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11 Destinations That Are Even Better in the Winter

Does your ideal vacation include swishing down ski slopes, gliding across frozen ice, spying the northern lights, and playing in the snow? Then you'll want to skate straight to these winter spots that embrace the season in all its frozen glory.

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Fairbanks-AlaskaCourtesy State of Alaska/Chris McLennan

Fairbanks, Alaska

Alaska is a shoo-in for a great winter getaway, even though many people only think of visiting the 49th state in the summer. For winter fun, head to Fairbanks, where you can stay at a new lodge with glass-ceiling domes for aurora viewing in comfort and then head out ice fishing and snowmobiling. Want even more adventure? Consider a guided adventure that combines northern lights, cross-country skiing, and dog mushing. Speaking of dogs, Fairbanks also provides a front-row seat to Alaska’s famed Iditarod dog sled race. If you love traveling during the cold season, these are the best winter destinations in every state.

Norwaydemamiel62/Shutterstock

Kirkenes, Norway

The northernmost point of Europe, right on the border of Russia, is really, really cold in winter (like -16 degrees in the sun). But it has to be cold for the Kirkenes Snowhotel here to welcome visitors to its ice-sculpted rooms. (Don’t want to spend the night on ice? Tour the shimmering igloo during the afternoon and then stay in one of the property’s cozy glass-fronted Gamme Cabins instead). This far north, your evenings will very likely be filled with the ethereal vision of the Aurora Borealis, and when you see the green dancing lights, you’ll most likely forget about the frosty temperatures. When you’re not sky-gazing, jump on a sled pulled by huskies or bring your appetite for a King Crab Safari. First, you’ll be tucked into the back of long sleigh pulled by a snowmobile across the icy sea. Then crab fishermen drill into the ice to create a hole to pull up the monstrous crabs. Another quick sleigh trip and you’ve reached a cozy cottage where crab claws as long as your forearm are served up minutes after being plucked from the frigid waters, tasting of salt water and dripping with melted butter. A rich reward for braving the cold. Don’t miss these vacations for people who love winter activities.

Snowbird, UtahCourtesy Dylan VanWeelden

Snowbird, Utah

If you don’t consider yourself a fan of winter vacations, Snowbird, Utah might change your mind. Snowbird is in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains right outside Salt Lake City. There, built into the side of the canyon, you’ll find Snowbird Ski Resort. It offers breathtaking views of the mountains from every window, an abundance of ski trails for all levels, great restaurants, a rooftop spa, and fun events that get the whole community involved. One annual event Snowbird hosts is Subaru WinterFest. During this premier lifestyle/outdoor event skiers and visitors alike are encouraged to learn about the brand through live demos and enjoy music, eat food, win raffles, and learn about how they’re helping the environment in between ski runs. These summer destinations are surprisingly gorgeous in the winter.

Vailcourtesy Sonnenalp Hotel

Vail, Colorado

One of America’s most popular ski resorts takes full advantage of its picturesque location in the Rocky Mountains, with ski-in/ski-out resorts that allow you to always keep your eyes on the mountain as you enjoy the day in the snow trying out 5,000 acres of snow-covered trails. Vail Village combines old-world charm with modern amenities, so its just as easy to sip a glass of champagne while you take off your snow boots as it is to get a hot cocoa. Need inspiration before you hit the slopes? Stop in at the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame. Check out these other towns that are prettiest in the winter

MoritzCourtesy Carlton Hotel St. Moritz Tschuggen Hotel Group

St. Moritz, Switzerland

Skiing down the Alps is obviously a highlight here, but did you know that night skiing in this Swiss town is some of the best in the world? Picture it: Clear sky, full moon, inky quiet, and a sky full of stars. At Corvatsch, the night fun starts at 7 p.m. on Switzerland’s longest floodlit run, the 2.5-mile Chastelets slope. If you need energy for skiing, you can always refuel with pizza from the wood-fired oven at Murtèl middle station. You can keep skiing until the last cable car at 1:40 a.m. Then, check into your room at the Carlton Hotel, where daylight activities include a snow-kiting course over the frozen Lake Silvaplana, bobsledding along the professional ice track, or warming up in the expansive three-floor spa. You need to visit these under the radar places next year.

VermontDonLand/Shutterstock

Stowe, Vermont

Stowe is lovely any time of year. But snow aficionados flock here for some of the best skiing in the northeast. And with the addition of Spruce Peak Village Center last year, there are new shops, boutiques, restaurants, and skier service facilities all centered around a 10,000-square-foot ice rink that offers complimentary skating for families. Also new is the Stowe Adventure Center, a multi-season activity center that houses the Stowe Children’s Ski and Ride school, a teen area, and a climbing gym. Don’t miss these other towns that are even cozier when it snows.

UtahJohnny Adolphson/Shutterstock

Park City, Utah

Not only is Park City Mountain Resort the largest ski resort in the country with an abundance of trails to explore, it’s also considered North America’s most accessible mountain recreation destination, located just 35 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport. Park City is home to Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort, and more than 400 miles of public trails, which offer endless year-round outdoor recreation possibilities. Fuel up at one of the 150 palate-pleasing bars and restaurants that line Historic Main Street before heading to the Utah Olympic Park to try out the Comet Bobsled ride set on the official 2002 Olympic Sliding Track, where you’ll zip around the ice-covered curves at 60 mph. Check out more best places to ski in the United States.

Niseko-Japancourtesy YTL Hotels

Niseko, Japan

If you’re unaware of Japan as a skiing destination, you’re truly missing out. Niseko Village, nestled within the Niseko United ski area, has unfettered access to 2,191 acres of skiable terrain through interlinked resorts and is considered the powder mecca of the world, thanks to the 60 feet of snow that falls annually. In recent years, Niseko has become a “must ski” destination for North Americans: Along with its dry champagne powder created by lake-effect winds, Niseko offers true Japanese cultural immersion, including an onsen hot springs and some of the best sushi in the world. Beyond skiing and snowboarding, visitors can experience a host of other exhilarating winter activities, such as snowmobile adventures, snowshoeing, cat skiing, snow rafting, or reindeer sledding. To escape crowds, travel to the least crowded winter destinations in the United States.

QuebecCourtesy Gagnon Francis

Quebec City, Canada

In the summer months, Quebec City is an excellent destination thanks to its French flair and historic old port. But in the winter, the city comes alive as the cold freezes ponds and paths into glittering skating rinks and trails, including the mile-long illuminated skating path in Pointe-aux-Lièvres Parc; the historic Chateau Frontenac becomes a fairy-tale palace encrusted with diamond-like snow; and a toboggan run is opened right along the historic old town’s ancient walls.  Don’t miss the Winter Carnival, the Carnaval de Québec, the largest winter carnival in the world. During 17 days the Carnival offers more than 200 activities and welcomes nearly 500,000 people (upcoming dates are January 26 to February 11, 2018, and February 1 to 17, 2019). Check out these cozy cabins for a last-minute getaway.

Finlandcourtesy Matti Koutonen

Rovaniemi, Finland

Welcome to the original Christmas Store! Well, it’s not really a store, but according to the residents of this Arctic Circle town in Finnish Lapland, this is the “terrestrial” home of Santa Claus. Explore the Santa Claus Village, where you can watch ice sculpting, visit Huskies, take a dog sled ride, share stories of meeting the jolly old elf, and even get a reindeer sleigh ride. Of course, there are plenty of Christmas-themed restaurants here, too. Since you’re nearly at the North Pole, you can catch the Northern Lights. Plan to book a stay at the local ice hotel, as well. If you’re not a fan of the cold, these warm winter getaways won’t break the bank.

Rudesheimcourtesy AmaWaterways

Rudesheim, Germany

This town on the Rhine River seems as though it was lifted right out of a fairytale, with houses that look like they’re trimmed in actual gingerbread lining the narrow and winding cobblestone streets. As the holidays approach, Rudesheim embraces the season with one of the most picturesque Christmas markets in Germany: There are stalls selling warm, clove-scented glühwein and sweetly tinkling, handcrafted music boxes. Another specialty of the lovely town is a Rudesheim coffee, which is set aflame with Asbach brandy and then topped with rich whipped cream, the perfect antidote to a brisk winter’s day. Next, find out the best warm winter getaways for families that won’t break the bank.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is a freelance travel writer and editor with more than 27 years experience who reports on travel trends around the planet for Reader's Digest. Winner of a Lowell Thomas Gold Award for excellence in travel writing, she started her career as an editor at both Frommer’s and Fodor’s travel guides, then went on to write about travel for many publications including Family Traveller, Parents, and Working Mother magazines. More recently she has been a contributing editor at Saveur, Islands, and Caribbean Travel and Life and a senior contributor at Travelocity. A New Jersey native, ice cream addict, and a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, Klurman lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, son, and rescue dog.