The slopes of many European resorts tend to be irregular which is generally due to the rugged nature of the Alps. Generally at most European resorts you have a completely random mixture of terrain offering runs that are short and steep, wide and long, long and narrow, groomed and natural, easy and difficult. Off course you have exceptions like Cervinia (generally easy) and St Anton (generally hard), but more often than not most European resorts offer a mixture of runs to suit all.
North American runs generally seem to be much more consistent with regard to their terrain. Runs tend to be either immaculately groomed and wide or steep and deep. Therefore by avoiding the steep and deep the runs generally flatter your skiing ability and never throw up any nasty surprises. For example in Vail has mile after mile of lovely groomed intermediate runs that are a pleasure to ski. Whereas in Les Deux Alpes for example you could be skiing a blue run and without any warning there is a sudden increase in difficulty which neither the piste map or piste markers convey. Without knowing you are now skiing a red which is still classified as a blue. Not ideal for timid intermediates!
However it is just this type of unpredictability that the European resorts throw up that attracts me so much to them. Whilst the lovely groomed runs of Vail, Breckenridge and Tahoe are a pleasure to ski I almost felt myself switching off – not having to think about the next turn or whether I’d catch a bump or not. The European resorts however make you think about your skiing. I love the unpredictability and randomness of the European slopes which make you think constantly and put more effort in.
So I guess to sum up if you want mile and mile of easy, flattering skiing, that’s not going to trouble you, which to be fair is exactly what many skiers want go to North America. If you want resorts that make you ski and require constant input and changes to you skiing style head for Europe.
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Europe has it, North America does not. To be fair that’s a bit harsh as North America does have it’s share of ski bars dotted at the bottom of the slopes but in my experience the apres ski never gets going. A few beers and it’s back to your apartment. There is often more entertainment in the evenings with local bars often having live bands on but the jolly European apres ski it is not. I’ll be honest it’s not for everyone but I love European apres ski especially when the cheesy euro-pop is loud and the gluvine flowing. For me there is only one winner, Europe by a mile!
This is a close call. European resorts offer a much greater range of accommodation types whereas in North America the majority of accommodation is apartments for 4, 6, or 8 people sharing. Thus if you are going as a couple rather than a family finding accommodation for 2 having to pay a huge under occupancy supplement is difficult. However the accommodation in North America is generally of a much higher standard compared to some of the small and cramped rooms you get in Europe and especially France.
Accommodation in Europe tends to be located at the resort’s base with at most a 10 minute walk required. Whilst there are a number of resorts in North America with conveniently located accommodation there are a number of resorts whereby a bus trip of anything up to 45 minutes to the slopes is a must. This is the case for resorts such as Banff, Jasper and Jackson Hole.
However the huge advantage the North American resorts have over their European counterparts is the fact they are so quiet by comparison. In fact there have been times when I’ve had entire runs to myself! An added benefit to this is that lift queues are almost non existent. Even when queues do start to form the ‘lifties’ ensure that every chair / gondola is filled. The queues are also much more orderly and the European ski scrum that inevitably forms at the base of many European resorts simply does not happen.
Therefore this is a close call with for me North American resorts just edging it. The ability to stay in quality accommodation, get on a lift without being ruck and mauled and the thought of skiing on deserted runs just does it for me.
About 5 years ago when the pound was strong against the dollar North American skiing holidays were far more affordable than they are now. That is not to say they are overpriced, you just have to bear in mind that due to the longer flight involved, the standard of accommodation and the fact that most accommodation is self catering and food not included you generally will have to pay anywhere between £400-£600 more for a ski holiday to North America. However what is overpriced and the real killer with ski holidays to North America is the cost of the lift pass. Lift passes can be hugely expensive with high season lift pass prices for example at Vail and Breckenridge costing £316 and £330 respectively. That works out at £55 per day! Ski/boot hire is also considerably more expensive than in Europe.
For me Europe just edges it. I love the random unpredictability of the slopes followed by the jolly apres ski. The quality of European accommodation does not concern me and I really like the Austrian /German stodgy food that is served in the European resorts. I don’t like the lift queues but get up early enough and you’re generally going to be okay.
Finally and maybe crucially if like me you don’t have money to throw at skiing holidays, a trip to North America just starts to become too expensive, once you add in the lift pass and food.
So for 2013 I’m off to Europe, but for 2014 a trip to Aspen is not out of the question – I just won’t tell my bank manager.