Europe’s poshest ski resorts

Europe’s poshest ski resorts

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

After two extraordinary ski seasons, we can cautiously hope for a ski season resembling those not-so-long-ago days on the slopes. Could a ski holiday be just what’s needed to guide you and yours on a smooth steep trail toward normalcy? As you contemplate fun on the slopes, there’s no harm in dreaming big. Here are five stellar ski resorts that offer not only excellent skiing; the pampering and people-watching promise to be equally out of this world.

Lech, Austria: This exclusive town nestled in the Arlberg region is considered the birthplace of modern Alpine skiing. A haunt of Dutch royalty and Russian oligarchs, the town is a member of “Best of the Alps,” a union of 13 extraordinary destinations in five Alpine countries.

Blessed by heavy snowfall throughout the winter, Lech offers optimal conditions for both on and off-piste skiing. Lifts connect Lech with Zürs, St. Christoph, St. Anton, Stuben and other neighboring villages.

Lech often serves as the site for FIS Alpine World Ski Championship races and plays host to The White Ring, an annual race involving 1,000 intrepid skiers who battle it out across a 13-mile course, the world’s longest ski circuit. This same route can be enjoyed by non-racers as part of a half-day tour across easy and intermediate ski runs.

Lech’s top sights include the St. Nicholas Church with its sumptuous Rococo interior and the Huber House, a museum shedding light on local traditions and the way of life of yesteryear.

Don’t miss: Sample the best of Austrian wines and cuisine served in the rustic ambiance of the Rud Alpe ski hut.

Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy: Ultra-chic does not even come close to describing Italy’s premiere ski destination. As the sun sets, the beating heart of the Dolomites basks in the pink, orange and yellow reflections of the mountain rocks, creating an atmosphere like no other.

On-piste and backcountry skiers alike will find bountiful terrain here. In addition to over 70 miles of local slopes, the area connects to the greater Dolomiti Superski domain, encompassing more than 700 miles of slopes. Not-to-miss tours include the Sella Ronda and the Great War Ski Tour, through which a World War I history lesson unfolds.

Between descents down breathtakingly beautiful slopes, visitors can stroll along the Corso d’Italia and take in shops selling top brand-name merchandise and gem-encrusted jewelry and art galleries galore. During lively post-ski sessions, it’s fun to contemplate what movie star or millionaire could be hiding behind the mirrored lenses of those pricey sunglasses.

Although Cortina’s selection as the one of the host resorts of the 2026 Winter Olympics might turn things topsy-turvy over the next few years, being able to say you stayed here just before it served as a world stage will certainly earn you bragging rights!

Don’t miss: Take a break from the skiing and challenge yourself with a hike along a via ferrata that remains open in winter. This is an option for experienced hikers only and best undertaken in the company of a qualified guide.

Courchevel, France: In the country that defines chic, its most fashionable winter sport destination would have to be something special indeed. This massive ski resort spans across five interconnected villages, each with their own appeal. La Tania is known as family-friendly, Le Praz exudes a rustic charm, Moriond attracts a calmer crowd and Courchevel Village is great for those seeking a quiet atmosphere. The full-on glam, however, is to be found at the Courchevel 1850, teeming with restaurants, five-star hotels and private chalets used by the world’s elite as their home bases.

What all villages share is access to The Three Valleys, billed as the world’s largest interconnected ski area. Beginners will feel at home on the Jardin Alpin and Bellecote slopes, whereas daredevils might prefer to get their adrenaline pumping on the Grand Couloir.

When not shopping for diamonds or luxury labels, visitors can enjoy fondue or sample Savoyard cheese and cold cuts in rustic alpine bars. Gourmets might prefer to book a table at one of eight restaurants that share a whopping 14 Michelin stars between them.

Don’t miss: Those tired of sipping Champagne in ultra-swish cave bars can leave the bling at home and head to a pub in one of the less upscale villages, where live music is certain to be on the menu.

Zermatt, Switzerland: With the instantly recognizable silhouette of the Matterhorn hovering high, this timeless town reads like a list of the best the country has to offer. A stroll along the Bahnhofstrasse takes one past shops purveying jewels and jackets, chocolates and watches galore. Past the main drag, winding narrow lanes lead into streets lined with centuries-old buildings, creating a unique juxtaposition of old and new. There are no cars to dodge on the resort town’s pedestrian streets, although a horse-drawn cart or two might pass by.

Out on the slopes, more than 200 miles of trails vie for one’s attention. As the highest winter sports area in the Alps, snow cover is all but guaranteed. Skiers can cross over into the Italian Alps for lunch and be back to their hotels just in time for dinner. Atop the Theodul glacier, one of fourteen in the immediate area, it’s possible to ski even in summer. This makes Zermatt one of only two ski resorts worldwide in which skiing 365 days a year is possible. The terrain is best suited to intermediate and advanced skiers, rather those enjoying their first time out.

Don’t miss: Take a break from skiing mid-week and instead catch the cable car to the top of the Klein Matterhorn, where the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise entices with its underground ice caves and a 360-degree panoramic view of 38 gigantic Alpine peaks. For a ride to remember, make way to the top via a Crystal Ride cabin encrusted with Swarovski crystals.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany: Last but not least is the ski resort town that can claim a special place in the hearts of multiple generations of U.S. military members. But it’s not just Americans that have fallen hard for this stunningly beautiful area in the shadow of Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze.

Two separate areas entice skiers. The Garmisch Classic, Germany’s largest standalone ski resort and the lower of the two, offers World Cup standard trails. The Zugspitze ski resort is higher and more snow-sure. When conditions at the very top of the mountain are poor, skiers can oftentimes still manage to eke out a ski day on the lower slopes. If there’s any downside to skiing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, it’s probably the lack of capacity of some of the older lifts, which can lead to long wait times in high season.

“Ga-Pa” itself is made up of two parts. Garmisch is the livelier half and the one that draws the most tourists, whereas the older Partenkirchen appeals with its quieter and more traditional Alpine atmosphere.

In terms of places the well-heeled and “who’s who” of Germany prefer to stay, they might well choose Das Graseck, Werdenfelserei or the Obermühle boutique resort. The Thai king made waves last year when he and his entourage spent their COVID-19 lockdown in the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl. Politicians, artists and deep thinkers might find themselves attending a conference at the Schloss Elmau Luxury Spa Retreat & Cultural Hideaway in nearby Krün, which hosted the G-7 summit in 2015.

Don’t miss: Each year on Jan. 6, the date of the religious holiday known as Epiphany, teams of brave riders take part in the Bavarian Horn Sledging championship races held between the ski stadium and the road leading to the Partnachklamm, a scenic gorge that can be enjoyed in all seasons.

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