When it comes to best winter vacations, are you more the warm getaway or a snow-filled adventure type? We’re both!! And while we’re headed to Colorado soon for another winter wonderland adventure, we’re also excited that many ski towns and resorts around the world have ramped up their activities for non-skiers too. The editors and members of VirtualTourist.com put together the Top 10 Winter Destinations for Skiers & Non-Skiers and we have to say – it’s winter-iffic!
Jackson Hole is an ideal spot for the experienced skier and a novice who is only considering lessons. In addition to class and private ski and snowboard lessons, the resort also has a wide variety of camp options, running 3 to 4 days, to take skiers and snowboarders of all ages to the next level. If skiing or boarding isn’t on the agenda, you can still explore the terrain without much exertion – there are great snowmobile tours, as well as Iditarod Sled Dog tours for a more historical experience. No trip to Jackson Hole is complete without visiting either Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park; both parks offer ranger-guided snowshoe hikes from December through mid-March. Another highly-recommended experience is the National Elk Refuge, where visitors can take a sleigh ride through the refuge and into the herd of wild Jackson elk. After exploring the natural surroundings, thirsty travelers can head to one of Jackson’s watering holes, like the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which has leather saddles atop the bar stools, or hangout at the base of the mountain for the après ski scene.
It’s difficult to pick one spot in Switzerland, but historic Verbier has both quality skiing and a full schedule of activities for those who aren’t interested in moguls or powder. For the skiers, Verbier’s off-piste (backcountry and/or non-groomed) terrain is some of the most challenging in the world. For those sans skis, there are 20 km (12.4 miles) of marked and prepared winter hiking trails and well-maintained tobogganing slopes. Verbier is truly the spot to experience the “après ski” lifestyle, especially this season with the recent opening of The Lodge Verbier, Richard Branson’s private ski resort. Many of the piste restaurants and bars are easily accessible to non-skiers, so you can enjoy a drink on the patio with the exquisite Alps view. In addition to the usual winter sports and spa treatments, Verbier offers two particular specialties: cheese and puppies. Verbier is actually located near the famous St. Bernard pass, the St. Bernard hospice, and of course, the origin of the St. Bernard dog. In both winter and summer, visitors can walk with the dogs or visit the museum dedicated to the breed in nearby Martigny. Verbier is also in the middle of prime cheese country, so be sure to sample the cheeses and Switzerland’s famous cheese fondue.
Two hours from Munich, Kitzbühel is an excellent destination for those who are looking for an active stop while exploring Austria. Besides downhill skiing, Kitzbühel also offers over 120 km (75 miles) of cross country ski trails and 170 km (106 miles) of winter hiking trails. Around the holidays, visitors can enjoy the Kitzbühler Christmas Market, complete with gingerbread, glühwein (a German spiced mulled wine), handicrafts, and more. In late January, the area hosts Hahnenkamm Race week, one of Austria’s premier downhill slalom events where travelers can watch competitors fly by at an average of 103km per hour (64 mph). Kitzbühel is also close to Innsbruck (95km /59miles) and Salzburg (80km/50 miles), meaning easy access to explore these other Austrian towns. Innsbruck is a charming alpine town with a city center that is over 800 years old, while Salzburg is the birthplace of two musical legacies: Mozart and The Sound of Music. Both of these cities also host notable Christmas markets during the Advent season. For those who love dance music, nearby Saalbach will host the 4-day “Rave on Snow,” an electronic music festival, in mid-December.
Queenstown, New Zealand is a great spot for skiing, as well as a variety of other adrenaline sports. Once a tiny gold-mining settlement, this town has evolved to become a world-class sport mecca. As long as visitors aren’t afraid of heights, you’ll have plenty of activities to keep you busy outside skiing and snow sports. After taking the Skyline Gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak, you can luge down concrete tracks, hike the mountain-top trails, or jump from the Ledge Urban Bungy, which has a ‘runway’ so you can gain a bit of speed as well as a unique harness that allows jumpers to do flips, twists, and other such stunts. Queenstown is also home to another famous bungy jump, the Nevis Highwire Bungy. The Nevis drops 134 meters (440 feet) straight into a riverbed, so it’s not for the faint of heart. In addition to getting your heart pumping, Queenstown is home to Lake Wakatipu, where visitors can go boating or simply enjoy a picnic. Remember, the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, so if the slopes are what you’re after, plan accordingly!
Kranjska Gora, Slovenia
Many of us have seen photographs of an island with a church in the middle of a pristine Alpine lake, but few of us are very familiar with Slovenia. While initial assumptions might suggest Austria or Germany, this image is in fact Bled in the Gorenjska region of Northern Slovenia. Bordering Austria and Italy, Northern Slovenia and the Julian Alps are a growing skiing destination, but also a great destination for those who simply appreciate unspoiled nature. Triglav National Park, home to Mount Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain, is also Slovenia’s only national park and one of the oldest protected parks in Europe. Hiking is a popular way to explore the park and see Lake Bohinj, Slovenia’s largest glacial lake. To the north of Mount Triglav, Kranjska Gora provides opportunities for skiing, hiking, and night tobogganing. In addition to the physical activities, Kranjska Gora also has a casino and hot springs for when visitors want to relax. VirtualTourist recommends an excursion to see the country’s capital, Ljubljana, with a walk around the Old Town and a visit to the Ljubljana Castle. Since the country has historically been controlled by Italy, the Austrian empire, and was also part of Yugoslavia, the culture and cuisine are an interesting mix of Central Europe, Balkan, and Mediterranean traditions.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
Few destinations can say they are both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a former Olympic host city, but high in the Dolomite Alps, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, earns this rare distinction. While serious skiers will be thrilled to stay on the Dolomiti Superski, the circuit of resorts in the Dolomites, there are plenty of activities for non-skiers. In the summer, Cortina has become quite the mountain biking mecca, and they continue this in the winter with the K-Track, a special kit that can transform any mountain bike into a snowbike. Cortina has multiple schools that teach novices how to “snowkite,”or use the K-track, during their visit. In tradition with most Italian destinations, there is also tons of culture to experience in Cortina. If next year’s winter adventure is on your mind, consider visiting in December to experience the city’s traditional European Christmas Market, fully equipped with mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and old-fashioned sweets. In January, the city hosts the Nordic Skiing World Cup and the Women’s Alpine Ski World Cup, as well as Ice Art, the International Festival of Snow Sculpture, where artists transform huge blocks of ice into sculptures along Corso Italia.
While the French Alps is dotted with countless great villages, Chamonix is unique in that it is more famous for mountaineering than skiing. Located at the foot of Mont Blanc, this spot attracts athletes and daredevils from all over the world, eager to attempt some experience of the 4,810 meter (15,781 ft.) mountain. From paragliding to mountaineering courses and glacier walks, visitors do not need skis to experience this majestic mountain. For those looking to watch some great athletes, head to Chamonix next January when they host the Swatch Freeride World Tour, with skiers and snowboarders battling it out to be crowned the world’s best freerider. And with adrenaline comes letting off steam (any time of year!), so don’t miss some of Chamonix’s famous après ski spots, like Monkey Bar and Le Privilege. Also, this is the second-most-starred region in the French Michelin Guide – so prepare to eat well!
Taos, New Mexico
Few ski towns in the Western U.S. have the same opportunities for non-skiers as Taos, New Mexico. With four different ski areas, there are plenty of opportunities for skiers of any level, but non-skiers are not excluded. At Red River ski area, tubing starts at 4:15 pm, just after the slopes close, and Angel Fire ski area has the Polar Coaster – 1,000 feet of hills and a lift to take tubers back to the top. Angel Fire is also well-lit for night tubing. Taos is home to the Enchanted Forest in the Carson National Forest, which offers wide, groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. For non-snow activities, Taos is a long-standing center for wellness treatments and bodywork practitioners. A popular spot for these practices is the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, where sulphur-free, geothermal mineral waters flow from a subterranean volcanic aquifer. For those interested in the cultural history of the area, the Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historical Landmark. In fact, the multi-storied adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for more than 1000 years. Nearby, the town of Santa Fe provides more artistic and cultural opportunities, as does Ghost Ranch, the famous ranch and home of artist Georgia O’Keefe.
Die-hard skiers are always looking for the next hot spot, but also an off-season gem – and that’s where Argentina comes in. Similar to New Zealand, the ski season in Argentina (and Chile, another popular destination for skiing in South America) starts in mid-June, when the Cerro Catedral Mountain is usually maintaining a cover of snow. While there are 42 miles of trails with a good mix for beginners and experienced skiers, Bariloche makes the list because of the Argentine fun quotient. Just as the nation’s capital, Buenos Aires, is famous for wild nightlife, Bariloche’s remote location does not mean it is without plenty of nightlife. The town has all kinds of evening spots, from casinos to discos to artisanal beer breweries.
Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
While many skiers will argue that all the great skiing in North America is in the West, Mont Tremblant has been single-handedly fighting for the East’s reputation. A short 90-minute flight from Montreal, Mont Tremblant is also located in Quebec, and with that, comes all the luxuries of French Canada. In addition to great skiing, the mountain has 12 hiking trails, ranging from 1km to 20 km (.62 to 12.4 miles) round trip that also coordinate with the gondolas. If you’re feeling up to it, you can hike up the mountain to a breathtaking observation spot and then enjoy a gondola ride down. Mont Tremblant has a very beautiful little village with adorable architecture and quaint shopping. For those who might want to arrive by rail, there is a quick shuttle that runs between the Casino and the pedestrian village.
We hope this Top 10 Winter destinations list makes it easier for skiers and snow boarders to feel like they don’t have to sacrifice their vacation time for places sans powder and that the non-skiers in the mix find some fun winter activities that make their snow-filled trips much more enjoyable! For more information on these destinations, visit VirtualTourist.com.