As the leaves fall off the trees, and northern cities begin to get the first taste of snow, anticipation begins to build for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. Dreams of BBQs and pool parties quickly shift to those of hot cocoa and knee-deep untouched powder on the slopes. The ski and snowboard season is something that true snow bunnies dream of all year long, with great anticipation and hopes that mother nature will deliver with ideal conditions for as long as possible. The serene environment provided by these destinations makes them the must-visit places for those cold-weather travelers looking to experience the best that winter has to offer.
10. Alta/Snowbird, USA
Utah is synonymous with skiing and snowboarding and the neighboring resorts of Alta and Snowbird are arguably 2 of the best in the state. The debate is long and passionate as to which resort boasts the better overall skiing experience, so if you ask a local prepare yourself for a story. Alta has the advantage of snowfall with a consistent annual average of 530 inches while snowbirds’ unrelenting verticals can’t be beaten. With consistently lower lift ticket rates and a location that’s only a short flight from many major US cities, Alta and Snowbird offer a great place for a quick weekend ski or snowboard escape.
9. Verbier, Switzerland
This holiday and ski resort is situated in one of Europe’s hotbeds for the sport, the Swiss Alps. Some slopes are even covered with snow year-round, so it comes as no surprise that some of the top skiers in the world have settled in the Verbier area to take advantage of these top conditions. Not only is Verbier a fantastic destination in itself, but also it’s a part of the Four Valleys ski area, which includes nearby neighboring regions. Verbier is renowned for its off-piste, or unmarked areas, which has gained popularity in recent years.
8. Las Lenas, Argentina
Though South America might not be the first place pictured when thinking of ski and snowboard destinations, Las Lenas in Argentina is famous for its excellent weather, powder snow and excellent opportunity for extreme skiing or snowboarding. Located in the Andes Mountains, Las Lenas offers a good selection for those who are just beginners, or those who are interested in the most difficult of challenges. Located in the Southern hemisphere, the season can last from the middle of June through to the middle of October, and offers mountain biking, climbing and horseback riding in the warmer months.
7. Breckenridge, USA
Perennially one of the most visited ski resorts in the western hemisphere, Breckenridge is located in the state of Colorado. These ski slopes are nestled among the famous Colorado ‘fourteeners’, which is a group of 53 peaks that rise 14,000 ft or higher. The town’s location among these peaks greatly attributes to Breck’s optimal ski conditions. In 2008, Breckenridge hosted the Winter Dew Tour, the first action sports tour for winter sports, which continues to be hosted at Breckenridge annually. Many of the top stars visit Breckenridge for the tour, including legendary American snowboarder Shaun White. The site continues to be one of the foremost destinations for visitors with its regular updates and enhancements.
6. Zakopane, Poland
Though Zakopane has yet to win the right to host the Winter Olympics, around 250,000 tourists visit the area annually. Sitting right near the border between Poland and Slovakia, Zakopane lies in a valley between the Tatra Mountains (which are the highest mountains in Poland) and Gubalowka Hill. With many runs suitable for all skill levels from beginner all the way to seasoned expert, anyone can enjoy Zakopane’s unspoiled nature and majestic landscapes. The most popular months for tourists are December and February, as visitors look to take in some of the finest alpine and cross-country skiing, not to mention snowboarding and ski-jumping.
5. Livigno, Italy
Skiers and snowboarders know Livigno, located in the Alps of northern Italy, as a relatively cheap destination to visit. Because of this, the area attracts a younger, more energetic crowd. Visitors should expect the area to be akin to a giant party during peak times of year when young travelers take vacations to let loose in this Alpine party town. Livigno boasts 110 km of ski runs ranging from beginner to expert as well as one of the best terrain parks in the Alps. With special laws that eliminate taxes for tourists, the budget friendly nature helps make Livigno such a popular winter fun destination.
4. Vail, USA
Vail Ski Resort, located in Eagle County, Colorado is the second largest, single mountain resort in the United States. Its 5,000 skiable acres are surrounded by more than 350,000 acres of natural forest. The site is owned by Vail Resorts, who also own Breckenridge and a number of other locations, so visitors can expect to be treated to the highest of quality ski/snowboard resorts. The village of Vail which sits at the base of the mountain offers charming shops, review-worthy restaurants and a free bus system to make transportation seamless. Vail offers a wide array of features for both beginners and professionals skiers and snowboarders alike, which makes it such a popular destination among travelers.
3. St. Anton, Austria
Another resort located in the Alps, this time on the Austrian side (also known as the Tyrolean Alps), St. Anton is routinely listed as one of the finest resorts in the world for skiers and snowboarders. There are over 200 miles of perfectly groomed pistes, and 120 miles of deep-snow runs, all of which is covered with a single ski pass. St. Anton also caters to a wide variety of skill levels, with a large number of beginner and intermediate choices, plus some of the finest extreme courses in the world. Not only famous for the runs, St. Anton is also widely known as having some of the best après and nightlife of any Austrian ski resort.
2. Niseko, Japan
Located on the northern island of Hokkaido, Niseko is widely considered one of Japan’s top 5 ski resort destinations. A collective of 5 independently operated resorts are interconnected and surround the 4,291 ft Mount Niseko Annupuri. The main feature that draws so many to this far-away ski destination is the staggering amount of powder that falls here as a result of nearly-constant storms that come from neighboring Siberia. The average annual snowfall is 590 inches making for prime powder conditions more often than usual. The area is also a popular night skiing spot as the mountain features bright stadium style lighting. While Japan might be a long trip from North America, Australians can take advantage of the 10-hour flight to fantastic ski/snowboard conditions.
1. Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
By many measures, Whistler Blackcomb is the largest ski resort in North America. The resort is 50% larger than the next closest, features the greatest uphill lifting capacity, and even holds a record for the highest and longest unsupported cable car span that joins the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains at the top. Over 2-million visitors a year travel to the site, and in 2010 it was home to a number of events for the Winter Olympics. The site is geared slightly more toward experienced skiers and snowboarders but still provides 35 runs for beginners. The Whistler village is also an attraction in itself with shops, restaurants and some great bars for perfect ski-vacation nightlife.