First Time Alps Advice, Early Feb.

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Rick_Kane Rick_Kane
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First Time Alps Advice, Early Feb.

Relatively inexpensive direct flights have me looking to ski in Europe for the first time. Without any first hand knowledge It's tough to get detailed planning going, I've been reading some trip reports from around the web, and lots of googling but that almost makes it tougher to settle on a destination....There's too many options on where to ski before getting into the rest of the details

It's going to be two or three of us looking to get around 6 days of skiing in around the first week of February.
I'm on skis and the others will be on snowboard. We all ski at the same level, cautiously confident on just about any inbounds terrain in North America short of the most exposed and consequential. Our preferences trend towards Alpine, bowls, trees but we're definitely not above some fun, thigh burning groomers. The prospect of 15+ KM to town routes sound fun. I think our limiting factor will be lack of Avalanche education and gear.

As far as apres goes we're not looking for anything rowdy (we're all mid 30s/married), just some nice food, a decent drink and ideally an interesting enough town to mill around.

As of right now I'm thinking....

EWR-Milan, rent a car and head up to the Aosta Valley. Ski Monterosa for three days, stay in one of the three base area villages. Then head west toward Courmayeur/La Thuile and spend a day doing the Vallee Blanche to Chamonix before catching a bus back through the tunnel.
Overall I'm really liking what I'm reading about the accessible off piste and lack of crowds in Monterosa.

Does this sound reasonable or is it too complicated for a first time trip? Are we better off just staying in Aosta and day tripping from there? How essential are guides?
Should we skip Italy in favor of somewhere else? Other direct flight option is Zurich, limiting options would be excessive costs of accommodation and travel time from airport.

 
campgottagopee campgottagopee
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Re: First Time Alps Advice, Early Feb.

Search for Jamesdeluxe and his reports on here. He knows the place inside and out. If you're lucky he'll chime in and you can pick his brain.
Benny Profane Benny Profane
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Re: First Time Alps Advice, Early Feb.

I went to Europe for the first time last season. One week at Val d'Siere and another at La Plagne, both in France. First week at Val was with a ski club of older people, second at LaPlagne with a friend.
What I learned: It takes a long time to get there. Prices may be similar, but travel times are longer. Milan is a good idea, direct from JFK. It took us six hours in rain and snow just to get from Geneva to Val. You do the math if you have connecting flights.
Pick a place with trees. Val is large and spectacular, but impossible to enjoy in weather, because it's mostly above tree line. La Plagne had enough trees to make a snowstorm enjoyable.
When the sun is shining both places are stunning.
The food, on and off mountain is awesome.
I still don't get on and off piste dangers there. I think anything off a trail is considered unpatrolled. I saw tracks in places that would be suicidal in America, and, they probably were there, but, say la vee, I think.
Tickets are cheaper, at the window, and senior starts ar 65. I think that in some places 70+ is free. They respect their elders.
If you situate yourself at a good hotel in a lot of places, there is no need for a car. Even the Sella Ronda.

The food is awesome.

I was just in Tuscany for close to a month, and my girlfriend summed it up well. There's a certain elegance to Europeans, even middle class people, that Americans never will have.
funny like a clown
Z Z
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Re: First Time Alps Advice, Early Feb.

While not in James stratosphere I’ve skied a lot in Europe I think 9 weeks total.  I work for a European company so I get lots of opportunities even for a weekend here or there.  Last winter I visited Wengen and Garmsch for weekends.  If you are moving around so much you won’t get to experience the apres ski and the half board at your hotels properly

A car rental big enough for 6 plus gear is going to super expensive and gas costs a lot.  For me the best way to experience a euro ski vacation is by train.  Fly to Zurich and catch the train from the lower level of the airport.  You can be at your hotel in about two hours in a mt village with no need for a car.

I had a great time in the Jungfrau region.  I stayed in Wengen which is a no car allowed village.  The Sunstar Hotel is great.  100m to the cable car station.  I was there just for a weekend but would love to spend a week there to get to ski the Murren and First sections.  You could also stay in grindewald on the other side.  The views of the Eiger and jungfrau are amazing.  It’s very English language friendly as it’s popular with Brits.  There was plenty of non scary off piste pow to be skied not requiring a guide.  I would still consider hiring one at least for a day though

https://www.jungfrau.ch/en-gb/jungfrau-ski-region/skiing/

Check out my Trip report
https://forum.nyskiblog.com/Wengen-CH-March-16-17-tp4148091.html

Also James TR from staying in the other side
https://forum.nyskiblog.com/Grindelwald-Wengen-CH-03-14-18-tp4123327.html

I might stay on the Grindelwald side if staying a week as it would be easier to ski the other sectors
if You French Fry when you should Pizza you are going to have a bad time
Rick_Kane Rick_Kane
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Re: First Time Alps Advice, Early Feb.

In reply to this post by Benny Profane
Benny Profane wrote
What I learned: It takes a long time to get there. Prices may be similar, but travel times are longer. Milan is a good idea, direct from JFK. It took us six hours in rain and snow just to get from Geneva to Val. You do the math if you have connecting flights.
Pick a place with trees.

That's why I'm liking the Milan idea, direct flights followed by a relatively short 2.5 hour drive up to the Aosta area, with the added option of taking the tunnel through to Chamonix.
 I'd love to not have to deal with a car but I don't think public transit is quite as rapid and reliable in Italy in the mountains as it is in Switzerland.  

We were originally planning on flying into Spokane and doing Red, Whitewater and maybe adding Schweitzer in but with the lack of direct flights, costs of rental car and total traveling time had me thinking 'screw it, why not try Europe.'

Getting into Austria, somewhere like St Anton seems like a great option in terms of the skiing but I'm more worried about how busy it might be.
Jamesdeluxe Jamesdeluxe
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Re: First Time Alps Advice, Early Feb.

In reply to this post by Z
Almost every year, we have a "first-time to the Alps" post so here are my perspectives on a few bullet points, some copy/pasted from previous threads. As always, the "your-mileage may vary" disclaimer applies depending on your personal preferences. Here is a list of my trip reports over the past decade.

Rick_Kane wrote
Early Feb.
If early February means Week 1 only, you''re already avoiding the #1 big mistake: going during Xmas/New Year or the February school holiday (weeks 2, 3, and 4 as you can see in this calendar) and compounding it by visiting a world-renowned resort. That's where you hear the classic complaints: "Alps ski areas are so crowded. The liftlines are a disorganised mess -- people push and step on your skis. The Brits and Russians are all drunk by early afternoon. It's so expensive. There are thousands of Chinese non-skiers everywhere." It's similar to a foreigner flying to the U.S., skiing at top-tier resorts like Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Whistler, or Aspen during a peak period and making broad generalisations based on that experience instead of going somewhere less costly, crowded, industrial-tourism ambiance, etc.

Rick_Kane wrote
Relatively inexpensive direct flights
My personal line in the sand for flights is $600. Pay cash if below that; otherwise, use frequent-flyer rewards. Yesterday on Cyber Monday, United offered roundtrip nonstops to Europe -- including the top ski gateway airports: Zurich, Geneva, Milan, Munich -- for an incredible 36K miles +$50 in fees.

Z wrote
A car rental big enough for 6 plus gear is going to super expensive and gas costs a lot.  For me the best way to experience a euro ski vacation is by train.
Didn't the OP say there'll be a maximum of three people? If you’re staying at one huge ski region the entire time and using the public transport system on-site when necessary, it makes sense to take the train straight from the airport, plus you get all the landscape and relaxation benefits during the ride. I've successfully done that at monster circuits like Lech/St. Anton and the Portes du Soleil. As mentioned above, some ski villages, like Zermatt or Wengen, are car-free, so that takes care of your decision right there. OTOH, if you want to maximise your flexibility on where and when you ski (including the possibility to make turns on arrival and departure day depending on your flights and ambition), a car is really helpful just like in the States.

As far as rental car prices, I often find that it’s cheaper over there. A sportwagon is usually in the mid-$200s all-in for a week and gas is $50-70 depending on how much you drive (more expensive than here but hardly a dealbreaker). The cars I’ve rented in Zurich and Geneva over the last seven years always came with in-dash GPS (no need to pay the ridiculous per-day fee), the Swiss Autobahn sticker (no need to pay tolls), and snow tires in winter.

A few caveat emptors:
-- If you don’t drive a stick, request automatic transmission in your rental reservation. Otherwise, you'll get a manual.
-- Parking lots at many Swiss ski areas charge $5 a day; only the smaller locals areas sometimes offer free parking. The reasoning is that people who take the insanely well-thought-out-and-executed public transport to go skiing shouldn’t be charged for those who drive, which makes sense, and that the parking lots are owned by the municipalities, not the ski areas like in North America. Parking is generally free in other Alps countries.
-- If you’ve never driven in the Alps (over high-altitude mountain passes or especially on very narrow, steep, switchbacked roads, frequently with no guardrails to keep you from plummeting a thousand vertical feet over the side) it’s often a whole different ballgame over there. Comparatively, driving to ski areas in the States, even out west, is laughably easy. You can view it as an exciting part of the experience or something you don't want to deal with (i.e. take the train).

Rick_Kane wrote
As of right now I'm thinking.... EWR-Milan, rent a car and head up to the Aosta Valley. Ski Monterosa for three days, stay in one of the three base area villages. Then head west toward Courmayeur/La Thuile and spend a day doing the Vallee Blanche to Chamonix before catching a bus back through the tunnel. Overall I'm really liking what I'm reading about the accessible off piste and lack of crowds in Monterosa.
I haven't been to Chamonix or Aosta; however, in addition to TGR check out Tony Crocker's TRs in this forum.

Rick_Kane wrote
Other direct flight option is Zurich, limiting options would be excessive costs of accommodation and travel time from airport.
I assume you meant travel time to the likely destination region mentioned above (Aosta/Chamonix). Zurich has many ski areas within 75 minutes of the airport: Toggenburg, Arosa/Lenzerheide, Pizol, all the ones in the Lake Lucerne/Schwyz region (I've been to a fair number/see my TRs). Once out of the metro Zurich region, lodging costs become relatively reasonable, and I've also found cheap-and-cheerful rates in the city on booking.com.

dmc_hunter dmc_hunter
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Re: First Time Alps Advice, Early Feb.

My advice on the Alps is...

Don't freak out when you're in a sauna and people are naked...
And dinner starts really late..  
JasonWx JasonWx
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Re: First Time Alps Advice, Early Feb.

dmc_hunter wrote
My advice on the Alps is...

Don't freak out when you're in a sauna and people are naked...
And dinner starts really late..
i can't tell you how many time i was the only one in a restaurant at 6pm..
"Peace and Love"
Rick_Kane Rick_Kane
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Re: First Time Alps Advice, Early Feb.

So many TRs, the more I check out the more difficult my choice becomes. For whatever reason I'm still drawn to Monterosa, possibly it's the lack of trip reports and mystery but It's tough committing to that and missing out on all the other options from Milan or Zurich...Burden of choice.

First week in Feb, may be able to extend into the last week of January. With one week It probably makes the most sense to just post up in one spot and not do too much traveling, with two weeks we would likely try out a second area.

Looking at the really large spots like St Anton (and others) is baffling, I cant even begin to comprehend the size of the lift network let alone all the different town/base area options to stay in.

There's a maximum of 3, more likely two of us so fitting into a car is not an issue...

I'm extremely open to specific suggestions based upon our priorities....
The skiing is the most important, off and on piste, ideally not super busy.
Extensive lift/trail network, interlinked ski areas, enough that a full week in the same spot wont feel like we're just skiing the same few areas over and over again.
Food/Nightlife, good food and a relaxing night out over partying every time
Lastly, cost as always a concern. We're not trying to pinch pennies and go after bargains at the expense of the actual travel experience but there is a limit.

It seems so much easier coming from somewhere like UK where they have all these easy package deals available...but I guess that's why there are drunk brits all over
Z Z
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Re: First Time Alps Advice, Early Feb.

The Alburg is the region that St Anton is in.  It’s huge but not fully connected.  We spent a week in St Anton and it’s a excellent choice.  The Lech side is much more expensive to stay than StAnton.  Both have excellent skiing.  I really like the Less crowded Rendl section.  Really great apres bars in the area.  If you fly into Munich you can combine visiting the beer halls there and visit the great  castles in the region as well.  If you are want to ski other areas you would drive right past Garmisch ( highly recommend Reindl's Partenkirchner Hof, Garmisch-Partenkirchen for lodging and the restaurant) on the way to StAnton or could visit Innsbruck as well.  

While the food is good in Italy I find the ski areas much less organized than in the Germanic countries.  The lift lines are crazy in Italy.  Think Bruno talking on a cell while smoking and stepping on your skis.  

It’s important as James mentioned to research school holidays in the region you are going and also check the World Cup race schedule to avoid big events.

Usually hotels prefer to book by the week and usually Saturday to  Saturday.  
if You French Fry when you should Pizza you are going to have a bad time
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