<p>Where and when to go skiing? A tricky question for most winter holiday-goers, but we are here to help with our expert guide.</p>
Photo: Josef Mallaun/TVB St. Anton am Arlberg

How to Choose the Best Ski Resort

Where and when to go skiing? A tricky question for most winter holiday-goers, but we are here to help with our expert guide.

Published at: 13 Sep 2019
Last updated at: 20 Feb 2023

So you’ve decided you want to go skiing this year. The next question is where? With so many resorts to choose from it can be hard to narrow down the options. France or Switzerland? Austria or Italy? So how do you pick the right resort for your luxury ski holiday? Luckily we are on hand to guide you...

Serena Norton
Serena Norton

Which Country is Right for You?

When it comes to France you can generally expect large ski areas and high altitudes - good news if you’re looking to ski early or late on in the season. Val d’Isere/Tignes and the Espace Killy ski area is one of France’s most popular ski areas. And don’t forget the 3 Valleys and Portes du Soleil, two of the biggest ski areas in the world, are located in France. Resorts tend to be more purpose-built in France but there are obvious exceptions such as Saint Martin de Belleville and Les Gets which have retained their traditional charm.

The most popular region to ski in Austria is in Tyrol, home to world-famous resorts like St. Anton and Kitzbuhel. Austria is where après-ski was born, so you can expect to party hard with the action kicking off from noon at the latest. Austria is also home to delicious local cuisine such as schnitzel, dumplings and sweet pastries, followed by a little fruit schnapps of course.

Switzerland is proud of its traditions and is the most diverse among the winter sports destinations, managing to unite four different languages across one country. It is home to some of the most expensive resorts in the world. The five-star hotels and chalets in St. Moritz and Gstaad, in particular, are notable for attracting the world’s elite. On the culinary front, you can expect to eat a lot of cheese - cheese fondue, raclette and tartiflette are just some of the treats on offer.

For a more relaxed, laid-back ski holiday, Italy is the answer. With cosy ski chalets and traditional villages, the region is charming. There is some spectacular scenery, particularly in the Dolomites, and some fabulous skiing across giant ski areas. Ski pass prices tend to be more moderate than in other European destinations. Hearty cuisine and exquisite wine is the order of the day here, particularly in South Tyrol, a region which prides itself on its gastronomy.

Skiing in ZermattPhoto: Pascal Gertschen

When is the Best Time of Year to go Skiing?

If you’re tied down to particular dates due to work or school holidays then this can affect where you can ski too. Whilst early December or late-on in the season might be cost-effective you will need to consider a higher, more snow-sure resort for better odds of good skiing. Resorts such as Val d’Isere and Val Thorens in France and Lech or Zurs in Austria are good bets. Remember though that the higher the resort the longer the transfer time from the airport…!

The most popular (and expensive) weeks to ski are over Christmas, New Year and at Half Term. For better rates, good snow and uncrowded slopes the end of January is a great time to hit the slopes. Bear in mind though that the temperatures tend to be on the chillier side and the days are shorter. Warmer weather makes an appearance in March - perfect for leisurely lunches and sundowners on the terrace. In April, spring has well and truly arrived. Expect long sunny days but slushier conditions, particularly towards the end of the day. Easter is slightly quieter than half term and prices are not as high, making it an ideal time to take the children skiing.

What is the Skiing Level of your Group?

It is extremely important that you consider the level of skiers in your group with some resorts better suited to beginners than others.

Villars for example, with its gentle nursery slopes at village level and easy runs to progress to, is ideal for novice skiers. Les Gets is another resort with village-based nursery slopes and an entertaining American-Indian themed fun park to boot.

If you are planning on booking a ski-in/ski-out chalet, do check that it is suitable for beginners as some can be situated on challenging slopes.

Intermediate skiers looking to cruise down miles of well-groomed red and blue pistes should think about resorts like Madonna di Campiglio in Italy and Meribel in France. For experts, Chamonix, Zermatt and Verbier all offer extensive slopes and some serious off-piste itineraries.

Snowshoeing in Val d'IserePhoto: Val d'Isere Tourisme

What can you do as a Non-Skier?

Not everyone who embarks on a winter holiday in the Alps skis, so it is worth looking at what other activities are on offer. In fact, 50% of winter visitors in Crans Montana don’t go for the skiing - with an ice rink, curling rink and mini-golf course there is plenty to keep you entertained. If shopping is your preferred pastime then look no further than Gstaad, St. Moritz and Cortina for their impressive array of designer shops.

Even if you don't ski there's no reason why you can't enjoy the apres-ski, in which case both St. Anton and Meribel are both excellent options. Many resorts like Zermatt are excellent for winter hiking and snowshoeing whilst Chamonix is great for ice-climbing and adrenaline-fueled adventures.

What is your Budget?

It’s a common misconception that Italy and France tend to be cheaper than Switzerland and Austria, and really it is better to look at it on a resort by resort basis as this isn’t necessarily the case.

If you are looking to stay within a certain price point you may have to compromise on your exact requirements. For example, if you’re set on skiing in an area like the 3 Valleys, it is worth considering staying in lesser-known resorts or lower villages that still link to the big ski area. For instance, you will tend to find much better value for money in Courchevel Le Praz and 1550 than staying in a luxury ski chalet in Courchevel 1850, yet access to the ski area is still very easy.

If you are set on a ski-in/ski-out chalet (which attracts premium prices) perhaps think about one just a short walk from the ski lifts instead. If you’re prepared to be a little more flexible in your requirements the chances are you’ll find a hidden gem that you would never have considered otherwise.

Meribel ski area in the 3 ValleysPhoto: Sylvain Aymoz/Meribel Tourisme
Arula ski in/ski-out chaletsPhoto: Chalet Arula 1, Lech
Luxury ski chalets in Courchevel 1550Photo: Marc Berenguer/Courchevel Tourisme