Skiing in January
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 weak spot 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. 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.
La Clusaz (Aravis Ski Area)
La Clusaz is only about a hour away from Geneva airport so it’s easy to reach for a short break in the middle of winter. But you will need to stay a full week if you want to do justice to the Aravis ski area which La Clusaz shares with nearby Le Grand Bornand (free ski buses run between the two resorts every half hour and the journey takes only about fifteen minutes). The combined ski area has about 225km of runs and 75 lifts, the highest of which reaches 2477m. There is a good mix of treelined runs and open bowl skiing, slopes for all standards including beginners, and plenty of off-piste for freeriders and ski tourers. La Clusaz itself is a traditional French mountain village with good value accommodation close to the slopes, from luxury hotels to basic apartments. If La Clusaz has a weakness though, it’s altitude, because the resort is located only 1,100m above sea level. If we were booking a ski holiday in late March or April, that would make us think again, but in January it’s hardly ever a problem. Photo credit: © C.HUDRY-La Clusaz OT.
Val Gardena (Sella Ronda)
The ski resorts of Selva, S.Cristina and Ortisei in the Italian Dolomites link up to form the Val Gardena ski area. But that’s only half the story, because they also connect with the Sella Ronda ski circuit, enabling intermediate skiers to ski across to Alta Badia, Arabba and Val di Fassa, opening up about 500km of ski slopes. So if you stay here you’re never going to run short of pistes to ski on, mountain restaurants to eat in, or stunning views to gaze out upon. What there can be a shortage of later in the season is snow, because Val Gardena is on the south eastern side of the Alps, and often misses out on the heaviest snow storms that tend to blow in from the north or west. In January however, this is not a problem, because a combination of cold mid-winter temperatures, one of the world’s most advanced artificial snow-making systems and immaculate piste grooming ensures wonderful skiing on Val Gardena’s intermediate-friendly, tree-lined red runs. And with 300 days of sunshine, you’re more likely to be skiing in crisp winter sunshine here than almost anywhere else in the Alps. Photocredit: © DOLOMITES Val Gardena – Gröden Marketing
Les Arcs (Paradiski)
Les Arcs and its lift-linked twin La Plagne, have something that other high-altitude, purpose-built French resorts lack and which is important in a January ski holiday: trees. All the Les Arcs villages have tree-lined runs close by, and there is more of the same in the woods surrounding Les Coches just across the valley on the La Plagne side. This makes Les Arcs one of the most weather-proof ski resorts in the Alps, and perfect for fickle January weather. If snow cover is thin, you can ski on high-altitude slopes that always have snow; but if wintry weather blows in, you can stay low and shelter in 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 possible in both Les Arcs and La Plagne. Photo credit: © TristanShu.com
Okay, it’s not cheap: a January ski holiday deal in St Moritz is only inexpensive compared to what it normally costs to stay in the world’s most glamorous resort. And nor is getting to St Moritz easy. But 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: © St Moritz Tourist Office.
Courchevel La Tania (3 Vallees)
La Tania in France is part of the world’s largest lift-linked ski area – Les 3 Vallées. As it’s full name (Courchevel-la-Tania) suggests, it is in the Courchevel valley, but Meribel is just around the corner and easy to reach on skis. If you come here in January, however, you may not want to stray from its local ski area, because La Tania and its neighbour Courchevel-le-Praz share the best tree skiing in all the 3 Valleys, with slopes for all levels, including an excellent back run through the woods for good skiers (L’Eclipse). At 1400m elevation, La Tania is one of the lower resorts in the Three Valleys, but in a January cold-snap that can be an advantage, and it’s north-facing slopes hold their snow well, so you should be able to ski back to your accommodation. La Tania is also car-free, compact, and good value for money compared to its more famous neighbours. And of all the ski resorts in the 3 Valleys, La Tania is probably the easiest to reach, making it a good choice for a short mid-winter break as well as for longer holidays. Photo credit: © Aufrère Lorène.
Lech (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 hard to imagine because on either side of Lech are the two snowiest ski resorts in Western Europe, Warth and Zurs, and it’s easy to ski over to them using Lech’s fast, queue-destroying lifts. Photo credit: © Sepp Mallaum, Lech Zürs Tourismus.
La Thuile (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 ski area is truly international too: it spans the border between France and Italy, and reaches down to La Rosiere in France. And the combined ski area, called the Espace San Bernardo after the Alpine pass it straddles, has 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 in 2018); a 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 and keener 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 which has easier descents back to the village. 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. 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, with its traditional onion-shaped church, is an attractive ski resort, 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 detox, don’t come here. But if the January blues are getting you down and you need some fun and frivolity back in your life, Saalbach’s 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