Your ultimate guide to the new ski season

Fantastic snow conditions last winter – the best in 40 years – have triggered a rush in bookings for the 2018/19 ski season.

But don’t panic – let our expert, who has skied in more than 350 resorts in the world,  guide you to the best slopes.

He’s left no flake unturned in his bid to provide a comprehensive guide.

Neil English, who has skied in more than 350 resorts in the world, provides a guide to the best slopes (stock image)

Neil English, who has skied in more than 350 resorts in the world, provides a guide to the best slopes (stock image)

Neil English, who has skied in more than 350 resorts in the world, provides a guide to the best slopes (stock image)

BEST FOR SHORT BREAKS 

Look for operators and agencies offering flexible packages such as Momentum Ski, Ski Solutions, Igluski, Flexiski, Skiworld and SkiWeekend.

Tip: To minimise stress, keep flights and transfers to under two hours.

Innsbruck

Just an hour from the airport is Neustift and the Stubai glacier, Austria’s largest glacial ski domain, with a cable-car station at 10,500ft. You will love the clear views into the Italian Dolomites.

Innsbruck, pictured, is a great gateway for superb Austrian skiing

Innsbruck, pictured, is a great gateway for superb Austrian skiing

Innsbruck, pictured, is a great gateway for superb Austrian skiing

Stay: Three nights’ full board in the four-star Hotel Brennerspitz in Neustift costs from £280pp based on two sharing, departing January 16 (skiline.co.uk). The price includes a lift pass. Flights cost from £76 (easyjet.com) and car hire is from £150 (rentalcars.com).

Eat: Use the six-mile descent from Stubai’s peak to work off high-altitude grub at Schaufelspitz, where dishes including miso cod and beef tartare match the sublime views.

Geneva

The Alpine gateway is good for nearby French resorts including Flaine, Morzine, Megeve and Chamonix, or the Swiss resorts of Villars and Champery.

Stay: Three nights at the majestic, 105-year-old Villars Palace (villars-palace.ch) on a half-board basis from January 12 now cost £555pp. The price is based on two sharing and includes use of the hotel’s spa, lunch on the mountain, lift passes, ski rentals and ski lockers . Flights cost from £37 return (easyjet.com), while car hire for four days costs £184 (sixt.co.uk).

Eat: Tuck into roasted ham knuckle in alpine honey at L’étable (etable-gryon.ch), a pretty, converted cowshed on the Villars slopes opposite the Croix des Chaux chairlift.

Turin

Turin, pictured, is handy for some of Italy's most rewarding ski domains

Turin, pictured, is handy for some of Italy's most rewarding ski domains

Turin, pictured, is handy for some of Italy’s most rewarding ski domains

The Italian city is close to Courmayeur, Champoluc, Sauze d’Oulx and Sestriere.

Stay: Hospitality offered by Andrea and Patrizia, owners of Hotel Bouton d’Or in Courmayeur, elevates their B&B beyond three stars. And what a breakfast: home-made breads, cakes and jams, cheeses and sizzling egg and bacon skillets. Four nights’ B&B departing January 28, based on two sharing and including BA flights and Avis hire car, costs £559pp (momentumski.com).

Eat: You’re spoilt for choice in Courmayeur. Maison Vieille is adorned with picnic tables and rows of deckchairs to sip prosecco before enjoying plates of salamis, cured hams and cheeses, or home-made pasta.

BEST FOR CHEAP DEALS

Eastern Europe offers cheap skiing but the terrain can be limited for strong skiers, the ski lifts are worryingly outdated, and resorts are purgatory for foodies. Infrastructure can appear bleak and soulless. Of Slovenia, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria, my favourite is:

Bansko

Life on the edge: Bansko in Bulgaria (above) has terrain for all abilities

Life on the edge: Bansko in Bulgaria (above) has terrain for all abilities

Life on the edge: Bansko in Bulgaria (above) has terrain for all abilities

Open spaces and a warren of cobbled lanes throughout the unspoilt old town reveal abundant mehanas offering a warm welcome, and the ski area genuinely delivers terrain for all abilities.

Stay: A double room at the four-star Hotel Lion, with indoor pool, spa and private shuttle to ski lifts, costs £443pp departing January 5 (balkanholidays.co.uk).

Tip: Visit the imposing Holy Trinity church. Sip cocktails in the Buddha Bar or savour Bulgarian vintages at Wine Bar 25.

Eat: Peshterite’s wood cabin, just off the Chalin Valog piste, serves grilled specialities including delicious ribs and horse sausage, or pork and vegetables baked in clay pots. The shepherd salad, topped with Bulgarian cheese, is great washed down with rakia, a fruit brandy.

Pyrenees

The Pyrenees is a striking mountain range and offers great value skiiing

The Pyrenees is a striking mountain range and offers great value skiiing

The Pyrenees is a striking mountain range and offers great value skiiing

Whether Andorra, Spain or France, this striking mountain range offers a worthy budget alternative to eastern Europe.

Font-Romeu

A Catalan gem in French Pyrenees-Orientale. Not for experts, but this attractive ski area rises to the Pointe de Vue at 6,500ft, where you can scope neighbouring resorts skiable on a joint lift pass.

Stay: A studio at Residence Le Pedrou, which sleeps four, costs £266pp for seven nights, departing January 19 (pierreetvacances.com). Return flights to Toulouse cost from £43 (easyjet.com) and car hire from £122.86 (rentalcars.com).

Tip: Take time at the end of the day to marvel at the world’s largest solar furnace – a field of 10,000 mirrors. Keep your sunglasses on.

Eat: The local boulangerie, boucherie and delicatessens offer mouthwatering delights. For dinner, try Table des Saveurs for delicious turbot, crab, scallop and lobster.

Les angles

This enchanting resort is the home of Lake Matemale, which looks as if you can ski straight in to it from 6,500ft.

Stay: A seven-night stay in a two-person apartment in Chalet Ana, with a communal hot tub and sauna opening out to the garden, costs £781 (chalet-ana.com). A six-day lift pass covering Les Angles and Font-Romeu costs £195pp.

Tip: Not all Pyrenean resorts have bona fide black runs but here there are eight. Test your nerve on the three named after hunting birds that swoop from these skies: hawk, royal eagle and vulture.

Eat: Chez Antoine, a carnivore’s heaven overlooking the lake, features Catalan specialities such as picoulats – balls of pork, beef, olives, ceps, carrots and coriander.

BEST FOR ADULTS – La Plagne

Alpine bliss: Star-gazing from a customised piste-groomer is an option at La Plagne (pictured) in the French Alps

Alpine bliss: Star-gazing from a customised piste-groomer is an option at La Plagne (pictured) in the French Alps

Alpine bliss: Star-gazing from a customised piste-groomer is an option at La Plagne (pictured) in the French Alps

Road-test the unique, customised piste-groomer with a luxury cabin mounted on the back and decked out with queen-size bed, spa bath and a flatscreen TV. At 9pm a driver takes you to a remote peak. He takes a snowmobile back, leaving you to stargaze. One night for two costs £285.

Stay: Pierre & Vacances (pierreetvacances.com) offers flexible stays in a range of apartments.

Villars

A traditional Vaudoise chalet perched on a frozen lake shore feels remote from the pistes but is just a stone’s-throw away. Tuck in to rosti with mushrooms from local woods or a raclette for two from Villars’ most acclaimed chefs, before snuggling under the duvet. Dinner, bed and breakfast costs from £74pp (restaurantlacchavonnes.ch).

Stay: Villars Palace, as mentioned, offers flexible stays.

Madonna di Campiglio

In the heart of the Dolomites, these stunning mountains attract skiers, snowboarders and artists in equal number.

Fearless: Two youngsters have fun on a sledge in the snow (stock image)

Fearless: Two youngsters have fun on a sledge in the snow (stock image)

Fearless: Two youngsters have fun on a sledge in the snow (stock image)

Stay: Seven nights’ half board in a double room at the four-star Hotel Gianna (hotelgianna.it) from January 12 costs £1,663. The hotel offers an excellent restaurant, pool, sauna, complimentary shuttles to the lifts and afternoon tea. The price includes two six-day lift passes. Return flights to Verona cost from £51 (ryanair.com). Return transfers £49 (flyskishuttle.com).

BEST CHALETS

This great British concept brings ski-minded people together in an alpine house with breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner with wine (known as chalet board, or CB) already paid for, to help control those dreaded out-of-pocket expenses.

Alpe d’Huez

A ski-in, ski-out resort with stunning views up to the Sarenne glacier and a mass of terrain for all abilities.

Stay: Club Chateau (vip-chalets.com) offers seven nights’ CB from January 13 for £1,109pp, based on two sharing. The price includes flights and transfers.

La Tania

The low-altitude, car-free village offers affordable access to the famous Three Valleys network.

Stay: Chalet Bois d’Emeraude (skisolutions.com) offers seven nights’ CB from December 16, based on two sharing, for £850pp, including flights and transfers.

Avoriaz

Peaks of perfection: Avoriaz offers breathtaking panoramas of the Alps

Peaks of perfection: Avoriaz offers breathtaking panoramas of the Alps

Peaks of perfection: Avoriaz offers breathtaking panoramas of the Alps

Perched dramatically on a high cliff, this purpose-built village is the highest in Portes du Soleil.

Stay: Chalet Perce Neige (skitotal.com) has seven nights’ CB, departing April 14, from £764pp, based on two sharing with flights and transfers included.

BEST FOR SCHOOL HOLIDAYS

Prices can treble over half term. Strive to avoid the February 16 departure. Easter is cheaper, but there could be less snow.

Morzine

Language expert Helen Watts runs a French school here, with weekday classes between 9am and 11am or 4pm and 6pm, leaving the rest of the day to cruise the Portes du Soleil area spanning France and Switzerland. Course cost £169pp, or private lessons for two under-18s are £53 per hour.

 GET READY, STAY SAFE

Never skimp on insurance: MPI Brokers (mpibrokers.com) specialise in winter-sports insurance. Check your policy covers off-piste skiing with or without a guide, tobogganing, using snowmobiles, or even slipping over while you are in your resort. Standard cover for a week in France costs about £40.

Get in shape: Minimise the risk of using that policy by hitting the gym and strengthening your legs and core before your trip. If you are really serious, experts at Rudding Park Hotel in Harrogate will analyse your body alignment, posture and movement to give bespoke exercises to avoid injury. A two-hour session costs £80 – visit ruddingpark.co.uk.

Stay: From February 16, the Family Corner (alpinefrenchschool.com) offers seven nights for four people from £1,207pp. The accommodation has one double bedroom, one room with bunk beds, a communal kitchen and living area. Price includes transfers from Geneva. London to Geneva flights cost from £606 (easyjet.com).

Tip: The lessons are great fun for children who usually give languages the thumbs-down.

Eat: Sports bar and restaurant Le Sherpa offers good-value evening specials. On curry night, the aroma will suck you in after your French lesson ends at 6pm.

Katschberg

Set in the national park between Salzburg and Carinthia, this boutique resort is ideal for families not hungry for ferocious steeps.

Stay: The Hotel Cristallo boasts indoor and outdoor pools, spa facilities and a games room. A seven-night full-board stay in a deluxe family room sleeping four and departing February 16 costs £6,741, including flights and transfers (igluski.com).

Tip: Take advantage of complimentary childcare for three- to 12-year-olds every day between 10am and 8pm.

Eat: It’s an easy ski back to your hotel on the Katschis Kinderwelt piste, just yards from the Gamskogel chairlift, as the package includes lunch.

Tignes Les Brevieres

Authentic experience: Tignes Les Brevieres is an attractive Savoyard village

Authentic experience: Tignes Les Brevieres is an attractive Savoyard village

Authentic experience: Tignes Les Brevieres is an attractive Savoyard village

An authentic, attractive Savoyard village. At 5,000ft, it has direct lift access to a world-renowned ski area. It’s a great family Easter base.

Stay: Residence Santa Terra offers self-catering with indoor pool, hot tub, sauna, games room and the option to order fresh croissants and shopping. Seven nights costs £504pp, based on four sharing from April 13, including flights and transfers (crystalski.co.uk).

Tip: The smoked pork and fennel salami from the village market stall is sensational.

Eat: Cosy L’Armailly offers pizzas to beef fillet rossini but La Bouida’s speciality of meat, cooked on a hot stone at your table, is unbeatable.

OFF-THE-SLOPES FUN 

You don’t have to like skiing to enjoy a mountain break. 

Two highly rated natural thermal spas add up to a winner for non-skiers. Thermal Romerbad (badkleinkirchheim.com/en) and Therme St Kathrein (thermekathrein.at/en) offer plenty of pools, saunas and treatments.

Chamonix, France

Get up close and personal to glaciers and Mont Blanc. The Montenvers train climbs to the Vallee Blanche – take a camera to the viewing platform and muse over lunch options at the recently renovated Terminal Neige Hotel.

Ride the dramatic cable car to Aiguille du Midi at 12,600ft on the Mont Blanc massif and have your photo taken ‘hovering’ over ice towers hundreds of feet below.

Fancy a lap in an outdoor Olympic-size pool or a game of indoor tennis? It’s all at the Richard Bozon sports complex. The Alpine Museum charts the resort’s development (chamonix.com).

Zell am See-Kaprun, Austria

Zell am See-Kaprun in Austria (above)

Zell am See-Kaprun in Austria (above)

Zell am See-Kaprun in Austria (above)

Slug a vodka shot from a cup of glacial ice, then immerse yourself in the frozen world of the Ice Camp, 9,800ft up the Kitzsteinhorn glacier. Step out on to a platform, pictured above, over yawning seracs to suck up the rarity of the air and take in the beauty of Salzburgerland, or gorge on burgers and salads in the Gipfelrestaurant.

Adrenaline junkies can try alpine coaster racing, but Zell am See also boasts plenty of more sedate cross-country trails to the beautiful shores of Lake Zell. Visit zellamsee-kaprun.com for more.

To be continued

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