The US has plenty going for it when it comes to choosing a ski holiday, but there’s something about Europe that just has to be done, at least once in your skiing life. Iconic peaks, charming Alpine architecture and sensational après are just some of the reasons why it’s worth getting your skis on a transatlantic flight and treating them to some European conditions.
SAALBACH HINTERGLEMM, AUSTRIA
Life’s a circus, so why not ski on one that features over 270 kilometers of piste? Austria’s Saalbach Hinterglemm gives skiers bags of choice, with extensive runs, mostly geared towards an intermediate level of skill – and, thanks to Europe’s most efficient lift system, featuring 20 high speed chairs and 20 gondolas, you can access it all with relative ease.
There’s a vibrant après scene, for those who still have the energy to party after a day on the slopes, but the long, cruisy, mid-range runs mean that you should never be too exhausted: indeed, the only complaint that the experienced skier might have is that there aren’t enough blacks for the area to be challenging. Saalbach is best skied at the height of the season, as many of the slopes are south-facing, which affects quality when Spring approaches.
Synonymous with epic skiing, Verbier, with its access to the 4 Vallées, offers the expert skier plenty to alleviate boredom, with mega-moguls and near-vertical slopes, as well as vast tracts of off-piste ground to explore: indeed, so challenging is the terrain that the Freeride World Tour Finals are held here. If you can’t be bothered chopping and changing between lift systems – and you’d be forgiven for this, as the network is not the most seamless – then take heart from the fact that high altitude means a variety of long runs. The après is lively and there’s a wide range of accommodation options, suiting all but the most basic of budgets.
Chamonix is the stuff of legends, located on Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc– but beginners beware: there’s very little of an easy going or intermediate nature here to cater for the lower levels of ability. Experts are in for a treat though – after all, what do you expect from the resort that hosted the first ever Winter Olympics? You get a long season here, too, thanks to the surrounding glaciers and sheer altitude – added to which, there’s no escaping the quality of the après and the postcard good looks of the village.
CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, ITALY
There’s still a jetset air around this resort, but in truth, it caters for a wide variety of people and skiers, with about half of the terrain suitable for those at an intermediate level and some decently welcoming slopes for beginners, too. Having said that, there are high-altitude steeps and fields to delight the experts and you get a lot of Dolomite for your buck: the Dolomiti Superski Pass grants access to the lifts and pistes of a dozen resorts in the vicinity.
Germany often takes a skiing backseat to its European counterparts, but at 2,962m, this is Germany’s highest mountain and rightly popular with those in the know. A new cable car accesses its summit, from which you can ski the glacier, but even lower-grade skiers will experience plenty of choice as they explore the 40 kilometers of trails comprised by the Garmisch-Classic ski area. Need a break from skis and poles? Head to the Ice Stadium, a hangover from the 1936 Winter Olympics, where public skating and lessons can be enjoyed.
Pricier than some, Courmayeur still delivers when it comes to old-school glamour – but the skiing, located on the side of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, is undeniably excellent, especially if you’re experienced. Off-piste terrain is abundant and seductive, but be aware that you may only explore it with a guide – while for those simply wanting to enjoy the view, there’s the Funivie Monte Bianco cable car, which you can ride all the way to the top of the world (well, nearly) for incredible views over the surrounding mountains. This is a good choice for cross-country skiers too, with 20 kilometers of trails on which to work your legs.
As the highest resort in Switzerland, Zermatt packs a lot of skiing punch – not least because of its views of the legendary Matterhorn, which provides a pretty epic backdrop to the 210 kilometers of slopes set at an altitude of 3,900m. Despite these impressive claims, it’s actually a very intermediate-friendly resort, while for those more advanced, there’s the option of heading out with a guide and getting stuck into some off-piste exploration or, for genuine thrill seekers, heliskiing.
VAL D’ISÈRE, FRANCE
When it comes to pleasing a crowd, this French resort may be your go-to: it honestly has something for everyone. Its vast terrain boasts plenty of variety for all skill levels, with generous numbers of steep and challenging runs to keep the experts happy, and enough gentle and moderate slopes to not scare off everyone else! Kids are even looked after, with practice lifts and large, uncrowded areas in which to perfect that all important ‘pizza.’ It’s skiable year-round, too, thanks to the presence of glaciers - and there are two snow parks for practising tricks.
ST ANTON AM ARLBERG, AUSTRIA
As far as legendary après goes, St Anton Am Arlberg has plenty to offer the hardcore partier – Mooserwirt, anyone? – but there’s more to this snowy paradise than beers and shots. Consistent snowfall, 340 kilometers of slopes and a range of difficulties to suit all levels of skill – St Anton has all of this, plus a top-notch lift system that links the resort with its neighbour, Lech, as well making exploring St Anton itself accessible and enjoyable. There’s plenty of off-piste for explorers, too.
VAL GARDENA, ITALY
Although skiing in sunshine feels glorious, it’s not often the best for conditions – but Val Gardena more than delivers on snowmaking to offset the issue. Excellent downhill runs are guaranteed, and there’s also loads of terrain to explore, especially as the resort offers easy access to the Dolomiti Superski area. Good skiing needs fuel and, fortunately, the melting pot of Austrian, German and Italian influences means that there’s no end of delectable food choices to get stuck into; meanwhile, the peaks of the Dolomites make a fabulous backdrop to your days, while a lively après scene sorts out your nights.