I'm in a group of 4-6 following someone around. If there is fresh snow, i am likely waiting for people flailing and falling. I'm one of 4-6, how do I even get a chance to have good talks with the guide about the resort.
This is a non-issue IMHO. When I was with Piste-to-Powder in St. Anton they separate groups into 4 ability ranges and all 3 days I was with very compatible groups of 4-5 people. No different than heliskiing in an A-Star.
In St Anton
I rode most of the lifts (probably 50) in a couple of days. I skied every area of the resort, including the White Ring in Lech.
The White Ring is a long series of marked groomed runs. That video off the north side of the Valluga? You're not even allowed up there without a guide, and that was clearly the highlight run of my week in the Arlberg.
I skied most of Zermatt
on my other trip and had a blast. (although it was not my kind of skiing!).
No you didn't because it was in December and only a limited number of pistes were open and zero off-piste. Zermatt in Feb. 2014 was my most impressive Euro trip and it was a quite different experience than you described.
I hate to be argumentative about this "guide is necessary" but I guess I am.
I just have no idea why it is assumed that with 80 lifts I can't find some nice black trails and moguls run to ski by myself.
You can, but I'll bet groomed blacks and moguls aren't what you like best about Snowbird.
Avalanche danger - I'll worry about that if there is fresh snow. My last two trips to Europe had zilch danger, there was no recent snow and it was all skied out.
But, If there is powder to be had, I think $150/day extra to go with a guide and ski powder all day would be well worth it.
You get far enough off-piste and there will likely be some powder several days after a storm. And your late January time frame is ideal in terms of multiple day powder preservation. That should be one of the reasons you're going to the Alps in the first place. Wide open powder slopes are not all hammered in the first 2 hours like they are most places in North America.
Crevasse danger - please correct me if I'm wrong, I know there is a glacier at the top of Mont Forte, but besides that are crevasse's a danger there? I'm pretty sure on another thread someone said they are not at Verbier. I'll find out for sure.
I only had one day at Verbier but I think you're right about the crevasses. At Chamonix and Zermatt I was guided in places where there were crevasses, including this one we skied inside!
Cliff's etc - I'll just have to use my ski sense to scope out routes prior to wondering off. I am sure there is gravity to be had w/o taking unnecessary chances even though it is labeled off-piste.
When off piste ski routes are miles and thousands of vertical feet long you often have no clue at the top whether you're skiing into a potential terrain trap. Sort of like Granite Canyon at Jackson Hole. I'd love to ski that, but I'm not going to unless I'm guided by a local who has been there before. On your own you have to be sensible and only ski where you can see that you have a safe exit.
A guided day - now i am reading that most of these guided trips go on the fringes of the resort. So I spend 2 hrs going off the back of Mt Forte and what good does that do me in learning the resort??? If there is a crevasse danger to worry about - I am not going to take a chance in finding my way through by myself the next day. What good in learning the resort does it do me to go off the beaten path for say 1/2 of the guided day, when I might not trust myself to take the exact same route again.
These are unique ski experiences that you won't get anywhere else. Some in the Arlberg I would do on my own with friends now that I have seen them, the ones with glacial features Chamonix/La Grave/Zermatt definitely not.
There are likely going to be a couple ten thousand people skiing the resort the days I am there. It's silly to think they all need guided experience of that resort to enjoy their day.
Yes, and 95+% of those people stay on the pistes. You and I go to the Alps precisely because we want to be part of the other 5%.
That's why I'm going to Verbier - hopefully the goods are there w/o having to wander too far off the beaten path, or so i read!
Actually I have some sympathy with SnowbirdDevotee's premise. I think you need to research and pick your spots in terms of when you're getting the most value from being guided. It varies a lot by resort IMHO. My experience has been as follows:
La Grave: Here you need to be guided all the time unless you're content to ski the one run under the lift all day.
Chamonix: This was my first Euro trip. It was a press trip with guides every day. Guides are required on Vallee Blanche. Grands Montets I could have done OK on my own but did get to ski that crevasse run with the guides. Guides are probably not needed at the smaller places (Le Tour, Brevant-Flegere, etc).
St. Anton/Lech/Zurs/Stuben: I hired Piste-to-Powder for 3 of my 6 days there. As noted above guides are required for top of the Valluga. The other places I skied with guides were far enough off-piste that I would never have found them on my own. And there was not that much new snow, so those far off places were where the powder was.
Davos (3 days after the week in the Arlberg): Here I did it SnowbirdDevotee's way, and the last day on Parsenn was a nice powder day. But Parsenn is mostly intermediate terrain and much of the powder was close by the pistes. Two days at Flims-Laax (also very intermediate but minimal new snow) were also unguided.
Zermatt: Liz and I had one guided day for the trek to and ski down the Schwarze Glacier. I did a lot of research about Zermatt before the trip. Within Zermatt there seemed to be vast terrain, notably off the 3,450 vertical Hohtalli tram, which could be visually scouted as SnowbirdDevotee envisions. Since it snowed 3x during our week the powder was there for the taking and not a long trek away as on the Arlberg trip.
On the Chamonix trip we had a daytrip to Verbier: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=5551
We were guided until lunch. After lunch I went up the Mont Gele tram on my own for another impressive run.
The rules of thumb IMHO:
1) The more expert terrain reputation, the more likely you should be guided at least some of the time to get the most out of what the resort has to offer.
2) The less intense research you do in advance, the more likely you should hire a guide to speed up the learning curve.
Due to #1 above, I would advise SnowbirdDevotee at Verbier to reserve a guide for one day early in the trip, see how it goes and decide whether you want more.
Edited by Tony Crocker - 12/3/15 at 12:46pm