How do you go about quantifying which are the best ski resorts in the world? It's a question that we've spent hours - quite literally - debating at Snow Magazine HQ. We all know what makes a ski resort great - miles of pistes, a wide variety of easily accessible backcountry terrain, great restaurants and so on. But what makes a great ski resort one of the best?
How do you weigh up, for example, the best ski resorts in Italy vs. the best resorts in Canada? Can you really compare a French mega-resort, with family-friendly motorway pistes, to a tiny two-lift operation in the backwoods of Colorado? And what about the towns? Do you prioritise ski-in, ski-out access, or chocolate box aesthetics? Is it all about the après, or do you prefer a civilised, sit-down meal?
To a certain extent, the answer to all of these questions is subjective, and we're not going to pretend that this list solves those all those debates (in fact, if anything, it's more likely to spark new ones). What it does do, however, is represent the considered opinions of the Snow editorial team. Between us, we've racked up hundreds of years of skiing and snowboarding, and visited countless ski resorts on six of the seven continents (none of us has made it to Antarctica... yet).
Having compiled a long, long-list of 100+ resorts - from Avoriaz to Zermatt, from Arinsal to Zell am See - we evaluated them on a wide range of factors including the quality of the skiing on and off-piste, the variety and the vibe of the town, the ease of access, the price and so on. Finally, after much deliberation, we reached a decision. For the reasons laid out below, these are the places we think are the best ski resorts in the world this winter.
Baqueira Beret, Spain
What, wait, where? We hear you asking. Which is precisely what Olympic medallist, and multiple X Games winner Jenny Jones thought before she went to Baqueira Beret for a story in last year's Snow Magazine. Like countless other visitors however, it didn't take long for her to be convinced by this Spanish resort's considerable charms.
Located in the Central Pyrenees, around 50km northwest of Andorra as the crow flies, Baqueira (pronounced like Shakira) is the biggest ski resort in Spain. Its 160km of pistes offer enough variety for skiers of all ability levels, but it's the off-piste where the ski resort really comes into its own. With lifts running up from the centre to six separate hills, there's a ton of great lines accessible with just a short walk. Because the Pyrenees are that much closer to the sea than the Alps, the snow here is wetter, so it tends to stick to steeper slopes - meaning if you venture far enough, you can find Alaskan-style spines in these mountains. Unlike the Alps, heli skiing is permitted in Spain, and Pyrenees Heli skiing, based in nearby Vielha, offer some of the most competitive rates anywhere in Europe.
The southerly latitude means that the season here is shorter, but you get an hour more of daylight during winter, making it a great place to base yourself for ski touring. And of course, the Catalan cuisine provides a welcome counterpoint to the standard, heavy Alpine fare of cheese, cheese and more cheese. The main town of Baqueira, built during the 60s ski resort construction boom, isn't the prettiest. But there are plenty of cute outlying villages if aesthetics are an issue - including Tanau, where the Spanish royal family have a chalet. And while Spaniards might complain that Baqueira is expensive, these things are relative - a six day liftpass for the whole area will set you back just €252, considerably cheaper than a comparable pass in the Alps.
Best of all? It's rarely ever crowded. As Ms. Jones discovered you can often have the off-piste in Baqueira all to yourself. That alone would be enough to make this one of the best ski resorts in the Pyrenees, but add in the rest, and Baqueira Beret is definitely up there with the best ski resorts in the world.
France might be most famous for its modern mega-resorts, but there are still a few corners of l'Hexagone where things feel a little more old-fashioned. Bonneval-sur-Arc, tucked away at the top of the Maurienne valley, is a case in point. In summer, this small cluster of stone shepherds' cottages is just a 45 minute drive away from Val d'Isère, but in winter, when the road over the Col d'Isèran pass shuts, you might as well be on a different planet.
The first lifts were built in Bonneval in the late 60s, but the village is far older, and with very few modern buildings, it's maintained a pleasantly sleepy vibe. The family-friendly groomed ski area isn't huge. The handful of lifts lead to just 26 runs. But there are combined liftpasses which offer access to the larger ski resorts down the valley - Val Cenis, Aussois and La Norma - if clocking up the miles is your thing.
Where Bonneval really comes into its own is the accessible off-piste. The top lift takes you up to 3,000m, from where there are a whole host of classic itineraries to explore. The Maurienne valley boasts its own microclimate, a weather system called the Retour d’Est, which spirals up from the gulf of Genoa, and regularly plasters the mountains here even when the more northerly ski resorts in France are missing out. And the lack of a huge freeride community here means that, unlike Chamonix, say, you can still find first tracks several days after a dump.
Prices are cheap for France (especially when compared to those in Bonneval's upmarket neighbour) so it's small wonder that powder hounds from Val d'Isère often sneak over the closed col and snake their way down here. It's a three hour taxi ride back, but it's worth it to enjoy the untapped riches of this true hidden gem.
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Japow, the soft, fluffy, delicacy cooked up by the unique weather systems over the sea of Japan, is undoubtedly best enjoyed - deliciously cold - on the country's northernmost island. But while Hokkaido gets the best of Japan's ridiculous annual snowfalls, there's still plenty of the white stuff to be found further south. And while the mountains in Hokkaido are mostly gently sloping volcanoes, Honshu, Japan's main island, has the better terrain, hands down.
The Japanese Alps are, as the name suggests, serious mountains, boasting the kind of couloirs and steeps that Niseko and the other famous resorts further north can only dream of. Hakuba is one of the larger mountain towns in the range, offering easy access to several ski resorts, including Happo One, Norikura Onsen, and the slightly confusingly-named Cortina. Between them, these slopes offer pistes for every ability level, as well as a huge variety of backcountry lines.
The terrain around here would be reason enough to visit, but the Japanese Alps have another clear advantage over the ski resorts of Hokkaido too - because they're not as famous, they tend to attract fewer foreigners. So while an après ski bar in Niseko is as likely to be owned by an Australian as it is a local, in Hakuba, it's easier to enjoy an authentically Japanese cultural experience - which, really is why you come skiing in Japan in the first place.
Kicking Horse, Canada
Located on British Columbia's celebrated Powder Highway, Kicking Horse is famed for its steep and technically-challenging terrain. The ski resort is laid out across five bowls that were previously only accessible by helicopter, and offers plenty of variety. There are countless chutes (the North American name for couloirs), gulleys, and tree-runs easily accessible from the four lifts.
As is customary in North America, the bulk of the best backcountry terrain here is "in-bounds", meaning it's patrolled and controlled for avalanche risk. This also means the routes are marked, and Kicking Horse's trail map includes an incredible 85+ numbered chutes, most of which are rated black diamond, or double black diamond. The snow here is incredibly consistent - with an average of about 7m falling each season - and because it's miles from the sea, it stays dry days after a dump.
Having said that, it's not all about the gnar here. The lower flanks of the mountains, accessed chiefly via the Catamount lift, offer easy green runs that loop through the trees - perfect for beginners. You can stay in the tiny purpose-built ski resort village at the base of the mountain, but for the true Canadian Rockies experience, we'd recommend renting a car and basing yourself in nearby Golden, a 19th Century railway town that still maintains a healthy dose of its original charm.
Driving, of course, also gives you the flexibility to explore the rest of the ski resorts on the Powder Highway. While Kicking Horse is the pick of the bunch, Revelstoke, which is just nearby, Red Mountain, and Whitewater, further south, are all well worth a visit.
Madonna di Campiglio, Italy
If Kicking Horse is in many ways the archetypal Canadian mountain resort, nowhere sums up Italy quite like Madonna di Campiglio. Italians from further south will try and convince you that people from the Trentino region are practically Austrian, such is their proximity to the Tyrolean border, but don't believe a word of it. Stereotypes are two-a-penny on the slopes here, from women in fur coats and Gucci sunglasses, to the best-dressed snowboarders you'll see anywhere in Europe - with perfectly colour-matched goggle straps and highbacks. But this is precisely Madonna's charm. Crystal Ski Holidays do bring people here, but you're unlikely to run into many Brits. So if it's the real deal Italian alpine experience you're after, they don't come much better.
For starters, there are the mountains. The Dolomites as a rule are stunning, but the peaks around Madonna, the Dolomiti di Brenta, are particularly beautiful. Jagged, red rock spires capped by bright white snow and flanked by forests of dark green pines. The ski area is large, too, the fifth largest in Italy, with over 150km of marked piste.
While the off-piste isn't world-class, the nearby resort of Passo del Tonale, which can be accessed on the same Superskirama ski pass, boasts some of Italy's best lift-accessible backcountry. As you'd expect, the food both on and off the hill is second to none. And while Madonna isn't the cheapest by Italian standards, it's still a snip compared to the comparable ski resorts in France.
What to say about Morzine that hasn't already been said a million times? One of France's most famous ski resorts - particularly among Brits - it combines competitive prices with one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ski areas in the world. There's something for everybody in the Portes du Soleil, with 650km of lift-linked pistes stretched across the border between France and Switzerland, and more accessible backcountry than you could ever explore in a single lifetime.
Admittedly, the popularity of this vast ski area means that there are occasionally bottlenecks on the main bubble up from town. But Morzine is still the best place to stay in the Portes du Soleil. A proper town, it's now become almost as famous for mountain biking in summer as it has for skiing in winter. This means it has the kind of year-round population which allows businesses like the excellent local craft brewery, the Bec Jaune, to thrive, and ensures that off-hill entertainment isn't limited to handful of identikit restaurants and a tubing zone.
Somehow, the town managed to avoid the worst of the imitation Bauhaus building spree which swept through France in the seventies, and so it's managed to maintain its traditional, wooden chalet vibe. And while the British presence is strong (the fashion-conscious seasonaire set has even earned it the hipster sobriquet of 'Shorezine,' after London's Shoreditch) it hasn't overwhelmed what made this ski resort great in the first place.
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In what is, by definition, a crowded field, Mürren has to be a top contender for the ski resort with the best views in the world. Across the valley from the main town, and easily visible from the balconies of most of the chalets, are the jagged outlines of not one, but two 4,000 metre peaks, the Mönch and the Jungfrau, as well as the forbidding form of the Eiger - one of the most famous mountains in history.
That mighty trio sits at the heart of what's known as the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch UNESCO World Heritage site. The railway that accesses it, an insane feat of alpine engineering which culminates in the Jungfraujoch, Europe's highest station at 3,454 metres, offers Instagram opportunities to rival the Grand Canyon, the Atacama Desert, or indeed anywhere else on the planet.
The town of Mürren is fits right into this postcard pretty tableau, with traditional chalets clustered round two ridiculously picturesque churches. But Mürren is more than just an influencer's fever dream. It's an incredible ski resort for families, with slopes suited to all ability levels, and there's skiing here for the seriously hardcore too. The Kandahar Ski Club, one of the first ski racing clubs in the world, was formed here in 1924. Meanwhile, the Inferno Race, a 2,000 metre descent from the top of the Schilthorn down to the village of Lauterbrunnen, is one of the great historic alpine challenges - having been run since 1928.
Outside of the Inferno weekend, the nightlife here is never going to rival the craziness you'd find in a larger ski resort, but if you've come to Mürren expecting a crazy après ski scene, you've kind of missed the point. This ski resort is all about giving visitors - skiers and non-skiers alike - a taste of traditional Switzerland, and as a place to soak up alpine culture, it doesn't come much better.
Whittling down the world's best ski resorts into a top 10 is a near impossible task - as is shown, very obviously, by the the fact that this is the only Austrian ski resort on the list. Yet if you have to choose just one ski resort to represent everything that's best about skiing in Austria, we'd argue that Obergurgl-Hochgurgl is a pretty strong contender.
High and snow sure, the twin resorts have everything, from challenging, high alpine off-piste, to a ton of cruisey blues and reds, to fun tree runs, for when the weather's bad. The two towns, and the scattered mountain huts between them, offer plenty of opportunity to indulge in the kind of schnapps-fulled après ski celebrations that Austria is famed for, without tipping over the fine line into tourist traps, or horrible cliché. Prices, as in the rest of Austria, are cheap, especially when compared to skiing in France.
Best of all, if you buy a liftpass for longer than three days here, you automatically get access to the entire Ötztal area. This includes the mega-resort of Sölden, just a short bus ride away (where you can dial the nightlife up to 11, should you so wish) and the tiny, oft-overlooked village of Vent. The latter only has a handful of lifts, but they offer access to one of the best ski touring areas in the Alps, and multiple mountain huts. That kind of variety, at Obergurgl-Hochgurgl prices, is hard to argue with.
Colorado is blessed with a wealth of world-class ski resorts. Drive just a couple of hours down the Interstate west of Denver and you'll pass the exits for Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, and Copper Mountain, any of which could stake a claim to a place on this list. But of all the ski resorts in Colorado that the Snow team have visited down the years, Telluride consistently crops as our favourite. Indeed, it's the only ski resort in this Top 10 to have also featured on last year's list.
What makes it so special? Well, the San Juan mountains in this part of the state are steeper and more dramatic than the gently-sloping peaks that characterise Northern Colorado's ski resorts. (If you've ever drunk a can of Coors, you'll know what we mean - Wilson Peak, which features on the logo, is just round the corner from Telluride). This gives Telluride a lot of variety when it comes to terrain, including some seriously steep in-bound chutes (i.e. couloirs). Out of bounds, the backcountry is the kind of empty wilderness you can only really find in North America, with logging roads linking a few abandoned mining settlements that look as if they've been lifted straight from a Clint Eastwood classic.
The town itself combines some of that same, old western appeal (it's a former mining settlement, after all) with an unexpectedly bohemian vibe. Famously, The Grateful Dead sold out two nights here back in the 80s, and there's an annual film festival that attracts almost as many Hollywood lefties and luvvies as Sundance. There's serious luxury in Telluride too if you want it, especially in the newer Mountain Village development up the hill. But as a whole the town has got more history, and feels more 'real', than a lot of the newer, purpose-built, US ski resorts.
While you're here, make sure you take a day to ski in nearby Silverton, a single-lift, guide-access only mountain that's one of the best resorts for backcountry skiing anywhere in the world. And then stick on Smuggler's Blues, by Glenn Frey of The Eagles fame, as you cruise back into town, and listen out for the lyric about hiding contraband "up in Telluride". Things might have moved on since he wrote that tune back in the 80s, but there are definitely still valuable stashes hidden in these hills.
Last in alphabetical order, but certainly not the least on this list, Verbier is one of those ski resorts whose reputation precedes it. Except that, in this case, the resort's reputation doesn't paint anything like a full picture of the place. The stereotype is that Verbier is a hangout for minor royals, England rugby players and James Blunt, all of which is true. Blunt even has a lift named after him, and it's still the only ski resort we've ever visited where one of the major ski schools is sponsored by an asset management firm.
But Verbier is also home to Xavier de le Rue, arguably the most talented freerider ever to strap on a snowboard, Geraldine Fastnacht, a pioneering female wingsuit pilot, and the Verbier Xtreme - the annual finale of the Freeride World Tour, and the gnarliest on-snow contest anywhere in the world. What attracts them is the accessible backcountry, which is among the most challenging anywhere in Switzerland, and indeed the world, and the snow sure weather systems guaranteed by the height of the ski area.
Verbier's also boasts one of the world's largest ski areas, with the lifts from the main village offering access to a huge network that links La Tzoumaz, Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon. Together, they form what's known as the 4 Vallées, which is home, not only to some of the best skiing you'll find anywhere in Europe, but also some of the longest ski runs anywhere in the world.
Down in town, Verbier isn't cheap, but then where in Switzerland is? And there are always options if you look hard enough. Le Chable, at the bottom of the valley is usually pretty competitively priced when it comes to accommodation. Really though, if you're counting every penny, you're missing the point of Verbier. The reason all those rich and famous folk love it here is the combination of incredible restaurants, epic powder, and some of the most naturally exciting slopes - both on and off-piste - you'll find anywhere on the planet.
One to watch: Amirsoy, Uzbekistan
We can't, in all conscience, tell you that Amirsoy, a brand new development in the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan, is one of the best ski resorts in the world. But we can honestly say that of all the ski resorts the team visited last season, this is the one that excited us the most.
As one of only two "double-landlocked" countries in the world (the other being Lichtenstein) Uzbekistan is about as far from the sea as it's possible to get. This means the snow that falls here is famously dry, and stays light and fluffy for days after a dump.
Built in world record time at a cost of £75 million, Amirsoy marks the first time anyone has tried to construct a modern resort with French-made lifts, German piste-bashers, and Austrian standards of safety in the region. It's still early days - the resort opened in late December 2019 - but the plans for this place are big, and with the country opening up to tourists, and abolishing the previously draconian visa requirements, it's becoming easier and easier to get to.
As anyone who's been skiing in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan will be able to tell you, the dry powder of the Tien Shan mountains really is like nothing else you'll ever experience. And so, Amirsoy is our "one to watch" for this year. Or, if you fancy heading a little further off the beaten track for your next ski holiday, one to head to as soon as possible.