Experience

Val de where?

Whatever your mood, here’s how to take yourself off-piste in style this ski season

Lily Garvey | 20.10.2019

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1/5

Ski tribe: The escape artist

Where: Riksgränsen, Sweden

If you’re after a ski experience that’s truly off-grid, then this Scandi mecca is for you: the two-hour journey deep into the mountains 200km north of the Arctic Circle will remind you what Greta Thunberg has been on about.

Swedish snow junkies flock to this destination, which is famous for its epic snowboarding, when the weather turns and you’ll quickly see why: leave your emails and WhatsApp groups behind you, and lean in to its transcendental levels of natural beauty. (Get there in May, you might the only person you know who has skied in the midnight sun of Santa Claus country.)

Riksgransen’s hype is not about Michelin stars. Lapplandia restaurant serves traditional Sami dishes (salmon with feta – more delicious than it sounds) and there’s a gorgeous spa with a view, but if you want full-on luxury and have the cash to pay for it, then head even further into the region’s secluded mountain villas.

It might not be the rowdiest apres-ski destination, but if you do find yourself in a 24-hour party mood, Gronan, the resort’s main watering-hole, seems to be home to every single blue-eyed snowboarder in Sweden. The owners even black out the windows from spring to keep out the (slightly disorientating) 3am sunrise.

The occasional restaurant and collection of laid-back snack spots aside, Riksgransen is, first and foremost, your chance – both literally and metaphorically – to chill. It’s actually quite hard to take good Insta pic of the stars, so why even bother trying when you can give yourself a break from the Gram, breathe that thin mountain air and bask in the sheer majesty of nature.

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Ski Tribe: The epicurious

Where: Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan

If there were ever a place to experience a sheer abundance of gloating opportunities, Hokkaido – the most northern of Japan’s main islands, famed for its volcanoes, hot springs and, yes, skiing – is it. And whether you picture yourself gliding down the slopes in Japanese streetwear with intrepid Aussies, or sipping vintage Japanese whisky après ski, Niseko – the country’s most famous ski resort – is at the epicentre of it all.

After a long day carving up Hokkaido’s famous powder nothing will feel more welcoming than one of Niseko’s warm, woody restaurants. Kick off your snow boots (what better way to embrace Japan’s no shoes rules?) and wiggle your toes to your heart’s content as you sample sake from all over Japan. Also on offer are wagyu cheeseburgers, yakitori, alpine ramen or even the finely balanced post-ski delicacy, ‘snow crab’ sushi.

Much like our Scandinavian friends, the Japanese love a naked spa. There is surely no better way to soak the knots out of your ski legs than a relaxing dip in one of Niseko’s thermal springs – something the local snow monkeys are famous for enjoying. Truly – scientists at the University of Kyoto have discovered the adorable primates use the pools to reduce their stress levels. If it’s good enough for those guys…

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Spain Ski Tribe: The insider

Where: Baqueira

Ask anyone who’s done a ski season for their top tips and it’s unlikely they’ll give you a list that doesn’t include Baqueira. That’s if they like you, of course. Given that most people aren’t even aware you can ski in Spain, this has become kind of the Fight Club of European ski resorts. Let’s just say it’s not a place that toots its own horn and while it is becoming better known it’s most definitely on the inside track.

Tucked discreetly in the corner of Catalonia, it’s probably best for intermediate skiers, with surprisingly affordable heli-skiing options available for anyone whose priority is carving up fresh powder. There are plenty of chances to test your ski legs on harder runs. One hair-raising option is Escornacrabes: a sheer stone-walled run that translates literally as ‘where goats fall’.

This being Spain, the resort’s inhabitants know the value of a good lunch, offering some of the heartiest tapas you’re likely to have ever tasted (think meatball soups and fried quail eggs washed down with cortados and homemade walnut liqueur).

As far as après ski goes, the pace is decidedly Spanish. Things don’t really kick off until 9.30pm, but dinner and vinos tinos can stretch waaaay past 11pm if you’re in the mood.

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Ski Tribe: The thrill-seeker

Where: La Grave, France

This resort is not just exclusive, but exclusively off-piste. It’s the holy grail of extreme skiing. With one lift and no marked piste, it’s not for the faint hearted. (Don’t believe us? Type the name into YouTube and you can watch hours of frankly terrifying Go Pro footage of teenagers hurtling down canyons and leaping off gondolas thousands of feet into an icy precipice).

This is a resort where you’re likely to see more ‘severe danger’ signs than ‘restaurant’ ones; if you do make it up the famous Chancel route, the mountain restaurant there is the perfect place to gather your thoughts, do a shot of genepi (a traditional herbal liqueur) and have a quick word with God.

La Grave is a proper cult legend – if you think you’re good enough to brave the slopes you’ll forever illicit solemn nods of approval from seasoned skiers. That said, if a holiday that requires packing avalanche equipment doesn’t appeal, this probably isn’t the one for you.

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Ski tribe: The chill-seeker

Where: Vail, Colorado

For anyone more used to Europe’s slopes, Vail will feel like a veritable Disneyworld of skiing. With well over 5,000 acres of terrain, it’s one of the largest single-mountain ski resorts in the world.

The buses are free, the streets are literally heated for your comfort and the food is so famously good Vail has become an unofficial foodie Mecca for voracious appetites all over the Rocky Mountains. Here, you can snaffle on a freshly baked smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, drink excellent cold brew coffee, enjoy a juicy steak sandwich and tuck into a lavish seafood banquet all in one day.

The après ski vibe comes with a twist in the form of a surprisingly thriving microbrewery scene. Head to the Red Lion to get stuck into pitchers of craft ale brewed locally and make friends with the resort’s famously friendly snowboarders. If shots and singing is more your vibe, raucous night spot Whisky Jack’s will take care of you.

No matter how bleary-eyed you might find yourself the next morning, the whole is resort is designed for maximum comfort. Some of the runs on this mountain are over four miles long, with lifts to accommodate easy access; all you have to do is lean back on your skis and take in the breath-taking mountains around you.

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