Where to ski in the Alps in January
Skiing in January has its advantages: ski holidays are cheaper because there are plenty of January deals and special offers; the snow is crispier and the slopes are less crowded. But some ski resorts only get into their stride later in the season, so choose your destination carefully.
Fortunately there are some ski resorts which make perfect winter sports destinations in January, either for a full week’s ski holiday or a ski weekend, so here is our pick of 10 of the best ski resorts in the Alps for a January holiday.
Kitzbuhel (KitzSki area)
Kitzbuhel has almost everything you could want in a ski resort: a big ski area – KitzSki – on the doorstep, and another one – the SkiWelt – a short bus ride away; slopes for every ability level, including the famous “Streif” World Cup Downhill course on the Hahnenkamm; lively après ski and nightlife; and a picturesque town surrounded by dramatic mountains. But Kitzbuhel’s weakspot is its height. The resort is only 760m above ski level and all its skiing is below 2000m. This is not quite the problem it seems because Kitzbuhel has superb artificial snow-making, but it still requires cold night time temperatures so in January it’s at its very best. That’s not just our opinion: it’s when the World Cup Downhill racers come to town, and if you’re here at the same time, you can witness one of the Alps’ biggest sporting events, and join the resort-wide party afterwards. But even if you miss the race itself you can still benefit from skiing at a lower altitude at this time of year, when it’s much more pleasant to cruise through woods than to brave bleak open bowls high above the treeline. There are also more places to stop for warming food and drink lower down the mountain, and they tend to be nicer too. And no purpose-built high-altitude result has half the charm of this medieval town. And lastly, being low-lying makes Kitzbuhel quicker to get to and perfect for a January weekend escape. Photocredit: © Kitzbuhel Tourismus.
Champery (Portes du Soleil)
If you tried to imagine a pretty Swiss mountain village in winter, it would probably look like Champery does most Januarys, with its snow-covered wooden chalets. Normally it’s not the most convenient resort to stay in because there is no run back into the village, but its iconic cable car has no problem coping with the limited number of skiers who come here at this unfashionable time of year. The runs it shares with its neighbours in the vast Portes du Soleil ski region, Les Crosets and Avoriaz, are at a perfect altitude for mid-winter skiing, neither too high (they are all under 2500m) nor too low (most are above 1500m). They also face North, South, East and West, so you can choose either to follow whatever sun there is, or stick to the North-facing ones with the best snow. There is good skiing locally for every level (including the infamous Swiss Wall ski route for experts), and when you’re ready to move on, Morzine, Les Gets and Chatel are also covered by the same Portes du Soleil ski pass and within reach – if you can tear yourself away from Champery’s cosy mountain restaurants. And Champery is easy to get to and a good ski weekend destination. Photo credit: © The Lodge Champery by Mrs Miggins.
Val Gardena (Sella Ronda)
Selva, also known by its German name of Wolkenstein, is the beautiful spot in the Dolomites where the Val Gardena valley ski area (which also includes S.Cristina, Ortisei and Siusi) meets the Sella Ronda, the ski circuit that links Selva with Colfosco, Corvara, Arabba and Canazei. So if you stay here you’re not going to run short of pistes to ski on, mountain restaurants to eat in, or scenic view to gaze out upon. But what there could be a shortage of is natural snow, because Selva is on the south eastern, sunny side of the Alps, and often misses out on the largest snow dumps blowing in from the Atlantic or the Arctic. In January however, this is not a problem, because at this time of the year one of the world’s most advanced artificial snow making systems can ensure the Sella Ronda remains skiable regardless of the natural snow fall. And you’re more likely to be skiing in crisp winter sunshine here than almost anywhere else in the Alps. Photocredit: © Val Gardena Tourism.
Les Arcs (Paradiski)
Les Arcs has something that most of the other large, purpose-built, high-altitude French resorts lack and which is very important in a January ski holiday: trees. All the Les Arcs villages are surrounded by woods. And the neighbouring lift-linked villages of Peisey-Vallandry, Villaroger, Montachavin and les Coches all have great tree skiing too. This makes Les Arcs one of the most weather-proof ski resorts in the Alps. If snow cover is thin, you can go high, skiing on slopes that always have snow (Paradiski has two lifts reaching above 3000m and dozens rising above 2500m); but if wintry weather blows in, you can stay low and keep to the woods. And if it’s great weather for skiing, you can ski between the two environments, making epic descents, on-piste or off-piste, with enormous 2000m verticals that very few other ski resorts in the world can match. Photo credit: © TristanShu.com
Okay, it’s not cheap: a January ski holiday deal in St Moritz might be inexpensive compared to what it normally costs to come here, but not compared to holidays in other ski resorts. And nor is St Moritz easy to get to, although if you take the train, it’s a truly scenic transfer which should really be regarded as part of the holiday. But despite these negatives St Moritz is a great January ski destination. All three of its ski areas are delightfully uncrowded at this time of year and have a good sunshine record too. There is also a range of other activities going on that no other ski resort can match: the Cresta Run; polo and horse racing on the frozen lake; 150km of winter walking trails; and even a whole mountain serviced by a funicular railway dedicated to tobogganing and snowshoeing. And if the weather turns really nasty, there are plenty of indoor tennis courts, ice rinks, swimming pools and wellness centres to escape to. Photo credit: ©
Courchevel La Tania (3 Vallees)
La Tania forms part of the world’s largest lift linked ski area – France’s 3 Vallees. It is in the Courchevel valley, but only just – Meribel is around the corner and easy to reach on skis. If you come here in January, however, you may not want to stray far from the local ski area, because La Tania has the best tree skiing in all the 3 Valleys. Its altitude (1400m) is nothing to shout about but its slopes are North-facing and reinforced by snow canons, so you should be able to ski back to the resort. The village is also car-free, and most of the accommodation is ski-in, ski-out, and good value for money compared to the more famous resorts it’s linked to. And of all the resorts in the 3 Valleys, La Tania is probably the easiest to get to. Photo credit: © Aufrère Lorène.
Lech-Zurs (Arlberg ski area)
Lech is usually at its loveliest in January. It’s a traditional Alpine village set beside a river and just needs a dusting of snow to look enchanting. Even its higher, ski-in, ski-out hamlet Oberlech has been tastefully developed and has some classy touches (guests arrive by cable car unencumbered by their luggage which is discreetly ferried up to them via a network of underground tunnels). Lech also does winter comfort better than almost any other ski resort. And the skiing in January here is good even if the snow depth has not had time to build up, because Lech’s local slopes lie on top of grassy pastures which only need a few centimetres of powder to be fun to ski, and the pistes are immaculately groomed every night. Besides, a shortage of snow across the Arlberg ski area in January is almost impossible to imagine because Lech is linked by lift to the two snowiest ski resorts in Western Europe, Warth-Schroecken and Zurs. Lastly Lech is easy to get to, and perfect for weekend escapes. Photo credit: © Sepp Mallaum, Lech Zürs Tourismus.
La Thuile and La Rosiere (Espace San Bernardo)
La Thuile is an Italian ski resort with a French sounding name that’s most easily accessed from a Swiss airport (Geneva), so it’s only appropriate that its San Bernardo ski area is international too: it’s shared with the French resort of La Rosiere. And together La Thuile and La Rosiere have everything that January skiers want: high but not too high slopes (1190m – 2800m); some tree lined runs; attractive villages; a ski area that’s just big enough (it was expanded for the 2018/19 season); a good mix of snowsure North facing pistes and sunny South-facing ones; and good value ski holiday prices. So the only debate is which resort do you stay in? It’s a tight call, but in general we think stronger skiers should stay in La Thuile because it has more of the tougher slopes and a useful lift pass sharing arrangement with Courmayeur, whilst beginners and less confident intermediates should choose La Rosiere. Photo credit: © Marco Spataro
Megeve (Evasion Mont Blanc)
Elegant, charming, luxurious Megeve looks at its best in January when it’s also at its most affordable for winter holiday makers. The large but low-lying ski area which it shares with St Gervais, Saint Nicolas, Les Contamines and Comboloux, has plenty of tree lined slopes, which usually reach peak condition as the end of January approaches. And Megeve’s famous mountain restaurants, widely regarded as the best in all of France, are much easier to get into at this time of year, when the pistes are less crowded. And if you can’t take a full week off work to come here in January, that’s no excuse because Megeve is a great weekend destination too, as it’s only about an hour’s drive away from Geneva airport. (If you don’t fancy driving on mountain roads in wintry condition, there are low-cost special transfer services like the MegevExpress, which will take care of that too.) Photo credit: © OT Megeve Tourisme.
Saalbach, Hinterglemm, Leogang and Fieberbrunn form the Skicircus, a large low-lying, lift-linked ski area in Austria’s Salzburerland. As long as you’re not an avid black run skier, there are more than enough slopes to keep you busy here for much longer than a week. And Saalback is quite an attractive resort with its traditional onion-shaped church, particularly when it has a light covering of snow, which in January it usually does. Its low altitude ski area (all the skiing is below 2000m) is also at its best when the weather is at its coldest, because the snow canons can repair any gaps. But skiing is just part of Saalbach’s appeal. This is a serious party resort, so if you fancy a quiet family ski holiday or want to stick to your January de-tox, don’t come here. But if the January blues are getting you down and Christmas seems a very long time ago, and you need some fun and frivolity in your life, Saalbach could be perfect, because its famous apres-ski starts early and continues long into the night, whatever the weather. Photo credit: © Saalbach Tourismus, Christian Wöckinger.
So whilst it’s true that skiing in the middle of January can be colder than skiing in the Spring, and the days are definitely shorter, pick your resort carefully and you can not only reap the benefit of better snow but pick up a bargain as well.
Author: William Micklethwait