Review of Åre

24th October 2006 by Dom Steeples 

Having skied in Canada, and several Alpine countries, I was interested to try somewhere a “bit different” and decided on Are, the biggest ski resort in Sweden.

Coach transfer from the airport of Ostersund was straightforward taking an hour. Approaching the town of Are, many house windows were lit up with a similar orangey glow.

I was pleasantly surprised by the resort. I travelled the first week after February half term 2006 and was surprised to hear that this was “Stockholm Week”, one of three consecutive weeks at this time of year where the Swedes have their winter holidays. Stockholm week brings many Swedes to Are and is said to be the busiest week of the year. Having said that, I didn’t find the resort or slopes too crowded. We saw a few queues at some of the lower lifts, but these were the most orderly and polite I have ever seen, with people lining up and very little in the way of “queue jumping”. The resort consists of four distinct areas along the valley and the small town of Are borders a lovely lake which is visible from the slopes above and frozen over winter. There are a range of slopes at tree level which were generally below cloud level and give views back to the lake - however it is possible to take further lifts to the top of the mountain above Are which take you through the cloud, taking you into “another world” of brilliant blue skies and thick snowy sculptures of the lift stations.

Two of the four ski areas need to be accessed by ski bus. The piste map clearly gives the timetable of the stops of the 4 “lines” which are clearly colour coded and generally run hourly or half hourly at peak times. Travel is free with ski pass (which did not need to be shown).

Are is home to the famous “World Cup” run. The central Olympia lift is currently being improved (will contain both gondolas and chairs) and completion is said to be due in November 2006.

Neilson appear to be the only big UK ski company that include Sweden and this does have a filtering effect on the numbers of Brits there. Flights currently are only from London (Gatwick)(2 hours 40 min). The Hotel Tott is excellent in having a considerable number of single rooms and there is no single room supplement - a good choice for single skiers. This is where I stayed and was very impressed with the quality of the hotel which has a wooden bridge directly linking the “ski room” with the slopes, making doorstep skiing to the hotel from the slopes possible. The room was simple but warm and with very comfortable bed with Scandinavian type duvet. The staff in the hotel (behind the desk and in the dining room) were very friendly and efficient in their work and include a number of young Swedes who of course enjoy skiing in their spare time. The Tott has its own ski hire shop which is very handy as well as a heated swimming pool with views of the forested slopes behind and spa facilities such as massage and free sauna. There is also a small cinema. A path leads down through tress to the small town 500 metres below. As well as the town of Are, you can stay in the quieter surrounding villages which tend to be more apartment-orientated.

A most refreshing aspect of Are (and not so well-publicised) is the absolute lack of cigarette smoking (by law) in any enclosed public spaces, including restaurants, bars and nightclubs. This is such a contrast to experiences in France and Austria and makes eating out a real pleasure. There is a range of eating places in town dotted around or near the central square and all appear to be of a high quality. We ate actually sitting at the bar in one, due to lack of seats, but were still served on beautiful large heated plates. The tap water of Are is actually spring water and has no added chemicals…it is delicious, and showering in it was also very pleasant.

Apres ski begins early (3.30pm) at the Fjallgarden restaurant/hut on the slopes…hot chocolate and listening to the “slightly crazy” Swedish bands which play is the order of the day. Evening entertainment appears to consist of a rolling rota around the bars and clubs around town, and otherwise the town can appear a little quiet…the reps will advise where the in spots are. During my stay, it was Monday-the Tott bar (with small dance floor and well dressed Swedes), Tuesday-the Bygget nightclub (a 400 m walk from the town square), Wednesday-Tottebo, Thursday-Diplomat Ski Lodge, Saturday-Bygget. There are sometimes special promotions (fashion shows etc) which start late and draw the young people in.

Off the slopes, I can recommend the skidooing trip which takes you for some km down the lake and then up the hillside through tree-lined paths to pristine fields of untouched snow and snowy trees to a mountain hut where you have waffles and coffee/hot chocolate, and then drive back at up to 100km/h. The activity is very professionally run, giving full instruction and complete “kit” including insulated overalls, boots, gloves and helmets.

4 wheel drive experience was available during my stay (free of charge, but need to book) in audi quattros on the frozen lake. (Book at the large ski shop at the lower corner of the square).

There is also a very recommended evening trip to Tannforsen, a frozen waterfall (take your camera) where there is another cafe/craft shop to stock up on hot drinks!

To the southeast of the town centre on Årevägen is a nice bakery where a variety of pastries and hot drinks can be purchased and eaten on site.

Scandinavia is generally viewed as expensive, but I didn’t find it overly so. Certainly you can spend a lot on certain meals, and bottles of wine in restaurants, but it is possible to be more frugal. Cranberry juice is widely available (!) at bars and is a cheaper alternative to alcoholic drinks! The local beer makes a great shandy.

Summing up, Are is a good destination for intermediate skiiers looking for a different or “more refined” skiing experience, particularly good for non-smokers, and singles. Things run with typically Scandinavian efficiency. If you are looking for truly quiet slopes, then consider avoiding “Stockholm Week”. Yes, it is colder than Alpine resorts, particularly above the tree line where cold winds can blow along the valley (hat and neck protection recommended!) Good selection of eating places in town and friendly locals. If Carlsberg did ski resorts, I can’t help thinking they would be like this…

Return to Åre