TRAVEL & LIFESTYLE
10 Best ski resorts/destinations in the world
Deepanshi Ahuja, Travel Writer, India
04 January 2018
Planning a ski vacation is not an easy task. There are too many variables – snow quality, customer service, terrain, steeps, skill level, and crowds. Fortunately, some mountains have it all and won’t fail you even if it hasn’t snowed for weeks.
Whether its adrenaline, relaxation or inspiration you’re looking for, skiing will deliver it to you. Narrow slopes, huge vertical drops, majestic scenery and comfortable lodging – ski resorts all over the world focus on all of these “requirements” to cater to visitors. Some are so good; they extend their ski season until June. You can practically ski in shorts.
Winter vacations are the only time to break the daily routines for ski fans. They are an annual journey. Some people travel to the same destinations because they know the conditions. Others enjoy exploring new destinations and discovering new thrills.
The world has endless challenging runs – from skiing down the steep slopes in Japan to exploring the extreme terrains in California and Colorado. The ski resorts on this list are sure to make you want to stay the whole winter.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
We said this list includes something for everyone, and for less experienced skiers and lovers of long lunches that means we have to be talking Italian, and there is nowhere more quintessentially Italian than Cortina.
It may not have the world’s best snow, but it does have some serious skiing, and the mighty Dolomiti Super ski pass means you can take advantage of the links into the Sella Ronda and also the lovely hidden valley at Lagazuoi – possibly Europe’s most beautiful red run.
Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy’s Dolomites UNESCO World Heritage Site is Italy’s most fashionable ski resort, with superb on-piste skiing in some of Europe’s most spectacular mountain scenery. Cortina d’Ampezzo must be amongst the most beautiful ski resorts on the planet; even non-skiers will be overawed by the beautiful mountain views and as for skiers – well, you’ll be hard pressed to find more glorious landscapes to ski amongst, whilst the town is one of the oldest and most attractive ski resorts around. Cortina’s skiing is split into a number of ski areas; unfortunately few of them are linked. The highest and arguably most spectacular is Tofana, whilst the largest is Pomedes, both accessed by a series of ski lifts from town.
Faloria is reached by cable car from the centre of town and links to the tiny Mietres ski area and the imposing crags above Cristallo. Meanwhile, Cinque Torre can only be accessed by road and links into Col Gallina and the Lagazuoi ski area and the beautiful ‘Hidden Valley’. From here you can also access the Sella Ronda Circuit.
Cortina is a superb introduction to skiing for first timers. The lovely, gently angled runs of the Socrapes area on Pomedes are as good as it gets and there are plenty of good blues to graduate to. Intermediates will find a fine selection of red and blue runs, maybe not that long but threading through glorious alpine scenery. It’s well worth spending a day up high on Cinque Torre and at the same time taking in the stunning Hidden Valley, one of the most enjoyable intermediate runs in Europe.
Switzerland has an abundance of picture postcard-perfect ski resorts, and we couldn’t really choose a Bucket List without adding one of them.
Murren got our vote; as not only is it a beautifully tranquil traffic-free village, linked into the superb Jungfrau ski area – which includes the longest downhill run in the world, the Lauberhorn – it also sits in the shadow of arguably the most imposing mountain face anywhere in the world. The north face of the Eiger will have you stopping in your fresh powder tracks, as it’s feels like it’s glaring at you. But not ones to be put off by its brooding presence the Swiss have tunnelled into it and you can take a train through its heart, out the other side and up to the top of the Jungfrau.
And we just adore the cog railways that traverse the slopes. There is something very special about talking your skis off and boarding a little train to get back up to the top.
Everyone wants to ski Canada, and many people will have the resort of Whistler as number one on their bucket list, and we at Snow can’t really disagree with them. Winner of numerous awards for ‘Best Resort in the World’, Whistler-Blackcomb is the biggest ski area in North America.
It was the host for the Alpine events of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, and offers something for all ability levels, together with excellent amenities across several purpose-built, mostly traffic-free, lively base-area resort developments. As the resort’s full proper name suggests, Whistler-Blackcomb is comprised of two distinct mountain sectors which have been linked to form this world-class ski area. A spectacular ‘Peak 2 Peak’ gondola links the upper slopes of Whistler Mountain with those on Blackcomb Mountain, facilitating the switch between sectors without requiring a descent all the way down via the busy central base area, a real advantage on days when there are queues and/or rain at resort level.
Whistler Village is the heart of the resort, clustered around the Skiers Plaza base area at the foot of the slopes on the Whistler Mountain side; the ‘Village Stroll’ pedestrian route snakes through the bustling core of shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and apartments, linking to the resort’s Village North and Village Park quarters.
Telluride, Colorado, USA
The San Juan Mountains of Colorado are amongst the newest on the continent and as such are like a huge set of razor sharp dragon’s teeth, which in our humble opinion, makes for some of the best skiing in US.
Telluride ski resort is set deep in the San Juan Range of the Rocky Mountains in south-west Colorado. A relative newcomer to winter-sports tourism, Telluride was originally one of the world’s richest gold-rush towns, now, since opening its ski area in 1972, a rich source of skiers’ white gold – snow! Telluride is an old gold- and silver-mining town, filled with history and with many attractive Victorian-era buildings; it’s relatively up market yet unpretentious, a lovely place to stroll around and just the right size to have enough shops, cafés, bars and restaurants to lend it a friendly laid-back ambiance, without feeling too sprawling or lacking in soul.
The town is nestled in a deep box canyon, quite remote from any other major towns or cities; this means that it’s truly a destination resort rather than a weekend-focused recreation resort, so visitors generally commit to a longer stay to warrant the journey here, which has the positive effect of keeping guest numbers at more manageable levels, resulting in un-crowded ski slopes and negligible queues for lifts.
There are two centers to the resort, both of which offer straightforward access to the ski area: Telluride town itself is a charming and convenient place to stay and is the best choice for anyone who wishes to be close to the widest selection of places to socialize. For those who prefer to stay slope-side up on the mountain, Telluride’s Mountain Village resort is the place to choose; the two centers are connected by a free gondola, accessible by pedestrians as well as slope users.
Blackcomb base to the East is referred to as the Upper Village, and is also within walking distance of Whistler Village. Whistler’s original local ski-hill base area, Creek side, is situated 3km drive to the south; it has its own low-key resort development with a gondola link to the mid-mountain flanks of the main Whistler Mountain slopes.
The main resort centre and its surrounding slopes often get very crowded in high season and on most weekends, but the scale of the area and the choice of various resort quarter means that there are still some quieter corners where you can easily escape the hoards.
St Anton, Austria
Just don’t tell your doctor that it’s on your bucket list, as while yes, St Anton is great for skiing, it’s in our top ten for the absolutely crazy party that happens every night.
St Anton ski resort in the Arlberg region of Austria is one of the world’s most famous ski resorts, renowned for it’s very lively apres ski scene and superb ski terrain, it offers some of the most challenging intermediate and advanced ski slopes in the Alps. St Anton is one of the world’s longest established and most historically important ski resorts: one of the very first cable cars in the Alps was installed here, on the Galzig mountain; and pioneering ski instructor and Kandahar Trophy ski races patron Hannes Schneider founded the Skischule Arlberg (the Arlberg Ski School) here in 1921, introducing the concept of group ski lessons that was later adopted by ski schools across the globe.
St Anton therefore can rightly be regarded as the cradle of modern Alpine skiing, and is today firmly established as one of the world’s big-name resorts for winter-sports tourism.
Situated in a narrow valley, close to the Arlberg Pass in the westernmost Arlberg region of the Tyrol, St Anton is comprised of several suburbs and amalgamated hamlets which together now form one large linear-shaped resort. St Anton has two separate local ski areas, plus three further bus-linked areas nearby, all covered on its standard Ski Arlberg lift pass.
The major local area covers the slopes of the Gampen and Kapall mountains directly above the village, together with the famous peaks of the Galzig and the Valluga, and is linked with the slopes of the villages of St Christoph and Stuben.
If it’s good enough for a Toblerone pack then it’s good enough for our bucket list. The Matterhorn is possibly the most perfect and iconic mountain on the planet, so why wouldn’t you want to ski beneath it.
Zermatt in Switzerland is one of the world’s premier travel destinations and one of the world’s top ski resorts. Set amidst some of the most awesome scenery in the Alps, this classy Swiss mountain village has a fantastic ski area that includes the highest-altitude pistes in Europe. Zermatt is one of the world’s most magical destinations, as popular in summer as it is during the winter ski season; nestled at the foot of one of the world’s most iconic peaks, the Matterhorn, that instantly recognizable global trademark for Switzerland.
The skiing here is on a grand scale and Zermatt attracts a high percentage of advanced skiers, but much of its terrain is ideal for adventurous intermediates and even non-skiers can access many of the ski lifts in order to reach the magnificent viewpoints and superb mountain restaurants.
There are only a very few places in the world that offer trans-national linked ski domains, and there’s nowhere more impressive to ski across a frontier than here on the highest ski slopes in the Alps, linked with Cervinia in Italy.
Combustion-engine vehicles are banned from Zermatt’s streets, with only electric-powered public-service vehicles permitted, so the fresh mountain air is unsullied and the village retains much of its traditional charm and its human scale.
Alyeska, Alaska, USA
Anyone who loves to ride powder will have Alaska on their bucket list, and if you want to ski this isolated US state then look no further than the resort of Alyeska.
Alyeska is by far the largest of the ski areas in Alaska, which has potentially more skiable terrain than the rest of the US put together. It is famous for its spectacular scenery, spectacular snowfall (average annual 631 inches), non-existent lift queues, diverse terrain and long season.
In Spring daylight hours approach 24 hours, in winter the northern lights often put in an appearance. The word Alyeska (Alley-Eska) is derived from an Aleut word meaning “great land of white to the east.” The state name “Alaska” is also a derivative of this native word. The local town of Girdwood, originally named Glacier City, was founded as a gold mining town at the turn of the century with several gold claims being staked on Crow Creek and the Virgin and California Creek.
The original townsite of Girdwood was flooded by the Turnagain Arm during an earthquake in the 1960s when the land sank eight feet. The town was relocated to its present location two miles up the valley. In 1954, eleven local men formed the Alyeska Ski Corporation along with the beginnings of the hard-earned dream of a first-class ski resort. In 1959, the first chair lift and a day lodge was built. The Corporation managed to secure a used chair lift from France that was dismantled, shipped to Alaska and rebuilt at Alyeska, to create a day use ski area. Alyeska has wide ranging terrain including wide open bowls and long top-to-bottom runs that ideal for intermediates, while tree-lined runs will suit beginners.
The fast cruisers amongst more than sixty runs include Trapline, Main Street, Ego Flats and Klondike. Bump runs options are Prospector, South Face and Don’s. The steepest on-piste trails are double black diamonds like Lolo’s Leap and Gear Jammer. There are 2,000 (650m) vertical feet of lit night time terrain – one of the biggest nightlit verticals in the world.
Riksgransen made our Top Ten for keeping the season alive well into June. Head north post Easter, while the rest of Europe’s lifts are closing, and you’ll be skiing at midnight over 200km north of the Arctic Circle.
250km (150 miles) north of the Arctic Circle, more than 1500km (nearly 1000 miles) north of Swedish capital Stockholm, it comes as a surprise to most that Riksgransen was once Sweden’s top ski destination and it remains on the “must ski before I die” list of most dedicated winter sportsmen and women.
The reasons are not immediately apparent, the ski area would not make the world top 1,000 on size or vertical, the lifts are rather old and resort amenities limited. It’s so cold and dark here that the season does not get underway until February, yet by June many people are skiing in shorts, as the temperatures are actually warm for the latitude, thanks to the Gulf Stream and maritime climate. The Atlantic is only eight kilometres (five miles) to the East. There are few ski resorts that attract such a mix of participants from the full range of snow disciplines. Cross country skiers, tourers, boarders, Telemarkers and Alpine skiers all share the slopes amiably. You will see people in the latest gear and some happy to bring out skis and boots that have seen more than 20 winters.
The lift served ski area is a short walk above the main resort complex. Double chair ascends from within a wooden shed, so in common with the triple chair above, you board indoors – good news in poor weather. The double chair rises above terrain marked red and black but unlikely to cause significant problems for anyone if intermediate standard. To the left of the lift there’s a wide slope with lots of off piste opportunities, again that most intermediates would be able to tackle and enjoy if conditions are right.
The upper slopes served by the triple chair are a little gentler. Again it is wide open terrain without trees or many dangerofours drops so is possible to ski off piste between the runs in comparative safety, as many people do. Run number 4 from the 909m summit is the one that takes you over the Norwegian border for a hundred metres or so. If you wish to stay in Norway keep left on route 3 continuing all the way back to the bottom of the double. There are off piste routes further in to Norway, catching the train back.
This pick was more about skiing a world-class linked area, which can offer fantastic skiing for all abilities, great night life and is family-friendly, rather than just picking one resort.
But as we had to choose one, and after much debate, we settled on the resort of Meribel from the 3 Valleys ski area, over either Val d’Isere or Tignes from the nearby Espace Killy ski area.Located in the central valley of the huge Three Valleys ski domain, Meribel is a paradise for intermediates, entertaining for experts and great for snowboarders.
An amphitheatre of ridges and peaks sweeps round from above the Western side of the resort and curls around the head of the valley above Mottaret to run all the way above the Eastern flanks of Meribel; slope users are therefore able to follow the sun and best snow conditions around the valley throughout the day, all accessible via an extensive network of mostly fast declutchable chairlifts and recently upgraded gondolas.
Progressive novices don’t really need to leave this local ski area, but most visitors are attracted to Meribel by the enormous scale of the full Three Valleys domain: there are half-a-dozen inter-valley link points on the Eastern ridges, linking into the Belleville Valley towards Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, Les Menuires, Reberty and Val Thorens; to the West there are a couple of cross-ridge link points into the St-Bons Valley, which houses the equally extensive, internationally renowned ski resorts of Courchevel and La Tania.
Beginners may find the scale and pace of the principal Meribel slopes a bit too daunting, but the scenic parkland-like Altiport sector at the uppermost suburb of Meribel has gently rolling wide pistes which are perfect for learners.
For more experienced skiers and riders, the Plattieres-Vallon sector above Mottaret, and the Tougnete sector on the Eastern slopes above Meribel, are the principal areas of focus in this valley: particularly noteworthy are the long sweeping snow-sure red pistes and terrific lift-served off-piste access on Mont du Vallon, as well as the excellent ‘Moon Park’ snowpark in the Arpasson area.
Quite simply Revelstoke has to kick off our list, as talk to anyone who has been and they’ll tell you, not just, how good it is but how truly epic it is.
Revelstoke ski resort and its infrastructure have changed somewhat in recent years. It’s always been a great mountain to ski – if you had a helicopter, or didn’t mind hiking – but after much investment, Revelstoke Mountain Resort re-opened it’s ever so snowed-on doors for the 2007/8 season. Revelstoke ski resort has the longest vertical in North America – 1713m – and a whopping great big 3,121 acres of skiable terrain. The best bit of all the stats is that it only has 65 pistes, so for those who love what we in Europe would call off-piste, have quite literally miles and miles of the stuff.
The piste skiing here is aimed at the strong intermediate and advanced skier. Beginners are catered for with some well-groomed blues, but with only 7% of the mountain graded as beginner, you can see what we mean.
There are some perfect groomers for intermediates to tackle at speed, with most of the pistes winding their way down through the legendary trees of Canada, and with such trees laden with snow it would be a shame not to get in amongst them.
The tree skiing here is truly world class, and with an annual snowfall of between 9-14 meters, once you’ve mastered your turns through them you won’t be back on the pistes again. If you’ve never skied in trees then don’t worry, as you can take one of the Cat/Heli prep days, which will help no end.
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