Ski Resorts You Didn't Even Know Existed as Game Changers to Your Euro Travel Plans
When thinking of going snowboarding or skiing in the European Alps usually names of famous resorts like Meribel, Courchevel, Chamonix, Verbier, Davos and Mayrhofen come to mind. The fact that they are well known does not mean they also provide the best experience when it comes to snowboarding. Some smaller ski stations that you have never heard of may actually offer some of the most fantastic snowboarding and skiing experiences; empty slopes, untracked powder fields, the absence of waiting lines at the ski lifts and all that for more modest prices than in their famous counterparts. Here is a Top 5 of secret spots in the European Alps that will make your mouth water.
Secret Spot #1
Schlick 2000 in Austria
What can you say about Schlick 2000 that has not yet been covered by the definition of the english word 'slick'; perfect in manner; sharp, attentive, having perfect answers for virtually all questions, and, of course, large amounts of gel in hair. Well, maybe that the words 'gel' and 'hair' should be replaced by 'snow' and 'trees'.
At only a 30 minute drive from Innsbruck, across the Europa Brucke and into the Stubai valley, Schlick 2000 is found. A relatively quiet and modest ski resort that does not attract a lot of tourists but that secretly boasts some of the best freeriding possibilities found in the Alps. Even during peak season or on sunny snow-filled days in the weekends when locals come out and play this place remains absolutely doable.
Depending on your skiing or snowboarding ability you can either stick to the slopes or try some of the countless tree-runs. On snowy days with low visibility the forests offer great snowboarding refuge because of the sharpening effect the trees have on the surroundings. Forests add contrast and usually keep clouds above the treetops so you won't be riding in the fog. On sunny days a bowl shaped arena reveals itself, opening up an amazing playground for young and old, freestyler and freerider, snowboarder and skier.
If your ability allows trying out some of the tree-runs then this resort just may prove to be heaven on earth, providing there is a significant amount of powder snow. The tree-runs are exceptionally easy to access from the top (Kreuzjoch, 2136 meters altitude) and easy to exit at the bottom at the Schlickeralm.
The view from the Kreuzjochbahn in the ski resort of Schlick 2000 in Austria.
Secret Spot #2
Villars Sur Ollon in Switzerland
Ever wanted to feel like a modern day Heidi? Well, children's fiction becomes reality in the resort of Villars sur Ollon at only a 30 minute drive from Montreux in Switzerland.
Take the train up from Aigle for an unforgettable journey through the Swiss Alps only to end up in the heart of the ski resort of Villars' Bretaye at 1800 meters (5900 feet) altitude. From here you can venture in the direction of Les Diablerets or Gryon by ski or snowboard as the ski areas are interlinked.
Especially the area between Villars and Les Diablerets, after taking the '27M' skilift, offers easily accessible freerding through the forests. Because this area is facing north the snow remains fresh and powdery for a long time. The name '27M' does not do this chairlift any justice though as it is one of the quaintest and most adorable skilifts you will ever have the pleasure to take, bringing you from Villars to Les Diablerets and back, horizontally and at a leisurely pace. For about 10 minutes you can enjoy the tranquility of the Swiss Alps as it passes a flat area where no person ever sets foot in winter.
In the other direction from Bretaye you can go in the direction of Les Chaux via La Rasse and Sodoleuvre. When snow conditions allow it you should go all the way down from Les Chaux into Gryon as the last part of the ski slope takes you through a residential area giving you the opportunity to olly a couple of roads and jib people's backyard fences.
At the end of the day take the blue/red slope down from Bretaye to the village of Villars, make sure you turn right at Col de Soud through the little tunnel under de railroad tracks in order to end up at the gondola that will take you back up to Roc d'Orsay.
The connecting '27M' chairlift between Villars sur Ollon and Les Diablerets in Switzerland.
Secret Spot #3
Montgenevre in France
If you would like to see what European ski infrastructure looked like back in the nineteen-sixties then Montgenevre is definitely the place to go. In this open-air museum you will be able to find some of the first two-person Poma chairlifts ever made, lifts that are still operational and critical links in the transportation network.
You will probably be spending more time in the chairlifts than skiing the slopes, cruising down one of the endless powder fields or slaloming trees in the forest but it least you will have time to take in the scenery. If it wasn't for the historic lifts and the way they are placed everything would be easily accessible and you would end up lapping powder fields all day. Together with the archaic infrastructure they have also been able to conserve the old pace of life here in Montgenevre so lapping anything here is out of the question.
As an example, after ascending the Rocher de l'Aigle chairlift, which will take you 10 minutes, you can take some amazing powder fields and tree runs down to Refuge Gimont. To get back on top of Rocher de l'Aigle though you will have to take 5 (!) different chairlifts. Providing you make no mistakes navigating the slopes and choosing the right chairlifts it will take you at least one and a half hour to get back.
The huge advantage of all this is that nothing here gets tracked out quickly so powder lines are distributed fairly in the resort of Montgenevre.
The view from Rocher de l'Aigle chairlift in Montgenevre on the border of France and Italy.
Secret Spot #4
Metabief Mont D'Or in France
Not often do snow conditions permit a trip to the resort of Metabief in the Haute Jura but when they do unconventional fun is to be had at this place. The go-to-place for people who reside in Geneva or Lausanne and who still have to learn snowboarding or skiing but also a very interesting destination for more advanced skiers and snowboarders.
At only 30 minutes by car this is actually the closest ski resort to Lausanne in Switzerland. Although it is not situated in the Alps you will have an amazing view on the Alps and Lac Leman from the top of Mont d' Or (1463 meters / 4800 feet) on a sunny day.
Now don't expect any crazy descents in this quaint resort, although there is gnarly cliff that splits the ski resort in half. What you can expect are a couple of very playable slopes and terrain that features some nice jibs. Especially the green slope (yes, the green slope, you read it well) called Creux Soudet is worth checking out for jibbing.
According to the Urban Dictionary a jib is an object or obstacle used by a snowboarder to jump upon or over. The jib can be made from almost anything, natural or man-made: trees, logs, stumps, handrails, barrels, tires, vehicles, walls, people. Now except for people you will be able to find everything in this resort.
Secret Spot #5
Axamer Lizum in Austria.
When Innsbruck hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1964 and 1976 Axamer Lizum was the place where the Alpine Skiing events were held. Axamer Lizum is a small resort in the mountains above the town of Axams at less than 30 minutes by car from Innsbruck.
Lizum is probably slang for 'small place with a large potential for epic fun' because when you know where to go there are some good memories to be made here, especially on those infamous free-refill snow days.
Nice tree runs can be found under the Hoadl 1 chairlift and for those who are looking for big mountain freeriding all you have to do is hike up from the Dohlennest on the side of the #1 slope onto the Widdersberg. Make sure you carry proper avalanche equipment and the experience for search and rescue because these mountains can be treacherous.
And when all the snow has been shredded to bits then a couple of gnarly gullies on the sides of slope #1 and #3 allow for some natural halfpipe fun.
The panorama on the Inn valley and Innsbruck below from the top of the Hoadl in Axamer Lizum.
So yeah, 5 reasons not to book a standard snowboard holiday in one of the famous ski stations in the European Alps this coming winter but to try out something different. You will be glad you did. Enjoy the ride!