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Verbier is home to Switzerland’s largest ski area, Les Quatres Vallées. The four villages range in their attractions, from family-friendly to riotous après cultures. (Yves Garneau)
Verbier is home to Switzerland’s largest ski area, Les Quatres Vallées. The four villages range in their attractions, from family-friendly to riotous après cultures. (Yves Garneau)

Vail’s Epic Pass offers several grand European ski adventures Add to ...

Vail Resorts may be the new owner of Whistler Blackcomb but the incredible international access provided by its Epic Pass isn’t available yet. For now, WB season-pass holders can nab five free ski days at any Vail-owned resort, and EpicPass holders can do the same in British Columbia.

Skiers keen to explore European terrain may well consider picking up the Epic Pass anyway, before its Nov. 20 deadline. This winter, the Epic Pass gives free tasters at 31 top resorts in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Famous for fractious lift lines, flamboyant fashion, cuckoo-clock chalets, huge interlinked ski areas and lingering, liquid lunches, Euro skiing is on most dedicated downhillers’ bucket lists.

Epic France:

Includes Les Trois Vallées, Val d’Isère/Tignes and Paradiski. Perfect for driving ski safari, skiing two days at each area. Les Trois Vallées, with eight linked ski villages, is the world’s largest ski area, dwarfing North American resorts.

While they all offer a broad range of skiing on- and off-piste, Courchevel is sophisticated, Méribel a Millennial hangout, Val d’Isère a ritzy but real skiers’ destination and the purpose-built stations of Paradiski and Val Thorens more affordable and family-friendly. Stay with Brit travel companies in cozy chalets, catered by fervent ski bums. Go to Mont Vallon, Méribel, for big mountain intermediate skiing and Face de Bellevarde, Val d’Isère, for the wicked World Cup black.

Don’t miss the magical meander through magnificent chalets on Cospillot, Courchevel 1850. Take tree-lined routes from La Plagne to Savoyard hamlets, Mont Albert and Mont Chavin, for rural authenticity. Best après: Folie Douce outdoor dance parties at Trois Vallées and Val d’Isère. Foremost French cuisine flourishes everywhere, especially the three-Michelin-star La Bouitte in Saint Martin de Belleville and La Ferme des 3 Capucines, Tignes.

Epic Switzerland:

Verbier is the vibrant and varied hub of Les Quatres Vallées, Switzerland’s largest ski area. Sharing the same massive lift system, Veysonnaz, Thyon and Nendaz are lower key, family-focused villages. Despite a reputation for riotous après, Verbier is also a serious skiers’ enclave attracting high-level skiers and free-riders. With a qualified guide, abundant off-piste provides itineraries such as Gentianes, Tortin’s mountainous mogul fields, north-facing powder paradise from Stairway to Heaven, and bountiful backcountry bowls at Vallon D’Arbi. On snow days, even intermediate skiers can get powder practice at humble Savoleyres – and access to La Marmotte Restaurant for authentic Swiss delicacies. Check out Chez Dany at Clambin, too, for food and festivities in a forest setting. And stay at traditional Hotel de Verbier for Place Centrale convenience.

Epic Austria:

The Arlberg region, including St. Anton, Lech, Zürs, and the tiny villages of Stuben and St. Christoph, is traditional Tyrolean. But, while the architecture may revolve around quaint chalets, with carved balconies and flowery murals, the skiing is definitely not saccharine. Recommended for competent skiers and late-night revellers, St. Anton is renowned for steep, ungroomed gnarly runs where even blues get heavily mogulled. Four new high-tech 10-seat gondolas will improve inter-resort links, confirming the Arlberg, already the largest ski area in Austria, in the world’s top 10.

Epic Italy:

The gentlest skiing of Epic’s Euro picks, the eight ski areas of Skirama Dolomiti are anchored by Madonna di Campiglio. Italy’s high-fashion attitude to winter sports means as many piste poseurs as skiers, with everyone gustily gorging on aromatic Italian gastronomy at onslope eateries – cheaper than other Epic Euro resorts. Great family potential with expertly manicured, easier runs over expansive interconnected resorts. The Pradalago sector yields boundless blues, reds and moderate wide blacks. For variety take the day trip to Passo Tonale. Stay in a ski in/out hotel such as Hotel Bertelli or pick one with its own shuttle. Don’t miss the Bar Maturi and Pasticceria Pasquini for unusual drinks and chocolate pairings; Bar Suisse for cocktails and local Habsburg specialty carrot cake; and Restaurant al Sarca for venison casserole and polenta.

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