Ten of the Best Weekend Ski Resorts
Ski weekends and short-breaks to the Alps and Pyrenees help you make the most of the European ski season and your precious time off from work. A quick three or four day jaunt is exhilarating and rejuvenating, and yields far better Monday morning office gossip than a trip to your local DIY store.
When to go on a ski weekend or mini break?
January and March are the best months, because the resorts tend to be less busy and so hotels and other accommodation providers are more flexible about visitors staying for just three nights. In particular, you should avoid the fortnights around Easter and around Christmas and New Year; and stay clear of Half-Term, which is a month-long affair in France and in other major Alpine resorts that attract guests from all over Europe, and takes out most of February. Our favourite times tend to be late January or early March, when prices are low but snow conditions are usually excellent.
Where to go: 10 of the best ski resorts for short break holidays
When picking your weekend ski destination, there are a few things to consider. How close is the nearest airport, and is it well served by international flights, preferably in the evening or early morning? Can you find accommodation for three nights, rather than the usual seven? And when you get to the resort, how quickly can you access the slopes? We’ve assessed all these factors and picked ten resorts in Europe for weekend skiing with different terrain and nightlife for different standards of skiers and different kinds of holidays.
The classic weekend ski destination, Chamonix is just over an hour’s drive from Geneva, has plenty of hotels, apartments and chalets geared up for short stays, and has enough steep terrain to satisfy even the greediest adrenaline 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 and using a specialist transfer service to get you from Geneva airport to your accommodation as quickly as possible. For experts this means staying in Argentiere at the foot of Les Grands Montets sectors, whilst intermediates should head for the centre of Chamonix or its outlying suburb at Les Praz if they like red runs; or Le Tour and Vallorcine if they prefer blues. Les Houches at the bottom of the Chamonix valley is also an excellent base for intermediates, but it’s very low-lying, so book a weekend here at short notice when you know snow conditions are good.
Santa Cristina, Italy
Santa Cristina has all the hallmarks of a ‘hidden gem’. It’s small, attractive and set in stunning surroundings – the Italian Dolomites. And yet very few English-speaking skiers have heard of it, even though its lifts connect it with 500kms of ski slopes via the Sella Ronda, and one of the home runs back to the resort is the the course for the famous Val Gardena Downhill race. But you don’t have to be a professional skier to appreciate Santa Cristina or the Val Gardena ski area which it shares with Selva and Ortisei. As well as beautiful scenery and excellent mountain restaurants, it has superb tree-lined red runs that are fun to ski whatever the weather (on a short break, you can’t wait for a perfect day, although Santa Cristina is more likely to be sunny than almost anywhere in the Alps as it gets 300 days of sunshine every year). Santa Cristina is best skied early in the season when its extensive snow cannons almost guarantee good snow conditions, so it’s perfect for a quick trip in January. Transfers from Innsbruck Airport take less than two hours, or you can combine a ski weekend here with a mini-break in Verona or Venice which are also within reach.
Freeride addicts searching for a quick powder fix need look no further than the snowsure slopes below the Titlis glacier above Engelberg. Hire a guide to explore the famous Laub and other off-piste descents from the 3,000m Klein Titlis and 2,500m Jockstock. Intermediates and novices can stick to the groomed runs: it’s not a huge ski area, but there are enough pistes for two or three days’ skiing. Engelberg is an historic mountain town that has a real buzz about it at weekends, 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 road.
Warth am Arlberg, Austria
Warth is a ski resort that is almost unknown outside its homeland, but in Austria it’s famous for two reasons: firstly, Warth is Europe’s snowiest ski resort, on average getting the most snow in winter; and secondly, Warth is part of the Arlberg, Austria’s largest lift-linked ski area, that also includes famous St Anton and super-smart Lech. If that makes Warth sound exclusive and expensive, nothing could be further from the truth: it’s very down to earth and prices are noticeably lower than in its glamorous neighbours. And whilst part of the reason for coming to Warth is to explore all that the Arlberg has to offer, no one should be in a hurry to leave the local ski area which Warth shares with Schroecken, which has a little bit of 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 Schroecken because it has quicker access to the slopes. Zurich is one of several airports within a two hour drive.
While Courmayeur and Chamonix may share Mont Blanc, the similarities are limited. On the sunny side of this famous mountain, Courmayeur is an attractive ski resort with cobbled streets and smart shops that really comes alive at weekends when stylish Italians flock to it in search La Dolce Vita. It’s perfect for a relaxing short break, with more mountain restaurants than lifts, and lots of delicious places to eat in town too. The network of pistes is small for a full week but big enough for a ski weekend if it’s first and foremost a holiday. And whilst most of the pistes are easy blues or gentle reds, there are tougher challenges if you want them, with some of the best off-piste freeride in the Alps, for which you will need a guide. 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 good-looking, lively mountain town linked into the huge French/Swiss Portes du Soleil. Transfers from Geneva Airport are quick, but pick your accommodation wisely as Morzine is spread out. If you like gentle skiing and lots of apres-ski and nightlife, stay near the centre of town between the Pleney, Crusaz and Super Morzine lifts, which gives you fast access to an almost endless choice of easy slopes, as well as countless bars and restaurants; or if you like that sort of relaxed skiing but want more peace and quiet, look at Morzine’s outlying hamlet at Ardent, or further afield in nearby lift-linked resorts with a more rural vibe, such as Les Gets, Chatel or Champery. Whilst if you’re a keen competent skier who wants to be challenged, head for the Morzine suburb of Les Prodains which lies at the foot of the steepest pistes in the area (Les Hauts Forts) and within easy reach of the infamous Swiss Wall.
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 has 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. If you can avoid it, don’t hire a car: parking in the resort is a nightmare, so use a transfer service instead. And if you love the sound of Verbier’s skiing but don’t think your wallet can quite stretch to a long weekend here, consider lift-linked Nendaz instead, which is much quieter but more affordable and even easier to reach.
The medieval village of Samoens lies alongside a lake and 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 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 three 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 less confident 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 slopes. 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 away.