The Straight Story On The Continental Skiing Scene For Seniors.

I have coached in pretty well all of the European skiing countries. SeniorsSkiing asked me could I recommend resorts to suit mature American skiers, especially first time visitors to the Continent. Here goes.

The range of possibilities is vast. France plasters its slopes with lifts, Italy takes a more environmental view and installs fewer but longer lifts up valleys, offering equally long descents. Gressoney St Jean in the Aosta region (about an hour from Turin) is a classic example, it also links to Champoluc and Alagna.

Other Examples

Waidring: 10 lifts, 16 trails, intermediate-beginner, gemutlichkeit.

A friend went to Waidring in Austria every year for ten years. Great people, great snow, warm welcomes. They have a tradition called gemutlichkeit – geniality or friendliness. It is tiny – 10 lifts,16 trails all told, half of them intermediate, half of them beginner.

Val Thorens: 163 lifts, 373 miles of trails, ski to Courchevel

Compare that to Val Thorens-Meribel-Courchevel – 163 lifts, 373 miles of trails, 192,000 feet of vertical descent. Start in Val Thorens, ski to Courchevel, and you may not have time to get back. Hugely popular with Brits (far too popular for me, I hate lift queues)

What’s On Offer?

Different resorts in every country target different types of skiers – though they hope to get everybody.

Take the Chamonix Valley for instance, steeped in mountaineering history. Each of its resorts offers a spread of challenge but with a bias.

The lowest resort, Les Houches: charming, easier, all trails are in wooded areas, amply supplied with atmospheric mountain restaurants.

Almost an hour’s ski bus ride from Les Houches – is Le Tour. Almost treeless, big sweeping terrain, as well as plenty of intermediate trails it offers some easily accessible off-piste.

In between you have Le Brevent – high, steep, not easy; or Argentiere, home of the “hard men”, some of the blues would classify red (black) in other places.

When conditions permit, from Chamonix centre a telecabine takes you to the 22 km Vallee Blanche in the high mountains, and you only need to be intermediate, but you’ll need a professional guide: don’t try it on your own.

So How To Choose?

The internet is full of “the three best French ski resorts”; or “the ten best Austrian ones”; it’s endless.

What we need is a selection process. How does this seem:

Kitzbuehel: €€€€€
  • How pricey is it? There are big differences. If you select Kitzbuhel (fashionable) everything is more expensive than Kirchberg which is just a few miles up the road and accesses the same trails. Some resorts are designed around high net worth folk seeking luxury.
  • What duration is the connection time between your airport and the resort. It can be up to four hours or as little as only one. Does it matter to you?
  • Many European resorts are inter-connected, ask them what standard of skiing do they mostly offer. They’ll tell you they have everything, but insist on knowing what they mostly offer.
  • Within the connected areas ask them the approximate skiing times to get from one resort to another, and back: it can seriously affect your day – and how tiring it might be.
  • Ask them if skiing guides available who can show you early in your visit the general shape of the place. Many of the chalet owners and hotels offer this service – not teaching, just showing you around.
  • When are the school holidays? In France they go on for weeks. Lift queues can be horrendous. Outside of them, you can often just walk on. And remember, in some European countries lift queue etiquette and politeness is conspicuous by its absence; France is one of them.
  • Consider less popular countries that don’t have inter-connected valleys – Slovenia (home of Elan skis) has some nice small resorts; Bulgaria has more than you might think and inexpensive.
Kirchburg: €€ and just down the road from Kitzbuehel

My personal favorite? Baqueira in the Spanish Pyrenees. Two hour connection from Toulouse airport. Nicest folk you’ll ever meet (I go to the Hotel Tuc Blanc, and I’m not paid to say so). Watch out for school holidays though, it’s just across the border from France, but the Catalans queue politely.

Baqueira, the author’s favorite.

One Last Tip.

Never do “the last run down”! Everyone wants to get one more “last run” in. They do it on the return to the valley.

Don’t. They’re all tired; they’re skiing at their worst; there are crowds of them; the trails down lower are worn out or slushy. If you want “one last run” stay higher (the areas they’ve just left!) have better snow, fewer people, quieter mountains, and go down to the valley on the lift.

Hotel Tuc Blanc, author’s fav hotel in Baqueria.

 

10 Comments

  1. Avatar Tom Lott Lott says:

    Excellent informative article.

  2. Avatar Richard Kavey says:

    Fish A Lott, is that U?

  3. Avatar seth brown says:

    I’ve been to number of euro resorts.
    Some thoughts:
    many if not most runs are above tree line(bring a bright lense)
    on mtn lunch is very different…expect a min of an hr..
    on mtn apres ski is common….(St Anton for example)…and then you still have a mile to ski down, at dusk, etc
    On piste skiing is not rated like the US; very few real expert pistes…but, there is in bounds, off piste SERIOUS terrain.
    its about a different culture, but, i believe the 9-4 experience at a major US resort is superior…however, you cannot compare the total experience.

  4. Avatar Alice Kane says:

    Love your article & LOVED your advice about “The Last Run Down.” My twin & I skied Zermatt some years ago and got caught on that “last run.” The skiers are fast and sloppy and the trails narrow & curve in “Z’ turns” at the bottom. There are actually NETS to ‘catch’ those who can’t turn fast enough. And to further “enhance’ the experience, there are little eat ‘n drink stops along the last bit to entice skiers for a ‘quick’ apres ski. So… many skiers screech to a stop, fly off the piste and leave you to spin around them. Wish we have known your suggestion of ‘taking the end-of-the-day lift down!’ ;->

    • Thanks Alice,
      Sorry you both had to learn the hard way about skiing to the bottom at the end of the day! Still, better late than never.
      As for the skiers being fast – mostly they’re fast because they have insufficiently good technique to do anything else. I’ve always said I can get a raw beginner to ski fast, on a baby slope, (you just give them a push: only joking) but to ski slowly on a steep, perhaps narrow one you’ve got to be good!
      All the best, to you
      Bob T

  5. Avatar Paul Daniels says:

    We will travel in Switzerland on Nov. 27-Dec.2, 2022 before taking Christmas cruise I am asking for recommendation where to ski for only one day within Switzerland so any feedback will be appreciated.

    • In my opinion you will enjoy ANY resort in Switzerland. I’d choose the one you can get to quickest from wherever you are. That way you’ll minimise tiredness and maximise fun. You’ll find pretty much anything you want, pretty much anywhere you go for a day.

      I personally like Saas Fee – traffic free, top class hoteliers, and with a glacier to look at!
      I’m not a tour guide, but I hope that helps. Have a great time.
      Bob T

  6. Avatar Cansnowplow says:

    Bob,
    Your case examples in this article not only provided excellent guidance, but you just taught the majority of your readers what should be contemplated on as one is making ski travel plans, no matter where you want to go. Excellent! Your statement of lift queue etiquette, politeness, or courtesies, NOT, especially in France made me laugh out loud. The Grand Montets tram line I experienced funneled from 8 doorway entrances to a single line. This merging without ropes resembled the running play of the offensive line of a US football team. I felt like a pin ball as shoulders were bucked up against strangers with no apologies or facial expression. I would enjoy hearing more of your Northern Hemisphere travel wisdom.

    • “travel wisdom” – that’s pushing it a bit. But thanks for your complimentary comments. Glad – indeed relieved that it made enjoyable reading.
      I can advise that getting on the Grand Montets tram, after you’ve staggered up the ladders and steps from the Argentiere glacier, is even more daunting: too little energy left for the fight !
      Best regards
      Bob T

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