When the COVID -19 pandemic hit Europe in March 2020 no one believed that the 2021 ski season would be affected as much as it has been. We all closed our ski shops, bars and lift pass offices with the prospect of getting back to “normal” when the snow made its way back again after the summer.
It will no doubt be a slightly different winter when and if the lifts start turning again. The likelihood of hundreds of revellers packed, dancing on sun soaked alpine terraces seems slim. Cramming into gondolas with hundreds of strangers does not feel like the safest idea either. So, how can we keep as safe as possible while enjoying as much as the mountain has to offer this winter? It is time to consider the smaller resorts, away from the crowds of international travelers, the local’s secrets.
Here are 10 ski resorts, ranging from the quieter to the completely dead, with plenty of open air lifts to avoid breaking social distancing measures. These resorts include chairlifts or drag lifts, rather than gondolas, providing the main piste access from the resort in order to avoid the morning rush-hour sardine-packing. All of the resorts chosen offer a wide range of activities away from the lifts such as ski touring, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, and so on. Something I have learned from living in the Alps this winter is that these places have far more to offer than just skiing.
Height: 1200m – 2550m
Pistes: 47 (165 km)
The traffic-free Valmorel village has great access from nearby Moutiers and is often overlooked due to its proximity to the Three Valleys area. With a choice of a chairlift or a gondola rising out of the town and plenty of drag lifts, getting around the mountain and keeping a social distance is easy here.
You can also ski over the famous Col de la Madeleine towards the linked Saint-François Longchamp which has some excellent long runs that sit in the sun for most of the day.
Apart from skiing there are many popular mountain walking trails, with a few that lead straight to mountain restaurants.
Check the resort website for more information on skiing in Valmorel
Height: 1550m – 2622m
Pistes: 24 (41 km)
Hidden in the Tarentaise Valley close to Les Arcs, St Foy’s lift access skiing is modest which makes it far quieter than its neighbouring mega-resorts.
However the off-piste and ski touring that it has to offer is famous amongst those who are in the know. Despite its mini Mecca like status I have spent plenty of days up there feeling as though I had the place to myself.
Check the resort website for more information on skiing in Sainte Foy
Height: 1860m – 2700m
Pistes: 48 (99 km)
Situated right on the Franco-Italian border in the southern alps, Montgenèvre offers brilliant skiing for everyone from beginners to pro freeriders. It has plenty of different chair lift options to get out of town and minimal bottle necks. As part of the ‘Mont de la Lune’, the lift pass offers cross-border skiing into the beautiful, tranquille Italian resort of Clavière.
Depending on government guidelines it could mean a quick five minute drive for covid-frienly lift access. Ski lifts or not, mountain restaurants such as ‘Chalet Monsoleil’ above Clavière offer snowmobile taxi rides up to the idyllic mountain plateau setting. There is no better place to spend the afternoon.
Check the resort website for more information on skiing in Montgenèvre and Clavière
Height: 1080m – 2300m
Pistes: 28 (50 km)
Arêches, just along the road from Beaufort itself, is a stunning, authentic, traditional alpine village. Despite the slightly low elevation of the skiable area, the snow record is phenomenal, with weather systems being dragged to the area by the nearby Mont Blanc massif.
With plenty of open air lifts and the whole Beaufortain mountain range, famous for ski touring, to explore this is a great option. Plus the cheese that takes its name from the town is worth the trip in itself. If you want the best, go to the source
Check the resort website for more information on skiing in Arêches- Beaufort
Height: 1067m – 1743m
Pistes: 30 (36 km)
This gem is off the beaten track and missed by many travelers to the region. Berwang is located in the Tyrol, Austria and offers ski-in ski-out from the village.
The ski area includes Bichlbach and Rinnen which are found around the other side of the valley. This allows you to follow the sun around as you cruise the fantastic choice of intermediate slopes. Off the slopes Berwang offers night tobogganing, ice skating and curling.
Check the resort website for more information on skiing in Bergbahnen Berwang
Height: 1816m – 2798m
Pistes: 78 (115 km)
Livigno’s vast open spaces and high altitude make it a freeriders dream. Combine that with some world class terrain parks and long cruisy pistes and you are onto a winner. Livigno is pretty remote, set deep in the mountains of the Alta Valtellina, on the Italian – Swiss border.
The Alta Valtellina Ski Pass is a great option giving you access to Livigno, Bormio, Santa Caterina and Cima Piazzi ski areas, opening up plenty of crowd-escaping terrain. The season also runs really late, all the way into May, giving a little more time for the vaccine roll out, perhaps.
Check the resort website for more information on skiing in Livigno
Height: 1450m – 2880m
Pistes: 82 (152 km)
La Thuile is a humble Italian resort, just below the famous Col du Petit St Bernard, which links with the French resort of La Rosière.
La Thuile is a snow magnet and is a favourite of the powder skiing addicts with some excellent, accessible off-piste terrain. The large, flat area above Les Suches area is perfect for beginners and intermediates with plenty of blues to choose from. La Thuile is always quiet, even during peak weeks of the season.
I do not think they even have a word for “lift queue” over that side of the Aosta valley. The food is incredible too and at remarkably low prices.
Check the website resort for more information on skiing in La Thuile and La Rosière
Height: 1410m – 2355m
Pistes: 24 (26 km)
Tucked quietly just around the corner from the madness of Courchevel and The Three Valleys, Pralognan la Vanoise sits inside the Vanoise National Park.
With dramatic peaks such as Le Grand Bec and Le Grande Casse towering above this charming alpine village, it is busier with walkers and climbers in the summer than it is in the winter. It is worth going just for the views. Pralognan is also an excellent ski touring base, with plenty of classic tours all around the area, many of which incorporate mountain refuges for multi-day expeditions.
Height: 830m – 1215m
Pistes: 15 (13 km)
Located a two and half hour drive from Prague in the Krkonoše mountains, Pec Pod Snezkou offers brilliant, quiet, intermediate skiing. For anyone looking for something different, off the beaten track, with interesting alpine culture this is a great choice.
With tonnes of secluded, middle-of-nowhere feeling accommodation not far from the resort, Covid might feel like a distant memory, or maybe as though you are living a post-Covid era.
Check the resort website for more information on skiing in Pec Pod Snezkou
Height: 1212m – 3275m
Pistes: 66 (180 km)
Nestled right in the middle of the Monterosa ski domain, underneath the second tallest mountain in the Alps of the same name, hides Gressoney. With vast amounts of intermediate skiing, across three valleys, there is plenty of space to get away from the hordes.
You can definitely put in the miles as you ride up and over each valley and there are plenty of quaint mountain refueling spots along the way too, often with their own home brewed liqueur. For the adrenaline addicts the steep slopes above the picturesque village of Alagna are known to the locals as “Freeride Paradise”.
Check the resort website for more information on skiing in Monterosa
This winter we could all do with a breath of fresh air and the wide open spaces of the Alps is the perfect place. You might even find out why the locals are keeping these places a secret.
Due to the current situation we advise checking the resort’s website when planning your trip. For coverage be sure to get travel insurance. battleface offers a winter activities add on to their travel medical insurance for all your needs.Last updated on Oct 21, 2022
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