The A-Z Skiing Bucket List
Alyeska, Alaska, USA
Alyeska receives 16.5m of snow on average each year, but if you’ve made the effort of going all the way to Alaska for a ski holiday, chances are the in-bounds skiing is only going to be an appetizer for the main event – heli-skiing! Sitting amongst the mighty Chugach Mountains, this is the ideal place to combine a resort trip with world-class heli-skiing. We’re free to dream, right?
Breckenridge, Colorado, USA
While Colorado elites like Aspen and Vail built their reputations on exclusivity, in 1984 Breckenridge became the state’s first major resort to allow snowboarding, and it continues to be amongst the best in the entire world for freestyle skiing and boarding. There are 25 acres of terrain park, from beginner runs to a massive, award-winning 90m superpipe. No wonder it’s used as a training base by Team GB athletes. Elsewhere on the mountain there are gladed trees, perfectly prepared pistes, moguls and North America’s highest chairlift (Imperial Express). The old clapboard goldrush town still has lots of soul and a faint whiff of the Wild West.
Craigieburn, New Zealand
It’s not NZ’s largest ski area, and certainly not the most luxurious, but Craigieburn epitomises the Kiwi ‘Clubby’ experience, with hike-in access, basic communal lodging, rustic drag lifts and wild, untamed off piste skiing. The terrain is as good as anywhere south of the equator, though the ‘nutcracker’ rope-tows can be a challenge even for hardened powderhounds. Put simply, it’s Kiwi as. New Zealand has a group of other ‘C’s up its sleeve too, if you fancy checking out Coronet Peak or Cardrona.
Deer Valley, Utah, USA
Upmarket and elegant, skiing at Deer Valley isn’t cheap, but the 2002 Winter Olympic host resort has some of the most impeccable grooming you’ll find anywhere on the planet, with endless fall-line intermediate pistes. If you’re a snowboarder – sorry – you’ll need to skip this one, as Deer Valley is one of the only places in the world that maintains a ‘skiers only’ policy. They also limit tickets sales, so you can be assured of cruising quiet, perfect pistes all day long.
Angel Mountain, this is, in name and in heavenly powder. Engelberg is a serious resort, stripped of all of the silliness of party towns, and leaving behind just a deep love of the wild mountains. There are a few bars in town, and they have something of the frontier cowboy town feel about them – drink a few jars, discuss the day’s epic backcountry lines (don’t miss classics like the Galtiberg), and get to bed early to make the most of tomorrow.
For the most part, we’ve avoided including resorts on our list that are purpose-built – that offer convenience and value for money – but lack in real character. However, Flaine is a case of ‘so ugly it’s beautiful’. The slab concrete buildings are actually protected, as premier examples of the Bauhaus style. The skiing is perfect for adventurous intermediates, there’s usually plenty of untracked powder, and connections with the Grand Massif domain means there’s a lot to explore.
Deep powder snow is not the image that typically springs to mind when you think of India, but in the disputed Kashmir region of the sub-continent is a ski area where a single gondola takes skiers to over 3700m to descend through pristine Himilayan powder. There’s a strong military presence in here, but it’s been settled enough in recent years that Gulmarg has built a reputation as a powder paradise… with a difference.
Perhaps the most well-rounded ski resort in Scandinavia, Hemsedal is family-oriented but still challenging, and at times when resorts in the Alps are struggling for snow, Hemsedal usually has plenty. Après is a fairly subdued affair – this is a place you come to make the most of the skiing.
Isola 2000, France
Located an hour and half from the French Riveria, Isola 2000 offers the chance to ski the summit of the Southern Alps. With less than 600 residents year round, the resort is quiet and full of cultural and gastronomic sensation! And there’s nothing quite like skiing with a sea view.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA
This is real cowboy country, where the locals are every bit as rugged at the iconic Teton mountains. The skiing is legendary, with Corbet’s Couloir a litmus test for any expert skier. Despite its hardcore reputation, Jackson Hole actually caters superbly to intermediate skiers and offers plenty of terrain that is increasingly well linked by lift upgrades. No matter if you’re here to cruise the pistes or head into the epic Teton backcountry, riding the famous red Aerial Tram is a must.
Kicking Horse, British Columbia, Canada
Kicking Horse, which lies along BC’s famed ‘Powder Highway’, is steep and deep in equal measures. CPR Ridge and Redemption Ridge are high-alpine playgrounds for expert skiers, packing dozens of couloirs and chutes side-by-side. Some are wide and inviting, others will cause some serious pucker. The lower mountain features rollercoaster intermediate pistes and tree-skiing, and the terrain under Terminator Peak is now in-bounds for even more steep and challenging terrain.
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
Located in Banff National Park, Lake Louise Ski Resort is the place to go to enjoy awe-inspiring views of the Rocky Mountains, plus the skiing’s not bad either. The first stop of the FIS Alpine World Cup is held here, due to the cold early season temperatures, which helps the snow stay crisp and dry. The resort is also home to perhaps the most picturesque hotel in the world, the Chateau Lake Louise, sitting on the shores of the eponymous lake and backed by the spectacular Victoria Glacier. Staying in Banff is also a great idea if you’d like to combine scenic skiing with rowdy night-life.
Mt Baker, Washington, USA
During the 1998-99 ski season, it snowed 29 metres at Mt Baker. That’s the greatest ever snowfall recorded in a single season. On average, Baker gets over 16 metres of snow each season. Need we go on? OK. It’s also remote and undeveloped, quite a juxtaposition to its Canadian neighbours across the border. It won’t break the bank either, though you might find yourself suddenly wanting some much fatter skis…
The second snowiest ski area in the world (after Mt Baker), Niseko actually consists of six ski areas. But there’s only one reason that skiers and snowboarders come here. Powder. The snow that falls here is incredibly light and dry, and it gets so deep you’ll need to pack your snorkel. That’s the reason there’s a lively expat community here (mostly Aussies), though you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to soak up the unique Japanese culture.
And now for something completely different… If you want to ski on the African continent, this is your best bet. Located in the High Atlas mountains, you can reach Oukaimeden relatively easily from Marrakech, and rest assured it’ll be a different experience to your usual package holiday in the Alps! Expect ancient equipment for rent, slow lifts, and marginal snow cover (annual snowfall is low and the season short), but an unforgettable ski experience.
Perched high in the Andes, beside (and occasionally top of) the twisting alpine road that leads to the Argentinean border, Portillo feels more like a clubhouse with its own ski area. Ringed by 4000m peaks and with stunning views over the Laguna del Inca, it’s a favourite for race teams seeking off-season training, but also has plenty of challenging and adventurous off piste skiing, accessed via the unique Va e Vients (slingshot) lifts.
Quechee Club, Vermont, USA
Ok, so we were scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to find a ‘Q’, but allow us to introduce the Quechee Club Ski Hill. This local hill is predominantly skied by members but is open to the public too. A network of groomed trails are located atop the golf courses for great touring, and a deep forested area of the complex offers a more rustic escape. Quechee Club has a total of 13 trails and even its own terrain park – what’s not to like?
In the middle of the enormous ski areas that dominate Austria’s Ziller Valley is a tiny one-seater chairlift, running quietly up from an empty carpark to an empty ski area. You’d never come all this way just to visit Ramsau of course, but it’s included in the Zillertal skipass, so first thing on a powder day, or if you can’t face the main Mayrhofen queues, Ramsau can be perfect. Small can be very beautiful indeed, plus the proximity to Mayrhofen means that Austria’s rowdiest après-ski is just a shot-ski away.
Saas Fee, Switzerland
Head up to the top of the world, and then keep going a little further, and there, amongst 4000m peaks, you’ll find the glacier resort of Saas Fee, which seems to do everything well. World-class skiing, excellent nightlife, great restaurants and it’s all in a village that has retained its traditional atmosphere. There are no cars allowed, and the main street winds between allotments and cowsheds.
Squaw Valley, California, USA
Host of the 1960 Winter Olympics and home of pioneering freeskier Shane McConkey, this is the place to experience laidback Californian attitude coupled with serious skiing. If a planned merger with Alpine Meadows goes ahead, it could create the largest resort in America. The resort is spread over six peaks, with more open alpine bowls than most US ski areas, so there’s plenty of variety, and it’s earned the name ‘Squallywood’ due to some of the popular chutes, couloirs and cliffs close to lifts like KT-22.
There are only 11 lifts and the runs are short, but Tomamu stands right in the way of the Siberian winds, and as such the lightest, driest, most magical powder falls here. It’s a quiet resort – most Hokkaido powderhounds head for to Niseko or Furano – so you’re likely to get the off-piste powder to yourself. All inbounds off-piste is open, just lap it over and over again, and then take yourself off for sake, noodle soup and hot springs – divine! Plus, there’s cat-skiing.
Uzana is located in the geographic centre of Bulgaria and feels like the true heart of beauty. Marvellous oaks surround the runs alongside snow laden fir trees, and while the resort is tiny, the locals are overtly friendly. You’ll not only walk away with pockets of powder, but cow bells and gelatine treats from the road-side vendors.
Val d’Isere, France
Tignes or Val d’Isere? We didn’t have room for both sides of the Espace Killy. Although Val requires a fat wallet, it’s France’s premier destination ski resort, where first-class bars and restaurants are matched with first-class skiing and riding. High and snowsure, it’s much loved by Brits for a reason. The nightlife is exceptional, and you can return year after year and still find new thrills on mountain, whatever your ability level.
Stratospherically expensive it may be at times, but Verbier is still hard to beat. It has something of a split personality. On the one hand it’s a freeride mecca attracting some of Europe’s best skiers and riders, but it’s also a place where those who can afford it come to splash some cash. The Farm Club and the Farinet, for example. Verbier is brimming with luxury chalets, excellent restaurants and one of the most scenic settings in the Alps. Now that there’s a lift linking to neighbouring Bruson, the skiing is better than ever too.
Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
Whistler is simply in a class of its own. It’s the North American resort that renders any argument against flying across the Atlantic redundant. British seasonnaires are swallowed up by the ‘Whistler bubble’ for years at a time. And whatever you’re looking for in a ski resort, Whistler-Blackcomb has plenty of it. Powder, terrain, fancy hotels, good restaurants, nightlife, and incessantly friendly Aussie lifties. Sure, it does rain sometimes, but there’s no place quite like it.
Winter in Xinjiang is brutally cold, and the village of Urumqi is transformed into a winter wonderland by heavy snow. This hearty chill is never enough to keep the locals inside however, and nearby Silk Road International Ski Resort boasts 6 trails, 2 sightseeing cable cars, 5 ropetows and a professional skating rink. You’ll easily find a hoard of winter fun to keep you occupied, and warming up with a sweet bowl of wonton soup is hard to beat.
Ylläs, Finnish Lapland
Ylläs is home to the longest runs in Finland with 63 slopes and 29 lifts. With excellent snow parks and off-piste slopes there’s something to please all levels of skiers and boarders. After snowfall you can send the white stuff flying both on open fells and in the forest, and when natural light is short (or non-existent) in the winter months, floodlighting provides illumination for night skiing. What’s more – up in the Arctic Circle you might even get to meet Saint Nick.
Even without the instantly recognisable Matterhorn, Zermatt would be a jaw-dropper. There are 38 peaks over 4000m, which ring the world-famous resort, and some of Europe’s largest glaciers spill down the mountainsides towards the town. Zermatt itself is a stunner too, with Belle Époque hotels such as the Hotel Monte Rosa and Grand Hotel Zermatterhof in the centre of town. The skiing is extremely spread out across different sectors, so you’ll need plenty of time to explore all of the terrain, especially as large chunks of time can disappear while just staring in awe at the mountains.