Skiing from one country to another
European skiers who visit North American ski resorts are often surprised to find so many prepared runs in such a relatively small area.
Where European ski areas might have one or two runs descending the side of a hill, resorts in Canada and the USA often have six or seven cut through the trees.
When North American skiers visit Europe, one of the most unusual features is the size of the linked ski areas – to be able, for example, to ski from one village to the next and the next and so on…
And then there are the ski areas which cross the borders of nations. Where skiing can mean not just skiing from one settlement to its neighbour, but skiing into a different language and culture entirely.
Not all of the cross-border ski areas in Europe do have two different languages, but take a look at the ski regions that share a lift pass but not a passport:
The Portes du Soleil – France and Switzerland
The Portes du Soleil ski region is one of the largest skiing areas in the world. Although there is some dispute between it and the Three Valleys region in France (generally recognised as bigger) , the Portes du Soleil lift pass links 12 villages in France and Switzerland and has nearly 200 lifts.
It is quite literally impossible to ski from one edge of the area to the other and back again in the same day.
The Portes du Soleil is situated in the mountains to the south of Lac Leman (where Geneva and Lausanne are both located).
The ski villages on the French side are probably better known and better located for skiing the whole area. Purpose-built Avoriaz, for example, offers links in virtually all directions. Les Gets, Morzine and Châtel all make regular appearances in the brochures of the UK ski package tour operators.
The Swiss villages are a little more charming and less developed. Champéry is a lovely village at the foot of the Dents du Midi and Morgins is well-situated over the mountain from Châtel.
Opportunities to ski across the border between Switzerland and France exist at various places:
- two or three above Avoriaz (F) towards Les Crosets (CH) (one being the location of the notorious Chavanette black bump run christened ‘the Swiss wall’ by British holidaymakers)
- between Châtel (F) and Morgins (CH)
- between Châtel (F) and Torgon (CH)
- between Torgon (CH) and La Chapelle d’Abondance (F)
More information: www.portesdusoleil.com
Vialattea (Milky Way) – France and Italy
The Vialattea, better known as the ‘Milky Way’ in English, is another of Europe’s massive cross-border ski areas – this time between France and the northwestern corner of Italy.
It is not quite as big as the Portes du Soleil area above, but can boast six ski villages on the Italian side and the historic resort of Montgenèvre on the French side of the border.
The skiing infrastructure is spread over 90 lifts and 400km of ski runs. Although there are runs of all difficulty levels, the region is probably most suited to intermediate skiers who want to put some kilometres under their feet.
The resorts in the Milky Way ski region are very different in character:
- Sauze d’Oulx
This village was long renowned as a wild party resort for younger skiers and boarders. It has calmed down somewhat in recent years and has a nice feel to the centre but it is still probably the best location for those looking for evening attractions.
Sestriere is the highest resort in the Milky Way at over 2000m altitude and probably boasts the more challenging runs on the Italian side of the border. It is a resort which was purpose-built by the Agnelli family of Fiat fame in the 1930s and, as such, is very convenient for the skiing but not particularly attractive. It helped host the Turin Winter Olympics in 2006.
Sansicario provides the link over towards the border with France from the previous two villages. The Sansicario ski area includes a higher and lower slopeside village as well as Cesana on the valley floor, which accesses the lifts to the Monte della Luna area.
Claviere, apparently Italy’s oldest ski resort, marks the access point to France and is a small village at 1750m in altitude just down the road from its French neighbour Montgenèvre. (In fact you can walk the stretch between the two in ten or fifteen minutes.)
Montgenèvre is another historic ski resort, this time on the French side of the border. The resort welcomed its first skiers back in 1907 and was for a while a chic winter destination for the rich and famous. The post-war boom of more accessible resorts led to it becoming something of a backwater in need of investment despite its good snow record and high altitude (1850m).
Pragelato is a somewhat isolated village in terms of the ski region, being known mainly for its cross-country skiing and ski jumping. It has a large cable car which links in to the edge of the Sestriere ski area.
More information: www.vialattea.it
Espace San Bernardo – France and Italy
The Espace San Bernardo links the French resort of La Rosière with the Italian village of La Thuile across the Petit St Bernard mountain pass.
Both ski resorts are a little bit in the shadow of better-known and bigger neighbours, resulting in generally uncrowded runs and quiet après-ski.
La Rosière is the higher of the two at 1850m, while La Thuile has the larger and sunnier ski area at a lower 1450m. The two resorts share 39 lifts and 85 runs, with the new Mont Valaisan expansion in 2019 opening up a new sector.
The area has a core of ski fans who appreciate the family atmosphere and welcoming intermediate nature of the resort, as well as prices lower than better-known neighbours.
The new lifts on the French side have helped improve the general standard of uphill transport, although there are still a few long draglifts which do not make life easy for boarders.
A satellite village on the French side a short walk or bus ride away from the pass has also helped improve accommodation options.
More information: www.espacesanbernardo.com
Matterhorn Ski Paradise – Switzerland and Italy
Zermatt is one of the most famous ski resorts in the world, with its car-free centre and ski area reaching up to breathtaking altitudes (quite literally).
It can boast three distinct parts to its own skiing: the Rothorn and Gornergrat areas, which both rise to well above 3000m in altitude, and the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, which is where the crossing to Italy takes place with a top height of nearly 3900m.
Over on the Italian side, the resort of Cervinia is a bustling resort which is located substantially higher than Zermatt itself.
The runs on the Italian side are long and mostly undemanding intermediate cruisers, and it is possible to ski down to the neighbouring resort of Valtournenche.
Ischgl & Samnaun – Austria and Switzerland
Ischgl is one of Austria’s top ski resorts, with a large ski area and a very dynamic marketing programme.
It hosts, for example, regular mountain concerts with stars from the international and German-speaking music scene.
What many people fail to realise is that it is also part of a cross-border ski area.
Samnaun, which Ischgl is linked with, is actually one of Europe’s geographical mountain oddities. It is officially part of Switzerland but can only be accessed through Austria, whether by road or on skis.
Because of this, Samnaun is designated as a ‘duty-free’ village – however skiers planning on cramming backpacks full of cheap cigarettes or spirits should be aware that customs inspections are not unknown on the slopes!!
Steinplatte – Austria and Germany
The Steinplatte is an interesting small ski area above Waidring in the Austrian Tyrol which links up with the lifts from the Winklmoosalm above Reit im Winkl over the border in Germany.
The skiing goes up to a respectable 1860 metres in altitude and there are just under 45 kilometres of ski runs, mostly at the easy and intermediate level.
The skiing on the Steinplatte is more popular than its size might suggest – it lies near the border between Salzburg and the Tyrol and on one of the main routes between the two Austrian provinces.
Kanin-Sella Nevea – Italy and Slovenia
Located in a remote mountain valley in the northeastern tip of Italy, the Sella Nevea offers a chance to get away from it all in some beautiful landscape – and to cross a border while you are doing so.
The ski area links from Italy into neighbouring Slovenia via the Kanin peak above the town of Bovec, although a lift must be taken back down to the town on the Slovenian side as it is at under 500 metres in altitude.
Sella Nevea itself is situated at 1140 metres above sea level and the ski area rises to almost 2300 metres. There are 10 lifts in the combined area with a total of 10 kilometres of runs.
More information: www.kanin.si