Down jackets drove the summer clothes out of the wardrobe a long time ago, the white frost has been greeting every morning for at least 3 weeks and the first snow has even appeared in Cambridgeshire. There is no point in denying it anymore: the winter is coming and nothing can stop it. Now, instead of despairing over short days and cold outside, I think it’s better to focus on the wintery features that we can take advantage of. The cold outside is, after all, a perfect reason to light a fire in the fireplace, sip mulled wine and sink into a sofa whilst reading a book, watching films OR planning a winter holiday. Yep, that’s right. Winter is coming and so is the ski season! Some of my friends have already started asking when to go, which resort to chose and what to expect. From my own experience I know that making a decision can be really tough.
- Early December? Cheap but high risk of no snow – even in the Alps.
- Christmas/New Year? Expensive and crowded.
- January? Pretty good, but which resort? There are so many!
- February? Half term, expensive again and really crowded.
- March? Cheaper but the snow starts to melt…
I hope I’m not the only one who goes through the same dilemma every year. If there are indeed others mulling over the best ski destination, this post may be of some help. Or it may create even more confusion. Who knows? All I’m trying to do here is to describe few places that I visited recently without making a list of ‘the best’ or ‘must go’. I still don’t know what the BEST place that I’ve been to is. There are always pros and cons I guess.
In terms of skiing, last year was pretty lucky. We managed to tick off some places in Poland and Slovakia during a short break over the New Year and we went for a proper skiing holiday to the French Alps.
The break in Poland was short and sweet. We wanted to celebrate the New Year surrounded by mountains, and we did. Well, sort of. Instead of staying in Szczyrk, one of the best known ski resorts in Poland, we chose nearby Bielsko-Biała, a town spread at the foot of Beskidy Mountain in the Silesian region. Bielsko-Biała, or if you prefer ‘Little Vienna’ used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which has left its mark on the town’s beautiful architecture that we couldn’t pass indifferently during our city walks. One of the symbols of the city was meant to be the neo-Renaissancestyle hotel President, the oldest still running hotel in the city. Fortune favours fools because I had no idea that this was the case when I booked our room! Sadly, Silesia is infamous for the air pollution caused to a large extent by domestic solid fuel furnaces. We had a dubious pleasure of visiting the region at the worst possible time, when the still air and low pressure made the smog literally visible to the naked eye. I really thought these things only happen in China. On a positive note though, this hazy air added even more to the city’s undeniable character and charm.
From Bielsko-Biała we were only 20 min away (by car) to the Ski Station Szczyrk-Skrzyczne that takes winter sport lovers up to 1257 m above sea level. From the top, three ski runs can be chosen (black, red or blue) which add up to over 10 km of ski trails. The snow during our stay was not great and we were only able to ski in the upper part of the mountain. Not ideal. The1 hour+ queue to buy ski passes and more queues to get on the lift also left me quite disappointed. Beginners, more laidback skiers, or anyone who hasn’t skied in the Alps yet (my bad) and spends more time on the snow than on the lift may find this ski resort actually quite nice.
Slovakia: Snowparadise Veľká Rača
After one day in Szczyrk we decided to explore the area a bit more and actually do some skiing. Word of mouth, being the best source of information, lead us to a ski resort located on the other side of the border, in Slovakia. Snowparadise Veľká Rača was definitely worth the 1h drive. The resort offered only 4 km more of ski trails than Szczyrk-Skrzyczne but with 15 runs (7 blue, 7 red and 1 black) it was much more interesting and diverse. We had some trouble with finding the place as there were no visible signs on the road pointing towards the resort but with a little help from the locals we made it. We also got a tip to drive to Laliky rather than Dedovka, as it was meant to be less crowded and easier to find a parking space. Tip verified!
France: Les Arcs Paradiski
The idea to go to the Alps was born even earlier than the idea of going to Poland. It must have been in October 2016. Since then, until the end of January 2017 it was the most annoying time of my life. And that’s because we wanted to make everyone happy. We wanted to make sure that:
- the date was suitable to everyone who initially signed up for the ski break,
- we didn’t go during half term,
- it was snowy,
- there was a glacier,
- we would be able to do some off-piste skiing,
- there was a significant amount of ski trails,
- we stayed in a fully catered place with a walking distance to the ski lift,
- there was a good connection with the UK and most importantly (for me),
- it wouldn’t cost a fortune.
3 months of discussions and one spreadsheet later we chose our destination. Les Arcs. Uff…
All boxes ticked except for the first one. We found a beautiful chalet with a private pool and sauna in a little village named Vallandry (link here). The village was only 30 min away from Bourg-Saint Maurice, where we arrived by a direct night train from London St Pancras. It wasn’t the best journey ever but the tickets cost us nothing (ish, purchased using Avios points, thanks to my incredible boyfriend). Two sleepless nights were definitely worth it. Vallandry maybe wasn’t the most known place to stay but it was perfectly located between two main ski resorts, Les Arcs and La Plagne. Apparently it is the 2nd biggest linked ski area in the world! With 425 km of pistes and 261 runs (12 green, 135 blue, 77 red and 37 black) anyone can find something suitable. We played a lot in the fresh powder and it was SO MUCH FUN! It was also pretty exhausting. 8 days on the snow with early starts (we managed to catch the first lift few times) and probably 6 hours of constant skiing every day was not something I was used to. Initially not very enthusiastic about the idea of renting a fully catered chalet, I did appreciate it when I had no power to take my skiing clothes off. Without a doubt it was the perfect skiing holiday. Now it’s time to start thinking about the next one!