There are so many countries in the world where you can ski.
In the northern hemisphere the Alpine countries of France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Andorra are Europe’s most popular and North America has an abundance of states with major world-class ski resorts.
The southern hemisphere has less choice but both Argentina and Chile along with Australia and New Zealand provide the best options.
For the purposes of this post, I will summarise the major skiing countries of Europe and later on in the future go into more detail about those and other destinations and more ‘minor’ skiing states.
France is the largest skiing destination in Europe with a wide variety of large resorts with modern facilities and convenient ski accommodation. Access by air is easy via Geneva, Lyon or Champery airports and driving from most European countries is possible. As a whole, France provides good skiing for all levels and the altitude of the resorts insures a good snow record from December to April. The convenience of skiing in France can sometimes take away the charm of other alpine nations although many resorts like Morzine or Megeve combine an old world style with modern ski facilities. Many of the resorts towns are large which means good nightlife and shopping. Because the ski areas tend to be big, this means there should be room for all on the slopes and in the lift queues. French school holidays in February are busy though, and should be avoided if possible.
Austria has always had a huge skiing tradition and it’s not surprising considering a large proportion of the country is dominated by the Alps. You can now fly directly into Innsbruck from many European destinations and from there you have a short hop to the nearest slopes. Austria prides itself on family skiing and accommodation tends to be in comfortable hotels or pensions. Getting to the slopes might not always be as easy as in France, but the charm factor is high in almost all resorts. There can be challenging skiing to be found in Austria, especially in places like St Anton, famed for its off piste or Kitzbuhel with the world renowned hannenkahn downhill ski run. There is also plenty of après ski to be found and all resorts in Austria have a great atmosphere around the time the lifts start closing.
Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and has some fantastic ski resorts full of charm and tradition. The combination of modern facilities and picturesque resorts is possibly at its best here. Zurich or Geneva are the main entry points by air although driving from northern Europe is relatively easy (you do have to pay a road tax if you want to use the major roads though). The country is not as expensive as people often think, especially if you stay away from the glitzy resorts like St Moritz, Crans-Montana or Gstaad. The world famous Matterhorn towers over the town of Zermatt and any self-discerning skier or mountaineer must visit the resort at least once. Verbier has grown into a fashionable resort but still holds claim to some of the best lift serviced off piste skiing anywhere in the world. In terms of variety and charm, it’s a hard place to beat.
Italy is often overlooked as a destination by many skiers but it’s worth considering for many reasons. Flights to Turin, Milan or even Venice bring you close to the Alps and there is a huge choice of resorts that vary hugely in character. It can be a little cheaper than the other major Alpine nations apart from Andorra and the food is a great bonus both on the mountain and in the resort towns. The dolomites might not have the snow record of some ski areas but the spectacular scenery and charming resorts make a trip there essential at some point. For virtually guaranteed snow all winter long, head up to Cervinia where you can ski some of the worlds longest ski runs beneath the Matterhorn and take a day trip to Zermatt in Switzerland. Italy provides a good overall winter holiday experience, especially for beginners and intermediates who want something a bit different and more laid back (just don’t drive).
Although Andorra is a tiny principality between France and Spain it contains some of the highest peaks in the Pyrenees mountain range. It also offers great skiing for beginners and intermediates and fantastic family holidays in good value, comfortable accommodation. Apart from Pas de La Casa which is renowned for its bars and clubs, the other resorts are not the crazy party towns that people think of. Yes, you can have some fun, but Andorra has reinvented itself as a more up market destination for serious skiers. Flying into Perpignon, France or Barcelona, Spain makes for a fairly long transfer but it’s worth combining a trip with a stay in one of these great cities. Toulouse in the north is also a popular airport to use for getting to Andorra. It can get busy in peak season and the lift queues suffer with excessive use, but with a decent snow record in the last few years it’s not a bad place to take an early spring ski holiday in the sun.
Next time in ‘Ski Holiday Advice’ I will discuss the cost of ski holidays in different countries and ski resorts.
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