It’s a question that’s decades old in the skiing world: Which are the 10 biggest ski resorts in the world?
The answer is not really disputed, the 3 Valleys in France with 600km of lift-linked piste in resorts such as Meribel, Courcheval, La Tania and Val Thorens is the biggest. But when it comes to the 10 biggest ski resorts in the world, things get more complicated.
For a start it is odd that areas like the 3 Valleys often add a run or two each winter, for season after season, decade after decade, but that 600km figure never changes. I asked the area’s marketing manager why that was and he said it was because it was now an iconic number associated with the brand.
All on one lift pass VS lift linked
The first question is do the biggest ski resorts in the world have to be fully lift linked, or is it OK if you have to get a shuttle bus between resorts, so long as they’re all included on one lift ticket?
If so, move out the 3 Valleys and say Hello to the Salzburg Superski Card, more than 2,500km of piste on one pass. A combined hourly uplift of 1,000,000 people, all for 240 Euros for a six day pass, about 10% less than the 3 Valleys. Altogether 90 ski areas are included on the one pass, divided into around two dozen different valleys. But will you ski it all in six days?
Another contender for the ‘biggest ski resorts in the world’ is the Portes du Soleil which includes resorts like Avoriaz, Morzine, Les Gets and Champery. It has 650km of slopes but the biggest single lift-served sector within Portes du Soleil is less than 300km, which puts it outside the top 10.
In deciding the 10 biggest ski resorts in the world lets set the criteria as those you can mostly (at least one direction), ski between without needing a bus.
Comparing piste length to piste area
The next issue is inter-continental comparisons of size, as while European ski areas add up the length of the pistes, North American areas tend to go for area. So how does Whistler’s 8,000 acres stack up against the 3 Valley’s 600km?
Well, quite close according to obsessive German cartographer Christoph Schrahe who has measured the length of Whistler’s trails on Google Earth so he could do an international comparison study. Mr Schrahe went further though and measured the actual length of ski runs in Europe’s biggest ski areas and compared those figures to the numbers claimed by the ski regions.
He found big variations causing a media furore, particularly in Austria where it was revealed that to reach their kilometre tallies some resorts measured wide pistes three times as you could take different lines down them. Others measured the length of carving S turns down the slope rather than the straight top to bottom length.
The Austrian ski Federation issued new guidelines last winter and as a result some areas, including the Ziller valley around Mayrhofen, reduced their claimed totals. Skiwelt, one of the country’s largest areas with 280km,will soon be linked to another 160km at Kitzbuhel. Skiwelt had independent experts measure it’s claimed dimension and confirm they had it correct to the kilometre.
On the area question I should also mention that the Paradiski region, which was established a decade ago this winter, initially claimed to be the biggest in the world by area, although it quickly dropped the claim. But area is sometimes used in Europe too when it suits the marketing campaign.
I’ll stick to the official figures in the below list of 10 biggest ski resorts in the world, which in some cases, most notably the Swiss 4 Valleys, I know Mr Schrahe’s measurements discredit.
Why some areas play down their size
Finally there are lift-linked areas that don’t officially exist. Regional politics within the Dolomiti Superski area seem to be behind a decision by the area not to officially add together all its runs that include the famous Sella Ronda circuit and access to all the terrain of the Gardena, Fassa and Badia valleys plus a lot more. About a decade ago they did published a figure of 500km of linked runs in a guide book – putting the area in second place behind the 3 Valleys. But you didn’t hear that from me.
It’s possible to ski in to the Sella Ronda (although there’s no lift back) down the famous Hidden Valley run from Cortina d’Apezzo’s. This adds another 20 or 30km to the 500km. The area is also due to increase with a plan to link the Cortina area to a larger sector near the resort meaning the ‘unmeasured’ Dolomiti Superski area may be competing with the 3 Valley’s 600km.
So with all the preamble and provisos out of the way, here’s the 10 biggest ski resorts in the world. All are pretty much lift-linked ski areas under one pass. A word of warning – the French dominate.
10 biggest ski resorts in the world
1. The 3 Valleys, France – 600km. The (largely) undisputed number one. Including iconic resorts such as Meribel, Courcheval, La Tania and Val Thorens
2. Dolomiti Superski area, Italy – 500km. The Sella Ronda circuit including the valleys of Gardena, Fassa and Badia plus other ‘linked’ valleys as discussed above.
3. Paradiski, France – 425km. Linking La Plagne and Les Arcs with the spectacular Vanoise Express double decker cable car.
4. The 4 Valleys, Switzerland – 410km. New gondolas this season have made this much more skiable from end to end than it used to be.
5. Milky Way, Italy / France – 400km. A cross border ski area linking the high altitude traditional French resort of Montgenevre to the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic resorts of Sansicario, Sestriere and Sauze d’Oulx.
6. Matterhorn Ski Paradise, Switzerland / Italy – 360km. The cross border ski area from Zermatt to Cervinia, unusually the lift pass costs nearly 100 Euros less for a six day pass if purchased on the Italian side of the border to access the same lifts and runs.
7. Arlberg, Austria – 340km. A very tenuous inclusion but technically there. Most people don’t ski from St Anton to the Lech side but it is possible on some extreme off piste terrain via Valluga that is only permitted with an accredited guide. The area grew by about 60km this winter with the new Arlberg Jet gondola connection to neighbouring Schrocken and Warth.
8. Les Sybelles, France – 310km. Linking six areas in the Maurienne Valley, there are also another four area with an additional 400km of piste on the pass but not lift linked.
9. Espace Killy, France – 300km. Linking Tignes and Val d’Isere with some of the world’s most exciting terrain over a huge vertical.
10. Skiwelt, Austria – 279km. This is part of the Kitzbuhel Alpen area pass which covers more than 1,000km of piste. It is almost lift linked to Kitzbuhel’s terrain creating a combined area of nearly 440km of runs.
As we have touched upon there are many different ways to define the 10 biggest ski resorts in the world. Alpine Elements do a good job of summarising these different methods in their article ‘The Largest ski areas worldwide‘. But despite looking at 5 different methods French resorts still come out on top.