Best Ski Vacation Destinations
July 29th, 2010
When you’re planning a ski trip and you’re looking for the best ski destinations, you’re going to have a little trouble sorting through the search results. What, exactly, constitutes “best?” Does it have to do with the quality of the powder? The scenery around the slopes? The services at the resort? The availability of good rental equipment? The sort of ski lessons on offer?
As you can see, there are many things to consider when you’re looking for the “best” place for a ski vacation. Here are a few of the categories you may want to think about when planning your trip, and some ski resorts that fit the bill in each case.
Best Budget Ski Vacations in North America
Not everyone can afford to ski at Aspen or Park City – but that doesn’t mean you have to let your skis gather dust. One option is to plan mid-week trips to the popular ski resorts to save a little money on everything from airfare to hotels to lift tickets, but if that’s not enough of a savings for you then consider looking at a less popular ski resort instead.
- Mt. Bachelor, Oregon – Oregon is a pretty cheap travel destination overall, and although Mt. Bachelor in the middle of the state is popular locally it’s significantly cheaper than the famous resorts elsewhere in North America. And with the resort’s new sliding scale for lift ticket prices, you’ll only pay for what you’re really going to use.
- Wolf Creek or Loveland, Colorado – If you’d like to splurge on one day at an expensive Colorado ski resort and go budget for the rest of your stay, then one of these two Colorado resorts is a good option for the budget end of your trip. Both are inexpensive, and both have their own claims to fame – Wolf Creek boasts “the most snow,” while Loveland has one of the longest seasons in the state.
- Saddleback, Maine – For those of you on the eastern seaboard, sticking closer to home is a good way to save money on your trip. And while Saddleback is a better option for more advanced skiers (due in large part to the parts of the resort that you can only get to by hiking in), it will likely still satisfy even skiers with a moderate skill level. And hey, what a way to get better, right?
Best Budget Ski Vacations in Europe
Maybe you’re in Europe already and looking for a good budget ski trip option. Maybe you’re planning a Europe trip and want to get some budget-friendly skiing in while you’re there. Whatever the reason, you’re in the market for a ski resort in Europe that won’t cost a fortune – and you’re in luck, because there are several to choose from.
- Tatras, Slovakia – There are two ski regions here, the High Tatras and Low Tatras, and while both offer excellent budget skiing the High Tatras are best for skiers without as much experience and the Low Tatras for more advanced skiers. There are ski resorts in both areas that are well-equipped.
- Soldeu, Andorra – While all of this tiny principality used to be the go-to place for bargain skiing in Europe, ever since Andorra moved to the euro it hasn’t been as cheap as it once was. This resort, however, remains a good value for your money – even more so if you opt for a vacation rental instead of a hotel.
- Zakopane, Poland – The Zakopane ski resort is tiny (there are only two slopes), there isn’t a big hotel within the resort, and there’s better snow in other places. But it’s an incredibly budget-friendly ski vacation near a cute town with lots of budget-friendly hotel options.
Best Family Ski Vacations
Taking the whole family on a ski trip can be an expensive affair, so in addition to making sure you’re getting the best deal on your trip you also want to make sure the ski resort you’re looking at is well-suited to a family ski trip. You may be surprised to learn that not all of them are family-friendly.
- Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont – Not only are there good skiing options for adults at Smuggler’s Notch, there are lessons and camps available for kids as young as two. And if you’ve got little ones even younger, there’s a daycare center available so no one’s forced to stay at the lodge if they don’t want to. It’s not all about tots, though, as the resort has two areas that are all about teenagers where the parents aren’t even allowed. (Don’t worry, they’re supervised.)
- Snowmass, Colorado – The fact that Snowmass has an area called “The Family Zone” isn’t just marketing. There’s an adventure center with indoor activities that cater to kids of all ages, and group ski lessons are available for kids as young as three. If you and your kids are more advanced, there are options for more experienced skiers at Snowmass, too.
- Whistler, British Columbia – Whistler has the kind of skiing and snowboarding lessons you’d expect for a big ski resort, and there are lessons for all ages, but what makes Whistler particularly good for family ski vacations is that there’s so much to do in the area that it’s almost a challenge to be bored. In addition to the skiing and snowboarding, there’s snow-tubing, helicopter tours, zip-lining, and sleigh rides.
Best Ski Vacations for Beginners
Not everyone had the good fortune of growing up in Colorado – and even some who did may not have been lucky enough to learn to ski at a young age. So if you’re looking for the most beginner-friendly ski resorts – the places where being wobbly on skis or a snowboard as an adult is perfectly acceptable – then these are some good options for you.
- Killington, Vermont – In addition to the big beginner slopes at Killington, another thing that makes this an ideal place to get your feet wet (as it were) on skis is the resort’s “Discovery Center.” Through videos and hands-on instruction, you’ll learn about what all the equipment is and how it works before you ever hit the slopes.
- Buttermilk, Colorado – While Aspen is home to more famous ski resorts, Buttermilk is known as the best resort in the area for beginners. Nearby Snowmass also has some slopes that are good for beginners, but it’s more popular overall so less experienced skiers may feel more comfortable at Buttermilk – the beginners area there is set apart from where other skiers come down the mountain.
- Northstar-at-Tahoe, California – A Tahoe ski vacation isn’t necessarily a cheap one, but if you’re looking for a good compromise for a group of skiers with a variety of experience levels, Northstar-at-Tahoe might be a good choice. There’s a good ski school for beginners, but the majority of the trails are great for more experienced skiers – so there’s something for everyone.
Best Snowboarding Vacations
Maybe you’re more into snowboarding than skiing – which means you’ll need to make sure the resorts you’re considering are good for you and not just the people who ski. Some ski resorts have slopes that will appeal to both, but you can’t assume that or you may end up disappointed.
- Whistler & Blackcomb, British Columbia – The fact that Whistler hosted many of the snowboarding events of the 2010 Winter Olympics is a testament to how good the area already was for snowboarding. The fact that they made major improvements to the area for the Olympics means that it’s even better now. It’s incredibly popular with freestylers and carvers – and the skiers love the area, too.
- Mammoth Mountain, California – Mammoth comes by its name legitimately, as the tallest ski resort in the state, so it’s not for snowboarding beginners. But if you crave an adrenaline rush of a snowboarding resort that just happens to have a great nightlife scene as well, Mammoth may be just what you’re looking for.
- Big Sky, Montana – The variety of slopes on offer at Big Sky make it a great option for people at all experience levels. What’s more, there are slopes that are ideal for both skiers and snowboarders, so it’s a good choice if you’re in a group of mixed snow sport lovers.
Best Ski Vacations Outside North America and Europe
North America and Europe are well-known as having some of the best ski destinations on earth, but there’s plenty of snow that falls outside those two geographic areas – so here are some of the best ski resorts in places outside Europe and North America that you might consider for your next ski vacation.
- Hanazono Resort, Japan – The Hanzano Resort has two claims to fame. First, it’s called the “snowiest resort” on earth, and second, it has the largest area for night skiing on earth. The latter part especially might be ideal for anyone who can’t quite decide what’s better between skiing and nightlife.
- Treble Cone, New Zealand – Treble Cone is the South Island’s biggest ski resort, and it boasts not only award-winning terrain but also top-notch scenery as well. Nearly half of the slopes at Treble Cone are rated for more advanced skiers, so it’s a great option if you’re looking for a challenge, but there are still opportunities for skiers at a moderate skill level to enjoy themselves on the slopes.
- El Colorado, Chile – The Tres Valles region of the Andes is home to three major ski resorts, but El Colorado is the only one of the three that can be classified as “affordable.” That does mean there are fewer apres-ski amenities available at El Colorado than its fancier neighbors, but the skiing is excellent and it’s a good value for the money.
>> More about unique ski resorts around the world
photo by Rennett Stowe