It’s almost time. The clocks have gone back, the thick duvet is down from the attic and the heating is on… Soon boards, skis, snowshoes, thermals and goggles will be coming out to play. But what are the best winter sports holiday destinations?
What makes a place good for winter sports?
For some people it is about luxury and others it is getting the most adventure they can for their money. Many people like a lively party town, but others prefer the peace and quiet of the wilderness. Some want freeride, others freestyle, some look for family friendly slopes others gnarly backcountry….
It’s pretty clear that the answer is different for everyone. So when deciding the best winter sports holiday destinations we’ve based it all on the activities. Not just skiing and snowboarding, but the other stuff you can do, everything from ice climbing to ice diving and snowkiting to skydiving.
There is no point in sending a group of young apres loving skiers to a town with no bars. Likewise, recommending a budget destination for someone who likes five start treatment will not go down well. So we’ve also looked at the type of person that each destination would suit.
Best winter sports holiday destinations
Without further ado, here are 10 of the best destinations for winter sports. Please note, these are in no particular order and as with any top 10 it is the authors opinion, if you disagree please leave a comment.
St. Moritz, Switzerland
St Moritz is famous for being a high-end ski resort full of luxury hotels, sumptuous spas, posh restaurants and boutique shopping. It is a favourite amongst skiers and boarders with the Upper Engadin boasting 350 km of piste. On the downside, this very pretty town is also very expensive.
However, it’s not on this list due to the luxury, but because it offers an exceptionally wide range of unique winter activities. For example, it’s got the iconic Cresta Run, a three-quarter-mile-long toboggan track that makes other toboggan tracks look like kids sledging.
You can also try skijoring – which is being towed behind horses – and lake Silvaplana is one of the best places in the Alps to try snowkiting. Also on the menu are the two opposites of ice-diving and skydiving. Perhaps you’d like to drive a snowcat, try curling, have a go at snowshoeing or paragliding?
Having twice hosted the Olympics, you can take a ride on the Olympic bobsleigh track or test your nerves at skeleton. Check out our article about extreme weekends in St Moritz for more information.
Who: 5* skiers or anyone with cash to burn.
Best for: Luxury and it’s range of unique activities.
The complete opposite to St Moritz, Borovets is cheap and lively – expect strip joints rather than boutiques. It makes it to this list of the best winter sports holiday destinations because it consistently ranks as one of the cheapest places to ski or snowboard in Europe.
The slopes are not bad either. There are a few challenging runs along with plenty of easy stuff making it ideal for beginners. When conditions are right there is good off-piste and it boasts the best snowpark in Bulgaria.
But it’s real draw is it is one of the cheapest places to snowmobile in Europe. There are extensive areas to explore taking you into the forests and across frozen lakes in the Rila Mountains. Snowshoe tours and horse riding – yes on snow – are also very popular and cheap.
Who: Budget minded skiers and first timers.
Best for: Snowmobiling.
Ninety minutes north of Vancouver sits Whistler, the largest ski resort in North America and one of the most famous worldwide. But why is Whistler so popular?
Well, it’s vast, gets epic amounts of powder and has lots of lift-accessible, avalanche-safe off-piste within its boundaries. It also has some of the best snowparks anywhere, including pro lines, Olympic half-pipe and areas for beginner freestylers.
But Whistler also has many other activities to enjoy. From dog sledding and snowmobiling, to bungy jumps and ziplining, to ice-climbing and ice fishing it has a bit of everything. With it’s Olympic legacy you can also try bobsleigh and skeleton.
Who: Anyone. Whistler caters for all budgets, abilities and styles.
Best for: Skiing and snowboarding with other activities thrown in.
Ruka is the largest ski resort in Finland, but still tiny compared to it Alpine cousins. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in uniqueness and diversity of activities, creating a surprisingly enjoyable ski and snowboard experience.
Being located on the edge of the Arctic circle in Lapland means Ruka has a long winter season and is as snow sure as they come. It also means Father Christmas is a local making visits a magical experience for families.
Dog sledding, reindeer experiences – who doesn’t want to meet Rudolf?, horse riding, ice fishing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing are all bought together under the northern lights. Its topped off with the unique Finnish experience making it one of the best winter sports holiday destinations.
Who: Families. It is also ideal for beginners.
Best for: Accessible family friendly fun in the snow. And meeting Father Christmas.
Guaranteed solitude, frozen lakes and northern lights are what makes Finnmark one of the best winter sports holiday destinations. Favoured for its cross-country and alpine skiing, it’s a place for adventuring rather than posing on the piste.
But Finnmark is especially noted for its dog sledding. Locate yourself up north in this wonderful wilderness, live for a week or two as a dog musher, and return home with a fresh perspective on life.
Who: Those who like to escape it all into the wilderness.
Best for: Dog Sledding, northern lights and adventures.
Val Gardena, Dolomites, Italy
Famed for its food, unique culture and the stunning UNESCO world heritage backdrop of the Dolomites, Val Gardena is a magical destination. The Dolomite Superski area encompasses 12 resorts and is the second biggest ski area in the world, boasting the infamous Sella Rhonda circuit.
Val Gardena itself consists of three lovely towns, Selva, St Cristina and Ortisei. They ooze class, with high quality restaurants, excellent accommodation options and plenty of spas all at a reasonable price. On the slopes there are snowparks galore, plenty of easy runs plus some very challenging options.
Val Gardena is a good area for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and romantic sleigh rides, but its real draw is exploring it’s vast and varied slopes. With some of the most beautiful mountains in the world this is easily one of the best winter sports holiday destinations.
Who: Couples and groups looking for good value luxury.
Best for: Skiing in beautiful surroundings exploring vast and varies slopes.
Arguably the best powder in the world and regularly one of the snowiest places on the planet. Plus, it’s got a pipe, a railpark, a volcano in the background and an unusually long season. It’s a bit different to the usual ski scene with Japanese magic added to it.
Strawberry Fields and Miharashi are two tree runs you must try. Traditionally Niseko is one of the few places in Japan to allow you to enjoy the off-piste, and although those rules are relaxing it is still a top spot.
If a culturally enlightening visit to Japan is not reason enough, then be sure to check out the Onsen thermal baths. It is also a great place for snowmobiling and snowshoeing and one of the few places you can try snow rafting.
Who: Anyone looking for a Japanese cultural experience or pow!
Best for: Snowboarding and free skiers
An often forgot about corner of the world, Iceland is one of the best winter sports holiday destinations. It offers ice driving, ice diving, ice caving, ice climbing – see why it is called Iceland? You can also hike on glaciers all year round, climb volcanoes, snowmobile and snowshoe to your hearts content.
On top of this there are 11 small ski resorts to get your ski and snowboard fix, and there is peak to sea heli-skiing on the Troll Peninsula. But Icelands main draw is that it’s vast snow covered glaciers and reliable winds make it one of the best places in the world for snowkiting.
Who: People looking for a multi-destination winter activity holiday
Best for: Snowkiting and multi-activity adventure holidays
Queenstown, New Zealand
As our only entry from the Southern Hemisphere please remember the Queenstown winter is during our summer. Queenstown is widely regarded as the adventure capital of New Zealand, and is the birthplace of extreme activities such as bungee jumping, flying fox and jet boating.
There are four ski resorts within an easy drive of Queenstown, including Coronet Peak and the Remarkables on it’s doorstep. Offering some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the southern hemisphere they are well worth a visit if you need a snow fix during the northern summer.
The range of activities in and around Queenstown is staggering. Many are available year round such as rafting, kayaking, hiking and biking – they are not exactly ‘winter sports’ but coupled with its extreme offering and ski slopes make it a top winter destination.
Who: Backpackers and anyone wanting a snow fix in the northern summer.
Best for: Skiing, snowboarding and extreme adventures.
Last, but certainly not least, Chamonix is made for people who have a taste for the extreme and who like to party. Bordered by Switzerland and Italy, Chamonix has an edge to it, partly because it is the gateway to Mont Blanc.
Famed as a freeriders paradise it is more for advanced skiers – descending the Grand Envers du Plan will be something you will never forget. The 20km long Vallee Blanche descent is the longest lift accessible off-piste route in the world, although a challenging route it’s one that intermediates can ski.
All of this makes Chamonix one of the best winter sports holiday destinations. But when you add winter mountaineering, ski touring the Haute Route to Zermatt, dog-sledding, snowkiting, ice climbing, speed flying, paragliding, slacklining, wingsuit flying, base jumping it’s easy to see why it is considered the extreme capital of Europe.
Who: Advanced skiers and snowboarders, extreme freaks and party hounds.
Best for: Extreme!
Be prepared for winter adventures
As with any adventure sport, winter activities carry an element of risk. Arguably the adverse winter conditions require greater planning and preparation than most summer sports. All the more reason to ensure you have adequate travel insurance in case things go wrong.
But don’t let that put you off! There is a whole world of winter adventures heading our way. So don’t get upset by the clocks going back, having to turn the heating on or using the thick duvet. Instead embrace winter and next time you are in the mountains try something other than skiing and snowboarding.
We hope you found this guide to 10 of the best winter sports holiday destinations useful and inspiring. If you are planning a winter adventure be sure to check out our ski discounts and snowboarding discounts.