The best place to ski in Europe: Exploring the conditions for winter vacations in Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France
France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy make up Europe's magnificent "top four" when it comes to the best places and opportunities for skiing. Each of these countries provides unforgettable conditions for ski vacations.
Skiresort.info has calculated that there are now 6,146 ski resorts in the world. The choice for fans is just crazy. But to determine the best places to ski in Europe, we will focus on the well-known "big four". Especially since they still have a lot to offer: there are 1,333 ski resorts.
So which of these destinations is the best? There is no universal answer to this question, as a truly good winter recreation and sport requires compliance with a variety of criteria that will influence travellers to choose one or other places for skiing in Europe. And, of course, among the first points when choosing a resort is the cost, because ski vacation and its entertainment are not cheap.
Each country of the "big four" has its advantages as well as its disadvantages, so to say that some resorts are bad is not quite right: there are just those that are superior in quality. We will try to evaluate each of these 4 European countries with ski regions according to several criteria: skiing experience of the country, size of zones and quality of snow cover, elevators and terrain, value for money, required budget for a vacation, après-ski, frequency of queues for elevators, crowded slopes and general atmosphere. Let's try to find the answer to the question of where to ski in Europe.
The Swiss Alps are firmly associated with Europe's most modern ski resorts as winter sports thrive here and now. The chalets and endless acres of snow of charming old villages like Val d'Anniviers or Grimentz attract thousands of travellers every year.
Skiing in Switzerland became popular in the years leading up to the First World War. Today, popular developed resorts such as Verbier, Zermatt and St. Moritz account for the bulk of skiing enthusiasts. All of them have huge skiing areas high up in the mountains with reliable snow and have all the necessary infrastructure, including high-speed elevators. Besides them, there are a number of other worthy destinations: the traditional resort of Klosters and Davos next door and the cool Andermatt and Laax, known for its cool entertainment programmes.
The hotels offer impeccable service and hospitality. Apres-ski is more quiet compared to noisy Austria, and if you want rich and colourful entertainment, they can be found in the major resorts.
The advantages of Switzerland also include excellent access to ski areas. Most destinations can be reached by direct trains from Zurich, Geneva and Basel airports, and the rail route will take you through spectacular scenery.
European ski resorts are expensive, especially in Switzerland. Instead of well-known locations, it's worth considering places nearby, which are often just as good an experience.
Where to go in Switzerland?
If Zermatt is the destination, look out for Argos self-contained apartments on the first floor of Chalet Ulysse. The Matterhorn Express gondola station is a 5-minute walk away.
Leysen can offer a budget vacation as far as it is possible in Switzerland. There are a lot of young people here because of the lower prices. For example, you can rent a studio for two with forge from 420 Swiss francs in the Castel Club Leysin Parc.
A few tips
Steer clear of expensive packages: book accommodation with a kitchen on Airbnb or Booking.
Some resorts have free elevators for beginners and children.
If you are visiting multiple resorts, buy a single pass such as Magic Pass, etc.
Ski Austria is most often associated with fun. In the 1960s and 1970s, this country was Europe's leading favourite skiing destination until it was overtaken in the 80s by France with its giant resorts. Gradually, however, Austria began to regain popularity thanks to its natural beauty, rich history of authentic villages and reasonable prices.
Most of the skiing terrain in Austria is soft, hilly summer pastures (but not without exceptions). On such a grass base, a few inches of snow cover is enough to open up the slopes, whereas 20 inches or more is needed in rocky terrain.
Some of the best places to ski in Austria include Obertauern, Saalbach, Alpbach, Zell am See, Neustift, Innsbruck, Ischgl, Westendorf and Kitzbühel, as well as Bad Kleinkirchheim, the home resort of the great Austrian downhill champion Franz Klammer. With the latter, the history of Austrian skiing began in 1983. Austrian athletes are also responsible for several revolutionary downhill techniques that have spread around the world.
Most of the hotels in ski resorts in Austria are family-run businesses with well-established traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. The food in local restaurants boasts great flavour and reasonable prices. It is quite possible to get fresh oysters and caviar for lunch on the slope and pay a much lower price than in a posh seaside restaurant.
Where to go in Austria?
Head to Kitzbühel to spend your winter vacation at the Hotel Q Maria Theresia. This 4-star retreat combines modern amenities with traditional Tyrolean style and gives guests access to a wonderful spa: just what you need after a tiring day of skiing. The hotel is close to the pedestrian centre and the Hahnenkamm gondola elevator.
A great option for skiing all year round is the Hintertux Glacier. The 4-star Hotel Hintertuxerhof offers delicious food and a beginner's elevator, and great snow is guaranteed.
A few tips
Combine skiing with a cultural programme: the Ski plus City Pass Stubai Innsbruck gives you access to the slopes at 13 resorts in the Stubai Valley and 23 Innsbruck attractions (castles, palaces, museums, swimming pools, etc.).
The ski resorts of France trace their history back to Chamonix and La Clusaz in the first decade of the 20th century. In the 1920s, they were joined by Morzine and Megève, and in the 1950s, Courchevel and Val d'Isère won the palm of supremacy in French society (and beyond). Compared to Austria and Switzerland, this is not such a long history, but nevertheless, France has since produced an exemplary number of Olympic champions.
But what France can still boast of is the splendor of modern mountain infrastructure. Since the 1960s, this European country has deliberately created resorts with vast terrains and places to ski: Les Arcs, Val Thorens, Tignes, La Plagne and Le Menuire. But you'll find equally impressive locations in other destinations on a smaller scale. For example, the small village of Vaujany in the ski area of Alpe d'Huez.
Among the popular options is Val d'Isère, which has a combined ski area with Tignes. But prices at these most sought-after resorts continue to rise, allowing Austria and Italy to lure skiers to them, despite the beauty and quality of the ski areas.
Where to go in France?
A memorable atmosphere in addition to, naturally, excellent skiing can be found at Chalet Angelique in La Daille, a base in the Val d'Isère resort area. Its location allows guests direct access to the center of the resort.
Aix-les-Thermes, located in the French Pyrenees, is rarely on the list of trendy ski towns, but that's more of a plus. Take a closer look here at Les Trois Domaines apartments with direct access to the ski area.
A few tips
Save on accommodation in ski resorts in Europe by staying in a winter campsite.
Over 90 resorts in France are accessible by train.
Take on a new experience: fat bike in Alpe d'Huez or La Plagne.
In 1903, the charming alpine town of Cortina d'Ampezzo was the birthplace of skiing in Italy. It remains one of the most beautiful ski towns in Europe, but it was the construction of Sestriere in Piedmont that brought popularity to this winter sport in Italy.
Traditionally for all tourism in Italy, a winter vacation here also goes hand in hand with relaxation and enjoyment: the food is the best in the whole "four" and the cheapest, and the atmosphere is laid-back even on après-ski.
Italy has almost 300 ski resorts, so there are plenty to choose from. At the top of the list is Sella Ronda for its variety of scenery and delightful views, followed by Corvara, San Cassiano and Ortisei. Monterosa Ski's network of elevators and excellent pistes will soon link Cervinia with Zermatt, turning the lesser-known site into a huge 330-mile location. In this way, it will be possible to ski from the small, quiet village of Champoluc to Alanya in Italy.
Some parts of mountain ranges, such as the Dolomite Alps, have less appeal due to regular snowstorms. This problem was solved in the 1980s with one of the most sophisticated artificial snowmaking systems in Europe, creating excellent skiing areas.
Where to go in Italy
Cortina d'Ampezzo has a charming chalet hotel, the Parc Hotel Victoria, from which a free shuttle bus to the elevators runs 6 days a week.
Another attractive resort is Madesimo above Lake Como, a popular family vacation spot among Italians. You can rent a room at the 3-star Capriolo Hotel for £995 and up.
The eateries on the slopes are usually family-run establishments with prices similar to those in the resorts.
Most ski areas have season tickets with which you can ski on non-consecutive days.
The bottom line
For a ski vacation, price is one of the deciding factors. This alone is the reason why Switzerland came in 4th place. Yes, the local mountains and resorts are wonderful, but they are not affordable for all travellers.
The best place to ski in Europe would be France because of its largest ski area and high-altitude resorts. But the price and general impressions of the vacation do not allow it to have an unqualified victory.
Increasing costs and the desire for a crowd-free vacation against the backdrop of post-pandemic have put Austria back among the favourites, and France has moved to the 2nd place. Italy, having lost its advantages in après-ski and crowd-free vacations, takes the bronze medal.