As we get ready for another Kiwi summer, Europe's ski destinations are preparing for the start of winter. Nick Trend picks 10 of the best.
1. Wengen, Switzerland
Many ski resorts have great views, but nowhere can quite match Wengen, balanced on a shelf high above the Lauterbrunnen valley, with the Jungfrau and Eiger mountains towering even higher on the skyline. Not only does Wengen enjoy an astonishing setting; it has also kept to its village character, partly because there are no roads, just a funicular train up from the valley. It continues up to the pistes, or you can take the cable car.
2. Arabba, Italy
Low-key and peaceful, the small Italian resort of Arabba occupies a grandstand position on the Sella Ronda, between the Gruppo del Sella and the glacier-topped Marmolada massif, with panoramic views in both directions. The more atmospheric, older part of the village is further down and features wooden houses, a church dating from the late 1600s and a scattering of bars and restaurants. The newer area of hotels and chalets is higher up and more convenient for the ski lifts.
3. Saas-Fee, Switzerland
This high-altitude Swiss resort is entirely closed to cars, so electric buses and buggies transport hotel guests and skiers around the narrow streets. At the heart of Saas-Fee is a pleasing mix of old alpine farm buildings (still used to shelter cattle in winter), low-rise chalets and small hotels, against a backdrop of more than a dozen peaks rising to around 4000m. One of the old Valaisian buildings houses a small museum charting the history of the village.
4. Zermatt, Switzerland
A dramatic view of the Matterhorn is just one aspect of Zermatt's appeal. A further 38 summits rising more than 4000m encircle a town that has kept its character despite growing into a sizeable resort. Plenty of wooden chalets, weathered and blackened with age, are scattered among newer buildings of a nevertheless traditional design. A railway link up from the mainline at Visp helps keep the centre car-free. You can get about by electric buggy or even horse-drawn carriage.
5. Klosters, Switzerland
There is a reason why the royals like this place so much. Not only are the skiing and the off-piste second to none, but somehow, like Megeve (see 6), Klosters has survived as a village rather than developing into a full-blown resort. The hotels around the central square have kept their traditional character, although there is an undercurrent of glitz rather than of traditional village life. Don't expect ski-in, ski-out access either. You will have to take the cable car up the mountain, or alternatively take the train to nearby Davos.
6. Megeve, France
So picture-perfect is this French village on the flanks of Mt Blanc that, in the early days of skiing, it was quickly adopted as a winter retreat by the rich and famous — most notably the Rothschild family. Megeve still retains its compact, medieval centre with cobbled, pedestrianised streets, while horse-drawn sleighs and an open-air skating rink add to the winter atmosphere.
7. St Martin, France
St Martin de Belleville is certainly defined by its direct access to the Three Valleys ski area — it's one of the valleys' nearest points to Geneva. But it is a rarity among ski resorts in having maintained the feel of a proper, functioning mountain village with a local community based around an attractive central square. Things are slowly changing — upmarket chalet companies are starting to realise the potential of the place — but in character it is still a world away from Meribel, Courchevel or Val Thorens.
8. Kitzbuhel, Austria
If you prefer something a bit more lively but don't want to sacrifice character, Kitzbuhel is more of a town than a mountain village but has retained a traditional aesthetic. On the banks of the Kitzbuheler Ache river, this low-altitude Austrian resort has striking views of the Wilder Kaiser mountains, while the pedestrianised, central streets of Vorderstadt and Hinterstadt offer plenty of glitzy shopping and late-night fun. The best atmosphere is found during the Hahnenkamm downhill ski race every January.
9. Lech, Austria
St Anton is party central in the Austrian Alps but Lech — now directly linked to the same Arlberg ski area — is all about calm and sophistication. Famously, Diana, Princess of Wales, brought her sons here for one of their first ski holidays. Despite the glamour, it still has plenty of mountain charm. Among the stylish five-star hotels and upmarket chalets, there are characterful old farm buildings and a 14th-century church. The White Ring circuit is a great way to tour the resort and the local ski area.
10. Alpbach, Austria
If you wanted to set a film in an idyllic, unspoilt Alpine village, you could do no better than choose Alpbach. It's about as unspoilt as ski resorts get, with a centre comprising traditional wooden farmhouses, overhanging eaves and carved balconies which are offset by the little Baroque church. To reach the pistes, however, you will have to take the ski bus a little way up the valley to the lifts at Inneralpbach.