Complete Guide to Skiing in the Alps
In our complete guide to skiing in the Alps, we cover everything you need to know to plan your next ski holiday to this iconic mountain destination.
With its spectacular mountain scenery, vast ski terrain and reliable snow conditions, the Alps offer some of the best skiing in the world. Whether you are taking to the slopes for the first time or have years of experience, ski resorts in the Alps have something for everyone. In our complete guide to skiing in the Alps, we will cover everything you need to know to plan your next ski holiday to this iconic mountain destination.
Where are the Alps located?
Stretching approximately 1,200 km across eight Alpine countries, the Alps are the highest and most extensive mountain range in Europe. Extending from Italy through France, Switzerland, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Slovenia, the Alps offer a diverse range of ski resorts to choose from. Encompassing gentle nursery slopes, wide open pistes and steep, challenging runs, skiers of all abilities can enjoy a holiday in the Alps.
Where are the best ski resorts in the Alps?
The Alps are home to some of the best ski resorts in the world. However, it’s hard to define the ‘best’ ski resorts in the Alps as it totally depends on what you are looking to get from your ski holiday. If you are in search of impressive scenery, then you can’t beat Zermatt in the Swiss Alps with its glorious mountain panorama and Matterhorn backdrop. For family-friendly skiing, Courchevel in the French Alps is ideal. There’s a wide range of slopes to learn on as well as terrain that will test the most advanced skiers. For fun apres-ski, St Anton in the Austrian Alps is renowned for its party atmosphere, whilst the Italian Alps is recognised for its delicious food and friendly hospitality. To help narrow down the best ski resorts in the Alps, we’ve listed some of the most popular resorts that our clients return to again and again.
What altitude can you ski at in the Alps?
Ski resorts in the Alps range in altitude from around 1,500 metres to over 3,000 metres above sea level. Higher-altitude resorts such as Val Thorens (2,300m) in the French Alps and Breuil Cervinia (2,050m) in the Italian Alps, generally offer better snow conditions and have longer ski seasons. Lower-altitude resorts like Meribel (1,450m) and Morzine (1000m) in France are often better suited to beginners and families.
What are the snow conditions like?
Snow conditions in the Alps vary depending on the time of year and the location. However, in general, the high altitude and cold temperatures in the Alps generally mean the snow is of excellent quality. In essence, the higher the resort, the better the snow is likely to be. High-altitude resorts such as Zermatt and Val Thorens can generally be relied upon for decent snow with ski seasons often lasting well into May. Many lower resorts also have excellent and extensive snowmaking facilities so you can be sure to find snow coverage in the Alps wherever you choose to ski.
Types of terrain
Ski terrain in the Alps varies from resort to resort, but generally, it can be divided into four main types:
- Green - typically for beginner skiers. Slopes are generally wide and gentle with minimal incline.
- Blue - suitable for progressing beginners and intermediate skiers. Slopes tend to be slightly steeper and narrower than green runs but still manageable for those with some experience. They are usually the most popular pistes and are often more crowded so it’s important you are aware of what is going on around you.
- Red - appropriate for confident intermediate skiers. Terrain starts to get steeper and less smooth. Red pistes are ideal for perfecting your carving technique or practising short turns to prepare you for even steeper slopes.
- Black - these runs should only be attempted by experienced skiers or snowboarders. Terrain is much steeper and technically trickier.
You may also come across yellow or itinerary slopes in the Alps. These are often reclassified black runs and are usually off-piste but in the designated skiing area. Slopes will be ungroomed and unpatrolled but they will be looked after with regards to avalanche control.
What is freeriding?
Freeriding, also known as off-piste skiing, is a type of skiing that involves skiing on natural terrain, away from the marked slopes. It typically involves skiing through ungroomed snow, such as powder or moguls, and requires a higher level of skill and experience than on-piste skiing.
Why is off-piste skiing so attractive to skiers?
Off-piste skiing is becoming increasingly popular among skiers who want to explore the untouched snow and terrain beyond the marked slopes. Off-piste skiing offers a sense of adventure and freedom and is a great way to escape the crowds and explore the mountains in a new way, making fresh tracks as you descend.
However, it is important to approach off-piste skiing with caution and respect. Always go with a qualified mountain guide and make sure you are properly equipped. This means carrying a shovel, probe and transceiver and making sure you have the appropriate insurance. Snow conditions can change throughout the day, especially in spring so a local guide’s knowledge of the area is invaluable.
Where are the best places to ski powder in the Alps?
With its amazing snow record and unique terrain, powder-lovers flock to Chamonix throughout the ski season. Grand Montets above Argentière is one of the more popular areas for fresh powder after a storm, but make sure you take a guide. Part of the largest ski area in Austria, Lech has its fair share of powder days. There are more north-facing slopes than in nearby St Anton, as well as a series of demanding itinerary runs. Home to some truly outstanding powder terrain, Tignes provides a selection of super steep couloirs around La Grande Balme and Le Petite Balme - two rocky outcrops at the southern end of the valley.
What is ski touring?
Ski touring, also known as ‘skinning’, is a demanding sport in which you first hike up the slopes on skis before skiing down it. Ski touring is popular with those who wish to reach off-piste terrain that is otherwise inaccessible. With off-piste skiing becoming so popular in recent times, it can be hard to find epic, untracked powder fields. This has resulted in many seasoned skiers turning to ski touring to get their adrenaline kick.
Where are the best ski resorts in the Alps for beginners?
With so many ski resorts in the Alps to choose from, it can be a daunting task to find a ski resort that offers the right mix of gentle slopes, helpful ski instruction and easy access to the slopes. Located in the heart of the Three Valleys, Courchevel is one of the most popular resorts for beginner skiers. Made up of five different villages, each with its own beginner area or ZEN zone and at least one free ski lift, Courchevel is the perfect place to learn and practice your skills. The resort has a variety of excellent ski schools to choose from too, including ESF, New Generation and Oxygene.
In Switzerland, Saas Fee has a large nursery area on the edge of the village. From there, good progression is possible between Felskinn and Morenia. Easter is an ideal time to visit Saas-Fee if skiing for the first time as the snow is usually in good condition and the milder temperatures are more conducive for learning.
In Italy, there are a number of resorts suitable for beginner skiers. Breuil Cervinia, located on the Italian side of the Matterhorn, has a good range of gentle slopes for first-time skiers, as does Val Gardena. Italian resorts are often less crowded than some of the larger resorts in Austria and Switzerland, making it a good option if you want to avoid busy pistes.
Where are the most challenging ski runs in the Alps?
The Alps are home to some of the most challenging and exhilarating ski runs in the world. Experts are particularly drawn to resorts such as Chamonix which is home to the famous La Vallée Blanche run, a 20 km off-piste route with epic views and steep drops. With steep terrain, off-piste skiing and challenging mogul runs, Verbier is another popular choice for expert skiers. The resort also hosts the annual Xtreme Verbier competition which attracts some of the world’s best freeriders. In Austria, the off-piste terrain over the back of the Valluga mountain in St Anton provides the toughest of terrain, and can only be accessed in the company of a guide.
How much does a lift pass cost in the Alps?
The cost of a lift pass in the Alps varies depending on the specific ski resort, the duration of the pass and the skiers age. Generally speaking, lift passes range from around EUR 30-80 per day for adults. Multi-day passes may offer some discounts and the cost per day may therefore decrease. For example, a six day pass might cost around EUR 250-400 for adults.
What is the cuisine like in the Alps?
As the Alps spans over several countries, it is no surprise that the cuisine is quite diverse. Dishes are often made with locally sourced ingredients and are generally hearty and filling. One of the most famous dishes in the Alps is fondue. Consisting of melted cheese, fondue is usually served with bread and potatoes. Raclette is another popular dish that features melted cheese scraped over potatoes. Other favourite dishes in the region include rösti and tartiflette.
One of the most enjoyable elements of a ski holiday in the Alps is the quality of restaurants both on and off the mountain. Michelin-starred restaurants are dotted all over the Alps. Particularly impressive is Courchevel which currently boasts 12 Michelin stars.
Apres-ski is also a huge part of what makes a ski holiday in the Alps so unique. After a day on the slopes, it is traditional to gather at bars and enjoy a few drinks accompanied by live music or a DJ. Some of the best resorts for apres-ski include St Anton, Val Thorens and Verbier.
Where should I stay in the Alps?
The Alps offer a wide range of accommodation options for visitors, including hotels, apartments and luxury chalets. For those seeking both privacy and a high-end, comfortable experience, luxury chalets are a popular choice. These chalets have a range of amenities and services including private chefs, chauffeurs, spa facilities, cinema rooms and more. Examples of some of the top luxury chalets in the Alps include:
- Chalet N, Lech - a spectacular nine-bedroom chalet with an astonishing wellness area & wine cellar.
- Chalet Airelles 1946, Courchevel 1850 - a vast chalet set over six levels with exquisite service and entertainment on tap.
- Chalet Zermatt Peak, Zermatt - designer chalet with Matterhorn views, superb wellness facilities and gourmet cuisine.
- Alpine Estate, Verbier - a combination of two chalets - Norte & Sirocco - accommodating up to 22 guests.
- Chalet Valentine, Meribel - a magnificent family-friendly chalet with a huge terrace, cinema room and outdoor hot tub.
If you’re a first-time skier and are considering booking a ski holiday, we are here to help. We can organise everything from finding you the perfect chalet to arranging ski lessons, organising transfers and booking restaurants. We can also organise non-skiing activities such as dog sledding or snowshoeing. Whatever your vision is, we can bring it to life.
Contact us to book your ski holiday for the 2023/24 season.