We pick the best resorts catering to all abilities, in France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Japan
Something for everyone: best ski resorts for groups
There’s something about skiing that makes you want to gather a group of friends or family and hit the slopes together. But as soon as you get a gang going, the questions start. Where do you go when you’ve got absolute beginners mixed with hardened powder hounds and even non-skiers who just want a snow holiday in the mountains?
The key is to find somewhere with a wide range of slopes and plenty of non-ski activities – even something as simple as mountain restaurants that you can reach on foot so that everyone can get together for lunch. Some resorts that are closer to home, including Georgia and Bulgaria, have limited skiing areas and might not suit a mixed-ability group, so we’ve come up with the following hotlist.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
Italy’s most elegant ski resort attracts a fashionable crowd that likes long lunches in a fabulous mountain setting. Any foodies within the group will be in heaven – as will people-watchers and shoppers along the pedestrianised Corso Italia.
The skiers in the party, meanwhile, will love the fact that the slopes are empty most of the time, as everyone is too busy lunching. And wherever you ski, you have the jaw-dropping backdrop of the pink-tinged Dolomites.
Along with some superb off-piste terrain, there’s a large network of beginner slopes that’s perfect for building confidence.
Nightlife is as civilised as the town itself. Off the slopes, there’s a planetarium and observatory along with ice-skating, a spa and the chance to explore the First World War tunnels at Lagazuoi. Day trips to Venice from here are also possible.
Les Menuires, France
Architecturally, Les Menuires might be one of the less alluring villages in the sprawling Trois Vallées ski domain, but its position gives skiers the chance to explore Val Thorens, St-Martin-de-Belleville and Méribel with great ease. Even getting over to Courchevel isn’t beyond most skiers’ abilities. Beginners can progress to wide easy blues, while intermediates and experts can tackle the reds and blacks at curiously uncrowded La Masse.
While the après-ski scene isn’t as manic as in Austrian resorts, you’ll find plenty of places to go out in La Croisette and Bruyères. Two spa/sports centres offer a chance to relax when you’re not trying out the mechanical luge, snowscooters, snowmobiles and fat bikes.
This mega-resort east of Grenoble covers an impressive 250 kilometres of pistes, even if the village of Alpe-d’Huez itself is a bit nondescript .
Beginners have the rare sight of a swathe of green runs that runs above the village where they can build their confidence and skill. Timid intermediates can progress from tough blues to long, flattering reds, while fearless intermediates can join the experts on the resort’s signature Sarenne run. This black run goes on for more than 10km and has a vertical drop of 1,800m.
The off-piste areas near the run are only a tiny taste of the vast amounts on offer. Even snowboarders and cross-country skiers are well-catered for, with a good terrain park for the former and 50km of trails for the latter.
Non-skiers in the party can spend their days in the indoor/outdoor pool complex and sports centre. As well as ice-skating, snowshoeing, paragliding, tobogganing and dog-sledding, there’s the Ice Cave at the top of the Grandes Rousses DMC gondola. And the après-ski scene has everything from raucous La Folie Douce to chilled-out hangouts in the village centre.
Val d’Isère, France
A vast ski area of 150km combined with an attractive village centre makes Val d’Isère an appealing option. Although it is one of Europe’s best resorts for experts – thanks to a large network of lift-served off-piste terrain – there’s more than enough to keep even intermediates and beginner-level skiers happy.
As with Alpe d’Huez, there is a La Folie Douce (the original one) for après-ski dancing in the mountains, as well as a broad choice of restaurants and clubs in the village.
Off the slopes, there’s the Centre Aquasportif with indoor pools, hot tubs and other ways of looking after tired muscles, along with yoga, sports and a gym. The village offers above-average shopping, and hikers have nature trails to explore. There’s also ice-climbing, ice-driving and ice-skating to go with dog-sledding and tobogganing. For a change of scenery, you can ski over to neighbouring Tignes, which is within the same Espace Killy ski domain.
Exquisitely pretty Kitzbühel has one of the most charming town centres in the Alps, with medieval buildings and cobbled streets. Once you tear yourself away from the shops and inviting cafés, take the gondola to the Hahnenkamm, home to one of alpine racing’s most formidable courses.
Experts will want to go off-piste, although the fantastically steep Direttissima is certainly worth a go. Confident intermediates can test their skills on the World Cup downhill run, while beginners can enjoy the high-altitude runs on the Horn.
As this is Austria, the nightlife is as lively as you can imagine – although it’s not quite as rowdy as St Anton am Arlberg and Ischgl. As well as easy day trips by train to Salzburg and Innsbruck, there’s a giant open-air skating rink, free guided snowshoe walks, Nordic walking and sledging. Water World Aquarena has a wealth of pools, pulsating jets and baths for a post-ski soak.
The Matterhorn casts its spell on everyone who catches sight of its jagged peak. Even beginners will be able to ski with Zermatt’s majestic mountain in the background, especially on the glacier at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.
The off-piste opportunities are enormous, but, as with other off-piste areas in other resorts, you will need a guide. Intermediates will be in cruising heaven across Zermatt’s four main ski sectors. There’s also the chance to ski across to Cervinia in Italy.
In the town itself, there is no shortage of ways of whiling away the time pleasantly. The Matterhorn Museum is fascinating, and worth a visit once you’ve had a good trawl through the shops. Snowshoeing and tobogganing are on offer, as is ice-skating on the large open-air rink. For an experience that will take your breath away (thanks to the thin air at high altitude), take the Klein Matterhorn cable car to the top of the glacier for extraordinary views as well a visit to the Ice Cave.
Powder hounds can wallow in knee-deep powder in any of the four linked resorts that combine to form Niseko, Japan’s premier ski resort.
With an average of about 15 metres of snow falling each season, you won’t have to worry about bare patches on the slopes.
The off-piste skiing here is legendary, as is the tree skiing that Japan is famed for. But it’s not just the advanced skiers who will enjoy the light, fluffy powder: beginners will find it more forgiving than hard-packed snow.
And with one of the world’s biggest night-skiing operations in place, you can carry on skiing well into the evening, making more of each day. The social life is quite unlike anything you will see in Europe, thanks to fantastic cuisine and very lively nightsopts. One activity you won’t want to miss is a long soak in an onsen, the large thermal baths that are usually found outdoors surrounded by snow.