They say you are ‘over the hill’ once you pass your 40th birthday. If that’s the case then I was skiing down the other side; I was 41 when I learnt to ski. Being in the mountains was the real attraction but I yearned for somewhere without the crowds and queues so although I skied some of the popular resorts in France, Italy and Austria I also searched out ski resorts a little bit off the beaten track.
I was not looking for fresh powder or lively aprés ski but something with a more laid back atmosphere, plenty of great skiing and things to do. Below are five of my favourites.
Levi is Finland’s fastest developing ski resort. It is less crowded than mainstream European resorts and there are plenty of non-skiing winter activities making it suitable for families, particularly those with non-skiers.
Most of the skiing is off a single mountain fell. The altitude is not that high but its position in the northern latitudes means a long season with snow at lower levels. However, being a fell means it can become very bleak in bad weather and because of the limited daylight hours close to the Arctic Circle time on the slopes could be quite short. However, many of the pistes are floodlit and stay open to 7:00pm and for days when the fells are bleak and the lifts closed there is plenty else to do.
The resort of Åre is spread out along a series of lakeside mountains and has some stunning views from the top. The resort caters for all levels of skiers from novice to expert. World Cup races are held here on a piste with lights bright enough for TV and visible by NASA from outer space. Åre is a great place to learn to ski with plenty of easy and intermediate runs.
There are a variety of activities for non-skiers including ice-driving on the frozen lake and cultural visits to the Sami reindeer herders.
Find out more about Åre
Vogel Ski Resort, Slovenia
Located in the Triglav National Park above Lake Bohinj this ski resort is noted for its unspoilt natural areas. Development is strictly controlled and artificial snow making is not permitted. Fresh snow and a whole variety of pistes through some of the best landscapes Slovenia has to offer make it one of my favourites. It is worth skiing here for the fantastic views of Lake Bohinj despite it being relatively small.
It is possible to ski at Vogel and in Slovenia’s other main resort Kranjska Gora in a short break or a long weekend.
Limone is a group of three linked village resorts in Piedmont, Italy covering several mountains. The uncrowded slopes provide for some great skiing with expansive mountain views. There is enough skiing here for several days though it does lack some challenging slopes for the super-expert skiers. There are a number of long runs through the forests for beginners to get some serious mileage and experience. Long runs with excellent ski schools makes it an excellent place for beginners.
Thanks to a new tunnel it is now possible to ski in the morning and be on the beach on the Côte d’Azur in France soaking up the spring sunshine in the afternoon.
Jay Peak, USA
This delightful Vermont resort is best reached from Montreal in Canada as the mountain pass on the route up from Boston can be closed in bad weather. As a result there are less visitors than would be expected. Although the skiing is great and for a small resort the runs are extensive it is what the Americans call glade skiing that it is best known for. You can ski through the trees off the main pistes on tracks through the aspens.
There are ski resorts for the young party goers, there are resorts well suited to families and there are resorts for those looking to put a lot of miles beneath their skis. As I discovered, with a little effort, you can find small resorts off the beaten piste for those of us over the hill, skiing down the other side and looking for somewhere a little quieter.
Always ensure that your travel insurance covers winter sports and check what exactly is covered. Can you ski off piste? Is heli-skiing covered? If you are taking your own ski equipment with you check too that it is also covered.