European Skiing – Top Of The World (24.01.13)

As this week’s temperatures drop well below freezing, I am continuing a ‘winter mountains’ blog theme – as the British Isles and continental Europe have experienced the traditional mix of side-effects, from travel network shutdowns to a wholescale embrace of winter-sports.

Working in the travel industry we are, as ever, struggling to cope with the negative side affects as airports cancel flights, railway timetables stop meaning anything and some well-arranged holiday plans are unable to get beyond the starting point.

Snowboarding above the clouds © JonoVernon-Powell

The good news is that with this weather bringing perfect winter-sports conditions to Europe, the organisers of next winter’s Olympics in Sochi, Russia had better be ready. This time next year the Europeans will be arriving well prepared for the 22nd Olympiad.

In the meantime, like so many of our industry colleagues, we at Nomadic Thoughts are trying to cope with our clients stranded at airports or stuck on the wrong continents. On the basis that it’s is more often a case of luck than judgement, this time around I personally have been extremely lucky. Having just returned from St Anton, Austria – in the heart of Europe’s alpine winter sports area – I enjoyed the cold spell’s alpine conditions to the full. The images of which I have included in this blog.

Ice Cream Cone Mountain © JonoVernon-Powell

Having taken it upon myself to sample all of St Anton’s charms, I am delighted to report that their pre-ski, piste-ski and après-ski industry is in a very healthy state. In recent years, warmer winters have had an adverse affect on the European ski market. In contrast this week’s weather goes a long way to stabilising the foundations of a long-term winter season. A season that is commercially essential to the over all sustainability of life in the Alps.

A life that is now largely dependent on tourism, with the Austrian, French, Swiss and Italian Alps hosting over 600 resorts and more than 120 million visitors a year. Austria and France (along with the USA) boast the largest markets with 200 million downhill ski passes sold per annum – a far cry from when the first ski-lift opened in Grindelwald only one hundred and twelve years ago.

Although, over thirty years ago, I previously worked in the French Alps (Courchevel and Val D’ Isere) this week was my first winter visit to an Austrian ski resort. It didn’t take me long to realise what I had been missing and over 50 million skiers a year had been enjoying. Stunning scenery, an après-ski vibe to make the Romans proud and thousands of miles of awe-inspiring ski terrain.

Cloud skiing © JonoVernon-Powell

I was reminded of how important this tourism destination is, with unrivalled facilities at the heart of Europe’s leisure industry. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to explore a variety of major mountain ranges across the world – from the Andes, Atlas, Rockies, Pyrenees, Himalayas, Southern-Hemisphere Alps and even Mountains of the Moon, but I have never seen anything to match the endless sea of European snow-capped mountain tops.

Unless you are a high-altitude Himalayan climber or soaring para-glider, you simply can not get that high amongst so many peaks in any other mountain range.

Tramping the high route © JonoVernon-PowellStick skiers © JonoVernon-PowellSt Anton top chair © JonoVernon-PowellChairlift above the clouds © JonoVernon-PowellHigh Altitude Skiinig © JonoVernon-PowellLone skier above clouds © JonoVernon-PowellSt Anton afternoon slopes © JonoVernon-PowellCloud skiing St Anton © JonoVernon-PowellBlue Sky Chair Lift © JonoVernon-PowellGliding above the snow & ice © JonoVernon-PowellRoof of the World © JonoVernon-Powell