing in The Alps. I’m counting down the days, and cant wait to get back on the slopes. Being from Norway, I’ve been a keen skier and snowboarder ever since I was a child, and I think my first run down the slalom slopes was at about 1 year old in a rugsack-baby seat thing on my dads back whilst he was skiing. By the age of 3 I was skiing on my own skis, but attached to a rubber band that my dad was in control of – you know, sort of like a lead that you walk your dog in. Hehe. Pretty smart though! Anyway, this post is not supposed to be about me taking you down my childhood memory lane, but about great places in Europe for skiing holidays.
Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to visit quite a few skiing towns and villages. So I thought I’d give you a list of my favourite places of where I have been.
BAD HOFGASTEIN, AUSTRIA
Lets start with Bad Hofgastein, where I’ll be visiting in the beginning of March. This is a small village in Austria where I have been visiting with my family ever since I was a young teen. The resort is not massive, but it has some great long slopes and a good mixture of blue, red and black runs. They are currently working on expanding the resort, and by 2019 they will open a brand new egg chair lift going all the way from the parking lot and to the top of the mountain, where you can find a large selection of slopes to enjoy. I have also heard roomers that with this new lift opening, they will also open a few more slopes to accommodate the expansion.
You can also easily ski over to the neighbouring resort at Bad Gastein which is a slightly larger village and resort. All I would say abut Bad Hofgastein though, is that this is not a place for beginners. There are not really any easy ‘children slopes’, and you need to be able to ski a bit to get to the best restaurants. Maybe it will be easier for beginners to get up and down the mountain once the new egg lift opens next year – but for now, I do not recommend Bad Hofgastein to be the first resort where you try out if skiing is for you.
Bad Hofgastein has some fantastic ski hut type restaurants, or Alms as they are called there, located around the slopes – mainly ran by local families who we meet every time that we come to visit. The restaurants have outdoors seating, bars and some even have outdoors kitchens where they barbecue, it is absolutely fantastic to sit out there in the sunshine during a nice and sunny day. I feel like the Austrian culture, compared to other places in the Alps, are quite relaxed and low key – and they definitely don’t take them selves to seriously. The result of that is silly (but very fun) afterskis, with lots of yodeling and grown up men and women dancing on the bar with their ski boots on. I hope I haven’t put you off with this after ski description, I know this isn’t for everyone – but it is unbelievably charming, so much fun and there are absolutely no pretentiousness which you can sometimes find in more ‘fancy’ places. With this said though, as the Village and resort is fairly small the afterski parties are not that large, they are actually all quite modest. So if you are looking for large parties with 100s of people etc, then this is not the place for you. However if you enjoy a more intimate environment with your friends and/or family – then Bad Hofgastein is perfect!
The village is very cute, and it’s known for it’s large spa. But let me warn you though – the best part of the spa is has a ‘no swimming costume’ policy. Yup – you have no other choice than but to be naked. I find that a bit awkward, and therefor tend to avoid the spa, but it is the culture down there and apparently perfectly normal… so if you like that stuff then I’m sure this spa is a fantastic place to visit!
Zermatt is known for its picturesque and rather unique Matterhorn Mountain. I have only visited Zermatt once, a few years ago, and I was mainly snowboarding whilst I was there. From what I can remember, the snowboard conditions where great and there was a wide range of slopes to choose from. You can also ski/snowboard over to Italy pretty easily, which we did one day when we had dinner at a restaurant just over the Italian boarder.
Zermatt has lots of great restaurants, and lots of them are quite smart and sophisticated with beautiful décor and amazing food. It is however quite an expensive country, with quite steep prices for food and drinks. I am fairly used to things being cheaper compared to Norway no matter where I go, as the Norwegian kroner has been quite strong for a long time (but has gone down in value over the last few years though). I was therefor shocked to find that the Switzerland was actually more expensive than Norway, something I experienced when I paid about 65 Swiss francs for a Spaghetti Bolognese (about £50!!).
This Swiss town was beautiful, and filled with shops selling their own chocolate – made fresh in store. I have never eaten as much chocolate before as I did on this holiday.
LES 3 VALLÉES, FRANCE
Les 3 Vallées is a ski region that consists of 8 interlinked ski resorts, making it the largest in the world with over 600km of slopes, and 180 ski lifts. I went to Les 3 Vallées (or The 3 Valleys) about 6 years ago, so it’s beginning to be quite a long time ago now. However, I do remember having a fab time there! We stayed at a chalet in Meribel, a short walk from one of the lifts. The slopes were great and even after a week of skiing there; I don’t think we manage to try out every single slope. 600km is a lit to cover. The place is massive! From what I can remember, the bars and restaurants where quite modern and sophisticated. At one of the places by the slopes, where we stopped for lunch, there was a DJ accompanied by saxophonist playing live on a podium outdoors. So this defiantly has quite a different vibe to the Austrian yodeling. Ha!
Les 3 Vallées is right by the border of both Italy and Switzerland, and you can easily drive there from London in a day (a long day that is).
Saalbach is a great ski village located in the Austrian state of Salzburg. Saalbach is quite a lot smaller than Les 3 Vallées in France, but still has a nice size with over 270KM of slopes and 70 lifts. What I remember the most from this place is the great choice of off-piste slopes, and their lively bars. Remember how I said that the afterski in Bad Hofgastein was fun and rowdy, but quite small and intimate. Well, in Saalbach the situation is pretty different. The general vibe is the same, there are just lots more people. Even the afterski bars in the middle of the slopes where packed with hundreds of people dancing already by lunchtime. There was usually live bands playing, adding to the party atmosphere.
So if you are a group of friends looking for a combined skiing and party holiday, then Saalbach is the place for you!
Ok, so I felt like I had to add a Norwegian resort into the mix and not just suggest places in The Alps. Norway has loads of ski resorts, over 200 in fact. However, they are all quite a lot smaller than the resorts located in The Alps – and most of the season is very cold! Despite this, Norway’s resorts still offer great slopes, and beautiful scenery. Of the 200 I have picked out Hemsedal, which is one of the larges resorts. It has 45KM of slopes, but also lots of arias, which are great for off-piste skiing.
Norwegians also know how to do proper afterski-parties, and Hemsedal is lots of fun when it comes to this part of a skiing holiday! Norway is (like Switzerland) quite pricey, but if you do want to try something other than The Alps then I recommend coming to Norway. We are also very keen on cross-country skiing, and by most alpine resorts, there are also a wide selection of cross-country pistes to try out. Norwegian mountains are stupidly cold in January and February, so its better to go in March or even the beginning of April if there is still snow. Easter time is usually a lovely time to go skiing in Norway :)
A BONUS TIP - SLOVAKIA
Zsanett recently got back from a long snowboarding weekend in Slovakia and recently shared some of her travel photos with us here on the blog, in her post: 7 WINTER HOLIDAY SKINCARE ESSENTIALS. She was very impressed with the slopes there and said it is definitely a place that she can recommend :)