Dreaming of that first ski run of the year? You don’t have to wait much longer. Resorts across the globe are gearing up for Opening Day, your favorite après-ski spots are welcoming winter warriors once again, and the season’s best festivals will be here before you know it. Here are four travel-worthy destinations for the upcoming season that combine elite skiing with delicious food and hot events.
Opening Day: November 22
Where to ski: Take on Aspen’s famously steep slopes, spread across four different neighboring resorts. Aspen Mountain’s challenging trails are pro caliber — it hosted the 2017 FIS Ski World Cup Final — so there’s not a single green circle (denoting the easiest runs) to be found. A quarter of its trails are double black diamonds. Buttermilk is a more easy-going mountain that is typically uncrowded, so families can enjoy it at their own pace. On the other hand, Buttermilk is also home to the very same terrain parks that challenge the pros during the annual Winter X Games held in Aspen.
The Snowmass mountain is heavy on blue squares (one level more difficult than green circles) so it’s a good place for those new to the sport to get acquainted with Aspen. There’s so much terrain to ski at Snowmass (3,300 acres) that you could spend an entire day there without skiing over the same snow twice. Finally, there’s Aspen Highlands, where the adventure-seekers and snowboarders hang. The Highlands are blessed with one of the steepest ski hills in the state: Highland Bowl. The chairlift only takes you part of the way up; the rest you’ll have to hike, which could take up to an hour, depending on your pace. But the views, along with a steep 35-degree drop, validate every minute of the trek.
Après-ski scene: Don’t miss the most memorable après-ski in Aspen — Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro. If you’re lucky enough to score a table (the restaurant seats 130 and routinely fills up with reservations days or weeks in advance), you can only get there by skiing in. The scene here is European nightclub meets high-end ski chalet — the equivalent of pairing bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne with fondue and raclette. And the room is filled with an affluent clientele, sometimes graced with a celebrity appearance. Recent visitors include British singer, Seal, and American comedian Chelsea Handler.
What’s happening: One of the marquee events on the Extreme Sports calendar is the annual Winter X Games. The 2019 event (held January 24-27) will mark the 18th consecutive year Aspen hosts the competition. The X Games draw the world’s best skiers and snowboarders from around the world, and broadcasts live on ESPN. For those in attendance, there’s plenty more than just the athletes to marvel at: Nightly musical performances by Lil’ Wayne, Louis The Child, The Chainsmokers, and Kygo add flare to this winter’s edition.
Zermatt, Swiss Alps
Opening Day: November 24
Where to ski: Skiing in the shadow of the legendary Matterhorn? Sign us up! The massive, near-symmetrical peak towering over the Swiss Alps is known as the “king of mountains” — and for good reason. Not only is it one of the tallest mountains in the Alps, but its pyramidal shape makes it an imposing figure, not to mention the most photographed mountain in the world. With that in mind, don’t forget a camera when making the ascent up Switzerland’s highest ski resort: Zermatt. One of the most intriguing things about Zermatt is that it borders Italy and shares a mountain with the Italian Breuil-Cervinia resort. That means you can ski over the border and back at your leisure — just make sure to buy the international ski pass to allow you access to both sides.
New this year at Zermatt: a luxury ski lift dubbed the Matterhorn Glacier Ride, with Swarovski crystal-encrusted cable cars. (Is this real life?!) Won’t make it to the Swiss Alps this winter? No stress! Zermatt is one of a handful of mountains open year-round, and in the offseason has 13 miles of skiable terrain on Theodul Glacier, the largest summer ski area in the world. Take the Klein Matterhorn cable car to access the runs. While you may be tempted to don shorts and a t-shirt for the sake of it, Zermatt’s website recommends that summer skiers dress in “clothing normally worn on a warm day of spring skiing.” Make sure to show up early — summer skiing only goes until noon each day, before the strong afternoon sun softens the snow too much.
Après-ski scene: To spend time in the peaceful village of Zermatt is to turn back time. The village is car-free, leaving the roads mainly clear for cyclists and walkers. Alternatively, electric buses and electric taxis provide transportation, making it one of the most sustainable holiday destinations in Europe. But walking is the most common way to navigate the village, creating a relaxed atmosphere and encouraging you to have that second glass of wine at dinner. For the most unique après-ski though, head back up the mountain toward Igloo Village, where the Iglu-Dorf Bar, literally inside an igloo, is rebuilt each year by the design of international artists. Here, enjoy Swiss cheese fondue and homemade white igloo mulled wine.
What’s happening: Zermatt Unplugged caps off the ski season. The festival takes place April 9-13, 2019, and has already announced popular acts including two English singer-songwriters, Passenger and Jessie J. The five-day festival includes more than 80 concerts on 13 stages spread throughout the village and on the mountain.
Opening Day: November 24
Where to ski: Skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is like skiing in the clouds. A phenomenon known as temperature inversions occurs on the mountains here, wherein the clouds trap the cold air beneath, warming up the top half of the mountain and opening up sunny skies overhead. On inversion days, the upper portion of the mountain can measure as much as 40℉ warmer than at the valley floor. So you should always check the forecast in advance, and don’t assume a cold day means it’ll be cold everywhere on the mountain. It’s no wonder MountainWeather.com meteorologist Jim Woodmencey coined the phrase “Go up to warm up” in reference to Jackson Hole. Heed Woodmencey’s advice and take advantage of “tropical” skiing up in the clouds.
Temperature oddities aside, Jackson Hole is one of the most desirable ski destinations in the United States for expert riders, especially with challenging chutes (narrow trails or gullies, typically surrounded by rocks) and cliff drops. The main attraction is Corbet’s Couloir, a narrow, almost 90-degree cliff drop into a winding trail that produces nearly as many wipeouts as skiers that attempt to take it on. Even its namesake and discoverer — Jackson Hole ski instructor Barry Corbet — didn’t dare drop in. Corbet famously remarked, “Someday someone will ski that.” Sure enough, ski patroller Lonnie Ball was the first to do it in 1967, and thousands more have done it since. Will you be next?
Après-ski scene: Head to Jackson’s town square where a rustic 1890s building houses the landmark Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, a nod to Wyoming’s Western roots. Country music legends Hank Williams Jr. and Willie Nelson have taken the stage here, so you never know who’ll be entertaining patrons when you walk into the iconic watering hole in the heart of Jackson. If the western memorabilia covering the walls doesn’t get you in the mood, then perhaps the the bar stools made from saddles will.
What’s happening: March is the month to visit Jackson if you’re looking to attend some of its top winter festivals. Music Under the Tram kicks off the month on March 2nd with a series of performances you can enjoy without leaving the resort. DemoFest 2019, taking place March 9th-10th, brings together 20 of the top international ski brands, including Burton and Völkl, to provide a sneak peek of next year’s line of gear.
Whistler, British Columbia
Opening Day: November 22
Where to ski: Whistler-Blackcomb, where else? This top Canadian resort has always catered to snowboarders. Serious boarders should check out the Peak to Creek run, which at seven miles long is one of North America’s longest groomed ski run. After a gorgeous ride on the Creekside Gondola from Whistler Creekside Village, take in the views of Black Tusk (a pinnacle of volcanic rock), Cheakamus Lake, and Whistler Village from the top. Then, prepare your legs for the long journey and get on your way.
The mountain also welcomes beginner skiers, who should make their way to Olympic Station, near the Fitzsimmons Express lift. That’s where you’ll find an entire mountain full of green trails devoted to less experienced skiers. What sets Whistler apart from so many mountains is that its beginner runs don’t sacrifice altitude. The typical beginner run at other mountains is shorter than its more difficult counterparts, but at Whistler’s Olympic Station, the runs go just as high — and provide just as much in the way of views. In turn, they are simply easier to navigate, as in they’re less steep with fewer twists and turns.
The resort’s PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola that connects Whistler and Blackcomb is the world’s longest — and highest from the ground — unsupported lift span. Want to take things to the next level? Try heli-skiing: Regular skiing where riders take a helicopter, rather than a lift or gondola, to their starting point. Not only is this the most luxurious way to ski, but it offers the ultimate bird’s eye view of Whistler, plus a professional photographer joins you to document the action.
Après-ski scene: There’s a little bit of everything in Whistler Village, so that’s where you should go no matter what you’re looking for. For fine dining, make a reservation at Bearfoot Bistro, where delicious wine pairings go nicely with a side of fun: Try champagne sabering — that’s right, the Napoloenic era tradition of “sabering” the top off a Champagne bottle. To quickly quench your thirst, head to Longhorn Saloon, conveniently located right at the bottom of the mountain, dishing out craft beers from British Columbia favorite Deep Cove Brewers & Distillers. For a long-lasting après, head to Merlin’s Bar & Grill, where everyone trades in their skis for dancing shoes and the music blares all night.
What’s happening: North America’s largest yearly winter sports and music festival takes place in Whistler: The World Ski and Snowboard Festival. Referred to as the winter Burning Man, WSSF happens in April and features ski and snowboard competitions along with live music, as well as filmmaker and photography showdowns.