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Top 10 Highest Rated Ski Resorts in the World

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Skiing the Vallee Blanche in Chamonix
Top 10 Highest Rated Ski Resorts in the World, 2021

Quickly outgrowing its beginnings as a sport for intrepid mountaineers, skiing is now a mainstream winter activity for the whole family. And ski resorts have kept up with the demand, adding hotels, restaurants, après-ski entertainment, and all manner of indoor and outdoor recreation. But for skiers, it’s the snow that counts, and the terrain of the mountainsides it falls on.

Although the world’s best-known ski resorts are in Europe and North America, the 1998 Winter Olympics put Japan firmly on the ski map, and enthusiasts’ quest for year-round snow has brought the Andes more attention. A lot of considerations go into choosing the best ski resort for your vacation, but for this list, the ski experience itself — the variety and challenge of the terrain, the snow conditions, and lift access — predominate in selecting these top 10 choices for any serious skier’s bucket list.

Whistler Blackcomb

Snowboarders on Whistler Mountain

Snowboarders on Whistler Mountain

Now part of Vail Resorts group, Whistler Blackcomb combines the superb terrain of two mountains to make it Canada’s premier ski resort and the largest winter sports area in North America. The combined skiable terrain offers more than 200 runs accessed by 37 lifts. One of these, the three-kilometer-plus PEAK 2 PEAK gondola joins the two mountaintops and is the world’s longest unsupported lift span.

These outstanding technical facilities paired with the variety of terrain — wide-open bowls on Whistler Mountain and the Horstman Glacier on Blackcomb (where you can ski year-round) — and world-class grooming keep Whistler a favorite for serious skiers. Access to all resort facilities this season will be by advance reservation, and all resort transactions will be by debit or credit card.

Incomparable views that stretch to the Pacific Ocean, plenty of terrain for all skill levels, and a charming full-service resort village right at the base make it an equally good choice for families and casual skiers. There’s enough snow and mountain to go around, and it’s just a two-hour drive from Vancouver.

Courchevel

Courchevel, France

Courchevel, France

Despite its decidedly upscale villages and reputation, Courchevel is for serious skiers looking for snow thrills of a lifetime. Part of Les 3 Vallées region, the world’s largest Alpine ski domain, with 600 kilometers of interconnected ski runs across 10 summits higher that 2,500 meters, Courchevel offers 150 kilometers of alpine ski terrain accessed by 60 lifts.

The yearly average of four meters of natural snow is meticulously maintained and groomed, and the off-piste skiing is legendary. Black runs include one corridor (couloir) that’s considered one of the most difficult black runs in the world; there’s also a good choice of steep black mogul runs.

For tight tree skiing, head for Jockeys and Jean Blanc pistes, from the top of Col de la Loze to Le Praz. Jean Blanc is a former World Cup downhill run. At the end of the day, you’ll find restaurants in any of the five villages (seven of them are Michelin-starred), although this season won’t see the usual dazzling après-ski scene that has made it among the most popular ski resorts in France.

Zermatt

A skier in fresh powder next to the Matterhorn

A skier in fresh powder next to the Matterhorn

Even if it didn’t have one of the world’s most beautiful mountains as a backdrop, Switzerland’s ski resort of Zermatt would be a place skiers dream about. It’s the highest winter sports area in the Alps, and it has the greatest vertical drop in Switzerland, plus the magnificent peak of the Matterhorn can be seen from almost everywhere on its 350 kilometers of trails and slopes.

New last year was the world’s highest 3S Lift, carrying 2,000 skiers an hour to the Matterhorn Glacier, at 3,883 meters altitude, where you can ski year-round. Not enough reason to ski here? Try the chance not only to ski over a mountain pass and down into a trail system on the other side, but it’s over an international boundary, as well.

The Matterhorn’s southern face is in Italy, and skiing over the Theodul Pass leads you into the immense trail system of Breuil-Cervinia, in Italy’s Val d’Aosta. There’s also Europe’s longest downhill run, from Matterhorn glacier (Klein Matterhorn) into Zermatt, over 25 kilometers long. Zermatt Snow Park on the Theodul Glacier, one of the highest in the Alps, is the hot spot for snowboarders and freeride skiers. The 10-person Kumme gondola to the Unterrothorn area opens in December 2020, Switzerland’s first gondola to operate entirely without staff.

Few places can equal the off-piste opportunities of Zermatt. Along with Rothhorn, Stockhorn, and the Matterhorn Glacier, Zermatt is the gateway to one of the world’s most exhilarating off-piste experiences, the 178-kilometer (111 miles) mountaineering route from Zermatt to Chamonix, in the French Alps, known as the Haute Route. A guide is mandatory, as are expert skills and high-altitude stamina; the route connects a network of mountain huts, inns, and lodges and usually takes eight days to complete.

Vail Mountain Resort

Vail ski runs with the Gore Range in the distance

Vail ski runs with the Gore Range in the distance

The biggest of Colorado’s ski resorts, and one of the largest in the world, Vail offers enough terrain to keep an avid skier in any skill level busy. Long, well-groomed runs overlook the luxury hotels and upscale restaurants and shops in the equally well-manicured town of Vail.

Experts head for the seven back bowls for bumps and glades, which the expected 350 inches of annual snowfall keep in prime condition. Vail is known not just for its size—over 5,289 acres of skiing served by 31 lifts—but for its variety. Three separate terrain parks keep riders happy, and backcountry skiers find powder heaven here.

Use of all resort facilities this season will be by advance reservation, with no on-site ticket sales; all resort transactions will be by debit or credit card.

Aspen Snowmass

View up the Maroon Creek Valley from the top of Aspen Highlands

View up the Maroon Creek Valley from the top of Aspen Highlands

Top among the several ski resorts in Colorado, Aspen Snowmass is made up of four ski areas surrounding Aspen and Snowmass Village. The combined terrain of Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk exceeds 5,500 acres, with Snowmass alone accounting for more than 3,000. Although the smallest of the four, Buttermilk is known for hosting the Winter X-Games since 2002. The 2021 games are scheduled for January 28–31.

Aspen Mountain is strictly for intermediate and expert skiers, with steep terrain from its three ridge lines all rated black or double-black. The Aztec run is the scene of the annual World Cup Women’s Downhill. Aspen Highlands, known for its expert runs, is also a favorite for backcountry skiers, who hike to the high-alpine terrain of the Highland Bowl.

Aspen Highlands is known for its advanced and expert runs. Aspen has completed the three-year glade project at Aspen Highlands to clear new lines in the steep, wooded Lucky Find area. The number of Hollywood and sports stars who own property here has given Aspen its reputation as a glamor resort.

Although much of the backcountry terrain is for experienced skiers, Aspen is unusual in having some easy areas that are safe for newcomers to ungroomed terrain. This is one of the first places on the continent where backcountry skiing became popular, and it still leads the pack. Aspen Powder Tours takes skiers and riders by snowcat into the powder stashes behind Aspen Mountain, where the lift system doesn’t reach.

Val d’Isere

Val d'Isere at sunset

Val d’Isere at sunset

Skiing legend Jean-Claude Killy made his home-town one of the best-known ski resorts in Europe after his breathtaking sweep of three gold medals at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble. Val d’Isere shares the high valley with neighboring Tignes to provide more than 300 kilometers of interconnected ski terrain served by more than 150 ski lifts.

The valley, surrounded by peaks that provide skiing at altitudes as high as 3,450 meters, is part of Parc National de la Vanoise. The altitude assures snow through the late spring; skiing on the Glacier du Pisaillas usually lasts through June and often into July.

Val d’Isere and Tignes offers some of the best skiing for experts, with more than two dozen challenging black runs. But it’s the exceptional off-piste terrain that earns bragging rights for skilled skiers. The off-piste skiing in Tignes is largely above the tree line. For 45-degree thrills (and exceptional scenery), go to the North Face of Pramecou; hiring a guide is strongly recommended here, even for experienced alpine skiers.

Cortina D’Ampezzo

Cortina D'Ampezzo

Cortina D’Ampezzo

The five ragged peaks of the Cinque Torri give upscale Cortina D’Ampezzo the most beautiful setting of any of Italy’s ski resorts. Known only to avid skiers before it hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics, Cortina became an overnight sensation for the well-set winter set.

The town is still decidedly high-end, but skiing here is a surprising bargain, thanks largely to the value-packed Dolomiti Superski Pass. This gives access to the lifts and trails of a dozen resorts, most linked to give nearly 400 kilometers of interconnected skiing. Included are the several ski towns between the peaks known as the Gruppo del Sella, and the Marmolada Glacier; this entire area is included in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

More than three dozen lifts in Cortina alone carry skiers from the center of town to snowfields at the crests of the highest ridges, from which they can ski back into town in a single exhilarating run or spend the day on the high-altitude snowfields. Skiing here is one of the top things to do in Italy. Not just for experts, Cortina’s terrain is about half suitable for intermediates. There’s also a bobsled run, and the Olympic rink for ice-skaters.

Although many international ski competitions have been canceled this season, the FIS World Championships are scheduled in Cortina d’Ampezzo from February 7 to 21, 2021.

Telluride

Telluride

Telluride

In a beautiful setting with plenty of challenging terrain at an altitude that promises consistent snow, Telluride is one of Colorado’s most popular ski resorts. The height of the San Juan Mountains makes it possible for the resort’s base to begin at an impressive 8,725-foot elevation, and lifts carry skiers to 12,515 feet. In between is more than 2,000 acres of skiable terrain. It’s this impressive vertical and expanses of hike-to terrain that bring extreme skiers to Telluride.

But it’s also a resort for the whole family, with skiing at all levels and a ski-in-ski-out Mountain Village at the base, which is connected by a free gondola to the town of Telluride. Experienced skiers can ski the steep trails directly into Telluride.

Niseko

Niseko with Mt. Yotei in the distance

Niseko with Mt. Yotei in the distance

Four interlinked ski resorts, about 90 kilometers from Sapporo on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, are known as Niseko United; they include Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, and An’nupuri. Between them, they provide some outstanding and varied terrain on the slopes of a volcano, many of the trails facing the near-perfect cone of Mt. Yotei, known as “Hokkaido’s Mt Fuji.”

Groomed trails, wooded glades, bowls of ungroomed powder, and snowparks cover one half of the mountain, while the other face is a vast mountainside of unpatrolled backcountry adventures, filled with natural halfpipes, steep chutes, and almost unlimited tree skiing. Niseko is known for its powder and for the low temperatures that produce it, so be prepared for cold weather.

Although it’s famed for its glades and off-piste alpine skiing, Niseko rates more than two-thirds of its trails for beginners and intermediate skiers. The resort offers heli-skiing, cat skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and hot spring spas — a highlight of any trip to Japan.

Niseko’s variety of activities for children and its outstanding program of ski and snowboard lessons (available in English) has earned it the title of Japan’s Best Family Ski Resort in the Ski Asia Awards.

Chamonix

Skiing the Vallee Blanche in Chamonix

Skiing the Vallee Blanche in Chamonix

The iconic name of Mont Blanc, the first Winter Olympics, and ski slopes with the world’s greatest height differential all combine to make Chamonix one of the best-known and most popular ski resorts in France.

Europe’s tallest peak at 4,807 meters, Mont Blanc assures Chamonix some of the best snow conditions in the Alps, and the longest lasting. The altitude is aided by the surrounding glaciers in keeping temperatures low and powder dry. The snow falls—and stays—on some of the world’s most challenging terrain for skiers.

Chamonix includes several different areas: Grands Montets, at altitudes from 1,235 meters to 3,300 meters, offers expert runs with the greatest height differential in the world. At the Les Houches ski area, you’ll find the renowned Verte, the only piste in the Haute-Savoie approved for World Cup races. Tree-lined and often glazed over, its 3.5 kilometers have an 870-meter vertical and include a series of jumps.

Chamonix is known for its superb off-piste skiing. It’s not all about experts though—at Les Houches there is skiing for all levels, as well as cross-country trails.

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10 Amazing Facts About Indonesia

 

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