It’s snow season in Canada, and travellers from around the world are beginning to flock to our many great mountains and high-altitude townships. They’re not the only ones who can travel to find the perfect ski vacation, however, and Canadians can go adventure travelling as well. Some of the best destinations for Canadians are within Canada, some require a drive to the US or a flight overseas. Regardless, every entry in this list deserves the attention of anyone looking for a ski resort guaranteed to be worth their time.
Snow Factor, Scotland
This Glasgow institution is home to the largest indoor ski slope in the world, a 50-by-50 metre behemoth designed to be the ultimate teaching slope. SnowWorld, in the Netherlands, has more square metres of snow, but Snow Factor is built from the ground up for travellers and those looking to improve their skills. As a low-impact way to hone or reinvigorate your skiing prowess, Snow Factor is unbeatable. If you’re already comfortable on the mountain, and the snow is there, then don’t waste your time indoors at all. Get out on the slope!
Whistler, British Columbia
This is one of the world’s premiere ski and snowboard destinations, and it’s right here in Canada. Whistler, and its companion peak Blackcomb, is not only one of the largest but the most developed slopes in the world. The world’s longest free-span gondola connects the mountain tops, and each has its own thriving community at its base. Whistler is one of only a few ski towns to grow into a community all its own, and for many the draw of the Village is just as strong as the mountain itself.
Banff is a bit of a Potemkin village, a largely government sponsored city that strictly controls its residency licenses – not everybody can live in Banff, or even stay there too long. As a result, the sort-of city looks like a painting, or the platonic ideal of a ski resort. Clean, well maintained streets are lined with quaint shops full of consumer items and tourist baubles. The night life is active but controlled. And, of course, the slopes are world-class, huge rolling slopes offering both manicured runs and untouched powder. From beginners to experts, Banff has something for everyone.
La Grave, France
La Grave is a known safety hazard. More an untamed park than a ski resort, the place comes packed with a number of strong admonishments to stay in posted areas, warnings about recent avalanches. Still, riders leave the beaten path with some regularity, cross the world in fact to do just that. The shops of La Grave are famously utilitarian, more likely to have avalanche detectors than colourful touques. La Grave is widely regarded has having some of the best skiing territory in the world – just remember to bring a guide.
Only about an hour’s drive from another large ski destination, Vermont’s city of Stowe, the inaptly named Killington is home to one of America’s best family ski destinations. Still, with the largest vertical drop in New England, and the largest riding area in the Eastern US, it’s certainly no kids-stuff. The area is undergoing significant construction to add to the village experience and make Killington an even easier choice for travellers.
Zermatt is a tourism town in every sense. Almost two thirds of the jobs in the area are in the service industry, and more than half of the residential buildings are vacation homes. It’s not surprising, however, as Zermatt is the world’s go-to entrance to the beauty of the Swiss Alps. This is a town built from the ground up to accommodate international visitors, and Canadians will have no trouble finding workers fluent in English, French, or both. Enjoy the city, then take to its world-famous slopes, the moguls or Triftji or the slopes of Schwarzsee. There’s no better way to enjoy the Alps.
Aspen is perhaps the world’s most famous ski resort, the result of an enormous marketing push in the late 80s and early 90s that put Aspen on the tongue of comic heroes and movie protagonists. They’ve managed to make the town’s name synonymous with snow-sliding - but it’s not all marketing. Aspen is also one of the oldest and most sought-after destinations by real snow enthusiasts. With four complete skiing areas, each with multiple runs, it’s easy to see why. Aspen is one of the most fully developed and feature-complete ski resorts in the world.
Some travellers aren’t looking for the glossy professionalism of Aspen and Whistler, though. For those people there is Kitzuhel, a small Austrian town which dates back to medieval times. While it is a ski resort of high international esteem it has not been commercialized by the influx of tourism dollars. The community is still mostly residential, and most inhabitants were born there, so Kitzbuhel maintains its quaint, genuine feel. That the local slopes are breathtaking in scope is just a plus, as is the open nature of many of its runs. For those with the know-how, Kitzbuhel can offer a world of possibilities, and the famous Austrian soups upon return.
Wanaka, New Zealand
Wanaka takes a holistic approach to the ski resort. Rather than focusing on gut-churning drops or wide-open expanses, Wanaka has chosen to be the ultimate generalist. The town has one steep set of trails for riders, another flat area for cross-country enthusiasts, and the world’s first full-sized freestyle ski park for those who prefer half-pipes to mountainsides. This is New Zealand’s largest ski resort by far, and it receives all the attention that might imply. As a result, the town is famously well appointed and complete, a thriving community with virtually no unemployment and a series of events like the biennial Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow.
Geilo is a ski resort in every sense of the word. Renowned for having some of the most luxurious hotels and accommodations in the world, the oldest Norwegian ski resort is also its most famous. The city is flanked on either side by enormous mountains, which makes not only for convenient skiing but gorgeous views. Of all the destinations on this list, Geilo is the one most likely to be used by non-skiers, situated just a few hundred kilometres from the country’s most populous cities. If it’s pampering you crave, either between runs or instead of them, Geilo is always a safe bet.