The 9 Best Ski Destinations to Visit This Winter
From Austrian mega resorts to under-the-radar Swiss gems (plus a few of our favorite spots in North America), here’s where we’re planning to ski this winter.
The Arlberg, Austria
It's easy to get obsessed with the Arlberg's metrics: seven unique villages, 88 lifts, 210 miles of trails, up to 400 inches of annual snowfall, and a seemingly endless array of skiable backcountry acres. But to get hung up on numbers would be to miss what Austria's biggest ski resort is all about. Here, in the birthplace of the sport (local boy Hannes Schneider opened the world's first ski school out of the Hotel Post in the 1920s), the international crowd comes for the vibe. Pillowy powder runs deposit you into centuries old farming villages, mountain huts turned atmospheric restaurants fleck the hillsides, and everywhere there's a party, from the Jägermeister-fueled bacchanals at St. Anton's thumping après-ski bars to the Aperol Spritz scene at chic hotel terraces lining the main drag of Lech. With its onion-domed church, five-star hotels, and luxury shopping (head to Stroltz for fur-trimmed jackets and custom ski boots), Lech is a more understated version of Gstaad and St. Moritz. Book a room at the secluded yet luxe Hotel Kristiania, whose genial owner and host Getrud offsets the half-timbered chalet's traditional feel with her vibrantly contemporary art collection. Though if your idea of a ski vacation is one that involves as much table dancing as it does steep and deep turns, then base yourself in bustling St. Anton. Schneider's two New Hampshire-born grandsons each own properties in town—the affordable and charming Fahrner-Hof (apartments come replete with kitchens and private balconies) and the five-suite Schneiderhof, a beautiful boutique hotel offering American-style breakfast within walking distance of the lifts.
Switzerland is flush with ski resorts. But while most are modern, posh, and pricey (this is the land of bankers after all), Mürren feels frozen in a bygone era. And that's the point. Accessible only by train or cable car, the pedestrian-only village (narrow, snowy streets; timber chalets) evokes a sense of romance all too scarce in ski country these days. It's a mood that everyone—from the local farmers to the mom and pop hoteliers to the wealthy British families who've been coming here for nigh a century—is keen to preserve. In fact, the only drama you'll encounter is the view. Perched on top of a nearly 2,000 foot cliff, Mürren offers guests front row seats to arguably the most impressive treble of mountains in the Alps: The Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger. Take it all in from the Hotel Eiger, where spacious, wood-carved guest rooms have their own balconies, or from the top of the Shilthorn summit, whose rotating Piz Gloria restaurant doubled as a Bond villain's lair in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Known as the Inferno, the six-mile run down into town is a gauntlet of rolling and winding pistes that pair perfectly with the breathtaking amphitheater of towering peaks. Need more? Murren's lift ticket is good at Wengen and Grindlewald, interconnected resorts located just across the narrow Lauterbrunnen Valley that serve up an additional 100 miles of ski slopes.
Sunshine Village, Canada
When it comes to Canadian skiing, Whistler-Blackcomb gets all the attention. Which is why we love Sunshine Village. Less than 10-miles from downtown Banff and perched on the backbone of the Continental Divide, the under-the-radar ski resort offers blissfully uncrowded slopes and the highest lift-serviced skiing in Canada. Here, on a rocky spine of peaks that straddles the border of Alberta and British Columbia, the snow flies frequently and furiously, blanketing Sunshine with up to 30 feet in a single season, which stretches from November through May. A modern network of high-speed lifts (including a heated gondola) ferry skiers to three distinct summits. Instagram a shot of nearby Mt. Assiniboine, Canada’s answer to the Matterhorn, before choosing between a wide variety of ways down, from gentle alpine bowls and tree runs to the cliff-strewn steeps of Delerium Dive (considered some of the best lift-serviced side-country in North America). Base facilities are limited, but the ski-in, ski-out Sunshine Mountain Lodge offers modern guest rooms, fireside dining, and a heated outdoor pool. For something more opulent, make the 20-minute drive back to Banff and check into the Fairmont Banff Springs, the 768-room grande dame of the Canadian Rockies.
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With its faux Austrian village, family-friendly atmosphere, and pricey lift ticket, Vail carries the dubious reputation of skiing's version of Disney World. But it's hard to leave a resort off this list that gets so much about the American ski vacation so exceedingly right. From 5,200 acres of treeless back bowls, leg-searing bumps and groomers so smooth they might as well be a carving board to the on-mountain food (the Epic Burger is Shake Shack worthy), and a lively town brimming with high-end restaurants, bars, and hotels, Vail delivers a sweeping ski vacation that's as reliable as Colorado powder days are deep. Always keen to help maximize guests' skiing, the resort debuted the Northwoods Express last season, a six-passenger lift that increased uphill capacity by 25 percent, as well as EpicMix Time Insights, an added feature on the EpicMix app that leverages historic lift line data to inform you of where the most congested areas on the mountain are likely to be. After a long day on the slopes, a plate of nachos and a pitcher of margaritas on the porch of classic après hang Los Amigos is in order. Or you can retire to the revamped Hotel Talisa for sabered champagne, house-made fries, and even boozy yoga classes. Fresh off a $60 million renovation, the 285-room, electrically-colored property—tucked in a thicket of pine trees along Gore Creek, just steps from the Cascade Village Lift—is the first and only ski hotel in North America to join The Luxury Collection.
Val d’Isere, France
Val d'Isere has Europe's most sophisticated and extensive snowmaking system. Pity there's no need to show it off this winter. That's because the Alps have been blessed with the best early season snowfall they've seen in decades, and Val d'Isere—wedged within the Savoie’s craggy Tarentaise Valley—is one of the resorts that's been hit hardest. Belted by storm upon storm, the entire skiable expanse—186 miles of trails serviced by 88 modern lifts and a summit that tops out at over 11,000 ft.—is shimmering with pristine powder. Like most purpose-built French ski towns, Val d'Isere doesn't exude the alpine authenticity of more historic Austrian or Swiss villages, but the stone-and-timber center isn't without its charms. Immerse yourself in them at Les Barmes de L'Ours, the top hotel in town. Located at the base of the 1992 Olympic downhill run (the aptly named and precariously steep Face de Bellevarde), the property's 49 guest rooms and 27 suites mix rustic mountain lodge chic with a more minimal aesthetic, while the Michelin starred restaurant is the perfect place to fortify yourself for another big day on the slopes.
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Another European mega resort to receive an unfair amount of snow this season is Zermatt, which at press time (Jan. 2018) had just been hit by a storm that dumped seven feet in 24 hours. Severe avalanche danger forced everything from the ski lifts to the train lines to close, stranding 13,000 vacationers in town. Not that that’s a bad thing. With its narrow pedestrian streets, black wood barns, grand hotels, glacier-fed river, and the iconic Matterhorn rising above everything like a blue and white obelisk, we can think of few ski towns we’d rather be marooned in. Book a room at the Mont Cervin Palace, a five-star property in the center of town whose belle époque exterior belies a thoroughly modern interior—renovated rooms exude a private ski lodge vibe (blond wood, exposed beams), while the indoor/outdoor pool is perfect for a post-ski soak. For something hipper, try Cervo, a boutique ski-in, ski-out property with a playful mix of plaid and taxidermy and a daily après-ski party on the stone terrace that overlooks town. Of course once all the new snow settles, you’ll have full run of the resort—a sprawling 200 miles of pistes spanning two countries (Switzerland and Italy), 40 slope side restaurants, and topping out at the highest lift-serviced ski station in Europe.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Pitching almost straight up out of Teton Village, Jackson Hole’s Rendezvous Mountain might be North America’s most intimidating ski area. But don’t let its reputation (or size and steepness) damper your spirits. With over 4,000 vertical feet of couloirs, cliffs, spines, gullies, and tons of trees, this is a mountain that begs to be explored, so book a guide to safely show you around and take you into the extensive side-country. After a snowy day (30+ feet in a season is not uncommon here), crowds congregate at the kitschy Mangy Moose for live music. Though if you’re tuckered out from skiing (who wouldn’t be?), a good German pilsner at the Alpenhof Lodge might be more your speed. Stay at the Four Seasons Jackson Hole, where you can reward the day’s limit-pushing ski session with massage followed by some charcuterie and ramen.
Most Austrian ski resorts are as well known for their spirited (and sometimes completely debauched) après-ski scene as they are for their skiing. Not so Obergurgl. Notched at over 6,000 feet in Tirol's Oetztal Valley on the border of Italy, Obergurgl is both Austria's highest ski resort and most overlooked. Which is just fine with the generations of well-heeled British and German families who continue to flock here thanks to the resort's resolutely laid-back ambiance. Lift lines are as uncrowded as the treeless, gently undulating ski slopes, the alpine elevation ensures the snow stretches from December through April, and the two tiny villages—Obergurgl and the even higher Hochgurgl, both a cluster of chalets and hotels that are connected via road and cable car—offer a simple respite from active days on the mountain. With its ski-in, ski-out access, Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl is popular among regulars, but we love the Hotel Bergwelt, which blends Tyrolean tradition (taxidermy, wood carvings, cozy bunk rooms for kids) with a more modern design aesthetic and amenities (like a three-story spa) just above the main town. If you do find yourself in search of a party, you can use the Pow(d)er Card lift ticket at nearby Sölden for a more adventurous day on and off the slopes, and returning this March for the third year in a row is Nassau Beach Club Ibiza, whose DJs will spin their blend of Balearic house beats from the resort's 10,000 ft. summit.
Alta Badia, Italy
Italy’s Dolomites come with an unfair advantage. First there’s the otherworldly scenery, towering limestone peaks that look like the lovechild of the Swiss Alps and the rock spires of the American Southwest. Then there’s the culture, a mix of Austrian mountain charm and Italy’s breezy dolce vita. And finally, there’s the skiing, most notably the Sella Ronda, a 360-degree carousel of slopes strewn with rifugios—rough-hewn mountain huts ranking from wood-fired pizzerias to Michelin-starred seafood eateries. Base yourself in Corvara, a pastoral village that’s home to the four-star La Perla hotel, or neighboring San Cassiano, whose Rosa Alpina offers ne plus ultra mountain luxury with its beautiful but understated rooms and two-Michelin starred restaurant. Days are spent on the rolling, groomed slopes ringing the Sella Massif—an impressive block of mountains that, like the other peaks punctuating the skyline, glow an incandescent pink come sunset. At some 16-miles in length, it is possible to ski the entire route (either clockwise of counterclockwise) in a single day. Unless of course you post up for too long at one of the rifugios. Perhaps a better option is to partake in this season’s Sommelier on the Slopes program, which allows you to explore the resort and the local wines with your own somm and ski instructor.
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