Although most people associate Montana with Ted Turner and the Tetons, it also offers some of the best skiing in the West–with some of the shortest lift lines. At Big Sky Resort, there are 17 lifts on its 3,600 skiable acres, 2,088 acres of which are for expert or advanced skiers. The village has plenty of shops, restaurants and bars for après-ski. There’s also a terrain park and half-pipe for daredevils. Visitors can stay in a variety of condos or hotel rooms. The Summit has the most luxurious condos. Rates start at $261.
- CHAMONIX- MONT BLANC, FRANCE
Chamonix, located in the shadow of Mont Blanc, is one of Europe’s most rugged sports resorts. Skiers rhapsodize over Vallée Blanche, a 12-mile run that is among Europe’s longest trails. In addition to off-piste and backcountry skiing, hang gliding and ice climbing on glaciers are available. The elegant Le Hameau-Albert is in the middle of it all and serves gourmet food. Rates start at €136 ($158).
Cortina d’Ampezzo, surrounded by the craggy Dolomite mountain range, is a prime stop on any thrill seeker’s European winter itinerary. The central village has 52 lifts and 87 miles of groomed runs, but skiers can also purchase a pass that allows access to more than 50 resorts in the area. The Cortina Adrenaline Center can arrange bobsledding, snow rafting and high-speed tobogganing. This being Italy, expect lots of fashionably dressed, cell-phone toting skiers. The Rosa Alpina Hotel, a Relais & Chateaux property, offers 17th-century furniture, gourmet food and a spa. Rates start at €210 ($245).
Courchevel is located within the Three Valleys of France, which also includes Méribel and Val Thorens, and bills itself as the largest ski resort in the world. Courchevel is actually four villages, and each is named for its altitude. Courchevel 1850 is the highest, boasting gourmet restaurants and boutiques as well as a ski-jumping venue and an Olympic ice-skating rink. There’s also night tobogganing and ice climbing. The palatial Byblos Courchevel, located in the Jardin Alpin forest, has a ski lift and cable car that leave directly from the hotel lobby. Rates start at €370 ($431).
Glamorous Gstaad still attracts its fair share of international playboys, royalty and movie stars. The chalet village became even more picture-perfect in 1997, when the town banned cars. The funiculars and chairlifts around Gstaad are configured into a system that services the slopes of at least six other resorts scattered over four valleys. An all-inclusive ski pass–known locally as a “Ski Gstaad Pass” ($24 per day)–is sold at the departure point of any of the region’s funicular stations and allows automatic access to 155 miles (250km) of downhill slopes and 70 chairlifts and gondolas. Unless you have your own chalet, the elegant yet comfortable Gstaad Palace is the best place to stay. Rates start at $286.
Even though the rich and famous have become more prevalent here, Jackson Hole is still more about skiing than the shopping and schmoozing. Still, land prices are skyrocketing, and it may not be long before the area becomes Aspen-ized. The Jackson Hole Ski Resort boasts 2,500 acres and plenty of expert terrain. Best of all, there are very few lines. The Amangani hotel is built into a hillside and uses natural material like redwood and stone, all overlooking the Snake River Mountain Range. Rates start at $700.
Vladimir Putin, Boris Becker, Princess Diana and various members of the Monegasque royal family have all vacationed in the Lech and Zürs ski resorts of Austria. The area’s appeal, besides its great skiing, is its exclusivity. Only 14,000 tickets are issued a day, guaranteeing short lift lines, and priority is given to hotel guests. The slopes are meticulously groomed, and there are 110 kilometers of mainly intermediate runs, served by 34 lifts. The Gasthof Post resort, in the middle of an alpine village, boasts a gourmet restaurant and an indoor swimming pool. Rates start at €300 ($349).
Lake Tahoe’s Squaw Valley, which hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, offers six separate peaks, views of Lake Tahoe and mild Northern California weather. The Village at Squaw Valley has been transformed by Intrawest, the company that developed Whistler Blackcomb. The slopes and terrain will appeal to both intermediate and advanced skiers, and there are also plenty of trails for snowboarders. The brand-new village at Squaw Valley offers spacious ski in/out condominiums, with balconies, fireplaces and all the latest technological gadgets. Rates start at $259.
If you can’t make it to Europe, head to Vail instead. The Tyrolean-style village has 174 trails and seven bowls, serviced by 30 lifts. The town is also bursting with bistros, boutiques and beautiful people. There’s plenty to do when not schussing on skis. Adventure Ridge, a recreation area high above Vail, offers snow tubing, nighttime sledding and indoor laser tag. The Sonnenalp Resort in the village is the most luxurious place to stay and has a 5,000-square foot spa. Rates start at $580.
- WHISTLER BLACKCOMB, CANADA
Whistler Blackcomb is one of the biggest and best ski resorts in North America and offers the largest vertical drop (5,280 feet). The two mountains in British Columbia have it all: expert terrain, glaciers and wide alpine bowls, plus a bustling village. Although 16,000 skiers a day pass through during peak season, with more than 7,000 skiable acres, it’s not hard to find deserted slopes. Sign up for backcountry and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, heli-skiing and sleigh riding. To really do it right, book a room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, where every room comes with a giant soaking tub to soothe those weary muscles. Rates start at $269.