Be a One Percenter…
Why I love skiing in the European Alps!
By Dan the Ski Man
Pres./ Morningstar Ski Tours, Inc.
Fact: less than one percent of American skiers journey to the European Alps in any given year to ski. The other 99% do not know what they are missing. As the guy who has run a ski tour business for 28 years (read: a ski bum lucky enough to make a humble living doing what he loves best), I have skied 36 weeks in the European Alps over the past 18 years. Morningstar Ski Tours has taken over 3,200 skiers from all over the U.S. to enjoy these euro-ski adventures with me. For the vast majority of them, I am certain that their times in the Alps have been a highlight of their skiing lives and have forged unforgettable memories in their souls. I am constantly asked by American skiers what is the big deal about European skiing? We have great skiing in America. Why travel across the pond to ski when we have great riding in our national back yard? It is a valid question and this essay is Dan the Ski Man’s attempt to answer.
After spending 36 ski weeks ripping all the major resorts in the Alps, I must premise my remarks with this: I am addicted and I love skiing the Alps. The Alps have redefined skiing for me. My skiing bent is advanced, off-trail skiing, so I will address this aspect first. For good skiers who love to ski off the groomed trails and seek the adventure and adrenaline that only the backcountry offers, the Alp’s offerings just blow away America. In Europe, there are virtually NO out-of-bounds areas. Ropes are rare in Europe. The attitude in Europe is a refreshing break from our litigious American culture. You can ski where you want. It is your responsibility to do it safely and know where you are and what you are doing. If you are stupid and get hurt or worse, it is on you. In Europe, it is YOUR responsibility to ski the backcountry safely. No nanny state here… I love it. Given this, it is imperative to have a local mountain guide to keep your group safe off-trail. You never want to ski the backcountry without a guide. For Morningstar’s backcountry adventures, I have hired dozens of mountain guides. To ski with this breed of ski animal is a privilege and an honor. I have taken hundreds of experts into the off-trial skiing of the Alps with these guys and they have always provided awesome ripping while keeping safety a top priority. I’ve learned more about safe skiing, more about the mountains, more about avalanche danger, from my guide friends than from anything else in my 46 years of skiing. You have your guides, your avi peeps, your brain, and your ski skills, and you are ready to enjoy some skiing not available in America. I have skied routes in Europe that were 8,000 vertical feet. I have skied routes that were miles of uninterrupted skiing. Ride the tram to the top of a resort, drop off the back side, ski for and hour non-stop, catch a taxi in the middle of nowhere back to the nearest lift, ride up, repeat…. Again and again. There is NOTHING like skiing the backcountry of Europe! Add into this mix large glaciated areas where you ski along walls of green-blue ice walls… wow. Now, to take this totally over the top, add helicopter skiing into the equation and it gets crazy. Flying around Mt. Blanc (the tallest mountain in Western Europe on the border of Italy and France), flying around the Matterhorn, flying wherever… Land, gear up, untracked pow in sick scenery, no one there but you and your buddies and the guides…. Unbeatable. Then consider that heli skiing in Europe is less than half the cost of heli skiing in the U.S., and you have another reason to fall in love with skiing the backcountry of the Alps.
Of course, the majority of skiers are more sane than Skiman and prefer the safe confines of groomed, established slopes… and European resorts kill it on this level as well. The grooming is impeccable in the Alps and there are resorts with literally hundreds of miles of groomed trails. Intermediate skiers can wake up in Italy, ski to France, have lunch, and ski back to Italy.. In one day! The trail systems in the Alps are like giant spider webs covering massive mountains. When you first see the Alps, you would think it impossible to access such massive peaks. When you discover that there are hundreds of lifts and thousands of groomed trails allowing you ski all over safely and easily, you are in intermediate heaven. As with expert back country skiing, there is nothing like it in America. The scenery is amazing, the on-slope restaurants (ridiculously good: no bread chili bowls and greasy burgers on European slopes!), the excitement of experiencing a different culture and making new friends with people from all over…. It is awesome on every level!
When I tell people that they can spend a week skiing the European Alps with us for around two thousand bucks and that it includes airfare, four-star hotels, breakfast, and a 4 course dinner every day, they often don’t believe me. Then some join me and learn that it is possible. Many have come back with me again and again every year. That fact exemplifies that it is not just the Skiman that loves Euro-skiing. It is hundreds and hundreds of my friends who have fallen in love with the same things that I have in Europe. It is a pity that 99% of American skiers don’t experience Alps skiing. I argue that for about the same money you would spend on a week in the Rockies, you can spend a week in the Alps and experience something completely different.
Is skiing in the Alps better than American skiing? No. It is comparing apples and oranges. They are different and offer distinct differences and experiences. Skiman loves skiing in America and has skied about everywhere in the U.S. west. But, that being said, I have to admit: the skiing in Europe has captured my heart and my best skiing memories over the past 18 years are from my European ski tours. I encourage everyone to jump into that one percent exclusive club and ski in Europe at least once before you hit the compost pile! No skier’s tombstone ever said, “Glad I did not ski the Alps”!
That is how I see it. That is my heart. I love to talk to ANY skier of any level about my love of skiing in Europe and invite anyone to contact me about it. The Alps ROCK and I can’t wait to get back there again in March 2014! Come join us! Become a one percenter!
Cheers! Dan the Ski Man / President / Morningstar Ski Tours / www.morningstarskitours.com