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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.
Back in the summer I wrote a piece about the festivals that were expected to hit the Alps this winter and with the season in full flow and most of the line-ups have been announced here is a update of what to look forward too.
Little World Festival
This Little World Festival debuted in Meribel last season and after a successful first attempt, festival organisers and performers The Feeling are back for more. The former Meribel après ski band have lined up some big acts and some great venues for the week. From 13th - 18th March Meribel will be the highlight of the Three Valleys.
Last years slope side gig next to the Ronnie.
As expected The Feeling are due to perform as is Sophie Ellis Bextor, who attended last year and also performed with them at the ski show. Freemason, Carl Barat and Ed Harcourt have all been confirmed among the headliners, with Squeeze, Fictionplane and Ben Howard among the other confirmed acts. With a free gig taking place outside the resorts biggest après bar, the Rond Point, on a huge stage and 40 other gigs in resort that week it will be awesome.
Snowbombing & The Altitude Festival
Snowbombing is renowned as the snowsports hedonists' festival and this year it becomes home to the Altitude Festival, a comedy festival that previously called Meribel home. Both festivals will bring some pretty big names into Mayrhofen and the biggest party of the winter season takes place from the 4th - 9th April.
This year Snowbombing has surpassed itself with the names on the line-up, so far The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, Pendulum and 2manydjs are confirmed. The list goes on and on and on, other big names include Professor Green, Example, Chase and Status, DJ Yoda, Fake Blood, John Digweed, Ms Dynamite and the Cuban Brothers. The Altitude Festival, in its new home, boasts the likes of Marcus Brigstocke, Andrew Maxwell, Rufus Hound, Tony Woods, Craig Campbell, Mark Walker and Terry Alderton. So if a week of soft snow, hard partying and laughs are what you need then get yourself to Mayrhofen on 4th April for a week.
Andrew Maxwell at last year's Altitude Festival
The Big Snow Festival
The Big snow Festival is another newcomer, debuting in the Andorran resort of Arinsal in March 2010. This year they have upped their game in an attempt to complete with the infamous Snowbombing, boasting better snow (well you'd hope so in mid March) and an impressive line up.
With crowd pleasers Kissy Sell Out, Judge Jules, Westwood and Example + dj wire headlining, this year's festival should go off with a bang. Throw in a decent sized ski area, (hopefully) great mid March weather and pretty much duty free prices in resort and you are on to a winner.
The Brits is the British Snowsports Championships, but as you would expect it is just as much a party-filled, music-fuelled festival as it is the country's top snowsports event. Held in the resort of Flims Laax in Switzerland from the 20th - 27th March this is a week of top end riders, music and fun. From the Red Bull downhill to a Pendulum DJ set the Brits always go off with a bang.
This year the likes of Aime Fuller and Jamie Nicholls will be on the slopes showing us why they are two of the most up and coming riders in Europe in the day time followed by some awesome entertainment in the evenings. As mentioned Pendulum will be throwing down a DJ set and the week also includes The Correspondents, an '80s Chalet Party and a not-so-secret movie premier (though the films are still a secret). Add in world class skiing, the glacier and end of march sunshine and it looks like a belting week is going to happen.
Taking a look around the Alps there are a few more events worth attending if you are in town. The European Winter X Games will be taking place in Tignes from the 16th - 18th March, where the world's biggest skiers and snowboarders will be in town — hopefully with Jenny Jones retaining her gold. And you can be sure there will be some serious parties going down throughout the resort celebrating the many competition winners medals. The last week of the season in Ischgl is always worth a mention. The resort is renowned for its opening and closing parties with the likes of Kylie and Katy Perry among recent headliners, well their end of season party doesn't disappoint with The Killers confirmed on the slope side stage on April 30th.
There is so much to going on this year I'm struggling to decide where to go, though I have my favourite, do you?
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