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Christmas Trip Help

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hello everyone,

I'm a planner by nature so this all feels a bit last minute for me even though it is still 6 months away! We had a trip to Europe cancelled due to a death in the family last week so are thinking of taking a trip to ski in Europe this winter instead. We have kids 13 and 11 so are unfortunately limited to Christmas time. Looking like trip dates would be roughly Sunday Dec 25 through Wednesday Jan 4. Having not skied in Europe before and taking a non skier I'd sure appreciate thoughts on potential destinations.

Thoughts:

- as snow sure as possible even if man made
- limited crowds even it if means more off the beaten path non destination resorts (we're Indy pass holders so are used to not having the biggest or best)
- traditional euro/alpine feel (authentic)
- cities or larger towns in somewhat close proximity for the non skiers (60-90 minutes each way is fine)
- we will be skiing exclusively on piste (much to my 11 years old's chagrin)

I can happily provide more information if it helps with potential options. All thoughts are greatly appreciated!
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Welcome to Snowheads, @nelliefj40. I'm sure you'll get lots of suggestions and advice. Some of it good!! Christmas is early season, and wish for "authentic/alpine" is to some extent at odds with "snow sure". Snow sure at that time generally means high altitude which can be cold, bleak and inauthentic. The other obvious point is that your dates probably don't mesh with the usual availability of accommodation. European destinations are not as flexible as I understand is the case in N America, especially at busy times. And New Year is the busiest, most expensive, and crowded, week of the ski season - despite the odds of less than great snow.

I only really know France - I suspect you might find you can tick more boxes in Switzerland or Austria, particularly if you were prepared to sacrifice the "ski in/out" aspect, which tends to figure high on the wish list of British skiers, most of whom won't have access to a car.

Your nonskier will be easier to cater for if he/she enjoys the mountains and would be able to do some walks, snow-shoeing, and joining you skiers for lunch sometimes. That presupposes adequate cold weather gear and footwear, of course.

Information about your accommodation preferences would be helpful. Hotel? Rented apartment giving you the choice of self-catering or eating out? Will you all ski together, or will kids be in ski school?

And -- of course - budget! Some places, like Lech in Austria are very expensive and the best accommodation will be booked up already. But there'll be lots of availability in other places.
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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?
@pam w[/b], thank you so much for the prompt reply containing excellent thoughts.

Your comment regarding authenticity and snow sure makes total sense to me. I know my set of hopes coupled with timing isn't ideal by any means.

We plan to book an apartment to, as ypu suggest, have an option to self cater some.

My kids and I will be skiing red/black slopes while my wife will most certainly prefer blues.

The non skier does indeed love the mountains. She'd love to sled with us and will likely occupy time reading/watching/taking in scenery/meeting us for lunches. She'd also like to wander towns and take in the atmosphere.

Ski in/out isn't necessary.

Budget is flexible but we'd likely choose to avoid the highest priced regions.
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"Limited crowds" is also a hard one - perhaps best dealt with, counter-intuitively, by going to one of the mega resorts with an excellent lift system. The Espace Killy, for example, with apartments galore, good non-skiing activities, as snow sure as anywhere but not many cosy village nooks. You might benefit from taking an instructor for a day to show you the best red/black skiing available and to advise on the lift bottlenecks to avoid.

I don't know Serre Chevalier, but there are people here who do and the proximity of the old town of Briancon might be attractive.

A completely different alternative would be the Italian Dolomites - best snow-making in Europe (because availability of the real stuff is not guaranteed......), wonderful mountain scenery, great mountain restaurants, cheap coffee. Cortina is a smart, busy, town full of expensive art shops and mink coats. the Italians like to "fare la bella figura". Perhaps the whole gang of you could spend a day in Venice on the way in or out - if you've never been there, it lives up to the hype better than most cities, though it can be cold and drizzly (not to mention flooded.....).

Salzburg and Innsbruck are good towns to visit (the former particularly if your non skier has any affinity with Mozart!) with ski areas quite close. Vienna is too far from the ski action. I wouldn't bother with Geneva, personally.

I've never skied in Switzerland, but I'm sure you'll get some good suggestions from people who know it well.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@nelliefj40, welcome to snowHeads! snowHead

A few comments, firstly how many people in total are there in your party? You mentioned 2 kids and yourself and your wife and one non-skier, but elsewhere you mentioned non-skiers (plural). Secondly have you any preference as to which European airport you fly into, Geneva is good for France and Switzerland (as is Zurich for Switzerland). Munich is quite good for Austria as it's a fairly easy train journey from Munich into Austria. Venice is a good option for the Italian Dolomites.

If you should get an apartment in France be aware that many French self catering apartments do tend to be rather limited on space (particularly compared to some American apartments). Whichever ski area you look at in France, Switzerland, Austria or Italy the local tourist information website should have details of available accommodation for your desired dates.
As regards possible areas, then pam w's suggestions of the Italian Dolomites is a good one, outstanding scenery, very well maintained pistes and snow making, and great mountain restaurants with excellent value food.
I don't know all that many French resorts, but I have stayed with friends in an apartment in La Clusaz, which has good skiing, is quite a short transfer from Geneva and is a traditional French village with a weekly market held in the centre.
As regards Switzerland I know the Jungfrau ski region (Grindelwald, Wengen and Mürren) very well. Very scenic, with the iconic three mountains of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Wengen of course has the Lauberhorn World Cup Downhill course which you can ski, Mürren has the Schilthorn with the James Bond 007 connection and a nice black run down from the top. There's plenty to do in the Jungfrau region for the non-skier(s) too, with several long toboggan runs, and you can do a trip on the mountain railway up to the Jungfraujoch Top of Europe. There's also the nearby town of Interlaken which is worth visiting.

In Austria I'd suggest you look at Zell am See , which has a nice lakeside setting, a Christmas market in the old town square, and is now linked with the ski area of Saalbach-Hinterglemm. It also has nearby glacier skiing at Kaprun as insurance if the snow conditions should be poor. Also the Zillertal region with separate ski areas of Kaltenbach/Hochfügen, Zell am Ziller, and Mayrhofen. Easy to get to by train from Munich, and it also has glacier skiing at Hintertux as insurance if the snow conditions should be poor.
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@nelliefj40,
Sounds exciting. I have personally followed Alastair’s advice when Europe trip planning before and we had a great time. He makes some great suggestions. We opted for the Zillertal for our first taste of European skiing and it didn’t disappoint. The train trip into Innsbruck for the non skier is easy too. We stayed in the village of Kaltenbach but there are many options in the valley. The Zillertal is just that bit higher than surrounding ski areas like Skiwelt so it has a slight ‘snow sure’ advantage that time of year.

I would also look at St Johann im Pongau which is part of the Ski Amade region. It has a regular bus to Salzburg.
https://www.skiamade.com/en/Ski-resorts/Salzburger-Sportwelt/Sankt-Johann-Snow-Space-Salzburg

Alastair’s Jungfrau suggestion is on my bucket list. You may find Switzerland to be a bit more expensive generally compared to the other alpine countries.

I may receive some disagreement here but if looking at France I would consider Chamonix. It has easy access to Geneva (Switzerland) and Aosta (Italy) for days out. The skiing at Les Houches should cater for your wife. There’s also the chance for a days skiing in Courmayeur (Italy) on the other side of Mount Blanc. And there’s not too many places more iconic than Chamonix Mount Blanc.

Good luck with the research and planning. I find it to be almost as exciting as the trip itself.
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@nelliefj40,
Would you be hiring a car or relying on local transport?
What are your language requirements? English or local?
Would you consider a UK tour operator?
And an idea of your budget would help with suggestions.
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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!
@nelliefj40, Your dates look more like "New Year's week", one of the most expensive you can finde. Accommodation dates are often different Christmas/New Year.

Where do you plan to fly in to? Munich, Geneva, Zurich Vienna, Venice? This is important as well.

And as said above French apartments are not just small but tiny for the number of people they say can live there Shocked - I tried it once - and have change to catered Chalets in France - or maybe I have just become to old for that.

In Italy and Austria apartments are lager. Don't know about Switzerland. Hotels can be cheap in Italy as well, and I find apartments have become rather expensive compared to catered options nowadays.

With a non skier I would look at a skiplace with all the piste leading down to the village from all sides - like f.eks Pam W mentions (old style skiing place).

There are so many places - but being near a larger? town limits it a bit.

Good luck with you planning! snowHead
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I am no blind Francophile and in my earlier message said that I thought the OP might find what he's looking for elsewhere. However, these generalisations about French apartments are irritating. With French apartments, you get what you pay for. Some are certainly tiny and squished and cheap, some are rather nice and very expensive. There is a huge choice for all budgets and far more low-cost options than in the other Alpine countries. Here's a nice medium budget option https://www.chaletladakh.com/en/. I dislike hotels and I'd much prefer to stay somewhere like this than in some big fancy hotel. In many of the smarter French chalets you have the option to hire a chef for the week and choose your own menu. My son's worked as one of those chefs in the past - his staff accommodation was sometimes nicer than most self-catering apartments! He cooked for the Duke of Devonshire on one occasion, though naturally the Duke didn't fill every bed in the chalet!!! Some of the chalets he's worked in had their own cinema room and horizon pool. Just out of this world - and out of almost everybody's budgets. Historically a winter ski holiday has been part of the year for very modest French families, on a very tight budget - often taking grandparents to help with childcare and usually self-catering though there are also cheap "holiday centre" options in some places. The choice available in France is endless.
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Quote:

And as said above French apartments are not just small but tiny for the number of people they say can live there

The size is almost always the size quoted. If it says 20m2 then it will be 20m2. As @pam w, says you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Incidently New Year week this year is cheaper than the Christmas week and I suppose less crowded. I supsect this is because New Year's day is a Sunday and people are expecting to be back at work on the Monday
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@nelliefj40, Welcome, and well done on a well formed question wink

(@johnE,
Quote:
New Year week this year is cheaper than the Christmas week
Not everywhere I don't think although I suppose it depends on your definitions ...)

I know nothing about Austria (well, visited often enough, just not for skiing, my bad). I would imagine though taht it might well tick your boxes as a country. I'd be thinking Italy myself. Monterosa for example, snow sure due cannons, easy airports (2x Milan, Turin, Geneva) probs with easy US connections. The French resorts that are snow sure-as-far-as-that-goes will (broad generalisation) be expensive and busy whereas Italy less so. I am afraid our apartment in Champoluc is already booked up.

Swiss expense surely a function of exchange rates and attitude? We never found it expensive in 13 years of living there wink
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@nelliefj40, Well, we still have availability for that week in our larger apartment (125sqm) or two studios (one above the other) so I'll give a shout-out for Morgins.

We've only been here for five seasons, but skiing at Christmas has always been excellent. The village is at 1300m, and with shaded, North-facing home runs skiing back to the village has always been possible from early December to late April. Once up the mountain on the Swiss side there's loads of snow-making, and easy (ski) links to France open up the rest of the Portes du Soleil which includes a lot of higher-altitude skiing.

The village most definitely give the authentic alpine feel - all developments for fifty+ years have had to conform to a general style including pitched roofs so it looks stunning, especially when it's lit up and snowing at Christmas time. Not the most lively of places, so if you want (and I don't think you do) the crowds and the noisy party apres-ski vibe you can pop over to Chatel, just five kilometres over the hill. Most of our guests really appreciate the relatively quiet atmosphere, but there are enough bars and restaurants within a relatively compact village, so don't worry that it might feel empty or soulless, nothing could be further from the truth.

Look at our website (in my sig as well as my user name) for details of our accommodation, but authentic alpine charm is what we have in bucketloads. Feel free to message me if you'd like more details offline, as it were. Oh, here's a picture to give you a feel, taken from our balcony.

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under a new name wrote:


Swiss expense surely a function of exchange rates and attitude? We never found it expensive in 13 years of living there wink


Well the US$ has certainly got stronger over the last 2 years against the Swiss Franc: https://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=USD&to=CHF&view=2Y

Mind you, it's also got stronger against the Euro too: https://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=USD&to=EUR&view=2Y

So in general terms Europe has got cheaper for visiting US tourists, good news for @nelliefj40. Madeye-Smiley
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Wow, everyone's help here has been simply amazing. Thank you! To clear up a few things:

- I am now nearly positive we will be renting a vehicle
- There are 5 people in total.
- My kids and I who are are the big skiers
- My wife who skis only to be with her family and will only ski a handful of days
- My mom who hasn't skied in 20 years. Might try a day on very easy slopes. Mostly a non skier.

We have been fortunate enough to travel to Jungfrau in summer and it was amazing. We did find Switzerland expensive and wouldn't be likely to spend this ski trip there. I will say however that it was the most spectacular place that I've ever been. Stunning.

We don't really have any preference for airport. Right now our cheapest options appears to be Milan. We are unfortunately English speakers only. We'd consider a tour operator but are much more likely to put the trip together ourselves. Budget excluding airfare would be around 8,000 usd but if things were substantially cheaper that would be perfectly ok!

Based on all the information above I think we're considering:

- Dolomati Superski
- Ski Amade
- Zell am See / Saalbach-Hinterglemm

and maybe one crazy one:

- Pyrenees around Saint-Lary-Soulan

Any additional thoughts or considerations would be very welcome. Thank you all once again for your help!
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Be worth checking Sunweb there prices include lift passes by default but as you get to Step 2 you can remove lift pass for non-skier and also see discount for children
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I would definitely recommend a car in the Pyrennees - not necessary for day trips, as the resorts are quite a bit apart by road, but to spend two or three days in each resort. Apart from Baqueira and, I believe, Soldeu/Pas de la Casa, these are not big resorts and some, if they are anything like they used to be - St Lary have not the greatest lift systems in the world. La Mongie is another rather pleasant Pyrrennean resort and home to the infamous Col de La Tourmalet of Tour de France fame (but not in this year's just gone)

Looking at your requirements - I would be tempted by Austria - Zillertal, Zell am See, Saalbach, Kitzbuhel or surrounding villages. A bit of a curveball would be Badgastein/Hofgastein - not so great for blue run skiers but loads of great long reds on the blackish rather than blueish side. Being on or close to railways trips to Salzburg or Innsbruck are very possible.

Some of the Italian resorts are not as well connected for day trips and the suchlike for non-skiers.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@nelliefj40, if Milan is easy, Dolomites not such a long drive. Moonterosa also easy. Italian food and wine, what's not to like. I haven't been in e.g. Baqueira for years but I'd *think* the Pyrenees a bit more^limited? and a lot more of a drive from anywhere.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
I've never been to the Pyrenees in winter but judging from reports on Snowheads, those areas are not high up on the "snow sure at Christmas" list.
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@pam w, Not being "high up" at all is part of their problem. I've skied Andorra and Bequeira, neither of them at Christmas time, but would certainly second your sentiment.
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@nelliefj40, Of the 3 options you listed I would go for the Dolomites. Though not particularly snow sure there is plenty of snowmaking and the scenery is quite good. The only drawback as I see it is that there isn't much for the non skier to do once they have exhausted the footpaths. The via ferrata are too cold and the short days mean they are a little dangerous IMHO. Some ice climbing may be possible if you approach the guides association and of course the trenches of the first world war are still there so they can experience the horror of the "white war".
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@nelliefj40,

If you choose Sella area, may be Covara/Colfosco or Plan de Grabla or Ortisei Alpe di Siusi- for easier slobes. All not near big towns.

Saalbach-Hinterglemm is called Skicirkus - and that is what it is - many people, just as many other place at that timing.

Wagrain Alpenbach in Ski Amade as others have pointed at.

You have chosen some of the very popular places - very busy at New Year.

Budget should leave room for even at hotel in Italy

And your own booths are always the best once! Madeye-Smiley


You could also look at Pila in Italy. A smaller place - but there are so many places in the Alps.


For you timing you should not plan too long. Cool

Language should not really be a problem in Alps anymore. (but some do not spell good) Madeye-Smiley


Last edited by You'll need to Register first of course. on Mon 1-08-22 5:56; edited 2 times in total
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@nelliefj40, I would be inclined to decide airport then base on that. Not huge amounts close to Milan especially if trying to cater for non-skier.

Not sure where you can get direct fligts to you? But if Munich is possible then that opens up lots of Austrian resorts. Which have a lovely feel to them IMHO.

We went to Mayrhofen mid April which I would think makes a good base for having non skier and reasonably snow sure. You can get much higher there as a pedestrian than a lot of places. Plus it has a proper town.
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@NickyJ,
Quote:

Not huge amounts close to Milan


Que?

Aosta valley
Verbier
Chamonix ...
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under a new name wrote:
@NickyJ,
Quote:

Not huge amounts close to Milan


Que?

Aosta valley
Verbier
Chamonix ...


Was looking at under 2.5hrs... maybe the source I looked at misquoted transfer?
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@NickyJ, probs not - I'm seeing 3hrs30 from here to Linate. But they are American so long drives don't matter ...
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under a new name wrote:
@NickyJ, probs not - I'm seeing 3hrs30 from here to Linate. But they are American so long drives don't matter ...


Hence usage of "close" snowHead they may be up for further but after 8-10hr flight, I wouldn't want to travel further. Maybe more worthwhile to get Geneva or Zurich flights for example....
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@NickyJ, good point. Geneva has a sparkly new intercontinental terminal, frinstance
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It will also be easier to rent a car equipped with winter tyres in Geneva.
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You know it makes sense.
@pam w, haha too true Italian car rentals notoriously dodgy!
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Quote:

@NickyJ, probs not - I'm seeing 3hrs30 from here to Linate. But they are American so long drives don't matter ...

Surely they will land at Malpensa.

Linate is better for the Dolomites, but Malpensa for the Western parts of the Italian alps and not too far to the French hills.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
@johnE, my recollection, albeit dated, is that Linate is much more transcontinental, MXP rather more Ryanair.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
some thoughts...
1. about the appartment prices. In Austria you could find really good offers, but not ski in ski out. In such cases, tha appartments are much betten as the cheaps in France but you have to drive with the car or take the ski bus. If someone looks onyl for ski in ski out (e.g. Obertauern, or Serfaus) the prices are on another level. I think that in such cases France is a better option
2. Zell Am see is really good for non skiers, but also really low. I think Ski Amade will be a better option or Saalbach. Much better for this period are the villages in Val Gardena...however..
3. you have to consider that there are some rumors, about the possibility that in this winter there will be not a winter as usuall...becuase of the Ukraine-Russia war, there maybe some restrictions as regards as the electricity, gas etc. That maybe, will influence the production of artificial snow...maybe
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
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@under a new name, Ryanair uses Bergamo, which isn't even near Milan. Linate, the old airport, serves mainly internal Italian flights (I haven't been there for decades) and is really close to the city centre. The new airport, Malpensa, is a fair way north of the city and handles almost all the international flights.
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@johnE, happy to be corrected. Last flew out of Linate 2013 and can't recall why.

Reasonably sure Ryanair do use MXP but I try to not pay attention to their activities. Last flew them into Turin I think in 2004. Cheaper to fly there for the weekend and ski than have two nights out in London, at that point.

Sorry, thread drift.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@nelliefj40,
Fly to Geneva. Consider Meribel (3 Valleys) or Val D'Isere (Espace Killy) if you want to stay in a ski resort. If that is not an essential then maybe Bourg St Maurice - access directly into Paradiski plus short drives to 3 Valleys, La Rosiere (lunch in Italy?), Ste Foy & Espace Killy.
Even over Christmas & New Year Paradiski, 3 Valleys & Espace Killy are all so big that you would rarely notice how many people were there.
With the exception of BSM all the above areas are well serviced by UK tour operators if you choose that route. And English is widely spoken - often more than French!
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Thank you all for the continued thoughts and input. I am certainly concerned about crowds. I'm hoping to book flights soon which should help in limiting options. As under a new name pointed out long drives aren't typically a-concern however limiting the driving in potentially winter conditions is always a plus.

Not being ski in/out is fine and potentially rather more what we're looking for. Being in an authentic town would be preferable for the non skier(s).

Thank you for the comment above regarding options in BSM that is certainly something for us to consider!

Any thoughts on a town to base in in Austria with smaller resorts we could drive to each day that might mitigate crowds? I've found a couple good rental options in Landeck but I'm guessing there are many such places with potentially better smaller ski options?

Thanks again!
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nelliefj40 wrote:
Any thoughts on a town to base in in Austria with smaller resorts we could drive to each day that might mitigate crowds? I've found a couple good rental options in Landeck but I'm guessing there are many such places with potentially better smaller ski options?

It is New Year week, everywhere will be busy.

People are suggesting that you go to big resorts that have the lift capacity to cope with crowds.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
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Well there are lot of places in Austria - maybe you should wait til you know where you land.

https://www.skiresort.info/ski-resorts/austria/





Opensnowmap is giving a good overview:

https://www.opensnowmap.org/#map=10/11.874/47.329&b=snowmap&m=false&h=false (just a example)

https://www.opensnowmap.org/#map=3/0/30&b=snowmap&m=false&h=false
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Thank you all. I do understand I am planning a trip for one of the busiest times of the year.

You all or correct that choosing flights would limit the available options. I'd have done so if not for some airline hassles I am dealing with.

I have now bounced from austria to the Dolomites as some suggested above. Perhaps in the Val di Fassa (off the Sella ronda) to perhaps mitigate crowds but still have good infrastructure.

Any thoughts on that option?

Hopefully flights will be booked in the next few days.

Cheers.
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nelliefj40 wrote:

Any thoughts on a town to base in in Austria with smaller resorts we could drive to each day that might mitigate crowds? I've found a couple good rental options in Landeck but I'm guessing there are many such places with potentially better smaller ski options?

Thanks again!


One of my previous suggestions of the Zillertal would meet those requirements. You could stay in Mayrhofen (the largest town in the valley) and drive to other ski areas in the valley i.e Zell am Ziller, Kaltenbach/Hochfugen or up to the glacier at Hintertux. Outside the valley but nearby is the Ski Juwel (ski jewel) area. For the non-skier a day trip by train from the mainline station at Jenbach to Innsbruck is very easy to do. Incidentally just a km or so outside Mayrhofen there is a dairy/mountain cheese factory that does tours (with samples!) https://www.erlebnissennerei-zillertal.at/erlebniswelt/besucher-infos/

If you go to the Sella Ronda area in the Italian Dolomites (highly recommended), then which particular area of that you stay in would probably be influenced by where you are flying into. If you were to fly into Milan and then drive from there the western parts of the Sella Ronda circuit would be a bit closer i.e Val Gardena or Val di Fassa. If you manage to fly into Venice then the eastern parts of the Sella Ronda are closer for you i.e Alta Badia or Arabba (although Arabba whilst a very good location for the skiers is a fairly small town with not much for the non-skier).
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