Which Alps are the Best: French, Swiss, or Italian?
Ski season is almost here and if you haven’t already booked your holiday, you might be weighing up the pros and cons of each ski resort. The Alps are home to some of the finest ski resorts in the world, but with everyone looking for something unique to their own requirements, some areas are more suitable than others. So which Alps are the best? We’ve compared the top ski resorts in France, Italy and Switzerland to highlight their individual strengths and who they appeal to most, from families to thrill-seekers. A helicopter transfer in the Alps can get you to any of these destinations from Geneva in around half an hour.
The French Alps
It can be overwhelming when trying to choose a ski resort in France since the standards are high and they dominate the winter sports scene.
Les Trois Vallees
You can’t really go wrong with one the Three Valleys’ resorts for high-quality skiing. The resorts of Courchevel, Val Thorens and Meribel all have access to the 600 kilometres of pistes Les Trois Vallees covers. The ski area is the largest linked ski area in the world and it is ideal for every ability.
Val Thorens has transformed itself into a resort to rival the France’s best over the last decade. It offers late skiing due to its location among six glaciers and has received awards such as the ‘World’s Best Ski Resort’ and ‘France’s Best Ski Resort’. Meribel has a more alpine appeal with its pretty chalets, scenic forest surroundings and friendly atmosphere, so it’s a good all-rounder for families. Courchevel stands out from the crowd for its high-end appeal and is the top choice for luxury travellers. It welcomes a roll call of A-listers and royalty each year who enjoy its high concentration of Michelin restaurants, luxurious spas and palatial accommodation.
The Espace Killy
The Espace Killy is a name that is officially no longer used but unofficially remains a handy reference for the ski area in the Tarentaise Valley. The connected resorts of Tignes and Val d’Isere are located here and offer some of the most reliable snow conditions in the Alps as well as a long season. The Grande Motte glacier offers six weeks of summer skiing and Tignes has winter scuba diving in a frozen lake. Val d’Isere and Tignes are ideal for families with their fantastic ski schools, practice lifts and beginner slopes. Val d’Isere extends its appeal to expert skiers with some advanced runs and the infamous ‘La Face’ black run. It also has a lively apre- ski scene in Val Village.
The Swiss Alps
Picture Postcard Resorts
The Swiss Alps are the place to come to for authentic alpine charm and a proud skiing heritage. As the home of the traditional “Swiss chalet”, the Swiss resorts provide a romantic refuge for a couples who want a rustic experience with all modern conveniences. Gstaad hits the spot for people with a love of aesthetics as the town has a strict preservation zone and is surrounded by the natural beauty of the Saanen Valley. Gstaad has its own castle that overlooks the resort, giving the destination a fairytale ambience. Less experienced skiers and children can practice and build confidence in a variety of learning parks for beginners. The town has a rich cultural calendar of events and a pedestrian promenade lined with designer stores.
St Moritz, the oldest purpose-built ski resort in the Alps, enjoys an idyllic setting by a lake with the grand Badrutt’s Palace Hotel taking centre stage. Both resorts exude an inimitable alpine charm that attracts well-heeled clientele, families and famous faces from around the world.
Swiss Skiing Hotspots
Zermatt and Verbier lead the way with incredible ski runs for powder hounds. They are a nice compromise between purpose built resorts and traditional alpine villages. Verbier is particularly popular with professional skiers and snowboarders since it is the largest resort of the 4 Vallées ski region, with over 400 kilometres of runs and deep powder bowls. It is home to competitions and spectator events such as Xtreme Verbier.
The car-free resort of Zermatt promises stunning vistas with panoramic views of the legendary Matterhorn. Zermatt has Europe’s highest cable car, the Klein Matterhorn, so late season skiing is guaranteed. It is perfect for groups of friends thanks to its lively apres ski scene. Good spots for socialising include the open-air Igloo Bar and gourmet restaurants in the mountains, such as Findlerhof and Chez Vrony.
The Italian Alps
In the Shadow of Mont Blanc
Courmayeur is a charming village situated at the foot of Mont Blanc. The resort appeals to all ages with a good mix of entertainment options and great skiing for intermediates. The off-piste terrain is perfect for expert skiers who crave a challenge with the SkyWay Monte Bianco cable car from Entrèves accessing some hair-raising descents, including the Vallée Blanche and Punta Helbronner. The cable car ride is worth it for the views from the rotating cabin alone – witness a 360-degree panorama of Mont Blanc in all its glory.
The Dizzy Heights of the Italian Alps
The eternally popular resort of Cervinia is connected to Zermatt in Switzerland and a favourite of weekend skiers from Turin and Milan. The high-altitude town occupies an impressive location by Il Cervino (The Matterhorn) and has some of the best snow conditions in the Alps. The 160 kilometres of runs are wide enough for beginners and intermediates, but advanced skiers can access Zermatt’s more challenging pistes. Cervinia lacks the picturesque architecture of Swiss resorts but the centre is traffic-free and has a good variety of après ski activities and plenty of lively bars.
All of these ski resorts are fantastic in their own way. So the question of which Alps are the best depends on your skiing ability, lifestyle and priorities.