11 of the best ski resorts for the holidays

Versie Dortch

(CNN) — What’s more Christmassy than Christmas? How about spending the festive season in a snowy ski resort decked with holly, festooned with sparkling lights and abuzz with cheer.

Most mountain resorts already score highly in the winter wonderland stakes, but some have that extra magic to jingle your yuletide bells.

CNN offers 11 of the best ski resorts for tidings of comfort and joy during the holidays and the rest of the ski season.

Travel restrictions and Covid 19 rules change quickly, especially amid the current Omicron surge, and could prevent some venues from opening.

Kitzbühel, Austria

It’s known for the most prized but petrifying downhill on the ski racing calendar, but outside of Hahnenkamm race week Kitzbühel is an elegant medieval town with a cobbled center perfect for savoring the charm and tradition of Christmas as it used to be.

Advent is a fun-filled time throughout the Tyrol province (in non-Covid times, anyway) and the scent of gluhwein and cinnamon, the twinkle of fairy lights on trees and townhouses, and the lilt of carols and brass bands make Kitzbühel’s Christmas market a magnet for festive fans.

By day, you can enjoy 230 kilometers of runs draped over the Kitzbühel Alps, and drop into numerous mountain huts to fill up on hearty Tyrolean classics such as dumplings, cheese spätzle, Tiroler gröstl (potatoes with bacon and egg) and kaiserschmarrn (pancake dessert).

Fortified with Christmas spirit you can attempt to ski parts of the infamous Streif race piste, an icy ribbon which plunges from the top of the Hahnenkamm mountain down to the outskirts of town.

Holidays hotel: The Tennerhof is a luxurious old-style wooden chalet hotel with three gourmet restaurants and views across Kitzbühel to the Hahnenkamm mountain.

Griesenauweg 26, 6370 Kitzbühel, Austria; +43 535663181

Festive feast: Sonnbuhel claims to be one of the oldest mountain huts in the Alps, founded between 1924-26, but is now a smart, slopeside eatery easily reached from the top of the main Hahnenkammbahn gondola rising out of town.

Hahnenkamm 11, 6370 Kitzbühel, Austria; +43 5356 71900

Zell am See, Austria

Zell am See: Lakeside snowscapes.

Zell am See: Lakeside snowscapes.

Zell am See-Kaprun Tourismus

This lakeside stunner in the heart of Salzburgerland offers all the festive ingredients.

Historic old streets and chalets festooned with lights, chestnuts on fires, stalls selling seasonal delicacies such as vanillekipferl and lebkuchen Christmas cookies, warming brews, regional arts and crafts, as well as kids’ entertainment.

For a watery twist, there are giant illuminated stars floating on the lake.

The tree-lined Schmittenhöhe ski area rises above the town with links over to Saalbach-Hinterglemm and Fieberbrunn, making for extensive skiing terrain.

Nearby, high above Kaprun, is the 3,203-meter Kitzsteinhorn glacier region making the area snowsure at Christmas.

Holidays hotel: The Hotel Tirolrehof has been in the Posch family for 40 years and is a comfortable, stylish spot with a central location good for ski lifts and lake.

Auerspergstrasse 5, 5700 Zell am See, Austria; +43 6542 7720

Festive feast: Mayer’s Restaurant is a classy fine-dining joint run by renowned Bavarian chef Andreas Mayer in Prielau Castle on the northern bank of the lake. The eight-course tasting menu takes in delights such as Breton lobster ravioli, filet of turbot with a forest mushroom jus, and plum cake with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon sponge.

Mayer’s Restaurant at Schloss Prielau, Hofmannsthalstrasse 10, 5700 Zell am See; +43 6542729110

Courmayeur, Italy

If the end of the year is a time to eat, drink and be merry then Courmayeur at the head of the Aosta Valley is an ideal spot for indulging over the festive period.

The historic town at the foot of Mont Blanc is a foodie heaven with rustic huts and mountain restaurants strung like baubles on a Christmas tree across its 41 kilometers of ski runs.

The atmospheric center around the Viale Monte Bianco is a mix of cozy cafes, intimate bars and bistros and designer shops, and is a perfect place to promenade, sip an aperitivo and soak up the alpine ambiance.

Adventure-seekers and view-snappers can ride the Skyway Monte Bianco, the revolving glass gondola that rises to 3,466 meters on the flanks of western Europe’s highest peak. It offers a wealth of off-piste itineraries including the famous 22-kilometer Vallée Blanche down to Chamonix in France. A qualified mountain guide is a must.

Holidays hotel: For bags of Alpine charm, acres of rustic wood, welcoming fires and an outdoor hot tub, the Hotel Chalet Svizzero is a great option in a good location. Perfect for couples.

Strada Statale 26, 11, 11013 Courmayeur, Italy; +39 0165848170

Festive feast: Restaurant Pierre Alexis 1877 serves up “reinterpreted” Alpine cuisine such as seared arctic char fillet with its eggs, cream of nettles and yarrow or fillet of beef, with fine herbs, braised salsify and wild broccoli.

Via Marconi 50/a, 11013 Courmayeur, Italy; +39 0165846700

Wengen, Switzerland

Wengen: A trove of wooden chalets.

Wengen: A trove of wooden chalets.

Jungfrau Region Tourismus AG

This traffic-free gem perched high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Bernese Oberland was one of the earliest bases for winter sports and is a treasure trove of wooden chalets and grand old hotels under the gaze of the mighty Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch mountains.

Wengen, reached by rack railway, shares a ski area with Grindelwald — not the dark wizard from Harry Potter but the scenic village at the foot of the Eiger’s infamous North Face.

Just across the valley is the old village of Mürren, home to Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn (2,971 meters), where the cable car station and revolving restaurant are familiar to James Bond fans as baddie Blofeld’s mountain-top hideaway in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

How about a Christmas Day trip to the Jungfraujoch, at 3,454 meters the highest railway station in Europe? Joining a cog railway at Kleine Scheidegg above Wengen, you travel up inside the Eiger, stopping to peer out of the gallery window at the infamous North Face, scene of many climbing epics. The mountainscape from the top, with the vast Aletschgletscher, the mighty Finsteraarhorn and the spire of the Matterhorn in the distance, is awe-inspiring.

Holidays hotel: The Maya Caprice is a refurbished and updated take on the traditional wooden chalet hotel with a cozy bar, Tuscan-inspired restaurant and big-screen views of the Jungfrau massif and the Lauterbrunnen valley.

Schonegg 1333D, 3823 Wengen; +41338560606

Festive feast: The atmospheric Restaurant 1903 in the venerable Hotel Schönegg is a classy option that serves mains such as venison ragout with red cabbage, glazed chestnuts and herb spätzle or roasted dry-aged beef fillet with truffle potatoes, egg yolk and pumpkin.

Auf der Burg, 3823 Wengen; +41 338553422

Val Gardena, Italy

This picturesque valley in the heart of the Dolomites is a Christmas present waiting to be unwrapped.

The three towns that make up Val Gardena — bustling Ortisei, peaceful Santa Cristina and the higher Selva — traditionally go big on the festive season, incorporating their Italian, Austrian and Ladin heritage.

There are usually lavish decorations, stalls selling arts and crafts, the waft of spicy gingerbread biscuits, South Tyrolean panforte and mulled wine, nativity scenes and Advent calendar windows.

The skiing, 175 kilometers of mostly intermediate cruising, takes place below the towering Sassolungo mountain but the area also links into the sprawling Dolomiti Superski region.

Val Gardena is also a gateway into the famous Sella Ronda circuit, a 40-kilometer lap of the Sella massif taking in some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Dolomites. It can be done in one day by capable intermediates, depending on the length of lunch at one of myriad mountain huts.

Holidays hotel: Spacious, upmarket and contemporary, the Hotel Granbaita Dolomites is a lavish spot in Selva with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a wellness suite and a funky bar and restaurant setting.

Str. Nives 11, 39048 Selva di Val Gardena, Italy; +39 0471795210

Festive feast: The white one with the sky-blue shutters, Rifugio Emilio Comici is a retro-chic mountain refuge on a sunny plateau at 2,154 meters below Sassolungo peak. It’s known for its seafood and champagne, with bubbling beats and open fires on the terrace adding to the party atmosphere.

Plan de Gralba 24, 39048 Selva di Val Gardena; +39 4711930388

Val Thorens, France

Val Thorens: World-class skiing.

Val Thorens: World-class skiing.

Val Thorens Resort

Christmas comes early in the alpine season so for mileage-hungry skiers hankering for plenty of the white stuff, heading high is a decent rule of yuletide thumb.

Val Thorens, at one end of the immense Les 3 Vallées region (actually four valleys including Orelle), fits the bill nicely.

A four-time winner of the “World’s Best Ski Resort” award, it combines high-class hospitality with more skiing than most can handle, at a starting altitude of 2,300 meters, stretching through the renowned resorts of Les Menuires, Méribel and Courchevel.

It’s more functional than chocolate-box but with fireworks, torchlit descents, vin chaud and all the usual Christmas trimmings it is sure to deliver a joyeux Noël.

Holidays hotel: The five-star Hôtel Pashmina is a designer boutique property leading directly onto the slopes with a panoramic terrace and housing Les Explorateurs restaurant, run by Michelin-star chef Josselin Jeanblanc, with its menu based around truffles, or other delicacies such as Mont Blanc snails in ravioli with mushrooms, candied fennel and broth with Alpine pastis and spirulina

Place du Slalom, 73440, Val Thorens; +33 479000999

Festive feast: Housed in a collection of revamped old barns — a working farm in the summer — Chez Pépé Nicolas does Savoyard character by the snow shovel, with an added modern, seasonal twist. Dishes range from the traditional fondue and croziflette to pea soup with mint and duckling fillet.

The terrace has stunning views over the slopes of Val Thorens and the flanks of La Masse above Les Menuires.

Piste de la Chasse, 73440 Val Thorens, France; +33 609452835

Alpbach, Austria

For the full cutesy chocolate-box winter wonderland, Alpbach is a good bet.

It’s often considered Austria’s prettiest village, all wooden chalets and quintessential alpine quaintness, making for a magical festive scene.

The village is low at 1,000 meters so may not always have snow on the ground but it’s still a sparkler at the heart of the Ski Juwel region, linked with the Wildschönau valley in the heart of the Tyrol.

There are 91 kilometers of slopes stretching up to 2,025 meters with a decent spread of mountain huts, such as the rustic Böglalm in Inneralpbach.

Holidays hotel: Der Böglerhof is an Alpine chalet hotel in the heart of Alpbach featuring a swimming pool, wellness center, sunny terrace and cozy wood-lined rooms.

Dorf 166, 6236 Alpbach, Austria; +43 5336 5227

Festive feast: The Postalm is a lively, compact spot offering authentic local food and delivering a warm Tyrolean welcome. The meat feast cooked on a “monkshood,” or local dishes such as spinach dumplings with bacon and onions are popular options.

Alpbach 184b, Alpbach 6236 Austria; +43 699 12755926

Levi, Finland

Levi, Finland skiing

Levi: Finland’s biggest ski resort.

Suzanne Plunkett/CNN

High above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland lies the resort of Levi, a frozen winterscape tinged with the twilight of the Polar night in December.

It’s the biggest ski resort in Finland with 39 kilometers of gentle forested runs, many of which are illuminated in the dark months.

The off-slope activities are as plentiful as mince pies at Christmas, from husky sled safaris and reindeer sleigh rides — with sausage cookouts and hot chocolate stops in remote huts — to snowmobile safaris, visits to traditional Sami tents and sleeping in glass igloos under the dancing Northern Lights.

Holidays hotel: Levi Holidays offers two-floor cottages in the local Finnish style of wood, verandas and pitched roofs set in Levi resort. Each cottage features a large fireplace, fully equipped kitchen and its own sauna.

Unelmarakka 34, Sirkka, Lappi, Finland; +358 44 5164101

Festive feast: NiliPoro offers traditional Saami food such as reindeer soup, or reindeer steak, meatballs or calf’s liver, with the meat coming from the family herd.

Torikuja 4, Levi 99130 Finland; +358 40 6651865

Saas-Fee, Switzerland

Not far as the reindeer flies from swanky Zermatt, the old-school village of Saas-Fee offers plenty of bang for your festive buck.

The atmospheric, traffic-free streets are lined with traditional Swiss wooden chalets and hotels, with plenty of welcoming shops, bars and restaurants, and a veritable Christmas list of non-skiing activities such as fondues in gondolas, glacier excursions, night sledging and torchlit winter walks.

Saas-Fee is overlooked by some of the Alps’ highest peaks, including the Dom, the loftiest summit entirely in Switzerland. And with 150 kilometers of pistes, including some on the Fee glacier, reaching up to 3,600 meters it is guaranteed to deliver a white Christmas.

It’s fitting, then, that Wham! filmed much of the video for “Last Christmas” here.

Holidays hotel: Chic but traditional, cutting edge but full of character, the five-star Capra is a highlight at the heart of the resort with a wellness spa and refined Brasserie restaurant on site.

Lomattenstrasse 6, CH-3906, Saas-Fee; +41 279581358

Festive feast: A 15-minute walk through pine and larch forest takes you to the Waldhüs Bodmen a traditional wooden Saas inn serving regional specialties such as venison in game cream sauce or fillet of lamb in garlic sauce with potato gratin.

Panoramastrasse 42CH-3906 Saas-Fee; +41 27 957 20 75

Stowe, Vermont


Stowe: A Vermont classic.

Stowe Mountain Resort of Vail Resorts

Stowe will celebrate its 85th winter of lift service this season and it’s a fine place to hunker down to enjoy Christmas.

It’s a classic Vermont town, with clapboard general stores and a homespun, Main Street, USA feel. Christmas decorations and activities will be out in full force, while bespoke boutiques and art galleries rub shoulders with cool cafes, country stores and craft breweries.

The skiing, up the road at Stowe Mountain Resort, offers options for all levels on the garlands of trails that descend through forests from Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont.

Holidays hotel: The Green Mountain Inn, with origins back to 1833, offers plenty of period features and timeless Vermont charm at the heart of Stowe. Its Whip Bar & Grill is a convivial spot with hearty food and microbrews.

18 S Main Street, Stowe, VT 05672; 802-253-7301

Festive feast: The Bistro at Ten Acres is a cozy but elegant converted house with a stunning outdoor patio serving a blend of American and international fine dining.

14 Barrows Rd, Stowe, VT 05672; +1 8022536838

Åre, Sweden

Home to about a hundred Christmas trees in full festive plumage, Åre takes its holiday season seriously.

Armed with a glass of glogg (hot, spicy mulled wine with blanched almonds and raisins) and nibbling on Kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon buns) or Pepparkakor (gingerbread), it’s well worth a stroll in the decorated streets by the side of icy lake Åresjön.

Åre is one of Scandinavia’s biggest linked ski areas with 91 kilometers of runs winding down into forested lower slopes from near the peak of Åreskutan mountain at 1,420 meters.

Holidays hotel: Hotel Åregården is a modern take on an old-school Swedish inn which dates back to 1895. It features welcoming lounges, elegant rooms and two restaurants near the Bergabanan ski lift.

Box 6, Åre Torg, 830 13 Åre, Sweden; +46 64717800

Festive feast: Karolinen Täljstenskrogen, set in a cozy barn by the lake, serves dishes using local Jämtland ingredients, often cooked on a scorching täjstenar, or soapstone, (also local) at your table.

Björnänge 841, Åre, Sweden; +46 647 320 90

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