What are the best destinations in the world for a luxury snow vacation? Winter is coming (at least, for most of us). Snow-lovers of the world, our time is finally here! If you are among those of us in the “never summer” tribe, and you haven’t yet made your year-end break plans, or if you’re willing to change them last-minute if a better idea crosses your path, or even if you just want to curl up by the fire and daydream about what the glitterati are up to in snow country, then read on. We recently surveyed our snow sport aficionado friends with high-altitude incomes, and combed through several luxury travel websites, and we’ve come up with the latest recommendations on the best cold-weather luxury holiday vacation spots around the world. We’ve categorized them based on the type of vacation you’re after, and who’s coming with you:
Traditional luxury downhill skiing and snowboarding.
- The Swiss, French and Austrian Alps are still the top go-to places for the global elite. The iconic Alpine ski resorts include Courchevel, Chamonix, St. Moritz, Zermatt, Gstaad, Verbier, Kitzbuhel, and Lech/Zurs. A couple of insider tips:
- Chamonix is beautiful, but it can also be treacherous if you venture off-piste unprepared. If you go, and intend to explore, our Alpine correspondent strongly recommends using a luxury guiding outfit like Authentic Alpine Ventures. Try “skijoring” while you’re there: a galloping horse pulls you through the snow while you’re on skis (it’s perfect practice for the White Turf competition in St. Moritz early next year).
- In Courchevel, there are 4 different levels of lodging, based upon how high up the mountain you are. The highest level is referred to as Courchevel 1850, and it is de rigueur to own or rent a private chalet or to stay at the Hotel Chevel Blanc, which is owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH. L’Apogee is another excellent 5-star choice.
- Our Swiss Bureau Chief recommends Badrutt’s Palace Hotel in St. Moritz and Hotel Cervo in Zermatt. He reports that because the snow situation in Europe seems to worsen every year, people are starting to opt for higher-altitude resorts where the snow conditions are better. He also notes that the Alpine resorts are starting to merge to create mega-resorts (like Zurs/Lech and St. Anton) because people really want really long-kilometer runs on-piste. Other trends he noted: snowboards seem to be waning in Europe, but freeride skis are on the rise, even on-piste. He also reports that Nordic skiing is growing in popularity.
- Many Alpine resorts now offer ice skating, tobogganing (known as “sledging,”), tubing and Nordic trails, to keep the entire crew happy.
- In Asia, Japan is the hottest luxury snow sport destination by far (no pun intended). The Niseko ski areas on Hokkaido, the country’s northernmost island, are guaranteed to have deep powder from mid-December to the end of February – the region has the largest snowfall in the world.
- There are 61 trails across Niseko’s four interconnected resort areas: Annupuri, Hirafu, Higashiyama (also called Niseko Village), and Hanazono. Night skiing is available.
- There are also ample back-country opportunities: the Hokkaido Backcountry Club was just named the world’s best heli-ski operator.
- The Hilton hotel and the Green Leaf Hotel in Niseko Village are now ski-in, ski-out, thanks to two new lifts that debuted last month. The Vale Niseko in Hirafu just won the award for world’s best ski boutique hotel. And more luxury is on the way: the Park Hyatt will open in 2019, and the Ritz Carlton in 2020.
- Make time for an excursion to the Blue Pond, southeast of the town of Biel – it’s enchanting.
- Stateside, the enduring Mountain West classics include Aspen, Vail, Park City, Deer Valley, and Telluride.
- Many members of the luxury crowd own or rent a home in these places, and use them for vacationing year-round, and all of them have numerous activities for non-skiers (for example, in Park City, you can take a run on the Olympic bobsledding track)
- If you can’t crash at a friend’s luxurious ski house, The Little Nell comes highly recommended as the only 5-star 5-diamond hotel in Aspen. A friend swears by The Christiania in Vail. Luxury newcomers this year are the Hotel Talisa in Vail and Dunton Town House in Telluride.
- If you’re seeking real privacy, book the Eagle Point Resort in Utah. Up to 200 guests can have the entire place to themselves. There are 40 charming guest cabins scattered throughout the property.
- Candidly, the luxury options in New England don’t compare to the West. However, lots of people love skiing in the East anyway. We recommend the Stowe Mountain Lodge for a wonderful vacation in Vermont; the village of Stowe embodies classic New England charm at its very best, plus you can visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory, the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and several excellent farm-to-table restaurants.
- Canada is no slouch when it comes to luxurious winter holidays. The most popular destinations among our friends are:
- Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia – everyone seems to stay at either the Fairmont or the Four Seasons, and this is a hugely popular destination for the elite from Hong Kong who are on Chinese New Year holidays.
- Mont Tremblant in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains is lovely, with 77 trails and a pedestrian-only village built to resemble Quebec City. Fresh snow is almost guaranteed, which is a big plus in the East. The Fairmont and the Quintessence hotels are perfectly situated in the center of everything.
Adventure/Backcountry is the fastest-growing segment in winter travel. Here are some new ideas, and some tried-and-true destinations:
- Deplar Farm in Iceland is billed as a “secret ski retreat.” Located in the northwest part of the country, this sheep-farm-turned-luxury-lodge is nestled in a remote valley. It has 10 suites and 2 heli-pads. After breakfast, guests helicopter to freshly-powered peaks, while the ice-blue ocean shimmers below. There’s also a spa and yoga space. Blue Marble Private, an ultra-lux travel agency based in London, can arrange this for you.
- Northern Norway’s Lingen Alps and Greenland are both outstanding places for freeriding, but April is the best month to visit (plan ahead!) Our expert advisor says that it takes a lot of organization and planning to execute these trips, but they’re well worth it. The lodging in Norway can be more traditionally luxurious – in Greenland, not so much – it’s very rustic. But that might be just what you’re looking for.
- Scuba-diving in the North Pole is definitely a thing now – if you’re an experienced diver, Waterproof Expeditions can arrange for you to explore the underwater ice castles.
- Year-end is peak season in Antarctica; you’ll find 24 hours of daylight, Emperor penguins, kite-skiing, ice-climbing, and scientific explorations of all kinds. Abercrombie & Kent would be a great choice to help you plan a week-long cruise.
- If you want something just a bit tamer and more traditionally luxurious, Jackson Hole’s Four Seasons Hotel is sufficiently remote that you can view elk, go on winter hikes, or take helicopter tours of the surrounding mountains and valleys. This year, Jackson Hole will open its first Nordic ski resort.
- To kick it old-school and ski like your ancestors did, Alta is a favorite of one of our athletic friends. To access the mountain, you fly into Salt Lake City; he reports that it’s a “great mountain and a great vibe.” Depending on your definition of luxury, you’ll either love it or not: he recommends staying at the Peruvian, which features shared bathrooms and communal dining tables. People go there to “ski hard with other hard-core skiers.” If that’s what you’re after, your tribe awaits.
Family-friendly. If you have kids or teenagers in tow, a family ski vacation can be one of the best holidays ever – everyone ends the day tired and happy. Just choose the right place:
- In the Alps, Megeve, France is ideal for beginners — rent a private chalet, or stay at the Les Fermes de Marie.
- A friend with kids who has seen lots of ski resorts around the world says that Japanis a great choice for families. If you make Mt. Yotei on Hokkaido your home base, your brood can ski all day, have a terrific meal, and then sing karaoke before bed. Nearby Sapporo has a lovely Christmas market; you can view active volcanos in Lake Toya; and you can take a family soak in the hot springs in Noboribetsu. Extra time? Swing through Tokyo on the way home.
- Beaver Creek in Colorado bills itself as perfect for families with kids; the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch or the boutique Hotel Osprey in Beaver Creek Village are both great choices. Big group? Rent Trapper’s Cabin, which has 4 bedrooms and 4 baths.
- In New England, Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont is perfect for families; ditto Okemo.
- Young adults (maybe some older ones, too) will love the snow and indie/rock music festival Snowbombing in Mayrhofen, Austria from April 3-8, 2017; you can ski, ride, dance, and practice snow yoga. Epic.
Cold-weather culinary adventures. If you’re not up for more fondue this winter, here are some cozy and scenic options with excellent restaurants.
- If you love the mountains, but also want to explore interesting local cuisine, consider Spain. Baqueira Beret, Spain gets a surprising amount of snow, and a stay at the Hotel Val de Neu is a great way to sample the Basque cuisine. If you don’t ski, the Spanish Pyrenees are also great for snow-shoeing.
- The Dolomites offer a great way to combine gorgeous winter scenery, perhaps some skiing, and outstanding food and drink. Cortina, Italy’s Cristallo Hotel is a great choice, and luxury travel agent Scott Dunn recommends stopping over in Venice (it’s lovely in off-season).
- Blackberry Farm, a country inn in East Tennessee in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, doesn’t offer skiing, but the atmosphere is rustic and cozy. You can go snow-shoeing this time of year, and the food is superb. The farm has its own master gardener, baker, cheese maker and bee keeper, plus two executive chefs (both women, we might add).
- The Salish Lodge and Spa in Snoqualmie, Washington (30 minutes outside Seattle in the foothills of the Cascades) offers a similar ambiance. Their famous “Honey from Heaven” service at breakfast involves pouring their fresh-from-the-hive honey on a fresh-baked homemade biscuit. More, please.
Culture + Cold. If you’re eager for a dose of culture, consider these winter adventures, which don’t require skis or boards:
- Gstaad is an excellent destination for people who love snow, but don’t want to ski or ride. There’s a great deal of culture to explore off the slopes, lots of high-end shopping, and many good restaurants. You can take a para-gliding tour, or try snow-biking: “fat” bikes are available for rent in several sports shops. Feeling languorous? Take a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride. The Gstaad Palace is a dream of a hotel.
- Sweden is equally dreamy at year-end. You could start your journey in Stockholm, perhaps even stay one night at the Ice Hotel. Then head north to Kruna, where you can take a night-time dog sled ride timed to coincide with the Northern Lights. Stop for a warm drink by the fire enroute, and if you really love dogs, you can learn how sled dogs are trained and cared for by spending a day with them – Husky Tours can make it all happen.
- We love Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, and winter is a good time to visit any or all of them. The air will be clear, it will be less crowded, and there are wonders to explore everywhere.
- Feeling like something more adventurous? Ethiopia is an emerging destination for winter travel. Travel agency Scott Dunn offers a “Churches, Castles, and Mountains” trip that takes you from the Simien and Bale Mountains to the holy city of Axum and the bustling metropolis of Addis Ababa.
- We’ve added Mongolia to my personal bucket list for winter travel. London-based travel agency Black Tomato suggests a December trip starting in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, and then venturing into the countryside to see eagle’s nests, learn how nomads live, learn eagle-hunting techniques (they catch rabbits and foxes, so warn the kids), and then go for a hunting expedition with your eagle by foot or on horseback. Wow.
We don’t know about you, but after all that we’re now totally ready to embrace our inner Elsa. Frozen? Yes, please.