Give it a try...
Originally Posted by Captain_Strato
The reasons they most often cited as negatives in the Alps were:
a) Snow quality - usually wet or icy.
b) Narrow, crowded trails (nothing like the open cruising boulevards common on NA hills)
c) Insane crowds, everywhere
d) Lift lines are a shove-fest - most aggressive elbows win. Everyone smokes.
e) Limited service (especially in France, according to most). Customers are merely tolerated.
f) Boorish behavior more common - drunks walk the streets, reveling and smashing bottles - like soccer hooligans.
Is is really that bad, or were the people we spoke to European malcontents, justifying the bucks they spent coming to Canada to ski?
Capt - I just got back from Zermatt. We were there during the Febraury holidays, and there were not many (if any) beds available in town, so I think it was about as busy as it gets. I'll try to address you points, but I think my summary advice would be to give it a try and go.
A) Snow quality - I'd been concerned about this, because I don't think they got much (if any) snow in Zermatt during the month of January. It started to snow a few days before we got there, and they had about a meter of snow over 3 - 4 days. I've been watching, and it seems like they are now in a snowier pattern. The off-piste was somewhat limited 2 weeks ago, but has improved since then. The groomed pistes were not wet or icy, except down low (vertical at Zermatt goes from about 12,500 to about 5500 feet). I think this is just like most resorts - they have good years and bad. We did find some mid-thigh powder turns once we knew where to look.
B) Narrow crowded trails. We did see some busy trails on our first day - but I think they were still struggling to do control work - so not all the lifts were open. The only exception I would say is that there were not many trails back down to the town - so the end of the day was busy and dangerous. We ended up downloading on some of the gondolas to avoid the congestion. I definitely had some of my most crowd-free groomer runs up on the glaciers there.
C)Crowds - not my experience. Certainly the base areas were very busy in the mornings, but once you got up on the hill, there was plenty of space.
D) Lift lines. I will give you this one - most notably in the base areas in the mornings. My policy came to be what skiswift recommended - be assertive and establish your position. It really wasn't all that bad - although it did annoy me at the time. The worst experience I had wasn;t even in the resort, it was on the train. The train from Zermatt runs to Brig (I think), and from there you switch trains. We had a good sized group, and all of our ski gear. The doors opened, and we started to unload the gear, but the folks waiting to get on kept trying to walk through the doors. After this happened 2 or 3 times I just let gravity fight my battles (me, up on the train, leading with a big duffle or boot bag out front - person trying to step up onto the train would have to push the bag and me up the stairs in order to get on. I won that little contest).
E) Service. Our experience was quite good, although I have a friend who was with us who had also skied in France, and he echoed your sentiments. It may have helped that we had a good number of German speakers with us (but Swiss-German can be difficult for German speakers to understand - I think it's probably comparable to a deep southern drawl in the US).
F) Didn't really see what I would call boorish behavior. I did hear folks coming home from the bars one or two nights - but I can't imagine a NA resort with lodging near bars where you wouldn't have the same experience.
All in all I would say go. You get the benefit of another culture (the food, especially on the hill was fantastic), and a potentially great ski vacation as well. It's also amazing to see the way that the mountains are part of the way of life. I would strongly recommend a guide if you go to one of the bigger resorts. If you can swing it, a day of guiding will potentially give you some tips/tricks for getting around, and also help you find the skiing you want more quickly.