Hit the slopes: Skiing in Europe

Hit the slopes: Skiing in Europe

by Heather Ann Cosimo
Stripes Europe

The hills are alive with the sound of … skiers and snowboarders. European slopes are internationally known for staggering heights, splendid scenery and glitzy social scenes. The season is upon us when winter sports top many “to do” lists.

With loads of places to explore, it can be tough narrowing down where to go. One method is to pick from the top. Twelve Alpine resorts teamed up to form the ‘Best of the Alps’ group. They consist of the most prestigious and well-known ski destinations in the Big Five of Europe’s Alpine countries: Chamonix, Cortina, Davos, Garmisch, Grindelwald, Kitzbühel, Lech/Zürs, Seefeld, St. Anton, St. Moritz, and Zermatt. Representing an international marketing initiative, these resorts qualify due to their: quality, diversity, uniqueness and exceptional transportation connections.

Are you ready to tackle the highest mountain in Europe? Head to the Swiss-Italian border, where Mont Blanc towers a thrilling 15,780 feet presiding over Chamonix. Skiers will find challenging and exhilarating courses. The three main ski areas are open from December to May. 

Simply made for the movies, many major films have been set in the Dolomites. With around 101 downhill runs; beginners, intermediates and advance skiers all have a chance to be a star on the slopes. The upcoming ski season starts in November and goes through April. The Ladies Alpine Ski World Cup will be held here January 23rd-25th, 2009.

It has been said to be one of Europe’s oldest mountain resorts and was originally a health resort. Covering one of the largest and extensive ski areas in Switzerland, the Davos Klosters region boasts skating rinks, sled runs, and 143 miles of ski slopes. It is also known as a hip scene for snowboarders.

There is a guarantee of snow, from mid-November to May, on Germany’s only glacier ski area the Zugspitze plateau. Take a cable car to the summit of the Zugspitze for spectacular views while straddling the Austrian and Germany border. In 2011, Garmisch will host the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup. You’ll find easy slopes for beginners and an assortment of challenging courses for advanced skiers at Hausberg, Kreuzeck and Alpspitze. Cross country skiing and sledding are popular pastimes in the area. Rent a wooden sled and slide down the mountain at breathtaking speeds; there are day and night runs.

Attracting intermediate skiers and snowboarders, Grindelwald is part of the Jungfrau region; situated on the northern side of the Alps in Bernese Oberland. Snowboarders dominate the domain at the terrain park filled with kickers, rails, boxes and a half pipe. Long, gentle runs are what appeals to the intermediate skiers. You will also find lengthy toboggan runs. 

Known as Austria’s winter entertainment capital, Kitzbühel carries an international reputation for being glamorous and expensive. A new connection between Kitzbühel and Kirchberg gives access to a network of 420 miles of slopes and 260 lifts. In January, is the Hahnenkamm Downhill World Cup; a treacherous race down the legendary Streif course. Two half pipes, a quarter pipe and sprint slalom course satisfies snowboarders. 

Two idyllic and posh villages, Lech and Zürs, are found smack in the middle of the Austrian Alps. A shuttle service will connect to you to both villages. Efficient lift systems limit the amount of congestion on the mountains. And with high altitudes, you can expect tons of snow. Zürs boasts a top ski school offering private courses.

Fabulous French chic and charm ooze out of every crevice in this rustic village. With extensive terrain for all levels of experience, the Megeve ski area is classified as one of the largest resorts in France. It links the slopes of neighboring Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, St. Nicolas de Véroce, Les Contamines, La Giettaz and Combloux. Snowboarders have access to two snow parks and a half-pipe.

A village in Tirol outside of Innsbruck, Seefeld is the perfect place to don a pair of cross-country skis. An extensive network of cross-sountry ski trails link the villages of Reith, Mösern and Scharnitz. Its very own ski school is regarded as the best and biggest in Austria. Seefeld’s claim to fame: Nordic events at the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics were hosted here. 

Cosmopolitan by nature there is something for everyone, including cross-country skiers and snowboarders. Overall, reviewers report that intermediates and experts will feel the most at ease.  Slopes and high peaks cover 160 miles of pistes and 114 miles of deep-snow runs.  Best time to go is end of November to April. 

High altitudes, consistent snow records and a glamorous reputation creates an appealing winter destination. St. Moritz embodies what they call a “champagne climate.” Attracting glittering celebrities, Switzerland’s sunniest spot is elegant and exclusive. Sparkle and glamour envelop the resort. Sun shines practically year round, over 320 days. It’s simply the place to be seen. You will find largely intermediate slopes and stunning scenery.

A skier’s Mecca. Many favor this resort as the best in the world. Zermatt possesses nine of the ten highest mountains in Europe with skiing and snowboarding year-round. Zermatt lies at the foot of the Matterhorn, which peaks at 14,692 feet. The town itself is car-free which adds to the alluring atmosphere. 

Strap on your skis or board; what are you waiting for?  

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