- For a glam resort with lively après ski at budget prices, late booker Tristan recommends St Anton and the Montjola
- And for the full five-star monte with old-school cool, resorts San Cassiano and the Rosa Alpina hit the spot
- But for a blissfully quiet getaway and half-board heaven, Gressoney and the Dufour are the ski resorts to head to
A lot can go wrong if you book last minute. Give in to your inner tightwad, nagging that the later you leave it, the better the deal, and you’ll end up in the room at the back of the hotel with an uninterrupted view of the car park and building works in the once-sleepily chic resort that has been overrun by tightwads just like you (Pathos in Cyprus, you know I’m never coming back).
The risks of leaving it until the last few weeks of the season can be leg-breakingly high when it comes to skiing. Will the spring sun have melted the snow? Will the sludge that’s left be unskiable by lunch?
Where will we lunch, if the best mountain restaurants aren’t open? Will the shops have closed, along with the bars, restaurants and groovy clubs? In short, will it be any fun?
CHEAP THRILLS: Skiing near Gressoney it is one of two villages bearing that name in the middle of the Monterosa ski area. There’s Gressoney-Saint-Jean, but Tristan stayed in Gressoney-La-Trinite
For three years running I’ve left it till late March and early April to ski, booking three very different styles of resort in Austria and Italy with one result: resounding success.
And it’s not just because they’re cheaper (which they are, if you leave it as late as possible and forget about going to France or Switzerland). It’s because they were all high enough to guarantee snow – something you can’t rely on these days at the start, let alone end of a season. All had wide-open runs and virtually queueless lifts. The sun shone, and perhaps best of all, you could actually get a table outside at the best piste-side huttes and stubes to bask in it.
Which is how I found myself in swanky St Anton in Austria, the sort of resort I always assumed was strictly for the five-star real-fur-and-Bolly set. It ticks all the boxes for late-season skiing. It’s high enough – between 4,300ft and 7,900ft – to guarantee snow, and its season runs to early May. It offers spring discounts on lift passes. And while there are plenty of smart hotels (which offer deals at this time of year), if you’re clever you can get VIP service at chalet prices. Which is the USP of VIP Ski’s ‘ski hotel’ in the centre of St Anton.
I know what you’re thinking. Ski hotel. That’s just a fancy way of saying ‘cheap’. Like a surf hotel, with boots instead of boards cluttering up reception and all the young dudes swapping wipeout stories while downing Jägerbombs in the bar.
That, I must admit, was my fear when we booked a week with VIP Ski at the 33-room Montjola, a five-minute walk from the main lift. Arriving with a coachload of other VIP Brits at the charming chalet, my heart sank when we gathered in the bar for the owner’s meet and greet.
If cocktails, candlelit glamour and gourmet food are more your thing after a hard day’s skiing, you can’t visit this part of the Alps without dropping in on San Cassiano, a pretty, tiny, atmospheric village in the heart of the Dolomites
This was a man who took his mein-hosting seriously. Furst, he said, some wery important health-und-safety announcements. What do ve do when ve hear ze fire alarm? (Pause.) Ve run! Worse, he announced he was expecting us all for the quiz night later. I go on holiday to get away from my fellow man, not to live cheek by jowl with him being jollied along by an Austrian Red Coat who calls all the ladies ‘shatsy-patsy’.
Yet the informal chalet style of the hotel – which has all the mod cons: steam rooms, saunas and a shuttle to the lifts – absolutely works. And the skiing is superb. There are more than 200 miles of pistes, 97 lifts and over 125 miles of off-piste routes.
Beginners and intermediates should start on the Gampen mountain directly above St Anton, or head for the quieter Rendl area. The gondola at Galzig takes you across the Moos valley to more challenging ski areas, and a run down to St Christoph mustn’t be missed as it has the area’s best restaurant, the Hospiz Alm. The more adventurous should make for the Valluga cable car, which takes you to the top (9,200ft).
All runs eventually lead back to St Anton’s Blue Run 1, where you’ll find two of the bars that have given St Anton its reputation as an après-ski party town. A beer at the humming MooserWirt will convince you Brits are not necessarily the drunkest people in the world. Best bet is to head inside Das Mooser Hotel proper and make for the balcony bar for a bird’s-eye view of two of St Anton’s funniest sights: a dancefloor presided over by an ancient DJ pumping out oompah disco to a tone-deaf audience in ski boots; and, outside, the inebriated gingerly snow-ploughing and stumbling their way back to town. Not to be missed.
You won’t find any such signs of louche life in tucked-away Gressoney in the Italian Alps. At first glance there’s little sign of life at all. The ghost-town feeling is reinforced by the burnt-out hotel that casts an ominous shadow over the pretty church in the very centre. It looks like the abandoned set of a Stephen King film, and has a story to match.
Chic: It’s easy to imagine Claudia Cardinale and David Niven relaxing at San Cassiano’s Rosa Alpina Hotel
Turns out the hotel, the biggest and best in the swinging Seventies when Gressoney was the St Anton of the Italian Alps, was abandoned after the owner left it to his three sons who couldn’t agree how to develop it. They argued, closed it and left it to rot until one brother went mad, broke in, doused himself in petrol and set himself alight, killing himself and extinguishing the last hope that the family could ever come to an agreement. Chilling, or what?
Yet this crumbling hulk only adds to the quirky appeal, and the idea that you’ve stumbled across somewhere very much off the beaten track. Which indeed you have.
Gressoney is one of two villages bearing that name in the middle of the Monterosa ski area. There’s Gressoney-Saint-Jean, but we’re in Gressoney-La-Trinite, staying at the charming Dufour hotel just a two-minute trudge from the Punta Jolanda chairlift that gives access to the entire Monterosa ski circuit.
Like St Anton, Gressoney is high enough to retain its snow base well into April. From Gressoney it is easy to plug in to the rest of the Monterosa circuit via Gabiet and an extensive network of pistes, wide-open at the top and prettily wooded lower down.
FOR intermediates, the piste skiing is not intimidating but demanding enough. Best of all, there’s nobody about. You can ski an entire run without seeing a soul on the slopes.
If cocktails, candlelit glamour and gourmet food are more your thing after a hard day’s skiing, you can’t visit this part of the Alps without dropping in on San Cassiano, a pretty, tiny, atmospheric village in the heart of the Dolomites.
It’s here you’ll find the Rosa Alpina, a hotel that makes you feel you’ve stepped back to the era of David Niven and Claudia Cardinale lounging in the piano bar by a log fire with a martini. From the red carpet on the pavement to the concierge who arranges your skis and boot hire, this Relais & Chateaux hotel is glamorous, sophisticated and bang in the heart of Alpine foodie territory. A lot of people make this a gourmet round trip – starting in Venice and ending with a grand bouffe at the two-Michelin-star restaurant St Hubertus in the hotel.
In the five villages making up the Alta Badia region there are no fewer than three Michelin-starred restaurants – and more gourmet mountain restaurants (delicious and inexpensive compared with the rest of Europe) than you can shake a stick at. That’s because this Unesco heritage site is considered one of the most spectacular ski areas in the world.
San Cassiano is part of the Sella Ronda ski area, which in turn is part of the Dolomiti SuperSki (your pass covers 12 ski areas and 750 miles of slopes). Fit intermediate skiers can complete the Sella Ronda circuit – 26 miles of gentle pistes – easily in a day.
Swanky St Anton in Austria ticks all the boxes for late-season skiing
But in this part of the world it’s not about challenges. The idea is to glide – on mostly flattering, wide-open blue runs – from one mountain refuge to the next exquisite church (Santa Croce is unmissable, eerie with its crucifix outlined against the jagged mountains), stopping frequently to take in the view, the sun and a glass of South Tyrolean pinot bianco. Skiing San Cassiano in early April, as we did, means you can beat the crowds to the top tables at more than 40 mountain restaurants.
So, which to choose? All three resorts tick the boxes for good last-minute, late-season skiing. Those wide-open runs. Those non-existent lift queues. That high-altitude, firm snow base. Yes, the piste will soften up by mid-afternoon, but you can beat the slush by starting early and skiing until late lunchtime (and with food as good as it is in Austria and Italy, who wants to ski after lunch?).
For a glam resort with lively après ski at budget prices, I’d go for St Anton and the Montjola. For a blissfully quiet getaway and half-board heaven, Gressoney and the Dufour. And for the full five-star monte with old-school cool, San Cassiano and the Rosa Alpina. This, as one wag put it over a martini in the cocktail bar, truly is la dolce pista. Which in my book translates as: good things come to those who leave it late.
VIP Ski (vip-chalets.com, 020 8875 1957) offers seven nights at Hotel Montjola in St Anton from £879pp including return flights from Gatwick, transfers, chalet-board accommodation, wine with dinner and drinks on first and last evening.
Visit stantonamarlberg.com. Inghams (inghams.co.uk 01483 791 114) offers seven nights’ half-board at the Hotel Dufour,Gressoney, from £649pp including return flights from Gatwick to Turin and transfers. For more information on the Aosta Valley, visit aosta-valley.co.uk. Rosa Alpina Hotel & Spa, San Cassiano (rosalpina.it), offers double rooms from €385 (£305) per night including breakfast.
EasyJet (easyjet.com) flies from Gatwick to Innsbruck from £27.49 one way.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online