When I was living in England, one of the stats I was most interested in when the venue for our “next” ski trip to Europe was announced, was the resort’s vertical, i.e. how many continuous vertical feet could one ski from top to bottom without (technically) stopping. Yes, snow record and current conditions were important, number of trails, quality of accommodations, etc. But vertical feet implies size and size, as we’ve said before, does matter.
Whatever ski resort we were skiing, a ski buddy and I would always try to ski top-to-bottom without stopping at least once during the trip. And in Europe, this was some feat. In the USA a respectable descent down at a resort is something in the range of 1,500 to 2,500 feet. Resorts tout their vertical drop as a major selling point. Whistler Blackcomb, in British Columbia, Canada, has the greatest vertical drop of any ski resort in North America. Officially at 5,123 feet, this is allegedly exaggerated to 5,280 feet – or 1 mile – for marketing purposes. Snowmass comes in at 4,406 feet, Big Sky 4,180 feet, Jackson Hole at 4,139 feet, and you have to look down the list on the Vertical Feet website for Winter Park (actually the Mary Jane mountain) at 2,610 feet. Stratton, in Vermont, has 2,003 vertical feet, normal for New England.
In Europe, vertical drop is rarely mentioned when discussing resorts, but averages more than double of those in the U.S.A. Les Arcs in France has more than 6,500 feet of vertical. Davos in Switzerland claims a 6,600-foot vertical. Cortina in Italy has a vertical drop of almost 6,000 feet. With 4,400 feet of vertical, Austria’s St. Anton still beats all U.S resorts.
However, for the ultimate in the vertical drop skiing experience, you need to head to Chamonix in France, site of the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924. The 60-passenger téléphérique to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi is the highest gondola in Europe, topping out at 12,605 feet, and providing an unparalleled view spanning three countries – France, Italy and Switzerland.
The tram itself rises from the town of Chamonix, and ends at a peak across from Mont Blanc which is the highest mountain in the Alps at 15,780 feet. The Aiguille du Midi is the starting point for the longest lift-serviced ski and snowboarding run in the world – the 13-mile-long Vallée Blanche – often called the greatest ski run on the planet. With the right conditions, and an experienced mountain guide to lead the way, it is possible to cruise the Vallée Blanche’s 9,200-vertical foot drop – the equivalent of stacking the Colorado resorts of Winter Park, Copper, Breckenridge and Wolf Creek on top of each other!