Why do you go to the Alps?

I'm sitting here watching a video I recorded back in May of an Indian Premier League cricket match between the Mumbai Indians and the Kings XI Punjab at the Kings XI (eleven) ground at Dharamsala. I wonder, given how absolutely gorgeous the shots are of the high snow capped craggy mountains around Dharamsala, why people from India go all the way to Switzerland, Germany and Austria (honourable mention to northern Italy) when there is this on their doorstep? Has anybody on here gone up to the mountains of the Punjab? Yes, I am aware of the less than smooth history of the Pakistan/India border. The same is for those folk who live near the Rockies and Cascades. What draws you to the Alps instead of discovering the mountains at home? I live in central England. We have no high mountains here, and that includes Snowden and the Scottish mountains, so I go to Muerren because I love to be able reach out and nearly touch the mountains there. And the walks are fab. Why do you go there?

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2276 posts

Being a flatlander, the 2 hour flight to Denver makes Colorado no-brainer. Add in the best and most plentiful snow and you have a real winner. Nonetheless, we always make it a point to do a week in the Alps at least every other year. Its a whole different animal. The mountains are much more dramatic. The total vertical drop is generally bigger, 4000 to 7000 ft vs 2000-4000 ft in the States. The extent of area of the lift pass is much bigger with fully integrated trail system (you don't need to catch a bus to ski another area like at Aspen or Vail). The elevation you sleep at is lower, 3000 to 5000 ft vs 8000 to 9000 ft in the US, makes breathing quite a bit easier. The variety of on-mountain huts, bars, and restaurants is eye opening. And all the half-board hotels are a great value with breakfast and dinner included. In the US, all on-mountain services, including the ski school, are the exclusively owned by the ski resort (which leases most of the land from us taxpayers). The Alps they are mostly owned by individuals. You have your choice of many ski schools, which are considered nonprofit educational institutions. The lift co. is primarily a transportation company that coordinates all the individual land owners and lift owners. The ski rescue is a public service that you pay for it when you need to use them, like a US traffic ambulance service. Finally, the European ski scene is very vibrant, and most people take a week ski holiday (along with a winter beach holiday). Everyone is a day's car, bus or train ride from the Alps. The US is, alas, consolidating, building more and more exclusive luxurious residences on the mountain, and raising prices even as the market gets thinner and thinner.
So, the States have the best snow (goes with the higher elevation), but the Alps are worth a trip.

Posted by Ted
Sydney
149 posts

As an Australian I cannot speak for people from North America or India. But I can say that we do have spectacular mountains near us in New Zealand, which I have visited and enjoyed. However I also enjoy going to the Alps in Europe because it is also about experiencing the different cultures. Australian and New Zealand cultures are very similar to each other.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

Nigel, first I'll attempt an answer on why so many visitors from the Indian subcontinent visit the Alps, as is my understanding. Apparently, the long-term militarization of Jammu and Kashmir effectively killed off what tourist infrastructure exists in the high Himalayas and continues to prevent the redevelopment of the area. I understand that the Swiss Alps even frequently serve as a stand-in for the Himalayas in many Bollywood productions. As inevitably occurs when a location is prominently featured in movies and TV, people want to visit the real thing. Now, why I visit the Alps and what drew me to them even before I moved to Europe? Well, first of all, it's one of the most beautiful regions on earth. Unlike virtually every other high mountain range in the world, the Alps have no "leeward" side, so the hinterlands and valleys are green and lush both to the north and south. Second, the skiing. Other mountainous regions may have more consistent powder, but no other skiing region in the world has so many world-class, well-developed resorts clustered in so small an area. And nobody does aprés-ski better. Third, the hiking. Again, you could probably find more challenging hikes elsewhere. But the trail networks, lifts, and mountain accomodations are more developed and more accessible than just about anywhere else.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

We live next door to the Cascades but I don't enjoy hike ing there until August or September. We also love the Sierras and try to hike there each August. And the Wasatch mountains in Utah--- fantastic hiking with wonderful wildflowers. But we also enjoy going to Europe every year or two, so that means the Alps. And right now we are enjoying the Dolomites.
What we like to do in the Alps and Dolomites that we cannot do at home is hike up, have a nice lunch in a hut, and ride a lift down.

Posted by Will
Columbia, SC
315 posts

In the Alps you can experience world-class high mountain scenery without being an "outdoorsy" person. I was a Boy Scout but never much cared for cooking over a little butane stove, scrubbing pots in the wilderness, etc. With the mountain hotels and huts I could do overnight hikes with just a day pack, a change of clothes, and a bottle of water.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17777 posts

@Sam, "So, the States have the best snow, (goes with the higher elevation)" I'm not sure I agree with that..... We have some darn good snow and higher elevations here in B.C., including great heli-skiing and excellent powder. @Nigel, That's a good and somewhat thought provoking question! I'd have to ponder that for awhile, but some initial thoughts are..... While we have lots of tall mountains here in B.C., the Swiss scenery just seems "different" which tends to reinforce the idea that I'm in a different country and culture. Not only is the scenery different, but so are the buildings, the people, the language and there's an abundance of Cows dining in the fields with large Bells hung on their necks. One other aspect is that the mountains in Europe are much more accessible as there are so MANY Cable Cars and Funiculars. Getting to mountain tops here often involves a grueling hike and considerable effort, and there are NO picturesque restaurants or hotels waiting at the top where I can enjoy a "cool one" to reward me for the effort. Cheers!

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2276 posts

@ Ken, Yes, I've skied Big White for a week and loved it. But the logistics of getting there with today's airline situation makes it problematic. And the "snow ghosts" are a dead giveaway that they get some pretty cold, moist precipitation.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17777 posts

@Sam, Interesting to hear that you've been to Big White! Next time you're in this area, you might try Silver Star, which was used for training by some of the teams prior to the Vancouver Olympics. People here think it's better than Big White (of course). There's also Sun Peaks (Kamloops), the Bugaboos, Revelstoke and of course Whistler and Blackcomb. The "airline situation" has improved greatly over the last few years. Horizon has three or four direct flights a day from SEA, WestJet and Air Canada both offer flights from Toronto (and other points) to Kelowna and there are also daily flights via United from LAX. There are LOTS of options. Cheers!

Posted by mick
jasper, il, usa
49 posts

Nigel: Also a flatlander from the states, but we've hiked the Colorado Rockies, the Sierras, the Canadian Rockies and the Swiss Alps around Grindelwald & Lauterbrunnen. We've said for years that what Colorado offers in scenery, it lacks in oxygen. We're now over 60 and still like to hike - moderately. There is nothing that we've experienced that compares with the overall combination of scenery, trails, lifts, beer, and relative lower altitude of the Berner Oberland.
Of course, I do believe that even Aspen is less expensive than Switzerland!

Posted by Angela
Sammamish, WA
403 posts

Cable cars! And the cute factor--chalets and cows and all that. The Rockies are majestic and huge, but less accessible and definitely less cute.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

I think places are not that interchangeable across the World... of course any local tourism office of a region that doesn't draw many visitors would love if people thought like that. I even read a while ago some politician from Brighton wishing the Eurotunnel and budget airlines didn't exist because they "ruined British beach culture and economies". If you see a mountain as just a collection of rocks with snow above a certain altitude, then you could make the argument that you should just head for the nearest one. But I think many people like to travel for its own sake, even to sites that are morphology-alike. Think of Italians (who have volcanic islands with fine sand and rocks) who travel to Hawaii, 11 time zones across, or Australians from Queensland going to Florida... I've know the Alps well and I've visited several locations on the Rockies. I think there are some important differences. For a starter, save for ski resorts during winter, access to mountain summits is more difficult. Just a few mountains have cable cars or funiculars for easy summer access, and few locations open for a summer season with the degree of infrastructure you see in the Alps. In Colorado, for instance, there are just a couple mountains whose summit you can easily reach (I think of Mt. Evans and Pike's Peak), and there is not much infrastructure up there. On the other hand, the lower areas of the Rockies are higher than the lower areas of the Alps, and for all purposes the dry snow of the Rockies makes it much more fun for skiing, snowboarding etc. The snow quality there is unbeaten, fine grains, powdery aspect. I wish they developed serious mountain infrastructure (cable cars, observation platforms, summit stations) in Alaska. That would be awesome.

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
683 posts

Why do you go there? Surely when it comes to mountains, the definitive answer is Mallory's - " Because it's there"

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Oh. No! Let's leave Alaska as it is---wild. The cable car at Alyeska is enough.

Posted by Janet
Lakewood, WA
50 posts

For me the Cascades are only an hour drive away but that does not mean I will not visit other mountain ranges. Each range is different. Not all ranges get up to 14,000 feet or have had most of the land be goverment owned, i.e. national park or forestland. I also find it interesting how different cultures have adapted to live in the mountains.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

To get thoroughly humbled by the Eiger on the ride up from First.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

"I wish they developed serious mountain infrastructure (cable cars, observation platforms, summit stations) in Alaska." There's an interesting ski resort just outside of Fairbanks called Moose Mountain. This is the only place I've skied where instead of a lift, you ride a bus to the summit. Alaska, though, is too remote and the population is too small to support any kind of significant mountain-based recreation industry.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

I agree it is remote. Still, maybe there'd be some demand if they put some funicular and cable cars taking you up to 17.000ft on Mt. McKinley, whose base station you'd reach in some sort of touristic panoramic railway through the National Park. Then you don't need to be a serious multi-day outdoor trekker explorer, with plenty of bear avoidance and self-reliance experience, to reach the place.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

Yeah, but then I can't tell the story about cross-country skiing through Denali National Park just so I could get a glimpse of the famous mountain... Plus, I think the whole point of making Denali a National Park is to limit the effects of human activity in the area, not to promote more. You can't even drive through the park. By the way, because it's that time of year again when people start posting questions about their spring trips, is this a good place to write for the thousandth time that April and May are two of the worst months to visit the Alps ?

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

"Alaska, though, is too remote and the population is too small to support any kind of significant mountain-based recreation industry." Don't tell my ski patrol friend at Alyeska Resort nor my friend teaching ski lessons at Eaglecrest no significant recreation occurs about the mountains of Alaska. See also incredible heliskiing in locations such as Valdez and Haines. Well over 1.5 million tourists enjoy Alaska annually with an area roughly five times larger than Germany.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

I mean, compared to the Alps, where there's resort-after-resort with mountain restaurants, hotels, lifts, etc. I've spent the winter in Alaska, and although I enjoyed it, the level of activity, even near the Alyeska ski resort, can't even begin to compare to the Alps in terms of numbers of visitors.

Posted by Roy
Auburn, AL
803 posts

"April and May are two of the worst months to visit the Alps." Also late July-early August. Definitely not worth a special trip in those months. At any time, however, if you are in the vicinity, go anyway. The same applies for virtually any major moutain range.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

I go for the "Heidi" factor,, the cute chalets, the field with cows in them, all that kitch... I loved the hiking trails, they are well marked and so scenic, and you don't have to worry about bears and cougars,, which in my Rockies you do have to think about, plus trails in Rockies are not as assesible for the daytrip easy going type hiker ( moi!) I have only been to Zermatt and Wengen and they both had all the cute and fun I wanted.. I am not really a wilderness person. I went hiking in Zermatt alone, and in Wengen my 11 yr old and I were able to take a trail for a 3 hr hike and I never worried about wildlife issues.

Posted by Beatrix
Calgary
1974 posts

we live in view of the Rocky Mountains. They are equally as gorgeous as the Alps with their natural beauty. The difference is the human footprint. The cultural aspects of the Alps couldn't be more different than what you find (or not find) in the Rockies. So when we went to Switzerland we didn't do the high Alps but we did a cable car tour and stayed in a chalet with view of the Alps and with cowbells for our wake-up call. All the things you couldn't do in the Rockies.

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

Well; living in kanton of Bern, we tend not to go the the Alps... Like most Swiss people I know, we go abroad for the summer holidays and go to either the Jura or the Ticino for a week or two in the autumn. May Swiss people also go to Austria, Germany, Italy or France for skiing, as it is cheaper than at home.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

Mountains may be equally beautiful and even similar in aspect, but it's the impact of human geography and culture that differentiates a place from another.
I don't think non-Europeans visit the Alps only for the beauty of the mountains themselves. The mountains in the Sierra Nevada resemble the Dolomites in many respects. But people visit the Alps for the towns and villages and the people (with related cultures) that have developed over the centuries in different places. Those are very different, even though the mountain backdrop may be similar. The same can be true for Tuscany or Provence. If I go to Sonoma county or to Napa I can see vineyards like I can see in those areas in Europe. But it's the towns and villages and the castles that make those places different and unique (although that are some faux castles and Chateaux in California too).

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2276 posts

Since when did they reintroduce tigers Montana?

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

After much field work this afternoon both near and far, methinks there are no tigers in Montana.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
969 posts

@Bruce and Sam - you only mention tigers, does that mean that you DO have lions in Montana and it's just tigers that you lack? As far as I know, Montana only has bears, many bears.

Posted by Beth
Boulder, Colorado, USA
75 posts

A very american opinion :-) "the unspoiled beauty" but in Europe is seems more normal to have everyone enjoy the mountains. A mountain hut or cable car does not spoil the beauty. A well developed ski area is really beautiful and does not spoil the mountain. The Alps and the Rockies are so vast you can find isolation when that is what you want. I think mountain life is more integral and accepted in Europe. Does Vail ruin the Rockies? Does the Dolomite Road ruin the Dolomites?
How about the gondola ride to Helbronner Point? Mount Blanc is still amazing and there is plenty of wilderness! I like wilderness and skiing and the civilized infrastructure too! Beth

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2276 posts

@ Nancy I refer, of course, to the Mountain Lion.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

mountain lions.. also known as cougars..

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

@Barry Support group meeting next August, Hidden Lake Overlook, Glacier National Park. August 2014 meeting in the Alps.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

We have mountain lions ( cougars) in the Cascades as well. I have seen them up very close--- like 20 feet. Fortunately I was in my car--- stopped to let two of them cross the road in front of me. One turned to look me in the eyes as he passed. What a beautiful face he had! But I was very happy to be safe in the car. We have just been in the Dolomites for six days. They are so rugged and impressive. I am moving them up to top spot as favorite mountains, along with my first love, the Sierra Nevada.

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

The contrast between the Alps and say the Rockies about here is what impresses friends from Europe. They relish the clean massive wild areas of the Rockies with limited commercial infrastructure. Viewing animals in their habitat such as mountain goats (not goats in the mountains), big horn sheep, bears (grizzlies and black are special treats. In the reverse, what is appealing about visiting the Alps is the extensive infrastructure combined with gorgeous vistas.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

Why go to the Alps when we have the Rockies, The Cascades, The Olympics, etc.? Because I'm there already and so are the Alps. I prefer the seemingly never-ending wild of our ranges here (the flora and fauna, etc.), but I can't imagine skipping the Alps when in Switzerland (as an example) just because I might like our mountains better. "The Alps"...something you've always heard about...why wouldn't you visit when you're there anyway? Why do the British go to Yellowstone when they have the Lake District? Okay, that's probably an unfair question. BTW, some of the most impressive peaks I've seen were in BC south of Ken...between the Washington border and Kewlona. I never thought I could get sick of driving in the mountains, but I actually did there after a while.

Posted by Barry
San Diego, CA
587 posts

Bruce, I had a post that was very very similar to yours. I took it down because someone called it an "American opinion", when I desired to respond to that my next post came across as bitter which I didn't want to do. Glad to see someone else has the same point of view as I.

Posted by Jason
St. Amant, LA, USA
1 posts

In 1998, my brother and I were invited to cook at a Bourbon Street themed festival in Fieberbrunn, Austria. At 29 years old, it was my first trip out of the country and it opened my eyes to the world that is really out there. In 2009, I decided it was time to return for a vacation no matter what it took for me to get there. And since I met some very nice people and have maintained a friendship with several it was easy to organize my return visit. I have used this town as my base for a vacation from 2009-2012 and I couldn't think of a better place to spend my vacation or at least start it. In April 2014 I will again visit the alps and I cannot wait. Often people ask me why not just go to Colorado. My answer is always, "I will visit the mountains in the US when they don't let got to Europe anymore." I go to show a small town in the alps some gratitude for giving me a gift for which I could never repay.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I don't know, one of the reasons I've resisted going a lot of alpine travel so far is the fact that i'm from california. i mean, yosemite. it's really hard to beat. in general i don't find much of western europe to be particularly exciting to me in terms of natural scenery. the western u.s. is more spectactular in just about every day. (eastern europe is a different story...the coastline of greece and croatia and the mountains and rivers of bosnia were all breathtaking). in western europe i tend towards cultural/historical sights. the other thing keeping me away from the alps, at least the swiss alps, is the price. i do want to explore more of the Austrian alps, though.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1508 posts

While on a 2-night stopover in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic in 2010, our family did the easy raft down the Vltava River a few miles to another tiny village. The scenery felt lovely. But if I showed a video clip of it to anyone without telling them where it was taken they would probably have shrugged their shoulders and said "that looks nice" just to be polite. Because, out of its context, the scenery was really quite ordinary. What made it special to me was the history of the area and its remoteness from my own personal experience at the time. No doubt human dramas took place near this bit of river, not just 100 years ago, but also 500 years ago, 1000 years ago, and even 2000 years ago. There are probably literally hundreds of stretches of river in the USA that would be more scenic by any classic measurement. But with rare exception, the only human dramas that would have taken place at any of them more than 300 years ago would be the occasional random passing of a native American tribe.