For a perfect ski vacation, you need two things: mountains and reliable snow fall. Europe fits the bill perfectly. With a skiing season roughly lasting from November to April and the mountain ranges of the Alps, the Dolomites, the Pyrenees, and some more, the only problem you have is in making your choice. With a staggering total of 3,771 ski resorts distributed over 30 countries, you will need some help.
We have chosen these seven ski resorts (or resort towns) with the following criteria: quality of slopes and lifts, family friendliness and accessibility for all levels of skiers, beauty of nature, entertaining apres ski, and, in some cases, proximity to interesting places for a day off the slopes.
I have also added a great ski resort you might never have heard of and that isn’t even strictly European. One reason for that: It's the cheapest. Don’t kid yourself, skiing in Europe is expensive. On the other hand, it’s well worth the expense because each country’s lifestyle and traditions are most apparent in the winter, when locals and visitors mingle on the slopes or dance the night away at apres ski venues.
A word of caution: Make sure you have excellent travel and health insurance. Nobody hopes so, but accidents do happen.
1. Saint Moritz, Switzerland
If you have the funds and want to pull out all the stops, head for the ultimate iconic ski resort town of Saint Moritz. Playground of the rich and famous in winter (and summer) for centuries, there is plenty for you to enjoy in the Upper Engadine. Host to two Winter Olympics and over 300 days of sunshine per year, St. Moritz is one of the best ski destinations in the world. It hosts 87 slopes, the marvelous Corvigila, the world’s first yoga slope (yes, you read correctly), and the dizzying descent from Corvatsch. Even at night when the slope is flood lit, it’s a winter paradise that will take your breath away. Twenty-four lifts, two funiculars, and several gondolas take you up. For the really adventurous, there is helicopter glacier skiing, whereas beginners and kids can find plenty of easy slopes and lessons.
Apres ski in Saint Moritz is all about partying and glamour. It’s also one of the most expensive ski resorts in the world, so your best option may be renting a chalet and self-catering.
Pro Tip: For a day off the slopes, take a trip in the Bernina Express to Zurich or watch snow polo and horse races on the frozen Lake Moritz.
2. Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
Dubbed the Queen of the Dolomites, Cortina d’Ampezzo is a small village in northern Italy which dazzles with sunshine, has plenty of snow from November onwards, and contains alpine slopes favored by the best skiers in the world year after year. Host to the Winter Olympics in 1956, its 75 miles of slopes and 29 lifts beckon to skiers and snowboarders.
If you are a beginner, this is the best resort town for you, as nearly half of the slopes are easy, especially Tofana, Pocol, and Socrepes, which are accessible by chairlifts.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is less expensive than Saint Moritz. The average hotel room (single) costs around $125, but luxury accommodation is also available, as well as chalet rentals. The nearest airports are in Milan or Venice.
Apres ski in Cortina d’Ampezzo is less wild parties and more sophisticated wine bars, and there are also some very chic (and expensive) Italian boutiques if you need to replenish your outfits.
3. Courchevel, France
Located in the French Alps where Les Trois Vallees come together, Courchevel actually forms four ski resorts which make for a vast area of 94 miles of slopes, serviced by 55 ski lifts. Courchevel is a particularity because it was purposely designed after WWII instead of having grown out of a mountain village. The season opens on December 5, and in case there is not enough snow, Courchevel has 600 artificial snow machines!
It’s another great resort for beginners, with so-called Evolution, Zen, and Easy Ride zones around Le Praz, Biollay, and Jardin Alpine lifts. There are themed slopes as well, including a treasure hunt on skis. There is plenty of entertainment, which also extends to apres ski and a rather raucous nightlife. While Courchevel features 11 luxury hotels, cheaper accommodations are also available.
Pro tip: Courchevel has one of the most dangerous airports in the world. You might prefer to travel by car or train from Grenoble or even Geneva.
4. Garmisch Partenkirchen, Germany
Located in the south of Bavaria, Garmisch Partenkirchen first shot to winter sport fame with the Winter Olympics in 1936. It’s Germany’s favorite ski town because of the fairy tale beauty of the town and mountains and the fact that it’s ideal for skiers of all levels. Three mountains form the 37 miles of slopes: Hausberg, Alpspitze, and Kreuzeck. Hausberg is ideal for beginners and kids. For very advanced skiers, there is the daring Kandahar slope.
Moreover, Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze, is nearby with more slopes, altogether known as Garmisch Classic.
Garmisch Partenkirchen is a chic resort town, but what you’ll most admire, apart from the skiing, are the richly carved wooden houses with balconies and blooming geraniums even in winter.
Apres ski in Garmisch Partenkirchen is lively because of the large number of permanent residents and the Munich crowd that loves to come here on weekends. Accommodations range from luxury hotels to B&Bs, in German called pensions, that are more affordable.
Pro tip: Don’t miss spending a night at the Igloo Village at the Zugspitze. Stay in one of the igloos under the stars at an altitude of nearly 7,000 feet and party in their famous bar.
5. Mayrhofen, Austria
Mayrhofen in Tyrol is a different kind of ski resort. We include it here because of its vast open snowfields which make the resort very popular with snowboarders. There are six snowboarding areas in Penken Park alone. Of course, there are slopes for skiers too. And the icing on the cake, so to speak, for real daredevils, is the aptly named Harakiri. At a gradient of 78 percent, it’s Austria’s steepest slope.
The nearest airport is in Innsbruck, in itself a lovely destination for a day trip if you want to give skiing a break. Snowboarders like to party, so the apres ski in Mayrhofen is quite lively. One popular bar is, of course, called Harakiri.
Pro tip: Go on a day trip to Innsbruck and look at the Golden Roof. Decorated with 2,657 fire gilded tiles to celebrate the wedding of emperor Maximilian I, it is a glittering sight to behold.
6. Baqueira/Beret, Spain
Located in the heart of the Pyrenees in the Aran Valley, Baqueira/Beret is one of Spain’s most popular ski resorts and a favorite with the Spanish royal family. You might well bump into one of them at the 29 lifts serving 100 miles of slopes. Again, this is a resort for skiers of all levels -- only 13 percent of the slopes are marked black (difficult). The season is scheduled to start in the first week of December.
The Pyrenees aren’t lagging behind the Alps as far as altitude is concerned. The skiing area of Baqueira/Beret reaches between 4,920 and 8,560 feet.
Accommodations of all categories are available with many hotels close to the lifts. The nearest airport is in Toulouse, France.
More Spaniards come to ski in Baqueira/Beret than tourists, which means you have a good chance to mix with the locals and enjoy the rather rustic, beer-and-wine-soaked apres ski with them. Popular locations are in Vielha and Arties.
Pro tip: Baqueira/Beret is in Cataluna, which means the local language is Catalan. You won’t understand a word, but get used to seeing signs and menus in two languages, plus in English.
7. Uludag National Park, Turkey
You probably never thought of going on a ski vacation in Turkey. Think again, because Mount Uludag, is, at 8,000 feet, the highest elevation in the Marmara area of Turkey. The ski season starts in December with plenty of snow. The area is also a national park, and the mountain is wooded, all of which makes for a different skiing experience. There are slopes for beginners as well as for alpine skiers, but the facilities are more low key than in European ski resorts. There are a few ski lifts and a chair lift, but the slopes are well kept and experienced, English speaking instructors help you along.
The park and resort are just 23 miles south of Bursa, which has an airport to be reached from Istanbul and plenty of accommodation of all categories. You’ll have great fun on the slopes mingling with the locals because this is Turkey’s most popular ski resort.
Bursa is a city with international flair, so language is no problem. Don’t expect any kind of apres ski, but rather typical Turkish restaurants and cafes with excellent cuisine.
Another great advantage of a skiing vacation in Turkey is that it’s by far the cheapest of all our recommendations.
Pro tip: The local currency is the Turkish Lira. It’s useful to have plenty of cash.