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Skiing destinations: Downhill from here!

Swiss Alps
Tourists have vacationed in Zermatt in southwest Switzerland since 1838. “People came here then and now to enjoy nature, good food, clean air and the scenery. The 15,000-foot Matterhorn is the most photographed mountain on the planet,” said Amade Perrig, spokesman for Zermatt Tourism.

As Zermatt is a car-free village, groups are transported by shuttle from an area a few miles away. Electric wagons or horse coaches meet visitors in town, where they are whisked to their luxury hotel or small, family-run lodge.

“No matter whether you stay in a five-star or a one-star hotel, you can be assured it will be sparkling clean; you have no worries about accommodations here,” Perrig said.

The area has 122 hotels and one of the largest ski areas in the world. With 73 cable cars and chair lifts, visitors can ski in Italy and Switzerland all in one day from this charming village.

“Skiing in Zermatt is different, as you can ski from one valley to another with this beautiful mountain all around you. There are over 50 restaurants throughout your skiing adventure, and it is common to take a two-hour break to eat and enjoy the scenery,” said Perrig.

Although this training ground for national ski teams offers ski opportunities for all levels, groups may also want to enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of the Zermatt artificial snow system, which allows for skiing every day of the year.

A glacier palace, located 50 feet below the surface of a glacier and home to ice sculptures, is also a must-see.

Italian Alps
The Piemonte Region
The Piemonte Region, on the border of Italy, France and Switzerland, is surrounded by some of the highest mountains in Europe. Alessandra Tasson, spokesperson for the Italian Government Tourist Board, suggested two great ski domains within the Piemonte region for American skiers: Vialattea and Bardonecchia.

“Vialattea, with 248 miles of ski slopes, is a group of five Italian ski resorts connected by more than 70 lifts. The lifts also reach one French resort. These resorts hosted the majority of snow disciplines during the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics,” Tasson said.

Tasson suggested that each resort is designed for a certain vacation and ski lifestyle. Groups may want to consider Sestriere for technical slopes and intense ski adventures, Cesana and Sansicario for quiet holidays, and Claviere for those in hopes of the typical old mountain village.

“Sauze d’Oulx is the nightlife capital, with 40 disco pubs and clubs,” she said.

Bardonecchia, which features 62 miles of ski slopes, is a small town close to the French border and the snowboard center of the area with the Olympic Half Pipe and Snowpark.

“But it is perfect for families due to the great number of quiet and top-level restaurants, shops and plenty of services,” Tasson said.

All the resorts offer lessons and beginner slopes. Tasson said the area has added value thanks to its ancient culture and history.

“Over 500 years of wars and migrations along the valleys; a Roman arena offering a glimpse of 2,000 years of history; and Torino, full of museums, art, culture and shopping and the first Italian capital, celebrating 150 years of unity in 2011, is only one hour away,” she said.