There's no denying the Alps stack up the stats in terms of vast lift-linked ski areas and hair-raising verticals, but when it comes to fresh powder pistes European resorts simply can't compete with North America.

Ski resorts across the pond have gained a solid reputation for friendly service, spacious accommodation and of course the famous powder.

Phillipa Swindale, sales and marketing manager at Ski Independence, says the winter of 2007-08 was a record-breaking season for UK skiers heading to North America, but the economic downturn and huge fuel charges have seen those numbers shrink since then.

Ian Davis, product director for Crystal Ski explains, "Last year huge fuel surcharges impacted on flights, nearly doubling holiday costs overnight and then the British pound went in to freefall against the U.S dollar. Our customers are still traveling across the Atlantic, but we saw strong evidence of 'trading down' in terms of their budget."


The economic downturn hasn't prevented UK tour operator First Choice Ski from adding new North American resorts to its programme for 2009-10: Breckenridge in the U.S. Rockies, Banff and Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies, and Whistler Blackcomb on Canada's West Coast.

"Huge fuel surcharges impacted on flights, nearly doubling holiday costs overnight and then the British pound went in to freefall against the U.S dollar"

As the economy recovers, UK tour operators expect to see ski holiday sales to North America continue its upward trend, even surpassing that of 2007-08. Phillipa Swindale of Ski Independence predicts a particular interest in Whistler Blackcomb next winter for the post-Olympic buzz.

North American resorts differ dramatically in terms of landscape, size, and snowfall. The Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada are on lower mountains with vertical drops of around 600 metres and snow that tends to be less powdery than in the West. Rocky Mountain resorts in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho in the U.S., and in Alberta and British Columbia in Canada, have much larger mountains, with summits ranging over 4000 meters and snowfall that is often light and fluffy. Resorts in the giant Sierra Nevada mountains of California receive enormous quantities of snow. The Pacific Northwest can receive copious amounts of snow, but also rain, as the world is seeing with the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where lots of dense snow is falling on Whistler Blackcomb, but rain is soaking the competition venues at Cypress Mountain.

Size of ski area

The resorts of North America have nothing in the way of large lift-linked ski areas to rival that of the Three Valleys in France (600 kilometres), the Four Valleys in Switzerland (412 kilometres), or the Milky Way in Italy (400 kilometres).

North American resorts are largely made up of individual villages with their separate ski areas. The biggest resort region in the U.S. is Lake Tahoe with a total of 259 kilometres of pistes in California's Sierra Nevada mountains; and in Canada it's Fernie with 220 kilometres in the Rockies.

Maximum verticals

Average verticals in Europe more than double those in North America: Burke Mountain, Vermont has a maximum vertical of 1610m; Whistler Blackcomb, Canada has 1630m, but R106R, Chamonix], France towers above with 2800m, so too does Innsbruck, Austria with 2620m and Le Chable, Switzerland with 2480m.

Powder conditions

When it comes to the vast majority of skiers and snowboarders, what matters most is good powder, and it doesn't come much deeper than North America.

Bestsnow.net ranks the top 20 snowiest ski resorts on the planet, pulling information from meteorological records, avalanche-forecasting centres, and monthly snowfall amounts from ski resorts.

Surprisingly, no European resorts make Bestsnow's top 20 chart. The site's editor and founder, Tony Crocker, told Forbes Traveler the Alps have a geographical disadvantage to the mountains of North America. "Snow does not fall in the same quantities in Europe, where the mountains are oriented more east-to-west," he says. "In North America, particularly with the Cascades, Wasatch, Tetons and the Sierra Nevada Range, the mountains run north-south, creating giant buffers where clouds run into land and dump snow."

Among the top 20 snowiest ski resorts in the world is Alta Ski Area, Utah which receives more than 13 metres of powder each year. Kirkwood and Boreal, both near Lake Tahoe in California, also receive 13 metres; Snowbird, Utah - 11 metres; Whitewater and Whistler Blackcomb in Canada - 10 metres; and Big White Ski Resort in Canada - more than seven metres each year.

The number one snowiest resort in the world goes to Mount Baker, Washington with more than 16 metres each year. The ski area also boasts the world's greatest recorded snowfall in one season: 28.9 metres in 1998-99.

Prices of: lift tickets, food/drinks, and ski holidays

Six-day lift tickets are approximately £100 cheaper in Europe than North America.

Ski resorts

Lift pass (six days)

Aspen, USA

£329

Banff, Canada

£296

Vail, USA

£287

Chamonix-Mont Blanc, France

£211

Verbier, Switzerland

£206

Obergurgl, Austria

£192

La Thuile, Italy

£167

The Post Office Ski Resort Report compares the price of a three-course meal for two people in leading resorts across Europe and North America. North America beats the sky-high prices of France and Switzerland, but Austria and Italy are best value for food.

Ski resort

Price (three-course meal)

Verbier, Switzerland

£70.37

Courchevel, France

£58.62

Banff, Canada

£43.20

Vail, USA

£40.18

La Thuile, Italy

£34.20

Obergurgl, Austria

£29

In 2009-10, the price of a Crystal Ski holiday, including scheduled flights, airport transfers, and seven nights' accommodation in a three-star property, starts from: £715 in Canada; £575 in the USA; £349 in Austria; and £329 in France.

Ski holidays to North America: www.crystalski.co.uk; www.ski-i.com; www.firstchoice-ski.co.uk