The Swiss have won 20 Winter Olympics Alpine Skiing gold medals.
The French are the 2nd biggest consumers of alcohol in the world.
Austria is the home of àpres.
There is so much to love about a ski vacation in Europe. Whether it's the wide open, endless boulevards of groomed ski pistes, the jaw-dropping spectacular scenery, the access to steep, challenging terrain, the incredible food, the vibrant apres ski scene... the list goes on and on and on. If you've never skied Europe before, go.
Skiing in Europe
Scout often says that style of skiing in Europe is different to North America (and Japan). And by style we don't mean parallel turns or one-piece ski suits. The style of a typical ski day in a European resort is not about being first on the lifts, thrashing the slopes for six hours and going home to cook dinner in a condo. Instead, the ski day starts with a leisurely breakfast, slipping on skis to make the journey to lunch followed by a few runs on your way back to the village. Lunch (usually a couple of courses accompanied by a nice bottle of wine) is the key focus of the day and where you ski revolves around where you're lunching. At the end of the day, after a couple of hours in the hotel's wellness centre (typically consisting of a hot tubs, ice cold plunge pools, several saunas and steam rooms and a relaxation area) it will be off to a five course dinner, usually in the hotel.
The ski resorts themselves are different too. A vast majority of the resort areas are situated above the tree line. Only the pistes are marked and avalanche controlled so navigating your way through the off-piste (even within the resort boundaries) can be challenging and dangerous. We highly recommend using a guide at least for a day or two to find your way around the resort and to discover the best runs for your standard. If skiing off-piste it's also advisable to wear an avalanche air bag and carry the necessary safety equipment (beacon, shovel, probe). There's also some excellent ski touring in areas around the resorts.
European Ski Accommodation
The village and accommodation you choose makes up so much a part of a European ski trip. Many hotels (particularly in Austria and sometimes in Switzerland) require a seven night stay from Saturday to Saturday and often half-board (breakfast and dinner included) is compulsory. That's not always a bad thing as the food is usually amazing in the hotel restaurants and it's lunch time that gives you the opportunity to explore other cuisine. Most European hotels have some sort of wellness area consisting of at least various steam rooms, saunas and a hot tub. These wellness centers range from huge and extravagant to simple but functional, depending on the quality of your hotel. In some Austrian and Swiss hotels it's the done thing to go naked, even though it's mixed sex, though usually they don't completely ban swim suits if you must wear one. Often children aren't allowed into wellness centers.
Accommodation in European ski resorts ranges from small, charming hotels to large city style hotels, through to some of the most luxurious five star hotels we've seen (with an equally 5 star price tag). Most people choose to stay in a hotel when skiing in Europe. When the restaurants are so good and different to what you get at home, it seems a waste to go all that way and cook for yourself. That said, most resorts have some self-contained accommodation on offer if that's what you need. A unique European ski experience is definitely to rent out an entire chalet which is particularly popular and easy to do in the French Alps. These can either be self-catered or fully catered with live-in staff. Scout can help with all styles of accommodation, depending on your needs and budget.
A ski trip to Europe doesn't have to break the bank if you pick your resort carefully. Lodging and food in Switzerland (which still uses its own currency - the Swiss Franc) does tend to be a bit more expensive - particularly in Verbier and Zermatt. However, lodging in France and Austria can be a similar price for the same standard in the US, sometimes less. If you're on a tight budget, Italy offers great value.
One of our favourite parts of a ski trip to Europe is the food and wine. Generally speaking, you will eat delicious meals three times a day, and usually plenty of it - so make sure you ski hard to work up that appetite. From the French and Swiss cheeses (yay fondue), saucisson (dried sausages), croissants, delicious breads and wine to the Italian pastas, pizzas and general deliciousness you will hardly ever go wrong. Austrian food is different again - more hearty and filling dishes like spaetzle (dumplings), goulash (beef stew) and schnitzel. When thinking about our ski trips to Europe, so often the meals are just as memorable as the skiing.
Most of the decent ski resorts in Europe are between 90 min- 3.5 hrs from the nearest major airport. By far the most popular method for getting to and from ski resorts is by train. There is something so quintessentially European about catching trains, and it gives plenty of time to take in the scenery on the way. Most major airports have large train stations directly underneath and sometimes you can get to resorts with just one change and within a few hours. Some resorts (like Zermatt and Chamonix) have train stations right in the heart of the town, while others may require a 30-40 min bus or taxi ride from the closest station. If you like the sound of trains, you can make it the center of your trip by taking the famous Glacier Express. This 7.5 hour, once daily train goes between Zermatt and St Mortiz (via Andermatt) along high alpine plains, through charming villages and over historic bridges as it winds its way through the mountains. It is a truly spectacular journey and wonderful way to explore different resorts. The alternatives to trains are scheduled or private shuttles direct from the airport to your resort.
Once you are in the resorts you will almost always be getting around on foot. Sometimes a shuttle bus might be needed for getting to and from the slopes with gear, but only in some resorts and for some hotels. Usually everything is very close.
Choosing your resort
When starting to plan a European ski trip, people naturally have a picture in their mind of the chocolate box snowy European village. Often we get asked which is the most charming ski resort with reliable snow, a big ski area, few crowds, convenient lodging and all close to a major airport. We're sorry to say that in all our scouting of resorts we still haven't found this nirvana. Of course there are resorts that may score highly on 2-3 of those attributes but fall down on others. You see, anything that is charming is generally an old farming village. Naturally, those weren't built up at the higher elevations. There are some, of course, but if they have a ski resort attached then it's usually just a few lifts. Nor were they designed with the ski resort in mind so it's hard (though not impossible) to find ski-in ski-out lodging in a charming village. And, if you want snow surety, you need to head high up into the mountains which usually means at least a 3 hour commute from a major airport. Use our Resort Finder to start figuring out which resorts take your fancy and let Scout know what your priorities are, and what you might be willing to compromise on.
There are literally thousands of ski resorts to choose from in Europe. Whether you're a family, first-timers, party goers or thrill seekers Scout can help you find and book the perfect destination and hotel.
Europe Ski Resorts
Méribel is a chic chalet-style village in the heart of the extensive 3 Vallées ski area. It has some excellent slopes, a hopping après scene and luxurious hotels, mixed with private chalets.
At 2300m (7545ft) above sea level, the purpose-built Val Thorens is Europe’s highest ski resort resulting in exceptional reliability of snow quality and a vast area of wide open pistes.
Megève is the perfect combination of a magical village oozing French charm, world-class, picturesque ski slopes, stunning scenery, fantastic dining and great hotels.
Courchevel might be better known for its glitz and glamour, but along with this is an exceptional ski resort that will keep all levels of skier happy.
The 3 Vallées in the French Alps is home to not only the world’s biggest lift-linked ski area but also to a bunch of unique villages.
Les Gets is a charming little French village that is perfect for those looking for a quiet, easy ski holiday. It has the added benefit of being part of the huge Portes du Soleil ski area.
Morzine is a vibrant, attractive French village attached to the giant Portes du Soleil ski area offering great skiing for all standards.
Chamonix is a true advanced skiers’ mecca with almost everything about the place grand and sheer.
One of Europe’s highest ski resorts, Tignes is the place to go for snow-sure slopes, fantastic off-piste, endless intermediate cruisers and convenience.
Whether it’s the delicious Italian food, the sunny ski area, the challenging off-piste, the charming old town or the jaw-dropping scenery, it’s hard to visit Courmayeur only once.
Val d’Isere has a winning combination of an extensive and excellent ski area with high altitude slopes, with a true European-style, charming village.
Verbier is part of Switzerland’s largest ski area, 4 Vallees, and it goes big on just about everything; big skiing, big scenery, big après… and big prices.
Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Matterhorn, Cervinia ski resort is one of Italy’s finest, with slopes that have an emphasis on intermediate cruising.
Set against the iconic Matterhorn, Switzerland’s Zermatt is one of the best ski resorts in the world combined with a picture perfect, happening village.
This wonderfully quaint and charming village is home to a ski resort with some great terrain and epic mountain views.
Wengen is the perfect destination for those wanting to experience a historic, charming ski village in the Swiss Alps.
Saas-Fee in the Swiss Alps features high-altitude slopes for snow sureity, a charming village, great pistes for all standards, no crowds, convenient lodging and spectacular scenery.
Engelberg is small Swiss town tucked at the end of a valley and surrounded by spectacular mountains that house some of the best off-piste skiing in Europe.
Andermatt has the perfect combination of an attractive little village with extensive ski slopes including lots of great off-piste terrain for advanced skiers.
World-famous St Moritz is as spectacular as it is glamorous and with three main ski areas it also has some great skiing.
Lech is a charming village and excellent ski resort in the Arlberg ski area of Austria. It truly has something for everyone.
With a dynamic combination of excellent pistes and awesome bars, St Anton is the place to come if you want to ski hard and party harder.
Soelden ski resort in Austria is impressive in so many ways but particularly when it comes to fast, new lifts and a rip-roaring nightlife.
Alta Badia is one of the best places to ski in the Dolomites. It has gentle slopes accessible from several villages and is a great base for exploring the Sella Ronda.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is the type of resort we imagine skiing in heaven. Spectacular scenery, wide, gentle open slopes, a charming and historic town and food and wine that’s to-die-for.