International (Europe/Japan/Southern Hemisphere) Europe in April, but not this April

chris_the_wrench

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Howdy,

We've been to Europe quite abit(work/tourism), but I've NEVER skied there. I haven't been out of the US in 15 months and I'm itching for a trip, or atleast to think about a international trip. I've listened to lift partners tell me about the hugeness of Kitzbuhel the majesty of Zermatt and the steeps of Chamonix. Anybody have experience with any of the European ski destinations in early to mid-april? I'd really like to start planning a trip over there for next spring(2022), hopefully covid is in the rearview mirror by then. Looking for lift served steep skiing. We like low key après-ski, which to me means good food with paper napkins and walkup counter. We can rent a car or train, don't matter much to us. Spa's or lack there of is probably a good thing, although I do enjoy hot springs!

Thoughts/ideas??

Thanks again
-Chris
 

Slim

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@chris_the_wrench ,
you probably know this, but “steeps” in the Alps (with the exception of some famous steep groomers or mogul runs) are uncontrolled terrain, like out of bounds terrain in North America, even when they are right next to a groomer.

The obvious candidates are La Grave and Chamonix Valley.

But, of course there are many others, and less famous locations might be better, in the sense of being less crowded.
Can you travel around? In that case, finding out of the way locations, with maybe one or two steep runs accessible by lift, then traveling to the next area, might be better than heading to the big name places.


You can try asking your question here too:


They also publish a very thorough book on off-piste skiing in Europe, with seriously detailed information on weather and such, that includes many of the small family areas, that often provide great off-piste skiing:


Paging @jmeb and @James , @Primoz @Cheizz and others for actual info...
 

jmeb

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I think @Slim 's point is the first one to think about -- what are you expectations for steep skiing? Are you looking for simply steep downhill skiing or do you want to ski gnarly couloirs (i.e. you're comfortable bootpacking up steep things, using crampons, rope work (rapping into/out of lines), decision making in avalanche terrain, etc? Much of what you see on film/media of the meccas are "lift served" -- in the sense they use lifts as access. But many classics still require a bit of hiking/traversing/mountaineering skills. In almost all cases you're going to want to carry BSP and know how to use them if you're skiing steeps in the Alps.

What you want to ski will likely determine where it makes sense to go, and where you go will determine the right time-frame. Some lower elevation places like the Dolomites have awesome couloir skiing, but you'd want to be there early-March, not early-April. (I say as I'm planning out a 2022 Dolomites trip.)

No matter what you do, budget for a guide for 2 days at the start of your trip just to get your bearings and local info on snowpack.

Paging @Primoz .
 
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chris_the_wrench

chris_the_wrench

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They also publish a very thorough book on off-piste skiing in Europe, with seriously detailed information on weather and such, that includes many of the small family areas, that often provide great off-piste skiing:
thanks for the suggestion regarding that book and website.

Since I would be traveling with a non-skier and then skiing solo. Im looking for steep/advanced terrain that is the equivalent of US ‘inbounds’ with controlled snowpack conditions.

I’m quickly realizing that I’m quite ignorant as to what I should be expecting over there and the research Ive done has more overwhelmed me than answered questions.

I appreciate the insight!
-Chris
 

James

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You better factor in a guide no matter where you go, and avy gear, which you could rent. For what you want, it’s off piste. Sure, there’s some stuff you could do on your own, but if you want to get to the interesting stuff, it’s a guide.
I would also recommend health insurance/trip insurance, and always get the insurance offerred with a lift pass. Realize that say in Verbier, on piste, without the lift pass insurance, just for patrol to come to you is 270 Swiss Francs. They use helis all the time too because distances are so great. I can never get a straight answer about off piste rescue so I got everything I could get including REGA membership for heli rescue. Cheap, like €40 /yr, (only Switzerland), Then found out they don’t cover where I was...

First off, you’re going to get overwhelmed by all the names. Places you’ve never heard of. Hell, the first time I went to Chamonix I was trying to find a place to stay on the plane ride over. All these names come up, then “Chamonix-Mont Blanc” - wtf is that?? Hotels “only 15km away” but they’re in Italy. It was a bit of a nightmare. I finally just went to google maps and started looking.

Speaking of Chamonix. There’s really no such thing as skiing in “Chamonix”. It’s really the Chamonix Valley. Some places in the valley are like regular ski areas, like Brévent-Flégère, Les Houches, Balme-Vallorcine. Les Grands Montets is regular with other stuff where you want a guide. Plus access to the hut off the top. Aiguille du Midi is guide only unless you really know what your doing. That lift you get in the center of town and in two stages takes you 9,200 ft up.

(I hate to throw all those strange names at you, but there’s not much choice.)

Think of it as say you’re going to “Aspen” to ski. So, you’ve got all those areas to ski and towns to stay in. But the Alps are different than North America because many of the towns are in the mts, not just at the bottom. (Cham is at the bottom)

Chamonix for what you want is definite guide, and probably best with AT gear, though not totally necessary. But...April to mid April? That’s late. I think by then you’re talking hut trips, like the Cosmiques, off the Aiguille du Midi tram, or the one up in Argentiere, off Les Grands Montets tram. I believe those huts open in March. (I know, the names again)

Chamonix is an odd place. Some go there and hate it. You’ve got everyone there from people clomping around in rentals to world class skiers. High class to low class. Quite a smorgasbord, though like other places, ritzy seems to be overtaking. The town itself is not pretty or quaint, though it has bits of that. It’s very much into Alpinism if you tap into that.

I mean if you want lift served gnar, that’s La Grave. Guide would be mandatory. Since your solo, you’d have to join some sort of group.

If you’re really committed to April-mid April you need altitude and lots of skiing above 2000m. (The Alps are much lower than the US west. There’s not a lot of lift served above 3500m) Val Thorens and Zermatt come to mind but I really don’t know.

@Idris is becoming a patroller in the Chamonix valley. They could tell you about skiing Cham in April.
 
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James

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Since I would be traveling with a non-skier and then skiing solo. Im looking for steep/advanced terrain that is the equivalent of US ‘inbounds’ with controlled snowpack conditions.
Well.... that changes things. What you want kind of doesn't exist. “Controlled snowpack” means on piste, groomed. However, yes, what you want is doable.

My suggestion-
A) Do you really need to go in April? If so, that’s going to narrow things down considerably because you need altitude. Narrowing is good. Mid April narrowing I’m not sure about. We need consultants.

B) You need to consider the non skier and what they can do in the area or want to do. This actually helps because it could narrow things down also.


That could eliminate a place like La Grave for example, as there’s basically nothing at the base. However...you could stay in Les Deux Alpes up the road.(a long, winding road) Though L2Alpes is kind of the Killington of the alps as far as towns go. (Not a complement)

C) Are there other things that can help people narrow things down? Language, food, side trips etc.

D) Consider an organized trip. This could be a ski club, something at the area you go to like 3-4 days guided group, or a group like Jagged Globe that pre arranges a week. I only know that one because I literally followed some people in the thick fog, ended up off piste, and the leader was kind enough to let me tag along. UK group.

When you get overwhelmed with names just look at maps.

@Nobody lives in Italy and knows much of the Alps. I basically know little.
 
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Seldomski

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D) Consider an organized trip. This could be a ski club, something at the area you go to like 3-4 days guided group, or a group like Jagged Globe that pre arranges a week. I only know that one because I literally followed some people in the thick fog, ended up off piste, and the leader was kind enough to let me tag along. UK group.
I highly suggest the above.

I skied in Europe for the first time in 2018 and again in 2019 with a ski club local to my area. I really enjoyed going with a group since there were a number on the trip that had been before, as well as newbies to the alps like myself. I would look into that for your first trip to Europe if possible. After you have gone once, you could do it without a group. There are a lot of small and big things that are different vs. the North American resort experience, and it's nice to sit down with someone and really have a conversation about it.

FWIW, I have zero backcountry experience and only ever skied in NA resorts before those trips.

What is avalanche controlled vs what is not is totally different in Europe vs North American resorts. Patrolled, gnarly terrain isn't really a thing there (that I could tell). If you leave the marked 'piste', there are no little poles to warn you of a cliff, a ravine, etc. So if you are thinking you can do something like get off a lift, traverse to some steep stuff you find at Whistler/Blackcomb and then ski back to a lift, that's not really how it works in Europe... at least not without a lot of research and a guide. If you are going off trail, you need to scope out the line and make sure it is safe. The European resorts are apathetic regarding your fate if you leave the ropes...

As other mention, if you want to ski powder off piste, you should plan on hiring a guide. I suppose if you had backcountry experience, are more of a mountaineer than myself, and know how to read avalanche warnings, you could probably do it without a guide. But I was not equipped to do that. I hired a guide for one day in St. Anton and it was incredible. If I go back, I would definitely hire a guide again - perhaps for multiple days.

Also, plan on renting skis. Rental equipment was very good quality and much cheaper than in US. Beyond just the convenience factor, international airline policies for skis as checked baggage are inconsistent and you may get charged for an oversize bag when flying with skis. So it can be cheaper to rent anyway.
 

Primoz

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Since I would be traveling with a non-skier and then skiing solo. Im looking for steep/advanced terrain that is the equivalent of US ‘inbounds’ with controlled snowpack conditions.
This is exactly what is different between Europe and US. Over here (Europe) we don't have inbound. Here ski resort consists of lifts and tracks (90%, or probably more, are groomed daily). You step 1 meter out of track, you are on your own (I guess that would be backcountry for you). Snow outside of track is not controlled, avi mitigation goes only so far, that tracks and lifts are protected from avalanches etc.
This means, 1m out of piste, you are the only one responsible for your life and safety. Noone checked that snow, noone can say it's safe or not. And yes, there's plenty of deadly incidents 5m out of piste every year, when people think that avalanche next to groomed piste is not possible. Reality is, 5m out of groomed piste, or next valley, with no access road and no humans around is exactly same thing over here.
So please think on that, and forget anything you ever learned about inbound skiing, when you come over here. There's no inbound here, period. Well... groomed or two two ungroomed runs that each resort has, can count as "inbound".
So if you are going to venture out for off-piste skiing, I do suggest getting guide. Terrain is normally pretty complex (it's Alps with few man made trails down, rest of it is same as it was millions of years ago, when these rocks rise), there's no avi mitigation, and there's also no ropes, markings, warnings etc., so you can easily find yourself on top of 100m cliff, in stream, deep canyon with no easy get away, or simply on other side of the mountain, with 10h walk back to civilization.
As for snow goes, it depends on winter. Ski resorts are mostly all fine (at least with normal winter, no idea how it's going to be this year with all the closures and therefore "slightly" different snow making and maintaining). They have enough snow, and they make enough snow, but majority of them operate somewhere until Easter, as after that there's too little people skiing to be profitable.
Skiing off-piste is different thing. Middle of April is almost always no problem, but there can be years, with not much natural snow, so it's never really sure. Of course it depends where you go, but most of places around me (in some 300km radius) are relatively low elevations (normally between some 700 and 2500m above sea level) and it can be that there's not much snow off piste at 1500m above sea level in April. But that depends on year, so it's impossible to tell.
 

Cheizz

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For steep off-piste skiing, I actually think April is a perfect time. Snow cover/base is greatest in the season and mostly quite stable too. For me, I cannot drive to the Alps whenever I want to. So when I plan trips with friends who like off-piste skiing, I don't do those trips earlier than March. More snow on the ground, mostly more stable snowpacks.
But there's a big difference between early April (most major resorts still running) and the end of April (only high altitude areas open, and glaciers).

But still we need to know: are you focussing on off-piste skiing? In Europe that means: everything that is not groomed, basically. If so, a guide is almost mandatory if you're on your own (very unwise to go off-piste by yourself). Especially if you're not competent in avalanche safety, decision making, etc.
 

Cheizz

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Mid-April these are ski areas still operating full-scale:

Italy:
Monterosa (Valle d'Aosta)
Breuil-Cervinia (Italian side of Zermatt/Matterhorn)
Sestriere/Via Lattea (depends on exact definition of 'Mid-April' haha)

Switzerland:
Zermatt
Saas-Fee
4 Vallées (Verbier, La Tzoumaz, Nendaz, etc.)
Arosa-Lenzerheide (depends on exact definition of 'Mid-April' haha)

France:
Tignes-Val d'Isère
Les Trois Vallées (Val Thorens, Les Menuirs, Méribel, Courchevel)
Serre Chevalier
Les Deux Alpes
Chamonix (not all areas)
Galibier-Thabor (to mid april)

Austria:
Ischgl
Galtür
Kappl
ST. Anton - Lech
Stubaier Glacier
Kaunertaler Glacier
Hintertuxer Glacier
Mölltaler Glacier
Pitztaler Glacier
Kaprun-Kitzsteinhorn (Glacier)
Obertauern

On this site, you find more info on all possible resorts, including projected closure dates, descriptions, slope maps etc.
 

fatbob

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1 You do have avy kit and general training. Even with a guide this is pretty useful.

2 Your problem is Steeps and April in combination. The pool of resorts open is reducing. Chances of rotted out or wet slide vulnerable snowpack increases as temps and sunlight hours increase. So you are chasing high north facing slopes predominantly.


Of the list above Chamonix and Verbier seem to me to be the best fit but you will still need a guide hookup or friends.

If you compromise on the steeps there is still great skiing available. Snowheads run a trip 3rd week in April every year (sans COVID) to Val Thorens which is very sociable and there are lots of people to ski off piste with if you have the kit.
 

Ulmerhutte

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Worth reading, even if many years old... https://alloffpiste.com/season-report-austrian-avalanche-warning-service-201213/

As many have said, and the bottom line, once you move outside the piste markers in Europe, you are effectively in backcountry. No controls or avy clearing.

A few years ago, I watched an accident unfold from across a valley: a guy rode into a fishmouth, aka a glide crack. He died. I was skiing Bachseite and he was on a line just below Schindlerkar. A heavily trafficked area, but offpiste and nobody close enough, and competent & equipped to rescue him, so he died.

Oh, BTW, in St Anton, it is relatively easy to ski into valleys that have no connection to where you need to be, or can walk out.

So, yes, be aware that offpiste in Europe starts at the edge of piste... and hire a guide.
 

Primoz

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For steep off-piste skiing, I actually think April is a perfect time. Snow cover/base is greatest in the season and mostly quite stable too.
True, but in my opionion this is mainly for ski touring. Except for few high(er) altitude resources, you will have actually quite a bit of problems getting proper snow next to lifts for that. But for ski touring, April, and even beginning of May is great time on high(er) altitude.
 

Dr. Mark

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Val Gardena has three little villages connected to each other by lifts and ski runs. Check out the Sella Ronda there, a multi-kilometer ski circuit that you can take in either direction around the great rock, the Sella. About $50/day, IIRC. Blue groomers and fabulous sights. Enjoy planning your trip.
 
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chris_the_wrench

chris_the_wrench

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I mean if you want lift served gnar, that’s La Grave. Guide would be mandatory. Since your solo, you’d have to join some sort of group.
I'm definetley hearing you all about the necessity of a guide.

A) Do you really need to go in April? If so, that’s going to narrow things down considerably because you need altitude. Narrowing is good. Mid April narrowing I’m not sure about. We need consultants.
Those dates are after my local mountain shuts down. I enjoy skiing there everyday, so I'm basically looking to extend my season abit and ski some new places.

B) You need to consider the non skier and what they can do in the area or want to do. This actually helps because it could narrow things down also.
She's a good sport. If the ski base is in a small town or village, all the better. If it's isolated we would stay in town and I'd travel on ski days.

For steep off-piste skiing, I actually think April is a perfect time. Snow cover/base is greatest in the season and mostly quite stable too.
From my experience in North American backcountry, that's what I'd expect. Thanks for the confirmation.

Couple new questions. Looks like I should be revising my expectations for this trip. I originally thought it was going to be like spring skiing at Arapahoe Basin, but sounds QUITE different. I have avalanche training and gear so that's not an issue.

Sounds like I'd definitely hire a guide. Do they do small group guiding where you get paired up with strangers, to help lower the cost versus a private guide?

Sounds like I should be expecting 'lift served backcountry' style skiing? I have AT gear but I MUCH prefer to ski in alpine boots. Is that doable? Is there skiing like Im looking for thats accessible without much skinning or bootpacking?

Thanks again for all the suggestions.
-Chris
 
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chris_the_wrench

chris_the_wrench

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Val d'Isere would be my personal go-to area for lift-served off-piste in April. You would still need a buddy/group. Or a guide, although just as a buddy. Most off-piste lines are well described.

An article about Val D'Isere originally sparked this whole trip idea. Where would most of these off-piste lines be described? That book available from wepower mentioned earlier seems pretty hard/expensive to get to the US?? $45 euros for the book plus $30 euros to ship it the US.

Thanks
-Chris
 

Cheizz

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For lift-served off-piste (i.e. no skinning or long hikes required), I would find accommodation in Val d'Isère itself. Charming village (for French standards) and central enough. The area is huge but well-connected. You could stay in Tignes too, but it's much less charming and everything is above treeline (white-out risk).

This website has tonsof descriptiosns of lines, including photos... http://freeskilly.canalblog.com/pages/les-barbus/33460850.html
Adittionally, I would suggest a good topo-map. This is one I use a lot. You can turn on the slope angle layer as well... https://www.bergfex.com/sommer/auvergne-rhone-alpes/touren/freeride/

As for sharing a guide: most guide agencies don't offer a group service, I believe. In most cases, you have to make your own group and then hire a guide together (in that order). But maybe there are organizations that do offer that service.
 

Slim

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Agree with all the above.

@chris_the_wrench , aha skiing solo. That changes things a bit.

I would plan one or two days of skiing groomers/ski routes(controlled terrain).
Then as many days as you can afford financially and with regards to your partner, skiing with a guide.
The guide would function as your safety partner, but also make sure you get good skiing quickly. Since you don’t have time to poke around and try and discover stuff. You want to get up, and get back down by 14:00 for drinks in the sun with your partner.

In other words, in order not to kill your relationship, I would go for quality over quantity. Look at the weather and such and decide then when to ski and when to do other things.

As others mentioned, could you go earlier? That would open up more options for finding a location that is a nice non-skiing destination as well.

Since your partner is a non skier, places like the Aguille de Midi tram (Chamonix Valley)or Cornergrat cog railway (Zermatt) would be super cool: you go up with a guide and your partner, check out the view. Your partner stays on the observation deck , and takes the train/tram down, you ski down.

Most guiding companies do offer group skis, where you join an open group, but the chances of finding that are much better in bigger, established skitouring/freeride areas and during the peak season. In the off season, and in smaller places, or places less used to guests skiing off-piste, the chances of finding a group event to join is far smaller.

Would you be going during a Holiday week? Like Easter?
 
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Slim

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Val Gardena has three little villages connected to each other by lifts and ski runs. Check out the Sella Ronda there, a multi-kilometer ski circuit that you can take in either direction around the great rock, the Sella. About $50/day, IIRC. Blue groomers and fabulous sights. Enjoy planning your trip.
I love the Dolomites. But @chris_the_wrench wanted mid April and steep skiing. The Sella Ronda is neither....

But indeed, with a non skiing partner hanging out while he ski’s, the Dolomites would be my first choice. It would just have to be earlier in the season. And hiring a guide for steep, off-piste skiing.
 
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