Skiing in Europe compared to the USA

The Daily Telegraph, writing on the acquisition of ski resorts in Europe by Vail Resorts, drew up this list of comparisons between North American and European skiing.

North AmericaEurope
AccommodationHolidaymakers have the choice of a condo-style, self-catered apartment, or a hotel. Expect even the smallest rooms to be massive by European standards.While continental Europeans have always preferred hotels, catered chalets – a dying breed post-Brexit – are still a firm British favourite. There are increasing self-catered options, but to American eyes, the classic French apartment, with bunk beds in the hallway and a sofa bed in the lounge, looks more rabbit hutch than holiday home. Edit value
Lift passesThanks in part to the Epic/Ikon business model, lift pass prices in the US are sky-high if you pay on the day. If you’re going skiing often, and especially if you’re travelling to different resorts, one of the multi-resort passes – which cost around $1,000 (£790) for the season – offers impressive value for money.Day pass prices have soared recently, but the savings on week-long holiday passes are still significant. Season-long passes are pricier than their US equivalents, and only really worth it for seasonaires or those living close to a resort.
On-slope etiquetteYou know those ralentir/langsam/ “slow” signs that everyone blithely ignores in France? Do that in the States and you might find ski patrol confiscating your lift pass. Not only are rules more strictly enforced, but lift queues are also more politely observed, with staff matching up groups to maximise capacity.The European approach to health and safety tends to be a little more laissez-faire. On the plus side, you’re also less likely to end up facing a lawsuit. Queue etiquette is often governed by who has the sharpest elbows.
Resort managementUS ski resorts tend to be on private land and owned by one of two large companies. Vail Resorts owns 37 across the United States and Canada, including big names like Whistler and Heavenly Lake Tahoe. The Alterra Mountain Company owns 17. Small operations still exist, but increasingly, they’re disappearing.In most European ski resorts, the land is owned by the municipal government, which then grants licences to lift operators. There are big lift owners, like France’s Compagnie des Alpes which runs 10 resorts, including Val d’Isere, Tignes, and La Plagne, but none approaching the dominance of the US duopoly.
AprèsExpect pitchers of craft beer, plates of cheese-laden nachos, and a well-drilled covers band banging through all-American classics like Free Bird or Wagon Wheel. Fun, but usually pretty well-ordered. Skiing drunk is usually frowned upon.France’s Folie Douce bars – and the drunken end-of-day ski down afterwards – would never be allowed in the States, but when it comes to proper après parties, no one beats the Austrians. If you’ve not danced on a table to the awful accordion remix of Take Me Home, Country Roads while drinking the medical-grade ethanol they sell as “schnapps”, have you really been skiing?
Off-piste rulesAlmost all US ski resorts have “in-bounds” backcountry areas that remain un-groomed but are otherwise just like pistes. They’re safe, and controlled for avalanches, but often crowded on powder days. Duck beneath the ropes into the “out of bounds” areas and you’re on your own.Anything that’s not groomed in Europe is off-piste, and ridden at your own risk, but the pisteurs will still secure the area closest to the pistes for avalanches. Search and rescue won’t discriminate if you venture beyond that, either.
Resort ownershipMany US resorts are essentially company towns, where everything – from the ski schools to the bars and restaurants, to the bulk of the accommodation – is owned by the same corporate entity.European resorts tend to be made up of a mix of independent businesses – family-run hotels and restaurants rubbing shoulders with the occasional bigger chain.
Seven differences between skiing in North America and Europe

Do you agree?

I’ve skied a dozen or so resorts in North America, and dozens in Europe. I’ve enjoyed them all, but Europe edges it for me with it’s cute villages and variety of cultures – both the local cultures and that of the visitors.

One big difference I saw between the two is that in the USA skiers don’t always put down the safety bar on chair lifts. Could never figure that out and never got round to asking.

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