Mega-resorts like Courchevel, Val d’Isere and Meribel in France, Verbier in Switzerland and maybe St Anton in Austria all have their place in the affections of keen skiers and boarders the world over, but for various reasons many people shun these busy ski centres in favour of the quieter, more relaxed and peaceful villages found in the Alps. Very many of these tranquil spots are wonderfully well linked into their respective ski areas, and people choosing to base themselves out of the action make massive savings on accommodation so you really can have your cake and eat it!
Sitting near Geneva with a wonderfully swift airport transfer time, the traditional and charming mountain town of Chamonix has a pedigree amongst ski resorts going back hundreds of years and is, today, a thriving hub of outdoor pursuits of all kinds pretty much all year round. But visitors to the area keen to stay away from the bars, nightclubs, hustle and bustle of town centre are spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation options in the quieter, peripheral villages. Argentiere sits just a few minutes’ drive outside town and offers a peace and quiet not found in Chamonix proper. You don’t even have to sacrifice on ski access as the Grands Montets gondola sits just off village centre and provides easy access to one of the valley’s best ski areas!
Courchevel boasts some of the most impressive 6* chalets in the world and is synonymous with Alpine luxury. But where can you stay if you want to experience those glorious pistes for yourself without blowing your life savings for the privilege? The answer is la Tania! Sympathetically constructed in local materials for the 1992 Winter Olympics in the area a few years ago, la Tania is peaceful, friendly and comparatively inexpensive. But more importantly, it’s only one gondola up and a few parallel turns away from Courchevel 1850 so you can explore with ease. Meribel, too, is only one further chairlift off in the other direction from this amazing ski base.
Verbier attracts skiers from across the world for its superb slopes, cosmopolitan atmosphere, lively nightlife and 6* luxury chalets, but not everyone wants swanky boutique shops and wallet-busting bills for a round of beers. For anybody keen to ski Verbier’s mighty Four Valleys terrain but stay out of the way of the hordes, there are two superb options: Nendaz and Bruson. Nendaz is a quiet village to the west of Verbier, with a very relaxed atmosphere and easy links into the Verbier valleys. Bruson is a little further away but there will be a brand new lift for the forthcoming season making access far easier, and in powder or bad weather Bruson’s slopes are simply the best in the entire area.
A mere hop from Meribel
For visitors keen to ski the slopes around Meribel yet avoid the inflated prices and largely British clientele associated with this resort, St Martin de Belleville is the perfect alternative. It sits lower down the valley but within one gondola and one chairlift you’re on the Tougnete peak looking down over the Meribel valley and access is so easy! The old farming community of St Martin is far less pricey than its larger, busier and better-known neighbour, with a good range of accommodation and a friendly atmosphere. There are lovely bars and restaurants in the village to enjoy and good ski schools as well.
Avoiding the Austrian hordes
Visitors flock to the Austrian resort of St Anton in droves for its epic nightlife, beautiful architecture, spectacular skiing and of course it’s Tyrolean charm, and over peak dates like half term and New Year things can get a little crowded. But all around the valley outside St Anton you’ll find pretty villages with easy ski access and none of the boisterous après ski and inflated prices associated with this busy resort. Villages such as Lech, Stuben, St Christophe and Zurs all sit in the same ski area as St Anton and are great alternative bases for a visit to this part of the Alps. Many people even feel the slopes and off piste around these smaller villages are actually better than those found in St Anton’s local area itself! To find out more about what accommodation is available in St Anton and the surrounding area, you can visit http://stantonchalets.co.uk/.
Incognito in Ischgl
Ischgl is another Austrian resort, popular for incredible skiing and rowdy après ski. It’s not yet hugely well known amongst British skiers but that is changing as year on year more Brits discover this gem of a resort and all it offers. But if you want to ski Ischgl and avoid the crowds you can stay in the peripheral village of Samnaun, which handily doubles as a duty free haven! Samnaun has a great range of hotels to choose from, and the enormous gondola leaves from just outside the village to whisk you straight into the Ischgl valley in a matter of minutes.
Vaujany and Chatel
Two more hidden gems worth mentioning are the villages of Vaujany and Chatel, outside the French resorts of Alpe d’Huez and Morzine respectively. Vaujany is a quite newly constructed village with great amenities to enjoy such as a leisure centre, and is linked into Alpe d’Huez by an enormous cable car. Chatel is a very old mountain farming community which still has a number of working farms in operation, and it links in wonderfully well to Morzine and the rest of the vast Portes du Soleil ski area.
Departure date choices
If it’s real peace and quiet you’re after, both on and off the slopes, there are a few dates to focus on. Obviously, avoiding the peak dates like half term, Christmas and New Year is a given! The lifts open in mid-December and any dates up to the Christmas week are generally quiet and relatively inexpensive. Early January is also good, and in the spring months of March and April, and date avoiding the Easter school holidays is also comparatively quiet.
So next time you’re planning on a visit to one of the larger and pricier parts of the Alps, bear in mind these less expensive spots and the easy ski access they often offer. By staying off the beaten track you get to ski the same area yet spend far less money on the holiday – you really can have your cake and eat it!
Olivier Bruchez on Flickr
Leo-seta on Flickr
Skistar Trysil on Flickr