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Ski Report: What to See/Do/Wear in Courchevel, Sun Valley, and Whistler

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The good news is ski season is off to a strong start with mountains across the West and Europe starting to accrue a solid base. We’ve canvassed what’s happening at three of our favorite mountains and put together our must-see/must-do lists both on and off the slopes, plus the latest winter gear so you’re not left out in the cold.

COURCHEVEL, FRANCE

Known colloquially as the St. Tropez of the winter, Courchevel earns its reputation as Europe’s most glamorous ski resort. The five villages that make up the base here are named for their elevations, and while Courchevel 1650 has gained a solid following of more low-key visitors looking to escape the crowds, most of the action is still in 1850, the highest village and home to the stunning hotels and Michelin-starred scene the area is known for. Though you could easily entertain yourself for weeks in the picturesque village, which has great shopping, spas, and a sophisticated après scene, what really draws people here is the world-class skiing. Through a famously efficient system of chair lifts (there are almost never lines here), Trois Vallees offers access to eight separate ski areas, making it the largest lift-linked ski acreage in the world.

Ski Report: What to See/Do/Wear in Courchevel, Sun Valley, and Whistler

Stay: Located right along the ski slope in Jardin Alpin, Palace les Airelles fulfills every dream about a European chalet, from the roaring fireplace in the entry, to the antlers, to the coffered ceilings and old-school mini-murals on the walls. The Pierre Gagnaire restaurant boasts two Michelin stars, the La Mer spa has a robust lineup of offerings, including cryotherapy, which is clutch after a long day on the mountain. A modern take on the traditional French chalet, nearby L’Apogee (also in Le Jardin Alpin) is kitted out with marble fireplaces, crisp, light woods, fur blankets, and a sushi bar. It’s also a great place to stay with littles, as their dedicated kids club offers a full kids playspace with daily programming like arts and crafts, magic shows, or mini science classes (there’s a dedicated teen space, as well). Their rooftop hot tub, which looks like an oversized wine barrel, has the best views you can see without getting on a chair lift.

Eat/Après: Le 1947 received its third Michelin star this year, making it the only restaurant in town bestowed with so many. Appropriately located inside the Cheval Blanc (inarguably the area’s most over-the-top hotel) and with space for only 25 diners, it’s not an easy reservation to get, but Yannick Alléno’s innovative experiments with traditional French cuisine make it more than worth it. For a casual meal and great après, ski right onto the patio at Le Chalet de l’Écailler. Down the slope in 1650, Angela Hartnett (a Gordon Ramsey protegé famous for her restaurant in the Connaught), has a relatively new opening in the Portetta Hotel. She’ll be serving Italian food inspired by the high-alpine surroundings, like rissotto ossobuco, pizza with raclette cheese, and a seriously good tartiflette. If you’re staying in 1850, arrange to ski there for lunch.

Don’t Miss: Unsurprisingly, shopping is a big deal in Courchevel, and Place du Tremplin is the part of town to visit for the best shopping and strolling. All the big name brand stores are there, but Bernard Orcel is great for multibrand ski clothing and accessories, and Blu&Berry will stock all the best winter items from Celine, Chloe, and Pucci, alongside a gorgeous selection of French and German skiwear brands. For cute interiors knick-knacks and a bouquet, should you need one, visit Jasmine, which supplies flowers to all of the fancy hotels. Another bucket list experience for off-days is the cooking classes at Le Chabicou, the two-Michelin-star restaurant inside the hotel of the same name.

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WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA

Whistler and Blackcomb ski resorts, which are now connected by one dramatic peak-to-peak tram, combine to provide the biggest acreage of any ski area in North America. The village is a two-hour drive from Vancouver, but it’s along the Sea-to-Sky highway, which follows the picturesque Squamish River from its mountain-rimmed source at the Howe Sound and passes by Daisy Lake and Brandywine Falls, so we recommend trying to time it during the day if you can. Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a mountain town that’s casual and easygoing, with an unusual food culture that’s heavily influenced by nearby Vancouver (in other words, this is one of few ski resorts in the world where you’ll actually want to seek out the sushi).

Ski Report: What to See/Do/Wear in Courchevel, Sun Valley, and Whistler

Stay: The Four Seasons at Whistler is laid out so that you’re a three minute walk from the base of the mountain but feel as if you’re in a more private, secluded part of the village. The vibe is everything you’d expect from Four Seasons (cozy fireplaces in tastefully decorated guest rooms, a glamorous, exposed-beam lobby, and more than one great restaurant), but what makes the Whistler version particularly great is the focus on families. In addition to standard guest rooms, you can rent 3- and 4-bedroom residences, which come equipped with laundry rooms and full kitchens, for longer stays, plus, there’s a heated pool that kids love. A little higher up on the mountain and more in the center of the action is Fairmont’s palatial Whistler property, which backs up directly to the slopes. Note: At more than 600 rooms, the common spaces here get notably hectic during busy times (though Fairmont’s expert staff takes great pains to keep the experience personable).

Eat/Après: Bearfoot Bistro is the best steakhouse in town, and they’re famous for champagne sabering bottles from their impressive wine list (if you’re traveling with a large group, definitely ask about their gorgeous private room in the wine cellar downstairs). Araxi, which is right in the center of Whistler’s cute little town center, has indisputably the best cocktails in town, and the après atmosphere is fun and cozy without getting overwhelming (the food is the best in town for a more modern menu). On the way back to the hotel, stop at Purebread, arguably Whistler’s most famous restaurant, for warm baguettes, amazing cake, and other baked goodness. Oh, and definitely make a reservation for sushi: Nagomi and Sachi have great upscale experiences, but Sushi Village, which has been open for decades, is the local favorite for its over-the-top atmosphere (after sushi, they’ll cook your steak on the grill in front of your table).

Don’t Miss British Columbia’s dramatic vertical makes it one of the best places in the world for heli-skiing–Whistler Heli has access to terrain that’s more than 50 times as large as Whistler-Blackcomb’s already-enormous acreage, plenty of it on the region’s stunning glaciers. Blackcomb Snowmobile‘s dinner experience, which tours you up a snowy road to a fondue dinner in a cozy, isolated chalet, is a big hit with the littles, and they also do dog sledding during the day. To give those ski legs a rest, head to Scandinave Spa, a rustic but relaxing escape on the edge of Lost Lake Park’s spruce and cedar forest, where a network of Scandinavian baths focus on the age-old Finnish tradition of hydrotherapy.

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SUN VALLEY, IDAHO

A brief history lesson: In 1936 the resort’s founder, W. Averell Harriman snapped up 3,000 acres in Ketchum, Idaho, in search of a four-season resort town out west. What unfurled in the years that followed was the creation of a star-studded ski town (Clark Gable, Ernest Hemingway, and Marilyn Monroe were regulars), and some of the country’s first chairlifts, which put Sun Valley on the map. Part of what’s charming about the town today is that, in spite of its Hollywood history, it’s pretty low-key in the sense that skiers truly come here for the terrain and the snow. In fact, stronger skiers tend to stick to Baldy Mountain, where the prevailing wisdom is that green runs ski more like blue runs elsewhere, blues are like blacks, and so on. (The mountain is so expansive, lift lines are rarely a problem.) Predictably, the crowds spike around Christmas and in February and March when schools and families from nearby Seattle and San Francisco pour in for their spring break, as well as being the time the annual Sun Valley Film Festival takes place (March 14th-18th). Our tip? Go in early January for fewer crowds and a solid base.

Ski Report: What to See/Do/Wear in Courchevel, Sun Valley, and Whistler

Stay: In recent years, the historic Sun Valley Lodge underwent a significant refresh—the lobby was extended and floor-to-ceiling windows put in along the back of the hotel, although it still retains its old-world charm—and its original 1936 facade. The room count was pulled back from 148 to 108, and in doing so, many of the rooms are now outfitted with soaking tubs, fireplaces, and even a ski closet for all your wet gear when you get off the slopes. Longtime visitors will be relieved to know that its signature detail — the hundreds of iconic black-and-white images of guests like Clark Gable, Ingrid Bergman, and George Lucas—still line the hallways. Down the road, new-kid-on-the-block the Limelight (they’ve got two other locations in Aspen and Snowmass) is a welcome addition to the somewhat limited offerings in Ketchum. Here, at 99 rooms strong, the vibe is clean and modern (think: warm, blonde wood furnishings, lots of natural light, fully stocked kitchenettes) and a great option for families traveling.

Eat/Après: The dining scene in Sun Valley is punctuated by classics like Ketchum Grill (look for kitchy ski decor plus a long list of specials) and Christina’s (morning coffee cake and cinnamon rolls are the things to order), but that doesn’t mean the town doesn’t welcome newbies either. Both Enoteca, run by Scott and Ann Mason of Ketchum Grill, and Warfield Distillery have quickly made a name for themselves in town. At Enoteca, Mason fires up pizza in a wood-burning stove and has the best Idaho trout in town; over at Warfield’s, elevated pub fare means mushroom poutine and buttermilk fried chicken served with local craft beer. For a nightcap or at the end of a day on the slopes, swing by Grumpy’s, a no-frills, après-ski dive where beer cans and Idaho license plates cover the walls. The menu, written on a chalkboard, consists of a couple variations on a burger (quarter-pound, half-pound, and a garden burger), hot wings, chili dogs, and a daily special. Make like a local and finish your meal off with a fishbowl-sized schooner of beer if you feel like getting rowdy.

Don’t Miss: On the mountain, Sun Valley’s Ski Patrol 101 lottery program is something even the locals want in on. Here’s how it works: On Saturday mornings at 7:30 a.m., ski patrol will open up Baldy Mountain and two skiers selected at random are able to run through the mountain-opening checklist, including checking runs, adjusting rope boundaries, and assessing conditions. Farther afield, about 25 minutes north of town, Galena Lodge is a day lodge with a network of some 30 miles of Nordic trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing set against the Boulder Mountains. Throughout the course of the winter season, Galena Lodge hosts nightly 4-course dinners at 6:30 p.m.; at lunch, there’s a hearty menu of Idaho beef burgers, chili, and meatloaf—perfect for refueling by the fire after a day on the trails.

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