Every winter hundreds of people book weeks if not months in advance to make sure they can secure a room, chalet, any accommodation, in Europe’s biggest and most popular ski resorts. Not everyone likes to be in the hustle and bustle of big ski resorts during their holidays, which is why we have put together a list of what we like to call “hidden gems” ski resorts. These resorts are small and charming and share their slopes with some of the biggest ski resorts but without overcrowding, long queues at the lifts, and high prices. So if you haven’t booked your stay yet, check out one of these hidden gems and start planning your winter holiday.
Only 6 km away from one of our most popular resorts, Chamonix, you will find the charming village of Les Houches, and the first thing we’ll say about it is that it is covered by the regional Mont Blanc pass including the resort of St Gervais. Having access to all of Mont Blanc is just one of the incredible things about this hidden gem; there are a lot of other characteristics that make it a place worth visiting. Given its proximity to Chamonix, Les Houches is the perfect place for those of you looking for a quiet scene while still having the option to go all out one night, which is why it’s so convenient that buses run all evening from Les Houches to Chamonix. The town of Les Houches is small and you will mostly find chalets that offer the perfect stay for families or groups of friends, but don’t worry there’s still plenty to do. In town, you will find bars and restaurants that offer the perfect evening after a day on the slopes.
When it comes to skiing, Les Houches is perfect for beginners, intermediates, and people looking for off-piste thrills. The skiing area here consists of one black run, 12 red runs, 5 blue, and 4 green runs, making it a great place to learn and progress to the next level of your skiing. When you don’t feel like skiing downhill, you will also find cross-country trails and two snowparks, and for those of you looking for off-piste then Les Houches will challenge you with wooded areas all around the resorts.
For the days when you want to take a rest from the skis or boards then we recommend jumping on the Tramway du Mont-Blanc, one of France’s last mountain rack-rail trains. From Les Houches, you can easily take the cable to Bellevue and jump on the train from there or go to St. Gervais if you want to experience the trip from the very beginning. This train will take you all the way up to Nid d'Aigle (The Eagle's Nest) at 2,372m, stopping in various places along the way allowing you to enjoy the most breathtaking views.
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This one is for the foodies! Part of the huge ski area “Les Trois Vallées”, Saint Martin de Belleville offers a quiet, charming, and delicious stay. Shortlisted as Gastronomic Resort of the year in 2016, in Saint Martin, you will find countless restaurant options, four of which are listed in the Michelin Guide and one which has 3 Michelin stars, La Bouitte.
Needless to say that the ski area offers something for all levels, as part of the Three Valleys, but in Saint Martin, you will find beginner runs near the bottom to make sure you have a safe and quiet space to start your learning and then some scenic blue runs followed by patrolled off-piste sections for those of you who have more experience skiing. In addition, they also have a 28km cross-country skiing track for a day away from the slopes. If you wish to ski somewhere other than Saint Martin de Belleville for a day or two, you have access to a wide range of resorts, Meribel, Val Thorens, and Les Menuires are all part of the Three Valleys, and Courchevel is just 1 hour away.
On top of everything else, travel journalist, Peter Hardy voted St. Martin de Belleville as one of his “Top 10 Picture Postcard Resorts”, perfect to get that Instagram shot. So if you are looking for a picturesque and charming small town with delicious food and away from the crowded bigger resorts, the Saint Martin de Belleville is the place for you!
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A short 18-minute gondola ride from the city of Aosta, you can find the quiet yet modern ski resort Pila. What makes this town a perfect place to visit is its authentic Italian feel. Being a small ski resort you will find that during weekends the town fills up with locals from Milan and Turin who know the resort as if it was their own hometown. This is why Pila is the place if you’re looking for the original Italian experience. Life is very laid back and easy-going, people go there to enjoy skiing and cosy dinners with friends and family at the end of their day on the slopes.
With over 70km of slopes, Pila is mostly a place for intermediate skiers and snowboarders with 4 blue runs, 29 red runs, and 4 black runs. In addition to the challenging runs, Pila also has two snow parks, one of them for the whole family “Fun Park Chacard” and the other “Snowpak Areaeffe” at 2200m. If you want to get away from the resort for a day, then we suggest waking up early and heading to Courmayeur which is just 2 hours away by car. As another extremely popular Italian ski destination, Courmayeur offers plenty of restaurants, slopes, and activities for its visitors.
If you’re looking for a different experience, why not take a hot air balloon ride over the Valle d’Aosta. Take in the views of the Roman walls that still surround the city of Aosta, spot the Theatre, Augusto’s arch, and the church of Sant’Orso as you make your way up into the sky, an experience you will remember for a lifetime.
A ski resort for sports enthusiasts, Engelberg is home to what they like to call the Big 5 freeride routes. Although the resort is one of the biggest in central Switzerland, its rustic character has kept its original feel intact and the resort has developed around it without changing its buildings. Engelberg is the place for winter activities, whether you want to ski, sled, cross-country, hike, or pretty much any other activity you can think of, this is the place to do it.
With 8 months of snow during the year, it’s no surprise there are so many snow activities to do in Engelberg. They have over 70km of slopes, this ski resort is mostly for intermediates and advanced skiers although you will of course find a good share of blue runs. The BIG 5 in Engelberg refers to 5 unique off-piste descends that drive people to visit the place. One of them, Laub, is an off-piste run with a 1200m vertical descent, guaranteed to challenge you every step of the way. It is always recommended to book a guide for these off-piste expeditions to make sure you are out with someone that knows the area and the terrain well. Many instructors on Maison Sport specialise in ski touring and off-piste and will gladly take you to the toughest runs if that’s what you’re looking for.
For those of you who are not into off-piste skiing, there are plenty of activities such as hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and even sledding that will be great fun for all the family. Plus, during the weeks of Christmas, sledding trails are also open at night for an unforgettable night sledding session you won’t want to miss!
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Connected to the ski area of Lenzerheide and only one hour away from it by car, Arosa is a destination that you’ll want to visit. One of the characteristics of the resort that attracts many visitors is its beautiful setting in a wooded basin surrounded by mountains and set at the edge of a lake.
Its skiing area is relatively big with over 70km of pistes and an extra 40km of backcountry terrain. Although there are beginner runs and good off-piste descents, Arosa is mostly for intermediate skiers due to all the fun and scenic runs around the ski area. But thanks to the introduction of a new cable car connecting Arosa to Lenzerheide, visitors have access to an extra 150 km of slopes in just 5 minutes so truly something for everyone.
If you’re looking for an out-of-the-ordinary activity then why not visit the Bear Sanctuary in Arosa and spot all the rescued bears living their new life! The town of Arosa is a little more lively than the previous ones mentioned, not only do they have quite a wide range of restaurants, they also have bars and clubs both on the mountains and in town for those après ski afternoons, a great place for a budget-friendly holiday with your group of friends.
Now that you’ve discovered five hidden gems, why not choose one of these destinations for your next holiday on the slopes? We are sure you’ll find the right one for you depending on what you want to get out of your time there. Many Maison Sport instructors work in areas near these resorts so it’s always worth sending them a message to see if they can meet you there, which usually isn’t a problem at all.
Discover these ski resorts this winter and get back on the slopes!
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