Skiing in Europe, Epic Pass

Hello Skiers, Vail has different season ski passes and with the Epic Pass, they are now including 5 days at each of two areas in Europe: Verbier, Switzerland and The Arlberg region in Austria. That is in addition to unlimited and unrestricted skiing at Vail! The Epic Local Pass has 10 days at Vail and no days in Europe, we normally get this pass. I love the Alps and skiing... How can I find affordable lodging near a ski resort in Europe? Is March too late or likely to have a solid base? Throwing in a chance to ski 3 days for free in the Dolomites with free lodging in Canazei, how would you sequence such a trip and travel between these places? This "free opportunity" could end up being very costly! Is the skiing in Europe better than Colorado? Is there any ski oriented chat group like this one? I think RS is not too much into skiing but I searched and have seen a few posts. Thanks for any hints,
Beth

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9095 posts

"How can I find affordable lodging near a ski resort in Europe?" Most ski resort towns have at least one hostel. Check out the towns' websites or a hotel consolidation site. Lech am Arlberg is one of my favorite Alpine getaways, but it's kind of isolated and not cheap at all. The other sizable resort on the Arlberg massif is St. Anton. There's also the village of Zurs located at the summit of the mountain pass on the way to Lech, but I doubt you'll find anything cheap there. I'm not familiar with Verbier. "Is March too late or likely to have a solid base?" Depending the year, March is usually OK. The season tends to end in early April. "Is the skiing in Europe better than Colorado?" I've only skied at Jackson Hole in the Rockies, so I can't really compare, other than to note that I've heard the snow tends to be heavier in most of the Alps. I've only skied in very fine powder at some of the very high elevation pistes.

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
234 posts

Can't help you re lift assisted skiing being more of a Nordic/XC skier but I can share some snow condition web sites that show projected season dates. With global climate changes the extreme dates are likely wishful thinking. The US AXCS team will be in Austria in Jan 2014: http://www.xcskiworld.com/events_xc/Worlds/Pillerseetal_2014.htm Some snow sites for Fieberbrunn, AU: http://www.snow-forecast.com/resorts/Fieberbrunn
http://www.j2ski.com/ski_resorts/Austria/Fieberbrunn_PillerseeTal.html You can check other AU resorts. And it's not just the skiing!

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
234 posts

Try searching for "snow history ski resorts" web sites. Found the following for St. Anton: http://www.igluski.com/austria/st-anton-snow-history_3306 March lower slopes depths ran from 46 cm in 2010-11 to 130 cm a year later in 2011-12. No idea if that is mid-March or "average" or ??? The Brit ski clubs have some interesting data: http://www.skiclub.co.uk/skiclub/snowreports/historical/snowreport.aspx#.UikPedLMC8A http://www.skiclub.co.uk/skiclub/snowreports/historical/snowreport.aspx#.UikP0dLMC8A March in Austria looks skiable. Question is are you skiing in hard wax fine grain snow or klister wax granular and wet.

Posted by Beth
Boulder, Colorado, USA
74 posts

Thanks for the info and great websites! Is most of the skiing above tree line? Do the lifts close often due to weather or low visibility/white-out conditions? Europe is a bit addictive - I just got back from a 3 week trip and now I am contemplating a ski trip to Europe! Beth

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9095 posts

"Is most of the skiing above tree line?" For the most part, yes, although it depends on the mountain. There's usually one or two "exit" pistes that run all the way down to the bottom, but the majority of the pistes stretch from a little below the Alpine level to the summit. Garmisch is an exception, in the main lower ski area about half the pistes run through the trees. "Do the lifts close often due to weather or low visibility/white-out conditions?" I've seen lifts closed for high winds, but not for low visibility (and I've skied in near white-out conditions). Closures probably depend on the specific policies of the operator, and I can imagine there's quite a bit of variability.

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
234 posts

Treeline? Depends on where in Europe. In Norway 900 meters above sea level is way above the treeline. In Germany, Oberweisenthal at 900 masl claims to be the highest town in Germany (and has ski lift loading in town) and is definitely below treeline. You can check Google Earth and most ski venues will have photos if not web cams.

Posted by Beth
Boulder, Colorado, USA
74 posts

Colorado has very little above treeline skiing, so in a white out it is easy enough to ski the edge near the trees. Driving through and around the Alps in 2011 and this summer has left me more intrigued and a bit intimidated to ski in Europe. Skiing off a cliff in a white out seems all too possible. Vail is practically in my backyard and now they are offering the world :-)
http://www.snow.com/epic-pass/info/ski-the-world The logistics are another concern - getting to the ski areas in winter. The same concern exists driving up to ski here but the cost is less if the road is closed for storms! Plus more luggage and connecting these ski areas seems challenging, yet intrigung. Ideas on how to get there? Is a car needed? Still dreaming, Beth

Posted by Brian
Silverdale, WA
43 posts

Beth – I lived in GM for 3 years and skied the 3 areas on the pass. I was in a us army ski club in Stuttgart and took/led a few trips. My impressions of Alps skiing after 3 ski seasons: Lots of freeze/thaw cycles in the Alps. If timed right, awesome powder as most skiers prefer the groomers (which can be very icy). The free-ride (advanced/expert) terrain is generally ski-at-your-own-risk as they don't control avalanches unless they would impact their novice/intermediate groomers. Above treeline skiing, so whiteouts can be brutal. Groomers are well marked and going astray would be hard. Most skiing caters to intermediates – looong groomers are possible. December holiday and February should be avoided as those are high season. Still plenty of snow in March. If skiing other than epic pass areas, several glacier areas are open early/late (had my best ever day at Stubai Sept 30th one year after new snow a few days earlier). Lift systems are quite impressive, as are the size of many areas as they have many smaller areas which have become interconnected. 3 Valleys is biggest area in the world at 17,000 acres. Spent a week there in Dec 2010 & tried twice to get to the far end area but never made it. Skied Verbier late march – 1st day was worst of season when wind shut mountain down and got stuck an hour bus ride from the car, 2nd day was best powder of the season which made up for lousy 1st day. St. Anton is fun and very popular. Also nearby Lech-Zurs is fun. Although everything is accessible by train/bus connections, if you don't want to stay put at one area you will for sure need a car. If only doing 3 valleys, car sits idle while there (skip). We were not bored at 3 valleys for a week. Two days at Verbier was enough for me, and I day tripped to Anton and Lech/Zurs...not sure I would be content beyond a few days at each of those. PM me if you would like some linkd to ski vids/pics I've posted.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9095 posts

"Ideas on how to get there? Is a car needed?" Lech and Zürs are both pretty isolated, Lech even more so. By car, you have to drive up a winding mountain pass. Zürs sits at the summit of the pass, and Lech is on the other side. I've driven it in the winter, and although significant portions of it are covered by a snow shed, it's a bit of a scary drive. I can imagine during a particularly heavy snow storm that the road would temporarily close. By public transportation, you would need to take the train to Langen am Arlberg, then ride the bus up and over the pass. Zürs is tiny, and Lech is small enough that you probably wouldn't have to walk far to your lodgings from the nearest bus stop. Two of the initial lifts sit right along the main road, so you can walk directly from your hotel. There's also a car-free subvillage (Oberlech) at a higher elevation thas has pistes running through it. You can literally step outside your hotel, click on your skis and get going. At least one of the hotels in Zürs even has a snow bridge, where you can ski directly from the hotel to the lift. I've found that even during white out conditions, most of the pistes are marked well enough that as long as you ski under control, you shouldn't inadvertently leave the piste. As for deliberate off-piste skiing, this probably is not recommended in Lech-Zürs. A few years ago, one of the princes of the Dutch royal house fell into a coma after becoming trapped in an off-piste avelanche in Lech. He never regained consciousness and recently, he finally died.

Posted by Beth
Boulder, Colorado, USA
74 posts

Dreaming continues :-) great info guys!! Brian - great photos! I looked up Easter, great tip, it is late this year - April 20th so Easter week starts the 13th. The event in Canazei is March 20-23, with 50 € per person lodging available for the first half of that week. We could go before or after, or bracketing that for three weeks total, maybe a few days more. Given snow, crowds, ridiculously expensive lodging, etc. we could try to do it all! or not... The Epic pass covers only 3 of these regions/areas: 3 Valles, France Verbier, Switzerand Chamonix, France Courmeyer, Italy Cervinia-Brueil, Italy (The Matterhorn without Zermatt :-) The Arlberg, Austria The Dolomites, Italy
Garmish, Germany What would be the best sequence and what to skip? We are advanced skiiers, comfortable on black diamond slopes but not double-diamond runs in Colorado, not looking to ski off piste but not all groomers. Thanks in advance for ideas and advice! Alternately we do have reservations at the hikers cabin at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon for late March. We could cancel that without penalty, or do that and then travel to Europe in June with the longest days for two weeks. :-)

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9095 posts

Of the list you presented, I've only skied at Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Lech am Arlberg. Although I love the town and region of GaP, the skiing there isn't my favorite. The layout of the lower skiing area makes it cumbersome to ski from one side of the mountain to the other, and the high altitude ski area on top of the Zugspitze takes a long time to reach (either by a cogwheel train or by cable car). Plus, there's a lot of rope tows, which I really hate. As previously noted, the skiing at Lech am Arlberg is fantastic.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2258 posts

Hi Beth, I've skied many of the places on your list. First question: is skiing better in the alps or Colorado?
A: No, its just different, in wonderful ways! Hands down the snow is better in Colorado, but your skiing above 9000 ft. The Alps you'll be skiing between 10,000 ft. and 4000 ft. Lower elevations can be a bit dicey, but there is no shame in downloading. The extent of restaurants, bars and cafes is way more than US, they're privately owned, not by the lift co. The extent of the lift systems are mind boggling. Canazei is great, on the Sella Ronda trek that circles around the Sella massif through 4 separate valleys and brings you right back where you started. You can do it clockwise or counterclockwise. Verbier is a another huge area and one of my fav's in Switzerland. It has gotten a bit pricey since I was there last in 2000. You could stay in budget lodging down valley and commute every day on the train and then ride the gondola up from the station. St Anton is the best base in the Arlberg. Trunk line train station right in town for the line running from Zurich to Vienna. Austrian après ski makes anything in the US look like kindergarten. More like spring break in Cancun. A car would be OK if you have 3 or 4 people, otherwise train and bus is very doable, especially Verbier and Arlberg. Canazei is a bit out of the way, so a car would definitely be handy to get there. Good luck. I love skiing the alps! Its a blast and a real eye opener.

Posted by Beth
Boulder, Colorado, USA
74 posts

Hello again! After lots of research and pondering, we have decided to ski Europe this year! 7 nights Canazei, partly work related, ski 4 days including the Sella Ronda 5 to 7 nights in St. Jakob, ski Lech 2 days, St. Anton 2 days 3 to 4 nights Martigny, ski Verbier 2 or 3 days 4 to 5 nights near Three Valleys, France, ski Val Thorens and Courchevel, 2 or 3 days 4 countries, 3 weeks vacation, 23 days 12 to 14 days on skis, a bit crazy eh? Trip planning is always trimming and cutting down to fit reality!! I am still looking for lodging near Verbier and Three Valleys. And flights :-) maybe into Innsbruck out Geneva. Think snow,
Beth

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2258 posts

Get that mileage from the Epic Pass. How will you be getting between all these places. International rental car drop off charges are huge. You seem to be looking for bargain lodging at these places, consider local daily transport costs in your budget. Also, flying into/out of regional airports adds cost (in general, but not always). My suggestion: Fly into Venice, rent car since it is partly business and best transport to Canazei. Drop car in Bolzano. Train to St Anton (one change in Innsbruck. Use local busses in the Arlberg. Train from St Anton to Le Chable, Switzerland (change in Zurich, Lausanne, Martigny). I suggest Le Chable because from Martigny, you'll be paying 22 chf/day commuting to le Chable from Martigny. At Le Chable you can use the gondola up to Verbier every day on your lift pass. Le Chable lodging should be quite a bit less than Verbier proper. Train from Le Chable to Moutiers, France (change in Martigny, Geneva, Aix-les Bains) then bus to Brides-les-Bains. Again, lodging way less than up in the 3-Valleys, and daily bus from Moutiers is 16 euro Olympic gondola gets you to Meribel in 25 minutes.
Train back to Geneva Airport from Moutiers (change at Aix-les Bains, Geneva Cointrin) or taks a direct bus to Geneva Airport.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2258 posts

PS. Another idea would be to rent a car in Lausanne on the way to Verbier. Then you'd have an easy drive straight to 3-Valleys from Verbier (train is kind of the long way around). That way you could drop car at Geneva Airport on the way home and not have international drop fees. If you go that route, you will pass through Chamonix. Take a half day there to ski the Mer du Glace off of Mt Blanc. Recommend you hire a guide to avoid ending up in a crevasse. You buy a one way ticket on the tram to the top of the Aiguille du Midi, then ski down over the glacier. If there is enough snow, you can ski all the way down to Chamonix on a switchback trail. Otherwise you'll have to climb a stairway equivalent to an 8 story building to get to the cogwheel train station. And tell the guide you want to have lunch at the mountain refuge (you're buying!).
Hope its a nice day.

Posted by Kathy
Germany, Germany
800 posts

After reading your new itinerary, I think it's a great trip. Are you still planning on being in Canazei in late March? You commented you could go before or after your need to be there in late March. I think you should seriously consider starting in western Switzerland then head east, stopping as you planned, ending in Canazei. No one can predict the snow melt, but earlier March is going to be better odds than later March or early April unless you plan on glacier skiing completely. Flying in to Geneva will be your best bet, then fly out of either Venice or Innsbruck, it's a tie as to ease and Venice may open some more flight options. As for renting a car, I haven't found some of the european rental companies (like Europcar, not Europe car) to be more than a few hundred euro different renting and dropping off in different countries. To me, if you're spending 800 Euro for a rental, I'd rather throw in an extra 100Euro to take the car where I want, especially rather than hauling ski gear and other luggage on the train. For hotels, look in to Martigny instead of Verbier, it's just at the bottom of the hill and you can take the ski bus up from the town. Depends on your time vs. cost preference.