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For the best European skiing, head for the Alps

Whether you're a hard-core speed demon in search of a new skiing rush, a ski bunny seeking tame slopes but wild nights, or simply an aficionado looking for an affordable place to take the family, Europe's Alps have what you're looking for.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Whether you're a hard-core speed demon in search of a new skiing rush, a ski bunny seeking tame slopes but wild nights, or simply an aficionado looking for an affordable place to take the family, Europe's Alps have what you're looking for.

The Alps span the Mediterranean coast of France through Switzerland, Northern Italy, Austria and into Slovenia. The peaks are bigger than most in North America, meaning long, endless runs, lengthy seasons, dramatic scenery and plenty of diverse terrain. The relaxed European lifestyle rounds out the experience with good food, long lunches and an animated night life.

Austria offers affordability and animated apres-ski. Think old-world chalet villages, lift-linked resorts and friendly hospitality.

In France, it's all about drama, diversity and dizzying altitude, with naturally sculpted ski terrain, unrivaled beauty and a long season with loads of virgin powder.

Switzerland is efficiency and elegance, combining well-organized tourist offices, state-of-the-art lifts and snowmaking systems with charming villages and stunning scenery.

In Italy, it's as much about the holiday as the skiing. Socializing, fashion, fine dining and grappa breaks mid-slope are as important as swooshing down the mountain.

Here is a list of what some of Europe's ski resorts are best-known for. The list does not pretend to be definitive; it's based on reputation, personal experiences and other sources. Finally, there's one thing you'll need to know if you're heading to the Alps: "Piste" refers to an established ski run; "off-piste" refers to areas that are unmarked and ungroomed.

Best extremet skiing
La Grave, France. For experts only. A proving ground for the world's hardest-core skiers, here even the most experienced should hire a guide initially to help uncover dangers lurking among the cornice drops and crevasses. Avalanche beacons and rescue harnesses are a must. A charming, quiet little village with few bars and restaurants, La Grave is definitely not a party town, though you'd probably be too exhausted anyway.

Best extreme terrain
Chamonix, France. Home to Europe's highest peak, the beautiful 15,771-foot Mont Blanc, this testosterone-charged resort offers some of the world's most challenging skiing. Its reputation as a global off-piste capital attracts adrenaline junkies from everywhere.

St. Anton, Austria. An ideal destination for confident intermediate and advanced skiers, the resort has a rocking 160 miles of groomed runs and another 114 miles of off-piste.

Verbier, Switzerland. Boasts some of the steepest and deepest off-piste skiing in Europe.

Best intermediate skiing
St. Moritz, Switzerland. About 70 percent of this glam resort caters to intermediates.

Best beginner slopes
Lech, Austria. Plenty of easy runs and an excellent ski school.

Val d'Isere, France. Plenty of well-linked, wide and easy "motorway runs" up above to give neophytes an authentic experience of skiing in the high Alps. Nursery slopes (for children and other beginners) at Val are free, so wait to buy your ski pass after you've tested them out.

Best under-the-radar
Livigno, Italy. Young and carefree, this unpretentious Italian resort has a long season, over 62 miles of perfectly groomed runs and lots of sun. A tax-free shopping haven at 5,905 feet above sea level, Livigno has terrific restaurants and accommodations for all budgets.

Saas Fee, Switzerland. The "Pearl of the Alps," Saas Fee is a romantic Swiss village with traditional old chalets and narrow, crooked cobblestone roads. The traffic-free resort is encircled by glaciers and majestic mountains soaring over 13,123 feet high.

Sainte Foy, France. A wee, unspoiled alpine village nestled in the Tarentaise Valley, this is where ski instructors from the neighboring resorts of Tignes, Val D'Isere and Les Arcs head to during their off-days.

Best cross country
St. Moritz, Switzerland. Has 117 miles of trails meandering through the famous Engadine valley and along the resplendent, glittery shores of St. Moritz Lake. The station provides illuminated night trails, heated dressing rooms and a top-notch ski school.

The Seefeld Plateau, Austria. With over 310 miles of groomed and marked trails, this Tyrolean resort is conveniently located just 30 minutes from Innsbruck's airport.

Best snowboarding
Davos, Switzerland. This snowboarding haven possesses three snowboarding schools, a couple of boardercross circuits, funparks, two monster pipes, a quarterpipe and even some night riding, all on exceptional terrain with deep powder, wooded runs and big natural hits.

Best singles scene
Kitzbuehel, Austria: Hip, cosmopolitan and just 90 minutes from Munich, Kitzbuehel draws an international crowd and has a jolly, boisterous night life. "Kitz" has some 140 bars and restaurants, ranging from noisy pubs to quiet local watering holes, chic clubs to a casino with dress-code.

Most fashionable
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. Known as the "Queen of the Dolomites," Cortina is the most stylish and upscale resort in Italy, and was the location for a number of movies, including the James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only," and the original "Pink Panther."

St. Moritz, Switzerland. One of the most extravagantly fashionable mountain resorts in skidom. Its unusual blend of romantic ski village ambiance and cosmopolitan flair, its curative Health Spa, horse races and polo matches, upmarket boutiques and luxury jewelers, all in the wildly beautiful setting of Alpine lakes, mountains and forests make it the destination of the smart-set.

Klosters, Switzerland. Refined, sophisticated, Klosters is where the British royal family comes for holiday fun.

Best spa
Stubai, Austria. Nestled at the foot of the Stubai Glacier, just 20 minutes from Innsbruck, the five-star Spa Hotel Jagdhof boasts an award winning spa and well-being center. The 21,528-square-foot "World of Vitality" has a relaxation area with water beds, a saltwater inhalation grotto, an ice fountain, an amethyst steam bath grotto, a "Poachers Sauna" with open fire place, and an outdoor Jacuzzi from which you can enjoy a stunning panoramic view of starry skies twinkling above the glacier.

Best eat and ski
Courchevel, France. One of the few ski resorts with multiple Michelin star restaurants. The Chabichou and Le Bateau Ivre have two stars apiece. For some French country atmosphere, local specialties and top-notch foie gras, book a table at the Le Bistrot du Praz in Courchevel 1300. La Fromagerie serves the best fondue in town, while La Cendree has one of the best Italian wine cellars in the region.

Cortina, Italy. Some visitors don't even bother skiing at this high-end resort and simply go for the dynamite dining. The Tivoli is a sophisticated one-star Michelin restaurant specializing in wild game and mountain dishes. Make reservations well ahead. El Toula, a remodeled barn considered the most posh restaurant in town, was awarded three Michelin forks (almost a star). The Rifugio Scotoni, once a mountain refuge, is located on the Lagazuoi trail and has excellent grilled meats and local specialties. Da Beppe Sello, Baita Fraina and Lago Scin all have two Michelin forks.

Best family destinations
Zermatt, Switzerland. From its towering height of 14,692 feet, the crooked spire of the Matterhorn overlooks a bustling old-fashioned town with horse-drawn sleighs winding down picture-postcard snowy cobbled streets. The sculpted high-mountain terrain can be tricky for beginners but there are plenty of other snow-sure slopes suited to skiers of all skill levels.

Zell am See, Austria. Founded by monks in the middle of the eighth century, this pretty medieval town lies on the shores of the lovely Zeller See, a deep, clear blue glacial lake. The resort has over 93 miles of ski runs, a bounty of apres-ski activities and numerous kiddie ski schools (and babysitting services). There is ice skating and curling when the lake freezes over.

Best scenery
Cortina, Italy. Surrounded by the spiny Dolomites near Italy's northeast corner, the steep limestone walls plunge straight down to the narrow Ampezzo valley floor, creating some of the most mind-boggling scenery in Europe. Sunset transforms the spiky chiseled monoliths into pink-tinged fairytale spires.

Best honeymooner's hideout
Wengen, Switzerland. Stepping off the quaint cog train in this intimate Alpine village is like stepping back in time. The steep, slow cog rail is the only way to reach Wengen, where you'll be quickly swept to your hotel while snugly tucked under a blanket on the back of a small open-air electric carriage. Children still get around on their toboggans in this magical, unspoiled village. Wengen is set amid the Jungfrau mountain range, with the breathtaking Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau acting as spectacular backdrops. The ski resort also has natural ice-skating, mountaineering and snowshoeing. Apres-ski is laid-back, consisting of folklore evenings, dining or hobnobbing at a small selection of bars and restaurants.

Megeve, France. One of the oldest ski villages in the Alps, this quaint and chic medieval Haute Savoie village with its cobbled streets, horse and buggies, and picturesque wooden chalets was first developed as a ski resort in the 1920s.

Best indoor slopes
Bottrop, Germany. The Prosperstrasse heap, open 365 days a year, is billed as the world's longest indoor ski slope, with a 2,100-foot run. Complete the experience with apres ski outdoors in the beer garden on the sun deck, or entertainment, dining and a discotheque indoors.