The most famous skiing mountains in the world can be found in Europe or the USA. You may think that they offer similar experiences, but in reality, they are quite different. Everything from the type of snow to expect, to the size of the mountains vary wildly. Even the atmosphere of the resorts and the attitudes of the skiers are completely different on each continent.
Many Americans dream of skiing the Alps, and Europeans love the idea of hitting the American slopes. What exactly are the differences? Is it really worth flying halfway around the world for the new experience? If you’re planning your next ski trip and aren’t sure whether European or US skiing is for you, here’s our handy guide.
In Europe, the mountains are simply bigger. They are more jagged and reach higher. The skyline is far more intimidating than their American counterparts. For some, this is a thrill worth visiting. For others, it can be scary. America’s mountains are more rolling with meandering runs. This doesn’t mean you can’t find difficult runs in the USA. There are still plenty of vertical drops to hunt out.
If you’re a beginner, don’t be put off by the foreboding Alpine mountains. There are more than enough gentle slopes to keep you busy. You don’t ever have to feel out of your comfort zone. You can still admire the incredible views on the flatter runs. You don’t have to be an expert to ski the Alps.
In Europe, the whole mountain is up for grabs. The runs are wide and open to let you roam free. You can explore any area that you feel comfortable with. There are markers to let you know how difficult each area is, and barriers will keep you from the edge. These are the only restrictions and you are free to do as you please.
In America, the mountains are lined with trees and there are strict routes carved out. There is a slightly more rigid trail with US skiing but sometimes a dedicated route is preferable. This rigid structure leads US skiers to carve out great off-piste trails to really test your ability. Europeans tend to stick to the groomed pistes.
Currently, the USA gets a heavier snowfall. This means there is more lush powder snow to explore at the top of the mountains. Skiers and snowboarders love the fresh crunch of unspoiled powder snow. They will search all over the world for the best untouched slopes. The best skiers will flock to the American and Canadian resorts for guaranteed pristine slopes. Aspen, Vail (Colorado) and Whistler (Canada) are considered the best ski resorts for powder hounds.
Resorts in the USA and Canada tend to hold snow for longer. It’s not uncommon for some of the northern resorts to stay open as late as July. The Alps will be completely shut by May, but even April is unpredictable in Europe. There’s nothing worse than turning up to a resort to find poor snowfall and closed runs.
In Europe, things are taken a little more leisurely. You’ll see groups of friends skiing at a leisurely pace. Most won’t even hit the slopes until lunchtime and they’ll have stopped for a coffee by 2pm. In the USA, however, skiers are queueing before the mountain is even open. In America, you get up early and you ski hard all day. You push yourself and everyone talks about what runs they nailed that day. The lift etiquette is more orderly though. In Europe it’s generally a free-for-all.
American lift passes are more expensive than their Alpine cousins, and there is little or no discount for week passes. In Europe it can work out roughly $10 a day cheaper to ski and there are discounts for week long passes. Italy is particularly great value and can be booked through Momentum Ski.
Often European lift passes will give you access to a larger area. You can ski an entire valley with one pass, rather than the restrictions in some US resorts. Once you’re off the mountain, you’ll pay roughly the same wherever you are. Ski resorts tend to be expensive and there’s no getting around that.
Ski holidays are packaged up slightly differently in the USA and Europe. You’ll get flights and accommodation on both continents. Your equipment hire is usually included as well. However, in Europe, the full package will also include airport transfers, daily meals and local taxes. In America, you won’t usually get these extras but you will get the ski lift pass included. Make sure to factor in all of these extras before you determine the cost of the holiday!
The Après Ski
American skiers will be dumbfounded by the ability of Europeans to stay up late into the night after a day’s skiing. It’s probably because they don’t hit the slopes until lunchtime! In Europe you’ll find bars and clubs that stay open well into the early hours of the morning. Typically, American resorts close up around midnight. In America you make sure you are well rested and ready to master that backflip the next day!
European resorts tend to have more variety of facilities on the slopes as well as off. You’ll see coffee shops, bars and restaurants all the way down the piste. You can take your time coming down the mountain, stopping for a coffee and a chat at regular intervals. You’ll also find better quality local cuisine on the slopes. You can sample the local Italian or French food for lunch. In America it’s tough to find anything other than burgers and fries on the mountain!
If you love skiing, you’ll find everything you need on either side of the Atlantic. Europe edges the win for sheer majesty of the mountains and open runs. USA trumps Europe for powder snow and off-piste. In Europe they take things a little easier whereas in America, you go hard! It’s worth exploring both and seeing which one is your favourite.