You don't need to be able to ski to enjoy an action-packed holiday in the Alps.
With gourmet restaurants, breathtaking views, designer shops and activities galore, you don’t need to be able to ski to enjoy an alpine holiday. These days, resorts devote as much time and energy into what they offer off the slopes as on them. We’ve put together five of the best ski resorts for non-skiers so they can get just as much enjoyment out of a mountain holiday as a skier or boarder.
St. Moritz - for its action-packed events calendar
St. Moritz is renowned for being much more than a ski resort. Whilst winter sports are an essential part of the St. Moritz experience, this doesn’t just refer to skiing and snowboarding. Adrenaline-junkies can enjoy an exhilarating ride down the world’s only natural bobsleigh track or take on the challenge of the iconic Cresta Run. If spectating is more your style then the Snow Polo World Cup in January and the White Turf International Horse Races are a true sporting highlight.
One of the best ways to experience the mountains is a winter hike; you don’t need to be an elite athlete to explore the Upper Engadin with flat walking paths from Maloka to Silvaplana and on to St. Moritz perfect for those wanting to take it easy while admiring the spectacular scenery. For an even more relaxed pace, you can enjoy a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride through snowy St. Moritz and along the shores of the frozen lake. There are also plenty of ice-related activities on offer from skating to curling and ice hockey.
A gourmet mecca for foodies, St. Moritz has several Michelin-star restaurants as well as a celebrated Gourmet Festival at the end of January. Home to the highest shopping street in Europe, there are multiple upmarket shops to browse; shopping here is practically a sport in itself. Relaxing wellness treatments are available at numerous spas in St. Moritz and also in the privacy of luxury chalets such as Chesa el Toula.
Zermatt - for its breathtaking views
Dominated by the Matterhorn, Zermatt is an attractive car-free village in the Swiss Alps. One of the best things about this picture-perfect village is the incredible scenery, best experienced from the sunny observation platform at Gornergrat (3,089m). Reached by cog railway, the panorama at the top is one of the finest in the world, with views of the Monte Rosa massif, the second-largest glacier in the Alps and a total of 29 mountains above 4,000m. Another exceptional viewpoint is from the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise; take a ride on the world’s highest 3S cableway to the top where you can view the Matterhorn’s south face, and on a clear day, views as far as Mont Blanc and the summit of the Gran Paradiso, Italy’s highest peak.
If you want to get even closer to the Matterhorn then it is worth booking a helicopter sightseeing flight with Air Zermatt, the world-renowned aerial search and rescue team. Winter hiking and snowshoeing is another way to enjoy the mountains and Zermatt has an extensive network of trails of varying difficulty; a great way of working up an appetite before rewarding yourself at one of Zermatt’s many mountain restaurants. The resort also has some fantastic apres-ski bars with live music both in the village and on the mountain.
With its boutique shops and lively bars and restaurants, the village is a delightful place for a gentle amble. Visit the Matterhorn Museum to broaden your knowledge of the history of the town and to learn about the challenges of the mountaineers who conquered the Matterhorn.
Cortina d’Ampezzo - for a fashionable getaway
Surrounded by the dramatic limestone cliffs of the Italian Dolomites, Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of Italy’s most fashionable resorts. A shoppers paradise, the Corso Italia street at the heart of the resort is lined with designer shops selling clothes, jewellery, antiques and art. Referred to as “the land of prosecco and espresso”, non-skiers will certainly not look out of place here.
Should you want to explore the mountains, there are plenty of ways to do it. Fat biking, sledding and snowkiting are all popular activities here. Cortina also has many beautiful snowshoeing itineraries along forest roads and at altitude; a great way to experience the glory of the Dolomites. Cortina’s Olympic Ice Stadium is open all year-round for ice skating. The resort also hosts a popular curling tournament each year that attracts teams from all over the world.
If you wish to explore a little further afield then a day in Venice makes a nice change. Just a two and a half hour journey from Cortina, Venice offers a day of culture, art and architecture. For those who enjoy a spot of science, Cortina has an astronomical observatory and history buffs can explore the First World War tunnels at nearby Lagazuoi.
Kitzbuhel - for a cosmopolitan winter experience
With cobbled streets, colourful buildings and an array of designer shops, Kitzbuhel is a treat for non-skiers. Take a guided walking tour and discover the history of this former mining town and its medieval buildings, and churches. Winter hiking is also a great way to explore the area; the tourism office offers free guided winter hikes along with the option of a sunset or full moon hike. There’s also the opportunity to take the weight off your feet with a romantic carriage ride around the Schwarzsee lake.
Aside from skiing, there are plenty of alternative winter sports to try from ice skating and curling to ice hockey and tobogganing. In fact the toboggan run at Gaisberg is floodlit so you can enjoy the slopes at night too. Kitzbuhel has a fantastic wellness and sports centre; Water World Aquarena offers endless fun from a swimming pool with a waterfall to a sauna area, hammam, massage room and infrared cabins for total relaxation.
During the winter, Kitzbuhel hosts a number of internationally renowned events from the Snow Polo World Cup to the annual Hahnenkamm downhill ski race. If you are spending Christmas here then the traditional Christmas advent market is certainly worth a visit. For a change of scene, Salzburg and Innsbruck are just a short train ride away.
Chamonix - for an action-packed winter adventure
Well-known for extreme sports, Chamonix has plenty of adrenaline-fueled activities for non-skiers. Paragliding is one way to experience the valley from a new perspective, 1,000 metres above the ground on a tandem flight. Helicopter flights over Chamonix’s glaciers are also possible. Chamonix is also popular for ice climbing; beginners and more experienced climbers alike can hone their skills. There’s also an indoor climbing wall for those that prefer to keep warm and dry.
One of Chamonix’s best attractions is Aiguille du Midi, which at 3,842m is accessed via a two-stage cable car. Once at the top, enjoy the incredible views over the Alps and of skiers and mountaineers descending the arete onto the Valley Blanche or heading up to climb to the summit of Mont Blanc. Another fantastic outing is a ride on the cog railway from Chamonix up to the Grotte de la Mer de Glace where you will find an ice cave carved out of the glacier, a cafe, restaurant and shop.