Tired of invariably hearing about the same ski resorts every season? Looking for something a bit more unique? Along with the reduced lift queues, unspoilt mountain scenery and relaxing lack of crowds, lesser-known ski resorts often have the added advantage of being more affordable and independently run. The ski resort business is a competitive one, with vast players and no shortage of options for skiers and snowboarders. When resorts are not under corporate ownership, they have very different vibes and philosophies. This winter, these ‘hidden’ mountain resorts are very much the destinations to go to. Visiting these ski areas guarantees a much more down-to-earth experience, where guests will likely have more interaction with the locals and enjoy the fresh powder for longer. Sold on the idea? Here are five ski resorts off the beaten track to try for your next ski holiday.
Bend the Knees in Mt. Bachelor, USA
Inviting and peaceful, the mountain of Mt. Batchelor offers a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of larger resorts. With no base village, a very mellow vibe flows as it’s all about the mountain, and that is a special experience for everyone who visits. In terms of ski bucket lists, if it’s not already on there, then central Oregon is a place to add. From the 360-degree skiing experience at Mt. Bachelor to Bend’s authentic West Coast culture and amazing craft beer, there are so many reasons to plan a visit. Mt. Bachelor’s 9,000 ft volcanic cone stands proud with more than 4,300 acres of lift-accessible terrain and the highest skiable elevation in all of Oregon and Washington. In the heart of the Deschutes National Forest, intermediates have access to some fun slopes off the Cloud Chaser chair lift, whilst challenging gnarly terrain is available for more advanced skiers and snowboarders, with chutes and a triple stack of double black diamonds to ride. Accommodation is in the funky nearby town of Bend, which offers a multitude of après-ski options. The friendly locals can be found boasting audibly about their microbreweries (highest per capita of USA breweries), which are well worth a visit after a long day on the mountain.
How much? A seven-night stay at the 3* Shilo Inn, costs from £1,095 pp based on two adults sharing a King Room on B&B. Price includes flights and car hire. Ski Safari (01273 224 060, www.skisafari.com)
Zen Vibes in Japan
Japan is home to many lively, world-class ski resorts, but what sets Nozawa Onsen apart is its culture and heritage found along the cobbled streets, criss-crossed with natural water channels. Nozawa Onsen dates back to the Edo Period (at least 3,000 years ago) with shrines and traditional buildings peppered throughout. This picturesque mountain village remains an onsen paradise, with 13 free public baths to bathe in. It has since become one of Japan’s most enchanting ski destinations, hailed for its varied terrain and long slopes. Skiing in Nozawa Onsen has the advantage of great intermediate terrain and advanced tree skiing. Yamabiko, the tree-skiing paradise, boasts powder access with no ropes to duck. For the start of the 2020/21 season, a new gondola is scheduled to be completed, reducing travel time from 16 to eight minutes. This ancient unspoilt village is home to traditional ryokan accommodation plus a selection of authentic restaurants serving unique treats such as onsen slow cooked eggs! The natural wonder of the Jigokudani Snow Monkeys bathing effortlessly in wild onsens is just an hour from resort, whilst the fire festival takes place on 15thJanuary annually. A mere two hours away from Tokyo by bullet train, nestled in the Nagano prefecture and home of the 1998 Winter Olympics, it’s easy to see why this is the lesser-known resort to head for.
How much? A seven-night stay at the 5* Sakaya Ryokan, costs from £1,945 pp based on two adults sharing a Compact Japanese Room on B&B. Price includes flights and rail transfers. Ski Safari (01273 224 060, www.skisafari.com)
Mighty Myrkdalen, Norway
A genuine 21st century ski resort – the first lift opened in 2003 – Myrkdalen is continuing to grow steadily with more modern infrastructure. Blessed with an average snowfall of five metres, its snow-sure terrain enjoys a long season from December through to May, welcome news for anyone looking for good early or late snow conditions. What sets Myrkdalen apart from the Alpine resorts is that snow is guaranteed and the slopes are quiet even over peak dates. Beginner and gentle intermediate slopes make up most of the 28 km of skiing, allowing confidence to build slowly. By the end of the week, new and improved skiers and snowboarders will really feel accomplished, having gained that full mountain experience. That’s not to say experts should stay away, far from it, there is a wonderful playground of vast off-piste and backcountry adventures awaiting powder skiers and boarders. Aside from the skiing, there are the usual ski resort pastimes plus more unique activities, such as indoor sky diving at the local wind tunnel or a round trip of the nearby fjords. Myrkdalen is situated just 45 minutes from one of the most famous fjords in the world – a cruise on the Nærøyfjord is a must-do trip. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is surrounded by huge cliffs and majestic mountains.
How much? A seven-night stay at the 4* Myrkdalen Hotel costs from £925pp based on two adults and two children 12 years and under sharing a family room on HB. Price includes flights and transfers. Ski Safari (01273 224 060, www.skisafari.com)
Rewards in RED, Canada
Back in 1890, the discovery of gold-copper ore on the south side of Red Mountain filled nearby Rossland with Scandinavian miners, whose love of skiing led to the formation of Rossland Ski Club. Fast forward 130 years and RED Mountain Resort remains a genuine local’s ski area. Even after developments – RED expanded onto Grey Mountain in 2013, added Mount Kirkup Cat Skiing in 2014 and is introducing brand-new vertical and acreage with the Topping Chair in 2020 – it has retained its independent status while many others have been consolidated into large resorts, chains or conglomerates. The Topping Chair introduction covers a total of 300 additional acres and boasts six new intermediate pistes with wonderful tree-skiing. In addition to this, a new boutique hotel, The Josie, opened in 2018, so there’s no slumming required. It’s hard to believe this resort in Canada’s Kootenay region is actually the oldest in Western Canada. RED is so off the beaten track that the powder stashes last a lot longer than most resorts and with cat skiing at $10 a ride, it’s powder heaven without the price tag. The Josie’s Velvet Bar is a cocktail mixologist’s dream whilst in downtown Rossland, the Flying Steamshovel is the original ski bums’ hang out.
How much? A seven-night stay at the 4*+ The Josie starts from £1,325pp, based on two sharing a Deluxe King Room and includes flights and transfers or SUV hire. Price based on January 2020 departures. Ski Safari (01273 224 060, www.skisafari.com)
Authentic Andermatt, Switzerland
Letting skiers in on a secret, it’s time to head to Andermatt this season, a Swiss resort still unknown by the masses. Now is the best time to visit to enjoy the resort’s massive amount of recent investment – new world-class hotels, facilities and lifts – before the crowds arrive. The skiing around Andermatt is challenging and varied and despite the large-scale redevelopment to the town, it has remained authentic. The ski connection between the formerly separate ski areas of Andermatt and Sedrun is now open and the region’s renovation has seen approximately 10 new state-of-the-art high-speed chair and gondola lifts installed, covering the now 180 km combined ski area. Plus, guests can expect a cable car, a new luxury hotel and a new resort base to be built in the next few years. At the end of the day, ride the train between Andermatt and Disentis, the longest après ski-train ride in all of Switzerland. Missed the last chair? A converted panorama carriage with music, food and drink makes this almost as good as the last run of the day.
How much? Ski Safari (01273 224 060) offers a seven-night holiday to the 4* Radisson Blu Hotel Reussen on B&B from £995pp pp based on two adults sharing a standard room. Price includes return flights to Zurich and rail transfers. Departs in January 2020. Ski Safari (01273 224 060, www.skisafari.com)