The best Ski Resort For: Avoiding Crowds

Bareges, France

Like many other outdoor pursuits, skiing could be so much more enjoyable if there was no one else around to disturb the tranquillity. But the traditional image of the lone skier making tracks through virgin snow is generally a thing of the past. Nowadays the peace and quiet is often marred by hordes of other skiers hurtling noisily down the same slope and generally getting in the way.

Obviously, there are certain times in the season when it's difficult to avoid the crowds, but taking your holidays when everyone else has gone home can make an enormous difference. In the second week of January, even popular resorts like Aspen or Val d'Isère can seem almost deserted. But before you go check that your chosen destination isn't attempting to boost its off-peak visitor numbers with a special event. I once went to Davos in late January hoping to find a patch of snow to myself; unfortunately the World Economic Forum was taking place there, and the slopes were full of movers and shakers needing a break from more serious business.

There are plenty of resorts that large crowds don't reach, usually because the facilities are poor and the slopes limited. If you want decent skiing, there is no substitute for a first-class resort, but the bustle and congestion of an area like the Three Valleys can seem more bearable if you stay in the small village of St-Martin de Belleville, rather than the main resorts of Courchevel, Méribel or Val Thorens.

My own preference when I want somewhere quiet is to leave the Alps and the Rockies to others, and to head for the Pyrénées. The small resort of Cauterets has some appealing slopes, but best of all are the linked resorts of Barèges and La Mongie. Between them they have about 75 miles of under-populated pistes to explore; go in the middle of the week, and you will feel as though you have the whole mountain range to yourself.

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