Key Differences between European Ski Slopes and Their American Counterparts
Ask anyone who has ever skied in Europe, they'll agree that there are many differences between American and European ski resorts. Not all the things we are listing here are absolutes as there are exceptions to every rule depending on where you are. This list is geared at someone who has never skied in the Alps, and hopefully can help you prepare for your next ski vacation in Europe.
All Day Après-ski
One thing you may notice is the laid back attitude towards drinking. Some things are just culturally different, and this element has its pros and cons. Drinking and skiing isn't exactly uncommon in the US, so dealing with that should be nothing new. One positive take on it is that you will get to take breaks inside any of the numerous warming huts. Inside you will find a pretty much day long Après-ski, serving up various kinds of hot, spiced, and often spiked beverages. In the afternoon the huts and base lodges fill up fast as they would in in the US.
Something you may not expect is the incredible food served at mountains. It's not uncommon to find resorts that have reservation only lunchrooms that attract people who aren't even on the slopes. Even if you don't want to splurge for fine dining, you will most likely experience better food than you are probably used to from US resorts. In the US, the resorts are generally owned by one corporation, but in the Alps you can find shops and restaurants all over the area that are run independently.
Friends and Family
Mountain resorts in Europe may host more families than you might expect. Of course this is not the case everywhere. More extreme mountains like La Grave and Chamonix in France and St. Anton in Austria will attract a more extreme skier. On the other side of that coin, locations like Val d'lesere, France offer free access to the nursery slopes to encourage beginners to come and enjoy the mountain. Part of the reason for such diversity in mountains is tourism, as many skiers from the UK focus more on spending time together and enjoying the entire experience of of their vacation. This is one thing that helps to keep standards high at most resorts.
While back country skiing is one of the staples of the US ski culture (at least in the west), this is not necessarily the case in the Alps. There are a couple reasons for this. One reason is scale. You won't be skiing on just one mountain, as entire ranges are connected by trails. Places like Zermatt
offer many different peaks that are spread out over many miles. You also find resorts and towns connected by trails. Take a look at Portes du Soleil
. With over 200 lifts, and 650km of runs available from the dozen or so resorts in the area, you could start your day in Les Gets, France, head over to Champery for lunch, and make your way back to Les Gets by the end of the day. With so much terrain, if an area is marked off, it's generally for very good reason (like being un skiable). It's also not something you really need to worry about, you can still find your freshies to do powder eights in.
Lift Line Chaos
So far, most of the things on the list are positive, however the lift lines may be the most jarring thing that you will experience while skiing in Europe. The lift load areas are sometimes a chaotic free for all. In North America you experience organized lift lines where people are queued up and order is maintained. Unfortunately, this is not really the case at European resorts. Your equipment is probably going to get stepped on, so accept this and move on. There is an upside to this- many European mountains have dozens of lifts to avoid crowding, so if you find a nice little hill away from the main chaos, you may never have to wait in line. Plus some resorts will even cut off sales to reduce crowding, something you probably won't see in the US.
Be prepared for anything by planning your next ski vacation
and you are sure to have the experience of a lifetime on your next trip!