The World’s Best Ski Slopes
If scaling the Alps is your idea of an hors d’oeuvre, then feast your eyes on our vertical bucket list that stretches from Chile to Kashmir.
The person who invented skiing must have been an escape artist: a romantic who ditched the trappings of normalcy to find freedom in the hills. How else can you explain a sport that combines the pull of gravity, the challenge of navigating mountains, and the insatiable curiosity to see what’s around the next bend? He or she must also have been something of an aesthete – no other sport in the world allows you to move as swiftly and easily through some of the most stunning landscapes on Earth.
In Japan, it’s the magnificent trees, which whisper as you whoosh past them in perfect powder. In Wyoming, the Tetons stand tall and proud, daring you to hit them with your best shot. In a remote corner of the Caucasus Mountains, medieval combat towers stand as a reminder of an ancient civilisation.
In fact, the basic requirements of skiing – altitude, gradient, snow – pretty much guarantee a feast for the senses wherever you may go. But each of the following 10 slopes – undoubtedly the most scenically spectacular in the world – offer something truly special. Push off – and behold.
Miharashi has some of the finest powder skiing in the world. Groves of large, silver birch trees spread their branches as if to welcome you with open arms, creating perfectly spaced hallways. If you do catch Miharashi on a clear day, you’ll be blessed with stunning views of Mount Yotei, a 6,227ft volcano east of Niseko.
When to go: January is for “JaPow!” You may not see the sunshine, but chances are you’ll score the best powder of your life.
What to eat: Avoid the tourist pizza and pasta shops and try the restaurant Soba Rakuichi, a cultural delight serving traditional soba in an old Japanese lodge.
Look out for: Soaking in a Japanese onsen (hot spring) is not to be missed. The one at the Hilton Niseko Village Hotel has views of Mount Yotei.
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From the top of the “Monies”, the craggy spine of the Chugach Mountains stretches out in every direction. But there’s also a sight among the rarest in all of skiing: the Pacific Ocean, whose salty waters stretch up the Turnagain Arm just a few miles from the base of Alyeska and the rustic hamlet of Girdwood. The Monies themselves require experience and skill, dropping off steeply for 2,000 vertical feet and constituting some of the finest on-piste steep skiing in North America.
When to go: March is the ideal time to visit Alaska because that time of year combines prolific snowfall with lengthening daylight hours.
What to eat: Take the Alyeska Tram 2,300ft up the mountain and dine on king crab and wild salmon at the Seven Glaciers restaurant at the Hotel Alyeska.
Look out for: Alyeska is the base for Chugach Powder Guides, one of the finest heli-skiing outfits in the world with available terrain that stretches across 750,000 acres.
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Whistler Blackcomb encompasses more than 8,171 acres nestled within the breathtaking beauty of British Columbia’s Coast Mountains. Finding one slope to rule them all is as difficult as choosing where to après ski in the extensive base village. But if you have time for just one run, it has to be Spanky’s Ladder. Not so much a run as an access point, Spanky’s refers to a short, snow-packed hike to several bowls on Blackcomb Mountain. From there, you have your choice of Garnet, Diamond, Ruby and Sapphire bowls, each holding steep lines that you’ll never forget.
When to go: January and February bring prodigious snowfall to Whistler Blackcomb, along with colder temperatures that minimise the chance of rain at lower elevations.
What to eat: Don’t miss the lively, and sometimes rowdy, après ski scene at the Garabaldi Lift Co Bar & Grill, right at the base of the hill. Order a “jug” of Alexander Keith’s IPA, a huge plate of nachos and, as on the slopes, do your best to stay vertical.
Look out for: After spinning a few laps on Spanky’s Ladder, hop on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. At three miles long and reaching 1,430ft above the ground, it is the longest and highest ski lift in the world.
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Corbet’s Couloir, the famously steep run directly below the Jackson Hole tram, is one of the most striking runs you will ever ski – or attempt to ski. First, you have the abrupt edge, from which you can see the Grand Teton to the north, Cody Peak to the south, and all of Jackson Hole below you. After you drop in – sometimes it’s mandatory by air, depending on snow levels – you are in the belly of the beast, a steep, narrow slope lined on either side by granite the colour of gun metal. With Corbet’s, people only talk about the thrill. But they should also talk about the view.
When to go: There are only two seasons in Jackson: winter and summer. But February brings the best chance for powder, while March typically offers more sunshine.
What to eat: Il Villaggio Osteria inside Jackson’s Hotel Terra serves a seared elk chop, a staple of the Wyoming lifestyle.
Look out for: A back-country guide. You’ll need one to avoid fatal mishaps while navigating some of the most pristine and challenging terrain in North America. jacksonhole.com
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Starting from the top of the Aiguille du Midi, a cable car station that has been carved into vertical spires of granite, the Vallée Blanche descends 9,000 vertical feet through stunning, glaciated alpine terrain. Just getting to the slope is an adventure, as you must carry your skis and walk down an arête (a permanent rope helps) that drops thousands of feet into the abyss on the left. Once off, the Vallée Blanche descends along a series of glaciated rollovers and winds around deep crevasses before eventually dumping you out onto the Argentière Glacier. Views of classic Chamonix descents give context to the belief that the area is, without a doubt, the epicentre of extreme skiing.
When to go: March brings sunshine while leaving cold powder on the north-facing slopes.
What to eat: Directly across from the train station in downtown Chamonix is the Chambre Neuf Brasserie, where you should order the plat du jour. The meal changes every day, but whether it’s bangers and mash or lasagna, it’s always exactly what the doctor ordered after a big ski descent.
Look out for: Other skiers. While riding the Aiguille du Midi tram, you can see many descending the terrifying Mallory Route directly below.
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Rising high above the Laguna del Inca, the Roca Jack offers an amazing vantage point for viewing the grandeur of the Andes. The sheer inhospitality of these mountains surrounding Portillo – whose variety of visiting clientele make it among the most international resorts in the world – only accentuate the warmth of the resort’s old, yellow hotel at the base. Meanwhile, from the Roca Jack, there are two options: climb 2,000 vertical feet of an icy hike to ski the thrilling Super C Couloir, or drop straight down the immense bowl. Either way, you’re in for the ride of your life.
When to go: The mythical Santa Rosa Storm, which brings several feet of snow in just hours, usually hits in late August.
What to eat: Everyone staying at the Hotel Portillo – which is everyone in Portillo – eats in the same communal dining hall. You get the same table each meal, and you have the same wait staff all week. Chileans love their meat, fish and potatoes. Expect to eat a lot of all three.
Look out for: There are no TVs in the rooms. There is, however, a late-night discotheque in the basement.
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Named after the late Mr Tezo Japaridze, a hotelier and prominent figure in Mestia, Tezo’s encompasses the classic Georgian experience: raw adventure, rugged mountainous terrain and views of ancient combat towers, some dating as far back as the 9th century. Surrounded by the Caucasus Mountains, Mestia sits among some the highest peaks in all of Europe.
When to go: The best snow is in February, when storms sweep across the Black Sea, just 100 miles to the east.
What to eat: Georgians have been eating khinkali – dumplings filled with spiced meat – for centuries. Just add cracked pepper, homemade ketchup and a tumbler of homemade liquor known as chacha.
Look out for: Raised glasses. Georgians like to drink, and they are incredible toasters. The tamada, or toastmaster, leads and orchestrates the various toasts throughout every feast.
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Located in the Alps of Sunnmore, the Stranda ski resort sits above the Unesco World Heritage Area of Geirangerfjord, an offshoot of the Storfjord, a 68-mile-long fjord off the west coast of Norway. You simply can’t duplicate a run off the Roaldhorn lift, which places you seemingly directly above the blue pearl waters of the fjord.
When to go: February and March offer great snow, more light during the day, plus the best chance to see the northern lights.
What to eat: Would you put cod on your pizza? You do in Geiranger, the seaside town outside of Stranda.
Look out for: Hire a qualified local guide to expand your horizons in the land of the fjords. uteguiden.com
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Starting at an elevation of 13,900ft, at the top of the Gulmarg gondola (the second-highest operating cable car in the world), Mary’s Shoulder is vertiginous but breathtaking, offering a sprawling view of the Himalayas. The slope descends through glades and powder for 5,000 vertical feet.
When to go: Weather can be fickle in the Himalayas, producing high avalanche danger, but January usually has the best snow.
What to eat: Make sure you stay at the Hotel Highlands Park, which has hot water on demand and a dining room that serves dum aloo, traditional Kashmiri cuisine of potatoes in a spicy gravy.
Look out for: Houseboats on Dal Lake, near Srinagar. First built by European settlers in the 19th century (as foreigners are not allowed to buy land in Kashmir), these can be rented out by the night and are perfect for enjoying a cocktail at sunset.
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Atop Temple Col, one is presented with the wild adventure of a historic New Zealand ski centre. With dramatic views of Arthur’s Pass National Park from all angles, Temple is off the beaten path, undeveloped (there are just three rope tows, called “nutcrackers”) and has rustic facilities. But for a raw skiing experience, it doesn’t get much better.
When to go: August holds the best promise for good snow, but be prepared for wind.
What to eat: As a “ski club” open to the public, Temple offers community meals in a familial setting. Or cook your own.
Look out for: Kea. These large parrots look like they should live in the jungle, but are native to the Southern Alps. They are particularly fond of eating rubber off windshield wipers.