BEST FOR GUARANTEED SNOW
At 2,050m Cervinia links to the highest ski area in Europe, with lifts going up to the Swiss frontier at 3,899m. It shares its ski area with Zermatt and both resorts have guaranteed snow during a long season. The limited glacier area is open for summer skiing. Then the lifts open for the last two weekends of October and full-time from November through to May. The best thing about Cervinia is the length of the runs – 11km down the Ventina run to the resort – and even further, another 2km, to Valtournenche, its lower neighbour. Cervinia is wonderful territory for beginners who should be able to tackle the Ventina at the end of their first week on skis or board. However, experts will be frustrated by the absence of challenging pitch. Of course, they can head over to Zermatt. But both areas are so large it’s difficult to explore far afield on the Swiss side and be home before sunset. Miss the last lift you’ll need to spend the night in Zermatt – unless you want to take a four-and-a-half hour taxi ride.
BEST FOR BEGINNERS
Portes du Soleil has three main centers. Morzine for English-speaking family friendly slopes and nightlife. Higher, more snow-sure Avoriaz suits boarders and young party-lovers but its carfree status means it works well for family groups too; lovers of modernist ski architecture will be in heaven in this purpose built town. Les Gets is the most authentic French town and has dedicated unthreatening learner areas with free beginners slopes. All these towns are within an hours drive from Geneva.
Val Gardena is one of the most beautiful ski areas in the Dolomites. The Grödner Valley, or Val Gardena (German and Italian are both spoken here) covers the three villages of Selva, Santa Cristina and Ortisei. Selva is the place with the most hotels and offers the most direct access to the vast lift network that connects the Val Gardena with the neighbouring Alta Badia and Fassa valleys. Santa Cristina offers tranquillity and tradition. Ortisei is almost a small city and is characterised by a beautiful old town with a pedestrian zone. The most famous ski run is the Saslong. Experts will find challenging black runs on Col Raiser, Mont Seura and Dantercepies. But almost every spot of the vast ski area can be reached on easy runs too. A wide range of accommodation means costs can be kept low and food options are unparallelelled with the best of Italian cooking and German beers are available at reasonable prices.
The French-speaking ski town of Verbier in the western part of Switzerland gives Chamonix a run for its money in terms of lift-accessed steeps. What it lacks in terms of hardcore ski alpinism, it makes up for in style, world-class amenities, and convenience. The hotels, restaurants, and nightlife are sophisticated and polished—Richard Branson opened a chic chalet-hotel here called the Lodge. The lifts are fast and offer easy access to 254-miles of slopes and off-piste zones like Bec des Rosses, a hairy 50-degree face accessed from the Mont Fort tram. After slaying Verbier’s steeps, grab a sausage and sit outside on the deck slope-side at Cabane Mont Fort before ordering a Carlsberg at Pub Mont Fort in town. If you’re itching for a big night, head to the Farm Club, a disco where you’ll rub shoulders with ski bums and European aristocrats alike. For something low key, hit the Fer à Cheval, a bar popular with locals. Stay at the centrally located Hotel Farinet, which doubles after dark as a Bedouin-inspired nightclub.
BEST NORTH AMERICAN
The towering mountains of Whistler provide the best skiing in North America, with the biggest vertical drop. It’s funny what a difference 30 years and $600 million can make. Whistler’s charming village offers everything snowboarders and skiers crave: cafes, international stores and over 100 restaurants that cater to all tastes including Chinese, French, Greek, Italian, Mediterranean, Mexican, and Thai.
Food is key after partaking in the activities that really make Whistler legendary. Whistler quickly rose through the ranks to become one of the strongest contenders for the much disputed title of “World’s Greatest Ski Resort.” Over the past decade, Whistler was consistently voted “Best North American Ski Resort” by North Americans. The Japanese repeatedly rank it as their favorite international destination.