In prehistoric ski times?1898 to be precise?when I first took to the sport, there were few ski resorts as such in Europe, and one skied up as well as down. During my first 10 seasons, I climbed every foot that I ran down, and when snow conditions were good, I might enjoy anything from 2,000-4,000 feet of downhill running in a day. In recent years, by contrast, my son Peter has packed more than 35,000 feet of skiing into one day at Kitzbuhel, and his aged father, in spite of his 62 years and game leg, managed 20,000 feet during a day in 1951 at Gstaad.
The difference has come from the fantastic number of ski lifts built during the past 30 years. Skiing actually came into the Alps from Scandinavia in the 90's; and the winter sports vogue really dates from the opening of Adelboden as a winter resort in 1902-03. Today the skier visiting Europe has a choice of about two hundred skiing centers in three great areas? Scandinavia, the Alps, and the Pyrenees?and there are no American skiers who do not cherish the ambition to try the famous Alpine runs.
To begin with, Europe is cheaper than America. Naturally it costs a great deal more for a skier on the East Coast to reach St. Moritz, than it does Sun Valley or Aspen. If, however, the skiing holiday lasts more than three and a half weeks, the total cost, including the journey, is about the same for an Aspen or an Alpine holiday. If it lasts even longer, the Alps is the more economical proposition, since hotels and ski lifts are half as expensive as in America (see box), and ski teachers about a third as expensive.
Americans inevitably concentrate at the famous centers, for most of the visitors have only this, or one other, chance in a lifetime to visit the Alps. So it is natural that they head for St. Moritz, Kitzbuhel, Davos, Zermatt or Chamonix, rather than such charming but less-publicized spots as Lenzerheide, Adelboden or Villars.
SWANK AND SOFT SNOW
Switzerland, of course, has been the traditional capital of winter sports. And for reasons of tradition and pure swank, St. Moritz is still the skiing capital of Switzerland. The hotels there are world famous, and although the cost may run a bit high, the comforts are vast and the ski runs are excellent. This season, moreover, St. Moritz has erected a new cable-car lift, reaching up to the 10,000-foot Piz Nair, opening some opportunities for skiing on the high slopes and prolonging the St. Moritz season well into May.
Those who want the maximum of ski lifts and the largest variety of tours will probably gravitate to the Parsenn, or Gstaad in the Bernese Oberland. Always a fine center, Gstaad has recently improved its facilities. The quaint sleigh funicular to the Eggli has been replaced with a cable car. And upward from the Eggli terminal, a new ski lift leads to Stand at 6,000 feet, starting point for a cluster of new trails.
The Upper Engadine and the Scheidegg region also offer a bewildering variety of trails especially attractive to those who prefer touring through unbroken snow to the slam-bang descent of a packed trail.
For the racer and fast trail skier, Murren is probably the best choice. On Feb. 27 some of Europe's finest competitive skiers will be there for the Inferno race, and on March 11-12 the Arlberg Kandahar, oldest of the open downhill and slalom meets, will have its 20th running. The trails, though on the short side, are exacting; and Murren shares with Andermatt and Engelberg the reputation of being the best spot in the Alps for continuously favorable snow conditions.
Kitzbuhel in the Austrian Tyrol ranks beside the Parsenn for variety of lifts and tours. The Austrian resort has 50 downhill runs, extensive practice areas, and a network of interlocking transport facilities including three cable railways, two chair lifts and five Alpine tows. In addition a new, two-stage chair lift to the Kitzbuhler Horn is under construction.