Originally Posted by chase
My opinion on skiing in Europe (or any other continent, for that matter) has always been, "It can't be all *that* different, so if I'm going to go to that region, I'd rather spend my time sightseeing". For instance, instead of a ski trip to Garmisch, I'd probably be more likely to go see Vienna + go ski in CO or UT.
Am I way off base here? Is the skiing there really that much different and/or better? I mean no offense, by the way - it's a sincere question.
As a person who learned to ski in CO and NM, I can say there are quite a lot of differences in Europe.
First, there's the size of the mountains. There are loads with over 1000 m of vertical, a few with 1500 m, and even a couple with 2000 m (the longest continuous run I've been on is about 1700 m, made up of two connected slopes; it was a leg-burner, but I managed to pull it off once). Throw in the overall width of an area made up of multiple towns (Four Valleys, Three Valleys, Espace Killy, etc.), and you can find places with 80-100 lifts under one lift ticket. Even in a well-connected area like Espace Killy, it can take almost two hours to ski from the edge of Val d'Isere to the edge of Tignes, even taking the shortes route, going mach stupid down empty slopes, and not having to wait in lift lines. (1:30 was my best time, but that doesn't include going down the Sache in Tignes, which was closed at the time.) There's so much exploration you can do; it's a sensation you don't really get from too many places in North America.
There's also the difference in terrain. Europeans have no qualms about building resorts with major hazards right in the middle of a bunch of groomed pistes. For example, in Alagna there's a gigantic cliff right at the bottom of a blue trail. Engelberg is similar with pistes and lifts running right around a bunch of cliffs. The smaller ones, plus any other rocks, gullies, etc., usually don't have any warnings either. Plus, there's little to no avalanche control outside of the groomers, so stepping off the groomers gives you much more of a back-country feel, even when you're just going down a sliver of powder between two pistes.
There's more open space as well, given that much of the terrain is above tree level (though you do have to put up with whiteouts because of it). You're not constantly in a framework of trees, so when you do go off-piste, there's more sense of freedom. That combination of open space with unmarked hazards and heavier snow pack is a very different experience from running through the trees in the Rockies; it's one reason my brother keeps coming back to the Alps to ski with me.
Of course, there are also a bunch of cultural differences, too. Many resorts are pre-existing, functioning towns with schools, churches, etc., which gives a place a much more historic feel. In the bigger resorts, there's also much more cultural diversity in the workers and visitors. In a big resort like St. Anton, you can meet loads of people from all over Europe and other parts of the world. Even a single 6-seater can often have three different languages being spoken at the same time. Oh, and the food, too. Mmmm.
Edited by CerebralVortex - 8/22/11 at 6:50am