Skiing: Switzerland vs the Rocky Mountains in 2018

Switzerland is often hailed as being the ski capital of the world but over the last 20 years significant mega-resorts have sprung up throughout North America from Colorado to Canada. How does Switzerland fare in 2018 compared to an ever growing North American ski empire.

The Resorts

Swiss ski resorts often pre-date most ski resorts in the world and as a result combine both a historical charm with the natural beauty of the Swiss Alps. Zermatt, one of the largest and most popular resorts in Switzerland started offering Ski classes as early as 1902! 

 

Zermatt at Dusk

 

When compared to their North American competitors they often feel less organized and generally offer less amenities for vacationers seeking more than just a ski slope and a place to sleep.  Skiing in Switzerland can sometimes feel a bit like you are “Skiing in a Town” versus “Being in a Ski Town”.  Needless to say, if you’ve been to several North American mega-resorts such as Vail, Aspen, or Breckenridge you might feel a bit like you’ve landed back into a much simpler time in history.  One important thing to consider when booking your Swiss Ski vacation is the availability of accommodations. 

It is not uncommon for Swiss ski resorts to sell out up to a year in advance from primarily local demand.  When booking hotels, keep in mind that the local Swiss often have a much different set of criteria and expectations from their hotels than international travelers and thus you may find many resorts operating at the three and four star level to feel very basic in comparison to their North American equivalent.  Do not expect Swiss resorts at the three star level to have a pool, hot-tub, gaming room, or any other extra-curricular facilities that might keep you occupied while not on the slopes. 

The Terrain

By no fault of their own, the Swiss alps are steep, rocky, and awe-inspiring. While this often makes for a fantastic instagram picture it doesn’t necessarily mean great things for skiers who tend to favor more gentle terrain.  While some Swiss resorts in the region around Gstaad offer more gentle skiing for mid-to-entry level skiers, those regions tend to also suffer from lower altitude which leads to highly variable and unpredictable snow conditions. It is not unlikely that a warm January weather pattern can create enough rain to wash all the snow away leaving you with a very un-skiable ski vacation.  For thrill seekers who are looking for off-piste albeit life threatening challenges, the Swiss alps offer an endless playground of options with plenty of guide services tailored to meet your every need. 

When to ski the Rockies

Ski in the Rockies if:

  • You prefer blues, greens, and an occasional challenging run.
  • You have children who will ski unaccompanied. Swiss resorts take a ‘ski at your own risk’ attitude and children unaccompanied by an experience local take significant risks in the Alps.
  • You prefer more routinely groomed slopes, better marked terrain, and more regular patrols from mountain staff. 
  • Prefer better guarantees around snow conditions.
  • You prefer skiing below the tree line.

When to Ski in Switzerland

Ski in Switzerland if:

  • You are a thrill seeker, expert, and are willing to study the local terrain.
  • You are an experienced skier who prefers steeper terrain and doesn’t mind narrow trails.
  • You have small children who have never skied before and will go into a Swiss ski school. Swiss ski schools are some of the best in the world and in some resorts such as Arosa or Grindelwald are extremely affordable. 

Apres-Ski

Image License: Creative Commons 

When it comes to Apres-Ski culture both locations can vary tremendously. From the elegant and refined slope side bars of Beaver Creek, Co which offer relaxing live music and a family-friendly atmosphere to the more bustling party scene at Whistler Blackcomb North America certainly caters to all walks of life when it comes to Apres-Ski choices. Likewise Swiss resorts can range from a lively party scene at resorts like Verbier to a casual after-ski drink before dinner at resorts like Grindelwald.  A good rule of thumb when picking a resort with a good Apres-Ski culture is to look for pedestrian-only or pedestrian friendly ski resorts.