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Top 10 ski vacations for non-skiers

It used to be that ski resorts catered only to skiers and snow-bunnies. Not so anymore, as many resort towns now boast first-rate spas, art galleries, shops, and restaurants that are just as enticing as skiing the slopes themselves.
Image: A couple skates at the Sun Valley Lodge in Sun Valley, Idaho.
A couple skates on the outdoor ice sheet at the Sun Valley Lodge in Sun Valley, Idaho. Sun Valley may have opened in 1936 as the Rockies' first ski resort, but its good-old-fashioned Western charm makes it equally captivating off the slopes.Douglas C. Pizac / AP file
/ Source: Sherman's Travel

It used to be that ski resorts catered only to skiers and snow-bunnies. Not so anymore, as many resort towns now boast first-rate spas, art galleries, shops, and restaurants that are just as enticing as skiing the slopes themselves. So if you'd prefer to ski this winter, but your friends or family would rather go to the spa, you'll find a resort that caters to everyone's needs with our Top 10 Ski Vacations for Non-Skiers.

Snow-shredders may recognize Austria’s picturesque Gastein Valley for its slopes — over 170 miles of well-groomed trails, some as high as 88,580-feet above sea level, are a compelling draw for pros and beginners alike — but it’s its world-famous spas that have been luring visitors since the 13th century. Treatments here make use of the natural 90-degree hot springs, which, when combined with cool mountain air and healthy levels of radon, are believed to have regenerative effects, including combating inflammation and curing respiratory ailments. (Even powder junkies feel the water’s bubbly pull after a long day tearing up the pistes.) For the non-sports-inclined, soaking up the springs at any of the more than dozen local spas — The Gastein Thermal Galleries and Felsentherme are two of the best reputed — is the perfect way to savor mountain-time while companions carve up the rock’s snow-heaped curves.

Dubai has done it again. In a city that seems to know no boundaries — plans for the world’s tallest skyscraper and the Palm Islands (a collection of manmade isles with spas, apartments, and more) are just a few of the think-big projects in the works — Ski Dubai (opened in 2005) still comes as a surprise. Where else in the world can you throw a snowball in the morning and burn your feet on a beach’s hot desert sand later the same day? At more than 73,000 square feet, this large and opulent facility comes complete with five runs of varying difficulty (including the world’s first indoor black diamond course), a “Freestyle Zone”, Snow Park (with options for bobsled rides and more), and two mountain-themed restaurants. What’s more, there’s no need to stuff your desert-bound suitcase with bulky clothes — the price of admission wisely includes use of equipment and ski gear, too. 

If you love snow, but aren’t crazy about the slopes, Mont Tremblant has got you covered with a plethora of high-thrill activities geared toward non-skiers. Celebrating its status as the highest peak of Canada’s Laurentian Mountains — which are typically snowed-over from December through April — snow bunnies can have a taste of the great mountain via tubing, ice climbing, or snowshoeing. Daredevils needn’t don skis to catch one of the biggest buzzes around, but should rather sign up for Acrobranche, an obstacle course of sorts that comes complete with “Tarzan ropes” and suspended bridges atop a forest canopy some 75 feet above the ground, and culminating with an exhilarating exit back to Mont Tremblant village via zipline. Once safely back on the ground, dog-sledding, horseback riding, and sleigh rides are among the most popular family favorites, while numerous eateries and shops provide everything you’ve come to love of a top-notch ski village.

Host to a third of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games events, this silver-mining mecca turned tony resort town just 40 minutes from the Salt Lake City International Airport continues to welcome the world’s best skiers (and tenacious neophytes) to the 9,026 acres that comprise its three adjacent ski areas. But why risk life and limb when you can lounge at the Egyptian Theatre on Park City’s historic Main Street and release some pent-up adrenaline by watching an independent thriller during the Sundance Film Festival? Every January, this super-hyped, celebrity-studded affair ambushes the quaint town’s 100-plus restaurants and bars, 20-plus art galleries, and dozens of shops and boutiques, so you may want to skip ahead to February if you’re after winter-wonderland solitude. There’s still plenty to do, whether sleigh riding, snowshoeing, ice skating, hot-air ballooning, or even bobsledding down the same track used in the Olympics (to be followed by an indulgent spa day, of course).

It may look like a quintessential Alpine village at first glance, but St. Moritz's "Top of the World" epithet absolutely captures the essence of this over-the-top chalet town with its icy wonderland of excess. While the snow-capped Corviglia provides breathtaking views, and amazing skiing at any level, it’s the wineries, designer boutiques, and world-class cafes that really draw celebrities and glitterati to this chi-chi Swiss resort. A snowy cousin to LA’s Rodeo Drive, St. Moritz’s main strip, Via Serlas, is lined with ultra-posh designers like Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, and Armani. Foodies can splurge on mountain cuisine that reflects the town's position at Swiss, Italian, and French crossroads, while nightowls can partake of dozens of bars and clubs, plus a glittering casino. Unfortunately the thrifty need not apply: St. Moritz’s world-class ski lodges and five-star hotels cater to mega-sized bank accounts alone.

Southern Spain’s “snowy range” — the literal translation of Sierra Nevada — has an altitude of over 10,000 feet and boasts views of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains from its highest peak. But mountain caliber aside, the best thing about the Sierra Nevada, for those unwilling to schuss its powdery summits, is that the Moorish city of Grenada lies at its base — itself a compelling draw for its stunning European and Moorish architecture and Andalusian cuisine. This wonderfully well-preserved locale is home to the Alhambra, a spectacular hilltop fortress that was the seat of the Iberian Peninsula’s last Moorish kingdom, with palace after palace and a collection of exquisite gardens within its purview. Come nightfall, the historic Albaicín neighborhood’s whitewashed streets come to life with tapas bars and nightclubs.

A refuge for burnt-out East Coast city dwellers, Stowe is synonymous with laid-back living. Though wildly popular for its legendary, super-advanced “Front Four” pistes and night-skiing events, with only 4,600 permanent residents, peace and quiet is prominent in Vermont’s mountains. Featuring half-a-dozen wellness centers and spas, as well as yoga and Pilates centers, over-worked bodies find refuge away from the slopes, and in the warm whirlpools at Spruce Peak and Mount Mansfield. Stowe also attracts New England families looking to reconnect, since attractions like the The Vermont Teddy Bear Company, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory, and a cider mill provide entertaining experiences for all ages.

Sun Valley may have opened in 1936 as the Rockies' first ski resort, but its good-old-fashioned Western charm makes it equally captivating off the slopes. The saloon-filled town of Ketchum at the mountain’s base is rife with art galleries showcasing Western and Modern art, and even boasts its own Sun Valley Opera House, ideal for cinema-goers. Other popular winter pastimes like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are on tap at the Sun Valley Nordic Center & Snowshoe Lodge or Galena Lodge, while après-ski options range from old Hollywood haunts like the Duchin Lounge to the ruggedly classic Pioneer Saloon, an old Western homestead. Literary buffs can also pay their respects to the grave of Ernest Hemingway, who was buried in the town cemetery; he wrote parts of For Whom the Bell Tolls while living in town.

While New Mexico might not be the first place you'd think of as a snow destination, the little town of Taos is actually home to the state’s highest mountain, Wheeler Peak (with an elevation of 13,161 feet). The range here provides the town's renowned local art colony with abundant outdoor recreational fun, as sunny winter days are met by feather-light powder across the Taos Ski Valley, Carson National Forest, and Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area. When not playing in the snow, the town’s 5,000-plus residents support a high number of A-list restaurants, many of which turn out great Southwestern cuisine. Book yourself into one of the city's unique inns and you can also discover the area's ancient Taos Pueblo, a Native American site that's been inhabited for at least 1,000 years.

Surrounded by New Zealand’s Southern Alps on the edge of scenic Lake Wakatipu, nature has indeed blessed Queenstown with a prime setting for winter pursuits. While skiers and snowboarders flock to Coronet Peak for its diverse terrain, unbeatable views, and award-winning ski school, alternative ways to enjoy the snow (from tubing to superpipes) can be found at the family-friendly Remarkables Park. Adrenaline rushes also abound away from the snow, as you might expect of the town known for inventing the bungy jump; other daredevil options like jet boating and tandem skydiving can also be tried here all year long. The faint of heart needn’t fret, though, as a slew of quieter activities also abound, like wine-tasting, flightseeing over the nearby fjords, or attending the 10-day Lindauer Winter Festival, a Queenstown staple since 1975 that showcases over 60 events, from jazz nights to firework displays.