So you’ve finally landed that coveted overseas job and you are thrilled at the prospect of skiing the Alps. But where to begin? The choices are overwhelming, you only have so many weekends to spare, and you want to make every vacation day count. Fear not! The Tannenbaum Ski Club is here to help you navigate the twisting trails and windswept summits of our winter playground. With over 50 years of history and an experience base of almost 400 members, we have the inside scoop.
The Alps stretch in a broad arc from the French/Italian border in the west, through the famous peaks of Mont Blanc, the Eiger, and the Matterhorn, to the mountains of Slovenia in the east. Your European ski plans will be centered in the Alps, and will revolve around five countries (sometimes you’ll get to ski two in one day): Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, and Italy.
Many Americans begin their European ski travels with a trip to Garmisch. After all, there’s the Edelweiss hotel with lots of great amenities, cheap ski rentals, and a fairly fun town. The skiing includes the Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany. But because Garmisch is so close and convenient (for you and all those people in Munich), expect to battle some crowds. TSC does not run any trips to Germany, because it’s fairly easy to do this on your own.
One disadvantage to Garmisch is its relatively low elevation; the bases of the lifts are at about 800 m. In general, lower elevations mean warmer temperatures and less predictable snow. But if you are planning a mid-winter weekend getaway, Garmisch may be just the ticket.
Destinations in Austria offer a huge variety of ski terrain. In the region between Innsbruck and Salzburg, which includes Kitzbühel and Zell am See, the resorts have a maximum elevation of about 2,000 m, and much of the terrain is below the tree line. That can be a plus on days with high winds and lower visibility. If you like carving turns on wide groomed slopes, you’ll find plenty of that in Austria. Many resorts in Austria are clustered in regions where one lift ticket will allow you to ski five or more distinct areas, interconnected by lifts or buses.
One popular destination is the charming village of St. Veit, in the “Ski Amade” region. St. Veit is home to the famous Seigi’s ski tours, which offer week-long packages that include ski or boarding lessons, a perfect solution for beginners or parents with young children who are still learning. More experienced skiers can opt for the “ski safari,” a guided tour around the region.
As you move further south towards the spine of the Alps and the Italian border, the elevations rise, with resorts like Hintertux boasting elevations above 3,000 m, and more above-tree line skiing.
Just south of Montreux on Lake Geneva, you enter Switzerland’s Rhone Valley. South of the lake and to the west of the valley, straddling the French border, is the vast Portes du Soleil region, a sun-drenched playground where you will need to keep your piste map handy if you want to find your way home. To the south of Portes du Soleil lie Verbier and Nendaz, featuring some of the best lift-accessible off-piste skiing anywhere in the Alps.
Further east from Mont Fort, you come to the iconic Matterhorn, a 4,400 m peak that dominates the beautiful, car-free mountain town of Zermatt. The shopping is first-class, if you’re in the market for a watch that costs only slightly less than a BMW. And prices aren’t the only thing in Zermatt to reach dizzying heights—the cable car here will deliver you to the summit of the Kleine Matterhorn at 3,800 m, where you’re treated to stunning views of the Alps stretching across three countries.
One of those countries you’ll see from the top of the Kleine Matterhorn is Italy…in fact, the Matterhorn itself straddles the border. Once you’re done admiring the view, you can push off down the slope and soon find yourself in the Italian resort of Cervinia. Italian resorts enjoy both the limitations and benefits of southern exposure; although their slopes may open later in the season and close earlier in the spring, in mid-winter they can offer a dose of warm sunshine.
While Italy shares the Matterhorn with Switzerland, it shares an even higher mountain with France. At 4,810 m, Mont Blanc is the highest point in Western Europe. To the south stretches Italy’s beautiful Val d’Aosta. To the north is the famous French mountain town of Chamonix. Site of the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924, Chamonix is a base camp for every kind of mountain adventurer, whether they are sporting skis, snowboards, ice axes, or snowshoes. About 30 km south, the sprawling resort of Les Trois Valles (comprised of Courcheval, Meribel, and Val Thorens) could easily swallow up the six largest ski areas in North America. While there are plenty of pistes for beginners and intermediates, skiing in France definitely offers a taste of the extremes—high elevations and steep slopes.
Every resort is unique, and you can find lots of information on the web to help you decide where to spend your hard-earned euro. But the best resources by far are Tannenbaum members, so let us know your questions, through our website or Facebook page, or face-to-face at our socials. We want to help you have a great season!