Europe’s 8 top ski resorts
The expert’s guide to Europe’s 8 top ski resorts, from traditional Swiss Alpine destinations to places to go ski touring in France.
The first Covid lockout, ironically, coincided with spectacular powder dumps over the Alps. Since then, the slopes have been serenely silent, with the majority of visitors being locals who made it through the long set of entrance criteria. But, the 2022-2023 season have seen Europe’s long-awaited return to skiing. Sierra Nevada in Spain have 105 new snow cannons to ensure optimal conditions, Tui has introduced a new sleeper train from Amsterdam to the Austrian Alps, and the après ski scene has been greater than ever with the return of a series of music festivals to the slopes.
If your piste knowledge is rusty, we’ve compiled a list of the best ski resorts in Europe to know about, from the classic crowd-pleasers to the more off-the-beaten-path destinations, as well as where to eat and stay – from lifts to skins and snowcats, and from Wes Anderson-worthy grande dame to deep-nature escapes. Further suggestions may be found in our guides to the finest ski hotels and the best ski chalets.
Whatever you choose to do this winter, here’s to going out into the fresh air and feeling fully alive again.
1. Courchevel 1850, France
The glitzy foodie one
Courchevel 1850 may be the diamond in Europe’s crown, but it attracts a whole host of rich tribes (from billionaires to British royals) for good reason. Slicked pistes, really costly hotels, and more Michelin-starred restaurants than you can toss a ski pole at. For one thing, lobster lunches may be earned thanks to 1850’s quick lift access to Les Trois Vallées and the famed Grand Couloir, which provide a huge and diverse topography of routes and off-piste to ski. The slopes are populated by a strange mosaic of serious skiers and Fendi-clad bambis on skis, the latter most likely coming through the resort’s very own altiport – getting the picture? But there’s nowhere better for those looking for a healthy balance of fine dining and phenomenal skiing – perhaps a morning hot chocolate to break up a thigh-busting hurtle down black-run Suisse before bedding in for a louche, rosé-fueled lunch at Le Cap Horn, where prawn tails twinkle in the afternoon sun and the generously blue Creux transports tipsy skiers back to their chalets.
2. Zermatt, Switzerland
The ridiculously beautiful one
Zermatt is the Alpine image that every snowglobe aspires to, reached by the immensely gorgeous Gornergrat railway, then crossed by horse-drawn vehicle, and guarded by a massive slab of a mountain that has inspired more Victorian stories, chocolate bars, and reveries than any other. The skiing is steep, dry, and cruisey (even into Italy), and the gastronomy matches any ski resort in the world, particularly at slope-side stalwarts Chez Vrony and Findlerhof.
3. Val d’Isère, France
The one for never-ending skiing
With its magnificent piste map of befuddling squiggles, everyone has always known that Val d’Isère is a top French ski resort. The Whistler Blackcomb region is rightfully proud of its Canadians, but the Espace Killy, which encompasses Val and Tignes, is five times larger. The resort, famed for Brit-boozy spots such as Bananas and Dick’s Tea Bar, has never been nearly as fashionable as others in the Alps, but it has been smartening up its act in recent years. And it’s not all liquid lunches – with its Arctic carp and crayfish dinners (there’s also a popular, more affordable bistro menu), L’Atelier d’Edmond personifies refined mountain menus.
4. Chamonix, France
The tenacious one
When it comes to Europe’s finest site for serious freeride skiing, there is a lot of rivalry, with claims favouring heli hotspots like Italy’s Monte Rosa and Riksgränsen in northern Sweden. Yet, in reality, ‘Cham’ has always been the one: the place where ski and mountaineering guides come to earn major qualifications, and where the huge landscape continues luring them back, even after spectacular journeys to Kamchatka or Alaska. The skiing here is large and dangerous, as exemplified by the off-piste Vallée Blanche, a thigh-busting 12 kilometres from the Bond-villain Aiguille du Midi station. Menus cater to calorie-heavy skiing, including white tablecloth Le Panier des 4 Saisons’ hefty French meals and crepes with liberal lashings of melted cheese at Europe’s highest restaurant 3842.
5. Crans Montana, Switzerland
The one with a lot of sunshine
Crans Montana, located on a spectacularly sunny plateau above the Rhone Valley, attracts Swiss and Italian intermediate skiers, as well as a few well-heeled Britons and fur-clad shoppers on Rue du Prado. Crans-Sur-Sierre and Montana, a patchwork of classic chalets and more modern concrete structures, are linked by a funicular, with Crans being especially stylish. Steep, rapid runs and high alpine terrain keep adrenaline levels high (lower, south-facing slopes likely to melt), while fresh powder days beg for leisurely off-piste wandering among the pine forests or an energising whoosh down from the glacier. Serious skiers (the first lift kind) flock to locavore mountain eateries Buvette de Pepinet or Cabane Violettes for rösti and croûte Fromage, while back in town, the comfortingly unpretentious La Dente Blanche has a devoted following with its fondu-focused cuisine. It’s little wonder that Sir Roger Moore picked Crans Montana for his retirement years, with its guaranteed sunlight and traditional rhythms.
6. Lech, Austria
The royal with restraint
The preferred resort of various royal families, including (famously) Princess Diana, quietly delightful Lech has managed to preserve its original alpine character while avoiding the gloss and glamour. Intermediate and family skiers cut its large, white slopes (the resort receives a double dump coveted by neighboring resorts), and low-key cafés and ancient timber chalets, adorned in Austria’s distinctive Alpine hues, cluster around the trickling Lech river. Lunch is taken seriously – Rud-Schnitzel Alpe’s and warm apple strudels tempt visitors as soon as the effects of the mid-morning hot chocolates wear off, while comforting meats and cheese fondues await back in town at the cozy tavern, Hus Nr 8.
7. Megève, France
One of the Rothschilds
Megève’s car-free cobblestone lanes, spectacular vistas of Mont Blanc, and multi-level pistes are little over an hour’s drive from Geneva. Megève was founded as a ski resort by Baroness de Rothschild in 1916, and its history is fascinating. The Baroness’ ski instructor introduced her to the picturesque hamlet and its Medieval rhythms after she expressed her desire to recreate St Moritz’ appeal in a French environment. Whether it was the sweeping views from the Mont d’Arbois plateau above the hamlet or Megève’s unique Alpine charm, the Baroness was enamored and made plans to make her vision a reality. When you’re not gawking at the vistas from Emmanuel Renault’s hidden (and exceptional) Flocons de Sel or fishing for a third round of raclette at the buttoned-down l’Alpage, the resort is intermediate joy, with the route to St Nicholas from L’Epaule being a definite fave. La Caboche, with its large zigzag of greens and ski schools, is ideal for beginners, but a few of exhilarating blacks, such as Emile Allais, and freeride terrain (especially Magic Garden Coté 2000) beckon expert skiers.
8. St. Moritz, Switzerland
The traditional one
It’s difficult to talk about the finest ski resorts without mentioning the original, where Cresta running, nighttime ice skating, and skijoring on the frozen lake all testify to an exquisite crazy attitude. The light is notoriously gorgeous throughout the upper Engadin valley, and the skiing isn’t half bad, either, with tough backcountry and fantastic cruising reds on the Corviglia mountain, home to Europe’s most prestigious ski club. Ski to Chasellas, near to Suvretta House, for wiener schnitzel on its sun-trap patio, or stay in town for cosy bowls of pasta and Swiss classics at home-spun Veltinerkeller.