Mogul piste, Whistler Ski Resort

9 Ski Resorts to Make You Fall in Love with Skiing

In a world full of ski resorts it is difficult to choose where to ski. Read about our top 9 ski destinations, book a ski trip, and fall in love with skiing.

Introduction

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’

It is a little-known fact that Charles Dickens wrote his opening line of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ after falling in love with skiing.  OK, OK, that’s not actually true.  However, if you’ve ever skied and you can read those words without smiling wryly and thinking of a ski trip then we’re willing to bet you are a superhuman.  Good for you!

For us mere mortals, skiing can be a mass of contradictions.  One moment it is the most exhilarating experience you have ever had and the next the most terrifying.  One moment the aching cold biting into your aching bones makes you feel as if you’ve never been more miserable, and the next you have such an adrenalin rush that you’ve never felt happier to be alive.  You get the idea!

For us, and we suspect millions of skiers out there, this emotional rollercoaster is what makes skiing so addictive.  Whether you are someone who was born wearing skis (hello superhuman referred to earlier) or you are someone who learned to ski in later life, you will know how incredible it feels to face a fear head on and overcome it.  That fear may come from skiing down a hideously steep and narrow slope requiring freefalling in various places.  It may come from successfully putting skis on for the first time and then wondering how the flat you were just standing on has changed gradient.  Whatever your challenge, finally beating it can make you feel immortal and make you fall in love with skiing.

If you are thinking of skiing for the first time make sure you read our post: Your First Time Skiing Questions, Answered.

Whether you are nodding along in agreement or thinking this is overstating things there is no doubt that once you have the bug for skiing there is no turning back.  However, with so many places to ski worldwide it can be difficult to choose where to go.  This is especially true when you don’t want to waste your precious holiday leave on somewhere that doesn’t live up to expectations.  Read on to learn about our favourite ski destinations (in no particular order), then use that leave to book a ski trip and fall in love with skiing.

NB. Unless otherwise stated, all ski pass price information is for 6 days from 25.01.2020 and excludes any resort specific discounts.

Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Austria

Obergurgl at sunset

At a height of between 1,800 and 3,080m above sea-level, Obergurgl-Hochgurgl is one of the highest ski resorts in Europe and one of the most snow-sure, non-glacier ski areas in the Alps.  Its season usually runs from November to May, making it a great skiing destination for those who find it difficult to book leave during the traditional ‘peak-season’ times.  Twice we’ve skied here at the beginning of December and enjoyed fantastic snow conditions.

Obergurgl and Hochgurgl are actually two ski areas linked on the slopes by the ‘Top Express’, an 8-person gondola.  The total ski area comprises 112 km of runs and 25 lifts.  Whilst it may not be considered the largest of ski areas there is definitely enough to keep you going for a week, if not more.  We’ve skied here a number of times and whenever we are considering booking a ski trip it is always the first place we think of. It is usually considered suitable for beginners and intermediates but, with 20km of black runs, there is enough to keep everyone happy.  More challenging terrain is available in nearby Vent and Solden and these areas are included in an Obergurgl-Hochgurgl lift-pass of at least three days (this pass covers all 6 of the Ötztal ski resorts).

Lift Pass Prices

Whilst its lift passes are not the cheapest, they are not unreasonably expensive.  By way of comparison with other European resorts, in 2019-20 a main-season 6-day adult pass costs as follows:

Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Austria€302.50
St Anton, Austria€300.00
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy€262.00
Zermatt, Switzerland€306.03
3 Vallées, France€312.00

Why We Love It

  • Obergurgl-Hochgurgl is a beautiful ski area thanks to its alpine slopes and the village of Obergurgl centred around an 18thcentury church.  If you like staying in ugly purpose-built resorts this is not somewhere you should consider for your next ski trip.
  • We love skiing in places where we can enjoy après-ski without feeling we could be on a drunken holiday in Magaluf.  Obergurgl-Hochgurgl has great après-ski but it is not a ‘party-resort’.  Our favourite place to unwind after a day’s skiing is at the Nederhütte, 2,104m above sea-level. The in-house band, Die Nederlumpen, are guaranteed to get you up dancing.  And when we say ‘up’ dancing, we mean dancing up on the tables with your ski boots on!  Really, really great fun!
  • Obergurgl-Hochgurl is gaining in popularity and there are definitely more people skiing there than when we skied there for the first time in 2011.  However, it is not a crowded resort and you can enjoy skiing down the beautifully groomed wide pistes without the fear of encountering hordes of people.  Lift queues are pretty much non-existent. 
  • Whether you are learning to ski or want to improve your existing skills the Obergurgl ski school is highly recommended (in fact, this is where one of us learned to ski for the first time).  With a selection of various group and private lesson options, starting from 3 years of age to adult, there is something for everyone.  All instructors speak English and German and several instructors speak other languages.

Where to Stay

Our favourite place to stay is the Hotel Madeleine in Obergurgl, a family-run luxury hotel.  We are repeat visitors here!  Although not ski-in/ski-out it is a very short walk (about three-minutes) from the main Hohe Mut gondola and the centre of the village where the shops and ski-rental are.  Ski storage is available in the ski cellar, with tile stove and heated ski boot dryer.  The rooms are available on an inclusive half-board basis and the food is fantastic. The spa area is very well-equipped and exactly what you want after a day on the slopes.

Obergurgl-Hochgurgal website

Trysil, Norway

Misty view from the top of the mountain, Trysil

Norway tends not to be the first place people think of when choosing somewhere to ski.  It’s not usually the second or third either. Trysil, however, is the largest ski area in Norway and the fact that it’s not internationally well-known makes it a great destination for anyone wanting to ski somewhere a bit different.

Although only 1,132m above sea-level at the highest point, the snow conditions in Norway are excellent and the ski area is open from mid-November to the end of April.  With 71km of downhill ski slopes, Trysil is one of the smallest ski areas in this list but it has a variety of terrain to suit all abilities and with 32 ski lifts the mountain is well-connected.  It is generally considered to be an uncrowded, family-friendly ski area although when we visited between Christmas and New Year we experienced fairly heavy lift queues. Given the time of year this was unsurprising and the crowds thinned as we went further up the mountain.

Norway is known as an expensive destination and Trysil is no exception.  However, it is the price of food and drink which makes it costly; at €228.50 for a main season 6-8 day adult lift pass it is one of the cheapest places to ski on this list.  There is not much in the way of après-ski, which makes it more suited to families or those whose main focus is skiing during the day and relaxing at night.

Why We Love It

  • The ski area covers a conical-shaped mountain, Trysilfjellet, which is gladed at the bottom and treeless at the top.  Not only is it possible to chase the sun throughout the day by skiing almost 360-degrees around the mountain, skiing from the treeless peak to the tree-covered bottom feels as if you are skiing in two different places.
  • Trysil is around a 2.5 hour drive from Oslo airport and Oslo is well-connected to other European cities, making skiing here an excellent option for a short break. In addition, due to its proximity to the capital it is possible to combine a ski and city-break if you have a bit more time and want to see more of Norway.
  • Up until February the days are short with around 7-hours of sunlight.  Skiing during the dusky hours feels magical, almost eerie, and this is magnified when some of the slopes are illuminated by floodlights. 

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Radisson Blu Resort, not to be confused with the Radisson Blu Mountain Resort and Residences which is also in Trysil.  The former is in the heart of the Turistsenter on the southern side of the mountain, the latter is in the Fageråsen area on the other side of the mountain.

The Radisson Blu Resort is ski-in/ski-out and is next to some gentle slopes, perfect for those with children or who want to get their ski legs back before venturing further afield. The hotel facilities include a bowling alley, swimming pools, a surfing wave pool, and wellness facilities.  It has an excellent pizza restaurant on-site, a burger bar, and a dinner buffet area, but it is a short walk from other bars and restaurants should you wish to venture beyond the hotel.

Trysil website

Val Thorens, France

Val Thorens is part of Les Trois Vallées ski area, the largest ski area in the world with over 600km of runs.  Val Thorens has 140km of pistes and is the highest ski resort in Europe.  At 3,200m above sea-level its snow-sure conditions mean that its season runs from November to May; we have skied here in early December when Val Thorens was open whilst Courcheval and Meribel were still closed.

View across a piste, Val Thorens Ski Resort

Lift passes can cover all of Les Trois Vallées terrain or you can purchase one for Val Thorens alone.  Your choice will depend on how long you are staying for and how much ground you wish to cover but the Val Thorens area has more than enough to keep you occupied for a week.  In 2019-20 a main season 6-day adult pass costs €312 for the whole area whilst a pass for Val Thorens alone costs €262.

The resort is usually described suitable for skiers of all abilities but, in our opinion, it is better suited to intermediates and experts than nervous beginners.  12% of the runs are designated for beginners (green) whilst almost half of the terrain is classified as intermediate runs (blue).  If you are a beginner and you want to push yourself the area will suit you.

Val Thorens tends to attract confident skiers who want to have a good time on the slopes.  The down side to this is that it also seems to attract a minority of skiers who take delight in showing off their skills to the detriment of beginners.  For example, we observed one skier taking pleasure in skiing across the back of the skis of a group of skiers in a lesson standing on the side of a slope listening to their instructor.  Another purposely skied very quickly up behind a less-experienced skier but was less good than he thought he was and he ended up crashing into the back of her.  For the most part, the skiers are considerate of each other but this type of inconsiderate behaviour was more noticeable in Val Thorens than anywhere else we have skied.

Why We Love It

  • The ski area is enormous and there is more than enough to keep you occupied, no matter how long you are there for.  It is undoubtedly the case that having the option to ski in so many different areas is a boon.  Plus, the pistes are well-groomed and the resort is very well-maintained.  
  • With its huge variety of places to sleep, eat, and drink you will find something to suit no matter what your tastes.  It is very big on après-ski and describes itself on its website as ‘a youthful resort that’s not only for the young’.  As well as various non-skiing activities, such as hiking, tobogganing, and snow mountain biking, Val Thorens has a large number of spas, bars, restaurants, and shops.  It also has a bowling alley, a sports centre, and free weekly classical and jazz music concerts at the resort church.

Where to Stay

We always choose to travel independently, researching and booking transport and accommodation ourselves and therefore Club Med is not something that has been on our radar. However, whilst researching transfer options to various ski resorts we came across Club Med and were really pleased with the deal offered for Val Thorens.  The all-inclusive package included British Airways flights from London Heathrow to Geneva, transfers, ski-in/ski-out accommodation at Val Thorens Sensations, food, drinks (including alcohol), ski pass, and even group ski lessons with the ESF Ski School.

The hotel was comfortable and had everything we needed and things that we didn’t use, such as an indoor climbing wall.  But special mention must be made of the food and drink.  We were sceptical about eating in the same place every day (definitely not something we usually do) but the variety of food on offer was extensive, changed on a daily basis, and was absolutely delicious.  The house wine was too drinkable and whenever we ordered a glass we were given a bottle.  Is it a coincidence that we got into the habit of ordering a ‘glass’ of wine at lunch and dinner each day?

Val Thorens website

Levi, Finnish Lapland

Confession time: Levi in Finnish Lapland is the only place on this list that we booked a trip to without the intention of skiing.  Why? We were going for a friend’s wedding one February and it hadn’t occurred to us that it was also a ski destination. There are many reasons to love a wedding but it’s not often that ‘discover a new ski destination’ makes it to the list.

Levi is the smallest ski area on this list, but you’d be extremely foolish to discount it for reasons of size.  Within a piste area of 45km there are 43 runs and the resort is made up of an even split of intermediate and advanced runs.  Although only 9% of the terrain is classified as ‘expert’ it is an FIS Alpine World Cup Skiing venue and the fact that this event takes place in mid-November gives you a good idea of how fantastic the snow conditions are.

There is no denying the fact that winters are cold in Levi.  At its coldest, the average winter temperature is around -13°C but it dropped to -40°C whilst we were there.  This is the sort of cold where the water in your eyes freezes if you don’t wear ski goggles all of the time and face masks are necessary because if you have any skin exposed you will get an ice burn.  Whilst this isn’t exactly pleasant it makes you feel intrepid and it definitely provides you with a story to tell.  So long as your ski clothing is up to the challenge you will be able to ski, although you will want to have hand and feet warmers with you.  The temperature is less brutal on the southern pistes than on the northern pistes.

The ski season runs from December to May and a 6-day adult ski pass (starting 25.01.20, which is actually low season in Levi) costs €176.50 in 2019-20, making it the cheapest destination on this list.  The ski school is excellent and reasonably priced, catering for children and adults with a mixture of private and group lesson programmes.  The instructors speak English and Finnish and, unusually, the lesson price includes using ski lifts with the instructor.

Why We Love It

  • As well as great skiing, Levi provides the opportunity to do all of the others things you’d want to do in Lapland.  We loved going on a husky safari, meeting the dogs at the husky farm and then taking control of our own husky sled; going on a snowmobile safari to a reindeer farm; visiting the Snow Village in Lainio where we watched our friends get married in the ice chapel before toasting them in the ice bar and wondering whether people actually get any sleep in the snow hotel; secretly regretting making the decision that we were too grown-up to travel the 187 km to Rovaniemi to meet Santa Claus.
  • Knowing you are skiing in the Arctic Circle is pretty great.  Getting a certificate recognising you’ve crossed the Arctic Circle is also pretty good.  Walking across a frozen lake in darkness only to look up and see the Aurora Borealis explode across the sky is spectacular.  This was the first time either of us had ever seen the Northern Lights and it was awesome, in the truest sense of the word.  It is possible to go on a Northern Light safari but we couldn’t believe our luck when we went out for a late-night walk to a frozen lake not far from our hotel and saw them in such a natural way.  Skiing in the Arctic Circle and seeing the Northern Lights is a truly magical experience.
  • The resort is only 200m above sea-level and the highest lift is 530m.  As you are not surrounded by mountains it makes skiing here a different experience to the majority of ski resorts.  You may think you’ve seen snow-covered trees but you haven’t seen a snow-covered tree until you’ve seen the ones in Levi.  The stunning experience we will never forget occurred late one afternoon when we were skiing on a snow road between the trees and saw the full moon rise on one side and the sun set on the other. Spectacular!

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Levitunturi Spa Hotel (now known as the Levi Hotel Spa), 3 minutes walk from the main ski lifts, and described by travel companies as the resort’s ‘flagship property’. As you would hope, the spa facilities are brilliant boasting 17 swimming pools (including outdoor pools), saunas, steam rooms, and jacuzzis.  The hotel has a bowling alley and three restaurants, although we found the standard in the buffet restaurant was nowhere near as good as in the other restaurants.

One thing to note is that the rooms are located around 200m from the main reception and restaurant building and they are not interconnected.  This is fine so long as you remember that you need to wrap up warm every time you go from your room to the main building.

Levi website

Nozawa Onsen, Japan

Falling in love with skiing at Nozawa Onsen - view from a slope

Japan is gaining in popularity as a destination for skiers from the West and Niseko in Hokkaido is its most famous resort.  Although the ski areas are the same size, Nozawa Onsen is less well-known than Niseko and a trip here will definitely give you ‘ski-cred’.  It is gaining in popularity, however, particularly amongst Australian skiers, so if you enjoy skiing in unusual destinations you need to ski here soon before it becomes too well-known.

Nozawa Onsen is one of the largest ski areas in Japan, covering approximately 300 hectares, 50km of pistes, and a vertical drop of 1,085m.  It is located on the main island of Honshu in the Nagano Prefecture, 249km northwest of Tokyo.  

The terrain is considered to be roughly 40% beginner, 30% intermediate, and 30% advanced, meaning it is especially good for groups of mixed abilities.  The season runs from late November to early May but facilities such as lessons and child care run from December to April.  A 6-day adult lift pass (starting 25.01.20) is 27,000 yen. We remember being surprised that in a country famed for its technological advancements the lift pass is of the ticket wicket style rather than a digital card with embedded chip.

Why We Love It

  • Although it is said that the quality of the snow is not the champagne powder found in northern Japanese ski resorts, when we skied here in February the snow was unlike any we’d experienced in Europe: gorgeously fluffy and dry powder without a doubt.  The pistes are below the tree line and it has the feel of an Alpine destination.  There are beautiful wide, groomed runs as well as moguls and the pistes are uncrowded, lift queues non-existent.
  • The uniformity of a lot of ski resorts means that you don’t get to experience much of the country’s culture and you could be skiing anywhere.  The opposite is true of Nozawa Onsen.  A lot of the buildings in the village have traditional Japanese architecture and it is famous for its hot springs (onsen), which were discovered in the eighth century and give the place its name.  Whilst the western influences are becoming more noticeable as the number of western visitors increase, skiing in Nozawa Onsen is undoubtedly a Japanese cultural experience.  Skiing here is an authentic travelling experience, and there are not many ski resorts in the world that one can say that about.
  • What to eat for lunch on the slopes is a discussion topic in its own right and everyone will have different views.  For some, cheese fondue cannot be beaten.  For others, pizza is a non-negotiable lunchtime favourite.  We never thought that cinnamon buns were a ski must-have until we skied at Whistler.  However, after skiing in Japan, it will take a lot to convince us that ramen is not the perfect lunch!  There are many eateries in Nozawa Onsen serving non-Japanese food but as far as we are concerned, nothing beats coming off the slopes at lunchtime to enjoy a huge bowl of steaming noodles in broth with a protein hit from egg and slices of melt-in-your-mouth pork, or whichever toppings you prefer.    

Where to Stay

Nozawa Onsen is not the place to go if you want luxury western-style accommodation but it is the perfect place if you want to stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan.  We stayed in a Japanese-style room at the Nozawa Onsen Utopia, which is about a 7-minute walk from the ski area.  Whilst we are ashamed to admit that, given the choice, we prefer luxury over economy when skiing, we highly recommend the Utopia for the cultural experience.  There are shared bathroom facilities and guests sleep on tatami flooring in futon bedding.  It was immaculately clean, as you would expect of accommodation in Japan, and there is a drying room for skis and boots.  If you choose to have breakfast there you can opt for either Japanese or western style.

A word of warning, we discovered that it is wise to book accommodation as early as possible if having a wide choice is important to you.  We skied in February and even though we booked our accommodation in the preceding September it was extremely difficult to find somewhere with space available.

Nozawa Onsen website

Winter Park, Colorado, US

Falling in love with skiing at Winter Park - alpine slope with mountain bowl in background

Ask someone who is not from Colorado to name some of the state’s ski resorts and mention will inevitably be made of Aspen and Vail.  Some may say Breckenridge and Telluride, possibly even Steamboat.  Very few will say Winter Park.  For whatever reason, not many people seem to know of Winter Park and their loss is definitely the gain of those in the know.

Winter Park is close to Denver City (just two hours by train on the Winter Park Express) and was originally developed for the enjoyment of its citizens.  With a total ski area of 1,246 hectares, including 166 designated trails, and 490 hectares of off-piste terrain, skiing the whole resort is no walk in the park!  The base is over 2,700m above sea-level and the summit is almost 3,700m above sea-level. Adding to these impressive statistics is its snowfall stat: an annual average of 800cm.

Winter Park is divided into six skiing areas and there is an extensive mix of terrain for all abilities.  Novices can ski all over the mountain with 2,200 feet of vertical terrain designated for beginners. The intermediate and advanced terrain is vast and the complimentary mountain tour is highly recommended to help you familiarise yourself with the area.  You must ski to at least an intermediate level to take this tour.

Colorado’s National Sport’s Center for the Disabled (NSCD) has a base in Winter Park offering a wide-ranging programme of sports activities, including alpine skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing.  Lessons are available for individuals, groups, and families.

Lift Pass Prices

The season runs from November to May and a main season 6-day adult ski pass costs $821 USD.  By way of comparison with other Colorado resorts, for a 6-day adult pass commencing 25 January 2020:

Winter Park$821 USD
Aspen Snowmass$864 USD (includes advance purchase discount)
Breckenridge$1,044 USD ($816 with advance online purchase discount)
Telluride$848 USD ($763 with advance online purchase discount)
Vail$1,194 USD ($840 with advance online purchase discount)

Why We Love It

  • Beautifully wide, open pistes, skiing through the trees, no queuing for the lifts in the excellent lift system, the ease of getting around the mountain, the feeling of having the whole place to yourself at times.  Oh the alpine skiing – it’s such a wonderful place to ski!
  • There is not much by way of nightlife in the ski village itself but there is a shuttle bus to the town where you will find a selection of bars and restaurants. Winter Park is not the place to come for trendy wine bars and Michelin-starred cuisine but you will find cosy pubs and taverns, locally brewed beers, and casual fare.  We loved it for its laid-back vibe and because we could kick back and really relax after a hard day’s skiing.
  • We skied at Winter Park in February, combining it with a tour of Iceland over a two-week period.  Thanks to Icelandair, it is possible to fly between Denver and Europe with a stopover in Iceland for up to seven nights at no extra costs.  Believe us, this is an excellent idea and allows you to make the most of your annual leave.  Who wouldn’t want to explore the mystical winter wonderland that is Iceland in its snowy robes and ski the majestic Rocky Mountains at Winter Park?  We flew from the UK and spent five nights in Iceland, two nights in Denver (one on landing from Iceland and one before departing for the UK) and eight nights in Winter Park.

Where to Stay

We stayed at Fraser Crossing and Founders Pointe in the Village at the base of the ski area. Accommodation at Winter Park is not ski-in/ski-out but Fraser Crossing is only 150 yards from the ski area.  Our studio was large with a gas fire which was lovely to return to after a day on the slopes.  The accommodation is a very short walk from the bars and restaurants in the Village and the shuttle into town.  Some hotels are fine for one or two nights but you wouldn’t want to stay there for longer than that.  We spent eight nights at Fraser Crossing and would definitely stay there again.

Winter Park website

Diamond Peak, Lake Tahoe, Nevada, US

Diamond Peak is a real gem of a ski resort, with stunning views of Lake Tahoe from the mountain. Sure, there are bigger and more well-known places to ski near the lake – Kirkwood, Heavenly, and Squaw Valley come to mind – but the fact that it is compact and less well-known is what makes Diamond Peak a great place to ski.

Diamond Peak is located on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. At around 2,040m above sea level at the base and 2,600m at the summit it is plenty high enough for excellent snow conditions, as evidenced by its average annual snowfall of 825cm.  In 655 acres of ski terrain there are 30 runs and almost half are designated as intermediate trials.  18% are dedicated to beginners with the remaining trails being categorised as advanced.

The ski season at Diamond Peak runs from mid-December to mid-April.  It’s wide, open, tree-lined pistes, easy-going terrain, and uncrowded slopes makes Diamond Peak a perfect destination for families and those who want to enjoy skiing without fear of encountering aggressive, inconsiderate skiers.

Lift passes are available as single-day purchases, weekend tickets, or multiday tickets available in 2-of-3 or 3-of-5 day increments.  In 2019-20 in the normal season an adult single day ticket costs $99 USD, a 2-of-3 day adult ticket costs $182 USD and a 3-of-5 day adult tickets costs $242. (NB. All based on a start date of 25/01/20).

Why We Love It

  • Diamond Peak may not be the place to go for a lengthy ski trip but it is ideal for a short ski trip as part of a longer holiday.  And when you want to make the most of your holiday leave and ski as well as doing other things it is perfect.  We skied here in March for a couple of days as part of bigger trip around California and it was exactly what we wanted; we really made the most of it in two days.   We knew that if we skied at a bigger resort with a short amount of time available we would only have scratched the surface and it would have felt a bit of a waste.
  • Lake Tahoe is one of those places and not only getting to see the lake but to ski there as well was fantastic.  The views across to the lake from the mountain are breath-taking and if you get the beautiful blue skies and sunshine that we did it is hard to think of a more picturesque location.

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency, Lake Tahoe Resort and highly recommend it.  It is located on the shore of Lake Tahoe and has a private beach. The hotel is immaculate and, with an onsite spa, casino, swimming pool, fitness centre and a tennis centre less than ½ a mile away there are more than enough facilities away from the slopes.  There is an excellent selection of restaurants and a complimentary shuttle service to get you to and from Diamond Peak.

Diamond Peak website

Sun Peaks, British Columbia, Canada

Falling in love with skiing in Sun Peaks - view over the resort

Canada isn’t short on ski resorts and there are fantastic places to ski across the country. If you were asked to name the country’s largest ski area there is a good chance that Whistler will come to mind. If you were asked to name the second largest ski area what would you say?  If you said ‘Sun Peaks’ the chances are that you are in the minority and know this because you have skied there.  Sun Peaks is the second largest ski area in Canada but, like Diamond Peak and Winter Park, it is one of those places that isn’t particularly well known.

So, what are the statistics for Canada’s second largest ski area?  It has a skiable area of 1,728 hectares across 3 mountains, 135km of slopes and elevations between 1,198 and 2,082m.  Its average snowfall is 600cm per year and the ski season runs from mid-November to mid-April.  It has over 2,000 hours of sunshine a year and an excellent mix of terrain to suit all abilities.  The ski slopes are classified as follows: 10% beginner, 58% intermediate, 32% advanced. Some people say that Sun Peaks is an excellent intermediate resort for the ‘everyday skier’, leaving other BC resorts to provide the expert challenging terrain.  A 6-day adult main season lift pass costs $654 CAD, although discounts are available if booking online in advance.

Why We Love It

  • Whistler can suffer from wet snow as a result of its coastal conditions thanks to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.  In contrast, the snow that falls in Sun Peaks is dry.  Delightfully so!  Notwithstanding the number of hours sunshine it gets (and its name), snow preservation between snow storms is good due to limited sun exposure in the peak of winter. Its northerly position keeps temperatures low which also helps the snow conditions.  Even at its busiest, Sun Peaks is an uncrowded ski resort and you can be the only one on a piste.  
  • As well as private and group lessons, Sun Peaks offers a selection of other types of lessons. For example, you can choose from a ladies-only clinic, an early morning fresh-tracks lesson (i.e. before the lifts open to everyone else), and a family race camp.  Our favourites, however, are the Super Group lessons.  With no more than 3 students per group these lessons are perfect if you want to avoid the cost of private lessons but want more attention than is possible in group lessons.  With three categories to choose from (‘The Green Scene’, ‘Cruise the Blues’, and ‘Performance Lesson’) you can book a single lesson or get a discount for a multi-lesson pack: 15% for three lessons, 20% for five lessons.  The lessons last for two hours and you may strike lucky and find you’re the only one in the lesson!
  • Sun Peaks’ location and transport links make it the perfect place to visit if you want to make the most of your leave.  We spent two weeks in British Colombia in March, flying from London to Vancouver for three nights.  We then flew from Vancouver to Kamloops and transferred to Sun Peaks for five nights. Thanks to the fantastic shuttle between Sun Peaks and Whistler we were then able to travel to Whistler and spent five nights there before flying back to London from Vancouver.  Skiing in the two largest ski areas in Canada as well as a city-break in Vancouver – what more can you ask for?

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel.  The hotel is right next to the slopes in the centre of the village and is ski-in/ski-out. It really couldn’t be more convenient for the ski area.  There is onsite ski storage and rental, although it is just steps away from other rental places.  It has its own restaurant and bar but, again, it is steps away from other places in the village and we preferred eating out rather than at the hotel.  It is billed as a 4-star luxury hotel and it is certainly well-appointed.  However, we found it to be more functional than luxurious and lacking in character. But we entirely accept that we may be being way too fussy!

Sun Peaks village is a lovely little place and the main street is pedestrian-only.  There are a selection of restaurants and bars, although the restaurants can be very popular and you are well-advised to book a day or two in advance if you have your heart set on eating in a particular place.

Sun Peaks website

Read ‘An Epic City Break and Skiing Holiday (Our Vancouver/Sun Peaks/Whistler Trip)

Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

Whistler is synonymous with skiing.  It is one of those places that is so well-known its name is familiar to skiers and non-skiers alike.  Having made the decision to ski in Canada we quickly realised that there was no way we could not ski at Whistler.

View from the top of Whistler mountain

The ski area in Whistler comprises two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, linked on the mountain by the Peak 2 Peak gondola: the resort’s full name is actually Whistler Blackcomb. And what a resort it is!  With 3,307 hectares of skiable terrain, over 200 marked trails, and a vertical drop of 1,609 metres, Whistler is not the sort of place you can get bored of easily.  It is the largest ski area in North America and the largest in the world outside of Europe.

Whistler has terrain to suit all abilities, but it is best suited to intermediate and expert skiers who can really make the most of it.  It has lots of marvellous long runs, fantastic if you want to feel the burn but less good if you do not have fit ski-legs.  Although, to be honest, if you plan on skiing in Whistler you would be well-advised to do what you can to build your ski fitness in advance to take advantage of what it has to offer.

Sure, Whistler has huge numbers of visitors each year and, sure, it gets busy with morning lift queues (the main lifts from the village being particularly tedious).  But its Whistler and anyone who wants to fall in love with skiing needs to ski here at least once in their lives.  But don’t think Whistler rests on its laurels and trades on its name.  The investment in the resort is continuous.  For example, for the 2018/19 ski season $66 million CADwill ensure the replacement of several chairlifts with high-speed lifts.  A 6-day main season adult lift pass costs $828.45 CAD, which includes all taxes and fees and an online discount.

Why We Love It

  • Similarly to Sun Peaks, lessons are available which are an excellent compromise between private and group lessons.  These lessons are called ‘Max 4’ lessons in Whistler and there are no prizes for guessing what the maximum number in the group is.  There are 6 levels available and all lessons last a full day, save for level 1 (beginner level) which is also available as a half day.  It is possible to purchase a package and if you book three lessons in advance you pay for two and get the third free.  The ski school is very well organised and all of the instructors gather each morning to split students into appropriate groups within the levels according to what you tell them about your skiing ability.  As people can underestimate as well as overestimate their skiing ability, for the first part of the lesson the levels are monitored by marshals.  If the abilities within the groups are too disparate people are moved around to ensure a better match.
  • There are four main areas close to the slopes in which you can stay: Whistler Village, which is the heart of the resort; Village North, which is a short walk from the main Village and centred around a market plaza; Upper Village, at the base of Blackcomb mountain; Creekside, which has its own gondola, shops and restaurants and is a 5-minute shuttle from the main village.  The array of places to stay can be overwhelming but it means there is definitely something for everyone.  Hotels are classified from three to five stars.
  • The facilities at Whistler, both on and off the slopes, are second to none.  We even played tennis at the Whistler Racquet Club whilst we were there.  Officially the first time we have played tennis whilst on a skiing holiday!  The extensive selection of shops, spas, restaurants, and bars may make you wonder how you will find the time to ski.    

Where to Stay

With the number of options available, we found it difficult to choose where to rest our weary ski bodies but ultimately decided to stay at the Nita Lake Lodge in Creekside.  We highly recommend this hotel and it is deserving of its ‘luxurious’ label; although described as a boutique hotel, with 77 rooms it is on the larger side of ‘boutique’.  The facilities include onsite restaurants, ski storage, a gym and yoga studio, a spa, outdoor hot tubs, and a courtesy shuttle to Whistler Village.  The lake which gives the lodge its name is to the rear of the hotel is a stunning sight and it is possible to walk along the lakeside trail to the heart of Whistler.

Whistler Blackcomb website

For inspiration on using your annual leave to get more time off work to go skiing read How To Maximise Your Annual Leave.

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Where to Ski | Best Ski Resorts | Obergurgl, Austria | Trysil, Norway | Val Thorens, France | Levi, Lapland | Nozawa Onsen, Japan | Winter Park, Colorado | Diamond Peak, Lake Tahoe | Sun Peaks, Canada | Whistler, British Columbia
Where to Ski | Best Ski Resorts | Obergurgl, Austria | Trysil, Norway | Val Thorens, France | Levi, Lapland | Nozawa Onsen, Japan | Winter Park, Colorado | Diamond Peak, Lake Tahoe | Sun Peaks, Canada | Whistler, British Columbia

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