Europe is not only the home of modern skiing, but it is also home to the world’s largest, fanciest, and flashiest mega-resorts. They deliver hundreds of miles of velvety-groomed slopes and perfect infrastructure, from high-tech gondolas to glamorous spas. Yet a number of low-key ski areas also combine exceptionally good skiing with spectacular scenery—you just have to know where to find them. Compared to the big-name resorts, they are less congested, less pricey, and blissfully laid-back. Ski in the wild Catalonian mountains or with a Mediterranean view; enjoy overlooked high-altitude spots in the Alps or venture into the adventurous north. These underrated and lesser-known ski resorts in Europe are perfect for anyone looking to go off the beaten slopes.
For fjord free riders
Where to stay: Myrkdalen Hotel
Norway is hit by thick snow, which makes the family-friendly Myrkdalen Mountain Resort in west Norway (two hours from the scenic city of Bergen) one of the most reliable fresh powder spots in Europe. The resort is equipped with terrain for skiers of all ages and levels, but it offers a truly special experience for adventurous free riders: You can cruise up the Nærøy fjord on a boat, take a train up the mountain, and then backcountry ski down through breathtaking scenery.
Where to stay: Travel Charme Ifen Hotel Kleinwalsertal
The cozy and picturesque valley of Kleinwalsertal, known for its rustic mountain huts and gourmet take on traditional cuisine, is cut off from the rest of Austria by the same mountains that make it so beautiful. Situated at the bottom of Bavaria on the Austrian side of the border, it is only accessible via Germany. The resort is linked with the German resort Oberstdorf, making the area perfect for “cross-country skiing”: You can go back and forth across the border and ski vast tracts of trails in both countries. The area gets huge amounts of snow, delivering plenty of backcountry pleasures.
For powder hunters
Where to stay: Chalet-style penthouse Airbnb
Despite being situated in the heart of Switzerland, Engelberg-Titlis is less known than glitzy St. Moritz or smart Davos. Why the little town with its medieval monastery remains overlooked is a mystery to the ski connoisseurs who have fallen in love with the deep snow around majestic Mount Titlis. One big group is already in on the secret, though: Swedish free riders discovered this powder haven years ago and now invade Engelberg each winter with their fat skis. Some stay for the entire season; some stay forever.
For those who always wish ski season was longer
Where to stay: Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl
The long, pretty Ötztal valley is best known as the home to Solden, a ski resort that famously hosted both James Bond and the World Cup. But pass by the resort’s superlative lift system (the fastest in the world), leave the crowds behind, and head south to Obergurgl-Hochgurgl. The relaxed, queue-free, high-altitude (6,330 feet) resort on the Italian border boasts a super-long season with an astonishing 160 days of skiing. It has a wide range of slopes for all skill levels and offers backcountry skiing that is highly praised among powder cognoscenti.
For smart travelers who want it all
During summertime, Greece is a powerful magnet for crowds. In winter, you’ll have it all to yourself. And you can do it all, too. Chill with a bowl of marinated olives and freshly grilled octopus at the seaside, enjoy moussaka near an ancient temple, take a bite of sweet baklava near a mythological site—and then set out on a ski trip. The mountain of Parnassos is only a two-hour drive from Athens, and the ski resort has 23 ski runs at an elevation of up to 7,415 feet.
For off-piste snorkelers and duty-free shoppers
Livigno is a wide-open, high-altitude valley (5,958 feet to 9,800 feet) nestled in the Alps on the Swiss-Italian border. It’s remote, but that’s only one reason the resort is worth visiting: It also holds a special tax-free status with a mile of shops in the resort’s pedestrian center. Wrapped in a blanket of snow from November to April, Livigno is great for beginners, intermediates, and experts alike and caters to free riders with managed off-piste (or off-trail) zones. The food is fantastic, too, from the gourmet plates at the mountaintop Stuvetta to the traditional Swiss-Italian dishes served in the many mountain huts. It even boasts Europe’s highest microbrewery, Birrificio.
For the price-conscious, sun-seeking skier
Where to stay: Hotel Orlovetz
Bansko is Bulgaria’s top ski resort, but the smaller area of Pamporovo is a fine option for those who aren’t looking to splurge and who love goggle tans. Located 150 miles from the Bulgarian capital of Sofia and 62 miles from the Greek border, the enchanting village looks on the sunny side of ski life with 120 days of sunshine each winter. (Don’t worry, great skiing conditions are ensured by snowmaking technology from December to April.) Pamporovo is now also linked to the neighboring resort of Mechi Chal, making it bigger than ever.
Le Grand Bornand, France
For laid-back cruisers
Where to stay: Chalet-Hôtel Les Cimes
With 53 miles of ski trails, Le Grand Bornand is far from tiny. Yet, located between Lake Annecy, Chamonix, and Geneva, it has kept its authentic farming village charm, refusing to grow into another titanic French ski resort. It is a calm, traditional winter sports spot, perfect for families and backcountry lovers who prefer soft powder to challenging couloirs. Because you can circle all 360 degrees of the mountain, you can spend the day following the sun or staying in the shade for crisp powder. Or you can simply cruise from one culinary spot to the next, savoring as much melted cheese as you can, from fondue to raclette to tartiflette.
For those who ski with gusto
Where to stay: Val di Luce Spa Resort
Tuscany usually conjures up images of vineyards, rolling hills, and Pisa’s Leaning Tower. But in the Apennine Mountains and only 55 miles from Florence is the Tuscan ski resort Abetone. You can’t always count on fresh powder, but the peaks reach nearly 6,560 feet, and on a clear day you can see all the way to the sea and Elba Island. Most of the 26 slopes were designed for beginners and intermediates, making Abetone the perfect place for families and relaxed skiers who enjoy the typical Mediterranean “gusto” lifestyle.
For those who love the wine and the wild
Where to stay: Baqueira Airbnb
Baqueira-Beret may sound like a full-bodied red wine, but it’s actually a ski resort high in the Pyrenees Mountains of northwestern Catalonia, surrounded by memorable mountain scenery. The resort sits in a secluded valley, the Val d’Aran, where locals speak their own language and the area’s unique character is evident in the distinct medieval architecture and delicious traditional dishes. Although secluded, Baqueira-Beret is Spain’s largest ski area, offering 95 miles of groomed runs and plenty of off-piste variations. The Pyrenees form the natural border between Spain and France, and the nearest airport is actually in Toulouse, France.
This article originally appeared online on December 1, 2017; it was updated on July 8, 2020, to include current information. Products we write about are independently vetted and recommended by our editors. AFAR may earn a commission if you buy through our links, which helps support our independent publication.
>> Next: The World’s Most Charming Ski Towns