Advice on smaller European resorts...

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Advice on smaller European resorts...

Postby jsmconne » Thu Jul 19, 2007 2:48 pm

Hello,

I'm a Canadian looking for some advice on where I might want to spend a ski season working/skiing in the Alps for the 07/08 season. I've done three seasons in Western Canada (one in Fernie, two in Rossland/Red Resort). Now, the tricky part is, and I can't stress this enough, is that I don't want to work at some giant European Resort. I like smaller towns with a quaint, local feel where the people there are there because they are into skiing/snowboarding rather than package tourists crammed into endless condos and tourist shops or hostels full of backpackers more interested in partying than skiing. As far as the mountain goes, I like lots of challenging terrain (steeps, bowls, cliffs, trees, ect) on mountain with plenty of backcountry nearby. And for lifts, I don't mind slower, older lifts but I hate long lift lines. I also don't mind working to get to the best descents and best snow.

I know that my request is somewhat impossible to fulfill - looking for that 'hidden gem' that has the best skiing with nobody knowing about it. At least that's what myself and all my friends from Eastern Canada who move to BC are looking for. First (about a dozen years ago) it was Fernie that was exposed as a hidden gem. Then Kicking Horse. Then Red Mountain. Then ...? But even when these unknown mountains become known or bought out, I would still much rather live there than in Banff or Whistler. So what are the relatively 'unknown' gems of Europe? I found info on Ste Foy in France or Alagna in Italy but both sound like they have been heavily built up in the last couple years. Are any of the smaller resorts in Germany worth spending a season at for an advanced skier? What about in Austria? Or other ones in France or Italy?

The other issue is that I can only get working holiday visas in France, Germany and UK (I mention UK because I've heard of people getting jobs elsewhere in Europe by going through an English job agency with their UK visa) and I only speak English and French (although I would enjoy living somewhere where I can learn a new language as long as I'm still able to find work). Are there any Canadians (or non-EU members) that have managed to get sponsored in Italy or Austria to work at ski resorts (doing something other than instructing)?

By the way, I've written off Switzerland as a place to live and work because I've heard it's so expensive, so built up and is very hard to get a work visa for.

Cheers,

James
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re: Advice on smaller European resorts...

Postby Patrick » Thu Jul 19, 2007 4:00 pm

Hi James,

Hidden gem? I'm a bit out of touch with France.

I've always said that if I take a sabbatical in France for one year, I would go to Bourg St-Maurice or Chamonix. Real towns, not necessarily a resort/village like Val d'Isère.

Bourg St-Maurice isn't really a resort town, it is in the middle of France's best ski areas in my opinion. Val D'Isère/Tignes, Les Arcs, La Plagne and Les Trois Vallées + Ste-Foy-de-la-Tarantaise. Yes, most of these are mega France ski areas, however the backcountry and off-piste possibilities are also important. The average skier (maybe up to 95%) stays on the groomed tracks.

I've never skied La Plagne or Ste-Foy. Ste-Foy was still relatively unknown the last time I was in Bourg St-Maurice in December 2000.

Looking for more backcountry?

Chamonix is the place in my opinion. The ski areas aren't your typical mega resorts and are fairly modest compared to the other major French areas, but there is so many backcountry possibilities here. Chamonix is also a real town.

Other lesser know places (never been here). A place in Les Alpes du Sud near Serre-Chevalier. A few small areas + Serre-Chevalier and tons of backcountry around La Grave which isn't too far away.

Hope this helps.
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re: Advice on smaller European resorts...

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:09 pm

I know it's in Switzerland, but from everything I've heard Andermatt fits your criteria perfectly. I've heard it's in line for some upscale development, so you might want to get there before it changes. Excellent reputation for snow and terrain.

I think Austria has more of the areas with the local ambience you're looking for. Those who have been there say that even the big places (Arlberg) have been developed via small owner-operated hotels rather than the big condo complex model so common elsewhere. Make sure you have some access to high altitude skiing before you commit to a specific location.
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re: Advice on smaller European resorts...

Postby ChrisC » Sun Jul 29, 2007 6:00 pm

Ruling Switzerland out, you do miss some really good choices.
Andermatt. As described by Tony, is obvious.
Engelberg. Map A little more built up than Andermatt, but off the radar. Great off piste as well. And a train line to Zurich.
Super St. Bernard. Up the road from Vebier, is this small gem. On the pass from Switzerland into Italy. http://www.espacesupersaintbernard.ch/s ... maire.php3


If you can only choose between Germany and France

Germany
Mostly it's just the mountains south of Munich on the border with Austria. I've seen them in the summer. Cute resort areas. Not super ski terrain. The largest, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is not a great area for experts. Mostly wooded runs with an easy high glacier area. Quite touristy. I'd skip the country.

France
Probably your best bet.
St. Foy. I had a friend who worked a season in Val d'Isere. This is where he skied a few days after. However, I do not know if this place really qualifies as off the beaten path. It's like A-basin in the middle of the Summit County chaos. You have every mountain from Val Thorens, Couchevel, Les Arcs, Tignes, Val d'Isere within 30 min. It does have a low key vibe, but a lot of new apartments are being built on its hillside.
La Grave. Very low key place with only off piste skiing. Of its larger neighboring mountains, Serre Chevalier is a traditional village, more authentic and less touristy than Les 2 Alpes or Alpe d'Huez.
Chamonix. Some of the smaller villages at the end of the Chamonix valley could be quite fun - Argentiere or Le Tour. There is so much off piste in Chamonix, it would be crime not to experience it while there. Verbier, Super Ste. Bernard and Alagna are not too far away for a day trip....
Les Contamines. If you do not want to be at all in Chamonix, this mountain/village is traditional, low key and has nice off piste. Only 20-30 min to Chamonix to change it up a bit.
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Re: re: Advice on smaller European resorts...

Postby Patrick » Sun Jul 29, 2007 11:24 pm

ChrisC wrote:France
Probably your best bet.
St. Foy. I had a friend who worked a season in Val d'Isere. This is where he skied a few days after. However, I do not know if this place really qualifies as off the beaten path. (...) You have every mountain from Val Thorens, Couchevel, Les Arcs, Tignes, Val d'Isere within 30 min. It does have a low key vibe, but a lot of new apartments are being built on its hillside.


Ste-Foy was like that...I would think better deal for a place to stay could be found in Seez or the bigger Bourg St-Maurice. Bourg St-Maurice is maybe 10-15 minutes away if I recall correctly. Regardless if your in Seez or Bourg St-Maurice, there is plnety of traffic heading toward Val d'Isère so getting a ride toward Ste-Foy shouldn't be so hard.

Like I mentioned above (and Chris also), Bourg St-Maurice is very central plus it has a major trail station. So access is easy + there is a funiculaire that leave BSM and heads up to Les Arcs.

ChrisC wrote:La Grave. Very low key place with only off piste skiing. Of its larger neighboring mountains, Serre Chevalier is a traditional village, more authentic and less touristy than Les 2 Alpes or Alpe d'Huez.
Chamonix. Some of the smaller villages at the end of the Chamonix valley could be quite fun - Argentiere or Le Tour. There is so much off piste in Chamonix, it would be crime not to experience it while there. Verbier, Super Ste. Bernard and Alagna are not too far away for a day trip....
Les Contamines. If you do not want to be at all in Chamonix, this mountain/village is traditional, low key and has nice off piste. Only 20-30 min to Chamonix to change it up a bit.


Yes, we are on agreement on the good places to stay in France and/or less touristy parts.
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Re: re: Advice on smaller European resorts...

Postby ChrisC » Wed Aug 01, 2007 3:43 pm

I think you find it hard to find great, remote stand alone mountains -- like Canada. The Alps are relatively small. They could all fit into just the Canadian Rockies - forget the ohter ranges like: Coast Range, Selkirks, Monashees, and others of BC. They are very settled - not necessarily densely settled - but every valley has been existence for 100s+ of years. So looking for remote outposts...like Red or Kicking Horse or Fernie is not really possible.

The upsides are the massive amounts of terrain available. Most mountains are accessible with lift service and a little work....and generally you can ski anywhere because you end up on some road, some village, someplace where it is easy to get back to civilization. Also, since only the 'pistes' are avalanche-controlled most skiers do not venture too far - leaving lots and lots of powder terrain.

Remote can mean whether the resort is well-known internationally or on the British package tour circuit. With so much vacation time, a lot of economical packages are put together to afford the chance to ski for weeks at a time. You probably want to avoid these areas. Pick a place not on the circuit to have a more authentic, fewer high-rise apartments experience.

For advanced skiing, you essentially are on your own. There are very few black pistes in Europe. Almost none. Even at the huge ski circuses. Essentially, anything steep is off-piste/un-marked/do it yourself with varying degrees of traffic depending how popular the route is.

In France, other off-beat places I've heard good things about off-piste...is Val Cenis...and La Rosierre. I would stay away from the Portes du Soleil areas - low elevation.

If I were you, I might just base myself at an low-key resort with access to the biggies. Lift tickets are 1/3 cheaper than the US/Canada....so some day hits should be non-budget busting.

There are really only about 3-4 major ski valleys in France:

1. Chamonix area (Megeve-to-Les Contamines-to Courmayeur-to-La Tour.)
2. Tarentaise (3 Vallees-to-Paradiski-to-Espace Killy),
3. The less developed area where Val Cenis is off freeway to Turino
4. Southern Alps (Les 2 Alpes-La Grave-Alp d'Huez-Ser Che).

If you go outside of these regions --like further South or Pyrenees-- you are sacrificing snowfall, size, elevation, etc.

Take this advice to heart...

Patrick wrote:...I would think better deal for a place to stay could be found in Seez or the bigger Bourg St-Maurice. Bourg St-Maurice is maybe 10-15 minutes away if I recall correctly. Regardless if your in Seez or Bourg St-Maurice, there is plenty of traffic heading toward Val d'Isère so getting a ride toward Ste-Foy shouldn't be so hard.


I would agree with this. I had to do a transfer in Bourg St-Maurice at the base of the railway to Les Arcs. Even Moutiers at the base of the 3 Vallees.

Or Les Contamines/Argentiere/Les Houches for Chamonix. Although Chamonix is more ice climbing/mountaineering/permanent - less glitzy, resorty.

Or La Grave, Serre Che for Southern Alpes.

I just do not think you are going to find a Red, Fernie, etc. The Alps are only 1-2 hrs from huge population centers - Milan, Torino, Lyon, Grenoble, Munich, Zurich, Geneva, Venice, Vienna.
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