What could be better than stepping out of a ski chalet or hotel and sliding off down the mountain, returning right to the door at the end of the day? No need to walk a long way wearing heavy boots while carrying skis or snowboard, or chivvy everyone on to a crowded bus.
While many ski resorts have some slope-side places to stay, it’s usually those that are purpose-built high in the mountains for easy access to the snow that can truly be considered ski-in/ski-out. And while other countries may boast a few such places, France is their spiritual home.
Many purpose-built French resorts were constructed in the Sixties, with austere-looking buildings intended, it’s said, to reflect their rocky surroundings. Often designed by famed architects of the time – most of Flaine by the Hungarian-born modernist Marcel Breuer for example, and Avoriaz by a trio of French innovators lead by Jacques Labro – their look fell out of favour in the following decades.
Recently, however, new and equally convenient villages of chalet-style apartments have grown up in purpose-built resorts such as Tignes, Flaine and Les Menuires, and some of the old blocks – such as Labro’s Dromonts hotel in Avoriaz and Breuer’s Totem hotel in Flaine - have had makeovers.
Securely snowy, promising streets that are reliably clad in white, ski-in/ski-out resorts have a clear appeal for everyone, not just families.
Unless stated otherwise, prices are per person, based on two sharing a double or twin room, half-board, for seven nights, including flights and transfers.
Best for terrain parks
This purpose-built resort above Morzine in the massive French/Swiss Portes du Soleil ski area was largely the brainchild of French racer Jean Vuarnet, better known for his sunglasses than for his gold medal at the Squaw Valley Olympics in 1960. Accommodation is mainly ski-in/ski-out apartments, many of which have been renovated in recent years. Avoriaz has a quirky charm and a varied array of terrain parks – five to suit all levels from beginner to advanced, plus a snow cross course and a superpipe.
Snowboarding made its European debut here in the late 1980s, and Avoriaz built the first halfpipe in Europe in 1993. Facilities have come a long way since then. Learn first turns at the Chapelle terrain park, which has kicker lines from green to red along with boxes and rails, before progressing to the pro lines and the airbag in the more advanced Arare park.
The Stash is a giant ecological park with all features made out of wood and there are three lines of varying difficulty snaking through the forest leading to a log cabin in the woods. The idea originated with Jake Burton, founder of Burton Snowboards. Two of the parks are especially for kids, Lil’Stash with wooden features, and the Burton Kids Parkway.
The Portes du Soleil’s variety of slopes suits everyone from beginners to veteran powderhounds, and Avoriaz makes a good base for easy access to all of it. High and rocky, the resort is a great destination in a good snow year, less so when the snow is thin on the lower slopes.
Where to stay
The ski-in/ski-out Hotel des Dromonts is the hotel exception to the apartment rule in Avoriaz, a throwback to the days of Depardieu and Deneuve that offers plenty of retro chic – a little like having a walk-on part in a Truffaut film. From £1,129 with Inghams.
Best for reliable snow
Val Thorens, France
Purpose-built Val Thorens is not only the highest resort in the giant Trois Vallées ski area, but the highest in Europe. Its lofty altitude means that doorstep skiing and snowboarding with guaranteed snow cover is possible from November to May.
The terrain suits everyone from beginner to expert, but the vast majority of visitors are intermediate, for whom Val Thorens is a dream. Forays into the territories of Les Menuires and St Martin de Belleville for long, cruising runs should not be missed. The resort also has a world-class terrain park, the setting for international events.
Since 1971, when ugly apartment blocks first rose from this white wasteland, Val Thorens has developed into an almost attractive and sophisticated resort with a growing number of five-star hotels and apartments. There’s also a growing number of gourmet restaurant options, most notably Hotel Pashmina’s Michelin-starred Les Explorateurs.
The nightlife is surprisingly vibrant, partly because Val Thorens attracts university trips heaving with British students. It was also the second French resort after Val d’Isère to open an on-mountain Folie Douce après venue, set just above the village.
Where to stay
Chalet Olivier and adjoining Chalet Catherine form one of only a handful of stand-alone chalets in the resort. Both are ski‑in/ski‑out, sleep 12 and 18 people respectively and are run and catered separately, with a shared sauna on the ground floor. Both Olivier and Catherine start at £1,059 with Ski Total.
Best for getting to grips with powder
Big White, BC, Canada
North American resorts aren’t usually known for their ski-from-the-door convenience, but some have been purpose-built for easy access to the slopes. Of these, among the most convenient is Big White – virtually all the hotels and apartments in this modern resort are ski-in/ski-out.
The terrain suits intermediates best, and abundant snowfall combined with lots of trees for shelter means it’s a great place to learn powder. The main lifts start below village level, with pistes leading down to them from accommodation, and even the main street through the centre of the resort is a designated piste.
An area called Happy Valley offers activities such as ice skating, snowmobiling, tubing, ice climbing and snowshoeing, served by a gondola that runs till 10pm (11pm on Fridays and Saturdays). The village has limited après bars and shopping, but there are some decent restaurants.
Where to stay
Stonebridge Lodge calls itself “the best accommodation bar none at Big White”. It’s ski-in/ski-out and slap bang in the middle of resort, with a range of spacious, stylishly decorated apartments, most with private outdoor hot tubs. From £1,919, self-catering for eight nights, with Ski Safari.
Best for easy intermediate runs
La Plagne, France
La Plagne is made up of 11 separate villages scattered across a vast plateau alongside a steep mountain. Four are low-lying traditional farming villages, and the rest are purpose-built largely ski-in/ski‑out resorts at different altitudes. A double‑decker cable car links La Plagne to neighbouring Les Arcs. Together they form the giant Paradiski area – although it’s large, it lacks the linked cohesion of rival ski areas such as Trois Vallées and Tignes-Val d’Isère, since the cable car is ridden both ways.
Much of La Plagne’s local ski area is on a gentle plateau of wide, undemanding slopes way above the tree line. As these descend into the forest on the south and north faces, they become steeper. Beginners and intermediates will get the most out of the ski area by staying in one of the higher accommodation centres such as Belle Plagne and Plagne Centre, which form the main hub of the resort. The ski area is largely a playground of unintimidating runs, although the layout doesn’t lend itself to high-mileage cruising.
The fragmented nature of La Plagne limits nightlife opportunities, and a large percentage of family guests means the resort isn’t famed for its après. Belle Plagne is the liveliest of the villages, where the Wild West-themed Le Saloon stays open till 5am.
Where to stay
Hotel Carlina Residence is an apartment block on the edge of the piste in Belle Plagne. Decor is classic alpine meets contemporary, each flat has its own sauna and all bedrooms are en suite. From £4,505 for a four-bedroom self‑catering apartment that sleeps eight people, with Erna Low.
Best for mixed groups
Snowmass, Colorado, USA
Even the French would be impressed by the way this purpose-built resort has been developed, with lodgings and Snowmass Village Mall’s cluster of restaurants and shops lining the home runs down. There’s also a Base Village area at the foot of the slopes. Much of the lodging is ski-in/ski-out; some accommodation involves a walk to the snow, but it’s rarely very far.
Snowmass is easily the biggest of the Aspen area’s four mountains, with superb terrain for all standards. It’s also the best for intermediates. For experts, there are some steep, wooded slopes, such as the Hanging Valley, and narrow, often rocky, chutes, mainly accessed from the fast High Alpine chairlift.
For even more variety, there are decent free bus services to Aspen’s other mountains (Buttermilk, Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands), all of which are covered by the lift pass. Aspen Mountain has long cruising blue runs and short, steep blacks, Buttermilk is the smallest and least challenging, and Aspen Highlands has both easy intermediate slopes and the super steeps of Highlands Bowl.
The nightlife in Snowmass is pretty quiet, but it’s also possible to use the bus in the evenings to visit the bright lights of Aspen, 14km away – buses run until 2am.
Where to stay
The Westin Snowmass has a prime spot on the home slope, close to Snowmass Village Mall. It offers an extensive range of dining options, a spa, kids’ club and stylish, modern rooms. From £1,310, room only, with Ski Solutions.
Best for unabashed luxury
Few resorts have a more exclusive image than Lech – famous patrons over the years have included Princess Diana, the Jordanian royal family and Princess Caroline of Monaco. The car-free, ski-in/ski-out satellite of Oberlech above the village, once the summer domain of shepherds and cowherds, has grown almost into a resort in its own right. The huts have been replaced by expensive hotels, served by an intricate network of tunnels beneath the piste.
The pistes are best suited to intermediates, and the sunny side of the mountain above and below Oberlech is largely given over to a network of flattering blue runs. The high slopes on both faces of the 2,377m Zuger Hochlicht above are more demanding, with red runs and itinerary routes (ungroomed runs that are marked on the map but are neither patrolled nor avalanche controlled) leading back towards Lech or down to the picturesque hamlet of Zug. Lech has always shared its ski area with the smaller village of Zürs, and more recently it’s been linked with that of nearby Warth-Schröcken. And four lifts link the Lech side of the Arlberg area to neighbouring St Anton.
Oberlech’s hotels house some award-winning restaurants. Griggeler Stuba in the Burg Vital is the place to go for a gastronomic feast – the restaurant has three Gault Millau toques. Diners choose a surprise menu, a tasting menu or pick just one course. At Zur Kanne, in the Hotel Montana, Gault Millau award-winning chef Markus Winkler serves everything from a small snack to a proper lunch with excellent food, wine and service.
Where to stay
Oberlech’s Hotel Goldener Berg has four restaurants and two sun terraces with panoramic views, as well as a swimming pool, spa, gym and outdoor hot tub. From £1,700 with Scott Dunn.
Best for bargain hunters
Les Menuires, France
For the first 40 of its 50-year existence, Les Menuires was the ugly duckling of European ski resorts. But these days, while never a swan, it has matured into a pretty presentable drake. It’s also become a key base in the Trois Vallées alongside Courchevel, Méribel and Val Thorens. The resort is set at 1,850m and links directly into the 600km of piste and 180 lifts in this giant ski area, whose highest runs start at a heady 3,230m.
In recent years, older buildings in the resort centre have been revamped and reclad. The modern largely ski-in/ski-out satellites of Reberty and Les Bruyères are easier on the eye, have their own shops and restaurants, and accommodation here tends to be up to a third cheaper than in Méribel or even the lower villages of Courchevel. This is a great base for anyone wanting to explore the Trois Vallées on a limited budget.
While the local slopes are great for all standards, many of them are south-facing and quickly lose their cover in hot spring sun. However, lift links to the rest of the Trois Vallées are fast and efficient, including to nearby Val Thorens, the highest resort in Europe. Les Menuires also has the 2,804m summit of Pointe de La Masse, offering superb possibilities both on and off piste, with runs that remain uncrowded even during peak season weeks. The north- and east-facing slopes here hold their snow well through 1,000 vertical metres that test the best – it’s some of the most demanding terrain in this whole giant ski area.
Where to stay
Ski-in/ski-out Chalet Delfina in Les Bruyères sleeps up to 14 people and has its own hot tub. It can be booked sole occupancy or by the room, or together with other nearby chalets for a group of up to 75 people. The adjacent gondola goes straight up to the 2,850m Mont de la Chambre overlooking the Méribel valley. From £369 with Ski Amis, excluding flights and transfers.
Best for the quiet life
Obertauern is an ideal destination for those in search of easy intermediate runs in a relaxed atmosphere, far from the razzmatazz of a major resort. It also has two features that separate it quite distinctly from the Austrian pack – snow security and ski-in/ski-out convenience.
Obertauern is Austria’s only attempt at a purpose-built destination, and from most hotels here it’s possible to step out each morning on to the piste and slide all the way back home in the afternoon. The downside is that it’s never managed to develop from a ski destination into a true ski resort. There’s no real village centre, merely a growing number of hotels with adjacent shops.
At either end of the season, when other Austrian resorts are struggling to open or to remain open, Obertauern is half‑buried in the white stuff. Its ski area encompasses seven peaks on both sides of the road leading up to the pass, with lifts going from 1,630m up to a top altitude of 2,526m. Snow cover is virtually guaranteed from the end of November until early May.
Where to stay
Hotel Valamar (formally the Petersbühel) is a four-star ski-in/ski-out hotel, with 81 attractive rooms and a 420m² spa that includes an outdoor snow cave. The restaurant features a weekly speciality buffet, and after a day on the slopes there’s an array of complimentary strudels and cakes. From £820 with Crystal.
Best for families
With 75km of slopes above two bases, Høyfjellssenter and Turistsenter, Trysil is the largest ski resort in Norway. One of the main attractions is that the slopes here are less crowded than in the main Alpine resorts – something particularly worth bearing in mind if needing to travel at peak holiday times. The majority of the hotels are ski‑in/ski‑out, which is great news for beginners and families.
Trysil is so convinced of its snow reliability that it offers a guarantee of snow in the village during high season. On the slopes, the volcano‑shaped Trysilfjellet (Trysil Mountain) offers the best part of 360 degrees of runs. While the resort is definitely best suited to beginners and early intermediates, there is some challenging terrain in the Høgegga area. There are four levels of terrain park, from an advanced black line via red and blue down to green for small children (or nervous adults), and there are also dedicated, closed-off children’s areas.
Although Trysil is fairly laid back, there are several good spots for late-afternoon live music sessions on the mountain, and a decent selection of bars and restaurants at the two village bases. At Turistsenteret, Sindrestua is an unpretentious, friendly coffee shop-cum-bar that encourages après for the whole family (in contrast with noisier places), while Sagbruket near the nursery slopes serves hot chocolate.
Where to stay
The ski-in/ski-out Radisson Blu Mountain Hotel in Høyfjellssenter sits below a network of green runs and has two on-site restaurants, a bakery and a well-equipped spa. From £1,056, B&B, with Crystal.
Best for experts
Les Arcs, France
Les Arcs is well known for its range of purpose‑built villages. The original Arcs 1600, 1800 and 2000, built in the Sixties and Seventies, are largely big, wood-clad apartment blocks. More recently, Arc 1950 and Peisey‑Vallandry have been developed in a more sympathetic chalet style with smaller buildings. Arc 1950 makes an especially attractive ski‑in/ski-out base.
As well as extensive intermediate cruising, Les Arcs has plenty to amuse experts. Most of its black runs are never groomed and become huge mogul fields – three different ones are served by the Varet gondola from Arc 2000. There are also challenging groomed reds that are great for fast cruising, including the bottom part of an epic run of over 1,000m vertical from the top of the Aiguille Rouge cable car (at 3,225m) to the old village of Villaroger. For those who like to cover long distances, a challenging day involves getting the Vanoise Express cable car to the linked resort of La Plagne and travelling to the far end of its ski area, at Champagny en Vanoise, then all the way back.
There’s lots of accessible off piste, with steep pitches on the front of the Aiguille Rouge and secluded runs off the back. The Couloir en S has a long narrow pitch of 45 degrees before it opens out to a shallower slope. For easier options, a 15- to 30-minute climb from the top of the Grand Col chair opens up long, scenic off-piste runs, and there are more from the top of the Transarc gondola.
Where to stay
The Taj-I Mah is the first five-star hotel in Les Arcs. As well as doorstep slopes, its location in Arc 2000 offers far-reaching views over the resort. From £1,099 with Inghams.