By Frankie Jay
Picture a taxi on an empty road at night shepherded by a silent forest. The snow is everywhere, circling the base of dark wooded trees. Above their white branches glowed brilliantly, brightly lit from the full moon overhead. If at that moment a mythical creature had carefully peered around a dark tree trunk to look at the occupant inside the car, I the occupant would have held my breath for a moment, but been not at all surprised. It felt that breathtakingly magical.
Where was I? Well I would say dear reader welcome to Åre, the location of Sweden’s largest ski fields and the taxi was taking me to the airport after a ski holiday and stay at the gorgeous Copperhill Mountain Lodge.
Ski fields? In Sweden I hear you say? Isn’t that the land of Abba and Inga from Sweden? No cast them firmly from your mind. My Norwegian friend half scoffed at me when I mentioned it and said he’d been skiing there for years. As you look at a map, Åre is in Jämtland County which is about halfway down on the west bordering Norway and it’s the first Swedish mountain range that gets the wind from the sea and so can be hit hard with snow. Skiing apparently being this rather well-known Nordic pursuit, there’s historical evidence of the local Sámi people skiing some 6000 years back. It seems the first primitive Scandinavian ski was actually found in not far away in a peat bog in Hoting also in Jämtland County. Åre town was developed as modern holiday destination opening up in 1909/10.
Still unsure, ok scroll below for some quick stats while we get on with the accommodation.
- The ski season runs from November to May
- There are: 42 lifts and 89 slopes
- Highest groomed point: 4179 feet (1274 meters) above sea level
- Total length slopes approx. 62.75 miles (101 km)
- Longest run: 4 miles (6.5 km)
- Vertical drop: 2919 feet (890 meters)
- Night skiing: Yes
- Children- & beginners area: Yes
- Cross country skiing: Yes
- Snow guns: Yes
Åre is pronounced "aura" by the way for you non-Swedish speaking kids and yes, their English is impeccable. Better than much of what you hear on the streets of most streets in native English speaking countries these days in fact.
Copperhill Mountain Lodge
Turning to less primitive thoughts than peat bogs, the multi award winning Copperhill Mountain Lodge itself is endlessly chic, comfortable whether traveling as a single, couple or family. It is beautifully appointed and a higher standard than a great deal of other mountain accommodation you encounter in ski towns around the world. The Lodge is managed by Nordic Choice Hotels and is part of the Design Hotels portfolio of luxury hotels around the world. What makes Copperhill a little different is that it was originally constructed as private luxury condominiums that launched at the not so propitious time of 2006. One western financial crisis later and the building is sold to investors and converted to a hotel. This is where the hotel guests benefit though. Everything is built to last, well-appointed and well thought out. The distinguished architect American Peter Bohlin and his firm (known for Apple Store fame amongst many projects) designed the original condominiums and later led the conversion into a modern classic mountain lodge. One that would appeal to international tastes, i.e. there is zero kitsch on display here.
Having read and previously heard good things about Copperhill, I caught up with Pernilla Gravenfors the General Manager of Copperhill Mountain Lodge, to get a little more background on the hotel ethos. “The resort is already over 2935 feet (730 metres) up Mount Förberget and at this height, you can ski in/out. All the rooms have views, constructed so that they shows off the mountains and nature and because going out into nature in some people’s minds requires effort, Copperhill has tried to roll out the red carpet from the hotel to outdoors, bringing nature to the people in style.” I must admit the exterior from the front reminded me slightly like a giant twin hull of a catamaran, perched high up the mountain, sturdily navigating the vista in front. One night after dinner we guests sat inside the Library watching a blizzard rage outside. With wine in hand, by an elegant fire place feeling like we were safely cruising in an elegant ocean liner.
The copper glow inside is no trick of lighting (or the wine) either. “The chimney and the central stair wall are clad in copper, reminiscent of the region’s copper mining heritage” notes Gravenfors. “The interiors are meant to look very modern yet classic. The interiors including the furniture we are sitting on are all done by international designers.” Think Eames, Dixon, and Starck. I personally loved the gently heated bathroom floors for my paws. Those with an eye for modern sculpture will spot the twin head sculptures Irma and Nuria by Spanish artist Juame Plensa out front (you can check out another Plensa more locally in the incredible Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines).
There are organized kids activities and a children’s play room downstairs. Kids around me were having a blast, but it never felt like they were intruding on the adults and there was peace in the open spaces. For the adults, there’s a full spa, massage, beauty treatments and heated pool inside the lodge. As well as an onsite ski shop (SkiStar) where you can pre-order online and a ski bus shuttle down to main ski slope entrance and some shops.
Too often resorts cut corners on food and you can feel trapped into consuming second rate food that doesn’t taste great. I was therefore very, very, very pleasantly surprised at the standard of the restaurants at Copperhill and by the end of my stay, couldn’t wait for my next meal. In keeping with international design flair, the menu is modern. I ordered a reindeer (sorry Rudolf) appetizer with pesto and Emmental cheese shavings. More than once. Gravenfors emphasized that as much as possible is made on premise or sourced locally. “The scrambled eggs are made with real eggs (no powder). We use no fillers or sweeteners or use of reconstituted orange juice or pad drinks out with apple juice which itself is loaded with sugar.” So when you roll on in after a day of skiing or hiking and order a smoothie, according to Gravenfors instead of throwing out perfectly good unused produce into the garbage, “the leftover skin from the fruit may well appear later on in the bread or cakes the Copperhill kitchen team bakes. Even the butter is made by the team at Copperhill.” Yum.
Food on the slopes and Åre
There are lots of options. Åre is more like five villages in one resort and standard is good. Special delight though was the totally unexpected appearance of Mr Bramwell’s WigWam right on the Åre Björnen slopes. For the Dr Who aficionados, inside this place is like the Tardis, bigger inside than it looks...but in the shape of a Native American style wigwam on the side of a Swedish mountain slope. Go figure. From the outside seemingly not so big, then on the inside its two levels high, seating approximately 30 with large kitchen space. Walk back outside, rub your eyes and it seems too small to be able to fit that many. Must be that Swedish magic thing again! The menu is super simple: plain or cheese burgers, hot chocolates, snacks and drinks to warm you up while you take a break from the ski slopes. Elsewhere in Åre there’s a decent après ski scene typically starting round 3pm in the town, bars on the slope and good restaurants you can dine at night.
Spring and Summertime
Summertime at Copperhill and Åre just powers on. You have your pick of gorgeous walking trails, running, zip lines, fishing, extensive mountain biking, yoga and even white river rafting. There’s a hiking trail from the front door of the lodge.
So if you were bemoaning the end of the US east coast ski season, sobbing that the Easter long weekend is over and you have NOWHERE decent to ski, let alone stay? Then get on an afternoon SAS or Norwegian Air flight and get over here. Besides, it will be destination that you can brag to your (non-Norwegian) pals about when you get back. This has definitely become one of my (magical) fave places.
Copperhill Mountain Lodge, 830 13 Åre, Sweden
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