On the surface, skiing and snowboarding in Europe and North America aren’t very much dissimilar. After all, how different can sliding down a snow-covered slope with a board or two strapped to your feet be?
Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that the sport on the two continents are worlds — or at least, an ocean — apart. Aside from the cultural and language variances between the New World and Old, there are many differences, both subtle and obvious, that separate the skiing and snowboarding experience in Europe and North America.
Here are five of them:
The three largest ski resorts, by acreage, in North America are Powder Mountain (8,464 acres), Whistler Blackcomb (8,171) and Park City (7,300), would all fit comfortably inside Europe’s biggest, Les 3 Vallees in the French Alps, which weighs in at a whopping 25,946 acres (that’s 105 square kilometers, almost the size of San Francisco).
In fact on the list of the word’s largest ski resorts measured the international way (by the number of kilometers of piste, yet another difference between the two continents), the European Alps have the top 12; Park City and Big Sky resorts are tied in the 13th spot with 250km of piste, while Whistler Blackcomb (200km) is 23rd and Powder Mountain (135km) is tied for 51st.
Revelstoke and Snowmass boast the biggest top-to-bottom riding in North America at 5,620 and 4,406 vertical feet, respectively. Those are mere molehills compared to Europe’s top spot: At Chamonix you can ski or snowboard the Valle Blanche run, which drops 9,040 vertical feet over it’s 14-mile length.
In new money, that’s 2,769 meters of vertical. In fact, Europe has more than 10 resorts with at least 2,000 meters of vertical, while North American champs Revelstoke (1,712 meters) and Snowmass (1,343) lag far behind.
Food and Drink
Pomme frites or fries, pick your poison. What you eat on the hill on either continent is immaterial (and often very similar). But how you consume it is what separates the two.
In North America lunch is generally seen as an opportunity to take a break and top off your caloric tank for the rest of the afternoon. In Europe, the mid-day meal is often the raison d’etre for being on the hill, and many skiers and snowboarders will linger over a bottle of wine or bask in the early afternoon sun before making the final descent to town.
And when the ski day is done, no one parties like the Europeans, who have turned apres into an art form. Although a few North American resorts have a reputation as party-hearty places, overall it’s pretty quiet at the hill after the lifts top spinning. At many Alps resorts, people are still dancing in their ski or snowboards boots as the clock approaches midnight.
Everybody who has ever skied or snowboarded has had visions of being a big-mountain rider, casually, with grace and elan, negotiating everything and anything nature can throw your way as you descend the mountain. In reality, most of us love fine corduroy. And that’s what North American resorts produce better than anybody else.
Also, resorts in the U.S. and Canada have better organized lift-line mazes and control than their European counterparts. And resort concierge services, generally, are better at North American resorts.
Because railroads are the main transit systems in Europe, just about every winter sports resort has a train station. And there is no better to get to your winter holiday destination than taking a train, which for the most part are powered by electricity and are extremely quiet and comfortable.
Indeed, in the Alps, some trains even serve as lifts, hauling skiers and snowboarders up the mountain en route to the next village.
Meanwhile, back in North America, most people arrive at the hill via some sort of internal combustion machine (i.e., buses and cars), which degrade air quality and require acres of temporary storage facilities.
There’s nothing quite like a parking lot to enhance the alpine scenery and experience.