16 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in the World, 2021
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Quickly outgrowing its beginnings as a sport for intrepid mountaineers, skiing is now a mainstream winter activity for the whole family. And ski resorts have kept up with the demand, adding hotels, restaurants, après-ski entertainment, and all manner of indoor and outdoor recreation. But for skiers, it's the snow that counts, and the terrain of the mountainsides it falls on.
Although the world's best-known ski resorts are in Europe and North America, the 1998 Winter Olympics put Japan firmly on the ski map, and enthusiasts' quest for year-round snow has brought the Andes more attention. A lot of considerations go into choosing the best ski resort for your vacation, but for this list, the ski experience itself — the variety and challenge of the terrain, the snow conditions, and lift access — predominate in selecting these top choices for any serious skier's bucket list.
Caution: Many of these mountains offer backcountry terrain that by its nature is unpredictable and should not be attempted without a qualified and well-equipped backcountry guide.
Changes for the 2020/2021 Ski Season: While the policies and restrictions of countries and regions vary — and change as the situation changes — clear patterns have emerged as ski resorts all over the world look for ways to operate while protecting the health of guests and staff.
Each country or region has its own approach, but you can expect certain measures at nearly any ski resort. These include wearing masks, limited use of indoor facilities, and many mountains are requiring advance reservations to control numbers with no same-day ticket sales. In many places aprés-ski activities are banned outright or subject to strict rules or curfews.
Whether you plan to travel or to ski on your own local mountains, it is essential to check the status of international travel and the ski resort’s website for the latest information and updates.
Find the best slopes for you with our list of the top ski resorts in the world.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Whistler Blackcomb
Now part of Vail Resorts group, Whistler Blackcomb combines the superb terrain of two mountains to make it Canada's premier ski resort and the largest winter sports area in North America. The combined skiable terrain offers more than 200 runs accessed by 37 lifts. One of these, the three-kilometer-plus PEAK 2 PEAK gondola joins the two mountaintops and is the world's longest unsupported lift span.
These outstanding technical facilities paired with the variety of terrain — wide-open bowls on Whistler Mountain and the Horstman Glacier on Blackcomb (where you can ski year-round) — and world-class grooming keep Whistler a favorite for serious skiers. Access to all resort facilities this season will be by advance reservation, and all resort transactions will be by debit or credit card.
Incomparable views that stretch to the Pacific Ocean, plenty of terrain for all skill levels, and a charming full-service resort village right at the base make it an equally good choice for families and casual skiers. There's enough snow and mountain to go around, and it's just a two-hour drive from Vancouver.
Official site: www.whistlerblackcomb.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Whistler: Best Areas & Hotels
Despite its decidedly upscale villages and reputation, Courchevel is for serious skiers looking for snow thrills of a lifetime. Part of Les 3 Vallées region, the world's largest Alpine ski domain, with 600 kilometers of interconnected ski runs across 10 summits higher that 2,500 meters, Courchevel offers 150 kilometers of alpine ski terrain accessed by 60 lifts.
The yearly average of four meters of natural snow is meticulously maintained and groomed, and the off-piste skiing is legendary. Black runs include one corridor (couloir) that's considered one of the most difficult black runs in the world; there's also a good choice of steep black mogul runs.
For tight tree skiing, head for Jockeys and Jean Blanc pistes, from the top of Col de la Loze to Le Praz. Jean Blanc is a former World Cup downhill run. At the end of the day, you’ll find restaurants in any of the five villages (seven of them are Michelin-starred), although this season won’t see the usual dazzling après-ski scene that has made it among the most popular ski resorts in France.
Official site: www.courchevel.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Courchevel
Even if it didn't have one of the world's most beautiful mountains as a backdrop, Switzerland's ski resort of Zermatt would be a place skiers dream about. It's the highest winter sports area in the Alps, and it has the greatest vertical drop in Switzerland, plus the magnificent peak of the Matterhorn can be seen from almost everywhere on its 350 kilometers of trails and slopes.
New last year was the world's highest 3S Lift, carrying 2,000 skiers an hour to the Matterhorn Glacier, at 3,883 meters altitude, where you can ski year-round. Not enough reason to ski here? Try the chance not only to ski over a mountain pass and down into a trail system on the other side, but it's over an international boundary, as well.
The Matterhorn's southern face is in Italy, and skiing over the Theodul Pass leads you into the immense trail system of Breuil-Cervinia, in Italy's Val d'Aosta. There's also Europe's longest downhill run, from Matterhorn glacier (Klein Matterhorn) into Zermatt, over 25 kilometers long. Zermatt Snow Park on the Theodul Glacier, one of the highest in the Alps, is the hot spot for snowboarders and freeride skiers. The 10-person Kumme gondola to the Unterrothorn area opens in December 2020, Switzerland’s first gondola to operate entirely without staff.
Few places can equal the off-piste opportunities of Zermatt. Along with Rothhorn, Stockhorn, and the Matterhorn Glacier, Zermatt is the gateway to one of the world's most exhilarating off-piste experiences, the 178-kilometer (111 miles) mountaineering route from Zermatt to Chamonix, in the French Alps, known as the Haute Route. A guide is mandatory, as are expert skills and high-altitude stamina; the route connects a network of mountain huts, inns, and lodges and usually takes eight days to complete.
Official site: www.zermatt.ch
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Zermatt: Best Areas & Hotels
4. Vail Mountain Resort
The biggest of Colorado's ski resorts, and one of the largest in the world, Vail offers enough terrain to keep an avid skier in any skill level busy. Long, well-groomed runs overlook the luxury hotels and upscale restaurants and shops in the equally well-manicured town of Vail.
Experts head for the seven back bowls for bumps and glades, which the expected 350 inches of annual snowfall keep in prime condition. Vail is known not just for its size—over 5,289 acres of skiing served by 31 lifts—but for its variety. Three separate terrain parks keep riders happy, and backcountry skiers find powder heaven here.
Use of all resort facilities this season will be by advance reservation, with no on-site ticket sales; all resort transactions will be by debit or credit card.
Official site: http://www.vail.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Vail
5. Aspen Snowmass
Top among the several ski resorts in Colorado, Aspen Snowmass is made up of four ski areas surrounding Aspen and Snowmass Village. The combined terrain of Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk exceeds 5,500 acres, with Snowmass alone accounting for more than 3,000. Although the smallest of the four, Buttermilk is known for hosting the Winter X-Games since 2002. The 2021 games are scheduled for January 28–31.
Aspen Mountain is strictly for intermediate and expert skiers, with steep terrain from its three ridge lines all rated black or double-black. The Aztec run is the scene of the annual World Cup Women's Downhill. Aspen Highlands, known for its expert runs, is also a favorite for backcountry skiers, who hike to the high-alpine terrain of the Highland Bowl.
Aspen Highlands is known for its advanced and expert runs. Aspen has completed the three-year glade project at Aspen Highlands to clear new lines in the steep, wooded Lucky Find area. The number of Hollywood and sports stars who own property here has given Aspen its reputation as a glamor resort.
Although much of the backcountry terrain is for experienced skiers, Aspen is unusual in having some easy areas that are safe for newcomers to ungroomed terrain. This is one of the first places on the continent where backcountry skiing became popular, and it still leads the pack. Aspen Powder Tours takes skiers and riders by snowcat into the powder stashes behind Aspen Mountain, where the lift system doesn't reach.
Official site: https://www.aspensnowmass.com/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Aspen
6. Val d'Isere
Skiing legend Jean-Claude Killy made his home-town one of the best-known ski resorts in Europe after his breathtaking sweep of three gold medals at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble. Val d'Isere shares the high valley with neighboring Tignes to provide more than 300 kilometers of interconnected ski terrain served by more than 150 ski lifts.
The valley, surrounded by peaks that provide skiing at altitudes as high as 3,450 meters, is part of Parc National de la Vanoise. The altitude assures snow through the late spring; skiing on the Glacier du Pisaillas usually lasts through June and often into July.
Val d'Isere and Tignes offers some of the best skiing for experts, with more than two dozen challenging black runs. But it's the exceptional off-piste terrain that earns bragging rights for skilled skiers. The off-piste skiing in Tignes is largely above the tree line. For 45-degree thrills (and exceptional scenery), go to the North Face of Pramecou; hiring a guide is strongly recommended here, even for experienced alpine skiers.
Official site: www.valdisere.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Val d'Isere
7. Cortina D'Ampezzo
The five ragged peaks of the Cinque Torri give upscale Cortina D'Ampezzo the most beautiful setting of any of Italy's ski resorts. Known only to avid skiers before it hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics, Cortina became an overnight sensation for the well-set winter set.
The town is still decidedly high-end, but skiing here is a surprising bargain, thanks largely to the value-packed Dolomiti Superski Pass. This gives access to the lifts and trails of a dozen resorts, most linked to give nearly 400 kilometers of interconnected skiing. Included are the several ski towns between the peaks known as the Gruppo del Sella, and the Marmolada Glacier; this entire area is included in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
More than three dozen lifts in Cortina alone carry skiers from the center of town to snowfields at the crests of the highest ridges, from which they can ski back into town in a single exhilarating run or spend the day on the high-altitude snowfields. Skiing here is one of the top things to do in Italy. Not just for experts, Cortina's terrain is about half suitable for intermediates. There's also a bobsled run, and the Olympic rink for ice-skaters.
Although many international ski competitions have been canceled this season, the FIS World Championships are scheduled in Cortina d'Ampezzo from February 7 to 21, 2021.
Official site: https://www.dolomiti.org/en/cortina/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cortina
In a beautiful setting with plenty of challenging terrain at an altitude that promises consistent snow, Telluride is one of Colorado's most popular ski resorts. The height of the San Juan Mountains makes it possible for the resort's base to begin at an impressive 8,725-foot elevation, and lifts carry skiers to 12,515 feet. In between is more than 2,000 acres of skiable terrain. It's this impressive vertical and expanses of hike-to terrain that bring extreme skiers to Telluride.
But it's also a resort for the whole family, with skiing at all levels and a ski-in-ski-out Mountain Village at the base, which is connected by a free gondola to the town of Telluride. Experienced skiers can ski the steep trails directly into Telluride.
Official site: http://www.tellurideskiresort.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Telluride
Four interlinked ski resorts, about 90 kilometers from Sapporo on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, are known as Niseko United; they include Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, and An'nupuri. Between them, they provide some outstanding and varied terrain on the slopes of a volcano, many of the trails facing the near-perfect cone of Mt. Yotei, known as "Hokkaido's Mt Fuji."
Groomed trails, wooded glades, bowls of ungroomed powder, and snowparks cover one half of the mountain, while the other face is a vast mountainside of unpatrolled backcountry adventures, filled with natural halfpipes, steep chutes, and almost unlimited tree skiing. Niseko is known for its powder and for the low temperatures that produce it, so be prepared for cold weather.
Although it's famed for its glades and off-piste alpine skiing, Niseko rates more than two-thirds of its trails for beginners and intermediate skiers. The resort offers heli-skiing, cat skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and hot spring spas — a highlight of any trip to Japan.
Niseko’s variety of activities for children and its outstanding program of ski and snowboard lessons (available in English) has earned it the title of Japan’s Best Family Ski Resort in the Ski Asia Awards.
Official site: http://www.niseko.ne.jp/en/
The iconic name of Mont Blanc, the first Winter Olympics, and ski slopes with the world's greatest height differential all combine to make Chamonix one of the best-known and most popular ski resorts in France.
Europe's tallest peak at 4,807 meters, Mont Blanc assures Chamonix some of the best snow conditions in the Alps, and the longest lasting. The altitude is aided by the surrounding glaciers in keeping temperatures low and powder dry. The snow falls—and stays—on some of the world's most challenging terrain for skiers.
Chamonix includes several different areas: Grands Montets, at altitudes from 1,235 meters to 3,300 meters, offers expert runs with the greatest height differential in the world. At the Les Houches ski area, you'll find the renowned Verte, the only piste in the Haute-Savoie approved for World Cup races. Tree-lined and often glazed over, its 3.5 kilometers have an 870-meter vertical and include a series of jumps.
Chamonix is known for its superb off-piste skiing. It's not all about experts though—at Les Houches there is skiing for all levels, as well as cross-country trails.
Official site: www.chamonix.com
11. St. Anton
A legendary name in the hearts of skiers, St. Anton is where the first ski club in the Alps began in 1901. Its 280 kilometers of terrain at heights reaching 2,800 meters are no place for beginners, or even most intermediates, as they include some of the most challenging runs anywhere in the Alps.
The moguls are as legendary as the resort itself, and the off-piste skiing is superb, as it's one of the snowiest resorts in the Alps. For the most breathtaking experiences, hire a guide and head for the spectacular views around Sonnenkopf; ask about the Schindler Chutes or the Waterfall route into Langen.
The regional Arlberg lift pass gives access to 340 kilometers of slopes and pistes, including those at the nearby Austrian ski resorts of Lech and Zürs, both of which have ample opportunities for beginning and intermediate skiers. You can take a shuttle bus to these, and some of the pistes in these resorts are also connected to St. Anton by Flexenbahn, a cable car that links to the other side of the Flexen Pass.
St. Anton village is a sweet cluster of Alpine inns, shops, and restaurants, and ski lifts leave right from the village. Normally known for its lively après-ski scene, St. Anton will be quite different this year, as Austria has banned all après-ski activities this season and imposed strict closing times on restaurants.
Official site: www.Stantonamarlberg.com
12. Kitzbühel, Austria
In the Austrian Alps, within easy reach of both Innsbruck and Salzburg, Kitzbühel looks like a travel poster for Alpine ski towns with its fresco-painted buildings and mountain chalets. While its smart boutiques and luxury hotels may give it the aura of a chic Swiss resort, Kitzbühel has a cozy warmth and accommodations that welcome families on a budget, too. Charming as it is, Kitzbühel is more than just a pretty face.
For serious skiers looking for white-knuckle descents, there's the legendary 85 percent vertical, where skiers compete annually in the Hahnenkamm, the most challenging of all downhill races. For less skilled skiers, there are gentle slopes and long, wide cruisers. The small Bichlalm area is especially designed for riders and freestylers.
If Kitzbühel's 170 kilometers of skiable pistes and slopes aren't enough, take the short bus ride to the SkiWelt for 280 more kilometers of trails. Both domains are included among the nine areas covered by the Kitzbühel Alps AllStarCard.
Official site: www.kitzbuehel.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kitzbühel
13. St. Moritz
With a claim to being Europe's first winter resort, and still one of its most glamorous, St. Moritz has plenty of credentials to make it stand out among Switzerland's many ski resorts. Although it may be known for its glitz and social scene, there's no questioning the ski challenges of its surrounding mountains. It has hosted two Winter Olympics and five Alpine World Ski Championships, the latest in 2017.
St. Moritz is strong in intermediate terrain, but about 30 percent is rated black and there is ample off-piste, some backcountry, and some marked itineraries. Because it is not as well-known for off-piste, it remains a well-kept secret, which means that its backcountry runs are less used, hence not as tracked as the better-known destinations.
For the steepest and most challenging terrain, head for the Diavolezza and Lagalp, where a deep base ensures excellent snow.
Official site: https://www.stmoritz.ch
Accommodation: Where to Stay in St. Moritz
14. Park City Mountain/Canyons
The merging of Park City Resort and Canyons in late 2015 as part of Vail Resorts made it the second largest of the many ski resorts in Utah. With 7,300 acres of skiable terrain, the combined resorts offer something for everyone, including a cozy bubble-lift and a heart-stopping gondola ride suspended over one of the resort's eponymous canyons.
The two still maintain their separate base areas, which is good, because getting from one trail network to the other remains a time-consuming challenge (although it's getting easier). So it's best to choose one or the other each day; for experts, the best choice is Canyons, the larger of the two, for its greater variety of challenging terrain.
About half of its terrain is rated black, and it's characterized by glades, canyon runs, steep fall-line trails, and plenty of moguls. The most challenging may well be the terrain accessed from the Ninety Nine 90 Express quad. For bumps, look for Devils' Friend, off the Super Condor Express quad.
Canyons has its own ski village with resorts, a spa, shops, and restaurants. Park City Resort, true to its name, sits right in the town of Park City, with a wider variety of activities and services right at the base of the slopes. As at all Vail resorts, access to all facilities this season will be by advance reservation, and all resort transactions will be by debit or credit card.
Official site: http://www.parkcitymountain.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Park City
15. Cerro Catedral
With the tallest mountains on Earth outside the Himalayas, the Andes offer plenty of vertical, and no place takes better advantage of that than Cerro Catedral, in the Patagonia region of southern Argentina. Named for the cathedral-spire mountain peaks, Cerro Catedral's scenery is breathtaking, with views across Lake Nahuel Huapi and the surrounding snow-covered summits of the Andes.
Here, in the southern Andes, where the snow is most plentiful, the ski season lasts from June to October, but early August to early September promise the deepest snowpacks and best powder, as well as the lowest crowds.
With 1,150 feet of vertical and 3,000 skiable acres, experts are spoiled for choice. The off-piste and tree skiing are superb, and there is miles of lift-accessed backcountry terrain and hike-in territory filled with steep chutes and bowls. Favorites are the La Laguna zone and the lower fingers of Alaskita. To experience the best terrain, go with a ski guide. Freestyle skiers and riders have a dedicated terrain park.
You could mistake the chalets at the base for an Alpine village, and more than 5,000 beds are within walking distance of the main lifts.
Official site: www.catedralaltapatagonia.com
16. Deer Valley
On almost any readers' poll of favorite North American ski resorts, Deer Valley will rank #1 or close to it. What's not to like about perfect grooming, mountain hosts, free ski storage, help unloading skis from your car, immaculately maintained lodges with blazing fireplaces, slope-side fine dining, and a daily limit of 7,500 skiers (no snowboards allowed here) to keep lift lines short and trails uncrowded?
Deer Valley is all about customer service, and the lodging and dining in its beautiful base village are decidedly upmarket. But, as they say, you get what you pay for, and Deer Valley produces your money's worth.
The very fact that Deer Valley is best known for its great intermediate skiing means that experts will have the 37 percent black diamond runs largely to themselves, with that famous champagne powder pristine. Take Carpenter Express to ski the runs that saw the 2002 Winter Olympic competitions: You Don't Know for the slalom; Champion for the freestyle mogul; and White Owl, where the freestyle aerial event took place.
On Bald Mountain, where there's a lot of black and double black, follow Ruins of Pompeii into Triangle Trees for a mix of steeps and glades. Mayflower offers extreme skiers double-black diamond chutes, Empire Bowl has double blacks, while Daly Bowl and Daly Chutes are even more challenging.
Deer Valley Resort is about two miles from downtown Park City, and another advantage is its proximity to Park City Mountain/Canyons, Alta, Snowbird, and other top ski resorts in Utah.
Official site: http://www.deervalley.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Park City
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Ski in Europe: For more great places to ski in the Alps, see our articles on the Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Switzerland and France. The Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Italy can lead you to world-class skiing in the Dolomites.
Ski the American West: PlanetWare can also help you discover America's beautiful western ski mountains. Find plenty of powder and almost unlimited terrain. Our articles on the Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Utah, Colorado, and Lake Tahoe will help you choose the best ski resorts for you.