Member Postcards

Member Postcard: Alpine Skiing

Indagare member Christopher Leach has spent years taking ski trips to the Alps. He reports back on his impressions of skiing in Austria, Italy, France and Switzerland.

All-in-all, I find ski trips to the Alps better than those in North America because of the breadth of terrain and charming villages dotted throughout the region. One important difference between the two is that in Europe, there's no such thing as a ski area boundary. There's either ‘piste’ (a groomed, marked run) or ‘off-piste.’ Therefore, you pretty much need a guide to ski the steeper backcountry routes; in fact, it's technically illegal to ski off-piste in certain towns of the Dolomites without a guide.


This country is wonderfully ‘snow-sure’ (meaning snowfall is guaranteed most winter days) and St. Anton is one of the most famous ski areas in the Alps. The area is known for great terrain and snow reliability, though the region does not feel very authentic. There are lots of mountain runs, and you can even ski over to the very posh resort towns of Zurs and Lech. The famous ski route from Valluga to Zurs is quite steep, but still fun. St. Anton has a bit of everything and there is a crazy après ski scene at the MooserWirt (www.mooserwirt.a). The nearby village of Stuben, which is connected to St. Anton, is very charming with great ski topography.


[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"] Courtesy Dolomites Tourism Board[/caption]

This country is the most low-key as far as its ski scene. The Dolomites are perhaps the least ‘snow-sure,’ but have the most exciting terrain. Arabba is a sleepy town in the Dolomites, but the surrounding region is beautiful and the ski areas are vast. There are mostly piste routes, packed with Italians on their racing skis, and visitors can ski in a complete circle around the mountain Sella Ronda. What makes the Arabba area unique is its easy access via cable car up the Sella, which takes you to some of the most famous couloirs (steep ravines) in the Dolomites. Guests can also ski over to the glaciered Marmolada, which is the highest peak in the region, and boasts expansive, varied terrain. On the same ski pass is Cortina, the Dolomites’ beautiful resort town, which is very posh and Italian. Corvara is also a picturesque little village that has great ski access nearby.

Gressoney and Alanga, along with Champoluc, are part of the Monte Rose ski region. This is a massive area and, while very quiet, has a free-for-all ski scene with little regulation. There was almost no snowfall when I was there, but I was still able to ski some great couloirs and off-piste routes. I stayed in Stafal, a village that is part of Gressoney, which is a grouping of five hotels. What Stafal lacks in the real European resort experience, it makes up for in its quality of skiing and its superb location between three valleys.

I also loved Courmayeur, an ancient village that has a great main ski area with off-piste routes as well as some fun on-piste routes. Across the valley is the brand-new Skyway Monte Bianco, which provides great access to off-piste routes. You can even ski from Courmayeur to Chamonix in France (and vice-versa) via a tunnel.


[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"] Courtesy Les Cabe de Praz[/caption]

France has the most charming ski scene (aside from a few ugly mega-resorts) in the Alps, but is possibly the most crowded. I visited Val d'Isere to meet friends and stayed down the valley at Sainte Foy, which is a little gem of a ski area. Val d'Isere is a high-end resort connected to the Tignes ski resort. The lowest altitude village in Tignes, Tignes les Brevieres, is quaint and has wonderful restaurants. It also boasts accessible steep faces with couloirs everywhere (Couloir de la Grande Balme is perhaps the steepest ravine I've skied to date). There's a lively après-ski spot near the top of Val d'Isere that hosts performers and guests often dance on the tables in their ski boots while servers spray Champagne.

Chamonix speaks for itself as a world-renowned ski destination, which feels like a real French city. It's charming, vibrant and has incredible restaurants, ranging from classic Savoie mountain fare to Michelin-starred cuisine. The little village of Argentierre is very lovely as well. I recommend taking the Skyway Monte Bianco over on the Italian side, which is mind-blowing with steep couloirs right outside the tram that descend into huge glacial valleys.


[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"]ENGADIN ST. MORITZ - Die Luftseilbahn Signal faehrt von der Talstation in St. Moritz Bad auf die Bergstation auf Corviglia. Blick auf die verschneiten Oberengadiner Seen mit der Sonne im Gegenlicht. The Signal aerial cableway on its journey from the valley station in St. Moritz Bad to the summit station on the Corviglia. View of the snow-covered Upper Engadin lakes, looking into the sun. La cabinovia del Signal conduce dalla stazione a valle di St. Moritz Bad a quella a monte del Corviglia. Sguardo sui laghi innevati dell¿Alta Engadina, il sole in controluce. Copyright by ENGADIN St. Moritz Martinek Courtesy Daniel Martinek[/caption]

Switzerland is the most expensive ski destination in Europe, though it is not as charming as Italy or France. There are four great ski areas in St. Moritz: Corviglia, Corvatsch, Lagalb and Diavolezza. The latter three cater more to off-piste skiing, while Corviglia, right outside the town center, has more groomed routes. I’d recommend staying nearby in Pontresina. The area is unique, located in the Romansch region of Switzerland, and the architecture in the little towns is very historic. As far as notable terrain, the North Face of Corvatsch is the best run.

Read More: Indagare Matchmaker: Austrian Ski Towns, Switzerland: Five to Know, St. Anton: Five to Know, 10 to Know: St. Moritz, Alpine Skiing, Long Weekend in Lech

Published onNovember 8, 2016

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