Deciding where to ski in Europe is no easy task – the skiing, scenery, snow, and culture vary hugely by region and resort! The best skiing is often within the somewhat confusingly large ski areas with multiple resorts and kilometres of lift-linked slopes. To help you out, we’ve teamed up with our local experts including Leo and Heather to pick out the best ski resort to base at.
- Varied, scenic skiing of all difficulty levels
- Plenty of sheltered, tree-lined slopes for bad weather days
- Quick and affordable transfers from the major international airport at Geneva
- Has one of the best snow records in the Alps, but...
- ...relatively low altitude elsewhere in the ski area and an Atlantic-influenced climate increases the risk of rain low down
- Slow lifts in some parts of the Portes du Soleil network, especially on the Swiss side
- The French resorts including Avoriaz see more crowds than the Swiss resorts
Ski area: Portes du Soleil
Avoriaz offers easy access to Portes du Soleil, one of the world’s largest ski areas, providing relaxed, cross-border cruising a stone’s throw from Geneva. Sitting on the French side, Avoriaz is the highest of the dozen-or-so, lift-linked resorts that make up the ski area. It’s a car-free, purpose-built “village” on a sunny plateau high above larger Morzine and like Châtel, the village offers more lodging options than other resorts in the region. The local slopes link directly into the main skiing circuit and often have the best conditions in the area when snow is poor, thanks to their altitude. When the weather closes in there are local trees, or you can hop across to further wooded runs above Morzine.
Explore the Portes du Soleil
Translated as the “Gates of the Sun”, Portes du Soleil stretches over Switzerland and France, spilling across a complex area of mountains and ridges close to Lake Geneva. This is the first significant area of high ground encountered by Atlantic weather systems approaching from the west: a double-edged sword, as the exposed location on the edge of the Alps produces high snowfall but also a risk of rain – a little like Whistler. The majority of the skiing combines to form a two-country carousel of pisted pleasure (doing the full circuit takes most of a day), with various smaller areas spidering off.
Location: France (Avoriaz) and Switzerland N.W. Alps
Quickest airport transfer: Geneva, 1½ – 2 hrs
- Europe’s most efficient lift system, with around 20 gondolas and 20 high-speed chairs, all with weather canopies
- Party all afternoon and well into the night at the slopeside bars and in town
- Loads of long, intermediate runs
- 25% increase in slope extent when lift link with Zell am See is completed
- Quite a few south facing slopes at fairly low altitude means snow quality can suffer (especially late season)
- Few black runs
- Some blue trails seem more like reds
Ski area: Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn
With over 270 km to explore in the Skicircus, there’s no better place to base yourself than at Saalbach or Hinterglemm. Both offer tons of long intermediate runs and occupy central positions in the impressive ski area: sizeable, real valley towns a couple of kilometres apart. Of these, Saalbach probably edges it for charm and nightlife, and will be well positioned for accessing Zell am See’s slopes when the new lift opens.
If you’re not the type to hit the après ski early, Hinterglemm is home to night skiing and a night park with a range of features from a 22 m fox to a 9 m C-rail! Just note, the few south-facing slopes here means snow quality can suffer in low altitude areas, though snowmaking usually keeps trails open.
Explore Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn
Happily the Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn is just as epic as its title: this is Austria’s second largest ski area, and lots of visitors return time and time again. The bulk of the runs are of intermediate gradient, lying on both sides of the Glemm valley with mostly wooded lower slopes and open areas higher up. The hugely impressive lift system (gondolas and detachable chairs rule) also reaches out to shady Fieberbrunn and Leogang, one valley across, while in the other direction a much-anticipated link to Zell am See is under construction.
Location: Austria - N.E. Alps
Quickest airport transfer: Salzburg, 1 ½ hrs
- High, snowy bowls alongside sheltered wooded areas
- Some epic long runs with descents of 6,562 vertical feet across Paradiski
- Runs for all abilities throughout the ski area
- Lots of off-piste from the area high points, and dozens of decent blacks (especially above Arc 2000
- Hardly any green runs, so near-beginners have to roll the dice and venture onto blues to progress
- A few queue and crowd blackspots in peak season, although less than on the La Plagne side
- Lacks gentle slopes like La Plagne
Ski area: Paradiski
Sitting in the French Alps, Les Arcs offers impressive skiing with plenty of high altitude slopes and snowy bowls. While there are blues and reds to be found across the Paradiski ski area, Les Arcs' steep runs are quite the drawcard.
When it comes to where to stay, there are lots of good candidates to choose from. Generally speaking, the higher resorts are purpose-built centres which won’t win any beauty contests, while the lower villages are quieter but more attractive. The big hub of Arc 1800 is our pick as it offers a wide variety of dining, nightlife, and amenities. It’s also well placed for the whole Les Arcs sector, and for the Vanoise Express if you fancy adding La Plagne to your portfolio. Blue run skiers could do better in one of the high La Plagne bases; if you want to spend equal time on either side of the cable car, consider somewhere like Vallandry or Montchavin.
Paradiski often comes top in lists of the world’s most popular resorts in terms of skier numbers. Why? Well, La Plagne alone boasts 11 separate resort bases all connected by 225 km of trails; and the Vanoise Express cable car links it with Les Arcs, adding several further villages and almost doubling the skiable area. Both parts have roughly equal proportions of open and wooded slopes with big verticals and a glacier apiece, but also some key differences. Les Arcs is ideal for the pure skier, with fast lifts and cleverly-designed trails quickly connecting distant spots. La Plagne is less well designed: getting from one extremity to the other is more of an undertaking and involves some flattish runs (boarders beware). On the other hand, La Plagne has scores of genuinely undemanding blues for the less confident.
Location: France - W. Alps
Quickest airport transfer: Chambéry, 1½ – 2 hrs
- Steeps, moguls, off-piste: for experts the opportunities are endless
- Big vertical means some very long runs (mostly red-graded, or itineraries)
- Impressive high mountain scenery
- A ski-bum magnet with lively après ski and lots of accommodation
- Lift network in 4 Vallées is complicated and convoluted: getting from one end to the other takes time, not helped by some ancient lifts
- Gentler cruising runs are found at far-flung parts of the ski area
- Crowds can be an issue
Ski area: 4 Vallées
When the Freeride World Tour Finals are held here, you know Verbier is the real deal for steep and deep. The unforgiving Bec des Rosses is home to Xtreme Verbier, where freeriders come to compete though for the rest of us everything else at Verbier serves up enough challenge.
Several resort bases vie for attention, but only Verbier is well-known to the English-speaking market. The town has a bustling, happening feel with plenty of high-end accommodation and places to eat and drink; being Switzerland, you don’t have to have bottomless pockets, but it certainly helps. As a base for exploring the whole ski area, Verbier is less inconvenient than most of the other linked resorts, but still not ideal. Siviez has the best position of all, but you could probably count the number of lodgings there on your fingers.
Explore 4 Vallées
Four whole valleys? It sounds impressive, and it is: jumbo gondolas and cable cars whisk you up from Verbier into the high Alpine scenery around Mont-Fort – there’s nowhere better on a bluebird morning after overnight snow, at least for a competent skier. The other parts of the ski area almost feel like an afterthought, with lower, often treelined trails, fewer crowds and some excruciatingly long draglifts on the link to Thyon (best area for beginners). The problem is the sheer scale of the area from end to end: a lot of the skiing is at the end of long limbs, with mogulled itineraries the only way to traverse the central spine of the area. And you have to leave time to get back to base before lifts close, of course.
Location: Switzerland - N.W. Alps
Quickest airport transfer: Geneva, 1½ – 2 hrs
- Experts: hire a guide and go off-piste – it doesn’t get much better than this!
- Spectacular glaciers and 3,962 m peaks surround the town
- Fantastic long black runs
- One of the shortest and cheapest transfers from a major airport to a major resort anywhere in the Alps
- Several separate ski areas, linked only by buses and not by lifts
- Few trees to play in if it’s snowing
- Few relaxing intermediate runs, and even fewer beginner slopes; valley runs are all tough and prone to poor snow
You’ve heard of Chamonix already, right? It’s one of the classic ski towns, filling the bottom of a dark gorge from which peaks rise almost vertically, and full of ski bums mingling (a bit) with foreign tourists. The resort is a thriving year-round sports destination and is big enough to have several different suburbs, so choose your spot carefully. The Brévent and Flégère ski areas are directly above the town, but you’ll need to hop on a bus (or bring a car) to reach the other areas on the lift pass. Smaller villages sit at the foot of these, but surely you’ll want to stay in Chamonix for the full experience?
Like Verbier, Chamonix is a superb spot for deeps and steeps, but less experienced skiers should probably wait until later in life. The skiing covered by the local lift pass is even more fragmented than Verbier’s: here, the four main sectors of Grands Montets, Balme, Brévent and Flégère are a bus ride apart (except for the last two, which have a connecting cable car). The lower slopes are mostly black-graded, tricky tracks back to the base of the gorge; higher up there are some easier trails but still a lot of tough stuff.
Buying the painfully pricey Mont Blanc Unlimited pass gives you access to the top cable car at Grands Montets for spectacularly scenic black runs overlooking a glacier, and to the Aiguille du Midi for the famous, 19 km+ Vallée Blanche itinerary (hire a guide). The premium pass also covers potentially useful wooded slopes at Les Houches and Megève, plus resorts in Switzerland and Italy for an epic (and epically expensive) touring holiday.
Location: France - N.W. Alps
Quickest airport transfer: Geneva, 1¼ hrs
- High altitude slopes makes this one of the best early or late season options in the Alps
- Miles of excellent trails (and off-piste) for confident intermediates and above
- Lively town with decent après ski, at least by French standards
- Several glaciers over in Tignes also make for a safe bet for snow
- Some trail gradings understate difficulty
- Trees are scarce except immediately above the resort
- Despite powerful lift system, lifts close relatively frequently due to bad weather or avalanche danger
- Return trip from Tignes back to Val d'Isère can be challenging (download via lift)
Ski area: Espace Killy
With most slopes over 1,981 m and almost guaranteed snow, it’s no wonder why Val d’Isère and Tignes in Espace Killy are popular choices. While both offer incredible skiing, we prefer Val d’Isère for its thriving valley town with a friendly, bustling vibe and huge numbers of chalets, hotels, and apartments. In our opinion, this is more of an atmospheric place to stay than neighbouring Tignes, and you have the advantage of a few local tree runs. People often feel there are more English speakers than French in the resort – make of that what you will.
Explore Espace Killy
High, barren and predominantly north-facing – the 299 km of trails making up the Espace Killy usually stay satisfyingly snowy throughout a long season. Val d’Isère’s local slopes divide into three areas above Le Fornet, Val d’Isère itself and La Daille, linked at valley level and via a high-altitude, “up-and-over” chair.
High up there’s plenty of gentle motorway terrain, but things get trickier when heading back through trees to base: the token green to La Daille has a suspicious reddish tinge about it. Across a ridge is a further expansive bowl and another glacier with treeless Tignes at the bottom, the resort split in two by a usually frozen lake. To the north, long runs lead down to a couple of lower villages, and eventually a smattering of forested runs.
Location: France - W. Alps (just!)
Quickest airport transfer: Chambéry, 2 hrs
- Part of Austria’s biggest lift-linked area (for now)
- Masses of steep stuff, particularly off-piste and on designated ski routes
- Ski Arlberg – the Warth / Schröcken end in particular – receives more snow (on average) than anywhere else in the Alps
- Has some of the liveliest après-ski in the Alps and liveliest in Ski Arlberg
- Some of the areas around St Anton doesn't get groomed that often
- Ski Arlberg has relatively few early intermediate slopes, particularly around St Anton, compared to other similar-sized ski areas
- Exploring the whole of Ski Arlberg requires tackling ungroomed ski routes, with some lift queues if you’re unlucky with timing
Ski area: Ski Arlberg
For powder and partying St Anton would the best resort at Ski Arlberg, though Lech would make for another top big base: the former for strong skiers and partygoers, and the latter for the more timid (in both respects).
You come to expect decent après-ski in Austria, and St Anton doesn’t disappoint – but fear not, the town has plenty of genuine charm too. Lech is a little smaller, a little less lively and a couple of notches higher on the exclusivity scale. Enter fashionable Zürs: this high village looks down on both St Anton and Lech in more ways than one, and arguably makes the most central base for the whole ski area. But expect to pay for it, and there’s not much to do after the lifts shut.
Explore Ski Arlberg
A couple of two-way gondolas was all it took to link the slopes of St Anton, Lech, Zürs, Warth and Schröcken, propelling Ski Arlberg to the top of Austria’s ski area league tables in terms of size. The result is a rather complicated carousel of fairly high-altitude, famously snowy slopes which differ in character from area to area. St Anton’s slopes (and in particular, its home runs) are generally tougher than those above exclusive Lech, while Warth’s corner is noticeably quieter than those of its counterparts. There’s no desperate lack of wooded runs, but a few more would be nice. Keen beans might want to attempt the Run of Fame. This circuit visits the extremities of the ski area and involves clocking up an intimidating 85 km and 17,983 m vertical. Off-piste is similarly special: routes off the Valluga hit all the headlines but there are countless other options.
Location: Austria - N. Alps
Quickest airport transfer: Innsbruck, 1¼ hrs
- Epic scenery crowned by the iconic pyramid of the Matterhorn
- Guaranteed snow on the very high glacier, with several other sectors topping out over 3,000 m
- Wide variety of slopes and access to kilometres of easy motorway runs on the Italian side
- Exciting marked ski routes and off-piste potential, given sufficient snowfall
- Dry climate can produce insufficient snow to cover rocky terrain early in the season
- Exposed lifts mean snow and wind can limit your options
- Expensive place to ski and stay
- No sun in town
Ski area: Matterhorn Ski Paradise
It’s an iconic ski destination with slopes that serve something for everyone from beginners to freeriders (if they’re willing to skin up a bit!); but that not the only reason we love Zermatt.
Like many of the recommended resorts on this list, Zermatt’s a special place with a bustling, historic centre and a thriving tourist economy year-round with no shortage of luxury stores. Vehicles are mostly banned, so you’ll probably arrive by train from down the valley. Across the border, Cervinia has lower prices and more gentle terrain close by, but it’s just not Zermatt...
Explore Matterhorn Ski Paradise
Take a deep breath when you emerge from the top Glacier Paradise cable car: the scenery will make you gasp, and so should the thin air at nearly 3,962 m above sea level. In between the glacier and the Matterhorn’s rocky spire, pistes fall away gracefully on either side of the Theodulpass towards Zermatt (on the Swiss side), Cervinia and Valtournenche (on the Italian side) – bring your passport! Italy’s pistes tend to be sunny and gentle, while Zermatt’s shadier trails incorporate a handful of steep itineraries reached by serious lifts over rocky terrain.
A 100+ year-old cog railway is one of the more unusual ways of getting into the Swiss slopes: jump on the first train at the crack of dawn to get perfectly prepared pistes to yourself before other visitors take to the trails.
Location: Switzerland (Zermatt) and Italy - Central Alps
Quickest airport transfer: Geneva, 2½ – 3 hrs
- Incredible scenery of the Dolomites
- Access to kilometres (and kilometres) of lift-linked, mostly intermediate trails, covered by the Dolomiti Superski pass
- World-renowned snowmaking
- Benign, often sunny climate and lots of trees in case it snows, but...
- Benign, often sunny climate doesn’t always deliver sufficient natural snowfall
- Limited steep and challenging runs
- Lack of long runs
Ski area: Dolomiti Superski
Val Gardena is one of the most popular resorts in Italy and for good reason. Its easy access to the Dolomiti Superski area and the iconic Sella Ronda circuit opens up a vast amount of terrain to explore! The resort itself is also home to a range of fantastic runs including the Saslong slope which hosts the FIS World Cup Super-G and Men’s Downhill event every year.
Of the three towns here, Selva is our pick for the best place to stay. Town names printed in multiple languages on maps and road signs point to the region’s status as a cultural melting pot, with Italian, Austrian / German and local Ladin influences. That’s good news for foodies (both on and off mountain), and makes sizeable Selva a fascinating place to stay. The town gives the most convenient access in Val Gardena to some of the most scenic parts of the Sella Ronda circuit and some of its longest trails; blue run skiers would be better off at somewhere like Corvara, while many steeper slopes form a cluster around Arabba.
Explore Dolomiti Superski
The Dolomites get rave reviews from almost everyone who goes there – only the slight lack of seriously steep trails and reliable off-piste prevents it from topping our Alpine list. The natural limestone architecture rivals anything else in the Alps, with spires and cliffs plunging down to gentle fields where most of the skiing takes place. Within the Dolomiti Superski area, the Sella Ronda forms a popular circuit around the impregnable, sheer-sided Gruppo del Sella plateau, with several areas branching off at various points. Decent lifts and continuous investment in new ones generally keeps crowds and queues at bay, though there are a few pinch points on the main circuit and at the Marmolada and Lagazuói cable cars. Your ski pass is valid for the entire Dolomiti Superski region, more than doubling the available terrain if you have a car.
Location: Italy - S.E. Alps
Quickest airport transfer: Innsbruck, 2 hrs
- Access to sheer number of runs in 3 Vallées provides endless skiing
- Reliable snow high up and plenty of trees low down
- Fast lift system with lots of comfortable gondolas and detachable chairlifts
- Crowded trails in high season, even if lifts cope well with the masses
- Expensive lift pass, and expensive food and drink prices in some parts of 3 Vallées
- More expensive accommodation than other resorts in 3 Vallées
Ski area: 3 Vallées
You could come to Les 3 Vallées for weeks and never ski the same slope twice; and there’s no better place to experience it all than at Courchevel! Courchevel’s four separate villages sit amongst the north-facing slopes on the left side of the map and offer probably the most balanced selection of greens, blues, reds, and blacks in the 3 Vallées, making it our top resort here. If you’re up for exploring more however, the ski area is well linked so getting to the other end isn’t too difficult.
If your budget can stretch it, the village of Courchevel 1850, now simply known as Courchevel, makes good sense: it’s central to this end of the ski area and has easy access both to Meribel and to wooded trails. It is the largest of the four villages, complete with luxury accommodation, impressive fine dining and a wealth of other activities, making it our favourite area.
Explore 3 Vallées
Les 3 Vallées has a rare combination of extensive skiing for all standards, reliable snow and weather-proof slopes which is probably unmatched anywhere in the world. Three valleys should actually be four valleys – lifts now stretch to Orelle in the Maurienne region – but that name’s already taken elsewhere in the Alps!
Courchevel and La Tania sit on the left side of the map, with a good number of forested areas and slopes to suit every ability. Méribel occupies the middle valley, with the Mont du Vallon red and off-piste runs one of the key draws. It is also a more affordable option than Courchevel if you're on a budget. The third, Belleville valley contains St-Martin, Les Menuires and Val Thorens (Europe’s highest altitude resort) and the link to Orelle. The slopes on this side of the domain are extensive and varied, but lack trees. Don’t miss the underused La Masse sector on the far side of Les Menuires. If you're in Val Thorens, check out Folie Douce or Cafe Snesko for après ski.
Location: France - W. Alps
Quickest airport transfer: Chambéry, 1½ hrs
Notes: Transfer times provided are off-peak estimates: allow extra time if travelling during rush hour or on Saturdays, particularly during holiday periods.
When to go
The main Alpine ski season runs from late December to mid-April, though there’s considerable variation between resorts. Closing dates may vary depending on when Easter falls, and on snow conditions – particularly in lower, smaller resorts. January and March are often the best months, with good snow, crowd-free slopes and low-season accommodation rates. February often has excellent snow, but choose your location carefully: school holidays in many European countries push up prices and can make skiing busy at this time of year – especially in major French resorts. Perhaps surprisingly, snow conditions can be unreliable in December and over the busy Christmas and New Year period.
If you’ve skied Europe, what are your thoughts? Are any of your favourites missing, or would you rank them differently?