For those that ski, the pull of the mountains is almost magnetic; the first snowfall of the season signals a charge to the slopes. Arnie Wilson entered the Guinness Book of Records by skiing every day for a year, visiting 240 resorts in 13 countries. He shares his insider knowledge on the Carrier portfolio and where to hang up your salopettes this season in the ultimate battle of the resorts…
You may need to decide which end of the candle to burn before you visit the swashbuckling Swiss resort of Verbier. The skiing is magnificent, the nightlife scarcely less so. With myriad bars and clubs, Verbier doesn't do early nights!
There's an inexhaustible amount of terrain to explore - so chances are you'll be exhausted long before the skiing, even after an early night. Crans-Montana, Verbier's Valais neighbour across the Rhône Valley, is more sedate, with somewhat less challenging nightlife and pistes - but still plenty of both to satisfy the discerning ski cogniscenti. Megève was the first major resort in France and remains one of the most picturesque in the Alps. Courchevel - which has itself since gathered considerable cachet - stole a fair amount of Megève's early glory.But luckily for French Alps aficionados, there's plenty of room for both.
Whistler is one of the finest resorts in North America. Many would say the finest. Aspen might disagree! For many, Aspen remains the place to ski and be seen. But it's not all glitz and glamour - it's a real town with genuinely friendly locals.
SWITZERLAND: Verbier V. Crans-Montana
I'm being looked after hand and foot in a beautiful Swiss chalet. I can help myself to any drink I want from the bar. Even Champagne. There's a sign up outside the kitchen saying: 'Where the magic happens'. I glance at the visitors' book. 'The staff are angels' someone has written. And here's a more down-toearth entry: 'I am aiming to become incredibly rich (work, lottery, bank robbery) so I can stay here all the time'. If you're not skiing (but then what are you doing in Verbier?) you can easily just relax and unwind in the spacious, open-plan lounge, take a dip in the indoor pool or enjoy a spa treatment. 'You are welcome to treat The Lodge like your own home' says the small print,'and are welcome to help yourself to drinks you want at any time'. A light lunch is served for those guests not eating on the mountain. And there's a 24-hour driver service within Verbier. Branson is 'just Richard' when he shows up. It's said to be his 'home from home', and his master bedroom has a central fireplace and an open-plan bathroom. So what about the skiing? Well there can't be many people who are not aware that Verbier has some of the finest in the world. And with something like 75 restaurants and dozens of bars, Verbier is equally proud of its après-ski. But a 'comparatively' early night isn't a bad compromise if you want to be up and about early on the slopes. And you know you do!
Personal travel review: Read Senior Marketing Executive, Sarah Lancashire's personal review of her visit to Verbier. > Read review
This crucially important but once untidy corner of Verbier certainly needed a facelift. Now dubbed the Place Blanche and home to one of the most striking hotels imaginable, the sleek W Verbier has "Wow" written all over it. And, as the only true ski-in five star hotel in the resort, it is also a major après-ski attraction for skiers and snowboarders as they come down the mountain at the end of a day exploring the magnificent slopes of Mont-Fort down to Tortin, Les Attelas and Les Ruinettes - to name just a few of the exhilarating slopes above the hotel.
You may also like...The Chedi Andermatt
This resort, with its celebrated Gemsstock mountain is about to take off! The former garrison town, the slumbering giant of yesteryear, is going through a remarkable transformation - spearheaded by the luxurious Chedi Andermatt, a mountain retreat which merges traditional Alpine architecture with bold, modern styling. When traffic was re-routed through the road tunnel in 1980, it became the ski town the outside world forgot. After the Swiss army left the resort, an Egyptian millionaire, along with the Scandinavian SkiStar resort network company began to give Andermatt its dramatic facelift.
Perched high on a sun-drenched plateau and with a south facing aspect, Crans-Montana enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine each year. This, combined with a mountain resplendent with gastronomic eateries and spectacular panoramic views - courtesy of an unsurpassed 200 kilometre vista stretching from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc - means many skiers may find themselves whiling away an afternoon soaking up the sun on the restaurant terraces. The resort is also perfect for families with a delightful range of wide, open pistes, nursery areas designed for children and Snow Island - a superb family meeting place complete with snowtubing, button lifts and a magic carpet for both skiers and sledgers.
Set high above the twin-towns, the exquisite LeCrans Hotel & Spa sits merely 100 metres from the slopes. With just 15 rooms and chalet-style suites, this is an intimate enclave - the ambience resembling an aristocratic private home, with antique pine-panelling and travel artefacts, each room boasting a private terrace and Jacuzzi.
There's an extensive wine cellar, but the water is special too - some of the supply comes from a fountain fed by nearby glaciers. Needless to say there's a pool, and a spa - LeSpa Cinque Mondes where facilities include a hammam, heated pools and infinity Jacuzzi - not to mention outstanding scenery. Crans-Montana sits on a sunny shelf overlooking the Rhône Valley and the views from the balconies are truly exceptional. You can even bring your dog! A courtesy car with chauffeur is also on hand, and there's babysitting too.
Crans Ambassador, Luxury Sport Resort
This ski-in, ski-out hotel in the Valais Alps re-opened last year following a complete refurbishment. Large picture windows offer scenic views of the mountain peaks - amongst them Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. There's fine dining in the signature restaurant where the chef serves healthy and wholesome local fare and guests can take in the spectacular views of the surrounding Alpine summits from the floor-toceiling windows. A visit to the spa - the biggest in Crans-Montana - offers welcome pampering after a day on the slopes. A Lacroix shop offers in-house ski rental, so it couldn't be simpler to grab a pair of state-of-the-art skis and start exploring Crans-Montana's extensive, and historic, ski terrain. If you're a strongish red-run skier or snowboarder, don't miss the glacier itself, with slopes as high as 9,600 feet.
High Tea at The Chetzeron Restaurant This is a seriously memorable experience. Ski or walk to this old cable car station for lunch, or take the private snowcat after the lifts shut to dine and sleep high on the mountain at nearly 7,000 feet in one of the 16 rooms. The Chetzeron has a spa, an outside pool at 35° and an astonishingly varied wine list, especially considering all the bottles have to be ferried all the way up here! Breakfast at sunrise. Then head down the mountain nice and early making fresh tracks before re-joining the main pistes
FRANCE: Megève V. Val d'Isère
Megève is not only that rarity - a French ski resort conceived long before the development of unappealing purpose-built resorts in the 1960s - but one which is exceptionally attractive. It was designed in the 1920s to be a French alternative to St Moritz and it was actually purpose-built; one of the very first in the Alps. But it has a beautifully preserved pedestrianised medieval centre, with narrow cobbled streets, horse-drawn sleighs, a delightful old church, a weekly market and an extensive selection of footpaths.
All that's sophisticated about Megève is personified by the Chalet Zannier, a boutique mountain hideaway above the cobbled streets and open-air ice-rink. Chalet Zannier comprises three Alpine chalets, two of which house spacious rooms and suites, most with a balcony or terrace and fireplaces. For families there's a duplex apartment suite with interconnecting options. A separate ski chalet is available where guests can prepare for skiing, hire equipment and from where they can be chauffeured to and from the slopes and resort centre from 7am until midnight.
The ski area is vast: much of it forested with beautiful scenery and some magnificent views across to Mont Blanc. There are three main ski sectors: Rochebrune, Mont d'Arbois and Jaillet. After a day on the slopes, the spa and wellness area at the Chalet offers a space dedicated entirely to calm and serenity; a sauna, hammam and indoor relaxation pool provide a tranquil environment to rest piste-weary limbs, and indulgent treatments using sumptuous brands such as Aesop and Aromatherapy Associates nurture.
But how does Megève compare with, say, Val d'Isère? Apart from both being French, you could hardly imagine more of a contrast. Val d'Isère began its skiing journey as early as the 1930s and was hugely improved for the, now rather long-ago, 1992 Albertville Olympics. But apart from its delightful old quarter, which has been well preserved, it does rather lack Megève's intrinsic charm. However, it more than makes up for that with truly outstanding skiing, especially for those skiers who enjoy skiing off-piste with a guide. So how to choose between these two exceptional French resorts? For creature comforts, a charming, quaint village and feel-good ambience, Megève wins. For dynamic skiing and après ski, it has to be Val d'Isère!
NORTH AMERICA: Whistler V. Aspen
These are both magnificent ski centres, but whilst Whistler and its neighbouring peak Blackcomb are dominated by pistes for stronger skiers, Aspen has an entire beginners' mountain, Buttermilk, at its disposal. Of course this does not mean for a moment that Whistler can't be enjoyed by beginners, but Buttermilk, and a substantial part of Snowmass - Aspen's fourth mountain - is a more natural playground for novices, as well as intermediates and experts.
True beginners may wish to save Aspen's most celebrated peak, Ajax, until the end of their ski break - not because there's no easy terrain, but because at the end of the day the runs back to base are rather daunting. It's a close-run thing, but perhaps Whistler just edges it, with the advantage of its proximity to the wonderfully scenic city of Vancouver.