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Many questions about europe skiing.

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 
Ok so here it goes. Me and a friend possibly two are trying to plan a ski trip next year to go somewhere in europe. I know it is a whole year early, but I am just trying learn as much as I can. I want to here your thoughts about what resort would be good for us to go to. First let me say this I am a level 8 skier, and my friends are one a 6 the other a 5. I plan on working with the a lot this year to help them get better, so difficulty is not really an issue. We will have to go early next year, because I have school obligations. The dates I am looking at are like Dec 27-Jan 1. Those would be departure date, and we would stay for 7 days, and ski 6. So early season snowfall is a big deal. What resorts typically get good early season snow? Resorts I am currently looking at are Chamonix, Val Thorens, Zermatt, St. Anton. Right now I am thinking Val Thorens is probably the best bet for early season snow because of it altitude. I am not stuck on any of these resorts. A lot of the information out there is very heard to understand. So I am looking for some help from you european skiers. Let me know what places you think would be really good for me to consider for a trip. Thanks.
post #2 of 32
I agree that it is intimidating for an American to plan a first time do-it-yourself visit to the Alps. There are too many choices. Your list is good. For a level 8 it is hard to beat St. Anton. In the end, if you pick a place with a good reputation you will love it, many are huge enough to please all. I have been researching for a trip with similar needs, except late season, not early.
Some resources:
Try this for good forums on skiing the Alps, you get a lot of first hand responders: http://snowheads.com/
check this recent Xmas/Val Thorens thread: http://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=32289
Try this site for general info, and better yet, buy or go to library and get their book: http://www.wtss.co.uk/index.jsp
More good general info: http://www.skiclub.co.uk/skiclub/resorts/gssg/default.asp
There is general info here too, and you could use their resort matcher to get some ideas for a place to fit your needs. I used this company once for a low priced and successful package trip to Austria: http://www.ski-europe.com
Here is an article with some fringe season suggestions:

I should add that you are looking at THE WEEK and have mentioned some very popular resorts, so do your homework and either book accommodations a few months ahead or consider less known and less crowded places when you know more. Otztal area (Solden and Obergurgl) might be worth looking into for Christmas timeframe.
post #3 of 32
Verbier in Switzerland is also a nice place. And Ischgl, Austria...

Why go to Europe when you got America? :O People always want what they cannot have - I'm moving to Canada for the next season ('08/'09) (from Denmark...)

Keep in mind that the low dollar currency will cause your trip to be infinitively expensive! :O
post #4 of 32
More advice on Xmas skiing in the Alps: http://www.skiclub.co.uk/skiclub/gui...tQuestionID=19

I should add that most ski resort accommodations will require a one week stay, often from Saturday to Saturday. If you fly through an interesting gateway city like Zurich, Munich, or transfer in London and appreciate culture/history you would probably enjoy a couple days in a city at beginning or end of trip.
post #5 of 32
You could also consider a smaller place like Deux Alpes, which has glacier skiing up-top for guaranteed snow.

However, if the dollar stays where it is, you might want to ski in the US instead! :
post #6 of 32
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the replies. I was thinking the same thing about the US dollar being so weak, but the more I research the more I find that it wont be as expensive as I thought. For example one of the packages I saw had a price of 1040.00. And that includes round trip airfare, 7 nights 6 days hotel accommodation's. It also includes breakfast and dinner. I looked into the lift prices and we would spend about 350.00 for 6 days of skiing. So it is looking like it might not be as expensive as I would think. Regardless not 100% sure if we will go, but it is something I want to keep in mind. With all the confusion I will defiantly use a travel agent and have them plan the whole trip, and get a price to see if I could make it work. If any other people have any thoughts about resorts I should consider please let me know. Thanks.
post #7 of 32
post #8 of 32
I can definately recommend the Sankt-Moritz valley in Switserland.
A couple of 3000'ers (meters that is), great facilities and an all around very nice atmosphere.
Then again, Val Thorens is great, Tignes is even better in my book, Ischgl is good (or Samnaun, the Swiss side of the same ski area with taxfree sigarettes and booze ), Sölden...
They're certain to have plenty of snow around New Year's (I spent 8 of those in St.-Moritz) and have ample accomodation.

JamesJ is absolutely right though.
The time you're talking about is one of the two weeks everybody in Europe has vacation.
You will definately be bound to a Saturday-Saturday stay in the hotels and it's the most expensive period of the year for lodging.

Hope you enjoy it though and maybe we ski a run or two together!
post #9 of 32
I would really not recommend a Euro ski trip at Christmas/New Years.

Why? The best part of Euro skiing is the vast off-piste areas. Due to the Alps modest snow averages (200-300"), rocky terrain and winds -- the off-piste will generally just be marginal at Xmas - if not unskiable.

Yes, there is a cultural experience, better food and atmosphere than the US, but the skiing is generally a little lacking until later in the season. Avoid the mid/late Feb school breaks and aim for Feb 1 or March 1.

I skied in Europe 3 times - once at New Years at Chamonix. Some powder, good quality, but coverage could have been better. A day trip to Verbier was really awful. And the Vallee Blanche generally does not open until Feb 1st +/- a week or so. This could have been avoided at a later date.
post #10 of 32
Originally Posted by chrisc View Post
Avoid the mid/late Feb school breaks and aim for Feb 1 or March 1.
True. The school breaks are calculated against Easter and that's early in 2008.
The first week of February is a school break here
post #11 of 32
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the replys. Just a few more questions. Because I am in school I really only have two weeks I could go on this trip. One being my Christmas break, and the other being my spring break. My spring break this year is from March 22nd to the 30, so next years will be around the same time. Now my question is which would be a better time to go? How is the snow late march? Thanks for the help.
post #12 of 32
I'd definitely go in the spring. But, go for the high areas. I went to Val Thorens in late April last year, and the snow was still decent (especially early in the trip). At that point in March, I bet the snow would be pretty good at any of the higher-altitude areas...
post #13 of 32
The place you want to go is Chamonix. It's the cradle of alpinism. Not that many of the otehr areas aren't great..they are but Chamonix is....well it's Chamonix. Two of the must ski runs that a skier must do in their lifetime are in Chamonix (Valle Blanche and Pas De Chevre). You need to budget in a guide as well. They make it easy from picking the right areas to ski to making sure you have Mont Blanc Tram reservations. There is some great skiing off of Mont Blanc that is far beyond what the tourist way down offers.

On your next trip you can hit some other places but on trip 1, it's Chamonix.
Spring should be fine. At elevation there will be snow
post #14 of 32
1. Get yourself a copy of Where to Ski and Snowboard
2. Consider spring, as other posters said. March is very prime in the Alps. April is often good too
3. Keep in mind that when it's snowing or cloudy, you might not be skiing much. A huge percentage of the skiing here is above treeline. That matters.
4. Snowfall and snow quality varies greatly from place to place. Look into this

Chamonix is a nice pick. St Anton (with Lech and Zurs basically attached), for my money is the best single resort in Europe. Zermatt also has a lot to offer. I think those are probably the overall top three in Europe, but there's plenty of room for debate. I've never skied Val d'Isere, but would like to. Some other resorts, like Verbier, rival or better the three I mentioned for skiing, but fall short in terms of charm. The reverse is true for places like Saas Fe (charming, skiing only so-so).

Switzerland costs more than France and Austria. Austria IMHO is the most fun for apres. Italy has the best food, of course, though the food you get in the Alps may not be what you expect from Italian cuisine. I wouldn't put any Italian resorts on your shortlist except for maybe the Val Gardena complex, but snowfall is pretty iffy over there. If you want a taste of Italy, consider skiing over to Cervinia for the day from Zermatt.

As you can see from my list, I'm not really a big fan of the mega-resorts in France, Les Arcs/La Plagne, the 3 Vals, etc. Just too much scale for my money. I prefer something cosier.

Finally, there are a number of great smaller resorts in Europe, too many to name, including Andermatt, Engelberg, Alagna (though it's part of a much bigger complex, SkiMonterosa).
post #15 of 32
I would prefer late March to early January for a trip. Why? Longer days, lifts open to 5pm+, sundeck time, top 2/3 of mountain well filled in. The downside is the valley could be melting off a bit(but generally never where the best skiing is located).

As for mountains, here are my quick thoughts...

Chamonix - really great! It's not a large interconnected complex but a collection of individual places only a few miles from one another. Frankly, if you have some intermediates in your group who like pistes, I think you could do better.

I happen to like the large French interconnected mega resorts - since the scale is off the charts! Much larger than Vail or Whistler/Blackcomb. And the reason for me to ski in Europe for scale, size, vertical and atmosphere. I did not want small/medium/cute. Both Val d'Isere/Tignes and 3 Valleys offer everything for everyone for a week. I liked them both. (The downside is that much of lodging was purpose-built and not as atmospheric as 1000 y.o. villages). But nearly all high-speed lifts, lots of off-piste, huge variety, etc.

Other similar places are Zermatt/Cervinia and St. Anton/Lech. (For later March, you might want to drop St. Anton since it faces more south and is lower, but it is in the highest snow zone in Euroland.)

You might want to add your own criteria of language-ability, what country you want to visit, lodging deals, airfare, etc.
post #16 of 32
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the replies. The more I learn the more I am thinking that a higher altitude resort would be better with snowfall during that time. Do you guys have any suggestions of places that typically have good snowfall coverage in late March? Also I have heard a great deal about the Vallee Blanch, but I am still confused. What exactly is it, and would we be able to do it in late march? Thanks for any advice.
post #17 of 32
The four (sic) valleys of Les 3 Vallees give you a real European ski circus with a lot of upper altitude skiing that will all but guarantee skiing at that time of year. Val Thorens is not the place to stay for a quaint European experience, but the partying Euros seem to enjoy it anyway...
post #18 of 32
Originally Posted by SXF View Post
Thanks for all the replies. The more I learn the more I am thinking that a higher altitude resort would be better with snowfall during that time. Do you guys have any suggestions of places that typically have good snowfall coverage in late March? Also I have heard a great deal about the Vallee Blanch, but I am still confused. What exactly is it, and would we be able to do it in late march? Thanks for any advice.
This is the Vallee Blanche:

It's one of the most famous ski runs in the world. You need to ski it with a guide, who will lead you, roped together in climbing harness, down the access trail in the foreground. You then ski down the glacier, it's about 17km long. There is a lovely little restaurant about halfway down. The classic route is not difficult skiing, but it is genuinely dangerous - crevasses, seracs, a few hairy traverses. There are many variations for the more adventurous.

March would be ideal I would think, it is a glacier. It closes in bad conditions so the more stable weather in spring would give you a better chance of being able to ski it.
post #19 of 32
Valle Blanche = White Valley...glaciers flowing off Mt. Blanc. More info....
It's a 9000 vertical tram up to a satellite peak of Mt. Blanc with a descent through gently sloping glaciated terrain. Not too hard. One run day. Guide and lift pass run probably $100+ these days with Euro exchange. Amazing terrain and experience.

In March, you are looking at snow preservation more than snowfall. Altitude, exposure, past snowfall, etc all play a role. All of these are really good:
Val Thorens is the highest base in Europe with 3 Vallees access.
Val d'Isere is almost as high and has a glacier in Val and another large one in Tignes.
Zermatt is the highest top station-wise with extensive glacier skiing.

There are other choices
post #20 of 32
March, for sure
get a copy of Where to Ski and Snowboard
Are you familiar with the back bowls at Vail? They would fit in a small part of the Vallee-Blanche.
post #21 of 32
I skied St. Anton in Jan 2007 and it was a blast! Forgot to post the trip report here, but will do soon. I skied the first week of Jan and it dumped right before I got there. Amazing 5 days of skiing. The terrain is so vast there and I forget the name now, but one of the trams goes up about 3000 ft in like 5 mins and then it takes you about 30-45 mins of off-piste terrain to get back down. Did that all day long. Truly loved it there.
post #22 of 32
I've been skiing in almost a dozen resorts all across the alps the past 13 years, if you plan to ski in christmas don't plan ahead which resort you end up at because of the unsure snow amount I'd also recommend Mars for best conditions...
However, the resorts in austria (arlberg area) are usually a safe bet, today they got around 250cm while the rest of the alps are around 100-150cm at the top elevations.

IMO the big problem with the alps is the unpredictable snow falls. You can get those 60 inches mega dumps followed by 3 weeks of no snow at all! France had around 50 inches in a few days around the 10th of december this month but it hasn't snowed since and it's almost new year. I'm going there in january and it looks like I'm going to ski on hard packed 4 weeks old snow :O

Sure it's steep with a massive scenery but I prefer lots of snow and would love to ski in US/Canada, then again... you always want what you don't have right?
post #23 of 32
First of all, definitely go in March. I've skied New Year in a few resorts, they are not horrendously busy (though undoubtedly more so than usual), but the problem is snow reliability. Virtually anywhere in Europe will be fine well into March, even lower resorts (though probably not the lowest) and lower runs should be fairly reliable. Most of the winter's biggest snowfalls in Europe come in March (and sometimes into April too!).

Of the resorts you mention:

Chamonix - Mecca. Great for challenging skiing and off-piste; do the Vallee Blanche (longest lift serviced route in the world). But be warned that the area is somewhat spread, and to take full advantage a lot of buses will be required.

Val Thorens - High and snowsure. Part of Les Trois Vallees (Courcheval, Meribel and VT) giving over 600kms of marked runs. But not the most charming resort and no local tree skiing for bad weather. (Snowheads will be a great source of info on VT as the 'End of Season Bash' has been held there for a few years now).

Zermatt - Great rep, Euro 'charm', awesome skiing.

St Anton - As above. Also reknowned, by Brits especially, as the party capital of the skiing world!

I will presume that L8 is essentially an advanced skier, and 5/6 is intermediate... None of the above resorts should cause too many issues, but Chamonix is definitely geared at the hardcore skier (NB, Vallee Blanche is definitely do-able by an intermediate, so don't let the possible 'once in a lifetime' chance go).

Ultimate Euro charm, with a car free village (train to village, and some trains instead of lifts) is Wengen/Grindelwald - that definitely is one of those resorts that has to be skied. Easy to get to as well (train from airport to Interlakken and then change onto the train up to the village, along with everyone out of their cars).

Whilst there is some awesome skiing in Italy, I'd go for France/Switzerland/Austria (in no particular order), as travelling so far and skiing Italy would be like me travelling to USA to ski a tiny hill in the NE - great without question, but somewhat of a waste of a 6hr flight...
post #24 of 32
be warned about the vallee blanche, in recent seasons even in March it has been desperate, retreating glaciers has resulted in big crevasses which like to to eat skiers and boarders, 2 years ago in march it was desperate, think double blackdiamond difficuty on blue ice with huge holes to fall into if you lose it.

if its a decent winter in cham it should be ok though and in normal state its very easy, the ridge from the midi can be tricky with ski boots so worth taking crampons which makes it very easy, and keep it for good weather otherwise its pointless, the views of the tacul, grande capucin, Grande Jorasses etc etc etc are mind blowing
post #25 of 32

St Anton

I have been lurking here for a while now and must say i hear alot of talk about St Anton so i finally got something booked up and i'm off this saturday for a week!!

i'll give a report when i get back, might be worth considering for your plans

I do like austria i find the people there very friendly and it generally has a great winter sports atmosphere.

post #26 of 32
http://www.welove2ski.com/jsp/index.jsp is a good site for a start.
Otherwise, lots of good advice.
And, yes, DO NOT visit us for new years eve. It's a cluster****. March is good.
Snowfall previsions one year in advance are impossible? Who knows where it will snow in 2009. Stay flexible if you can.
post #27 of 32
And if you're coming over, bring me some tennis balls, they're way cheaper in the States. Just saying.
post #28 of 32
I wanna bring up some other ideas not mentioned yet.

I grew up near the lake of Constance closed to the boarder to Austria and Switzerland and now live in the Munich area, so I skied something like 40+ different ski-ressorts in the Alps.
Of course March is better than late Dec./early Jan. and if you can, move to February to 1st half of April and you're save with snow conditions (not weather necessarily!).

St. Anton (with Lech and Zürs nearby) is certainly a very nice (famous and expensive) place, and if apres-ski is important for you, I'd go there. But there are a couple others in the same area (within 1 to 1.5h drive), which I regard as equally good.

Just to mention a few:
my favorate: Lenzerheide/Switzerland (in my eyes equal to St. Anton in size, altitude and quality, not apres-ski!)
others Laax, Davos/Klosters, Arosa, St. Moritz, all in the east part of Switzerland. All with similar altitude and apart from Arosa in size and quality of slpoes equal to St.Anton.
In Austria, consider Ischgl, Stubaital, Zillertal, St. Gallenkirch.

As said above there are some nice resorts rather closed to each-other and if you don't mind staying down in the Rhein-Valley (boarder between Austria and Switzerland) in Sargans (or nearby like Vaduz/Lichtenstein) and don't mind driving for about 1h every day you could ski 5 different places: St. Anton, St. Gallenkirch, Davos/Klosters, Lenzerheide, Laax. These are five high quality resorts. The airport in Zurich is only 1.5 h away from the Rhein-valley and with google-map and GPS devices it should be easy to do this all on your own; at least I wouldn't mind.

Have fun!
post #29 of 32
Originally Posted by matt65536 View Post
I have been lurking here for a while now and must say i hear alot of talk about St Anton so i finally got something booked up and i'm off this saturday for a week!!

i'll give a report when i get back, might be worth considering for your plans

I do like austria i find the people there very friendly and it generally has a great winter sports atmosphere.

I'm sure that St Anton won't disappoint. Check out my trip report from 5 years ago:

post #30 of 32
I've skied most of the Swiss resorts elkam mentions above, and I agree they're all pretty good. Davos is lacking in atmosphere, though. Lenzerheide and Flims/Laax are both real solid (just over the Splugenpass from me; unfortunately, the pass closes in winter).
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