Feb. 9, 2001--If you're like many skiers and snowboarders, a trip to the Swiss Alps, the Trois Vallees region of France or the Arlberg region of Austria is akin to a pilgrimage. It's also a chance to sample classic European hotels, fine mountain cuisine and take in scenery without rival.
"My first-time clients tend to be awed by the mountains and the amount of skiing," Chips Lindenmeyr says. Lindenmeyr is the president of Lindenmeyr Travel, a company that works with selected ski resorts in Switzerland, Austria, and France. While the notion of skiing in Switzerland or Austria may sound like a pricey vacation, Lindenmeyr says it doesn't have to be. In fact, she maintains that a European ski trip can be cheaper than a trip to the Rockies.
"If you compare apples and apples, Europe is always less expensive," Lindenmeyr says. "The airfares from the East Coast to Switzerland or Italy are often less than they are to Colorado or Europe during the peak winter months. The cost of ski passes is also so much less," adds Lindenmeyr, who's been helping Americans plan their ski trips to Europe for 14 years. She also points to the strong dollar as a factor. As of Feb. 9, one U.S. dollar was worth 7 French Francs, 1.8 Austrian dollars and 1.6 Swiss Francs while a dollar currently buys 2,082 Italian Lire and 2.1 German marks.
She notes that a six-day ski pass for the Arlberg Region of Austria, which includes such fabled mountains as St. Anton, Zurs and Lech, costs $140. In Switzerland, a six-day pass for Zermatt is $172. Compare that to Aspen, Colorado, which charges $318 to $342 for a six-day lift ticket, or Park City, Utah, which asks for $282 to $294 for a ticket.
"The biggest European ski areas are much larger than those in the United States," she points out. "You've got a lot of terrain to explore so you get great value for your money. Since much of it is above tree line, I always recommend that people either hire a guide for a few days or go to ski school."
Lindemeyr maintains that the best bet for most Americans is to stay in a hotel as part of an entire ski package. Most European ski hotels book guests in for seven-night stays, either Saturday to Saturday or Sunday to Sunday. They typically work on the modified American plan, which means that breakfast and a multi-course dinner are included in their rates.
"They generally have very good food," Lindenmeyr says, "otherwise people wouldn't come back."
The alternative is to book a condominium apartment, which she doesn't advise.
"You'll find that they're smaller and much more spare than what you're used to out West," Lindenmeyr says. "There's rarely a hot tub or an indoor-outdoor pool. If you get a three-bedroom apartment, it will usually have just one bathroom."
For transfers, Lindenmeyr, like most ski tour operators, uses trains, with either first or second class seats depending upon the client's preference. Those transfers are typically included in the package price. American skiers don't have to rent cars, she says, since the villages tend to be self-contained and require nothing more than walking or local transportation. Other planning tips include factoring in an extra night. On a typical seven-night ski trip to Switzerland, Lindenmeyr always suggests an eighth night in the gateway city, such as Zurich or Geneva. That's the last night, so you can get a good's night sleep and make your flight with ease the next day. It's more relaxing than arising well before dawn at Zermatt to make an early train for the airport.
On a final note, Lindenmeyr adds that you won't find branches of McDonald's around ski villages. Nor will you find cafeterias for ski time lunches. Sit-down lunches at on-mountain restaurants tend to be long, leisurely, and delicious affairs.
"Lunch is an important part of the European skier's day and the quality of food on-mountain attests to that," she says. "So enjoy it."
As with any ski vacation, packages can be the smart way to go. This is a ssampleing of ski packages availble now.
Ski Europe travel planners calls Super Ski Weeks their best value packages. For example, you can go to the Austrian spa resort of Bad Gastein in March for just $699. The rate includes round-trip-airfare from New York, seven nights accommodation at the Krone, half-board, and rental car based on two skiers traveling. Or consider St. Anton, the cradle of European skiing. For the last week of March, there's a Super Ski Week deal for $859 at the Alpenhof that includes all of the above. Ski Europe has similar packages to Italy, France and Switzerland. Ski Europe (800-333-5533/ www.ski-europe.com)
From Val D'Isere to Meribel, Chamonix to Megeve, Bon Ski covers all of the best resorts in France. They specialize in custom ski vacations. But they also offer a classic Snow Safari for both experts and advanced intermediates. The Tarentaise Olympic Ski Safari utilizes the lifts of 15 resorts in the Tarentaise Valley, including Tignes, Val'D'Isere and Les Arcs. The cost of the safari, which includes a mountain guide, lift tickets, accommodation, breakfasts, dinners, and local transportation is $1,220 in March. Bon Ski (888-926-6754/ www.bonski.com)
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is perhaps Germany's best know resort and lies about 60 miles south of Munich. Adventures on Skis has a deal that includes round-trip airfare from New York, seven nights accommodation and transfers will run you $999 for Reindel's Partenkirchenhof, $945 for the Obermuhle and $805 for the Vierjahreszeiten. All include breakfast. Prices are for the first week of March and go lower the rest of the month. They also send skiers to Austria, France, Italy, and Switzerland. Adventures on Skis (800-628-9655/ www.advonskis.com)
Cortina D'Ampezzo is Italy's version of Aspen, where the chic meet to ski. Moguls Ski & Snowboard Tours has $1,199 air-inclusive packages to Cortina that include seven nights lodging at the historic Hotel Menardi, daily breakfast and dinner as well as ground transfers. This offer is good from Feb. 17 to March 3. They also have trips to Austria, Germany, France, and Switzerland. Moguls Ski & Snowboard Tours (800-666-4857/ www.skimoguls.com)
The car-free village of Saas-Fee is classic Switzerland, with a spectacular setting amidst the glaciers. Lindenmeyr Travel has a package that includes round-trip airfare on Swissair to Geneva, first-class rail transfers and seven-nights at the Allalin hotel, a four-star in Saas Fee. Daily buffet breakfast and daily four-course dinner are included. It also includes a six-day ski pass. If two adults buy a ski pass, children under 16 ski for free. Lindenmeyr also adds an eighth night at the four-star Hotel Tiffany in Geneva. The price is $1,700 for March travel, dropping to $1,600 after March 23. Lindenmeyr Travel (800-248-2807/ www.lindenmeyrtravel.com).
Gstaad and the surrounding towns are another option for the quintessential Swiss ski experience. Ski Europe offers a package including Roundtrip airfare from New York to Zürich, Transfers from Zürich to Gstaad by Swiss Rail (Second Class), 7-nights accommodation with continental buffet breakfast, All local service charges and taxes, No cancellation penalty, and $250,000 Travel Accident Insurance. This package costs $1,149 from Feb. 3 to March 11 and $983 from March 12 to April 22. Ski Europe (800-333-5533/ www.ski-europe.com)