Snow takes on a different quality at 2,000 metres (6,500ft): it is colder, dryer and more plentiful. It is guaranteed even as the season wears on, when sunny days turn snow at lower altitudes to ice and slush.
Stepping out of my ski-in/ski-out hotel in Arc 1950, part of the vast Paradiski area in the Tarentaise Valley, I barely had time to register my surroundings before instructor Fabrice from Ecole de Ski Français (ESF) urged, “OK, let’s go” and pushed off, eager to make the most of the day.
Lift after lift, we wove our way from Arc 1950 on one side of the ski area to Arc 1600 on the other, finding fresh tracks between the pistes in light, billowy powder. Sometimes we would dip on to the wide, corduroy pistes for a couple of turns before zipping off to ski deftly between trees, whose boughs heaved under the weight of the previous week’s snowfalls. Fabrice kept finding the goods, never once stopping for a breather or a coffee, eager to get on the next lift and do another run.
I’d never before been drawn to ski Les Arcs. It’s a longer transfer from Geneva than some other resorts (three to four hours) and without any proper research I’d assumed it was a series of featureless satellite villages with modern, concrete apartment blocks – the utilitarian accommodation that sprung up all over the French Alps during the 1960s and 1970s. I thought the vast 425km (264 miles) Paradiski area shared between Les Arcs and neighbouring La Plagne would be too big, busy and full of lengthy lift queues.
Needless to say, I was wrong – and bringing an entirely new, and luxurious, tone to the area is the attractive wood-and-stone Bear Lodge from British-run operator VIP Ski, which sits happily beside the blue Baptiste Giabiconi piste in Arc 1950.
Initially conceived seven years ago, this chalet-cum-hotel is the first property VIP Ski has built from scratch, using every bit of owner Andy Sturt’s 30 years’ experience running catered chalets in the Alps. With 30 hotel rooms and 12 fully catered chalets, which sleep families and groups of up to 14 people, every taste and option is covered.
There’s a dining room (the hotel is full chalet board, including afternoon tea and three-course evening meals seven days a week), as well as a bar, cinema room, gym and wellness centre and children’s play areas that are open to all residents.
Sturt designed Bear Lodge around spacious living areas – think L-shaped sofas, wood burners in the bigger chalets and water vapour fires in the smaller apartments. Bedrooms have views looking out to the piste or down the valley towards Mont Blanc, with beds that are configured as twins or super kings, most with heavenly, comfortable mattresses and quality white linen. Bathrooms are functional but also built around space – some have tubs, others rainwater showers.
It’s quite a comeback for the company that declared itself bankrupt in autumn 2020; the most high-profile ski industry crash of the Covid pandemic. Sturt says the support and encouragement of long-time customers and friends were key to his decision to start again – brushing off any suggestion that the “brutal” process was anything other than a “horror story”.
Sturt is continuing with a “leaner and keener” team, having halved VIP Ski’s offering and put the main focus on high, ski-in/ski-out resorts.
Bear Lodge is the flagship, a beacon of light for the company – and this area. While the British and French have at times enjoyed a rather fractious relationship in the Alps, Arc 1950 is delighted with the arrival of VIP. The village was built by the now defunct US developer Intrawest, and retains a distinctly North American vibe – small and perfectly formed but, until now, with only self-catering apartment accommodation.
Bear Lodge is a game changer, boosting Arc 1950’s 3,000 beds by an extra 200 and pulling in extra revenue for the area. VIP has an agreement with the local ESF, which will provide tuition for guests, along with a free twice-weekly tour of the area guided by a ski instructor.
But it’s not just Bear Lodge that is transforming the resort. Peisey-Vallandry, the lowest of Les Arcs satellites, has a spanking new 10-seater gondola, speeding the journey from the village to 2,138m in just six minutes – and opening up Les Arcs’ new step-by-step progression area reserved entirely for beginners without the pressure of others around.
The Paradiski area is huge, and dramatic. Linked to La Plagne in 2003 by the Vanoise Express, it would be impossible for even good skiers staying in Les Arcs to get bored here. After a long morning of ripping around the slopes, we skied through lunch (always a good ploy) before stopping with tired legs for an early afternoon feast at the Folie Douce above Arc 1800, finishing up with 10 minutes of energetic ski-boot dancing before catching the last lift home to the luxury of Bear Lodge.
The French government has been jumpy about letting Brits back in to enjoy their beloved mountains this winter, but now the days are getting longer and sunnier, there has never been a better time to seize the day.
How to do it
Seven nights with VIP Ski (0330 041 5964; vip-chalets.com) at Bear Lodge costs £1,129pp with two sharing. Price excludes flights and transfers but VIP offers three free transfers every Sunday from Geneva Airport. Flights cost from £23 one-way with easyJet (easyjet.com)
France’s Covid rules
All arrivals over 12 must present proof of full vaccination and complete a “sworn statement” (déclaration sur l’honneur) saying they are symptom-free. Unvaccinated children aged 12 to 17 may enter in the company of vaccinated adults with a negative test (LFT 48 hours before or PCR 72 hours before) and a declaration form
14 new ski lodgings in Europe and North America
For full details of entry requirements and in-resort Covid rules for your favourite ski destinations, including the ones below, see telegraph.co.uk/skirules. Refer to gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice for further travel information.
Best for family fun
The RockyPop Flaine Hotel, France
This fun-focused hybrid of a four-star hotel and a hostel sits in the centre of Flaine, in the Grand Massif. Children’s areas offer karaoke, table tennis and arcade games. For grown-ups, there’s a cocktail bar, a food court with a sushi bar and a spa by Nuxe with a pool. Accommodation is flexible, with rooms and apartments for everyone from solo travellers to groups of 10.
Book it: From £1,277pp for seven nights’ half board, including flights and transfers with Crystal Ski (crystalski.co.uk)
Best for adults only
Goldstück, Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria
Saalbach heads up the second-largest ski area in Austria, and this season the adults-only Goldstück hotel ups the ante on lodgings. Much is made of its library-cum-cinema with a crackling fire, where reading is carefully curated by a local bookstore. There’s a cocktail bar with an in-house mixologist, and a “grab and stay” kitchen serving favourites from dumplings and pasta to curry and ghoulash. Rooms are boldly decorated, with rain showers and record players, some with outdoor bathtubs and private saunas.
Book it: From £695pp for three nights’ B&B, including flights and car hire with Momentum Ski (momentumski.com)
Best for the environment
Hotel de LEN, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
The new de LEN, meaning “of wood” in the local Ladino dialect, is dedicated to environmentally conscious guests. Wood is the mainstay of construction in this 22-room hotel with balconies offering views of the Dolomite ranges of both Sorapiss and Croda da Lago. There is a spa with an infinity pool, and a restaurant that serves dishes drawing upon high-quality local and sustainable produce, plus a café bar and speakeasy.
Book it: From £274 per night, B&B booked direct (hoteldelen.it)
Best for grand-design views
Grand Hotel Cervino, Cervinia, Italy
This new five-star offering signifies part of an upwards shift for Cervinia. Elevated from the village at the foot of the Gran Becca, the hotel boasts panoramic views from every room – with configurations from simple twins to family suites with interconnecting rooms, topped with deluxe suites featuring saunas and hot tubs. The picture windows in some rooms frame views of the Matterhorn that rival any painting.
Book it: From £1,389pp for seven nights’ half board, including flights and transfers, with Inghams (inghams.co.uk)
Best for budget
Base Camp Lodge, Les 2 Alpes, France
The second hostel to open in Les 2 Alpes in the past three years, Base Camp Lodge has 30 mountain- and woodland-themed bedrooms, with configurations from doubles to family suites and dormitories sleeping up to 10. Some 300m (1,000ft) from the lift, it has an open-plan ground floor with relaxing space and dining tables for the restaurant that serves local and seasonal produce with some good vegan and vegetarian options.
Book it: From £472pp for seven nights’ B&B, based on four sharing, including return Eurotunnel crossing, with Peak Retreats (peakretreats.co.uk)
Best for living the luxury American dream
The Residences at Aspen Valley Ranch, United States
Sitting in 813 acres of pastureland that beg to be explored, these 12 ranch retreats in Colorado offer guests the opportunity to live the Western dream. Framed by dramatic views of Aspen’s four mountains – Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, Aspen and Snowmass – this ranch has some of America’s best skiing on its doorstep. There’s a cross-country ski track within the ranch itself, Relais & Châteaux-trained chefs on hand, wild elk roaming the paddocks and evening s’mores by the firepit for post-ski snacks.
Book it: From £37,143 for a two-week self-catered stay at Highlands House for up to eight booked direct (avrresidences.com)
Best for privacy
Cesa del Louf, Arabba, Italy
Basking in splendid isolation on the side of a mountain 100m above Arabba in the Dolomite mountains, this old farm has been cleverly renovated with recycled materials to create a luxurious hideaway. Cesa del Louf has its own private rope tow lift and a home run back to the door – or guests can have a snowcat at their disposal for the five-minute journey. The living space is set over three floors, sleeping 10 in five double bedrooms with facilities including an indoor pool and spa.
Book it: From £17,500 per week, self-catered, with Leo Trippi (leotrippi.com)
Best for luxury
Ultima Courchevel Belvédère, Courchevel, France
This portfolio of eight separate chalets offers ski-in/ski-out luxury beside the Belvédère piste in Courchevel 1650. A ski butler service is available, the marble bathrooms are stocked with Bulgari toiletries, and the art adorning the walls would befit the galleries of St Tropez. Off-slope leisure time can be spent in the spa, cocktail bar, cinema or games room. Read our review here.
Book it: From £29,650 for a week’s stay in the four-bedroom Grand Residence sleeping eight including flights and private chef, with the Oxford Ski Company (oxfordski.com)
Best for apres-ski
La Vache Andermatt, Switzerland
The team behind La Vache Verbier – musician James Blunt, motorcycle legend Carl Fogarty, former rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio, hotelier Rob Sawyer and chef Luke Dale Roberts – all bring their offering to this resort. The 28-room La Vache Andermatt opens with an après-ski terrace, late-night lounge/cocktail bar and a global tapas restaurant, Pot Luck Club Andermatt. The decor is simple, rustic and Swiss – think leather sofas, reindeer skins and bright-red Swiss flag motif cushions. Expect live bands and visiting DJs.
Book it: Doubles from £115 per night, including breakfast booked direct (lavacheandermatt.net)
Best for all-inclusive
Club Med Québec Charlevoix, Canada
All-inclusive pioneer Club Med opened its first property in North America this winter, perched above Qúebec City with unrivalled views of the St Lawrence River. There are three restaurants and two bars, a spa with outdoor hot tubs and ski-to-the-door access. The venture opens up the opportunity to ski on Canada’s lesser-known east coast while combining the cultural appeal of the nearby city.
Book it: From £2,125pp for seven nights all-inclusive, including flights and transfers, with Club Med (clubmed.co.uk)
Best for art lovers
Locanda degli Artisti, Canazei, Italy
The family owners of this four-star hotel in the heart of the Dolomites describe it as an art gallery and living museum, designed for contemporary international artists. As well as art-filled communal areas, every room and suite is themed with the works of such masters as Arshile Gorky, Fernand Léger, Othmar Winkler, Josef Costazza and Ragev Michail Ivanovich. Pick your theme and enjoy the home comforts in rooms that include whirlpool bathtubs, balconies, fireplaces and even private saunas. The food is overseen by owner Sergio Rossi, who began cooking at the now renowned Rifugio Fuciade in the San Pellegrino pass, and environmental touches include geothermal heating and liberal use of the natural materials dolomite, larch and Swiss pine.
Book it: From £1,115 per person bed and breakfast for a five-night stay, excluding travel, with Merrion Charles (merrioncharles.com).
Best for co-working
Heyday Chalet, Morzine, France
Briton Plunket McCullagh bought this chalet on the Montriond side of Morzine last April and renovated it over the summer to create a cool co-living ski chalet for remote working. Sleeping 17 in seven bedrooms configured from singles to a bunk room of six, Heyday Chalet has an office with eight desks, reliable broadband, printers, monitors, a bookable private phone booth and breakout spaces. Guests can arrive any time but must stay at least seven nights (there is no maximum stay). There’s a well-equipped kitchen where guests can prepare meals. The Super Morzine cable car is a 12-minute walk away offering access to the Portes du Soleil, with its 650km of pistes.
Book it: From €449 per week per person in a shared room, including breakfast and three evening meals (heydaychalet.com)
Best for no-frills style
Das Gerlos, Zillertal, Austria
Gerlos is a small village in the Austrian Zillertal Valley that links with Mayrhofen and Hintertux via bus, lift and ski pass. With the strapline “small, smart, simple but with style” this slope-side 27-room design hotel offers modern, functional and minimalist rooms. There is a promise of “the best mattresses” in rooms that range in size from a 110m2 penthouse suite for four or six people down to a 22m2 double room — each equipped with a work space and fast wifi. Das Gerlos has a small spa on the third floor with Finnish and bio saunas — and great attention is paid to the environment. The largely plastic-free residence is powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, with charging stations for electric cars, natural cosmetics in the bathrooms and roof planted with greenery.
Book it: From £97 per person per night, including breakfast, excluding travel, booked direct (dasgerlos.com).
Best for cuisine
Bergwelt, Grindelwald, Switzerland
This four-star hotel in ancient Grindelwald, with views of the towering Eiger, has a focus on sustainability and food. Dining options are overseen by the culinary master Marcus G Lindner, with two Michelin stars to his name, whose team serves up fresh, local and sustainable produce cooked on the wood-fired grill at BG’s Grill Restaurant. There are 90 rooms, suites, apartments and residences in Bergwelt, each furnished with wood and sustainable products, including long-lasting reusable slippers. There is a well-equipped gym and a Fire and Ice Spa with indoor and outdoor pools, a fire sauna, hay sauna and salt crystal wall — plus a cocooning room for cosy relaxation.
Book it: From CHF350 per room per night, including breakfast, excluding travel, booked direct; (bergwelt-grindelwald.com).