While the merits of big-name ski resorts are many, intrepid winter sport-enthusiasts may want to consider expanding their horizons by exploring some of these unexpected downhill skiing hotspots.
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, Azerbaijan is must-visit emerging destination. Shahdag is the country’s first and largest winter resort, located at an altitude of 2,500 metres in the Greater Caucasus mountain range. The views from atop on a blue bird day 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 increased tourism investment. Its impressive ski lift infrastructure, snow-guns set to replenish its 17 kilometres of pistes, and stylish cafes and restaurants for après-ski bode well for the future.
One of Europe’s last lesser-known Winter 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 robust local mountain cuisine is perfect after an invigorating day’s skiing—try the pasulj (a smoky bacon and bean soup) or sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls).
Pyeongchang, South Korea
Having bid 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 offerings, 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. There isn’t a huge party scene here; instead you’ll find cozy, 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 destination, 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 true 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 1,916 metres.