10 Great Ski Destinations to Consider for Your Next Winter Break
As the warm summer’s sun fades and Autumn moves into Winter a different type of thrill seekers emerge thinking of where best to enjoy the white stuff. Choosing which ski resort to hangout at and checking the weather reports every five minutes to see how snow is falling can be time consuming. We have put together a list of 10 great destinations that we think will appeal to the different type of skiers. We have Jackson Hole, USA to Rusutsu, Japan plus a whole host of European resorts.
ASPEN, UNITED STATES
As ski resorts go, Aspen might well have is all. Colorado’s amazingly dry snow; more than 300 days of sunshine a year; an annual snowfall of 300 inches; a fashionable but friendly town filled with real character, fantastic shops, restaurants, nightlife; and epic skiing on each of its four mountains. It’s now wonder this place attracts the rich and famous in droves but don’t let that put you off. Aspen’s the real deal; the locals are friendly, unpretentious and frighteningly sporty.
Aspen began life as a silver-mining town in the late 1980s, and that history is very evident, especially if you stay at Hotel Jerome. Unlike many US resorts, there is a major gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain in the middle of the town. Several mornings a week, you can warm up with a $5 yoga class in Sundeck Restaurant at the top.
Highlands is the place to head for the really steep stuff – include a 30 minute hike to the top of the Highlands Bowl (3,777m), and you’ll be rewarded with a 48-degree pitch run back. The other good thing about Highlands is the Austrian-themed Cloud 9 restaurant, where it goes off in the afternoons.
For the softer stuff, head to the beginner-friendly Buttermilk Mountain – although it does have a world class terrain park with the world’s first ever side-by-side superpipe.
There is no shortage of fantastic lodging to choose from: the aforementioned Jerome for history and atmosphere; Little Nell for luxury; Limelight for value, with après-ski live music, free pizza and excellent breakfasts; and the Sky for location and Californian-style après.
LA ROSIÈRE, FRANCE
This charming little French village, high above Bourg Saint Maurice, is famed for being ultra family-friendly. But look again: La Rosière gets more than its fair share of snowstorms coming up the Terentaise Valley; because of its friendly reputation, that means its little-known off-piste – much of which is easily accessed from the lifts – remains untraced for days after a snowfall.
The other particularly great thing about La Rosière is that , although you can fly to Chambéry, Lyon or Geneva, the resort transfer time is a minimum of one hour and 40 minutes. If you take the snow train direct from London, you cut that to just 25 minutes.
If you’re not an expert looking to jump off cliffs, the majority of pistes in the 160km ski area are blue and red, and they are long – there’s a thigh-burning run of 900m vertical from Col de la Traversette down to Les Eucherts below.
Being so family-orientated, there’s not a massive après-ski scene, but you can dance till late at the Moo Bar. A huge number of tour operators offer packages to La Rosière and there’s plenty of self-catering. But, with a reputation for great restaurants, there are plenty of options for eating out as well.
About half an hour’s drive from its more famous friend, Rusutsu is where Niseko locals go on a powder day. Don’t tell anyone, but this ski area – 1700 hectares, with four gondolas and seven chairlifts – has probably the best snow quality in the whole of Japan.
Average snowfall estimates range from between eight and 15m, and it doesn’t get tracked out so quickly as Niseko, either. There are 37 runs in total; the lift ticket is a little pricier than other Japanese resorts, but it’s still great value for money. The tree skiing here is fantastic – great for tree skiing beginners – but the slopes, spread over three interlinked mountains, are slightly more limited than the nearby, and busier, Niseko.
But who cares about the slopes in Japan? We’re here for the light, dry powder, and in Rusutsu there is no shortage – with regular overnight dumps of 20-40m brought in by Siberian weather patterns (yes, it’s chilly). Skiing here in waist-high powder, you have both a volcano and the sea in view. This place is picturesque in the extreme.
There’s also no shortage of exceptional grub. With bars that don’t open until 5pm, however, there is a bit of a shortage of après-ski; if you have enough energy left to even want it.
The one potential downside is the kitsch. Music blasts from speakers on the lift pylons and there is a huge rollercoaster and big wheel outside the main hotel, Rusutsu Resort, which is, incidentally, ski-in, ski-out. Look beyond all that, though, and you will find a gem.
Synonymous with the British royal family, this Swiss resort shares a vast ski area (310km) with Davos, but has a completely different personality. The charming village offers two mountains; Parsenn and Madrisa, with extensive intermediate and advanced skiing, and a lot of easily accessed off-piste. Some might remember that in 1988 major Hugh Lindsay, a farmer equerry to the Queen, died here in an avalanche while skiing off-piste with Prince Charles.
The lifts are fairly crap, for want of a better word, with more slow two-man chairs than possibly any other mainstream resort I can think of. But that means the slopes are quiet and the abundance of lift-accessed off-piste remains relatively untracked.
There are some great day tours if you hire a guide, including one from the top of Madrisa over the border with <Austria> to Gargellen in the Montafon Valley or another, first skied by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, that ends up in Arosa (where you catch a train back). Reflective of the fantastic freeride opportunities, ski-hire shops in Klosters have some of the best kit you’ll find to rent.
One last word of warning: it takes a good few hours to get to Kloster from Zurich airport. But the train ride up the mountain is beautiful, so count it as part of your holiday and enjoy the ride. At least you know that, being Switzerland, the trains will run on time.
ALTA BADIA, ITALY
Part of the enormous Sellaronda ski area (433km), the Alta Badia – the area around La Villa, including Badia, San Cassiano, Corvara and Colfosco; is the place to go if you like to eat and ski. Set in the heart of the stunning Dolomites, Alta Badia offers some wonderfully relaxing skiing, you can do the whole circuit in five or six hours but this place is really about the extraordinary culinary experiences.
The gently skiing is ideal for families backed up strongly by very reasonable prices. Natural snowfall here can be a little hit and miss, so don’t expect any off-piste (although you might be pleasantly surprised), but do expect to enjoy many long lunches, Italian-style. In fact, so good are the lunches that you might find yourself doing a morning prayer for sunshine rather than snow.
Corvana is one of the best places to stay on the whole of the Sellaronda circuit, well positioned within Alta Badia and perfect for families and beginners. If you can, take some time to marvel at the gothic beauty of Ciastel Colz: an ancient castle in the old quarter of La Villa that dates back to 1536.
VAL D’ISÈRE, FRANCE
A popular destination among British skier, Val D’Isère’s mainly high and steep mountains offer endless off-piste opportunities, and some seriously steep pistes; not least La Face, the men’s downhill course that is considered, Hahnenkamn apart, to be one of the most technically demanding on the planet.
Despite its popularity (there are 27,000 guest beds in the resort), Val D’Isère doesn’t really suffer serious queues. Why? Because there are a fairly incredible eight mountain access lifts from the town, offering skiers myriad options to access the 300km Espace Killy ski are named after triple Olympic gold-medalist Jean-Claude Killy.
As you might expect from a world-class resort, the eateries are a cut above, though the prices are as well. La Fruitière, Le Signal and La Peau de Vache are all notable, particularly the latter, which serves burgers big enough for two.
Despite its popularity, Val D’Isère doesn’t rest on its laurels. The resort recently embarked on a multi-million euro project to redevelop the top of Solaise. The whole summit of one of the two iconic mountains reached from the Front de Neige base area is being reshaped, and 70,000 cubic metres of earth has been bulldozed to create a new mid-mountain station at 2,500m, which will open this season.
Ischgl sits on the border with Switzerland (sharing a ski area with the Swiss resort of Samnaun), and thanks to its many northwest-facing slopes, enjoys a long season from November to May.
You often hear resorts claim to offer “something for everyone”, but this one really does, especially since the installation of the new Piz Val Gronda cable car opened two seasons ago, offering access to 100 hectares of fabulous off-piste terrain in a big open bowl.
Ischgl is home to one of Europe’s best terrain parks, PlayStation Vita, which has beginner, public and pro lines, and the remainder of the well-groomed slopes are mainly wide forgiving runs ideal for intermediates. It doesn’t do beginner skiing quite so well, but there are enough nursery slopes at Ldalp to get started on, often bathed in sun.
Like all good Austrian resorts, the fun really starts mid-afternoon, with an après-ski scene that lasts well into the night. Immerse yourself in the local culture by dancing on tables at Kitzloch, by the river, and later try out the massive Madlein, which used to be Pacha nighclub replete with interestingly attired dancers.
There are also a couple of pole-dancing clubs, you might be getting the idea, quite correctly, that this resort is more popular with the gentlemen than the ladies.
Halfway between Oslo and Bergen, Geilo is a small, quiet, unspoiled resort with a long season, through to May. With only 37km of pistes, it is more suited to cross-country skier than downhillers, but don’t be mistaken in thinking it offers nothing for the adrenaline junkie: this place is right at the forefront of kiteskiing and snowkiting, thanks to the remote Hardangervidda plateau. The resort has five terrain parks and Scandinavia’s only superpipe, and has hosted World Cup events.
English is spoken widely here, and Geilo has rightly gained a reputation as a top-class family resort, with empty pistes (particularly in the mornings – Norwegians like to sleep in), no queues for the lift and a wide choice of non-skiing activities including nature safaris, husky sledging and, in Havsalen, the longest toboggan run in Norway.
In the depths of winter, daylight hours are vastly reduced compared to what we would expect in the Alps or North America, from 9am – 4pm, but later in the season (snow is more or less guaranteed until May) you could find yourself skiing in full daylight at 9pm.
A word of warning: food and drink here are, as you might expect for Scandinavia, on the pricey side.
Saalbach-Hinterglemm has recently expanded its intermediate ski area to link it with Fieberbrunn to become Austria’s largest ski area, at 168 miles or 270km.
The two attractive, authentically Austrian villages of Saalbach and Hinterglemm are spread along a main road and linked by a free bus that runs regularly during the day, less so at night. You can, however, ski between the two and around a circuit of the entire valley, the Ski-Cirus, on mainly red and blue runs. Much of the skiing is sunny and south-facing, well served by lifts typical of Austria: fast, modern and heated. The only real problem is its low altitude, but they’ve got their snow-making sorted here too.
If you like skiing in Austria, you won’t be disappointed. As well as a brilliant lift network, great-value on-mountain dining is easy to find. The resort starts to rock mid-afternoon and carries on well into the night – or morning, depending on your stamina. You can’t go to Hinterglemm without a visit to the infamous Goasstall – a bit like St Anton’s MoorerWirt, but a little bit more banging. If that’s possible.
If the skiing is a bit tame for your tastes and you manage to score at least one quiet night in, the new link with Fieberbrunn brings a new perspective to the Ski Circus, home to a leg of the Freeride World Tour and often dubbed “Austria’s best kept off-piste secret”.
JACKSON HOLE, UNTID STATES
Ask any expert skier which ski run is on their bucket list, and Corget’s Couloir in the cult resort of Jackson, Wyoming will be right up there. After jumping in at the top, the slope is an easy 50-degree pitch you could do with your eyes close.
This Wild West territory, and the remote, unspoiled ski town, has a real cowboy atmosphere. Most of the slopes, on one big mountain (Rendevous) and one small mountain (Apres Vous), are above the treeline, but they’re generally uncrowded. You can even head into the backcountry with a guide to explore 3,000 acres of terrain and camp overnight in yurt. This place attracts young, brave, extreme skier drawn by the steep slopes and the claimed average of 460 inches of snow each year.
As you’d expect, there’s a Wild West theme to après-ski, sit on saddles instead of bar stools at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.