Last Christmas was a disaster for Alpine skiing – Instagram was packed with photos of skiers sunbathing as the snow melted around them. So why, with more dependable snowfall in Canada and the US, do the clientele keep heading back to the Alps? (Bookings are strong in the region for 2018-19 already.)
‘There’s a unique charm to the Alps,’ says Scott Dunn’s ski-trip creator and marketing guru Kirsty Edwards, ‘which varies enormously between the different destinations – and everyone has their favourites.’
Whether that’s Italy, famed for its great-value resorts and exceptional food and wine; Switzerland, with its chocolate-box resorts and dramatic mountains; France and its notoriety for exceptional large skiing areas and fantastic chalets and hotels; or Austria, the Alpine party capital, there is a suitable destination for every mountain-goer.
Since learning to ski on the Scottish slopes at the age of six (‘If you can ski there, you can ski anywhere,’ she quips), Edwards has skied the world – and her favourite Alpine destination of all? The Dolomites.
‘The mountains there are incredible,’ says the italophile. ‘It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it offers this wonderful combination of breathtaking scenery, phenomenal food and drink, great Italian hospitality and the largest network of ski areas in the world.’
And there’s no need to worry about snow shortages in the Dolomites as, according to Edwards, the slopes are flawless. ‘They produce artificial snow, but in such a sophisticated way that you wouldn’t know it isn’t the real thing. There’s just always snow,’ she says.
Our powder buff waxes lyrical about the resort’s ‘lovely cruisey runs’ before getting on to the fun stuff. ‘If you want to go off the beaten track, a guide can escort you away from the slopes and off into the back country, where you can spend the night in a luxury lodge as part of a ski safari. And it’s gorgeous – you’re definitely not slumming it. You wake up in the morning and you’re first out at the top of the mountain.’
And when you return from your off-piste adventure, Edwards suggests you make the Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano village your base. The hotel boasts two Michelin-starred restaurants on-site, perfectly exemplifying the area’s exceptional culinary offering.
But what if you can’t bear the thought of artificial snow? Don’t despair – genuine powder is, of course, still available throughout the whole season – you just need to head for the heights.
Courchevel and Val d’Isere are Scott Dunn’s top snow-sure spots. ‘Last year, they even cancelled the World Cup racing in the States and rescheduled it in Val d’Isere because the snow was better there,’ Edwards notes.
And the restaurants and accommodation available in both resorts are exceptional, with our recommendation being the new Scott Dunn Residences at Six Senses, Courchevel – superior apartments with all the facilities of a top-end hotel (and a multitude of Scott Dunn staff on tap).
Snow searching aside, skiers are increasingly asking Scott Dunn’s holiday planners for more adventurous and varied itineraries. Heli-skiing is Edwards’s suggestion for those wishing to push the envelope. ‘It is something that every skier should do once in a lifetime – it’s a unique experience. You are whisked off in a helicopter and deposited in the mountains away from the crowds. The snow is great – absolutely pristine.’
And in terms of unusual programmes, a Swiss skiing itinerary including a trip on the Glacier Express train through the Alps is becoming popular. It may be billed as the slowest express train in the world, but the seven-hour trip offers a great way to experience the Alps in a short period of time. And Edwards suggests that guests stop over at the awe-inspiring Chedi Andermatt Hotel en route.
Whatever your penchant, it seems the Alps still have the edge.