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East / West / The Alps: What's the difference??

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
I was wondering what the big differences are when you compare skiing in the East / West or the Alps.
Based on what I've read so far, the slopes in the East seem to be shorter, steeper and more icy than in the West. Would the Alps be more like the East or more like the West? I've only been in the Alps (I'm from the Netherlands), mostly in France. In France there can be a very big difference in snow quality depending on the altitude. In the most extreme situation I ever experienced, I started at 3200m in knee-deep powder and at the end of the run at 1800 it looked more like water-skiing.
Normally this is not the case but the lowest slopes (below 2000m) tend to get very icy.
post #2 of 12
US eastern skiing certainly has shorter and icier runs (in general) then you'll find out West. I don't know where you got the idea that they're steeper though. You can certainly find an assortment of eye-opening steep runs in New England, but western areas have runs that are much, much steeper then anything you'll find in the East.

I have never been to the Alps. US Western resorts do vary greatly in altitude. i.e., the Pacific Northwest areas are fairly low and I know people who have walked out of the lodge in the rain only to find the summit was in near white-out conditions. Colorado / Utah areas tend to be much higher, with summit elevations commonly in the 11,000 foot range or so, so they get a much dryer snow (typically) then coastal areas will.
post #3 of 12
East is east....West is west...two different places on the map....
post #4 of 12
Assuming your basic question is: How does skiing in Europe's Alps compare to skiing in the American East and the American West?
Focusing on "quality of snow conditions for skiing" while speaking in gross generalities, the answer IMHO is that the Alps fall about halfway in between the two American regions. During much of the winter in high elevation states like Colorado and Utah the snowpack is dry and powdery from the base of major ski areas to their summits. Good quality snow for almost 1000 vertical meters, like some of your high elevation experiences in the Alps. In the American East the natural snowpack is likely to be more of a hard surface most of the time. BUT major Eastern ski areas apply tremendous snowmaking and grooming techniques which make the quality of the snow surface very enjoyable for most recreational skiers usually from early January to early March.
Other comments: Alpine mountain scenery is far more impressive than anywhere in the US (western Canada is nice for this though). Because of extensive snowmaking and grooming, the worst of times in the American East are probably better than the worst of times at lower elevation Alpine areas. Few American ski areas, West or East, involve sufficient variations in elevation to create truly dire differences in piste conditions from top to bottom. Snowmaking also compensates for this. A few American ski areas such as Jackson Hole, Snowmass and perhaps coastal areas mentioned by Kevin (and certainly Whistler/Blackcomb, Canada) do have this problem sometimes in spring because they are vertically large.
post #5 of 12

Yeah, but we don't have any snow now...

I'm going to weigh in. I've lived in the East, West (Rockies), Pacific Northwest and Europe. The West (eg, Rockies and most of Western Canada) reigns supreme in my view. The US East (with all due respect to MRG) can't compete with any of the other three. In my view, the Alps are more like the PNW/Far West than the Rockies. You get powder, but it's not as dry as Utah, Wyoming, et al. Reminds me of the snow I used to ski on in Oregon or Washington. Also, European dumps tend to be huge but infrequent.

All US regions have an edge over the Alps in the visibility department. Most Alpine resorts are above treeline (which is lower in Europe than in North America), which means a lot of white or gray-out conditions. European resorts are generally much bigger, much more crowded (with much less disciplined queuing) and much less centralized than what US and Canadian skiers are used to. The vertical drops are huge, but this is really because resorts have been built around existing villages which were there long before the lifts went up, with the effect that the runs home can be pretty dull from about the halfway mark on down, and the snow at village level can be pretty near unsustainable in a lot of cases.

The Alps have vast BC opportunities, but much less exciting in-bounds skiing than their US counterparts. My wife and I went to Crested Butte a few years ago, for example, and were just blown away by how much extreme yet patrolled/controlled terrain there was. Ditto Jackson Hole, for example. In Europe, very little in the way of marked terrain is left ungroomed. Most steep and wild lines are not avalanche-controlled.

Tony Crocker will probably correct me on this, but I'd guess that snowfall totals run something like:
Rocky Mts (Utah leading the way)
Far West (Mammoth gets tons)
Europe (the Arlberg is probably number one)
Eastern US.

It's probably the case now that few European resorts, like their East Coast US counterparts, can survive without snowmaking. Strangely, lift tickets and season passes are more reasonably priced here than in the States, as is resort food. Lodging seems to cost more (and obviously gas about 3x more).

Spring is a great time to ski in Europe given the premium on sunshine (see above in terms of visibility). Life would be ideal if I could hang out in the West in Jan/Feb, over here in March/April. Any ideas?
post #6 of 12


Originally Posted by prickly View Post
The Alps have vast BC opportunities, but much less exciting in-bounds skiing than their US counterparts.
My home mountain is whiteface in lake placid, ny but I have had numerous opportunities to ski east coast resorts, west resorts, and europe.

East coast - we are having a horrible winter so far. It has been in the 50-60's and not really cold enough to make a ton of snow. So, currently the skiing out east is very bad. For the most part, eastern mountains are within the tree line so for the most part your skiing is done on the trails. There are some noteable exceptions to this at whiteface, stowe, sugarbush... where there is excellent backcountry tree skiing. The problem is our lack of altitude. This leads to warm days and cold nights, which leads to thaw and freeze cycles, which leads to ice.

West- been well covered above.

Europe- I love skiing in europe. I have skied a lot in austria, germany, switzerland, and france. All have extensive above tree skiing. Most europeans (95% +) stick to the groomed trails which are incredibly groomed. That means that off-piste skiing is wide open. I was in st anton, austria last year which had incredible powder runs 3 days after a storm. Let me repeat for emphasis - powder three days later. In the west, every square inch of powder would be skiied off by noon. Not to even mention the culture is amazing, the atmosphere of the ski villages is fantatic, the prices to ski are incredibly cheap (6 days ski for $200) and the views are incredible. Check out ski - snowboard europe to learn more.
Drawback- the dollar is -20% to the euro but between equal airfare, cheap pensions (b&b), and cheap skiing it equals out.
post #7 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks for you stories!
Looks like If I would have the opportunity to go skiing in the states I would have to go to the West / Utah.

In Europe, very little in the way of marked terrain is left ungroomed. Most steep and wild lines are not avalanche-controlled.
Totally true (unfortunately). Last two years I went to Tignes / Val d'Isere. In those two villages there are a couple of marked slopes that are not groomed, only the dangerous rocks etc are marked with poles.

I wish more resorts would have this, this year we want to hire a guide / teke lessons for a couple of days to find the "safe" BC slopes around Val Thorens.
post #8 of 12
Originally Posted by prickly View Post
Tony Crocker will probably correct me on this, but I'd guess that snowfall totals run something like:
Rocky Mts (Utah leading the way)
Far West (Mammoth gets tons)
Europe (the Arlberg is probably number one)
Eastern US.
I'm going to disagree here. Utah technically gets more snow than the west coast, but because it is so light and dry, it compacts down more, and feels like less snow. The snow in California, Washington and Western BC is a lot heavier and sticks to everything. As a result, you can ski stufff in the far west that would be too rocky to ski in UT or CO. Even in a great snow year in CO you will be hitting rocks on the windy exposed ridgelines. However in a great snow year in CA, hitting rocks will be a rare occurence. (In fact, some people were complaining that Mammoth was "too easy" last year, since a lot of the chutes and cliffs were completely filled in.

That said, Utah snow is by far the highest quality.
post #9 of 12
My only accross the pond experience has been 2 times to Spain and Andorra. The striking difference with ALL USA resorts is FOG (Europe gets tons), and as mentioned before the lack of trees to define the runs.

Me, I'll take US for the skiing.
post #10 of 12
Since you asked about snow:

The Alps are compact geographically and the entire range would fit inside Colorado. So generalizations about "the West" have much more climate variation than within the Alps. I've analyzed this in minute detail on my website http://bestsnow.net . In most regions there are small favored microclimates that get the most snow.

For the short version I'll defer to the avalanche researchers who divide the West into coastal, intermountain and continental regions. SoCalSki has much of it right.
Coastal mountains get typically ~350 inches (top microclimate Mt. Baker 650) of 10-13% water content snow. Best for building early season base and keeping steepest slopes covered. Downsides are occasional rain, more frequent melt/freeze cycles (which do create a more stable snowpack) and more resistant powder skiing, especially without fat skis.
Continental mountains get ~250 inches (top microclimates Buffalo, Kebler, Wolf Creek passes 400+) of 6-7% water content snow. Best for powder skiing, maintaining packed powder surfaces well into spring, rain is essentially nonexistent. Downsides are very gradual coverage of steep/rocky terrain and unstable backcountry snowpack.
Intermountain areas fall in between: ~300 inches (top microclimates Alta and some of British Columbia Selkirks 500+) of 8-9% water content snow, with subjective factors also being between the extremes. I personally believe that the favored microclimates here have the best of both worlds: more than adequate coverage, good powder skiing and rare rain incidence.

So how do the East and the Alps compare?
Eastern areas average ~150 inches (top microclimates Jay and Mt. Washington 300+). Temperature is wildly variable, resulting in occasional very low water content powder but also excessive rain, even more than in the West Coast areas that get twice as much snow.
In the Alps I have long term data only from Verbier, which averages 223 inches at 7,200 feet elevation. I'm pretty convinced by both weather and observation that snow conditions from about 6,000 ft. and up in the Alps are closer to the West than the East of North America, primarily due to lack of rain and good snow preservation. The snowpack is likely similar to the Continental West due to slightly less quantity but slightly higher water content.

I don't have hard info for the higher snow microclimates of the Alps (anyone here who has it please send it to me!), by reputation places like the Arlberg, Andermatt and Val d'Isere. I'm guessing these places get around 350 at higher elevation.
post #11 of 12
Hi Tony, I might have mentioned to you in the past that the UK Ski Club (http://www.skiclub.co.uk/skiclub/rep...al/default.asp) has good historical data (13 years, I think) on over 100 European resorts. However, this area of their site is now members only. Maybe Epic would like to stump up the cash for you to get a membership, for the greater good?
post #12 of 12
I've seen the UK Ski Club data. It shows average weekly base depths over the past 7 seasons. The individual seasons have been moved to the subscription part of the site. I downloaded this info around 2003 I think. The site does not contain any snowfall data as far as I, know.
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