Hack the ski weekend


By Gabrielle Le Breton

Photography by Getty

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января 2017 г.

There’s something deeply satisfying about a weekend on the slopes – it’s short enough to ski and party hard, but long enough to blow the cobwebs away. As you stride into the office on Monday morning, you’ll not only be the envy of the meeting room, but you’ll also have your holiday allowance in tact, says ski expert and travel writer Gabriella Le Breton.

Bansko, Bulgaria

Bansko is a beacon of affordable skiing in an Alpine world awash with excess. If you’ve never skied before and don’t want to risk blowing an expensive week’s holiday on something you might not love, take Friday off work and give Bansko a whirl.

Make your escape

The 08:10 flight from Heathrow will have you in Sofia at 13:15, ready to pick up an Avis car (with snow tyres) for the 140km drive to Bansko. Allow around two hours for the journey, getting you into town with time to rent ski kit for the next day.

If you’ve never skied before and don’t want to risk blowing an expensive week’s holiday on something you might not love, give a weekend in Bansko a whirl

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The Kempinski Grand Hotel Arena has scooped Bulgaria’s best ski hotel award three years running, delivering Kempinski luxury at sensible prices. Set directly opposite the gondola, you can’t get closer to the slopes. Soak tired legs in the heated outdoor pools overlooking the mountains.

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  • Chamonix’s rugged terrain makes it ideal for advanced riders © Glen Buto / Getty Images

    Did you know… ?

    European mountaineers discovered Chamonix’s glaciers in the 1740s, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that it started operating as a ski resort, hosting its first ever Winter Olympic Games in 1924.

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  • The Kempinski Grand Hotel Arena in Bansko, Bulgaria

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    Be sure to add a VIP ski pass to your booking. It allows guests of the Kempinski to get faster access to the gondola lift in the ski zone, meaning you won’t have to join the long queues.

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  • Andorra’s Pas de la Casa is the place for those who want to ski hard and party hard © Sergey Novikov /Alamy

    Get high

    With 250km of runs from 2,050-2,640m, Pas de la Casa is the highest ski resort in the Pyrenees. Due to its lofty altitude, you can expect snow on the peaks up to the end of April.

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Snow highlights

Bulgaria’s largest resort offers a network of 75km of pistes sandwiched between the medieval town and Unesco-listed Pirin National Park. The terrain is ideal for beginners and intermediates, consisting of predominantly blue and red pistes. Once you’ve found your ski legs, head to the top of the ski area, just below the peak of Mt Todorka, for sweeping views of the National Park before taking the 14km-long blue top-to-bottom ‘ski road’ for a real sense of achievement (but avoid it from 16:00 onwards, when everybody clearing the mountain is on it). Confident skiers and riders should sneak away from the morning crowds to lap the pair of relatively gentle and invariably deserted black runs off the Banderitza 1 chair.

Refuel

On-mountain options are limited, so return to the Kempinski for sushi or Mediterranean fare. Come evening, grab a free shuttle into town to experience a genuine Bulgarian mehana (tavern) like Mehana Dedo Pene for hearty broths, grilled meats and local wines.

Homeward bound

The 14:10 departure from Sofia gives you a recuperative morning in the spa, getting you back to London for 15:45.

Pas de la Casa, Andorra

For anybody looking to combine sunny skiing with partying, the rumours about Pas de la Casa are true: it’s inexpensive, lively and hard to beat for a fun-packed weekend with mates.

Make your escape

Sneak off on Friday afternoon for the 13:25 flight from Heathrow, which lands in Toulouse at 16:15 leaving time to pick up your Avis rental car (don’t forget to book snow tyres). The 168km drive to Pas de la Casa should take two hours.

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Located stumbling distance from the lifts, the Gran Roig Boutique Hotel & Spa offers plush but quirky rooms – think fur headboards, pony skin loungers and wood barrel baths –, a great spa, three dining venues and fantastic breakfasts. If you’re here with mates, join an igloo building class for a giggle.

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  • Unwind at Gran Roig Boutique Hotel & Spa, Andorra

    Getting hygge with it

    It might be chic and modern in design, but Gran Roig Boutique Hotel & Spa has plenty of cosy touches including a jazz room where you can relax with a cocktail, a reading room, and a luxurious spa (entry is free for hotel guests).

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Snow highlights

Bordering France, Pas de la Casa is the north-easternmost resort in the sprawling Grandvalira ski area, which encompasses seven villages and nearly 200km of pistes. The majority of those are intermediate heaven: flattering, high-speed cruisers with sweeping views of the Pyrenees. For those seeking something more challenging, there’s off-piste in neighbouring Grau Roig and thigh-busting mogul runs into Soldeu. Confident skiers can follow blue and red pistes from Pas de la Casa all the way to the western tip of the ski area above Canillo. If your legs aren’t up to skiing back, drop into neighbouring El Tarter where you can grab a bus home.

Refuel

Splash out on lunch at Llac de Pessons: recognised as Andorra’s best mountain restaurant, the food is only equalled by the views. Later, head to KSB in town for mountains of chargrilled meats before the tables are cleared away for dancing.

Homeward bound

Board the 17:15 flight from Toulouse, which lands in London at 18:10. Or banish the Sunday blues and grab the 07:35 on Monday to touch down at 08:40 – giving you just enough time to grab a coffee en route to the office.

Chamonix, France

Widely recognised as the Alpine capital of extreme skiing and mountaineering, Chamonix demands respect. Come with fellow ski-nuts, join a guided group or book yourself a weekend course to ski fast and safe.

Make your escape

The 19:10 flight from Heathrow lands in Geneva at 21:50. Add an Avis car hire to your booking for the 100km drive to Chamonix, which should take just over an hour.

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The name says it all: the Hotel Mercure Chamonix Centre is at the heart of the action, with its own popular bar. Rooms are contemporary, with views of Mont Blanc, and generous breakfasts set you up for a hard day’s riding. Pre-book rentals and kit will await you upon arrival.

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  • Refuel after a hard day on the slopes with some oozy raclette © Patrick Frauchiger/Getty Images

    Cheesey does it

    The word raclette comes from the French verb racler, which means ‘to scrape’. The nutty cheese is heated until the top layer melts, and then is scraped onto a plate of baby potatoes, sliced meat and gherkins. Nowadays, it’s a staple at many European ski resorts.

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  • Thanks to a short airport transfer, Chamonix is popular for ski weekends © @quallim

    Make a run for it

    Chamonix’s La Vallée Blanche is an unmarked, unmaintained and unpatrolled off-piste route that is ideal for experienced skiers and boarders. The 22km-long run offers some of Mont Blanc’s spectacular scenery.

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  • The rooms at Hotel Mercure Chamonix Centre have spellbinding views of Mont Blanc

    A taste of Savoie

    Discover the local cuisine at the hotel’s La Cordée restaurant, where hearty dishes such as fondue, raclette and pela – a tartiflette-style dish made from onion, potatoes and Reblochon cheese – are on the menu.

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Snow highlights

Chamonix has enough terrain to keep advanced riders entertained for 48 days, let alone 48 hours. Skiing is dispersed across six distinct areas, so swot up on them before you travel to tailor your two days to your ability and the conditions. In brief, Le Tour is ideal for intermediates; the lift-linked Brévent and Flégère offer the best views of Mont Blanc and some cracking red pistes but beware the steep Brévent home run; Les Houches offers gentle terrain and plenty of trees for bad visibility days; Les Grands Montets, above the village of Argentière, is the core powder hound ski area with an abundance of steep, north-facing slopes; and l’Aiguille du Midi is the starting point for Chamonix’s most iconic run, the 22km-long off-piste route, La Vallée Blanche.

Refuel

Drop into the new Le Panoramique restaurant on Grands Montets for homely Alpine cuisine served with mesmerising views of Mont Blanc and the Mer de Glace (sea of ice). Later, celebrate the day with burgers and locally brewed beers at the Micro Brasserie de Chamonix.

Homeward bound

Departing Geneva on the 19:00 flight will get you into Heathrow for 21:40. Can’t bear to miss that last hour’s skiing? The 08:50 Monday morning flight gets you back at 09:35.