How do I start reseraching extended European ski vacation logistics?
September 2, 2015 7:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to take a work sabbatical for 6 months starting January 2016. I would like to spend 3 of those months on mainland Europe. I want to spend at least a couple months skiing nearly everyday. I'm open to going pretty much anywhere in Europe. I'm just looking for any recommendations to get started in my googling.

1) What cities should I look into staying? Ideally skiing is less than 45 minutes away by car or public transit. Chamonix in France would be nice since there is also rock climbing nearby.
2) How difficult is it to sublet a room or apartment? Are there any websites I should be checking? Will I be able to get by on < US$1000/month spent on housing? Is there an equivalent craigslist for European countries where I can find such things?
3) I should probably get a car. Would I need to purchase a car for the duration and sell afterwards or is it economically feasible to rent? Are there other options I should look into?
4) Are there any other logistical concerns I should be aware of? I'll look into the difficulty of 3-month tourist visas.
5) Any particular resorts I should look into?
posted by just.good.enough to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
Chamonix is pretty awesome as a ski town, and honestly, you could get away without a car there.

I did a loop from Avoriaz/portes du soliel to chamonix to Zermatt a few years ago over the course of three weeks all via train, and would highly recommend it. You do need to book lodging now. Lift tickets are super cheap, food is relatively cheap, but lodging creamed me, even in dirty hostels. Zermatt was really cool for a traditional swiss village, and had really good backcountry as well....You will live off of landjager sausages, cheese and cheap wine.

Getting a visa for longer than 3 months might be difficult though.

Lodging though, start working on that now. Memail me for specific recommendations if you'd like.
posted by larthegreat at 8:10 PM on September 2, 2015

Would you consider something non-Alps? Because Andorra is beautiful, with lots of skiing, and I assume cheaper than the Alps by virtue of being comparatively less popular. It's literally 45 from one end of the country to the other, with lots of good skiing in between. It also has a good bus system and is connected by other busses to Barcelona, Perpignan, and Madrid, at the very least, so if all you want to do is get in, ski for three months, and get out, you won't need a car.

I don't know the answers to any of your other questions, though.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 9:45 PM on September 2, 2015

A ski pass for several months will eat into your budget quickly, something to check.
posted by ellieBOA at 9:52 PM on September 2, 2015

I would look at resorts based exclusively on last year's reports. Snow has been terrible.

Also, VRBO and AirBnB are your best bets.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:49 PM on September 2, 2015

It's been a long time, but I've done extended ski trips in Austria by basing in Innsbruck and day tripping out. Tons of great skiing and good bang-for-the-buck compared to some other countries.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:51 AM on September 3, 2015

Seconding that snow has been horrible in Europe the past few years, and becoming much less predictable- it's supposed to be a pretty strong El Nino, which is not so great for the alps, but pretty awesome for North America Skiing(but primarily the northeast, so YMMV). I'd start stalking weather reports now before splurging on the plane tickets.

I think a lot of it will also depend on how much of a party culture you want/need. Personally I'd get a RV or truck and build it out, and then travel North America hunting snow- more reliable weather, and less expensive food/lodging/better backcountry access. Europe is awesome for a fantastic party culture, and when there is snow it's mind-blowingly amazing. However, I did find that if it's just kind of bleh snow, there just isn't that much great terrain- backcountry gets sketchy, and the slopes are pretty packed.
posted by larthegreat at 6:51 AM on September 3, 2015

Switzerland is well-known for being stupidly expensive, but the trains are so amazing and the cities are so close to/in the mountains it might be worth it. You could stay in an actual non-resort city (like Lucerne) and be within an hour of many ski areas by train. But food and lodging really are awfully expensive.

Chamonix is great but very much a tourist city, and I imagine you would have trouble finding non-tourist lodgings. (I mean, I'm not saying Lucerne, or indeed anywhere in Switzerland, is not touristy, but in my limited experience there seemed to be more people there who are not directly affiliated with the tourist industry.)

Courmayeur on the Italian side of Mont Blanc is also nice, but smaller than Chamonix.
posted by mskyle at 6:56 AM on September 3, 2015

EpicSki has great forums for discussing ski topics. The user base skews North American but there are more than enough Europeans there as well as North Americans with European experience. At the very least you should use this as a way to search for previous people asking about European skiing destinations.
posted by mmascolino at 8:36 AM on September 3, 2015

Hello, 9 year resident of a ski resort in the French Alps and employee of a ski tour operator here, a random assortment of information follows...

If you're serious about skiing pretty much every day, then my assumption is that nightlife and the town you're living in is going to be a distant second. Your budget for housing is going to make finding accommodation in resorts quite difficult; as mentioned above, most rental places in resort are let for holidaymakers, as landlords can then charge much higher weekly rates. Additionally, if you don't arrive until January then most if not all longer-term lets and cheap accommodation will have already been taken up by seasonal resort workers who'll have been arriving into resort since early December.

Given this, I would reccomend looking for accommodation not in a ski resort itself; there are some towns in the lower valleys that are much more normal in terms of day to day life and business and as such a vast amount cheaper than resorts to live in. They are also situated such that a much wider range of different ski resorts could be accessed in your 45 minutes or under, giving you both variety and a range of options to pick from based on regional and local snow conditions this winter.

As an example, the towns of Bonneville / Cluses are on the floor of the valley east of Geneva that leads towards Mont Blanc. They're unremarkable, small French towns with lots of small-ish modern apartment block developments, some light industry round the edges and pretty much nothing of note about them. But if you were based there you would be:

15 minutes drive from Morillon (giving access to the Grand Massif inc. Flaine, Samoens)
25 minutes drive from Saint Gervais (giving access to Evasion Mont Blanc area inc. Megeve)
30 minutes drive from Les Gets (Portes du Soleil though near side of this huge - 650km area)
30 minutes drive from Chamonix
40 minutes drive from Morzine (Portes du Soleil, access to Avoriaz)
40 minutes drive from La Clusaz (Aravis area with le Grand Bornand)

All in all you're pushing 2000km of pistes - marked trails, not backcountry - across the areas accesible within your 45 minute drive.

This is my neck of the woods so the area I know the best, but a couple of other places similarly well situated could be Moutiers / Bourg Saint Maurice which are well placed for Les Arcs, La Plagne, 3 Vallées (inc. Courchevel, Meribel), Tignes, Val d'Isere.

If the idea of living in a smallish town really doesn't appeal, then further south you have the large university city of Grenoble, which is well placed for Alpe d'Huez, les Deux Alpes, La Grave.

In France, a good craigslist equivalent is leboncoin, there's a lot of rental property around that never gets advertised anywhere else, it's also a good channel for buying / selling cheap 2nd hand cars.

It would be much cheaper to buy a cheap car than to rent one, and if you went down the line I've suggested with accommodation it would be pretty essential to get the amount of skiing in that you want. There is public transport to / from French ski resorts, but it's not amazingly frequent and certainly not regular enough to get you to where you want to be before the lifts open on a powder day.

Don't worry too much about the snow, it's true that Europe in general has more variation between good years and bad years than North America, but people who get the bad luck of a poor spell make a lot more noise about it than those who get good conditions. Last winter was below average overall for snowfall, and very late starting putting Christmas skiers in resorts with almost nothing open, but then when it got going all the snow that did come came in huge blizzards which dumped for days and led to excellent conditions for good spells of January, February and March. Winter 2013-2014 was bang on average, consistent snow throughout from early December until April; Winter 2012-2013 was the snowiest winter in the French Alps for 25 years.

When picking your dates for skiing, be aware that the French school holiday period (February 6th - March 6th 2016) is the busiest part of season, roads, resorts and slopes will be a lot busier during this time. It's a good time to avoid the big-name international resorts like Chamonix, Morzine, Meribel, Tignes and head to some of the smaller "stations familliales", of which there are dozens more beyond those I mentioned above all around the French Alps. These little resorts will still be busier than at other times, but they attract a much more chilled-out holidaymaker and because they don't have a reputation for advanced skiing it's perfectly feasible to have the off-piste almost to yourself - fresh tracks by the side of the ski runs all day.

Have an awesome trip, I'll keep my fingers crossed for great snow this year for you now as well as for all the rest of us depending on it!
posted by protorp at 2:33 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

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