Why lockdown-free Sweden could be your safest bet for a ski holiday

·9-min read
Off piste in Sweden - Magnus Bjermo/Getty
Off piste in Sweden - Magnus Bjermo/Getty

No matter how optimistic you are about the upcoming ski season, it’s hard to deny it is alarming to watch the majority of the key winter destinations in Europe struggle with a fourth wave of coronavirus infections. A fresh national lockdown in Austria has sent shockwaves across the bloc and holidaymakers are once again left questioning whether it’ll be safe to go skiing this winter.

Skiers and snowboarders are being told to keep calm though – resorts are still on track to open, in fact many have begun to do so, and operators are gearing up to welcome British guests for the first time in almost two years. While reassuring, skiers will still face restrictions in resorts, including green passes to get on lifts in Italy, and compulsory masks throughout resorts in France. Add to that the lingering worry of rising cases and the threat of new lockdowns, it’s understandable some might consider looking elsewhere, away from the well-trodden Alpine resorts, for their winter fix.

Enter Sweden. The Scandinavian nation is an outlier when it comes to both rising cases and tightening restrictions. As of November 24, the seven-day case rate per 1 million is 115.98. Compare that to Austria (1,563.58), Switzerland (683.87), France (322.66) and Italy (168.83) and it’s easy to see the appeal. Similarly, the number of patients in intensive care, a key metric driving lockdown decisions across the globe, in Sweden is 10 times lower than in Austria.

What’s more, Scandinavian resorts have adopted a recommendation-led rather than restrictive approach when it comes to reopening ski resorts – there’s not a mask, health pass or closed venue in sight. In Sweden, resorts such as Sälen and Åre (both due to open in mid-December) will be encouraging visitors to avoid queues by pre-booking lift passes and to keep on top of their own personal hygiene and hand washing. Visitors must be vaccinated, but there are no forms to fill out or Covid tests, and under 18s, in the company of a double-jabbed adult, are exempt from any restrictions at the border.

But what is it actually like skiing in Sweden? Imagine a day of skiing that extends beyond sunset and late into the evening, on slopes that are naturally blessed with some of the best snow conditions in Europe. Picture resorts, that despite their size, offer skiing for all abilities and après-ski that’s child-friendly. Then envisage a cottage, with a sauna to ease sore legs, and a night spent relaxing next to a roaring fire. Sounds like a dream? Not in Sweden.

The key to the perfect skiing trip for Swedes is the all-important mysfaktor – just the right level of cosiness. And what the country’s ski resorts lack in altitude compare to their Alpine cousins, they make up for in unassuming charm, child-friendliness, and a broad choice of options for skiers and non-skiers alike, whether its on or off the pistes.

Despite its appeal, Sweden remains uncharted territory for most British skiers – with ongoing uncertainty on the continent, this winter could be the perfect opportunity to find out what you’ve been missing.

Non-stop skiing

The shorter, darker days of the Swedish winter are no hindrance to skiing, thanks to floodlighting. Floodlit evening skiing on selected days allows for either a more leisurely approach or a packed day of skiing for those with the stamina for it. And as the spring days lengthen and the snow remains deep, the extra sunlight hours allow for skiing until late April.

Discover the meaning of mysfaktor

A self-contained stuga (cottage) or apartment is the most popular ski accommodation in Sweden, with cosiness on tap; the majority include their own sauna, and there’s plenty of snow outside to throw yourself into, under cover of darkness, for the full Swedish experience (a kick for both your adrenaline and circulation). That these cottages are often styled on traditional red wooden Swedish houses, set amongst birch coppices, only adds to their charming appeal.

sweden ski chalets - Eriksson, Per/Getty
sweden ski chalets - Eriksson, Per/Getty

Small but perfectly formed

Unlike the open, expansive mountains and valleys familiar to those who ski in the Alps, the Swedish mountains are smaller but prettier, with an abundance of greenery. The lower altitudes mean that chairlifts are the most common transport to the top, keeping you out in the fresh air, rather than ascending inside a gondola car. Nature is used to its advantage on many of the lower slopes as well, with green and blue runs winding past woodland on their way down.

Age is just a number

Children are encouraged to get on skis from an early age in Sweden; ski school starts from the age of three, a time when little ones know no fear. At Idre Fjäll, you’ll see a group of tiny tots whizzing down the slopes, wearing colourful bibs stating, “Tomorrow, I’ll pass you by…” in Swedish. Just remember that the safety-conscious Swedes require all children to wear a helmet to attend ski school or use the lifts. No helmet, no ride.

It’s the thought that counts

And if you needed confirmation that the Swedes have thought of everything, you’ll be pleased to hear that many resorts offer a lift pass that can be shared between two parents in a family, solving that old issue of who gets to ski and who takes care of the children.

Expert challenges

Hemmed in by trees on either side, the ominously named Väggen (the Wall) at Hundfjället offers a challenge for even practised skiers. Wait at the bottom of this 45° slope for a few minutes, and you’ll see the looks of satisfaction on the faces of those who make it down smoothly. Alternatively, have a peek at what it looks like from the top. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

Swedish ski slopes - Eriksson, Per/Getty
Swedish ski slopes - Eriksson, Per/Getty

Extra curricular thrills

If you begin to tire of downhill skiing, there is always the option of another of the Swedes’ favourite outdoor activities: cross-country skiing. Prepared routes abound, with 300 km of tracks around the Sälen area, almost 100 km at Åre, and more than 80 km at Idre. For those who want all of those same beautiful views but none of the effort of that full-body workout, husky-sledging or snow-mobile tours are options available at the resorts, or even reindeer tours and ice fishing opportunities at Åre.

Child-friendly après

Picturesque Åre is perfect for any level of skier, but especially those looking for a vibrant nightlife. The party town offers a wide array of restaurants, bars and après-ski and live music venues. Don’t be surprised by the appearance of children at après-ski rocking to the band’s tunes in miniature noise-cancelling headphones. Children are welcome everywhere in family-friendly Sweden, and it’s no different when skiing.

Family focus

The resorts’ different mascots – including a cuddly snowman, a friendly wolf, a reindeer and cheerful trolls – host after-ski activities specifically for the children. At Hundfjället, many of these are in Trollskogen (the troll forest), a delightful green ski run winding between the trees and populated with carved wooden trolls to enchant the youngest ones.

Inside Sweden’s top ski resorts

Whether you want a cosy family holiday, or to party hard, learn to ski, go off-piste, or try out other outdoor activities beyond alpine skiing, Sweden has something for everyone.

Åre

Altitude: 400-1,274m
Best for: The Åre Björnen area is best for families (seven green runs, eight blue and two red). Åre Byen is ideal for intermediate skiers. Advanced skiers are catered for with black runs, off-piste and heli-skiing.
Pistes: 89 (almost 200km in total length), four fun parks and a choice of children’s areas and runs.
Off-piste: Extensive opportunities (various levels of difficulty)
Lift pass: Around 2,300kr (about £200) for an adult for a week, 1,850kr (£160) for those aged 7-17 or over 65; free for children aged up to six*.
Closest airport: Östersund – 87 km (55 miles)

Are - Johner Images/Getty
Are - Johner Images/Getty

Sälen

The SkiStar resort of Sälen comprises four ski areas: Lindvallen, Högfjället, Tandådalen and Hundfjället.

Altitude: 550-900m
Best for: Beginners and children will find the slopes at Lindvallen ideal, while intermediate skiers and families alike will enjoy Hundfjället. Tandådalen appeals to the broadest range of abilities (six green, six blue, five red and seven black runs). Högfjället is best for beginners and cross-country skiers.
Pistes: 42 at Lindvallen; 22 at Hundfjället; 24 at Tandådalen; and nine (all green or blue) at Högfjället. Fun parks at all but Högfjället.
Off-piste: Ten off-piste areas between Tandådalen and Hundfjället; five between Lindvallen and Högfjället.
Lift pass: Around 2,000kr (£175) for an adult for a week; 1,600kr (£140) for those aged 7-17 or over 65; free for children up to the age of six*. A lift pass covers all four ski areas, plus free bus travel between them.
Closest airport: Scandinavian Mountains – 10-25 km (6-15 miles)

Stöten

Altitude: 443-850m
Best for: Beginners and children and those wanting a long run (the longest piste in the region is just over 3km)
Pistes: 47 runs, predominantly green and blue, and a snow park
Off-piste: Six areas for off-piste
Lift pass: Around 1,900kr (£165) for an adult for a week; 1,500kr (£130) for those aged 7-17; free for children aged up to six*.
Closest airport: Scandinavian Mountains – 22 km (14 miles)

Kläppen

Altitude: 420-665m
Best for: Beginners and children and more advanced skiers
Pistes: 37 runs, largely green, blue and black, and three snow parks
Off-piste: Limited
Lift pass: Just under 2,000kr (£175) for an adult for a week; 1,500kr (£130) for those aged 8-15; free for children aged up to seven*.
Closest airport: Scandinavian Mountains – 44 km (27 miles)

Riksgränsen - Matt Pain/Getty
Riksgränsen - Matt Pain/Getty

Idre Fjäll

Altitude: 590-890m
Best for: Beginners and children and more advanced skiers
Pistes: 41 runs, predominantly green, blue and black, and a snow park
Off-piste: Seven off-piste areas
Lift pass: Around 1,900kr (£165) for an adult for a week; 1,500kr (£130) for those aged 8-15 or over 65; free for children aged up to seven*.
Closest airport: Scandinavian Mountains – 120 km (75 miles)

Riksgränsen

Altitude: 520-900m
Best for: Advanced skiers, with heli-skiing options available
Pistes: 19 groomed pistes (mostly red runs)
Off-piste: Extensive off-piste opportunities
Lift pass: Around 2,250kr (£195) for an adult for a week; 1,800kr (£155) for 8-15 year olds and those over 65; free for children up to seven*.
Closest airport: Kiruna – 140 km (87 miles)

* Provided they are wearing a helmet

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