Whether it’s Whistler, Courchevel or St. Moritz, most keen skiers choose to frequent the household-name resorts (or aspire to). Of course these resorts have a strong reputation for good reason. But if you’re more interested in the mountain than the chalet or the lodge, there’s a whole world out there for you to discover by ski.
Take the Middle East for example. Not your go-to for snow sports but home to some epic mountain ranges with equally epic altitudes. And in addition to good snow, sensational views and lots of new ground to cover, unconventional resorts also have fewer tourists. So you’ll practically have the piste to yourself, won’t have to endure endless chair lift queues or extortionate prices for a beer.
To help you locate these novel ski paradises, Booking.com used its internal data to determine which are the world’s best resorts and then selected the least conventional of the bunch. *
One of Europe’s last lesser-known holiday hotspots, mountainous Montenegro will thrill snow sports enthusiasts. Kolasin is the country’s most popular ski resort – offering rugged scenery thanks to the nearby Biogradska Gora National Park even though it’s not far from the capital, Podgorica. Its sparseness compared to the Swiss Alps is striking, with pistes winding through black forests as far as the eye can see. Uncrowded slopes of thick snow aren’t the only selling point though. The affordable and robust local mountain cuisine is perfect after an invigorating day’s skiing – try the pasulj (a smokey bacon and bean soup) or sarma (mince and rice stuffed cabbage or vine leaves).
A ski holiday in the Middle East may seem far-fetched at first. But if you’re after sweeping views and plenty of pristine slopes to discover, Azerbaijan is a must-visit emerging destination. Shahdag is the country’s first and largest winter resort, located at an altitude of 2,500m in the Greater Caucasus mountain range. The views from atop either on a blue bird day or sitting just above the clouds are spell-binding. The surrounding unspoiled landscape of deep valleys, ravines, glassy mountain lakes and glaciers is a national park, so it’s protected even though the area is undergoing major tourism investment. So far with an impressive ski lift infrastructure, snow-guns to keep the resort’s 17km of pistes in good nick and stylish cafes and restaurants dotted around for a spot of apres-ski.
Pyeongchang, South Korea
Having bidded to host the Winter Olympics and the Winter Paralympics since 2010, Pyeongchang was finally chosen as the host county for 2018. Now with the chance to show off their burgeoning ski offering, the Koreans are pouring investment into their already world-class ski scene. Not only is now a great time to test out Olympic slopes, jumps, cross-country courses and oncheon (hot-spring spas) but to experience the unique atmospheric appeal of Korea in winter. Physically, it’s quite a contrast to your typical Alpine resort. Its wilder-looking terrain and open landscape lend an adventurous feeling, which is enhanced by the fact that many South Korean slopes are lit up for night skiing.
Kvitfjell is one of the most modern ski resorts in the world, with snowmaking on 80% of its pistes. It was developed for the 1994 Winter Olympics and is still used for Olympic races. Its wide variety of slopes make it suitable for all skill-levels, while the character of the resort is laid-back and peaceful. No huge party scene featuring drunk and lairy lads; instead you’ll find cosy, welcoming restaurants, pubs and cafés. And free from hordes of tourists, you may find yourself frequently carving up fresh powder as you navigate the blankets of heavy snow between pine trees.
Jahorina, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Another resort to have hosted the Olympics (back in 1984), Jahorina is an established and popular resort but its reputation hasn’t taken such a firm hold outside of the Balkans. Set in the craggy Dinaric Alps, the area is dotted with medieval villages and pretty rivers and lakes amidst expanses of forest. It has a real Alpine feel and a palpable history, having been a strategic stronghold during the Bosnian War. There’s a generous range of pistes available, from crowd-free red and green slopes to tight tree runs and lift-accessed off-piste options. Expect spectacular views too, as the resort sits on the slopes of Bosnia’s second-highest mountain, Mount Jahorina, at 1,916m.
*High endorsement ratings (had been endorsed more than fifty times) for downhill skiing and a positive z-score. And then we selected the most unusual destinations from this list.