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Skiing Beyond the Alps: North America and Japan’s Best Ski Resorts

March 26, 2024  · 
Skiing Beyond the Alps: North America and Japan’s Best Ski Resorts

Looking for something different on your next ski holiday? Go beyond Europe’s borders, and take on the best slopes that Japan, Canada and the United States have to offer.

North America

Across the Atlantic, Canada and western states like Wyoming and Colorado have made a name for themselves as veritable ski capitals.

Aspen, Colorado, USA

Perhaps one of North America’s most iconic ski resorts, Aspen is a former mining town turned ski village, nestled amongst the Rocky Mountains. The Aspen Snowmass Ski Area, consisting of four mountains, offers visitors over 5,600 acres of skiable terrain to explore. 

The Aspen Highlands provides an exciting challenge for skiers and snowboarders, with steep runs and incredible backcountry routes. Meanwhile, Buttermilk is the perfect area for beginners, with miles of gentle, perfect-groomed runs, ideal for finding your feet and easing yourself into the sport. 

Aspen offers more than just skiing, with activities and experiences for visitors of all ages, such as the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster and live music events throughout the season. Aspen also boasts a superb high street, with a vast array of shops from thrift stores to haute couture.

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Whistler Blackcomb, B.C., Canada

With an immense 8,171 acres of terrain, Whistler Blackcomb is North America’s largest ski area. Located in Canada’s Fitzsimmons Mountain Range, Whistler Blackcomb has over 240 trails to explore between the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, linked by the Peak 2 Peak Gondola – the world’s longest continuous lift system.

Whistler Blackcomb is home to a wide range of ski trails, making it suitable for families, experts, and everyone in between. There is also a vast backcountry area for off-piste skiers to enjoy in the Garibaldi Provincial Park. 

Whistler Village itself is a charming mountain town, made all the more magical when adorned with snowfall. It has a vibrant nightlife and an active apres scene, ensuring the fun continues off the slopes. Make sure to pay the Longhorn Saloon a visit – and if you do, treat yourself to a plate of their legendary nachos. 

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Vail, Colorado, USA

Vail stands proudly as one of North America’s largest ski resorts, with over 5,280 acres of skiable area. Unlike some resorts - such as Aspen - which have a previous history as mining towns, Vail was purpose-built to be a ski resort. The town takes on an appearance inspired by Bavarian towns, with colourful facades and pedestrianised streets.

There are over 270 trails in Vail, with terrain for skiers of all abilities. There are ample learning areas for young and new skiers, with instructors readily available for hire. For those hoping to experience the thrill of backcountry skiing, Vail has seven bowls for you to tackle. We recommend heading to the Sun Up Bowl, reachable via the High Noon Express and Sun Up Express ski lifts.

The resort houses a wide array of dining options. Sweet Basil has cemented itself as one of Vail’s greatest dining destinations, offering a compelling fine dining experience with an impressive wine list to match. Meanwhile, the Remedy Bar, located in the Four Seasons Resort, is a proven apres ski spot.

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Banff & Lake Louise, Canada

Hidden away in the Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise is almost too beautiful to be believed, with its mountains overlooking stunning glacial lakes. Found within Banff National Park, the ski area consists of three resorts: the Lake Louise Ski Resort, Mt Norquay, and Banff Sunshine Village. Making up the SkiBig3 area, guests have over 7,700 acres of terrain at their disposal, with 362 runs to tackle. 

Lake Louise is the biggest of the three resorts, with 4,200 acres and varied terrain, with a top elevation of 2,133 metres above sea level. Thrilling skiing sessions can be followed by an afternoon spent marvelling at the sheer beauty of the surrounding natural area, before heading to one of the town’s many bars for the evening.

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Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA

Jackson Hole sits in the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains, a remarkable area of natural beauty, home once to fur trappers and homesteaders. Now, Jackson Hole is one of America’s premier ski resorts, boasting 2,500 acres of pistes and over 3,000 acres of backcountry area. 

There are 131 trails throughout the resort, with 50% of them black runs – making Jackson Hole the resort of choice for skiing experts. However, there are plenty of routes for intermediate skiers to enjoy, too.  

The town of Jackson Hole has a welcoming atmosphere and plenty to be getting on with, from shopping to dining out. The resort also offers an exciting array of non-skiing activities, such as sleigh rides, ice skating, and snowshoeing.

Jackson Hole Airport, located just 20 miles from the resort, makes the village easily accessible for visitors. Non-stop flights to Jackson Hole are available from multiple major US airports, with airport transfers bookable in advance. Public transport is a viable and straightforward option too, with an Airport Shuttle making it easy to travel between the resort and the airport. 

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For those seeking a break from the ordinary and a chance to experience something unique, a ski holiday in Japan promises exactly that. Famed for its excellent snow - known colloquially as ‘JaPow’ - Japan’s resorts promise an authentic taste of Japanese culture. 

Niseko, Hokkaido

Located on Japan’s second-biggest island, Hokkaido, Niseko may be Japan’s best-known ski area. Niseko is famed for its superb powder snow, so much so that it has been dubbed by some as the powder capital of the world. 

The area comprises four ski resorts: Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village, Niseko Mountain Resort Grand Hifaru, and Niseko Hanazono. All four resorts can be visited through one all-encompassing ski pass.

Niseko enjoys heavy and frequent snowfall, ensuring brilliant slope coverage throughout the season. The resort is particularly English-speaker-friendly, making it a great destination for foreign tourists.

Visitors to Niseko can also enjoy night skiing in some of the area’s resorts, a truly breathtaking skiing experience. Niseko’s frequent snowfall means you can often enjoy powder skiing under the moonlight.

Beyond its skiing, Niseko is home to a wide array of fabulous dining options, from traditional Japanese cuisine to international dishes, whilst the resort’s izakayas provide the perfect place to spend a fun evening. 

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Hakuba Valley, Nagano

Situated in the Japanese prefecture of Nagano, the Hakuba Valley Ski Area consists of nine ski resorts, offering visitors a wide variety of terrain to tackle and explore. With the Hakuba Valley lift pass, you can access all nine of the resorts, with the additional option of a night skiing pass if you’d like to take to the slopes after sunset.

Standing at an elevation of 1,831m, Happo-One is the largest of the Hakuba resorts and was the host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Known for its consistent snowfall, the Hakuba ski area sits nestled at the foothills of the Hida Mountains, providing visitors with breathtaking alpine views. 

There’s an array of great dining options to choose from in Hakuba – but we’d particularly recommend Kitaone Kogen Terrace in Happo-One, where you can enjoy Japanese noodles and rice bowls at 1,200m, overlooking a stunning mountain vista. 

Hakuba is easily accessible from Tokyo, making it a popular destination for national and international tourists alike. Shuttles run from Tokyo’s airports directly to the resort, whilst Hakuba can also be reached by travelling via bullet train to Nagano Station, followed by a bus ride to the resort. 

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Nozawa Onsen, Nagano

Nozawa Onsen is a quaint hot spring town in Japan’s Nagano prefecture, just over an hour’s drive from Nagano City. The village rests at the foot of the ski resort, the highest point of which is situated at an altitude of 1,650m. 

Nozawa Onsen is an idyllic location, steeped in Japanese history and culture. Its streets are lined with beautiful wood-panelled buildings, its winding pathways adorned with snow. Nozawa Onsen has long operated as a tourist destination, its natural hot springs drawing in locals and foreigners alike. In fact, records dating back to 1870 show that there were already 24 inns operating within the village.

The Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort has 36 runs, with the longest run measuring 10km. Much like Niseko and Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen has snow of a terrific quality and quantity; so much so, that the resort tends to stay open into early May. 

Skiing aside, the village’s onsen - hot springs - are reason alone to visit Nozawa Onsen. There are around 13 public hot spring baths throughout the town – the perfect way to warm up and ease achy muscles after a day on the slopes.

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