Andorra today is a modern and extensive ski region that has changed almost beyond recognition from the Andorra of just a few decades ago. The principality (just 180 square miles) took the decision a few years ago to upgrade its hotels, tidy up loose ends in its rather disparate ski areas, build a whole new generation of state-of-the-art lifts, take its snowmaking capacity to another level, and in general re-invent itself.
Along with France, Austria is the key Alpine ski nation. The best ski resorts in Austria are in the Tirol (including St Anton, Kitzbühel, Mayrhofen, Ischgl and Söll), as well as Salzburgerland (Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Obertauern) and the Vorarlberg (Lech and Zürs). The key to ski holidays in Austria is the country’s celebrated ‘Gemütlichkeit’ culture, which attempts to make guests feel welcome, entertained and well fed, both on the slopes and after the lifts have closed.
Canada is the second largest country in the world – and its border with the USA is the longest in the world between two countries. It also has the world’s longest coastline – and one of the world’s lowest population densities. Although it’s famous for its Rocky Mountains (and of course it’s Royal Mounted Police, or Mounties) much of the skiing – particularly the heliskiing in Canada for which BC is famous - is on mountain ranges which are not technically in the Rockies at all, but to the west of them.
France is the most popular Alpine country for British skiers and snowboarders. It took advantage of being comparatively late to join the pantheon of ski nations. Unlike Austria and Switzerland, where skiing evolved gradually from mountain villages, France didn’t build many of its most famous resorts (such as Les Arcs, La Plagne and Avoriaz) until the 1960s, so it was possible to select the highest, most snow-sure places to ski in France.
A wit once proclaimed that if Switzerland were ironed, it would be quite a large country. Yet in spite of being relatively small (16,000 square miles), Switzerland is so famous for its mountains, predominantly in the southern half of the country, that there are “Little Switzerlands” all over the world: from North Carolina and the Drakensbergs of South Africa to Luxembourg and even Folkestone, Kent! The iconic Matterhorn too has “lookalikes” in many mountain ranges.
Wyoming’s Jackson Hole and Breckenridge, Colorado are American ski classics, offering some of the finest slopes in the Rockies. Jackson has a well-earned reputation as something of a cult resort for its steeps and deeps, though it has plenty of more modest slopes too. Breckenridge has long been a firm favourite with British skiers, and is opening up a big new off-piste area in one of the biggest terrain expansions in Colorado for some years.
Perhaps it’s the sunny climate or the national temperament, but family ski holidays in Italy are quite different from those in the other Alpine nations. In general, the Italians are laid back, late to arrive on the slopes and big on lunch. Many of the top ski resorts in Italy are in the Val d’Aosta, the Olympic ‘Milky Way’ resorts or in the exceptionally scenic Dolomites.
There are around 35 ski areas in Finnish Lapland, but typically they don’t have huge vertical drops, and only a handful merit reputations as destination resorts. These include Levi, Ylläs, Pyhä and Saariselkä. But there’s so much else to see and do that a typical Lapland holiday will incorporate not only downhill and cross-country, but husky-sledding, reindeer safaris and reindeer racing, and snowmobile safaris.