Host Cities: A Guide to Perennial Playgrounds

Feb 1, 2006
Outside Magazine

BLAST TO THE PAST: Grenoble, France    Photo: courtesy, Grenoble Office of Tourism

The Winter Olympics are practically synonymous with the Alps—and this year they return to the classic range for the tenth time. No other place so seamlessly merges rugged high-altitude life with Old World glamour and panache. Here's a look at past glory and present-day fun, from the gastronomic to the gonzo.

Olympic Locale: Chamonix, France, 1924
Why Go Now?: Alpinist crossroads of the world—the hottest Euro destination for the piton-and-pylon set. Be sure to bring an ice ax.
Highlight: The off-piste Vallé;e Blanche and the Aiguille du Midi tram ride, rising some 9,000 vertical feet to a rocky spire by Mont Blanc.
Hotspot: Chambre Neuf. It's aprè;s-ski on steroids, pumped up by rock and roll and Swedish hotties.

Olympic Locale: St. Moritz, France, 1928 & 1948
Why Go Now?: British gentility and glitzy shopping. Essential gear: polo mallets, Van Cleef jewelry, and politesse.
Highlight: The Cresta Run, the world-famous sledding site. Hop on a skeleton toboggan and zoom 50 miles an hour down nearly 4,000 feet.
Hotspot: The casino in the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains. Win at baccarat and maybe you can afford the pricey drinks later at Badrutt's Palace.

Olympic Locale: Garmisch-partenkirchen, Germany, 1936
Why Go Now?: Oktoberfest in the mountains. Be ready for one-liter glasses of Paulaner brew and boisterous beer-hall singing.
Highlight: The Kandahar downhill run, possibly the most dangerous on the World Cup circuit. Be like Bode and ski it nonstop from top to bottom.
Hotspot: The Gasthof Fraundorfer. Go for post-slopes suds, stay for a Bavarian meat-and-potatoes dinner, and finish with a rowdy sing-along.

Olympic Locale: Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, 1956
Why Go Now?: Easy skiing and extreme eating against the Dolomites' backdrop of rust-red cliffs and spiky 7,000-to-8,000-foot peaks.
Highlight: Classic rock scrambling on 5,000-foot-plus vertical limestone faces, including some small climbs that are doable in winter.
Hotspot: The Rifugio Averau, an on-mountain chalet. Have a three-hour lunch of pasta and sausage, then try skiing back to town.

Olympic Locale: Innsbruck, Austria, 1964 & 1976
Why Go Now?: What's not to love about a cosmopolitan 16th-century Tyrol city flanked by 25 villages and 76 ski lifts within a 168-mile radius?
Highlight: Year-round skiing above 10,000 feet on the nearby 2.7-square-mile Stubai Glacier, plus backcountry hut-to-hut trips in winter.
Hotspot: The Hofgarten Café;, especially on a spring day when you can sit outside and people-watch over a locally brewed Zepfer beer.

Olympic Locale: Grenoble, France, 1968
Why Go Now?: The hills are alive beyond industrial Grenoble. Drive an hour to Les Deux Alpes, then cruise the front side or ski the back face to La Grave.
Highlight: The bike ride up 21 switchbacks to the nearby ski resort of L'Alpe d'Huez. Tour de France racers will tackle the infamous climb on July 18.
Hotspot: Mike's Bar, in Les Deux Alpes, a hard partyer's hangout. Bring your skis or snowboard—they can be waxed while you drink.

Olympic Locale: Albertville/Val D'Isere, France, 1992
Why Go Now?: Big-mountain skiing on 25,000 acres. The action, on and off the slopes, is at the side-by-side resorts of Val d'Isere and Tignes.
Highlight: Off-piste challenges like L'Aguille Pers, at Val d'Isere, or the Face Nord de la Grand Motte at Tignes. Hire a guide and go where tourists dare not.
Hotspot: Dick's Tea Bar, in Val d'Isere. A favorite of Italian bon vivant Alberto Tomba during the Olympics, it keeps cranking until 4 a.m.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web