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As there are now only eight weeks until the first lifts open in Val Thorens, Europe's highest resort, I thought I'd take a look at which resorts we are getting excited about for 2012. Of course, virtually every member of our team will list trips to Val d'Isere, Meribel, Les Arcs, St. Anton or Whistler as their highlight of the winter, but where are people planning to go this year for something new?
Every year we are gaining access to new properties in resorts that have either been forgotten by the Brits or are lesser known, hidden gems. There is a huge amount of world class skiing, great après scenes, exclusive villages and friendly-family resorts that are out there to be enjoyed, that you may never have considered.
Yes the Tarantaise resorts in France are among the world's best and Britain's favourites but sometimes escaping the anglicised bars and busy slopes can make for as good a, if not better, ski holiday experience.
Austria is quickly cementing itself as Britain's second favourite ski destination, and with comparable, if not better value, in-resort costs to France and fantastic resorts on offer, you can see why. So, here are a few resorts we'll be heading to this winter, from hedonistic party towns to the quaint, traditional resorts.
Ischgl ski holidays
Ischgl is one of the biggest party towns in the Alps and the resort that the Austrians themselves rate as their best, yet for some reason it remains largely undiscovered by British skiers. Ischgl offers some superb skiing and loads or cruisy, well groomed pistes. There is the renowned 'Duty-Free Run', which winds its way back from Samnaun in Switzerland via a back-country unmarked route, so the locals can avoid Customs at the top of the pistes. If you're not a back-country standard skier yet, there is a double-decker cable car coming back up to Austria — just don't overfill your duty-free stash.
As well as great skiing, Ischgl is one of the après ski resorts to visit. Such is the nightlife's reputation, rumour has it the slopes never get busy before 11am. So, if you're an early starter you can enjoy a quiet mountain, if you a party goer, you won't be alone with your hangover at the lift station.
Ischgl also boasts a couple of renowned festivals, the imaginatively named opening party and closing party, which are, unsurprisingly, held on the opening and closing weekends in resort. Over the last couple of seasons Ischgl's festivals have boasted the likes of Katy Perry and The Killers.
Solden ski holidays
Solden in one of Austria's infamous, après ski resorts, where the party kicks off at 4pm and can go on until 8am the following morning! Again Solden has somehow been forgotten by mainstream Brits and has more of an Austrian, German and Scandinavian crowd in town — think trays of beer, Jägermeister and packed out bars, oh and don't forget the famous Austrian um-par-par music and barmaids in lederhosen. Marcos and the Schrim umbrella bar, at the Giggijochbahn end of tow, are where to be straight from the slopes.
The skiing is made up from "The Big 3" mountains, Gaislachkogl (3.058 m), Tiefenbach (3.250 m) and Schwarze Schneide (3.340 m). The area is serviced by high-speed lifts and includes two glaciers, in turn offering Austria's largest glacial ski area, with 147 km of piste. The slopes in the nearby resort of Obergurgl are an intermediate skiers dream, so if you fancy a day skiing in a different resort, it's well worth the 20 minute drive and lift pass extension and the perfect remedy following the night before's party.
St. Christoph ski holidays
St. Christoph, and our newly converted chalet hotel the Chalet Hotel St. Christoph, offers a very different Austrian ski holiday, a more relaxed, elegant, family-friendly experience. The resort offers a more quaint and exclusive feel and is home to the Austrian ski team's base camp. You are more likely to see people enjoying a vin chaud or glass of fizz then falling off tables while knocking back Stroh. That said, the hedonistic resort of St. Anton is a mere 15 minutes bus ride away, with the last bus running until 4am in peak season!
The resort's skiing is quite compact, but thanks to the Arlberg's micro-climate, it's pretty snow-sure, hence the Austrian ski teams presence. It only takes about 10 minutes to ski over to St. Anton where you can access world class skiing and the world renowned Valluga — where you are only allowed if you are with a ski guide. For more mellow skiing and champagne bars you can get the bus over the Lech from St. Anton, where a vast array cruisy blues are included on your lift pass.
Kuhtai is another resort that was once popular with British skiers and thanks to another new chalet hotel, the Chalet Hotel Elisabeth, it could be once again. Though it is a smaller, more compact resort it is a fantastic place for intermediate skiing families. It lacks beginner runs, but once you are all ready to hit the blues and reds there is more than enough for a week's holiday, especially if you are the ones keeping up with your kids as opposed to the other way round. You can also jump on the bus to the nearby resort of Oetz, for something a little different on one of the days.
Kuhtai is more about stunning scenery, high altitude skiing and a family friendly atmosphere, than après ski parties and late nights out. This is a great resort to escape to for a week in the mountains and is ideal for families who will do more than once trip this winter.
Austrian skiing was once the mainstay of British ski holidays, both my own mum, my mother-in-law and my boss learnt to ski there. With the prices in France a little higher due to the current rate of the Euro, Austria is an attractive destination right now, though saying that the in resort prices in Ischgl, St. Anton and Lech won't be much different, due to their status as the country's top resorts.
Other resorts worth a look are Saalbach for Scandinavian-fuelled après ski, Zell am See for a stunning traditional ski town and Lech for exclusive hotels and outdoor champagne ice bars.
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