A week on the slopes – and in the bars – can be an outstanding social holiday. But what if your goal is to return home a better skier?
For all their physical demands and opportunities for exhilaration, winter sports can still sometimes be seen as just an excuse to stuff yourself full of fondue and Milka. Now, as people begin planning and booking their ski holidays, if your idea of a superb trip is spending your evening chasing your pals around in a Morphsuit, no one should be trying to talk you out of it, but if you’d prefer to take your slope-riding beyond just what you do in between après-ski sessions, to the “next level” even, there are some excellent options, whatever your current ability.
If you need an indication of just how world-class Laax is when it comes to the more extreme side of snowboarding (ie busting huge airs off jumps, sending untouched powder flying), then know that Nicolas Muller, legend of the halfpipe and hero of backcountry riding, lives there permanently. This is the spot to be in if you’re looking to go beyond the groomed slopes and up the ante in the park – it’s the leading freestyle resort in the Alps, with four parks of varying difficulty to choose from, as well as an indoor Freestyle Academy (essentially a playground for riders) pumped up with airbags aplenty to break your fall, as well as plenty of tuition and training camp options. All this, plus it’s in the shadow of the longest halfpipe in the world. You’ll want to work your way up to that one. Trust us.
Get there: Fly to Zurich (easyJet can get you there) and jump on the rail connection to Chur, which is a 30-minute taxi from Laax.
St Anton, Austria
St Anton is well known as a place even seasoned skiers sometimes fear to tread; even if you’re just wanting to get better, there’s nowhere else that will challenge you so much on even its moderate runs. If you’re keen on making the transition to the dreaded black diamond – and do it somewhere you can get a little schnapps to settle your nerves – this is the venue. Off-piste heads are well catered-for, and there’s a plethora of options for you to find a guide who’ll hold your hand, or arrange a helicopter to the nearest hospital.
Get there: easyJet flies direct to Innsbruck, then you should get a deliciously cheap European train
Steamboat Springs, USA
Yorkshire may crow about its medal tally at London and Rio, but this tiny Colorado village has produced a whopping 88 Winter Olympians over the years, which suggests that its residents know what they’re doing. You can book lessons and courses with Olympic legends – local hero Billy Kidd runs a school – but many will offer free rides down choice slopes with them at regular times during the season. Recommended is joining former world champion Nelson Carmichael on a trip down Nelson’s Run – a trail named after him. Sounds cuddly, but it has more moguls than Hollywood, and has seen twice as many broken dreams.
Get there: Book a direct return flight to and from Denver with British Airways
Recommended: Ski Exercises to Get you Ready for the Slopes
Situated right underneath the mighty Matterhorn, Cervinia’s high altitude means it gets the best and most reliable snow in Italy, and its links with Zermatt in Switzerland mean you’ll have plenty of options. Non Stop offers well-regarded courses for every ability, and are a tad more hardcore than the firms making a living teaching the hungover how to snowplough. While the wide-open runs might not offer the drama of St Anton, this is a perfect place to work on technique in an environment where you’ll be at once challenged and in control.
Get there: British Airways flies direct to Turin
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
This Canadian winter sport stronghold receives 38.5 feet of snow a year, which puts it near the top globally if you’re looking to take your chances at the beginning or end of the season. It may be a trek to get to, but its location and its Olympic heritage mean the available area is huge, and it offers everything from baby slopes on which to dump the kids to mogul-heavy leg breakers. All Tracks Academy offers solid tuition, and the chance to wind up your affable instructors with unappreciated impressions of their accents when you get your breath back. Ideal for skiers who want to try snowboarding and vice versa.
Get there: Take a direct return flights to and from Vancouver with Air Canada
Méribel is in the middle of the world’s biggest ski area, the Three Valleys, and offers an unparalleled selection of slopes that cater for all levels. But while the beginners will undoubtedly make the most of Altiport, those who want to improve will head to the likes of Pointe de la Masse and Mont Vallon – and the off-piste options are just as legendary. New Generation Ski School offers a cracking course that will take you there, bring you home alive – and make you feel a much better skier than you were when you arrived.
Get there: Eurostar offers direct trains from London to Moutiers (25 mins from Méribel), or save money by changing trains in Paris
Professional Skiing Tips
Want to make huge strides on the slopes? Here are four shortcuts from the people who really know best
“Skiing or boarding can have you so in the moment, it’s hard to be very aware of what you’re doing. Everybody has a smartphone now, so get someone to video you, or do it yourself – it’s far better to review a whole run, then re-do it, than to just have someone yelling at you.” Pat Sharples, Team GB Park and Pipe Freeski head coach, teambss.org.uk
Get Some Edge
“If you’re an intermediate looking to improve, it’s time to think about edging. Instead of skidding on every turn, work on digging the edges of your skis into the snow so you can be more controlled and efficient. Efficiency should always be the goal.” Dave Ryding, Team GB skier, daverydingski.co.uk
Work On Your Core
“For skiing and snowboarding, the assumption is always that you need to work on your legs, but if you’re pushing yourself, your core is far more valuable. Your legs can help with endurance, but control comes from a stronger core. I’ve found that yoga really helps with this.” Aimee Fuller, Team GB snowboarder, aimeefuller.co.uk
Surround Yourself With Your Superiors
“It’s a good idea to harness your natural competitiveness – if you’re training yourself up, always be in a group where you’re the worst skier. Then you’ll always be upping your game, and if you move up in the ‘rankings’, just switch groups. It’s not what you want if you’re a social skier, though.” Jenny Jones, 2014 slopestyle Olympic bronze winner. Jenny is hosting a workshop for adventurous snowboarders in March 2017, workshopbyjennyjones.com
Written by Andrew Lowry for Coach and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network, featured image provided by Coach.