Europe has some of the world’s best skiing locations. Alpinism started in the Alps (no big surprise there) and modern skiing took hold here, spread to the USA, and then to the world.
The Alps are known across the globe, but in the countless peaks and valleys, there are still many quiet, undiscovered locations offering world-class slopes and infrastructure. In the rest of Europe, from the Pyrenees to the Scandinavian countries, ski resorts are less in the spotlight, but skiing is a tradition nonetheless, taking a more adventurous or festive tone depending on the custom and on what the mountains offer. Here’s our take on the best of the bunch.
1. Chamonix, France
The whole ski and adventure complex of Chamonix, one of the oldest in France, is along a 10-mile-long valley dotted with towering mountain peaks. There are 5 million visitors a year in a commune with less than 10,000 permanent residents, so expect it to be busy. It’s a well-earned fame.
It’s the birthplace of alpinism but they made sure to include a spectrum of activities for any level of abilities. There are two specific family-oriented ski areas, or you can rock-climb over ice-covered peaks. There are two main cross-country skiing areas, or you can go on a hike along snow-covered paths. This scratches only the surface of the sports and entertainment opportunities of the complex.
The heavily-forested landscape turns completely white on a regular snow season, but the little clusters of traditional Alpine houses offer the occasional burst of colors through the timber cladding, flags, and signs, matching the lively activity at its feet — cafés, pubs, pop-up markets, and little stores, as well restaurants, museums, and spas.
2. St. Anton, Austria
The clear sky allows for a perfect 360° view from the top of Valluga, a 9,000+-foot-tall peak in eastern Austria. St. Anton is where modern skiing started and they make sure the tradition continues with 200+ miles of trails served by one of the best lift systems in the world.
It is possible to criss-cross the mountains in every direction and even cross valleys, which is what people usually do: start from one spot, lunch in another valley, and make their way back all through skiing and ski-lifting.
The groomed slopes cater to any level of experience, and there are 100+ miles of backtrails.
There is a famous after-skiing party every day at 3:30 PM on piste number 1, but restaurants and pubs are busy, too.
3. Andermatt, Switzerland
One of the most snow-covered ski venues in the Alps, Andermatt has 75+ miles of trails, few tourists, great ski lift accessibility, and a complex covering three mountain passes. If this is not enough to put the Andermatt ski area on a top list, the historic little village offers the atmosphere of a local, Swiss mountain place still holding off the globalization influence (for now). The best thing is to walk along the cobblestoned streets often flanked by Swiss chalets. Everything is easily accessible, as the village is very tiny.
After reaching the top of the Gemsstock and enjoyed the views, skiers can head in any direction, so perhaps that’s a good place to start from. It is a fairly unknown location and it does appeal to more expert skiers rather than beginners, but the complex allows for variety, although it is considered a “specialist” venue for off-trailers, because the runs are long, have a lot of snow and are little used.
4. Livigno, Italy
Although it offers good off-piste for experts, Livigno is very suitable for beginners and intermediate-level skiers because of the gentle valley. The complex and its ski-parks are on both side of the valley which adds to the variety of views offered while coming down. On top of the variety of runs, there are many spots to practice tricks, with rails, boxes, airbags, and more.
The valley also makes for an original spot, because it’s not surrounded by jutting peaks and it’s in a fairly straight line. It’s nice to have slopes flanked by trees, too, which offer some color in a day of skiing. Unique to Livigno is also its tax-free status (dating back from Napoleonic times!) making everything, included drinks and gas, very affordable and making Livigno one of the cheapest ski-venues of the Alps.
Livigno is not easily reachable, with a few hours from any airport and winding, mountain roads that go on for a long time. This makes it a quiet place great for families, with few tourists in the traffic-free town.
5. Three Valleys, France
This ski region in the Tarentaise Valley consists of interconnected valleys and towns with eight ski resorts, all accessible with one ski-pass. Les Trois Vallées (Three Valleys) is simply the largest ski area in the world, with at least 306 miles of slopes and 74 miles of off-piste. There are 183 skilifts connecting resorts located at different altitudes, such as the well-known Val Thorens, Les Arcs, and La Plagne, which in turn are composed of clusters of little villages. This creates a web of a variety of ski-related activities for anyone, with quiet family friendly parks next to slopes for freestylers. Snowfall is basically guaranteed, given its altitude, and yearly investments bring minor but constant improvements.
6. Idrefjäll, Sweden
The runs are all around the Idrefjäll ski resort, serviced by new design architecture and good infrastructure. Suitable for any level of experiences as well as families, it is a favored spot for adrenaline seekers because the steepest run in Sweden is here. Nevertheless, there are few tourists, and even then, they are mostly from the Nordic countries.
The flat mountaintops of the range allow for alternating cruising around with steeper runs. The weather can change quite quickly, but on a clear evening sky, it’s possible to ski under an Aurora Borealis show. The flat tops allow for a wide-angle view of the surreal natural show, without the worry of picking too much speed up.
7. Grand Tourmalet, France
The tree-lined slope overlooks the towns down in the valley, which pop in and out of your sight. A ski complex connecting two different villages, Grand Tourmalet is the biggest ski resort of the French Pyrenees.
It’s ideal for intermediate skiiers, but the resort is unique for a specific reason: the Observatory on top of the 9,439-foot-tall Pic du Midi. The peak towers over the area and on a cloudy day, the clouds are below and the other tall peaks pop out as if floating. It’s possible to spend the night at the observatory, stargazing and having dinner and set off at sunrise to make your descent to town, 5,577 feet below.