How the Winter Olympics transformed the world’s best ski resorts

Advice

The International Olympic Committee makes a big deal out of the legacy it creates for a destination when awarding an Olympic Games – and the Winter Olympics are no different . Legacy counts. I competed in five Winter Olympic Games and have reported on five more for the BBC; Beijing 2022 makes it 11 in total. As such, I have seen first-hand just how much of a difference Olympic money can make to the host resorts. When it comes to holidays, that means just one thing – better facilities for those looking to book an Olympic-inspired holiday. 

Every time I ski down La Face de Bellevarde in Val d’Isère, I remember racing there in 1992. The course itself was not one of my favourites – it was too steep with too many tight turns – but as a recreational run, it is a fantastic test of skill and stamina. The funding that the Albertville 1992 Games brought in helped support the infrastructure that opened up all of the resorts in the Tarentaise valley in the French Alps – now by far the most popular region for British ­skiers worldwide. 

Lillehammer 1994 was also a great success. With cold, clear Norwegian weather and a great, new downhill course (which was a joy to race), the arrival of the Games created two new destinations for British skiers – the resorts of Hafjell and Kvitfjell. 



Graham Bell Sochi 2014


Graham Bell attended Sochi 2014 as part of the BBC’s commentary team

It was not all good news. Sarajevo, host to my first Games in 1984, turned into a war zone 10 years later. I revisited Sarajevo in 2004, and was shocked to see the destruction left behind – both the bobsleigh track and Bjelasnica mountain still had active minefields. 

In Canada, the skiing venue of Calgary 1988, Nakiska mountain is now hardly used by British skiers, who generally travel a little bit further to Banff, Kicking Horse or Revelstoke instead. 

More recently, Team GB have travelled to less recognised skiing destinations. Although Sochi’s ski area has some great off-piste and challenging runs, it was never going to become a stop for the average British skier – mainly because of the expense and hassle of getting a visa. PyeongChang 2018 went some way to boosting skiing in South Korea, but figure skating and short-track speed skating were the star sports, rather than downhill pursuits.

Looking forward, Beijing 2022 is unlikely to encourage flocks of skiers to head to China, but, inversely, we could see more Chinese skiers in the Alps in seasons to come – resorts are already salivating over this booming new market. 



Hakuba


Graham yearns to return to the Japanese resort of Hakuba, where he attended his final Olympic Games as a competitor


Credit: Goryu/iStockphoto

Out of all my Olympic experience, it was at my final Games as an athlete, Nagano 1998, that I really fell for a destination. The resort of Hakuba has been firmly on my bucket list to revisit ever since – lured by the culture, food and powder snow of Japan. With snow-sport fever set to sweep the nation, I feel I owe it to myself to make it happen, once borders reopen, on my own ­Olympic-inspired escape.


Amazing holidays inspired by the Winter Olympics

Downhill skiing

Val d’Isère and Méribel, France

For British skiers, the most accessible Winter Olympics of yesteryear is the 1992 event, which used the French Alps as an epic playground. Albertville was the nominal host, but the blue-riband downhill skiing competitions took place up and away to the south-east. Val d’Isère showcased the men on the newly created Bellevarde piste. Meanwhile, Méribel staged the women’s races, on the fiendish Roc de Fer run. 

How to do it: Inghams (inghams.co.uk) offers breaks to both resorts. A one-week stay at Val d’Isère’s five-star Residence Chalet Skadi costs from £1,770pp, self catering, including transfers. A seven-night holiday to the three-star Les Ravines Apartments in Méribel costs from £820, self catering, with transfers.

Snowboarding

Laax, Switzerland

If you prefer your snowboarding to involve the ramps, decks and tricks of the half-pipe, there is perhaps but one choice of destination for a winter holiday. Laax is home to the world’s largest example of this extreme-sports staple: an adrenalin-stirring contraption so vast – 6.9 metres high, 22 metres wide, and 200 metres long – that the Swiss resort’s website (flimslaax.com) describes it as a “big beast”. 



Laax


Laax is synonymous with snowboarding

How to do it: A seven-night escape to the four-star Hotel Signina costs from £1,915pp, including half board and transfers, with Ski Solutions (skisolutions.com).

Cross-country skiing

Lillehammer, Norway

Many sports fans refer to cross-country skiing as “Nordic skiing”. In which case, you might want a Nordic destination in which to try it. Lillehammer has splendid credentials on this score. This pretty Norwegian town, 100 miles north of Oslo, has a strong Olympic connection, too. It hosted the 1994 Games – with downhill events split between Hafjell and Kvitfjell – and is a delight for those who love to glide across a frosted landscape at whatever pace they fancy. 



Lillehammer


Lillehammer hosted the 1994 Games


Credit: Gisle Johnsen-Innovation Norway

How to do it: Inntravel (inntravel.co.uk) offers breaks to nearby Sjusjoen – often used as a training base by Nordic skiing teams. A seven-night full-board stay at its Rustad Hotel costs from £1,295pp.

Bobsleigh and luge

Innsbruck, Austria

Austria’s fifth largest city offers an echo of the 1976 Winter Olympics – although the bobsleigh track has been updated in the near half-century since the Games in question, and is now the centrepiece of the Tyrolean capital’s Olympia World facility (olympiaworld.at). Guests can ride in a slower “bob raft” (from £32pp), as well as a competition-standard bobsleigh with a pilot (from £87pp). Most intriguing is the “Summer Bobsleigh” (May-October; from £32pp), when warm-weather sleighs with wheels are drafted in. Innsbruck is also a fine base for a walking break at this time of year. 

How to do it: If you prefer a burst of sun with your winter-inspired fun, Macs Adventure (macsadventure.com) offers Tyrolean Alps: Garmisch to Innsbruck – a self-guided hiking holiday covering 48 miles in the course of eight days; from £825pp, B&B, excluding flights

Ski jumping

Holmenkollen, Norway

No winter-sports discipline is more likely to make us blanch, smile and agree that we will just watch this one, thanks, than ski jumping. But you can enjoy the thrill (or fear factor) of it vicari­ously at Holmenkollen (skiforeningen.no/en/holmenkollen) – a small resort six miles from Oslo. The ski-jump hill here is a classic of the genre, a 134-metre titan used in the 1952 (Oslo) Winter Olympics. Visitors can take a lift to the top and peer down, before retreating to the site’s Ski Museum (combined ticket £13). They can also perform a jump virtually, via a simulator (£9). 



Holmenkollen


Holmenkollen ski jump is a classic of the genre


Credit: Galen Rowell/The Image Bank Unreleased

How to do it: A three-night B&B stay at the four-star Bristol Oslo hotel costs from £798pp with Kirker Holidays (kirkerholidays.com)

Ice hockey

Tampa, United States

For many of us, the most aggressive winter sport, with its flying pucks and fists, probably also falls into the “spectator-only” bracket. But ice hockey can be an exhilarating spectacle. Happily, you can buy tickets to see Tampa Bay Lightning – the 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cup champions (nhl.com/lightning) – relatively easily (from £18) in Florida. 



Tampa Bay Lightening


See Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightening in action in Florida


Credit: Chris O’Meara/AP

How to do it: A week’s break at the four-star Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, room only, costs from £1,960pp with British Airways Holidays (ba.com).

Ice skating

Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Nothing on the rink is better remembered than the “Bolero” routine with which Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won ice-dancing gold at the 1984 Winter Olympics. The subsequent story of the host city, Sarajevo, was far darker. However, you can visit the rebuilt Zetra arena (zoi84.ba), where the British pair dazzled, and the resorts, Bjelasnica and Jahorina, which framed the ski events. 



iStock Editorial


Bjelasnica mountain resort, host resort for the Winter Olympics in 1984


Credit: Photokanto

How to do it: A five-day Sarajevo Short Break with Regent Holidays (regent-holidays.co.uk) costs from £855pp, B&B. 

Curling

Punkaharju, Finland

One of the least frenetic (and yet most dramatic) winter sports provided another of our nation’s fondest Olympic memories – the curling gold medal won by the British women’s team at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. But you do not need to go all the way to Utah to try your hand at this deceptively skilled discipline. Nor do you need to be an expert. The Punkaharju Resort (punkaharjuresort.fi) in south-eastern Finland offers curling sessions on the frozen surface of Lake Saimaa (£17 per day) – as well as cottages for Nordic relaxation.



Lake Saimaa


Frozen Lake Saimaa in southeast Finland


Credit: Ojimorena/iStock Editorial

How to do it: A week’s B&B stay costs from £634pp through Expedia (expedia.co.uk).

Paralympic skiing 

Vallnord, Andorra

The Winter Paralympics, which are scheduled to take place in Beijing next month (March 4-13), will be just as fiercely contested – and just as inspirational for those who want to follow in the athletes’ snow tracks. Disability Snowsport (disabilitysnowsport.org.uk) offers hosted skiing holidays for budding Paralympians to Vallnord, in Andorra – recommending the pistes of Arinsal for beginners and neighbouring Pal for intermediates. 



Andorra skiing


Andorra is highly rated for accessible skiing


Credit: SerrNovik/iStockphoto

How to do it: Two week-long breaks are planned for this season (February 20-27; February 27-March 6). From £2,321 per skier and from £1,371 per carer, half board, including lift pass, equipment hire and adaptive ski sessions

by Chris Leadbeater

Prices quoted above include flights, unless stated otherwise.

For full country by country details of entry requirements and Covid rules in most of the ski resorts featured, see telegraph.co.uk/tt-skirules. For other favourite destinations, see gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

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