Western Europe – When it comes to skiing, resorts in the Alps always seem to do everything bigger, higher and louder. With literally hundreds of ski areas dotting each tiny European nation (click here to download our world ski map for Google Earth), it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on across the big pond each fall. Here’s a roundup of some of the biggest on-mountain developments at ski resorts in the Alps this winter.
The massive Portes du Soleil ski circus straddles the French/Swiss border, and within that region Châtel has linked its Super Châtel and Linga sectors with a new intermediate run set to debut this winter, helping to make a massive tour around the Portes du Soleil even easier.
Les Deux Alpes is getting a new intermediate run this winter, too. The Jandri piste provides a new alternative for returning to the village, taking the pressure off the switchbacking green Desmoiselles run and several black options. Les Deux Alpes officials will add a terrain park this winter next to the base of the Jandri gondi, too.
The Solaise sector of Val d’Isere is getting a complete makeover to the tune of €16 million, and the first phase will be ready for visitors this winter. First up is a new beginner’s area near the summit, with its own magic carpet lift complete with a cover to keep riders out of the elements. Two more conveyor lifts have been installed on the opposite ride of the summit, replacing the Terrasse quad that carried skiers back to the top of Solaise. Next winter the Solaise Express quad and aerial tramway that climb out of the village will be replaced by a new gondola with 10-passenger cabins featuring WiFi and heated seats.
The world’s largest ski area, Trois Vallées, is getting not one, not two, but three new high-speed lifts this winter, including a detachable six-pack that will replace the slow fixed-grip St. Martin 2 quad that climbs back out from mid-mountain on the St. Martin de Bellevue side to Tougnète, returning skiers to Méribel. In Méribel itself, the Combes lift that runs from Méribel Mottaret toward Tougnète is also being upgraded to a high-speed six seater, the last lift in that ski area to be upgraded to a detachable. Finally, riders will find a speedy new quad replacing the slow double that climbs out of Le Bettex below Les Menuires this season, created using pieces taken from the old St. Martin 2 chairlift.
Across the Trois Vallées in Courchevel they’re adding 10 new snowmakers in the Signal area in Courchevel-Moriond, bringing the Trois Vallées snowmaking arsenal to an incredible 2,189 machines covering almost 50% of the marked runs.
Access to the famed backcountry runs on Mont Blanc like the Vallée Blanche will be easier from Courmayeur this winter, now that a new two-stage tramway, Skyway Monte Bianco, has finally been built to 11,371-foot Punta Helbronner. Opened on May 30, it replaces an old lift, the top stage of which has been out of action for three years. The cabins on the new lift actually slowly rotate 360 degrees during the ascent to maximize the spectacular views.
Elsewhere in Italy, the new Alba-Col dei Rossi funitel will connect Val di Fassa’s village of Canazei and the Ciampac ski area to the Belevedere area this winter. The cable car has a length of 7,414 feet and rises 2,896 vertical feet, with the unique Doppelmayr lift — only the eighth of its type in the world — carrying 100 passengers in each cabin. Also, the Molino-Le Buse chairlift starting from Falcade in Alpe Lusia-Passo San Pellegrino will be replaced with a new eight-passenger gondola. This winter, the ski areas of Pozza-Buffaure, Alba-Ciampac, Canazei-Belvedere and Campitello-Col Rodella will all be connected via lifts and runs, with 73 km of marked runs eliminating the need to bus between sectors.
In Zermatt, the Hörnli t-bar near Schwarzsee has been replaced by a new six-pack dubbed Hirli. They’ve lowered the loading terminal, too, extending the runs in this oft-overlooked portion of Zermatt. After closing for renovations in 2014, the Hörnli Hut — perhaps the most famous hut in the Alps, and the main starting point for mountaineers who want to reach the summit of the Matterhorn via the Hörligrat — reopened in July as an entirely new inn built from the old hut at an altitude of 3,260m. Also, the narrow Reidweg path back to the village of Zermatt from Rothorn and Sunnegga has been replaced with a wider run that follows a completely new route.
A new six-seater is also set to debut this winter at Andermatt, connecting that resort’s Gurschen and Gurschengrat sectors on Mt. Gemsstock. Over the next few years, 14 new lifts are planned to connect Andermatt with nearby Sedrun.
There may be a newly crowned largest ski area in Austria this winter. Saalbach-Hinterglemm now claims that title, thanks to a new lift and trail connection to neighboring Fieberbrunn that also links the Austrian states of Tyrol and Salzburg. With Fieberbrunn’s 70 km of marked piste now connected to Saalbach-Hinterglemm via the new 10-passenger gondola, the combination delivers a staggering 270 km of runs. SkiWelt claims 280 km, but the staff at www.pistelength.com has independently measured SkiWelt’s runs at 240 km and Saalbach-Hinterglemm at the claimed 270 km, granting that website’s seal of approval.
Speaking of SkiWelt, their Jochbahn quad on the resort’s south side near Brixen im Thale has been replaced by a high-speed eight-seater this winter, which at a rope speed of six meters per second they claim to be the world’s fastest chairlift. It’s also twice as long as the old lift with a base terminal set lower on the mountain. Across the SkiWelt, a new 10-seat gondola has also replaced the Hartkaiser train in the Ellmau sector, with a new children’s restaurant and ski school set at the top.
In Obergurgl, the Kirchenkar surface lift in the high altitude Hochgurgl sector has been replaced this winter by a 10-person gondola, with a higher second stage to be added next winter. A new restaurant with table service is being added at the base of the new lift in a building the resort is calling Top Mountain Crosspoint, which will also house the toll station for the Timmelsjoch High Alpine Pass Road to Italy and a motorcycle museum. “As one of the Alps’ top ski areas we always continue developing new attractions. This project is another great chance to draw even more attention to Hochgurgl. Our future guests can take full advantage of an additional highlight as a single building represents four different purposes,” explains Alban Scheiber, managing director of Hochgurgl’s lift company.
Mayrhofen is getting a new gondola this winter, too, replacing the Penkenbahn and thereby alleviating lift lines to and from the village, as there’s no other way to return to town at the end of the day. Each of 33 cabins will carry 24 passengers on an eight-minute ride, equating to 3,840 downhill riders per hour who can use the provided WiFi to share photos of their day with family and friends while heading back to Mayrhofen. A grand opening celebration is scheduled for December 19.
A new two-stage gondola has also opened on the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier above Kaprun, stretching from the mid-mountain Alpincenter to the top of the glacier. The lower stage is a “chondola,” with bubble chairs alternating with gondola cabins on the line. Other lifts on the glacier have simultaneously been repositioned to create wider runs.
GO SKIING NOW!
Wax those skis and hit the lifts, for a number of Alpine resorts have already opened for the 2015-16 season, including:
- Hintertux, Austria
- Molltal, Austria
- Passo Stelvio, Italy
- Saas Fee, Switzerland
- Stubai, Austria
- Tignes, France
- Val Senales, Italy
- Zermatt, Switzerland