Having just arrived at Cortina, one of my most favourite places on earth, I felt compelled to tell you about my fab 5 – these are my favourite spots in Europe!
1. Cortina – Italy
Even the sometimes painfully slow (not all Italians drive crazy fast especially in the snow) drive down the valley into Cortina is mind blowing. Towering Dolomite rocks encapsulate the narrow winding road. The formidable scenery belittles you but not in a negative way – it heightens your respect for the beauty of the mountains and invites you in as a guest to ski its epic pistes. Cortina, a village on paper as swanky as St Moritz sits peacefully at the end. Unlike St Moritz its grandeur and wealth is not intimidating but somehow welcoming. It is a people watching dream as ladies (and pets) wander the cobbled streets clad in fur stopping every few hundred meters for a passing expresso.
I fell in love with this place standing at the top of inspection of the epic Tofana downhill piste – a section of the course where you build up speed of at least 100kph in less than 5 seconds. The huge rocks cast a dark shadow on this section of the track and once even, after a huge snowfall the race had to be postponed for a few hours as an avalanche suddenly attacked the piste just missing the first runner as she whooshed past!
What is not to love about Italy – the fans are always excited, the pistes are always fun, the views spectacular, the coffee unbeatable and the food – well it is food made for a downhiller! But diversity is what makes skiing such a great sport – every country’s snowy mountains have a different feel, different smells, different intensities.
2. Flaine – France
For me when i think of post ski racing and possibly teaching my children to (hopefully) love the sport which has enriched my life i see no other place than Flaine in France. Always a big putting off factor for anyone with that snowy bug is travel time – time is precious you want to hit the sloped as soon as you step off that plane and unless you are one of the 0.01% who can afford the luxury of a helicopter that just isn’t going to happen! But Flaine, just an hour up the road, is as near as you will get. And once you are up there is no need to waste time driving – it is a car free resort and most of the apartments are ski in, ski out (the beauty of it being situated in a bowl in the mountains – also means it often has good snow when other areas are struggling.) Flaine for me is a family place because that is where my brothers and I found our passion for the slopes and the sport. I started skiing here on the blue learner pistes at 18 months and i can still return and be challenged by some of the fabulous steep terrain (Gers!)
3. Val D’Isere – France
Sticking with France but going to the polar opposite in terms of feel for a resort is Val D’Isere. It is a swanky, beautiful resort with chalets that make you want to pack up and just move in. But it is not just the town (or the mouth watering patisseries) that make this one of my top resorts – the skiing stands up for itself too! All kinds of terrain and some cool speedy lifts, plus the glacier which helps keep the snow for longer are great additions to a fabulous resort.
4. St Anton – Austria
I can’t really have a top 5 and leave out skiing in Austria! If you want intensity in its very form from mountain terrain, to ski instructors, to the heat in the sauna and the most hard core apres ski parties then head to Austria – most places in Austria actually but my favourite is St Anton. Having just been there for our toughest world cup stop on the tour I can personally vouch for the fantastic skiing there – we had a few powder delayed days and i actually got to ski around not just the training hills and it was fabulous – big wide bowls to drop into and lots of rolls and jumps to be enjoyed by all. My friends who were there heavily sampled the other delights St Anton offered and I will just say you MAY need to catch up on sleep after you return – dancing on the tables till the early hours then a quick nap before first lift isn’t conducive of a ‘relaxing’ holiday! When in Rome….
5. Zermatt – Switzerland
For my final choice today I can’t leave out Zermatt. A year round ski heaven. I actually have never made it there in the Winter but in terms of summer skiing, for some reason glaciers are always under-rated – not this one! How perfect to venture high into the clouds with the spectacular Matterhorn lit up with the pink glow of first light, arch some fast and furious turns before spending the afternoon either lazily sunbathing and inhaling the summer mountain air or hiking and zooming through the trees on a zip wire. I am also always spoilt when I go as a friend of mine works for the Elysian Collection, THE most luxurious chalets I have even been invited to and we often go for dinner and relaxing in the spa!
The world is full of fabulous places – I have probably hit up a big chunk of the snowy ones but there are so many places I want to go, terrain I want to ski and secret spots I look forward to finding.
Let me know yours if you have time and maybe one day i will meet you there on the slopes!!!