Few resorts have a more exclusive image than Lech. Princess Diana was its most famous patron and other past visitors include the Jordanian royal family, the Dutch royal family and Monaco’s Princess Caroline. However, it's much more than Austria's answer to St Moritz – each year it receives up to double the amount of snow of some of its French rivals, despite the resort's modest altitude of 1,450m. Linked to even snowier Warth-Schröcken since 2013, from this season it will also be linked to St Anton via four new lifts.
Bansko is an old town, set on a flat valley floor in the scenic Pirin National Park, that has been catapulted into the 21st century by installation of modern lifts on its slopes and construction of a lot of new lodgings, many near the base of the new access gondola to the slopes. The resort has become increasingly popular with British skiers thanks to its great value compared to Western European resorts, and it's an ideal place to learn to ski.
A famous racing town and host of the 1956 Olympics, Cortina certainly has some serious skiing. But it is also Italy’s most fashionable resort, and many visitors take their lunching and early-evening parading/shopping more seriously than their snow sports. The result is that pressure on the slopes is low. No queues, no crowds, pistes rarely reduced to boilerplate by heavy traffic – and the scenery is remarkable.
Switzerland's most famous resort brings together every Alpine cliché, from its views of the world's most photogenic mountain, the Matterhorn, to its narrow streets lined with wonky, weathered chalets. As a ski destination, especially for families, intermediates, experts and ski tourers, Zermatt sits up with the best. It has snowsure slopes from late November to the end of April, making it a wise early and late season choice.
Perched on a sloping shelf above a dramatic high cliff a few kilometres from lower, long-established Morzine, Avoriaz is probably the best designed of the many purpose-built resorts thrown up in France in the 1960s. One particularly neat trick is that the resort is sunny but most of the local slopes are shady. It's on the main lift circuit of the Portes du Soleil area, comprised of 12 resorts on either side of the French/Swiss border, with 650km of pistes to explore.
Think of Kitzbühel and you conjure up the Hahnenkamm, the meanest and scariest downhill race on the World Cup circuit. But in reality, away from this single crazy winter weekend, Kitzbühel is a piste pussycat with tons of largely intermediate terrain that seems to go on forever. And the medieval silver-mining centre, with its heavily buttressed walls and delicate painted frescoes, rightly deserves its reputation as the most beautiful ski town in Europe.
This lovely old village at the foot of Mont Blanc, just beneath the entrance to the tunnel on the Italian side of the world-famous mountain, has limited piste skiing but there's challenging off piste, superb restaurants, and a lively nightlife. Eating and partying are the alternative occupations to hitting the slopes here. Courmayeur prides itself on its gastronomic qualities, with Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal returning year after year to host the Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience.
Les Deux Alpes is a snow-sure stalwart, with skiing and snowboarding on piste possible for much of the year. The resort opens from mid June to the end of August and again for French half term week at the end of October, before firing up the lift system for winter from the end of November until late April. Couple that with some of the most vibrant après in France and the delightful lower village of Venosc (linked by gondola, but not by piste), and it's clear why Les Deux Alpes is a firm British favourite.
For decades Mayrhofen has been one of the most popular resorts in the Alps for Brits, on one plank or two, and its in-your-face après scene and thriving nightlife delights or horrifies, according to taste. Holidaymakers have been coming here for more than 100 years and for the locals providing hospitality is a way of life. The ski area has 134km of runs and 53 lifts – and a reputation for reliable snow throughout a long season, with the runs mostly between 1,650m and 2,500m.
Swish Megève was built as France’s answer to St Moritz in Switzerland, and it still retains that glitzy charm. It's in a lovely sunny setting and has a beautifully preserved, partly medieval centre. Visitors are mainly well-heeled French people, who come here for an all-round holiday. The slopes are prettily wooded, but what makes Megève a cut above is the view of Mont Blanc from many of the runs.
One of Italy’s most snow-sure destinations, Cervinia gives access to 360km of slopes, which it shares with neighbouring Zermatt across the border in Switzerland. Staying here means you can explore one of the world’s best ski areas at a fraction of the cost of opting for the pricey Swiss side. Even if you don't venture over to Zermatt, Cervinia and the linked village of Valtournenche provide a wonderful snow-sports playground, dictated by the easy gradient of the seemingly never-ending slopes.
A combination of enviable snow cover, a variety of impressive terrain and a season that lasts most of the year makes Tignes one of the most dependable winter destinations in France. This snow-sure gem offers great conditions right from October to May and opens for six weeks during the summer too thanks to its stellar altitude and glacier slopes. It shares 300km of pistes with neighbouring Val d’Isère to which it is linked extremely smoothly (no tortuous schusses needed).
There are plenty of reasons to love Méribel, not least for its pretty, chalet-style architecture, wooded surroundings and friendly, village atmosphere. But the prime reason is its central position within France’s huge Trois Vallées ski area. To the east are the resorts of Courchevel and La Tania, and to the west, Val Thorens. Together with Méribel these combine to make one of the largest linked ski areas in the world, with more than 600km of pistes. Méribel also has its own on-slope Folie Douce bar for raucous, still-in-your-ski-boots après.
Everyone’s favourite upmarket resort, Courchevel, also gives access the largest linked ski area in the world – and more Michelin stars than you can shake stick at. Because of the north-facing aspect of many of Courchevel's local slopes, the snow here is usually some of the best in the whole of the Trois Vallées ski area, and there's terrain to suit everyone from beginner to expert. Indeed, many visitors never feel the need to leave the Courchevel valley, despite having the rest of the ski area to explore.
Verbier is the main resort in Switzerland’s largest ski area, the 4 Valleys. Thanks to the combination of a sunny, scenic location, exciting terrain and a lively nightlife, it has long attracted a youthful, sporty clientele. Nearly 100 lifts access more than 400km of runs, including some of the best lift-served off piste in the Alps. The slopes are snowsure and the scenery spectacular, and from the top of the ski area – Mont Fort, at 3,330m – the views reach as far as the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.
As well as being a ski resort, Morzine is a proper little Alpine town that has a year-round life stretching far beyond having fun on the mountains that surround it. Morzine remains the capital of the 650km Portes du Soleil ski area, and is a great base to explore – plus it's ideally suited to families. It offers a host of alternative activities to skiing and snowboarding, including ice-diving beneath a lake, nature discovery tours, snowmobiling, tobogganing, snowshoeing and shopping. There's also a world-class ice rink and a large swimming pool.
Linked to La Plagne across the valley via a two-decker cable car, Les Arcs offers 425km of slopes to explore if you buy the whole area lift pass. This massive ski area offers a variety of terrain, but specialises in long, wide, well-groomed reds for smooth cruising. Les Arcs itself offers plenty of choice in terms of accommodation, from the purpose built Arcs 1800 and 2000 to the tiny Arc 1600 to the charming, traffic-free Arc 1950, made up of chic self-catering apartments.
More Britons get their winter-sports fix in Val d'Isère every year than anywhere else in the world – and with good reason. Both terrain and town add up to what is essentially the ideal ski resort. Linked to neighbouring Tignes to form a ski area of 300km of pistes and 94 lifts, the French resort offers high quality, snow-sure slopes for everyone from complete beginner to veteran powderhound. Its long season stretches from the end of November into the first week of May. Add in its raucous on-the-mountain après courtesy of the Folie Douce, and you have a true all-rounder of a resort.
Chamonix hosted the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and has re-emerged on the freeride wave as the capital of all-mountain skiing. This steep-sided valley, draped with tumbling glaciers beneath a crown of rocky spires, is where snowsports and mountaineering meet. Ski instructors and mountain guides come here to qualify, and every dedicated skier and snowboarder puts it on the bucket list to see how they’ll measure up to the challenge of what Chamonix calls simply “le grand ski”. Yes, it has beginner slopes and intermediate cruising too – but the real draw is for advanced skiers looking for a real challenge.
It’s not too much of a surprise that this party resort, renowned around the world for its wild après and even wilder expert terrain, is number one. Frequently rated among the top five resorts in the Alps, St Anton is located in Austria’s Arlberg region, one of Europe’s snowiest areas, boasts 340km of pistes, 200km of off-piste itineraries and over 55km² of challenging off-piste terrain. In addition, it has a highly efficient lift system and an attractive town bursting with stylish hotels, chalets and restaurants. And, come après time, it doesn't get any better than St Anton's infamous MooserWirt and Krazy Kanguruh bars...