As much as enthusiastic skiers love to skip over Les Trois Vallées and make the most of the fresh powder in Lech and Gstaad, the inevitable crowds are something of a drawback. Thanks to the popularity of snow sports and a long winter season up in the mountains, an increasing number of resorts are popping up all over Europe; each with a unique atmosphere and robust infrastructure. If you’re looking to cast your net wider than the usual offerings this year, take a look at our pick of the best unusual ski destinations to book right now.
Though Greece doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a decent ski resort, thanks to its mountainous landscape, the town of Arachova has been quietly offering visitors a hub from which to ski the surrounding Parnassos mountains for over 30 years. There are now three resorts within the range to enjoy, each with an infrastructure of chair lifts and cable cars to take you up the pass and down the 19 pistes and 12 off-piste routes. Snow comes from December to May – perfect if you can’t fit a week in before Easter – and there are several luxury hotels nearby to book into. For opulent five star extravagance, opt for the Aegli Arachova or for a cosier atmosphere, there’s the Boutique Hotel Skamnos. Aside from its snow credentials, Arachova and Parnassos offer a wealth of history and culture. Just down the road in Delphi you’ll find the 4th century BC Temple of Apollo as well as the Delphi Archaeological Museum, filled with artefacts and treasures from Ancient Greel History.
With guaranteed snow from January to April, Aviemore, up in the Scottish Highlands, offers the ideal break for those only looking to escpape to the slopes for a weekend. Head up Cairngorm Mountain and be rewarded with 31 pistes evenly split between beginner, intermediate and advanced. There are 11 lifts and tows in all, taking you up to a variety of runs, including several blacks and off-piste tracks. Being so close to Inverness and situated within Cairngorn National Park, there’s much to see and do on both land and water if you fancy a day away from the slopes. The Cairngorn Brewery in north Aviemore brews a variety of traditional ales and offers tasting tours perfect for warming the cockles of your heart. Those not partial to ale will prefer the Dalwhinnie Distillery a little further out of town, which welcomes visitors with three differing whisky and chocolate tours. For a spot of quirky comfort, book into the luxury Muckrack hotel, where cavernous bathtubs, comfortable beds and a seasonal menu served next to a roaring fire will thaw you out after a day on the slopes.
Famous for the world-class musicians that grace its slopes to kick off and close down the season each year, Ischgl in Austria has had something of a makeover in recent months. Gone is the tired old chairlift that used to take passengers up to Palinkopf – it’s been replaced by another state of the art, heated high speed lift that’ll take this hidden gem’s total up to 14. With 238 kilometers of piste and one in particular that’s an impressive 11 kilometres long, This Austrian resort offers plenty to keep even the most insatiable skier entertained. Opt for a stay at Hotel Trofana Royal if you’re in need of some relaxation – set back from the main town, its tranquil haven comes in the form of a spa, which offers 8 saunas and steam baths to ease overworked muscles after a day on the piste. A well-oiled resort with excellent snow, book a stay in Ischgl before it takes on the popularity of neighboring Tyrol.
The northern most ski resort in Sweden, Riksgransen is one of Lapland’s most magical destinations. Thanks to the northern Arctic wind blowing over the pass, it enjoys the best snow in the whole of Sweden and is a must-visit destination for those seeking to escape the crowded option further south in Europe – there’s no need for snow canons when you enjoy a position 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, after all. There are 42 pistes in total and miles of off-piste routes to explore across both Björkliden and Riksgränsen which all ski passes can access. For a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, book a session of heli-skiing and allow a certified instructor to take you up the mountain in a helicopter and guide you down again off-trail. Book around Christmas time to enjoy some of the best snow and book into the Meteorologen Ski Lodge for a spot of contemporary boutique luxury. If you’re there before April, you might also be lucky enough to experience the magnificence of the Northern Lights.
Writer: Bianca Barratt