Skiing Europe: A Baker's Dozen
With so many fine ski areas in Europe, selecting a destination can be difficultespecially if you've never skied the Alps before. So we've done the heavy sledding for you, picking 13 resorts that offer world-class skiing, fine accommodations, and unrivaled après-ski attractions. All are four- or five-star sites, but some are best for experts, while others are suitable for all levels of skiers.
In general, France offers the biggest resorts, with the steepest verticals and the most challenging off-piste (off-trail) skiing. Swiss ski areas tend to have equally impressive mountains, but more charm. In Austria you'll find good value, countless skiing options, and the relaxed feel of small villages. Italy has the lowest prices, the friendliest people, and the most consistent snow in the Alps.
Ischgl, renowned for its consistently high-quality snow conditions, offers all the ski opportunities of a larger resort with all the rustic charm of a Tirolean village. With nearly all the runs above 6,000 feet, the nearby ski area of Silvretta offers the most reliable snow in the Tirol. Beginners will find only a few long runs, but they are conveniently located near the gondola stations and on-mountain lodges. And, from the Palinkopf Summit at the extreme western end of the slopes, intermediates can cruise on long, uninterrupted runs over treeless terrain. From the summit, skiers may also cross the Swiss border to visit the village of Samnaun. Expert skiers may wish to hire a guide to explore the off-piste skiing around Ischgl. Though relatively unheralded, this adventure offers real opportunities for untracked exploration.
A one-week ski pass for Silvretta costs up to $250 in peak season. For more information about Ischgl, contact the local tourist office, Tourismusberband (A-6561, Ischgl, Austria, 01143-5444-5266).
The focus of Kitzbuhel skiing is the Hahnenkamm, the site of World Cup races each January. If you want to avoid the crowds, however, ski the Ehrenbachhohe in the nearby quaint, medieval Kirchberg, or try the 6,500-foot Kitzbuheler Horn, which features long but relatively easy intermediate trails. Despite the attention paid to the World Cup, Kitzbuhel is mostly an intermediate destination, at least when it comes to prepared trails. Off-track fans can go with guides to more challenging sections (about $175 per day), and the ski school gives group classes in off-track skiing for about $55 per day.
To get to Kuitzbuhel, fly to Munich and take the train from there. Contact the local tourist office, or Fremdenverkehrsverband (Hinterstadt 18, A-6370, Kitzbuhel, Austria. 01143-5356-2155) when you arrive.
In the Arlberg region of the Tirol lies St. Anton, one of the oldest and busiest of Austria's resorts. You can ski dozens of runs from St. Anton proper, plus hundreds of other runs in the nearby resorts of St. Christoph, Stuben, Zurs, and Lech. St. Anton offers Austria's largest ski school and perhaps the best skiing for intermediates in the Tirol. From St. Anton, take the cable car to the Valluga summit and you'll enjoy a 9,000-foot half-hour cruise to the valley below. The intermediate run from the Gampberg summit is outstanding, while experts will be challenged by the large mogul field accessed from the Tanzboden lift.
To get to Alberg, fly to Zurich, then take the express train to St. Anton or the Arlberg Express ski-bus to Lech. The tourist office can be contacted at A-6580 St. Anton am Alberg, Austria (01143+5446-22690).
Zell Am See
With its multitude of optionsgroomed trails, World Cup downhills, off-track runs, and glaciersZell Am See offers the complete Alps ski experience. Most of the best runs are accessed via the Schmittenhohe lifts. There is an outstanding network of intermediate trails, but experts can challenge themselves on the World Cup runs, and a superb run down from the Kapellenlift summit. Nearby Kaprun, located 10 kilometers from Zell Am See, is famous for its high-altitude glacier skiing. Reach the Alpin Center via a cable car, or the Stanseilbahn tunnel route. Ski from there, or those with strong legs can go all the way to the 10,000-foot top station via aerial tram.
In low- and mid-season, Zell am See offers a good all-in-one ski package, the Schnee-Okay. for around $350 per person, you get a regional six-day lift pass, seven nights first-class lodging, and use of the regional ski shuttles. Less expensive plans, starting at $270, book you in pensions or B and Bs, but the lifts are extra. Book local accommodations directly through the Zell am see Kurverwaltung (Brucker Bunderstrasse, A-5700 Zell am See, Austria 01143-6542-47555. www.zellamsee.com).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication