Where to Ski in January

Where to find fresh air, fresh snow and fresh new ski resorts this month, from Asia to Austria

Where to ski in January

Serious skiers know that January is one of the best months of the year for a trip to the slopes. Fresh snow is all but guaranteed at even the lower resorts, there are good deals to be had, and pistes are often blissfully quiet after the school holidays. We’ve picked out 10 resorts that will deliver this month, from old favourites to a few more off-piste suggestions.

Klosters, Switzerland

Best for: Spotting a royal but acting like you haven’t.

Klosters, Switzerland

At first glance, the pretty little Swiss village of Klosters seems like a contradiction. Beloved over the years by everyone from Orson Welles and Audrey Hepburn to Prince Charles, you arrive on the scenic Rhätische Bahn railway to find there isn’t a big five-star hotel, and no ‘oontz oontz’ apres-ski antics. For locals and regular Klosterites, this is the point: no brashness here, just bracing fresh air, honest Alpine food, and bloody good skiing, with especially good off-piste opportunities just off the lifts on the Madrisa ski area.

Klosters hotels tend to be cosy, chalet-style affairs, with decent restaurants: like the appropriately-named Hotel Rustico, where the adjoining Prättiger Huschi farmhouse serves six different types of fondue. The most famous hotel in town is the Chesa Grischuna, which wears its colourful history (Gene Kelly once danced on the tables) with rustic insouciance. A raclette and a game at the gloriously retro bowling hall is a quintessential activity here.

In January, you might also spot the world’s great and good having a ski after attempting to save the world at the forum down the road in Davos. As ever, the etiquette for A-list spots in Klosters is to keep calm and carry on.

Insider tip Buy a bottle of génépi or Armagnac at cosy Casa Antica, the only real nightclub in town, and have the barman put your name on it for next time. It’s what Prince Harry does.

Zao Onsen, Honshu

Best for: Beauty and serenity in Asia.

While most of the Japanese ski resorts are on the island of Hokkaido, a flight from Tokyo, Zaō Onsen is a peaceful little gem that you can get to in less than five hours by car or train. At the end of a beautiful winding road, it’s not the biggest resort in Japan, and it’s tiny by Alpine standards, with all of the runs below the tree line. But it’s widely known for the range of its sulphur-infused rotemburo baths, its jewel-like icicle formations and the spectacular juhyō ice monsters – conifers frozen solid by Siberian winds, creating some of the world’s most otherworldly pistes, especially when lit up at night. Compared to bustling, international Niseko, Zaō is Japanese and sleepy; spoken English is as rare as queues of more than a few minutes.
It can be bitingly cold in January, but you’re never far from a cosy izakaya or a warm, healing bath, which can be found behind intriguing wooden doorways across town. Most of the ryokans and hotels have their own onsen, though: like the dark-wood, design-led Chikusenso Resort and Spa, with smart Western-style rooms; or Miyamaso Takamiya, a cute ryokan around a geisha-ready courtyard, with traditional futon bedding. Curiously, Mongolian barbecue is big in Zaō: at Robata, you cook your own Genghis Khan lamb over a steaming skillet at your table, as the friendly staff suggest pineapple ciders or yoghurt liqueurs. After dinner, an ethereal hush tends to descend on the town. 

Insider tip If the Chamonix Bar sounds Alpine-generic, it has the best range of hot sake in town, and sells igamochi, the sticky rice cakes that are unique to Zaō Onsen.

St Moritz, Switzerland

Best for: Pretending to be a madcap Victorian Alpinist.

The world’s original winter resort feels like Mayfair at 1,800 metres, especially in January, when the annual Snow Polo World Cup brings the mink and Moncler crowd to the frozen lake. If part of St Moritz’s appeal involves blingy shopping at Bulgari or Philipp Plein, it’s also about simpler Alpine pleasures: roasted chestnuts, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and channelling the rosy-cheeked Victorian aristos whose incessant tobogganing resulted in the invention of the bobsleigh and the terrifying Cresta Run in the late 1800s.

A stay in a grand dame hotel is essential in St Moritz: either the liberally pillared and chandeliered Kulm Hotel, where Johannes Badrutt hosted the town’s first English winter guests in 1864, or the vast gothic Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, opened by Johannes’s son Caspar in 1896 and now perhaps the most iconic hotel in the Alps. Jason Atherton is merely the latest celebrity chef to land at The Palace, opening the King’s Social House in Switzerland’s oldest disco, where Hitchcock, Hepburn and Hayworth are just the ‘H’s to have graced the dancefloor.

More to the point, the 217 miles of pistes here are nothing to be sniffed at, from long, cruising red runs on the Corviglia and Corvatsch mountains, to fierce blacks and off-piste on Diavolezza, reached by a train or bus ride from town.

Insider tip The Alpetta mountain hut on the Corvatsch ski area is legendary for its game. Owner Dorigo swears his rich venison and deer are his own Range Rover roadkill.

Powder Mountain, Utah

Best for: Snow-cat skiing by day, cosying up by night.

Powder Mountain, Utah

Located south of Paradise and east of Eden (seriously), ‘Pow Mow’ has been the most whispered-about ski mountain in America for the past few years. That’s partly down to sheer Wiki facts: 500 inches of snow a year, 13 square miles of skiable terrain (more than Whistler), and barely an hour from Salt Lake City – with night skiing, good value catskiing, minimal queues and multiple ‘freshies’, especially after January dumps.

It’s also because, in 2013, the mountain was bought by the young entrepreneurs behind the Summit Series, an alternative to TED Talks, who now run right-on retreats and ‘learning safaris’ for tastemakers and Silicon Valley types. The group are also promising new lifts and restaurants, and building Summit Village, a series of glassy modern chalets in which Richard Branson has already invested.

For all the millennial utopianism, the pace of life round here is still notably mellow, with Powder Mountain surrounded by sleepy villages with a Wild West vibe, like Eden, where flannel-clad regulars gorge on carnitas tacos at Carlos and Harleys; and tiny Huntsville, where a regeneration project includes the smart new 15-room Compass Rose Lodge, with its own observatory. Nearby Snowbasin is glitzier, and the massive Park City down the road is buzzier, especially during the Sundance Festival in January, when every would-be Wes Anderson is in town. Powder Mountain is still about escaping, and skiing.

Insider tip Make sure to leave a dollar bill on the ceiling at the Shooting Star Saloon in Huntsville, which claims to be Utah’s oldest business and the oldest bar west of Mississippi. The taxidermied dog head on the wall was Buck, listed by Guinness as the largest St Bernard in the world before he died in 1957.

Sölden, Austria

Best for: A jolly family holiday, even if not everyone skies.

Sölden, Austria

Sölden, along Austria’s pretty Ötztal Valley, is one of those ski resorts that doesn’t take itself too seriously but over-delivers, especially if you come as a family. For a start, the skiing is reliably good, especially for intermediates, with plenty of long red and blue runs, like the 15km run from the top of the glacier that was partly used in the James Bond chase scene in Spectre. More adventurous skiers are likely to be sated after a few days, and will want to make use of a lift pass that also covers Obergurgl and Hochgurgl, just up the valley.

The Ötztal Valley is the world capital of big, family-friendly spa/water parks, which blessedly feel more Baden-Baden than Butlins: from the Freizeit Arena water park and spa in town to the vast Aquadome hotel and spa center down the road, with its UFO-like circular pools. Even the more overtly smart hotels like their spas big: Das Central and the Bergland Hotel in Sölden are design hotels, both with enormous wellness areas. Das Central even has a Venetian gondola parked by the pool. Sölden’s other options for clean family fun include four toboggan tracks, one of which is lit up every Wednesday evening, and a smart new James Bond museum, built into the mountain just by the fancy, glass-cube Ice Q restaurant where that scene in Spectre began. It could all be terribly vulgar, but actually it’s beautifully done. And just good fun.

Insider tip The Das Central wine cellar is one of the best in Austria, with sommelier Martin Sperdin hoarding more than 33,000 bottles.

Val d’Isère, France

Best for: An unfussy ski binge.

Val d’Isère, France

If you take your ski binges seriously, it’s hard to match Val d’Isère. The piste map, which includes nearby Tignes, makes the Tokyo subway map look basic: the Espace Killy ski area is five times bigger than Whistler/Blackcomb, and it’s said to contain the widest range of intermediate skiing in the world. Val and Tignes are also experts at the things only ski nerds notice: the quality of the piste grooming, the 900 snow cannons, and the easy accessibility of the lifts and funiculars, which run along the Tarentaise Valley. From early January, the French and British kids are back at school, and it feels like there’s unlimited piste and powder to explore.

There are prettier, more glamorous resorts in the Alps, even if a €200 million regeneration project in town is attempting to prettify a town made up largely of chalets; and even if Val regulars tend to sniff at the purpose-built 1970s aesthetic up the mountain in Tignes. The old Hotel Christiania is the pick of the hotels, just about staying the right side of Alpine kitsch. Some of the most iconic places in town are about buzz as much as quality: La Folie Douce on the mountain, and Bananas and Dick’s Tea Bar in town, are some of the liveliest spots in the Alps.

Insider tip The cosy, cowskin-clad La Peau de Vache, halfway down the infamous La Face black run, is renowned for its burgers, especially the signature with Marcellin cheese, walnuts and honey. Just beware: ever-smiling owner Dede is liberal with the post-lunch Jägermeisters.

Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado

Best for: Foodies looking for post-ski treats.

Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado

Considered it is North America’s most celebrated ski resort, attracting Ivy Leaguers, old-timers and Hollywood starlets, Aspen refuses to sit still. In the last few years, the old Coloradoan mining town and the neighboring mountain of Snowmass have seen a slew of updates on the classic Aspen formula: the Hotel Jerome, where non-skier Hunter S Thompson drank Aspen Cruds while running for sheriff, has had a slick makeover and expansion; and Snowmass now has an airy Limelight Hotel to match the Aspen version down the road. A new W Hotel is set to join old favorites like The Little Nell, the extravagant 92-room boutique at the base of Aspen Mountain.

Aspen and Snowmass still offer more for foodies than anywhere else in the States, whether that means a rack of elk at Gwyn’s High Alpine on Snowmass, American caviar at Aspen institution Piñons, or the famous ribs at the no-nonsense Aspen Hickory House. The Wagyu double cheeseburger with truffle fries at The Little Nell’s Ajax Tavern remains one of the planet’s most indulgent post-ski feeds.

The skiing here – spread across four ski areas – runs the gamut from long, cruisy blues to black runs as fierce as Aspen’s price tags. January is the most reliable for fresh powder, and 2019 will see the X Games come to town. As one-time local John Denver sang, ‘Aspen is the life to live, see how much there is to give.’

Insider tip: Yes, Aspen has all the big designer boutiques. But you can pick up an Hermès scarf or an Yves St Laurent leather jacket with a story at Amber’s Uptown Consignment Shop.

Megève, France

Best for: An elegant and possibly romantic mini-break.

Compared to glitzy Courchevel, the ‘Aspen of the Alps’ is still about old money and simple pleasures. Developed in the 1910s by the Rothschilds, who had tired of St Moritz, it was the Alps’ first purpose-built resort. But unlike the ski factories of Avoriaz or Flaine, Megève was designed as a quaint Alpine paradise around a pretty church, and is still home to cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriages and chocolate-box boutiques. The crowd is well-heeled and predominantly French enough that the town supports a chic, family-owned lingerie store, Manon Les Dessous, something you couldn’t quite imagine in Val d’Isère.

The ski area is vast and varied, even if you have to use buses to get to many of the lifts. With Mont Blanc an unchanging backdrop, here are lots of cruising red runs through the trees, and the off-piste is underrated and under-used (Megève skiers tend to be chi-chi piste-dwellers). Megève is relatively low, so late January offers the best chance of good snow, with non-existent queues during the week. It’s tempting to wait for the renowned jazz festival every March, but the venerable Club de Jazz les Cinq Rues hosts top jazz musicians five nights a week throughout the season.

Megève specialises in chic, modern takes on the Savoyard chalet: most notably at Les Fermes de Marie, all wood and fur in a series of renovated farmhouses, and the newer Le Cerf Amoreux, an 11-room, Parisian-chic chalet in Cordon-Combloux, 10 minutes from Megève. On the other side of town, chef Emmanuel Renaut’s Flocons de Sel is perhaps France’s most relaxed three-Michelin-starred restaurant, with its own smart rooms and private chalets.

Insider tip Head for lunch at Domaine de La Sasse, a farmhouse at the end of a steep hike outside of town, where patron Dominique Méridol serves up ingenious five- and seven-course menus using only one primary ingredient: bison.

Kitzbuhel, Austria 

Best for: Steins and dancing.

Kitzbuhel, Austria

With its medieval town center of pastel colors and frescoes, Kitzbuhel is some people’s idea of the prettiest town in the Alps. And while you’ll see the odd fur coat strolling its pedestrianized streets, prices here aren’t quite as stratospheric as Courchevel or the upscale Swiss resorts.

If the ski area has a more-than-adequate 134 miles of pistes, none of them go higher than 2,000 meters, so the snow can be inconsistent either side of January and February. There’s another reason to come early in the year: the annual men’s Hahnenkamm race, which has been held every January since 1931, and is considered the most demanding and dangerous run on the men’s World Cup circuit. Afterwards, the town throngs with live music and glühweined revelers, who tend to end up staggering into the shiny, velvet-roped Take Five nightclub.

The high-end hotels here tend towards the stately – like the grand, fairylit Weisses Rössl, originally a 16th-century inn; the Schloss Lebenberg, a one-time stately home with a 48m rooftop pool in its modern extension; and the Tennerhof, where a young Ian Fleming holed up in 1927 after a failed stint at Sandhurst. The Kitzhof Mountain Design Resort comes closest to airy modernity, though you don’t really come to Kitzbuhel for cutting edge.

Insider tip Get to the rowdy Londoner pub early after the Hahnenkamm. It’s custom for skiers who’ve made the podium to get behind the bar and serve drinks while live bands play.

The Cairngorms, Scotland

Best for: A ski break that might end up being a smart weekend of whisky and walking.

The Cairngorms, Scotland

For all that it’s easy to laugh at Scotland’s wee, snow-uncertain ski resorts, there’s never been a better time to give the Cairngorms a shot. The new Caledonian Sleeper stops at Aviemore, and the revamped Fife Arms – from the Hauser & Wirth gallerists that turned Bruton, Somerset, into a hotel and gastropub hotspot – has put a fresh emphasis on the quaint grey stone village of Braemar.

Just a few miles down the road from Braemar is Glenshee, Britain’s largest ski resort, with 22 lifts and enough to keep a decent intermediate skier amused for a day or two. Snow is never guaranteed, but a trip in January gives you a decent chance. If you go a few hours round the national park from Glenshee, with distilleries in either direction (like Dalwhinnie, Tomintoul, Glenlivet), you can try the slightly smaller Cairngorm Mountain, near family-friendly Aviemore.

While the Aviemore hotels tend more towards faded tartan carpets and shortbread on pillows, The Fife Arms is altogether more ambitious: designer Russell Sage (The Zetter Townhouse, The Goring) has gone to town with the 46 themed rooms, inspired by the hotel’s history as a 19th-century coaching inn, adding rooms inspired by hunting lodges, crofting and Scottish poets. There are 14,000 works of art in the hotel, including special commissions such as a neon chandelier inspired by antler horns and bagpipes, by LA artist Richard Jackson. The Clunie Dining Room pairs chandeliered Victoriana with walls painted by Argentine contemporary artist Guillermo Kuitca. The Highlands have rarely looked as exciting.

Insider tip Aviemore’s Old Bridge Inn is one of the best places in Scotland for an unfussy Highland foodie hit: the cullen skink, venison scotch egg and Highland game pie are things of beauty.

Where to ski in January

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Travel Magazine: Where to Ski in January
Where to Ski in January
Where to find fresh air, fresh snow and fresh new ski resorts this month, from Asia to Austria.
Travel Magazine
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