What do Courchevel, Vail and Whistler have in common this time of year?
Yeah… You guessed it.
The most well-groomed pistes to slice your way through powder-soft snow, and glide across winding mountain paths, thinking how good you have it, and if you might run into Prince William or David Beckham at dinner.
Courchevel, in particular, is the playground of oligarchs, A-list celebrities and royals, with many resorts having their own airstrip right on the slopes for private jets to arrive. Then there are destinations like the Dolomites, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vail and Gstaad in Switzerland.
For a round-up of the best winter experiences happening right now, read on.
Ultra-luxury chalets, Michelin-starred restaurants and glitzy slope-side clubs where celebrities go to be seen… Courchevel is, without a doubt, one of the most glamorous ski destinations in the world. But that’s not what you’ll remember of this winter wonderland once you take that first lift up one of its many north-facing slopes. You’ll remember the white crispness of the terrain, the efficiency of the multilingual staff, and the exceptional pistes, which are groomed twice every night to ensure good skiing.
Courchevel is also one of the few ski resorts truly geared towards all levels of skiing. There are easy pistes for beginners, and more advanced ones with a host of challenging and steep skiing. If you’re up for it, you can also try the off-piste adventures here, like skydiving, for fabulous views of the Alps, and a serious adrenaline rush.
Where to stay
If you’re going to Courchevel, you might as well be in the heart of it, and close to the slopes. Hôtel Les Airelles, with direct access to the slopes of Courchevel 1850, fits that bill, and many more, with an Alpine fairy-tale setting. The hotel, with its wooden balconies and window nooks, is the definition of cozy. Add its welcoming lounges to the mix (where guests can linger beside a fireplace), and rooms overflowing with velvet details and carved ancient woods, and you’ve got a winning hand.
Alta Badia, Italy
130 kilometres of slopes and the resort’s high altitude (nearly 2,700 metres above sea level) make Alta Badia, nestled in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Dolomites, one of the most stunning ski destinations in the world. The area is also home to the lilting melody of Ladin- one of the oldest languages in the Alps.
After a day in the wilderness of Alta Badia, there is nothing like settling down with the locals for supper and wine. Ladin people are passionate about their culture, and they make sure you know it.
The vibe here is more laid-back than rival ski destinations like France, Switzerland and Austria, making for a relaxing holiday as compared to one geared towards sporting excellence. Alta Badia is also flanked by a number of gourmet restaurants, intimate wine bars and chic boutiques. If good food, and a fabulous ambiance are important to you, then the heart of Dolomites is the place to be this time of year.
Where to stay
Hotel La Perla, nestled in a cozy corner of the mountain town of Corvara, comes with our highest recommendation. This tyrolean-style house, with a basement spa and a Michelin-starred restaurant to its name, perfectly captures the charm of Italy’s scenic Dolomites region.
There is the location of the hotel, of course, just off some of the most idyllic pistes in Europe, and then there are the chalet-style rooms- spacious and wood-paneled to exude warmth and sophistication. Wine lovers will also find a home at the Mahatma wine cellar where some thirty thousand bottles of wines are showcased in a labyrinth-like space.
Vail, Colorado, USA
You don’t have to be a winter sport fanatic to love Vail. With its epic mountain backdrop and Instagram-worthy views around every corner, this small town, at the base of Vail Mountain with streets of high-end shops and restaurants, is as cute and quaint as they get.
Around January, there is one more reason to make a stop here: The plentiful snow.
The slopes of Vail, which cover some 5,200 acres of ski terrain, are some of the best in the US, with a front face that is seven miles wide, and seven ‘back bowls’. Much of the skiing is geared towards intermediates, although the bowls around the wooded parts of the Blue Sky Basin are best left to advanced skiers.
Where to stay
A latecomer to the area, the Four Seasons Resort Vail is not slope-side, but it more than makes up for it with a mountain-oriented location that affords panoramic views of the area, and superlative valet services. This is a hotel that understands what skiers want, from rooms where you can soak in the warmth of a stone fireplace to a spa where you can unwind to a hot milk bath and nectar oil massage. If there is a better way to bring your adrenaline levels back to normal, we’d like to know about it.
Whistler, nestled on the west coast of Canada, enjoys a magical snow record of more than 33 meters a year, making it one of the most popular ski destinations in the world. The pistes are meandering- soft and flanked by firs laden with snow. To say that Whistler is enchanting this time of year is an understatement, and it’s a favorite among Hollywood stars like Nicole Kidman, Michelle Pfeiffer and Cameron Diaz.
The town, which lies just north of Vancouver, is also one of the better places to be hungry. It’s awash with restaurants and cafés where scallops and crabs share menu space with foie gras, sushi and ribs. Come hungry, and expect a fair bit of damage to your waistline.
Where to stay
Part relaxed ski lodge part stylish boutique hotel, the Four Seasons Whistler, with its enviable address between Whistler Village and the Lost Lake, is the last word in luxury. It takes one look at the hotel’s angular, nine-storey facade to understand that something special is happening inside. The rooms are among the spacious this side of town, and the outdoor pool, which throws steam into the grey January air like a hot spring, is pure Instagram fodder.
Is it the faint aura of old Monte Carlo or the evocation of Biarritz that makes Kitzbühel in Austria a special place? It’s hard to tell, but this ski resort, just two hours from Munich, is a portal to another, more posh world.
Think swanky hotels, cobblestone streets flanked with upscale shops, and a medieval town center where celebrities are often seen unwinding in cafes, all against a backdrop of the spectacular Wilder Kaiser Mountains. In January, the world’s finest skiers gather here for the Hahnenkamm World Cup races, on the mountain of the same name, but Kitzbühel has over 215 kilometers of slopes, so there is plenty of room (or pistes if you will) for everyone.
Where to stay
Skiing in Kitzbühel is not just about schussing your way down a slalom run. It’s about combining the sport with the experience of exploring a picturesque, centuries-old town, and dining to extraordinary views of the mountains around. A hotel that lets you do all of this, and much more, is the Tennerhof Gourmet & Spa de Charme Hotel. The hotel is also one of the most romantic this side of Austria, with tastefully decorated rooms- think timeless antiques, carefully chosen materials and the plushest beds- and a spa with panoramic views of the Kitzbüheler Alps.
Gstaad, in southwest Switzerland, is the ski resort where the likes of Madonna, Valentino and George Clooney head to for their annual dose of winter experiences, and it’s as glamorous as you’d think. There’s the skiing, of course, in and around the valley at the heart of the Bernese Highlands, but that’s not the only reason the global high-net-worthers love this place so much.
There is the enchanting vibe of the village as well, where the locals still smoke pipes and make their own cheese. Gstaad perfectly captures the otherworldly quality of Switzerland, and there is no place quite like it.
Where to stay
For a true alpine fantasy, the Gstaad Palace, looming over the village, can’t be beat. The hotel, which recently celebrated its 100th birthday, is as grand as they get this side of Switzerland, and it’s a playground for the rich. For exclusivity and the most magical views over the Swiss mountains, we recommend the 240-square-meter Penthouse Suite. It’s as cozy as it is palatial, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better- or more beautiful- accommodation in Gstaad.
With annual waist-deep snowfall, spectacular ski runs and a traditional Swiss vibe, Andermatt is the European skiing destination of choice for Switzerland’s beau monde, where the slopes are a little emptier, and the Alpine feel a little more authentic, than Gstaad.
It’s a place to experience another, more untouched side of Switzerland, with breathtaking panoramas and awesome off-piste. The après ski scene is just as impressive, and has it all, from small, family-run restaurants where the recipes for traditional Swiss dishes like the Älpermagronen haven’t changed in decades, to slope-side sports bars with live bands.
Where to stay
Andermatt saw its first luxury hotel, the Chedi Andermatt, open in December 2013, and it might just be one of the most charming hotels you’ll ever check into. Designed in its entirety by Belgian architect Jean-Michel Gathy, the hotel is undeniably Swiss- think steeply sloping roofs, interiors rendered in rich natural materials and some 200 fireplaces- but Asian influences give it a unique edge with masses of orchids, latticed lamps and an Asian-inspired spa. Intimate and arrestingly handsome with lots of oak and granite, the Chedi Andermatt is the last word in timeless elegance.
For more information about any of these ski resorts, or to make a booking, give us a call.