Any list of the world’s 5 best ski towns doomed to be unfair. In many ways, the best ski town in the world is the one you’re in. But some, like my number one choice (shown in this photo), are the kind of ski towns where ski dreams meet reality.
To make this list for the Heli-Ski Blog, I considered the conversations I’ve had with the most experienced group of skiers I know: the guests of CMH Heli-Skiing. As a group, CMH Heli-Skiers have skied everywhere and know a thing or two about the best the world has to offer. At aprés ski in a CMH Lodge, waiting for a heli-pickup, or riding the bus from Calgary to the Revelstoke region, CMH guests talk about skiing. These are the ski towns that I’ve heard spoken of with the most reverence. To pick this list, I weighed the skiing heavily, followed by the culture and lifestyle of the area, and limited my list to no more than one ski town in a given country.
Number 5: Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA
There’s nowhere in the United States where you get a more American skiing experience than Jackson Hole. Think cowboys and National Parks, big trucks, wolves and moose before even stepping into your skis. From Teton Pass, where a car shuttle and boot pack trail give access to world-class powder skiing, to the endless backcountry runs in Grand Teton National Park (photo right), to the progressive Jackson Hole ski resort where out-of-bounds skiing (with the right safety gear and training) is considered standard fare; the skiing during good snow cycles is about as good as snowriding gets.
Number 4: The Arlberg, Austria
It’s hard to pick one area in the Northern Alps. From Garmisch Partenkirchen in Southern Germany, to Innsbruck, Austria, a town many consider the winter sports capital of the world, there may be no region on the planet with better ski infrastructure or more ski-soaked culture.
I had to pick the Arlberg. Considered the birthplace of modern Alpine skiing, the Arlberg was also one of the places where skiers experimented with using a helicopter as a ski lift before CMH opened the world’s first Heli-Skiing business in 1965.
Number 3: La Grave–La Meije, France
Much of Europe is famous for impeccably groomed pistes, comfortable lodging, and well thought-out transportation. A few European areas, including the legendary Verbier in Switzerland, are known for out-of-bounds skiing and would be worthy of inclusion in this list. I had to give the love to a little lesser-known jewel of the off-piste lifestyle: La Grave, described here in an Outside Magazine article, is an almost mythical area famous for one thing, and one thing only. Skiing.
Home to the biggest lift-accessed off-piste skiing in the world, La Grave offers 2150 metres (7000 feet) of vertical and unrestricted backcountry access. There are no luxury hotels in La Grave, and only a single tram and a couple of surface lifts, but the town's classical stone construction and epic skiing make it a ski town unlike any other. If you go to La Grave, hire a guide, and get ready for the most thrilling lift-serviced skiing you’ve ever done.
Number 2: Akakura Onsen, Japan
The Revelstoke of Asia, this ski region surrounding Nagano was blown wide open by the 1998 winter Olympics. I remember having a hard time focusing on the races in Nagano because of the surrounding steep mountains coated in a generous blanket of powder snow kept catching my eye.
Akakura Onsen is known as the most central village to the best skiing, with access to several ski resorts. One area, Myoko Kogen, also allows off-piste skiing, while many of the other Japanese ski resorts do not. Add Japanese Onsen (hot springs) and cuisine to the equation, and you’ve got a recipe for what could be the world’s healthiest ski destination.
Number 1: Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada
Let’s see. North America’s tallest lift-serviced ski area. Canada’s snowiest mountains. Arguably the world’s most diverse and vast backcountry ski terrain. The spiritual centre of CMH Heli-Skiing, the world’s first Heli-Ski service. Well-managed backcountry hut systems. A world-class avalanche forecasting service. Industry-leading ski guide culture. Canadians. Need I say more?
While I hummed and hawed over the other four, it was easy to choose the number one ski town in the world. For some reason, similar to Akakura Onsen, much of the ski world just recently learned about Revelstoke. But the word is out, and the combination of Revelstoke’s easy-going-yet-go-for-it-safely Canadian ski culture, the endless terrain, the epic snowfall and diverse ski options are taking the ski world by storm.