Ski season is just around the corner now and, like many snow bunnies, I can’t wait to start planning my next trip.
Finding the best conditions, good slopes for my ability and a gorgeous place to stay are all high on the priority list, but as a skier who likes to let her hair down I’ll also be after a resort with a buzzing après-ski scene.
Europe has some of the liveliest, where beers, mulled wine and a cheeky shot or two post-piste is practically a right of passage. And there are a handful of resorts that really are in a league of their own – from buzzing St Anton, in Austria, which boasts two legendary après venues that have been going strong for decades, to glamorous Val D’Isére, in France, where you can bob along to live music with a decent glass of rosé in hand while celeb spotting among the crowds.
Whatever your style, there’s a resort for you – and here are my top five picks…
ST. ANTON, AUSTRIA
Where to go:
Some of my best après memories have been made in The Krazy Kangaruh and The MooserWirt, two legendary drinking dens that sit opposite each other at the top of the final run into the resort village of St. Anton.
The MooserWirt is a uniquely Austrian experience – think table-top dancing, light shows, vast quantities of beer, Jägermeister and cheesy music, which all kicks off at 3pm sharp each day, when the first song, The Final Countdown, blasts over the speakers without fail.
It’s reputed to sell more beer than any other bar in the Alps and is presided over by 67-year-old DJ Gerhard – who has played here continuously since 1994 (and is something of a local celebrity).
Skiers pile into The MooserWirt
Resident DJ Gerhard
The view from the terrace
My favourite spot was outside on the terrace, with a steaming glühwein in hand, enjoying the views over the resort and the swathes of snow-dusted pine trees all around us.
The Krazy Kangaruh (or the KK, as it’s known), which first opened its doors in 1965 and has been going ever since, is – if possible – even livelier. Now owned by former Olympic ski racer Mario Matt, it’s more popular with the younger crowd (and a definite favourite of seasonnaires). Expect loud music, even louder staff and plenty of wild antics.
If you’re looking for somewhere more mellow, where you can recline with a glass of wine and relax with a bit of music, there’s also The Heustadl (as you ski down the blue run from the bottom of the Zammermossbahn chairlift), with a large sun terrace and a sound system playing mostly German tunes and sometimes live music.
Or try Sennhutte, a popular mountain hut with a terrace located to the right of the main piste leading from the bottom of the Zammermoosbahn chairlift to St. Anton. A favourite with Germans, it’s a more civilised affair than KK and The Mooserwirt!
Where to stay:
I checked in to the lovely Chalet Gertrude Gabl, a boutique eight-room property that’s just a 10-minute walk from the centre of the resort and has beautiful mountain views (best enjoyed from the outdoor hot tub!). This season, Iglu Ski (020 3553 9595) is offering packages from £659pp, based on two people sharing on a fully catered basis, with return flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck and transfers (approximately 1 hour 30 minutes to resort).
Chalet Gertrude Gabl – what a view!
VAL D’ISÉRE, FRANCE
Where to go:
Val D’Isere’s reputation as a legendary aprés ski resort precedes it – there really is no shortage of bars, pubs and clubs where you can wind down after a hard day on the slopes.
Dick’s Tea Bar is probably the most iconic venue. Founded by Dick Yates-Smith in 1979, it was once a games hall for the village – and is now the coolest place in town where people come to see and be seen.
Après begins at 4.30pm and goes on until 10pm, while the After Dinner Club runs from 10.30pm to 1am, when there’s live music and sets from Dick’s international resident DJs Nicky Sthlm & Brent Anthony.
If you’re looking for a good time but would rather schlep off to dinner and bed at a decent hour, embrace the aprés at La Folie Douce instead (the clue is in the name: it’s French for “soft party”).
The fun kicks off around 2.30pm and ends at 5pm at this mountain venue (the only aprés spot actually on the mountain, so perfect for those who like their drinks with a view). Expect a lively atmosphere, with plenty of table dancing to Europop music.
A blue sky afternoon at the Folie
For a much more relaxed post-slopes vibe, Pacific Bar is a good choice. It opens from 5pm during the week and from 1.30pm at weekends and is the place to chill in front of giant TV screens showing sports. They also have regular live music and open mic nights.
In fact, if it’s decent music you’re after, you really won’t be disappointed in Val. Moris Pub, which has a loyal British clientele, has regular acts on, as does Le Graal, which is one of the few LGBT-oriented clubs here.
My personal favourite? It has to be Cocorico, at Rond Point (at the foot of the slopes). It has a large outdoor terrace where quality bands play decent chart hits and power ballads daily, and an unpretentious crowd who just want to dance and enjoy a few beers. It opens at 2pm and tends to wind down around 7.30-8pm.
Getting into the spirit at my favourite aprés spot, Cocorico
Of course, then you can head downstairs to La Doudoune – if you have the stamina! Cocorico’s basement neighbour, an all-night club that closes at 7am, offers psychedelic lights and electronic music from an array of world-class guest DJs (David Guetta, Pete Tong and Roger Sanchez have entertained the Doudoune crowd in the past few years). I loved the enchanted forest feeling with its tree-like sculptures and sparkling fairy lights… though admittedly I didn’t last until dawn!
Where to stay:
I travelled with Inghams and stayed at the ultra-swish five-star Chalet Hotel & Spa Le Savoie, which costs from £990pp in winter 2017/2018. Price includes seven nights’ chalet board, which includes hot buffet breakfast, afternoon tea and five-course evening meals with a choice of menu, pre-dinner aperitif and wines. The package also includes return flights to Geneva and transfers.
Chalet Hotel & Spa Le Savoie offers luxurious rooms and wonderful food
VAL THORENS, FRANCE
Where to go:
Val Thorens is not only the highest, most snow-sure resort in Europe, but it also has one of the liveliest après scenes. The only difficulty you’ll have is knowing where to start!
Val is home to another outpost of La Folie Douce, and, if it’s possible, it’s even wilder than its Val D’Isére sister venue (while there, I witnessed a man dancing on a table bare-chested, while spraying champagne over the party-goers below!).
Off the slopes, head to Café Snesko Bar (from 5.30pm). The revellers pack in early doors and you’ll be lucky if you find anywhere to rest your feet, but the atmosphere is brilliant. A band plays all night (Danish folk mixed with English sing-along classics) and the bar staff get fully immersed in the fun, downing shots, doing dares and party tricks… at one point even setting the bar on fire.
The bar is set alight during aprés at Café Snesko Bar
Equally boisterous is The Frog and Roastbeef, which claims to be the highest British pub in the Alps. Expect loud music and table dancing among a young crowd. Or head to old favourite Le Saloon (3pm to 1.45am) in the upper part of town. There’s a party vibe until the early hours, with live music and decent prices for drinks, especially during the 3-5pm happy hour when a pint costs €4.
While in Val Thorens, we stayed slopeside at Fahrenheit 7 hotel, which also has its own après terrace. It has a great buzz and fabulous views over the mountain, if you’re looking for something slightly less frenetic. And its cosy interior bar, Le Zinc, has over 150 wines and mouthwatering charcuterie platters if you fancy kicking back.
A more civilised afternoon of aprés on the terrace of Fahrenheit 7
Finally, if you’ve still got some energy left, Malaysia (10pm to 5am) is great for a spot of dancing into the early hours. But be warned, the drinks are eye-wateringly expensive!
Where to stay:
At retro-cool four-star Hotel Fahrenheit 7. Crystal Ski Holidays (020 8610 3123) offers a week’s half board for £1,005pp (based on two sharing) including flights from Gatwick to Chambéry and transfers (price given is for a January 6, 2018 departure). A local lift pass for six days starts from £218 and ski hire with rental company SkiSet costs from £76 for the week.
Where to go:
The party starts from mid-afternoon in Mayrhofen, when the music pumps out from the slope-side venues by the main upper lift terminals, tempting rosy-cheeked skiers in from the cold.
The places most people head to are the Pilzbar and the Elchbar at the top on the ‘Penken’ side of the mountain, where skiers relax on the terraces and dance along to Europop. For something classier, the White Lounge ice hotel, with its amazing igloo bar near the Ahorn cable-car top station, is beautiful. Perch on little benches made of ice in low-lit alcoves and marvel at the beautiful ice carving in the walls! If you’d rather soak up the sun, flop into one of the deck chairs arranged outside.
Après in an igloo in Mayrhofen
Down in the village there are plenty of buzzing venues, too (perhaps more so than on the mountain). Most people head straight off the main Penken lift into the Ice Bar at the Hotel Strass and it’s always thrumming from 4.30pm (closes at 10pm).
We also loved Scotland Yard (it used to house Mayrhofen’s police station), near the village centre, which is popular with seasonnaires and serves great British beer – it’s very pubby and noisy. Expect to be standing on a chair singing loudly to Wonderwall by the end of the evening.
And if you still have the energy, The Arena Club in the Hotel Strass is one of the resort’s top nightspots, where you can dance to pop chart hits and Austrian dance tunes, as well as drum and bass and dubstep.
If live music is your thing, make sure you book to come to Mayrhofen during the annual Snow Bombing festival, which has been going for 13 years now and sees top name DJs from around the world head here to play to the thousands. The next one will be held from April 9 to 14, 2018.
Where to stay:
I stayed at the gorgeous little eight-room Hotel Garni Eder, a seven minute walk to the Ahorn Gondola, and a five minute walk to resort centre and the Penken gondola. Crystal Ski Holidays offer a week’s stay in January from £569pp, staying on a bed and breakfast basis, with return flights from London Gatwick and transfers.
The view from Hotel Garni Eder
Where to go:
Giving Val Thorens a run for its money as the liveliest après ski resort in the Three Valleys is its mountain neighbour, Méribel.
You’ll find yet another outpost of La Folie Douce here, at the mid-station of La Saulire, which is bigger than its Val Thorens sister but just as fun.
However, most people wind down from a big day on the slopes at The Rond Point. Located just above the L’Adret 6-man chair lift, things kick off around 3pm at ‘the Ronnie’ (as it’s known) and it’s bursting with skiers and boarders of all ages. I enjoyed the live music from 5pm until 7pm every night on the huge outdoor terrace (little known fact: their in-house band used to be The Feeling!). For novelty value, whizz down from the terrace to the toilets on an adult-size slide (seriously), and order a toffee vodka – it’s the drink of choice!
A fantastic spot at The Rond Point, Méribel
Another great slope-side venue is Le Coeur de Cristal, where there’s usually a DJ on the balcony playing from around 3pm. There’s table service and a good choice of beers, wines and champagnes.
For more live music, head into town after dinner to Doron Pub below the Doron Hotel, for pumping music, big screens for football and major sports events. There’s also Jack’s Bar for stand-up comedy and happy hour cocktails. Bands also perform at around 5 or 6pm and later in the evening, too.
Fancy a late one? The place to go is O’Sullivans on Route Albert Gacon, an Irish bar that’s a 10-minute walk from the town centre and regularly hosts big name DJs (opens from 12.30am to 5am).
Where to stay:
Splash out on a stay at Hôtel Le Kaïla, Méribel’s top five-star hotel, with 42 rooms, two suites and a ‘Nuxe’ spa. Inghams offers packages for the coming season from £2,589 half board, including flights and transfers.
Author: Kirsty Nutkins
Kirsty is an experienced journalist and travel writer, currently working on a national newspaper supplement as Features and Travel Editor. She is the founder of TravelLuxe.co.uk.