Alpine Skiing in Europe - Resort Guide

European ski resorts - alpine skiing in Europe - snowy mountainside with trees and sunlight

 

 

 

 

 

Alpine/Downhill Skiing in Europe: Introduction and Resort Guide 


Skiing has long been described as an addictive sport, and this is with good reason. With the right technique, snow and confidence, it can actually feel like you are flying. Well, nearly.
Skiing is an excellent activity to take up with children, and the slopes across the world are filled with a diverse range of people, young and old, male and female, beginner and expert. Europe is generally extremely child-friendly and the European ski resorts hold strong testament to this.
Skiing is a very welcoming and sociable sport. People at most resorts are more than happy to share expertise and encourage beginners.
One thing to remember about beginning to ski is that it feels totally unnatural at first, and as a result it can feel so tempting to discard those wretched boots right there in the snow. Don’t even get me started on how awkward skis are to hold and carry around. However once they are on your feet and you learn to trust the techniques and do them without really thinking, you won’t want to leave.
Learning to ski is different in different places. Each country has its own definitions of easy, intermediate and expert, and its own attitudes toward safety. One thing’s for sure though, you can only learn by giving it a go yourself. 
The only things you really need to remember about how skis and snowboards work are:

-          The edges of the skis/snowboards and your distribution of weight are all you use to change direction, slow down, speed up and stop.

There are various types of snow and each of them makes certain techniques slightly harder or easier. However, one certainty is that powder is the God of all snow. On a powder day you can ditch your croissant and head out earlier than early to make the most of that purest form of snow, it is simply frozen gold.


Featured European Ski Resorts

The resorts covered here are generally ones which are easy to get to from the UK, whether it is by car or cheap airline, but they are not based around package deals. You can get good packages with accommodation, flights, lessons and ski passes to most big resorts however, as always, I reiterate the numerous benefits of independent travel, including independence.

The skiing information is written from a beginner and intermediate perspective; however most of the information will be useful for all types of skiers and snowboarders.


Meiringen – Swiss Alps

This is In the Haslital area in Bernese Oberland. This resort has good beginners’ and intermediate skiing as well as expert slopes. Relatively high altitude means good snow cover. Stunning views over the surrounding alps.

Category
Rating
Additional Information
Apres-Ski
**
A small number of cafes dotted around at the main bases.
Range of Pistes
****
Variety of runs with and without trees. Beginner’s run number 14 is a good warm-up.
Location
*****
Excellent location for natural beauty and access to other parts of Switzerland. Very near to tourism capital Interlaken.  Direct train from Interlaken Ost.
Value
***
Switzerland is generally expensive, however this resort is not as expensive as some of the larger ones.  




Grindelwald – Swiss Alps

An enormous and hugely varied ski domain, Grindelwald and the linked Mannlichen, First and Wengen ski areas boast widely varied skiing in the utterly spectacular setting of the Jungfrau region. The area is also excellent for non-skiers, with an abundance of hiking, shopping and sight-seeing opportunities all year-round. The beginner’s slopes are most gentle at Wengen and First.  Expert and intermediate slopes are also extremely varied. Many slopes are at high altitude for reliable snow cover (except at First).

Category
Rating
Additional Information
Apres-Ski
*****
Excellent range of cafes and restaurants. Generally mid-range. Family friendly and non-skier friendly.
Range of Pistes
*****
Variety of runs with and without trees. Beginner’s area at First offers gentle skiing introduction - no ski pass needed.
Location
*****
Excellent location for natural beauty and access to other parts of Switzerland. Very near to tourism capital Interlaken. Direct train link.
Value
**
Switzerland is generally expensive, however you can save money by purchasing ski passes for select areas or the entire Grindelwald ski domain.

Fiesch – Swiss Alps

Fiesch has a long season due to high altitude. Access to the main resort is by a cable-car which stops in two places, the first is the ski resort, and the last place is the top of the Eggishorn mountain at just under 3000 metres altitude. From here there are excellent views of the Aletsch glacier on clear days. The cable car station has a webcam for assessing visibility at the top, as this can differ greatly from the bottom. The ski resort offers a beautiful alpine panorama and views across the valley and down into the villages.

Category
Rating
Additional Information
Apres-Ski
***
Various cafes and restaurants. Generally mid-range. Family friendly.
Range of Pistes
***
Generally suited to intermediates. Variety of runs with trees. Good for powder possibilities.
Location
*****
Excellent location for natural beauty and access to other parts of Switzerland.
Value
**
Switzerland is generally expensive, added cost due to cable-car access.

 

Saint Gervais Mont Blanc – French Alps

As a historic and extremely picturesque town, Saint Gervais Les Bains is excellent for non-skiers and days off from the slopes. The views from this town are simply divine – snowy peaks visible from all angles. An excellent way to recuperate and recharge for a fresh few days’ skiing is to visit the Mont Blanc thermal baths at St Gervais Le Fayet, a part of St Gervais further down the mountain (and most likely your arrival point if arriving by coach or train). St Gervais Les Bains is the main town and at around 800 metres altitude snow cover in midwinter can make it possible to ski down to the main village on some intermediate runs. The resort is also linked to the resorts of Megeve and Les Contamines, making it possible to ski this whole region with the right snow cover. Due to the range of altitude, the season can last until mid-April, with some good beginner runs higher up on the Mont d’Arbois area.   

Category
Rating
Additional Information
Apres-Ski
****
Good range of cafes, creperies and restaurants. Great genuine atmosphere. Generally mid-range. Family friendly
Range of Pistes
****
Good runs for beginners and intermediates, some excellent expert terrain also. Lack of tree cover on some runs higher up – bad for fog and flat-light
Location
****
Excellent location for natural beauty – 360 view of surrounding alps including Mont Blanc. A little out of the way, but only around an hour by car or bus to Geneva airport.
Value
***
Good value for the French Alps. Ski hire is reasonable and as usual, discounts are available for end of season

 

La Bresse - French Vosges

La Bresse is the largest resort in the Vosges. The main draw of the resorts in this region of France is that they are well-suited to beginners and intermediates due to the more gentle gradient of the slopes. The resorts in this area are good value, being more low-key than those of the Alps. These resorts are also easy to access from the UK by car.  
Category
Rating
Additional Information
Apres-Ski
**
A handful of cafes. Generally low-key. Family friendly. Good prices.
Range of Pistes
**
Generally suited to beginners and intermediates. Snow is generally corn-type. Good runs with trees.
Location
***
Good location for access from UK by car
Value
****
Excellent value for ski passes and hire.


 

Gerardmer - French Vosges

Located in the French Vosges with a good mountain-road link to the beautiful town of Colmar. The resort is friendly with an excellent flat beginner’s area which has a free short pull-rope ski lift. There are some lovely long easy green and blue runs - good for easing into new techniques.

Category
Rating
Additional Information
Apres-Ski
**
A couple of cafes up at the resort - generally low-key. Family friendly. Good quality food for the reasonable prices. Good choice of restaurants in the town.
Range of Pistes
***
Generally suited to beginners and intermediates. Long easy runs. Generally corn-type snow or wet granular.
Location
***
Good access from UK by car. When travelling by car from UK stay in little town of Remiremont for value and ease of access to ski resort, or Colmar for excellent food and shopping.
Value
****
Excellent value for ski passes and hire.


Gerardmer ski resort - easy beginner slopes and gerardmer lake





Saint Maurice-Sur-Moselle - French Vosges

This is another friendly resort in the French Vosges. Conveyor belt ski lift and flat area is excellent for beginners. Intermediate slopes are generally quiet.
Category
Rating
Additional Information
Apres-Ski
**
A couple of cafes. Generally low-key. Family friendly.
Range of Pistes
***
Generally suited to beginners and intermediates. Long easy and intermediate runs. Generally Corn-type snow or wet granular.
Location
**
Tucked away in the Vosges this is not the easiest resort to find, however it is generally quiet and used by locals due to this.
Value
****
Good value for ski passes and hire. This resort is mainly used by locals.


Montgenevre ski resort easy beginner slopes











Tryvann - Oslo

There is excellent access to this ski resort from Oslo city – Norway’s capital. It is a 20 minute bus ride away from the centre, up into the surrounding hills. Budget flights are usually available to Oslo’s Rygge airport.

Tryvann is good for beginners and intermediates with a number of good long runs and chair-lifts over the scenic forest-clad hills. 

Category
Rating
Additional Information
Apres-Ski
*
Not many facilities, however with Olso city 20 minutes away on the bus this is easily reconciled. 
Range of Pistes
***
Generally suited to beginners and intermediates. Long easy runs.
Location
****
The only European ski resort in a city. Literally 20 minutes on the bus from Oslo centre. 10 minutes if you’re on the right side of town. Range of snow types depending on season.
Value
**
Norway is generally expensive, but by their standards the price is moderately good value for ski hire and ski passes.




Snowman Resort at Malselv - North Norwegian Fjords

Malselv is an excellent resort for getting away from the ‘British’ feel. Its location inland from the North Norwegian Fjords means it is tucked away inside the Arctic circle and is extremely cold in winter, meaning guaranteed winter snow and a long ski season. Within 2-3 hours’ drive from magical Tromso, and half an hour from Bardufoss, it is in a good enough location for access. Its main draw however is the range of accommodation, West-facing vistas for stunning slow sunsets, and the child-friendly nature of the beginner pistes.



Category
Rating
Additional Information
Apres-Ski
**
Not many facilities, however the friendly restaurant and shop at the central area serves great food and delicious hot chocolate.  Excellent range of accommodation including modern, cheap apartments which are extremely clean, and chalet-style accommodation with log fires.
Range of Pistes
****
Generally suited to beginners and intermediates. Long runs, easy runs, short runs, runs through the trees, and slalom. Snow is usually of a frozen crust type or granular.
Location
***
Rural and out of the way. Makes this resort have a very genuine and off-the-beaten track feel.  Stunning panoramic views of mountain range from ski resort.
Value
**
Norway is generally expensive, but by their standards the price is good value for ski hire and ski passes.  




Montgenevre, Milky Way (Via Lattea), France

Stunning scenery, located within an hour’s drive to cosmopolitan Geneva and stunning Annecy.  On the French-Italian border, this ski resort is in a fantastic location for exploring, and even skiing over the borders to the other Milky Way resorts. It has a variety of runs suited to all abilities, especially beginners and intermediates. Beginners will be pleased with the long gentle green runs affording stunning views of the alps.

For a good opportunity to acclimatise to high altitude and find slightly cheaper accommodation stay in the nearby French town of Briancon (ten minutes away by car or bus). A simple but very cute inn called Auberge De l’Impossible can be found here. Wood panelled walls, ensuite bathrooms and great prices.
Category
Rating
Additional Information
Apres-Ski
****
Wide range of hotels, inns, restaurants and cafes to suit everyone.
Range of Pistes
****
Wide range of terrain suited to beginners on the lower slopes, and intermediates and experts on the higher slopes. There is an excellent long green run from the top, for beginners. Stunning Alpine views.  Snow type varies with altitude and season. Powder possibilities.
Location
****
On the French-Italian border and next to Switzerland, this is a great location for exploring. There are many other ski resorts nearby and joint-passes are available for the other milky way resorts.
Value
***
Generally good value, however prices are high in major ski resorts.   




La Pinilla, Near Madrid, Spain

Close to Madrid - around an hour and a half's drive away. This little resort is a great place for intermediate and beginner skiing. There are a number or great nursery slopes, and one higher up with slightly more guarranteed snow. The nice long blues back down to the tiny village area are fantastic for practising new techniques. There are lots of trees, great for flat light days, and most pistes are lovely and wide. 


Category
Rating
Additional Information
Apres-Ski
***
Little resort but wide range of places to eat and drink for its size. Very Spanish!
Range of Pistes
***
Not much for experts but lots of variety for beginners and intermediates.
Location
***
Not far from Madrid. Easier to hire a car, however it is possible to get to the nearest town Riaza by bus (with ALSA). With a car, head straight up the A1 North from Madrid and get off at junction 103, it is signposted and there are no sharp hills to get to the resort so don't worry about getting stuck in the snow!
Value
****
Good value - especially weekdays. Around £45 for ski hire and a ski pass for a half day's skiing. 


Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
All Rights Reserved

2 comments:

  1. Skiing in the French Alps was one of the best school trips to France I ever had. It’s a great place for beginners who have never been before, and the price isn’t bad.

    French Mountain Ranges

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  2. Yes it's much less expensive in the French Alps compared to Switzerland. There are some great well-equipped ski resorts suitable for beginners, but I really recommend the French Vosges for beginners particularly. The lower mountains and lack of extreme terrain make for a softer introduction I feel..!

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