The Ski World’s Little-Known Giants
When it comes to big, European ski resorts have cornered the market.
The world’s 10 largest resorts are located in the Alps (Whistler Blackcomb in Canada weighs in at No. 11, with Park City, Snowmass and Vail in the top 20) and nearly two-thirds of the top 50 are in Western Europe.
Most North American skiers and snowboarders are at least vaguely familiar with some of Europe’s mega-resorts — places such as Les 3 Vallees, Paradiski, Les Portes du Soleil et al — but big doesn’t necessarily mean famous.
There are many good-size ski resorts in Europe, ranked in the top 50 of the world’s largest, that don’t get much traction on this side of the pond. And all of them are rated bigger — using the international measuring stick of kilometers of runs rather than skiable acres or skiable hectares — than such well-known North American resorts as Keystone, Killington, Alta and Jackson Hole.
The following are six of them:
This intermediate-friendly resort in Andorra (pictured above) is ranked No. 22 among the world’s largest with 210 kilometers of trails and 930 meters of vertical. With 62 lifts, including six gondolas, Grandvalira is the largest resort in the Pyrenees.
Located high above Austria’s Inn Valley, Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis, another intermediate-friendly resort, is No. 26 on the world list with 198 kilometers of runs. The resort’s 1,620 meters of vertical is accessed by 39 lifts, including 11 gondolas and a cog railway.
The site of the cross-country ski races for the 1992 Albertville Winter Games, Espace Diamant, located in the Haute Savoie region of the French Alps, comes in at No. 27 on the world’s largest list with 185 kilometers of lift-serviced trails, 80 lifts and 1,069 meters of vertical.
A beginner-friendly complex (nearly half the runs are rated “easy”), Baqueira Beret is ranked No. 35 on the world list with 160 kilometers of runs. Located in the Catalonia region of Spain, the Pyrenean resorts boasts 1,110 meters of vertical accessed by 29 lifts, including two gondolas.
Perhaps more noted for the grueling climb often used in the Tour de France cycling race, Galibier Thabor has the No. 39 ranking on the world list with 150 kilometers. Located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps region of France, Galibier Thabor caters to less-proficient riders (half the runs are rated “easy”), with 30 lifts accessing 1,164 meters of vertical.
Coming in at No. 50 on the world’s largest ski resorts list, Formigal, located in the Huesca Province of Spain, has 137 kilometers of runs. The intermediate-friendly complex in the western Pyrenees has 16 lifts giving access to 750 meters of vertical.