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Club Med, the popular all-inclusive ski specialists are returning to the Milky Way for 2012/13. Club Med Pragelato will be their first hotel in the Milky Way for two years after they relinquished their Sestriere property two years ago.
Pragelato may not seem as obvious a resort to enjoy the delightful 400km of skiing the Milky Way, or Via Lattea in Italian, offers, but when you see the resort you'll quickly see why Club Med have taken residence there.
Club Med Pragelato Via Lattea
The resort of Pragelato was built for the 2006 Winter Olympic games in Turin, with the job of hosting the ski jump and the cross country skiing. After the Olympics left the village, the Milky Way was left with a charming, purpose build resort surrounded by trees and in a naturally preserved site — note to the French, it is possibly to built charming resorts, they don't have to look like Val Thorens!
The Club Med hotel is more akin to their summer programme then their winter offerings, with the resort being built in the style of a chalet-filled village, as opposed to one or two large hotels. The complex was previously managed by another company, but Club Med have taken over and are currently redecorating and upgrading the resort to bring it up to their 4* standards.
This resort looks like it could be the ideal hotel for a romantic getaway, a family ski trip, or hitting up the Milky Way in style with some friends, for a chilled, yet awesome holiday. Club Med Pragelato will boast three restaurants, including La Trattoria — serving up local Italian cuisine — La Taverna— with its Savoyard fare and charm — and the hotel's main restaurant — boasting the usual array of fab food available in Club Med's renowned buffet.
For lunches there are also three mountain restaurants to visit, meaning you can take advantage of the huge ski area, yet still enjoy Club Med's hospitality. Chalet Mollino over in Sauze d'Oulx is exclusively for Club Med guests and can seat up to 300 during peak season, which is amazing considering the resort only has 234 rooms! If you are skiing a little further afield, or prefer more intimate lunches there is a restaurant seating around 30-50 people in Sansicario and another similar sized restaurant across the border into the French resort of Montgenèvre.
The hotel also boasts a decent modern spa, which is one of the very few additional costs, along with a couple of bars — including a chilled out lounge bar if you don't fancy the French entertainment.
The Milky Way
The Milky Way, or Via Lattea, is one of the most underrated ski areas in the Alps. The huge area boasts a whopping 400km of skiing across two countries, with the majority of easily accessed slopes being in Italy, with the French resorts of Claviere and Montgenèvre a few lifts and a morning of skiing away.
Cruisy blues and confidence building reds are the order of the day, with the most difficult skiing being at the top of Sestriere and over in Montgenèvre. There is tree-lined skiing everywhere, which both helps keep the snow in great condition and offers protection on white-out days, making for great all round skiing. There are a few snowparks and a border cross, if you are that way inclined too.
If you fancy skiing Claviere and Montgenèvre from the Club Med Pragelato, then it's a full day out on the mountain, hence the restaurant. It will take a good hour and a half to two hours each way for a good level skier, so make sure you leave early to make the most of it and give yourself enough time to get back! There is also night skiing in Sestriere to enjoy, with Club Med offering buses from the hotel to the slopes on the relevant evenings.
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Sestriere's longest piste: 9km Sauze d'Oulx's longest piste: 5km Montgenèvre's longest piste: 7km Claviere's longest piste: 6km
All-in-all the Milky Way is a fantastic intermediate resort, a great place to build confidence, enjoy a few cruisy runs on the mountain and to enjoy some Italian sunshine and great mountain food. My idea of heaven! The hotel is the best value 4* resort in the Club Med brochure and with its brand new facilities and tree-lined mountain charm it will be popular with couples, families and relaxed skiers alike, looking for affordable luxury and not a typical French resort.
In case you haven't seen the news, read the papers of been on any snowsports related websites, the Alps have been under a constant blanket of snow for the last few weeks. After a week or so of sunshine, the snow is gearing up for another go. However you look at it, this season's conditions are pretty epic!
The start of the season was beginning to look slow until mid-December, where dump after dump arrived across the Alps, turning green landscapes into glistening, white mountains just in time for the Christmas holidays. But the snow didn't let up there, with more falling into the new year and only subsiding around 10 days ago.
The huge amounts of snowfall led to resorts being cut off from the outside world over night due to road and rail closures, mostly in case of avalanche, though one or two roads did need clearing in the morning. Val d'Isere, Tignes and Val Thorens were the first resorts, then Zermatt and St. Anton, and finally, Ischgl — where the road was closed off for three days while all danger was removed by the authorities.
What we have been left with is some amazing piste skiing and huge snow depths. The off-piste is a little more tetchy, as the snow settles a stable base is beginning to form, but with a crust appearing any fresh snow could lead to slides quite quickly. Essentially we need the crusty layer to melt or slide before this weekend's snow arrives.
On top of the amazing snow on offer, it looks like we have another 4 days of snow due to arrive in the Alps this Thursday, with an estimated 50cm of snow on offer, if not more. If the snow keeps coming and the temperatures stay low, we could be looking at the best season this century and maybe even rival the amazing winter of '99.
As it stands our snow reports data is showing a story of amazing conditions. The numbers may have dropped as the snow packs down, but with figures that show 460cm of snow in St. Anton, 300cm in La Plagne, 205cm in Tignes, Meribel and Courchevel, the pistes are in great condition. If you look at the snow history over the past five years, the current conditions are blowing everything out of the water.
Val d'Isere's snow history show 171cm in January 2009, as the previous best compared with the current snow depths of 205cm, having seen 375cm fall this season.
St. Anton's snow history shows their deepest snow as 235cm, compared to the current 460cm on the upper slopes.
Ischgl's snow history shows a similar story, with 200cm of snow on the slopes, having seen 275cm of snow this season, compared with previous high of 147cm in January 2008.
I could go on and on and on, looking at the incredible conditions in Les Arcs, La Rosiere and Avoriaz, the amazing snow in Wengen, Crans Montana and Verbier. But I'd begin to bore you.
As more snow is on its way, all I can say is this year looks to be the best since I discovered skiing and snowboard 10 years ago. Holiday prices are low, snow is high and more powder is on its way. Today is supposedly the most depressing of the year, but with the mountains looking incredible and holidays affordable, it's anything but depressing to us!
Mid-December and it's the time of year where many of us pop out to the mountains before the season hits full swing, to meet new people, check out some new resorts and, of course, to get in the first tracks of the season. Most of us have been to visit resorts new to us as individuals, with staff heading out to the ever popular resorts in the Tarantaise and Austria, but I was lucky enough to go somewhere new for all of us... the only problem is I don't want to tell too many people about it.
Over the weekend, along with Jay from the sales team, I went out to Val d'Anniviers, to visit the resorts of Grimentz and Zinal and to take a look at the new properties we will be featuring and to see what the ski area had to offer. The two resorts offer around 50-60km of piste each and include the nearby resorts of St. Luc & Vercorin on the lift pass, offering an additional 120km of piste and making up a decent amount of skiing for a week's holiday. But that's not what about this ski area is about, yes there is 200km of skiing, and yes the inter resort buses are typically efficient, Grimentz and Zinal is more about the quiet pistes and easy access to countless off-piste adventures.
We arrived in Geneva on Friday night and enjoyed a relaxing, though busy, transfer to resort on the train. Being Swiss, the train was waiting for us when we arrived and even got to the destination on time, with minimal fuss — well, you can't imagine the Swiss letting any pesky leaves get in the way, can you! The drive up to resort was quick, though as the sun had gone down we missed the dramatic views. The valley rises up quite dramatically before getting into resort, as we climbed over 1,000m in altitude in around half an hour.
Chalet Edelweiss was both charming and relaxing, and our hosts Eric & Penny were fantastic. Penny had prepared a fantastic meal for us, while Eric showed off their stock of Scott skis and fitted everyone out with the latest kit, apart from me, as I was apparently their first ever snowboarding guest. The chalet is extremely welcoming, and being run by a mature couple means you felt more like guests in their home.
Eric and Penny are clearly huge ski enthusiasts, and were keen to share their knowledge of the local mountains and to talk about the regular weeks they organise where the guests can ski with a mountain guide every day. Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast, they whisked us up to the lift station, and by 9:30 we were hitting the slopes for our first runs of the winter.
The resort may have been only half open, but within minutes you could sense the endless possibilities off off-piste riding. After a few runs to warm up, we headed up to the top of the Combe de Sorebois, where a huge bowl offering great back country skiing was shown to us. We hiked along the ridge for ten minutes and dropped into the first knee deep powder of the winter. We skied the area throughout they day, never tiring of what is a relatively small area, only dreaming of coming back later in the season, armed with a transceiver, a guide and some snowshoes.
That evening, after another fantastic meal in the chalet, we went for a short hike along the river basin in the valley, heading up passed the resort into the relative wilderness, where Eric lit a small fire and Penny produced some Vin Chaud to help keep us warm. It was a full moon and the views across to the Weisshorn and the Dent Blanche were impressive. This was just one of the nice little touches that the couple offer their guests, should you chose to take it.
The following morning we took the short drive, around 15-20 minutes over to Grimentz, where our next host Will, would take over the reins. Will had collected us from the station in Sierre and had skied with us the day before, but we were now in his back garden. Grimentz had only opened for the season the day before, the cruisy blues and red runs, filled with rollers and corduroy were fantastic, though the off-piste looked pretty tracked out.
Again, after a hour of warming up and playing around in the sidecountry, we were taken on a short ten minute hike from the highest open lift. I say a short hike, for the skiers it was nice and easy, but for the token snowboarder, hiking in thigh deep snow, was hard work, but rewarding. We ended up in a huge, untracked bowl, with lovely rollers, and small trees to play with, followed by a little bit of tree skiing. The snow was knee deep throughout, and was one of the many hidden gems the region has to offer.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon we enjoyed the easily accessed off-the-beaten-track skiing with Will, Eric and Penny, and definitely got a feel for why the three of them had upped sticks and left London for a life on the slopes.
Later that afternoon we were in for another treat, when we checked into our accommodation for our final night, the gorgeous Chalet C by Chivoone, nicknamed Chalet CBC, much to the owner's dismay. The views from the balcony, all across the valley were truly stunning, as was the chalet itself. The master bedroom boasted a huge standing bath in the middle of the room, offering the same fab views. The terrace has a hot tub, and for those looking to cater for themselves, a kitchen to die for.
After settling in we visited the many high-end chalets on offer, before checking out the charming, and superbly named, Chalet la Legende. This chalet sits in the centre of the old town, filled with typical Swiss charm. After our tour of the accommodation, we left the chalet, expecting a short walk to the restaurant booked for the evening, only to be taken into the little cave, underneath the property, where we were treated to a glass of wine, in charming surroundings — for guests staying here Will can arrange for Raclette and wine to be served here, though unfortunately you don't get to indulge in the owner's wine collection.
We ended the evening with a trip to Le Mélèze, one of the many quaint restaurants offering typical mountain cuisine, where we were in for another treat. Our table essentially had a barbeque built into it, with hot coals and a grill over the top, and after a starter of salad, we where given a bowl of meat to cook for ourselves. We were treated to veal, veal sausage, merguez, beef and bacon — what else do you need after a day of deep powder and good wine!
This trip took me to an undiscovered corner of Switzerland, the valley offers views of the nearby Crans Montana, and is across a ridge from Zermatt along with bieng a short drive from Verbier, but has been left alone for years. The people we met moved there as it offers great skiing, incredible backcountry and no crowds. The only problem now, is I want people to go there and enjoy it for themselves, just not too many...
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