Skiing and snowboarding are only half of a ski holiday in Europe. The rest is made of snow-covered mountainside chalets, rich Alpine food, hot mulled wine between runs, and, of course, the famous Après-ski, the after party.
So … what are you looking for once you get off the slopes? Are you happy to stay on the groomed slopes or are you an adrenaline junkie going off-piste (i.e. backcountry skiing) to find some fresh powder? Do you want to just relax by the fireplace after a day of skiing, or do you want to hit the after-party with your ski boots still on?
No matter what you want, the Alps have you covered.
Any city that has hosted The Winter Olympics twice can’t be bad for skiing. There are over 200 miles of groomed slopes around St. Moritz starting from 1,800 meters (5900 feet) above sea level, all the way up to 3,300 meters (10,800 feet), guaranteeing good snow. And best of all, there are over 300 sunny days a year.
Besides the downhill variant of skiing, St. Moritz is a haven for cross-country skiers, with 110 miles of tracks. And you can even try out the Olympic bobsled run; mind you, professionals will make sure you get a bit of on-site training before you’re allowed on the run.
Les Trois Vallées (Three Valleys), France
Technically, Les Trois Vallées is not one ski resort but the world’s largest combined ski region, with over 370 miles of ski slopes and 183 ski lifts. This means you can ski for days without having to go down the same slope twice. And queues? Not at this size.
The biggest ski resort in the area is Val Thorens, which also offers the most options for accommodation. The other two main resorts are Meribel and Courchevel, of which the latter especially is aimed for the rich and famous. The exclusive Courchevel 1850 village has two out of the eight luxurious six-star hotels (called palaces) in France, Le Palace Des Neiges Hotel and Le Cheval Blanc.
A popular day tour is to ski or snowboard from Val Thorens to Courchevel for lunch and then back. You can go at a leisure pace and take the whole day, or race down black and red runs and get to the other side in less than an hour and half.
While no Alpine ski destination could ever be called ugly, by comparison, Zermatt is the most scenic. With views of the famous Matterhorn mountain and a ban on cars (save for a few electric taxis), the Alpine village is a living postcard. So instead of fighting traffic and crowds, you can focus on breathing that fresh alpine air and enjoying the silence.
During winter time, there are 220 miles of slopes in Zermatt, enough to ski to Italy for an espresso, as the area is linked to Breuil-Cervinia ski resort across the border. And if you still want to hit the slopes in July, the glacier’s peak has 12 miles of skiing at the top even in the height of summer.
If you’re after steep black runs and high-octane off-piste skiing, head towards Chamonix and Mont Blanc. Europe’s highest (and most notorious mountain for adventure seekers) is Mont Blanc, so next-door neighbor Chamonix attracts more experienced skiers looking for a challenge. Slopes at Chamonix go all the way up to 3300 meters, so it is s a fantastic place for a late ski holiday, which is when you can see plenty of people skiing (and sunbathing) in t-shirts. Try the 12-mile Vallee Blanche off-piste route, famous for its vertical drop of 2700 meters (8900 feet) through some of France’s most wild terrain.
St. Anton, Austria
If après-ski, Jägermeister and dancing on the tables in your ski boots is your thing, then head to St. Anton, which tends to get a bit of a younger crowd because of its well-deserved reputation for after parties. There are plenty of bars in the village, but the best après-ski is at the bars on the slopes themselves.
The only problem is choosing whether you should go to Krazy Kanguruh for some shot-fuelled debauchery or to Mooserwirt, where the party starts everyday when the blinds close at 3pm and ‘The Final Countdown’ starts blaring over the speakers.
It isn’t however all just about partying; of the 160 miles of slopes, many are suitable for beginners while still offering plenty of fun for more advanced skiers.
Bonus: Levi, Finland
While Finland is famous for its snow and winter sports, a lack of mountains means any skiing is better suited for beginners and intermediate skiers. But Finland’s top ski resort makes up for its lack of downhill runs with 550 miles of snowmobile tracks and 150 miles of cross-country ski tracks. Want more adventure? How about dog sledding, reindeer safaris, ice fishing, or, as a bonus for braving the Finnish winter, a chance at viewing the Northern Lights.
Jarmo Järvi is the author of the Arctic Nomad http://www.arcticnomad.com adventure travel blog. He originally learned to ski in Finland about the same time he learned to walk; snowboarding he only painfully learned years later. Finland, however, wasn’t enough for him and now he heads to the Alps each year, searching for some fresh powder. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.