Let's face it, winter sports can be pretty tough. And even if you do master the snow plough, T-bar and parallel turn, there's still the freezing temperatures to contend with. For this reason, opting for a chic ski resort with plenty of added extras - from luxury spas to designer boutiques and delicious Après-ski - makes perfect sense. We've rounded up 20 of the best:
This Swiss, car-free resort looks too good to be true, thanks to the snow-capped peaks which surround it, the flower-packed window boxes and rustic wooden chalets. Just a two hour drive from Geneva, the resort is home to one of Switzerland's most expensive hotels, which seems slightly odd when you consider that the Gstaad Palace is a former mountain refuge - now it costs over £1000 for a one-night stay. Skiing is more of a pastime here (although there are over 136 miles of piste). Relaxation, shopping and long lunches take precedence. For a night out with a difference, head to Posthotel Rössli - Gstaad's yodelling club meet here once a week - or the Alpina Lounge and Bar, with its spectacular floor-to-ceiling windows.
St Moritz is widely regarded as the birthplace of winter tourism but that's not the only claim this historical resort boasts - Switzerland's first electric light was turned on here in 1878 and the country's first ski school opened here in 1929. This year, many of the hotels have signed up to a scheme which means that guests who book two or more nights get a hugely discounted lift pass, and the resort's Suvretta Snowsport School will also start offering "yoga on snow" lessons at various locations around the resort. Accommodation-wise, those with cash to splash should head for the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains or the Carlton Hotel, but there are plenty of options for all budgets.
Bad Gastein is wonderfully compact, which means that whatever run you finish the day on, a soak in a sauna or an Après-ski beverage is never far away. The main selling point of this resort isn't its pristine miles of sparkling ski runs (although they really are rather impressive) but its spas, due to the town's thermal spring waters. The majority of the hotels have their own steam rooms and saunas and the town's largest spa, Alpentherme, is an enormous complex which is equally popular with tourists and locals. However there's also plenty to keep skiers and snowboarders entertained - there are four ski areas in total and over 124 miles of ski runs, the majority of which are beautiful, tree-lined affairs.
W Hotels will be launching their first Alpine hotel in Verbier this December, but there are plenty of other reasons to visit this chic Swiss resort. To start with, it's one of the sunnier resorts, due to its south-westerly location. It's just a two hour drive from Geneva airport and plays host to a number of annual events, including the Verbier Festival and the Xtreme Verbier competition. It's popular with royals - Princess Beatrice spent last New Year's Eve in Public, the nightclub owned by Guy Pelly - and bizarrely, there's even a ski lift named after James Blunt, who owns a chalet in the resort.
There are several Courchevels - 1850, 1650 and 1550. 1850 is where the beautiful people flock to, more specifically hotels or chalets like Les Airelles, where a one night stay will cost well over a thousand pounds (although you do also get a home theatre and a member of staff whose sole job it is to help you into your ski boots). Another big opening for this year is L’Apogée Courchevel hotel and spa, which will have an enormous champagne lounge. Courchevel is part of the enormous Three Valleys ski area - the largest in the world - and there are over 400 miles of slopes and over 180 lifts, along with Europe's largest ski area for children. Any aches and pains can be soothed with a visit to one of the resort's many spas. Spa Nuxe le Strato is the most spectacular, with several luxurious treatment rooms, a jacuzzi and a beautiful swimming pool where you can do your laps beneath an enormous Murano glass chandelier.
Skiers and snowboarders flock to Jackson Hole,Wyoming, from all over the world but there's plenty to do off the slopes, too. Those in need of retail therapy should head to the resort's Gaslight Alley, where they'll find a huge range of stylish boutiques, including Wyoming-based jewellery brand Made and Belle Cose, which specialises in beautiful Italian homeware. This year the resort has introduced RFID (Radio Frequency ID) lift ticket technology to allow visitors to get to the top of the mountain in less time, and it will also be hosting a women-only training camp for skiers between 13 and 17 January.
Aspen was once a silver mining town but when the price of silver plummeted in 1893, many of the buildings fell into disrepair. Luckily its popularity as a ski destination allowed authorities to restore them to their original glory, which is precisely what makes Aspen one of North America's most beautiful ski resorts. There's no shortage of designer stores, but it's a resort which caters to everyone. There are mountainside pit stops where skiers can pick up free cereal bars and packets of sun lotion and queues are few and far between. The mountain restaurants are also some of the best, and there's even a pop-up champagne bar, the Oasis bar, whose staff will be serving up glasses of Veuve Clicquot to skiers and snowboarders - simply log onto facebook.com/TheLittleNellAspen to find out the current location of the bar.
Val Thorens is part of the Three Valleys, widely regarded as the world's best ski area. From this winter, it will also be the setting for Europe's highest five star hotel. The Koh-I-Nor hotel will have an enormous spa offering a range of treatments by chic French brand Valmont, while the hotel's restaurant will be presided over by a Michelin-starred chefs. On the slopes, visitors can look forward to complimentary wi-fi access at lift stations, one of the best snow parks in France and four revamped, high speed chairlifts.
Klosters is another resort loved by the royals - Prince Harry is particularly fond of the place, as is his father. Forget cramped shuttle buses - in Klosters, most of the hotels have gleaming 4x4s in which their guests are shuttled from hotel to piste. However there's a reason the resort continues to attracts visitors from all over the world, and it's not just the champagne bars and designer boutiques. There are over 200 miles of groomed pistes and for the snowboarders, a boardercross area and snow park.
Whistler has spent £15 million on resort improvements this year, although you'd be forgiven for wondering what needed improving. The resort has over 150 hotels, 100 restaurants, 200 shops and plenty of activities for those who don't ski or snowboard, including zip lines and horse riding. The ski school's Ski With an Olympian programme allows skiers or snowboarders to spend a few hours exploring the mountain with an Olympic athlete as their personal guide, but for something less strenuous, head to the Audain Art Museum (famous for its Andy Warhols and First Nations masks). The Whistler Film Festival, which takes place between 4 and 8 December, is also worth checking out, as is the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, which kicks off on 11 April.
Megeve is proof that good things come in small packages. It's a modest-sized resort tucked away in the shadow of Mont Blanc, and one which remains refreshingly crowd-free throughout the winter - only 10 per cent of the skiers and snowboarders here are British. Although there's an increasing number of five star hotels and designer shops springing up, the vibe remains relaxed but chic, with plenty of quaint, reasonably-priced chalets to rent and miles of ski trails dotted with mountain restaurants - head to La Ferme de Joseph for its highly-regarded ricotta and air-dried beef. And the best bit? Legend has it that those who drink good wine in front of Mont Blanc will never experience a hangover.
Morzine has it all: for skiers and snowboarders there are 403 miles of runs, a brand new lift connecting Morzine to the neighbouring resort of Avoriaz, and most importantly, lots of snow - last year, a world record was broken when 15 metres of snow fell throughout the winter season. There are 47 hotels in total, including four with a four or five star ranking, and some of the best Après-ski venues in the Alps, including the beautiful La Chaudanne wine bar with its stone vaulted ceiling, and Chalet Philibert, where diners can enjoy traditional Savoyard cuisine by a roaring fire.
Les Gets is one of the 12 resorts which makes up the massive Portes du Soleil ski area on the Swiss/French border. One of the biggest advantages about Les Gets is the short transfer time - it's just an hour's drive from Geneva so if you catch an early flight you could be hitting the slopes by lunchtime. There are over 403 miles of piste to explore thanks to the resort's close proximity to the Portes du Soleil ski area - if you can bring yourself to leave the village, that is. Les Gets is as quaint as it gets, with cosy, chalet-style restaurants and beautiful, family-run hotels which won't break the bank. And, for an added insight into traditional Alpine life, you can sign up for a course in chocolate-making at the resort's Chalet du Chocolat or try your hand at ski-joering - being pulled on skis behind a horse. For something less adrenaline-charged, head to the beautiful Mechanical Music museum for its collection of music boxes and organs.
Nendaz is one of the few, if not only, ski resorts where, on Christmas Eve, Father Christmas paraglides in and hand-delivers presents to children. This small, rustic resort is located between Verbier and Veysonnaz and although it's significantly cheaper than its neighbours, it has got the same wow factor - you'll find Egyptian cotton sheets on the beds and the resort is also famous for its local wines. There are almost 200 miles of slopes to explore, and the resorts of Mont-Fort, Verbier, La Tzoumaz and Bruson are also all within easy reach.
The small resort of Lech-Zürs is about to get bigger, because as of this winter it will be connected to nearby Warth-Schröcken by a two-kilometre-long ropeway ski lift, which means visitors can now access 118 miles of piste and 47 lifts. There's a huge range of accommodation on offer in Lech, from the five-star opulence of the Hotel Almhof Schneider, in the shadow of the Schlegelkopf peak, to the quaint and quirky Pension Astoria, which is just a short walk from the town centre.
Located in the shadow of the Matterhorn, Zermatt is one of Europe's most snow sure resorts, and in winter, it's the definition of a winter wonderland. It's also home to one of the best winter music festivals - Zermatt Unplugged, otherwise known as the world's most civilised music festival, which takes place in April. In fact, there's quite a lot on offer for music fans, including an open air music area on the Blauherd sector of the Rothorn ski area. It's also a great resort for celeb-spotting - Robbie Williams, Madonna and Nicole Kidman are all fans of the Swiss resort.
Some Italian resorts are so achingly cool that simply wearing the wrong kind of ski jacket can result in a barrage of death stares. However Sauze d'Oulx has the balance just right - it's fabulously chic without being pretentious. It's become increasingly popular with Brits but retains an authentic Italian charm - Turin is 46 miles away and many Italians own a second home in the resort's cobbled old town. And, with over 248 miles of slopes for all skill levels, it's not hard to see why Sauze d'Oulx was one of the resorts which hosted the Turin-based Winter Olympics.
Cortina is located in the Dolomites mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's also one of Italy's chicest ski resorts - the narrow streets are filled with Ferraris and Italy's elite flock here in droves during the winter. The town is surrounded by jagged peaks of dolomitic sandstone which turn a dusky pink under the setting sun. Here, greater importance is placed on the Après-ski than the skiing itself. Restaurants such as the Michelin-stared Tivoli and El Toula need to be booked months in advance, and the designer boutiques which line the Corso Italia are permanently packed. As for the skiing? Prior to the 20th century, a lack of investment in the resort's lift system meant a potentially amazing ski area simply wasn't accessible, but change is afoot and there are now 36 lifts serving some 175 miles of piste.
Vail, Colorado, is one of America's prettiest ski resorts, but don't just take our word for it - Cameron Diaz and Britney Spears are both regulars. Vail is the biggest ski area in the US and is especially popular with intermediate skiers and snowboarders. You're unlikely to run out of space as it's well-connected to the neighbouring ski resorts of Beaver Creek and Breckenridge. The hotels are luxurious, whether it's the classic luxury of The Lodge at Vail or the sprawling magnificence of the Sonnenalp Resort. When it comes to dining, Vail has an enormous range of restaurants, ranging from cosy bars like the Tavern on the Square, to ultra-chic restaurants such as Game Creek restaurant, which is famous for its American-French fusion cooking.
Chamonix attracts hardcore skiers, snowboarders and mountain climbers from all over the world. Recent developments include a speed ski track at Brévent-Flégère and a slalom course at Le Tour. Accommodation-wise, there's everything from small, family-run hotels to five-star affairs like the Hôtel Hameau Albert 1er, which was founded in 1903 and now houses one of the resort's largest spas. The shopping is second to none, with brands such as Chanel, Lacoste, La Fuma and Swarovski all vying for space on the high street.