Our favorite traveling couple is at it again! To close out the winter, Darek and Ilona went on a week long ski adventure to the French Alps. #Jealous!

What makes skiing in Europe different from skiing in, say—the Rockies? We got the scoop on all things ski-related, and, *spoiler alert* it involves eating snails.

1.) How did you choose your ski destination?

DI 1

Darek: We knew we wanted to go to Les 3 Vallées in France, and there are eight ski towns linked together by endless lift systems (170 in total). We narrowed them down to three, and Meribel suited our needs best. It’s affordable, it lies in the center valley, so access to the other valleys is fast and convenient. Plus, Meribel is a really nice little French village with a great vibe and lots of bars and restaurants.

2.) How often do you go skiing?

DI 2

Ilona: We ski locally on some weekends, but we usually make a big ski trip once a year. It’s still not enough!

Darek: Living on the East coast, we have to travel to get to the really big mountains. We try to be on slopes at least 20 days out of the season—most of them on smaller, local mountains in New York, Vermont, etc.—and at least a week elsewhere.

3.) What makes skiing in the French Alps unique from skiing anywhere else in the world?

apres ski

Darek: In the Alps, you usually have more dramatic vertical drops than in the US—like the Rockies in Vail. There’s glacier skiing with fantastic scenery, and off piste skiing is more popular in Europe. Plus, Les 3 Vallées is 12 times bigger than Vail, so there’s just a ton to of space to explore!

Ilona: The after-skiing culture in Europe is also different than the one we have here. There are more places in the mountains to hang out, more parties, more concerts, and more relaxed drinking laws. It’s great!

4.) You mentioned that “off piste” skiing is more popular in Europe than in the US. Can you let our readers know what it means to go “off piste?”

off piste

Darek: Off piste means go off the trail, and it’s very popular in Europe. In Les 3 Vallées, only about ten percent of the terrain is groomed. The rest is off piste, and is just fresh, soft powder. It’s so much fun to explore. You can ski for miles without seeing anybody.

You should be careful though. Don’t go off piste in a bed weather conditions like fog or clouds, as you might get lost, or worse—fall of a cliff. Also, be sure to check the avalanche report before you go off piste. It’s usually posted at every base.

I ski this way very often. It’s not easy, and after a few runs your legs are praying for a break. If you can make turns in deep snow, you’ll love off piste skiing, but if not, you probably won’t have much fun.

5.) Did you experience the local French culture while you were skiing your little hearts out?

Escargot

Ilona: Meribel is very popular for English and Russian tourists, so on the slopes or in the restaurants, you hardly meet French people. We stayed in a chalet—kind of a bed and breakfast—run by a French couple, though, and that was the place where we learn the most about Meribel and French culture.

Our hosts have lived in Meribel their whole lives, and they believe that it’s the best place on the Earth. We told them a lot about the US, and they told us stories about Meribel and France. What stood out to me the most about French culture were the crossaints—they really eat them a lot—and they drink tea from a bowl, not from a cup like we do!

Darek: And we ate snails (aka escargot)! That’s what you call a French experience!

6.) What advice would you give to other travelers who are interested in skiing in the French Alps?

Darek and Ilona Rotated

Darek: Go! The US dollar is strong right now, so skiing in Europe is cheaper than it’s been in years. Stay for a week or more—since the areas are huge and you’ll be skiing on higher elevation than you’re used to, your body needs time to acclimate. Always have a map, and don’t try to ski everything in one day!

Also, consider whether it’ll be cheaper to rent ski equipment when you arrive, versus bringing it with you from home. Check your airline’s policy on ski equipment, and compare local rental prices before you go. Ski boots should always travel with you, but for the actual skis—like the wider ones you’ll need to go off piste—you might be better off renting when you get there.

Ilona: In terms of lodging, I’d recommend you stay in a chalet! They really give you a sense of that warm, French hospitality. Also, keep in mind that if you stay a little bit outside the main resort area—even as close as just a 10 to 15 minute walk—you’ll be able to save some extra money to put towards escargot 😉

Would you travel to the French Alps to go skiing, or do you prefer to stay closer to home? Let us know in the comments below!

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