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Inspiration4-minute read

Olympian Chemmy Alcott’s favourite European slopes


01/10/2020

Europe famously lays on a vast array of superb pistes, and in among the Matterhorns and Verbiers of the world there are still some hidden gems to discover, even for the most experienced of skiers. What’s great about Europe is that there’s really something for every snow-hunter. Craving pristine powder, heated chair lifts and pop music après? Head to Austria. Fancy dancing on the tables in your ski boots? France is for you. Whereas for foodies, coffee fans and sunrises, it’s none other than Italy. Here are my favourite European ski slopes.

  • Photograph: Thierry Sermier

Secluded Zinal has guaranteed snow during the winter

Zinal, Switzerland

The journey up to this hidden gem is a hairy one, but it’s worth it. Once you’ve overcome the narrow switchback road to the village, it’s all downhill from there – but in a good way! This is one of my favourite feel-good spots in the world and makes for a perfect long weekend destination. Between runs, soak up the stunning panoramic views, safe in the knowledge you can’t lose your kids here (I’ve been here many times with my own children and those I train at ski camps) as all runs funnel to the gondola.

Zinal is perfect for any experience level, with fun terrain for racers, off-pisters and groomed glory hunters alike. The col off the top ridgeline is my favourite piste. It has a vertical wide pitch that is so fun to arc down (you will pick up speed pretty quickly due to its steep gradient, so be careful).

For kicking back after a hard day’s skiing, pick from any of the superb vineyards that cover the valleys all the way from Geneva to Zinal.

How to get there: Zinal is around two hours from Geneva airport

Take off to Geneva

  • Photograph: Adobe Stock

Alagna has some serious off-piste terrain

Alagna, Italy

Alagna is a great ski spot because not many people are aware of it. It’s a semi-secret slope only really known to off-piste lovers looking for a vertical thrill and deep powder. Don’t be put off by the skiers wearing harnesses and ABS packs in the queue for the lift. It’s a great place to go for all levels of experience. I highly recommend hiring a guide to ensure you get the most out of your time there, as they know all the epic pockets of snow (and where to stop for a glass of red wine, too!).

The area is also big on heli-skiing, so if the conditions are favourable consider trading in the skinny skis for some fat ones and invest in a drop (they start at around €300 and you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy it) to make the most of them.

Whenever I head to Algana, I always try to fit in a secret stopover in Lake Orta on the way down to Milan airport. It’s a stunning Italian lake with half as many tourists as nearby Lake Como, and just as beautiful.

How to get there: Alagna is around 45 minutes from Milan airport

Take off to Milan

  • Photograph: Getty Images

Flaine has a great family feel

Flaine, France

I learned to ski in Flaine, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. Recently, it’s been going through a renaissance in terms of both investment in its lift structure and popularity. I love the pistes here and frequently reminisce about secret little jumps and tree paths I’ve been skiing for more than 35 years. Gers is an epic black run (a slope for advanced skiiers with a gradient of more than 40 per cent) that always gives me a thrill. Note to first timers: brace yourself for the ski lift here – it’s not for the faint of heart.

What I also love about Flaine is that it has a real family feel. It’s where my boys have been learning to ski over the last few years and they love it (I’d recommend the ESF there). For me, a family holiday doesn’t get much better than skiing, a siesta, then swimming (there’s a great baby pool, too). If the parents can squeeze in an Aperol spritz at the recently renovated Terminal Neige Totem hotel, then even better!

How to get there: Flaine is around 70 minutes from Geneva airport

Take off to Geneva

  • Photograph: Getty Images

Chemmy Alcott has been skiing in Hintertux for more than 30 years

Hintertux, Austria

I've been skiing in Hintertux for more than 30 years as I’m often there coaching children pre-season and adults before Christmas. This local is a regular haunt for young and old ski racers alike because its glacier ensures snow almost all year round. Piste number two is my favourite here, as it slopes down the ridge from the Tuxer Fernerhaus – a long, wide groomer twisting its way down the mountain with a varying gradient.

The hotels in Hinterux are all brilliant, regardless of your budget. This is in part because spas are such an ingrained part of Swiss culture that outdoor pools, infrared saunas and steam rooms are par for the course. However, my recommendation for a good night’s sleep and spoil-yourself spa trip would be to stay at the Tirolerhof in Lanersbach, where I’ve been going for years. It’s been recently renovated and now has a stunning outdoor pool and yoga studio.

The cherry on top of any visit here, however, is the kaiserschmarrn, a delicious lunch dish made of sweetened pancakes that’s guaranteed to give you energy for the entire afternoon session.

How to get there: Hintertux is around an hour and 40 minutes from Innsbruck airport

Take off to Innsbruck

  • Photograph: Adobe Stock

Murren Mountain Village with Lauterbrunnen Valley and Swiss Alps in background

Mürren, Switzerland

Mürren is a chocolate-box village high up in the Swiss Alps with no road access (part of the fun is in leaving your car at the base and hauling your kit up either by train or gondola). I visited for the first time last year to race in the famous Inferno event (the world’s longest and oldest downhill) and was blown away by the vastness and length of the slopes. The Inferno is a 15km run that has it all: wide, pristine pistes and paths cut into steep mountains with huge towering rock faces that go on forever.

The views from the Schilthorn summit (known best by non-skiers as Bond villain Blofeld’s hideout in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) are some of the best in the world, and the experience of Bond World at Piz Gloria (2,970 metres high) is not to be missed (even going to the loo will create amazing memories…).

After the adrenaline rush of a day on the slopes, my favourite hangout is the Tächi Bar. It has a really cosy vibe and is full of lively, friendly locals and tourists. Just the ticket.

How to get there: Mürren is around two hours from Zurich airport

Take off to Zurich

  • Photograph: Alamy

The Lecht boasts its own Snow Factory

The Lecht, Scotland

I don’t think this list would be complete without a recommendation for closer to home. The Lecht in Scotland is where my husband’s passion for skiing developed as a wee bairn and has remained a favourite of ours ever since. It’s also made some impressive strides in becoming more self-sustainable, developing its own Snow Factory, which is powered by an on-site wind turbine. Not only does this ensure all-year-round snow for millions of skiers and snowboarders, but the electricity used to generate it is produced through wind power.

The highlight of the piste? The Harrier, a two-metre-per second slope that’ll have you grinning all the way down.

How to get there: The Lecht is around 80 minutes from Aberdeen airport

Take off to Aberdeen