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6 mistakes to avoid when taking your first ski trip to Europe

Feb. 23, 2020
7 min read
6 mistakes to avoid when taking your first ski trip to Europe
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The promise of fresh powder outside the U.S. might beckon skiers and snowboarders, but that European ski trip can be full of travel moguls unless you do some advance planning. Here are the basics:

Paying too much for a plane ticket

When planning a ski trip to Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France or Italy, book your flight through gateway cities like Geneva, Zurich, Munich or Milan, which are often more conveniently located near the slopes than popular tourist destinations. With a bit of research, you can figure out the best way to get to Europe using miles and points. These include options such as:

Once you’ve arrived, you can use the streamlined public transportation system (trains and buses) to get to your destination.

The Munich International Airport. (Photo by Olaf Broders Nature Photography/Getty Images)
The Munich International Airport (MUC). (Photo by Olaf Broders Nature Photography/Getty Images)

Overspending on lift tickets

If you have an Ikon or Epic Pass, lift tickets for certain European ski areas are included: Zermatt Matterhorn for the Ikon; Les 3 Vallées in France, Skirama Dolomiti, Adamello, Brenta in Italy; Ski Arlberg in Austria, and 4 Vallées in Switzerland are on the Epic Pass.

Ski trip experts caution that Europe can be quite expensive.

“Generally speaking, Italy is great for better value and Switzerland is at the other end,” says Sarah Plaskitt, founding director of Scout, an online resource for everything related to planning and booking ski trips. “Some of the French resorts can be an OK value. Some resorts and rental shops offer lift tickets online at a very small discount if paying in advance, but very few do,” she adds.

European lift passes are generally cheaper than they are in the U.S. An example: A one-day ticket at Zermatt Matterhorn is 87 Swiss francs (about $89); Vail’s one-day lift ticket runs you more than $200 at the window.

Save even more money (or make your purchase more rewarding), by ensuring that you use the right credit card for your lift tickets. We checked out what categories lift tickets coded as so you don't have to.

Driving is a mistake: Use public transportation

There’s really no need to rent a car for a European ski trip. In fact, some ski villages are car-free.

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“Generally speaking, you rarely need a car and driving in the Alps can be a little tricky,” says Plaskitt. “Some villages, like Chamonix or Zermatt, have a train station that goes right to the middle [of town] so that can definitely be the way to go. Others can be accessed by train and then a bus. Sometimes it’s just easier to jump on a shuttle if you don’t want to have to do transport changes.”

The Chamonix Montenvers Glacier Express. (Photo by Christian Kober/Robertharding/Getty Images)
The Chamonix Montenvers Glacier Express. (Photo by Christian Kober/Robertharding/Getty Images)

If you rent a car, get a map and know where you’re going. GPS and Google Maps can be misleading or inaccurate. I once spent eight hours in a car to complete what I thought was a two-hour drive through the Italian Alps.

Not knowing differences in safety precautions

We take some things for granted when skiing in the United States: Lift lines are orderly; green means a beginner run, and all the terrain within resort boundaries is safe. This is not necessarily true in Europe.

For example, blue often means beginner run at many resorts and red is an intermediate run. Black means expert in Europe, too.

Lift lines have been described as “tumultuous” by one friend at a busy resort.

“It is very important to understand that even if an area is within the resort boundaries, it doesn’t automatically mean it is controlled from avalanches like it is in the U.S.,” Plaskitt cautions. “The off-piste (meaning anything that isn’t groomed) can be quite dangerous and you must have the right knowledge and equipment to ski the off-piste. A guide is always a good idea for at least the first few days to show you where is safe and where isn’t, keeping in mind that conditions can also change from day to day.”

Missing out on the finer things in life

In the quest for powder and getting the most out of that $200 lift ticket, a day on the slopes in the U.S. can mean grabbing a quick lunch at the lift bar. If you adopt that same attitude in Europe, you’ll miss the gourmet on-mountain restaurants. Lunch can consist of several courses and include wine, spirits or the perennial favorite, schnapps (which can also be a breakfast beverage).

Après-Ski is a tradition for all to enjoy. (Photo by Josef Ritler/RDB/ullstein bild/Getty Images)
Après-ski is a tradition for all to enjoy. (Photo by Josef Ritler/RDB/ullstein bild/Getty Images)

When the skiing day is done, it’s time for après-ski.

“The après in some European resorts can get quite wild,” says Plaskitt. “St. Anton in Austria is famous for it. There are also some amazing nightclub-style venues on the slopes that have afternoon dance parties, complete with Champagne showers. La Folie Douce has various venues in different resorts in France and they are super fun,” she adds.

Hitting the slopes in only one country

If you talk to someone who has skied in Europe, chances are they’ll mention several different countries in which they’ve sampled the snow. This is not because everyone is jetting from country to country in private airplanes – they’re simply skiing.

There are a couple of resorts where you can ski in multiple countries, Plaskitt explains.

“Zermatt (Switzerland) is the most famous one which is connected with Cervinia in Italy,” says Plaskitt. “You can buy a full international pass for skiing in both resorts, or you can just add a supplement to your Zermatt or Cervinia pass for the days you want to ski both.”

Another option is the Portes du Soleil pass, which links 12 resorts on either side of the French-Swiss border an hour from Geneva. Purchase it early in the season and you can go on a ski safari, skiing from resort to resort and country to country on more than 300 runs.

And you can leave your passport at the chalet.

Additional reporting by Carissa Rawson.

Featured image by Getty Images

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees