10 great ski areas for intermediate cruising

14th July 2021, by Dave Watts

Söll is in the distance in the valley

Söll is in the distance in the valley

This is the second in a new series of shortlist features summarising resorts that meet particular requirements. Most intermediates like to rack up as many miles as possible on their skiing holidays. Here the editors have picked 10 of the best for this. They all have stacks of intermediate pistes to keep you amused


Tirol, Austria

The large, undemanding SkiWelt circuit, is popular with beginners and intermediates and has several resorts with direct access to its slopes. Of these, one of the most attractive is Söll, which is set off the main road so doesn’t suffer from through traffic.

The SkiWelt is one of Austria’s largest ski areas, linking nine resorts with 90 lifts and covering around 280km of pistes. Söll’s local slopes are interestingly varied and feature the Hohe Salve which, at 1830m is the highest mountain in the whole of the SkiWelt. The black runs from here are also some of the steepest runs in the SkiWelt. But they are avoidable and both the local slopes and those of the region as a whole are generally gentle and best suit intermediates who like to rack up the miles on pistes that aren’t too demanding. Each village has a worthwhile area of pistes to explore above it and when you ski between them you really get a feeling of travelling around. In good snow there are long red runs to be done to the valley floor, but most of the skiing is on the upper slopes where most runs are easy and short (often less than 300m vertical).

If the the SkiWelt pistes aren’t enough, you can also access the 230km of slopes in the Kitzbühel ski area – linked by a short bus ride from the foot of the back of the Westendorf ski area.
The SkiWelt boasts Austria’s biggest snowmaking system, covering over 80% of the pistes and meaning that good cover is more-or-less guaranteed even if natural snow is in short supply. Mountain restaurants are a highlight of the area and many are cute little mountain huts that are popular from late morning right up until the lifts close. Most serve good value traditional Austrian food and big portions.

Söll is a pleasant, friendly village bypassed by the main valley road. Its attractive chalet-style buildings spread quite widely but its core is compact – you can explore it on foot in just a few minutes. There’s a huge central church with a graveyard that is immaculately kept and prettily lit at night. Après-ski is lively.

But bear in mind

  • Low altitude can mean poor snow quality
  • Long walk or crowded bus ride from village to slopes
  • Very little to challenge experts
  • Piste map inadequate

Sella Ronda

Dolomites, Italy

The huge Sella Ronda area is perfect for intermediate cruising and the backdrop of the dramatic Dolomite mountains is truly spectacular – sheer, red-tinged limestone cliffs rise perpendicularly out of the tops of the slopes, which themselves are on gentle pasture land. This is one of the few areas where continuous sunny weather is to be welcomed; the snowmaking is among the best in the world (nearly all the main slopes throughout the region are covered) and clouds sadly hide the stupendous views.

Selva (known to ‘Ski Sunday’ viewers as Val Gardena – the name of the valley it is set in) is the biggest resort in the region and is basically a long, roadside village with a reasonable range of bars and restaurants and mainly modern, chalet-style buildings. Nearby Ortesei (also in Val Gardena ) is an attractive old town with a life of its own apart from tourism. There are plenty of alternative bases scattered around the huge ski area they all share. Corvara is a reasonably lively but smaller village than Selva and based around a small main square. Arabba is a small, growing, traditional old village with easy access to the region’s most challenging slopes and the Marmolada glacier. San Cassiano is a small, quiet village set away from the main circuit (but with lift and piste links to it) and with some excellent hotels.

In overall scale, the piste network rivals the major French resorts and has over 400km of pistes linked by around 180 lifts and includes the spectacular Marmolada glacier. Runs are predominantly easy (there’s scarcely a black run to be seen and very little off-piste) and short (verticals of more than 500m are rare, while runs of under 300m vertical are not). But there are more serious challenges, such as the World Cup downhill run, the Saslong, above Selva and the area’s steepest slopes above Arabba.

The Sella Ronda itself is an amazing circular network of lifts and pistes taking you around the Gruppo Sella — a mighty limestone massif with villages scattered around it. You can ski it in either clockwise or anti-clockwise directions by following very clear coloured signs. The runs total around 23km and the lift rides take a total of about two hours. Expect the trip to take five or six hours, allowing time for hut stops and lift queues.

There are lots of huts all over the area, and virtually all of them are lively, with helpful staff, good food, lots of character and modest prices. Pasta is almost universally of top quality (and good value). In the Alta Badia area (around Corvara and San Cassiano) several mountain restaurants have teamed up with Michelin-starred chefs to offer a special gourmet dish invented by a top chef for much the same price as their standard dishes. A local wine is suggested for each dish.

But bear in mind

  • Natural snowfall erratic
  • Few challenges – and off-piste very limited (in general, banned)
  • Mostly short runs
  • Crowds on the Sella Ronda circuit


Hautes-Alpes, France

Few big French resorts are less pretentious and more affordable than Serre-Chevalier. And few have its excellent combination of snowsure slopes that are extensive and largely wooded. For intermediates who like to get a sense of travelling around, it is difficult to beat.

The resort is made up of a string of 13 villages (including three main ones) set on a valley floor running below the north-east-facing slopes of the mountain range that gives the resort its name. After coming over the Col du Lautaret from Grenoble, the first main village you get to is Le Monêtier (or Serre-Chevalier 1500), followed by Villeneuve (1400) and Chantemerle (1350), spread over a distance of 8km. Finally, at the far end of the slopes, is Briançon (1200) – not a village but a town (the highest in France) with an ancient walled city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site set high above the more modern town. All the main villages have ancient parts with more modern buildings added on.

The 165km of excellent, varied pistes are on a single, very wide mountainside that is split into different segments, giving a great sensation of travel. What really sets the area apart from the French norm is the quantity of sheltered woodland runs – though there are plenty of open runs, too. The slopes ideally suit intermediates, who can buzz around without worrying about nasty surprises on the way. Experts can find good off-piste and there are several long black runs down to valley level (including an excellent run named after local hero and former World Cup alpine skiing champion Luc Alphand).

The mountain restaurants are among the best, friendliest and most affordable of any French ski resort – and there are plenty of them. And there’s a splendid thermal spa complex with indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, steam rooms and a waterfall – some areas are reserved for adults only.

But bear in mind

  • Still some draglifts and slow, old chairs
  • Busy road runs through the villages
  • A lot of indiscriminate 1960s and 1970s building
  • Limited nightlife


Colorado, USA

Vail is one of the USA’s biggest single ski areas, with over 5,000 acres of terrain to explore – most of it ideal for intermediates. And the resort is huge too, stretching almost four miles along the I70 freeway running west from Denver.

The slopes have three distinct sectors, served by an excellent lift system of mainly fast chairs. The front face above the town is mainly trails cut through the trees, which vary from long, immaculately groomed cruises ideal for intermediates to very steep mogul fields. Go over the ridge at the top and you are into Vail’s famous open Back Bowls – ski anywhere terrain that ideally suits adventurous intermediates as there’s nothing dramatically steep. At the bottom of those on the other side of the valley is Blue Sky Basin – a wonderful area with fabulous slopes for adventurous intermediates and experts in and among the trees. The snow, especially on the front face and in Blue Sky Basin, is usually excellent because of its shady orientation and the average of 30ft of dry Colorado powder the resort receives every season. The ski school is one of the biggest in North America and has a top-notch reputation.

The lift pass also covers nearby Beaver Creek, which is even more upmarket and pricier than Vail and is served by regular buses. It is well worth a visit if you are staying in Vail for a week or 10 days and has marvellous long, quiet, cruising blues everywhere you look, including top-to-bottom runs with a vertical of 1000m. The slopes are much quieter than Vail and you can really let go with warp-speed cruising without fear of collisions. There are also much steeper slopes including the epic Birds of Prey run that features on the World Cup downhill race circuit and lots of steep mogul fields.

There’s no shortage of luxurious hotels but few budget options. The shops and restaurants include some pricey places too. The original Vail Village was built in pseudo-Tirolean style with chalet-style buildings and bierkellers and while it appeals to Americans it seems an odd sight to European eyes. More recent building is in smart modern style and the other main centre of Lionshead has been redeveloped with very swanky buildings and shops. The free bus service runs till late and is very efficient.

But bear in mind

  • Slopes can be crowded by US standards
  • Some serious lift queues, especially at mid-Vail
  • Blue Sky Basin and Back Bowls may be closed early season
  • Snow in Back Bowls can suffer from sun


Savoie, France

The Courchevel valley is at one end of the vast Trois Vallées ski area, the biggest linked ski area in the world and a paradise for intermediates but with slopes to suit all standards of skier and boarder. It has four separate and sharply contrasting villages to stay in. Courchevel itself (which used to be called Courchevel 1850) is the highest and swishest, with glitzy hotels, upmarket chalets and top restaurants – a long-time favourite Alpine hangout of the jet set, now a favourite of rich Russians and among the most expensive destinations in the Alps. The other three are much less pretentious and less pricey. Courchevel Moriond has an attractive old village centre, lively bars, some attractive, quietly situated chalets and its local slopes are relatively peaceful too. Courchevel Village is a quiet dormitory, linked directly by lift to Courchevel. Le Praz is based on an old village, set among woodland.

The Trois Vallées is the greatest intermediate playground in the world, with 600km of pistes (three-quarters of them graded blue or red) and over 160 lifts. You can spend weeks here and still not ski all the runs; but many visitors never find the need to leave the Courchevel valley because there is so much variety locally. All standards of intermediates will love the local slopes and there is plenty to interest experts too: there’s great groomed cruising, steep black runs and interesting and varied off-piste including easily accessed couloirs.

But bear in mind

  • Some of the priciest hotels, bars and mountain restaurants in the Alps
  • Courchevel and Courchevel Village are rather soulless
  • The French feel has been lost – huge numbers of visitors are now from abroad
  • Little to do away from the slopes, especially during the day


Tirol, Austria

Kitzbühel is one of the big names of the ski world, largely thanks to its Hahnenkamm downhill race course – the most spectacular on the World Cup circuit. Fortunately most of its 230km of slopes are a lot tamer and ideal for intermediate cruising, with great runs right above town as well as on the highest and most snowsure slopes above Pass Thurn (reached by a spectacular gondola ride from the slopes above town). Some blue runs offer long descents of 1000m vertical. You can also explore the huge Skiwelt area and its 280km of pistes, accessed by a gondola a short bus ride away from part of the Kitzbühel ski area. The beautiful walled medieval centre of the town – with quaint church, cobbled streets and attractively painted buildings – is traffic-free and a compelling place to stay.

But bear in mind

  • Low altitude means snow can be poor low down
  • Some crowded pistes


Salzburgerland, Austria

The local area’s 200km or so of pistes are nearly all classic intermediate terrain and form an interestingly varied, largely wooded ‘ski circus’ that be skied in clockwise or anticlockwise directions. In good snow conditions it is an intermediate’s paradise and the pistes are served by one of the world’s most efficient lift systems, with gondolas and fast chairlifts everywhere. The area is now linked to both Fieberbrunn and (with short bus rides involved) to Zell am See and Kaprun, giving access to over 400km of pistes.

The local area is liberally endowed with mainly lively rustic mountain huts, many of which turn into après-ski venues from mid-afternoon onwards, with live bands or DJs. The après continues down in the valley at lots of bars and clubs till the early hours.

Saalbach is an attractive, typically Tirolean village with traditional-style (though largely modern) buildings and a classic onion-domed church. Hinterglemm is less cute and spread along a single main street.

But bear in mind

  • Most slopes are sunny and low so the snow quality can suffer
  • Both villages spread widely from their centres


Graubunden, Switzerland

Davos has five separate areas of slopes, all covered by the lift pass. By far the largest is the Parsenn, which has huge amounts of intermediate pistes and some of the longest runs in the world down to valley villages – up to 12km and with verticals of over 2000m. On the other side of the valley is Jacobshorn, which is very popular with snowboarders and has a big terrain park.

A bus ride away are Pischa and Rinerhorn. And the Madrisa area can be reached from the far side of Klosters. Keen piste bashers will find enough to keep them happy on Parsenn alone and will find it impossible to explore all the areas thoroughly in one week.

The resort is huge and started life as a health resort and many of its massive 4-star hotels were built as sanitoriums; it feels more like a city than a picture-postcard resort.

h3.But bear in mind

  • Dreary buildings and little ski resort atmosphere
  • Lots of T-bars on outlying mountains

Les Arcs

Savoie, France

Les Arcs’ local slopes are big enough – with 200km of pistes to suit every standard. And it is linked by cable car to La Plagne to form the joint Paradiski area, one of the biggest in the world, with 425km of pistes. With around 80% of the slopes classified as blue or red, the whole area is good for intermediates and nicely varied.

There are several different bases to stay. Arc 1600 was the original purpose-built village and Arc 1800 is just above it and much the largest of the Arc villages. Both consist mainly of large apartment blocks. Arc 2000 has half a dozen huge linked apartment buildings plus newer chalet-style apartment blocks. Arc 1950 is the most recent and most attractive Arc village, built in traditional style wood and stone around a pleasant traffic-free street and square. Peisey-Vallandry is also mainly a recent development near the cable car link to La Plagne.

But bear in mind

  • Original Arc villages lack charm
  • Fairly quiet après-ski


Haute-Savoie, France

Morzine has an extensive local area of mainly intermediate slopes (around 50 lifts and 120km of pistes) shared with Les Gets. Pistes are mainly treelined, have a friendly feel to them and visibility remains good even in a blizzard. A gondola from near the centre of town or a cable car a bus ride away take you up into the main Portes du Soleil circuit at Avoriaz; this has a huge amount of excellent intermediate cruising.

The resort is a traditional mountain town sprawling along both sides of a river gorge. In winter, under a blanket of snow, its chalet-style buildings look charming. It is a popular resort for families but there is plenty of après-ski action. Accommodation is widely scattered but an excellent bus service links all parts of the town to outlying lifts.

But bear in mind

  • Bus-ride or long walk to lifts from much of the accommodation
  • Low altitude means there is an enduring risk of rain and poor snow

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