With a certain cruel irony, the first Covid lockdown coincided with epic powder dumps across the Alps. Since then the slopes have been serenely quiet, hosting mostly locals who were able to make it through the marathon series of entry requirements. But this year, the 2022-2023 season will mark the highly anticipated return to skiing in Europe. Sierra Nevada in Spain will have 105 new snow cannons to guarantee perfect conditions, travel operator Tui has launched a new sleeper train travelling from Amsterdam through to the Austrian Alps, and the après ski scene is set to be bigger than ever with the return of a series of music festivals to the mountains.
If your piste knowledge is a little rusty, here we’ve rounded up the best ski resorts in Europe to know about, from the classic crowd-pleasers to the more off-grid spots, as well as where to eat and stay – from lifts to skins and snowcats, and from Wes Anderson-worthy grande dames to deep-nature escapes. For more recommendations, see our guide to the best ski hotels and the best ski Airbnbs.
Whichever way you want to do it this winter, here’s to just getting out into the mountain air and feeling truly alive again.
The really wild one
Cat-skiing is very much a North American invention and has only appeared on this side of the Atlantic in off-piste destinations. Few European ski destinations are as immediately intriguing as the Accursed Mountains, as the locals call the Gjeravica range on the Albanian-Kosovan border, whose upper slopes have only become accessible to people for the first time in the 21st century. Founded by Croatian ski and snowboard champion Sebastian Fleiss, Lynx Freeride runs week-long trips to Gjeravica’s vast terrain of untouched bowls, couloirs and tree runs. Kosovan craft beer and no-menu seasonal suppers welcome weary skiers home, fresh from exploring a wild, off-piste paradise that is still home to wolves, bears and lynx.
Where to stay: In a two-bedroom villa at Belle Resort in nearby Decan.
Val Gardena, Italy
At the heart of the vast Dolomiti Superski area, with more than 740 miles of pistes, Val Gardena has long been a draw for pro skiers and powder-hunting free-riders, with heli-skiing options among the craggy peaks of the Sella Ronda. But the South Tyrol area, in general, is about so much more than skiing. To the east, the pine-covered, craggy Alta Badia valley has an ancient Ladin culture and serious locavore food, from centuries-old agriturismos to the three-Michelin-starred St Hubertus.
Where to stay: To the west, a series of striking contemporary stays have shone a light on Italy’s most sustainably aware region: the sleek Adler Spa Resort, overlooking a particularly stunning section of the Dolomites; the modernist Miramonti, near the small Merano resort; and the Lefay Dolomiti, a future-forward spa from the group first known for jet-set health programmes on Lake Garda.
The one nearest the beach
Europe’s southernmost ski resort, in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Granada, reaches up to 11,150ft, with 70 miles of surprisingly snow-sure slopes that have regularly hosted World Cup ski races and beau monde crowds lining the terraces of La Visera and Badia. But the best thing about a few days skiing here is coming down the mountain and heading for somewhere entirely different. It takes 40 minutes or so to drive to Granada, where the great Moorish Alhambra palace is about as far from Alpine style as it gets; it’s barely an hour south to Motril, with its Costa Tropical beaches; and two hours in either direction to the new creative buzz of Málaga or the old Spaghetti Western sets around Almería.
Where to stay: At chalet-style El Lodge, the smartest place in this quirky town.
This whimsically pretty (and rather posh) Swiss resort is a firm favourite for Europe’s discreetly wealthy and royalty wanting to pelt down a pap-free mountain. Along with the welcome absence of the bling brigade with all its diamante decadence, Villars proximity to Geneva and the vast ski area spanning Les Diablerets, Gryon and Glacier 3000, make it a failsafe for families and late-season skiing. As do its nursery slopes and stellar ski schools – advanced skiers will have to lean into some backcountry skiing for an adrenaline fix. Villars is all about the velvety smooth blues and reds, rustic mountain restaurants such as Lac des Chavonnes and Auberge du Col de Soud, and the old mountain railway that can still chug skiers to the mountain top, should tradition dictate.
Where to stay: At trad Chalet RoyAlp Hôtel and Spa, which has a knockout spa.
The restrained royal one
The resort of choice for several royal families, including (famously) Princess Diana, quietly charming Lech has somehow managed to retain its authentic alpine character and keep the glam and glitz at bay. Intermediate skiers and families carve its wide, snowy slopes (the resort receives a double dump envied by neighbouring resorts), and low-key cafés and old timber chalets, bearing Austria’s signature Alpine pastels, cluster around the trickling Lech river. Lunches are taken seriously – Rud-Alpe’s Schnitzel and warm apple strudels lure in punters as soon as the mid-morning hot chocolates wear off, while comforting meats and cheese fondues await back in town at the cosy tavern, Hus Nr 8 and The Stube, the Alberg Hotel’s classic, much-loved restaurant.
Where to stay: The most famous stay on the slopes is Hotel Alberg with its royal pedigree. For something less twee and more modern try Severin*s Lech Hotel.