Although less handy then Killing-ton, and more linguistically challenging than Utah, Europe has a lot to offer American skiers who want to get away from it all, and breathe in the sweet, Anthrax-free mountain air of the Alps or Dolomites.
A different approach
Many European resorts have grown out of towns and villages long-established in the mountains, meaning there is usually more diversity of things to do and see, though some may lack the convenience of purpose-built US resorts. European resorts tend to be whole regions, with interconnected towns on different sides of the valleys (beware expensive cab rides home if you get lost) rather than a single resort with a base lodge.
The scale of the operations may surprise some Americans, used to thinking of Europe as quaint when it comes to cars, houses, and burgers. Skiers tend to go high up the mountains, avoiding the mushy snow in the valleys, and are able to stay there all day, thanks to the mountain-top bars and restaurants. The main resorts all have state of the art equipment (such as sensor-activated passes) and good lift reliability, and lines are normally manageable because of the large number of lifts in any one resort.
The strong dollar now means you can get more bugel for your buck. Accommodation prices and airfares have been dropping recently, and SkiFrance estimates that a ski pass is currently 30% cheaper than an equivalent American resort pass. The following are a collection of some highlights from the top skiing nations in Europe (sorry, Norway).
‘Vive la France!’
We all know that the French do it in style-but the fact is they do it in a really big way. The country boasts the largest ski area in the world-the Trois Vall‚es has 400 miles of groomed slopes and 200 lifts, that is the size of the 6 largest American resorts put together. And within that there are 7 peaks over 3000m high.
The main resorts in the 3 Valleys are Courchevel, M‚ribel, Les Menuires, and Val Thorens-all connected by the roaming ski pass. You will not get bored, but you might get lost. Val Thorens at 7,545 feet, is Europe’s highest resort, meaning that it often has the best snow if you find yourself in mush.
Chamonix and Val d’Isere are both hip, and possess an excellent range of options for both boarders and skiers.
Elena Pirondini (OE) nominates Ortisei in the Val Gardena area as her top choice, “4 different valleys, a beautiful village, beautiful people and amazing food”. Val Gardena consists of Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva Gardena, which are linked together by ski runs and lifts. The Dolomites compete strongly for the title of the world’s most beautiful mountain scenery with their dramatic rock formations, which limit the skiable area, but look the part. This area also has the advantage of combining the Italian culture and romanticism with Germanic efficiency -bring your German, as well as Italian, phrase book.
Another gem in the Italian Dolomites is Cortina d’Ampezzo-Cortina, for short. It is the most well-known resort in Italy-being stylish and chic in a way that only the Italians know how. The picturesque scenery combines with a historic and beautiful village.
The Austrians are not normally a high-profile race, but in skiing they excel. Home to Hermann Meier (winner of four gold medals at the Nagano Olympics and multiple world champion) among others, they take their skiing seriously. A good choice is the five picturesque towns in western Austria collectively called The Arlberg. They are linked by 85 lifts and contain 160 miles of pistes.
St. Anton, one of the towns in the Arlberg, is one of the most famous resorts in the world. The town is one of Europe’s liveliest resorts, and is currently preparing to host the first Alpine World Championships of the new millennium later this year.
Urm, ‘Go Switzerland!’
Switzerland’s mountainous ranges mean the entire country is born to ski. Davos, Interlaken, St. Moritz, Zermatt -the country offers an embarrassment of choice. Verbier is a perennial favorite-this is a place where city-types, well-to-do estate agents, and minor media types mix, mingle and munch fondue to wile away the time, avant apres-ski. The population swells from 1,500 to 35,000 in the peak season, and the locals waste little time in cashing in on the bloated brokers and swank bankers. It is lively and fun and possesses a large number of bars and nightclubs-some people only go there for the aprŠs ski.