Weekend skiing at its best means maximum time on snow and minimum time away from work. Achieving this involves detailed planning, professional help from a specialist tour operator – or both.
The argument is that two full days – or better, three – on the mountain can be just as rewarding as a week. Most suitable resorts are within a 90-minute drive from a major airport.
Specialist companies will meet you off your evening flight. They will have already arranged lift pass, equipment rental, and guide in advance so that no time is wasted on the first morning.
Laax, Switzerland Laax is linked to Flims and Falera, and together they form one of Europe’s largest but least-known ski areas with 220km of mainly intermediate pistes. The skiing goes up to 3,018m with the lower villages at 1,100m. A daily shuttle service from Friedrichshafen and Zurich airports takes 90 minutes and costs £103 return.
The area opens at weekends in November and the winter season lasts from November 30 to April 21. Laax is unofficially the freestyle capital of the Alps and attracts a strong 20-something following, with the action both on and off the slopes centred upon Laax Murschetg, the most ski-convenient bedbase.
Best for all standards, party-goers. Recommended tour operators Alpine Answers (020 7801 1080: alpineanswers.co.uk), Iglu Ski (020 8542 6658; igluski.com), PowderBeds (0845 180 5000; powderbeds.com), Powder Byrne (020 8246 5300; powderbyrne.com), Ski Safari (01273 224060; skisafari.com), Ski Solutions (020 7471 7700; skisolutions.com), Sno.co.uk (020 8133 8899; sno.co.uk), Snow Finders (01858 466883; snowfinders.co.uk), Snow-wise (020 3397 8450; snow-wise.com), Zenith Holidays (020 3137 7678; zenithholidays.co.uk).
Chamonix, France Chamonix lies just an hour’s drive along the Autoroute Blanche from Geneva airport. Like Verbier, it is populated on winter weekends by a 21st-century breed of dedicated skier – the City Commuter. CCs have the funds to rent a flat for the season and buy all their airline tickets for the winter months well in advance. But you don’t have to be a serial weekender to enjoy yourself here.
Accommodation is in the town itself and also scattered in hamlets along the Chamonix valley. The village of Argentière is situated at the foot of the Grands Montets, the most challenging of the various ski areas. The main linked slopes of Le Brévent and La Flégère are easily reached from hotels in Chamonix. The first lifts open on December 7 and the last ones close for the summer on May 4.
Best for advanced skiers and riders prepared to explore off-piste with a guide.
Recommended tour operators Bigfoot (0870 300 5874; bigfoot-travel.co.uk), Flexiski (020 8939 0862; flexiski.com), Huski (0800 520 0935; huski.com), Igo Ski (020 3051 8691; igoski.co.uk), Iglu Ski, PowderBeds, Ski Collection (0844 576 0175; skicollection.com), Ski Independence (0131 243 8097; ski-i.com), Snowtrex (020 3365 3313; snowtrex.co.uk), Ski Weekend (01392 878353; skiweekend.com), Ski Weekends (02380 987996; skiweekends.com), Sno.co.uk, Snow-wise.
Courmayeur, Italy Courmayeur is an ancient climbing town just below the Italian end of the Mont Blanc Tunnel. It is linked to Chamonix across the Aiguille du Midi, but has its own separate and sunny ski area where the majority of visitors spend their days. It’s open from November 30 to April 21. The Mont Blanc cable-car runs for ski-tourers until the end of May. Courmayeur is easily reached in 90 minutes from Turin or Geneva airports. Its focal point is the pedestrianised Via Roma with its fabulous restaurants, designer boutiques, and a scattering of antique shops. It gets busy at weekends when Italians from Milan and Turin head for the hills. However, for many of them, the little town centre is about as far as they get – by no means all of them ski and there’s plenty of room on the mountain, if not in the restaurants.
Best for all standards, romantic weekenders, foodies.
Recommended tour operators Alpine Answers, Flexiski, Momentum Ski (020 7371 9111; momentumski.com), Ski Weekends, Sno.co.uk, Snow-wise.
Verbier, Switzerland Verbier has a dedicated weekend clientele, not least because you can reach the resort by train from Geneva airport. You change at Martigny for the branch line to Le Châble at the bottom of the Verbier lift system.
There are other, better resorts for skiing on groomed runs, but few match the majesty of the off-piste that Verbier has to offer. This season the ski area is linked to Bruson, a magnificent powder cache that previously was largely the domain of locals in the know.
Creature comforts and a hectic nightlife are the norm in a resort that attracts the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Heston Blumenthal and James Blunt. It’s the setting for the first alpine W Hotel, which opens this winter in a giant new complex that has transformed the lift base area at Medran.
Best for experienced skiers and riders, party-goers.
Recommended tour operators CK Verbier (0041 79 412 7398; ckverbier.com), Flexiski, Powder White (020 8877 8888; powderwhite.com), Ski Verbier (020 7401 1101; skiverbier.com), Verbier Exclusive (01608 674011; verbierexclusive.com).