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First European Trip - Im so Nervous!

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hi all - thanks in advance for your input.

My family and I are planning our first trip to Europe. We ski every year on the East Coast and out West - usually places like Telluride, Big Sky (our favorite!), Utah, etc. Everyone is an Advanced Skier.

This year we are going to plan a Europe Ski Trip over Christmas week. Of course things can be hit or miss, but I am really nervous about going all that way and not finding the right snow conditions.

My research has suggested that my best bets are places like V d'I, Chamonix, Verbier, etc. as these are most reliable for snow. Val Thorens has popped up as well but I havent read such great things about that mountain in terms of "charm" and weather/visibility. A number of the Italian resorts sound really nice, but from what I understand, generally the snow is less reliable.

I am looking for advice on choosing among these, and others that people might recommend that I may not be thinking of. The things I am most focused on:
1 - Likely snow conditions
2 - The skiing/boarding! We are all advanced skiiers and have always been "on piste" and trees in the US. Good variety of on-piste would be great, trees if possible (I know thats not big in Europe) and we will probably hire a guide to try off-piste. I am a Snowboarder, so places with a lot of T-Bars and Flats are ROUGH Smile
3 - Reasonable transfers - anything over 3 hours is a lot and I would much rather be closer to 2 than 3 from the airport by car
4 - Atmosphere - its a family trip, but my kids are teenagers. We would love a classic European experiences in terms of the feel of the towns
5 - Less crowded - I dont know if during Christmas week this will vary among any of these places or if they will all be similarly crowded.

If you wouldn't mind taking a few minutes to share your opinions, Pros/Cons and any other suggestions, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Don’t be nervous.
As an Aussie who had mainly experience skiing in western North America I can assure you it’s easy.
At that time I would avoid the western end of the Alps and opt for something high on the eastern end where the mountains can be more meadow like (that get covered with snow easier). The Austrian resorts seem to have a bit more extensive snowmaking too.
We skied at Christmas last year in the Zillertal and had a fantastic time. Other places to look would include St Anton/Lech and Ischgl and Solden.
I defy you to have a week in any of those spots over Christmas and not have a great time.
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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?
Thanks for some feedback! My nervousness is not about the ability to ski there its about making the right choice, so your response is really appreciated!

I should have mentioned, I don't really want to go to Austria. Sounds like it could be great, but personal preference. So I'd love other suggestions...

Thank you.
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@lirong, welcome to snowHead

In terms of some of your criteria, Zermatt ought to be on your list of possibles as well.
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@lirong, I have been going at Christmas for a number of years. It is variable but you'd be unlucky to hit a really bad one such as such as 2014 when many lower/smaller resorts didn't open as scheduled through lack of snow and places like Espace Killy had perhaps a third of it's pistes open.

More commonly IME whilst it might be a bit ropey lower down and some pistes not open, there is plenty of skiing to be had and things are on the up. Winter is setting in and there is often some snowfall.

Note: I skiing almost exclusively in France.

Tree skiing is important at that time of the year IME because with the short days and weather it can be quite gloomy and quite wintry, and the trees provide context and shelter. The best place IME in France is Paradkisi - in particular either side of the Vanoise Express.

T bars are not much of an issue these days and almost non-existent in France. My son boards aswell as skis and all the big ski areas you can avoid doing many flats. There aren't too many drag lifts either.

Christmas can be busy but new year and school holidays in February is worse. And basically most places will be the same.

Biggest issue may be atmosphere. Most of the French resorts are purpose built ski stations. Very convenient for skiing, not necessarily places of beauty or outstanding nightlife.
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Agree with the Zermatt suggestion; I had to make reservations way in advance for my honeymoon in 1989 so just in case I selected Zermatt due to its high elevation. As it turned out that saved the day as many resorts were shut for lack of snow. That said, I'd also suggest you give Austria a second thought. It sure seems to fit well with your stated criteria, and they don't need as much snow since the terrain is often pastureland rather than jagged rock. As for Italy, the Dolomites are great and have very extensive snowmaking to compensate for the lower snowfall, but I have not been there in December so I'm not sure how much terrain they have open that early....someone will see this and chime in about that I'm sure. That early in the season, there will be weather coming in everywhere you'd want to go. But most high-elevation Alps ski areas are mostly above treeline, not great in heavy weather. And plenty of the forests that are there are off limits for wildlife protection. Keep this in mind as you make your selection, but above all remember this: while you are smart to do your homework about probable conditions, its gonna be a gas no matter where you go!
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There is plenty of French ski terrain on pastureland. Christmas is undeniably early, though and it's wise to hedge predictions. There are few worthwhile guarantees. Sometimes the east will get the best early snow, sometimes the west does better. The Dolomites are best for snowmaking and coffee. Though France has better cakes. wink Ideally you would leave the choice of resort much later but book flights earlier to avoid high Christmas prices. How long will you have? Time to tag some "city days" on to your ski holiday? Venice, for example? Or Salzburg.
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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!
@lirong, Val D’Isere for best chance of good snow. Big varied terrain. Good lift system. Lively town. Not so good on cost, quietness or old fashioned alpine charm.

Dolomites for good piste snow (even if off piste is bare). The artificial snow is good quality and well managed. Amazing scenery. Atmospheric towns and villages. Excellent food. More reasonable prices.

Chamonix, personally I wouldn’t go there at Christmas, although I like the area very much.

3 Valleys, good chance of decent snow. You don’t have to stay in Val Thorens to access the skiing there. Better villages to stay in, like Meribel. Very big area. Wide range of terrain. Expensive and not generally attractive villages.

All my personal subjective opinions.
snowHead
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Remember Chamonix village base is low. Tignes gives more chance of snow outside your bedroom window than Val d'Isere but most people (not I) prefer Val as a centre. Espace Killy, anyway, if you need to book early for Christmas and want France.
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Another +1 for Zermatt, it is a big town by European ski resort standards and although not my favourite place it has a definite charm. The town doesn’t allow petrol vehicles in it - which makes it a bit of a pain when it comes to transfers (we had to take coach from airport to a train station, onto train, then onto a little electric taxi to our accommodation) as that was the arrangements organised by our tour operator. It does mean the town itself was lovely to walk around and had quite a number of horse drawn carriages in use. It had a wonderful Christmasy feel while we were there (not Christmas week itself but week before if my memory serves).

Another place which I would be tempted to look at is St Anton.
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For a mix of Christmas charm, highest likelihood of good (fresh) snow, and great variety of terrain, it's pretty damn hard to beat Lech - but it's in Austria.
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Thank you everyone for sharing this feedback. Its super helpful.

A number of people (including @PeakyB, thanks!) have suggested the Dolomites. To be honest, it would be at the top of my list other than what I have read about the inconsistent snow early in the season. But I have heard some others suggest thats not a real issue as the snow making is superb. Would anyone recommend considering some of the resorts there? Which would be safest that time of year? Im very intrigued by that option.

3V also sounds like a really good choice. I like what I have heard about Meribel, mostly because it seems to have the most options due to its central location...
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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
Why go the Europe?

Everyone assumes you're going there to ski. But you can ski for a whole lot less and without the jetlag by staying closer to home. So what do you want by taking such a long trip? Something different?

Looking back, I'm glad my first European trip was NOT a ski trip, but rather a "European holiday" with a couple days of skiing thrown in along the way. I was blown away by the scenery. But the skiing was... underwhelming. At least "on-piste" skiing that is. I wasn't even that advanced. While I enjoyed cruising around snapping pictures of the jaw dropping peaks, there's nothing taxing an upper intermediate apart from a couple of slightly bumpy itineraries.

The après party atmosphere was pretty neat though (I was in Austria, first and only time I danced in ski boots on a picnic table Embarassed ).

My point (if I have a point), don't look for something "like" what you like in the US. Ask yourself honestly what you really want out of such a big trip.
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You know it makes sense.
@lirong,
A few questions:- Do you have a preferred airport to fly into?
Do you want an English speaking friendly resort?
What sort of accommodation are you looking for- self-catering, hotel, chalet?
What ages are the family - will you be drinking at apres ski? Will the kids be looking to nightclub 'til the wee small hours?
Are you looking to self-drive from airport to resort?
What is your budget?
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
lirong wrote:
Thank you everyone for sharing this feedback. Its super helpful.

A number of people (including @PeakyB, thanks!) have suggested the Dolomites. To be honest, it would be at the top of my list other than what I have read about the inconsistent snow early in the season. But I have heard some others suggest thats not a real issue as the snow making is superb. Would anyone recommend considering some of the resorts there? Which would be safest that time of year? Im very intrigued by that option.


I know and have been to most of the resorts mentioned until now.
Even though it is not my personal favorite, for your criteria I would recommend the Dolomites.

Yes, precipitation is less than on the northern side of the Alps.
BUT. Just because of that, they have mastered snow making, slope preparation and snow preservation to perfection. Miles ahead of the other regions in the Alps.
As long as it's cold enough for more than 3 days on end, all slopes will be open and perfect at christmas.

Regarding resorts; Selva or Wolkenstein (local ladinian language resp. German) is a very nice town. It is not drawing board resort. It is high (valley is on 1500m, which is high for Alps standards) and it is smack in the middle of the Sella Ronda. Lots of blues and reds, something for everyone. Nice atmosphere , tasty food, much less expensive than Austria.
Another gem is Arabba. It is one pass further to the east but shares the same ski area. Advantage of Arabba is that they have an enormous amount of loooooong black slopes with good gradient. And it is nearest of all resorts to the queen of the Dolomites, the Marmolada. Here you ski up till 3300m. Third recommendation is Cortina d'Ampezzo. Also nice ski area, old town with lots of skiing history, several time hoster of worldcup descent.


Last edited by Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name: on Fri 7-06-19 17:05; edited 1 time in total
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
The easiest airports for us to fly direct to are probably Geneva, Zurich, Venice (for Dolomite locations). Would love to be 2.5 hours or less car/train from the airport. Probably would hire a ride not want to rent a car.
I guess English friendly is helpful, but didnt really prioritize it. No English would be an issue I suppose.
Flexible on accommodations and cost. We arent looking for catered properties as we would like to enjoy local restaurants.
Flexible on budget. Was generally looking to spend $600-1,000 per night on lodging.
Kids are 14,16,18 - they wont be out clubbing and we wont be out drinking heavily, but we do enjoy getting out for a cocktail, etc. before or after dinner.

Thanks!
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Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@lirong, good advice above from Onnem on the Dolomites. If you're flying into Venice then Arabba is easier to get to than Selva, and the Arabba tourist Office run a subsidised transfer bus service from Venice airport to Arabba (if you have accommodation booked in Arabba), see https://www.arabba.it/en/information/arabba-transfer/45-0.html I've only ever used the service on a Saturday, I'm pretty certain it runs on a Sunday as well but I'm not sure about weekdays.

If you're going to Selva than the nearest airports are Innsbruck and Verona, but I'm pretty certain there's no direct flights from the US to those, so you'd probably have to get a longer and more expensive provate transfer from Venice, or hire a car.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@lirong,
Most places will be pretty busy at that time of the year.
Ischgl fits the bill pretty well and is reachable from Zurich though it is in Austria.
Davos is a place with a pretty good early snow record which would also be reachable from Zurich, Klosters is the same ski area and a bit closer.
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@lirong, good advice from @Onnem, and @Alastair Pink, about Dolomites.

A few points. Precipitation in winter in the Dolomites is lower than western alps but maybe that means more sunny days? In midwinter that can be important IMO.

Cortina has some great skiing but no direct lift link from the town to the Sella Ronda circuit. Arabba and Selva both do.

If wanting a reasonable choice of different restaurants for evenings, larger villages like those best I think. Corvara also a possibility, though smaller, but well located for skiing.

The Arabba transfers from the two Venice airports usually run Saturday and Sunday only.

You should be able to get very good accommodation within that budget, even at Christmas.

If flying into London is an option for you, then that may open up more possibilities for an onward flight to the Alps. Smaller airports, such as Chambery in France, have shorter transfer times to 3V and Val D. Likewise into Venice.
snowHead
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@lirong, a great time to call into the UK on the way

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PeakyB wrote:
@lirong, good advice from @Onnem, and @Alastair Pink, about Dolomites.

A few points. Precipitation in winter in the Dolomites is lower than western alps but maybe that means more sunny days? In midwinter that can be important IMO.

Cortina has some great skiing but no direct lift link from the town to the Sella Ronda circuit. Arabba and Selva both do.

If wanting a reasonable choice of different restaurants for evenings, larger villages like those best I think. Corvara also a possibility, though smaller, but well located for skiing.

The Arabba transfers from the two Venice airports usually run Saturday and Sunday only.

You should be able to get very good accommodation within that budget, even at Christmas.

If flying into London is an option for you, then that may open up more possibilities for an onward flight to the Alps. Smaller airports, such as Chambery in France, have shorter transfer times to 3V and Val D. Likewise into Venice.
snowHead


And a higher chance of either not being able to land there on the way out or being stuck there for hours on the way back if the weather deteriorates.
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@swiftoid, true. Overall though, in heavy snow, the transfer to/from the mountains is likely to cause bigger delays more often.
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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!
@lirong, It sounds like you're from the East Coast as am I. We we have a house at Sunday River and have been going on ski trips to the Alps every year for a long time. At that time of year altitude is your friend, but as others have pointed out here, there are areas in Austria that have good snow records at that time of year too. For France, Val d'Isere would be a good choice. It's situated at the end a closed valley, with the pass through being closed in the winter. It's plenty atmospheric for your holiday expectations, and well hooked on to Tignes for lots of high skiing. We ski almost yearly in Meribel and it's great, but for the holidays I think Val d'Isere would be better. For Switzerland, I agree with the others about Zermatt. The setting is stunning, the skiing is high, and you have the benefit of cross border skiing and lunch in Italy. In Austria, Lech is beautiful, has really nice, and not too busy local slopes, and is hooked on to St. Anton, one of the great expert resorts in the Alps. If you're under 40 or so, St. Anton is party central. If you're over 40 Lech is pretty awesome. At that time of year the Dolomites are likely to have made made snow, which we have plenty of here, so for that reason I'd stick with the other countries, saving the Dolomites for another trip later in season.
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abc,

Because it's the opportunity to ski on a different continent!

Different skiing, different culture, different scenery, different food, different ambience, different lift ticket pricing (ie much cheaper), different apres ski and different mountain restaurants that don't close at 2.30pm... wink
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Of the major french resorts I would recommend Les Arcs which has a good variety of skiing above and below the treeline. We like Arc 2000 as a base. I would recommend looking at La Source des Arcs residence or the Taj I Mah hotel if your budget will run to it. There is night skiing there a couple of days a week which my teenage son loved.
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snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
I would also agree with @clarky999, above, Lech is pretty much unbeatable for traditional atmosphere and being snow sure, it is easy to get to from Zürich, either by train or driving. Assuming suitable snow lots of off piste for all standards. Ischgl is another option, one of the most snow sure resorts in Europe (opens from late November until 1st May), reachable from Zürich, personally dont like the "village" (though lots do), its not so good in poor weather simply because so much of the skiing is high up.
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
@lirong, why don't you want to go to Austria?
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@lirong, I’ve been to all of the resorts mentioned over Christmas/ New year. Christmas is generally not as busy as new year, the big issue is snow cover. If you don’t want to rely on luck then go high.
What’s your budget? If it’s not tight then Zermatt, ticks all boxes beautiful resort, loads of charm, maximum chance of good snow, however maybe 3+ hours on the train from Geneva which might be too long but the train ride is nice. Next choice would be Verbier, reliable snow, great uplift that will cope with crowds, slightly shorter transfer, nice resort but not charming, great skiing. Chamonix has good skiing but not quite as reliable snow wise, a proper town, short transfer maybe 1.5 hrs, not charming and spread out and transport a pain. Anything specific please ask.
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Bergmeister wrote:
abc,

Because it's the opportunity to ski on a different continent!

Different skiing, different culture, different scenery, different food, different ambience, different lift ticket pricing (ie much cheaper), different apres ski and different mountain restaurants that don't close at 2.30pm... wink

It’s much easier to get a lot of those “different(s)” without worrying about snow! In fact, a lot of those can be had in the cities better than in the mountains.

The best apres is in Austria, but the OP aren’t too keen on it.

So it begs the question WHAT is the OP looking for in crossing the pond.
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Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Zermatt gets a lot of high wind closures

Val Thorens is not pretty but it has the best record for early season snow and has some epic runs including my all time favorite under the Cime de Caron cable car,

If you want pretty St Anton Lech or Ischgl with Val d'Isere a distant 4th andall are pretty snowsure.

I was in education so forced to go at Christmas and or New Year. My strategy was to watch the snow reports snow forecasts and the room availability booking when I knew that there was snow. This often resulted in magnificent skiing in epic conditions in some unexpected resorts. This approach is OK for Christmas week buy chancy fpr new year.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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For guaranteed snow at Christmas in a large ski area I would suggest:-
Espace Killy
Paradiski
3 Vallees
Breuil-Cervinia/Valtournenche/Zermatt

If you have the use of a car and want a bit of flexibility as to where to ski:-
Bourg St Maurice (for Espace Killy, Paradiski, 3 Vallees plus Sainte Foy & La Rosiere/La Thuile)

All are accessed from Geneva airport except Breuil-Cervinia & Valtournenche, for which you would fly into Turin.
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@lirong, If excluding Austria (why?) then alongside Zermatt there are plenty of places in Switzerland. Consider St.Moritz (very high and relatively snow sure), Laax / Flims / Falera ( for charm choose Falera ), Scuol (relatively small, but very charming Engadina village), Engelberg ... actually too many to mention! Not forgetting Verbier of course.
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Well, I'm obviously going to suggest the 4 Vallées, with Verbier as the hub and its satellites (Bruson, La Tzoumaz, Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Les Collons) as spokes. A claimed 400Kms of pistes but realistically, you tend to ski a subset based on nearest to where you're staying. Highest point is Mt.Fort (Live Webcam: http://www.verbier.ch/en/webcams/webcam-mont-fort.htm) at 3'330 metres (10,925ft) with Verbier town at 1'500 (5,00ft). Here are some websites to look at if you want to take a further look:

Verbier Official Website: http://www.verbier.ch/en/index.htm Includes live webcams, accommodation, tickets etc.
Swiss National Tourist Website:www.MySwitzerland.com
4 Vallées Ski Map: http://www.verbier.ch/UserFiles/File/plan-domaine-skiable-verbier-4-vallees-2017-hiver.pdf Version on official website as at Oct. 2018 – may get updates so check.
Rail, bus & gondola timetable: www.sbb.ch/en From «Génève-Aéroport» to «Verbier TV»
Geneva Airport Car Hire: http://www.gva.ch/en/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-72/ The ‘.ch’ pages may have offers and vehicles not on the generic .com sites. Note «Ferney-Voltaire» is a fair way away from the main airport, that’s why it’s cheaper.
Swiss Weather Service: www.meteoswiss.ch
Verbinet off-piste guide: www.verbinet/com/ski-area/off-piste
Chez Simon on-piste café-restaurant: http://laurenti.ch/chezsimon/ Example of smaller on-piste eaterie/café
Mt.Fort Mountain Cabin & outdoor café: http://www.cabanemontfort.ch/ Between Col des Gentianes and La Chaux

Some photo's of the ski areas above Verbier (big image files, so just the links)

https://i.imgur.com/ricrbZp.jpg
https://i.imgur.com/6CQuNlH.jpg
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@holidayloverxx, +1 I would have Austria at the top of my list for ambiance, alpine charm, the welcome & the skiing
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Ask all-knowing Oprah........ It know everything. Oh, and is the world's greatest skier, too.
#AskOprah

ps: No one EVER thinks about, mentions Norway or Sweden. Hardly crowded, always "in order", great skiing when its good. Great people (hosts). Then again, the same applies to Spain. For that matter Slovakia. Sometimes "less" IS more, albeit not as much post facto bragging rights back at the country club tennis court.
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arcsinice wrote:
... ps: No one EVER thinks about, mentions Norway or Sweden. ...

Perhaps because in Christmas week daylight hours there are quite short, so you don't get a lot of skiing!
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@lirong,
I asked the ages of the kids as many Americans are not aware of the more liberal minimum drinking ages in Europe:-
Austria 16 (purchase and consumption), though 18 in some States for spirits
France 18 (purchase; no minimum for consumption)
Italy 18 (purchase; no minimum for consumption)
Switzerland 16, 18 for spirits (purchase; no minimum for consumption)
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After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Zermatt.
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Re. the Alps
Quote:
I was blown away by the scenery. But the skiing was...underwhelming.....At least "on-piste" skiing that is. I wasn't even that advanced. While I enjoyed cruising around snapping pictures of the jaw dropping peaks, there's nothing taxing an upper intermediate apart from a couple of slightly bumpy itineraries.

No taxing skiing for someone not 'that advanced.'....'Underwhelming.'....

The entire Alps written off?! Er, right! Laughing Laughing Laughing
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Another East Coaster here who has skied many of the big ones in Europe over the years. If you want the "euro ski" experience I agree with many suggesting Zermatt. i suggest flying to Milan, then train to Zermatt. The train adds to the experience, Amazing village, views and aura in Zermatt. Add to it the early season snow and the ability to ski into Cervinia, Itally and it checks all the boxes. It will be expensive hotels and eats but the ski passes are cheaper than the US. Second choice for early season would be St. Anton with easy train from Zurich. Skiing in Europe is like a different sport altogether. Good luck
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