Top 8: Unique Alpine winter experiences

Here's our list of the best places this season to do more than downhill, from gourmet ski safaris and biathlon, to heliski, language courses, classical concerts and more…

By Sam Lewis
Published 12 Nov 2016, 08:00 GMT, Updated 7 Jul 2021, 18:43 BST
Dog sledding in the Kitzbühel Alps

Dog sledding in the Kitzbühel Alps.

Photograph by Andreas Langreiter

01 Learn to mush
Kitzbuehel, Austria

Enjoy sled runs through snowy landscapes, learn igloo building and cheer on mushers as they race through the picturesque PillerseeTal, pulled by a team of huskies (14-29 January 2016). Those keen to learn the art of mushing, can add on a three-day Adventure Husky course to discover more about sled dogs and how to train and steer them. From €298pp (£258), including tuition and some meals (flights extra).

02 Gourmet Ski Safari
Dolomites, Italy

You don't have to skin up or ski off-piste to savour the atmosphere of charming mountain huts. This ski safari traverses 12 ski areas featuring 746 miles of prepared, lift-served pistes to explore the breathtaking beauty of the Dolomites and also sample the hearty cuisine and excellent wines of northern Italy. Move from valley to valley each day on skis, enjoying different accommodation and food most nights. From €2,290pp (£1,982)  for six days, including lift pass, half-board accommodation, and luggage transfers plus four days' mountain guide. The price also includes dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant one evening, and a wine tasting. 

03 Learn French and ski
Morzine, France

Say au revoir to your accent Anglaise and brush up on your French and your skiing at the Alpine French School, based in the ski resort of Morzine just over one hour's drive from Geneva. Go for a week, or stay the entire season. Courses run from 8 January to 15 April 2017, with prices from €899pp (£778), including seven night's self-catering accommodation, six days' ski pass, 15 hours of French lessons. Ski lessons can be booked separately. A great choice for GCSE, A-Level or keen mature language students, half-board accommodation is available with a range of host families from €1,100 (£952) per week: a truly immersive mountain culture experience.

04 Ski The Haute Route
France & Switzerland

Ski tour off-piste from hut to hut along one of the world's most famous ski touring routes, linking two historic Alpine centres: Chamonix and Zermatt. A good level of fitness and ability is needed for the 72-mile journey, which includes a 19,680ft ascent/descent and a nifty border crossing, too. A group tour (leaving 2 April 2017) costs from £1,615pp including a six-night half-board stay in alpine huts, three nights' B&B accommodation in Chamonix and Zermatt, eight full days' skiing with a mountain guide and instructor, transfers between resorts and equipment (flights extra).

05 Biathlon training
Tyrol, Austria

Learn how to ski fast and shoot straight on a course that teaches you the art of survival. Originating from Scandinavia, where it's still fairly common to hunt on skis, biathlon requires speed, agility, balance and coordination. Find out if you have what it takes at Tirol's Hochfilzen, Obertilliach, Seefeld and Angerberg Biathlon Centers from mid-December to late March, where experienced instructors will give tips on your cross-country ski techniques and teach you how to take aim with competition-style .22 caliber rifles. Children (taller than 4'7'') can take part, too using air rifles. Two hours from €60 (£50).

06 Heliski
Verbier, Switzerland

Enjoy panoramic views of the Matterhorn then experience the alpine glacial landscape from a different angle as you ski on wild, untouched virgin powder through bowls and towering mountains during a breathtaking freeride glacier descent. Heliskiing may sound like the pastime of the rich and famous, but it's not always as exclusive as you might think. Val Heliski operates services in France and Switzerland with packages from as little as €99pp (£86). Beginners who want the views but lack the skills can book a helicopter transfer or scenic flight instead.  

07 Music in the mountains
Arlberg1800, Austria

A new €26m (£22.5m) concert hall opened last season in St Christoph, one of the Alps' highest ski resorts, just a slope or two from St Anton. Go for the nighttime music (members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra are among those performing throughout the winter ski season) and the skiing by day. A new cable-car between Zürs and Stuben/Rauz launches in time for the winter 2016/17 ski season connecting the five villages of Lech, Zürs, Stuben, St Christoph and St Anton for the first time. Enjoy pre-concert drinks at the Hospiz Alm restaurant, which can be found at the base of the St Christoph chairlift.

08 Fatbiking, ice climbing and more…
Samoens, France

Head to Samoëns, a, medieval village near Chamonix, 50 minutes from Geneva airport, for a host of winter activities. Ride bikes with super-fat tyres, designed for snow and ice, or try skidooing, ski joëring, snow shoeing and husky sledding. Situated in the Giffre Valley, Villa Rose boutique hotel, set in a five-bedroom chateau also offers guides for ice climbing. Samoëns has a lift that links to the Grand Massif, for skiing. B&B from £248 per double/twin room. 

Published in the The Alps Winter 2016 guide, distributed with the November 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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