Here's what we found:
1. Easy and stress-free to get to
A short flight to Norway (2½ hours), followed by a two hour transfer, crossing the border into Sweden, on a straight and scenic road to Åre – enough said! We all arrived feeling refreshed.
2. The ski area is bigger and better than you think
The North America veterans amongst us can be guilty of favouring its skiable terrain and vertical descents over The Rest of The World. A word of advice if this sounds like you: don’t! Åre did not disappoint. “Drop all your perceptions. It’s seriously good for all levels of skier and snowboarder. Ideal for a week’s skiing this side of the water.” says James.
3. Superb snow
Immaculately groomed pistes and consistently cold temperatures keep the snow fresh, something that can be hard to find even on a powder day across the pond. Plus due to the low numbers on the mountain, fresh tracks can always be found on the plentiful and accessible off-piste.
4. Rocking après
Or as the Swedes call it: ‘After Ski’. Wow. The only après in our opinion to rival that in Austria; they certainly know how to do it! Friday night was the highlight for Andy: to our delight (but possibly not the paid entertainers) he stole the show at Dippan Wallmans with an impromptu rendition of Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’: “Any town that allows me to do that goes straight to number one in my book.” he said.
5. A charming yet hip village
Åre has the stunning backdrop of a vast frozen lake nestled between two valleys, and a welcoming feel. There are plenty of cool bars that wouldn’t be out of place in urban Hoxton, plus great shopping. But perhaps the most striking thing about it is its effortless style, and without even a trace of snobbery. Refreshing.
6. Superb on and off-mountain dining
This was a real treat – charming old wooded cabin-style restaurants, tasty food, unhurried and relaxing atmosphere (not a canteen in sight), and with a genuine warm service to – dare we say it - rival North America. We all tried something new: Moose chilli, Elk and Reindeer cooked on hot stones and an indigenous fruit: Arctic Cloudberries.
7. Few lift queues
Even on a busy weekend, which apparently it was during our visit. The longest we waited was 10 minutes but it was easy to avoid the busier lifts if you wanted. Getting around the mountain was seamless, and if you don’t like drag lifts they can be easily avoided, as the intermediates in our group proved. And next winter Åre’s making a substantial investment with three brand new chairlifts planned for operation in December.
8. Super-friendly locals
The same lift operators greeted us with a friendly smile and a “Hey, hey” every day (how the Swedes say “hi”). Their spoken English is outstanding and their willingness to communicate in it with you is even more so!
9. Abundant activities and excursions
We stopped en route to take in the Tännforsen Waterfalls and Igloos - Europe’s largest, and what an introduction to Sweden! The boys got to show off their tobogganing prowess on the steep and icy trek down, while the girls defrosted in the cavernous (yet surprisingly warm) igloo, with its reindeer-skin seats in the chapel and sleeping bags in the boudoir.
You can’t go to Sweden without baking in a sauna, right? Situated in the Holiday Club Resort in the centre of the village, you’ll find an indulgent sanctuary with twinkling steam rooms, hot and cold dipping pools, 80°C saunas and a first for many of us: an ice sauna. Imagine going into a -18°C freezer with a frozen floor dressed in your swimmers and you get the picture. Access is via the hotel’s indoor oasis, with a flume, lazy river, swimming pool and hot tubs - plus incredible views across the frozen lake through a giant window.