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Seeking European trip advice

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 
Hello folks. My wife and I are planning a 2 week ski vacation for the end of March this year and would like to give the Alps a try. We have never skied in Europe and need some help getting started with the planning. About us:

Experienced skiers- Level 8-9. Alta/Snowbird are our favorites and we prefer to ski off-piste, natural snow conditions (bumps, crud, powder, trees etc)

Quality/quantity of snow is very important.

Don't care about shopping

Like to explore the local culture, so we like to sample local food and lifestyle.

Not big partiers, but like après-ski drinks & food

Would like to do some sight-seeing, art/architecture appreciation, but skiing is the primary activity so don't want to sacrifice snow/terrain for access to urban area.

Reasonable access from major airport (flying from DC). Open to train from airport.

Also if this season looks like a bad one condition-wise, we would probably opt to stay in the US- so let us know if you think we should wait for another year.

So any help getting us started would be very welcome. Thanks in advance!
post #2 of 27
Tough to beat Chamomix. One hour from Geneva. Don't need a car. Fancy but not too much. Amazing views. Tough terrain at Argentiniere and the Valle Blanche. Amazing views. Awesome even if it's no good, if you know what I mean. Accessible to some other places too, Courmayer Italy plus Verbier?
post #3 of 27
Might need to hire guide if you are there for a week and want really high end terrain or variety
post #4 of 27

I have lived in Europe and US and skied extensively in both regions.  I think you'll really enjoy a trip to Europe.

That said, the alps are often oversold.  A few things to consider:

  •     Snow quality and quality is typically worse in Europe than western NA.  Coverage isn't typically a problem but powder is more rare and snow is usually less powdery than Utah.
  •     Off piste skiing is typically not avalanche controlled.  The exception is that some ski areas have a few "ski routes" that are controlled (more common in Swiss/Austria)  The other option is to hire a guide.  You can also complete back country training and purchase associated equipment but this is a significant task (assuming you have not already done so)
  •     You should have lots of flight options from DC.  Geneva and Zurich are the most common entry airports.  Trains are common and reliable in Austria and Switzerland.  Buses (typically called "transfers") and rental cars are more common in France.
  •     A lot of people will tell you alps ski areas are bigger.  That really depends:
    • Alpine ski areas typically have more vertical drop, with longer runs
    • Alpine ski areas typically have more lifts (and more crowds on slopes as a result)
    • Alpine ski areas typically have more connected villages which allows skiing across large distances
    • NA ski areas typically are bigger in terms of avalanche controlled terrain
    • NA ski areas typically have many runs per lift, alpine ski areas often have just one per lift
post #5 of 27

Some really big generalisations, but inme snow usually keeps nice much longer in the US. One week old snow is as nice as fresh in the alps.

Crowds ... that is very variable and time dependent. There are many lesser known places in the alps that don't draw the big crowds. I understand that if you go to Europe you want to visit some of the hyped spots, but since you have two weeks, you can go to more than one resort. Try to find something less talked about as a complement to a big name. Say you go to the Dolomites (very famous, can be crowded at some places at certain times), you could combine it with a resort in Lombardy, or in Austria. France has places like Serre Chevaliere or La Grave if you like back country which you could combine with e.g. Val d'isere. There's heli skiing in the Aosta valley if you feel like spending ... could combined with a stay Zermatt in Switzerland.

As said, European resorts normally only have on piste skiing, which most of the time means groomed surfaces. There are lots and lots of back country around every resort, if you know what you are doing. So for that you really need a local guide no matter what your previous education and experience is. You are new there and can impossibly know about local dangers and conditions. A lot of Americans don't want to be hand-held, but just swallow your pride and get a guide. It's the only reasonably safe way. It doesn't have to be that expensive and you will get directly to the absolute best spots under prevailing conditions.

And I'm going to go against some widely spread ideas -- in Europe that is -- and say that beer is much better in the US than in the Alp region. Really hard to get a decently hopped Pale Ale or IPA in most resorts. Only pilsner or lager.

Food though, is normally a l lot better in Europe. There are of course exceptions.

Edited by Karlsson - 2/4/16 at 5:56am
post #6 of 27

Everyone has their own way of doing things, but if I was going for 2 weeks I would recommend staying in at least 2 places so that not only can you enjoy the sampling of terrain and lifts but also the towns.  If you have sampled enough of the US resorts I would definitely recommend a trip to the Alps. 


I've skied Zermatt, St. Anton and I just got back from Verbier.  A big factor in Europe is piste vs off-piste.  If you are like me and like to ski ungroomed terrain and moguls that could be an issue.  In both St. Anton and Verbier I found plenty of off-piste ungroomed terrain that was well-traveled and safe to ski.  At both places there was no reason to get a guide to ski challenging ungroomed terrain.  Zermatt was different.  Although it was early December and the big expert lift was closed, it seemed like you had to either ski the groomers or "get a guide" - because off-piste seemed to go into unknown territory where you certainly would not venture on your own.


You could get a shuttle from the airport to your resorts, but that might be difficult for between resorts.  I've only traveled by train from airport to resort. There will very likely be a station transfer.  Hauling all that stuff enough for a 2 wk trip could be a burden. 


my prior trip reports.



I'm going to PM you a draft of my Verbier report.

post #7 of 27

@Born2Schuss any recommendations?

post #8 of 27

I've done the week in one resort and a week in the other.  Getting the connecting transportation figured out is the hard part.  Last year I spent a week in Pontresina then a week in Stuben.  We were a group of six, so it was cost effective to hire a taxi to take us from Pontresina to Stuben.  I priced a Swiss taxi and an Austrian and went with the Austrian.  Could not have been easier.  Took the bus (Arlberg Express) back to Zurich from Stuben.  Essentially door to door service, hotel to airport.  If you are a twosome, train and post bus are probably the best option pricewise, but that involves schlepping bags on and off trains, which some folks don't want to do.  The combination of a week in the Engadine and a week in the Arlberg is a tough to beat one two.  The Engadine doesn't get as much love as some areas because the glitz of St. Mortiz is a bit of a turn off.  By staying in other nearby towns (Celerina, Samedan, Pontresina, Sils Maria) you cut down your lodging costs but still have access to amazing terrain that does not get that crowded.  Stuben is the same play in the Arlberg.  Very sleepy town, lodging costs lower that St Anton and Lech,  nice hotels, and has a lift that links you into St Anton (not to mention accessing some of the best north facing lift accessed off piste in the Alps) and easy bus connection to Lech/Zurs/Warth. 


There are a lot of great off the radar areas in the Alps, but they probably will not keep your interest for a week.  That's why the mega resorts are so popular.  You can try out new areas almost every day.  I would agree that western US snow is better and more plentiful, but the infrastructure in Europe makes the off piste skiing much more attainable.   You can ski off the back of most any lift in Europe and, if you know where you are going, you'll come out at a bus stop or train station that get's you back to town or to the next lift in a matter of minutes.  I'd second the guide option.  There's too much great skiing to be had to try to figure out things on your own.   I've spent over 30 years touring and off piste skiing in the Alps, and  I do not trust myself to find the best route, the best snow, and the safest route. 


If you fly into Zurich, a week in Klosters/Davos and a week in the Arlberg is easily managed by train or bus and gives you a Swiss experience and an Austrian experience without a lot of time or cost getting from area a to area b.  Feel free to PM me for resort info.  I've been to most of the bigger places (not too much in France beyond PDS, Chamonix, Tarantaise) and many of the smaller ones so I have a good handle on geography, transportation options, costs, hotels and guides.

post #9 of 27
Quote = Relix:
Also if this season looks like a bad one condition-wise

I recommend this source: http://www.weathertoski.co.uk/


And yes it has not been a great season so far in the Alps.  The farther south and east you go, the drier it has been.  And some of the lower places got a lot of rain a week ago.


Late March calls for high altitude.  Look for lots of terrain above 2,500 meters.  Zermatt and Val D'Isere have the most.


Quote = SnowbirdDevotee:
it was early December and the big expert lift was closed

Which is why he got a completely misleading view of Zermatt.  Do NOT go to the Alps in December if you have the slightest interest in skiing off-piste. 


I'll be very interested in seeing the Verbier report.   It's encouraging to hear that some decent off-piste skiing was available, since from what I've read the off-piste was marginal at many places.  Verbier's snowfall is average for the Alps but it's fairly high so it probably got mostly snow from the warmer storms.

post #10 of 27
Snowing and forwcast says much snow coming week for east (Dolomites). But so far a bad year in Italy.
post #11 of 27

I would highly recommend you consider Zermatt, but that is based on my limited 3 trip experience and research.  In late March you want the high elevation to help avoid skiing slop and the spring melt freeze.  Skiing Europe is a lot more than just steep skiing.  I'm not a cruiser and prefer to stay off the groomers but what you are going to find is that in Europe, by necessity you are going to be doing a lot more cruising than you would at Snowbird/Alta/Jackson etc.  But that's OK. 


To get to Zermatt you take a train from the bottom of the valley to the car less Zermatt.  The Matterhorn will be staring at you from town and much of the resort.  The mountains and scenery are quite dramatic.  The little town is storybook and I would think hard to beat for a vacation with your wife. 

post #12 of 27

Dolomites, Dolomites, Dolomites!!

I have skied all over Europe and March is a great time to go.

IMHO you can't beat Italy for a total experience. The people are wonderful, skiing is great, so beautiful and the food is amazing.
Arabba is one of our favorite places to stay.

No matter where you go, Europe is great.






post #13 of 27

Dolomites are high my list, but I've been reading consistently that all the skiing is on manmade this season due to minimal natural snow.

post #14 of 27
Originally Posted by Tony Crocker View Post

Dolomites are high my list, but I've been reading consistently that all the skiing is on manmade this season due to minimal natural snow.

Very little natursl snow. Until now hopefully. Haven't checked what's happened the last days, but forecast say lots of snow coming week.
post #15 of 27

Given the up-and-down nature of the conditions in the Alps this season, I would recommend waiting until next season and looking for dates in late-January into the first week of February 2017.

post #16 of 27
Originally Posted by CerebralVortex View Post

Given the up-and-down nature of the conditions in the Alps this season, I would recommend waiting until next season and looking for dates in late-January into the first week of February 2017.

Or second week of March and later at one of the high altitude places.

post #17 of 27
Seems to be snowing. And more coming. Heading to Arabba in two weeks. Will be perfect then 😃
post #18 of 27

Don't get me wrong I love the Dolomites and have skied there a lot but read what the OP is looking for



Experienced skiers- Level 8-9. Alta/Snowbird are our favorites and we prefer to ski off-piste, natural snow conditions (bumps, crud, powder, trees etc)

Quality/quantity of snow is very important.


IMHO this does not match what the Dolomites offer even if they were to ski the Marmolada every day. The Dolomites are all about cruising easy blues and reds. Also there is the need for a guide if going off piste.


St Anton,, Zermatt,, Espace Killy, 3V Les Deux Alpes/Graves Chamonix and maybe Ischgl would all be much better destinations. 


If I were choosing for them it would be St Anton. Big area, good off piste, easy access from the USA via Zurich and train transfer, plus it has a great vibe going on and the biggest rowdiest apres ski pub that I know of the Mooserwirt which has to be done at least once. The Krazy Kanguruh comes a close second.

post #19 of 27

I agree with TQA here. Totally.

post #20 of 27
Thread Starter 

Wow- thanks everyone for the terrific volume of advice. 


We booked our ticket to Geneva and are now deciding between Chamonix, Val d'Isere and Zermatt.  Chamonix seems to have a ton of snow at the moment (320cm/126") and Val d'Isere has around 200cm/80".  Seems like in Chamonix's case, it is ahead of the last 2 seasons, but I don't know if this is better than average or not.  Zermatt in the last few days only appears to be 30% open or so, but it could be due to wind?  So we are a little nervous of Zermatt at the present.  It seems the next 2 weeks are going to be pretty snowy in some spots, so maybe the season is doing better than it was on target for in December? 


Given Geneva as point of entry, and given my short list where would you send me?  We are going for 2 weeks and may take 3 days for other tourism.  Any suggestions there would be welcome too.  Thanks again everyone!

post #21 of 27
Using chamonix as a base you can ski , verbier/portes du soliel/courmayor /aosta /megeve easily
Also easy to visit annecy /Evian /aosta for culture and sight seeing smile.gif
But you may not even bother as chamonix has it all , six great ski areas all with a different vibe , the town is cool with loads of different food and entertainment options .
Would highly recomend hiring a car from gva as it make getting around so much easier .
post #22 of 27
post #23 of 27
If you decide on Chamonix do see if you can fit in a trip down the Vallee Blanche. 
An amazing run even if you do need to be roped up for the first little bit. Best done with a guide the first time. 


post #24 of 27
Thread Starter 

Here's the update:  We booked a week at Val d'Isere and are keeping the second week open for now to either ski some more or to travel to Italy, France or Switzerland.  Thanks all for the info! 

post #25 of 27
Originally Posted by Relix View Post

Here's the update:  We booked a week at Val d'Isere and are keeping the second week open for now to either ski some more or to travel to Italy, France or Switzerland.  Thanks all for the info! 

Well, I have to assume you searched Epic for TR's, so with that:


  1. 7 days on snow, almost 7 hours per day, most of it off-piste , your guide is a 12 year old , April 2015: http://www.epicski.com/t/134457/a-12-year-olds-seven-days-of-exploring-val-disere-and-tignes-commonly-known-as-lespace-killy-in-the-french-alps - the video is probably the best introduction, as the verbiage is 'excessive', I know as I wrote it. But a lot of detail in the TR
  2. The epic-er ScottyD literally parks his boots there for the last 3 decades annually I think ! And this is his experience http://www.epicski.com/t/116893/tignes-and-lespace-killy-new-years-2013
  3. One week is nowhere near enough, you have to be kidding. The skiing and terrain is endless, and the adventure spine-tingling. Anyway, join group lessons, best way to see the mountain. They are being snowed-in daily now!  Base is 230+inches above Val, and in Tignes (Val Claret which is higher than Val).
  4. Get ski insurance for rescue, it includes patrol rescue and helicopter rescue, carre neige or something like that (i forget the exact moniker but it's dirt cheap), your hotel can help you easily. The pistes are long, steep, and groomed to perfection, but as the 12 year old guide put it, L'Espace Killy is 20% on-piste, 80% off-piste ! One thing, would not venture off-piste without a guide or instructor, as the entire area is prime avalanche terrain, notwithstanding all sorts of terrain funk , cliffs, rock bands, dips, what have you. And follow and note all signs! Getting cliffed out and not on some rinky-dink 20 foot drop but serious ones is quite easy. 
  5. You are going to have fun.


Have fun, there is no place like it on this planet (well the planet we know, which includes the Arlberg i.e. Lech-Zurs, Zermatt, Alta-Bird, Whistler-Blackcomb etc...) , a personal opinion, and people differ. 

Edited by dustyfog - 2/10/16 at 9:30pm
post #26 of 27

Can I come?
Go to Miky's Grill for a great dinner in Arabba.
Drink the Grappa!

post #27 of 27

I have 6 friends who are in Chamonix this week and they are having a blast and getting big snow. They hired a guide and said the snow is amazing right now.

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