Most Iconic Ski Resorts in the World
Ranking ski resorts is a divisive topic. Dedicated skiers will judge according to the snow. Part-timers the availability of alternate ground-level activities. And casual revelers the quality of the nightlife.
That said, there are some resorts out there that undeniably hold more gravitas than others. These resorts have been around since about the time humans figured out how to glide down snow on hallowed peaks, and today they boast cobbled streets, spas, nightlife, quaint wooden chalets, and, of course, glorious powder.
If you’re looking for nothing but the best, these iconic ski resorts around the world are where you should next be pointing your skis.
Zermatt is a resort so renowned, its principal attraction – the pyramid-shaped Matterhorn peak – has been immortalized in both the logo of the chocolate company Toblerone and a popular Disneyland ride. But
while the first thing many visitors do is look at the Matterhorn through the viewfinder of their camera, it's the resort's vast snow-covered slopes and blissfully car-free village that keep them coming back.
The resort town is everything you’d expect from a Swiss skiing haven – boutique shops, wooden chalets with flower boxes, public outdoor skating rinks, and so many ski lifts you’d have to work hard to ride them all more than once.
Of course, the skiing here is unsurpassed, with seemingly never-ending slopes offering up regular views of that legendary triangular peak. On the highest reaches, it’s even possible to ski in summer, though purists will reject the single slushy run. Zermatt’s remote location, tucked at the top of the valley, continues to ensure that it remains exclusive, with eye-popping prices to match.
St. Anton, Austria
While many resorts have earned their status for their quaint and quiet exclusivity, St. Anton is best known as one of the party capitals of the skiing world. The town’s ski bars are almost more anticipated than its skiing, and because of this, it’s regularly touted as one of the most popular resorts in Europe, where parties fueled by Jägerbombs can run late into the night.
Still, the Austrian village is typically charming, and there’s lots of skiing to do at St. Anton once the hangover wears off. There are some 170 miles worth of skiable terrain on the surrounding slopes, and the expert groomers will ensure that you stay on your feet to enjoy another round of the nighttime festivities.
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
Canada’s Whistler is no stranger to top-skiing-resort compilations. Although there are other Canadian resorts that compete for the spot of best in the country, Whistler’s size and history ensure that it’s still up there with the world’s most iconic skiing destinations.
There’s a staggering 8,171 acres of skiable terrain and 200 runs between the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. More than 65,000 skiers per hour can be ferried to the tops of the runs on the resort's vast lift systems, before retreating later that evening to the welcoming and livable Whistler Village below. Although some may argue there are better Canadian alternatives based on their specific criteria, Whistler easily stands as one of the world’s most popular, and enticing, wintertime destinations.
St. Moritz, Switzerland
A century and a half after its opening, the glitzy town of St. Moritz retains its status as one of the most iconic destinations in Europe, if not the world.
High-end fashion boutiques line the cobbled streets that lead to the ski lifts, and the frozen lake plays host to games of ice polo, horse racing and even snow cricket. Though there’s certainly some good skiing to be had on the slopes that surround the small town, most of the resort’s ultra-rich visitors go to hang their Prada ski goggles around their necks in an attempt to pretend they want to avoid the limelight.
Aspen, United States
Aspen, Colorado, stands out for its colorful history and ongoing hosting of the Winter X games – not to mention its star-studded appeal. Despite many modern advances, celebrities still walk the town’s streets, lined with Victorian-era architecture hiding exclusive accommodation, boutiques and high-end restaurants.
Aspen’s stores, bars and restaurants will put a squeeze on even the most resilient credit cards, but if you can afford it, then you’re buying yourself a slice of the exclusivity. The slopes are impressive, too – there are four ski areas that cater to a range of skill levels, and the lush powder that falls there is some of the best in North America.
Gstaad is often put forward as rival to equally famous St. Moritz, although this achingly beautiful Swiss resort town is just a little bit more understated than its glitzy counterpart. To be fair, there’s very little that’s rough around the edges in the atmospheric resort – old chalets, boutiques, high-end bars and restaurants, and a pedestrianized main road all make for a pleasant post-ski amble through town.
There are also some 150 miles of skiable trails on the surrounding slopes, and mountain trains will ferry you up to the base stations in true style. The town has slope-side facilities that few resorts in the world can rival, and non-skiers will revel in the lavish accommodation, indoor sports center and scenic mountain trains.
Val d’Isére, France
France’s Val d’Isére seems to have it all when it comes to ski resorts – vast slopes, high-adrenaline off-piste options and an upbeat après ski scene. The resort is one of the oldest in France, and still maintains its status as one of the country’s most exclusive.
There’s very little about Val d’Isére that isn’t world-class. Its high altitude ensures reliable snow, and most winter seasons hit an average of 20 feet of fresh snowfall. The large number of runs available to skiers and snowboarders cater to all skill levels, and the exclusive town, lined with boutiques, vibrant bars and high-end accommodation, caters for every other need when the skis are back on the racks.
Lech is often touted as Austria’s most exclusive ski resort, thanks in no small part to visits from the likes of Monaco’s Princess Caroline, and the late Princess Diana. In many ways it’s Austria’s answer to Switzerland’s St. Moritz, with mom-and-pop-lined streets, fine-dining cuisine and 5-star accommodation options. The snow there is of the highest quality, too, and despite its relatively modest altitude, it typically receives more snow in winter than many rival European resorts.
The resort is also linked to the Ski Arlberg region, which provides access to some of the best resorts in the area. And with 190 miles of runs, the longest of which is six miles, there’s little chance that even the most aggressive skiers will tire of the terrain.
Verbier may well be Switzerland’s most lively resort, free from the stuffiness associated with some of the country’s more exclusive destinations. That’s because the resort, the largest in Switzerland’s Les 4 Vallées region, attracts a younger, active crowd with its great skiing and solid nightlife offerings.
The weather there is also good, with regularly sunny days, and the scenery unsurpassed – on a clear day from Mont Fort you’ll catch views of both Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.
There are some 250 miles of ski runs at the resort serviced by 80 lifts, along with wild off-piste Alpine skiing. The resort hosts three popular spectator events, and the village is what you’d expect from a legendary Swiss resort – boutiques, posh accommodation, and plenty of stylish restaurants and bars.
This French ski resort has been the epicenter for Alpine action since the mid-1700s, and it’s showing no signs of letting up.
Chamonix has the famous 15,776-foot Mont Blanc as its focal point, and its surrounding slopes with magnificent terrain attract some of Europe’s best skiers. There’s also a selection of easier slopes, and a spectacular 12-mile-run off-piste route called Vallée Blanche that even intermediate skiers can conquer.
There are four ski areas laid out across the valley, and although queues in peak months can stretch for some time, the long undulating runs and great snow make the wait worthwhile.
The exclusive little town of Davos may be better known around the world as the annual gathering place of the World Economic Forum, but when it’s not hosting the world’s foremost economists it’s serving up some of the best skiing conditions imaginable.
Davos Klosters is one of the Alps’ highest ski resorts, and since connecting its lifts and mountain railways with Madrisa and Gotschna in 2003, it has a massive web of runs to satisfy most levels of skier.
Although the town of Davos may not have the charm you’ve come to expect from Swiss ski resorts, the dramatic mountain scenery more than makes up for it. Davos also keeps particularly good company in the skiing world – its partner towns are Chamonix and Aspen.
Vail, United States
Vail is the largest and most popular ski resort in the United States, and easily one of the country’s most iconic. Since its establishment in 1962, it's grown to become the main winter destination for America’s high society. Although the town feels somewhat like a theme park, and the skiing can be rivaled by other top resorts in the country, it boasts an exclusive vibe that the glitterati can't get enough of (its neighbor, Beaver Creek, is also well-loved).
There is plenty of dramatic skiing to be had on Vail’s mountains, from the massive front face through the extensive back bowls that take several lifts to reach. And as the lifts shut down for the night, the various bars and restaurants come to life with stories from the far-flung corners of this true American winter playground.
Though many of the world’s most popular resorts have expanded to a degree of impersonality, smaller places like Megève, nestled close to the Swiss and Italian borders, retain true attention to detail.
In spite of Megève’s reputation as a hidden playground of the world’s rich and famous, it’s still surprisingly affordable. The town has also maintained much of its original charm, with peaceful cobbled squares and horse-drawn carriages.
The slopes cater to all skill levels, and it’s possible to access 250 miles of them with passes that connect you to nearby mountains. Back in the town, there’s also a range of sports, including ice skating, bowling and climbing, and although the town prefers to keep things quiet and reserved after hours, there are still a few bars serving up a classic after-ski drink or two.
If there was a resort to visit based purely on its town’s aesthetics, then Méribel may be it. The resort is wood-heavy, with beautiful chalets and other traditional ski town architecture dominant throughout. It’s also homey and welcoming, in spite of its undeniably elitist positioning.
The resort is close to France’s legendary Trois Vallées area, which offers up some 370 miles of pistes, reachable via various state-of-the-art lifts and gondolas.
There’s also plenty to do at the foot of the soaring peaks. If you’re more a fan of Alpine shopping than skiing, the resort will have you covered – stores in the village cater to your every need, from fresh bread to designer snow-wear. And the Olympic Centre, built for the ’92 winter games, features swimming pools, an ice rink and a spa.
There are few mountain ranges in Europe as striking as Dolomites, and few resorts that have the history and sophistication of Cortina. Its location affords visitors to the resort ample skiing opportunities, and the peaks immediately surrounding the resort are some of the continent's highest. Visitors can access four separate ski regions – two by lifts, and two by bus – and each has its own distinct charm and terrain.
The views from the mountains surrounding the small village are understandably spectacular. Yet many visitors seem content to take it all in from street level, where it's possible to stumble across as much fur and high heels as it is high-end skiing equipment.