The European ski season is just about to take off and will run until late March or April in some of the higher resorts throughout the continent. Ed Leahy looks at the resorts that are proving the most popular with the main Irish ski holiday experts

The European ski season is just about to take off and will run until late March or April in some of the higher resorts throughout the continent. Beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers are all catered for, as are families, thrill seekers and party animals. The key is to pick the resort that suits the type of skiing holiday that you are looking for. The following resorts are proving the most popular with the main Irish ski holiday experts.

Austria
SöllSöll
One of the perennial favourites for Irish skiers, Söll has something for everyone with access to 250km of ski runs, an excellent ski school and gentle nursery slopes. The resort boasts a pretty village, which lies at the foot of the Hohe Salve and Wilder Kaiser mountains, less than two hours from either Munich or Salzburg. Also famous for its après ski, Söll enjoys a lively nightlife with a wide range of bars and restaurants, mixed with authentic Tyrolean entertainment. Night skiing is also possible on the longest illuminated ski run in Austria, while your lift pass will gain access to many of the nearby resorts. Snowboarders are also well catered for with several halfpipes and terrain parks located in the Ski Welt area.

Bad Gastein
The spa town of Bad Gastein is world renowned for the soothing properties and healing powers of its natural thermal waters. As a result, it makes for the perfect ski and spa combination for those looking to relax after pounding the slopes. The town of Bad Gastein, located around two hours south of Salzburg, enjoys great nightlife in a bustling centre with excellent amenities throughout. The Gasteinertal ski area gives access to more than 200km of prepared pistes, including Bad Hofgastein, Dorfgastein, Sportgastein and Graukogel. The skiing and boarding facilities are superb, and with nice gentle slopes and nursery runs, Bad Gastien is ideal for beginners and families. Even non-skiers would have no problem spending a week in such scenic settings with plenty to entertain around the village and beyond. The region's famous 'Heilstollen' (healing caves) provide a unique therapeutic combination of radon, water, warmth and air.

Best of the rest in Austria: Zell am See, St Johann, Mayrhofen, Kitzbühel.

TignesFrance
Tignes
Tignes offers some of the best skiing in Europe with guaranteed snow throughout the whole season. Tignes is also part of the Espace Killy ski area and boasts some great off-piste and board parks with the X-games returning for 2012. As one of the best high altitude ski resorts in Europe, Tignes is a cert to deliver snow well into April and is one of the best destinations for glacier skiing with the Grand Motte glacier dominating the surrounding area. The Espace Killy ski area offers access to over 300km of pistes. Like Val d'Isère, transfers from Geneva or Grenoble take between three and four hours.

Val d'Isère Val d'Isère
The resort of Val d'Isère is at the high end of ski resorts with a reputation of being one of the world's premier ski destinations. Val d'Isère offers some of France's best skiing, ideal for both families and groups with excellent facilities and a vibrant après ski scene. The resort links to Tignes and forms the 'Espace Killy', one of the most varied ski areas in Europe, making it a true skier's paradise. The Espace Killy offers a great variety of gentle green runs for starting off on to more challenging descents for the more experienced. Boarders will find fun parks with half pipes and jumps. Along with nearby Albertville, the resort played host to the winter Olympics in the 1990s, while transfers from Geneva or Grenoble take between three and four hours.

Best of the rest in France: Val Thorens, Meribel, Les Arcs, La Plagne

LivignoItaly
Livigno
Located high in the Italian Alps, just across the border from Switzerland, Livigno is a traditional alpine village boasting an impressive snow record and slopes ideally suited to beginners and intermediates. Livigno has proved very popular with younger skiers in recent years with a very active nightlife scene and two fantastic snow parks. Apart from skiing, quad biking, go-carting, husky rides and paragliding are also available. Transfers from Milan to Livigno can take between four and five hours.

Pas de la Casa Andorra
Pas de la Casa
Pas de la Casa is one of the liveliest towns in Andorra, located just across the French border, two-hour's drive from the airport in Toulouse. Renowned for its lively nightlife and value for money, Pas de la Casa is ideal for all levels of skier and is part of the Grandvalira resort, which is the biggest ski area in the Pyrenees with close to 200 kilometres of slopes throughout. Grandvalira is made up of seven entrances to the slopes, alongside Pas de la Casa sits Encamp, Canillo, El Tarter, Soldeu, Peretol and Grau Roig. The weekly ski pass allows you to get out and use the 67 ski lifts to explore all 110 slopes and four snowparks throughout Grandvalira, while heli-skiing, snowmobile rides and paragliding trips are also available.

Best of the rest: Arinsal, Soldeu

Kranjska GoraSlovenia
Kranjska Gora
Looking to take its share of the European ski market, Slovenia is considered a new alternative to the traditional resorts. Kranjska Gora is an enchanting, picturesque village located at the base of the spectacular Julian Alps, just a few miles from both the Italian and Austrian borders. The resort is ideal for families, groups and beginners, offering fantastic value for money. Another advantage of the ski resorts in the Julian Alps is their proximity to Slovenia's capital city, Ljubljana, with some transfers taking less than two hours.

For more information about ski holidays to the above resorts, visit: www.DirectSki.com, www.TopFlight.ie or www.CrystalSki.ie.

Ed Leahy

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