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Chamonix or Zermatt In early Feb..Which one??

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Hello,

I am trying to plan a trip for a group of 6 to Europe for the first week in Feburary. Three couples basicaly...guys are pretty experienced/agressive skiers....the women good but perfer the blues. Did some research here but still cannot decide which one to choose? Zermatt is higher...better chance of good snow? Chamonix....more Vertical??

We do want to experience a "true" European ski vacation...which includes a cool town and good nightlife.

Which has the best mix of skiing, atmosphere, ease of use, snow?

Thanks
post #2 of 16
Austria's St Anton Alberg should also be in the running. The beer, food and most important the friendly people were awesome. Obviously, the views are breath taking. Lots of wide open areas above tree line with blue groomers mixed in with more difficult terrain for the double diamond types in the group. Their bars/restaurants about 400 feet above the base area makes for some interesting skiing after you had more than a few drinks.

Not the best time to go with the 82 euro to 100 US exchange rate.

Sorry to make your decision even harder.
post #3 of 16
If the girls prefer easier skiing, I'd think twice about going to Chamonix - it's not particularly convenient to get about, for a start. The town is great, and good nightlife, and the eyeballs-out skiing is stunning. But the girls may miss out.

Haven't skied Zermatt, but it may be worth remembering that it also has access to Cervinia which has lots of good intermediate skiing.

There are plenty of options - Tignes/Val d'Isere offer a huge range of skiing from expert down; Val has a good night life (so does Tignes, but more young worker-oriented). The Three Valleys (Courchevel 1300, 1550, 1650, 1850, Meribel/Mottaret, Val Thorens/Les Menuires/St Martin de Belleville) offer 600km of piste skiing and plenty of off-piste; nightlife is up to you (Courchevel 1850 is most expensive and in February will probably be overrun by extraordinarily rich Russians surrounded by gorgeous blondes and large men with suspicious bulges under their arms).

If you have the chance to avoid February, do so. It's very expensive, even before factoring in the current exchange rate, and it coincides with French and British school breaks - you will be knee-deep in rugrats.
post #4 of 16
Basically you can't go wrong with either choice, both Zermatt and Chamonix are fairly high up so they are amongst the most certain snow areas in Europe. Both have enough beginner terrain to keep the ladies happy, and if you want to get adventurous there is plenty of expert terrain as well. Generally speaking, in most of the French resorts people rent small apartments in groups with their kids and do their own cooking and partying in the evening. Chamonix, however, is the exception to this rule since there are a lot of pensions and small hotels. Chamonix is more of a real town, even if it is very sports minded. I think you will find a larger variety of lodging choice in more categories in Chamonix than in Zermatt. Keep in mind that the French really do lunch well, so one day you should plan to have a good midday meal with the ladies and wine. Zermatt is marginally more expensive since it is Swiss. It's pretty small and pretty exclusive. The skiing is very good, and there is a lot of territory to be skied if you go over the backside into Italy. I think the town itself is a little boring and a little snobby, but if you are not looking for a lot of night life then it could be ok.

Others have mentioned Austria, and I would suggest that you consider this as well. My personal favorite is the Oetztal (Soelden, Hochgurgl, Obergurgl). The ski areas are pretty high with glaciers, a lot of the European teams do their preseason work here since it is one of the most certain snow areas in the Alps. Things are a little less expensive and the towns are small and charming. Most of the time in Austria you stay in small hotels or pensions which is a little bit like staying in a B & B with full breakfast and dinner included. Many people return year after year to the same hotel, and the families who own the hotels go out of their way to take care of you. There is all kind of terrain so both the men and the ladies will find lots of fun things to ski. At night, you can kick back in the hotel bar, or hit the small discos which go to all hours of the night and are always full.
post #5 of 16
February is a BUSY time to go. If you've only ever skiied in the US, then I guess the best description I can give you is that the lift lines may well resemble Macys on day 1 of the sales.
(OK, maybe not THAT bad, but you get the picture)

St Anton and Val d'Isere would probably be better - more skiing/easier to get around than the Chamonix valley.
Zermatt would be good, if you are considering Switzerland, then add Wengen to your list - that is genuine chocolate box stuff. You could stay in Wengen or Lauterbrunnen (a short train ride down the side of the mountain). That also opens up the Murren side too - the Schilthorn (the James Bond restaurant).
The scenery around there is amazing too. Here's a few pics from January 2005...
http://photos.wtfh.com/album/Jungfrau%202005/index.html
post #6 of 16
First week of february ? You should be OK in France as in Switzerland. Check the school holidays here for the swiss, here for the French. Nothing before the 10th in France, just a few 'cantons' in switzerland (valais starting the 10th).
Good advices on Chamonix. Best suited to experts. Val d'Isere or Zermatt sounds good.

Edited to add that, indeed, Austria is in a class of its own as far as after-ski is concerned.
post #7 of 16
It has to be Chamonix - the terrain, town, atmosphere, vallee Blanche. The bus service is not as bad as everyone makes out, In the many times i have visited its always done for me. In my humble opinion no place comes close to the all round package.
I find the seperate ski areas a blesing they each have their own character. The off piste (a guide is a must) is EPIC.
Can i recommend you check out chamonix.com for accomodation options and pretty much anything else.
Also a bonus would be only an hour from Geneva Airport.
Chamonix is a pretty cosmopolitan place lots of us Brits around (sorry about that) lots of other things to see and do.
But then again Chamonix or Zermatt what a choice to make. Where has it gone wrong for you!!!!
post #8 of 16
cham, I can understand why you are saying that - but given the different ability levels of the group, the girls will enjoy Le Tour more, and the guys will want the VB. Great if they don't mind splitting up every day, but I suspect for a one-off holiday, they'd prefer to be a bit more together.

...saying that, if the girls are truly happy to go off on their own, then Chamonix would be the top choice.
post #9 of 16
A point that was not really adressed is how easy it is to get to the slopes (if that's important for you):
Chamonix is a real town, thus you'll have to walk, take the bus a lot.
Zermatt is more convenient but the different parts of the area are not very well connected.
Val d'isere is more ski in / ski out.

So my take on this would be :
Cham, unconvenient but can't be beat for the ultimate alpine experience.
Zermatt, charming, breathtaking scenery, average convenience.
val d'Isère : convenient, suitable for all levels.

Given that all 3 options offer a nice athmosphere, huge areas, excellent expert terrain, great alpine scenery. You can't go wrong with those 3 anyway.
post #10 of 16
IMV Chamonix is the better bet for the better skier. I'm not so enamored of the town, but there's nothing wrong with it. Snow cover should be good. If you're looking to go back to the States having said you skied something World Class, look no further (Verbier would have similar cred, though IMV the town blows). I don't want to come down on Cham, but it's hard to compare it to Zermatt in terms of convenience. Once you get to Zermatt, you'll never be in a car, you won't need to transfer between different lift stations (maybe just from one side of town to the other). Cham definitely has the extreme skier vibe going like nowhere else I've ever been, except maybe Verbier and Jackson Hole.

Zermatt is a fabulous place to hang and very easy for groups who need to meet up at different times, all pedestrian, lots of bars, very atmospheric. Of Europe's large ski villages, I think it's the most attractive. The scenary is unbeatable and snow cover probably slightly more reliable than Cham. There's a lot of good expert skiing and offpiste, but again, not as much as Cham. Also, Zermatt has the link to Cervinia, which is even more snow-sure and has miles and miles of great cruisers for the intermediates in your group. Italian food too.

I echo the earlier post on St Anton (adding in Lech and Zurs, which are in their way even more charming and have underrated skiing and even better snow). The Arlberg zone is Europe's champ in terms of snow cover (OK, maybe stripping out ultra-high destinations like Tignes or glaciers). I keep going back to St Anton and love it more and more every time. It's just a captivating place, ski-wise and in terms of feeling. While nightlife can be good in Swiss or French ski towns, that's mostly due to foreigners. The only country in the Alps where the locals really know how to have fun (my view) is Austria. To me, the Arlberg is just a winning combo: great snow, lots of expert terrain, great atmosphere, good food, decent value, excellent ambiance, fun vibe.

All three of these resorts are really easy to get to: Cham from Geneva, St Anton from Zurich, Zermatt from either (or from Milan). Cham probably easiest of the three. Zermatt is definitely the most expensive. I think St Anton's the most snow-sure (but the season's not as long as Zermatt's). Zermatt has the easiest logistics once you're there. Zermatt probably also has the fewest Americans and Brits of the three, in case that's a factor.

I hope this was helpful.
post #11 of 16
Forgot to mention that Munich is probably the closest airport to the Tyrol (Oetztal) and Arlberg (St. Anton). So if you decide to go this route, you could easily schedule a short weekend in Munich before or after you go skiing. Trust me, the ladies will like this, really good shopping. And there are lot's of nice beer halls to keep the guys busy while they are shopping.

Kaj
post #12 of 16
A couple of links to go along with the good info provided here.

http://www.ski-europe.com/

http://snowheads.com/
post #13 of 16
I went to Zermatt on my honeymoon 2 years ago and it was spectacular. Definitely a "trip of a lifetime" type place. It's phenomenally beautiful - the Matterhorn looms over the town giving the valley epic views - and there's plenty to keep nonskiers busy. That said, a few words of advice:

It's a pain in the butt to get there. There are no gas-powered vehicles allowed in town, which is amazing for the air quality, but limiting for your transportation options. Most people fly into Geneva and take the beautiful 4 hour train ride around Lake Geneva and up into the mountains. You change trains with all of your luggage at least once, usually twice, and once you get to Zermatt you take one of the city's electric taxis to where you're staying. Forget about renting a car and exploring the area. It doesn't make sense.

The skiing is good, but not particularly challenging. Expect lots of wide cruisers with amazing scenery that's so beautiful it actually can be pretty distracting. But if you're looking to dive into the steep and deep, Chamonix's a much better choice.

Getting around town can be tough. The Swiss have a different view of public safety than we do. The streets and sidewalks are treacherously slick with packed ice, making walking difficult. And although the town bans cars, the streets are crowded with electric vehicles zipping all over the place. It's definitely a scene. But the biggest problem is traveling between your hotel or condo and the lifts. The system's really spread out and walking around with all your gear is downright dangerous. We ended up taking cabs to and from the lifts in the morning and afternoon, which was weird. And then you have to walk up lots of steps to get to the cable cars that take you up the mountain. You're constantly taking your skis on and off. In the end, we pretty much stuck to runs that had regular lifts rather than the trams and cable cars.

In terms of apres ski, the town has tons of options and is lots of fun. But it ain't cheap. Most of the restaurants and bars are in hotels, which run meal plans for their guests. We found this was the way to go. Restaurants charge people who aren't staying at their hotels MUCH more than their guests. We stayed at one of the Seiler hotels (the Mont Cervin) which has a meal plan with about 10 different restaurants, so we didn't feel trapped into eating at the same place every night. This is definitely something you should look into if you're going to Zermatt with a group.

All that said, Zermatt absolutely is a once in lifetime experience, a real gourmet Tyrol getaway. If you go, definitely make reservations for lunch at some of the truly amazing on-mountain restaurants. We had unbelieveable meals at on the outdoor decks of Chez Vrony and Fluhalp, and the most amazing strudel and millefeuil at a place called Zum See. And now we have some pretty awesome pictures of the Matterhorn hanging in our apartment.
post #14 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wear The Fox Hat View Post
cham, I can understand why you are saying that - but given the different ability levels of the group, the girls will enjoy Le Tour more, and the guys will want the VB. Great if they don't mind splitting up every day, but I suspect for a one-off holiday, they'd prefer to be a bit more together.

...saying that, if the girls are truly happy to go off on their own, then Chamonix would be the top choice.
Foxhat makes an excellent point, which is that the Chamonix valley is actually contains a whole group of skiing areas. Other than Le Brevent and Flegere the areas are not necessarily connected, so if the guys are at one area and the girls are at another it may be difficult to hook up during the day. I took the initial post to indicate that skiing together every day was not a high priority. As FH notes, more of the intermediate terrain focusses on the the lower end of the valley in Le Tour/Valloricine which is where I will expect the ladies will want to hang out. Le Grand Montets is a good compromise with intermediate terrain lower down and expert higher up. As regards more interesting things, my favorite amongst the various areas is Le Brevent, there is some absolutely heart stopping terrain off of the high lift there and the views of Mt. Blanc are spectacular. If you want a real thrill, and are in good shape, you may want to consider getting an instructor/guide and doing the Vallee Blanche. If you guys are advanced skiers you owe it to yourself to give this a try.
post #15 of 16
Just a couple of comments.

Zermatt, by commentary on its own website, does not get abundant snow but preserves it very well (like a lot of Colorado areas). One of the comments mentioned a large sector of expert terrain that "usually opens sometime in February." So the best time for better skiers to ski Zermatt would be March/April. At comparable elevation Cham definitely gets more snow. There may be places, particularly Brevant/Flegere, where you'll need to download at the end of the day to bypass sketchy lower slopes.

I have been to Chamonix, and the guys will probably want more days on Grands-Montets than the girls. But there are several routes down Vallee Blanche, and at least two of them are fine for intermediates. The girls should absolutely do this if you go to Cham, weather permitting and with a guide of course. Your entire group of six could ski this with one guide and enjoy the spectacular scenery. Or if the guys want a more challenging route you'll need to hire two guides. Even in this case you can have lunch together at the Refuge.

I have not been to the Arlberg, but by what I've read I would agree with the posters who say it would be better than either Cham or Zermatt for your group.
post #16 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony Crocker View Post
But there are several routes down Vallee Blanche, and at least two of them are fine for intermediates. The girls should absolutely do this if you go to Cham, weather permitting and with a guide of course. Your entire group of six could ski this with one guide and enjoy the spectacular scenery. Or if the guys want a more challenging route you'll need to hire two guides. Even in this case you can have lunch together at the Refuge.
TC is right about the VB, there are some easier routes down. But if you really want to hit the interesting terrain it is usually advisable to get an instructor/guide to help you know where to ski. It's a little like Alta that way, it can really pay to go with someone who knows the area and can show you a few secrets. There is a separate thread with more information on the importance of guides in Europe here:

http://forums.epicski.com/showthread.php?t=46413

Again, good luck and let us know how things turn out.

Kaj
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