As the ski industry has grown and matured, resorts have both continued to invest in lift infrastructure as well as cottoned on to the marketability of much larger ski domains. As a result, an increasing number of resorts are now part of much bigger ski areas making it easier than ever the spend a whole week without taking the same run twice!
The biggest ski areas in the world
There are many lists of “world’s biggest” linked ski areas, but many of these claims often need to be taken with a pinch of salt, as there is no real auditing of distances and often “links” include bus transfers between resorts on the same ski pass. In our opinion, absolute size is much less of a factor than the combination of variety runs, ease of getting around and total potential distance.
In this blog, we set out everything you need to know about the world’s biggest and best ski areas. Alternatively head straight to Planet’s app for a ready-made curated list of resorts, hotels, and transport to get the planning started!
The Alpine A-List
The top resorts in these A-list mega areas are usually the first choice for any visiting skier. In these, you’ll find top-quality skiing and lifts, great restaurants and apres and with most a snow-sure time. They’ve established their reputations over many seasons and invested in keeping up with the crowd. This does though come at a price, but thanks to some significant lift investment in recent years, it can now often be more pleasant and significantly better value to stay in one of the smaller satellites to a mega area than the main resorts themselves.
Les Trois Vallees (3 Valleys), France
Top resorts Courchevel (1850, 1650), Meribel (Centre & Village) and Val Thorens. Other resorts include Courchevel-Village 1550 and Courchevel-La Praz (1300) and La Tania in the Courchevel Valley; Meribel Mottaret and Brides-Les-Bains in the Meribel valley and Les Menuires and St-Martin-de-Belleville over on the Val Thorens side.
An aerial view of the epic 3-Valleys ski area
On paper slightly smaller than the Portes du Soleil (below) at a claimed 600 km, but almost certainly the biggest truly linked area in the world and definitely by lift capacity as well a sheer convenience for getting around. There is really something for everything from the bling of Courchevel 1850 to the high-altitude student friendly Val Thoren, and Brit-favourite Meribel in-between. Families can also find great options in Courchevel 1650 and ski-convenient Meribel Mottaret. For the penny pinchers, good value options can be found in the lower Courchevel resorts like 1300 and La Tania, as well as Brides-Les-Bains, Les Menuires and St-Martin-de-Bellville.
Portes Du Soleil, France/ Switzerland
Top Resorts Morzine, Avoriaz, Les Gets. Other resorts include Chatel, St. Jean d’Aulps and Abondance on the French side and Morgins, Champoussin and Champery on the Swiss side.
Often claims to be the largest linked area in the world with 650km of piste spanning France and Switzerland and ranging from delightfully family-friendly Les Gets to high Altitude otherworldy apartment-clad Avoriaz with happening Morzine in-between. There are, however, some breaks between areas, notably between Les Gets/ Morzine and Avoriaz where you have to walk or take the “Petit Train”, making it less accessible overall than the 3 Valleys. That said things have improved with the new Super-Chatel lift and plans are afoot for new links, one from Morzine centre straight up to Avoriaz (passing the Prodains lift) and one linking the main Les Gets slopes with quiet Mont Chery on the other side of the village. There is even a rumour that a link will be created to Roc D’Enfer linking to St Jean D’Aulps… and one that’s been around for about 30 years linking Les Gets to Samoens (and the whole of the Grand Massif).
Espace Killy, France
Top resorts: Val’ D’Isere and Tignes 2100 (le Lac and Val Claret). Other resorts are largely small satellites of these (Le Fornet and La Daile around Val D’Isere and Tignes 1800 and 1500 le Breviere down from Tigne).
Picture from the “Band Stand” at Val D’Isere’s famous Folie Douce restaurant and bar
The Espace Killy rivals even the 3 Valleys as one of the most popular and best ski areas in the world. Particularly loved by the catered-chalet Brit crowd and their seasonaire hosts, it has spurned a whole host of Alpine institutions including the likes of Dick’s Tea-Bar and the Folly Douce. The skiing is perhaps the best of all these A-listers, despite being significantly smaller on paper at 300 km. This is due to the variety and accessibility or the runs with something to suit every level and its long snow-assured season thanks to the high altitude. Recent lift investments, particularly on the Solaise side of Val’Disere have made it even more efficient to get around. There is some great nightlife, Restauration and shopping to be had making it a firm favourite year-after-year.
Top resorts La Plagne (Belle Plagne and Plagne 1800), Les Arcs (Arc 2000). Other resorts include Plaine- Soleil, Aime 2000, Centre and Bellecote and Arc-1950, 1800 and 1600 with Peisey Vallandry a nordic centre and Montchavin located between the two.
With the opening of the Vanoise express in 2003, the Paradiski area was created, linking La Plagne with Les Arcs and giving visitors a claimed 425 km of pistes. In practice, the link is a bit ponderous, but it does enable swapping of resorts for the day opening up a significant amount of extra terrain. The skiing is generally great for beginners and intermediates with Les Arcs marginally edging La Plagne in terms of quality. With much of the accommodation purpose-built and in a dubious style, it’s not the prettiest but both have a bigger range of budget accommodation and apartments than some of the other A-listers, so its a good option for families or groups on more of a budget. For those that like to train it, it’s one of the few French resorts you can access directly by rail, with services into Bourg St-Maurice (and a funicular up from there into Les Arcs), including an overnight Eurostar from London.
Map showing the major French ski areas
The 4 Valleys, Switzerland
Top resort: Verbier. Other resorts include Verbier neighbour Nendaz as well as Bruson, La Tzoumaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon.
Mainly known for Verbier, probably the most famous of all the Swiss resorts, this area covers more than 400 km of pistes and is known for its exciting terrain and off-piste, making it a firm favourite with more advanced and expert skiers. Its one of the more snow-sure of the A-listers and many go for the big off-piste descents. The town of Verbier itself is also well known for a buzzing apres-ski scene and some good shopping.
Arlberg Ski Area, Austria
Top Resorts: St Anton and Lech/Zurs. Other resorts include St Christoph, Stuben, Klosterle/ Sonnenkopf and Warth-Schrocken.
Like Verbier in Switzerland, St Anton is probably Austria’s most famous ski resort, famous for its skiing and partying (institutions like the Moosewirt and Krazy Kanguruh). With the new for 2016/17 Flexenbahn lift between Zurs and Stuben, the whole area has now become easily accessible on skis as well as expanding to around 340 km of piste. there is some serious terrain attracting expert skiers. However, it’s not just all about har core skiing and partying with St Anton and the rest of the Arlberg offering a fantastic variety of skiing suited to every leisure as well as great restaurants, shopping, and leisure facilities. Across the valley, Lech and Zurs offer some of the best luxury accommodation in the Alps, as well as access to some great skiing, if you can get out of your hot tub!
Grand Massif, France
Top resort Flaine. Other resorts include Samoens, Morillon, Les Carroz and Sixt.
With its easy sub-hour commute from Geneva airport, big cruising bowls and long snow-sure season this is a firm favourite with locals and visitors alike. Flaine itself is not the prettiest, despite recent makeover attempts, but the skiing makes up for it particularly for the intermediates. The Grand Massif is another area that has invested significantly in lifts, notably for 2017/18 the new Coulouvrier chairlift significantly improving the links between satellites of Samoens and Morillon and their connection to Flaine and Les Carroz. Samoens, in particular, is a very picturesque village, and a great option for those that want the benefits of the Grand Massif in a much more enticing set of environs than Flaine.
Dolomiti Super Ski and the Sella Ronda, Italy
Top resorts: Val Gardena (Selva di Val Gardena), Cortina (D’Amprezzo). Other resorts are multitudinous but include Corvara & Colfosco (Alta Badia), Kronplatz, Canazei, San Cassiano
Reputably the single largest Single lift pass ski Domain in the world (although the Salzburg Super Ski pass and Vail epic passes would have something to say about that), the Dolomiti Super Ski area in the heart of the Italian Dolomites mountains covers an incredible 1,200 km of runs across 12 different ski areas each with many separate resorts and villages, and often much better value than its Alpine cousins. It’s a little hard to get your head around how best access this area as the piste map is very confusing and even within the Dolomiti Super Ski area you have many ski areas made up of several resorts and called different names by different sources. The most notable of these is the Sella Ronda, which is a 500km+ linked circuit covering 4 different ski areas at the heart of the Dolomiti Super Ski area.
The most famous resort for access to the Sella Ronda circuit is Val Gardena (Specifically the town of Selva di Val Gardena), but Corvara & Colfosco in the Alta Badia area are also good bets. More broadly within the Dolomiti Super Ski Area Cortina D’Amprezzo is the stand out resort, with Kronplatz another good option. The area as a whole has invested significantly in snow cannons, and has amongst the best artificial snowmaking facilities in the world, more or less guaranteeing at least a good piste skiing experience.
The best of the rest of Europe
Many of these areas are slightly less well known but offer significant and high-quality skiing, often at a better price than the A-listers we’ve mentioned above.
Matterhorn Ski Paradise, Switzerland/Italy: Top resorts Zermatt, Cervinia. Other resorts include Valtournenche. Two famous resorts sitting in the shadow of arguably the most famous Alpine mountain silhouette. Snow-sure and great variety, with the added fun of being able to ski in two countries in a day. With some of the highest lifts and biggest descents (including the awesome 20km to Valtournenche), this lives up to its ski paradise name.
Ski Welt, Austria. Top resorts Soll, Westendorf. Austria’sia’s SkiWelt or to give it its full name SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental covers 280 km+ of runs in the East of Austria, conveniently located under an hour from Innsbruck. The SkiWelt is also part of the much, much bigger Salzburg Super Ski pass that covers a reputed 2,750 km of slopes, and is close to Kitzbuhel which is part of that pass.
Milky Way, France/ Italy (aka the “Via Lattea”): Top resorts Sestriere, Montegenevre and Sauze d’Oulx. 400 km of runs covering several resorts in Frane and Italy ranging from the peaceful car-free Sansicario to the party town of Sauze d’Oulx. Snowboarders head to Mongenevre in their droves and expert skiers to the higher altitude slopes of Sestriere.
Skirama Dolomiti, Italy. Top resort Madonna di Campiglio. Not to be confused with Dolomiti Superski, with one pass covering resorts combining 380 km of pistes across 8 resorts in the Southern Alps (although not all linked). With 90% of the runs covered by snow-making facilities its a safe bet even in mild conditions
Le Grand Serre Chevalier, France. Top resorts: Serre Chevalier. One of the best value of the big European ski areas and popular with families for its easy access and kid-friendly activities and ambience.
Grandvalira ski area, Andorra (Pyrenees). Top resorts Soldeu – El Tarter and Pas de la Casa. Created in 2003 with The joining of those two top resort valleys it now boasts 210 km of runs. Fantastic for families and beginners/ intermediates this is also a great option if you don’t want the white stuff at as much as 75% less than the premier resorts.
The Grandvalira linked ski area in Andorra
Other big linked or single ski pass areas include Chamonix Mont-Blanc, Silvretta Arena (Ischgl), Alp D’Huez, Jungrau (Wengen), Otzal (Solden), Aravis (La Clusaz, Grand Bornand), Kitzbuhel-Kirchberg, Zell am See-Kaprun (previously the Europa Ski area), and Espace San Bernardo (La Thuile, La Rosiere).
North America’s big boys
Although North America has not had the same opportunity for joining of dots as in Europe, there has none-the-less been some significant investment in linking up areas and improving the general trail and terrain access, creating some big linked and single ski pass areas. Vail resorts also offer an “Epic pass” that gives you access to most of North Americas (and now some of Europe’s) top ski areas on one pass. Here are our top picks.
Whistler Blackcomb, British Colombia, Canada. Owned by the ever-expanding Vail Resorts, Whistler is perhaps the most famous, biggest and arguably best of all North America’s ski areas with around 250 km of trails. This is thanks to fast and efficient lifts, and a big variety of on and off trail runs. It’s all also easily accessible from Vancouver city making for a potentially more varied trip.
Whistler’s trail map, highlighting the best area by skier type
Park City, Utah, USA. Another owned by Vail Resorts who have invested significantly in upgrading the lift infrastructure, merging the previously sperate Park City Mountain and Canyons resorts
Powder Mountain, Utah, USA. Unsurprisingly famous for its fantastic powder record and a huge area (the biggest single ski area in the USA by size after two new lift additions in 2016 with a similar 250 km+ of runs to Whistler). And with ticket sales limited to 2,000 per day you are guaranteed a lot of acreages all to yourself.
Big Sky, Montana, USA. One of the biggest areas in the US and with aspirations to expand significantly. It’s efficient links and a good variety of terrain make for an excellent all round destination. In addition, if you have to have a spare few million dollars knocking around you can invest in property and gain membership of the attached private Yellowstone Club ski area. Nice!
Vail, Colorado, USA. Another Vail Resorts-owned affair, modelled on an Austrian ski resort, Vail is one of the most popular and well know US resorts and justifiably so. With over 5000 acres of groomed piste and powder bowls, it’s a great place to hang out.
Others to note include Heavenly, California/ Nevada (USA), Aspen Snowmass, Steamboat, Breckenridge, Colorado, Beaver Creek and Winter Park all in Colorado (USA) and Fernie in British Colombia (Canada).
Planets curated Mega Ski Area week
At Planet, we are on a mission to make planning travel with others simple. We’ve curated some of our favourite resorts with the best access to the biggest ski areas, along with all the information you’ll need on transport and accommodation, so in a few clicks, you can plan your perfect ski safari adventure. Download the app from http://planetapp.io or go straight the curated list!