10 cute villages with decent skiing

6th July 2021, by Chris Gill

Downtown Mürren - photo Jungfrau Region

Downtown Mürren - photo Jungfrau Region

This is the first in new series of shortlist features summarising resorts that meet particular requirements. Few resorts combine pretty villages that could happily adorn postcards and chocolate box lids with decent slopes that appeal to many holiday skiers and boarders. Here the editors have picked out ten resorts that do.


Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

Mürren is one of the smallest, most picturesque and unspoilt internationally known Alpine resorts – car-free, intimate, highly traditional in style and set in a fabulously scenic, remote position, on a mountain shelf 800m above the valley floor, and reached only by cable car or mountain railway.
Stepping out of the train or cable car, you feel as if you have arrived in a different world, largely unchanged for decades – a winter wonderland of narrow, snow-covered lanes lined by little wooden chalets with just a handful of bigger hotels. There are stunning views to the faces and peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau across the valley.
Like Wengen across the valley, Mürren has attracted British visitors for generations, and it was here that the British more or less invented modern skiing. Sir Arnold Lunn organized the first ever slalom race here in 1922, following in the footsteps of his father, Sir Henry, who for years had been bringing package tourists here. The British-run Kandahar Ski Club was founded here in 1924 and is still thriving – it has a clubhouse/apartment here.
Mürren’s local ski area is small but varied, and consists of two linked sectors. The lower slopes just above the village are partly wooded, while the higher slopes reached by successive cable cars go way above the treeline to almost 3000m, with reliably good snow. At the top is the Schilthorn (of James Bond fame – part of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was filmed here). The run under the top cable car is seriously steep and is the first part of a classic top-to-bottom run with wonderful views.
You can also head for Wengen (you take the train and cable car down to Lauterbrunnen and then another train up) and the extensive intermediate slopes it shares with Grindelwald. This adds up to a lot of skiing, all of it covered by the regional Jungfrau lift pass,

But bear in mind …

  • Mürren’s local ski area is small
  • Lower slopes can have poor snow conditions
  • Quiet, limited nightlife


Tirol, Austria

Alpbach is a classic Austrian mountain village which understandably boasts about being voted ‘Austria’s most beautiful village’– it is exceptionally captivating, with traditional wooden chalets set around a pretty church, and the nursery slopes only a few steps away. It’s small and friendly, and great value for money, even by Austrian standards.
The main slopes are an efficient shuttle-bus ride away. In the past, their limited extent was a real drawback, but in 2012 the picture was transformed by a single lift – a new gondola to the top of the slopes of Auffach in the neighbouring Wildschönau valley. This more than doubled the size of the ski area, if you include Niederau just down the valley from Auffach, and linked by ski-bus.
The area suits beginners and intermediates best, with the main interest for experts being the off-piste. The local slopes are accessed by a choice of two gondolas from the valley floor which take you to open, north-facing slopes above the tree line served by drags and chairs. These upper slopes have mainly short runs with 200m to 400m vertical, but when snow is good down to valley level you can get runs of around 1000m vertical.
The Auffach slopes are reached by another gondola from the satellite village of Inneralpbach, reached either on skis via Alpbach’s local slopes or by bus from Alpbach itself. There’s a red run down the upper stage of this linking gondola but you have to ride the lower stage down as well as up.
Some British families have been coming here for generations: the Alpbach Visitors Ski Club was founded by a Brit over 50 years ago to develop junior racing for British children. It’s a great resort for small children because the nursery slopes are right in the village and there are good ski kindergartens.

But bear in mind …

  • Few steep pistes to interest experts
  • Few long easy runs for beginners to progress to
  • Slopes a bus ride from the village (nursery slope excepted)
  • Lower slopes can suffer from poor snow, despite snowmaking (much improved recently)

Les Gets

Haute-Savoie, France

Les Gets is mainly modern village, much expanded over recent decades, but has been carefully developed in traditional Alpine style to produce an attractive resort with a very French feel to it. It shares with Morzine an extensive and varied local network of wooded slopes, well endowed with mountain restaurants, that is just about linked (at Morzine) to Avoriaz on the vast Portes du Soleil circuit sprawling into Switzerland.
It is an attractive, sunny village of traditional, low-rise chalet-style buildings with a big outdoor ice rink, which adds to its character. The busy main road to Morzine and Avoriaz by-passes the village centre which, although not traffic-free, is not badly affected by traffic, and is a pleasant place to stroll around, partly because of the appetizing food and wine shops lining it and the friendliness of the locals.
The large area of local slopes shared with Morzine is interestingly varied and accessed by a gondola or fast chairlift from the nursery slopes beside the village. There are blue and red cruises back down to Les Gets and more on the Morzine side, including some lovely wooded runs. For more challenges, head for the Point de Nyon or Chamossière sectors.
Les Gets also has its own separate small area on Mont Chéry which has some of the steepest pistes in the area and which is usually delightfully quiet. Its gondola is not far from the main slopes, and it can be reached by free buses or a road-train shuttle that kids love.
To reach the rest of the Portes du Soleil slopes you ski (or bus) to Morzine. Arriving on skis, you have to trudge across the town or and take the free road-train shuttle to the gondola towards Avoriaz. Or you can take a bus out to Les Prodains, where a giant gondola now [DW1]goes directly to Avoriaz. There is an ambitious plan to build a lift from central Morzine out to Les Prodains, but don’t hold your breath.

But bear in mind …

  • It’s quite a schlep to the main Portes du Soleil circuit
  • Modest altitude means there’s a risk of poor snow
  • Some slow old chairlifts
  • Weekend crowds


Savoie, France

St Martin is an old village a short way down-valley from Les Menuires in the famously huge Trois Vallées – the world’s largest linked ski area. For those looking for a quiet time, it is the most atttractive resort in the area, and like Les Menuires one of the least expensive (in what is a notably expensive area).
St Martin was a backwater farming village until the 1980s, when chairlifts were built to link it into the slopes of Méribel and Les Menuires. It remains a lived-in, unspoiled place with a lovely 16th century church (prettily floodlit at night) and small square. The old village has been tastefully expanded with buidings built of wood and stone in traditional Savoie style.
The Trois Vallées area as a whole is ideal for mileage-hungry intermediate piste bashers. Most of the pistes are easy cruising blues and more challenging red runs, although there are plenty of challenges to be found. There is remarkably good off-piste to be explored with a guide, and some of the best steep pistes in the region are on the slopes of La Masse, accessed from nearby Les Menuires. These north-facing red and black runs usually have excellent – unlike St-Martin’s long, gentle home run.
From St Martin, a gondola followed by a long, fast chair whisk you up to Tougnète, from which point it is equally easy to explore Les Menuires and Val Thorens or to drop over the ridge into the extensive slopes of the Méribel valley. From there, you are just one gondola ride away from Courchevel.
Because it is a favourite lunch spot for residents of other resorts, St-Martin has a surprising choice of good restaurants, including a couple of cheese-oriented working farms slightly out of the village. At the other end of the price scale is La Bouitte up the road in St Marcel – its excellent food has earned it three Michelin stars.

But bear in mind …

  • Not ideal for beginners
  • Snow on runs home can suffer from sun
  • Some lodging a long trek from the lifts – transport needed
  • Limited après-ski


Tirol, Austria

Although sizeable, Ellmau is bypassed by the main valley road and remains quiet and determinedly traditional in style, centred on a pretty church. It is part of the SkiWelt area linking seven resorts and covering about 280km of pistes – no longer the largest mountain circuit in Austria, but not far short. Each village has a worthwhile area of pistes to explore above it, and when you ski between them you really get a feeling of travelling around. Most runs are easy, short and ideally suited to beginners and intermediates, but there is some off-piste to explore. At its southern extremity south of Brixen and Westendorf, the SkiWelt is also linked (via a short bus ride) to the Kitzbühel slopes, with another 185km of pistes to explore.

But bear in mind …

  • Low altitude can mean poor snow (although a huge snowmaking system keeps the pistes operating even then)
  • Slopes can get crowded at weekends and in high season


Vorarlberg, Austria

Stuben is linked by lift and piste over the Arlberg pass to St Anton, and in a slightly different direction to Zürs and Lech – three of the big names in Austrian skiing. It’s a tiny, unspoiled village with an old church and a few hotels and quiet bars. Heavy snowfalls add to the charm. So if you want a very quiet alternative to St Anton’s raucous après-ski and the five-star hotels of Zürs, this is the place to stay. Beyond Lech you can also ski the slopes of Warth-Schröcken and the whole area adds up to Austria’s biggest. Stuben also has its own shady Albona area accessed by an ancient slow chairlift from the resort – this usually has excellent snow and has some of the best off-piste for experts in the whole Arlberg area.

But bear in mind …

  • Too quiet for some people
  • Access to local slopes can be bitterly cold in early season


Haute Savoie, France

Samoëns is one of a kind. It a national heritage site, but it also is part of the big and beautiful Grand Massif area, along with family favourite Flaine and less well known Les Carroz. Unfortunately it sits on the wrong side of a flat valley bottom, a bus-ride from the gondola station.
In the 17th century the village was thriving centre for stonemasons – and much of their work is still in evidence in its buildings and monuments in the traffic-free core of narrow streets. Tempting food shops here add to the appeal. Modern development has sprawled widely from this core, but it is mostly tasteful. Nightlife is quiet. The ski area is ideal for confident intermediates, with lots of blue and red runs to cruise around on, including the lovely, scenic, 14km long blue Cascades piste. Experts can enjoy some excellent steep black runs and good off-piste.

But bear in mind …

  • Access lifts remote from village
  • Not the best base for beginners


Haute Savoie, France

Megève is a traditional old winter holiday town with a beautiful, car-free, partly medieval centre that comes complete with open-air ice rink, cobbled streets, fine church and horse-drawn sleighs – though at Megève’s low altitude they operate more often on wheels than runners. It has long attracted a chic and affluent crowd who come here for an all-round winter holiday and splash some cash in its smart clothing, jewellery, antique, gift and food shops. But the skiing is good – its mainly intermediate pistes are very extensive, spread over three separate mountains (two linked by cable car) – in good snow conditions the cruising is ideal for an enjoyable and relaxed holiday. Low altitude means the snow can suffer from high temperatures, but equally the resort’s location can produce big dumps, when the prettily wooded slopes are just the ticket. In better weather, the views of Mont Blanc are outstanding – especially from the Epaule run on the Mont d’Arbois sector. Not surprisingly, some serious lunching goes on here.

But bear in mind …

  • Still too many slow old lifts
  • Few challenging pistes


Colorado, USA

Telluride is a remote, cute, well-restored gold mining boom town from the Wild West era, with old red brick and timber buildings – one of the most appealing of North American resorts. Up the mountain, a modern Mountain Village at the heart of the ski area caters for those more concerned about getting first tracks than about historic saloons. The two parts of the resort are linked by a gondola that works until midnight, so you can stay in either and still have a choice of where to eat and drink. The ski area opened in the 1970s and quickly gained a reputation for its steep slopes and mogul fields immediately above the old town. Since then much more expert terrain has opened up, including glades and seriously extreme bowls. There’s a heli-skiing operation based here too. Intermediates will love the groomed blues including the aptly named See Forever along a ridge with 360º views. And there is ideal beginner terrain with lots of long, gentle green runs near Mountain Village.

But bear in mind …

  • Isolated location
  • Smallish ski area – particularly by Alpine standards


Valais, Switzerland

Zermatt offers a unique and very special combination of a charming, car-free village (reached only by cog railway), extensive high-altitude snowsure slopes (linked to those of Cervinia in Italy), spectacular scenery and fabulous mountain restaurants. The village – now arguably more of a town – has a mixture of ancient chalets and barns, grand 19th century hotels and modern buildings, most in traditional style but some decidedly funky. The Swiss slopes span four sectors well linked by efficient lifts, and the slopes suit intermediates and experts best, with lots of long, well groomed red runs, ungroomed itineraries and Europe’s biggest heli-skiing operation. Wherever you are on the slopes, the view is dominated by the amazing and distinctive Matterhorn, which reaches almost 4500m – and that view can be had from countless excellent restaurants.

But bear in mind …

  • Lots of annoying electric taxis and carts buzz around detracting from traffic-free charm
  • Sky-high prices

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