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Except for two interruptions during World War II, the Winter Olympics have been held continuously since 1924. Over a period of nine decades, these snowy competitions have played out in 21 mountainous enclaves on three continents. Most of the venues are still worth a wintertime visit; here are a few of our favorites.
In 1924, Chamonix hosted the first Winter Olympic Games, with 258 athletes competing in a handful of sports. Today, this French Alps mecca is famous worldwide as a hub for winter adventuring, as well as for first-class food and lodging. Skiing and snowboarding are the main diversions, with runs ranging from bunny slopes to experts-only freeride and off-piste challenges. There are many après-ski options too: the town’s quaint streets teem with alluring boutiques, restaurants, bars, spas, and more.
St. Moritz, Switzerland
The winter resort community of St. Moritz, perched near the Italian border, hosted the second Winter Olympics in 1928. Because Switzerland remained neutral in World War II, St. Moritz was picked to host again in 1948—the first games after the war ended. This region of the Alps is known for its dramatic beauty—pristine lakes, lush pine forests, and impressive peaks—but it’s also known for dramatic ski trails. Check out the adrenaline-pumping runs on Diavolezza. For a less hairy experience, grab some cross-country skis and stride through snow on more than 100 miles of nordic terrain.
Sapporo was selected to host the 1940 Winter Games, but they were canceled because of the war. Decades later, Sapporo was back in the running and was selected to host the 11th Winter Games in 1972. Located in the Hokkaido Prefecture of northern Japan, the city’s defining feature is Mount Teine, which was the center of activity in ’72. Today, the peak offers runs for intermediate and advanced skiers alike. If you can visit during Sapporo’s annual Snow Festival week, you’ll enjoy the ornate ice sculptures—contributed by artists from all over the globe—that make the city seem otherworldly.
When Vancouver hosted the Olympics just four years ago, the laid-back city’s charms were displayed in full. Skiers can choose from a handful of nearby mountains (Grouse and Cypress), but they’re also just a couple of hours by car from the legendary Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort. When it’s time for a break from the slopes, vibrant urban neighborhoods such as Granville Island and Yaletown—all rich with markets, bars, restaurants, and shops—await exploration.