We’ve picked 10 of the best ski runs in Europe. Does your favourite make the cut?
Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder and to some extent the same is true for ski runs. Your favourite ski run will depend on what you like. Are steep verticals your thing? Lots of moguls? Deep powder or spectacular views? Maybe you get far more pleasure from cruising a wide, freshly groomed, perfectly pitched piste?
Best ski runs in Europe
OnTheSnow has picked 10 of the best ski runs in Europe with something for all tastes. From thrilling, off-piste descents and cross-border skiing to amazing views and natural freestyle terrain. Ski or ride them yourself and decide if we hit the mark. Some are hard, some are not. Just the best ski runs on the continent.
1. Pic du Midi de Bigorre
La Mongie/Bareges, France: Far-reaching views from the highest point in the Pyrenees
It’s a popular misconception, perhaps due to its reputation as a great place to learn to ski, that there are few challenging runs in the Pyrenees. In fact the Pic du Midi de Bigorre is one of the world’s greats. It begins at 2,877m up, the highest lift-served point in the Pyrenees, after a 1,900m vertical ascent.
This makes our “best ski runs in Europe” list due to its long, off-piste descent. Until recently the run had to be undertaken with a guide and is still best attempted that way. In any event you will need to sign a disclaimer before you begin your run.
After admiring the amazing, far-reaching 300km views of mountain peaks, there’s a classic route down. With many longer and steeper variants including the combe de l’ours “The valley of the Bear”. This takes four hours to complete and ends in the little hamlet of Artigues where the ‘navette de freeriders’ shuttle bus picks you up.
“When I skied from the Pic du Midi, our party was able to help ourselves to some sublime spring snow. It seemed to go on forever as we drifted languidly down this wonderful descent,” said the famous ski journalist and author Arnie Wilson.
2. Hidden Valley
Cortina, Italy: A scenic ride past craggy pink peaks and frozen waterfalls
A run in the middle-of-nowhere, best describes the remarkable ’Hidden Valley’ piste. Number 2 on our best ski runs list, it benefits from being a bit of a trek (a 20-minute bus ride) from central Cortina. And there’s no easy way back (a long bus or taxi ride) from the bottom, so not many people do it. But if you do embark on this adventure, you’ll have this 8km long groomed descent pretty much to yourself.
“This run is one of the great treasures of Cortina, and indeed of the entire Dolomites,” says Marianne Moretti of Cortina Turismo. “You feel a million miles away from the cares of the world as this run descends on and on through stunning scenery.” So it’s well-deserving of its place on our “best ski runs in Europe” list.
From the open peak of Lagazuoi (2750m), it descends through spectacular 360-degree views of towering Dolomitic structures. Dolomiti rock is brown, pink and grey with the occasional frozen waterfalls thrown in. At the bottom, you can take a horse-pulled drag lift to connect to the Sella Ronda circuit. From here you can potentially ski on to Alta Badia or Val Gardena, or catch the bus back to Cortina.
3. Val de Mesdì
Alta Badia, Italy: A thrilling 1,200m vertical off-piste descent
Most people spend an enjoyable day circling the 37km Sella Ronda clockwise or anti-clockwise. But a select few opt to go over the top from the Arabba side and ski down one of the great classic off-piste runs of the Dolomites, Val de Mesdì.
With full avalanche kit on, and after an hour or so traversing the top of the Sella Massif, you plunge down through this glorious cleft in the rock. It pitches at around 35 degrees and the rock walls tower high above you. Meaning that initially relatively tight turns are required before it widens out for the remainder of the 1,200m vertical descent.
Mittenwald, Germany: 7.5km off-piste descent through avalanche-prone terrain
Aside from Garmisch, Germany’s ski areas may not be well known internationally. But one trail here has entered freeriding myth and indeed our “best ski runs in Europe” list.
The Dammkar above the impossibly quaint Bavarian village of Mittenwald has been a must-ski for more than 80 years. Originally people hiked up the 1,300m vertical in order to make the 7.5km off-piste descent through avalanche-prone terrain. These days there’s a cable car up to the top of the mountain where once skiers had to negotiate an icy ridge. The run is closed if avalanche danger is too high.
At the top there’s a restaurant, where you can even get married, and, on a clear day, superb views as far as the Zugspitz. However, you may not wish to linger too long over food, views or marriage the first time you ski it, especially if it’s a fresh powder day.
5. The Wall
Avoriaz, France: Thrilling gradient and giant moguls on the Franco-Swiss border
Popularly known as ‘The Wall’ but officially named the Chavanette run. This huge, steep, slope starts on the French-Swiss border, above Avoriaz, before plunging down into Switzerland. It’s not only thrilling for its gradient, but moreover it is covered in giant moguls.
How difficult these are to negotiate will depend to a great extent on conditions when you visit. If there’s fresh powder and strength in your knees you may be able to bounce down joyfully. Whereas if it has not snowed for weeks and you’re inching over huge bumps polished to ice by thousands before you, it’s a little less fun. In those circumstances, there’s no shame (well, not much), in opting to ride down on the chairlift at the side of the slope instead.
6. Kanin to Sella Nevea
Slovenia to Italy: Ski the old ‘Iron Curtain’ with views of the Adriatic
A new option to ski from Slovenia to Italy was born in 2009 when Doppelmayr installed a lift connecting the two countries. The run between the ski resorts of Kanin and Sella Nevea is a wonderful descent carved through the forest. From the top there are spectacular views out to the Adriatic.
Along with the views and the magnificent piste itself, it’s perhaps worth considering the political and historic significance of this run as you descend. You are essentially skiing through the old ‘Iron Curtain’ which only a little over 20 years ago used to divide East and West Europe.
7. Wild Grub’n run
Stubai Glacier, Austria: A 10km rollercoaster ride starting at the glacier
The Stubai’s Wild Grub’n run, officially ski route 14 on the map, elbows its way onto our ‘best ski runs in Europe’ list. It descends for a remarkable 10km over a 1,450m vertical from the top of the glacier at 3,210m. As its name suggests, after the smooth glacier sector at the top, the descent is something of a long rollercoaster ride down towards the valley. It provides the pure, enduring pleasure of a fast, fun ski run.
The most thrilling section of the Wild Grub’n run begins where the glacier ends at 2,640m. It continues over a 1,200m vertical, far from the ski lifts (until it re-joins them at the end) leaving you feeling a million miles from the rest of the world. The resort has a ‘Powder Department’ where you can check conditions, hire a guide, test your avalanche safety gear and much more.
8. Olympia Run
Igls, Austria: A glorious high-speed run with wonderful views of Innsbruck
Only one run on the planet has hosted downhill skiing at three separate Olympic events. The Olympia Run on the Patscherkofel at Igls is high above Innsbruck. It was the venue at the city’s Games of 1964, 1976 and in 2012 for the Youth Winter Olympics.
The run is the shining star of the Patscherkofel. Other than the Olympia Run, the Patscherkofel is otherwise modest ski area. The Innsbruck area pass covers skiing at eight neighbouring areas around the city. So if you stay for a week or more you need not get bored. It is a glorious high-speed run for 5.1km over a 1,350m vertical. There are wonderful views out over Innsbruck. Racers complete the run in under two minutes, but why hurry?
9. Piste 4
Riksgränsen, Sweden: A giant natural terrain park in the Arctic Circle
Riksgränsen is a very unusual ski resort. Located up in the Swedish Arctic Circle, it’s too cold and dark to open until mid-February. Then it stays open until mid-summer, snow permitting, with skiing under the midnight sun from late May.
It is most popular in mid-to-late spring when many of the world’s most die-hard skiers arrive en masse. Sometimes in fact you can’t get a hotel room there. The mood is buoyant as spring fever hits.
Fortunately, Riksgränsen’s slopes, from the 909m summit, form one giant terrain park. Its endless natural lumps and bumps are ideal for whooping boarders and freeskiers to bounce off. Piste 4 makes it into our “best ski runs in Europe” list for the added novelty of finding you’re skiing over the unmarked border into Norway for a few hundred metres before curving back in to Sweden.
10. The Back Corries
Nevis Range, Scotland: Just choose your route, point your skis and enjoy
When conditions are good, you don’t have to look that far from home to find one of the best ski runs in Europe. Head to infamous Back Corries at Nevis Range. You may have to battle gale force winds and horizontal blizzards on a bad day (in which case the area will probably be closed anyway). But on a fresh powder day, the Braveheart chair takes you up to the long ridge. From here you just choose your drop-in point then simply point your ski tips downhill and enjoy.