By: Becca Bergman
Lots of ski resorts offer diversions for nonskiers, but these places stand apart as compelling destinations in their own right. Whether the draw is cultural or culinary, or an exceptional spa, no one is left out. The skiing isn’t too shabby either. Preview our favorite wintry destinations with our Ski Resorts for Nonskiers slideshow.
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Bad Gastein, Austria
Austria’s Bad Gastein unfolds over a precipitous, beautiful hillside and is home to 18 natural hot springs. Snow shredders are attracted to the resort’s challenging bowls and fog-free, high-altitude vistas, but it’s the healing properties of the radioactive (in a good way) thermal waters that have lured people since the 13th century. Like the aristocrats of years past, visitors still “take the waters” at more than a dozen local spas (we recommend Alpen Therme Gastein, www.alpentherme.com, and Felsentherme, www.felsentherme.com), whether for relaxation or to treat ailments, such as arthritis, asthma, and allergies.
Smart Splurge: A few miles outside of town, the 180-year-old, family-run Hoteldorf Grüner Baum is a compound of cedar chalets in a quiet national park, where guests will find a web of winter hiking trails, a curling rink, and a mini ski lift for kids. From $215/night; www.hoteldorf.com
Great Value: The charming Haus Hirt Hotel & Spa is known for a stunning view of the Gastein Valley off its veranda, its Aveda spa, and a great restaurant, where everything from the beer to the butter is locally sourced. Ask for a recently renovated room. From $115 per person, per night all-inclusive; www.haus-hirt.com
Lots of resort towns have good restaurants, but few have as many – that are as good – as Megève, France. Among the town’s clutch of Michelin-rated eateries, the most highly regarded is Flocons de Sel (www.floconsdesel.com), set in a 19th-century farmhouse. Others include the flagship restaurant of the opulent Chalet du Mont d’Arbois hotel (www.domainedumontdarbois.com) and the hidden Domaine de la Sasse (www.domainedelasasse.com), which is reached by a 20-minute hike on snowshoes (go for lunch) and specializes in bison. All this is set against a picture-perfect backdrop, with horses pulling sleighs on cobblestone streets that wind around turreted houses and a 13th-century church. Nonskiers will have plenty of company – many come just for the scene (Jean Cocteau once called Megève the 21st arrondissement of Paris), and even during the high season no one hits the slopes before 11am, while lunch is often an hours-long affair.
Smart Splurge: With a cluster of snug cottages made from reclaimed barn timber and decor that’s been described as Heidi-chic, Fermes de Marie, the most relaxed of the upper-tier hotels, is known for its incomparable spa. From $618/night with half-board; www.fermesdemarie.com
Great Value: Amid so much extravagance, Le Gai Soleil offers a reprieve. It’s not posh, but the pine-paneled rooms are cheerful and the staff is charming. From $145/night; www.le-gai-soleil.fr
Mont Tremblant, Canada
Eighty miles north of Montreal, rolling hills mantled with yellow birch and sugar maples unfold into the Laurentian range, crowned by Mont Tremblant. Tremblant is frequently voted the top resort in eastern North America by Ski Magazine – skiers will enjoy wide runs, occasionally dotted with moguls – but it’s as much the bustling town that earns accolades as the mountain itself. The pedestrian-friendly village has a rich stock of international restaurants and the most vibrant après-ski scene in the East. Plus, nearby Domaine Saint-Bernard park (www.domainesaintbernard.org) has some of the world’s best cross-country skiing.
Smart Splurge: The Hotel Quintessence says indulgence, from the sprawling suites with fluffy featherbeds to the intimate Chef’s Table culinary experience at the restaurant and the “four-hands” Swedish massage at the spa. From $321/night; www.hotelquintessence.com
Great Value: The lakeside, country inn-style Château Beauvallon is an excellent high-end option for groups or families – all the rooms are suites and come with two bathrooms, ample sleeping spots, and a fully equipped kitchenette. From $149/night; www.chateaubeauvallon.com
Park City, Utah
Park City, Utah, is composed of three adjacent ski areas (Deer Valley, www.deervalley.com; The Canyons, www.thecanyons.com; and Park City, www.pcski.com), with terrain for every skier (including members of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Olympic team, who train at Park City). The bustling town is good for anyone interested in exploring a rich cultural scene. Fixtures include the Kimball Art Center (www.kimballartcenter.org), a gallery space and site for classes and workshops in photography, ceramics, and more; the historic Egyptian Theatre (www.egyptiantheatrecompany.org), which stages locally produced Broadway shows; and of course, that film festival known as Sundance (www.sundance.org), which takes over the town every January. For outdoor pursuits, there’s winter fly-fishing, dogsledding, or even bobsledding on the 2002 Winter Olympic track.
Smart Splurge: The Silver Queen Hotel and its 12 large, modern suites could not be more convenient – kitchens are fully stocked on request (for a small fee), there’s a washer and dryer, and the central location is ideal. From $325/night; www.silverqueenhotel.com
Great Value: The Chateau Aprés Lodge, patterned after European ski chateaus, sits just 150 yards from the lifts at the base of the Park City Mountain Resort. Family-owned and comfortable, the lodge boasts a large fireplace, complimentary hot cider, and free continental breakfast. From $110/night; www.chateauapres.com
Sierra Nevada, Spain
For great skiing next door to an urban destination, there’s no better choice than southern Spain’s "Snowy Range" and the remarkable city of Granada in its foothills. From the city, skiers can commute via bus or car to the ski village of Pradollano an hour away. Here, they’ll find peaks over 10,000 feet high, views all the way to North Africa’s Atlas Mountains, and a sunny, Mediterranean climate. Back in Granada, nonskiers can spend days trolling the whitewashed alleys of the Albaicín (old Arab quarter) and exploring the legendary Alhambra, a hilltop fortress palace that was the last Moorish stronghold in Spain and today is one of the world’s most exquisite landmarks.
Smart Splurge: The AC Palacio de Santa Paula is composed of a 16th-century convent, 14th-century houses, and a 19th-century palace, all merged under a steel and glass shell (with nice perks like complimentary coffee and minibars). From $181/night; www.palaciodesantapaula.com
Great Value: For cultural osmosis, try the Casa Morisca, a beautifully restored 15th-century Moorish house in the city’s medieval quarter, complete with a burbling fountain in the central courtyard and original tile work. Book the spacious Mirador on the top floor for a stunning Alhambra panorama. From $111/night; www.hotelcasamorisca.com
A refuge for East Coast city dwellers, peaceful Stowe, Vermont is synonymous with laid-back living. Though popular for its legendary Front Four pistes, the town also spells out relaxation with half a dozen wellness centers and spas, as well as yoga and Pilates studios. For cross-country skiing, there’s the Nordic Center at the Trapp Family Lodge (created in 1942 by the family of The Sound of Music fame; www.trappfamily.com), which offers 100 scenic miles of groomed and backcountry trails. Stowe stands out among Vermont ski towns for the charm of its preserved historic structures and the variety of its cuisine (more than 50 restaurants for just 4,300 residents), as well as its simple diversions for families, such as a cider mill and tours of the nearby Ben & Jerry’s factory (www.benjerry.com).
Smart Splurge: Set on 120 unspoiled acres, Topnotch Resort & Spa resembles a traditional English country manor and has a sumptuous spa and beloved restaurant, Norma’s, where morning pancakes come with locally tapped maple syrup. From $195/night; www.topnotchresort.com
Great Value: Green Mountain Inn‘s offerings range from standard rooms to two-bedroom town houses and the newer, urban loft-like Mansfield House apartments. Modern perks such as free WiFi in the rooms coexist with traditional amenities like afternoon tea in the historic main building. From $169/night; www.greenmountaininn.com
Sun Valley, Idaho
In a sea of ski resorts that feel commercial, flashy, or impersonal, Sun Valley, Idaho and the nearby town of Ketchum maintain a distinctly Western charm. While skiers fall in love with the sun-blessed slopes of Mount Baldy, nonskiers can retrace the steps of former residents, paying respects at the grave of Ernest Hemingway, who finished For Whom the Bell Tolls while living at the Sun Valley Lodge (www.sunvalley.com), and sipping a hot buttered rum at the Duchin Lounge, once frequented by Clark Gable and Ingrid Bergman. The Hemingways and Gables have given way to Eastwoods and Schwarzeneggers, but even the new galleries, spas, and boutiques work in the town’s frontier spirit (witness the cowboy boots mingling with Tory Burch flats at Silver Creek Outfitters, www.silver-creek.com).
Smart Splurge: The famous Sun Valley Lodge is historic but showing its age. A more refined option is the Knob Hill Inn, a retreat on the edge of Ketchum with an old-world European feel. From $299/night; www.knobhillinn.com
Great Value: Renting a condo or house is often the smartest way to go in Sun Valley. Try Aston Hotels & Resorts and in particular the Atelier and Wildflower collections, which are near the ski village and serviced by free shuttles to downtown Ketchum. From $133/night; www.astonsunvalley.com
Taos, New Mexico
The quirky little town of Taos, New Mexico runs up against the tail end of the Rockies, and therein lies the Taos Ski Valley, where sunny days meet champagne powder and some of the country’s steepest slopes. On the other side of town, it’s all high Sonoran desert and the Rio Grande gorge and river. Taos likes to claim it has more artists per capita than anywhere in the world – indeed, there are over 80 galleries and seven museums for just 5,000 residents. Stroll along Ledoux Street and drop into the Inger Jirby Gallery & Sculpture Garden (www.jirby.com), featuring the native Swede’s bright expressionistic paintings; the Navajo Gallery with the work of the late R.C. Gorman (www.rcgormangallery.com); and the comprehensive Harwood Museum of Art (harwoodmuseum.org). There are also several A-list restaurants.
Smart Splurge: El Monte Sagrado Living Resort consists of 84 huge and distinctive rooms, suites, and cottages, some with yards and private Jacuzzis. The holistic spa is truly a standout. From $149/night; www.elmontesagrado.com
Great Value: Since 1936, The Historic Taos Inn and its popular Adobe Bar have served as a town gathering place, attracting everyone from Greta Garbo to Robert Redford. Not surprising, considering its central location, handsome rooms, and fine restaurant, Doc Martin’s. From $75/night; www.taosinn.com
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
Regularly ranked among the top ski resorts in North America, the spotlight on Whistler Blackcomb only intensified after it hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. Visitors this winter can experience the construction from the Games, like the state-of-the-art Peak 2 Peak gondola (www.peak2peakgondola.com) that runs between the summits of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains (nonskiers can check it out with a “sightseeing” lift ticket). The village is known for its rowdy nightlife, but it also has refined spots, including the modern tapas restaurant Elements (www.wildwoodrestaurants.ca), which serves small plates in a low-lit, sleek space.
Smart Splurge: At the grand Four Seasons Resort Whistler, the smallest room is still spacious at 500-plus square feet, the Fifty Two 80 Bistro & Bar serves up market-fresh seafood, and the spa will quickly have the nonskier blissfully realizing the wisdom of staying off the slopes. From $360/night; www.fourseasons.com/whistler
Great Value: Those seeking quiet should try the new Nita Lake Lodge on the shores of Nita Lake (there’s a free shuttle to the village), a rare boutique hotel amid so many mammoth ones. Decor is sleek but practical (heated bathroom floors, iPod docking stations, high thread count), and there is a recently added spa. From $259/night; www.nitalakelodge.com
This world-renowned resort in southwestern Switzerland is a bit of a fantasyland: A ban on gas-powered cars creates a peaceful hush; skiers can schuss into Italy for a pasta lunch; streets are lined with glitzy shops and glamorous nightclubs; and the larger-than-life Matterhorn looms in the background. Zermatt is as fun as its neighbors, St. Moritz and Gstaad, but appreciably less flashy. While still pricey, it offers the best value. During the day, nonskiers can go tandem paragliding, shop the dozens of chic boutiques (wonderfully, the dollar is nearly equal to the Swiss franc), or visit the recently relocated Matterhorn Museum. Come nighttime – or if you want to follow local custom, late afternoon – order an Irish coffee at Elsie’s Bar (www.elsiebar.ch), or stop in for mulled red wine at Igloo Bar (www.iglu-dorf.com), which is made almost entirely of ice.
Smart Splurge: Guests zip up to the lobby of the lofty Omnia, Zermatt’s first design hotel, via a glass elevator cut into the mountainside. There are 30 large rooms and suites, a lovely indoor-outdoor pool, and an exceptional restaurant. From $530/night (7-night minimum from January through March); www.theomnia.com
Great Value: The small but airy Coeur des Alpes also has its own glass elevator-within-a-mountain entrance, as well as spectacular vistas from every room and suite. In 2008, the superpopular hotel unveiled six new lofts (which sleep two to four people), one penthouse flat (for four to six people), and an expanded spa. From $265/night; www.coeurdesalpes.ch