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First time in Europe - where to ski

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
We're a family of 4 from the US.

Husband and kids are strong intermediates, I'm much more cautious but plan on spending Dec-March in lessons to improve.

We can't get to Europe until March 2nd, so probably won't be able to start skiing until the 7th.

Since we are coming later in the season I was focusing on snowsure resorts.
I was getting ready to pull the trigger on lodgings in Courchevel 1650, but now I'm having second thoughts as I'm worried about expensive dining over stretching our budget.

Our list is pretty simple I think
- snowsure
- lots of terrain to keep us busy for a week
- other things to do (like swimming)
- charming

My other top contender is Zermatt
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Courchevel 1650 isn't the really expensive bit of Courchevel, it is close to the Aquamotion centre too but you would be able to get a free bus to Aquamotion from anywhere in the valley. Wouldn't really describe it as "charming".
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Right, Courchevel ticks all the boxes except for the charm.
I know that we can afford lodging in 1650, but I worry about lunch costs, our boys are pre teens and eat a lot!
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@photuris, welcome to Snowheads.

Courchevel 1850 is the expensive part for accomodation at least. However, there are many lower level resorts to the three valley ski area which are much cheaper and more sedate in terms of apres ski.

So if the three valleys is your choice, the only thing is to look for "charming". You might be more suited to La Tania, or even Brides les Bains if you really want budget accomodation and charm. (it is a nice place, just low level and a long bubble car ride to Meribel to start : 1/2 hour ride).
Plenty to do in Brides les Baines as well.

Val Thorens is higher up, but not charming. Concrete purpose built resort. Not a quaint old French farming village.

Zermatt is very popular with people from USA. Much more so than the three valleys. Perhaps there are a lot of US expats in Switzerland.

The strength of the dollar may help though, and dining depends on what you eat. Most resorts will have a range of options. Accomodation may provide good fare too.

Val d'Isere as part of the Espace Killy which it shares with Tignes, is charming. However, it is also expensive, although again there is a range of options from cheap to expensive in all resorts (although McDonalds does not get a place in most French ski resorts, there are pizza takeaways and burger and frites which can be cheap)

It really depends on the ages and interests of the kids as to which resorts might be the most suitable, as all of the above are suitable for intermediate skiers. Two boys under teenage boys and I would go to Zermatt. A boy and a girl perhaps Courcheval, and two girls go to Val d'Isere. Teenagers will probably like them all, but may find they do not have as deep pockets as their peers. Best to go to Brides les Bains in that case.
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@photuris,
Welcome to snowHead , to be honest pre mid march is not really later in the season and pretty much every where should have decent snow, though occasionally pistes can deteriorate if it's very hot.
Courchevel is expensive though 1650 as pointed out above is far from the most expensive bit. How much it will stretch your budget depends very much on how you eat as well as your budget . Eating both lunch on the mountain and restaurants in the evening is likely to be quite pricey. Self catering and picnics a lot less so.
It is not a particularly charming place either, being purpose built though the skiing would be excellent for your described levels.
Zermatt is a lot more charming though probably even more expensive.
If you are concerned about budget, charm ,extensive skiing and quality of food the Italian dolomite's are outstanding , though I doubt you will be disapointed with either of the places you have mentioned from a skiing point of view if they are within budget and the purpose built aspect of Courchevel is not too unappealing.
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@photuris, welcome to SnowHeads. First of all, early March is not really considered very late season in most of the Alps.

Majority of areas with altitude 1500m + likely to have good snow cover then. Just need to watch out for lower altitude and those with a high proportion of south facing slopes.

Also not skiing until 2nd week in March usually misses the very busy and expensive French school holiday weeks, which usually end around then.

3V would suit your needs well I think. No doubt it is relatively expensive but it’s a simple supply and demand situation. What would you hope to spend on dining out, say on the mountain and also in the evening? As has been said, dining quality and costs vary enormously.

However, if better value is needed or preferred, there are slightly cheaper options with lots of good skiing in early March. Paradiski, Portes du Soleil, Evasion Mont Blanc, for example.

Austria and Italy also has plenty to offer. If dining out is an important part of your experience, then Italy scores highly at reasonable prices in my opinion. Both generally score more highly on ‘alpine charm’ than the French mega resorts.

Anyway, good decision to visit Europe. Plenty choice to suit your needs.

snowHead
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@photuris, Early March is more or less peak season. Late April is late season. I think the school half term holidays will be over on the 7th so it should be quieter. In fact IMHO it is the perfect week to go skiing.

Courchevel 1650 is about the same price as most European ski resorts for eating out and certainly cheeper than Zermatt. It also gives access to a vast ski area with runs of all standards. It is not a bad choice. If you like it go for it.
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If you are worried about costs Zermatt is hardly the place to be. Fantastic scenery, reasonable sized ski area though the link across to Cervinia can often be affected by wind but not cheap.

A few Austrian suggestions

A good option would be Lech in the Arlberg region, snow sure, one of the most "charming" resorts in the alps and a large ski area. Lech has plenty of intermediate skiing but the Arlberg offers a huge range of skiing with everything up to serious challenges for rubber legged experts. Easy access from Zürich. Again not the cheapest.

Somewhere you might not have heard of, Serfaus / Fiss. Pretty high, large ski area, not so expensive, mostly car free villages, family orientated so swimming pools etc.

Another place with almost certain good snow is Ischgl, it has a big ski area too. However the village is a bit brash and loud for some tastes.

Whilst March is hardly late season the snow can start to tail off in a poor season so places like Kitzbühel, Saalbach Hinterglemm, Ski Amade might involve some risk if you are coming from a long way away. Ninety percent of the time they would offer great skiing in March and fulfil your other criteria but if you want to book a long way in advance then perhaps choose somewhere else.

In general Austria and Italy are cheaper options than France or (worse) Switzerland. Of course there are expensive spots in Austria and cheaper places in France but especially for food and drink Austria and Italy are generally cheaper.

If you are keen on France I would choose Val d'Isere over Courchevel / 3V though it is a long time since I was in either so things could well have changed.
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Arlberg ..Austria is Snowsure

The Real European Ski Experience...

Ski here you wont be skiing anywhere else in Europe
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@munich_irish, agree with most of your advice, good stuff.

Interested why you would choose Espace Killy over 3V. From a skiing viewpoint, I think a group which included a fairly cautious intermediate (the OP) would be better off in 3V, if they chose their base village well. For example, 1650 would be good. Possibly Les Menuires, if alpine village charm us really not important to them.

For my own needs I prefer EK but think 3V would meet this group’s overall needs better.
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@stanton, I think Lech would be a good base for this group. Possibly Zurs, although not much of a village there.

St Anton not really ideal for a group which includes a fairly cautious intermediate is it?
snowHead
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@PeakyB,

Lech is perfect!
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yes Lech would be a good choice
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Charm is important, but so is good skiing and an overall awesome experience. With that said, we are flying into Paris and have a total of 2 weeks to work with. We could spend a few nights (or more) somewhere charming without skiing (we love hiking too!) and then move on to a less charming resort but with good skiing.
Overall I just don't want to feel like I'm in a tourist trap (if that's even possible???)
Lodging budget for a week is about $2k which from what I've seen so far seems to be able to get us a 1-2 bedroom apartment in all of the big resorts that I've looked at.
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Oh and we have two boys, 10 and 12. They're very athletic and I swear they never sit still, so they want a lot of action. They also have "hollow legs" as they each can eat two dinners and still be hungry Shocked
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@photuris, go to Austria and get the charm. Lech is not super cheap so maybe other areas would suit better but generally food in Austria is a lot cheaper than the top French areas. Lech is part of a huge area and you won’t get bored.
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@PeakyB, Its a long time since I skied in France. Last time (about 25 years ago!) we went to 3V, chalet in Meribel I think but maybe Courchevel, I did not take to the place at all. Before that had been to Val d'Isere (amongst other French resorts) a couple of times and liked it, better atmosphere and better snow.
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@munich_irish, yes I agree with your take on EK vs 3V. But I think the gap between the two has closed in the last 25 years. Both offer lots of good quality skiing and variety.

For the OPs group, especially the relatively cautious one, 3V has more forgiving slopes than EK. Easier to cover more of the area too, with less chance of a confidence draining experience.

For example, on a tricky day, the green graded piste down to La Daille can be quite challenging.
The home runs to Val D village, dropping off the Solaise, can be a crowded icy nightmare.

By contrast, in 3V, a base in say 1650 or La Tania means you usually have cruisy blues and reds to choose from. Yet it is still easy to be more adventurous and get to challenging stuff quite quickly.

That’s why of those two areas I think 3V is a slightly better fit for them.
snowHead
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@photuris, arriving and presumably departing from Paris obviously makes French resorts more convenient travel wise. Doesn’t rule out other countries, especially as rail connections from Paris are good.

Would you hire a vehicle from Paris to get to the mountains? That might make a significant difference to where I would choose to ski, if I could drive.

Also, are you determined to rent an apartment? With two very hungry children, there are benefits to staying in a hotel, chalet or chalethotel.

Depends on your preferences.
As for ‘not wanting to feel as though you’re in a tourist trap’.
I’m afraid that’s almost impossible to achieve in the main alpine ski areas in main season.

Some places feel less brash and touristy than others. But you’re not going to find unspoilt gems that also have a good lift system, lots of places to eat and other activities.
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Lots of recommendations for Arlberg but Careful, it is criminally overcrowded and king of (bad) crashes
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7th March is not late in the season. Its a good time to go, as you miss all the school holiday rush!

Not everywhere has that chocolate box alps look - some places are ugly purpose built apartment block resorts.

Where you flying to/from? how much are you prepared to travel, etc.
Alps is a big place with tons of resorts.
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peanuthead wrote:
Lots of recommendations for Arlberg but Careful, it is criminally overcrowded and king of (bad) crashes


Don't agree with this at all. The main home run into St Anton does get very overcrowded indeed, but in my experience that's the only one. Most of the recommendations here are for the OP to be based in Lech, which is generally quieter and much more scenic. Home run into Lech is a blue but the very bottom is steep for blue. Timid intermediates can instead stop at Oberlech, have a nice drink then download the last couple of hundred metres in the little cable car.
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If the skiing in the 3 Valleys is appealing but you want to manage your budget then catered chalets are a good option. I really like Powder 'n' Shine at Reberty - great food, ski in/out and lots of options for child care if you need it. Ski school meeting point is right outside, just across the piste. Reberty is a modern development at 2000m, just above Les Menuire and down the valley from Val Thoren. Not as pretty as an Austrian resort but nice enough on a sunny day.

Have a look at - https://www.powdernshine.com/
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@photuris, welcome to SHs Happy

For France the school holidays end March 7th and while they are not as bad as they used to be, generally, (better uplift in many places) things are much quieter if you can avoid them.

I have skied many places but not Austria so no comment there.

I'd be thinking train for the longer travel. e.g. Paris-Geneva is easy by train. I realise that trains are alien to many Americans but European trains are (especially the (very) fast long distance ones) comfortable and generally efficient - often with good food.

I'm quite surprised but a quick look on www.rome2rio.com and Paris to many places e.g. Italy/Austria by train is quite doable.

I'd be thinking Italy. Maybe Aosta valley? Base in Aosta itself? Hire a car from there? and plenty to explore, including excursion via Cervinia to Zermatt (they're linked). Much better value for money than France certainly, better food, better wine...
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@under a new name, There are direct TGV trains from Paris to Zürich from where there are trains to points east (mostly ending in Vienna). Many of the resorts suggested can easily be reached with a short transfer from a main line station such as Langen, St Anton or Landeck.
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Bennyboy1 wrote:
@photuris, go to Austria and get the charm. Lech is not super cheap so maybe other areas would suit better but generally food in Austria is a lot cheaper than the top French areas. Lech is part of a huge area and you won’t get bored.


Not true in my experience comparing Tignes/Val d’Isere, St Foy, St Martin de Belleville, Les Menuires, Gran Bornand, Morzine area, Chamonix, other places in FR to AT (Ischgl, Alpbach, Lech, Brand). Each resort has different options.
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@mooney058, true. I stand corrected. But on average I would say Austria ends up cheaper (Italy even cheaper). On average.
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@photuris, Ah! you are flying into Paris. Are you planning to spend any time in Paris? Or perhaps Lyon? In any case getting the TGV to Moutier or Bourg st Maurice appears a very good choice.

I am not an expert on "charm" but in my experience no ski resorts have charm. They are just places to stay while you appreciate the majesty of the mountains or enjoy the skiing (and yes I've skied in lots of resorts). The climate in the moutains is such that buildings are functional and for centuries life was hard. Zermat has beautiful views of the Matterhorn but if you actually look at the town it is mainly a collection of large hotels.

Quote:

Overall I just don't want to feel like I'm in a tourist trap (if that's even possible???)


They are all tourist traps. You don't spend billions putting in a lift infrastructure if you don't want people to visit. Having said that there are a few tiny resorts that only the locals use, such as those in the Chartuese, but these will have only one lift, are never snow sure, and have little accomodation.
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@munich_irish, That's exactly the sort of thing I mean. Rome2Rio isn't the ultimate solution but it's a very good place to start looking for routes. www.seat61.com is also very good for rail inspiration.

@johnE, I disagree - Muerren for instance is quite charming, as is, I would argue, Champoluc. They also don't need to feel like tourist traps. Actually, on reflection, I'm not entirely sure what that means!

Do London or Paris feel like tourist traps? Can any city? I'm off to Monaco for a few weeks and if anywhere was a tourist trap, it's Monaco (economically, tourism is about 15% of the economy). But we hang with locals, eat & drink where locals do, so I don't feel like I'm being trapped.

However, a couple of rounds at the Cafe de Paris (opposite the casino) can easily change that Shocked €€€
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Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
There are a lot of IMO charming satellite villages in the big ski areas of France - Montchavin, Montalbert, Villaroger, Le Praz, La Tania, St Martin, for example.

If first time in Europe and flying into Paris - yes, definitely spend a couple of days in the City.

Bear in mind accommodation in the ski stations is usually rented by the week, usually Saturday to Saturday.
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@photuris, Here’s a fairly old, but still applicable, article, written by an American skier, Brad Tuttle, and entitled “In Search of the Perfect Ski Village”.
https://www.budgettravel.com/article/0411_SkiVillage_32

It would have to be an extremely unusual season for the week beginning 7th March to be a poor one for snow in any of the resorts so far mentioned, so you may feel that budget and charm are more important than altitude.

If it were me I would be looking at resorts like St Martin de Belleville and Vallandry in France, Wengen and Champery in Switzerland, Lech and Saalbach in Austria, and Cervinia, Sauze d’Oulz, and the Dolomites in Italy - oh, and Baqueira in Spain.
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@photuris,
You are flying into Paris then I guess the huge French resorts will be what you would be looking at.
Do you want to be in a village next to the slopes, or would being at the bottom of the mountain be OK?
Do you want to ski just one area, or have a choice (and if the latter, will you have access to a car)?
Will you be looking at self-catering; bed and breakfast; bed, breakfast and evening meal?
Will you be looking to off-piste/back-country?
If the cost of lunch is a worry, try for a ski area where the slopes run through the accommodation areas - you'll find the places to eat there cheaper than mountain restaurants. And don't forget packed lunches - they can be eaten on the lifts, saving skiing time.
March is usually a great time to be in the Alps as it falls between two of the main holidays (school half-term and Easter), there should be plenty of snow-depth on the pistes, and the weather should be getting sunnier & warmer.

And some examples of other activities for the boys (OK, one company in one resort - other companies and other resorts are available snowHead ).
https://tignes.evolution2.com/en/winter/
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@photuris, so many places. Are you sure you can’t stay for 6 weeks?

Seriously though, lots of good ideas, advice and key questions on this thread I think.

SnowHeads being helpful, as they almost invariably are.
snowHead
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We're flying into Paris mainly because we cashed our credit card points and San Francisco to Paris was the cheapest option we could find. I absolutely do not mind hopping on another flight to get to a smaller regional airport or catching the train. We prefer to use public transportation, but again if we have to pay for a transfer I think that will be okay. It seems like most resorts have a ski bus system for getting around.

We're flying in on a Tuesday, I figured we can stay in Paris until its time to transfer to the ski resort. This way we won't be skiing jetlagged.

I would love to have a half-board stay, but I don't think its in the budget.

- Lech looks amazing, but I haven't been able to find any accommodations in our budget. Is there a lower down resort with easy access that I should be looking at instead?

- What about Ischgl? It looks really cool.

I don't ski off-piste, but the rest of the group does like to play off trail. We might hire a guide for a day or two.
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now if only we could put "Big Bertha" on a ferry and ski bum through Europe!

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1-UUH2BhSfNDF9S2zNyfvtk_GwCgmkSxO
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Quote:

I would love to have a half-board stay, but I don't think its in the budget.

What do you expect to do with breakfast and dinner? Cooking in self-catering apartments?

I typically found half-board a better value than eating out individual meals. Though obviously, cooking meals in an apartment will beat that hands down.

If apartment is what you have in mind, charmless purpose build village in France may indeed have the most.
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@photuris, Ischgl has lots of good skiing. It is quite the party town, if that’s what you want. I think another snowHead described it as ‘raucous’ which sounds about right.
snowHead
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@abc, good point about lodging with food included often being better value than dining out.

UK managed catered chalets and chalethotels can be very good, especially with two hungry children to feed

Self catering may be cheaper but food prices in mountain village shops and mini supermarkets are sky high in my experience.

Then there’s the cooking and washing up to do!
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Wengen looks adorable and affordable. Will we have enough to do for a week? I think staying in once place is best as then we can relax more, travel is always stressful.

I think I'd prefer a family friendly resort with EPIC skiing Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy
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@photuris, Unfortunately Lech is not the cheapest place, I believe there are a few cheaper options ie 3 star rather than 4 or 5 star but dont have great knowledge there. In the Arlberg I usually stay in St Anton and then mostly in a small village nearby - Pettneu, as I find that more reasonable (I stayed here http://www.pension-angelika.at/ on one visit last season it was very nice and seemed reasonable costwise but I am not paying for kids very easy access to the ski area). St Anton is a top ski resort but it is not so good if you want mostly straight forward intermediate skiing - hence why most folk have been suggesting Lech, it is great if you want a bit of a challenge (not just crazy steep but that too). One option might be to look for an apartment but that means self catering.

Ischgl has a really nice large ski area and is very snow sure and would be a good choice. Personally I dont like the "village" very much, I find it all too commercialised a little too "Disney". However a lot of people do like it very much so dont necessarily take the views of a slightly grumpy old bloke too seriously Smile
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