or Connect
EpicSki › The Barking Bear Forums › On the Snow (Skiing Forums) › General Skiing Discussion › European vs North American skiing: pitch and snow quality
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

European vs North American skiing: pitch and snow quality

post #1 of 34
Thread Starter 

Hi guys, 

 

I've never skied outside of North America. Recognizing that stereotypes aren't representative of all locations, what would you say to this: 

 

What's the pitch of a typical blue run like in Europe compared to here? What are the conditions like, typically? 

 

 

E.g. in Ontario and parts of eastern Canada, temperatures fluctuate wildly and there are fewer snow days, so many days are hardpack/frozen and conditions are more challenging. In Western Canada at most higher elevation hills (barring Whistler), temperatures stay consistently cool at most resorts and there are many snow days, so snow tends to stay softer. The eastern hills tend to be flatter than western ones. Exceptions abound; for example, a blue run at Hemlock in BC is flatter than a blue run at mont-sainte-anne IME. 

 

Are there any such generalizations that could apply between Europe and North America? I'm most interested in Andorra and the Italian alps...

post #2 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Metaphor_ View Post
 

 

Are there any such generalizations that could apply between Europe and North America?

No. Just as an example--in Chamonix/Courmayeur intermediate runs tended to be similar in pitch and not particularly firm at Brevent/Flegere and Courmayeur, steeper and firmer at Grands Montets. Different elevations, aspects. That's the limit of my experience but I suspect others will tell you the same.

post #3 of 34

I am also handicaped in this thread: I have never skied in North America (Europe only). So, speaking from this side of the ocean...

 

Thare are no rules of thumb for how steep a blue or red run is. The system itself has different interpretations throughout the Alps. Green runs, for example, only exist in France. 

 

The only thing one can say is that GENERALLY, a blue run is less steep/difficult than a red one, and a red one is easier tha a black one. Even though there are exceptions...

 

The Saslong run in Val Gardena has two variants: the black one (the worldcup downhill piste) and the red one. Even though the red one has more metres on the same vertical (i.e. on average less steep), it is for most intermediate skiers more difficult to get down. It's quite narrow and has some nasty, always icy bits. As opposed to the black variant, which is fairly wide, less icy and all in all much more regular and easier to ski.

post #4 of 34

Never skied Andorra but I say IN GENERAL that WRT major French and Austrian resorts the grading for Blue, Blue/Black & single Black groomers in Western US/Canada corresponds pretty well to the Euro Blue/Red/Black.  There is no real comparison for ungroomed B/DB.  Euro conditions may be firmer of course at times and certainly can be highly affected by traffic levels through the day.

 

A generally tougher resort however will have a greater gradient at a given grading than a more "cruiser paradise" as in the US.  think JH v Flatstar


Edited by fatbob - 1/25/16 at 7:09am
post #5 of 34

Given that the European grading system is blue-red-black, a typical blue run in most places is pretty easy.

 

Unless there's a massive snow storm stopping the groomers from completing their rounds, every blue in Europe would be groomed. Also, you'll have a lot more variation in conditions due to altitude. Some ski areas in Europe have 1500 m (~5000 ft) or more of vertical, so you can easily see 10 C (18 F) or more temperature differences from top to bottom. If you're on a run that covers most or all of that vertical, then you'll run through a range of conditions on a single slope.

 

On top of that, since the ski areas tend to be made up of several peaks connected from different towns/villages, you have to factor in aspect. You can have faces pointing every direction, so the sun can affect them in different ways (or not affect them, in the case of faces pointing north).

 

So, it can be cold and icy, it can be a little below freezing and reasonably soft, it can be warm and slushy, or it can be all of those at the same time.

post #6 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheizz View Post
 

I am also handicaped in this thread: I have never skied in North America (Europe only). So, speaking from this side of the ocean...

 

Thare are no rules of thumb for how steep a blue or red run is. The system itself has different interpretations throughout the Alps. Green runs, for example, only exist in France. 

 

The only thing one can say is that GENERALLY, a blue run is less steep/difficult than a red one, and a red one is easier tha a black one. Even though there are exceptions...

 

The Saslong run in Val Gardena has two variants: the black one (the worldcup downhill piste) and the red one. Even though the red one has more metres on the same vertical (i.e. on average less steep), it is for most intermediate skiers more difficult to get down. It's quite narrow and has some nasty, always icy bits. As opposed to the black variant, which is fairly wide, less icy and all in all much more regular and easier to ski.

 

Question, is the rating system done in the same manner as in North America. Eg a run isn't rated on it's objective difficulty rather on it's difficulty versus other trails at the same mountain. In the US this can be a big difference. Something that in a not so steep state where I grew up like PA would have a black diamond (difficult) that would be rated a green (easy) at a mountain in UT or CO. 

post #7 of 34

I think not. I know of runs that were red two years ago and are now blue. Resorts do just about anything to make it more appealing to a wider audience. Having more blue runs to come down from the mountain attracs more beginners and amilies... But I tell you, the runs in question are by no means easy, even harder sometimes than some black runs in the same ski area. That's what the french sometimes do anyway. In Italy I have been on runs that were blak on the trail map, but red (with red signs and everything) in real life...

post #8 of 34

There is only one important difference between skiing in Europe and North America and it is one word only : SIZE ( if size matters and I think it does) If you have never skied a  22KM long run in North America , in Europe your chances to do so are quite good.If you have never started your descent from over 12000 feet  to do over 7000 feet vertical  in NA , in Europe  again there is good chance it may happen to you.


Edited by Bogatyr - 1/25/16 at 7:23pm
post #9 of 34

Other differences--no resort boundary. The "boundary" is between the marked pistes--usually but not always groomed--and everything else which may or may not have some degree of avalanche control and may very well have hidden crevasses--something not found in lift served skiing anywhere in NA to my knowledge. 

post #10 of 34
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by oldgoat View Post
 

Other differences--no resort boundary. The "boundary" is between the marked pistes--usually but not always groomed--and everything else which may or may not have some degree of avalanche control and may very well have hidden crevasses--something not found in lift served skiing anywhere in NA to my knowledge. 

 

So... how does one safely ski off-piste? Crevasses are deadly. I don't want to hire a guide, who's also imperfect and could make judgment errors. And while avalanche control doesn't guarantee safety, it really takes out the vast majority of the risk (e.g. I'd never worry about getting caught in an avalanche in-bounds at Whistler-Blackcomb). 

 

Surely there's a market for avalanche control and patrolling off-piste in Europe? 

post #11 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Metaphor_ View Post
 

 

So... how does one safely ski off-piste? Crevasses are deadly. I don't want to hire a guide, who's also imperfect and could make judgment errors. And while avalanche control doesn't guarantee safety, it really takes out the vast majority of the risk (e.g. I'd never worry about getting caught in an avalanche in-bounds at Whistler-Blackcomb). 

 

Surely there's a market for avalanche control and patrolling off-piste in Europe? 

 

The short answer is that you judge for yourself.

 

Crevasses only exist on glaciers, and glaciers only make up a small portion of a small number of ski areas. The main dangers are cliffs and avalanches. The resorts generally don't mark cliffs and other such hazards, so you have to scope out your entire line before you ski it to make sure it's safe. Even if you think you're just popping off the side of a piste, you could find yourself in real danger within a few turns in some places.

 

As for avalanche control, the size of the ski areas makes that prohibitive. The best way to think about it is to consider the fact that Whistler-BC isn't even half as big as the truly big ski areas in Europe. Controlling and patrolling such a large area in addition to grooming all the trails would take too many resources. A lot of resorts will have avalanche indicators on their big trail maps to tell you the overall danger. But, it's still up to you to judge for yourself if you're not skiing with a guide.

post #12 of 34

I have skied in the French and Swiss Alps for over 30 years and in Tahoe, Vail, SLC & Whistler the last 6 years. 

In my opinion, in terms of snow quality, the snow in USA is a lot drier and lighter, powder in the Alps is heavier. In terms of terrain, you will find some of the largest ski resorts in France with excellent terrain and lifts network.  

 

As for grading of difficulties, green, blue, red and black is the colour coding adopted in Europe, sometimes there is little difference between blue and red or between red and black, it really all depends on the snow condition at the time.  

 

There are generally less "rules" and warning signs on the piste in the Alps, there will be signage giving you warning if there is a danger ahead. Do NOT ignore any avalanche warning. 

 

The Alps offer some of the most stunning scenery, Zermatt, Chamonix, Wengen, Selva ..... 

 

It is difficult to compare pitch and difficulties, it depends on where you go.  Tortin in Verbier has one of the biggest mogul field you will find anywhere.

post #13 of 34

What @CerebralVortex says is spot on: when skiing off-piste, you're on your own. This measn you need more than an avalanche awareness course. I, for example, have had 3 off-piste courses: 1. buddy recue (woking the tranceiver, digging a man out, etc.), 2. Theory course (kinds of avalanches, recognizing terrain traps, measureing inclines of slopes, interpreting avalanche bulletin, trip preparation, etc.) and 3. with a guide, in the snow, reading the terrain, looking for signs of weak snow, making chices on the mountain.

 

In the Alps, you don't have to dig your own snow pit and make the snow analysis (although it is very good to do every now and then to understand better what happens to snow). The entire alps a covered by avalanche patrols, either from ski areas or goverments. They share data and insights too, so there is a lot of info if you want it.

 

But every day, the avalanche service issues an avalanche bulleting, explaining exactly what the dangers are, where they are and what kind of slopes to avoid (aspect, incline, altitude) and what signs to look for on the mountain. You use that info to plan your route, which slopes to ski and when (mornig/afternoon), given the infuence of the sun etc. S, you're a bit of your own guide in a sense.

 

Here's today's Avalanche Bulletin for the Tirol province in Austria (in most big regions in Austria and Switzerland, avalanche bulletins are also published in English, in France and Italy much less frequent - that sometime poses a chalenge)...

 

https://apps.tirol.gv.at/lwd/produkte/llb/2015-2016/2016-01-26_0730/2016-01-26_0730_lwdtirol_lagebericht_en.pdf

post #14 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by CerebralVortex View Post

 

As for avalanche control, the size of the ski areas makes that prohibitive. The best way to think about it is to consider the fact that Whistler-BC isn't even half as big as the truly big ski areas in Europe. Controlling and patrolling such a large area in addition to grooming all the trails would take too many resources.

 

I don't buy this excuse.  Why couldn't they just patrol a manageable area of off-piste terrain, like say just one face of one mountain, and then mark the rest as OOB, like North American resorts?  You could still limit it to just groomers everywhere else.  Sure it costs money to do so, but they could charge an extra few bucks to access that lift.  Seems to me like it has to be mainly a cultural thing.

post #15 of 34

Culture or not, it simply is a fact.

post #16 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheizz View Post
 

Culture or not, it simply is a fact.

 

You are missing the point.  It's a fact that there is more groomed terrain; it's not a fact that there NEEDS to be that much groomed terrain, or that resorts couldn't reallocate some of the resources spent on grooming to do control on off-piste areas.  You are assuming that A causes B is a fact, and that's just wrong.

post #17 of 34

I'm not assuming anything. This was not my deduction from earlier statements; we are just pointing out major differences between North America and Europe, yes? Why these differences exist or whether other approaches would be better is an entirely different discussion. 

 

The point @CerebralVortex makes is also a simple fact. Of course, you can question the patrollers' decision to stop grooming and start controling avalnche safety but the market in Europe is very different I think. People WANT groomed runs. Europeans, at least.

post #18 of 34
You're talking as if the Euro way of doing things should be changed? Why? The vast majority of punters love groomers, compare resorts on the basis of km of groomers and spend plenty of cash. Those that want to ski off piste have no restraints they just have to take personal responsibility. If that scares off molly coddled Americans I suspect no one in resort management gives the slightest of shits.
post #19 of 34

No I don't think it should change. I like the relative quiet off-piste...

post #20 of 34
Sorry not you TP.
post #21 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by ToastedPopsicle View Post
 

 

I don't buy this excuse.  Why couldn't they just patrol a manageable area of off-piste terrain, like say just one face of one mountain, and then mark the rest as OOB, like North American resorts?  You could still limit it to just groomers everywhere else.  Sure it costs money to do so, but they could charge an extra few bucks to access that lift.  Seems to me like it has to be mainly a cultural thing.

 

Actually, some ski areas already do this. For example, in the Arlberg area (St. Anton, Lech, et al), they have what they call ski routes. These are marked, controlled, and patrolled trails that are not groomed. In the Espace Killy (Val d'Isere and Tignes), they call them nature pistes or something like that.

 

But even in such places, these trails only make up a very small portion of the overall area. There is still a huge amount of off-piste terrain that people ski that is not controlled or patrolled.

post #22 of 34

Switzerland is the same, Tortin in Verbier is a "ski route". 

post #23 of 34

Other than the avalanche controlled off piste terrain which makes bowl and tree skiing in bounds relatively low risk, lift line etiquette is also much better in North America.

 

I have skied in many French resorts and IME, the Europeans are particularly bad at respecting lift lines. It's a free for all in France, people are quite prepared to barge past you in the line, stepping on your skis in the process.

 

On the other hand, food in european resorts (especially on mountain) is generally much better though. 

post #24 of 34

I have some experience in Austria and France, from the Europe side. Colorado, Tahoe, Whistler and Tremblant for North America.

 

Despite the code of color to be about the same, you'll find that Americas seems to be more precise on the color definition than it be in Europe. Some red ones could become hard as a black with no signs. But not a big deal at all.

 

Keep in mind you should get as many information as possible before go out. And, piste maps could not be enough. Talk with people, take a class or a guided tour on the first day.

 

Some terrains are huge (mostly in France) and know in advance about it could help you to have a more enjoyable day. 

 

Some places, I do not surely know why, have good conditions on the morning and a nasty at afternoon and vice-versa. Maybe due to the geographic wit lots of sun from morning/afternoon whatever!! So, even INFORMATION could and would help your day!!

 

Trees are not so common on the Euro side. 

 

I never have had problems with bad behavior on the Euro Slopes. BTW, In America people behave more politely, in Euro if you are coming in the same pace for the chair(ie.) it's quite common to one to anticipate, in order to get in front. But most of times, with no rivalry or animosity. Maybe a cultural standard.

 

Eduardo

post #25 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Metaphor_ View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by oldgoat View Post

 
Other differences--no resort boundary. The "boundary" is between the marked pistes--usually but not always groomed--and everything else which may or may not have some degree of avalanche control and may very well have hidden crevasses--something not found in lift served skiing anywhere in NA to my knowledge. 

So... how does one safely ski off-piste? Crevasses are deadly. I don't want to hire a guide, who's also imperfect and could make judgment errors. And while avalanche control doesn't guarantee safety, it really takes out the vast majority of the risk (e.g. I'd never worry about getting caught in an avalanche in-bounds at Whistler-Blackcomb). 

Surely there's a market for avalanche control and patrolling off-piste in Europe? 
Well if you don't want to hire a guide then you have to do it yourself. Since you don't know the area you don't know what you don't know. So at least you probably won't know the judgement errors. Great recipe for a body bag.

Huge tradition of guiding in Europe. Sure, what you say could be done in places but then you'd increase the percentage of clueless idiots in nice terrain. Does that benefit things overall? I'd say no.
I think because of the long history of mountaineering in the Alps, and because people actually live in the mountains- rare if non existant in North America, there's a different attitude. There's not as much push to make the mts your personal disney land. You want to go play by yourself, fine, but it's not a tragedy if you die. More of that kind of attitude there but that may be changing due to quantity of people, youtube, and gopro. I don't know.
post #26 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tog View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Metaphor_ View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by oldgoat View Post

 
Other differences--no resort boundary. The "boundary" is between the marked pistes--usually but not always groomed--and everything else which may or may not have some degree of avalanche control and may very well have hidden crevasses--something not found in lift served skiing anywhere in NA to my knowledge. 

So... how does one safely ski off-piste? Crevasses are deadly. I don't want to hire a guide, who's also imperfect and could make judgment errors. And while avalanche control doesn't guarantee safety, it really takes out the vast majority of the risk (e.g. I'd never worry about getting caught in an avalanche in-bounds at Whistler-Blackcomb). 

Surely there's a market for avalanche control and patrolling off-piste in Europe? 
Well if you don't want to hire a guide then you have to do it yourself. Since you don't know the area you don't know what you don't know. So at least you probably won't know the judgement errors. Great recipe for a body bag.

Huge tradition of guiding in Europe. Sure, what you say could be done in places but then you'd increase the percentage of clueless idiots in nice terrain. Does that benefit things overall? I'd say no.
I think because of the long history of mountaineering in the Alps, and because people actually live in the mountains- rare if non existant in North America, there's a different attitude. There's not as much push to make the mts your personal disney land. You want to go play by yourself, fine, but it's not a tragedy if you die. More of that kind of attitude there but that may be changing due to quantity of people, youtube, and gopro. I don't know.

I'm reminded of the guy from Toronto standing next to me while the guide gave us our orientation before doing the Vallee Blanche. As he talked about crevasses--don't ever ski past him and if tells you stay within 3 meters of his line--the guy whispers to me "What's a crevasse?" At least he had the brains to a) get into a guided group and b) ask.

 

The big problem is people who don't know what they don't know. For example me. My wife and I--in shorts and day hiking shoes, with no other gear tool a leisurely stroll a mile or so from the Jungfraujoch to the Monch Hut across the Aletsch glacier. Smooth and flat and people were skiing on it so probably safe, although there were very large seracs well uphill from us, but were there crevasses? I have no idea. Was there avalanche risk? I have no idea. We saw other people doing it--better clad but unroped--so we figured it was ok, but that can be a recipe for disaster.

post #27 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by oldgoat View Post
 

I'm reminded of the guy from Toronto standing next to me while the guide gave us our orientation before doing the Vallee Blanche. As he talked about crevasses--don't ever ski past him and if tells you stay within 3 meters of his line--the guy whispers to me "What's a crevasse?" At least he had the brains to a) get into a guided group and b) ask.

 

The big problem is people who don't know what they don't know. For example me. My wife and I--in shorts and day hiking shoes, with no other gear tool a leisurely stroll a mile or so from the Jungfraujoch to the Monch Hut across the Aletsch glacier. Smooth and flat and people were skiing on it so probably safe, although there were very large seracs well uphill from us, but were there crevasses? I have no idea. Was there avalanche risk? I have no idea. We saw other people doing it--better clad but unroped--so we figured it was ok, but that can be a recipe for disaster.


Everything is fine..until it isn't.  :)  Sometimes you have to ask yourself those questions..is this REALLY a good idea???

post #28 of 34
I have only skied Alberg area and Zermatt in Europe. Much more experience in North America.

In my opinion, in Europe you will find:

Better food, beautiful villages, larger resorts and well groomed runs

In US, at least in the rockies, better snow. And, as someone said before, you will not have the avalanche risk is you want to ski some expert/double black terrain. For me, an advanced skier (but not an expert that has experience in dealing with avalanche risk, that doesn'tuse Arva, shovel, and that type of gear), it makes the difference.

Europe was a nice trip for my family and I, but in terms of skiing, i always end back in the US (and is almost the same for me in terms of traveling)
post #29 of 34

The major difference is - I think - where you come from and what you are used to. It seems that most of US skiers are used to having off-piste terrain patrolled and avy-controlled. So when you go and seek out the gorgeous European off-piste terrain and you learn that you need a guid or become sort of a guide yourself, the magic is (partly) gone. I can imagine that.

 

For us Europeans: we are brought up (until some 10 years ago anyway), that you simply do not go off-piste, unless you're completely self-reliant. For most Europeans, skiing means groomer skiing. And if we research US resorts for a trip (we want to test that beatiful snow of yours), we compare thos US resorts to our owen. And based on what we alway look at - groomed runs only - we decide that it isn't wordth the trip. The tickets are very expensive, in comparison to the nmer of groomed runs you get. But those are the Eueopeans that do not realize tha US resorts have all the terrain available, not just the groomed. 

 

My point: unless you take into consideration the perspective of the other side of the ocean, comparing their ski areas to your own always goes mank.

post #30 of 34

It all comes down to cultural differences - the US is a litigious society, so customers wouldn't think twice about suing the ski area for any harm, and management knows this. People here also expect everything to be spelled out explicitly and don't like to take personal responsibility. Europe is much more lassez-faire, Asia is more unstructured.

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: General Skiing Discussion
EpicSki › The Barking Bear Forums › On the Snow (Skiing Forums) › General Skiing Discussion › European vs North American skiing: pitch and snow quality