With a certain cruel irony, the first Covid lockdown coincided with epic powder dumps across the Alps. Since then the slopes have been serenely quiet, hosting mostly locals who were able to make it through the marathon series of entry requirements. But this year, the 2022-2023 season will mark the highly anticipated return to skiing in Europe. Sierra Nevada in Spain will have 105 new snow cannons to guarantee perfect conditions, travel operator Tui has launched a new sleeper train travelling from Amsterdam through to the Australian Alps, and the après ski scene is set to be bigger than ever with the return of a series of music festivals to the mountains.
If your piste knowledge is a little rusty, here we've rounded up the best ski resorts in Europe to know about, from the classic crowd-pleasers to the more off-grid spots, as well as where to eat and stay – from lifts to skins and snowcats, and from Wes Anderson-worthy grande dames to deep-nature escapes. For more recommendations, see our guide to the best ski hotels and the best ski Airbnbs.
Whichever way you want to do it this winter, here’s to just getting out into the mountain air and feeling truly alive again.
1. St Moritz, Switzerland
The classic one
It’s hard to talk about the best ski resorts without talking about the original – where Cresta running, moonlit ice-skating and skijoring on the frozen lake point to a certain spirit of elegant madcappery. The light is famously beautiful along the high Engadin valley, and the skiing isn’t half-bad, with challenging backcountry and wonderful cruising reds on the Corviglia mountain, where Europe’s most glamorous ski club is found. Ski to Chasellas next to Suvretta House for wiener schnitzel on its sun-trap terrace, or, back in town, head to home-spun Veltinerkeller for comforting plates of pasta and Swiss classics.
Where to stay: St Moritz is home to the vast, gothic Badrutt’s Palace, and the Kulm Hotel, which welcomed the Alps’ first winter guests in 1864 – but there are cosier options up the valley, such as Villa Flor in nearby Zuoz, where the artist Julian Schnabel stays for a month most years, joining an Engadin art set that includes the Swiss Pop Art dealer Bruno Bischofberger
2. Zermatt, Switzerland
The preposterously pretty one
Zermatt is the vision of the Alps that every snowglobe aspires to – arrived at on the incredibly scenic little Gornergrat train then traversed by horse-drawn carriage, and watched over by a great slab of a mountain that has inspired more Victorian legends, chocolate bars and reveries than any other. The skiing is high, dry and cruisey (including into Italy), and the food rivals that of any ski resort anywhere, especially at slope-side classics Chez Vrony and Findlerhof.
Where to stay: There are grand hotels, including the Monte Rosa, Mont Cervin Palace and the Grand Budapest-ish Zermatterhof, but also fresher options. The glassy Backstage Hotel Vernissage, the work of charismatic local architect Heinz Julen, and the chalet-luxe Schweizerhof, a big-hitting local stay from La Réserve hotelier Michel Reybier.
3. Val d’Isère, France
The one for endless skiing
Everyone has always known the skiing’s good in Val d’Isère, with its great piste map of befuddling squiggles. Canadians are rightly proud of the Whistler Blackcomb area, but the Espace Killy that includes Val and Tignes is five times bigger. The resort has never been quite as glamorous as some others in the Alps, known for Brit-boozy haunts such as Bananas and Dick’s Tea Bar, but it has been smartening up its act in recent years. And it’s not all liquid lunches – L’Atelier d’Edmond personifies refined mountain menus, with its Arctic carp and crayfish dinners (there’s a popular, more affordable bistro menu), while buttoned-down, boots-on L’edelweiss, just above Le Fornet, keeps things traditional with cockle-warming tartiflette and La Casse-croûte du berger.
4. Kitzbühel, Austria
The defiantly old-school one
With its medieval centre of frescoes and pastel townhouses, Kitzbühel would give Zermatt and Lech a run for their money in any Alpine beauty contest. A rich history, which takes in Ian Fleming and the terrifying Hahnenkamm ski race, makes Kitzbühel feel a bit like an Austrian St Moritz.
Where to stay: While it’s never been a cutting-edge resort – places such as Schloss Lebenberg and Tennerhof, where Fleming holed up in the 1920s, trade on a certain timelessness – the recently opened Six Senses resort, tucked on the edge of a pine forest and a tinkling stream, would suggest change is afoot.
5. Sunnmøre Alps, Norway
The one for fjord ski-touring
Ski-touring keeps growing everywhere, but few do it with as much commitment as the Scandinavians, who say tak for turen (‘thanks for touring’) after every session. Norway has some especially magical spots for this, including the Lofoten archipelago and Lyngen Alps, high in the Arctic Circle. While those mountains tend to be by the open sea, central Norway’s Sunnmøre Alps are in a landscape of majestic fjords, 90 minutes inland from the Art Nouveau coastal town of Ålesund. Meditative hikes here tend to be rewarded with epic views and thrilling whooshes down to the fjords. Unlike the Alps, lunch is a rucksack picnic and supper, a candlelit, flush-cheeked affair following a drawn-out stint in the sauna.
Where to stay: There are some seriously smart stays in the area: the glassy modernist Juvet Landscape Hotel, which starred in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina; and the Hotel Union Øye, a fairytale place that opened in 1891 but was renovated in 2020, keeping the lobby suit of armour that everyone from Arthur Conan Doyle to Edvard Grieg has gawped at over the years.
6. Chamonix, France
The hardcore one
There is a lot of competition when it comes to Europe’s best place for serious freeride skiing, with arguments to be made for heli hotspots such as Italy’s Monte Rosa and Riksgränsen in northern Sweden. But really, ‘Cham’ has always been the one: where ski and mountaineering guides come to get the serious qualifications, and where the vast terrain keeps drawing them back, even after epic trips to Kamchatka or Alaska. Typified by the off-piste Vallée Blanche, a thigh-busting 12 miles from the Bond-villain Aiguille du Midi station, the skiing here is big and bad. Menus cater to calorie-heavy skiing, with white table-cloth Le Panier des 4 Saisons' hearty French plates and Europe’s highest restaurant 3842’s crepes with generous lashings of melted cheese.
7. Gjeravica, Kosovo
The really wild one
Cat-skiing is very much a North American invention and has only appeared on this side of the Atlantic in off-piste destinations. Few European ski destinations are as immediately intriguing as the Accursed Mountains, as the locals call the Gjeravica range on the Albanian-Kosovan border, whose upper slopes have only become accessible to people for the first time in the 21st century. Founded by Croatian ski and snowboard champion Sebastian Fleiss, Lynx Freeride runs week-long trips to Gjeravica’s vast terrain of untouched bowls, couloirs and tree runs. Kosovan craft beer and no-menu seasonal suppers welcome weary skiers home, fresh from exploring a wild, off-piste paradise that is still home to wolves, bears and lynx.
Where to stay: In a two-bedroom villa at Belle Resort in nearby Decan.
8. Val Gardena, Italy
At the heart of the vast Dolomiti Superski area, with more than 740 miles of pistes, Val Gardena has long been a draw for pro skiers and powder-hunting free-riders, with heli-skiing options among the craggy peaks of the Sella Ronda. But the South Tyrol area, in general, is about so much more than skiing. To the east, the pine-covered, craggy Alta Badia valley has an ancient Ladin culture and serious locavore food, from centuries-old agriturismos to the three-Michelin-starred St Hubertus.
Where to stay: To the west, a series of striking contemporary stays have shone a light on Italy’s most sustainably aware region: the sleek Adler Spa Resort, overlooking a particularly stunning section of the Dolomites; the modernist Miramonti, near the small Merano resort; and the Lefay Dolomiti, a future-forward spa from the group first known for jet-set health programmes on Lake Garda.
9. Val d’Arly, France
The slow skiing option
Made up of four pretty villages in a valley west of Megève, Val d’Arly has largely flown under the radar – but a rich Savoie food culture and several new sustainable places to stay make it a good choice for a slow, deep-nature trip this season. There are lifts at the family-friendly ski resort Espace Diamant, and the much larger Portes du Mont-Blanc towards Megève – but the French often come to snow-shoe and cross-country ski in the white wilderness, then eat at restaurants such as La Ferme de Victorine, where Bib Gourmand-rated local dishes are served as cows watch from the adjoining shed.
Where to stay: The best stays fit the area’s ethos: Cabanes Entre Terre et Ciel, four modern treehouses in the dense forests of St Nicolas la Chapelle; and Le Toi du Monde in Flumet, where environmental engineer Florent Perrin has turned his grandmother’s 1886 Savoyard farm building into a carbon-neutral guesthouse and restaurant.
10. Pradollano, Spain
The one nearest the beach
Europe’s southernmost ski resort, in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Granada, reaches up to 11,150ft, with 70 miles of surprisingly snow-sure slopes that have regularly hosted World Cup ski races and beau monde crowds lining the terraces of La Visera and Badia. But the best thing about a few days skiing here is coming down the mountain and heading for somewhere entirely different. It takes 40 minutes or so to drive to Granada, where the great Moorish Alhambra palace is about as far from Alpine style as it gets; it’s barely an hour south to Motril, with its Costa Tropical beaches; and two hours in either direction to the new creative buzz of Málaga or the old Spaghetti Western sets around Almería.
Where to stay: At chalet-style El Lodge, the smartest place in this quirky town.
11. Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland
The low-key classy one
This whimsically pretty (and rather posh) Swiss resort is a firm favourite for Europe’s discreetly wealthy and royalty wanting to pelt down a pap-free mountain. Along with the welcome absence of the bling brigade with all its diamante decadence, Villars proximity to Geneva and the vast ski area spanning Les Diablerets, Gryon and Glacier 3000, make it a failsafe for families and late-season skiing. As do its nursery slopes and stellar ski schools – advanced skiers will have to lean into some backcountry skiing for an adrenaline fix. Villars is all about the velvety smooth blues and reds, rustic mountain restaurants such as Lac des Chavonnes and Auberge du Col de Soud, and the old mountain railway that can still chug skiers to the mountain top, should tradition dictate.
Where to stay: At trad Chalet RoyAlp Hôtel and Spa, which has a knockout spa.
12. Crans Montana, Switzerland
The seriously sunny one
Situated on a terrifically sunny plateau above the Rhone Valley, Crans Montana is a magnet for Swiss and Italian intermediate skiers, along with a few in-the-know Brits and fur-clad shoppers hitting Rue du Prado. A patchwork of traditional chalets and more modern concrete structures, the two towns of Crans-Sur-Sierre and Montana are joined by a funicular, Crans being particularly chic. Steep, fast runs and high alpine terrain keep adrenaline levels up (the lower, south-facing slopes tend to melt) while fresh powder days call for leisurely, off-piste meandering through the pine trees or an invigorating whoosh down from the glacier. Serious skiers (the first lift sort) pile into locavore mountain restaurants Buvette de Pepinet or Cabane Violettes for rösti and croûte Fromage, and back in town, comfortingly unfussy La Dente Blanche keeps a loyal crowd with its fondu-focused menu. With its sunshine guarantee and traditional rhythms, it's little surprise that Sir Roger Moore chose Crans Montana for his twilight years.
Where to stay: Six Senses is the newest stay to know about, with direct ski-in and ski-out access plus an impressive spa with a rooftop swimming pool. Hotel Chetzeron is another option, set in a converted gondola station.
13. Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy
The Dolce Vita one
As one of Europe’s oldest and priciest ski resorts, ‘The Queen of the Dolomites’ is a high altitude serving of la Dolce Vita. A quintessentially Italian scene rolls out along its mountain terraces and cobbled Corsa Italia – its legendary designer stretch populated by the fur brigade. Here, après culture is notably different from France or Switzerland – ski suits are whipped off for high-octane outfits – the sort Maurizio Gucci and Patrizia Reggiani may have donned while cajoling with the rest of Cortina’s glitterati – and bars and restaurants are more refined than rowdy in character. Skiers of all levels can explore the three unlinked ski areas – Tofana-Socrepes, Faloria-Cristallo and Cinque Torri-Lagazuoi. And while Cortina’s essence can be found in the long lunches at El Camineto, San Brite and Tivoli, the 4.5km long gondola also makes it possible to ski from Cortina to Alpe di Siusi.
14. Lech, Austria
The restrained royal one
The resort of choice for several royal families, including (famously) Princess Diana, quietly charming Lech has somehow managed to retain its authentic alpine character and keep the glam and glitz at bay. Intermediate skiers and families carve its wide, snowy slopes (the resort receives a double dump envied by neighbouring resorts), and low-key cafés and old timber chalets, bearing Austria’s signature Alpine pastels, cluster around the trickling Lech river. Lunches are taken seriously – Rud-Alpe’s Schnitzel and warm apple strudels lure in punters as soon as the mid-morning hot chocolates wear off, while comforting meats and cheese fondues await back in town at the cosy tavern, Hus Nr 8 and The Stube, the Alberg Hotel’s classic, much-loved restaurant.
15. Courchevel 1850, France
The bling-bling foodie one
Slicked pistes, seriously expensive hotels and more Michelin-starred restaurants than you can shake a ski pole at, Courchevel 1850 may be the diamante in Europe’s crown, but it attracts a whole host of affluent tribes (from oligarchs to British royals) for good reason. For one, lobster lunches can be well-earned with 1850’s easy lift access to les Trois Vallée and the legendary Grand Couloir, offering up a vast and diverse terrain of runs and off-piste to ski. A curious mosaic of serious skiers and Fendi-clad bambis on skis populate the slopes, the latter probably arriving via the resort's very own altiport – beginning to get the picture? But for those looking for a healthy balance of fine dining and phenomenal skiing – a morning hot chocolate perhaps, breaking up a thigh-busting hurtle down black-run Suisse before bedding in for a louche, rosé-fuelled lunch at Le Cap Horn, where prawn tails twinkle in the afternoon sun and the generously blue Creux carries tipsy skiers back to their chalets – there’s nowhere better for it..
Where to stay: Cheval Blanc is the swishest stay on this slope – with a three-Michelin starred restaurant and an incredible spa. Nearby 1650’s Portetta, meanwhile, is from the team behind The Pig brood of hotels in the UK, and has a restaurant from Angela Hartnett.
16. Megève, France
The Rothschild’s one
With just over an hour’s transfer from Geneva, Megève’s car-free cobbled streets, stunning views of Mont Blanc and multi-level pistes are a breeze to reach. Founded as a ski resort by Baroness de Rothschild in 1916, Megève’s inception is quite a story. Having shared her dream to replicate St Moritz’ charm in a French setting, the Baroness’ ski instructor introduced her to the pretty village and its Medieval rhythms. Whether it was the panoramic views from the Mont d’Arbois plateau above the village or Megève’s singular Alpine charm, the Baroness was smitten and put plans in place to bring her vision to life. When not gawping at the views from Emmanuel Renault’s secluded (and outstanding) Flocons de Sel, or angling for a third round of raclette at the buttoned-down l’Alpage, the resort is intermediate bliss, the run to St Nicholas from L’Epaule being a firm favourite. With its generous squiggle of greens and ski schools, La Caboche is the first-timer spot, while a handful of thrilling blacks, such as Emile Allais, and freeride terrain (particularly Magic Garden Coté 2000) is a siren call for advanced skiers.
Where to stay: Almost a century on and Rothschild’s legacy remains keenly felt here, from the artwork dressing the Four Seasons Hotel Megève’s stylish walls to Les Chalets du Mont d’Arbois, all named after various members of the Rothschild family.
17. Gstaad, Switzerland
The winter sports one
Julie Andrews and Roger Moore are among a roster of stars to have fallen for Gstaad’s time-warp charms (think traditional Swiss chalets, chocolate shops and horse-drawn carriages). And with its snow-sure Glacier 3000 and 200km of slopes to explore, the skiing’s rather good too. That said, the resort’s three main ski areas cater excellently to beginners and intermediates – seasoned skiers after more of a challenge can beeline for the 45-degree gradient Tiger Run on the Wasserngrat. Gstaad’s winter sports pedigree needs little introduction – cross country, snowshoeing and snow hiking remain almost as popular as the skiing. It's this curious combination of old-world glamour and Alpine farm rhythms that lends Gstaad its distinct character, as the mix of unpretentious restaurants such as Le Petit Chalet and Gstaad Palace’s legendary GreenGo disco, with its retractable dance floor and eye wateringly expensive drinks attests.
Where to stay: The fabled Gstaad Palace is as popular as ever with the high rollers (and the understated who still partake in the annual ritual of boarding the Golden Pass Panoramic for a scenic chug into the village).
18. Klosters, Switzerland
The smart but scruffy one
Klosters' royal reputation often belies its impressive 320km tangle of pistes (courtesy of its cable car link to neighbouring Davos) and a particularly exhilarating off-piste terrain waiting to be conquered. It also betrays the decidedly unpretentious style of this Prättigau Valley village. Gene Kelly may have danced on tables at ‘The Chesa’s’ cellar bar and Paul Newman and Lauren Bacall may have graced its sunny slopes, but Klosters is all about the early mornings and rattling down the Parsenn Weissfluhjoch black run (one of several) – those sniffing out a scene should hop on the next train to St Moritz. Far from overlooked, intermediates have a vast array of groomed slopes to choose from – smooth, tree-lined runs which meander home for proper Swiss hot chocolate and the link to Davos from Klosters Platz. Resort regulars head to old, unfussy favourites such as Wolf’s Den for lunch in the Hotel Kulm – one of several insider spots first-timers can quickly learn about from James Palmer Tomkinson, whose royal links and reputation as a bona fide Klosters connoisseur fuel his PT ski travel company.
Where to stay: King Charles and his boys were once regulars at Hotel Walserhof, a warm Alpine style bolthole with a cracking restaurant.