Ten resorts, eight terrain parks, nine hotel rooms, 2000 km driven, and a broken car stereo, what does a road trip mean to you?
Budget flights and the invention of the internet have given riders the freedom to throw that overpriced brochure, with pictures of Camilla and Tarquin in matching ski suits in the bin and plan a snowboarding road trip. You can follow the snow, change your terrain, take a day off in a city down the valley, change country, pick up a mad snowboarding hitchhiker, and in general do whatever you like.
When planning a road trip there are a few things you should bear in mind. Firstly the length of time you want to board against driving and secondly if you want to set an itinerary or just free form the trip.
Choosing Resorts and Routes
In Europe it’s not such an issue as it is in North America. Many of the Western European resorts are close to each other. For example in France; Couchevel, Val’d’Isere and Chamonix are all within a couple of hours drive of each other. While La Plange, les Arc, St Foy, Tignes and Val’d’Isere are all less than an hours drive from Bourg-St-Maurice, which is a snowtrain ride from London or a two to three hour drive from Lyon.
From the huge Alpe D’huez you have high the altitude resort of Les Deux Alps within a 45 minute twisty drive. This is semi-joined to the hardcore freeriding mecca of La Grave, which itself is a 30 minute drive to Serre Chevalier which has some of the best tree riding in France. From there you could head into Italy within 30 minutes via the resort of Montgenevre, or within an hour the cool resorts of Risoul & Vars.
In Italy the Aosta Valley, just north west of Milan or north of Turin, is home to: Pila, La Thuile, Champoluc, Courmayeur and Cervinia, which is linked on the piste to Zermatt in Switzerland. This is all great but then when you throw into the mix the Chamonix and Grand St Bernard Tunnels which link Italy to France and Switzerland respectfully, well that’s 20 to 30 great resorts all within a few hours drive of each other. Plan a route carefully and you could easily visit ten resorts, and three countries, within a two week trip. Even without missing any slope and little drinking time by driving through the night or for hours on end. But remember when sitting at home looking at a map of Europe that many of the high mountain pass’s will be shut in the winter so before having to negotiate a huge detour seek out some local knowledge.
In Austria Innsbruck is king. It’s a lively place with plenty of partying, and although not actually a resort itself, it is flanked both sides by 8 small but great resorts. Then within 2hrs you have Hintertux, Mayrhofen, Zell am Ziller, Solden and the German resort of Garmisch within striking distance. Add to that the not out of the question resorts of the Italian Dolomites and Innsbruck is a great stating point for any road trip.
North America is a whole different ball game, or should we just say soccer instead of football? The food portions are big, the cars even bigger and the distance between resorts even bigger than that. But, and it’s a big but, outside of the Ray Ban wearing police, and the ridiculously low speed limits, driving in North America is a dream, well outside of the cities anyway. The roads are wide and traffic free. A distance that would have you gripping the steering wheel like it was the only beer left in the world and proclaiming the illegitimacy of you fellow drivers parentage, will just pass you by like a stress free stroll in a flower filled park. You won’t even have to change gear, as virtually all the motors are automatic.
West coast in Canada is Whistler country in British Columbia, which is one of the only resorts in WSG with a straight ten out of ten, but it’s not the best for road trips as most of the best BC resorts are away from the coast. If it’s a Canadian road trip you want then fly to Calgary Alberta, from where with some long drives, you can visit the Banff resorts of Sunshine, Mt Norquay and Lake Louise before looping around the great resorts of Fernie, Castle, Red, Big White, Silver Star and Kicking Horse.
In the US, fly to the old style casino town of Reno in Nevada and you can tour the excellent Tahoe resorts a short distance away. Head south for 4 hours to Mammoth, another resort with a WSG 10. You could complete your trip if you’ve got a one-way hire by driving South again for another 6 hours until you hit Las Vegas, where you can have a final couple of runs and squeeze that last bit out of your credit card before flying out.
Denver’s great to start a road trip with loop around Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, Copper Mountain, and Beaver Creek possible, all these resorts get a WSG 8 score or above.
If it’s east coast then fly to Boston and tour the New England states of Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire where you can visit Stowe, Stratton, Loon Mountain and Sugar Loaf to name a few.
If you do plan a route in advance and you plan to stick to it, then try and sort out as much accommodation as possible before you head out. This will stop you arriving somewhere late at night and finding the only bed left in resort is way over your budget. The obvious down side to booking accommodation is the lack of freedom you’ll have. You may find yourself leaving a resort just as the snow is starting to fall and driving towards an ice ridden resort, because that’s where you bed for night is. It’s a trade off and we’d recommend you give yourself as much freedom as your budget will allow.
Don’t try to do too much. After boarding hard all day it’s ok to throw the boards in the motor, change your shoes, and drive three four hours, in your wet board gear, to the next resort, but not every day. Firstly you’ll never have time for a beer and secondly you’ll find after a few days like this you’re boarding will suffer, especially if you’re the only driver and all your mates sleep through the driving hours. Try to spend at least two days in each resort, one to make sure you see the best bits and two to give the driver a break and let them have a beer or two. Talk to locals to find out if roads are open and which is the best route between resorts. Always have chains, or you may find that you can’t get up to resort when there’s a fresh snow fall. If you’re hiring a car, ideally make sure your hire car is fitted with winter tyres; these are wider grooved and give you much better grip. They are a legal requirement in winter in Austria, but if you’re hiring a car in Germany and driving into Austria make sure it’s been arranged before you get there.
Try to design a looped route, so you don’t have to back track, and always try to make the last resort visited the closest to the airport, if you’re flying home. If you’re miles from the airport you don’t want to be leaving early if there’s been a fresh dump and the roads are slow going.
No motor can be a hassle, but it doesn’t mean you can’t tour resorts. Most resorts will have a bus link to major cities, but few have a good public transport link to other resorts. But if you have the time there’s always a way to get between resorts. Many airports will be close to a train link and many of the European resorts are very close to stations. Chamonix Town has a station, buses go to La Plange, les Arc, St Foy, Tignes and Val’d’Isere from Bourg-St-Maurice. Trains and bus’s out of Innsbruck service all the surrounding resorts. It’s easy to get a train or a bus out of Geneva to the surrounding mountains and the public transport in Italy is surprisingly efficient and cheap. Slovakia has a good rail service, which is supported locally by buses, while taxis here and in Slovenia are very affordable and a great option especially if there’s a few of you.