Yes, you're correct. Generally speaking the colder average temperature, higher elevations and lower humidity of Europe mean the snowpack is more dry (or less humid, in the language of snow). I'm no expert on the subject, but local (Australian) resorts often experience thaw/freeze cycles leaving the snow slushy in the afternoon (especially in the bottom few hundred yards of some resorts) and then rock hard in the morning. European resorts are both higher and colder and the snow stays dry and relatively 'powdery'.
Conversely, this also means that the waterproof rating of your jackets and pants is a little less important; the snow stays dry and therefore so do you (especially the kids). On the other hand, things do get colder. Serious cold in Australia often comes with the wind chill factor. Snow comes with a storm front, blows horizontally, and everyone is out charging around in it getting cold to the bone (... and LOVING it, to quote Maxwell Smart). Europe should be better, if you're even slightly lucky. Think higher, colder, drier,
Clothing is a personal thing, but generally think base layer, mid layer and outer layer.
Base layer can be thermals (I like wool, but they're all serviceable), compression-style kit like Skins or any number of other brands, or any thin, moisture-wicking stuff. The trick is to get moisture (sweat, melted snowballs, stray beers?) away from the surface of the skin so the body can keep itself warm within the layers of clothing. The only hard and fast rule here is to stay away from cotton, which does the opposite - it traps moisture against the body like a wet T-shirt. Nasty in the wrong context ...
I do use compression pants. I find they help with the 'next morning leg ache' thing - especially on the first day or two.
For the mid layer, for years I used a thin fleece that came as the inside part of a zip-together, 3-in-1 jacket/fleece combination. Lately I've bought something else, but I could still happily charge about in that fleece. Most weights of fleece jacket will do the trick depending on how cold you get.
Now, for the outer layer. Since this is the layer where people will be checking you out, you need to find something that makes you look "the goods". Most jackets and pants these days come with a standardised rating of their waterproofing abilities and breathability - which typically ranges from 5,000 to 20,000 - the higher the better. In years gone by the more waterproof the garment was the less well it breathed, leaving you wringing wet inside from sweat (or the odd stray pale ale). These days the technical outer layer fabrics are just incredible, but also expensive. In Australia, gear rated 5,000 will leave you cold and wet at the end of the day, relying on your mid layer to keep you from becoming too cold. Hereabouts you need an outfit rated 10,000 plus just as a start. Europe may well be different, but not always. If you're upgrading for both Europe and home you should shoot for something reasonable. A second consideration is the difference between an insulated jacket and a shell. Insulation comes in various ratings, of course, and a pure shell will be just that - a thin layer of waterproof fabric that offers nothing much in the way of insulation (my preference). With a pure shell jacket the mid and base layers offer the warmth. Other things to consider are; the number, size and function of the pockets, the sort of hood the jacket might have and whether it's designed to pull over a helmet (important, that one), the type, waterproof nature and function of the zip, whether the jacket includes a powder skirt to keep all that waist deep European powder from ruining the hard-earned stray lager stains on your thermals, the interface between jacket and pants (some brands clip/zip together to keep out the snow), and if you insist on skiing with an iPod some jackets come with plumbing for the headphone leads. Hell, some jackets these days come with controls for your iPod built into the fabric on the sleeve - amazing! Jacket and pants should come with zip vents under the armpits and along the inside/outside of the legs. It helps with their flexibility across conditions.
[edit - damn! forgot my pants] ... Pants offer the same fabric choices as the jackets. Points of difference are bib and brace versus just pants, belt loops or elastic waist or velcro adjusters (or all three), baggy or slim fitting, cargo pockets or not. Ankle gaiters that fit over your boots and keep out snow are fairly standard. I place value on reinforced inner-ankle fabric after my edges sliced away at my first pair of ski pants whilst I was getting the hang of things. I also prefer a belt over an elastic waist. Pants also can be insulated or shell, and I prefer insulated pants with zip vents for warmer conditions.
Socks? I use the same thin, wool-rich blend socks I use when I head into the office. There are all sorts of specialty sports socks out there that make various claims on performance and function. I don't use them, and I don't miss them.
Gloves? Some gloves claim to be relatively waterproof, but take that with a grain of salt. Hands just get cold and wet, but the drier snow in Europe means that gloves will cope better. Plump for a decent fitting pair that are warm. My gloves are all gauntlet-style and overlap the wrists of my jacket to varying degrees, but suit yourself. Some swear by leather palms, but whatever takes your fancy, really. Silk inner gloves can be used if you get really cold hands.
Goggles are hideously important, and worth spending good money on. You can ski when you're cold and wringing wet. You can ski when your feet hurt because your boots are all wrong for your feet. You can ski with entirely the wrong ski on your feet. You can even ski with a cracked rib and a corked thigh (done that). But you can't ski when your cheap-ass goggles fog up incessantly and you can't see where you're going. I've been there too. Buy good goggles. The way your goggles fit with your helmet is important, so take your helmet when you choose a pair of goggles (assuming you wear a helmet).
A fleece neck gaiter is a good thing to have. They're cheap, they fit into your jacket pocket and, if things get cold, they make a world of difference pulled up over your mouth leaving just the tip of your nose exposed to the elements. Having a conversation is interesting, but at least you're toasty. I actually have two different weights of these; one fleece and one microfibre. Invaluable.
So, using the same basic outfit over several years I've dealt with sweaty Spring days in Australia (maybe 5*C), mid-winter storms with hideous wind chill in Australia, and minus 18*C and windy in Japan. If it's warm you open the zips (including the armpit and leg vents) - even going so far as having the jackets undone completely. When it's cold you close it all up, include the heavy neck gaiter, and perhaps even go so far as to include another thermal layer.
It's the end of the season hereabouts, so you can find lots of good stuff on sale. Check the rating for jackets and pants, take time to get the right base layer, and ask the store about claiming back the GST on the outfits when you clear customs - I believe that's possible.
Good luck and enjoy your trip.
Edited by sinbad7 - 9/22/11 at 8:37pm