Top 10 Ski Resorts in Europe
Written by Alexa Owen • Nov 06, 2015
If you were to close your eyes and imagine a place where massive mountain peaks tower over quaint villages, bluebird skies float above pristine, snowy slopes, and “après” begins when the lifts start spinning (then lasts all day), you would be in Europe, my friends. While we love the Green Mountains and the Rockies, the Wasatch Range and the Adirondacks, if you’re looking for a skiing adventure inclusive of an entirely different cultural experience in a place where skiing has been a way of life for centuries, we recommend these resorts in Europe. Think snow, and bon voyage…
Zermatt fits the profile for the perfect quintessential European ski vacation. With the iconic Matterhorn peak rising in the background and a charming, bustling town at the base, you’ll find yourself in a prime setting for everything that a holiday in the Alps has to offer. Cruise around on the mostly intermediate slopes, stop for a long, leisurely lunch at any of the gourmet mountainside restaurants, and après with the folks who basically invented it.
On the Slopes Zermatt has 245km of marked trails and plenty of off-piste terrain (there is no real “out-of-bounds” in European resorts). 73 lifts service the 3 main areas of the resort. The terrain is mostly geared toward intermediates, with some beginner areas and mild “expert” slopes. Hire a guide to get the most out of the off-piste terrain.
Around Town: Phenomenal food, 5-star hotels, and boutique shopping can be found around the village. Activities cater to those who are looking for luxury. Nightlife is world-class, and other activities like scenic helicopter rides, toboggan runs, and exploring glacial caves are perfect for the whole family.
Known For: luxury, nightlife, scenery
At the junction of France, Switzerland, and Italy lies Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, one of the most famous resorts in Europe and a destination for world-class mountain adventures. Thrill-seeking enthusiasts flock here year-round to play in the mountains, and it’s known for some of the most extreme skiing you can access on the planet. That said, Cham’ has its softer sides: if you’re not quite ready for the extreme stuff, there’s plenty of on-piste variety and beautiful culture to keep you happy.
On the Slopes 60 lifts service the area, including the famous “Vallee Blanche”, a 20km long off-piste run. The entire Chamonix valley offers 8 ski areas to suit varying tastes and abilities, and a complimentary bus system to get you everywhere. Les Grands Montets is the most popular, with steep slopes and excellent snow quality.
Around Town: Plenty of hotel lodging in the town of Chamonix itself offers beautiful accommodation and proximity to nightlife. Any of the smaller neighboring villages cater to those seeking a quieter scene. Friendly locals, top-notch restaurants, and a rich history set the backdrop for off-slopes experience.
Known For: varied terrain, hospitality
Kitzbuhel is perhaps the most well-known of Austrian ski resorts, featuring terrain for all abilities, hospitality and charm, and fantastic beer. Compared to France and Switzerland, costs are moderate, although Kitz’ sports plenty of glitz and glamour. The ski racing culture is the most dynamic in the world, so be sure to catch a World Cup race while you’re here.
On the Slopes Kitzbuhel is vast, albeit at lower elevation than some of its cousin peaks. 170km of on-piste terrain is serviced by 53 lifts. 3 separate ski sectors feature terrain for different abilities, the Hahnenkamm being advanced with a small area for beginners and the Kitzbuheler Horn best for intermediates.
Around Town: Kitzbuhel has a buzzing nightlife scene, with everything from live music bars to British pubs. Highways Music Bar hosts famous themed events during the season. Ice skating, winter hikes, and a fully-operational toboggan track are great activities for everyone off the slopes.
Known For: terrain, nightlife, attractions
Zell am See, Austria
Surrounded by a stunning clear-water lake, glaciers, and a panoramic view of the Alps, the area of Zell am See is the epitome of Austrian natural beauty, and the resort has built its reputation on a holistic and healthy approach to life, the outdoors, and holidays. Varied terrain and a family-friendly atmosphere make it an ideal destination, not to mention the fact that the ski season starts early autumn and extends into early summer!
On the Slopes On-piste terrain caters to intermediates and beginners, and the friendly Austrian instructors tend to have a great rapport with first-time skiers. Of the three peaks, Kitzsteinhorn is ideal for freeriders and freestylers, while the Maiskogel and Schmittenhohe are perfect for beginners and little ones. Head off-piste for powder and other fun features.
Around Town: A health and wellness center, spas, and indoor pool are a few of the amenities at the resort for post-slopes activities. This season, the resort is offering night skiing 3 evenings a week at the new night slope at the Schmitten. The Kitzeinhorn boasts the “Ice Camp”, an igloo complex used for party events.
Known For: family, terrain, scenery
Verbier is one of the largest ski resorts in Switzerland, and offers plenty of sun and stunning views of the surrounding Alps. It’s a destination for skiers of all kinds, but can be especially exciting for those who are ready to get off-piste into some exhilarating terrain. The south-facing aspect of the mountain and bright, sunny weather make it a great place for those fair-weather skiers looking for a laid-back, relaxing vacay.
On the Slopes The entire Verbier region boasts 4 separate peaks, and plenty of skiing and riding can be found at the main resort of Verbier. A very well maintained terrain park offers features for park rats, a mellow beginner area for those just learning, and the quintessential wide-open European cruisers for intermediates. The off-piste terrain is prime for advanced skiers.
Around Town: Non-skiers looking for some winter excitement will love the activities here, including paragliding, dog sledding, and (of course) tobogganing. The town is a haven for partygoers, so prepare your liver accordingly.
Known For: varied terrain, nightlife, activities
Part of the Jungfrau ski region in south-central Switzerland, the village of Grindelwald lies at the foot of Elger Mountain, offering stunning scenery and all the activities you could hope for in a European ski destination. 213km on-piste terrain spreads over 4 main skiing areas, and while all the usual high-end class can be found here, the vibe tends to be a little more relaxed than Zermatt and St. Moritz.
On the Slopes A total of 44 lifts service 74 on-piste runs, the majority of which are intermediate and beginner. Plenty of off-piste skiing is available for advanced skiers, and the ski school here is regarded as one of the best for children of all abilities. There can be a melt/freeze effect here that sometimes creates icy slopes.
Around Town: Live music and DJs can be found in the vibrant atmosphere at the base for immediate après ski partying. Further into Grindelwald village are dozens of restaurants with varied fare (including some vegetarian eats!). We love that you can travel in style here…bar tour via sleigh ride, anyone?
Known For: nightlife, atmosphere, terrain
In the heart of the Terentaise Valley in southeastern France lies Tignes, with its excellent snow, proximity to the largest glacier in France, chock-full schedule of activities and events, and its new funicular (cable car), which enables 300 people at a time to reach 3,035 meters in just 6 minutes.
On the Slopes Between Tignes and neighboring Val d’lsere (you can ski both on the same ticket), you’ll have enough terrain to cover that nothing is skied the same time twice. There are enough beginner and intermediate on-piste groomers for those seeking mellow runs, and the off-piste expert terrain is prime. A terrain park, halfpipe, border cross course, and sledging piste for kids are also main attractions.
Around Town: The vibe around Tignes caters well to adults seeking a good party scene, and nightlife is booming. There are also cool attractions for families and kids, though – including a cinema (at 21,00 meters!), bowling, library, game room, and multimedia center. Gourmet restaurants, both slopeside and in town, are plentiful.
Known For: terrain, nightlife
St Moritz, Switzerland
St Moritz’s claims to fame are many. For one, it was the first all-around winter sports resort in the world, and over the past 150 years, has grown into a mecca for those with an affinity for glitz, glamour, and prestigious skiing. But besides the blinged-out shopping and entertainment scene, the resort itself has much to offer skiers of all abilities and interests.
On the Slopes 350 km of pistes serviced by 58 lifts is divided into four separate sectors, each with its own flare. The terrain caters especially to intermediates, and the resort’s geographic location in the Engadin Valley means consistent snow reliability and 300 days of sunshine per year.
Around Town: Chic shops and restaurants are plentiful among the five-star hotels, and the main village itself (there are 3 total) has certainly maintained its old European charm. A new sports center opened last year offering indoor and outdoor pools and wellness area. Snow cricket, bobsledding, and afternoon tea on terraces overlooking incredible vistas are just a few of the favorite activities offered at St Moritz.
Known For: shopping, events, scenery
Set in the picturesque Dolomite Mountains of Northern Italy, Cortina boasts a culture of friendly Italian locals, village charm, and a more laid-back atmosphere than similar glitzy European resorts. Although it is host to many World Cup events, it isn’t the main destination for Europeans seeking a hardcore ski vacation, but skiers of all ability levels can find unbelievable terrain. And if a leisurely holiday in the mountains where you can spend a couple of hours on the slopes and the rest of the day wandering the cobblestone village streets is your cup of tea, welcome.
On the Slopes The overall area of slopes at Cortina itself is smaller than some resorts on this list, but by most skier standards there is still plenty of acreage to be interesting. The views are absolutely magical, and intermediates will feel right at home on-piste. Since so many of the holiday-goers in Cortina aren’t hitting the slopes all day every day, there are virtually no lift lines, which is a huge plus.
Around Town: The village at the base area has a distinctly Italian feel, with lively shopping, excellent cuisine, and plenty of old charm. Clothes, jewelry, antique and fur stores line the car-free main street. The nightlife starts early at Cortina – around 4:00 pm. Goggles down, bottoms up!
Known For: scenery nightlife, culture
Andorra is a tiny country located in the heart of the Pyrenees Mountains, between France and Spain, and is the highest inhabited country in Europe. Since its first ski lift was installed in 1957, it has grown into a massive destination with two main skiable domains, Grandvalira and Valnord. Andorra is quite literally a land of its own, and a unique destination for a European ski vacation.
On the Slopes With over 200km of on-piste runs spread across 7 sectors, Grandvalira boasts the largest surface area of resorts in Southern Europe. The offerings for children are excellent, including an extensive ski school, snow gardens, and snow parks. Advanced and expert terrain covers about half of the resort, making it a great option for advanced skiers.
Around Town: Andorra boasts extensive history, and culture geeks will love the museum offerings, not to mention the bus tour of all the must-see sights in Andorra. Grandvalira has a lovely village area; be sure to go mushing for a unique experience of surrounding scenery.
Known For: activities, culture, varied terrain