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The Best Resorts for Weekend Skiing

Head to one of these ski resorts to ensure you spend as much time as possible on the slopes

Weekend skiing at its best means maximum time on snow and minimum time away from work. Achieving this involves detailed planning, professional help from a specialist tour operator – or both. The argument is that two full days – or better, three – on the mountain can be just as rewarding as a week. Most suitable resorts are within a 90-minute drive from a major airport. Specialist companies will meet you off your evening flight. They will have already arranged lift pass, equipment rental, and guide in advance so that no time is wasted on the first morning.

Laax, Switzerland Laax is linked to Flims and Falera, and together they form one of Europe’s largest but least known ski areas with 220km of mainly intermediate pistes. The skiing goes up to 3,018m with the lower villages at 1,100m. A daily shuttle service from Friedrichshafen and Zurich airports takes 90 minutes and costs £103 return. The area opens at weekends in November and the winter season lasts from November 30 to April 21. Laax is unofficially the freestyle capital of the Alps and attracts a strong 20-something following, with the action both on and off the slopes centred upon Laax Murschetg, the most ski-convenient bedbase. Best for all standards, party-goers. Recommended tour operators Alpine Answers (020 7801 1080:, Iglu Ski (020 8542 6658;, PowderBeds (0845 180 5000;, Powder Byrne (020 8246 5300;, Ski Safari (01273 224060;, Ski Solutions (020 7471 7700;, (020 8133 8899;, Snow Finders (01858 466883;, Snow-wise (020 3397 8450;, Zenith Holidays (020 3137 7678;

Chamonix, France Chamonix lies just an hour’s drive along the Autoroute Blanche from Geneva airport. Like Verbier, it is populated on winter weekends by a 21st-century breed of dedicated skier – the City Commuter. CCs have the funds to rent a flat for the season and buy all their airline tickets for the winter months well in advance. But you don’t have to be a serial weekender to enjoy yourself here. Accommodation is in the town itself and also scattered in hamlets along the Chamonix valley. The village of Argentière is situated at the foot of the Grands Montets, the most challenging of the various ski areas. The main linked slopes of Le Brévent and La Flégère are easily reached from hotels in Chamonix. The first lifts open on December 7 and the last ones close for the summer on May 4. Best for advanced skiers and riders prepared to explore off-piste with a guide. Recommended tour operators Bigfoot (0870 300 5874;, Flexiski (020 8939 0862;, Huski (0800 520 0935;, Igo Ski (020 3051 8691;, Iglu Ski, PowderBeds, Ski Collection (0844 576 0175;, Ski Independence (0131 243 8097;, Snowtrex (020 3365 3313;, Ski Weekend (01392 878353;, Ski Weekends (02380 987996;,, Snow-wise.

Courmayeur, Italy Courmayeur is an ancient climbing town just below the Italian end of the Mont Blanc Tunnel. It is linked to Chamonix across the Aiguille du Midi, but has its own separate and sunny ski area where the majority of visitors spend their days. It’s open from November 30 to April 21. The Mont Blanc cable-car runs for ski-tourers until the end of May. Courmayeur is easily reached in 90 minutes from Turin or Geneva airports. Its focal point is the pedestrianised Via Roma with its fabulous restaurants, designer boutiques, and a scattering of antique shops. It gets busy at weekends when Italians from Milan and Turin head for the hills. However, for many of them, the little town centre is about as far as they get – by no means all of them ski and there’s plenty of room on the mountain, if not in the restaurants. Best for all standards, romantic weekenders, foodies. Recommended tour operators Alpine Answers, Flexiski, Momentum Ski (020 7371 9111;, Ski Weekends,, Snow-wise.

Verbier, Switzerland Verbier has a dedicated weekend clientele, not least because you can reach the resort by train from Geneva airport. You change at Martigny for the branch line to Le Châble at the bottom of the Verbier lift system. There are other, better resorts for skiing on groomed runs, but few match the majesty of the off-piste that Verbier has to offer. This season the ski area is linked to Bruson, a magnificent powder cache that previously was largely the domain of locals in the know. Creature comforts and a hectic nightlife are the norm in a resort that attracts the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Heston Blumenthal and James Blunt. It’s the setting for the first alpine W Hotel, which opens this winter in a giant new complex that has transformed the lift base area at Medran. Best for experienced skiers and riders, party-goers. Recommended tour operators CK Verbier (0041 79 412 7398;, Flexiski, Powder White (020 8877 8888;, Ski Verbier (020 7401 1101;, Verbier Exclusive (01608 674011;

Kitzbühel, Austria Kitzbühel is one of a score of resorts that lie within an hour’s drive of Innsbruck airport. The short transfers and daily winter flights with both BA and easyJet make the Tyrolean capital one of the most convenient of all hubs for weekend skiers. Other nationalities – notably Americans – regard Innsbruck as a resort in its own right, but for some reason we in Britain do not. This is an error on our part. You can stay in Innsbruck itself and take the ski bus to a different area each morning, or travel up to the challenging runs on Nordkette from the city centre. But I prefer to base myself in Kitzbühel, the most beautiful and bustling of all alpine towns. It gives easy access to some of the best skiing in Austria. However, a word of warning for anyone weekending here: because of its location with high mountains on either side of the valley, Innsbruck airport is prone to sudden closure in bad weather. If all flights are cancelled you must relocate to Munich. Best for all standards, partygoers, gourmets, romantics.

Recommended tour operators Alpine Answers, Momentum, Ski Safari,, Snow Finders, Ski Weekends, Snowtrex, Snow-wise.

Morzine, France Morzine is a busy little town located a 75-minute drive from Geneva airport, while Les Gets is a tranquil village a quarter of an hour nearer. Both make good bases, depending on whether you want a nightlife and a wide choice of where to stay and eat, or somewhere with fewer crowds and easier mountain access. Both are important resorts in the 650km Portes du Soleil area that spans the Swiss frontier. In the past couple of years they have had good snow cover even at valley level for much of the season, but both lie at 1,000m and I wouldn’t rush to book too far in advance. Morzine is directly linked to Avoriaz. At 1,800m it’s the highest resort in the region – but still hardly snowsure. Best for all standards. Recommended tour operators Erna Low (020 7584 2841;, Igoski, Iglu Ski, Peak Retreats (0844 576 0170;, Ski Solutions, Skiology (07894 758535;, Simply Morzine (01664 568902;, Ski Independence, Ski Morzine (0845 370 1104;, Ski Weekends.

La Clusaz/Le Grand Bornand, France These are the two most important destinations of Lake Annecy Resorts (, with 130km of pistes in La Clusaz and 220km on the regional lift pass. They can be reached by car from Geneva airport in less than an hour. Because of a microclimate caused by its proximity to the Mont Blanc massif, snow cover is reliable – last winter La Clusaz recorded a mighty 9.36m at village level. Le Grand Bornand is the kind of idyllic chocolate-box village you hope to stumble across, but rarely do. Reblochon cheese comes from here and the Wednesday dairy-produce market has been going for some time – since 1795, to be exact. Both farming villages were here long before anyone thought of skiing down the surrounding mountains and cows still outnumber humans. Best for all standards, families.

Recommended tour operators Alpine Answers, Momentum, Peak Retreats, Ski Weekends, Skiweekender (0845 557 5983;, Snow Finders.

Engelberg, Switzerland Engelberg is situated at 1,020m above beautiful Lake Luzern. It’s easily reached in 75 minutes by car from Zurich airport or by train in two hours. This attractive small town has been dominated for the past 900 years by a magnificent Benedictine monastery. The younger of the 40 remaining monks can still be found enjoying the pistes, but sadly they no longer ski in their habits. The sunny pastures of Brunni, on one side of the town, form an ideal beginner and intermediate ski area dotted with huts providing welcome refreshments. But the real action is opposite on Mount Titlis with some superb pistes and long powder runs from 3,028m. Engelberg has an extraordinary split personality. In summer it becomes a location for Bollywood films – unrest in Kashmir having driven Indian producers to look overseas in search of snow-capped peaks and flower-filled meadows. Each spring and autumn the ski slopes come alive to the silken swish of saris, and mighty Mount Titlis echoes to the sounds of haunting Hindi love songs. The resort annually hosts some 30,000 fans from the subcontinent. But in winter it reverts to being the domain of skiers and snowboarders. At weekends there’s an influx of young freeriders from Zürich and Luzern the nightlife is full-on. Best for all standards, powderhounds, party-goers. Recommended tour operators Alpine Answers, Iglu, Flexiski, Momentum, Ski Safari, Snowtrex, Snow-wise.

Madesimo, Italy Madesimo used to be a popular destination with British skiers, but faded from the forefront 20 years ago. Now, thanks to investment in high-speed lifts, it is undergoing a welcome renaissance. A new tunnel on the road from Milan’s Linate airport has cut the journey time to little more than 90 minutes. It’s situated at 1,550m with the top lift going up to 300m so snow cover is assured.

Most of the skiing is of intermediate standard on well-groomed trails that snake down through the trees. But the highlight is the much more challenging 1,000m Canalone itinerary, which I rate as one of the classic runs of the Alps. The village is popular with Italian families in search of a picturesque and unpretentious village with sensibly-priced hotels and a couple of outstanding restaurants. It’s quiet during the week, but can get very busy at weekends – it’s best to avoid the two high season dates in the middle of February. Best for all standards, foodies. Recommended tour operators Momentum, Snowtrex.

Montgenèvre, France Montgenèvre is the only French Resort in the Via Lattea (Milky Way), a group of half-a-dozen resorts including Sauze d’Oulx and Sestriere that shares 400km of linked and mainly intermediate skiing across the French-Italian frontier. The road from Turin was dramatically improved in time for the Turin Winter Olympics of 2006, and journey time is about one hour. Montgenèvre is on the main arterial road from Briançon to Turin and in the past skiers used to take their life in their hands while dodging trans-European pantechnicons to reach the pistes. But thanks to a bypass tunnel the old town has now been transformed. You don’t, of course, have to stay here for your weekend – Sauze and Sestriere are equally convenient alternatives and just as easily reached from the airport. Best for high mileage cruisers. Recommended tour operators Alpine Answers, Iglu Ski,, Peak Retreats, Ski Solutions,, Snow Finders.