The world's seven most exclusive alpine resorts perfect for non-skiers

Can't ski, won't ski? The most fabulous resorts to explore on your holiday

It’s that time of year when our thoughts turn to the mountains. The thrill of sparkling snow and bluebird skies is not, of course, exclusive to skiers: the world’s most seductive ski resorts have a great deal to offer beyond their slopes.

Whether you enjoy horse drawn sleigh rides, spa days or nights on the tiles, there’s plenty of fun to be had. Here is our pick of the best ski resorts for the non-skier. 

Aspen, USA

With four fabulous, well-connected ski areas, Colorado’s Aspen Snowmass has something for every powder hound. And for the non-skier? Well, if anything is going to make you want to learn it's the excellent Aspen Snowmass Ski and Snowboard School. But there's so much more.

Aspen is a glamorous place with knock-out shopping at international boutiques like Gucci, Prada and Ralph Lauren - and you can dance under the stars at the new W Hotel's rooftop pool parties.

At the end of the night, tuck yourself in to a room at The Little Nell (from £480), an effortlessly spoiling hotel for whom five stars are not enough and whose slopeside truffle fries are Elle McPherson’s favourite. 

A Dior shop in Aspen
A branch of Dior in Aspen CREDIT: DANIEL BAYER

While the panoramas are beautiful, you will also fall in love with Aspen for her mind. Once a Victorian mining town, there are fascinating historical tours and guided visits to the Art Museum; there is music at the winter Jazz Festival and the opera house; and world class talks and seminars at the Aspen Ideas Institute.

Best for

The cerebral non-skier, who enjoys exchanging ideas over a glass of Californian Pinot. 

St Moritz, Switzerland

The term Winter Wonderland may as well have been coined for Swiss resort St Moritz. The oldest winter holiday resort in the world, it was once the playground of Greta Garbo and Brigitte Bardot. Today it still exudes old world allure, seasoned with a bit of new world bling. 

The skiing is exemplary; 350km of pistes and some great free-riding. For non-skiers there’s the famous high adrenaline alternative, the Cresta Run, a slick toboggan event that has seen daredevils hurtle down a twisting ice channel for over 100 years. It's still men only. 

Snow Polo World Cup, St Moritz
Snow Polo World Cup, St Moritz CREDIT: ANDY METTIER

For the less madcap visitor, there’s ice skating on St Moritz’ frozen lake - which also hosts horse racing and Snow Polo. Alternatively, you might snuggle into your Moncler jacket (fur collar encouraged) for a horse drawn carriage ride, or take a train ride on the UNESCO listed Rhaetian Railway.

There are plenty of places to stay but it would be hard to better the storied Kulm Hotel (from £317). Founded in 1855, and with an ice rink of its own, as well as a vast spa, five restaurants and three bars, its most notable feature remains its impeccable service.

Opt for a room looking out to the lake, and don’t miss the wasabi rock lobster at the hotel's Michelin-starred K by Tim Rau.

Best for

Those with deep wallets wanting to rub shoulders with European royalty.

Whistler, Canada

This Canadian resort is the place for nature lovers. It boasts one of the largest ski-able areas in the world, with fabulous back-country and tree skiing.

For the non-skier, the enviable lift network provides all sorts of opportunities. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola holds the record as the world’s longest lift, connecting Whistler to the Blackcomb mountains, and is worth a ride for the sweeping views of British Columbia’s volcanic peaks, coastal rainforest and glaciers.

The ice caves in Whistler
The ice caves in Whistler

Hungry for more? As you exit the Peak 2 Peak at the top of Whistler Peak, head on to the Cloudraker Skybridge - a vertiginous suspension bridge leading to the West Ridge lookout.

Another excellent aerial way to enjoy the great outdoors is a Ziptrek high wire adventure through old growth forest. For a slower pace, the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre invites you to experience nature through first nation eyes on interpretive forest walks.

Whistler’s prime hotel, the Four Seasons (where rooms are available from £336), also leads tours of ice caves and ice chambers - or you could just settle in to enjoy its outdoor pools and hot tubs.

Best for

The nature lover who just wants to be in the mountains.

Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy

Two hours from Venice, this 1,000-year-old town breathes Italian chic, and the focus is as much on social peacocking as it is about anything happening on the slopes.

The skiing is, of course, buonissimo: 120km of pistes, all framed with a fabulous backdrop of the Dolomites - and extra cachet in the fact Cortina will host the 2021 Alpine World Championships, and co-host the 2026 Winter Olympics with Milan.

Cosy restaurant at the Cristallo Resort & Spa, Cortina d'Ampezzo
La Stube 1872 Cosy at Cristallo Resort & Spa, Cortina d'Ampezzo

As for the more serious business of shopping: join the Italian visitors with big hair and even bigger snow boots, spending their days on the Corsa Italia, a car-free cobbled area in the town centre lined with clothing and jewellery boutiques, as well as high end art galleries.

Après is less about raving, and more of a passeggiata: think coffee and cake, or perhaps a glass of Montepulciano at the Enoteca wine bar. But where to stay?

The grand dame is the Cristallo (where rooms start from £640) - best in town since 1901, its elegant, traditional interiors are seductive and only outshone by the mountain vistas. The hotel’s Ultimate Spa boasts a 15m pool - again with those views - as well as some seriously fine treatments (don’t miss the massage).

The three restaurants each offer a deliciously unique take on different aspects of Italian cuisine; there’s also a pop up pizza service this winter.

Best for

Anyone seeking La Dolce Vita on ice.

Courchevel, France

The skiing at French resort Courchevel is immaculate, with well-groomed, north facing slopes for all abilities. It connects to Les Trois Vallées, the largest ski area in the world.

The resort itself consists of several villages. For the non-skier in search of serious scenery, head to the highest of these, aka 1850. It’s not only the loftiest in terms of altitude, but also in terms of price and posing power, glitzy bars and flash hotels. 

Food is taken very seriously here and with seven Michelin starred restaurants, you're not going to go hungry.  The pièce de résistance is the two Michelin starred Restaurant Le Chabichou x Stephane Buron at Hotel Le Chabichou, which is looking so fabulous after an $11 million renovation, you'll probably want to spend the night (from £385).

Then of course, there’s the après. Early afternoon the action kicks off around La Croisette, 1850's lift base, where Chez Gaston has good buzz. Later in the evening, head to Les Caves or La Grange for champagne jeroboams and all-night partying. 

You might also want to squeeze in hot air ballooning, paragliding or a tandem skydive. There’s also a huge Aquamotion centre, with a surf area and wild water rapids.

Best for

Those who like a bit of bling, and who have a penchant for staying out late.

Niseko, Japan

Niseko, on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, is being touted as the ‘Aspen of the East’. Yes, there’s the thigh deep powder, the acres of free-riding and the magic of night skiing with the pistes lit up until 8.30 each evening - but for the non-skier there’s also the singular culture, the nuanced cuisine, excellent service and a range of new hotels.

A husky ride on Hokkaido
A husky ride on Hokkaido

The Aman won’t arrive until 2023, but this winter the Ritz Carlton and the Park Hyatt both open their doors - the latter, opening next week with rooms from £1,299, will make a chic, modernist base. Once you’ve gazed at the views of Mount Yotei and enjoyed a private onsen (hot spring bath), you might at last be willing to explore the rest of the resort, where treasures await. 

Husky sledding is popular in Hokkaido, as is snow-shoeing, and don’t miss the local ice village; an ethereal (if chilly) series of ice caves and sculptures including a yoga studio, bar and restaurant. Elsewhere, foodies will want to visit Asperges Hanazono, the latest offer from Hiroshi Nakamichi who holds 3 Michelin stars for his Sapporo restaurant Moliere, in which local produce is cooked with a French finish. 

Best for

Those in search of a completely different snow-based experience.

Gstaad, Switzerland

In contrast to some of its more, shall we say 'obvious' peers, Gstaad wears its considerable wealth lightly. Yes, it’s a playground of the rich and famous, but it retains a chic, Alpine charm, with cuckoo clock Swiss architecture and a local village feel (if your village shop were Hermès).

Skiers will be sated by 105km of runs, including the legendarily steep Tiger Run on the Wasserngrat. For the non-skier there is plenty of fun to be had.

Relaxation pods at Le Grand Spa, Le Grand Bellevue, Gstaad
Relaxation pods at Le Grand Spa, Le Grand Bellevue, Gstaad

The food offering is fantastic - anything from Megu for Japanese fare or the Rialto Bistro for a killer lobster risotto. The bar at Bernie Ecclestone’s Hotel Olden makes a mean cocktail, and for late night, so does the GreenGo club in the base of The Gstaad Palace Hotel.

For spa action - and as a place to stay - it'd be hard to beat Le Grand Spa at Le Grand Bellevue (where rooms start from £500). Set in private parkland just off the main promenade, everything at this historic hotel goes above and beyond, but the recently revamped spa is something else.

Expect sunken pools with hydrotherapy showers, an array of saunas, Turkish baths and ice caves, and treatments designed by - and sometimes performed by - A-lister aesthetician Barbara Sturm.

Best for 

Spa heaven - and those who like their luxury understated.

Original article published in Telegraph, in January, 2020

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