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So what if you don't ski? There are lots of wonderful places where you can soak up the culture and beauty of a mountain destination in winter without hitting the slopes (including in the U.S.). I love these four areas because they all offer plenty to do besides skiing, which makes them ideal winter getaways for multigenerational groups — or couples with different ideas of fun.
Canadian destinations currently offer good value thanks to the relative strength of the U.S. dollar. And while getting to Europe can be pricey, lift tickets tend to be less expensive, and most hotels include breakfast.
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The Matterhorn lords over Zermatt, a car-free village pocketed amidst seemingly endless lift-zippered peaks. Two gondola lifts provide access for skiers and nonskiers alike to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise's 12,740-foot summit for spectacular views. On the newest lift, four of the 25 cable cars are encrusted with Swarovski crystals and (egad!) glass bottoms. Don't miss the observation deck, ice sculpture-filled glacier palace or cinema at the top.
You can also immerse yourself in Zermatt's rich history, including its impressive climbing heritage, in the subterranean Matterhorn Museum. Walk through the Old Village, where traditional houses rest on flat stones atop stilts, an ingenious design to keep out mice. Cheese is also part of Switzerland's heritage, and one fun way to enjoy it is with fondue at Restaurant Gitz-Gadi. Later, glide along a 3-kilometer toboggan run with the moon and stars illuminating the way and only the soft whoosh of the runners breaking the silence.
Where to stay: The Hotel National, with an indoor pool, is steps from the Zermatt-Sunegga lifts. Hotel Holiday, about 10 minutes from the town center, offers good value in often-expensive Zermatt. An electric bus makes it easy to get around.
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Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
For a European-style vacation without jet lag, say oui to Quebec City. The only extant fortified city north of Mexico lures visitors with four centuries of history, rave-worthy food and two alpine resorts, Mont-Sainte-Anne and Le Massif, accessible via shuttle bus.
Walking is the best way to explore Old Quebec, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Meander both the upper and lower sections, linked by funicular, sidewalk and stairs (it's not easy if you have mobility issues, however). Among the highlights: the toboggan chute on Dufferin Terrace, Petite Champlain's boutiques and artisan shops, the interactive Museum of Civilization and the Chateau Frontenac.
Day-trip to Village Vacances Valcartier, which proclaims itself North America's largest winter playground. It's hard to argue, given its 35 tubing and rafting slides, skating path, children's playground, ice hotel and massive indoor water park.
Where to stay: Both the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac and the Hotel Manoir Victoria are sited within the city walls and have indoor pools. Artifacts uncovered during an archaeological dig accent Auberge St.-Antoine, a Relais & Chateaux property adjacent to the Museum of Civilization. Les Lofts rents contemporary apartments sited in historical buildings.
Ski Arlberg, Austria
The birthplace of modern alpine skiing, lift- and trail-connected Ski Arlberg sprawls over two provinces, Tyrol and Vorarlberg, and nine towns. Anchoring the region is St. Anton, with the most shops, best nightlife and sporting diversity, indoors and out. Lech and Zurs are far quieter and more upscale.
Skimeister Hannes Schneider, who introduced the Arlberg technique to America, and a slew of Olympic medalists have Arlberg roots. Exhibitions at the St. Anton Museum, Huber Hus, Bergstation Flexenbahn and Kästle Museum share this rich history, as does “The Snow Must Go On,” an outdoor ski spectacular on Wednesday nights. At some point try Kaiserschmarren, a classic Austrian dessert that's like a fluffy caramelized pancake, at the Hospiz Alm in St. Christoph.
Where to stay: Hannes Schneider's grandson and his wife operate the Schneider Hof in the skimeister's restored former home in downtown St. Anton. The nephew of the late, two-time Olympian Egon Zimmermann now runs Lech's Hotel Kristberg. The artsy Kristiania Lech delivers a five-star experience with a rich Olympic heritage.
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Banff-Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
Most visitors come to the Canadian Rockies in summer, lured by Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site edging both Kootenay and Yoho national parks. They visit for the abundant wildlife and the legendary hot mineral waters of Banff Upper Hot Springs. Winter visitors can enjoy all that as well at three alpine resort areas: Norquay, Sunshine and Lake Louise.
There's so much to do: Step into the region's natural history on a guided Johnston Canyon Ice Walk excursion into a narrow canyon with petroglyphs embedded in the walls. The lower falls are spectacular, but the frozen upper falls are magical. For more on the region's history, visit the Banff Park Museum, a National Historic Site housing more than 5,000 botanical and zoological specimens; the Whyte Museum; and the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum. Of course, don't miss soaking in the views from the hot springs.
Where to stay: Two iconic hotels, the castle-like Fairmont Banff Springs and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, with the Victoria Glacier and craggy Rocky Mountains as the backdrop, demand at least a look-see, if not afternoon tea or an overnight stay. Ski buses connect the points. The nearest large airport is in Calgary.