On The Road

Ski Runs To Put On Your Bucket List

It’s snow time: from groomed and glorious to unchartered and challenging, take your pick of these

  • Photograph by Grant Gunderson

Whether it’s for their vertiginous heights, challenging topography or dazzling views, most major ski resorts have a signature run, a standout star that looms head and shoulders above the rest. Some are famed as purring cruisers, others are feared for their monstrous moguls. All are toasted, dissected and applauded over steins and glühweins every evening during the ski season, and all are worthy adversaries for the ambitious skier.

We’ve sifted through the snowy corners of the globe to shine the floodlights on eight of the most impressive slopes that are as challenging and beautiful as they are iconic for ski aficionados. From the white gold at the heart of the Rocky Mountains to the famous flanks of the French Alps and the powder-kissed peaks of Japan, these really are the best of the best – the slopes to put on your bucket list.

La Sarenne

  • Photograph courtesy of Alpe d’Huez Tourisme

Alpe d’Huez, France

Level: Intermediate/ advanced. 

The rundown: At 10 miles, this is one of the longest runs in Europe, and is rightly considered one of the most iconic. Starting at the top of the Pic Blanc cable car, it descends more than 2,000 vertical metres, beginning with a steep mogul field, before diving into the picturesque Sarenne gorge.

Insider tip: La Sarenne has recently been fitted with six webcams, so skiers can check out real-time snow conditions from their phones and pick the perfect time to hit the cable car and tackle Alpe d’Huez’s most famous challenge.

Après-ski: La Folie Douce. The legendary Val d’Isère party venue opened a branch in Alpe d’Huez last winter, which instantly became the place to be in town. 

Stay at: Club Chateau, a smart seven-bed chalet-hotel with a large living area, enormous log fire and live-in chef. There’s also a sauna and hot tub for a muscle-soothing soak and the location is ideal: right by the DMC gondola.

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DAVE MURRAY DOWNHILL

  • Photograph by Mike Crane. Courtesy of Tourism Whistler

Whistler, Canada

Level: Advanced.

The rundown: A long, glorious run meandering its way down the spine of Whistler Mountain, all the way to Whistler Creek. This was the 2010 Olympic men’s downhill course, which was considered to be the closest race of all time, but it’s been resculpted into a single black diamond run (the North American equivalent of a red piste).

Insider tip: Tackle Dave immediately after he’s been groomed, for a fast, flowing ride, and keep your eyes open for the official end of the Olympic run. This is a few hundred metres shorter than the trail today – you don’t want to mistime that finishing line fist pump.

Après-ski: Dusty’s, Whistler’s original watering hole, sits at the base of the Creekside Gondola. Renowned for its outstanding barbecue (particularly the pulled pork burger), it also hosts excellent live music sessions. 

Stay at: Nita Lake Lodge. A refreshing change from run-of-the-mill ski digs, this luxury spa hotel is nestled on the shore of a glacier-fed lake, but is still only a five-minute free shuttle ride from the heart of Whistler.

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the wall

  • Photograph by Dylan H Brown

Avoriaz, France

Level: Intermediate/ advanced.

The rundown: As its name suggests, The Wall is steep. In fact, it’s almost vertical. Known locally as “Pas de Chavanette”, it starts on the French/ Swiss border, but would look more at home “north of The Wall” in an episode of Game of Thrones. It’s never groomed, so after healthy snowfall it can be managed by confident intermediates, but in icier conditions, only experienced skiers should hit The Wall. On the plus side, they’ll be able to boast about it for the rest of their trip, particularly if they avoid a steep section and overcome it without a single fall.

Insider tip: Go early. Avoriaz is one of the best European resorts for early snow.

Après-ski: Chez L’envers is the place to see and be seen, particularly on the terrace, where DJs play every afternoon.

Stay at: Hotel des Dromonts, an Avoriaz institution that has recently been renovated to a very high spec.

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THE STREIF

  • Photograph by Albin Niederstrasser

Kitzbühel, Austria

Level: Intermediate/ advanced.

The rundown: “Every single racer who gets to the bottom is a winner,” said legendary skier Mr Franz Klammer, when asked about The Streif. Once a year, this infamous run down Austria’s Hahnenkamm mountain is the toughest downhill race of the Alpine Skiing World Cup. The rest of the time it’s a red piste that you can take on yourself, wondering at how the professionals soar down it (and over the enormous jumps) at speeds of up to 85mph.

Insider tip: Before tackling the run, try the Streif simulator at the top of the Hahnenkamm gondola. Shaped like a giant skier, you step into it, place your face inside the helmet and experience all of the twists, turns and nuances of the course.

Après-ski: Cafe-Bar Bergsinn. Toast your day over happy-hour cocktails at this lively bar located at the centre of Kitzbühel.

Stay at: Schwarzer Adler. Open since the mid-19th century, this four-star property is one of Kitzbühel’s most sought-after hotels and boasts a heated rooftop pool with excellent views over The Streif itself.

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STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

  • Photograph by Grant Gunderson

Niseko, Japan

Level: Intermediate.

The rundown: Located in the Hirafu village area of Niseko, this run is aptly named. Its gentle pitch is flanked by silver birches, which frame ethereal views beyond. It’s also normally carpeted in the fluffy powder for which Japan’s premier ski resort is rightly renowned.

Insider tip: Some of the most impressive skiing around Hirafu takes place at night, with a number of runs (including Stairway to Heaven) floodlit until 8.30pm.

Après-ski: Bar Gyu is the coolest of Niseko’s nightspots. Also known as the “fridge bar”, you bend down to enter through an old refrigerator door. 

Stay at: The Green Leaf, a ski-in, ski-out property with its own natural onsen (Japanese hot spring), which is perfect for piste-bashed thighs. Top tip: the rooms on the fifth floor have the best views.

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TRIFTJI

  • Photograph courtesy of Zermatt Bergbahnen AG

Zermatt, Switzerland

Level: Advanced.

The rundown: One of the world’s most famous mogul runs, Triftji is a genuine challenge. First, it starts above 3,000m, so you’ll be short of breath before you’ve even begun. Second, it is seriously long, so you’ll need good, consistent technique to get to the bottom without exhausting yourself. You’ll earn genuine kudos once you get there – and a straight shot to the nearby gastro hamlet of Findeln for a well-deserved celebratory lunch.

Insider tip: The best time to attempt Triftji is after mid-January because a lot of snow is required to cover the jutting rocks properly. Entry to the run is also difficult, so swallow your pride and snowplough or side-slip onto the face.

Après-ski: Hennu Stall, located near the bottom of the Furi-Zermatt slope, is the most fun après-ski spot in town with lively DJs and lots of dancing.

Stay at: Backstage Hotel Vernissage. Built and run by Zermatt’s star designer, Mr Heinz Julen, this movie-inspired modernist property is located in the centre of town and has an impressive spa.

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LONG SHOT

  • Photograph by iStock by Getty Images

Aspen Snowmass, Colorado, USA

Level: Intermediate.

The rundown: It’s a five-minute hike at the start, but that’s a small price to pay for the most famous run in the world’s most glitzy ski resort. One of the longest pistes in North America at 5.3 miles, it begins above the Elk Camp quad chair before flowing gracefully all the way back into the valley – a genuine treat as you swoop in and out of Aspen trees, through Colorado’s famous powder snow.

Insider tip: Snowmass has the Noon Groom (a freshly groomed run that opens at 12.00pm) every day, so even those who want to sleep in get some fresh tracks “on corduroy” (combed snow).

Après-ski: 39 Degrees Lounge. Recently named one of the Top 10 Poolside Bars in America (by Playboy), the Sky Hotel’s drinking den is where the cool crowd hang out post-piste. That’s right, poolside. It has a heated outdoor pool and hot tub where you can share the bubbles with the likes of Ms Kate Hudson.

Stay at: The Little Nell. “Little” by name, not by size or reputation, the Nell is the undisputed queen of the Aspen hotel scene and it is the only five-star ski-in and ski-out property in town.

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CORBET’S COULOIR

  • Photograph by Fisher Creative

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA

Level: Expert.

The rundown: “Someone will ski that one day,” said mountaineer Mr Barry Corbet to his boss in 1960 as they surveyed what was to become Jackson Hole resort. He was pointing at a vicious narrow chute shaped like an inverted funnel. And he was right. Today, it is one of the world’s most celebrated and challenging ski runs: the leap of craziness known as Corbet’s Couloir. Entry to the chute is a straight drop of between 2m and 9m, depending on snowfall, and it ranges from scary to terrifying.

Insider tip: As soon as you land, you need to throw your weight forward to make an immediate right turn around a rock. After that, the bottom of the funnel is a fluffy snow-filled dream.

Après-ski: The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is a landmark watering hole packed with cowboy memorabilia, including Billy the Kid’s silver revolver (complete with notches in its handle denoting his kills). The venue is nearly as deep in celebrity patrons as Corbet’s Couloir is in powder – Messrs Justin Timberlake, Ryan Reynolds and Quentin Tarantino have all perched on the studded leather saddles that double as bar stools. 

Stay at: Hotel Terra, located in bustling Teton Village, is an “eco-boutique” property complete with slope-side location and rooftop hot tub.

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