Have you skied all over the Rocky Mountains?
Canada? Ready for the next alpine
adventure? Have you considered a ski trip to the Alps? Austria, Switzerland,
France, Italy or Germany await. Here are some tips to help you plan your first
ski trip to the Alps:
What's the Ski Terrain like?
The Alps terrain is vast, extreme, rugged and abrupt compared to the ski
mountains in North America. Often lifts and trails in the Alps connect towns and
you can literally ski for miles and miles offering fun immense alpine touring
adventure. The Alpine terrain is so immense and extreme and often dotted with
cliffs, glaciers and crevasses. The Alps are very different from skiing in
The Rockies in terms of trails and
what's on a trail map. Typically, a ski lift in Switzerland, France or Austria will have
just one or two "prepared" pistes (groomed runs) off the above tree-line summit,
these are usually marked simply by colored poles on each side, trail names are
often just a number. Unlike in the Rockies, where skiers tend to ski all over
the mountain, in the Alps due to the dangers of crevasses and cliffs, everyone
is encouraged to stay on piste (on the trails) unless they
hire a Mountain Guide
or Bergführer or a Maestro de Ski. In recent years, more Europeans are discovering the adventure
of going off-piste, they call it free-riding to explore more of the powder and
The Alps are so huge that my husband likened them to skiing the Rockies on top
of several Vermont peaks, meaning the first 3,000-4,000 vertical feet of your
descent tends to be above
tree-line with lighter snow and the lower mountain 1,000-2,000 vertical is in
the trees with wetter heavier, aka Eastern, snow. You can easily garner 5,000-
7,000 vertical foot runs at larger resorts in the Alps, starting at elevations
of about 10,000' (over 3,000 meters), skiing to the base villages below miles
away. Overall, the snow quality of the Rockies tends to be lighter and
dryer - better quality, where in the Alps with such tremendously long vertical
you can encounter various snow conditions from light powder to heavier or wet
granular snow lower down all in one long run.
The Ambiance of the Alps
One of the most notable and enjoyable differences of European skiing is the
ambiance and on mountain dining. Skiing at a French,
Austrian resort on in
the Italian Dolomites, you will
see 10-30 ski huts and chalets scattered across the ski mountain, flying their
national flag as a welcome sign that they are open and serving lunch. Some of
these huts and chalets are hundreds of years old, in summer they serve as farms
and a respite for hikers. You can ski in for hearty homemade mountain fare like
fondue, raclette, rösti, spatzle, and schnitzel, with a course - local beer and
wine. In Europe, lunch is an alpine event starting between 12 and 2pm and lasting
the rest of the ski day - though you still have to ski down the mountain. Sun
terraces and umbrella bars are also popular around the mountains and towns
offering more occasions to enjoy the scenery and sunshine of the high alpine
with a drink (or "aperitif ") especially during spring skiing in the Alps.
"Après ski" seems to begin before skiing is done.
We have encountered mountaintop bars at 9,000' serving no food, just cocktails! But the Europeans
invented après ski - so they can modify and improve on the concept, even if
drinking at high altitudes seems a bit crazy - it's part of the culture of the
Alps and speaks to their ski stamina.
Hiring a Ski Guide in the Alps
Because the majority skiing the Alps stays on piste (on the marked groomed
trails), there is often powder and untracked snow at ski resorts beyond the
marked controlled runs, including open bowls and backcountry. But you must hire
a Guide to explore this wild un-managed terrain safely. We cannot stress this
enough - it's just too risky with glacial crevasses, unmarked cliffs and
rocks, and ever changing avalanche danger. Even the trail maps express. Hiring a
guide ranges in price from $400-600 per person per day, which sounds pricey but
the rewards can be huge and the risk of danger is dramatically reduced with your
guide's knowledge, experience of the terrain, and avalanche updates. Venturing
off piste with a guide, you can score heli ski or cat skiing type terrain, deep
powder and long backcountry adventure runs virtually to yourselves. Guides can
provide you with beacons - this is either included in your ski guides service
fee or available for an extra rental of peeps, avalanche air bags, shovels, etc.
See our Tips on Hiring a Ski Guide.
Ski patrol are not as friendly as in the US, they are hired for avalanche and
slope safety - they typically do not like being asked questions as mountain
hosts. Skiing in Italy, the Caribinieri are the Armed Police
Force -carrying guns - on the ski slopes. They serve as first aid as well, but they will issue a
ticket and fine to anyone skiing out of bounds in posted areas. Having an
accredited ski guide keeps you safe and the liability is on them.
Lift Tickets in the Alps
Lift tickets in Europe are typically a little less expensive than in the US, and
include tons of terrain, but
do not include ski patrol, medical or emergency service. You need to spend an
extra $5-15 a day, when you purchase your lift ticket, for insurance that
includes on site medical care, helicopter or ambulance transport.
resorts have very few ski patrol, and their idea of a mountain rescue is to fly
in a helicopter for a med evac which can easily result in a multi-thousand
dollar, $2,000-$7,000 rescue fee that would have been covered with the $10 +/- purchase of
insurance (assurance) also called snow care or ski care.