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Skiing in Europe

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I'm planning a Christmas Ski Holiday next year (so like 360 days from now, yes I know it's early) and we are planning (for the first time) to go to Europe. We're American skiers, more specifically Northwest US, so we're used to smaller areas, but tons of snow (Mt Baker, about 3 hours drive from us has the world record for both average yearly snowfall and most in one year). We've just started looking into European destinations, but I was hoping for some help here. I haven't posted much here, but have been checking snow reports semi-often and reading some things. For now, it would be amazing if some of you could help us get an idea of what skiing is like in Europe (specifically Western Europe, the Alps) and how it differs from American skiing (we have traveled to many resorts in North America skiing in recent years). The kind of North American places we have been are: Whistler (once or twice, the crowds & lift lines can be terrible and it's quite expensive), BC Interior (Sun Peaks, Vancouver local areas), Oregon (Mt Hood + Mt Bachelor) & Big Sky (Montana), we have limited experience in places like Jackson Hole and we are heading to Salt Lake City (park city, etc) this winter. It would be great if someone who has skied in America would answer, but any response helps. The general info I want to know is how size differs (I know europe has bigger resorts, but by how much), run length, lifts, villages/towns, lodging (ski in/out possible?), access (from airports, prefer public transport from major airports), etc.
Thanks!
Also, if this is the wrong section please tell me, sorry I'm a bit new.
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The question reminded me about a fun website www.frenchskiareaovermytown.com. Unfortunately the map doesn't have the lift system of other resorts (like google maps), but here is, for example, the 3 Vallees over Whistler. Whistler village is where the pin is at the top, Meribel is over Whistler mountain, and Courchevel is over Spearhead.

Someone with more experience of US skiing will give a good list of advantages/disadvantages vs Europe I'm sure.

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@KeetnaWilson, gosh, that’s a broad question. I’ve skied Whistler, KH, Revvie, Utah, Jackson and a handful of Eastern stations. And reasonably extensively in Europe, over 30 years.

Europe has way better food and ambience, in general.

Mountains typically have shorter lifts and runs but often many more of them. Portes du Soleil for example has something like 190 lifts on one pass.

Snow is much more variable. Depths are somewhat meaningless as long as you have enough.
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@under a new name, Am I correct in saying that a Christmas trip would likely involve much uncertainty on whether we'll be skiing all man-made (and on-piste) or we get off-piste powder? Or at least more certainty than you would find at somewhere in British Columbia...
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I've only skied in Canada, but I think the main difference you'll find is you can go to one of the mega resorts in places like the Three Valleys, Espace Killy, Portes du Soleil, St Anton etc etc and not have to drive anywhere for a week. The ski areas are vast in comparison.

Christmas holidays are very busy and expensive, but fast, efficient lift systems help to shift the crowds. You can get very very long runs (eg top of the Grand Motte glacier in Tignes to the bottom of Double M), challenging ungroomed blacks and cruisey blues.

Ski in/out is very possible in many resorts across Europe - and you can find chocolate box pretty villages (Alpbach) or concrete jungles (Les Menuires, Flaine, La Plagne). Transport links are good - some resorts are only an hour from the nearest airport, many have nearby train stations.

The choice is massive. Are you going to one country or several? Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland all offer very different skiing experiences - and some resorts (mainly in Austria) have epic apres-ski which the Americans don't really do so much.

There will be snow at Christmas, how much just depends. This year, for example, the Alps have been swimming in snow all December and conditions are the best in years. Even if snow is marginal, most resorts have excellent snowmaking capabilities.
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Christmas is early season in Europe. The high resorts should have plenty of pistes open, but I wouldn't count off piste or powder. Although this year has been pretty epic in Europe so obviously you can never be 100% sure. Based on the last few years I would be more confident in better conditions in pnw than Europe at that time of year.

At Christmas you can expect big queues in Europe. Queuing in europe is an experience in itself, unfortunately not the same civilised and organised experience you will find in north america.

Europe does have some huge ski areas and offers the option to ski between villages and different areas rather than all the runs funneling down to a single base like many n american resorts.

Big disadvantage of Europe imo is that off piste is not controlled. Its not like n america where as long as you stay in bounds you can ski everything safely. If you plan on leaving the marked trails in Europe you need avy equipment and knowledge/guide (and perhaps also ropes if skiing glacier terrain with crevasses). So even though European resorts are a lot bigger the amount of skiable terrain (and particularly the variability) may not compare unless you use a guide.

Customer service is way better in north america.

France and Italy are world renowned for their food so obviously there are some excellent restaurants. Although, there are plenty of great restaurants in north america too although perhaps these are usually found at the bases rather than on the slopes. Apres and nightlife are a lot better in Europe.

Getting from the airport to the resort varies depending on airport and resort. Public transport is possible in some cases. In others you might need a shuttle type service. Shouldnt need a hire car though as once in the resort getting around is usually easy.

Skiing in Europe is definitely a different experience and something I would recommend trying at least once. Would I leave pnw to ski Europe at Christmas? Probably not - risky regarding conditions and too busy you would be better off at baker. Better off visiting at a different time later in the season.
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I haven’t skied N America, but it probably makes sense for you to choose a holiday that offers the greatest contrast. I’d suggest staying in one of the giant ski areas. Perhaps Paradiski? Definitely go for ski-in, ski-out if you can to appreciate the convenience. Probably stay in a hotel or a catered chalet, not self-catering. I’m not saying these are the ‘best’ options but may offer the greatest contrast.

Plenty of websites give lists of the differences so suggest you look there. Biggest differences AIUI are, far greater vertical, far bigger areas, better food/mountain restaurants, disorganised lift queues, better apres, less predictable snow. Etc.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@KeetnaWilson, be aware that most accommodation providers run Saturday to Saturday, a few Sunday to Sunday. At peak times, it can be difficult to get accommodation for non-standard dates, so bear this in mind when booking flights. I am not sure if the 3rd week in December over Christmas means the 15-22 (3rd week) or the 22-29 December (Christmas week). The week of 15-22 will be quiet, and you will have a lot of flexibility. If this is the week you intend, I would not book accommodation until very near the time, once you have seen how the snow conditions are shaping up. It may be the only good snow conditions are in the very high snowsure resorts e.g. Tignes, Val Thorens, Ischgl. Or it may be that there is snow everywhere (like this year) and you can go to a lower, prettier village.

Even the Christmas week is usually not too busy (it is the New Year week that gets crazy busy). Here I would also not book until near the time, but that's easy for me to say as I don't have to book flights. Trickier call if you are booking long-haul flights.

Skiable off-piste powder in Europe in December is the exception rather than the rule. This year has been amazing but it is really not the norm. The last few Christmases prior to this one have often involved skiing on crowded strips of artificial snow surrounded by green mountains. More "normal" to expect would be reasonable natural conditions on piste, just about skiable off-piste but not powder and with a fair few rocks about. But you really can't tell - it's early season and very much the luck of the drawer. Easter is more snowsure than Christmas. I don't want to put you off exactly, as Christmas/pre-Christmas skiing can be awesome in the Alps. But, equally, it can be a bit rubbish. I know there's no such thing as a bad day in the mountains and all that, but I think it is best to be aware and manage expectations accordingly, particularly when booking an expensive big ticket holiday.
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Thanks for all the replies, I didn't expect this much. For anyone still here, I just have a few more specific questions that could really help. Thanks again!
1. How do lift queues compare? For example, between Whistler and the 3 Valleys, are the lines longer generally in Europe or shorter?
2. How does an average run/lap compare? I know there are amazing ridiculously long marathons you can ski from summit to valley, but an average run on an average day, is it longer, or shorter?
3. What is the accommodation and food like when travelling? While in the US and Canada, generally when we travel we get groceries on the way (we can drive mostly, but sometimes fly) and cook a couple nights and go out for a dinner a couple of other nights. We have basic breakfasts, like cereal or toast or pancakes, and either eat lunch on the slopes or head home and eat a fast lunch there (we try to get ski in/out) and then head back to the slopes. Is that possible in Europe or is it very different?
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^^@KeetnaWilson, I can only speak extensively for France although I've skied several weeks in Italy/Austria/Suisses also. I've skied Whistler/Banff/Aspen/Breck. You could fit all of Whistler into either the Courchevel valley or the Belleville valley of the 3V's in France. You get the other two valleys for free. For Xmas skiing you'll most likely be 90% on piste in which case French skiing is way more extensive than NA. The difference with French skiing is that you don't have to go down to the base station to change valley unlike NA (sometimes by bus) - it's all available higher up. For most years, conditions are mostly man made and more like East Coast NA skiing than West Coast/BC/Colorado.

1/ I haven't been to Whistler for 10 years but it was low season and the queues were far worse than low season in the 3V's. I upset the Whistler rep at the ski show in London by telling him that I thought Whistler was limited. I love Aspen/Snowmass because, well, it's Aspen but it's also disjointed. The French are the world's best at lift infrastructure by a southern country mile.

2/ An "average" run is pretty similar and so are the longest runs. The difference may be that there are more long runs available on the same lift pass in France. The 3V's has several runs that are 1200-1500m of vertical whereas there may only be one per resort in NA. There's also no need to repeat a run in France unless you want to - there's always an alternative.

3/ European accommodation is waaay smaller than NA. Especially in France. I own one and the whole apartment is probably about the same size as your master bedroom in NA. But it's ski-in, ski-out and above the pub and supermarket which makes up for many things. Everything else is the same in terms of self catering vs eating out. Bit generalistic but I'm pretty sure the average French resort restaurant is better quality than the average NA one and so are the lunch stops (read quality vs quantity!). Just be aware that very few French places will rent for less than a week (especially at Xmas) so you'll have to make a call on a place and stick with it.

If you're only used to soft, fluffy NA skiing, you might find Europe at Xmas challenging. If you're a versatile, adaptable skier and enjoy exploring, you'll be amazed at the sheer scale of French skiing.
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I'm US based, so I'll give it a shot. I'm going to disagree with Raceplate and say that in general your average run is going to be longer in Europe. Most ski areas in the states don't even have 1200-1500 m of vertical.

to the OP, it's hard to really describe the difference, but it's very, very different. There is a totally different attitude about the entire experience. In Europe it is more about the entire experience in fact. In the US, for good skiers, it's more about how many feet of vertical did I get today and did we have a lot of fresh powder. In Europe, that's great if you get it, but a lot of skiers don't even like snowy days. Partly that's because so many runs are above treeline, but partly that's because too much snow makes the rest of the experience less fun--the midmorning stop for a mountainside coffee, the hour long sit down exquisite (and frequently reasonably priced) lunch, the late afternoon on mountain outdoor apres (you call it happy hour), followed by a slightly woozy ski to the base. While actually skiing, Europeans are also more likely to choose a route to cover and ski a vast variety of terrain. In the US, the good skiers frequently end up congregated and one or two chairs and yoyo the steep and deep terrain.

In the US, skiing is a much more coddled experience too. Do you chalk that up to customer service as someone mentioned above, to the fact that skiing has mostly become a sport of the wealthy in the US, to the fact that euro ski areas are largely too damned large to groom extensively? I don't know, but you'll definitely find that it's more of an adventure I think. Whether you view that as positive or negative depends on your personal preference.

Neither is better--there are things I like better about skiing in North America, and things I like better about skiing in Europe. I have had very memorable experiences in both.

My guess is this thread goes on for awhile, so I'll come back later with some thoughts on types of accommodation I would recommend and general trip planning recommendations.
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1. I would say whistler and 3 valleys queues are comparible. Obviously many factors effect queue size which can be vary at both from non existent to awful. Big difference is that the n american queues are organised and polite with lifties doing their best to make sure chairs are going up full. Europe is more of a free for

2. Average run has a bigger vertical in Europe. Its not unusual to be getting towards 1000m vertical per run - for comparison peak to creek at whistler is 1500m. At that time of year you might want to stay up high though as lower runs could have questionable cover. I actually think vertical is a little over rated, sure you need a certain amount for it to be enjoyable, but too much is not particularly enjoyable either ime. 500-1000m seems to work well over 1000m and it turns into more of a marathon when will it end kind of ordeal - I've never skiied peak to creek and thought that was great let's do it again today!

3. Yes its possible to do that.

I agree with Mr mike in that skiing in Europe is kind of a different mindset. Its more of an all round holiday with the lunch, apres ski, views etc being as important as the skiing to some. (Obviously not everyone is like this - go to somewhere like Chamonix and you will see plenty of hardcore skiers). The mindset of travel and taking in different villages and valleys is more important than lapping a chair to ski the best/biggest lines.

Coddling point is interesting. In some ways I would agree - never had a liftie load my skis into the gondola in Europe as is the norm in a lot of places in north america. Although this could fall under customer service. On the other hand the skiing itself and the skiers seem a lot less coddled. Generally don't see lines of people hiking up to earn turns (a la spankies ladder, flute bowl, blackcomb glacier). Lot of skiers just ski pistes (sure that off piste not being avy controlled is a factor in this).

Quote:
You could fit all of Whistler into either the Courchevel valley

Its a fair point and I'm sure courcheval has many more km of pistes than whistler. However, I'd be interested to compare the amount of skiable terrain. In whistler you can ski chutes, bowls, glades etc. with no need to worry about avalanche danger. In courcheval you're stuck on pistes unless you have money for a guide and/or avy equipment and suitable knowledge.
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Thanks for everyone's response (once again)! It's really helped me understand the differences in skiing across the Atlantic. I've talked a bit more with out group and narrowed down a few priorities. I'm doing some research of my own, but if anyone here could help and give some suggestions based on what we would like that would be amazing. Our main priorities are:
1. Plenty of Advanced and Expert terrain. I know europe is different in that off of pistes you need avy gear and/or a guide (right?) so possibly a place with the 'skiroute' model I've seen in research where a route is cleared and avalanche controlled but not patrolled or groomed.
2. The opposite of above. Our group is split into two groups who usually ski together, a group with some emerging intermediates and more confident intermediates and a group with some people who could ski anything you throw at them, and some who are almost there, but not quite. So, while the intermediate group is smaller, we do want a sufficient amount of beginner/intermediate terrain, and want to avoid something like Galzig to St Anton (crowded, narrow trails). Also, if it is true that reds can be much harder than the American blue square than (european) blues would definitely be necessary.
3. A decently large area. One thing that we think is really special about europe is the huge interlinked ski areas (i.e. Paradiski, Arlberg, 3 valleys). One of these would (i would assume) allow for an easier achievement of the top 2.
4. Finally, not ridiculous lift queues. We will be going late december into early january, which I know is the worst time, but we would like to avoid the worst lift queues. Also, we have a window of a couple weeks (around December 20-22nd to January 4-7th) so choosing the correct week/s will be essential (and we'd love help).

Again, thanks everyone so much, this is more help than I could imagine and I could you can continue to be awesome!
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
I don’t want to repeat all the good advice you have had here already.
Here are my thoughts. I’ve been in Whistler over new year and thought the lift queues were dreadful for the chair lifts especially. I ski a lot in the 3V and a great deal of investment has gone into lifts over the last 10 years so that, even if you queue, they aren’t much longer than 5-10 mins (the exceptions to that would be bad weather days when the upper lifts are shut). There are often alternatives to dissipate the crowds. We are here in New Year week and it’s busy, but it is possible to get away from the crowds.
Hugely more vertical here and a real sense of travelling about, with each resort having a very different feel.
What sort of accommodation are you looking for? Hotels may be happy to straddle the normal Saturday changeover if you are staying long enough, but self catering apartments and chalets less so. Staying over a Saturday is good as the pistes are quieter that day.
While I wouldn’t advocate it, just because the off piste isn’t avi controlled doesn’t mean people don’t ski off piste without a guide. You should see the side of the mountains by the end of yesterday after our huge dump on Saturday!
There are a few places with off piste “Itinerares”, which are know routes, but these are not controlled normally, though it varies from resort to resort (others may correct me, but in Verbier they are not controlled of patrolled, but in Zermatt some are). The trouble with the off piste routes that are properly controlled is they get skied out really quickly.
In certain Italian resorts off piste is completely banned without a guide/and or proper equipment and you can get arrested. Not the same in France or Austria as far as I know.

Though I may be biased, I would heartily recommend the 3V. The drawbacks-many might say it lacks charm and can feel very commercial. HOWEVER, the can really depend on where you stay. We are big fans of St Martin de Belleville, which would offer you the proper alpine village experience (perhaps not as cute as some Austrian places admittedly). The whole 3V ski area offers something for everyone. As an aside, above the village is good gentle off piste through what are summer pastures, so can be skiable with limited snow. The last couple of years have been bad for snow over Christmas, but Val Thorens (highest resort in Europe) is a mere 4 lifts away.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
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Colonisation give you more mileage than anywhere else, combined with great food and ambience. Snow making is the best in the world so, even if the big dumps haven't arrived, most of the areas will be open. You could be skiing white ribbons on green pastures though which is rather surreal.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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Apologies my computer changed Dolomites to colonisation. Not sure why?
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If you are looking to travel in the most expensive two weeks of the year to go skiing, fly from USA, and stay in a large expanse of skiing, then you probably should not mind going to Switzerland where the currency will also fleece you dry.

By the sound of your mixed ability group, Verbier might suit as a base and some could choose to get the lift pass only for Verbier area instead of the 4 vallees. Zermatt is very popular with people from USA, compared to French, Italian, or Austrian resorts. I am not sure why this is the case. It has a great variety of skiing on its own, and the link to Cervinia is useful if you are there for 2 weeks.

I have only skied from Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek and Keystone in USA and Canada. (over 10 days) It was essential there to hire a car, as to get to all 4 resorts you had to drive. This is not the case in most European resorts that have linked ski areas with wide expanse. In Europe it is not decriminialised to smoke cannabis as it is in Colorado now, (it was not legal when I was there) except in Holland where there is no skiing. I expect this is not important in your choice of resort, but it could be a factor for people travelling to USA.

You got much larger accomodation for your money in those days, and probably still do today. Pistes were generally much quieter and queues shorter in USA compared to French resorts such as three valleys and Espace Killy. In USA it does seem skiing (at these resorts at least) is targetted at a luxury market whereas in Europe there is much more of a cattle bus herding attitude where people are crammed into small attic rooms and charged the earth.

I have been to ski resorts in Canada, but in Autumn time when I mostly went hill climbing and took some lifts up at Whistler to save walking all the way up. I went to Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff with a hire car from rent a wreck. It did the job, and I was only stopped once by the police who sent me on my way after a brief chat about speed.
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@KeetnaWilson, I'm American but living in France.

I'm going to suggest that if this is a once-in-a-lifetime splurge that you go for the cultural experiences as much as the skiing, so maybe avoid industrial ski stations like Val Thorens. How about Chamonix, Zermatt or other Swiss/Austrian areas with villages like Kitzbuhel? Then there's apres-ski or nightlife -- Austria is known for it, while France isn't.

Around Xmas you are basically rolling the dice in Europe. Any way to go in Feb or March? And, are you going to book this all yourself? I might look for a travel agent to handle all flights/accommodations/transfers. You

As for "differences," skiing is more democratic here, less emphasis on having the right brands etc. Lots of people rent gear and wear the equivalent of department store brand apparel. I don't think you can generalize about lift queues/services, except to say that the Feb school vacations will be mobbed whereever you go. I agree with others who say the experience of being in the mountains is very important rather than just racking up vertical feet.
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I think if you're going over the school holidays of Christmas and the New Year, then to avoid big queues then I'd take a look at Switzerland, as mentioned above. Price-wise, yes, relatively expensive compared to France, but I've skied Verbier in the New Year and Vail January, and the latter was slightly more expensive. For us, the relatively less crowded queues and pistes in Switzerland were worth it (compared to France). Here, for example, is Verbier in early December 2016:



and yes, there were only about ten of us across the entire 55Kms of this part of the 4 Valleys(the whole 4 Vallées Domain is over 400kms but you tend to ski a particular area within it). However, we were confined to the upper slopes and the lower slopes weren't snow down to the base. BUT I would underline that as mentioned, mid-January through February the snow is much more certain in the Alps and while this year it's been stupendous so far, this is the exception. When we visit our Swiss apartment, we'll usually go out mid-late January for the first serious trip, and then a couple of long Weekends in-between the school half-term holidays and Easter.

Some useful Swiss-related sites to take a look at would be

https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-gb/home.html
https://switzerlandtravelcentre.co.uk/
https://www.sbb.ch/en
https://www.bainsdesaillon.ch/

If your group includes any not-so-keen-to-ski-in-any-conditions members, then consider staying in a thermal resort and making excursions to different ski locations in the area. The Bains de Saillon (above) are an example of a thermal resort in the Valais (French-speaking Rhone valley area around Martigny and Sion) from where you could try out places like Verbier, Crans-Montana, Veysonnaz etc. but do the 'wellness' spa thing too. You'd need a car. Nearest airport would be Geneva, with some flight directly from London to Sion (but these pretty expensive).

Swiss public transport can be competitive with hiring a car if you're based in a resort, hence the link to the SBB Swiss train timetable, which includes télécabines and buses, all of which are integrated.

You do have lots of options. I'm only suggesting the Swiss Valais because we have an apartment there. I'm not suggesting there aren't plenty of other options.

And on differences, the section in the photo above isn't the main part of the Verbier ski area by any means, but the longest piste run from the summit to the gondola base drops a vertical 700m / 2,300ft and can be done without a stop.
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Christmas week is most definitely NOT one of the most expensive weeks of the season. New Year week is. So you could straddle them both.
Re the observations of others.
Zermatt is fantastic if you want to visit a truly iconic ski resort. The Matterhorn is stunning. Has to be done at least once in your life if you can. Amazing hotels, plenty of skiing and you get to ski over to Italy. Snow sure up high.
Negatives- expensive; most lifts a distance from accommodation, and limited (and challenging) runs back to village. Not so easy for nervous beginners, as the easier slopes are up the mountain, so it’s a bit of a chore to get back at the end of the day. High level glacier skiing means you can get significant lift closures when the weather comes in.
Chamonix-just my personal opinion-definitely a town, with skiing in various areas around the valley, not lift linked. Some people love it. Not my cup of tea, but then I’m not a gnarly extreme ski mountaineer. On the plus side-the Vallée Blanche off piste route is definitely worth doing (a day, with a guide, descending from 3800m back to Cham over about 20km) , but I think it’s too early in the season to do it over Christmas/new year, and even if it is possible, you only get the green light of the weather is good enough.
Verbier-might suit. Switzerland - so not cheap. My experience of the whole area incorporating Verbier (The 4 Valleys) is that it is not as a big or as easy to get around as you might think, so that can mean the masses ski in the same location and it gets crowded.
Dolomites- stunning. Not usually as snow sure as the western end of the northern alps or Austria. Would be awesome though with snow. (Not been in winter).

For what,it’s worth, today we skied all day in fresh snow in the 3V. I know a few people may have been nursing New Year hangovers, but the most we queued was about a minute.
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This is more of a question than an observation. European resorts are a bit like European cities. Streets and alleys run in apparently random directions, just like the pistes. Looking at NA piste maps the runs look far more regimented and grid-like. Is this because the ‘hills’ are more regular in shape or is it just my misconception based on looking at a few piste maps?
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@foxtrotzulu: I think what you are seeing is more a reflection of the ski areas being smaller than any significant difference in the topography.

@perty: with apologies for thread drift, what do you like for accommodation in St. Martin? Have always been intrigued by that village. I skied 3V once, and loved the skiing but found the villages meh. Never made my way down to St. Martin to investigate. It was only my 2nd Euro ski trip, and I hadn't truly gotten the exploration bug yet.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@mr. mike, ooooh you missed a treat there! The run Jeruslalem which leads down to it is a joy to ski, a lot of people's favourite. The parallel run is nice too.
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Re the OP question about self-catering: You'll find a lot of choice if you go for this. Plus self-catering moderates the premium in cost between countries and locations. In our village, the majority of beds are in self-catered apartments as opposed to hotels or catered chalets.

A recent trend in France and Switzerland seems to be the Apart'hotel - often a hotel converted into apartments but retaining a restaurant, bar and possibly sauna. Or new builds which are specifically Apart'hotels with a ground floor bar, restaurant, shops and saunas (occasionally a pool) and the rest apartments.

So yes, self-catering should work well. This will prompt the next obvious question, which is what's the best way to narrow-down and select a specific location and apartment? Your big challenge is perversely your freedom of choice. I'm sure the Forum will provide a lot of ideas ....
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 Ski the Net with snowHeads
Ski the Net with snowHeads
@foxtrotzulu, What piste maps are you looking at? Some areas have quite simplified piste maps, and smaller peaks (for lots of places they go up to more of a ridge than a mountain) and try to design simplistically. It depends if you're looking at a place like Vail or a smaller, local place.
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 snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
@Perty, Regarding Christmas Week, we have a decently large window (about 2 weeks and a half), but we're planning on being in europe for less than 2 weeks (likely a week of skiing and then a couple days to explore a city, likely the one we fly into, either Paris or a German city if we're heading to Austria like Munich). If the window is from the 22nd to the 6th, should we try to leave the 21st (overnight) and come back just around new year? Since this is probably going to be the biggest ski trip we do for a while, we probably care a bit more about crowds than price, as long as it's not too pricey. We'd be willing to pay a bit more for a period with less crowds on the slopes and in queues.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
The mainland European rail network is pretty good, so if you're planning a ski-plus-city trip then it may turn out easier to take the train rather than hire a car to get between your skiing and city. Central Paris is definitely best via TGV to/from an Alpine resort - you'd never want to drive a car in it!

Can you fly direct to any of the alpine hubs like Geneva? Geneva is a major hub for both French and SW Switzerland Alps. Then you could take the TGV from near your resort (e.g. Martigny/Sion for Swiss Valais etc.) to Paris for a few days then fly home from Paris (or the reverse).

Others more familiar with the French ski resort/train links can comment on what resorts are near to major TGV termini.
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
@LaForet, Seattle (where we're from) only has direct flights to London (gatwick & heathrow), Dublin, Paris, Amsterdam, & Frankfurt. This means we'll probably either have long (likely rail) transfers between Airports and ski areas (Paris-3Valleys for example), or connect flights in New York or Amsterdam (most likely connection airports) to Geneva (for France & Parts of Swizterland), or Zurich(?)/Innsbruck (for Austria). Some in our group have been to Switzerland during the Summer and flew into Geneva via Amsterdam.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Ah right. Well, there are loads of flights between London Gatwick, London Heathrow and Geneva. There are also Swiss (the airline) flights from Heathrow that drop right into Sion in ski season (saving a 80km drive) but these can be expensive ('though not always).

London City (LCY) also has flights by Swiss to Zurich, Geneva and Sion but as mentioned, these are pricey in peak periods (think City Financier types on a long Weekend) and LCY is on the Eastern side of London, so a fair trek by train from both LHR (West London) and LGW (South of London). FYI London Stanstead is as far out to the NE as Gatwick is to the south: you wouldn't want to transfer from LHR or LGW to Stanstead.

There are also charter flights by major Ski Tour Operators that you won't necessarily see on any Web searches. Some of these offer cheap seats to the general public to fill the 'plane, but you may have to go direct to the TO websites. Take a look at Neilson, Mark Warner and Inghams (Crystal is another but it doesn't have a great reputation).

If you're planning train times form Switzerland to Paris, use the Swiss SBB timetable (https://www.sbb.ch/en) as well as the SNCF (French). SBB will timetable you using local buses, télépherique and trains as well as the main inter-city links. You may find you can do the whole journey without having to hire a taxi or a car.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
@LaForet, Ok, thank you!
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I know this has already been asked, but does anyone have some recommendations on where to go.
The main places we're considering are: 3 Valleys (St Martin de Belleville for Charm or Val Thorens for Snow Reliability), Zermatt/Cervinia (least likely we will choose), and some others like Les Arcs, (maybe) the dolomites, & Lech.(possibly Verbier or somewhere else in Switzerland also)
Our main priorities are:
1.reasonably good amounts of advanced and expert pistes,
2.an (at least) decent "ski-route" system for decent off-piste skiing without having to go all out with a guide and/or avalanche gear, (preferable not required i suppose)
3.a decent amount of beginner and intermediate terrain that doesn't get packed crowded (we don't need a novice area, just an area for developing intermediates skiing north american greens and blues or what i believe would be european blues and reds and confident intermediates),
4.not too many crowds (we understand big places will have crowded pistes and lifts, but we'd like to try to avoid really crowded places)
5.snow reliability for late december near christmas (possibly most important).

Thanks again!
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@KeetnaWilson, By your last paragraph (5), I’d say Val Thorens. Have you investigated Espace Killy?

Anyway, since it’s your first time Euro skiing, you’re going to lurrrve it at any area on your shortlist (if there’s snow and you’re not claustrophobic). You guys will be back to try a different area for sure, so don’t sweat it, just book it! snowHead
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@mr. mike, St M is lovely. We tend to use a local agent based in the village- agencedesalpes.com who have a wide selection of accommodation on offer, ranging from purpose built apartments in the village centre, to converted farmhouses and village houses in the hamlets near the village. They speak good English and seem very efficient.
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You need to Login to know who's really who.
@KeetnaWilson, re dates, it’s difficult to say. I see over next Christmas and New year, the Saturdays are 22nd, 29th Dec and 5th Jan. So Christmas and New Year’s Day each fall squarely into the middle of each week and accommodation here in France, probably except for hotels, will want you to book a full week Sat to Sat. Christmas week will be quieter, but obviously could be less snowy. (I’m typing this having woken to another foot of snow arriving overnight! Whoop whoop!)

I think you probably need to decide what sort of accommodation you are after. Have you thought about the full on catered chalet holiday (a very British thing to do)? I say this mainly because, if you are a reasonably sized group, there are some lovely classy catered chalets here in St Martin. Chalet holidays were traditionally the way we Brits used to go skiing (and often still do). It can be cheap and cheerful, but there are also some very classy small operators these days, so you will have comfy ensuite rooms, a lovely sitting and dining room, possibly hot tub and or sauna and someone producing breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner 6 days out of 7. Some operators may offer more flexibility on dates or run Sunday to Sunday. Here in St M, there are for example-Ski Talini; and the Alpineclub....
Val Thorens is a good option, as it’s snow sure, but it can be very cold and bleak at this time of year (no trees). It’s the price you pay for snow sure skiing. Based down the valley, it takes us no more than an hour to ski over there.
Can’t say much more about the accessible off piste options. I think you just have to come here and experience what’s on offer. When it snows, it’s easy to find gentle slopes to get your fix. When it hasn’t snowed for a week or so, the itineraries/“skiroutes” will be skied out , and you would want a guide anyway. The “ski route” option is not always avi controlled anyway. It’s a matter of luck with the weather.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@KeetnaWilson, I'm late to the party and have only a few thoughts to add to the above. I live and work over here in the US but I ski most regularly in Europe . . . and there are so many differences, many noted above.
Christmas, apart from being a bit early to guarantee great conditions, has a lot of different ways of being celebrated and if you have strong american type feelings about your faith you may find some of them uncomfortable (like the witch decorations in Italy). Me, I love differing cultural values.
Then there's getting there, if you book your flights early enough (min. 6 months prior), or bookmark for notifications with one of the flight bucket shops you can fly return for less than $1,000. This year I'm flying for $740 . . . ok, it's a bus with wings and really should have a greyhound painted on the side but economy IS economy whoever you fly with. If you prefer more comfortable surroundings and can get to New York, then join Compagnie https://www.lacompagnie.com/en and fly business class to Paris for $1800 (it used to be 1400 then we had an election) and use the European train system . . . THAT will blow your socks off in comparison to AmTrak rolling eyes

From my POV, you should consider a minimum of 2 weeks skiing and a week of exploring and to that thought, although I have absolutely no fiscal interest in this forum, I do have a lot of love for the idiots that populate it and can think of no better way to introduce yourselves to Europe than to join next year's Birthday Bash in Feb. Have a week exploring northern Italy on their trains and then meet up with some of the snowheads in Venice and head to the Dolomites for the fun with much better options for off-piste exploring.

AND you'll have experienced company.
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 You'll need to Register first of course.
You'll need to Register first of course.
@KeetnaWilson Hi,

Loads of great advice already on this thread, which hopefully has allowed to for get a feel for what European skiing is like. So now it's probably time to make a shortlist of resorts. Of all your priorities, the two which narrow it down the most are a) a large area, and b) reliable snow at Christmas, assuming an average season.

200km+ of slopes, in my mind, is a "big" area, with enough to rarely ski the same run twice in a week. With that set as the minimum, I reckon there are really only 8 large ski areas in Europe with reliable Xmas snow, most of which you've already identified:

France:
3 Valleys (c. 600km) - in particular Val Thorens, Les Menuires, Courchevel or Meribel
Paradiski (c. 420km) - but perhaps avoiding one of the lower villages
Espace Killy (c. 300km) - Tignes or Val d'Isere

Austria:
Arlberg (c. 300km) - in particular Lech or Zurs
Saalbach (c. 270km) - Saalbach/Hinterglemm
Ischgl (c. 240km)

Italy
Sella Ronda, Dolomites (c. 450km + nearby areas on same lift pass)

Switzerland:
Matterhorn Ski Paradise (c. 320km) - Zermatt or Cervinia (in Italy)

That should, IMHO, be your shortlist. Depending on your other priorities, you might be able to narrow it down further. All of the rest is subjective, but in my opinion:

- snow: all of the places on the list above are snowsure, but Saalbach and the Sella Ronda are really only snowsure because they have superb snowmaking. So if you don't like the possibility of skiing white strips of manmade snow on green pastures, cross them off the list.
- ski routes: the ski route system is only really extensive in the Arlberg, Zermatt and (to a lesser extent) the other Austrian resorts. Even here, many of the ski-routes may be groomed and popular, so it might not feel much like off-piste. I think you'll really need to hire a guide if you want to experience off piste.
- advanced slopes: plenty in most of the above, but fewer in Saalbach and the Sella Ronda.
- easier terrain: plenty in all of the above, but you need to be careful about run selection in the Espace Killy and in the Arlberg (there are some notoriously steep green / blue runs). As for the Matterhorn Ski Paradise, Cervinia has more easy terrain than Zermatt.
- crowds: I don't think any of these places will be unbearable, but I think they could all be busy, especially over New Year week. If you're used to skiing in NA, you might be in for a shock.

In my opinion, I think the 3 Valleys would probably be the best for your group out of all the above.

If you have any other questions, please ask away.


Last edited by You'll need to Register first of course. on Wed 11-04-18 13:07; edited 1 time in total
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
@denfinella, good list. Given the time of the year, I would recommend the OP strike Zermatt. It's snowsure, but based on the feedback in the Zermatt/Cervinia thread on this forum, that is mostly due to the presence of a glacier. Pretty unlikely one can ski very far down the mountain around Christmas.

3V is a good recommendation, but I would put the Arlberg, specifically Lech at the top of that list too. One consideration is that it's probably a bit easier to access from the States. Direct flights to Europe from several US cities, and then the Arlberg Express bus will take them straight from the airport to the middle of Lech. Even easier than using trains to access resorts for someone from the states who probably rarely uses transit. Also, a little more authentic feeling atmosphere in my experience vs. 3V.

OP, don't be put off by the feedback about the Dolomites either. The "white strips" observation is dead on, but I skied the white strips 3 years ago on a 2nd week of January trip, and it was one of our best ski trips ever. The food and ambience are great, prices amazingly reasonable, and Venice is a really intriguing gateway city for a ski trip.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Quote:

At Christmas you can expect big queues in Europe.

Puzzled
Quote:

The French are the world's best at lift infrastructure by a southern country mile.

Shocked
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 You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
KeetnaWilson,
denfinella's shortlist is difficult to argue against.

I would try to build in a day at leisure en route to/from the Alps and (if you ski in France) recommend Annecy as a great place for an overnight stay (if you can), or a day trip if you haven't time to stay. It is absolutely stunning - a lakeside medieval town, with canals, bridges alleys and (probably at that time of year) a large Christmas market. It's a great place for a wander and a stop off at one of the many restaurants and bars - and is also beautiful at night. Annecy is about a 45 minute drive from Geneva airport. (Speaking of which, the "old town" part of Geneva is also worth a visit. Again, it's a lovely place for a wander and - assuming you fly into Geneva - you can take the train from the airport to the city in about 10/15 minutes. The old town is about a 15 minute walk from the central station, once you pass all the designer shops/boutiques....)

If you look for Annecy on Google images you will see what I mean. It's a very compact place (in the old town at least), so would be worth even a quick wander for an hour or two) if you are really pushed for time. If you are in the area you really should not miss it.

Another place that is well worth a visit is the medieval, walled city of Conflans, above Albertville. It is tiny and you can see it all in an hour - but I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

And, as others have said, if you go to the Dolomites you really must visit Venice.

If it helps with your planning/putting your mind at rest - my wife and I (until 3 years ago) were stuck with school holidays for 24 years and always took ski trips on 26 December. Invariably we ended up in the 3 Valleys, or Espace Killy - with the odd trip to Paradiski, Austria or Italy thrown in. If we were going again then, we would probably go to the 3 Valleys as we were there a year ago (mid December 2016) when there was (unusually) no natural snow below 2000 meters. However, the snowmaking was incredible and "only" about 50% of the ski area was open ie about 300km of pistes. Very Happy

I'd also support the comments about considering a chalet holiday. We've been the last two years to Meribel (in the 3 Valleys) and booked with www.thechaletcompany.com. I have no connection to the company (other than as a guest) and can't recommend them highly enough. There are however many other (mainly UK based) chalet operators in the 3 Valleys - as a Google search will reveal... Some are already accepting bookings for 2018/19.

Happy hunting? Very Happy Very Happy
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 Ski the Net with snowHeads
Ski the Net with snowHeads
@KeetnaWilson, late to the thread, but there really is some sound advice here. I'm going to pimp Les Arcs, on a number of fronts:

1) The higher stations, 2000 and 1950 are going to be snowsure for Christmas, and there are many 'piste naturs' - basically ungroomed blacks, for your advanced skiers. It has a huge selection of reds and blues as well, and as designed such that differing abilities can uplift together, but pick their own route down.

2) 1950 was built by Intrawest, and while room sizes are definitely NOT NA, they are a lot closer to what you will be used to, than other resorts. It also has the "this is what an alpine resort should look like" cinemagraphic quality, including the pedestrianized street layout being designed around the views of the peaks. It is also properly ski in/out (my daughter was indeed un-clipping from her skis having skied INTO the boot room last week - she claims it was an error, but I think she just wanted to show off).

3) As an alternative, The Chalet des Cascades, run by Flexiski has just opened last week, based in the middle of the pistes. Literally. Owned by the head of the ESF ski-school, Phillippe, which is why he probably got planning permission. We looked around it last week: it is simply stunning, and is supposedly renting out at 50 - 60% price of equivalent quality places in (the Russian favourites of) Courchevel and Val D'. Please note I have no connection with the company or the chalet -just an interested party who had friends staying there, and who loved it.
https://www.flexiski.com/destinations/france/les-arcs/chalet-des-cascades/#

4) Based in the villages, there is the International film festival running that week before Christmas should you need something else to do...

5) As above, travel to / from Paris by train is simple, relatively quick and very easy.


But having said all that, you will love what Europe has to offer wherever you decide on. Bonne Chance!
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