Legend has it that the ski was invented before the wheel. In Two Planks and a Passion: A Dramatic History of Skiing, Roland Huntford, the author states cave drawings from the last Ice Age in the Palaeolithic period suggested humans first began using skis (two sticks attached to either foot) as a mode of survival. Some of the earliest ski like fragments found in the 1960’s date back to 6000 BC in Russia. Fast forward to the 1700s when the Norwegian military held competitions as part of their drills which featured skiing down slopes; which later led to the first recorded national ski race in Oslo in the 1860s. However, Europe's significant historical stamp on skiing was the very first Winter Olympics held in Chamonix, France. By the time the 19050’s and ’60s came sling, skiing was on a fast track to becoming a favourite pastime and it has shown no signs of slowing down ever since. The steady progression has since seen Europe become a major destination for ski holiday makers. Europe is home to some of the worlds most sought after ski regions and it is not hard to see why this is the case. With countries like Switzerland, France, Italy and Austria having fantastic ski areas that offer world-class skiing as well as non-ski activities for all groups, Europe continues to remain a top destination for skiers all over the world. Europe has some of the largest ski terrains in the world with its combined slopes registering a total of 38, 369 kilometres of pistes which are being serviced by 16, 294 ski lifts (and counting). With such a vast and expansive dedicated ski area, one is always spoilt for choice when going through the process of selecting the best places to go skiing in Europe.
Top European Ski Resorts
Europe has no shortage of world-renowned ski resorts. Every other corner of the Alps is home to an iconic, popular or historically significant ski area with its own unique resorts. In order to capture the uniqueness and relevance of the European Alps, we have curated a list of some of the top European ski resorts in no particular order. Each of these resorts represents a country in Europe that is well received and appreciated for their skiing and snowsports heritage. We have also tried to capture different ski resort profiles ranging from the vibrant party fuelled resorts to the charming family-friendly, in an effort to cater to the different tastes and preferences of our reading audience.
The ski resort of Courchevel sits in the Three Valleys ski area which ranks among one of the largest ski areas in Europe. The resort is made up of 4 villages that sit at 4 different levels within the area, Le Praz Courchevel 1300, Courchevel 1550, Courchevel 1650 and Courchevel 1850. The resort is widely regarded as one of the best ski resorts Europe has to offer thanks in no small part to a combination of its location, skiing areas, celebrity status and non-ski activities, which cater to all visitor profiles. A ski pass at Courchevel gives you access to up to 600 kilometres of pistes across this expansive ski area, including the resorts of Meribel and Val Thorens. The pistes are located from 1300 meters to 3,200 meters altitude. The majority of the pistes located around Courchevel are on north-facing slopes, which largely improves the snow conditions on the pistes, keeping them preserved for longer periods of time during the day. The pistes at Courchevel cater best to beginners and intermediates with their wide and open long blues and greens but it also has a good number of tree-lined reds and steep blacks which settle the thirst for adrenaline from the advanced skiers visiting the resort. Seasoned skiers looking for a bigger test can head to Val Thorens and Meribel for more challenging runs. The resort around Courchevel is also very well known for its snow reliability and on the rare occasion of any shortages, the resort has world-class snowmaking cannons to supplement 100% of the pistes. Courchevel is known for its star power, attracting celebrities from across the globe including the British royal family on a number of occasions. It has fantastic facilities from 5-star accommodation, luxury spas and wellness centres, to non-ski activities featuring skydiving and driving snowmobiles through the mountains. All things considered, it comes as no surprise to see Courchevel listed amongst the top European ski resorts.
A favourite amongst Britons who have been visiting this resort en masse since the 1970s, Mayrhofen is certainly one of Austria’s prized ski resorts and one of the best European ski holiday destinations. The resort of Mayrhofen has a rich history in skiing and snowsports, having been welcoming and receiving holiday making skiers for over 100 years. Located in the Ziller valley, Mayrhofen offers some of the best European skiing experiences available to find in the region. The village of Mayrhofen is located at a modest 630 meters altitude, with the ski area ranging from 1,650 metres and peaking at a lofty 2,500 meters. The local pistes around Mayrhofen total a combined 142 kilometres but a Zillertal pass gives you access to the full 542 kilometres, 180 interconnecting lifts and access to the Hintertux glacier ( which offers year-round skiing) and connecting shuttle bus. The majority of the pistes at Mayrhofen are primarily well suited to confident intermediates, with beginners also finding a lot of joy on the many wide-open blue cruisers and easy runs over at Ahorn. However, whilst Mayrhofen might attract the interest of beginners and intermediates, it is also home to one of the steepest and most challenging slopes in Europe; the infamous Harakiri. There are also 22 black runs and several off-piste opportunities across the area. With a very reliable snow record, Mayrhofen also prepared for any snow shortages with a network of snow cannons at the ready to cover up to 80% of the pistes.
In addition to its fantastic skiing, Mayrhofen also ranks among the top apres entertainment ski resorts in Europe. We cannot look any further than the massive musical event, “Snowbombing” which has been featured in the Mayrhofen for over a decade. The Sunday Times christened it “the mother of all mountain music festivals” featuring global music artists such as Dizzee Rascal, Fatboy Slim, Kasabian and The Prodigy on its past roasters. Snowbombing is usually held towards the end of the season, however, prior to this, the resort has no shortage of bars, lounges and restaurants to visit. With off ski activities for the whole family, Mayrhofen is always sure to make the list of being one of the top European ski resorts.
Cervinia is a small and adoringly quaint Italian ski resort that forms part of one of Europes largest and perhaps one of its most interesting ski areas, the Breuil-Cervinia Valtournenche Zermatt ski area. Idyllically sitting below the Matterhorn, the village of Cervinia, is just as interesting as its ski area and perhaps, even more intriguing. Officially launched as a ski resort in 1936, the resort has remained one of Italy’s top resorts since its beginnings. Cervinia exudes an authentic Italian charm with its pedestrian resort centre featuring traditional ancient buildings that sit proudly as a poetic ode to the village’s past. Cervinia’s high altitude is undoubtedly its biggest attraction and its lofty heights also guarantee its snow reliability and consistent snow-sure record which allows the skiing season to kick off early in October and last until mid-May; much longer than the average ski season seen at other resorts. Sitting at an impressive altitude of 2,050 metres, Cervinia’s pistes go up to an incredible 3,883 metres altitude, positioning it as one of the highest resorts and top ski destinations Europe has to offer. Its pistes are best suited to beginners and intermediate skiers, with the more challenging runs located across the Swiss border in Zermatt which also forms part of the Breuil-Cervinia Valtournenche Zermatt ski area and is connected to Cervinia via the Klein Matterhorn interchange. The pistes in Zermatt are accessible with the International lift pass which grants access to 360 kilometres of snow-sure pistes. Cervinia is also an ideal resort to visit with the family. It has a calm and quiet atmosphere and its pistes are never too crowded so young children and beginners in your travelling group can enjoy the slopes and at the same time improve their skills without being obstructed by large crowds.
Saas Fee is a beautiful ski resort with a fantastic snow record. It is surrounded by a glacial belt of stunning Swiss mountain ranges including the Dom, Switzerland's highest peak. It is a charming ski village that offers some of the best, high Alpine skiing experiences anywhere in Europe. The resort sits at an impressive altitude of 1,800 metres with pistes peaking at 3,600 meters. Most of its pistes are located above 2,500 meters and are mostly north facing; making for an excellent snow base, especially after a heavy snow dumping. The majority of the runs here are ideal for beginners and intermediate skiers and with Saas Fe’s location within a glacial terrain, the pistes on the higher parts of the mountain are still gentle enough for said beginners and intermediates to have an enjoyable skiing experience. Not enough can be said about the surrounding beauty of this ski terrain. Affectionately referred to as the pearl of the Alps, Saas Fe has a magnificent backdrop of the towering blue glacial belt and wild Alpine forests. The view can be enjoyed from the highest revolving restaurant in the world, the Mittelallalin, which is perched at mouth dropping 3,500 meters altitude. The restaurant revolves on an axis allowing for a 360-degree view of the terrain and making for an unforgettable experience. Access to the Mittelallalin is via the world's highest metro train service, another world record holder at Saas Fee. If perhaps you were in the mood for more experiencing more world records whilst you were already at it, you can try climbing the world's highest ice pavilion on top of the Allalin mountain. Back down at the village, Saas Fe’s charm is further accentuated by its car-free resort and its charismatic Swiss Alpine atmosphere dotted with old traditional buildings which hint at its farming past. There is a buzzing apres-ski scene that is not quite overboard but lively enough to give everyone a merry evening.
We’re here for you always
At Erna Low, we specialise in providing memorable ski holidays to the European Alps. Over the past 90 years, we have visited more than 100 ski resorts and established enduring and trusted relationships with accommodation providers, ski schools, ski hire and many more holiday facilitators who provide services to make your stay as hassle-free and enjoyable as possible. Whatever direction you choose to take this ski season or the next, be it France, Austria, Switzerland or Italy, do not hesitate to contact us and explore your options. We are always ready and available to guide you through your decision process.