Three myths and three truths about skiing in Europe.
Several years ago I wrote a post titled “Why Ski the Alps?” It turned out a lot of people were interested in why they should ski the Alps and the post became a hit.
At that time, we’d not skied in Europe. In 2018, we took our sons to Germany and Austria, specifically to Garmisch and St. Anton.
Almost immediately, we were hooked. It wasn’t that the skiing was so different from skiing in North America, but that the scope of the skiing was different. The Alps are rugged and vast, the mountains steep and dramatic, and the lift infrastructure is incredible.
While St. Anton is part of a massive complex of interconnected ski resorts, Garmisch Classic and Zugspitze (two sister resorts near the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen) feel quite familiar to North Americans. Still, the skiing experience in both Austria and Germany was unique and eye-opening.
Since then, we’ve fielded a lot of questions, not just as to why a North American family would or should travel to Europe to ski, but also about how we planned and realized our European ski trip.
Myths and Truths About Skiing the Alps
Before skiing in Europe, we were told some information that made skiing the Alps seem difficult, expensive, and even a bit burdensome. After having skied in Germany and Austria, we’re pretty sure much of what we heard simply isn’t right.
So let’s dispel of few of the myths.
Myth: Skiing the Alps will break the bank.
Truth: Skiing the Alps can be significantly less expensive than skiing in North America.
You know how you have to plan in advance and buy a season pass, a bundle of tickets or online single-day tickets to save money at most ski areas in the United States?
Not so at Garmisch and St. Anton, where the walk up rate at two world-famous mountains was about $55 per day. All we had to do was show up.
This spring we’re going to Italy and we are buying advance tickets. Here’s the math: $52 per person, per day. For a family of four, that is $1 less than one single day, walk-up rate adult ticket at Vail.
I’ve heard that Switzerland and France are more expensive, but I don’t have any first-hand experience.
As for lodging, I booked the German portion online, picking a highly-rated small bed and breakfast in Garmisch. It took five minutes.
For Austria, my husband found a hotel with half-board, meaning breakfast, an abundant afternoon snack, and dinner. He booked directly with the property after numerous emails and phone calls, because he wanted to discuss details like ski rentals, transportation and spa services. He doesn’t speak German, but everyone at the hotel speaks perfect English.
While I’m sure the sky is the limit in terms of opulent and luxurious lodging, what we had was mid-range, quite affordable, totally clean, and comfortable.
In the U.S. the most similar experience in terms of ski lodging with meals is at Alta. Just for fun, we priced the same week that we’ll be in Italy. Italy costs 40% less.
Myth: To ski in Europe, you need to book through a tour company.
Truth: Planning a ski trip to the Alps is easy. It’s much like planning a ski holiday in the U.S.
We like traveling independently, so we planned everything on our own.
Here’s are our steps for planning a ski trip to the Alps.
- Decide where you want to go. Ask friends, look online and do research. Choose a resort or region.
- Figure out how you’re going to get there. Choose a gateway airport from the US (say Lyon, Munich or Geneva — I’m sure there are others) and then figure out how to get close to the resort either by train (works really well in Germany, not so well in Italy), another flight, or a rental car.
- Search online for lodging and follow up with emails and calls, if necessary. Of note, we have found most hotels prefer you send them an email outlining your dates and desires. They’ll send back a proposal for your consideration.
Myth: You must have a guide to ski the Alps.
Truth: If you can read a trail map, mountain signage, and pay attention to the time, you do not.
American friends told us we had to have a guide to avoid getting lost. We hired a guide for one day at St. Anton. He was nice and it was a waste of money.
If you plan ahead and study the trail map prior to arrival, you don’t need a guide unless you’re going to go off-piste in a ski mountaineering sort of way. In that case, you’ll need a guide and proper safety equipment.
You should, of course, always pay attention to avalanche warnings and learn the local phrases for such warnings. Never duck ropes and don’t ski closed terrain, just as in North America.
If you do hire a guide, hire a local guide. Prior to going to Austria, we talked to numerous guide outfitters, based in the U.S. and in Austria. You’ll pay a massive premium if you book with a U.S. company.
Useful Things to Know When Skiing the Alps
- It’s hard to find drinking fountains. Fill a water bottle at the hotel and take it in your pocket.
- Long lunches are not required. We ate big breakfasts and carried lunch for sunny day picnics. On colder days, we skied until mid-afternoon and stopped for dessert. We also had one traditional, long midday meal. Not gonna lie: It was lovely.
- We took our boots and helmets and rented skis. Rent at the resort and ask for overnight storage.
- Avoid Christmas and Easter. While the vast infrastructure will disperse people rapidly, it’s always more fun to the have mountain to yourself.
- What lift line? It’s a lift scrum. We thought the Austrians were shockingly disordered. We’ve been told the French are worse.
Admittedly, our experience skiing the Alps is limited. We welcome any and all suggestions and tips that you may have!
And please keep those questions coming.
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