THE MOST INTERESTING WINTER RESORTS IN EUROPE

Map of the Old Continent constantly expands with new resorts

Before the start of the general frenzy associated with the pre-Christmas preparations, manifesting mainly through big cleaning and even bigger purchases, it is worth making the final choice regarding the destination for the winter break. Especially that from year to year such a decision is becoming increasingly difficult as the ski map of the Old Continent constantly expands with new resorts.

Among the numerous Austrian winter hot spots, Salzburger Land has long been ranked as one of the best. Around Salzburg city itself, currently home to 150,000 inhabitants, peak season lasts from December to April, but local pistes are in fact usable even until early summer due to favorable weather conditions on the nearby Kitzsteinhorn Glacier that allow skiing even up to 10 months a year. The region’s most popular resorts include Kaprun-Zell am See and Saalbach. The former one alone offers winter sports enthusiasts as many as nearly 140 kilometers of pistes – including 47 kilometers of beginner slopes, 59 km trails for intermediate skiers and 32 kilometers of pistes for true dare devils. Guests can take advantage of 60 lifts and cable cars which can handle 75 thousand people per hour. At the peak of the season, a two-day ski pass costs EUR 98 (for comparison, the price of a two-week personalized ski pass card is EUR 418). The latter resort offers even more routes which extend over a total of 200 kilometers. Ski traffic is handled by almost 60 modern lifts and cable cars. A special delight in Saalbach are the further 10 kilometers of trails for cross-country skiing enthusiasts. In high season ski pass prices vary from EUR 52 per day to EUR 529 for three weeks.

Nestled in the southern part of the country and covering virtually all four-thousanders, including the most famous Matterhorn, The Four Valleys is undoubtedly one of the most renowned resorts in Switzerland. With its numerous glaciers and sun-blackened wooden houses, it is a perfect setting for a getaway from the daily routine while also perfecting skiing skills. On-site there is, however, no risk of monotony, as the complex offers more than 400 kilometers of trails and about a hundred lifts and cable cars which connect such winter dream spots as Nendaz, Verbier, Thyon, Veysonnaz and La Tzoumaz. Even those who for various reasons have to refrain from skiing are sure to enjoy a ride to the summit of Mont-Fort set at the altitude of 3330 meters above sea level, offering an amazing panorama of Mont Blanc, Grand Combin and the already mentioned Matterhorn. The ski season in the resorts along the Rhone valley begins usually as early as November and lasts until the end of April. The cost of a one-day ski pass is EUR 70, while six days cost EUR 350.

In Italy, a dream destination for avid skiers would be the province of Trentino. The list of local resorts is quite impressive and usually familiar even to those who themselves do not engage in skiing – but regularly follow sports news (the region frequently hosts the world’s most important competitions) or... gossip (local resorts continually attract all sorts of celebrities). Val di Fiemme, Val di Sole, Madonna di Campiglio, Val di Fassa, San Martino di Castrozza, Tonale or Altopiano della Paganellathese are only a few among the most renowned locations. Needless to say that every fan of active winter holidaying is sure to find something to their satisfaction – from mild, blue slopes, through broad and intermediate red trails, to steep and challenging black routes. Snowboarders can, in turn, enjoy a multitude of modern snow parks ideal for performing even the craziest stunts. Val di Fiemme alone offers 100 kilometers of pistes and 50 lifts, with ski pass prices ranging from EUR 47 per day to EUR 584 for three weeks.

There are also those skiers who could not imagine pursuing their life passion anywhere else than France. One highly recommendable destination is Courchevel, based in the Three Valleys – the largest ski area in the world. This is one of those dream spots that not only ensure great skiing conditions, but are also an absolute must-visit. Not by chance its frequent guests include icons of show business (like Victoria and David Beckham, Elton John or George Clooney) and business sharks (notably Russian oligarchs). It was precisely the presence of such individuals in the area that gave rise to numerous local boutiques offering both clothing and ski gear from the most exclusive brands. A view of a Rolls-Royce parked somewhere in the area is nothing out of the ordinary, just like the menus at some premises where appetizers alone cost gargantuan sums of money. To top it all off, VIPs can even also reach Courchevel by flying privately to the local airport which is the highest of its kind in Europe (its lowest point is set at the altitude of 1,942 meters above sea level, and the highest – on the opposite end of the strip – 2,006 meters above sea level) and belongs to the inner circle of some of the most extreme airports of the world. Another thing is that few people even know that the whole resort actually includes five distinct villages (Saint-Bon-Tarentaise, Le Praz, Courchevel 1,550, Courchevel 1,650, Courchevel 1,850). In high season a ski pass allowing access into the whole Courchevel Valley costs from EUR 51 per day to EUR 572 for two weeks (Year-round – EUR 1,070).

While Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France have for decades been associated with excellent skiing infrastructure, Slovakia has long been seen as its poor cousin in the field. But thanks to the systematically made investments, the country on the south side of the Tatras no longer has anything to be embarrassed about. In fact, Slovaks have a crucial advantage over their Alps-based competition in the form of lower prices, both in terms of ski passes and accommodation, as well as meals. For a price of one ticket, it is possible to take advantage both of resorts set in the Region of Low Tatras (Chopok and Jasna) and High Tatras (Tatranska Lomnica, Strbske Pleso and Old Smokovec). In practice this means that one ski pass grants access to as many as 60 kilometers of routes. It should also be mentioned that the modern snowmaking system ensures favorable skiing conditions throughout 140-160 days a year. And to top it all off, in addition to constantly improving the skiing comfort of their guests, the management of the resorts attach equal importance to the special entertaining program known as Apres-ski. It includes i.a. evening tobogganing, Tatra Dinner of Emotions or relaxation in picturesque water parks. A ski pass card costs from EUR 39 per day to EUR 199 for six days.

Determined to follow in the footsteps of their eastern neighbors, the Czechs offer a total of nearly 500 kilometers of pistes, out of which 25 kilometers are part of the largest local resort – Giant Mountains-based Spindleruv Mlyn, ensuring a top skiing experience for about four months a year. The surrounding trails meet the requirements of the International Ski Federation (FIS) and frequently host world championships. It is no wonder then that Spindleruv Mlyn is increasingly being described as a "Pearl of the Giant Mountains" or "Val d'Isere of Central and Eastern Europe." A joint ski pass for both local resorts – Medvedin and Svaty Petr – costs from EUR 28 per day to EUR 155 per week.

What many may find surprising, development of winter tourism is also strongly pursued by Ukraine. Skeptics should visit Bukovel – the largest of the local leisure and sports centers in the Eastern Carpathians. Looking at pictures of the local resort, few people would believe that they have been taken in Ukraine. But whoever arrives there quickly understands why Bukovel is called "Ukrainian St. Moritz ". And this is only the beginning, as the resort management do not hide their near-future ambitions to host – together with Lviv – the Winter Olympic Games (the first efforts made in this direction were related to the upcoming competitions in 2022 which will eventually be held in Beijing.) The resort already boasts as many as 64 kilometers of expertly prepared trails and ultimately, there are to be 300. The development of new pistes will of course be promptly followed by opening successive lifts – currently there are already more than 20 of them. To top it all off, the managers of the resort also attach importance to the sustainability and are simultaneously developing a diversified accommodation infrastructure, or to such mundane issues as multi-level parking lots. In addition to the so-called novelty effect, another strong asset of Bukovel are its very attractive prices – ranging from the equivalent of EUR 108 for three days to EUR 303 for 10 days.

An interesting alternative for skiers seeking new sensations may also be Bulgaria. In terms of tourism the country is associated mainly with beautiful summer resorts on the Black Sea (such as Varna, Nesebar, Golden Sands and Sunny Beach), but in reality it is a mountainous country with several truly notable ski centers. The best of them is undoubtedly Bansko, where winter sports enthusiasts can enjoy over 65 kilometers of routes. Anyone dubious of the quality of the local slopes should take into account that their development was overlooked by teams of experienced specialists from Switzerland. A three-day ski pass (including hire of skis, boots and bindings) costs EUR 126, while 13 days on the local slopes can be enjoyed for EUR 382. In spare time resort guests can also visit the city itself with eye-pleasing buildings and interesting landscape, as well as the Pirin National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If someone however prefers the eastern part of Europe over the Western and seeks new challenges, they should consider a trip to Andorra. The local resort of Grandvalira offers 210 kilometers of slopes and encompasses such ski spots as: Encamp, Canillo, El Tarter, Soldeu, Grau Roig and Pas de la Casa. Prices range from EUR 47 for a one-day ski pass to EUR 249 for six days. It should be noted that Grandvalira is the largest ski resort in the Pyrenees and thanks to its special system of 74 lifts skiers can access the entire complex without having to remove skis. In addition to the carefully prepared slopes, guests can also enjoy completely pristine trails, fancifully designed snow parks for snowboarders and rich Apres-ski program. An additional attraction is the fact that the whole of Andorra is a duty free zone. As a result, skiing pleasure can be combined with purchasing brand-name perfumes, clothing, sports gear, electronics and jewelry, all at attractive prices. Just in time to save something for the next skiing getaway...    

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