Does size matter in a ski area? I’ve been collecting numbers from thousands of ski areas around the world for several decades and am still unsure of the answer.
For obvious reasons, a big ski area is great for frequent visitors (you never having to do the same run twice for weeks and weeks!). I especially love areas in Europe (and a few in Utah) that are linked together by lifts and pistes, allowing you to ski from one area to the next, sometimes crossing country borders, with your lift pass (a lazy man’s safe ski touring).
On the other hand, I’ve skied a 500-foot long, indoor snow slope in an industrial city in England over and over for three hours and still had quite a good time, perfecting my technique (well, trying to). One up side of short ski runs, is the short ski lift back up.
Photo Credit- Revelstoke, Daniel Rönnbäck
Still, it is human nature to always want what appears to be the biggest and best. Certainly the world’s leading ski areas go out of their way to brag about their vital statistics—which has the biggest vertical, which has the most terrain, and it’s big news in the ski world when a resort builds a new lift that boosts their stats, causing it to surpass the rest of its competitors. Such was the case half a dozen years ago when Revelstoke in British Columbia built a new lift to give it North America’s biggest lift-served vertical crown. Also, in the 2013-2014 season, the ‘expanded’ (mostly by the purchase of its neighbours) Big Sky ski area in Montana is claiming ‘biggest skiing in America’ with its 5750 acres.
So where are the world’s biggest ski areas?
Well, the answer to that isn’t as simple as it sounds. For one, ski areas world-wide measure their ski slopes differently with varying units of measurement.
There is a global divide on how ski areas are measured. Ski areas in the Americas and Oceania typically measure the skiable area of their slopes, whereas resorts in Europe and Asia more often add up the length of their slopes.
The US measures its terrain in acres, the rest of the Americas and Oceania use hectares, while Europe and Asia use meters and kilometres.
Of course, the two measuring units can be converted, but area and length cannot. Fortunately, a sizable proportion of resorts around the world now publish the full range (area, length and more) so they can be compared.
But how accurate are the figures we’re comparing, once we can compare them? There’s been a furore in the Alps these past few seasons ever since the German cartographer, Christoph Schrahe, discredited the exaggerated figures that many European ski areas were claiming.
To make matters more complicated, there are more provisos in choosing the biggest: Do we include ski areas where a shuttle bus is necessary to get from one side to the other or must it be fully linked by pistes and lifts? Does all the terrain have to be on one lift pass or is it O.K. if you need to buy several to ski from one end to the other, and so on?
Well, here’s my attempt at a definitive list…
The world’s largest ski area, as popularly agreed, is the French 3 Valleys with 600km (375 miles) of fully interconnected runs (oddly that length has never increased over the 40 years of it’s existence, despite many new runs opening) above a dozen villages including Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens. For an area comparison, there’s no official figure but a number of 30,000 acres (around four times bigger than Whistler Blackcomb) is widely (unofficially) quoted.
The Portes du Soleil which links a dozen resorts on each side of the French-Swiss border claims 650km (387 miles) of runs, however a shuttle bus is necessary in order to link sectors.
The biggest area covered by one lift pass is believed to be Austria’s Salzburg Super Ski Card, which, with one ticket, provides access to around 2,600km (1,625 miles) of runs shared between around 90 ski areas in 30+ ski valleys. A six-day lift ticket is 241 Euros ($325 US) – Not bad, eh?
The biggest lift-served vertical is at Chamonix, where the lifts rise 2.807m (9,709 feet) to access the world’s longest lift-served ski run, the famed 15-mile long Vallee Blanche off-piste descent.
These ski areas are all great if you’re lucky enough to ski or board them, but let’s face it—We can have fun on snow anywhere, any time, however big or small.