As the host of two of the Alpine Ski World Cup women's competitions in 2009 – the downhill race on 28 February and the Super G on 1 March – Bansko has reaffirmed his claim as East Europe’s premier winter resort. Fans of extreme winter sports can enjoy a fun park and a half pipe. A Nursery and a Ski School give adept tuition to children and teenagers, ensuring a decisive improvement in ski ability in just a couple of days. The high altitude location and the rearguard of 160 snow cannons secure snow coverage from December to May. After an adventurous day on the slopes, Bansko guests can enjoy the local restaurants known as mehanas which serve traditional Bulgarian cuisine and drinks to the tune of local bands.
Located just above the historical town of Bansko, 12 km (7.4 miles) into the breathtaking Pirin mountains, the ski zone stretches over 70 km (43 miles) with runs serviced by 25 km (15.5 miles) of lifts, including a gondola.
One of the most southerly ski resorts in Europe, situated 260 km (161 miles) away from Sofia, Pamporovo boasts mild winters and an abundance of sunny days. Complementing its cosy appeal, Pamporovo enjoys about 150 days of snowfall each year, which allows for a long skiing season. And when the snow cover happens to be scarce, snow cannons come to the rescue. Set amongst magnificent pine forests at an altitude of 1620 m (5314 ft), the hub of Pamporovo comprises a number of excellent hotels and bars. Several hundred metres above the resort stands the Snezhanka peak (at 1928 m, or 6325 ft) with its spectacular TV tower.
The resort has 25 km (15.5 miles) of ski-runs and 38 km (23.6 miles) of crosscountry skiing tracks served by 18 lifts. More than 100 highly qualified ski instructors, fluent in various languages, are available to aid beginners and intermediate skiers as well as snowboarders.
Val d'isere, France
This is one of the most popular winter sports hot spots in Europe (near the Italian border), among the sophisticated and the party-loving – and for good reason. Nowhere else on Earth serves up such top-quality skiing (on-piste and off), a buzzing and varied nightlife and upmarket accommodation.
With 300 km of marked runs – 25 of them black, and one of them, La Verte, over 5 km (three miles) long as well as an average snowfall of 6 m (19.6 ft) a year, this spot almost guarantees good skiing, as well as good times.
Situated at an altitude of 1600 m, or 5249 ft, and part of the vast Four Valleys skiing area with over 400 km (248.5 miles) of ski slopes and 100 ski lifts, this is an area for real ski lovers. The fact that Verbier has two of the world’s best apres-ski venues in which to celebrate sporting achievements each evening, Pub Mont Fort and the Farinet, and some of the most luxurious chalets in Switzerland, doesn’t hurt either.
This is much smarter, much more aristocratic than most other Alpine resorts. Few Alpine resorts are more beautiful, in a chocolate-box scenic way, than the 700-year-old village of Lech, or more snowy, thanks to the great flurries that produce about 20 ft (6 m) a season. Although there are more than 270 km, or 167.7 miles, of ski slopes and 180 km (111.8 miles) of powder snow runs – so plenty for all at most proficiency levels – more than half are suitable only for advanced sports lovers, making this a hot destination for those with know-how. As well as being a very unspoilt town, it’s also pretty eco-friendly: many of the areas around are traffic-free zones, with cars being directed through tunnels, and heating for most of the town comes from biomass plants.
Lech isn’t well-known for being a place to party; rather, it is an old-fashioned, classy destination, with prices to match. The spectacular resort of Lech is located at the heart of the beautiful Arlberg mountain range, which lies within Austria’s exclusive Vorarlberg province. Lech has world class skiing and gourmet restaurants.
A good-time resort, for those who like their food and wine as much as they enjoy the slopes. Actually, it’s probably the perfect place for a weekend, rather than an entire week. Although the views over to Mont Blanc are magnificent – one of the most impressive sights in Europe – the skiing is limited to a few red runs for serious skiers, and unless you go off-piste or take in a few other Aosta-Valley resorts, there’s not that much variety. But there is lots of apres-ski activity to indulge in, whether that’s shopping on the Via Roma, with its oh-soItalian range of delis, interior design shops and fashion boutiques, or partying and eating with some of the most beautifully-dressed skiers you’ll see anywhere.
Either eat up the mountain at Rifugio Maison Vieille or the Hotel Christiania, for pastas and wood-fired pizzas, or indulge in the valleys, at Pierre Alexis (which has a top-notch wine list, as well as regional food) or the gastronomic La Clotz, in Val Ferret, a 15-minute drive from town.