If you are lucky enough to find yourself living in Europe, make sure you experience one of its crown jewels, the Alps. Here is a collection of can’t-miss destinations for your next ski or snowboard adventure.
COVID Note: Many resorts are requiring reservations to purchase a lift ticket. Check your destination before booking your trip.
Best Variety: Portes du Soleil, France/Switzerland
If you are looking for endless variety, then Portes du Soleil should be on your short list. The literal English translation for this French gem is “The Doors of the Sun,” but also translates to “The Gateway to the Sun.” Situated between Mont Blanc in France and Lake Geneva in Switzerland, this ski area is made up by an impressive thirteen resorts. What’s more impressive is that your lift ticket covers all of them!
Steel yourself before going. Though the experience will be awesome, it is easy to be intimidated by the second largest ski resort in the world (Les Trois Vallees, France is number one). Portes du Soleil has over 200 lifts in the area that connect all the resorts. In fact, it’s so big that it straddles two countries (France and Switzerland). And yes, your passport is required when you are skiing, in case you don’t make it back to your country of origin at the end of the day and have to commandeer transportation back.
What to expect
I enjoyed one of the best powder days I have ever had in Châtel when we received three meters of snow (over 9 feet) in a four day period (snorkel depth!). The steep and deep was plentiful for advanced skiers but it doesn’t all have to be about powder and fast skiing. There is so much variety that even the most amateur skier can enjoy the endless cruisers going from resort to resort while you explore the Haute-Savoie region.
Because the resort is so expansive, the best bet for a multi-day trip is to pick your resort for the day and take the free bus to it. If you want to see endless valleys while you are getting to your destination, you can ski to your chosen resort: But beware…it may take you half the day to get there.
The variety of this amazing place should not be taken as a negative. It definitely is not. In a one-week trip, you can experience what most people take three or four trips to accomplish.
Price and location
Keep in mind you can get a six-day pass for about 236 euros. Compare that to resorts in the U.S. like Vail, which is a fraction of the size and commands a whopping $650+ for a five-day pass (in February).
Avoriaz has the most modern skiing/boarding of all the resorts and has accommodations totaling 14,000 beds. Morzine is the largest town with a traditional market center and offers plenty of easy and intermediate skiing right from the village. Châtel is right on the border of Switzerland, offers two main areas, and easily links to Torgon and Morgins (Switzerland). Les Crosets and Champery are Swiss villages with plenty of tradition. Les Crosets boasts large fun parks for the kids.
By car, Portes du Soleil is five hours from the Kaiserslautern area and about 4.5 hours from the Stuttgart area.
Best Bang for the Buck: Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
Garmisch-Partenkirchen offers the best bang for your buck for two simple reasons…VAT forms and U.S. dollars! It is rare that you can go to an amazing European Alps destination and take advantage of the logistical support that goes along with serving overseas.
It can account for huge savings, especially if you end up going on a little shopping spree at one of the local outdoor shops. Add onto that the local Armed Forces Recreation Center at the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, where you pay in dollars, and you have saved yourself some serious coin. All American active duty and civilian personnel serving in Europe can book a vacation at the Edelweiss, which is a full service resort.
Getting to know Garmisch-Partenkirchen
A host of the Winter Olympics, World Cup and endless other top-tier events, Garmisch offers skiing, boarding and much more. The Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, offers a serious tram ride to the top (the world’s longest) with plenty of high-alpine sliding on the glacier. A number of other smaller ski areas are perfect for the family like Hausberg, Kreuzeck and Alpspitze, which are interconnected.
Time your stay right and catch one of the many ski jump events at Grosse Olympiaschanze. While you are there, hike up to the Partnachklamm, an amazing cavern hike along the mountain stream, the Partnach.
By car, you can make it from Kaiserslautern in about five hours (if you don’t hit traffic) and it is a short 3.25 hours from Stuttgart.
Best Everything: Sankt Anton, Austria
Whether you are looking for epic terrain, a ridiculous party scene, breathtaking views or amazing hotels, Sankt Anton am Arlberg has it all. First off, the resort is credited for its part in inventing skiing. It is also part of Ski Arlberg in the Tyrolean region in Austria, which means that when you buy your lift ticket, you also gain access to 88 lifts and 305 kilometers of pistes. Resorts such as Lech, Zurs, St. Christoph, Stuben, Warth and Schrocken are all interconnected and offer a wide variety of terrain for the whole family.
What to expect
In terms of skiing, you can find extreme steeps as well as lazy cruisers at St. Anton. You can also find a vast network of trams (seilbahn) and gondolas (gondelbahn) that can get you quickly to other areas of the resort. In fact, take a minute to look at the engineering that goes into these amazing lifts.
It’s not a bad idea to enlist the help of one of the many famous ski/snowboard schools no matter what level you are. You’ll pick up some great pointers as well as have a guide that knows exactly where to go for the best skiing/boarding experience.
If you are looking to let loose a bit, apres-ski time (anytime after 2 p.m.) has lots of on-mountain sun decks and bars. Keep your eyes open at the end of the day on your last run down the mountain for options, but a can’t-miss is the Mooserwirt, known for its great music and packed sun deck.
Be sure to store your equipment in a safe spot as things get a bit interesting when the bar closes at 8 p.m. For dinner, the town of St. Anton has lots of great options from pizza (try Pizza Pomodoro) and sushi to typical Tyrolean fare (Restaurant Maximilian). Take heed, though, always make a reservation for dinner!
Late night clubs are plentiful in St. Anton, as well. Many of the restaurants turn into hot night spots that are open late into the early morning hours. For lodging, holiday periods will be on the pricey side (as with all resorts), but non-holiday periods are actually quite reasonable considering the quality and location of this world-famous resort.
From Kaiserslautern, it takes about five hours by car, and just over three hours from Stuttgart.
Best Snow: Zermatt, Switzerland
Known as one of the most reliable resorts for snow in the Alps, Zermatt sits high in Switzerland at 3,802 meters (12,473 feet). Because of the high elevation, Zermatt doesn’t have an opening or closing date. No joke; you can ski year-round! This car-free resort town, that sits next to the Matterhorn, gets storms from the east and south as they barrel through the Alps.
Zermatt can be pricey, as you are both paying in Swiss Francs and for its high-end resort accommodations. If you are looking to save some money, you could also look at staying in Cervinia, Italy, which connects to Zermatt and uses the Euro currency. If you are going to do this trip though, do it right and stay in Zermatt (even if you only go once).
Best Day Trip: La Bresse, France
Maybe you don’t have a week or even four days to get down to the Alps, but you want to take the family skiing a bit closer to home. Try La Bresse in the Vosage mountains in the Alsace-Loraine region of France.
The mountains there are not quite as big as the Alps, but with ample snowmaking, terrain parks and even hotel options at the base of the mountain, families can have a great time carving up the slopes. A single day pass is around 30 euros and ski and snowboard school rates are reasonable as well. There is cross country skiing available too.
From Kaiserslautern and Stuttgart, you can make it in just under three hours.
Best Hidden Gem: Andermatt, Switzerland
If you are looking for a place that is never crowded and is lacking the hustle and bustle o fbig Alpine resorts, but still has the mountain, snow and stunning views, try Andermatt. Located next to the Gotthard pass, Andermatt is the ski town no one has heard of.
Snow is plentiful and every type of terrain is available. The Gemstock offers extreme terrain while Sedrun offers family friendly cruising. The resorts are connected by the Glacier Express train (included in your lift ticket), which is an adventure in and of itself as it climbs through the Alpine winter wilderness.
Andermatt is not for the late night crowd. Things quiet down around 8 PM. For the traditional Swiss chalet experience, try the Hotel Schweizerhof. If you are looking for an economical stay (think high-end youth hostel, but very clean), try Chalet Hotel Krone in Goeschene.
From Kaiserslautern, you can make it in 4.5-5 hours. From Stuttgart, it is about 3.5 hours.