Booking a ski holiday in Europe can be tough going – with so much world-class piste on offer, it can be difficult to know where to start. Europe’s most popular ski resorts are sprinkled generously across the peaks of France and Austria, so we decided to discover the differences and similarities between these two giants of the skiing world. Can’t decide between Tartiflette and Tiroler Gröstl? Mooserwirt or Folie Douce? We’ve put them head to head to see which comes out on top.
France has multiple airports including Chambery, Grenoble and Lyon that are just a few hours drive from the best French resorts. You could also fly just over the Swiss border into Geneva for the Northern resorts or Turin in Italy for the resorts in the East. If you want an even longer ski holiday there’s also the option to take the overnight Eurostar from London to Bourg St Maurice on a Friday, to arrive early Saturday morning and return late on the following Saturday night – adding a potential 2 days of extra skiing.
There’s less flying choice for skiing in Austria with the majority of traffic arriving into just two airports – Innsbruck to the West and Salzburg to the East. That said, pretty much all of the top ski resorts are somewhere in-between, and within a two hour drive.
France has some seriously high ski resorts and many of them require dizzying ascents to reach the purpose built villages – the journey to Alpe d’Huez is famous for its 21 hairpin bends and magnificent views. You might find one of the biggest surprises when visiting Kitzbühel is that you simply roll into the town without any noticeable ascent. Austrian ski resorts tend to be situated in villages (that were around long before skiing) at the base of the mountains rather than half way up them. The result is simple: scenic transfers without the bendy mountain roads.
It’s widely accepted that both Austria and France give you amazing options in the après department – if dancing on tables in your ski boots is your definition of a good time then you may be hard pushed to choose between them. Let’s start with the heavy weights of the après world – Mooserwirt and Folie Douce
In St Anton, Austria you’ll find the world famous Mooserwirt, described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘Table-top dancing fuelled by vast quantities of beer and Jägermeister.’ From 3.30pm to 8pm daily, (64 year old) DJ Gerhard cranks the music up and the beer starts flowing – in fact over 2,500 litres of the stuff is poured every afternoon. Expect huge crowds, plenty of rock, cheesy euro pop and one or two Jägermeisters. If you’re skiing down after the sun has set then the moonlight is your only guide – proceed with caution (or take the bus).
France’s legendary Folie Douce can now be found in 4 resorts: Val d’Isere, Meribel, Val Thorens and Alpe d’Huez. Audible before it’s visible, you’re likely to find yourself skiing through the serene mountains, suddenly hit by waves of relentless, thumping bass. Get closer and you’ll find champagne spraying over the dancing crowds while a saxophonist plays from the roof top – it’s been described as a high altitude version of South-East Asia’s infamous full moon beach parties. Expect plenty of people partying the last hours of daylight away… Just don’t miss the last lifts down the mountain.
Mooserwirt and Folie Douce may be the most famous, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Both countries offer plenty of options to keep you entertained from sundown ‘til dawn.
You can’t talk about France without mentioning food. Their cuisine is recognised all over the world and the Savoy region of The 3 Valleys is well-known for several local specialities. When skiing all day you need hearty food – the French translate this as high calories and intense taste or cheese, meat and more cheese. Classics include tartiflette (cream, bacon, cheese and potatoes), fondue (pot of melted cheese), steak tartare (raw beef served with a raw egg) and pierrade (meat cooked on a hot stone).
Not to be out done by the French, the Austrians have their own host of traditional dishes tailored to keep you fully fuelled and on the mountain all day. The number one dish has to be Tiroler Gröstl – a delicious mix of potato, bacon and onion, all fried up with an egg on top. Other local dishes from the Austrian Alps include Weiner Schnitzel (veal fillet in breadcrumbs), goulash (beef stew) and of course bratwurst with sauerkraut (sausages and cabbage). There’s a clear running theme with Alpine cuisine – hearty, tasty and filling. What more could you want?
There are certainly plenty of similarities between Austrian and French resorts, but there are also some quite significant differences.
One of the most apparent things about Austrian ski resorts is that these towns and villages have been around much longer than skiing has. Locals have been living and farming in the valleys for hundreds of years, and in the summer they even have festivals celebrating taking the cows in for winter. This means most resorts you visit are real towns and as such have a quaint and picturesque quality about them that is rich in culture and history.
In France a large amount of resorts are up the mountain rather than in the valley, which has the advantage of offering ski to door locations in certain resorts. This is possible as most resorts in France are purpose built rather than the natural villages of Austria. For example ‘Arc 1950’ was only opened in 2003 and was built by North American resort developers Intrawest (also responsible for resorts such as Whistler in Canada).
Both countries have their superstar resorts and hidden gems but rather than pit these against each other, we’ve paired certain resorts with their counterparts in the opposite country.
Love large ski areas with lively upmarket après?
Austria – St Anton
France – Val d’Isere.
Want a large interconnected ski area with multiple villages to ski to?
France – 3 Valleys
Austria – SkiWelt
Family looking for great beginner slopes?
France – La Plagne
Austria – Rauris
Need high altitude cruising?
Austria – Obergurgl
France – Les Deux Alpes
The list goes on and on. The debate for which country has the best resorts could go on forever with strong contenders in both categories. The take away point is Austria and France both have exceptional resorts and more variety than you’re likely to be able to ski in a lifetime.
As you’d expect from two of the world’s premier ski destinations the choice of accommodation is vast. There are plenty of hotels, Chalets, B&Bs and self catering apartments of various price and quality in both. Chalet holidays are extremely popular either side of the border – a chance to spend time away with like-minded people. While French and Austrian accommodations have their similarities, there are notable differences too.
In France purpose built resorts often attract large familiar hotel chains (such as Pierre & Vacances and Mercure) which offer a wide range of accommodation from basic self-catered apartments to high-end luxury hotels. Self-catering apartments remain extremely popular – great value accommodation allowing you to be flexible with food costs.
Austrian hotels are often owned by a local family – passed down from generation to generation. If you ask about the history expect the hoteliers to show you how their properties have been built up from a humble guesthouse into a large modern hotel with spa facilities, homely atmosphere and a real emphasis on service. Apartments aren’t as common in Austria. Instead you’ll find simple and affordable guesthouses (often called ‘Garni’ or ‘Pension’) – perfect to share the family friendly feel of Austria.
Price of items in resort such as beer, food and eating out can often be a deciding factor when choosing where to ski. In the villages prices tend to be fairly similar, typically around €5 for a local beer. On the mountain however this category has a clear winner: buying a beer on the mountain in Austria can often result in a handful of change including paper money from a €10 note.
If you plan to spend lots of your life in France on the other hand, prepare to spend lots of your pay check, too – it’s not uncommon to pay up to €8 for a beer on the mountain in France with food prices similarly high.
Both France and Austria share the same values and key elements that have helped people to enjoy so many years of skiing and snowboarding. Rather than encouraging allegiance to one country or the other, we can’t help but sing the praises of both. As far as France vs Austria goes there are no losers – pick either and you’re in for a treat.