Coming round the mountain: Europe’s best ski circuits

It’s much more fun to ski with plan and purpose, even if does involve a mad schuss to the last lift. Kate Green and Rosie Paterson find the best circuits.

Trois Vallées, France

Technically, it’s ‘only’ three valleys linked by a sophisticated lift system, but Franz Klammer would have his work cut out to get around it in a day now. Starting from the bottom of Courchevel (Le Praz, 1300), when you get up to 1800, choose between the tree-lined La Tania side, dropping into Méribel via Col de la Loze, or Moriond (1650) and (more interesting) the Mottaret/Mont du Vallon end of the Méribel valley.

The goal is the dreamy snowfields at the top of Val Thorens (10,565ft, right), but getting there and back involves dull zig-zagging through hideous Les Menuires (fitting in a trip up bleak Pointe de la Masse would be ambitious) and back, down to the friendly slopes of St Martin de Belleville. Then, zoom, in one glorious hit, down to Méribel for the last lift up Saulire to Courchevel.

  • Nicest runs Jerusalem to St Martin, Mont de la Chambre to Mottaret
  • Hardest The Trois Valleés black runs aren’t that hairy any more, but icy bumps on Jean Blanc or Suisse (in Courchevel) change everything, plus there are always a couple of madmen trying the Saulire couloirs
  • Most tedious The valley run above Mottaret’s pretty lake is cunningly marked blue, but you’ll be poling and cursing
  • Watering holes Cosy, cave-like La Ferme, Moriond, where simple fare is produced by farmers’ wives; anything on St Martin’s sunny slopes; l’Alpage at the top of Mont de la Chambre – all accessible to non-skiers
  • Beware There are worse things than being stranded in Méribel, but taxis are expensive

Portes du Soleil, France and Switzerland

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Two countries, 12 resorts, from remote villages to the modern moonscape of Avoriaz, some on dog-legs: this is ambitious (and not technically possible in its entirety). Starting from Morzine or Les Gets, get a lift to Avoriaz, whizz up and down the Lindarets and Plain Dranse areas and take the spanking new chairlifts over to Super-Chatel (this was once a bus trip). Do the scenic loop around Torgon and drop from Chatel down into Switzerland at Morgins – if the snow’s poor, it may be possible to go down by chairlift or cheat with a bus.

Work your way up the Swiss side, through Champoussin and Les Crosets (the hot chocolate’s pricey!), up over the notorious Swiss Wall and swoop down into Avoriaz (always the best snow) before the wooded Chamois (red) run into Morzine. If exhausted, take the télécabine.

  • Nicest run Les Cases, the shortcut back to Lindarets
  • Hardest The Swiss Wall, an endless mogul field with a terrifying, precipitous start – there’s no shame in going down by chair
  • Most tedious The Swiss side is quite dull really, but it needs to be done
  • Watering holes La Cremaillerie, Les Lindarets; anywhere Swiss; Le Vaffieu, Morzine – cozy in a whiteout
  • Beware Thin snow lower down and lingering lunches that lead to a panicked schuss for the last lift out of Les Lindarets – it’s a long slog down to the bus

Sella Ronda, Italy

A circuit of some 25 miles takes you around the Gruppo Sella, a spectacular limestone massif in the Dolomites, through four passes and five villages. According to the cognoscenti, the clockwise route (orange signs) is quicker and more interesting – it’s possible to do the whole thing in less than four hours without taking off your skis. Alternatively, there’s a 50-mile historic First World War tour

  • Nicest run Punta Rocca over the Marmolada glacier (10,965ft) towards Malga Ciapela
  • Longest From the top of Lagazuoi towards Armentarola, Alta Badia
  • Hardest There’s nothing scary for an intermediate
  • Watering holes Rifugio S. Croce, Badia, an 18th-century mountain hut next to
    a little 15th-century church; Utia Pralongia, San Cassiano, at 7,220ft
  • Beware Not getting to your final pass by 3.30pm

The White Ring, Austria

In 1940, Sepp Bildstein, a daredevil ski-jumper who reveled in hurtling down couloirs and leaping over chalets, saw his vision of a circuit take shape, with the first lift in what was to become known as Der Weisse Ring – the White Ring. The route now comprises a clockwise 13-mile circuit around Lech, taking in Oberlech, Zürs and Zug. The annual race of the same name (next on January 20, 2018) has become a cult event at which up to 1,000 skiers assemble at 7,666ft on the Rüfikopf. Olympic skier Patrick Ortlieb, a local hero, set the course record of 44 minutes in 2006; normal people take about two hours.

  • Nicest run Muggengrat (blue)
  • Most tedious The bottom of Muggengrat – it’s a long pole to the lift
  • Hardest A lot of it is blue ‘motorway’, but the red run into Zug is only semi-pisted and not for novices or the nervous
  • Beware Taking a short cut to the Madloch lift – there’s a lake underneath
  • Watering holes Restaurant Seekopf, Zürs, for panoramic views; Balmalp, Lech, for
    recovering your nerve

Best of the rest: More joined-up skiing

Milky Way, Italy

The six resorts of the Via Lattea, which hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics, are Claviere, Montgenèvre (in France), Sansicario, Sauze d’Oulx, Sestriere and Cesana. They offer endless permutations over 248 miles of slopes, including World Cup and Olympic runs

Tauern Runde, Austria

A groomed circuit around Obertauern, which offers a full day’s skiing for all abilities

Davos-Klosters, Switzerland

Andermat-Sedrun, Switzerland

Val d’Isere-Tignes, France

Paradiski area (La Plagne, Les Arcs, Peisey-Vallandry), France

Jungfrau region (Wengen, Grindelwald, Mürren, Lauterbrunnen), Switzerland

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