Most skiers have a tried-and-true favorite, but it’s always worth broadening your experience when a new ski season rolls around. With hundreds of world-class ski resorts spanning North America and Europe, you’re certainly spoiled for choice, but it’s not always easy to find the right balance between the right level of skiing, great amenities and affordability. If you’re just starting out, the right resort can mean the difference between a failed experiment and a life-long passion, and even more experienced skiers can have trouble finding the perfect snowscape for their skiing style. Check out these top resorts that offer everything you need to make this year’s ski vacation one to remember.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
In recent years, this sparkling resort has pushed its way into the top echelon of American ski holidays, and more people are taking notice. It’s unique location and position promises loads of snow throughout the season, and Jackson Hole offers a great array of slopes for beginners at the bottom of the mountain, but more than enough for intermediate and advanced skiers further up. In fact, the new fast-climbing tram is something of a wonder, shuttling 100 passengers at a time up 4,139 feet in 9 minutes flat.
Sun Valley, Idaho
New, cutting-edge resorts tend to attract a lot of attention, which means old standbys like Idaho’s Sun Valley are sometimes forgotten. Fortunately for you, that means great skiing and wonderful ambiance with far fewer crowds than many other top resorts, and that alone is a good reason to visit. However, Sun Valley offers some other perks, too: 2,000 acres of slopes, a 3,400 foot drop for the adventurous, and some of the best cross country skiing in the nation. In fact, the resort hosts the Norwegian Olympic Team each year for their Nordic Festival, where you can enjoy the miles of trails and take in some demonstrations, seminars, and festivities.
Banff/Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
More than just an impressive trail system, this gem of a resort has managed to keep a perfect balance of pristine nature, cherished tradition, and world-class winter sporting. Whether you choose to ski, snowboard, dog-sled, tube or skate, you will not be disappointed with the scale of the facilities: once the temperatures dip low enough, the lake becomes a huge skating rink, hundreds of runs open on the three adjoining mountains, and kilometers of majestic terrain become powder-packed cross-country ski trails. But Banff also offers a lovely village and the world-renowned Banff Springs Hotel – and their famous afternoon tea – to keep anyone relaxed and entertained off the slopes.
Le Massif, Quebec, Canada
This resort on the St Lawrence River boasts the highest point east of the Rockies, but that’s not all. It also offers you a chance enjoy all the best parts of Quebecois culture, which promises a fulfilling and storied ski trip. While there are less runs here than in other resorts (just over 40), they are remarkably long – the longest of them all is over 3 miles long! There’s also ice climbing, if you care to try your hand at scaling the mountain, plus a unique style of sledding called rodelling, that sends you down nearly 5 miles of scenic mountain trail. Top off your trip with a culinary tour of the Charlevoix region!
Fun, festive and challenging, Verbier is a fantastic all-round resort that is also less pretentious and more affordable than some of Switzerland’s premier winter wonderlands. It’s attracts a lot of crowds, but it’s big and outfitted with all sorts of amenities: some of the best restaurants in the region, lots of English-speaking establishments, and a sensational network of gondolas, lifts and shuttles that can connect you to the smaller (and less frequented) satellite resorts of Veysonnaz and La Tzoumaz.
Southwest of the Verbier cluster, you’ll find Zermatt, where you can count on great skiing and beautiful landscape – after all, you’re at the foot of the Matterhorn. But Zermatt is renowned for its convivial atmosphere. This charming Swiss resort was packing chalets with evening revelers well before other resorts began to truly embrace the Après-ski lifestyle. No car traffic, traditional architecture, a great array of slopes and a guaranteed party draws a varied crowd; foodies will savor the top notch restaurants, and extreme skiers may want to take advantage of the heliskiing.
Alpe d’Huez, Massif Central, France
Away from the busy Alpine resorts, you’ll find sunny Alpe d’Huez, where its high altitude guarantees good snow and enough pristine runs for skiers of all abilities. The piste known as the Saranne is the longest, at 16km, but there are plenty more terrific runs lining the incredible scenery. One of the best aspects of Alpe d’Huez is its wide appeal, offering lots of activities for families, partyers and night skiers. The lift pass also includes access to indoor climbing and swimming!
Famous for the annual Hahnenkamm, a world-class downhill race held in January, the slopes of Kitzbühel are actually geared more toward casual skiers. In fact, the stunning surroundings, charming medieval village and extensive slope system (168 km of runs and 54 lifts) draw people of all ages and abilities. The après ski culture is less frenetic and more comfortable than other big Alpine resorts, with plenty of boutiques, impressive hotels, and accomplished restaurants to keep non-skiers as busy as their skiing companions.
Certain countries will provide better value for their terrain. For instance, the interior of France has some great conditions at affordable prices, but almost any top resort in Switzerland will cost you a small fortune for a week’s holiday. Look into lift pass deals and accommodation packages well ahead of your holiday, or else consider getting off the beaten track for some small-scale pistes. The snow is what matters most, so if you can find a decent peak with the right temperature, you’re sure to enjoy your skiing.