BEST FOR: A TASTE OF UPSCALE SCANDI SKIING
The effortlessly stylish Åre, by a lake in
Sweden’s chilly centre, is the one ski retreat that genuinely rivals the best of the Alps. You’ll never be higher than 5000ft, but there’s a lot of skiing here, with 89 runs across five areas along the lake, and plenty of off-piste opportunities on the wide, open slopes above the treeline. The pistes and Nordic tracks tend to be populated by gnarly freeskiers, rosy-cheeked ski tourers and the occasional Sami reindeer herd. In March, you’ll still have the best of the snow and a decent chance of spotting the Northern Lights.
Åre may have been a ski site since Victorian times, with a creaking, century-old funicular, but it nonetheless feels more forward-thinking than many Alpine resorts. The 112-room Copperhill Mountain Lodge and spa is all angular pine and glass, designed by Peter Bohlin, whose architectural résumé includes the Seattle home of Bill Gates and more than a dozen Apple stores. Fäviken, Magnus Nilsson’s lauded locavore outpost an hour down the road, may be closed in the deep winter, but Nilsson also runs Svartklubb, a slickly branded Åre space that morphs from airy bakery by day into a night-time cocktail bar with rotating set menus from Fäviken-approved chefs. Non-ski days can mean snowmobiling, dog-sledding, ice karting or ice fishing. Yoga is as ubiquitous as hot tubs and saunas.
Given that Sweden’s royals are Åre regulars, and the cult footballer Zlatan Ibrahimović has a chalet in this area, you’re likely to notice that people here look unfairly beautiful in hats and techwear. To try and fit in, the shops are well stocked with native outdoor brands like Haglöfs, Lundhags and J Lindeberg. Even the officially branded Åre beanies and hoodies are stylish: mod-retro, and not trying too hard, a bit like the town itself.
Insider’s tip At Buustamons Fjällgård, the rustic mid-mountain hotel that hosts Åre’s best-known restaurant, everyone knows to try the homemade schnapps, made in a tiny onsite distillery by owners Jan and Lotta Florin. But regulars also go for the cloudberry truffles, washed down by a shot of schnapps.
Jackson Hole is the sort of place that throws up nicknames. Locals take the Red Heli, the famed gondola, to find some of the best blower pow (the dry, fluffy stuff) in America. Most of all, skiers tend to refer to this retreat, in the wild elk country on the edge of the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, as the Big One.
It has a reputation for being deep, steep and gnarly, with legendary backcountry and infamous runs such Corbet’s Couloir, more spoken about than skied. But while America’s top freeriders come for cat- and heli-skiing, there’s plenty for relaxed intermediates, too, on a site that drops more vertical metres than any other in the States. Powder is still all but guaranteed in March, when some of the sting has gone out of the Wyoming winter.
Both Teton Village, the purpose-built ski spot at the base of the gondola, and the town of Jackson 30 minutes down the road, have changed a lot in the past few decades. In the horseshoe-shaped Teton Village, sleeping options are now almost as amped-up as the skiing ones, from the vast
Four Seasons to the new Caldera House, a top-end chalet and member’s club where the guides include freerider Griffin Post and Olympic legend Bode Miller. But the old-school ski bums and the new adventure capitalists still pack into the Mangy Moose saloon, where 50 years of history justify the token T-shirts.
Jackson itself feels like the Old West via Portland, in a good way: Insta-ready cafes, farm-to-table restaurants, but just enough honky tonk earthiness at places like the 1937 Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, with its saddle bar stools, live bands and taxidermied grizzly bear.
Best for: Doing ‘Japow’ in style
Niseko, a series of little ski bases around Mount Yōtei, the ‘Fuji of Hokkaido’, is the smartest area on
Japan’s northernmost island, where the fluffy powder is the stuff of legends. More than 55ft of snow can fall here, more than four times the average snowfall at Val d’Isère, so March still means ‘Japow’ season. Many of the onsens and izakayas around these parts are a cut above, and you’ll likely hear more English and other languages spoken here than most other Japanese ski retreats.
Here, it’s all about deep-powder runs between snow-covered trees as Yōtei looms in the distance, with lights in some places extending the fun until 9pm. The skiing is spread across four sites, all linked by one pass. If you want somewhere a bit livelier and more upscale, stay at the Grand Hirafu, though many people swear by the An’nupuri, which has shorter queues and a quieter nightlife.
Niseko is one of the few Japanese ski areas where you’ll find Western-style chalets rather than blocky hotels — such as the gorgeous nine-room Kimamaya in Grand Hirafu, with its glass-walled Barn restaurant, where French owner Nicolas Gontard and his Chinese wife Bellce took inspiration from old Hokkaido farmhouses. The 200-room Green Leaf Niseko Village is the classic ski-in, ski-out option at the base of the An’nupuri slopes, with cool interiors by
New York firm Champalimaud and one of the most beautiful rotenburo baths in town (there are lots to choose from). This is also the best spot for foodies, from trucks at the base of the slopes to Ebisu-tei, a cosy, wood-clad joint in Hirafu that is known for its Japanese hotpots, slow-cooked pork and exquisite sashimi. Insider’s tip Get up early for fresh tracks at Hanazono, the area with some of Niseko’s best powder spots, including the legendary Strawberry Fields, with bumps and jumps among the silver birches below one of the two bubble lifts. If you’re not confident going off-piste alone, the Hokkaido Backcountry Club offers guided cat-, heli- and lift-skiing, guaranteeing fresh tracks.
REVELSTOKE, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Best for: Skiing champagne powder, Canadian-style
Revelstoke, between the Selkirk and Monashee ranges in the wild Rockies, is a champagne-powder paradise that was only for committed cat- and heli-skiers until 2007, when they finally added lifts and an on-
mountain resort. These days, it boasts its share of ski superlatives. At more than 5,500ft, the vertical here is higher than anywhere else in North America, and some runs — such as the 8.6-mile Last Spike, the continent’s longest piste — pass through four climate zones. ‘Revy’ is also the only place in North America offering lift-skiing, cat-skiing and heli-skiing from the same base. With the terrain around its Mount Mackenzie running the gamut from deep bowls to thick forests and epic backcountry, the right-on skiers here are only being semi-ironic when they refer to themselves as ‘soul shredders’.
The old mining town itself is more evocative than billed, with a nu-lumberjack vibe and its share of people who have read Thoreau and know their way around a craft kombucha menu. The best place to stay at the centre of it all is the Explorers Society, a smart, nine-room boutique in a 1911 townhouse that has a sister chalet called The Roost closer to the slopes. For something more epic, the Bighorn Lodge outside of town has been voted
Canada’s best chalet of 2018 at the World Ski Awards, and helped kick off the luxe heli-ski lodge trend back in 2011 with its cinema, spa and show-stopping British locavore chef Peter Hughes. At the ski site itself, Sutton Place Hotel is the only accomodation at the base of the lifts, with 205 lodging units that are smart and clean, if a tad generic.
Revelstoke isn’t easy to get to, so for a proper adventure you could combine a trip here with a visit to Kicking Horse, another cult destination a few hours down the wildly beautiful mountain roads towards Calgary. If Revelstoke’s ski area is bigger and more varied, Canadian ski bums say Kicking Horse is more developed, with even drier and fluffier snow. Together, they’re a soul shredder’s dream.
Insider’s tip: The Village Idiot, the buzziest bar in town, serves the best poutine, with real cheese curds and the option to add caramelised onion and bacon.
Best for: A leisurely family ski break
High, snow-sure, quietly upmarket and with great hotels, Breuil-Cervinia deserves to be a bigger name than it is. Part of the reason it has stayed relatively under the radar may be because the skiing here is more leisurely than over at Zermatt, on the other side of the Matterhorn. Cervinia’s all about long red and blue cruisers, including a 20km epic from the Klein Matterhorn to Valtournenche, and there’s a good range of beginner slopes near town. But the height of the pistes means you can ski well into the spring, when the visibility tends to be better on the high slopes.
The little town sits at 6,500ft above Northern
Italy’s Aosta Valley, and on a blue-sky day the views of the Matterhorn and surrounding mountains are some of the most beautiful in the Alps. The range of hotels is impressive for a small town, too: the Hotel Hermitage, an old-school Relais & Chȃteaux mountain lodge whose restaurant is run by a two Michelin starred chef: Francesco Sposito, the more contemporary Principe Delle Nevi, with its rectangular slopeside pool and buzzy, unfussily named Après Ski Bar; and, in a pine forest on the edge of town, the cavernous, wood-and-whitewash Saint Hubertus, designed by veteran French architect Savin Couelle. Insider’s tip Up on the mountain, the family-owned Chalet Etoile is so good that Zermatt regulars ski across the Matterhorn for its reindeer tempura and rich crab ravioli.
Best for: The ultimate Alpine-postcard experience
If you want to experience every positive Alpine cliché in a singular hit, it’s hard to beat
Zermatt. The chalets festooned with planters, the horse-drawn carriages, the preposterously scenic little Gornergrat train… all of it overlooked by the Matterhorn, one of the planet’s most majestically carved slabs of rock. If you ask most skiers to name the prettiest retreat on Earth, this car-free town is going to be part of the conversation – if not the end of it.
The skiing here is world-class, too. The 120 or so miles of pistes are dominated by long, cruising red runs, flanked by easily accessible off-piste ones, and with lifts going higher than 10,000ft, the snow stays fresh well into the spring. You can easily ski into Italy, where the slopes of Cervinia and Valtournenche tend to be quieter than in Zermatt.
Hotels here run the gamut, from grand dames like the Wes Anderson-worthy Zermatterhof to more funky, modern offerings such as the glass-fronted Backstage Hotel Vernissage, the work of charismatic local architect Heinz Julen. The new Schweizerhof Hotel is a mix of the two: an old Zermatt classic given an breezy, angular makeover by French hotelier Michel Reybier, who is also responsible for the big-name Hotel Monte Rosa and Mont Cervin Palace.
The food is considered some of the best in the Alps, especially up in the mountains, where you can find wild Alaskan salmon (Othmars), local game (Les Marmottes) or deer carpaccio with foie gras at the exquisitely rustic Chez Vrony, with its terrace looking out at the Matterhorn. In peak season, many of Zermatt’s hotels and chalets demand you stay at least a week. If that’s a problem, it’s very much of the first-world variety.
Insider’s tip If Chez Vrony is too busy, there’s normally room at the even more rustic Findlerhof, half a mile down the mountain. Many locals prefer it, anyway, for owner Franz’s excellent wine list and standout dishes including a five-hour braised lamb shank.
Revelstoke, British Columbia
Jackson Hole, Wyoming