THE world’s best ski resorts combine abundant slopes with considerable style, and offer as much to enjoy off the slopes as on them. Brian Johnston looks at eight of the best ski resorts in the northern hemisphere.
St Anton, Austria
Upmarket St Anton is Austria’s best winter resort, with outstanding skiing thanks to 85 lifts that link it to the entire Arlberg ski region and several other ski villages such as Lech, Zrs and Stuben. Each offers a different experience — Lech also upmarket but quieter, Stuben family oriented — but all share an amazing variety of restaurants and accommodations and the same staggering ski fields. The 22km White Ring circuit alone has wonderful scenery without making the same run twice, and provides the best ski day you can have in the Alps.
Nagano hit the world stage when it hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics. It’s the centre of a sprawling ski area that covers the Hakuba Valley, Shiga Kogen, Nozawa and other minor resorts, together providing a huge range of terrain and over 150 lifts, all accessed on the same ski pass. Skiers and boarders alike can make the most of the long, groomed slopes and excellent snow cover. Then you can soothe tired muscles in an onsen (hot-spring bath) with a mountain view — a habit famously enjoyed by the region’s snow monkeys, too.
This cosmopolitan resort in the French Alps has nearly 300km of scenic runs — there are views of Mont Blanc from some chairlifts — and an impressive network of cross-country ski trails. It also retains an old-world flavour in its original centre, which is closed to traffic (apart from horse carriages) and crammed with pretty, turreted houses around a 400-year-old church. Forest chapels in the surroundings are linked by a lovely 15km winter footpath. Yet Megve is also an international resort for the rich and famous: expect champagne bars, boutique shopping and a chic atmosphere.
Pyeongchang, South Korea
Everyone has now heard of Pyeongchang, host of the 2018 Winter Olympics. It’s made up of Yongpyong, one of northeast Asia’s best ski resorts, and nearby Alpensia, where you’ll find the Olympic village, sporting venues and luxury hotels. Though it lacks the high-peak scenery of many ski resorts, it has modern and efficient lifts and a distinctive Korean ski culture that features speedy, energetic skiing that even continues into the night on illuminated slopes. The skiing is followed by visits to soju bars, rustic barbecue restaurants and raucous late-night karaoke lounges.
With four different mountains, this celebrity ski resort in Colorado provides plenty of on-snow adventure. Beginners can hit gentle, well-groomed Buttermilk, while intermediates can tackle 90 runs on Snowmass (which claims more vertical feet than any American ski resort) or ski Aspen Mountain, where a third of trails are ungroomed. For an advanced challenge, head to Highlands’ intimidating runs; Highland Bowl is a backcountry rite-of-passage with 45 pitches. Beyond world-class skiing, Aspen town has an interesting silver-mining history, quirky counter-culture edge and excellent dining and shopping, as well as a lively bar scene.
Zermatt boasts some of the best snowfalls of any European ski destination and offers 360km of runs. From 3,089m on the Gornergrat, snow-capped peaks create a jagged horizon, though all eyes are on the hatchet-shaped Matterhorn as you descend the magnificent 9km ski run back to Zermatt. The ultra-modern Matterhorn Museum in town tells the story of its most famous peak, the history of alpinism, and how Zermatt transformed itself from farming community to glamorous international resort. As an added bonus to great skiing, Zermatt has an excellent aprs-ski scene.
Canada’s most famous resort and host of the 2010 Winter Olympics is the largest ski area in North America, with 200 runs and 38 lifts. Among them is the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the longest and highest of its type in the world, providing breathtaking views. Visitors can also get their adrenaline going at the Olympic Sliding Centre: a solo skeleton ride or piloted four-person bobsleigh ride awaits those who dare. The more cautious can try the Olympic cross-country trails in the Callaghan Valley, a magical experience. Dog-sledding, zip-lining and ice climbing are also marvellous.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
Cortina was established as an alpine resort in the 1860s, has hosted the Winter Olympics and is the venue for the 2021 Alpine World Ski Cup. It’s also Italy’s chicest winter destination, as you’ll discover when you stroll Corso d’Italia main street or tuck into upmarket fare in suave restaurants. Ski-wise you’ll be satisfied too, with 50 lifts and some 150 kilometres of ski slopes providing superb views of the jagged Dolomite Mountains and several of its glaciers — Arrow in the Sky cable-car is especially stunning. Even the beginner’s slopes are scenic, and instructors are great with children.