Ten of the Best Weekend Ski Resorts
Make the most of the European ski season and your precious time off from work by filling your winter with as many ski weekends and short breaks as possible. A quick three or four day jaunt is exhilarating and rejuvenating, and gives far better Monday morning water cooler gossip than a trip to your local DIY store.
When picking your weekend ski destination, there are a few things to consider. How close is the nearest airport, and is that airport well served by early morning and late evening international flights? If you’re going for just a few days, you want to be skiing on the arrival and departure days. Can you find accommodation for three nights, rather than the usual seven? To increase your chances of finding a bed for the night, you’re better off planning weekend trips to hotel-heavy resorts in the quieter months of January and March. On arrival in the resort, how quickly can you be on the slopes? It’s these factors that have determined our pick of the ten of best resorts in Europe for weekend skiing and short breaks – that and the fact they all offer varied terrain that is certain to leave you buzzing come Monday morning.
The classic weekend ski destination, Chamonix is perfect for a quick break. It’s just over an hour from Geneva, has plenty of hotels, apartments and chalets geared up for short stays, and has enough steep terrain to satisfy even the greediest adrenalin junkies. A car is useful if you want to ski all the Chamonix valley’s spread-out and separate ski areas, but if you’re only over for a few days, it makes more sense to stay close to the area you most want to ski (for experts this will probably mean staying in Argentiere and skiing Les Grands Montets) and using a specialist transfer service to get you from Geneva airport to your accommodation as quickly as possible.
If you’re looking for a quick powder fix, the snowsure slopes below the Titlis glacier above Engelberg are a safe bet. Hire a guide to explore the famous Laub and other off-piste descents from the 3,000m Klein Titlis and 2,500m Jockstock. Alternatively, stick to the groomed runs: it’s not a huge ski area, but there are enough pistes if you only have two or three days’ skiing, whatever your standard. Engelberg is an historic mountain town that really comes alive at the weekend, so the evenings should be fun too. Zurich, the nearest international airport, is a major hub so finding convenient flight times shouldn’t be a problem and you can reach the resort in about two hours by train, or ninety minutes by car.
Warth-Schrőcken in the Bregenzerwald is almost unknown outside its homeland, but in Austria it’s famous for two reasons: in a normal season, it gets more snow than any other European ski resort; and it’s lift-linked to Lech, one of the world’s smartest ski resorts and a favoured haunt of royalty and tycoons. If that makes the twin villages of Warth and Schrőcken sound exclusive and expensive, nothing could be further from the truth: they are very down to earth and prices are noticeably lower than in their glamorous neighbour. And whilst part of the reason for coming here is the almost endless skiing on offer (for really keen piste-bashers, Lech is just a pit-stop on the way to St Anton and back), no one should be in a hurry to leave the local ski area, because it’s a little gem with everything from easy blue runs to genuinely steep blacks, and plenty of freeride opportunities so all that fresh powder doesn’t go to waste. For time-pressed weekenders, Warth is a better location than Schrőcken ( or “Schroecken” to use the normal anglicised version without an umlaut) because it has quicker access to the slopes, with hotels in Warth itself within walking distance of the village lift, and also some ski-in, ski-out ones at the bottom of pistes outside the village. Zurich is one of several airports within a two hour drive.
While Courmayeur and Chamonix may share Mont Blanc, the similarities are limited. Courmayeur is perfect for an intermediate skiers’ weekend, not least because it’s got more mountain restaurants than lifts and an enviable choice of delicious places to eat in town too. It’s also home to the fabulously long Cresta Youla red run, spectacular scenery and extensive skiing off-piste, best undertaken with a guide. The chic town of Courmayeur has many hotels, some of which offer excellent weekend deals. Transfers from Geneva typically take less than 90 minutes.
Accessing more pistes than you’ll know what to do with in a weekend, Morzine is a large lively town linked into the huge French/Swiss Portes du Soleil. While transfer times from Geneva may be brief, pick your accommodation wisely as Morzine is a spread out and the buses are confusing. Stay in the centre of town and you’ll be using one of the two main gondolas heading out towards either Avoriaz or Les Gets on your afternoon of arrival – allowing enough slope time to justify an après Mutzig or two in the hub of Robbos bar. Really keen skiers however might prefer to base themselves in the suburb of Les Prodains which has its own lift and lies at the foot of some of the steepest runs in the area (Les Hauts Forts). Geneva is the closest airport, just one and a half hours away, with an abundance of flights throughout the day.
Stuben am Arlberg, Austria
This is one for the hard core: Stuben is a small village in the middle of an enormous ski area (the Arlberg) which stretches all the way across to St Anton, Lech-Zurs and even Warth-Schroecken (see above). That just by itself might be enough to get keen skiers to come here, but there’s more, because Stuben has it’s own mountain, the 2400m high Albona, whose north-face has some of the best freeriding in Austria. The village itself is attractive in an austere sort of way; an impression reinforced by its old, cold and slow chairlift. But look a bit more carefully and you will find some very comfy 4-star hotels with gourmet restaurants hidden in its winding streets, although there is cheaper weekend accommodation too, in guesthouses and budget hotels. And there are four airports within a two hour drive.
The Swiss alternative to the classic French weekend destination Chamonix, Verbier is a short transfer from Geneva, and an even shorter one from Sion. If you’re looking to inject a dose of glamour into your weekend, the extensive backcountry and expensive nightlife attract a mixture of hardcore skiers and international jet setters, which come together to create an alluring experience. A weekend spent exploring some of the Alps’ best freeride terrain – the Vallon d’Arby, Col des Gentianes, Mont Fort – is worth its weight in gold, and certainly makes for interesting chat at the water cooler on a Monday morning. Sion airport is 45 minutes away and Geneva is just under two hours. If you can avoid it, don’t hire a car: parking in the resort is a nightmare, so use a transfer service instead.
The former Olympic city of Innsbruck, although not strictly a ski resort, is quite possibly the most convenient ski destination in the Alps. With its own international airport and the small but challenging Innsbruck-Nordpark area a 25-minute funicular ride from the old town, Innsbruck is proper doorstep skiing. The city makes a lively base and is surrounded by nine ski resorts, including the Stubai glacier, Igls and Seefeld, each served by a free shuttle bus from the city and with some great intermediate slopes between them. Innsbruck airport is a 15-minute drive from the city centre so getting there is easy.
The medieval village of Samoen oozes history and character. You can not ski down to the main village, but on its southern edge it has a powerful lift that whisks you up to the Grand Massif ski area that encircles Flaine and also stretches down to Morillon, Les Carroz, and Sixt Fer-a-Cheval. This means there are more than enough runs to keep even the keenest skier satisfied on a short-break, no matter what their standard. And Samoens is easy to get to: about an hour and a quarter’s drive from Geneva.
Grand Tourmalet, France
What if the ultimate Alpine short-break holiday destination was not actually in the Alps, but was instead over a hundred miles away in the French Pyrenees? It’s certainly a possibility. Grand Tourmalet’s ski area is a good size for a long weekend, being just large enough to keep a keen intermediate busy for two and a half days, so you won’t be wasting money on an expensive lift pass that covers runs you’ll never ski. And Grand Tourmalet is well designed, so whilst there are testing red runs, they are optional and weaker skiers can get from one end to the other entirely on gentle blues. In contrast, advanced skiers who want a challenge will head straight for the 2-stage cable car that takes them to the top of the 2877m Pic du Midi. There are no pistes down, so you either admire the views and return the way you came, or put on some powder skis and follow a guide on a truly memorable freeride descent. Of the two villages in Grand Tourmalet, Bareges has more charm but La Mongie is better placed for quick access to the ‘normal’ ski area and the Pic du Midi. Both have a good selection of inexpensive hotels that welcome weekenders. Restaurants and ski hire are cheaper than in the Alps, and Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees Airport is only about an hour’s drive away.