Where to Ski

“Oh, east is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet,” sang Rudyard Kipling.

Ski resorts still sting this refrain. But in reality, after skiing the mountains east and the mountains west for more than two decades, I find more similarities than dissimilarities.

Of course, there are distinctions.

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The ambience, the scenery, the shops, the housing, all are auxiliary to the bottom line - the skiing, and everything a resort does to make skiing itself the magnet that pulls us to it.

Let’s talk snow talk.

No ski resorts in the United States, Canada, or Europe can boast lighter,

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There continues to be a misconception that western resorts have unlimited vertical drops. The vertical has absolutely nothing to do with how steep the trails are. It’s the difference in elevation between the summit and the base. Yes, the large resorts of the West are large. But the vertical drops of the great, open western resorts are far closer to those of the major eastern areas than is generally supposed.

Only one ski area

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about skiingThe snow was deep, the trails smoothly groomed, and the sun brilliant in a cloudless blue sky. It was an ideal winter day to be carving linked turns.

The mountain should have been crowded, the lift lines filled with impatient skiers. But the runs were packed with powder, not with skiers, and even the most impatient couldn’t growl at a two-minute wait to board a swinging chair.

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Lift rates are a key to what it costs to ski a resort. In the mid-1990s a single adult weekend one-day lift ticket - the most expensive ticket at any area - ranged from $45 to $50 at the destination playgrounds. The national-average single adult weekend ticket at the gems was estimated at $28. Whooooeee.

There’s an impression among some skiers that the gems are populated

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Gems also have snowmaking for those bleak times when there’s only a smidgen of natural snow on the ground. They groom their runs, though perhaps not as frequently or vigorously as the big boys do.

The areas close to major population centers almost always have night skiing, a tremendous plus for the ski-hungry

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No matter what splendid ski resort he enjoys in the United States or Canada, a dream lurks in every true skier’s soul of carving down the great slopes of Europe’s Alps. And why not?

The scenery is spectacular. Skiing is generally above timberline

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European trails are marked green for gentle, red for intermediate, and black for the toughies. The green really means easy to low intermediate. However, the European concept of intermediate (red) runs includes those we’d mark as blacks. As for the actual blacks? They’d be double blacks at your favorite American ski area.

While there are always

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With open arms - well, with half-pipes and snowboard parks - the resorts of Europe welcome shredders. The sport has brought new excitement to the Alps as well as to the Rockies and the Appalachians. Snowboarding has not yet attracted the tens of thousands of younger people in Europe that it has in the United States, but their numbers are increasing swiftly. Snowboard parks are found throughout Alpine resorts.

One of the favorites

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Generally, it’s safest to head for the Alps after mid-January for late-winter and early-spring skiing when the snow is as dependable on the lower,
steep slopes as on the higher elevations. However, if you want to catch the magic of the Christmas season, go for the higher-altitude resorts. These include Lech, Zurs, and St. Christoph in the Arlberg;

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Europeans find lift line manners a bore. Shoving and pushing are widely practiced, though not with the vigor of a few years ago. Some skiers will even say “pardon me” as they squeeze past. Don’t let ’em.

Until around the mid-1980s, the casual attitude of the European resorts was that simply marking the treeless slopes with an occasional pole with a colored

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European ski areas are principally focused on a town whose older quarters have been around for hundreds of years but are now overwhelmed by modem hotels, condominiums, chalets, and shopping centers. In the Arlberg, even the newest hotels are architecturally harmonious with buildings 200 years old. In France, the newest are dramatic structures harmonious with the Alps.

Housing facilities have undergone

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The first ski school in the world opened in 1907 in Austria. The first trained ski instructors in the United States were Austrians hired by Sun Valley in 1936. Every European resort has ski schools for skiers of every age. While teaching techniques may differ, all schools group people by age and base skiing level. Little effort is made to offer specialized teaching for women by women instructors.

Children

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You expect and are rarely disappointed by the fine food available in European resort restaurants and hotels. However, what you may not expect is the superb quality of the food at mountain cafes, sometimes in remodeled ancient shepherd huts high above the valley. The luncheon meals and snacks we’ve enjoyed are a shocking reminder to Americans that there’s more to lunch

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Europeans can ski as hard by day and drink as much by night as Americans. There’s less noise after dark in some countries, while in others all-night partying competes with sunlight skiing.

Switzerland is known more for moderation than wild partying. The little areas are quiet. It’s in the bigger resorts that the discos and bars are alive, noisy,

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Individual travel to European resorts is more complex than heading for a ski holiday in Vermont or Colorado. First there’s the usual problem of time - leaving the East Coast in the evening and arriving in Europe when your body thinks it should be the middle of the night. Then there’s getting from the airport to the ski area. This can involve renting

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Whether you’re traveling via regular commercial flight, on a charter airline, or with an organized tour, it’s advisable to have trip-cancellation insurance in case something goes wrong. The cost to you otherwise could be the total price of the trip - on which you didn’t go.

European

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Naturally, go dressed for winter. However, Alpine winters are generally mild, with daytime temperatures in the lower 20s.

Alpine snow is slightly heavier than the snow at the resorts in the higher elevations of the Rockies, but drier than that in the low altitudes of New England.

Only a couple resorts in all Europe are actually above the 7,000-foot

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Paying by traveler’s check or credit card is no longer a hassle in Europe. The most widely accepted credit cards are Visa, American Express, MasterCard (called Eurocard in Europe), Diners Club, and Carte Blanche.

ATMs are widely available and will give you money in local

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The usual safeguards for smart travelers are especially important when in a foreign country. Make copies of your passport and other important documents. Keep a list handy of your credit cards. They do get stolen. If you doubt that, ask us. My wife’s wallet, with credit cards and some American cash, disappeared from inside a should bag she was wearing during a five - minute stop in a theater ticket shop while we inquired about attending

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If you’re looking for anything in the way of ski gear or clothing, compare the prices in Europe with those at home. Many brands of skis, boots, and bindings are made in Europe and less expensive there than in American shops.

Ratings - Part 2

Low Intermediate: Is beginning to link parallel turns and can actually ski and stop with only minor problems. Recommended skiing: Green and blue trails. Should…

Mountain Manners

in Kids
However, the fact that they did spend time in various ski schools did not eliminate what I feel keenly is the responsibility of all parents of kids on the…

Nonskiing Necessities

in Kids
Apres-ski boots: These are an important adjunct on a ski trip. The best are those that slip on quickly and are both warm and tolerably lightweight. Laceup…

CROSS-COUNTRY

The ancient grandfather of alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, is alive, healthy, and more popular than at any time in his 4,000-year history. True, no longer…

Information

European tourist offices can provide you with general information, as well as specific information about individual resorts. Contact them at: Austrian tourist…

Who Pays the Piper?

If a skier runs into serious difficulty skiing beyond an area’s boundaries, someone will be along to help him. In the United States, this task usually falls to…