There’s no doubt that skiing is a wonderful sport and the reason why so many people travel to mountain ranges across Europe in winter. Getting their fix of adrenaline and the white stuff is the focus of the day. But ski resorts are so much more than just pistes, with all kinds of attractions for non-skiers, families, grandparents, the injured and anyone who wants to spend magical time in the mountains without strapping skis or snowboards to their feet. Most resorts these days offer dog-sledding, paragliding, snowmobiling, pool facilities, ice skating, sleigh rides, walking and snow-shoeing trails, sledging, as well as all kinds of boutiques and all sorts eateries. You can easily spend a week in a ski resort and have something different to do every day without even thinking of heading to the pistes. So read on to discover some of the best ski resorts in Europe for non-skiers.
Zermatt – for climbing enthusiasts
Zermatt is synonymous with climbers. There are all kinds of walking tours available and those looking for superlatives can ascend the highest cable car in Europe, with an observation deck at over 3000m. The Gornergrat Railway/Bahn ascends a vertical distance of 1,484 metres over the 5.9-mile distance and promises incredible views. Six restaurants also await you at the top. Head to Riffelhaus for gourmet Swiss cuisine or for an alternative dining experience why not opt for the ‘Igloo Lunch Deal’ which includes return rail, a welcome Glühwein and cheese fondue on the sunny terrace at the Igloo village. A visit to the Mountaineers’ Cemetery, in the garden adjacent to St Mauritius Church, is a sobering reminder to the risks people will take to further their sport.
Chamonix – for everything Mont Blanc
Chamonix’s premier tourist attraction is the Aiguille du Midi, which you can visit on a two-stage cable car, non-skiers are welcomed. Panoramic views of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix await you at an impressive 3842m above sea level.. From here you can watch mountaineers ascending towards the summit of Mont Blanc. If the mood takes you you can also go paragliding at the mid-way change over for the cable cars. The bravest may also want to ‘Step into the Void’. This is a glass box suspended 1000m above the rock faces below – it’s not for the feint-hearted!
Rail enthusiasts will be drawn to the red carriage of the Montenvers-Mer de Glace and the green Tramway du Mont Blanc. You can learn about the iconic Saint Bernard dog breed on a tour of their kennels in Servoz. If you’re looking for a tipple or two head to Cha Cha Cha for wine, spirit and champagne tasting evenings. You’ll be spoilt for choice with over 800 wines to choose from!
St Moritz – for the glamorous foodie
Switzerland as a whole is known for its glitz and glam but St Moritz may well be the most glamorous of all the resorts. It is awash with designer boutiques, five-star hotels and boasts a highly impressive dining scene, including four with Michelin stars. The village is divided into the upper Dorf area and the lower Bad area. Foodies should probably opt to stay in the Dorf area as this is where you’ll find the majority of restaurants. Railway enthusiasts and notalgia buffs will be wowed by the journeys on offer at the Rhaetian Railway. Many of its lines are UNESCO-listed.
For an unforgettable experience, try the Glacier Express, known as the window to the Swiss Alps. This 8-hour journey on board the slowest express train in the world takes passengers over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels. From cosmopolitan St. Moritz the train snakes its way through the Albula Valley. Or start your trip in Davos Platz and take the regional train across the Wiesen Viaduct to Filisur where the Glacier Express will be waiting for you. Your trip then continues in the Glacier Express through the Rhine Gorge, Switzerland’s very own Grand Canyon.
La Plagne – for Olympic thrills
La Plagne is unique in its offering for non-skiers thanks to its historic bobsleigh, used in the 1992 Albertville Olympic Games. The track holds international competitions and welcomes thousands of visitors each year. There is a family-friendly 4-man bob raft which reaches impressive speeds of up to 80km/hr. For those looking for even more thrills there’s also the single person speed luge, where you lie on your back as you hurtle down the track, or the driver-controlled bob, reaching up to a G-force speeds of 120km/hr! La Plagne also boasts its very own Igloo Village. Made entirely out of snow, you can visit, enjoy a delicious mountain dinner or even spend the night in a magical igloo. Ice climbing is often only practised by experienced climbers in hard to reach locations.
La Plagne has created a huge artificial ice sculpture featuring several different routes, meaning both beginner and advanced climbers can participate. The enormous metal structure is sprayed with water which then freezes in the Alpine temperatures and away you go!
For non skiers Mayrhofen does have planty of activities in the resort itself from the energitic with ice skating at the Eislaufplatz to snowshoeing at the Actionclub Zillertal, who also offer the more unusal non ski activitiy of Igloo building However if you want to relax and be pampered the Eberl Wellness Spa.
If you want to travel a little further afield Swarovski Crystals spectacular head office and show headquarters in Wattens, Austria, only 45 mins down the road and gives a fabulous insight into this famous crystal company. mayrhofen
Set amongst the UNESCO-recognised Dolomites, Cortina is located in an amphitheatre-like valley surrounded by soaring peaks. It also happens to be one of the most improbable areas with heavy conflict in the First World War, despite its jagged peaks and treacherous rock walls. Non-skiers can take the Lagazuoi cable car and visit the war emplacements. You’ll find trenches, fortifications amongst the largest open-air WW1 museum and you can even walk through Lagazuoi tunnel (now accompanied by guiding cables and hard hats) dug by soldiers to transport food and ammunition during The Great War.
Cortina also boasts an Olympic ice skating rink, built for the 1956 winter Olympics. You can either hire skates and glide around like a champion figure skater or cheer on the local team, SC Cortina, at one of their evening matches. Another quirky option for a day trip from Cortina is to visit the world-famous canals of Venice. Either travel by car or relax by taking the Fortezza-Dobbiac train. You can have enjoy lunch in St Mark’s Square and be back in the mountains for dinner!
For more information on family skiing, check out this page.