November 2001
breakthroughonskis.com   
skitravel
Planning your getaway:
ski trips overseas
   
I was just making some reservations for a February getaway to the French Alps, and I started thinking - I've done this so often, for so many years, that I know right where to look, right where to go for information. I have my favorite travel agent who is a wizard at saving me money on a round-trip ticket from Colorado to the Alps. Why don't I put together a primer for planning foreign ski travel and share it with my readers and visitors to BreakthroughOnSkis.com (most of whom are American skiers)? Why not indeed?

So here it is, my initial list of hot travel tips for adventurous skiers who want to look beyond our borders:

The first decision - where to go? It's no secret how much I love skiing in the Alps, but don't neglect Canada, or make the mistake of thinking of Canadian skiing as just an extension of U.S. skiing.

Canada is far different and, really, far more. And far cheaper. Especially in western Canada, especially in British Columbia, where a whole collection of new or almost new resorts offer amazing vertical, really deep and consistent snow, and ridiculously low prices. The currency exchange works in favor of American skiers, as does the fact that Canadian ski resorts seem to operate on a different business model altogether. A few years ago, I asked Lake Louise owner Charlie Locke how he could run a giant modern ski mountain, far bigger than most Colorado ski mountains and crisscrossed with modern high-speed detachable lifts and only charge $35 US for a ticket when Colorado ski areas felt they had to charge well over $50. Charlie just laughed and told me he was making plenty of money. Enough said. Don't neglect Canada.

But the Alps are Mecca. That's where my skier's heart would rather be found on any frosty winter day. Think of the Alps as a wide East-West panorama of ski offerings: bigger vaster ski complexes to the west, with higher mountains and generally safer snow condition, in France and western Switzerland. And to the east, especially in Austria, insanely charming storybook mountain villages, under mountains that aren't quite as high, but still boast interconnected ski resorts bigger than any in the States. Somewhere in the center of this panorama, you can place Switzerland for sheer luxury, and Italy for the uninhibited enthusiasm of its skiers.

How about the language barrier? Does it still exist? In a word, No. English, more than ever, is the lingua franca of Europe. To be a successful European pop star, you have to record your songs in English. And to be a successful ski instructor/ski guide, you have to speak English to your guest. Same goes for hotel keepers and restaurateurs. If you speak a bit of French or German or Italian, so much the better. It's wonderful to view another ski world through local-colored glasses - but it isn't necessary to speak a word of another language to have the ski vacation of a lifetime in the Alps. What do you think all those British and Scandinavian skiers speak? English works great.

What time of year? If I wasn't teaching my special ski weeks in Aspen in January, then January would be my first choice. The holiday crowds have gone home, snow conditions are usually quite good by mid January, and you will have the mountains to yourself. Otherwise skip early February - to avoid the school holidays - which bring new crowds to the slopes, and book your Alpine Ski trip for the end of February or early March.

Getting there. Flights to the Alps are easy enough to plan. No matter what airline you fly with, you will probably arrive in one of two airports, both Swiss. Geneva is the gateway to the western Alps and Zurich is the best gateway to the eastern Alps. Transportation from either airport to the slopes is remarkably easy, usually by train, occasionally by bus. These Swiss airports are so organized that you can push you (free) luggage cart down specially designed escalators, to reach the subterranean train stations that are built into the main air terminals. Getting lost is an almost impossible challenge.

Now a few specific resources to help organize and plan your getaway:

All-inclusive packages. A number of ski tour operators offer all inclusive packages (air and local transportation plus hotels, with many meals, and lift tickets) and such packages are wonderfully painless way to go for your first visit to the Alps. My favorite for the moment is Adventures on Skis, you can visit their web site at
> www.advonskis.com

Information on ski areas, and - even more important - on snow conditions - is readily available on the internet. A good place to start is visiting the National Tourist Office web sites for each of the Alpine countries. They often provide up-to-date snow reports for their resorts, with mid-mountain and base village snow depths - especially in winter. And you can easily find links to the individual web sites of all their resorts by typing in the resort name in a search site like Google.com. Check out:

The Swiss Tourist Office at
>www.switzerlandtourism.ch

The Austrian Tourist Office at
> www.austria-tourism.at/us

The Italian Tourist Office at
> www.italitourism.com

And for a single link that connects to the web sites of most alpine countries, visit
> www.alpseurope.com

A good listing of French ski resort sites can be found at
> www.skifrance.fr

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 November 2001
 BreakthroughOnSkis.com  
Photo at top:
Skiing past frosted larch trees in the Italian Dolomites,
photo © Linde Waidhofer
All contents of this web site
© Lito Tejada-Flores unless otherwise credited.