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Winter sports enthusiasts are spoiled for choice when it comes to skiing in Europe. Alongside world-renowned winter destinations such as St. Moritz, Switzerland; Chamonix, France; and Kitzbühel, Austria, there are a host of underrated ski resorts off the beaten path. Whether you’re keen to try cross-country skiing, catch a glimpse of the northern lights, party until early hours where the après-ski’s liveliest, or simply want a memorable yet budget-friendly trip, there’s a ski town in Europe that’s just right for you. Here are nine of the most underrated places.
For sheer drama, the Italian Dolomites are hard to beat. Located in the region of Veneto, the quiet resort of Arraba forms part of the 16-mile Sella Ronda ski circuit. Though snowfall can be erratic, the area has good snow-making facilities, and there are enough challenging runs to please intermediate and advanced skiers.
The peaks of the Sella range and Piz Boè form a photogenic backdrop to Arraba, but the main draw is Marmolada, the highest peak in the Dolomites. This gorgeous, craggy limestone ridge extends from east to west. The Dolomites’ largest glacier perches on Marmolada’s north face, but the runs beneath the sheer cliffs of its southern flank are breathtaking.
Nestled below the north face of the Eiger, Grindelwald is one of Switzerland’s most versatile resorts with Europe’s longest sledding run and lifts connecting 96 miles of slopes. There are plenty of blue-square runs for novice skiers, including a specially-designated “slow slope.” Meanwhile, the longer red runs are well-suited to intermediate skiers and snowboarders. It’s easy to reach the Kleine Scheidegg mountain pass via a cog railway.
From there, visitors can continue on to the Top of Europe, the train station at the summit of the Jungfraujoch, which boasts spectacular views over the Aletsch Glacier and the Bernese Oberland. Every January, Grindelwald also hosts a World Snow Festival. The idea began in 1983 with a giant ice sculpture of Heidi and now international artists create numerous snow and ice sculptures around an annual theme.
Situated more than 100 miles beyond the Arctic Circle, this Finnish ski resort consists of 27 lifts and 43 runs. Visitors to the mountain town of Levi can combine their passion for winter sports with the chance to see the aurora borealis after dark. Because of its northerly location, Levi is busiest later in the season when there’s more daylight, but visitors can ski in the area as late as May.
Be sure to visit Samiland while you’re in town. This exhibition tells the story of the local Sami people and their history, culture, and folklore. Outside, meet the reindeer that are crucial to the Sami way of life. Buy a bag of lichen fungi at the nearby café and hand-feed these adorable creatures in their paddock before heading back to the slopes.
Base yourself in this winter resort if you plan to ski the Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest mountain, accessible via cogwheel mountain railway or gondola. The nearly 10,000-foot-tall peak is relatively insignificant compared to those of its Alpine neighbors. However, the view from the summit is spectacular no matter which direction you look. While you’re at the top, walk across the border into Austria where there’s a fascinating museum chronicling the history of activities on the mountain.
Ski back down the German side of the mountain and enjoy a coffee in front of Eibsee, a dazzling, turquoise lake flanked by woodland. Back in town, take a stroll along Ludwigstraße. Many of the historic buildings along this cobbled street are adorned with colorful painted murals.
Bansko, in southwestern Bulgaria, sits at the foot of the Pirin Mountains close to the UNESCO-listed Pirin National Park. Bansko is the country’s liveliest resort, and its slopes are tall enough to receive steady snowfall. A gondola, eight open-seat lifts, and five drag lifts make it easy to get around the resort.
Because the cost of living is relatively cheap in Bulgaria, ski resorts, such as Bansko, are often more affordable than popular ski destinations in Switzerland, France, and Austria. Experience the hot springs in nearby Banya or venture further afield to visit the medieval Rila Monastery or the many wineries surrounding the town of Melnik.
Slovenia’s Julian Alps are often overlooked in favor of the slopes further west, but that’s a pity. The star attraction is Vogel Ski Resort, which lies in the heart of Triglav National Park. Accessible via cable car and chair lift, Vogel is a small resort with only 13 miles of beginner and intermediate runs on its well-groomed slopes. However, from the top there’s a magnificent view overlooking a valley dominated by Lake Bohinj, a natural glacial lake that’s the largest in the country.
A short ride away, learn about the legend of the sunken bell in Bled. This delightful town is best known for the Gothic-style Church of the Mother of God on the Lake, entirely surrounded by water. The charming Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, is only an hour away.
This authentic Savoie village is one of the prettiest of the French ski resorts, tucked away at the end of a valley beneath a mountain called the Grande Casse. Its proximity to the Vanoise glaciers, as well as the resorts Courchevel and La Plagne, make Pralognan-la-Vanois a smart choice if you hate being tied to one place. The ski town is located in Vanoise National Park, so if you’re lucky, you might even see chamois and ibex wandering about in the snow.
When it comes to downhill skiing, the area caters for all levels of ability. It also offers some of the best cross-country trails in the region. Take a break from the slopes in Le Cristal Centre Sportif dee la Vanoise, which caters to a range of recreational activities including ice skating, curling, swimming, and bowling.
Åre is Sweden’s premier ski resort, yet it receives few visitors from outside Scandinavia. There are 89 pistes spread across three connected ski areas: Åre (pronounced “oar-er”), Björnen, and Tegefjäll/Duved. Most of them are graded as easy slopes. Åre also caters to advanced skiers, who’ll appreciate the challenge of the Hummelbranten black run with its moguls. And if you still need convincing of its credentials, the resort hosted the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in 2019.
There are plenty of cross-country runs too, as you’d expect from a Nordic nation, and a dedicated snowboard area which is floodlit in the evenings. But there’s one other treat in store for those who choose to ski in Sweden: the chance to join in with the tradition of fika. The pastime involves sitting down with friends to enjoy good coffee and something sweet such as a cake or pastry.
Lech am Arlberg, Austria
Upscale Lech is linked to St. Anton, Zürs, and Warth-Schröcken — offering some of the finest skiing anywhere in the Alps. As a result, it attracts a rich and famous clientele, including many of the European royals who appreciate its understated elegance. There’s an abundance of family-run, chalet-style, five-star hotels and numerous gourmet restaurants.
Take a break from the slopes in front of the open fire at the enchanting Rud-Alpe, try the wood-fired pizzas as you perch on a cowhide at rustic-chic restaurant Schneggarei, or overdose on cheese at Hus Nr. 8 beneath its creaking 300-year-old timbers. Who knows who you might end up sitting next to?