Ever wondered what goes on when winter waves goodbye to our favourite ski resorts? Quite a lot, as it turns out
It’s as sure as a tear at the Oscars. Come end of spring, the snow will melt from the rooftops, the tour operators will pack up shop, their reps coached back to Blighty, and the ski lifts will creak to a halt. Yes, it makes us sad too – no more col-hunting escapades or juicy après-ski gossip, just another wet summer of village fêtes and muddy festivals. Sigh.
Or, we could head back to the Alps. Why bother, you ask? Because even though the sheep might be grazing on our favourite red run, the mountains still have something to offer; think daredevil-ish mountain bike courses, multi-day hikes, wild canyoning expeditions, and, if you pick well, even glacier skiing. Here are our favourite spots to spend the countdown back to winter.
Best for glacier piste skiing… Zermatt
Being one of the highest ski resorts in the Swiss Alps does have its advantages. Come summer, the Theodul Glacier, behind Klein Matterhorn, stays open for business, offering 365 days of skiing on 21km of pistes. The skiing is so good – even in the warmest of summers – that national alpine ski teams from across Europe flock here to train between winters.
The lifts close at 2pm but there’s still plenty of afternoon action, with 400km of hiking paths in the valley, 100km of mountain bike routes and a 350m high-wire course. Summer = sorted.
Best for hiking… Wengen
Mountain villages don’t get much more shortbread-tin worthy than this: traffic-free, lined with wooden chalets and flanked by some of the most photographed mountains in the Swiss Alps.
Situated in the Lauterbrunnen valley, home to some 72 waterfalls and in the shadow of peaks including the Eiger and the Jungfrau, there are some 500km of marked paths and hiking trails to explore. Plus Wengen has all the hallmarks of a good all-round resort: mountain biking, mini-golf and zip lines aplenty.
Best for mountain biking… Lake Annecy
Just a hop, skip and 45-minute transfer from Geneva Airport, the four resorts that make up the Lake Annecy ski area – La Clusaz, Le Grand-Bornand, Manigod, Saint-Jean-de-Sixt – are all hotbeds for summer activities. Think canyoning one day, quad-biking the next.
But the big draw is the resorts’ labyrinth of bike trails. From June to September, four chairlifts transform the hills into a mountain biker’s delight with 22 freeride routes and 14 family circuits providing 120km of high-cadence thrills.
Best for glacier freeskiing… Les Deux Alpes
It’s home to the largest skiable glacier in Europe, with 300 acres of riding at altitudes of up to 3568m. As well as a meaty network of blues and reds, there’s a world-class park complete with dedicated lifts, a 140m superpipe, a rail park, slopestyle course and big air jumps, as well as a beginner’s and intermediate’s section.
The glacier closes at 12.30pm, so once you’ve perfected that rail slide, head below the snowline. In the summer, the rest of the mountain transforms into a bike park, with 20 downhill routes and some 2,500m of vertical to play on.
Best for Via Ferrata… Val Gardena
In the winter, the jagged limestone peaks of the Dolomites make for some darn good photos. In the summer, they hide a network of steel ropeways and iron rungs which can take climbers up into an otherwise untouchable world of cliff-hangs, rock walls and ridges.
Yes, we’re talking about via ferrata (Italian for ‘iron road’), once used to aid troops in the First World War, now used by thrill-seekers who clip themselves to the iron cables as they climb the rocks. You can find via ferrata routes around the Alps, but routes in the Dolomites, like the demanding Pössnecker Path near Selva, are the original, and the most scenic.
Best for watersports… Zell am See
The clue is in the name, folks: Zell am See, or ‘Zell on the Lake’. And with that lake comes a plethora of water-based activities: wild swimming, kayaking, sailing, aqua zorbing, you name it…
The mountains that surround it are equally as tantalising; hike the 1965m-high Schmittenhöhe, or take on the network of mountain bike trails at Kitzsteinhorn, 8km from Zell.
And check out the glacier, also on Kitzsteinhorn, which is open to skiers in June and July.