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The Tentacle


February 10, 2006

Olympic Advantages and Challenges

Wile E. Delaplaine

It may be no great surprise that the Europeans ski in the Alps a little bit differently than we tend to ski in the U.S. In this round of Old World vs. New World in Turin (Torino), Italy, it might just be the Europeans who come out on top.

"Franco-Italian Alps: A cafe at the middle of a ski slope. Monte Blanco (translation: white mountain), the central peak in the background, is the tallest mountain in Western Europe. Its sunny face is in Italy, its shady face in France."


In the U.S., skiers tend take short vacations to ski and ride fast and furiously. We pay a small fortune for a lift ticket and therefore must get up and down the hill as many times as possible to feel we've gotten something to justify the expense.

Resorts typically own or control everything, including the eateries, which - adding insult to injury - gladly charge us $8 for a hamburger or $3 for luke warm coffee. Slope-side accommodations range from the astronomical to the unbelievable. It's no wonder then that - at our more well known resorts at least - skiing tends to be a pastime dominated by McMansion dwellers who would be found at the club golfing were it not for the snow.

By contrast, Alpine ski vacationers tend to be more modest, but their experience is less frenetic and maybe could be described as holistic. While it is certainly possible to spend a kings ransom at certain princely European resorts, the majority of resorts are there to serve the average man, and pint sized condos abound.

They are rented for one-week minimums, inexpensively by U.S. standards. This rental behavior affords plenty of time to soak up the Alps without depleting the college fund. Often the condos could be aptly described as sardine cans for humans; little matter - one is not there for the condo but rather for the Alps and the Alpine experience as much as for the skiing. Virtually all agree; the Alps are stunningly beautiful.

Yet the skiing itself can be fantastic, with vast and varied terrain. In some resorts, it is even possible to ski from a glacier all the way down to the trees, no small feat and no short run.

Many smaller alpine resorts have combined over the years, and now often moderately priced weekly ski passes will allow uninterrupted access to a matrix of interconnected resorts. The slopes in the incredibly beautiful Alps are usually dotted with mom and pop style, independently-owned cafés and restaurants, often with fantastic local fare.

While lift lines can often be horrendous, the skiers don't seem to be too bothered, and as often as not are found lounging outside one of these cafés sipping hot mulled wine or draft beer sporting stylish sunglasses and flashy duds.

The alpine skiers seem to use their skis simply as tools to get them from one spectacular view to the next, stopping on the way to take in a little sustenance if desired. When the lifts close, it's time for another break, the après-ski, then maybe a little nap back in the sardine can and then to a long and tasty euro-style dining experience. Repeat this for seven days, and you might start to get the picture.

So, now that you know one of the advantages to skiing in Europe, enjoy the Olympics as they unfold - beginning today.

At an Italian ski village on the sunny side of Monte Blanco, (Translation: Caution, Speed Bumps).




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