Ed Leahy finds somewhere for every level of ability.
The days are getting shorter and darker, and the clocks are about to go back, so that can only mean one thing... Yes, it's time to start planning for that skiing trip, which really is the best tonic to break up those cold winter months. Here are some of the northern hemisphere's top ski resorts to help you make your decision this season.
One of the original winter holiday destinations, St Moritz in Switzerland remains a firm favourite with skiers, and it's no surprise as the region boasts 322 sunny days annually. Nestled in the Upper Engadine at 1,856 metres above sea level, the pretty lakeside town is a haven for tourists all year round with great attractions, including the leaning tower, the 15th-Century Mauritius Church, the Segantini Museum and the Engadine Lake District. Renowned for attracting Europe's jet set, St Moritz boasts a fine range of luxury hotels, spas and excellent restaurants and shopping options. There are over 350 kilometres of pistes with a state-of-the-art infrastructure in the surrounding area. St Moritz's 'house mountain', the Corviglia, boasts the steepest start slope in Switzerland with the Piz Nair Wall's ultra-steep drop. Twice a venue for the Olympic Winter Games, there are many other winter sport activities available, including one of the oldest natural ice bob runs in the world. The Fun Park for snowboarders features a permanently operational half-pipe, while tandem parachute jumps and altitude training are also available. For winter hikers there are 150km of winter walking trails and for cross-country skiers there is a track network of about 180km.
Canada is an ideal winter destination and Whistler is recognised as one of the country's best ski resorts. Based in the province of British Columbia and less than an hour outside Vancouver, top class skiing in a laid-back relaxing atmosphere awaits on a trip to North America's number one ski resort. The combined resorts of Whistler and Blackcomb are two side-by-side mountains, offering over 200 marked runs, boasting over 8,000 acres of terrain, 16 alpine bowls and three glaciers. The Whistler Blackcomb resort is blessed with an average of 40 feet of snow annually. And once the skiing stops for the day, Whistler Village enjoys an eclectic vibe of arts, sport and cuisine amid a maze of pedestrian streets. World-renowned après-ski and nightlife make this a diverse destination to explore.
The Chamonix Valley is home to several ski areas, amounting to over 100km of slopes. Located among the highest of Alpine peaks, Chamonix offers amazing skiing for experienced skiers. The resort sits in the shadows of the magnificent Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps. The resort is renowned for the cable car journey to the top of the Aiguille du Midi, offering spectacular, if daunting views of the dramatic landscape. The famous Vallée Blanche ski run has routes down the mountain available for different levels of skiers but a guide is recommended. Chamonix is ideal for advanced and intermediate skiers, although beginners will also be catered for. The region, along with neighbouring Argentière, is also a haven for off-piste skiing but, again, a guide is essential while exploring this vast area. Nightlife in Chamonix is lively and the resort has great food and drink options, if a touch expensive.
Norway's premier ski location, Trysil is a family-friendly resort spread over one large skiing area. The mountain's three faces are tied together by 66 groomed slopes and 31 lifts. Snow coverage is never a problem in Trysil and the season starts early, beginning at the start of November and lasting until April 21, which means over 150 skiing days. On Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays, you can go evening skiing at Trysil as you can enjoy skiing on floodlit slopes until 8:00pm. Scandinavia is a cross-country skier's paradise and you can enjoy 100km of groomed cross-country tracks around the mountain at Trysil. Activities such as horse and dog sledding are also available in Trysil, while indoor surf wave facilities are available in a resort hotel, with several Spas adding the wellness option. Trysil has many good restaurants and cosy cafés, while après-ski options are also well catered for.
This skiers' paradise in the French Alps is considered the largest ski area in the world and is made up of eight resorts: Méribel, Les Menuires, Courchevel, La Tania, Brides-les-Bains, Orelle, Saint Martin de Belleville and Val Thorens. Experienced skiers will take advantage of over 600km of interconnected slopes combined with the most modern and comfortable ski lift network, including 180 ski lifts, two cable cars, 33 gondolas and 40 high-speed detachable chair lifts. The all-inclusive lift pass lets you explore the entire area, time permitting, throughout your stay as the network of lifts and cable cars make it a very accessible resort. The Trois Vallées (Three Valleys) region is also ideal for beginners, snowboarders and freestyle skiers as there are plenty of snowparks and learning slopes throughout the resorts. Each resort has its own charm with 15th- and 16th-Century architecture dotted throughout the valleys, while Brides-les-Bains is a Spa town, which can make for the ideal base if you are looking for a wellness break combined with your ski holiday. Exciting après-ski is available throughout the other resorts.
One of the best ski resorts of the Tyrol region of Austria, Kitzbühel is an old medieval town with pretty buildings and cobblestoned streets, which boasts a huge tourist trade throughout the summer and winter months. World-renowned for its snow sports, the 'Chamois Town' is famous for the Hahnenkamm Race, which dates back to 1931 and has become one of the world's most important alpine ski events. Kitzbühel boasts a premium snow park, while skiers are spoilt for choice with over 170km of ski runs and 54 gondolas and ski lifts. The resort is ideal for skiers of all levels, while there is a vibrant après-ski scene, which might keep you out until the early hours.
Not many would travel to California in search of a ski holiday, however an excellent resort resides at the banks of the spectacular Lake Tahoe, along the stateline with neighbouring Nevada. With 40 feet of snow and 300 days of sun a year, conditions are optimal for your winter skiing or snowboarding trip. And South Lake Tahoe's après-ski offers a great night out in the town with nightclubs still going strong in the early hours. The Heavenly Mountain Resort spans the California-Nevada border and offers skiers and snowboarders varied terrain including easy groomed runs, back-country-like terrain, tree runs and exciting terrain parks, which makes it an ideal location for all skiers from beginner to advanced.
For anyone looking for a budget skiing trip or beginners looking to try the sport for the first time, Arinsal ticks all the boxes. It is one of the main ski resorts in Andorra, with an altitude ranging from 1,500 to 2,500m. The village has more of a Spanish feel to it as opposed to the France-influenced Pas de la Casa on the other side of the Principality. A wide-range of gentle and broad slopes and excellent ski schools make it ideal for novices, while intermediate and advanced skiers are also well catered for both in Arinsal and also in the neighbouring village of Pal, which is linked by the same lift pass. Another great benefit for beginners is the value for money in Andorra. Ski school/lift prices are generally a lot cheaper than their French and Austrian counterparts, while food and drink are considerably less expensive. And if shopping's your thing, Andorra's tax-free status is another reason to visit.
America's rich and famous flock to the Colorado slopes and the world-famous Aspen resort every winter. Aspen is located about four hours' drive from the city of Denver, where four mountains are available to ski: Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk. As a result, hundreds of kilometres of skiing are on offer, all within 15km of Aspen village. All levels of skier and snowboarder are catered for, while plenty of other winter sports are also available throughout the resorts. There is always a buzz about the place, whether it is a World Cup skiing event or the X Games taking place, while a range of outdoor concerts take place during the skiing season. Skiing gets going in December and runs all the way into April, while the après-ski rivals the skiing and snowboarding back at base.
One of Austria's top class ski resorts, Ischgl is located in the Tyrol region with guaranteed snow and a wide range of slopes and ski-lifts. The resort boasts 44 modern mountain cable cars and lifts, while snow is guaranteed by over 900 snow machines and 36 snow-blowers working the 238km of primed slopes. One of the highlights of the Ischgl resort is the renowned Eleven ski piste, which is one of the longest in Austria. The run is a mix of black and red, with a drop of 1,472m, and takes you from the highest elevation in the resort right in to the town centre of Ischgl. The PlayStation Vita Ischgl Snowpark is a new, state-of-the-art park for boarders and free-style skiers.