In our final Crystal awards, we reveal the resort our customers voted as their overall favourite, as well as the places that gives the best value and the resorts with the smallest queues. So who is the champion of all the resorts? Read on to find out…
Best Overall Resort
This is the big one – the resorts our customers voted as the best place to go skiing. Although all ski holidays are a completely personal experience, these 5 resorts got the best possible scores from our customers and if you don’t have them on your “must-ski” list, they need to be there.
1st– Banff, Canada
Michael:For the second year running Banff takes the award for best overall holiday resort. So why does Banff do so well each year? It’s the combination of everything you could want for the perfect ski holiday. Let’s start with the skiing. There are 3 resorts – between them you have nigh on 300 runs. This is Alberta, so you get the driest snow to be found in virtually all of Canada. And, the ski areas are enormous– Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are both huge resorts. Either one of them would keep a competent skier entertained for a long time, but having both on the same pass is something else. Add to this the fact that you are in the very epicentre of the Canadian Rockies, in a National Park with wandering wildlife. Although après-ski isn’t huge, nightlife is. We love Banff for the authentic Canada ski experience – seems our customers do too.
2nd– Ruka, Finland
Suzanne: When it comes to things to do, there are few places that rival Ruka. There is huge range of activities available with something going on every day. You can take your pick from reindeer sleigh rides, snowmobiling, husky safaris, or even a trip out to Santa’s secret cottage. And, if you’re lucky, you may even get to see the breathtaking Northern lights. Ruka is also a great place to learn to ski. The lessons are in the morning and the runs are floodlit with skiing up until 11pm, so you won’t find yourself having to choose between doing one of the activities and spending time on the slopes. It is this wide variety of things to do that makes Ruka so popular with families, couples, beginner/intermediate skiers. It is perfect for anyone looking for a holiday that will give them a complete winter experience.
3rd– Galtur, Austria
Matt: Have you ever heard of Galtür? For those who have, then you might know it as Ischgl’s smaller and quieter sibling and not much more. Not many people shout about how good Galtür is and for one very good reason: They don’t want you coming down and spoiling it.
Basically, Galtür has everything that a top ski resort should have. There’s a dedicated kids’ area, for youngsters learning their first turns – and a kindergarten for those too small for skiing. More advanced skiing kids can have fun and improve their skills exploring the fairy-tale forest, completing an obstacle course and whizzing through tunnels in the adventure area. Mountain lodges and restaurants are on hand for a lunch-time stop-off, while wannabe freestylers and those who already know their misty flip from an iron cross can hone their talents in the activity park – with kickers, rails and boxes of varying difficulty. There’s 40km of on-piste skiing on your doorstep with a variety of terrain from easy to challenging. There are also 3 ungroomed ski routes for a real powder experience and an awesome freeriding area for real experts to really push their abilities to the limit. Still need more? Well there’s also a free ski-bus to take you down the road to nearby Ischgl, Kappl and See (all covered on an area pass) to extend your skiing range to a total of 330km. And, if the daytime hasn’t wiped you out, then you can get stuck in to a spot of night skiing. Back in the village you also have a choice of sophisticated and relaxed après ski, lively party nights and a great selection of cafes, bars and gourmet cuisine.
4th– Verbier, Switzerland
Kevin: Skiers love Verbier for plenty of reasons. The 4 Valleys ski area offers an enormous 410km of piste catering for the advanced adrenaline seeking skiers right through to the beginners. The resort itself is full of alpine charm and you can take your pick between traditionally Swiss restaurants, vibrant bars and buzzing nightlife. You can also do all the activities you can handle including ice climbing, helicopter tours, husky sledding and lots more.
5th– Claviere, Italy
Vanessa: There are three main reasons why Claviere is such a great overall resort. It’s part of the Milky Way ski area, with over 400km of piste, making it a superb destination for fun skiing with extensive and quiet slopes throughout. The fantastic Crystal childcare we offer in resort (based at the Hotel Grand Claviere) is just 5 minutes walk from the nearest slopes and beginners area. Finally, the all inclusive package we offer at the Grand Claviere makes Claviere excellent value.
So, you want to ski but you’re on a budget. Where should you go? A lot of people will think Bulgaria, but there are other places out there with fantastic value. There may be a couple here that take you by surprise.
1st– Pamporovo, Bulgaria
Michael: Are we surprised that a Bulgarian resort got the top spot for overall value? Not really – but what may surprise you is what high quality you can get in Bulgaria. Pamporovo has got the top spot this year elsewhere in the Crystal Awards for value for money in resort. If you’re learning to ski you’ll want a drink after and at just over £1 a pint you won’t break the bank. Plus if you want a slap up meal instead of the hotel buffet, then you can do it for well under £10 each. The learn to ski package here is just £129pp including lift pass, rentals and lessons for 6 days. Not only is the price unbeatable, but it’s won the Crystal Awards for best adult ski school and best beginners skiing – voted for by our customers, so you can be sure you’re getting exceptional tuition. The overall holiday score was 9 out 10 for this resort so don’t just think of Bulgaria as just a cheap destination. It is cheap, but you still get superb quality – which means Bulgaria is appearing more and more in the Crystal Awards.
Matt: There’s one thing that people ask me all the time about winter sports: “As a beginner, what if I don’t like skiing?” Aside from the obvious confusion as to how anyone could ever dislike the most exhilarating holiday experience in the world, I advise them to go small and go for something that doesn’t break the bank. There are a few places that would make this list, and, for me, Kranjska Gora would top it.
There’s a whole host of things that make this place great value. So, to begin, Kranjska Gora combines the finesse and service that you would expect in any of the big three ski countries. It has great food. It has one of the best ski schools going. Out of all the ski-countries using the Euro, Slovenia comes out as the cheapest holiday package time and time again. The lift pass comes in under £150 for a week; first time ski or board packages including lift pass, tuition and equipment hire are under £240. Your spending money goes a heck of a lot further here than in neighbouring Austria and Italy too, with a beer in resort from around £2-£2.50 and lunch by the slopes for around a fiver. Kranjska Gora isn’t the biggest ski area in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but if you and your family want quality skiing in a friendly, relaxed environment on uncrowded slopes and without having to remortgage your house to afford it then KG should be for you. If you are a beginner, I think there is very little out there that can beat it.
3rd– Claviere, Italy
Vanessa: With the all inclusive Grand Claviere, it is of little surprise that Claviere is in the top 3 for overall value resorts. Staying here can save you a pretty penny by taking advantage of the free après wine and beer, served from 4.30pm. There are also plenty of soft drinks for the kids and hot drinks if you need warming up after a chilly day. As well as this you can enjoy free aperitifs before dinner and more free wine and beer throughout your meal, served up until 10.30pm.
4th– Alpbach, Austria
Matt: Being cheap does not equate to value. Value is all about quality vs. cost. I’m not afraid to say that Alpbach is not the cheapest resort in the world. But when you look at the amount of skiing available (145km); how attractive the ski area is (it was voted Austria’s most beautiful town a few years back); the fact that you pay real town prices, on and off the mountain; and combine this with the quality of the hotels then you have great value for money.
5th– St Wolfgang, Austria
Matt: The best thing about a pair of reliable rental skis is that they often don’t need to be super high tech. They’ll get you where you want to go, and do you proud. They’re better than the downright ancient ones you’ll see some locals rocking, but maybe a couple of seconds slower than the super professional ones. In St Wolfgang, there are certain things that you’ll love like the scenic location, the quality of the hotels and the real winter wonderland atmosphere. There are some down sides too; you need to get on a bus to the slopes and, oh, that’s about it for down sides.
What I am trying to say is, not everyone will opt for St. Wolfgang but those that choose it will be pleasantly surprised by how good it is for the price you pay. If you look at many of the North American ski resorts, quite a few of those require a bus journey to the slopes. That’s after a 10 hour flight, 4 hour transfer and a hefty price tag. What you get with St Wolfgang is a real village, with real locals, who live there all year round.
The bug bear of any skier or snowboarder is queuing – no one likes them, it’s a simple as that. So if you don’t like a scrabble for the lifts, discover the best places to avoid them.
1st– La Thuile, Italy
Vanessa: Linked with La Rosiere, in France, La Thuile allows you to explore a huge ski area with a fantastic modern and fast lift system. The slopes stay blissfully uncrowded, meaning you can head up to your favourite piste without queuing and the north facing slopes ensure that the snow stays good all day. There are also some great off piste areas to explore, which makes the slopes even quieter. You’ll be amazed by the breathtaking scenery overlooking the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa and Mont Blanc. We recommend you take the Chaz Dura and Chaz Dura Express lifts as far as Monte Belvedere at 2641m, where you’ll experience the spectacular 360 degree panoramic view of the area.
2nd– Claviere, Italy
Vanessa: Moving from 4th to 2nd place this year, Claviere is a charming little town which sits right on the Italian French border. Even though it’s close to such a big city the Italians tend not to ski during the week in vast numbers, so you have the place to yourself. As it’s a small town, even at peak times, there are rarely any kind of queue for the lifts and when there is it tends to be extremely organised – which goes against all other areas of Italy. Add to this access to the Milky Way’s 400km of skiing and you can see why our customers love Claviere.
Matt: Hochgurgl is Austria’s highest ski resort at 2,163m. Obergurgl is its, slightly lower (1,930m), linked neighbour. Both are extremely popular for a number of reasons; they are snow-sure resorts, they have extremely high quality and family friendly hotels with top notch food and some awesome on and off-piste skiing. Both Hochgurgl and Obergurgl have gained a reputation as pretty exclusive resorts, and this is one of the reasons that they have really short lift queues – it also means that the slopes are nice and uncrowded. They’ve also got some of the fastest and most up-to-date lifts across Europe. The lifts are also well placed too, so that you can easily get from one area to another for minimal time sat on your bum and more time on your skis/snowboard enjoying the big vertical drops and exploring the full area.
4th– Ruka, Finland
Suzanne: If you’re a family with beginner snowboarders/skiers and kids taking ski school and you don’t like queues (which covers pretty much everybody), then Ruka is for you. Because the resort is quite small, queues are almost non-existent and not everything is focused on the skiing. Off the mountain there is a massive range of winter activities which keeps the slopes quiet, meaning you’ll never have to stand in line – perfect for learning to ski. In January you have the slopes to yourselves and it feels like a private resort. The only thing to stop you will be your own legs and the phenomenal views.
So that’s the end of the Crystal awards for 2013. What did you think? If you’ve got a suggestion for next year’s categories or want to comment on the winners, leave a comment or get in touch on Facebook or Twitter.