Skiing the crunchy, ungroomed snow of Europe

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of February 19-25, 1998
Skiing the crunchy, ungroomed snow of Europe
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Seeing the West's national parks from an RV
Family vacations that ring up under $5,000

Skiing the crunchy, ungroomed snow of Europe
Question: I'm hoping to ski for a week in Val d'Isere in mid-April. How's the snow? I'm hoping to find some quality alpine instruction and a possible randonnée trip, so can you recommend some instruction and guide outfits?

Jeremy Brow
Boulder, CO

Skiers get ready to try a run down
a snowy slope at Val d'Isere

Adventure Adviser: I just returned from a week of skiing in Austria's Arlberg region — the weather was fantastic but I was unable to take advantage of the extensive off-piste skiing because the snow was old, crusty, and skied off.

I'd imagine, however, that by April you'll be sitting pretty with some late-season snowfall. If you've never skied in Europe, be prepared. Unlike the U.S., European resorts groom very little, leaving the majority of the mountain to the forces of nature. In good snow, this is awesome, but if the snow isn't so good, you'll find everyone at the resort sticks to the one or two groomed runs down the mountain, making it unbearably crowded and painfully tame.

As for instruction or guide outfits, I know one mountain-guide couple who offers a ski safari in the Val d'Isere region. For one week you'll ski from resort to resort and village to village in the French Savoy on downhill skis, while your luggage is shuttled by car.

You'll sleep in everything from a family-run lodge to a bare-bones mountain hut. The cost is approximately $1,500. Call guides Ilse Prevot and Bernard Miloz at 011-33-4-79-06-51-77 for more details.

If you don't want to be tied down with an itinerary for the entire week but still want quality instruction, I'd recommend you wait until you arrive in Val d'Isere and head to their ski school office.

European instructors have to attend school for four years before they become certified — you won't find better teachers anywhere else. Plus, off-duty instructors may be willing to take you in the backcountry if you want to pay them a few extra bucks. But keep in mind that European guides are generally very wary of taking inexperienced skiers in the backcountry, largely because they don't have any sort of back-up if anything goes wrong.

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