France Vs. Austria – Which is Better For Snowboarding? Part 1: Vive la France!


Basa Stevulova getting some ridiculously fun looking rooster tail action in Chamonix. Photo: Matt George

France or Austria, Austria or France? At least for Brits that’s always been the main choice when it comes to ski holidays. Both destinations have seen ebbs and flows in the waves of seasonaires and tourists that come to pay homage to their slopes; in the 70s the traditional Austrian holiday started to lose business to the rise of the mega resorts in France, purpose built for doorstep skiing and boasting linked pistes in the hundreds out kilometers.

Recently though the trend seems to be shifting back to Austria with vibrant festivals, cheap beers and immaculate parks and pistes beckoning the hordes. Both still dominate the UK holiday market with France puling in an estimated 34.8% market share last year, compared to Österreich’s 28.2%, but which is better?

What better to kick off a level and unbiased debate than to ask the locals? I myself will be representing the interests of France, where I have called Morzine my home for the last three years, and tomorrow we’ll hear from a special guest contributor; so let the great debate commence.

Why I love France and why you should too

France, land of cheese, wine, baguettes, stereotypes, and arguably the spiritual home of British snowboarding. From the early ex-pats such as Mark Kent and Sascha Hamm (technically Austrian, but still prefers France), through Gary Greenshields and Tyler Chorlton to the young Billy Morgan hitting the screens of the BBC next month, all of these guys cut their teeth in France. Couple that with the homegrown crowd, from bonifide legends such as Nico Droz and Xavier de la Rue to new school talents like Niels Schack. Add world renowned mountains like Chamonix, Val Thorens and the Portes du Soleil, plus literally hundreds of amazing smaller resorts to help you beat the crowds; you have to admit that’s a pretty good benchmark for the standard of the country.

Gary Greenshields learnt to do this in France. Photo: Cyril Warth

And how could France not produce this level of riding? It has all the foundations to produce greatness. Take for instance iconic foods for every meal of the day to keep you going; croissants for breakfast, baguette for lunch and a whole host of cheesy goodness like fondue, tartiflette and raqulette to end the day in a blissful, bloated mess. Plus there’s amazing wines to get the party started; who cares if the pints are expensive, you can get decent plonk for a Euro at the supermarket! Much better than an Austrian diet of pure pork and stomach churning Jaeger shots.

Plus the ‘couldn’t give a f*ck about you’ attitude is exactly what makes riding off-piste in France so amazing; you get to go anywhere your skill or stupidity can take you

Most of the pro-Austrian argument is based on cost, for instance a 6-day pass for Skiwelt area will set you back at just 219EUR during peak season, compared to 277EUR for the same deal in Les 3 Valleés. Almost 60 yoyos difference, but think about what that extra cash gets you. Skiing large areas in Austria is a nightmare-ish ball-ache of buses and endless downloading on gondolas whereas the French, like with many things, know how to appreciate the finer things in life. Witness hundreds of miles of inter-connected lifts and pistes, all designed to maximise your enjoyment of the slopes.

Unfriendly locals? Yep, we have them, but I’d rather get served a delicious pain au chocolat by a grumpy boulanger than have to witness Sound-Of-Music-style costumes coupled with ridiculous oompah music. Plus the ‘couldn’t give a f*ck about you’ attitude is exactly what makes riding in France so spectacular: you get to go anywhere your skill or stupidity can take you with no rules, opening up some amazing powder and freeride opportunities. In the eighties, this attitude mindset meant le Francais were pretty quick to allow snowboarding in resorts, why else d’ya think Burton opened the first European Stash park in Avoriaz?

The rules in France have to be pretty lax if Romain de Marchi can get away with sending a huge gap like this over Avoriaz ski schools. Photo: Perly Rider

But the biggest reason by far given by the folk deserting France for other climes is quality: quality of the pistes and quality of the parks. All you hear is how the runs are groomed twice a day and are three times as wide. How the parks are filled with every feature imaginable and are immaculately maintained. Great, if that’s your thing, but doesn’t it all sound a bit clinical? A bit, German?

I’d argue that having nothing but perfect conditions does nothing but breed boring riding. I mean, what’s actually more fun? Having wide empty pistes to practice your impeccable carving technique, a la Russian slalom, or hurling down gnarly runs surrounded by your screaming and whooping friends, dodging huge moguls and irate ESF instructors? Watching slopestlye riders rehearse identikit competition runs on formulaic parks or getting that little extra stoke because the park shapers weren’t so stoned that they actually turned up to work and now that rail actually has a lip on?

True snowboarding isn’t about always having the best conditions, its about having fun no matter what. And that’s why France is the home of true snowboarders. Perfect is mundane but luckily France is neither. Come party with us, you’re always welcome.

You can check out the pro-Austrian side of the debate over here.

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