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Forget the Beach: The Top 5 European Winter Sports Destinations

Avoriaz_SnowboardingSome of us dream of a tropical getaway when the thermometer dips into the freezing zone. However, for the winter sports lovers among us, nothing beats packing up your gear and heading to the slopes for some downhill fun. Across Europe you’ll find resorts and mountains catering to your ski or snowboarding bug, but choosing the perfect destination for your winter vacation can be a challenge. Each resort has its own unique flavor and highlights. Which one is right for you?

Enjoy the Apres Ski Scene: Courchevel, France
Courchevel is a ski resort in the French Alps and is part of Les Trois Vallee, the largest ski area in the world. Courchevel consists of four towns, each named for the height of their tallest peak in meters: Courchevel 1300, Courchevel 1550, Courchevel 1650, and Courchevel 1850. The highest resort, also known as the St. Tropez of winter sports, is the place to go to rub elbows with the rich, famous, and royal at the resorts nightclubs and apres ski venues. If you go, be forewarned that Courchevel is not a budget-friendly destination.

See the Northern Lights: Levi, Finland
Levi is located in Finnish Lapland and is a great spot for beginner and intermediate skiers. What it lacks in expert ski runs it more than makes up for with its location. Since it’s above the Arctic Circle, the ski season is exceptionally long, typically running from October through May. You’ll also have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights if you venture outside of the city and resort areas. Tour companies can help you find the best viewing spots via snowmobile, snowshoe, or a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Ride the 80 mph Toboggan Run: St. Moritz, Switzerland
St. Moritz sits on the southern slope of the Albula Alps overlooking a picturesque lake. The resort boasts five-star luxury hotels and high-end retail shops perfect for the international jetsetter. St. Moritz is perhaps best known for the Cresta Run, a toboggan run where expert riders can approach speeds of 80 mph traveling headfirst down the track. Beginners can start slower with a training course hosted by the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club.

Ski on a Budget: Bansko, Bulgaria

Winter sports, especially skiing, are sometimes known as a “rich man’s sport.” However, at Bansko in Bulgaria you can have all the fun and enjoy most of the same amenities you’ll find at the higher end resorts. You can find a five-day package, including hotel and ski passes, for as little as $300 U.S. There are hundreds of bars and restaurants called mehana, where you can sample Bulgarian cuisine and culture while you sip on a traditional fruit brandy cocktail called rakia.

Take a Snowboarding Adventure: Avoriaz, France
Avoriaz was one of the first ski resorts in Europe to have a snowboarders-only section. For that reason, it’s known as the “snowboarding capital of Europe.” You won’t be disappointed by its three snowboard parks: Chapelle, which is perfect for novices; Bleue du Lac, for experts with tabletops, spines, hips and a variety of rails; and The Stash, a meandering course designed in 2008 by Jake Burton of Burton Snowboards.

Image courtesy of ActiveAzure.com 

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