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Top 10: The best ski areas worldwide 2016/2017

As an increasing number of ski areas open up their doors and groom their runs ready for the new season, it seems a fitting time to return to that all important annual question: What ski areas should I visit this year? Snow-Online.com has taken a closer look at over 250 ski areas worldwide and put them through their paces across ten categories. We can therefore now proudly reveal, what we found to be the ten best ski areas worldwide. These resorts should be on every skier’s bucket list:

1: Zermatt

© Zermatt Tourismus/Michael Portmann

Zermatt keeps top spot

In the shadow of the majestic Matterhorn, surrounded by numerous 4,000-metre peaks, Zermatt offers a ski experience that knows no parallel worldwide. Thanks to its very high rating across all ten test categories, Zermatt has successfully defended its spot at the top of our rankings. With a whopping 365 kilometres of runs to explore from Zermatt in Switzerland to Breuil-Cervinia over the Italian border, this resort has it all. Its altitude at almost 4,000 metres above sea level makes Zermatt the highest ski resort in the Alps and virtually guarantees great snow levels. Indeed, skiing is possible on the glacier all year round here. “Matterhorn Ski Paradise” – the name says it all. “We still believe that Zermatt is the world’s best ski area. Even after extending our test to include ten categories, Zermatt remains unmatched. Varied runs, state-of-the-art lifts and panoramic views that have to be seen to be believed – the ski area offers an unbeatable mountain experience,” says our tester Martin.

2: Serfaus Fiss Ladis

© Serfaus Fiss Ladis/Sepp Mallaun

Serfaus Fiss Ladis climbs up one place

The Austrian resort Serfaus Fiss Ladis has managed to ascend one spot in our rankings since last year. Widely considered to be the most family-friendly ski resort on Earth, the ski area systematically invests in improving quality year after year, spending well over 200 million euros in the last decade alone. This investment is certainly noticeable on the ground. Though families always take centre stage here, Serfaus Fiss Ladis also has something for everyone on around 200 kilometres of groomers, whether you are an intermediate or expert skier, whether you like the terrain park or the untouched powder. Customer service is also taken very seriously here: Perfectly groomed runs, modern lifts, huge ski depots, outstanding signage and lots of other details make Serfaus Fiss Ladis a ski area where you immediately feel at home. “The Serfaus area is great for experienced skiers as well as families,” explains our tester Andrea. “The varied terrain means that Serfaus Fiss Ladis has certainly earned second place in our rankings.”

3: Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn

© TVB Saalbach Hinterglemm

Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn is our highest new entry!

Making its first appearance in the Snow-Online.com top 10, Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn has entered our ranking in a lofty third spot. The main reason for this sensational rise is the merger of Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang in Salzburger Land with Fieberbrunn in Tyrol from the 2015/2016 season. This created the largest interconnected ski area in Austria. Despite now having to relinquish this title for the 2016/2017 season to Arlberg (St. Anton is connecting with Lech Zürs), the ski area remains fantastic, generously sized and home to a variety of different terrain. In addition, the many thousands of euros spent over the past few years in modernising the lifts have also paid off. Nevertheless, Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn’s main selling point is the enormous variety offered by this ski area with four different valley towns. Leogang is great for families, while Saalbach and Hinterglemm are popular with intermediate skiers. Après-ski fans also love the wild parties in Hinterglemm, while Fieberbrunn is known worldwide among followers of the freeride scene.

4: Ski Arlberg

© Lech Zürs Tourismus/Josef Mallaun

A quick breather for Ski Arlberg

Ski Arlberg has fallen two places in our ranking. This change is primarily due to our new rating system and therefore not necessarily a reflection of quality slipping at the ski area. The region can still only be described as world class. Indeed, Ski Arlberg is becoming Austria’s largest ski area in 2016/2017 thanks to the merger of St. Anton with Lech Zürs. As we have not yet been able to test the new arrangement, this merger is not taken into account in this ranking. As a result, this fall to number 4 is only likely to be short-lived. After all, in terms of quality Arlberg by no means trails far behind any of the top 3 – it boasts some 305 kilometres of runs (blue: 131 km; red: 123 km; black: 51 km) that would take days to explore in full. Add to that 200 km of sensational off-piste routes and you have a serious amount of terrain on offer. “Ski Arlberg impressed us across the board in the test. Beginners and families will find just as much to keep them happy as experts and freeride fans. State-of-the-art lifts, outstanding eateries and legendary après-ski mean that this ski area has the complete package,” reports our tester Martin. In addition, this year’s new ski tour the “Run of Fame” is likely to be a real draw for visitors from this season onwards.

5: Val Gardena/Gröden

© Val Gardena/Gröden Marketing

Dolce Vita on the Sella Ronda in Val Gardena

By virtue of having the second best user ranking after Zermatt, Val Gardena has climbed one place since last year. It’s hardly surprising that this ski area at the foot of the Sella group is so appreciated by Snow-Online.com users given its roughly 500 kilometres of interconnected runs. It’s hard to imagine a place that better combines the “Dolce Vita” lifestyle with sporting adventure. And there’s no better way of sampling its delights than taking on the epic Sella Ronda: “This ski tour around the Sella group is quite simply legendary. It should be on everyone’s bucket list,” advises our tester Florian. Other demanding challenges in Val Gardena include the Saslong, which hosts World Cup races every year, and the 10 km Seceda, the longest run in the Dolomites. Long trails like these require plenty of energy, but thankfully refuelling at one of the numerous lodges on the mountain has to be one of the best things about the ski area. Foodies will love the Italian and regional specialities served here.

6: Whistler Blackcomb

© Whistler Blackcomb/Eric Berger

Over 200 trails for exploring Whistler Blackcomb

With Whistler Blackcomb, Canada has once again made it back into our top 10 ranking of the world’s best ski areas. With over 200 runs, this ski area close to Vancouver came out top of the class in Canada. From Whistler itself, skiers can either explore Whistler Mountain or make their way up to Blackcomb peak. The impressive Peak2Peak Gondola allows skiers to hop from one peak to other – hanging some 400 metres above the ground in the process. Whistler Blackcomb is a particularly great destination for intermediate and advanced skiers, though the wide range of simple runs and special beginner’s areas also make it a good choice for families and beginners. Whistler Blackcomb is an absolute paradise for freestyle skiers and snowboarders, and its terrain parks are truly among the world’s best.

7: Ischgl-Samnaun

© TVB Paznaun Ischgl

There’s more to Ischgl-Samnaun than just après-ski

Ischgl-Samnaun is known as the “Ibiza of the Alps”. The Top of the Mountain concerts by pop stars like Robbie Williams and Elton John are obviously legendary. And the après-ski temples “Kuhstall” and “Trofana” enjoy a cult following far and wide. But there is so much more to like about Ischgl-Samnaun: The Silvretta Arena with its 238 kilometres of runs is a great spot for proficient skiers. The incredible 35 km “Schmugglerrunde” is clearly a must, linking the Austrian Paznauntal with Samnaun in Engadin on the Swiss side. However, Ischgl-Samnaun didn’t rate quite as well as the top resorts for beginners and families.

8: Les 3 Vallées

© Les 3 Vallees Association

Surrounded by over 1,000 peaks

The world’s largest ski area – Les 3 Vallées in France – comes in eighth in our ranking. The options here almost seem endless given the 600 kilometres of terrain to explore. Les 3 Vallées consists of eight ski areas – notably including Méribel, Courchevel, Les Menuires and Val Thorens – all of which are so well interconnected that you’ll never have to take off your skis. Similar to top dog Zermatt, this ski area in the heart of the French Alps certainly boasts spectacular views – from the trails, skiers can marvel at more than 1,000 peaks from the French, Italian and Swiss Alps, including the 4,810 metre summit of Mont Blanc, Europe’s largest mountain.

9: Stubai Glacier

© Stubaier Gletscher/Andre Schönherr

Compact but commendable:

A new entry in our top 10 ski resorts of the world is Stubai Glacier. With just 70 kilometres of runs, it’s clearly the smallest ski resort in our top 10. Yet perhaps this very fact is a decisive advantage for Stubai. The distances at the ski area are always short, the atmosphere is informal and everything is well thought out, right down to the smallest detail. The Stubai Glacier is particularly great for families and skiers that like to keep things laid back and mellow. Over 60 km (of the 70 total km) of runs are rated blue or red. But if you think that this ski area is only of interest for beginners, think again. Stubai Glacier more than impressed us in the freeride category too. Another decisive advantage is that the ski area boasts a bumper season stretching from the end of September to the start of May.

10: Sölden

© Ötztal Tourismus

Sölden offers fun both on and off the slopes

Another new entry in our top 10 is Sölden. This hotspot in the Ötz Valley traditionally kicks off the Ski World Cup every year. Sölden is also well known for its legendary après-ski parties. Yet the ski area has a lot more to offer than just pro races and party. Its 142 kilometres of trails are always immaculately groomed, the lifts are constantly being modernised and the altitude range between 1,350 and 3,250 metres makes Sölden a safe bet for good snow conditions throughout the season. The ski area also enjoys a long season stretching from mid-September to the start of May.

Summary: New entries and omissions

© Vail Resorts/Liam Doran

The highest new entry in our top 10 is Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn, entering our ranking in an impressive third place. Two further surprising if well-earned new entries into the top 10 are Stubai Glacier and Sölden. Although comparatively compact, these ski areas proved their excellent quality across the board. In contrast, Les 3 Vallées has lost some ground compared to previous years. The French resort was unable to keep pace with the top resorts in the family, service, restaurants and après-ski categories.

Notable omissions include VailSt. Moritz and Arosa Lenzerheide, all of which fell out of our top 10. Vail, the USA’s undisputed top resort, came in 11th, just missing out on a top 10 place. One decisive aspect in this was the fact that its lifts without weather protection hoods and seat heating are unable to match the comfort that European skiers now enjoy in the top ski areas. Even the incredible champagne powder in the Back Bowls is unable to make up for that.

The Swiss resorts of St. Moritz and Arosa Lenzerheide do not appear to have moved with the times as much as the other top ski areas. They have particularly fallen behind the current top 10 in terms of value for money. In St. Moritz, a lack of a direct connection between St. Moritz-Corviglia and St. Moritz-Corvatsch-Furtschellas is a definite negative point.

One particularly notable aspect of the top 10 is that Austria now boasts no less than 6 ski areas among the world’s best. This is primarily due to the Austrians’ continuous willingness to invest into modernising their ski areas. The Austrian resorts are also often pioneers when it comes to bringing new innovations to the market, such as new lift and snowmaking technologies. This investment has paid off in our ranking.

The test criteria

Since 2004, the Snow-Online.com team has been visiting ski regions around the globe and testing them according to set criteria. Initially, the ski areas were examined based on six categories. In 2015, the criteria were expanded to include the ten categories “Beginners”, “Advanced skiers”, “Freeride”, “Freestyle”, “Families”, “Après-ski”, “Service”, “Snow reliability”, “Value for money” and “On-mountain dining”. Ski areas can receive up to 10 points in each category, and therefore a maximum of 100 points overall. The final result is the total of all individual categories added together. Snow-Online.com has tested over 250 ski areas worldwide to date.

Our top 10 at a glance

Standings (previous year)

Ski areaScore (max. 100)User rating (max. 5)Skiable terrainDay ticket fee
1. (1.)Zermatt894,87360 km79,00 CHF
2. (3.)Serfaus Fiss Ladis894,66198 km49,00 EUR
3. (new)Saalbach884,50270 km52,00 EUR
4. (2.)Ski Arlberg884,15305 km52,00 EUR
5. (6.)Val Gardena874,78500 km52,00 EUR
6. (5.)

Whistler Blackcomb

874,713.300 ha278 CAD (2 Day ticket)*
7. (7.)Ischgl874,34223 km52,00 EUR
8. (4.)Les 3 Valées854,37600 km60,00 EUR
9. (new)Stubai Glacier854,2570 km46,00 EUR
10. (new)Sölden854,06142 km52,00EUR

 

* no day ticket available at Whistler Blackcomb

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