Stubai is the perfect Ski Easy valley – just 40 minutes from Innsbruck airport. It has three charming resorts and Austria’s largest glacier skiing area, open from October until June and all on one lift pass. Stubai is a perfect place for families – there are free lift passes for children up to 10 when accompanied by a parent, and the friendly ski school gives lessons to ages three and up.
The Stubai Glacier offers 150km of runs, from 1,750m up to 3,210m, in a spectacular setting dotted with jagged rocks and often above the clouds. You arrive by gondola to find a large area served by 25 lifts, including six-seater chairs. There are plenty of cruising reds and blues, several blacks and off-piste runs, along with the 10km downhill slope all the way to the bottom station. A fun park for beginners and advanced boarders, as well as the new children’s course, is very popular.
There are large self-service restaurants with sundecks, and the Jochdohle has Austria’s highest restaurant. The new Comfort Centre is one of Austria’s biggest rental centres. Schlick 2000 is the valley’s biggest area away from the glacier. A gondola gets you up to a sheltered bowl where there is a selection of blues and reds. There’s a new piste (with snowmaking) down to the village, as well as an unpisted ski route. Children have their own area with moving carpets. Beginners benefit from easy slopes, and there’s a freeride zone and terrain park. The villages of Fulpmes and Telfes are the pretty places to stay.
Serles is the gateway to the valley, with a gondola up from the village of Mieders, less than half an hour from Innsbruck. The slopes are small (just a few reds and blues) but in a lovely setting – and there are several off-piste ski routes. Elfer is the ski area at Neustift, the valley’s biggest village. There are good nursery slopes, plus some reds and blues. Neustift is the major place to stay in the valley with hotels, bars and discos along with swimming pool and bowling.
Once Europe’s cheap and cheerful ski capital, Andorra has spent €150m upgrading lifts and is now one of Europe’s Ski Easy paradises. But it’s not Ski Easy to get there, as it’s more than 2.5 hours from the French gateway airports and over three hours from Barcelona. Nor is it easy on the pocket – the Grandvalira pass is one of the most expensive in Europe. Pity, because Andorra has a lot going for it, being the sunniest ski region in Europe – on the same latitude as Rome. You might expect a Dolce Vita style in the slope restaurants, but sadly most of it is typical mountain slop – burgers, frankfurters and all with chips. But there are a few isolated areas of excellence. Intermediates have great blues and reds scattered across the mountain, whilst expert terrain is somewhat limited. The off-piste can be excellent and remains untracked for weeks after a snowfall as most skiers here only stick to the marked runs.
Pas de la Casa has the most challenging terrain in the Grandvalira, spread across three adjacent valleys. The local slopes are all above the treeline and north-facing, offering the most snowsure conditions in the principality. Intermediates have the pick of the crop with plenty of excellent reds off the top of Pic Blanc. From here you can also ski down to Grau Roig, a pleasant wooded valley that has excellent nursery facilities in the village. Après ski? Pas de la Casa is nicknamed Pal de la Khazi because of its robust alcohol-fuelled après ski. Arinsal was once as famous for its après ski as its skiing, but things are changing rapidly. First came the telecabine link with Pal, and then a new telecabine to the pleasant village of Massana, boosting accommodation options.
Pal-Arinsal features 63km of runs, best for intermediates and beginners. The wooded slopes of Pal are wonderful. The area is also popular with boarders thanks to a massive freestyle area featuring a 4-5 metre high halfpipe, boxes & rails, gap jumps, tables, hips, and a skier/boardercross course. Arcalis is Andorra’s hidden gem – a delightfully remote and uncrowded ski area that seems a million miles away from the bustle of Gradvalira. It is also the resort where many locals ski and some say it has the best skiing in the principality. There is no accommodation here so skiers only come here on day trips – a 20-minute drive from the village of Ordino.