Skiing in Europe is a dream for every true-blooded American skier. Today, with cheap winter air fares from BWI or Dulles to European hubs along with reasonable lift tickets, skiing on the continent has become competitive with a trip out West. Ski Europe will help those unfamiliar with European skiing to decide where to go.
The book covers the major “destination” resorts in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain. The guide devotes a chapter to each resort. Each chapter begins by sketching the personality of place. Is it old and quaint or modern and high-rise? Clustered by the slopes, or a few miles down the road? Is it family-oriented or catering to singles? Walkable, accessible by good public transportation, or requiring a car? Frequented by regular skiers or the rich and famous?
A detailed description of the mountain layout is next, followed by a mountain rating. The author, a ski journalist and the author of Ski America, then plots out a strategy for exploring the mountain based on ability. This section also suggests which resorts the beginner looking for the mellow might try or the expert looking for the extreme might choose to avoid.
Lift ticket prices and ski school rates are provided but probably dated. Far more valuable are Charles Leocha’s descriptions of accommodations, night-life, and restaurants. In Europe, many hotels offer all-inclusive packages that provides a room, lift tickets, breakfast and dinner for reasonable rates. Since “packaged” travelers will most likely be eating two meals a day at their hotel, hotel food is a big issue and Leocha interviewed many locals to ferret out the hotels with the best bites. He also does a good job discussing night-life possibilities around major resorts.
One thing I learned from the book is that it is much cheaper to organize your own trip than to go with a tour package offered by a travel agency. Using www.google.com, I found that many of the hotels listed in the book have their own web site, complete with pictures, price, location information, and e-mail addresses.
Ski Europe, however, is not without weaknesses. The book contains no maps, a serious oversight for a market unfamiliar with the mountain geography of Europe. While the book does a great job in describing large resorts like The Arlberg in Austria or Les Trois Vallées in France, the sections on smaller resorts are much shorter and therefore, less informative.
Overall, Ski Europe will satisfy those who are contemplating a ski trip to a destination resort to Western Europe, but it will not thrill or excite seasoned European travelers looking for a comprehensive guide to all resorts on the continent. In most mountain areas of Europe, there is literally a lift in every town. Slovakia, for example, contains 80 ski resorts-;some of which consist of nothing more than a single Poma lift serving a couple 500 meter long trails but others are large enough to host World Cup races. Slovakia does not even get a page of coverage in Leocha book, nor does the Czech Republic, the countries of the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Norway, or Scotland for that matter.
Ski Europe also, for lack of a better term, lacks soul. One of the best ski guides I have ever read is Stephen Jermanok’s Great Outdoor Guide to New England, and the book isn’t even a ski guide - it’s a complete guide to all outdoor activities in New England. What makes Jermanok’s book so good is his style. In describing Mad River Glen, his very first paragraph captures the essence of the place in three short sentences:
Leocha’s, book by comparison, is filled with sentences such as “the upper areas are intermediate, and the lower ones, are a beginner’s paradise.” Ok, so what else is new? In short, those looking for the definitive guide to skiing in Europe will have to wait.
John Sherwood is a columnist for DCSki. When he's not hiking, biking, or skiing, he works as an author of books on military history.
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