Growing up in France, my family would go ski every year during the winter and spring school breaks. I would take group lessons in the mornings and ski with my parents and sister in the afternoons. Depending on where we lived, and which resorts were closer, we skied in both the Alps and the Pyrénées. Then I moved to Baton Rouge and did not ski for almost 20 years until a few years ago when a friend invited my husband and me to ski in Maine, and I had two revelations:
- To my delight, skiing was like riding a bike, and after a couple of days, I was fully proficient like I used to be
- American ski resorts lacked the convivial and rustic atmosphere I had enjoyed in France and everything was so expensive
As both my husband and I had a great time skiing, we wanted to plan another trip for the following winter and doing some research, we realized it would be cheaper to do so in France, where we could at the same time visit family and friends. I encourage you to do the same, and here is why:
Skiing in the Alps is not as expensive as you think
With the current exchange rate of roughly $1.15 for €1.00, the cost of ski lifts and rentals, as well as lodging, is about 35% cheaper in European ski resorts compared to those in Colorado or Utah. The main expense is the plane ticket to Europe: if you pay the average $1000 round trip fare, then skiing in the Alps is comparable to the US; if you use Google Flights and can snatch that $500 deal, skiing in the Alps ends up being cheaper.
European resorts offer greater ski areas
A lot of ski resorts in the Alps (France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy) offer valley passes where you can ski in multiple resorts, usually connected through slopes and lifts, so you can hop from one to the next the same day, allowing for a greater variety of runs (often a combined 3- to 600 km). It also provides great alternatives regarding meteorological conditions: when one valley is windy, the weather might be nicer on the other side.
Ski resorts I have enjoyed recently and would recommend include Verbier in the 4 Vallées, Switzerland, Morzine in Les Portes du Soleil -- 2 resorts between France and Switzerland, and Méribel in Les 3 Vallées, France.
It's a foodie’s dream!
Take advantage of your stay to discover local delicacies, some likely prepared in the village you are sojourning.
It is worth getting up every morning to brave the cold and pick up viennoiseries for breakfast, fresh bread for the day, and why not a patisserie for dessert. After all, you’ll be burning all those carbs on the slopes!
Real cheese and charcuterie
Treat yourself to authentic gruyère, raclette, tomme, or beaufort, the latest available in 2 versions, été (summer) or hiver (winter) depending on when it was produced during the year and the nutrition of the cows:
- été (summer): made with milk collected during the summer and fall, when cows graze on herbs and wildflowers growing on the slopes you are skiing on
- hiver (winter): made with milk collected during the winter and spring, when cows are back in the stables, feeding on hay harvested earlier in the year
Each resort will also offer a variety of pâtés, cured hams, saucissons, and my favorite, viande des grisons: pretty much sirloin or tenderloin that’s been seasoned and aged, and is served in paper-thin slices.
Wines and other specialties
Savor local wines that are often only available in that region, like the Valais canton in Switzerland or Savoie region in France.
Most alpine towns also produce liquors made from local fruits and herbs like fruit brandies or herbal génépi. I also look forward to eating anything containing myrtille, a variety of wild blueberry, often transformed into delicious jams, pies, and eau de vie.
Bonus reason: you’re in Europe!!
Skiing in Europe does require to plan for extra time (longer flight) and a little jet lag. You already have a great ski trip organized, but while you’re here, why not spend a little extra time to visit!
With planes and high-speed trains, almost all European capitals are within a couple of hours of each other, and at an affordable price!
On each trip I did with my husband, we also did some sightseeing, from driving around Lake Geneva to flying to Copenhagen for a few days.
Planning your trip
- Don’t be worried about the language barrier, these resorts are patronized by nationalities from all over Europe and English-speaking friendly.
- I always make sure to plan our trips outside of the French School holidays: lodging will be more expensive and resorts more crowded during that peak time.
- When looking for the best deal for your plane ticket, watch flights to several airports like Paris, Geneva, or Zurich: you never know where the cheapest offer will be, and as mentioned earlier, travel within Europe is fairly reasonable.