Slopes Notes: Alps vs. North America

I have a lot of things I need to be doing for my classes and to prepare for my dissertation right now. Which means that I am instead writing this piste post about last weekend…

To Switzerland we go...

To Switzerland we go…

Since we only spent one day each at two different places — Les Houches in France and Les Diablerets in Switzerland (we wanted to go to Chamonix one day, but most of the lifts were closed due to low visibility and heavy snow) — and there are literally dozens of skiing areas in this region of the Alps, there’s probably no point in comparing the two places we went, except to say that Les Diablerets was noticeably more expensive than Les Houches, but that the pistes were much better marked at the latter.

But since this was my first time skiing in Europe, and all my previous skiing experience had been in North America, a brief comparison in this regard might be in order.

Follow me...! On a comparison know what? Just keep reading

Follow me…! On a comparison of…you know what? Just keep reading

First, as my friend Jared noted, going skiing in the Alps is much less like going to a ski resort (like those in North America),than going to a mountain village with a skiing culture. Indeed, in both Chamonix and Les Houches, there were rental shops scattered all over, and several places in town from which you could get on a lift up the mountain.

Traditional Alpine village house?

Traditional Alpine village house?

Second, with all due respect to my friends and family who snowboard…get outta my way whipper-snappers!!! It’s now been two years since the last time I skied in North America, so maybe the trends have changed, but I remember feeling a certain sense of resignation that snowboarders were beginning to outnumber skiers. Did that make me a curmudgeon? Hell if I care!!!

But I found the ratio of skiers to snowboarders in the Alps to be much more…favourable. Maybe there’s a “Shaun White effect” in the US, or maybe it’s the lack of terrain parks on the Alpine pistes, but whatever the reason, the population of the pistes was conducive to my purist views.

Count the skiers. Now count the boarders

Count the skiers. Now count the boarders

And finally, a practical note for any North Americans coming to the Alps to ski for the first time. I think we all know that our system of Greens, Blues and Blacks is a bit simplistic. This perhaps is why some resorts tack on double blacks and even triple-black diamonds. The European system avoids this proliferation of diamonds by inserting another colour: red. In terms of where it fits on the piste classification scheme, it is between blue and black. I would say most of the reds we skied were equivalent to the most difficult blues in the Rockies.

Ok, now back to work, theoretically…


2 responses to “Slopes Notes: Alps vs. North America

  1. You might be interested to know that there was a news report here recently that the number of skateboarders is declining as those who started with the craze are now adults, perhaps with young families, and fewer young people are taking it up. I don’t remember whether it was a local or national report.

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