Skiing Is Only Half the Fun at These Beautiful Ski Destinations Around the World
I was born in Quebec and grew up skiing in the Laurentians, so what I’m about to say might be sacrilege. But here it goes: I don’t love to ski. I love soaking in a hot tub. I love drinking hot chocolate in the lodge. I love exploring ski towns, talking to the locals, and the views from snowy mountaintops. But the actual act of skiing? I could take it or leave it. The time spent on the slopes is never my favorite part of a winter adventure.
Maybe you’re like me, and prefer to spend one day in ski boots and the rest of your ski vacation touring the town. Or maybe your go-to travel buddy loves to snowboard and you have a questionable center of gravity. Either way, there’s no reason we can’t visit some of the world’s best ski destinations and have a great time without clicking on a set of skis.
Here are nine international ski destinations that are perfect for people who'd rather pass on the powder:
Japan — Travel + Leisure's 2018 Destination of the Year — is known for its world-class skiing, but choosing a packed city like Tokyo as a jumping off point won’t always get you the best ski conditions. While there are beautiful ski resorts on the southern island closer to Tokyo and Kyoto, exploring Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, exposes you to a stunning Japanese winter. For those itching to ski, visit Niseko for night skiing or Sapporo Teine, which has unreal views of the city beyond the slopes. Meanwhile, the non-skiers in your party can indulge in Hokkaido’s other famous winter attraction: the hot springs. Noboribetsu Onsen, the most sought-after hot spring in Japan is located in Hokkaido. Yukichichibu Onsen is another must-visit hot spring that happens to be conveniently located next to Niseko Moiwa Ski Resort.
Québec City, Canada
Québec City is one of the rare destinations where the ski mountains are incredibly close to the actual city. Night skiing in Québec City is part of the winter culture — plenty of locals get off work with enough time to fit in a few runs at their local mountain after the sun goes down. (And night ski lift tickets tends to be fairly affordable, too.) Skiers can get to two mountains in less than 30 minutes from Québec City: Le Relais Mountain and Stoneham Mountain. And non-skiers aren’t stuck in a ski resort. Instead, they have the entire city at their disposal, which means sampling amazing food, touring Old Québec, reveling in the European-style villages, and maybe even spending a night at the Québec Ice Hotel.
Mount Buller, Australia
Just a three-hour drive from Melbourne, Mount Buller is an accessible Australian snow resort with 22 lifts and 300 hectares (741 acres) of terrain. But the best part for those who aren't trying to rent skis or a snowboard is that they also have two toboggan parks. You can also take in the mountain views on a sled dog tour, or ride the scenic chairlift to Australia's highest day spa. And for snow bunnies less keen on hitting the slopes, the Yarra Valley wineries are on the way from Melbourne to Mount Buller — it's definitely worth a stop for the après-no-ski crowd.
Cerro Catedral, Argentina
Cerro Catedral is one of the southernmost ski resorts in South America, but also home to some of the best skiing. And because it’s a 10-minute drive from the Argentinian city of Bariloche, it also piques the interest of non-skiers. Bariloche fascinates many world travelers because it feels like an alpine Swiss town dropped in the middle of South America. Bariloche is known for high-end chocolate shops, so those not on the slopes can do an Argentinian chocolate tour, stopping at Chocolates Rapa Nui, Chocolates del Turista, and Benroth Chocolates.
Bad Ragaz, Switzerland
Winter activities abound in Switzerland, and if you’re limiting yourself to just skiing or snowboarding, you might be missing out. From dog sledding to horse-drawn sleighs to natural ice rinks, it’s truly a winter wonderland. While the Alps skiing is concentrated in the southwest part of Switzerland, the east side of the country that borders Austria also has great skiing and is a popular wellness destination. This is partially because it’s home to the Swiss Olympic Medical Center, on-site at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz. Travelers staying at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz can take in the idyllic mountain views from the gondola that goes from downtown Bad Ragaz to Pizol, the local ski mountain. And for the après-no-ski crew, Europe’s largest natural ice rink is in Davos, just half an hour from Bad Ragaz.
The Italian Dolomites have it all as a winter destination. It’s a skiers’ haven, but it also has Michelin-starred restaurants and high-end spa resorts. (For pure spa bliss, Adler Dolomiti has everything you need to unwind, including panoramic views of the mountains from their floor-to-ceiling windows.) Furthermore, the Dolomites are a sought-after UNESCO World Heritage site. While the Dolomites could be considered part of the Alps, the atmosphere is entirely different from quintessential Alps destinations like Val d’Isere. The pace of life feels more laid-back and more Italian than the Alps towns in Switzerland and France. Though interestingly, the Dolomites have a lot of German and Austrian influences, from spaetzle and Gewurztraminer to the medieval castles like Trostberg and Gardena that non-skiers can explore.
Skiing the Canadian Rockies is, of course, a bucket list winter adventure for adrenaline seekers. But Banff National Park draws just as many non-skiers, and you certainly don’t need to be plunging through powder to enjoy the unadulterated beauty of Banff. Stay central to the wilderness and ski mountains at the Fairmont Banff Springs, which makes it easy to get to Mt. Norquay and Sunshine Village. Après-ski can become an all-day affair, between the famed Banff hot springs and the Willow Stream Spa.
Spending a week in Kitzbühel feels like a journey back in time. Sure, there are modern amenities all around you, but the old-world architecture, cobblestone streets, and 16th century museum will transport you. It has all the appeal of a classic European ski town — truly, it’s the Courchevel of Austria — but you can instead spend your days skating on beautiful Schwarzsee Lake. Not only that, but the top-notch restaurants and live music at local bars make the scene pretty enticing. If skating doesn’t intrigue you, non-skiers can always take a quick train to Salzburg while their snow bunny counterparts ski the Tyrolean Alps.
Queenstown, New Zealand
Skiers flock to Queenstown because the mountains provide stunning vistas and worthwhile off-season skiing for powder-chasers in the northern hemisphere. But beyond that, travelers head to this same area of New Zealand for wine touring, boutique hotels, and gorgeous sunsets that make après-ski drinks especially memorable. While your travel partners are skiing Coronet Peak or Treble Cone, sample the wares on a tour with Queenstown Wine Trail.