Ski Industry News

Putting the Alps Back into Alpine Skiing

by Dan Giesin | April 24, 2018

For many skiers and snowboarders, sliding down a snow-covered mountain never gets old.
However, it can get stale.
So, if repeated laps on good, old Mount Bushwhack is getting a bit, well, repetitive, how about considering a change of scenery?
Like Europe, for instance. And, specifically, the Alps.
That range, the so-called Rooftop of Western Europe, is the birthplace of modern Alpine skiing (and by extension, snowboarding) and has spent the better part of the last 100 years or so dialing the sport in.
Think there are some rad lines at Jackson Hole and Squaw Valley? Check out Chamonix.
Think it’s pretty posh hanging out in Sun Valley or Beaver Creek? Check out Zermatt.
Think the old-school charm is pretty neat at Stowe or Deer Valley? Check out just about any resort in the Alps.
So, if you’re thinking a wintertime sojourn in the Alps is just the thing to cure the Mount Bushwhack blahs, here’s one person’s suggestion of 10 resorts that could do the trick.

Chamonix

The site of the first Winter Olympic Games (1924), this French resort lies on the northern flank of Mt. Blanc, the Alps’ highest point. Renowned for its extreme steeps and deep, Chamonix has 47 lifts servicing 87 miles of trails and a massive 7,326 feet of vertical. The tram ride from town to the top of the Aiguille du Midi — and the 12-mile ski descent of Vallee Blanche — is almost worth the plane fare from the States.

Kitzbuhel

Located in the Austria’s Tirol region, this is home to the Streif run and the Hannenkamm race, the toughest, most demanding downhill on the World Cup circuit. Kitzbuhel has a vertical drop of 3,937 feet and 106 miles of runs serviced bypass 56 lifts, including the 3S cable car, which crosses a 1,300-foot deep valley and is 2.25-miles long.

Lech

Farther west in Austria’s Arlberg region lies this family friendly resort, particularly if your family is ultra wealthy or uber famous. With a modest 1,507 feet of vertical serviced by 24 lifts, Lech is a beginner/intermediate skier’s or snowboarder’s playground. However, there is an off-piste challenge called the White Ring, a gut- and lung-busting circuit that is 13 miles long with 18,000 feet of vertical and includes the neighboring resort of Zurs among others.

Les Portes du Soleil

This bi-country (Switzerland and France) resort is huge, comprised of 13 older, subsumed resorts (including Champery, Morzine and Chatel) and covers 25,600 acres, which is larger than all the Wasatch resorts of Utah combined. Les Portes has 4,800 feet of vertical and 200 lifts servicing more than 400 miles of trails, 70 percent of which are rated intermediate or easier.

Les Trois Vallee

If you think Les Portes is big, you’ve got another think coming. Les Trois Vallee, which is located in the Savoie region of France, is nearly 400 acres bigger and unofficially holds the title of the world’s largest ski resort. With 8,000 feet of vertical and 407 miles of runs serviced by 183 lifts, you can get a little bit of everything at Les Portes, including a taste of such bygone resorts as Val Thorens, Courcheval and Meribel.

Sestriere

Although part of Italy’s famed Via Lattea (Milky Way) conglomeration of resorts, Sestriere deserves mention on its own merits. It was built specifically as a ski resort 80 years ago and as such does not have the charm of many Alpine villages that became ski resorts. However, it does have 4,865 feet of vertical and 199 miles of trails serviced by 70 lifts. And the organizing committee of the 2006 Turin Winter Games thought highly enough of it to make Sestriere the location of the Alpine events.

St. Anton

One ridge or so east of Lech lies the cradle of Alpine skiing where the Arlberg technique, the foundation of the way we ski today, was developed and refined (and exported to North America in the 1930s) nearly a century ago. However, St. Anton has other claims to fame, including 4,944 feet of vertical and 190 miles of runs serviced by 88 lifts and two of the rowdiest apres bars in the world: the Krazy Kanguruh and the Mooserwirt.

St. Moritz

A long-time destination for European royalty and upper classes, this Swiss resort has gained the reputation of an “opulent outpost for the beautiful set.” Not to mention the backdrop for a couple of James Bond films. Skiing at St. Moritz, which consists of five ski areas, is as rich as its clientele, with a 4,354-foot vertical drop and 220 miles of trails serviced by 56 lifts. The two-time Winter Olympics site (1928 and ‘48) is also famed for its tobogganing (the 134-year-old Cresta run) and horse racing on a frozen lake.

Wengen

With the spectacular backdrop of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch peaks framing the resort, it’s easy for skiing and snowboarding to take a back seat to simply staring at the scenery. But don’t gape too long; you’ll miss out on some great riding. This car-free Swiss resort has 5,591 feet of vertical terrain and 96 miles of trails serviced by 66 lifts. It also has the Lauberhorn downhill, the longest course (2.75 miles) on the World Cup circuit and a track on which racers routinely top 100 mph.

Zermatt

When you have the Matterhorn literally in your backyard and 38 peaks over 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) as your property boundary, you know you’re in high-country heaven. Another car-free Swiss village, Zermatt is the base area for three incorporated resorts (two of which are in Italy) that boasts a staggering 7,477 feet of vertical and 223 miles of trails serviced by 52 lifts. The town is also one of the most expensive resorts in not just the Alps, but all of Europe.

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