Five resorts for December skiing

2nd November 2010, by Chris Gill

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What better way to enjoy the run-up to Christmas than by escaping to the mountains? New snow coupled with a traditional festive atmosphere; that feeling of excitement as winter begins. Combine a present-shopping break with a few days on the slopes, take advantage of lower prices and fewer crowds; or simply avoid the festive hassles and get away. It doesn’t have to be just glacier skiing either: many of the main resorts open at the end of November, albeit with limited slopes.

So where to go? We include a few areas that you might not have considered; all are fairly snowsure and open early. Most are close enough to key cities for those Christmas market visits too.

Engelberg

– take on Titlis for a short break challenge

Engelberg starts early; the glacier slopes see to that. It’s a handy resort for short breaks, being within easy reach of Zurich or Luzern by car or train. Competent skiers will enjoy its challenging terrain, and there is a wide choice of huts in which to retreat from the December chills. November events include the Stöckli Ski Test days, with good value three / four day packages available. On 18 & 19 December World Ski Jumping action comes to town.

Where to stay: try the Ski Lodge – a boutique-style hotel inspired by Swedish pro-snowboarders.

Best Christmas markets: Luzern or Zurich

WTSS snow rating: *** (but it has a glacier too!)

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Obertauern

– high Austrian resort, with French style convenience

Often overlooked, Obertauern is a short hop from Salzburg or Radstadt and easily reached for a pre-Christmas break. Its high, relatively snowsure slopes make good intermediate terrain. Combine with some swanky hotels and unobtrusive aprés-ski, and you have a neat little choice. It can be bleak, but Schladming’s woody slopes are just a short drive away. Three music gigs are lined up for the opening weeks: 27 Nov, 7 Dec and 11 Dec.

Where to stay: try the newish designer hotel Manggei – a cool B&B, with access to a pool and spa.

Best Christmas markets: Salzburg

WTSS snow rating: ****

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Selva Val Gardena

– stop, stare, eat up the miles

They may lack altitude, but the slopes beneath the mighty Dolomite mountains are covered by the some of the most extensive snowmaking in Europe. Selva and its satellite villages of Santa Cristina and Ortesei are pleasant villages with access to lots of skiing, a World Cup run and a modern lift network. ‘First Snow’ starts on 26 November and for anyone booking holidays for 4 days, the Superski region offers one day and a one-day lift pass for free.

Where to stay: try the new Saslong Smart hotel in nearby Santa Cristina – a cool new design with low prices.

Best Christmas markets: Bolzano, Innsbruck

WTSS snow rating: ****

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Andermatt

– snowy pocket for powderhounds, experts and traditionalists

Good skiers should consider paying this one a visit: two steep mountains, an excellent snow record and an attractive (and unspoiled) village. Also accessible by train, this is a popular weekend resort for the locals. Arrive from Zurich, Luzern or Chur and play on the steeps of the Gemsstock – just don’t expect fast lifts though.

Where to stay: the River House is a small but stylish B&B, restaurant and bar.

Best Christmas markets: Chur, Luzern, Zurich

WTSS snow rating: ****

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Sölden

– party time

Cheaper than Ischgl and St Anton, but equally lively; Sölden has not one but two glacier areas that open from October. The modest-sized network of slopes and impressive lift system will appeal to adventurous intermediates looking to party their way into the new season. This one is big, brash and very Austrian!

Where to stay: the 4-star Valentin near the modern Gaislachkogl gondola.

Best Christmas markets: Innsbruck is nearest

WTSS snow rating: *****

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More typical December destinations, for those seeking a week away and some hard-core skiing: Val Thorens, Tignes, Val d’Isére, Cervinia, Ischgl and Obergurgl are good bets. Glacier resorts that offer that extra assurance of snow, close to main resorts, include Hintertux (Mayrhofen and the Ziller valley) and the Kitzsteinhorn (Kaprun / Zell am See).



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