Escape the crowds this winter, find an unsung ski resort in which to hone your skills.
Crowd-free skiing means less time queuing for lifts and more time on the slopes. Choosing a resort away from the masses gives beginners the space to build their confidence and technique while expert skiers push their skills to the limits and explore the untracked off-piste powder.
On the whole, crowd-free ski resorts tend to have a more laid-back atmopshere and low-key apres-ski scene - qualities often favoured by families or couples seeking a quiet getaway.
OnTheSnow has put together a list of eight crowd-free ski resorts in Europe, with two for each category: freeriders, beginners & intermediates, family-friendly and upmarket resorts.
The Monterosa ski area in Italy is relatively unknown internationally, but it comprises 180 kilometres of slopes. The crowds come at weekends and holidays from Turin and Milan, but during the week slopes are pretty much deserted. Monterosa has three main villages: Alagna, Champoluc, and Gressoney and the ski area is spread across three seperate valleys at an altitude of 1220-3550 metres. Much of the terrain remains undeveloped, so perfect for freeriders - heliskiing is also an option. Alagna is favoured by off-piste fanatics, while Champoluc and Gressoney are well-suited to families, beginners and intermediates.
Untracked powder in Monterosa. Courtesy of Monterosa Ski
Krippenstein (600-2,100m) in Upper Austria's Dachstein plateau (little-known by us Brits). It offers 11 kilometres of well-groomed pistes without the crowds and the snow assuredness of the Dachstein glacier. The pistes are largely empty because Krippenstein is favoured by freeriders, which by their very nature means they are 'off-piste'. Freeride fans shouldn't leave it too long to visit as the resort is rapidly becoming known for its 30 kilometres of off-piste powder routes and 1,500-metre-vertical. The appropriate ski pass will also allow you to ski neighbouring Dachstein West ski resorts of Abtenau, Annaberg, Gosau, Katrinalm-Bad Ischgl Obertraun/Dachstein and Russbach.
Freeride skier in Krippenstein. Courtesy of Krippenstein Dachstein Obertraun
BEGINNERS & INTERMEDIATES
Leogang (800-2096m) isn't as well known as its larger neighbour, Saalbach, to the west. But together they share the 200-kilometre Skicircus Saalbach-Hinterglemm Leogang ski area. Saalbach's popularity means Leogang's slopes are quieter and in-resort facilities cheaper. The ski area's good choice of long, gentle runs make it best suited to beginners and intermediates, but experienced skiers will find World Championship black runs, racing run and mogul piste, and the Nitro Fun Park by the Asitzmuldenbahn in Leogang with its corner jumps, big airs and various rails.
Plenty of long, gentle runs in Leogang. Courtesy of Gergely Németi
Pra Loup (1500-2500m) is made up of two villages: Pra Loup 1500 and Pra Loup 1600. Brits rarely visit this resort, instead the majority of skiers here are French families. The slopes are particularly well sutied to beginners and intermediates. The idyllic scenery ranges from pretty tree-lined pistes to the wild, off-piste terrain. The resort is well stocked with a good choice of accommodation, shops, bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Pretty, tree-lined runs in Pra Loup. Courtesy of Jasper Koopmans
Melchsee-Frutte, with a pretty lakeside position, is more or less unknown to skiers outside Switzerland. It is made up of two ski areas - Balmeregghorn and Erzegg - with 32 kilometres of combined slopes. This resort is particularly well suited to families for traffic-free centre, sunny slopes and ski carousel for children. It also boasts an eight-kilometre toboggan run. Experts have a 100-metre vertical and a freestyle park to occupy them.
Toboggan rides in Melchsee-Frutt. Courtesy of Melchsee-Frutt.ch
Obergurgl is a small, traditional-style village with comfortable hotels and a traffic-free centre. Families and beginners will like the short walk to the lifts (there are lifts at both ends of the village), the snowsure slopes and reputatble ski schools with English-speaking instructors and a maximum of nine to a class. Children aged 3 can join Bobo's ski kindergarten while those aged from 4 can join children's ski classes.
Traditional Austrian village of Obergurgl. Courtesy of Obergurgl.com
Cortina d'Ampezzo (1225-2930m), Italy's most fashionable ski resort, can get very crowded in town, but is surprisingly quiet on the slopes. This could be because the rich and famous clientele occupy themselves with strolling, designer shopping and lengthy lunches. Its 140 kilometres of slopes boast an excellent snow record with varied terrain for all levels: beginners can start off on the Socrepes's nursery slopes and at Guargne-Mietres where the ski school is; intermediates have the widest choice of runs, including the 5.7-kilometre descent from Lagazuoi to Armentarola; experts can hit the legendary descents of the Tofana mountain. Cortina is also connected to the vast Dolomiti Superski area (1220km). The resort is one of the few exceptions to the "quiet slopes-quiet apres-ski" rule - by night the resort buzzes with Michelin-stared restaurants and sophisticated nightclubs.
Fashionable centre of Cortina d'Ampezzo. Courtesy of Leo-setä
Zürs (1716-2450m) is Austria's most exclusive ski resort. The runs are never crowded as the wealthy clientele are all too busy knocking back the Bolly. The slopes here are easier than in St. Anton and boast long cruises - perfect for intermediates and families. Be sure to ski the 22-kilometre White Ring circuit which takes you around Zürs, Oberlech and Lech. Some say its best kept secret is the awesome freeriding and untracked powder. Zürs is really a collection of extremely expensive hotels and is favoured by royalty and movie stars, but doesn't have the ostentatious attitude of say St. Moritz or Courchevel. The neighbouring village of Lech was a favourite of Princess Diana and also featured in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
Lech-Zuers under a blanket of snow. Courtesy of Leo Meiseleder.
Next article: Full-on family ski resorts in Europe & North America
Previous article: Snow-sure ski resorts in Europe