Expensive lift passes and a human slalom to get the bar – the big resorts have the monopoly on ski season. But the beauty of Europe is that you don’t have to look too far to find smaller, lesser-known resorts. What these gems lack in trendy credentials they more than make up for in character, charm and affordability.
Find a Secret Swiss Glacier: Villars/Les Diablerets
A short flight to Geneva, train ride to Villars and 20-minute tram to the village of Gryon all makes finding one of Switzerland’s best-kept ski secrets surprisingly easy for weekenders. Stay at a local hotel like Eurotel Victoria Villars or Chalet RoyAlp Hôtel & Spa for a range of pistes, before heading off-piste to the incredible glacier at Les Diablerets.
Perfect Snow at the Big Resorts’ Little Brother: Sainte Foy
While weather conditions can stop the lifts at the Haute Tarentaise’s big resorts of Tignes, Val d’Isère and Les Arcs, you can still ski below the tree-line at the fabulous Sainte Foy. Hotel le Monal places you ideally for exploring Sainte Foy’s good-sized area – try an off-piste route to the deserted farming hamlet of Le Monal, or the infamous 1700m vertical descent of the north face of Fogliettaz.
A Bulgarian Gem for Snowboarders: Borovets
Borovets in Bulgaria is a bit of a gem. You can stay right next to the resort’s immaculate runs in ski-in-ski-out hotels Rila Borovets, Ice Angels Hotel or Villa Alpin. It’s particularly a haven for boarders, with a consistent reputation for a great park that makes it ideal if you’re keen to work on your freestyle.
Beginners’ Slovenia: Mariborsko Pohorje
If you believe the myths, you can spot goblins, fairies… and the very occasional British visitor around Mariborsko Pohorje’s immaculate slopes. The 42km of largely gentle runs are ideal for beginners, and rather more laidback than the average resort. Base yourself at Hotel Habakuk, or Hotel Milena Maribor for an easy hop onto the cable car up to the slopes. The illuminated runs for night skiing are also great fun.
Freeriders’ Paradise in Slovakia: Jasna
If you’re more advanced on your skis or board, and you’re looking for a longer stay, the four-star Hotel Grand Jasna is in the centre of Slovakia’s largest and most challenging ski area, Jasna. More than a quarter of the runs are advanced. But the real highlight is the natural terrain in the area’s substantial backcountry. Head to the north side for more challenging runs and dedicated freeride zones that are patrolled and avalanche-controlled.
Ski with Spanish Royalty: Baqueira-Beret
Considering the hordes of Brits that head to Spain for sun and sangria, it’s surprising that so few know about its nigh-on perfect ski resort. Baqueira-Beret is virtually unknown and yet it’s (quite literally) fit for a king – the Spanish royal family has a holiday home here. In the Val d’Aran, a remote part of the Spanish Pyrenees, it gets excellent snow coverage. Hotel Montarto puts you right next to the lifts.