The smartest slopes and the most stonking après in Europe
What's that we can hear? The distant tinkle of snowflakes falling on freshly groomed slopes? YES! It's that time of year again, so here is your definitive guide to Europe's best ski resorts…
Why we love it: Great skiing over a vast area. And in spite of the influx of HNWIs, the village has managed to stay un-glitzy - it's still more about heli-skiing than Hermès.
Why now? For the staggering new chalets like Haute Montagne's Alpine Estate, which sleeps 20, and Ski Verbier Exclusive's 9,700- square-foot Chalet Chouqui, decked out by the British interior designer Gytha Nuttall.
Who goes? Lots of Sloanes, plus Geneva weekend commuters.
Hate skiing? Take a helicopter ride for killer views and a picnic up a mountain.
Best mountain lunch Le Mouton Noir is the place to dance in the daytime.
Best après For a first drink, Fer à Cheval, straight off the slopes; after dark, it can only be the notorious Farm Club, a 45-year-old institution that is still liable to shock.
BOOK IT Haute Montagne (hautemontagne.com) offers seven nights at the Alpine Estate from £93,000 for up to 20 guests (including staff but excluding food and drink).
Why we love it: Lech is how the Austrians do swank, which is to say... really not at all. Yes, it's smart and very 'old money', but you won't find Chanel skis or floor-length mink. The hotels are stunners - from the old-school Hotel Post and the wood-clad Hotel Arlberg (where Diana, Princess of Wales, always stayed) to the Bond-lair-cool Aurelio and the brand new Blumen Haus - and the skiing is epic. Lots to love.
Why now? Four shiny new cable cars costing a cool £40m launch this month, connecting Stuben/Rauz to St Christoph and St Anton, creating Austria's largest skiable area.
Who goes? Smart Brits and Euros, the King of Jordan and (every February) the Dutch royals.
Hate skiing? Try tobogganing - there's a 6.5-mile track in the woods above St Anton.
Best mountain lunch Rud Alpe for a sun-blasted deck and outrageously cheesy nocken - a sort of handmade pasta.
Best après Lech is low-key - nothing like nearby St Anton (nightlife central) - so don't expect Jägerbombs at dawn. Mohnenfluh, just above Oberlech, is a good spot to get tipsy while sitting on a sunflower-yellow deckchair. And the main stretch in the village has a few lively (heated) outdoor bars.
BOOK IT Ski Solutions (skisolutions.com) offers seven nights at Hotel Aurelio from £3,500 per person, half board, including flights and transfers.
Why we love it: Because it's a weird mix of super-kid-friendly and super-thrilling: the slopes here regularly host World Cup alpine skiing.
Why now? Because of Le Yule, a new ski-in/ ski-out Scandi-chic hotel with south-facing rooms, a sunny terrace for posing, a Nuxe spa and a pool. And the new Hôtel Village La Mourra, which is designed to look like a typical Savoyard hamlet. Everyone's talking about the property's Japanese-fusion restaurant, with its crispy rice cubes with salmon tartare, and bream with truffle and yuzu.
Who goes? Always stuffed with Brits, it's now becoming more international. The common denominator? Everyone loves to party.
Hate skiing? There's ice skating, snow-shoeing, dog-sledding... or just hitting the epic après minus the ski.
Best mountain lunch Restaurant Bar de l'Ouillette fronts a frozen lake and serves barbecued chicken and tropical cocktails. Or bag a table at La Fruitière (great for Savoyard specials), next door to La Folie Douce, where everyone dances in ski boots.
Best après Cocorico, at the foot of Solaise, with easy ski-in and awesome views.
BOOK IT The Oxford Ski Company (oxfordski.com) offers seven nights at Le Yule from £1,370 per person, including breakfast, flights and transfers.
Why we love it: If Gstaad were a person, it would be Dame Joan Collins. Big hair, loads of fur, jewels you can see from the moon and outrageously good fun. It was the Aga Khan who first helped to turn this place into a playground for the rich in the Fifties and they have been coming ever since. OTT, but wonderfully so.
Why now? Because while the French and Italian Alps are increasingly full of mothers shrieking 'snowplough' at their children, Gstaad remains the smarter, indisputable grande dame of the European skiing circuit. Also, obvs, the hotels. The Gstaad Palace is still le grand fromage, but the Alpina Gstaad and Le Grand Bellevue are snapping at its elegant heels. And new this season is the incredibly cool HUUS Hotel, a quick drive from town.
Who goes? Euros, as in German playboys and endless Greek shipping families. Plus Madonna, who enjoyed her skiing holiday in Gstaad so much that she bought a chalet in 2013. NB: Please don't pronounce the 'G' in Gstaad. Deeply embarrassing. Locals call it 'Staad'.
Hate skiing? This is the Swiss ski village where the main street is dominated by Louis Vuitton and Prada chalets, so shop you shall.
Best mountain lunch Cheese fondue or rösti with fried eggs on the terrace at the Wasserngrat Restaurant, while smothered in sheepskins.
Best après GreenGo, the Gstaad Palace hotel's legendary basement club, where Peter Sellers once tore up the floor and a methuselah of Cristal will set you back £34,000.
BOOK IT Double at the Alpina Gstaad (thealpinagstaad.ch), from £660, including a daily credit of £75 for food and drink.
Why we love it: While its Alpine chums ramp up the bling, car-free Zermatt remains a beacon of chocolate-box charm. And blimey - that mountain hits you right between the eyes with its Toblerone-perfect peak.
Why now? The chalet scene has upped its game - 7 Heavens, right next door to the Sunnegga funicular, is the ritziest development to date. Each of the seven chalets is decked out with wellness suites and oodles of fluffy furnishings.
Who goes? Brits have flocked here ever since Edward Whymper's ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. The royals come and go - the (pre-kids) Cambridges and Princess Beatrice, plus (sort of) pop royalty in the shape of Robbie Williams and Phil Collins (he drops in from his home on Lake Geneva). And we once spotted Bob Geldof here, not quite managing a snowplough. Also in the mix are unusually unflashy Euros and a smattering of not-so-unflashy Russians.
Hate skiing? Eat (see below).
Best mountain lunch Zermatt is home to the very best Alpine restaurants (40 and counting), so it's impossible to choose just one. Favourites include Zum See (you'll need to reserve the famous millefeuille in advance), Blatten (don't clonk your head while tackling the ladder to your table) and Chez Vrony for Alpine glamour.
Best après Hennu Stall does an old-fashioned shots-on-a-ski knees-up. For a more sophisticated brand of boozing, head to happening Cervo for toasty cocktails accompanied by live music.
BOOK IT Haute Montagne (hautemontagne.com) offers seven nights at 7 Heavens' Chalet Aconcagua, which sleeps 12, from £26,572 a week, including staff but not food and drink
Why we love it: A British snowy staple ever since Scotsman Colonel Peter Lindsay planted his ski pole here in the Thirties and set about creating one of France's prettiest resorts. Right in the middle of Three Valleys (the largest ski area in the world) but still relatively low-key.
Why now? Meribel is scooping up the Courchevel overspill and glamming up its game. The first five-star hotel popped up a few years back, and the chalets are following suit. Take Mont Tremblant, with its own heated outdoor infinity pool, or Chalet Les Brames, in a gated enclave for extra privacy. (And, ssshhhh, all without the Courchevel price tag.)
Who goes? Brits plus savvy big spenders. Celebrities (Emma Watson has a chalet here) and royals (the Earl and Countess of Wessex) like it, as they can happily ski under the radar.
Hate skiing? Snowga - yes, yoga in the snow.
Best mountain lunch L'Adray Télébar, for traditional French food (the escalope à la crèmeis legendary) and the stonking south-facing sun terrace.
Best après Rond Point ('Ronnie' to the fresh-faced chalet boys and girls) for toffee vodka and live music. The post-Folie Douce crowd pitch up from 5pm for round two.
BOOK IT The Oxford Ski Company (oxfordski.com) offers seven nights at Chalet Les Brames, half board, from £2,150 per person, including flights and transfers.
Why we love it: The skiing at Chamonix is hardcore, plus it has a heritage of heroic proportions. We can thank two Brits for the latter: in 1741, William Windham and Richard Pococke discovered a glacier tumbling down from Mont Blanc towards Chamonix, and their tales of Alpine derring-do put it firmly on the explorer map.
Why now? The Aiguille du Midi cable car turned 60 in 2015. Fear not: snazzy new cabins have replaced the originals, whizzing to the 12,600-foot tip of the jagged granite 'needle' in 20 toe-clenching minutes. Hôtel Mont-Blanc is fresh as a Marc Jacobs daisy after a makeover by French interiors guru Sybille de Margerie.
Who goes? Full-on skiers and mountaineers like Aurélien Ducroz, suave British regulars and gnarly freeride champions.
Hate skiing? New this year is the Tube, a windowed pipe wrapped around the Aiguille's tip that lets you stroll around 360 vertigo-inducing degrees (look casual, not petrified).
Best mountain lunch A well-earned cauldron of cheese-smothered onion soup at Refuge du Requin, halfway down the Vallée Blanche.
Best après Hang out with hunky Swedes in the triangle of bars near Montenvers railway station: mellow Elevation 1904, lively Moö and raucous Chambre Neuf.
BOOK IT Scott Dunn (scottdunn.com) offers seven nights at Hotel Mont-Blanc from £1,500 per person, including breakfast, flights and transfers.
Why we love it: The Alpine mothership, the original home of hedonistic snowy excess. St Moritz basically invented winter sports over 150 years ago, helped by audacious Brit aristos who founded the Cresta Run and thought up bonkers games like ice cricket and snow polo on the frozen lake. Swissness comes in the form of 10 manicured ski areas, crazy-money hotels, shopping to rival Bond Street and some extremely exclusive private members' clubs.
Why now? Weirdly, for value of money. Stay two nights or more and you get lift passes for less than half price. More money for mojitos.
Who goes? The rich, fur-clad and fabulous. Everyone from Brigitte Bardot to George Clooney and Lord Frederick Windsor.
Hate skiing? You're in good company. Lots to do, from shopping and skating to lolling around watching ice polo.
Best mountain lunch El Paradiso, with its eye-popping views and sunloungers sleeping (OK, snoozing) three, is the smart pick.
Best après Hit the dinky Pichalain cabin, on the piste above Surlej, before grinding to cheesy tunes at RooBar, outside Hauser's. Then hit La Baracca before blagging your way (good luck) into the infamous Dracula Club.
BOOK IT Carrier (carrier.co.uk) offers seven nights at Nira Alpina from £1,070 per person, including breakfast, flights and Swiss Railways transfers
Why we love it: This classic posh-Brits-on-skis resort has morphed into somewhere so mindblowingly upmarket that it has its own runway for private jets. There are four resorts, but the one where everyone wants to be is Courchevel 1850 - fir trees swagged in fairy lights, models swagged in fur, bodyguards loitering outside Sotheby's International Realty. The oligarchs and the super-rich flock here for the five-star everything; the rest turn up for the wonderfully fun intermediate runs.
Why now? Because this is where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge came for their first family skiing holiday! Need another reason? OK - there are some of the finest hotels in the Alps here, including Les Airelles, a fantasy in the highest traditional Alpine style.
Who goes? Royals, Russians, the Beckhams, Leonardo DiCaprio. The usual gang.
Hate skiing? Pose. Shop. Hang out in restaurants (there are more Michelin stars per square mile here than anywhere else in the world). Try the insanely good sushi at L'Apogée Courchevel's new Japanese restaurant, Koori.
Best mountain lunch The terrace at Chalet de Pierres is the only place to see and be seen. You've been skiing hard, so you deserve that hunk of bread dripping with morels and Beaufort cheese, truffled ham, whole roast chickens and a pudding buffet of chocolatey goodness.
Best après If you fancy a jeroboam of Cristal or a bottle of vodka with a sparkler in it, plus a boogie to some Europop, then Les Caves de Courchevel is the place for you. Look for the big pink doors. This is not - we repeat, not - a place to come in your salopettes and ski boots.
BOOK IT Double at Les Airelles (airelles.fr), half board, from £930.
Why we love it: The most discreet of the lot - not one for partiers or people-watchers, but just the ticket if you're a low-key royal - with fabulous skiing, good hotels and a lovely old centre.
Why now? The Madrissa area has had a much-needed overhaul: they've replaced the hideously long T-bar with a state-of-the-art chairlift, added a new restaurant and whacked up the snow-making machines.
Who goes? Posh Swiss families, Euro royals and smart, hush-hush Brits. The Prince of Wales comes every year. The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry learned to ski here and still make the odd appearance. And Tara Palmer-Tomkinson owns a chalet here, as do Nat Rothschild and Chrissie Rucker.
Hate skiing? Lots of tough walking trails, plus sledging and horse-drawn sleighs.
Best mountain lunch Madrissahof for wood- fire pizzas and foamy beers on the terrace.
Best après Oooh, tricky. Casa Antica is the only actual club, and a very gentle one at that. The bar in the Chesa Grischuna is a gorgeous old spot - Hollywood royalty (Sellers, Garbo) hung out here in the Fifties. But most of the action (think sherry and nibbles) takes place behind closed doors in the chalets.
BOOK IT PT Ski (ptski.com) offers seven nights at Chesa Grischuna from £1,045 per person, including breakfast and PT Ski hosting (which includes transfers and concierge service)
Source: Tatler.com Photos: Getty images; Rex Features; Tatler.com