How to Find the Very Best Skiing in Europe

From the Alps to the Dolomites, Europe offers an unrivaled selection of slopes for ski and snowboard fun.

A few skiers in colorful gear at Alta Badia in the Dolomit

Italy’s Alta Badia takes its food and drink as seriously as its skiing. You’ll even find a sommelier on the slopes.

Photo by Michelle Heimerman

For a compact continent, it’s hard to beat the sheer variety you’ll find in Europe’s ski resorts. The French, Swiss, and Austrian Alps—not to mention the Italian Dolomites—all have their own distinct personalities and cultures. Among nearly 4,000 ski resorts in Europe, the following ones really stand out.

Where to ski in France

Vast ski domains mingle with smaller, more intimate resorts.

Les 3 Vallées

It’s the world’s biggest lift-linked ski area, so it’s not surprising there’s something for every type of skier and snowboarder within Les 3 Vallées’ six resorts and 375 miles of slopes in Savoie’s Tarentaise Valley. Glitzy Courchevel doesn’t just deliver the bling—it also has a superb beginner area. Méribel, founded by a Scotsman in the 1930s, is a handy (and lively) base for mileage-hungry intermediates who want to roam the entire ski area, while St-Martin-de-Belleville has bags of traditional village charm. Modernist Les Menuires is easier on the wallet—if not so easy on the eye—and high-altitude Val Thorens has snow-sure slopes. There’s even budget-friendly little Orelle over in a fourth valley with a fast cable car into Val Thorens.

Half a dozen people skiing high in the Alps, Montgenèvre

The high elevation of many of Europe’s ski resorts means that snowfall is usually more reliable.

Photo by witchcraft/Shutterstock

Alpe d’Huez

Mega resort Alpe d’Huez in the Isère region near Grenoble sprawls across 155 miles of high-altitude slopes on a sunny plateau with fabulous views. That includes an extensive area for beginners at about 6,900 feet, rather than banishing them to the foot of the village. Experts have plenty of tough black runs and off-piste terrain—and few can resist the lure of the resort’s signature run, the 10-mile black Sarenne piste with a vertical drop of nearly 6,000 feet. If Alpe d’Huez’s somewhat humdrum architecture doesn’t appeal, stay in one of the attractive satellite villages, such as Vaujany and Oz-en-Oisans, connected by speedy gondolas.


The only French resort in the mainly Italian Via Lattea (Milky Way) ski and snowboard area also happens to have the most varied terrain. Beginners will think they’ve landed in heaven, as Montgenèvre has some excellent green slopes at high altitude up to 8,055 feet, while advanced skiers can tackle the free-ride zone that’s left ungroomed. It’s barely a mile from the Italian border, which you can ski to—or simply stroll across the open border to the village of Claviere for lunch and swap French fondue for Piedmontese pasta.

Les Portes du Soleil

Straddling the border between France and Switzerland, Les Portes du Soleil’s 12 resorts and 360 miles of slopes give Les 3 Vallées a run for its money. Neighbors Morzine and Les Gets—both traditional, family-friendly Savoyard villages—have the biggest area of local slopes between them. From cute little Châtel you can ski to Switzerland, and fans of modernist architecture love the car-free streets and enviable snow record of Avoriaz, which sits at 6,000 feet.

Grand Massif

Despite its large size, the Grand Massif ski domain is often overlooked. But skiers in the know have discovered its 165 miles of slopes spread out among five family-friendly villages in the Haute Savoie region, many of them at high altitude and a good bet for excellent snow conditions. If you’re not a fan of the modernist architecture of the biggest village, Flaine, opt for cozy and charming Samoëns or Les Carroz.

Ski lift at resort in Zermatt, with the Matterhorn in background

Ski towns are often pretty, but Zermatt might well take the crown for prettiest.

Photo by BearFotos/Shutterstock

Where to ski in Switzerland

Ski Europe’s most majestic mountains in this compact country.


Zermatt is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever ski in, your eyes permanently drawn to the magnificent Matterhorn. Ski the glacier at Trockener Steg in the Matterhorn’s shadow before taking the cable car across the Italian border to Cervinia.


Verbier’s challenging off-piste terrain is a magnet for expert skiers who really want to push themselves at high altitude. Here in the 4 Vallées, Switzerland’s largest ski area, you have off-piste itinerary runs that are ungroomed and unpatrolled—mogul heaven.


Among the three resorts that make up JungfrauWengen, Grindelwald, and Mürren—you have the Eiger, Jungfrau, and Mönch peaks as your spectacular backdrop. Try the world’s longest downhill World Cup course at Wengen, and take a ride up to 11,332 feet on the Jungfraujoch Railway, Europe’s highest.

Interior at Hotel Kristberg with orange sofa (L); slope and ski lift at Lech (R)

Austria serves its powder with a side of historical charm.

Photo by Michelle Heimerman

Where to ski in Austria

Expect everything from high-altitude slopes to medieval villages


Exquisite Kitzbühel falls into the fairy-tale category, its cobblestone streets lined with colorful medieval houses and upmarket boutiques and hotels, including the elegant Hotel Zur Tenne and the Hotel Goldener Greif. In contrast to this stately image, the town goes wild every January during the notoriously tough Hahnenkamm World Cup race when thousands of people pile in. For the rest of the year, expect superior intermediate pistes among its 145-mile ski area.


Austria’s reputation as the king of raucous après-ski is firmly cemented in Saalbach, one of the villages within the enormous ski area of the snappily named Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn. (Try saying that after a few schnapps.) Within Austria’s second largest ski domain you can flit between the two main valleys thanks to one of Europe’s most efficient lift systems. Neighboring Hinterglemm has a more laid-back and family-friendly vibe.


Linked to more boisterous St. Anton in Austria’s largest ski area, classy little Lech in the Arlberg region prefers to keep things elegantly restrained. The late Princess Diana’s favorite ski resort is full of lovely traditional architecture—classic wooden chalets with decorative panels and colorful shutters—to go with red runs that flatter confident intermediates, as well as some seriously challenging off-piste terrain.

Sommelier Stefan Ploner drinks a local wine in the snow (L); a plate of pasta on outdoor deck (R)

Linguine with lemon or mussels with your slope-side white wine?

Photos by Michelle Heimerman

Where to ski in Italy

Dramatic scenery and sublime cuisine combine to make Italian skiing very special indeed.

Cortina d’Ampezzo

Old-school glamour meets spellbinding scenery in Cortina d’Ampezzo, accurately nicknamed the queen of the Dolomites. Its 75 miles of slopes are surprisingly quiet, possibly because many visitors are too busy shopping and eating in the town center. While you have access to more than 300 miles of pistes within the Dolomiti Superski, Cortina’s own ski areas have plenty to offer, including the varied terrain of Tofana, the Super8 ski circuit around Cinque Torri and Faloria’s challenging runs.

Alta Badia

Alta Badia calls itself the gourmet capital of the Dolomites, with good reason. Not many ski resorts put on a gourmet ski safari or have a sommelier on the slopes. Base yourself in Corvara to make the most of its 80 miles of pistes, which also have direct access to the fantastic 25-mile Sella Ronda ski circuit.

Read AFAR’s in-depth review of Italy’s gourmet ski scene.

Mary Novakovich is a U.K.-based travel writer, journalist, and author writing for the Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent ,and CNN Travel, and whose Croatia travelogue, My Family and Other Enemies, won the 2023 British Guild of Travel Writers Best Travel Narrative Book.
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