Top Ski and Snowboarding Playgrounds 2012

Leading holiday ownership specialists Hapimag, Marriott and Club La Costa are just some of the companies with alpine-style resorts, and interest in fractional and shared ownership ski homes has risen significantly in recent years. Timeshare started out in Switzerland – the concept was born when the owners of Hapimag encouraged their clients not to rent a room, but to “buy the hotel instead”.
So, with the snow sports season in Europe and the USA in full fling, we spotlight some of the top ski and snowboarding playgrounds around.

Val d’Isere (France)
This swish French ski resort in the Savoie are of the French Alps has been a favourite since 1934. You’ll get almost guaranteed snow here but just in case there are 300 snow cannons on hand to ensure perfect skiing conditions on 10 of the slopes.

Closest airport: Geneva. The nearest airport transfer to Val d’Isere (France) is Geneva, 180km or approximately 210 minutes driving time. Val d’Isere’s ski season spans November to May.

It’s up there with top resorts St Moritz and Cortina and is a host to champions, staging World Cup, World Chamionship and Olympic competitions. It’s a huge resort, stretching across Espace Killy and Tignes, with excellent ski lift infrastructure and all the amenities you’d expect from a world class resort.

Over the years it has expanded, so now you’ll find developments outside the centre such as Daille (1785m) which has an ultra-modern funnicular, and le Fornet (1930m).

Meribel (France)

Meribel has a family friendly atmosphere, with good ski schools and a massive choice of trios vallees skiing. Meribel – like its heart-shaped logo – is at the heart of the valley, the largest linked ski area in the world.

On one side, there’s chic Courchevel and on the other the high altitude snow sure skiing of Val Thorens. Less expensive than Courchevel and less likely to cause altitude problems than Val Thorens, there’s always a good spot to ski here whatever the snow forecast. And snowboarders love it for its ultra-wide pistes.

Zermatt (Switzerland)

Welcome to Matterhorn country! While France has the Mont Blanc and Chamonix, Switzerland has the Matterhorn and Zermatt which are linked by the legendary Haute Route. The apres-ski is brilliant – so is the skiing – the Klein Matterhorn lift is highest cable car in world. Beginners are well looked after but Zermatt is known more for its challenging skiing and incredible Matterhorn views and because of its altitude, it’s snow sure. To add to the atmosphere, it’s also car-free.

St. Anton (Austria)

St. Anton has been a staple since 1900, one of the real ski resort pioneers, welcoming the ski and apre-ski crowd to the pretty Tyrol region of Austria’s majestic Alps for over a century now. It’s as famous for its nightlife as its ski slopes, which gives it a good social/sporting mix. Dubbed “the cradle of Alpine skiing”, St. Anton is popular with advanced skiers and the late night crowd.

Tignes (France)

Another French Alps favourite, Tignes in the Savoie region has over 216 snow cannons which make sure there’s always enough snow on 50km of ski trails, and 17 of the slopes there. It first opened its doors in 1936 and is about two and a half hours’ drive from Geneva airport.

Tignes shares Europe’s famous Espace Killy with Val D’Isere, but it’s not famous for its nightlife (Tignes is owned by a Japanese company). The skiing, on the other hand, is massive – around 154 pistes, 300km of ski runs and the Tignes lifts take up to 75,535 skiers up the mountain each hour (five lifts are free). You can also ski here in summer thanks to the glacier skiing.
You might want to try a ski safari to other resorts in the area and in peak season the Tignes ski school organizes weekly courses with giant slalom, ski jump and speed skiing.

Courchevel (France)
One of the names on the lips of the smart ski set, Courchevel is a newer resort, founded in 1946, but one of the big names on the European ski scene. Over 617 snow cannons cover 21 km of ski trails, servicing 43 of the slopes. It’s over two hours’ drive from Geneva airport, and a Christmas favourite.

Part of the Trois Vallees which has some of Europe’s best infrastructure, Courchevel would probably feature in the top ten ski destinations around the world – if you ask a seasoned skier. There’s loads to do if you don’t ski, from learning to fly to hot air ballooning (amazing snow views!) and if you can’t find a snow sport to suit you here, then it probably doesn’t exist. The 120-metre Olympic Ski Jump at Le Pras states competitions and is open for tours as well. There are lots of luxury hotels in Courchevel, so the apre-ski and spa scene is as great as the snow.

Chamonix (France)

Since 1907 Chamonix has been charming ski bunnies with its picturesque setting on Mont Blanc, near the entrance to the Mont Blanc tunnel (which makes it easy to get to). It has the world’s greatest lift-served vertical drop and if you visit outside the ski season there’s still plenty to see and do – foodies will find lots of bars and restaurants and it’s very camera-friendly.

Whistler (Canada)

Much newer than most of Europe’s ski resorts, Whistler has more than made up for that by becoming Canada’s most sought-after ski destination. Established in 1966 the Canadian ski resort Whistler lies at 2284 metres altitude in the British Columbia region of the Canadian Coast Range and the ski season is long – from November through June.

You’ll be celebrity spotting on those slopes and Whistler boats one of the world’s best high-speed lift systems while down on the ground the après-ski is fabulous.

Kitzbuhel (Austria)

Hard to spell, but wonderful to ski at, Kitzbuhel was established in 189. At 2000 metres altitude in the Tyrol region of the Austrian Alps it has 500 snow cannons to ensure artificial snow covers 84km of ski trails, which equates to around 50 of the ski slopes. The nearest airport transfer to Kitzbuhel (Austria) is Salzburg at a distance of 80km or approximately 60 minutes driving time, making it one of the most accessible ski resorts from a European airport. Its ski season runs from December to April.

Austria’s most famous resort is a very lively town with plenty of Tyrolean style and arguably Austria’s best intermediate/expert skiing on its doorstep, just above.

The Tyrolean resort offers range of attractions and facilities that come with a discount once you get your free guest card. If you are visiting with skiers but don’t ski yourself, there are four museums and three galleries. A vast array of sports options are on offer and Ski Pass holders get half-price entry into the Kurhaus Aquarena indoor swimming pool and a discount on the sauna there which offers massage, solarium and mud baths. Kitzbuhel even has a floodlit toboggan run, Gaisberg, another popular après ski attraction, while excursions to excursions to Salzburg or Innsbruck are easy. Salzburg, most famous as the birthplace of Mozart, and one of the most charming winter towns in all of Europe, is well worth a visit if you are anywhere near the area.

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