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Skiing in Italy vs. Austria vs. Switzerland vs. France?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I am from the US and have skied the European Alps only in the Italian Dolomites. I love those mountains and the charming small villages. The mountain rifugios are amazing, as is the food, and the people. I enjoy skiing on piste, especially when traveling to more adventurous off-piste routes.

I know there are areas outside the Dolomites with more predictable snowfall, more extreme terrain and such. But how does skiing in neighboring countries compare? Are the slopes generally more crowded (I know they're more expensive in countries like Switzerland), are the huts as luxurious, the food as good, the people as friendly, the lines more or less crowded, the views more spectacular?

By the way, skiing in Italy and staying in the best rifugios in a private room is far, far less expensive than skiing in the US or Canada and the food isn't even comparable. A night at a slopeside hotel in a swanky US resort costs $1,000 US p/night. Compare that to a higher cost rifugio in Ortisei that costs 145 quid p/night in a private room and half board! I ski in Italy because I love it, not to save money, but the prices shock me every time for the quality of the experience.

Thank you in advance for sharing your opinion!

- Alchemist

p.s. I live in Vermont close to Stowe and Sugarbush and lived in Colorado for a number of years.
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Hello , I learned to ski in Bulgaria in 92 and wouldn’t return there even if it was free. Then moved to Andorra/ Formigal, three years in a row and have very fond memories, at the time the granvalira was not a thing yet but the kms available were plenty. We got better jobs n moved to France. We love the country and the food. If u like cheese France is a paradise just cannot resist fondues. The 3v is amazing and cannot wait to go back to Courchevel , they have a new spa centre in 1650 which I want to try. My second favourite is alpe d Heux. There is a lot to do on the slopes and in town. Not sure if we have been unlucky but we have always found Austrian slopes too busy, at times dangerously so. Been in Lech , Zell am see and soelden ( jan 2020) and we have decided that we will not return. Austrians are excellent skiers but some of them just go too fast and I had a lot of near misses there. Food…. Who doesn’t like fried meat? I also had the best goulash soups there . Discovered Italy in 2002 and has become our favourite ski country. Cervinia was our first stop, them did all the main Dolomites resorts and some on the Acosta valley. I personally prefer french food over Italian but apart from that I am more at home in Italy. Also appreciate the more honest prices. In the 3v a coffee can be 6 to 8 euros Twisted Evil . Final point, I noticed that cortina attracts a number of your connationals , wondered why. Never been to ch apart from a touch n go in zenmart so cannot comment.
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It’s all about opinions! I have not skied Switzerland largely due to cost but skied in all the other countries. As a broad answer I would always choose Austria over the others largely due to atmosphere (wonderful restaurants on slope and picturesque villages and great après-ski) and generally more advanced infrastructure (fast and heated lifts and plentiful gondolas). The downside with Austria is that most resorts are low lying and less snow sure. You need to be selective so resorts like Lech, Fiss and Ischgl would be my choices. France can’t be beaten for ski convenience with mostly slope side accommodations and many high altitude resorts. For me the 3Vs is the best of the bunch. Andorra I found was bleak and characterless. Finally Italy has beautiful scenery (Dolomites and the Hidden Valley in particular) but the skiing was always a bit bland with many lifts having very little vertical accent and pistes that need poling.
My ski buddies and I have spent many an hour debating our top 3 resorts and at a push I think I would say 3V, Lech and Saalbach. Decisions largely driven by slope expanse, atmosphere, apres and extent of fast lifts.
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Switzerland has a reputation for being expensive. Which it can be, just like Vail or an on-piste hotel in Courcheval 1850. The base prices are higher than Italy but on a par with France and Austria and most of the higher price for skiing comes in from the ski pass cost: Verbier 2021-22 is £64/day for a 1-day, adult, full-area pass (less for a period pass). But to me, you get what you pay for i.e. that rate is for a pass covering a single linked area of 400 Kms of pisted runs, with great off-piste and heli-ski plus nowhere near the same crowds as you get in a similar French domaine like the Trois Vallées. And yes, I've been to the 3V many times. A lot of the Swiss resorts are relatively high altitude, for the Alps and as mentioned, relatively uncrowded. Public transport to/from many resorts is a really viable, and often preferable alternative to car hire. As for the skiing, I don't think there's a distinctively Swiss topography compared to France or Italy: it's 'Alpine' - a mix of mountains, forests and open skiing. I do understand the attraction of Italy - our kids learned to ski there and as well as the lower prices, the instruction was genuinely really friendly. I've had bad experiences with instructors in France, while the Swiss are pretty good. We prefer skiing in French-speaking Switzerland to France because of the relatively uncrowded slopes and good access from GVA via public transport. But of course, we're biased, because we opted to buy our holiday apartment in the 4 Vallées so it's sort of confirmation bias, to an extent, even if the reasons for holidaying in CH are the same as the reasons for buying there.


Last edited by You need to Login to know who's really who. on Thu 30-12-21 22:29; edited 1 time in total
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@Alchemist, I only stay in Dolomite refugios during the summer since my skiing experience there is limited to using UK tour operators who base you in hotels. I have to agree that though cramped and basic I do enjoy staying up the mountain ready to be out first thing.

My favourite Dolomite hotel in the summer charges 60€ per person for a night half board (the drinks bill always seems to double that!), but the price can get high in the fancier hotels in the hotspots such as Cortina, Wolkenstein and eye watering in San Martino di Castrozza.

Perhaps I have spent too long in the Dolomites, but I do tend to get a bit bored with the food. There are only so many ways you can prepare pasta and sauce. The rock climbing, via ferrata and general hiking is IMHO the best in the world. Everyone who loves the mountains should spend a couple weeks in the summer in the Dolomites.

My preference of the European ski areas is the large French resorts. I like to self cater and be near the slopes. The big French resorts offer that in adbundance. Self catering is also quite a bit cheeper than a hotel and gives you more personall space. Others have reported that food and drink is less expensive in Austria, but to be honest I haven't noticed. Perhaps I just don't drink sufficient beer. My advice for lunch is to always go for the Plat du Jour where you get an interesting and cheapish meal every day.

One difference I have noticed between the French resorts and those in Italy is in the management of the pistes. In Italy all pistes, even the blacks, are bashed smooth whereas in France bumps are allowed to develop and some pistes are never bashed at all. Personally I like this but it is not to everyones taste.

The locals are, of course friendly and welcoming.

I'm not sure I would agree with @puplett, about whether gondolas are a good thing, most of the people I ski with try to avoid them. As to heated chairlifts I cannot see the point.
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Italy is the one country of the major European skiing areas I have not skied (really need to ski in the Dolomites, it isnt far away!)

It is always difficult to make generalisations (someone will pop up and say "but my favourite resort x is not like that"!) but my take would be

France - tends to be higher altitude, partly because of the mountains but also partly when the resorts were developed. Many big areas with a lot of piste skiing. Perhaps many places lack the mountain charm found elsewhere. Some of the resorts very popular with brits. My experience (though a good few years ago) is that the big resorts are on the expensive side. Stereotypically the accommodation is on the small side. Chamonix has a justifiable claim to be the foremost mountain town in the world. Val d'Isere/Tignes is undoubtedly one of the top places to ski anywhere. Many places are very busy during French half term (around mid February) but much less so outside of that.

Switzerland - is a lovely place to visit with some wonderful skiing areas. Its reputation as expensive is justified but you dont have to stay in 5 star hotels and eat in expensive restaurants. There are ways to keep costs to a "reasonable" level. Easy to get around with the wonderful public transport system. From a skiing perspective Verbier is one of the best places in the alps. Zermatt & Grindelwald / Wengen have some fantastic scenery to go with first rate skiing. Lots of other worthwhile places to go, say Andermatt or Engleberg for the top level skiing or St Moritz or Davos for the "Swiss" atmosphere.

Austria - the place I have generally skied for the past 20 years. Typically an Austrian resort is based around valley villages with the skiing on the mountains above. This is good for atmosphere (apres ski in Austria is justifiably rated as the best) and charm but not always ideal from a snow perspective with some places rather low. This often means plenty of runs through the trees, good in poor weather. Prices tend to be more "value" (though skiing is never a cheap pastime) though the top resorts have become more expensive in recent years. Very good public transport if not quite Swiss levels of coverage & efficiency. Accommodation is typically half board in hotels, though plenty of apartments too (generally far more room that the French ones). The Arlberg is in the same bracket as Val d'Isere & Verbier and my skiing area of choice, it also has a justifiable claim to be the "snowiest" area in the alps. A visit to the Mooserwirt or Krazy Kangaroo (not this year!) at St Anton at the end of a skiing day is worthwhile just to say you have been. A good balance of typical Austrian atmosphere and reasonably high skiing can be found in The Zillertal (there is a glacier too). Other typical "Austrian" spots might be Kitzbühel or Saalbach-Hinterglemm
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Austria and Südtirol (Italy) are my favourites.

Traditional looking villages, countless gorgeous hotels, plus the locals and visitors love to socialise.

Everything in these Alpine nations is geared up for winter sports and winter tourism, hospitality.

[Guests not disappearing to apartments straight after skiing, with a € pinching bag of groceries].
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Harrow lady wrote:
The 3v is amazing and cannot wait to go back to Courchevel , they have a new spa centre in 1650 which I want to try. My second favourite is alpe d Heux.

Wonderful! Thank you for the recommendations. I'll do some more research.
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puplett wrote:
As a broad answer I would always choose Austria over the others largely due to atmosphere (wonderful restaurants on slope and picturesque villages and great après-ski) and generally more advanced infrastructure (fast and heated lifts and plentiful gondolas). The downside with Austria is that most resorts are low lying and less snow sure. You need to be selective so resorts like Lech, Fiss and Ischgl would be my choices.

Thank you for that color.
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@LaForet, that's the first I heard about Swiss slopes being less crowded. That's attractive, although my experience in Italy has been very good, it was largely due to Covid preventing people from hitting the slopes.
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Quote:

Arlberg is in the same bracket as Val d'Isere & Verbier and my skiing area of choice, it also has a justifiable claim to be the "snowiest" area in the alps.

Very good. I'll check this area out. Thank you for sharing.

I live in Vermont (northeastern US) and the skiing is totally different than in the Rockies. It's a very different vibe here as well. We get less snow than the Rockies, much colder temps, shorter runs, lots of ice, and have some very challenging terrain. But when the conditions are good they're great and our snow resorts are in small towns where people actually live year round and that gives them an authentic charm. In contrast, the Rockies have more consistent snowfall, more terrain over a wider area, potential avalanche concerns, and dry, light powder snow. Many of the towns were built around the resorts and the population consists of vacation home owners that are seldom there. Due to the extreme expense of living in town the trades people are forced to live in adjacent communities, which creates a lot of daily traffic. It's a bizarre dynamic.
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Alchemist wrote:
Quote:

Arlberg is in the same bracket as Val d'Isere & Verbier and my skiing area of choice, it also has a justifiable claim to be the "snowiest" area in the alps.

Very good. I'll check this area out. Thank you for sharing.

I live in Vermont (northeastern US) and the skiing is totally different than in the Rockies. It's a very different vibe here as well. We get less snow than the Rockies, much colder temps, shorter runs, lots of ice, and have some very challenging terrain. But when the conditions are good they're great and our snow resorts are in small towns where people actually live year round and that gives them an authentic charm. In contrast, the Rockies have more consistent snowfall, more terrain over a wider area, potential avalanche concerns, and dry, light powder snow. Many of the towns were built around the resorts and the population consists of vacation home owners that are seldom there. Due to the extreme expense of living in town the trades people are forced to live in adjacent communities, which creates a lot of daily traffic. It's a bizarre dynamic.


Will never forget my trip to Mad River Glen - That single chair and the terrain, was just an amazing experience!
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@Alchemist, Critically important is to time your trip to the Alps to avoid the school holidays as the slopes then get super-busy.

There is a very helpful thread on this site which has a table covering all the countries and their different holiday periods.

I went to Stowe in the '80s. Lovely place, so freindly and the quality of the hotels and restuarants was superb. But yikes it was C Skullie O Skullie L Skullie D
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I like all of them. France for mileage, food and value for money, Austria for apres and beautifully groomed slopes and super fast lifts and Switzerland just has charm. We tend to visit smaller places rather than the big boys of Verbier, Zermatt, Saas Fee, although I love Wengen. We like Flumserberg, Pizol, Andermatt, Adelboden, Aletsch, Lenzerheide, Disentis, Hoch y Brig, Davos, there are SO MANY in Switzerland. They are usually quieter and not always expensive.
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1. Switzerland. Essentially Zermatt( and cross over to Italy) almost a bogof. Great food, and almost a cliche but very well run. Good value for money versus France I would perhaps controversially say.
2. Italy. People, and food, and wine, and great skiing too.
3. Austria. It’s further east therefore for the height more snow sure, great apres and very good hotels and apartments
4. France. They have great resorts and skiing, but never seemingly never very welcoming in my experience. Also it can be like going on holiday in England. ( Avoid verbier in Switzerland for this too).
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You’re just playing variations on a tune. Choose one and make the best of it
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We are American, have lived in France for a decade...but ski in the Dolomites.

Why? Because I don't believe that French ski stations offer good value for money, especially when it comes to infrastructure, accommodation and food. There are a dozen baitas/refugios in Val Gardena alone that offer better food than the best French on-slope restaurants that we've been to. And the standard of even a two-star apartment in Selva is equal to a supposed "four star" apartment in a French station.

We get one or two weeks of skiing a year and I don't want to have to deal with bad, overpriced lunches with surly service, primitive lifts and dingy, cramped apartments in shoddily-built apartment blocks.

If you don't speak French, you're going to struggle a bit outside of the really well-known areas.

But France definitely offers a wider variety of skiing than Italy, and potentially even Austria. (Can't really speak to Switzerland...only been to Zermatt as a splurge but we just haven't been able to make Swiss prices work for us). The French higher-altitude stations are fabulous, when the weather's good.

I've skiied most of the VT resorts and probably liked Stowe the best, fond memories of the single chair with horse blankets back in the 70s. Sugarbush was fun too. But so cold! I remember skiing one of the norther VT resorts when it was minus 10 F.
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@Alchemist, fascinating question, simply because we all "know" there are differences but they are hard to put in to words. It isn't so much the skiing (in all places you slide down snowy slopes) as the ambience, the food, the people.

The Italian Dolomites, which you say you have experienced, is a little different from other places because of its distinctive landscape – I assume it has different geology from the Alps. Other Italian resorts are alpine and differ less in nature from other countries, but what you get is the feeling of the infectious Italian joy of life and especially food which makes a holiday enjoyable whatever the skiing is like. Curiously I have found that it isn't so much that the food is special in some way, it is that the Italians make sure it is served just right; even the simplest of pastas becomes a feast rather than just a way of taking on fuel.

Most people's idea of French resorts comes from the big-name purpose-built resorts. Since they were created around the skiing, that is always extensive and often excellent. But there is the sense that they are run by big corporations and are not "real places" – for example the restaurants are seasonal, targeted to an international rather than domestic French clientele, and staffed by people who are only going to be there for a few months. However there are a lot of French ski resorts that grew from real villages, cater mostly for the French themselves, and do have more of their own character (and restaurateurs proud of their year-round food); and to some extent some of that real France is also findable if you stay in one of the places at the bottom of the big ski areas.

Swiss resorts are a pleasure in a different way. Some of that is the national reputation for efficiency, everything just works. If a link needs a bus or a train, whereas in other countries you heart would sink in Switzerland you know those connections will be frequent and work. You don't get the impression the Swiss get the same pleasure from food as the Italians or the French, but they don't sell anything second rate, it may not be ambitious but it is always done perfectly. And their bread is fantastic. I have found a bit more drama in the Swiss landscape too, possibly because that is the heart of the Alpine range close to the highest peaks (though those high alps do include some northwestern Italian and northern French resorts).

I have to admit I have skied less in Austria, so only have a partial impression. I did very much sense the "gemütlich" nature of the Austrians (it translates rather poorly as "cosy") in their love of comfort food which gives a good feeling, and trying slightly too hard to give everywhere the chocolate box idealised alpine image. Just like the Swiss the Austrians do like their ski areas to work well, and being at the eastern end of the Alps they can benefit from being less susceptible to mild Atlantic air flows so they hold on to good snow. Austria has a reputation for being slightly better value than other places, but I am not sure that means much when there is everywhere a range of value as well as expensive options if you look for them.

Bottom line: none of them is "best". I suggest you set yourself the task over the next few years of sampling a range of resorts in different countries, and then see if you can make up your own mind.
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Quote:

Bottom line: none of them is "best".

I agree totally

That is because non of us really has the same definition of best. To some people it is good convenient skiing, to others it is a 24 hour party atmosphere, others want unabashed luxury others as much skiing as possible within budget.

Even then what is best for me today will not neccesarily be best for me tomorrow. However, there are some I love going back to time and time again and some I don't think I'll ever bother with again.
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twoodwar wrote:
1. Switzerland. Essentially Zermatt( and cross over to Italy) almost a bogof. Great food, and almost a cliche but very well run. Good value for money versus France I would perhaps controversially say.
2. Italy. People, and food, and wine, and great skiing too.
3. Austria. It’s further east therefore for the height more snow sure, great apres and very good hotels and apartments
4. France. They have great resorts and skiing, but never seemingly never very welcoming in my experience. Also it can be like going on holiday in England. ( Avoid verbier in Switzerland for this too).
This would be my opinion too,
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One thing to note is that the weather differs considerably across the length of the Alps.

The west and as far east as the Voralburg is exposed to the prevailing Atlantic air mass. Consequently the Portes du Soleil, Switzerland and parts of western Austria tend to get the heaviest snowfalls most years.

That does not mean however that they have the most reliable skiing, at least not at the start of the season.

The drier and cooler east is more suited to snow making and therefore tends to have a more ‘managed’ start to the season with less or even no reliance on natural snowfall.

The shelter of the Dolomites and the eastern alps from the mild westerly air, strong wind and poor visibility make them less prone to lift and piste closures than the higher western alps. Being further from the sea they are sunnier, drier and slightly cooler which tends to make them more reliable for early season ski holidays.

However if you are looking for big vertical, deep snow, adventurous off piste or good late Spring conditions, head to the high alps in the west and the north.
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Happy New Year and a big Thank You to you all! This is precisely the color I was looking for in my research for future trips. I hope to return to the Dolomiti Superski area in early March unless CV19 derails me.

Although I have an Epic ski pass that gives me seven days at Skirama Dolomiti, I had such an amazing time at the Superski area and want to return to ski some of off-piste routes I loved last time and add some new runs, if the conditions allow. I loved Canale Joel and Val Mesdi and there are many other routes from the top of the Pordoi cable car I've researched but not skied yet. I'm looking forward to skiing the Marmolada, Tofane, or Faloria areas too.

I'm really traveling to Europe to ski the gorgeous off-piste routes. I can't get over the beauty of these places, just look at some of this footage from my last trip:

https://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?p=3555456&highlight=#3555456

To me, skiing that kind of terrain, and then traveling beautiful on-piste routes back to a charming hut accessible only by ski or snowmobile and having a glass of wine and a hot tub while the sun sets and dinner is being prepared...Wow! I'm really getting myself hyped up. Its just perfect! And if the snowpack doesn't allow safe off-piste skiing, then I can enjoy the mellow groomers, sun, and good meals.

After reading all your generous posts, I am definitely going to research similar experiences in Austria and the smaller Swiss areas suggested. Many thanks and here's to a wonderful, snowy, uninterrupted ski season in 2022.
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Here's a typical off-piste run in Vermont and why the Alps are so exotic to me.


http://youtube.com/v/mpzLQMwOZhI

Thanks again! Smile
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@Pasigal, I was a racer in high school and we raced at Burke one day when it was -80 F with wind chill. Miserable! I remember one teammate had small parts of his earlobes exposed and they turned pure white by the end of his run. Sometimes skiing here in Vermont feels like outer space exploration - no air to skin exposure. And if you are skiing off-piste and have an equipment malfunction or injury there's not much time to make it out before the cold takes its toil. So for me the Alps feels like a spa for skiing, so luxurious, so relaxed! Just have to wear sunscreen Cool .
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Trouble is, that the difference between different areas/stations within each of the countries is much greater than any generalised difference between the countries. Some French resorts bear practically no resemblance to other French resorts and few British skiers have sampled more than a handful of the "big names", so they come up with comments such as "it's like being on holiday in Britain". Whereas, as pointed out above, there are French resorts where you would struggle a bit if you speak no French and would be startled to hear anybody speaking English. They're not all "high altitude" either. wink

I've not skied in Switzerland but I've visited in summer, been up the Jungfrau railway etc. It's very beautiful, because of the high mountains, as is the Chamonix/Mont Blanc area in France, but for all round gorgeous views round every corner, I think you will find it difficult to beat the Dolomites, @Alchemist.
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I think Pam w sums it up very well when choosing European ski countries . Each has plusses and minuses which you have to weigh up for yourself. France has come a long way since the tiny appartments but they are still very plentiful.

Austria would always be my first choice but there's something magical about the Dolomites which could be just the view.

All in all don't expect it to be like the USA or Canada.
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An interesting question where it is impossible to give a definite answer. No countries are better or worse for skiing and it all goes down to what you prefer. And differences are good and refreshing and means that you can experience something new many times. There are also huge differences inside each of the four countries. The culture in the Dolomites naturally is much closer to Austria than for example Courmayeur or Limone, who are closer to french. And Val d’Annivers might feel closer to Alagna in Italy than Verbier, who in style might feel closer to St Anton or Meribel and so on and so on.

I really enjoy the same kind of skiing as you mention above. The couloirs in the Dolomites are awesome and in my mind give you in my opinion some of the coolest skiing all over the Alps. I have tried below to give some recommendations to where you can find some of that similar experience in other parts of the Alps:

Alagna/Monte Rosa: Playful area with lots of undisputed great off piste skiing. Fantastic couloirs for all levels and pick your steepness. La Balma, Malfatta and canyon di Zube just to mention a few of great decents. Polvere di Rosa is a great book and can give you lines for the rest of your life time. Downside; it is south of the main alpine ridge and faced south AO needs low pressures from the south (Genova lows).

Verbier: No one can argue against the fact that Verbier has great terrain. And the Atlas couloirs are great and steep, as well as many variants down from Mont Gele. The back of Mont Fort is also with mentioning.

Val d’Annivers: great into the wild back country skiing and with some skinning/climb you can enjoy some really spicy couloirs not unlike the Dolomites.

La Grave: Wild mountain with many spicy couloirs. Guide essential. Very rustic and typical French town and just one lift (they a t-bar at the glacier) but one lift is more than enough. Neighbouring Montgenevre also have a few excellent couloirs.

Courmayeur: Chamonix is the well know, but south of the tunnel you find excellent couloirs in Val Veny and steep skiing from Helbronner.

Innsbruck: The Nordkette area is small, but the couloirs from the top lift are good fun. Also nearby Schlick have a classic “dolomite” couloir with a climb.

Would also add that Baqueira in Spain have some really spicy terrain for off piste. Well worth a try.

With all that being said, if you enjoy the dolomite couloirs, my next stop would have been Alagna.

Also, just out of fun, here are my top 5 list for the Alps for the overall experience. Highly subjective:

1: Andermatt CH
2: Alagna It
3: Grimentz/Val d’Annivers CH
4: Cortina d’Ampezzo IT
5: Champery/Portes du Soleil CH/FR
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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
If you like the friendly Italian-Austrian culture/atmosphere of the Dolomites, you might want to steer clear of Switzerland. Swiss culture is very different. Switzerland lacks the “gemütlichkeit”, main Swiss occupation is their bankaccounts.


Last edited by 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 on Sun 2-01-22 12:03; edited 1 time in total
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
For me (i'm british) it has to be Austria.

France - IMO the French don't really want you there, they just want your money. Many resorts haven't invested in the infrastructure and the après is poor. oh and it's full of Brits getting pissed who generally bring the tone of the resort down as we can't behave ourselves.

Switzerland - expensive. I just remember queuing endlessly in Verbier.

Italy - expensive (although not as expensive as Switzerland) and the resorts i seem to remember lots of to hot lots of bubbles and we spent the days taking skis on and off to get on.

Austria - is my absolute favourite (i've been to Ischgl, St Anton, Schladming, Saalbach, Mayrhofen) - the Austrian's have heavily invested in the infrastructure (heated chair seats and high speed gondola's) and the après is the best in the alps!
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
@Hopwoodc, I have noticed the exact opposite and prefer France over Austria every time. I've always felt very welcome in France, less so in Austria
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