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Where are the *lowest* pistes in the Alps?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Resorts often boast about having the highest ski areas and longest runs, but I was idly wondering where the lowest official ski slopes in the different parts of the Alps are? And are they still reliably snowy even with global warming? (BTW I realise this thread is not remotely useful in planning a ski holiday!)

So I did some research / brainstorming. Here are a few really low pistes I can think of. I've differented by region as the climate is warmer in the west, which affects viable skiing altitude.

French Alps

The lowest (Alpine) runs in France all seem to be found in the NW Alps (near Geneva). Perhaps that's just because the valleys are lower? Maybe convenience is a factor too - this resorts are popular with day trippers, so a gondola from the valley helps reduce driving time, and then you may as well have a piste back down...

- 690m above sea level: Doina to Morillon in the Grand Massif / Flaine. There used to be multiple pistes down to here, but only Doina appears on the current piste map. Closed on both my previous visits! A casualty of a warming climate?
- 780m: Cascades to Sixt, also in the Grand Massif. An exceptionally scenic and long run, starting as a lovely cruise down a valley, but transitioning to a road after a rather flat middle part. No lift back up. Open (but a bit thin at the bottom) on my first visit in February 2005-ish, but closed throughout my second visit in mid January 2016.
- 820m: St Gervais back to, err, St Gervais, in St Gervais / Megeve. A bit of a comedy run with several road crossings and ending at a long flight of steps, but it does have snowmaking. Opened halfway through my late Jan 2019 visit, for the first time that season.

In the far western French Alps (around Grenoble), there are similar mild influences to the NW French Alps, and perhaps less chance of tapping into cold air from the north. Proximity to Grenoble possibly allows some more marginal resorts to survive?

- 910m: Eterlou, Chapelle, Lievre and Dromadaire back to the gondola base at St Pierre de Chartreuse. They face due west as well - not good. Might explain why I've read that the ski area has had some financial problems in recent years.

Head east to the Tarentaise (the French "mega resorts") and there aren't many notably low runs, probably because resort and summit altitudes tend to be higher, and why build a low piste when you can build a high one?

- 900m: Retour Seez to Seez in La Rosiere. Possibly a new addition to the piste map? No lift back up. Never visited, so no idea if it's reliably open.

As you go further south (south of the Col du Lauteret), the climate gets a bit warmer (I think), and the lowest viable skiing altitude gets correspondingly higher. It's worth noting that Ceuze 2000 near Gap closed permanently a couple of years ago due to (I think) lack of snow, despite having a base station around 1550m. Too late to the snowmaking game?

- 1220m: Vauban to Briancon in Serre Chevalier:. That's not particularly low (nor is it particularly far south), but I can't think of anywhere much lower. Faces a touch south of east, which isn't the best orientation for snow retention. I'm sure various snowHeads can comment on whether it's particularly reliable for snow.

Swiss Alps

The climate in the western Swiss Alps is fairly comparable to the northern French Alps - perhaps a tad cooler?

- 810m: Red 1 to Lauterbrunnen in Murren. Lauterbrunnen sits in a cold and dark gorge so receives little winter sun (I've only visited in summer). The "Inferno" track all the way from the Schilthorn at 2970m has one of the biggest verticals in the Alps, though unfortunately it's not all an official piste.

The further east in Switzerland you go, the colder it tends to be (I think).

- 520m: Black 24 to Wangs at Pizol. Seems exceptionally low! Black run = steep gradient, so less direct sunlight (and perhaps lighter skier traffic helps).
- 600m: Red 9 & Red 10 back to base in Grusch Danusa. Finishes in a deep valley, helping with snow retention.
- 820m: Red 56 to Kublis in Davos / Klosters. Not notably low for the region, but an exceptionally long run if starting from the very top of the Parsenn ski area at 2844m. No lift back (take the train to Klosters), so probably best done as a run to end the day?

German Alps

In the west:

- 730m: Red 1 down the Hausbergbahn in the Garmisch Classic area. Garmisch also has very high glacier slopes - unfortunately they are a separate area and not linked by piste to the low one.

Further east, south of Rosenheim:

- 500m: Unnamed red down to Oberaudorf. A small resort right down at the bottom of the Inntal - impressively low.

Further east still, south of Salzburg:

- 630m: Blue 7 down to the car park at Jenner / Konigsee.

Austrian Alps

I believe Austria is on the "colder" side of the Alps relative to altitude, so it stands to reason that it should also have some of the lowest pistes. In the Tyrol, lo and behold:

- 560m: Red 1 to Kaltenbach in the Hochzillertal. Newish. Presumably artificial snowmaking must do the trick.
- 580m: Black 10 to Zell am Ziller in the Zillertal Arena, just up the valley from Kaltenbach. The Zillertal must be good for low altitude snow!. Faces west, so sunny too.
- 630m: Red 20 to Hopfgarten in the SkiWelt. A bit higher than the above, but faces southwest!! Shocked Slushfest when I last visited in mid Feb 2014, with surrounding hillsides completely green.
- 650m: Red 71 and Blue 74 back to Reith im Albachtal.

As you go east from Salzburg the mountains get lower, and the base heights remain low.

- 600m: Red 1, 1a and Black 2a back to base at Hinterstoder. North facing into a shady valley.

Further south in Austria the lowest lift bases tend to be in the far east of the Alps.

- 610m: Red 80 to Tropolach at Nassfeld. It's floodlit, which suggests it does tend to be open.
- 640m: Barenpiste by the car park at Petzen. The main runs to the gondola base a just a touch higher.

Italian Alps

Again, I think the climate gets colder as you go east, so some of the lowest base heights are in the Dolomites / Julian Alps, especially closer to the main Alpine ridge.

- 750m: Duc d'Aosta in Tarvisio. The nursery slopes and gondola / chairlift base stations are all a similar height too. North facing, finishing in an internal east-west valley.

Slovenian Alps

Being so far east, Slovenia has good access to continental cold pools, though probably also vulnerable to the south. There are some exceptionally low runs (for this latitude).

- 330m: Blue 1 to Maribor at Pohorje. Amazing! Northeast facing, and down to the very outskirts of the city.

Etc. etc. - where have I missed?

I would wager that the lowest runs in France are probably more marginal than those in Austria, as the NW Alps are more vulnerable to humid conditions, accelerating thaws and preventing effective snowmaking.

On a related note, it's a shame that the highest ski pistes are all found in areas where the lift base is quite high, and the lowest ski pistes are all found in areas where the top lifts are quite low. As a result, the greatest on-piste verticals in the Alps are all around the 2000m mark. If even relatively low and high pistes happened to coincide, it would be possible to have some much bigger verticals, in excess of 3000m...


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Sun 7-02-21 17:09; edited 30 times in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
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Glencoe base station must be about 330 metres ?
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Yes I have skied back to Glencoe base station, but the routes are surely off piste. However above the Access lift, the lowest lifts
at Glencoe and Nevis Range (Aonach Mor) are at about 645 and 635metres. This is roughly the snow line most ski seasons. Similarly Cairngorm about 640 (I am counting contour lines on a 1:50,000 map so a bit approximate)
How about Scandinavian resorts?


Last edited by Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see? on Wed 3-02-21 1:43; edited 1 time in total
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@Roguevfr, @snowball, hmm yes, I did think about mentioning Scotland but wanted to focus on the Alps. I've skied down to base at Glencoe too (there was even powder through the trees next to the car park!). There are three "runs" marked on the piste map but they're only dotted lines so I don't think I would count them as pistes (certainly not the black one). Although the blue now follows a graded track so is quite piste-like...
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Altitude can matter a lot. Youngest daughter has undergone several episodes of major heart surgery and will need a transplant at some stage. The consultant at the Freeman Hospital 30 years ago was Dr Bain. He had a fantastic attitude towards life death and living. When we asked about whether we could consider taking daughter skiing, his reply was along the lines of “We can’t recommend going anywhere cold. Or high. Or too much exercise. But the most important is not staying at altitude all the time. So if I were you I would try Austria. Have you thought about Ellmau?”
We gave him a framed photo as below and the staff on the children’s heart ward told us he kept it on his desk. After he retired we just got the standard “no, can’t advise that” from subsequent consultants.
I digress. Low(er) resorts definitely have a place in the overall scheme of things



Last edited by Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do. on Wed 3-02-21 9:03; edited 1 time in total
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@JohnHSmith, best post of the year so far
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5. Switzerland

Alpenregion Meiringen-Hasliberg 602m
Jungfrauregion Mürren, Wengen, Grindelwald 796m
Hoch-Ybrig 900m

Closely followed by Portes du Soleil, Engelberg and Gstaad 1000-1050m

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ski_areas_and_resorts_in_Switzerland
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@denfinella, Both those runs (Kaltenbach and Ziller) are fun at the end of a long day but wouldn't recommend either for beginners or low-intermediates and once you commit below the mid-stations you're on it to the bottom. They get pretty bumpy and crowded. Last time I was there in Mid-March 19 you could still ski down to the bottom on artificial snow.
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@denfinella, ski resorts in the Jura are very low starting at around 900m and even 780m!

https://www.skiresort.info/ski-resorts/jura-mountains-massif-du-jura/

And one of Davidoffs local stations and where I used to ski with my nieces, when they lived just outside Grenoble, and have taken my daughter's to when they were tiny as my brother only lives circa 30km from, Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse 900m --> 1,800m

https://www.skiinfo.fr/alpes-du-nord/saint-pierre-de-chartreuse/station-de-ski.html
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The lowest runs are often the most interesting. I can think of the runs down into Kitzbuhel and le Houches where you ski through peoples gardens and across roads. Not the Alps but Allenheads is only 400m and people do occasionally ski down to the Car Park at Aonach Mor at just over 100m. A lot of Austrian resorts are down below 600m. Short grass, snow making, northerly orientation and Central European location all help. Presumably a lot of the small German resorts are quite low?
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Frosty the Snowman wrote:
@JohnHSmith, best post of the year so far
+1
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Peter S wrote:
The lowest runs are often the most interesting.... Not the Alps but Allenheads is only 400m and people do occasionally ski down to the Car Park at Aonach Mor at just over 100m. ...

Not the Alps, but you can ski in Helsinki where it's probably only a few meters asl. And Iceland of course you can ski to sea level late season.
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Those runs In Kaltenbach and Zell am Ziller, I'd say are best at the start of the day, not the end. Get lift up, ski down while the snow is crisp and you can ski in safety, tick those runs off to say you've done them, then go back up the lift.
At the end of the day they can be horrendous, like skiing in wet cement, and rammed with beginners out of their depth. I've had to wait for people taking their skis off and sliding down on their backsides the narrow bit near the end of one of them, where it's impossible to ski past them safely, all the while more and more people on skis are arriving doing the same and waiting, and then there's suddenly there's 100 people all trying to ski too close together in a tricky narrow bit.

Thought that one of the Kronplatz runs went quite low, but seem to be higher than I thought at 1000m. Also valley run (if it's even open much?) in the Bregenzerwald small ski areas were higher than I estimated. Higher than the few Zillertal valley runs.
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You know it makes sense.
3. Southern French Alps - Alpe d'huez; Fare down to Enversin d'Oz at 1120m (doable from 3300m weather etc permitting, west facing at the bottom - I think, if you are happy with the snow at all points of the run top to bottom you are officially "better than any of you" etc)
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The Engelberg height quoted relates to a nursery area at Klostermatte near the monastery and one run down from the main ski area to the Titlis lift valley station. I've been there during a sunny last week in April and somehow they have managed to keep it open. Very pleasant skimming through alpine meadows on a thinnish ribbon of snow!

Can I add Reith im Alpbachtal - a small area in the SkiJuwel - with a bottom of the piste altitude at 703 metres asl?
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 Poster: A snowHead
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There's a run in Klosters down to Kublis at 810m, you can start from 2800 ish. Nice windy run through trees, then you have to get the train back.
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wam15 wrote:
There's a run in Klosters down to Kublis at 810m, you can start from 2800 ish. Nice windy run through trees, then you have to get the train back.


You can ski over to Fideris and Jenaz - they were marked as itineraries at one time but as you say Kublis is the lowest official piste.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
denfinella wrote:
...at Glencoe... Although the blue now follows a graded track so is quite piste-like...

Oh I had no idea - not what it was like when I skied there many years ago (and there wasn't enough snow to try skiing to the bottom the more recent time). When was the first piste-basher at Glencoe?
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Frosty the Snowman wrote:
@JohnHSmith, best post of the year so far

+2!
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
LOTA wrote:
The Engelberg height quoted relates to a nursery area at Klostermatte near the monastery and one run down from the main ski area to the Titlis lift valley station.

There is a run back to the town on the Brunni side too, it doesn't go quite as low as the Titlis base station or Klostermatt though.
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andy wrote:
Those runs In Kaltenbach and Zell am Ziller, I'd say are best at the start of the day, not the end. Get lift up, ski down while the snow is crisp and you can ski in safety, tick those runs off to say you've done them, then go back up the lift.
At the end of the day they can be horrendous, like skiing in wet cement, and rammed with beginners out of their depth. I've had to wait for people taking their skis off and sliding down on their backsides the narrow bit near the end of one of them, where it's impossible to ski past them safely, all the while more and more people on skis are arriving doing the same and waiting, and then there's suddenly there's 100 people all trying to ski too close together in a tricky narrow bit.

Thought that one of the Kronplatz runs went quite low, but seem to be higher than I thought at 1000m. Also valley run (if it's even open much?) in the Bregenzerwald small ski areas were higher than I estimated. Higher than the few Zillertal valley runs.


Went down the Zell am Ziller run a couple of years ago, mid March and mid morning. Had the run to ourselves and it was superb. Certainly one to avoid at towards the end of the day. I can only imagine the carnage...

Just did it the once as we were staying in Konigsleiten and foggy weather most of the week meant crossing over from Gerlos was a waste of time in the poor viz above the tree line.
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@JohnHSmith,

Here's a list of many resorts in Austria grouped per region. If you click on each resort the elevation of the lifts is normally shown.

https://www.bergfex.com/oesterreich/

e.g.
https://www.bergfex.com/hinterstoder-hoess/
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Narvik in Northern Norway.

Ski down almost to the ocean.

https://skimap.org/data/1848/2205/1602690380.jpg

(although not in the Alps)


Last edited by After all it is free Go on u know u want to! on Wed 3-02-21 13:22; edited 1 time in total
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DB wrote:
@JohnHSmith,

Here's a list of many resorts in Austria grouped per region. If you click on each resort the elevation of the lifts is normally shown.

https://www.bergfex.com/oesterreich/

e.g.
https://www.bergfex.com/hinterstoder-hoess/

Thank you. I will try working through the list myself. Or as much as I can, when we are permitted to visit. And I will pass it on to daughter who is now aged 29. Not bad going for someone we were told wouldn't live to be a teenager.
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Frosty the Snowman wrote:
@JohnHSmith, best post of the year so far
+3
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JohnHSmith wrote:

Thank you. I will try working through the list myself. Or as much as I can, when we are permitted to visit. And I will pass it on to daughter who is now aged 29. Not bad going for someone we were told wouldn't live to be a teenager.


Glad to help.
Is there a maximum altitude your daughter should not go above (e.g. 2000m) or a minimum size of ski resort that she would be Looking for? (e.g. 40km of piste).

A lot of the lower resorts are geared up for small children, not enough for the week but might be enough for the day (depending on the skiers ability)

e.g.
https://www.bergfex.com/mariazellerland/
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rjs wrote:
LOTA wrote:
The Engelberg height quoted relates to a nursery area at Klostermatte near the monastery and one run down from the main ski area to the Titlis lift valley station.

There is a run back to the town on the Brunni side too, it doesn't go quite as low as the Titlis base station or Klostermatt though.


Yes, I have done that run although it's not often open. Took a wrong turn the first time and ended up in a farmyard and was chased off by the farmer's dog! Very Happy
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@DB we haven't asked the Freeman in recent years. Dr Bain was the sort of person who would give you the official line (don't over exert yourself, don't go anywhere cold, don't go anywhere high) and then go on to say that if we were going to go anyway, try to make sure that the accommodation is at valley level not too high, so that she spends a fair amount of the day at a lower altitude. She has been to 3,000 metres and skied down but we tend to go mostly to the Dolomites and stay at Sankt Vigilio which is 1200 metres. At the moment that's fine for her. She had a major operation aged 15 which really improved things. Prior to that her general health had gone down to the extent that she wasn't able to walk more than 100 yards or so (she was in a wheelchair most of the time) and as we understand it, her health is expected to go down over time. But so far so good and we are still trying to prove the hospital wrong (in the nicest way).
She's a better skier than I am (isn't it always the way with children) and is quite happy on the blacks at Kronplatz.
The main reason for my initial comments was really to indirectly say "thanks" to @denfinella for starting a thread like this as I am sure that there will be a number of people who are able to briefly go high, but who need to generally stay lower down. I will be going back to this thread to get more ideas of other places to visit.
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JohnHSmith wrote:
we tend to go mostly to the Dolomites and stay at Sankt Vigilio which is 1200 metres.


Can recommend Les Gets. The village is at 1200m and the majority of skiing is between 1650 down to 1200 in Les Gets or 1000 on the Morzine side. There’s one run that starts at 1800 and two at 2000, but there’s more than enough to keep you occupied without those two peaks. There’s 120km of runs on the LesGets/Morzine pass or 650km if you extend it to the whole of the Portes du Soleil. The village itself is lovely and the best bit is it’s only 1 hour transfer from Geneva (assuming no traffic).
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JohnHSmith wrote:
Altitude can matter a lot. Youngest daughter has undergone several episodes of major heart surgery and will need a transplant at some stage. The consultant at the Freeman Hospital 30 years ago was Dr Bain. He had a fantastic attitude towards life death and living. When we asked about whether we could consider taking daughter skiing, his reply was along the lines of “We can’t recommend going anywhere cold. Or high. Or too much exercise. But the most important is not staying at altitude all the time. So if I were you I would try Austria. Have you thought about Ellmau?”
...
I digress. Low(er) resorts definitely have a place in the overall scheme of things


That's a really good point about health / altitude (and my first ever skiing holiday was to Ellmau!). Not remotely similar to your daughter, but my mother was once affected by altitude sickness in the 3 Valleys on one of my childhood trips. We'd driven up from near Lyon in the early hours, arrived in Les Menuires at lift opening time and took the lift straight up to the ridge above Val Thorens, so had climbed 2,500m pretty much in one go. She wasn't able to ski for the rest of the day as a result.

@skinomad, @Weathercam, @Wildsmith, @LOTA, @rjs, thanks, I'll add some of these stats to the first post! Having checked with topo maps, some of the quoted altitudes aren't quite correct, so I haven't added them all. Or else there is a low lift base but no piste down, which doesn't count. Or I've found something even lower locally.

@RedandWhiteFlachau, @3offthetee, thanks for the local Zillertal info. That makes sense, and sounds similar to quite a few busy and steepish home runs! It's good they tend to stay open though.

@Peter S, Completely agree that the lowest runs are often the most interesting. Low altitude features like roads, farms, houses can be quite entertaining. I remember a piste in Ellmau that shared a reasonably long section with cars (driving on snow)! Of course lower slopes are also often tree lined, which is a nice change from the high Alpine landscapes, and useful in bad weather.

@philwig, @woosh, yes, some really low spots in Scandinavia enabled by the different climate. In Scotland 600m seems to be the sweetspot between having sufficient snow and sufficient shelter from wind (both relative of course!).

@snowball, I think the track was built to help with the (still ongoing) construction of the new chairlift on the plateau. With the happy accident that it can now function as a blue piste. The start of the red car park run was also pisted when I last skied it. I don't know when the first piste-basher appeared at Glencoe but certainly most of the greens and blues are fairly reliably groomed now.


Last edited by Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name: on Wed 3-02-21 15:19; edited 1 time in total
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@denfinella, spot on. At Lenzerheide, you cross the main road through the village(s) several times if crossing from pistes on the east and west side. There's one section where you ski through a residential area (obviously a road in summer) and it's a different experience to the normal pistes etc dodging the locals doing their weekly shop. I also met world champion downhiller Didier Cuche there (apparently he has a house or was renting a house in the area). Smashing bloke!
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Not in the Alps but I skied Ruka Finland at 291M altitude, it was quite nice to have a 25 minute airport transfer that didn't involve a single windy road Smile
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Just had a thought, is it better for someone with a heart condition to stay as low as possible or to acclimatise to the skiing height so there is a minimum delta. e.g. for a 2000m high resort is staying/sleeping at 600 or 1200m better? If it's the later then Tauplitz could be a good option. Most of the skiing has only a 400m altitude difference and there are ski in / ski out hotels on the mountain.

https://www.bergfex.com/tauplitz/
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@denfinella, On a related note, it's a shame that the highest ski pistes are all found in areas where the lift base is quite high, and the lowest ski pistes are all found in areas where the top lifts are quite low. As a result, the greatest on-piste verticals in the Alps are all around the 2000m mark. If even relatively low and high pistes happened to coincide, it would be possible to have some much bigger verticals, in excess of 3000m...

I think it's just economics. If you have peaks around 2500m or more you build your lifts up there to ensure a longer ski season. There'd be no point in building lifts for 1000m altitude pistes, when they would be used much more if you built them at 2500.
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Chamonix Vallée Blanche is 2,755m vertical, when there is enough snow near the bottom, but of course that is not a piste (though so many people ski the main route, it mostly skis like one, most of the time)
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@eblunt, true. I suppose a low lift would be useful for easy access from a valley, but it wouldn't necessarily be important to have a piste back down. I was thinking along the same lines when I put "why build a low piste when you can build a high one" in the Tarentaise part. Nevertheless, it would be a good stat to be able to publicise!

The current leader in the "lowest piste league table" is Pizol in eastern Switzerland. It has a base station (with black run down) at 520m!


Last edited by You'll need to Register first of course. on Wed 3-02-21 21:10; edited 1 time in total
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Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
at what point do you consider the Alps to be finished!?
260m = https://www.bergfex.com/hohewandwiese/
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Wildsmith wrote:
at what point do you consider the Alps to be finished!?
260m = https://www.bergfex.com/hohewandwiese/


The eastern end of the alps finishes in the Vienna woods and the hohenwandweise is in the Vienna woods.
They used to have FIS races on that little hill.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_the_Alps
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Wyller, the low end of Oslo Vinterpark, is a stately 150m. Not the Alps obviously
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Garmisch (the town) is at around 700m and there is one red run back to the base station at the Hausberg, which would be roughly the same level as the rest of the town. Mittenwald might be similar.
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