Alps Trip Late January

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Alps Trip Late January

Postby skiandgolfnut » Sat Dec 21, 2019 8:36 am

I am a long time reader first time poster on these boards, hoping to get some advice in selecting a location for this years trip. These boards are a treasure trove of information and have already been super helpful in my previous travels so thank you all!

We are planning on taking a 5 day trip from NYC through either Zurich or Geneva towards the end of January. We have the flexibility to wait to select both our airport and resort until much closer to departure date. Our hope is that within a 10 day window we will have a clearer view on where we should be going based on the weather forecasts. First and foremost, we will go wherever the sun is shining and wherever there is already a good base. While we love the off piste, visibility is always our primary concern when in Europe. Second to that we will go where we can get lodging etc though I do not anticipate that being an issue during these quieter weeks. Obviously within a reasonable drive of these two airports will be helpful.

Having said all of that, I am trying to narrow my focus on a few different resorts based on our groups needs. Previous trips have taken us to Zermatt and the Arlberg (Stuben). We could not have been happier with either and had perfect weather both weeks. Generally speaking, we would like to focus on larger name resorts as the bucket list is long and we only get to do one of these every few years. In terms of ability, we are a mix. Two fathers and two sons, the fathers being in their mid 60s and the sons in their 30s. All generally love off piste but obviously the older set has slowed in recent years and cannot do the same type of long touring routes that I or my cousin like. Zermatt was perfect for our group given that much of the off piste was located either beside the piste, between the pistes, or easily accesible to the lift system without requiring much hiking or taxis from remote valleys like we experienced in the Arlberg. For a mixed group like ours, we far prefer something where we can ski together yet separately at the same time if you know what I mean. We tend to be high mileage skiers and found the Arlberg while spectacular to be a bid of a pain given with a guide we were only able to do about 3/4 lengthy off piste runs per day. The competition for powder, even on the side pistes, was minimal at Zermatt whereas in the Arlberg we were required to veer far and remote for the same fresh powder. Perhaps this is not indicitive of the full Arlberg experience but that was certainly the style of the guide we had. We always take a guide with us when we go as we find with 4 people the price is relatively attractive for the extra level of safety and local knowledge we receive. So a quality lift system with easily accesible off piste that does not require descents into remote valleys or exiting the area entirely is definitely a main priority.

Lastly, charming village, ambiance, food, scenery etc are also highly important to us and we found both previous locations perfect on that end. Anything in a similar vein and we will be happy campers. It is a big part, perhaps for us the biggest part, of our excursions to Europe. I have not heard the greatest things about the mega resorts of France with regard to this which is a shame given from my reading it sounds like many of those resorts would fit our bill from a skiing perspective. A few names that have come to mind for this trip so far are Verbier, Lech (a return to the Arlberg but perhaps with a different guide a different experience), and Val Disere.

Apologies for the rambling post but I figured the more detailed I am the better quality advice I may get. Thank you all!
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Dec 23, 2019 1:37 am

Your plan is exactly what Liz and I have done for the last 3 seasons in the same time frame, with the caveat that all of those trips have been at least 16 days, so we can range far from the gateway airport.

Engelberg is very convenient to Zurich for a short trip. The off piste is impressive and easily accessible there. On piste does not have the scale of Val d'Isere or the Arlberg. Group guides are only available Thursday to Sunday. Andermatt is less than 2 hours beyond Engelberg, but group guides are only on Sundays.

Val d'Isere was certainly a peak experience for us in April 2018. Guiding is much more reasonably priced in France than in Switzerland and available every day.

Both of my Arlberg trips were based in Lech, which I think is the best location. Powder competition is not as intense as at St. Anton but probably more than Zermatt.
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Dec 23, 2019 4:23 am

In addition to what Tony mentioned, given the criteria and the late-January time period I'd nominate the Portes du Soleil straddling the French/Swiss border:
-- It's barely 75 minutes from Geneva airport,
-- Has more varied terrain than you can possibly cover in five days connected mainly by high-speed lifts. You really get the feeling of "travelling" long distances on-piste.
-- All sorts of easily accessible offpiste + lots of treed terrain in case you get a storm day.
-- Many cute traditional villages (I've stayed in Les Gets, Morzine, and Châtel and would suggest the latter two as they're more central to the main circuit).

Tony and I have both been there at the end of January, so check out our trip reports: his from 2019 and mine from 2014.
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby SnowbirdDevotee » Mon Dec 23, 2019 5:29 am

I'll be at Portes du Soleil Jan 24th weekend skiing solo. At this point I'm taking train from airport, 2.5 hrs, and staying at Champery. Looks like they will have good coverage. Supposedly Champery is a charming Swiss village, i have a room for about $100/nt.
Champery is at the edge of resort, pistes accessible by tram ride. Avoriaz is big central planned ski village, apparently not "charming". Check out Morzine/Les Gets.

Another option is Verbier which you can also reach by train (Zermatt). i stayed at Le Chable, nice village. Walked from train to hotel.

Seems like end of January is good time to go. Apparently Feb is busy with Europe holidays.
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Dec 23, 2019 6:57 am

SnowbirdDevotee wrote:I'll be at Portes du Soleil Jan 24th weekend skiing solo. At this point I'm taking train from airport, 2.5 hrs, and staying at Champery.

The Portes du Soleil is so big, I only made it to the Swiss sector on my final day of a week-long visit. It's predominantly south-facing but there shouldn't be concerns about conditions at that point of the season.

If you scan through this Swiss blogger's index, you'll see a number of reports with gorgeous photos from various Portes du Soleil sectors, including Champéry, that you can Google Translate into English:
https://snow-and-sun.blogspot.com/p/ind ... ichte.html
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Dec 23, 2019 12:08 pm

Per Fraser low altitude areas in the northern Alps have had excessive rain and are sketchy right now. That could change by Jan. 24, but I would hold off booking lodging until conditions improve. There are plenty of high altitude options from Geneva if the lower places don't improve.

We were in Portes-du-Soleil last year at the end of January and had the opposite of the current problem. We had a storm and high winds, so in 4 days based in Morzine we never got to the highest sector of Avoriaz or to the Swiss side. That complex has massive sprawl but I think Morzine is the best bet for a central base and it's a very lively resort town.

Yes late January is a good time, and both James and have chosen it several times with much success. But it is advisable not to commit to lodging too early. Since it's not the school holiday period we have been able to find lodging one week or so in advance.
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby skiandgolfnut » Mon Dec 23, 2019 1:26 pm

Thank you all for the responses.

Yes, we do not planning on booking even flights until within a 10 day forecast window. United has pretty good mileage availability from newark even day of so we definitely intend to wait. We will need 4 hotel rooms in the same hotel which could be problematic but again given the time of year I think we will have plenty of options. Given that we have a 12 day window to do the 5 day trip, I imagine we will be able to find somewhere and some time period with clear skies. Whether that lines up with the locations that have good conditions remains to be seen.

If Morzine has a good 3 weeks between now and then, that is certainly an option that looks appealing. I like its proximity to Geneva as well as that Morzine as a village sounds more attractive than the purpose built french resorts. Looking at your trip reports and the article James wrote, the pictures look slightly less dramatic from a scenery perspective than a Zermatt or Arlberg but the terrain does seem like a good fit for us.

Andermatt or Engleberg dont sound great given our need for a guide each day.

Val Disere seems like a dream fit from a ski perspective assuming good conditions/visibility though it eliminates our ability to ski day of arrival.

Verbier seems like an interesting option as it is under 2 hours from Geneva, seemingly has a lot of good easily accessible off piste, and im sure has plenty of guide availability. The one consistent drawback Ive read about online is that the best off piste is a long trek over from the base area and perhaps it is not ideal for us all to ski together as a group. Does anyone have much experience there?
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby skiandgolfnut » Mon Dec 23, 2019 3:43 pm

Tony, the photos from your Val trip are incredible. Outside of the extra drive time, are their downsides you see to that area based on my needs?
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Dec 23, 2019 3:56 pm

skiandgolfnut wrote:Yes, we do not planning on booking even flights until within a 10 day forecast window. United has pretty good mileage availability from newark even day of so we definitely intend to wait.

You sound like a United road warrior so you're probably aware that their partner Swissair has a 5:15 pm nonstop back to Newark, allowing departure-day skiing until 12:30 pm at Portes du Soleil and other nearby ski areas. I've done it a couple times. Also, Swiss is the only European airline that allows people like me (with enough miles not to pay for flights during ski season, but without high status) to check in skis and a boot bag for free.
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby skiandgolfnut » Mon Dec 23, 2019 4:14 pm

I am actually not a big United guy but I use Chase cards for my business which transfer to United at a 1 to 1 ratio and have plenty of those. It seems like even on the day of departure you can book one way flights to either geneva or zurich for 37.5k which while not great normally given the flights tend to be around 400-600$ are certainly worthwhile if they enable us the flexibility to decide a day or two before by which time the cash rates are 2000+.

The 5:15 is from Zurich though not Geneva correct?

The Newark-->Geneva flight also lands about 45 minutes earlier than the Newark-->Zurich flight. Half of our group is based in Long Island so is partial to JFK but I am working to convince them to be open to Newark.
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Dec 23, 2019 4:56 pm

skiandgolfnut wrote:The 5:15 is from Zurich though not Geneva correct?

My mistake. Yes, the 5:15 is from Zurich not Geneva.

I'm 15 minutes from EWR so I only use JFK sporadically.
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Dec 23, 2019 7:33 pm

Val d'Isere/Tignes is probably #1 overall in the Alps for snow reliability (well above average snowfall and second only to Zermatt in snow preservation. As at Zermatt the downside of the high altitude is that nearly everything is above tree line so skiing in bad weather is very limited. The terrain where we were guided was advanced but far from extreme. Liz was very comfortable as should be obvious from those pics. You have to be lucky to get as good a blue ski powder day as we had April 13 in 2018, with iSKI as the half day guide service. On the other hand ChrisC's powder day there earlier on Jan. 27 was even better than ours.

Trois Vallees and Les Arcs are also in that region about half an hour closer to Geneva. We hope to get our first skiing at those plaes this March.

Liz and I each have single days at Verbier as a day trip from Chamonix and are both eager to ski in more depth there. Yes the slopes back into town are not that high, west facing and so variable snow conditions. That's not uncommon in the Alps. You will want to investigate the guide situation. Guided skiing is more expensive in Switzerland vs. the other alpine countries. Hopefully it will not be restricted to certain days of the week. I'd be surprised because Verbier sees way more skier volume than Engelberg or Andermatt.
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby skiandgolfnut » Tue Dec 24, 2019 7:15 am

Seems like it has been snowing and will continue in near future in a lot of areas so we will have options I think.

Tony, re:Engleberg

1. Is all guiding including private guiding limited to the weekend or just group guiding? If 4 of us want to share the cost of a private guide I would have thought that should be possible daily.

2. What is the town like? On mountain restaurant scene?

3. You mention great off piste but the scale of the on piste being limited. Can you comment on the quality of the on piste? Long wide runs? Crowded congested highways? It is difficult to appreciate the scale or lack there of from the piste map alone. Given we are more than happy at a western resort for a 5 day trip most years perhaps it is less limited than I would think. I could see there maybe being a big weekend/weekday difference given the proximity to Zurich. Your trip report photos make the pistes look very appealing. Long and wide and empty.



Thanks
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Dec 24, 2019 10:25 pm

1) You are probably right about private guides being available any day. But in Switzerland you certainly need 4 people to make the cost palatable.

2) There's certainly enough town in Engelberg to keep you entertained for a few days. And there are several on mountain restaurants and the two places we had lunch were fine. I'm sure you know that in general on mountain restaurants in the Alps are often independently owned and the competition makes them better on average than the typical resort-owned restaurant in the US. That said, on-mountain is not the high level gourmet experience in Engelberg that it can be in Zermatt or the Dolomites.

3) I strongly suspect that Engelberg is much busier on the weekends than midweek due to proximity to Zurich and its high end terrain profile. Pistes were not crowded despite nice weather and conditions on the Wednesday-Friday we skied there. The main mountain Titlis has 13 numbered pistes. Fall lines of the upper pistes are noticeably steeper than average for the Alps.
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Re: Alps Trip Late January

Postby jamesdeluxe » Wed Dec 25, 2019 5:15 am

Tony Crocker wrote:I'm sure you know that in general on mountain restaurants in the Alps are often independently owned and the competition makes them better on average than the typical resort-owned restaurant in the US.

As part of the independently-owned angle, it's important to keep in mind that many on-mountain restaurants at less mainstream mountains in Switzerland are cash-only. Two years ago at Tschiertschen, a great "little area that rocks" near Arosa-Lenzerheide, I had a delicious lunch at the Hühnerköpfe ("chicken heads") and realised when the check came that they didn't take plastic.

I promised to go down to an ATM at the base and return with the 22 CHF; however, the very cool waiter refused and comped me the meal "in the name of Swiss-American relations" (there was a big "resist" poster prominently displayed in the entry).

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