Top 10: winter sports experiences to look forward to this season

There’s a whole world of winter out there and literally infinite possibilities to explore the mountains, whether you’re a skier, snowboarder, toboggan rider, spa lover or an expert on Apple Strudel with a mission to find the very best example of this central European pastry speciality. Whatever it is that ticks your boxes, there’s a winter sports holiday for everyone – we take a look at a number of opportunities available for this winter.

Ski and Bathe in Nozawa Onsen
When you think of winter sports in Japan, you think of deep powder snow – but let’s not forget the food, the culture and the chance to soak in some hot springs at the end of day on the slopes, a real treat and something the Japanese take rather seriously. Nozawa Onsen is a Hot Spring resort in the Japan Alps a few hours north-west of Tokyo. There are many hot spring baths open to the public, and many of the hotels and traditional Japanese inns have hot spring bathing facilities. The town is said to date back to 8th century but has been renowned for its hot springs and traditional inns since the Edo period. Mt. Kenashi (1,650m) is the focus of the snow action at Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort, with an altitude differential of 1,085 meters and a total ski slope area of 297 hectares. The abundance of natural, high-quality powder snow allows you to ski well into early May. The variety of slopes, including the Snow Park, ensures all levels are catered for.
JTB Europe offers a package that includes 5 days winter sports in Nozawa Onsen, and a 2-night stay in Tokyo: price from £1,946 per person sharing twin room, flights with British Airways, 5 day rail pass, 7 nights bed & breakfast accommodation, 4 day lift pass for Nozawa Onsen.

Could there be a more ‘perfect’ ski resort than St Anton? Of course, it’s all subjective but with its huge variety of slopes, including some of the very best accessible off-piste terrain available in the Alps, the renowned après ski and the charming village atmosphere, it’s not surprising that St Anton consistently makes it onto ski enthusiasts lists of top resorts and we tend to agree. If you’re a good skier and up for a challenge, then get a group of like-minded friends together and tackle to famous Valuga Mountain – the final cable car stage only accessible with a qualified High Mountain Guide. It’s not for the faint hearted, as the turns at the top are negotiated through the ‘no fall zone’ whatever route you decide to take. The classic north face route takes you from 2811m all the way down to the village of Zürs in the valley below – once the scary top section is done with, you’re treated to wide open powder bowls you imagined would only be found a heaven full of snow. For the 2016-17 winter season you’ll now be able to get back to Anton on skis with a new lift opening in December – just time for a beer or three at the MooserWirt.
Ski Total is offering the Chalet Larissa for an exclusive group booking for 8 people from £959pp (was £1389pp) travelling on the 30/12/16. This price is based on 8 adults travelling and includes return flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck, transfers, wifi, ski hosting, use of luxury spa bath & sauna and nine nights chalet catered accommodation including breakfast, afternoon tea and a four course evening meal with wine.

Nestled in the north east corner of Italy and arguably the most spectacular group of mountains in Europe, if not the world, the Dolomites are an outrageously pretty outgrowth of rock full of charm, history, culture and of course wonderful cuisine. They are also the home to the largest network of interconnected ski lifts available on the planet and a paradise for anyone who likes to ski a different run on each descent all week long. One way to experience this Italian network nirvana is to take a Ski Safari holiday – travelling from mountain hut to hut (Rifugio’s that vary between boutique chic and rustic), on groomed slopes and staying in a different spot for four different nights, combined with a comfortable hotel base each side of that. You’ll be well fed and watered every evening and have the luxury of being the first on the mountain each morning – travelling with a guide who’ll ensure you make it to the next destination whilst stopping off in those special places for coffee/lunch/beer the Italians seem so good at leaving on the mountainside. It’s all very civilised and geared towards competent skiers who aren’t interested in skiing off-piste but want to experience the very best of the Dolomites.
Inspired Italy run Dolomite Ski Safari holidays throughout the winter with British guides and the occasional celebrity host including travel and railway writer Christian Wolmar. Prices from £1,687 per person for 7 nights accommodation (3 nights B&B, 4 nights half-board) ski passes, guiding, airport transfers, equipment hire, backpack and any inter-resort transfers required.

Don’t panic – it’s going to snow, honest it will*. The last two seasons have seen a rather late start to the winter in the Alps, but yet despite the headlines, there’s still been plenty of skiing available in all the major resorts and just because the last two Decembers have been a little on the dry side, means nothing at all when it comes to this December. Going skiing at Christmas time is a real treat and for families that means celebrating on the slopes. This year, Christmas day falls on the Sunday, meaning you’ll be waking up on Christmas morning on the first day of your holiday in the snow. Action Outdoors run family specific weeks out of the UCPA centre in the French resort of Les Contamines, a hidden gem in the heart of the Mont Blanc region – ideal for families and especially good for beginners and intermediate skiers and snowboarders. The not for profit UCPA organisation provide great value holidays that are all inclusive, so those pesky extras are kept to a bare minimum.
Action Outdoors family week in Les Contamines – price £495 per person, including 7 nights full-board accommodation, lift pass, ski or snowboard equipment hire, ski or snowboard instruction and evening entertainment.

*Disclaimer: Snow Enthusiast takes no responsibility for the weather but our editor feels very confident that it will be a cracker this winter and we’ll go with that.

A winter sports holiday doesn’t have to be all full-on action although there’s a special place in the heart of the Alps where you can experience the best of both worlds – Wengen, in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland. The car-free village is accessed only by rail from Lauterbrunnen in the valley below. The train winds its way up the mountain and you arrive feeling relaxed before your holiday has really even started. If you stay on the train, you’ll carry on further up, following the ski slopes and watching skiers glide past through gaps in the fir trees. They will be on-board too, heading to Kleine Scheidegg, gateway to the Lauberhorn Mountain that hosts the world’s longest downhill ski race – part of the World Cup circuit (13-15 January 2017). Not high enough? Then continue by rail through the Eiger Mountain itself and up onto the Jungfraujoch where you’ll arrive at Europe’s highest railway station (3454m) with spectacular views down onto the vast glacier below. Grab some lunch in the restaurant and make your way down in the comfortable carriage. For non-skiers and skiers alike, it’s one of Europe’s top winter sports destinations.

There’s an abundance of festivals popping up all over the Alps these days, but we quite liked the look of Chamonix’s Unlimited Festival that hits the ‘Pop-Rock’ scene, apparently. Combine this with Chamonix’s world class ski and snowboard terrain, the famous Aiguille du Midi cable car providing access to the off-piste classic, La Vallee Blanche, a town full of shops and restaurants more in-line with a small city and a solid staple of cafés and bars to keep the après ski fan happy for weeks (actually, for seasons in many cases) and what do you get? Unlimited fun, we reckon. The festival takes place between the 7th and 11th April 2017 in Chamonix and the line-up is a mix of DJs and artists from France and beyond, playing venues throughout the valley including Argentiere. By this stage of the season, the snow levels up on the mountain can be at their highest and spring skiing at its best, although it often snows much later on than this so if you’re in search of powder snow too, you might be in luck. The brand new hip-hop RockyPop 3 hotel in les Houches just down the road sounds like an ideal place to stay.

Mayrhofen in the Austrian Alps is one of the best known spots for true après ski and a good place to meet like-minded people – get off the slopes, get into a bar (or outside of one as is often the case) and party. No hanging around, no going back to the hotel for a sneaky ‘wellness’ session and no waiting until the last ski lift has shut down before coming off the slopes, unless you’ve just found the love of your life and the last ski lift happens to be a chairlift for two. Crystal Ski even run Solo holidays to the resort and with all that action going on, you’ll find it hard to remain all alone, especially as there’s the Altitude Comedy Festival taking place during the middle of December this year (11-17, 2016). Even if you’re not that funny yourself, grab a potential partner and help your chances of success by at least knowing they will have a laugh, even if it’s not you telling the jokes. So whether you’re looking to meet some new friends or just have a laugh, why not try a solo ski holiday, guaranteed to not leave you out alone in the cold.

The Valais region in Switzerland has some world famous resorts to its name – Zermatt, Verbier, Saas-Fee for example. But a new safari themed holiday based in Crans-Montana explores many of the hidden gems the area has to offer. Starting in Crans-Montana itself, you’ll experience this world class ski destination and take in what’s widely regarded as one of the best views in the Alps from the mostly south facing slopes that are ideal for piste carving enthusiasts. Then each day, you’ll be treated to a new resort; Zinal-Grimentz, with terrain for all levels of skier and renowned off-piste possibilities. Then Anzère, with its spectacular views across the Rhone Valley and beyond – day three, onto St.Luc-Chandolin, with 65km of slopes reaching up to 3000m above sea level. The mostly north facing slopes of Nax/Mont-Noble offer the chance to ski powder snow in this little known destination with a 360 degree view over the Swiss Alps and then finally Lauchernalp, a sunny resort that’s part of the UNESCO World Heritage site with forty peaks higher than 4000m. The trip includes wine tasting evenings and a farewell dinner in a gourmet restaurant in Crans-Montana.

Read free