Sunday, March 20, 2011

Family and Off-Piste Skiing in Åre

Chilly chair lift ride
As far as I can tell, Åre is the best family ski resort on the planet. There are, of course, many ski areas suitable for teaching children. There are many resorts with family friendly facilities. However, small kids are unlikely to ski for a full day and they need other activities as well to keep them occupied. Other activities in the snow or hotel play rooms may help here, but for me Åre is special in that they have a full-blown kid-friendly indoor water park right in the biggest hotel, the Holiday Club. Many resorts have spas and swimming pools, but a large water park is rare. Anything that boasts seven different saunas can't be a too bad place to stay in!

Hotelli Levitunturi in northern Finland comes up in my mind as a similar place, what they lose in the water park side may be offset by their very nice children's play house. But I can't think of any other examples in the world, can you?

Tree skiing near Björnen
Large parts of Åre's ski area have easy runs that can be skied by beginners, particularly in the Björnen, Rödkullen, and Duved areas. Skiing can even start right from the main village, but the runs returning to the village are mostly red and black, so with beginners it may be a better option to use a ski bus or taxi to go to Björnen, for instance. A taxi ride also removes the main downside of staying at the Holiday Club, having to walk a few hundred meters road uphill to reach the ski lifts. In any case, my youngest kid learned to ski the black runs on this trip to Åre. (Hey! My work as a parent is now complete, right?) Maybe I don't have to care about beginner slopes any more.

The entire upper mountain is a playground
But lets talk about skiing for adults. The main ski runs near the village are all consistently steep runs that are a pleasure to ski. My personal favorite is "Lundsrappet", a black run leading to the "VM8" eight-person chair lift. The upper parts of the mountain are largely open space, with wind-blown forms that are fun to ski.

Despite its relatively modest size and round mountain forms, Åre has plenty of off-piste terrain. In good weather, snowmobiles or cats take skiers from the top of the highest lift to the Åreskutan. For 5 Euros, this must be the cheapest cat skiing in the world, along with Copper Mountain cat-included-in-the-lift-ticket deal, of course. At the top you will find a small cafe, a large radio antenna, and wind-blown Swedish mountain landscape as far as you can see.

From the top you can choose multiple descents. The path towards the lifts is the easy and safe alternative. A bit further away awaits Blåstensbranten, an extremely steep run. At 50 to 60 degrees, it should only be skied by experts. If you stand up on Blåstensbranten and extend your hand to the side, you will be able to touch the ground.

Cornice jump near the Tusenmetersliften
A more easily reached off-piste area, "Västra Ravinen" is to the skier's left from the "Svartbergsleden" and "Hummelbranten". You can enter this area in the easiest way from the bottom of the "Tusenmetersliften", or alternatively going right from the Hummelbranten. Entering from the top of the Svartbergsleden will take you the challenging Svartbergs off-piste. Make the exit to the left just before the traverse would take you to the right and down. Svartbergs is also a very dangerous run, there is potential for a cliff fall, avalanches are frequent here, and in the wrong conditions a fall on this slope is a bad idea. I've seen a friend fall here in icy conditions and keep building speed all the way to the bottom 200 meters below (luckily he was unhurt).

Return of the barfcam! (Thanks, Melinda) The above video shows one path from the top of Svartberget to the Västra Ravinen.

Västra Ravinen Off-Piste
Once you reach the bottom of the Ravinen, follow the natural trail until you reach the restaurant near the top of the Åre Bergbanan. Be careful as
Beware of reindeers on off-piste
you are skiing on a river bed. Later in the spring there will be openings in the snow and ice that expose the river. And do not crash into a reindeer!

The essential parameters for Åre are as follows. The Goulash index (price of soup) is 9 Euros. The maximum vertical difference is 890 meters (which can be skied in 3 minutes and 20 seconds, but who is counting). The steepest on-piste ski run is 27 degrees, but this on the almost always closed-for-races ski run, the Störtloppet.

Top of the Svartberget
Åre has plenty of moguls skiing. When we were there a week ago they hosted the one of the world cup races in the "Slalombacken". "Hummelbranten" and, at times, "Lundsrappet" offer also some good bumps. The bumps in the children's slope were a better match for my abilities though.

Åre can be reached by car, a party (!) train from Stockholm, or by flight to Östersund, 100 kilometers away. Taxi transfers are reasonable though, 29 Euros one-way. Send mail to to make a reservation.

Photo credits (c) 2009-2011 by Jari and Olli Arkko


  1. There is regular trains from Stockholm also, not only the party version. It is a quite nice way of going to Åre for us located in Stockholm.

    "Västrä Ravinen" is a bit of slang, in regular swedish it is "Västra Ravinen" as in the Westernly ravine.

    But I do agree that Åre is a good place. I have done 3 week trips the last 5 or 6 years here. It is big enough that you don't get bored. But you get annoyed the days when you can't make it into the high zone of the main mountain. Wind and Fog are two common cases that makes it either unreachable as the lifts aren't operating or Fog, which is truly scary even in the runs. I have had less than 10 m of view. Can't see the slope markings on the other side of the run.

  2. Regarding Västra Ravinen, I must have been showing off my bad Swedish skills. They need some exercise... spelling now fixed in the blog post.

    I do agree that upper mountain closures are a frequent problem in Åre. Luckily the playground is not all in the upper mountain, there are good runs even in the lower part of the mountain. On the day that we left, I had 3 hours to ski on my own, and skied the lower part until the upper part opened for the last hour. Both parts were fun. (Ended up doing 8.5km of vertical all together.) But 3 days out of 5 there were some kind of closure on the upper mountain, even if it was closed for the entire day only once. I think the situation has been better when we have been in Åre later in the spring (early April).

  3. Oh, and maybe you Magnus know what happened to the Tusenmetersliften? The top picture is me sitting on it, but most of the chairs are off and the cable is broken off. Intentional decomissioning or some other breakage?

  4. I agree Åre is a good place for family skiing. There are a couple of other places I believe are quite good also.

    The first is my favourite Trysil in Norway. They have a nice area for children, although not as developed as Björnen. And they actually also have a full-blown indoor water park, if I remember correclty it is also Holiday Inn. In addition, they have a child care, which we have used a couple of times during or ski weeks for our now 4 year old.

    The other family-friendly place is Sälen in Sweden. They also have a full-blown water park, and children-friendly areas, for example Trollstigen in one of the areas. The main disadvantage with Sälen is that it is quite a distributed area, so you definitely need a car if you want to visit all the ski areas (and the water park.

  5. Good points, Bengt. I have not visited Trysil or Sälen, maybe I should.