On the surface, it might seem illogical for travellers to shun sun-kissed Mediterranean getaways in favour of weeks on snow-laden slopes. After all, if you crave temperatures in which a Thinsulate jacket and woolly socks are required, you could rely on getting them through much of the year in Blighty. But a ski holiday is about more than just cold weather: as anyone who’s ever hit the pistes will attest, it’s the thrill of careening downhill, and convivial atmosphere associated with après-ski culture, that makes for an unforgettable trip.
A favourite among younger, trendier ski enthusiasts, France is home to countless first-rate resorts that cater to varying tastes and skill levels. With Mont Blanc looming spectacularly on the horizon, Les Arcs is an eternally popular choice, not least due to the speed skiing course leftover from the 1992 Winter Olympics. On the other side of the mountain is Chamonix, one of the oldest and most traditional resorts in the country, and a veritable haven for all manner of winter sports lovers. Those with a head for heights, meanwhile, should opt for Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in Europe. The fact that it’s got a Michelin-starred restaurant close by - the heavenly Oxalys - isn’t a bad bonus!
When you think of Austria, chances are the first image that springs to mind involves some form of mountainous terrain; a snow-blurred vista hemmed in by bright white conifer trees. Clichéd, of course, but it’s no coincidence that the country has garnered this reputation. Resorts like Mayrhofen are revered for their year-round snow; this one also offers delightful views of the Hintertux Glacier. Nearby St Anton is frequently touted as one of the world’s finest skiing hot spots, in part for its challenging terrain, but also its unrivalled après-ski facilities. If a party is what you’re after, though, head for the village resort of Ischgl, which regularly hosts concerts and is replete with bars and clubs.
With much of the Alps’ canyons, valleys and cliff-tops residing in its terrain, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that Switzerland is any skier’s idea of heaven. If budget is not a restriction, St Moritz is a must: this upper-class haunt attracts plenty of rich and famous personalities. Realistically though, it may be wise to opt for a more wallet-friendly alternative; and thus, in steps Verbier. The view here is breathtaking, with the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc both clearly visible - but the main attraction is the fantastic range of off-piste spots. For guaranteed summer ski conditions, meanwhile, Zermatt is as reliable as they come: just don’t forget to take a trip through the heart of the Alps in the mighty Glacier Express train.
Straddling the Swiss border, and sharing a ski area with the aforementioned Zermatt, is the Italian resort of Cervinia. Renowned for the length of its runs - the longest clocks in at a staggering 22km - the picturesque mountain backdrop is irresistible. At the foot of Mont Blanc, you can find Courmayeur, another year-round ski haven noted for its dizzying altitude. Elsewhere, Selva Gardena is the gateway to the famed Sella Ronda ski circuit, a tour which spans over four different valleys through the provinces of South Tyrol, Trentino and Belluno.
A deluge of archetypal 1980s movies, depicting teenagers in luminous jackets raising hell on the slopes, did nothing to boost the reputation of North American ski resorts; a shame, considering the unrelenting quality they offer. The Canadian hub of Whistler, found in British Columbia, is one of the most prominent, attracting some two million visitors on an annual basis. Despite its daunting title, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is a great destination, providing largely intermediate ski terrain with some more challenging slopes for the thrill seekers. Across the border in Wyoming is Jackson Hole, home to one of the continent’s highest vertical drops and a sure-fire test of nerves for anyone bold enough to attempt it.