Most people are drawn to the mountains for skiing and snowboarding, but also for what they’ll find off the slopes. We guide you to the 10 best ski resorts around the world that combine soaring alpine scenery and interesting cultural pursuits.
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Snowbombing Festival – Mayrhofen, Austria
It’s billed as one of the world’s greatest snow festivals, and for good reason. Imagine some of the best bands around playing in igloos and on top of glaciers. Snowbombing is a genuine ski alternative to Glastonbury with past acts including the Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and Fat Boy Slim. Held annually over five days in spring, venues include the Forest Stage set among tall pine trees, the Arctic Disco, an igloo with two dance areas and three bars where everything (including furniture) is sculpted from snow and ice, and several stages directly on the piste. You can also engage in a bit of dressing-up at one of Europe’s biggest outdoor fancy dress party.
Mingle with the crème de la crème – St. Moritz, Switzerland
They’re two of the world’s most prestigious sporting events – the SNOW Polo World Cup and the White Turf horse race series. More private jets will be at St. Moritz’s private airport for these two events in January and February than at any other airport around the world. Over 15,000 spectators, including members of Europe’s royal families and Hollywood stars, arrive each year to watch the winter polo tournament played on a frozen lake near town. Taking place in January, the contest itself plays only a minor role in the event’s stature. It’s as important to flash your pearls in the Veuve Clicquot tent or to sample the delights created by some of Europe’s finest chefs. Meanwhile, the White Turf races, held annually in February, are the only horse races held anywhere on snow.
Food and wine festivals – Alta Badia, Italy
What better way to sample Italian food and wine in winter than in one of the best gastronomic ski regions around the world? While skiing is important in Alta Badia, eating will always remain number one. Each winter the region celebrates its local culture and cuisine in a series of food-based festivals and tours. They start in December with Skisafari, a gastronomic tour on skis to taste gourmet dishes prepared by top chefs. Then there’s the “Sommelier on the slopes” festival, with Italian wine on display for skiers through February and March. And finally, in March take part in Roda dles Saus, a gastronomic week dedicated to local Ladin cuisine (native to the Dolomite Mountains) with food prepared at mountain huts overlooking the snowy mountains.
Carnival – Innsbruck, Austria
There is no more exciting place to be than Innsbruck during Carnival. Aside from Venice, it is one of the best places in Europe to observe this ancient festival – which symbolises the struggle of spring emerging from winter. Throughout January and February, the city of Innsbruck and its neighbouring villages offer daily festivals and parades. The whole city dresses in elaborate costumes and masks to signify spring and summer’s fight with the witches of winter. There are also balls and special dinners held each evening. And with nine ski resorts all close by, most reachable via free busses, Innsbruck is great for those skiers wanting a true cultural ski holiday. Most ski areas suit beginners and intermediates, such as Igls and Mutter, but some – such as Stubai Glacier and Patscherkofel – will also test experts.
Art, music and culture – Chamonix, France
Chamonix is not only about skiing – culture lovers can come here and don’t even set foot on the slopes. This tiny mountain town boasts one of France’s most thriving art scenes. All winter long there are art exhibitions, photography exhibitions, free art workshops and music festivals. While individual events such as the Chamonix Adventure Festival (a four-day film festival in March featuring adventure films), the famous Christmas markets, the Piolets d’Or (annual mountaineering award) and the Chamonix Unlimited cultural festival (in early April) bring skiers and non-skiers from all over the world. You can catch French musicians at historic houses reflecting the Le Belle Epoque era, at venues like the Maison de Jeunes. And just a little further afield, visit Annecy, one of France’s historic villages, also known as “Venice of the Alps”.
Non-stop cultural attractions and festivals – Interlaken, Switzerland
Set on a lake in central Switzerland, Interlaken offers non-stop cultural attractions and festivals from December to April. Some festivals are centuries-old Swiss traditions which include city-wide street parades and fancy dress parties. Others appeal to music lovers of all ages – from the best wind orchestras playing at the Jungfrau Music Festival in January to one of Europe’s largest open-air concerts, Snowpenair (in April), held on the slopes of Kleine Scheidegg in the shadow of one of Europe’s largest mountains, the Jungfrau.
Live the nightlife – St. Anton, Austria
No one does après-ski quite like the Austrians – that’s why the Austrian après-ski scene is replicated in ski resorts all over the world. And nowhere in Austria do they know how to party quite like St. Anton, home to over 80 bars and restaurants in one single ski resort. Après-ski bars such as Krazy Kungurah or the legendary Mooserwirt have patrons dancing on tables to local music and ‘70s fare like YMCA or Dancing Queen while still in ski boots. Just being here among the costumes (people like to dress up in Austria) and the jovial daily 4pm parties is a cultural treat unlike any other. On top of that there are plenty of events celebrated throughout winter – from the terrifying Krampus Devil’s Run to Ladies First Week and its famous White Thrill ski race, there’s enough here to keep you going.
World-class sports events – Cortina, Italy
Cortina has wonderful ski slopes and an exquisite scenery, yet these are not the sole reasons why people come here. Cortina’s traffic-free main street – the Corso Italia – is one of the best places in all of Italy to be seen, and once there, you’ll quickly notice that you’ve landed in the middle of a trendy jet-set crowd. Here you’ll find some of Italy’s best regional restaurants, such as the exclusive Toulà, housed in a beautiful old barn, or Il Gazebo combining scrumptious dishes with stunning views. To keep you entertained there’s a winter polo event, held each February on nearby Lake Misurina, and various other events such as the Women’s Alpine Skiing World Cup, the Cortina Snow Run and the Cortina Snowboard World Cup. The best Italian food and wine in a pristine setting dubbed the “Queen of the Dolomites” – it’s easy to see why Cortina is where people flock.
Sundance Film Festival – Park City, UT, US
Long-time local Robert Redford first established the Sundance Film Festival in 1978 and it’s now one of the world’s most iconic international film festivals. Each January movie stars join Redford at the screening of the newest movies. Thousands descend upon this stunning 1870s silver mining town in northern Utah. Musicians including the likes of Dave Grohl, Stevie Nicks and Sting play free concerts, while stars like Johnny Depp walk about town. And the slopes remain blissfully empty during the 10 days of the festival – giving culture-loving skiers the perfect opportunity to ski and rub shoulders with Hollywood’s best.
World Ski and Snowboard Festival – Whistler Blackcomb, BC, Canada
It’s one of Canada’s largest outdoor festivals and it’s the perfect way to end the ski season. Welcome to Whistler Blackcomb!
Come April when the days are warmer and the snow is slushy, the place to be is at Canada’s 10-day ski party. The World Ski and Snowboard Festival has Canada’s largest outdoor concert series, with big acts playing for free in Whistler’s central village. But you’ll also see some of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders compete right in front of you at the World Snowboard Open and in the Superpipe and Big Air series. There’s also a comedy festival, film-maker events and Canadian artists displaying their work.
Find cheap flights to Whistler
Ski resorts tend to be a bit far from the airport and sometimes the hotels aren’t right on the mountain. Renting a car can make your ski holiday less stressful. Compare car hire deals to save money.
Looking for more travel inspiration?
- Check out these travel tips from Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin
- Find some of the best adrenaline-rush activities to try out this winter