It’s official, Christmas and its surrounding festivities have arrived. This time of year consistently evokes an expectation of a magical white winter wonderland. Unfortunately, Ireland’s climate doesn’t always make this a reality. Luckily, we are only a short flight away from some of the world’s most renowned skiing destinations.
European ski resorts attract people from around the globe, from your typical holidaymaker to A-list celebrities, and of course, competitive skiers. However, challenging slopes and pistes are not all these resorts have on offer. No interest in skiing? That’s fine, these resorts boast everything from chic boutiques to Michelin-starred restaurants and an energetic nightlife, as well as an excessive amount of five-star hotels. These extra (non-skiing) activities are referred to as après-ski (after ski).
- Courchevel, France
Courchevel is widely renowned as the largest and most famous of several interlinked ski resorts situated in Les Trois Vallées (The three valleys) region. The region is the largest ski domain on the continent. The multi-level resort is made up of six interconnected villages.
The entire area sprawls over 10 summits, consisting of altitudes above 2,500 metres. A total of 60 lifts bring you to 15 kilometres of awe-inspiring alpine runs. The impressive average snowfall of four metres ensures the slopes are kept in immaculate condition. As a result of these pristine conditions, Courchevel is set to host the Alpine Ski World Cup in March 2022.
What about the après-ski scene? The resort is home to several Michelin-starred restaurants, more than 100 upscale boutiques, and a whopping 185 five-star hotels. Oh, and for those of you that are slightly more cold-blooded, this destination also has heated pavements!
- Courmayeur, Italy
Situated on the sunnier side of the highest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc, lies Courmayeur. This resort attracts skiers looking to take on death-defying challenges and is best suited for experienced skiers. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is off-limits to those of you with a limited appetite for skiing.
The cable car runs till midnight, which enables you to dine in one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants situated on the mountain. Up there you can inhale views from the top of Europe. All in all, visiting Courmayeur is a pricey experience, I wouldn’t recommend it to those of you looking for a budget holiday.
- St Moritz, Switzerland
This majestic resort takes pride in being referred to as the oldest winter holiday destination in the world. The resort has held two Winter Olympics, in 1928 and 1948. That gives you an indication of the quality of the slopes. St. Moritz is suitable for almost year-round skiing as it experiences 322 sunny days a year. Skiers have their choice of 87 pistes (marked ski runs) to choose from.
In addition to its winter sports history, St. Moritz possesses an air of luxury with world-class hotels and chic shopping, attracting celebs and royalty alike from around the world.
- Kitzbuhel, Austria
Kitzbuhel is the perfect place for any of you looking for a romantic experience. This walled village, situated in the Austrian Alps, is one of uncontested beauty.
There are 17 kilometres of skiable pistes, and the adjoining ski resort Ski Welt, where there are an extra 280 kilometres, served by 90 lifts. This resort is also home to Hahnenkamm, one of the world’s most challenging downhill races, with terrifying 85% vertices in places.
Similar to the rest of the resorts on this list, Kitzbuhel contains luxurious perks. These include posh hotels, a hectic après-ski scene, picturesque cobblestone streets, and eight renowned ski schools. However, Austria’s most popular ski resort also has a market for budget travellers.
- St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria
St. Anton rests in the heart of the Arlberg region and holds the title of the largest interconnected ski resort in Austria (fifth in the world). A staggering combined total of 340 kilometres of pistes can all be accessed with the Arlberg lift pass. For experienced skiers, try the Run of Fame, which takes you on an 85-kilometre circuit through the entire Arlberg area.
In 2020, eight restaurants were recognised in the notorious 2020 Gault Millau guide. Furthermore, wine lovers can drop into Hopizalm to sample their 2,900 large format bottles of Bordeaux.
- Chamonix, France
In contrast to Courmayeur, Chamonix is situated on the opposite (the less sunny) side of Mont Blanc. Chamonix promotes itself as the birthplace of skiing and mountaineering. Mont Blanc, with a peak of 4,807 metres, makes Chamonix a skiing icon. It hosted the first Winter Olympic Games and is home to the world’s most challenging terrain.
Furthermore, Chamonix hosts the World Cup of races on the Verte piste, which is 3.5 kilometers of steeps and jumps. For the beginners amongst you, there are also more gentle runs to enjoy. Additionally, this resort includes an impressive array of luxury shops, restaurants, and wellness centres.
Hotel Mont Blanc Chamonix comes highly recommended.
- Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
This historic town is carved into the valley of the Boite river, around two hours from Venice. Many consider this resort to be Italy’s most sophisticated ski town, set among the highest peaks in the Dolomites. You can avail of 12 ski areas with one ski pass. The multiple trails and lifts link nearly 400 kilometres of interconnected skiing.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is a former holder of the Winter Olympics in 1956, and 70 years later, in 2026, they are set to host the prestigious tournament once more. Although the Olympic standard may scare you off, there are also plenty of beginner trails. If you fancy trying your hand at different winter sports, this resort offers cross country ski trails or a cheeky bobsled run at night, under the floodlights.
There is a multitude of chic shops and entertainment venues to enjoy come nighttime. Furthermore, the entire area has been named a UNESCO world heritage site.
- Val d’Isere, France
This mega-resort can be classed as an experienced skier’s paradise. Val d’Isere offers 300 kilometres of skiable terrain, served by more than 150 ski lifts. Yes, that is quite sizable! But get this, it is also home to the largest artificial snow-making plants in Europe, as a backup. Thus, perfect for year-round trips.
The lowest terrain is at an altitude of 1,550 metres, with the highest reaching 3,459 metres. The terrain is suitable for all ages and capabilities.
The pedestrianized town is well-known for its restaurants, as well as its hard-partying nightlife. Val d’Isere is an ideal venue for a well-rounded ski holiday experience.
- Gstaad, Switzerland
The final two resorts to make this dazzling list are to be found in Switzerland. First up, Gstaad, one of the most luxurious ski resorts in Europe. The resort is surrounded by 250 kilometres of slopes.
You are guaranteed peace and fresh air as it has a traffic-free town centre. Whilst strolling down the promenade you can find yourself immersed in the fairy-tale Swiss architecture, or dropping a fortune in Gstaad’s numerous luxury boutiques. This resort oozes tradition and is complimented by multiple Michelin-starred restaurants.
- Zermatt, Switzerland
Our final Swiss destination is renowned for its iconic location. Zermatt is situated at the base of Matterhorn peak. However, its skiing facilities are just as iconic with 320 kilometres of skiable terrain. It is home to Switzerland’s greatest vertical drop, and is at an altitude of 3,900 metres, making it the highest winter sports area in the Alps.
A nice perk of Zermatt is that it is car-free, simply park your vehicle outside and catch a train, taxi, or helicopter into the village. The resort is known for its long ski runs, many of them ending in the town so you can literally ski back to your lodge. If you are a fan of heights you can take the world’s highest 3S cableway to the top of the Matterhorn glacier. Due to the altitude of the glacier being 3,883 metres, it is skiable year-round.
So, the location and skiing facilities are majestic. What about après-ski? The vibrant town consists of shops, cafes, bars, and noble hotel lounges. Houses dating back 500 years are amongst the architecture along with 30 five-star accommodations.
I must admit, swapping the swim shorts, tank tops, and flip flops for heavy coats, woolly socks, and multiple layers of clothing is typically something I dread. That being said, the winter months (other than Christmas) don’t have to revolve around freezing yourself and waiting for days to get longer. There are opportunities to immerse yourself in utter natural beauty, and do so in style. Warning – unless you are significantly comfortable financially, I would advise saving and planning well in advance for your skiing adventure.
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