Groomed runs or back-country powder? Après-ski parties or spa therapies? Find the right location for you in this guide to the world’s best ski resorts. BYO attitude. By Daniel Fallon.
For food and wine lovers
Coronet Peak and The Remarkables
Queenstown, New Zealand; nzski.com
With the stunning Remarkables mountain range on one side and deep-blue Lake Wakatipu stretching out in front, Queenstown arguably boasts New Zealand’s most dramatic scenery. It also offers some of the best culinary experiences of any ski town in the world. Whether you’re in the mood for a tender steak, have a penchant for tapas or want a taste of fresh local seafood, you’ll find a restaurant to satisfy your appetite. Your lift ticket gives you access to two resorts: Coronet Peak, an excellent destination for intermediate skiers; and The Remarkables, which caters for all skill levels and includes three terrain parks for those who love spinning through the air. Kids aged five and under ski for free.
Image: Neil Kerr
Set on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, Matakauri Lodge has 12 suites and the four-bedroom freestanding Owner’s Cottage – all with open fireplaces, deep baths and uninterrupted views of the snowy peaks. Head chef Jonathan Rogers uses local produce to create modern New Zealand fare for an à la carte menu that changes daily. Pre-dinner drinks are served with canapés from 6pm and courses are matched with quality Kiwi wines. Unwind in the Jacuzzi or infinity pool or pamper yourself with a massage at the spa. It’s little wonder the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chose to stay in the Owner’s Cottage when they visited Queenstown in 2014.
For a bucket-list experience, go heli-skiing with tour operator Southern Lakes Heliski and carve up virgin powder in back-country terrain around Queenstown.
Queenstown is famous for its restaurants and night-life. Botswana Butchery, which offers alfresco dining overlooking the lake, does fine cuts of meat, while Rātā is celebrated for its local fare, including south-coast pāua (sea snails) and spiced Merino lamb shoulder. Try a cocktail at Pub on Wharf or a pint of Guinness at Morrison’s Irish Pub. The nearby Amisfield winery and bistro has great drops from its estate and a menu that features seasonal farm produce.
At the base of the Matterhorn, the Alps’ most famous peak, Zermatt is a Swiss resort that offers the thrill of skiing the highest runs in Europe combined with a rich cultural experience – there are numerous galleries, a museum, several performance venues and a festival calendar. Best of all, there are no cars in Zermatt so you get around on horse-drawn carriages or electric vehicles. Start at Z’Art, a restaurant where Richard de Tscharner exhibits his mountain photography, then visit the Matterhorn Museum, Zermatlantis, for insights into the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865, when a broken rope cost four climbers their lives. Music-lovers should plan their trip to coincide with Zermatt Music Festival & Academy (8-17 September 2017), which showcases some of Europe’s top classical ensembles, or Zermatt Unplugged (10-14 April 2018), an acoustic festival that attracts international pop acts.
Featuring a façade of stone and timber, Hotel Firefly is plush and has a gym, indoor pool, sauna and ice room. Book the Skylight Loft, where you and up to nine other guests can enjoy stunning views of the Matterhorn. The spacious quarters include a dining room, four bedrooms, lounges, a kitchen, an open fireplace and a balcony.
Glacier skiing 365 days a year, heli-skiing, off-piste adventures, hundreds of kilometres of groomed trails... it’s all here. Take the gondola up to Klein Matterhorn (3883 metres) and, with the backdrop of the 4000-metre-plus Alps that traverse eight countries, begin to explore a huge ski area that starts at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise and includes the Rothorn (3103 metres) and Gornergrat (3089 metres) peaks. With the right lift tickets, it’s possible to ski into Italy on the other side of the mountain to the connected resorts of Valtournenche and Breuil-Cervinia. All skill levels are catered for on carefully groomed slopes.
Food-lovers should take a culinary tour on the mountain railway Gornergrat Bahn, where stops include cocktails, a three-course meal and dessert. Or enjoy a fondue dinner and local schnapps high up inside the Zermatt gondola. In Zermatt, the Sunset Bar at Hotel Alex has a fine terrace for après-ski drinks. Later, have a whisky by the fire in the lounge at Hotel Firefly’s Bar55.
For back-country skiing
British Columbia, Canada; ￼whistlerblackcomb.com
Sometimes you just want to get away from the crowds and ski on untouched snow, far from the groomed runs – and heli-skiing at Whistler Blackcomb guarantees that. Following a vertical take-off and flight across the mountains, you’ll be dropped off at the top of gorgeous runs, from where you can make your own tracks through the powder – an unforgettable experience. The ski resort has access to about 174,825 hectares of Fitzsimmons Range terrain that includes 475 runs and 173 glaciers.
A grand set of European-style buildings in the Upper Village, Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler offers 291 rooms, 95 suites and 20 private residences. Its on-site spa has a eucalyptus steam room and relaxation lounges where you can unwind after a day on the slopes.
Whistler Heli-Skiing will whisk you up to untouched powder on some of Canada’s most beautiful mountains. The company offers packages to suit intermediate skiers, with limited off-piste skiing, as well as experiences for expert skiers who love the thrill of vertical plunges and a fast pace on extreme terrain. A videographer or photographer can ride along to capture the action of your group and a picnic lunch is provided.
Whistler comes alive after you click out of your skis. Sidecut Bar at Four Seasons has a heated terrace and hosts performances by local artists. Or do a Finer Things Tour with Whistler Tasting Tours and visit some of the village’s top restaurants. Expect signature dishes matched with fine wines, such as Hy’s Steakhouse’s beef tenderloin in a teriyaki sesame-seed sauce served with Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir.
SEE ALSO: A Quick Guide to Skiing near Vancouver
Lech Zürs am Arlberg
The breadth of trails for beginner and intermediate skiers makes this traditional alpine town a popular – and glamorous – destination in the Austrian Alps for families. There are some 500 instructors who cater for all skill levels, nursery slopes for young learners and plenty of ski-in, ski-out lodges that make access easy. Take the Flühen lift to the best terrain for beginners. Children aged three to five can join the Snow, Play and Ski Lech Kids’ Club, while a babysitter can be booked for infants. With its variety of fine-dining restaurants, luxury hotels and gentle slopes, Lech is a favoured resort of VIPs, including King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands and their three princesses.
Set in the beautiful town of Oberlech, directly on the slopes above Lech, Cresta Alpin Sport Hotel is a high-end getaway that you can access only by cable car, snowboard or skis. Oberlech is car-free (and carefree, for that matter) and this family-run four-star lodge is designed to make life easy during the winter season. Simply pick up your ski passes at the front desk, put the kids into the nearby ski school and step into your skis outside before exploring the enormous five-resort ski area. Free child care can be booked for kids over two years of age. At the end of the day, Cresta Calmar spa is the place to relax in the sauna or aroma steam bath (or with a classic or sports massage).
Lech is one of five resorts in the Arlberg mountain range that have been linked by cableways and lifts, making it the largest contiguous skiing area in the country. With the Ski Arlberg pass, you can access 305 kilometres of groomed slopes and 200 kilometres of powder skiing via 87 cable cars and lifts. Lech is the starting and finishing point for Der Weisse Ring (The White Ring), a 22-kilometre circuit that takes in the Rüfikopf peak (2131 metres) and 5439 metres of altitude change.
On Cresta Alpin Sport Hotel’s terrace, enjoy panoramic views of the Arlberg mountains while you sip wine from the well-stocked cellar. Its on-site restaurant specialises in Italian, Asian and traditional Austrian cuisine. Lech is renowned for its eateries and bars, including gourmet restaurant Aurelio’s, which dishes up local specialties such as gold trout – from the fishpond in the nearby hamlet of Zug – served with pumpkin, quince and barberries. Also reserve a seat at the Rote Wand Chef’s Table, held in a restored building that dates back to 1780 and was once Zug’s schoolhouse.
For secret slopes
Idaho, United States; sunvalley.com
Don’t like crowds but love alpine skiing? This is one of the quietest and best ski destinations in North America. Enjoy views of the Rocky Mountains’ pristine Sawtooth Range before pointing your skis down Bald Mountain’s steep slopes and long runs. In 1939, Ernest Hemingway completed his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, while staying at Sun Valley Lodge. The food and accommodation in the small town of Ketchum, at the base of the mountain, is more affordable than many other resort towns in the US, making it an ideal option for families, too.
Located on Main Street in Ketchum, Limelight Hotel is all about chic design, friendly staff and rooms with sweeping mountain views. And there’s a ski-rental shop on site to fit you out. Head up the mountain early for First Tracks (30 minutes on freshly groomed slopes before the resort fully opens) then relax in the heated outdoor pool or enjoy craft cocktails in the lounge.
Bald Mountain offers many long intermediate and advanced runs, while nearby Dollar Mountain is fit for beginners. The resort’s busiest day of skiing in the 2016-17 season attracted some 9100 people (the daily average is 3500) but the lift capacity is about 29,000 an hour so there are no lines.
Meet the locals during happy hour (4pm to 6pm daily) at Warfield Distillery & Brewery then go to Grumpy’s, a quirky watering hole that serves burgers and huge schooners of beer (try a pickled egg from the jar on the bar). Ketchum has great restaurants, too; at The Pioneer Saloon, order tender prime ribs. On the mountain, try fondue at The Roundhouse and wood-fired fare at Seattle Ridge Day Lodge.
For black runs
One of the finest destinations in the Andes, Portillo came to prominence in 1966 when it hosted the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. The steep runs and accessible off-piste terrain make it an ideal adventure for advanced and expert skiers. It was here, in 1978, that extreme-sports pioneer Steve McKinney became the first skier to break the 200-kilometre-per-hour speed barrier. Portillo limits the number of lift tickets sold and accommodates only 450 guests. That number is spread over 14 lifts, including slingshot lifts, so there are fewer people to ski around while you break your own record. The season runs from June to September.
Hotel Portillo is a bright-yellow building that’s hard to miss. Overlooking the pale-blue Laguna del Inca at an altitude of 2880 metres, it’s also considered one of the best lodgings in the area. As well as hotel rooms, there are chalets for groups who want more privacy. Food-lovers can enjoy international fare or try Chilean specialties in the main dining room (the accommodation price includes four meals per day), including a beef-and-vegetable stew known as charquicán.
The slopes are steep and the lines are short. Take the Va et Vient (French for “come and go”) slingshot lifts to the top of three avalanche chutes then point your skis down. If you decide to carve up the powder off-piste on the Primavera and Kilometro Lanzado runs, it’s best to ski in a group, heed any avalanche-risk warnings and take a guide to show you the way down. Or, if you want even more space to yourself, Suma Air will take you up in a helicopter to find fresh Andean snow.
Enjoy a Pisco Sour in the hotel’s Portillo Bar and a bite of sushi to go with it. Bands play here every night, getting the party started with Latin beats. On the mountain, take in views of the Andes and Laguna del Inca while sampling Chilean wine and barbecue on the patio at Tio Bob’s. Alternatively, try a local beer at the Ski Box.
For absolute luxury
￼Colorado, United States; aspensnowmass.com
Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, this is the ideal destination for those who love to slice through powder during the day and lap up life’s luxuries once they step out of their skis. The scenic town of Aspen, which started as a mining village during the 1880s silver boom but now attracts the rich and famous, has four high-end hotels, dozens of fine-dining restaurants and boutique shopping for everything, including designer clothing, jewellery and fine art. Skiers can zip around in four different locations on one ticket: Aspen Mountain (ideal for intermediate and advanced skiers), Snowmass (chock-full of intermediate runs), Aspen Highlands (featuring the extreme Highland Bowl) and Buttermilk (with easy slopes as well as terrain parks for jumps).
The Little Nell is Aspen’s most luxurious check-in destination and it’s right on the slopes. You’ll wake feeling refreshed on your goose-down pillow in a smartly furnished room, enjoy a gourmet buffet breakfast with punchy espresso at Element 47 restaurant and be able to ride Aspen’s gondola to the top of the mountain moments later. Expect sumptuous food, fine wine and genuinely friendly service.
There’s nothing like skiing untouched, metre-deep powder in Aspen’s back country. Don an avalanche beacon and do The Little Nell’s Snowcat Powder Tour, where a tractor-like vehicle takes you off-piste to less-crowded sites. Carve down through the powder then have a late lunch with paired wines.
Pine Creek Cookhouse is a log-cabin restaurant where you can dine on local fare such as smoked trout served with cucumber frisée salad. But first you have to get there; in winter that entails a horse-drawn sleigh ride or, if you really want to work up an appetite, clicking into a pair of cross-country skis.
SEE ALSO: Insider’s Tips to Aspen
Add a wellness experience
Here you’ll find the perfect combination of top-quality resort skiing and hot springs for pampering after a day of carving up the slopes. First, explore the ski resort’s 297 hectares, from the summit of Mount Kenashi (1650 metres) to the bottom, then hop into an onsen and let the steaming mineral-rich water melt away any muscle tension. The resort village of Nozawa Onsen, in Nagano Prefecture, is famous for its hot springs, which fill 13 public bathhouses and dozens of pools at private lodges. Can’t wait to get back to your accommodation post-skiing? Right by the ski resort is Sparina (+81 269 85 4567), which has an elevated outdoor bath with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
What started as a saké brewery with lodging for feudal lords in the 18th century has been transformed into one of Japan’s best boutique ski hotels. Ryokan Sakaya, which hosted members of the organising committee of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, is the place to unwind after a big day. Its Gensen Kakenagashi Onsen features men’s, women’s and private baths as well as an outdoor bath, all of which use hot mineral water flowing from two springs.
Two gondolas and 18 lifts service 36 trails: 40 per cent beginner, 30 per cent intermediate and 30 per cent advanced. Easy terrain can be found near the base of the mountain but there are also some fun runs from the summit of Mount Kenashi, with the longest (for more advanced skiers) going for 10 kilometres.
Visit the Libushi microbrewery, next door to Ryokan Sakaya, and try its artisan beers. The owners like to experiment with different bacteria and yeast strains in small batches and you can sample their brews in the taproom via 10 taps and two hand pumps. At Himatsuri Restaurant & Bar in Onsen Ryokan Jon Nobi, enjoy tempura or meat from the grill. The restaurant keeps the spirit of the annual fire festival, Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri (15 January), alive through its design, food and service. The local Mizuo saké comes highly recommended or you can order a cocktail instead.
For beginners or intermediates
￼NSW, Australia; ￼perisher.com.au
Those first, tentative ski runs can be made a lot easier by finding a resort with certified instructors and plenty of green runs on which to develop your skills. With many long beginner runs, Perisher is a great local option. Located in Kosciuszko National Park in the Snowy Mountains, Perisher has amalgamated with neighbouring resorts over the years and now takes in four ski areas and seven peaks, with Mount Perisher the highest at 2054 metres. Perisher offers Lift, Lesson & Hire Bundles for adults and children, which include ski-equipment rental (poles, boots, skis), a lift ticket and a session with an instructor. After your lesson, head to Smiggin Holes, which is ideal for beginner skiers and snowboarders to build confidence. This natural bowl has open terrain, a gentle slope and multiple runs that return everyone in the group to the same end point.
Perisher Valley Hotel is a ski-in, ski-out lodge with lift tickets and equipment rentals next door, along with the Snowsports School, which makes life easier for beginners. The hotel rooms are comfortable, the spa and sauna are handy for relaxing at the end of a day’s skiing and you can book the in-house massage therapist to work on any tight muscles. The kids will enjoy the games room (while you enjoy a glass of wine by the fire).
Perisher is the largest ski resort in the Southern Hemisphere, with 47 lifts spread throughout 1245 hectares of skiable area. More than 80 per cent of the runs are suitable for either intermediate or beginner skiers and private or group lessons can be booked online before you arrive. Perisher has a season pass that also lets you ski 11 North American resorts, including Vail.
Enjoy a beer and a hearty steak at Snow Gums Restaurant at Perisher Valley Hotel as you watch the last skiers arrive at the bottom of the mountain. At The Man from Snowy River Hotel, bands perform most nights. And Eiger Chalet throws regular après-ski parties with live entertainment in its White Spider Restaurant and Bar.
SEE ALSO: How to Get the Best out of Perisher