Differences between skiing in North America and Europe
If you call yourself a skier or a snowboarder but have not ventured outside the Alps, it is really time you considered a trip across the pond. We have been all over the US and Canada looking for the best possible ski holiday experiences to justify a longer journey. So, what can you expect compared to Alpine skiing?
Snow - quality and quantity. North American resorts benefit from more snow than European counterparts. In an average winter, Whistler expects over 10 metres whereas Europe's most snow-sure resorts will be delighted with 5. The type of snow varies too. Snow in Colorado and Utah is often slightly less plentiful than in Whistler but is very dry and the result is the lightest and best powder in the world.
Locals and marketing departments are never short of superlatives to describe them, but the ski areas are not quite as extensive as their European rivals in terms of terrain, vertical drop or number of lifts. We have chosen the resorts that have plenty for a great week, even for expert skiers.
The treeline in most North American resorts goes right to the top. As a result, visibility is never much of a problem and because sections are gladed (the trees thinned) the tree skiing can be spectacular.
Huge pride is taken in grooming (piste bashing). Pistes (“trails”) are wider and the corduroy is maintained 24 hours a day. Even skiers who revel in the raw skiing experience of Chamonix and St Anton will find guilty pleasures carving turns on the “groomers” (we openly admit to this!) For the hard-core, there is variable terrain and plenty of moguls. The system of grades is slightly different too. European “red” runs are replaced by “single diamond”. “Black” runs are more comparable with “double diamonds” and are rarely, if ever, groomed.
Whereas in Europe, you ski off piste at your own risk, in the US & Canada, designated areas are integrated into the resort. Access is strictly controlled through “gates” by “ski patrol” (who take a dim view of anyone skiing closed areas). While criticised by some for fostering a lack of individual responsibility, this approach provides a safer, more controlled “backcountry” experience which satisfies 95% of skiers’ needs for fresh powder.
The Americans and Canadians are streets ahead in organisation and service. Lift queues are managed (and shorter), ski concierges on hand to carry skis, tissue dispensers and benches strategically placed at lifts stations, speed “monitors” confiscate the pass of reckless skiers and snowboarders and everyone you encounter seems to genuinely want you to have a fabulous holiday. The effect is a far more user-friendly experience (although you might feel nostalgia for a grumpy lift operator or a rude waiter after more than a week!).
As you are travelling further to get there, do ten days and combine a week of resort skiing with a couple of days doing something else – a snowmobiling tour of Yellowstone, a heli-skiing trip or a city stopover in Vancouver, New York City or even Vegas.
In Europe, the slopes are quiet at weekends due to transfer days but the populations of Denver and Vancouver head for the slopes of Colorado and Whistler after work on Friday. Plan your trip (and non-skiing activities) around this.
A common misconception is that the weather is much colder than in Europe. It can be bitterly cold, but no more so than any high altitude Alpine resort. We have had many colder days in Courchevel and Val d’Isère and Colorado boasts over 300 days’ sunshine per year!
When it comes to food and après-ski, while Europe may have the edge, the US and Canada usually offer much better value for money and, like it or not, there is a better chance of your children enjoying the food! On the après-ski front, the Sky Hotel in Aspen would give the Mooserwirt or the Folie Douce a good run for their money.
The Best Destinations for Ski Holidays in North America
With resorts located across the continent, you’ll be spoiled for choice when planning your North American skiing adventure. Whether you want to plunge into the deep snow at Utah’s top ski resorts or discover the nightlife after a day gliding through the powder at Aspen, we’ll help you pick from the best ski areas in North America...
Aspen Snowmass, USA
Aspen Snowmass is proud host to four magnificent mountains, this characterful village is steeped in history and referred to by many as the world’s greatest ski resort.
Vail and Beaver Creek, USA
A great snow record and over 300 days of sun, all make this ski area a ‘must do’ destination.
Consistently voted best ski resort in North America, Whistler lies around 120km from Vancouver and is home to two spectacular mountains connected by a pedestrian village; Whistler and Blackcomb.
Home to 14 world class resorts, each unique but benefiting from the 500 inches of light and dry powder that fall each year.
North America Ski Holiday Inspiration
Hotel Jerome Ski
Aspen Snowmass, The Rockies, United States of America
Steeped in history and character, the luxury, Hotel Jerome has been welcoming guests since 1889 to the heart of Aspen, and offers a glance back to the days of the 'Wild West' silver boom.
Four Seasons Resort Whistler
The Four Seasons Whistler is a luxurious 5* mountain residence located at the base of the magnificent Blackcomb mountain. Just minutes from the slopes, shops and restaurants of Whistler village, the hotel offers a superb hideaway after a day outdoors
The Westin Resort & Spa Whistler
As the only all-suite hotel in Whistler, The Westin Resort & Spa is the ideal base for a luxury ski holiday in this world class resort. With a superb location at the base of Whistler mountain, it has direct access to the skiing and village.
Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole (Ski)
Jackson Hole Ski, The Rockies, United States of America
Located in Wyoming's spectacular Teton Mountains, the Four Seasons Jackson Hole has ski in/ski out access. This luxury 157 room hotel is great for couples and families, with exceptional facilities for children.
The Little Nell
Aspen Snowmass, The Rockies, United States of America
The only ski-in, ski-out hotel in Aspen, The Little Nell is a luxurious, 92-room contemporary designed 5* hotel at the foot of Aspen Mountain. Exceptionally high levels of service and some of the best bespoke adventures on snow await Little Nell guests.
Vail and Beaver Creek, The Rockies, United States of America
Located at the foot of Vail Mountain, The Sebastian - Vail is one of the resort's stylish luxury boutique hotels. In the heart of Vail, and minutes from the slopes, this 4* hotel is friendly and welcoming, offering great service for families and couples.
The Rockies, United States of America
Voted one of the best ski hotels in North America, with views of the snow-capped Grand Tetons in Wyoming, Amangani is a luxury resort combining faultless service, luxury and access to some of the best powder skiing around.
Extraordinary Canada - Whistler Heliskiing
Whistler, Vancouver and Stewart
Heli-skiing is one of life's ultimate ski experiences, and this exciting itinerary combines a stay in the world-class ski resort of Whistler, heliskiing in the breathtaking mountain wilderness of British Columbia and a city break in Vancouver.
GBP £10,700 pp
Highlights of Canada and California
Whistler, British Columbia & California
From skiing in Whistler, one of the best and most famous ski resorts in the world to the sun and surf of the sunshine state California, this incredible itinerary is a unique holiday.
GBP £5,000 pp