Skiing Europe: A Baker's Dozen
In the European Alps, France offers the biggest lift networks, the steepest verticals, and the most challenging off-piste and powder runs. Among the French resorts, in turn, the king of steep and deep is Chamonix. As soon as you visit, you'll understand why Chamonix was the first home of the winter Olympics. Near the town's edge, the terrain rises abruptly into a wonderland of white verticals, topped by 15,800-foot Mt. Blanc. Though Chamonix boasts six separate ski resorts, this area is primarily geared for strong intermediate to advanced skiers. For the skilled, the 11-mile glacier descent from the Aiguille du Midi and the passage down the Vallee Blanche is described as one of the best skiing experiences on the planet. The inexperienced still have a blast at Planpraz and Leh Houches, but to see what all the fuss is about, you should have black-diamond skills.
For information on Chamonix and all major French resorts, contact the Chamonix Office du Tourisme (Place de l'Eglise, F-74400 Chamonix, France. 01133-4505-30024, late hours 0113-4505-30225. www.chamonix.com).
Les Trois Vallées
The key feature to Les Trois Vallées, the largest ski area in the world, is diversity. Composed of four distinct deluxe resortsCourchevel, Meribel, Les Menuires, and Val Thorenswith more than 200 interconnected lifts and 375 miles of marked runs, skiers can find exactly what they want, no matter what their skill level. For the average skier, Les Trois Vallées offers plenty of wide-open, relatively easy trails, all groomed to perfection, especially at Courchevel. Meribel is also largely composed of intermediate trails and offers easy access to the other ski areas in the region. Val Thorens and the newer resort of Les Menuires are the experts' destinations of choice. Val Thorens also offers some of the best summer skiing in France.
Joint lift tickets valid for all area resorts run around $160 per week (prices are lower if you stick to a single resort). Most skiers stay in ski apartments, which outnumber hotel rooms four to one. Expect to pay about $550 per week for a small, two-person chalet. Comfortable rooms in luxury hotels cost $700-1,400 per week. Both apartments and hotel rooms are discounted heavily during special "Winter Weeks."
Val d'sère, recently paired with the nearby resort of Tignes, provides skiers access to more than 100 lifts and 200 miles of groomed runs. Novice skiers will be able to enjoy this vast ski area without being relegated to the bottom of the mountain. Boasting a number of easy slopes at relatively higher elevations, Val d'Isère lets moderately skilled skiers experience the good snow and great views that come with high-altitude skiingalmost half of the terrain here is designated intermediate. For expert skiers interested in pushing the limits, there is no better place. In addition to the classic steep chutes and cirques of the Alps, Val d'Isère offers bump skiing, powder skiing, and off-piste touring to guarantee that you'll never get bored. Tignes also offers what is arguably the best glacier skiing in the Alps on the immense Grand Motte glacier.
Lodging is available throughout the valley. No matter where you are located, there's always a lift nearby, so many chalets offer ski-in and sk-out covenience. The local shuttle-bus system is also excellent. If you are determined to go first class, the hotels Christiana and Les Latitudes offer four-star accommodations from around $170 per night. A six-day pass for Val d'Isère costs $200. For information, contact the Office Tourisme (73155 Val d'Isère, France. 01133.4790.60660. www.france-tourism.com).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication