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October 19, 2012 7:20 pm
The best resorts for weekend breaks
6 Champoluc, Italy
There is something deliciously disorientating about going skiing for the weekend. One minute, you’re staring at your computer screen, breathing stale office air; the next, you’re crunching across sparkling snow in a mountain village that smells of pine forests and wood smoke.
Champoluc, a farming village hidden away near the dead-end of the Val d’Ayas, is the perfect destination for a 48-hour escape from modern life. It’s only 70km from Turin airport, so the dash from airport to village can be done in less than 90 minutes. And the rush is forgotten as soon as you arrive, take a deep breath and relax into a pace of life slow enough to stretch out each of those precious weekend hours. The village square is dominated by the pink-and-white stucco church, which overlooks a gurgling, half-frozen river, a butcher’s shop and a bakery, where kids gather to stare at the window displays of biscuits and cakes. A few families gather at dusk for a passeggiata of the snowy streets, but that’s about as lively as it gets.
For those who really want to get away from it all, there are several ancient hamlets in the hills above the village, which have been converted into luxurious Evançon accommodation. Stadel Soussun, for example, is a restaurant and six-room hotel built in 1518 in a clearing in the woods at 2,000m.
Non-Italian voices are rare, which is a mystery, because the skiing here can rival some far more internationally known resorts. The pistes above the village are usually quiet, and dotted with little stone chalets where you can stop for a restorative bombardino. From the highest point, the Bettaforca pass at 2,727m, there are views north to the Monte Rosa massif, the imposing mountain chain that forms a wall between Italy and Switzerland. But this is just the start: Champoluc is the westernmost of three valleys whose slopes are linked together. So from the pass, you can ski down into the neighbouring valley, with the villages of Gressoney and Stafal at its base, then go up again to the Passo Salati and beyond into the Alagna valley. In all, the area claims 38 lifts and 132km of piste, and there are extensive off-piste and even heli-skiing opportunities, too. One classic day trip involves being dropped by helicopter at 4,200m on Monte Rosa, then skiing 20km down to Zermatt for lunch. From there, you ride the Swiss cable cars to the top of the Kleine Matterhorn, before skiing back to Champoluc.
Cram in all that, and when you’re back at your desk on Monday morning, you’ll feel as if you’ve been away for a whole week.
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7 St Anton, Austria
With some of the Alps’ most adventurous skiing, great restaurants, a family-focused area of nursery slopes and distant corners where you can escape the crowds, St Anton could fit into any of the categories in Pink Snow. All this, and it’s only an hour’s drive from Innsbruck airport. There’s also a wide choice of hotels and guest houses, which makes it easy to find a room for the weekend.
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8 La Clusaz, France
As the crow flies, it is just 45km from Geneva airport, making it one of the few resorts that allows two full days’ skiing without taking any time off work. In fact, during occasional “full moon parties” the lifts and mountain restaurants stay open till 1am, making it possible to ski on a Friday night after a day’s work in London. La Clusaz is an attractive farming village with good skiing for all abilities.
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9 Engelberg, Switzerland
Zurich airport is a boon for weekend skiers. There are direct flights from London City, and on arrival, one escalator brings passengers to the railway station from where numerous resorts are within easy reach. Guide Nigel Shepherd recommends Engelberg, a two-hour train ride away. On the Titlis’ high, north-facing slopes there are usually good snow conditions and the extensive off-piste includes the celebrated Laub run.
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10 Morzine, France
Just over an hour’s drive from Geneva airport, Morzine is a convenient base from which to access the vast Portes du Soleil ski area, with its 198 lifts and 650km of piste spread across the border between France and Switzerland. It’s a real town, with hardware shops and grocers, but has lots of atmosphere, a good choice of hotels and lively après-ski.
The expert panel
Pink Snow was compiled with the help of the following ski experts:
Chemmy Alcott is an Olympic ski racer and Britain’s highest-ranked woman ever (www.chemmyalcott.com).
Nick Parks is an International Federation of Mountain Guides member and the founder of Mountain Tracks (www.mountaintracks.co.uk).
Neil Britten is the chairman of the Ski Club of Great Britain (www.skiclub.co.uk).
Nigel Shepherd is an International Federation of Mountain Guides member and a former president of the British Mountain Guides association (www.nigelshepherdphotography.co.uk).
Andy Perrin is chief executive of long-established UK ski tour operator, Inghams (www.inghams.co.uk).
Warren Smith is a ski coach and founder of the training company, Warren Smith Ski Academy (www.warrensmith-skiacademy.com).
James Morland is the founder of specialist tour operator, Elemental Adventure Heliskiing (www.eaheliskiing.com).
Arnie Wilson is the editor of Ski Club magazine, Ski + Board (www.arniewilson.com).
Graham Bell raced in five Winter Olympics from Sarajevo to Nagano and is now a presenter on the BBC2 snowsports programme, Ski Sunday (www.graham-bell.com).
Ian Davis is product director at Crystal Ski, the UK’s biggest ski tour operator (www.crystalski.co.uk).
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