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"Who needs the Alps?" is the question posed by Sweden's largest and best known ski area, and Åre (pronounced 'Oar-er') clearly has a point. The resort and its ski area is large by any standards - with a vertical also big for a part of the European continent not famed for its high mountains, and there are over 44 lifts to get you up it. From the top there are spectacular views across the huge frozen lake beside the resort. There are other unique advantages - the long season for example, from late November well into May. If you like to communicate in English you'll find 96% of the people in the resort are fluent in it. Most of all there is the good-natured friendliness of the Swedes, who seem to share some natural heritage of humour and the same concept of what's fun with the British, the Danish and the Dutch. At least the British, Danish and Dutch all seem to end up in the same bars in the same resorts in the Alps if that's anything to go by. The resort is an historic one, although it is continuing to expand at a rapid rate. Tourism began in the 1880s when the railway reached the town. Even today it's popular to take the overnight train up from Stockholm and either dance all night in the disco car, or relax in the sleeper. The funicular railway that still accesses the slopes today was opened in 1909. Architecturally the resort is a mix of old wooden buildings and modern additions. The resort centre, around the railway station square is especially attractive. The arguments against Åre, and indeed Scandinavian skiing in general, are that it is cold, dark mid-winter and the alcohol prohibitively expensive. The reality is that the Gulf Stream helps to keep Swedish resorts at around the same temperature as those of the Alps. Although it can be dark 30 minutes earlier than the Alps in December and January the lifts still operate through to 3.30pm and there is extensive floodlighting for night skiing, which many feel defines the terrain more clearly than winter sunshine. Finally for prices, the Swedish Krona has devalued dramatically against major currencies - by around a third over recent years. Alcohol prices are in line with those of the Alps and meals and lift tickets generally cheaper.

Sweden's top resort and the largest north of the Alps. The skiing, which includes a World Cup descent, has been accessed by funicular railway since 1910 from the lovely old town. It has a lively village centre which you can ski all the way to, full of shops and restaurants.

Mountain

Åre is 'five villages in one resort' - the main one being the original village. Each village has its own ski area, although again by far the largest is that above Åre village itself. This ski area is shared with the newer purpose-built and family-friendly off-shoot of Åre Björnen. The second largest ski area is above Duved and is virtually linked to Åre's skiing (but not quite!). You need to take a bus from one base to the other. Duved's ski area was firmly connected to the village just before the millennium season when a tunnel was built beneath the railway line that formerly separated the slopes from Duved centre. A drag lift through the tunnel makes it possible to travel from the village square to the top of the mountain without taking your skis off. Duved installed Scandinavia's first six-seater chair-lift with a plastic hood for weather protection. It cut the previous bottom-to-top ascent time from 45 minutes to just over five minutes! Huså is better known, however, as the destination of an 8km (5 mile) off piste trail which can be reached from Åre itself if you take the snowcat up from the top of the cable car in high season. Åre's main ski area is an incredible 10km (6 miles) from east to west, with two thirds of trails below the treeline and the top sector a huge empty open snowy expanse. Expert skiers have plenty of off-piste opportunities with heli-skiing available. Of course you should always take a guide but here the avalanche risk is lower than the norm. On piste choices include the World Cup Downhill and the famous Hummelbranten mogul (bumps) run. Intermediates will particularly enjoy Åre's fast easy cruising and the feeling of travelling along the area. Beginners have a high proportion of terrain graded very easy or easy and the ski school guarantees you'll have mastered the basics after five lessons, or they offer a full refund. In common with most Scandinavian ski centres there is excellent cross-country skiing, here 83km (51 miles) of trails.

Families

Åre has one of the most generous free-child lift ticket deals in Europe, with kids aged up to 8 skiing free, providing they are wearing a helmet (also provided free). Åre also has something not even Zermatt can claim - no less than eight self-contained childrens' skiing areas, each with its own lifts and facilities including warming-huts, restaurants and barbecue. The ski school's Snöligan program is especially for children, and all the instructors are specially trained to teach them. The resort recently introduced childcare facilities at a cost of 60SEK per hour. No limit on age of children accepted and the service is available in the evening too.

Eating Out

If you've ever fancied smoked reindeer, baked goat cheese, grilled char or baked salmon stuffed with button mushrooms in a tarragon and mussel sauce then Åre is the place for you. There are three dozen restaurants in the area, half of them in Åre village itself. Local specialities are fish, reindeer and moose dishes, cooked on Swedish hot stones. International cuisine such as burgers, pizza and Tex Mex are also available, and prices are again reasonable compared to the Alps. Some of the best Swedish restaurants include the Bakfickan, Kok 1 and Tottebo.

Apres

...or 'After Ski' as it's called locally begins at 3pm and you can choose between a lively bar where you pile your ski boots up in the corner, grab a beer and listen to a live band or something a bit more relaxed, maybe a good old communal sing song (you remember the days before karaoke?). In both cases live performances are usually the order of the day, with bands playing pop, rock, jazz or blues at least six nights of the week in high season. The slopeside Hotel Sunwing is traditionally the liveliest place when the lifts close, with the Diplomat popular later on and right through the evening. Six nightclubs continue with, often, live acts right through in to the small hours. On Wednesday nights the toboggan run is floodlit for night sledging.

Boarding

The best snowboarding terrain is to be found by the Brõcke lift where the Snowboardland features jumps, quarter pipes and slides. The half pipe to the right of the cable car is floodlit until 11pm. Great opportunities for off-piste 'boarding include the 8km (5 mile) off piste trails to Husä (bus back). A Boarder Cross was created at Tegefjåll. Off the slopes there are 'snowboarders only' shops and the existing high octane 'After Ski' scene fits in well with most 'boarders' idea of a non-stop good time.

// HIGHLIGHTS //
Vertical drop
890m
Ski area
100
Resort height
390m
Airport
Östersund
Train station
Åre
beginner
54%
intermediate
36%
expert
10%

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