Pondering the powder? Go Euro and
discover one of winter's best-kept secrets.
One of Porter Fox's primary job duties is to ski. In fact, as the features editor for Powder magazine, Fox typically racks up nearly 100 days of skiing per year, at mountains around the world. And his favorite place to ski? Europe. "The skiing infrastructure in Europe is more established," says Fox. "It's more of a lifestyle sport that people participate in daily. And the diversity of the terrain is unbelievable." Not only that, but a still-strong U.S. dollar, combined with reasonable lift ticket and lodging rates, makes European skiing truly affordable. Here are some of our favorite places to strap on the skis.
Our pick for: Ambience on a budget But we wouldn't go: If skiing is priority number one Info: 011-334-7-955-2064, www.brides-les-bains.com Location: 80 miles southeast of Geneva, 400 miles southeast of Paris
Unlike many of France's better-known resorts, Brides-les-Bains has held tight to its small-town architecture and personality. With a number of establishments offering rejuvenating therapies, Brides-les-Bains is as much spa as ski; in fact, you'll need to spend 25 minutes on the Olympic Gondola to get your slope fix at nearby Meribel. But your patience is twice rewarded: once by the town's undeniable charm, and again by the reduced prices affixed to everything from brie and baguettes to massages and Merlot.
BAD GASTEIN, AUSTRIA
Our pick for: Uncrowded and varied terrain But we wouldn't go: Unless we had a car Info: (212) 944-6880, www.skigastein.com Location: 80 miles south of Salzburg, 160 miles southeast of Munich
Maybe it's poor marketing, or perhaps it's the dearth of public transportation connecting the Gastein Valley's four ski areas. Whatever it is, Bad Gastein remains a bit of a secret among international travelers. Which is a pity if you're an intermediate or better skier looking for extensive and varied terrain without the crowds. Rent a car for efficient mobility, and revel in the tremendous number of above- and below-tree-line slopes, all of which benefit from generous natural snowfall.
CHÂTEAU D'OEX, SWITZERLAND
Our pick for: Cultural diversity and small-town charm But we wouldn't go: Expecting a rowdy nightlife Info: 011-412-6-924-2525, www.chateau-doex.ch Location: 90 miles east of Geneva
In the Vaudois Alps, Château d'Oex is at once charmingly Swiss and wonderfully diverse. That's because the dividing line between French and German-speaking Switzerland is but a few miles down the road, bringing the region an extra dose of cultural diversity. The tiny town is at the foot of a small hill; perched atop the rise is a stunning stone chapel. And the skiing? Château d'Oex is not the biggest, most glamorous of Swiss resorts, but the terrain is varied and suitable for all levels.
BREUIL CERVINIA, ITALY
Our pick for: Cruisin' in the sun But we wouldn't go: For expert-level terrain Info: 011-39-0166-940-986, www.breuil-cervinia.com Location: 100 miles northwest of Milan
Featuring excellent snow, plenty of sun, miles of laid-back cruising terrain, and a link to Switzerland's extensive Zermatt resort, Breuil Cervinia is a relaxing and always entertaining mountain. Expert skiers looking for extreme terrain should probably look elsewhere, but everyone else will be more than happy with the 6,450 feet of vertical drop and long, meandering trails. Breuil Cervinia is probably not the best choice for families; although restaurants and bars abound, off-slope activities are limited.
Our pick for: Families and Americans wanting to be reminded of home But we wouldn't go: If we didn't like bratwurst Info: 011-498-8-2118-0700, www.garmisch-partenkirchen.de Location: 55 miles south of Munich
Most Americans think that Germany and skiing go together like Nebraska and surfing. Then again, they probably haven't heard of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The site of the 1936 Winter Olympics, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is one of only three major ski resorts in Germany. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but thankfully, it's not. Located in the Alps of southern Germany, the resort receives plentiful snow and abundant sunshine, and the Bavarian town of Garmisch, which has been anglicized by a U.S. Army base, is both contemporary and charming.
Our pick for: Limitless terrain. And families will especially appreciate the lack of vehicle traffic. But we wouldn't go: Without a good trail map! Info: 011-334-5-074-0211, www.avoriaz.com Location: 40 miles west of Geneva, 380 miles southeast of Paris
Situated on a schist along the French/Swiss border, Avoriaz is part of the Portes du Soleil skiing circuit. The largest interconnected ski region in the world, Portes du Soleil comprises 12 resorts, for a total of 212 lifts accessing more than 400 miles of trails (you'll need to ski with your passport, as many trails cross the border, which is patrolled). The car-free village of Avoriaz is nearly as impressive as the skiing. Unlike many resort towns, which sprouted up seemingly without a thought given to aesthetics, Avoriaz was designed to complement the region's natural beauty.