Tons of white fluff, proper elevation, vast skiable area and plenty of lifts – these are the prerequisites. But an ideal ski vacation is as much about whizzing down well-groomed slopes as about enjoying oneself afterwards. When we speak of world's best ski resorts we mean places that combine excellent conditions, scenic routes, ample off-piste opportunities and a unique après-ski scene to give your sore body a little bit of pampering.
Zermatt may be quite small but as the highest altitude snow sport location in the Alps, it is definitely one of Europe's premier ski resorts, with legendary slopes to schuss on all year round, amazing alpine vistas, comfy accommodation and brilliant cuisine to complete the picture. Backdropped among others by Monte Rosa (Switzerland's highest mountain) and the fabulous Matterhorn, the resort welcomes skiers of all skills, ages and challenge desires.
What adds to the experience is that Zermatt is a completely car-free village and there are few places in the world that can truly match its Après Ski splendor of 38 mountain restaurants, most of which offer unobstructed views of the sublime Matterhorn.
Top elevation: 3820m / 12,500 ft
Vertical drop: 2200m / 7250 ft
Marked pistes: 245 km / 153 mi
Longest run: 13 km / 8 mi
Mountain Railways and Ski-lifts: 73
View of Matterhorn and Dent d'Hérens from Tête Blanche. By Jackph
Findeln village above Zermatt. By andi_apple
Vail, Colorado, USA
Vail is the second largest ski resort in North America, and together with its sister resort Beaver Creek it makes for a particularly charming winter adventure. Unlike Aspen, Vail is less about glamor and more about serious skiing, although they say the town's nightlife has as many trails as the mountain. One thing's for sure, at Vail, you can enjoy 7 miles of mountain front, 7 back bowls, 3 terrain parks, fabulous vistas, and 300 days of sunshine. There's one drawback though: the ski lift passes here are amongst the most expensive in the world. But at least you know what you're paying for.
Skiable area: 5,289 acres (2,140 ha)
Vertical drop: 3450 ft (1051m)
Top elevation: 11,570 ft (3,530 m)
Marked pistes: 193 total
Longest run: Riva Ridge 4 mi (6.4 km)
Beaver Creek - Vail's sister resort. By Visit Colorado
Snowboarder Robert Blank launches off a cornice in Vail's Sun Down Bowl. By Visit Colorado
Sankt Anton am Arlberg, Austria
Sankt Anton is a mecca for the adventurous, with the toughest off-piste runs that Austria has to offer. This of course doesn't mean intermediates have nothing to look for here. Just a short bus ride away, Lech-Zürs offers great skiing for everyone from beginner to expert including a number of extreme routes and high alpine touring runs. Heavy snowfall, lots of sun, excellent après-ski, and a charming Tyrolean feel make St Anton a brilliant choice for a skiing vacation. Plus the improved lift system with dozens of cable cars and chairlifts means that queuing is rare, although the resort might be packed at weekends.
Top elevation: 2,811 m (9,222 ft)
Vertical drop: 1510 m (4954 ft)
Marked pistes: 262 km (161 mi), 184 km (114 mi) of deep snow runs
Longest run: 10.2 km (6.3 mi); Valluga to St. Anton
Mountain Restaurants: 18
View from up high. By Crystal Ski
Plenty of accommodation. By the_junes
It may not be as glamorous as Chamonix and as well-groomed as Zermatt, but if powder skiing in the Himalayas makes you tick, then this is the place to go. Gulmarg is a solitary hill-village located in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and for this particular reason it will not ruin your wallet once you get there and chances of overcrowding are none.
Quite another thing is that Gulmarg boasts the highest cable car in the world, reaching 3,979 meters and providing some really eye-popping views. The season normally lasts from end-December to mid-April. There are around 40 hotels of all standards and a couple of really excellent restaurants.
Top elevation: 3979 m (13,054 ft)
Vertical drop: 1350 m (4,429 ft)
Marked pistes: 70 km (33 trails)
Longest run: 2,2 km (1,4mi)
Aparbat, a 4200 m summit in Gulmarg Kashmir. By Bel Ami+t
Night skiing. By tc photography.com
Dominated by the mighty Mont Blanc, Chamonix is certainly France's best all-round ski resort. Once you've seen it surrounded by the range of snow-covered giants, the picture will forever stay on your mind and lure you to come back over and over again. There are few places to match Chamonix as far as the variety of terrain and opportunities for winter endeavors are concerned. Gentle family runs among the trees, perfect cross country pistes, amusing snow parks or legendary glacier descents as well as ice climbing, ski touring, and paragliding will keep everyone busy and excited, from the beginner to the most nervy daredevil.
As the site of the first Winter Olympics, Chamonix has a lot of historical feel to it and plenty of sightseeing options once you've had enough of all the snow-related attractions. Also, Chamonix has one of the highest cable cars in the world, which links the town to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi at 3842 m.
Top elevation: 3,842m (12,604 ft)
Vertical drop: 2,807 m (9,209 ft)
Marked pistes: 150km (93,2 mi)
Cross country: 42km (26 mi)
Longest run: 21km (13 mi)
Don't slip to the left!! By nebulous 1
Going up. By Alain Bachellier
The Portillo Ski Area in Chile is one of the oldest skiing centers in the world, and much as others have gone quite commercialized and generic, Portillo has remained special, private and somewhat solitary. There's no downtown, no malls, and no rowdy nightlife. Just 450 guests accommodated in the Portillo Hotel and fabulous slopes at their exclusive disposal. With elevation of over 9400 feet and a snowfall average of 400 inches, conditions are nothing to be worried about and skiing options are just beyond imagination.
Top elevation: 4020 m (13,188 ft)
Marked pistes: 23 trails
Longest run: 2.5 km (1.5 mi)
Reflections. By Paul & Kelly
Portillo Ski Resort. By www.skiportillo.com
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
Nestled in an alpine valley in the heart of the legendary Dolomites, Cortina is so alluring that even James Bond had to make his mark there. Gondolas soar across chasms, suspended thousands of feet above the heaps of white powder. But it is when you reach the top and snap on your skis that the real action kicks off. Many would have no hesitation in naming Cortina as the world's best ski resort, mostly thanks to the sublime beauty of the Dolomites, extensive ski-ranges, fabulous weather, cozy accommodation and lively and après-ski scene.
The city of Cortina on the other hand is home to some of the most prestigious names in fashion, traditional artisan shops, antiquarians, and craft stores, so it's not only skiers but also keen fashionistas who will fall in love with the place head over heels and want to come back again and again.
Top elevation: 2930 meters (9613 ft)
Vertical drop: 1715 m (5626 ft)
Marked pistes: 101 (140 km (87 mi))
Longest run: 11 km(7 mi)
The Tofana di Rozes photographed from the top of Mount Lagazuoi. By MaiDireLollo
View over the dolomites. By alesduchac
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
Topped with magnificent scenery, Whistler Blackcomb enjoys some of the most spectacular skiing one can imagine. The fact that the resort hosted the majority of events during the 2010 Winter Olympics speaks volumes about Whistler Blackcomb's potential for an unforgettable skiing vacation. Not only is it the largest ski resort in North America, but also one that boasts the greatest uphill lift capacity and records for the highest and longest unsupported cable car span in the world. Both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains are accessed via three gondolas, a ride that's quite an adventure in itself. A stone statue of Ilanaaq standing tall and proud atop Whistler Mountain greatly adds to the magical quality of the place.
Top elevation: Whistler 2182 m (7160ft) / Blackcomb 2240 m (7347ft)
Vertical drop: Whistler 1530 m (5020ft) / Blackcomb: 1609 m (5135ft)
Marked pistes: 200+
Longest run: 11 km (7 mi)
Infinitely white. By hdeb89
"Ilanaaq", the mascot logo of the 2010 Winter Olympics. By Simon J Byrne