Travel: The complete guide to... Skiing

In the first of a fortnightly series of guides to the world's winter wonderlands, Stephen Roe puts on his skis, goes celebrity-spotting and eats and drinks the best that money can buy to compile a comprehensive list of the top-of-the-market resorts in Europe and America
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The Independent Travel
FOR SOME people skiing is all about clocking up the kilometres and boasting about it over beers in the nearest bar. For others, winter sports holidays mean being pampered in fine hotels, gourmet cuisine, vintage wines, saunas, Jacuzzis, wearing full-length furs with impunity and mixing with the rich and famous. If this appeals to you, then your choice of resort is critical.

Courchevel 1850, France

Perhaps the most expensive resort in Europe, Courchevel 1850 is part of the Trois Vallees, the world's largest inter-connected skiing region. Wealthy Parisians arrive in their private aircraft at the resort's Altiport, tucked between the pistes. Although purpose-built, most of the architecture blends into the mountains, with none of the ugly tower blocks that typify many modern French resorts. There are three top-name jewellers, four perfume shops and two boutiques selling luxury lingerie. Pricey gourmet restaurants can be found in abundance. Nightlife revolves more around flutes of champagne than litres of lager.

Getting there

Courchevel 1850 is about a three-hour drive from Geneva and Lyon airports, although high-season Saturday traffic can cause serious delays. Eurostar operates on Saturdays to Moutiers, about 30 minutes drive away. Elegant Resorts offers seven nights at Les Airelles from pounds 1,845 to pounds 1,910. Powder Byrne offers seven nights at the four-star Hotel Carlina from pounds 1,520 to pounds 2,005.

Where to stay

Les Airelles, Jardin Alpines. Proprietor Madame Raymonde Fenestraz has tried to create the atmosphere of the "Grand Chalets", combined with every modern comfort, in this immaculate 52-room, wood-panelled property. Les Airelles greets every guest with a welcome Gateau de Savoie, served with blueberry wine. In the bar there is a 12th-century fireplace and a grand piano. Skiing is directly to and from the hotel as with most properties in the exclusive Jardin Alpines district.

St Moritz, Switzerland

Chic and sophisticated in a more formal way, St Moritz has been welcoming visitors since the Middle Ages, attracted by the natural mineral springs. Now they come to watch pony-and-trap racing on the frozen lake or test their nerve on the legendary Cresta sled run. But St Moritz is great for people-watching and to show off your finest furs and jewellery. With some of the world's smartest hotels and eateries, St Moritz claims to enjoy 322 blue-sky days a year.

Getting there

There are good rail and road connections from Zurich airport. The transfer time is around four hours. Elegant Resorts offers seven nights at Suvretta House from pounds 1,065 to pounds 1,265. Crystal Holidays offers seven nights at the Hotel Schweizerhof from pounds 685 to pounds 925, or the Hotel Reine Victoria from pounds 455 to pounds 749.

Where to stay

Suvretta House has its own private drag and chair lifts, providing direct access to the Corviglia ski area, making it the resort's only hotel with skiing directly to the door. The hotel employs up to 120 private instructors to ensure its pampered guests don't get lost on the slopes. Situated at 1,850 metres among frozen lakes and snow-covered forests, Suvretta House is a grand old hotel with the extravagant comforts of the belle epoque era. Since 1912, it has been a favoured refuge for royalty and celebrities.

Zermatt, switzerland

Cars are banned from the centre of this pollution-free, old Swiss mountain resort. To get around you either have to hail a horse-drawn carriage or rely on electric taxis. At 1,620 metres, Zermatt enjoys a long season, and, with cable car links over the glacier into the Italian resort of Cervinia, it can offer up to 245km of pistes with plenty of excellent intermediate and advanced skiing.

Getting up the mountain can be slow on busy days, as the equipment cannot always cope with the heavy demand. The pretty village, with tall steeple churches, old bridges and quaint streets, has excellent shops and restaurants. The backdrop of the Matterhorn creates breathtaking views and Zermatt boasts some of the finest mountain restaurants in the world.

Getting there

Transfer time from Geneva airport by road or rail is around three to four hours. Powder Byrne offers seven nights at the four-star Grand Hotel Zermatterhof from pounds 1,175 to pounds 1,785. Elegant Resorts offers seven nights at the Mont Cervin from pounds 945 to pounds 1,135.

Where to stay

Hotel Mont Cervin, Zermatt. Located in the heart of the village, the Seiler family has been welcoming guests to the Hotel Mont Cervin since 1853. The wine cellar contains more than 10,000 bottles of fine wines and the hotel operates a rather formal gourmet dining room as well as a more casual a la carte restaurant. The hotel even has its own concert hall, attracting renowned classical musicians from all parts of the world. Other amenities include a large indoor pool, sauna and massage, bars and lounges and a kindergarten with a full-time licensed nurse.

aspen, colorado, usa

Aspen is still one of the best winter hot-spots for celebrity spotting, with executive jet pilots almost fighting for parking space at the local airport. With scores of upmarket boutiques and 30 art galleries, it has a style of its own. There is a wide choice of first-class hotels and luxury apartments and one ski pass covers four mountains, which provides plenty of scope for skiers of all abilities. Families are well catered for and there is an abundance of private ski instructors available. Complimentary cookies, hot cider and coffee are provided on the slopes. You can take a dog-sled ride for a great lunch at Krablooniks or a sleigh ride to the Pine Creek Cookhouse.

Getting there

It will be easier this season with the introduction of British Airways daily non-stop flights to Denver, from where there are good links with Aspen Mountain Air and United Express. From Denver, Aspen is a one-hour flight or a four-hour drive. Ski the American Dream offers seven nights at Little Nell from pounds 1,209 to pounds 2,225. Ski Independence offers seven nights at the St Regis from pounds 999 to pounds 2,359. Elegant Resorts offers seven nights at Hotel Jerome from pounds 1,425 to pounds 1,995, and at Little Nell from pounds 1,365 to pounds 1,950.

Where to stay

The Little Nell Hotel. Located right at the base of the Aspen Mountain gondola, it boasts proudly that it is the only mountain resort property in North America to have been awarded five stars and five diamonds. It is a member of the Relais & Chateaux group and has a restaurant voted the best in Colorado.

deer valley, utah, usa

A close neighbour of the much larger resort of Park City, Deer Valley sets out to pamper its guests in a way that is difficult to find anywhere else in the world. Ski valets unload your car and carry your skis to the padded chair lifts and the slopes are groomed to perfection. When they say "have a nice day" here they look as if they mean it. Ski conditions are ideal for intermediates and the number of runs is being expanded in time for the coming season. Deer Valley will be the site of the 2002 Olympic slalom events.

Getting there

Deer Valley is less than an hour's drive from Salt Lake City airport. Ski the American Dream offers seven nights at the Stein Eriksen Lodge from pounds 969 to pounds 1,825. United Vacations offers seven nights at the Stein Eriksen Lodge from pounds 1,394 to pounds 1,805.

Where to stay

Stein Eriksen Lodge. You can ski right to the door of the five-star Stein Eriksen Lodge, walk across thick-pile carpets and sink into a designer armchair without even having to take off your ski boots. In this oasis of unashamed luxury, guests are fussed over by an army of ski valets. Features of the hotel include hand-painted chandeliers, Portuguese tiles, 145 fireplaces and a whirlpool bath in every room.

beaver creek, colorado, usa

One of the main benefits of staying in Beaver Creek is that your ski pass will access every lift and run in much bigger neighbouring Vail, but each night you can escape the crowds and return to the exclusivity of this much quieter enclave. Virtually all of the hotels and condominiums have been built for the top end of the market. When I arrived at the Hyatt Regency Beaver Creek, the uniformed doorman unloaded my skis and promised they would be freshly waxed and out on the snow within 30 minutes. There are some wonderful intermediate runs through the trees, stunning scenery and dozens of immaculately groomed pistes. For shopping and night life, Vail is just a 20-minute drive away.

Getting there

Daily flights from the UK to Vail Eagle airport are available from American Airlines and United Airlines. The resort is about two hours drive from Denver. Ski Independence offers seven nights at The Charter from pounds 819 to pounds 1,579. Ski the American Dream offers seven nights at Hyatt Regency Beaver Creek from pounds 839 to pounds 1,555. United Vacations offers seven nights at the Inn at Beaver Creek from pounds 784 to pounds 1,671, or the Hyatt Regency from pounds 861 to pounds 1,727.

Where to stay

Hyatt Regency Beaver Creek. Located at the base of the slopes, this is the ideal ski-in/ski-out property. Valets greet you with a hot drink on your return, unclip your bindings and carry your skis to the heated locker room. There are outdoor hot tubs to wallow in while you watch others do battle with the snow. An open fireplace dominates the lobby and the hotel operates an impressive spa and fitness centre, which includes an indoor/outdoor swimming pool.

FACT FILE

luxury resorts

Getting there

All prices include flights and transfers. Elegant Resorts will upgrade clients to club class on British Airways to its European destinations for supplements from pounds 125 return. Ski the American Dream will upgrade clients to Club World on British Airways flights to Denver for a supplement of pounds 1,780 return and to first class for pounds 5,400 return. United Vacations offers upgrades to business class on United Airlines for supplements of pounds 879 each way and pounds 1,769 each way in first class.

Contact numbers

Elegant Resorts (tel: 01244 897333); Ski the American Dream (tel: 0181-548 2421);

Ski Independence (tel: 0990 550555);

Crystal Holidays (tel: 0181-399 5144);

United Vacations (tel: 0181-313 0999);

Powder Byrne (tel: 0181-871 3300);

Switzerland Travel Centre (tel: 0171-734 4577);

French Government Tourist Office (tel: 0891 244123 - calls cost 50p per minute);

Aspen Skiing Company (tel: 001 970 925 1220);

Beaver Creek and Vail (tel: 001 970 949 5750);

British Airways (tel: 0345 222111);

American Airlines (tel: 0345 789789); United Airlines (tel: 0845 8444777).

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