The New Alps
Here's why ten Winter Olympics have been staged high in the Alps: James Bond glamour, beautiful slopes, and raging après—ski that lasts till 3 a.m.
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Stairway to HeavenScramble up the steep rock incline to the Sacra di San Michele, a tenth-century Benedictine abbey perched on a pinnacle overlooking the Susa Valley. Italians call the sport via ferrata—hiking and rock-climbing over preset routes with fixed holds, cables, and ladders. Need a guide? Try Alberto at Alby Sport (firstname.lastname@example.org) or go to www.sacradisanmichele.com.
In the mountain village of Pragelato, enter through a half-moon-adorned wooden door in a 17th-century former stable to find La Greppia, a rustic-chic restaurant with sloping stone ceilings and muted lighting. Thinly sliced meats, accompanied by vegetables and cheeses, are served at the table for diners to cook, pierrade style, on heated stone slabs. Via del Beth 9, 011-39-0122-78-409
Ski the Galaxy
Log 30,000 or more vertical feet by skiing the Via Lattea (“Milky Way”) from end to end. The cluster of six resorts straddles the Italy-France border, with 5,000 vertical feet each, 88 lifts, and 240 total trail miles. Best of the bunch is Sestriere, home of the Olympic men's downhill. Via Lattea lift ticket, $37; www.vialattea.it
After a day on the slopes, duck down through the stone doorway of Crot 'd Ciulin, in the mountain town of Bardonecchia, and get chummy with mustached ski instructors. Simple wood tables, wine casks, and sepia-tone photographs offer the perfect setting for sampling Barbera d'Alba or Dolcetto di Dogliani, popular Piedmont reds, and filling up on toma, a local cheese. 20 Via Des Geneys; 011-39-0122-96161
Millions have been poured into the cross-country ski center in Pragelato. How do you spend that kind of cash on nordic skiing? On snowmaking, lights, new buildings (for warming up, chowing down, and changing clothes), and an 18.6-mile trail network meticulously groomed and graded for Olympic competitions. $7 per day; 011-39-0122-74-1107, www.pragelatosporting.it
Crash with Class
Le Meridien Turin Art & Tech, formerly a Fiat factory, has been refashioned by architect Renzo Piano into a hip hotel about a ten-minute walk from the heart of downtown Turin. Polished steel, floor-to-ceiling windows, and angular furniture designed by Philippe Starck are reasons Architectural Digest praised it as “a showcase of modern design.” Rev your engine with a morning run on the rooftop track, formerly used for test-driving prototypes. Doubles, $150–$410; 800-543-4300, www.turinartandtech.lemeridien.com
Get a Choco-buzz
At Turin café;s, try a cup of bicerin—a sublime concoction of coffee, chocolate, and milk (or, even better, vanilla cream). Or forget the drink and go straight for the hard stuff: Turin is famed for its chocolate. Recommended confection: cioccolato gianduja, a hazelnut blend produced by Venchi and available at downtown chocolatiers.
Take it Reel Easy
The Museo Nazionale del Cinema, in the restored Mole Antonelliana (a 115-year-old former synagogue), houses more than 7,000 film titles, including Italian, French, and American classics, with frequent screenings; 200,000 original posters; and interactive displays on filmmaking. Admission, $6; 011-39-011-81-25-658, www.museonazionaledelcinema.it
Royalty-Spotting: Town and Crown
Chairlift: Border FlightA time-honored joy of skiing the Alps is dropping from one nation into another. But only one resort's chairlift will take you to a different country. The Furggsattel Gletscherbahn loads up to six passengers above Zermatt, Switzerland, at a knob called Trockener Steg, then rises 1,400 feet and unloads at Furggsattel – 11,040 feet up on an Italian ridge. – Rob Story
At the end of a high valley, opposite the Ã¼rhub of St. Anton, in the Arlberg Pass, Lech is geographically fortified against prying paparazzi. Helicopters have buzzed in the likes of Princess Caroline of Monaco and the late Princess Di. Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander continues Lech's royal tradition of swooping in and schussing down. See and be seen at: The intimate Gasthof Post Hotel (www.postlech.com).
Prince Charles is a Klosters kind of guy. William and Harry are also regulars at this secluded village, as are international power brokers, who try to escape media scrutiny while attending the annual World Economic Forum each January in nearby Davos. See and be seen at: The Walserhof Hotel (www.walserhof.ch), the choice of Brit royals.
Old-money Gstaad was reportedly aghast when Paris Hilton romped into town for vacay last year. According to the gossip mill, the resort got another scare when local homeowner Liz Taylor recently offered her palatial estate to tabloid escapee Michael Jackson. Gstaaders seem to prefer royal celebs like Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece. See and be seen at: The castlelike, trÃ¨s exclusive, 104-room Palace Hotel (www.palace.ch).
St. Moritz, Switzerland
Princess Caroline, the Sultan of Brunei, and George Clooney have been spotted cavorting in the Alpine capital of blue-blood chic, depicted in a memorable ski-chase scene in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with onetime Agent 007 George Lazenby. And where else would you find an event like the annual Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow? See and be seen at: Badrutt's Palace Hotel (www.badruttspalace.com), where no one thinks twice about $25 martinis.
Nouveau Lodges: Beyond the Chalet
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The Alps may conjure visions of famous peaks, edelweiss, and stuffy Swiss Miss inns, but thanks to a new breed of hotel—designed for a younger, more affluent crowd—you can have your iconic peaks and hip digs, too.
Skihotel Galzig, St. Anton, Austria
It's mere steps to the lifts from this many-windowed hotel, which offers 21 warm-hued rooms with brilliant views of mounts Rendle and Galzig. Comfy leather couches surround an open fire, and a sauna, solarium, and steam bath soothe weary skiers. Doubles from $84, including breakfast; 011-43-5446-427-700, www.skihotelgalzig.at
The Clubhouse, Chamonix, France
This newly renovated 1927 art deco mansion holds three private doubles, three bunk rooms (for six or eight), and one suite, with flat-screen TVs, teak-decked “rainforest” showers, mini-libraries, and Mont Blanc views. On the main level, an exclusive bar awaits. Doubles, $225 (three-night minimum stay), including breakfast and dinner; 011-33-450-909-656, www.clubhouse.fr
Naturhotel Waldklause, Läenfeld, Austria
Built with natural materials—fir, spruce, pine, glass, and stone—this 47-room hotel features simple, geometric furniture and contemporary art. A rooftop terrace and balconies off each room overlook the Öztal Valley; the new Aqua Dome thermal spa next door gives discounts to hotel guests. Doubles from $122, including breakfast; 011-43-5253-5455, www.waldklause.at
Vigilius Mountain Resort, Lana, Italy
The Vigilius is remote, grass-roofed, and heated by a low-emission, energy-saving wood-chip incinerator. Reachable only by a three-to-four-hour hike or a vintage 1912 cable car, the 35 rooms and six suites in this minimalist larch-and-glass enclave feature sleek, modern furniture and local antiques. Plus there's a music library, screening room, and spa with a spring-fed infinity pool. Doubles from $380, including breakfast and cable-car ride; 011-39-0473-55-6600, www.vigilius.it
Riders Palace, Laax, Switzerland
This cubic glass-and-larch hobnob haven—located just five minutes from Laax's lifts—offers a bar, 70 communal and private accommodations, and a concert hall that hosts international bands. Rooms are urban-chic, with Philippe Starck–designed chrome sinks and bathtubs, surround-sound entertainment systems, and PlayStations. Bunk beds from $50, doubles from $73, including lift ticket; 011-41-81-927-9700, www.riderspalace.ch
Competitions: Play Your Own Games
Derby de la Meije, La Grave, France, April 4–7
The rules are simple: Get from the top to the bottom of Vallons de la Meije ski area as fast as possible, by nearly any route. In a good year, about 1,000 snowboarders and tele-, mono-, and alpine skiers take on the nearly 7,000-vertical-foot, off-piste challenge. Whether you ski it or decide to skip it, be sure to stick around for the four-day festival, which includes rock, reggae, and electronica. www.derbydelameije.com
Engadin SkiMarathon, Maloja to S-Chanf, Switzerland, March 12
Gliding over 27 miles of frozen lakes and through forests and meadows requires a lot of endurance and heavy breathing, but more than 12,000 cross-country skiers—rom world-class fitness freaks to lounge lizards—ign up each year. Chase the course record of one hour 32 minutes or take it slow and soak in the splendor of the Engadin Valley. www.engadin-skimarathon.ch
Giro d'Italia, Italy, May 21–28
Followed by the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, the Giro is the year's first grand-tour stage race. Ride Strong (www.ridestrongbiketours.com) offers one-week trips that let you spin ahead of all the pros on the tough midrace mountain stages in the Dolomites. www.giroditalia.it
Steep Skiing Camps Worldwide, La Grave, France. American freeskier Doug Coombs presides over a thrilling ski week in hairy terrain. Campers learn couloir etiquette, beacon drills, and more. www.dougcoombs.com
Chocolate Freeride Productions, Verbier, Switzerland. Intended for solid skiers wishing to safely graduate to big-mountain freeriding, weeklong courses sample Verbier's mammoth off-piste. www.chocolatefreeride.com
Portes du Soleil is a sprawling resort in southeastern France that houses 209 lifts and, in summer, 373 miles of mountain-bike trails. Ride from village to village, using the lifts and granny gears to pedal to a different hotel each night. Traces Directes organizes tours and can help get your bags from bed to bed. $1,330 for five days; 011-33-4-50-74-7040
SwisSkiSafari uses helicopters to access 7,000-vertical-foot descents in the Swiss backcountry and chill time at five-star front-country hotels. In between, blast down groomers in Saas Fee, Zermatt, and Verbier. Four days of skiing, meals, and accommodations, $7,900; 011-41-27-398-2194, www.swisskisafari.com
KE Adventure Travel's guides will show you how to crampon and piolet your way along France's Mer de Glace, Glacier des Rognons, and even up the Mont Blanc du Tacul, a 14,000-foot peak. Eight-day trip out of Chamonix, $2,555; 800-497-9675, www.keadventure.com
Engelberg, Switzerland: Snow-porn stars Shane McConkey, Jamie Pierre, and Micah Black all visited this resort last season. Why? To ride in-bounds treats like Steinberg (4,000 crevasse-riddled vertical feet) and backcountry steeps like Galtiberg (a 6,500-foot plunge). A local guide is highly recommended. www.engelberg.ch
La Grave, France: The Anti-Whistler, La Grave has no pedestrian village, disco, or official ski patrol. Instead, there's 7,000 vertical feet of no-beginners-allowed terrain. www.la-grave.com
Dammkar, Germany: Featuring a bigger–than–Jackson Hole vertical of 4,300 feet, Dammkar also gets some of the best snow in Bavaria. The area's recent decision to quit grooming explains its official name: Dammkar Freeride. www.skigermany.com
Courmayeur, Italy: Courmayeur is Chamonix's conjoined twin to the south. Above the first stage of its creaky Telepheriques du Mont Blanc cable car? Topless sunbathers. Above the third? A descent down 6,888 vertical feet of the Toula Glacier, highlighted by chutes approaching 50 degrees. www.courmayeur-montblanc.com
Host Cities: A Guide to Perennial Playgrounds
The Winter Olympics are practically synonymous with the Alps—and this year they return to the classic range for the tenth time. No other place so seamlessly merges rugged high-altitude life with Old World glamour and panache. Here's a look at past glory and present-day fun, from the gastronomic to the gonzo.
Olympic Locale: Chamonix, France, 1924
Why Go Now?: Alpinist crossroads of the world—the hottest Euro destination for the piton-and-pylon set. Be sure to bring an ice ax.
Highlight: The off-piste Vallé;e Blanche and the Aiguille du Midi tram ride, rising some 9,000 vertical feet to a rocky spire by Mont Blanc.
Hotspot: Chambre Neuf. It's aprè;s-ski on steroids, pumped up by rock and roll and Swedish hotties.
Olympic Locale: St. Moritz, France, 1928 & 1948
Why Go Now?: British gentility and glitzy shopping. Essential gear: polo mallets, Van Cleef jewelry, and politesse.
Highlight: The Cresta Run, the world-famous sledding site. Hop on a skeleton toboggan and zoom 50 miles an hour down nearly 4,000 feet.
Hotspot: The casino in the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains. Win at baccarat and maybe you can afford the pricey drinks later at Badrutt's Palace.
Olympic Locale: Garmisch-partenkirchen, Germany, 1936
Why Go Now?: Oktoberfest in the mountains. Be ready for one-liter glasses of Paulaner brew and boisterous beer-hall singing.
Highlight: The Kandahar downhill run, possibly the most dangerous on the World Cup circuit. Be like Bode and ski it nonstop from top to bottom.
Hotspot: The Gasthof Fraundorfer. Go for post-slopes suds, stay for a Bavarian meat-and-potatoes dinner, and finish with a rowdy sing-along.
Olympic Locale: Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, 1956
Why Go Now?: Easy skiing and extreme eating against the Dolomites' backdrop of rust-red cliffs and spiky 7,000-to-8,000-foot peaks.
Highlight: Classic rock scrambling on 5,000-foot-plus vertical limestone faces, including some small climbs that are doable in winter.
Hotspot: The Rifugio Averau, an on-mountain chalet. Have a three-hour lunch of pasta and sausage, then try skiing back to town.
Olympic Locale: Innsbruck, Austria, 1964 & 1976
Why Go Now?: What's not to love about a cosmopolitan 16th-century Tyrol city flanked by 25 villages and 76 ski lifts within a 168-mile radius?
Highlight: Year-round skiing above 10,000 feet on the nearby 2.7-square-mile Stubai Glacier, plus backcountry hut-to-hut trips in winter.
Hotspot: The Hofgarten Café;, especially on a spring day when you can sit outside and people-watch over a locally brewed Zepfer beer.
Olympic Locale: Grenoble, France, 1968
Why Go Now?: The hills are alive beyond industrial Grenoble. Drive an hour to Les Deux Alpes, then cruise the front side or ski the back face to La Grave.
Highlight: The bike ride up 21 switchbacks to the nearby ski resort of L'Alpe d'Huez. Tour de France racers will tackle the infamous climb on July 18.
Hotspot: Mike's Bar, in Les Deux Alpes, a hard partyer's hangout. Bring your skis or snowboard—they can be waxed while you drink.
Olympic Locale: Albertville/Val D'Isere, France, 1992
Why Go Now?: Big-mountain skiing on 25,000 acres. The action, on and off the slopes, is at the side-by-side resorts of Val d'Isere and Tignes.
Highlight: Off-piste challenges like L'Aguille Pers, at Val d'Isere, or the Face Nord de la Grand Motte at Tignes. Hire a guide and go where tourists dare not.
Hotspot: Dick's Tea Bar, in Val d'Isere. A favorite of Italian bon vivant Alberto Tomba during the Olympics, it keeps cranking until 4 a.m.
Hut-to-Hut Treks: Connect the Spots
The Alta Via No. 1, in the Dolomites of northern Italy, offers exquisite valley views and crosses breathtaking summits from Braies Lake, near Dobbiaco, to Passo Duran, for a total of 75 miles. Each night you sleep in a cozy rifugio where warm beds and meals await. Great Walks of the World (011-44-19-3581-0820, www.greatwalks.net) offers a ten-day all-inclusive hike for $1,700.
The Haute Route, a seven-day, 70-to-90-mile trek from Chamonix, France, to Zermatt, Switzerland, comes in two flavors: the glacier option, which includes travel on snow and ice, and the hiking version, which stays on established trails. Both routes offer stunning views of the French and Swiss Alps and end in the shadow of the Matterhorn. Reserve early at each night's hut or sign up with an outfitter like Chamonix Experience ($1,700; 011-33-6-08-80-94-27, www.chamex.com).
The Stubai Horseshoe, a 45-mile traverse of Austria's incredibly scenic Stubai Valley, south of Innsbruck, is a hiker's dream. The relatively strenuous seven-day circuit starts in the village of Obertal and ends in Neustift. On Top Mountaineering (800-506-7177, www.ontopmountaineering.com) offers an all-inclusive weeklong trip for $1,900.
Alpine Splendor: The Short List
Best Airport: Züch, Switzerland
Fly here, fetch your bags, catch a train to the central station (they run every ten minutes), and within a half-hour of touchdown you're rumbling through dreamy Alpine scenery to your hamlet of choice. www.zurich-airport.com
Best Castle: Neuschwanstein, Germany
If it's overcast and predictable at Garmisch, bop over to Neuschwanstein, a medieval-style castle that nutty King Ludwig II built in the 19th century out of a fascination with fairy tales. Perched atop an impossible finger of rock, it's reached via a steep 30-minute climb. www.neuschwanstein.de
Best DJ Scene: St. Moritz, Switzerland
Throw some clogs in your pack and join well-lubricated jet-setters on the party tram up Corvatsch for St. Moritz's traditional Friday Snow Night. Ski or snowboard down to midmountain, retrieve clogs, and dance in a steamy disco until last call, at 2 a.m. www.stmoritz.ch
Best Après Bar: Pub Mont Fort, Verbier, Switzerland
Known for cheap 20-ounce steins of Carlsberg beer and a giant, sunny deck, the two-level bar is a sea of bronzed faces that includes extreme snowboarders, freeskiers with film credits, and every other international big-mountain type. www.pubmontfort.com
Best place to check e-mail: CyBar, Chamonix, France
Reconnect with home as drop-dead-gorgeous Norwegian snowboarders surf the Net, while on another floor of this cavernous bar Canadian freeskiers watch The Big Lebowski. 011-33-4-50-53-69-70
Best Carbo-Loading: La Perla, Italy
The owner of this five-star restaurant in Corvara, in the stunning Alta Badia region, turns out the lights each night on the 27,000-bottle wine cellar, saying, “We let the babies sleep.” And the kitchen sends out pumpkin ravioli with truffle oil. It's the karmic antithesis to the Olive Garden. www.hotel-laperla.it
Best Shopping: Livigno, Italy
The whole town of Livigno (www.livignoweb.com) is a duty-free zone, and shoppers for booze, perfume, cigars, and electronics prowl the streets, along with suspicious numbers of telemark skiers. Framed by 3,000-vertical-foot escarpments, Livigno is home to April's Free Heel Fest, Europe's biggest telemark celebration. www.livignofreeheel.it
Best Baroque Fantasy: Pichlmayrgut, Austria
Outside this “sport hotel” village (doubles, $235; www.pichlmayrgut.at) are turrets and onion domes; inside are subterranean passages leading to indoor tennis courts, bowling lanes, and steam rooms. Across the street is one of the Dachstein-Tauern Sportregion's 111 ski lifts, accessing 140 miles of slopes.