Free and easy US resorts are less of a paradise for poseurs

Skiing in America is far less formal than in Europe - and arguably more fun. That said, Jill Crawshaw still found herself missing those long lunches in cosy Alpine huts
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The Independent Travel
There's less of the boring one-upmanship that you can find when skiing in Europe. The American version is far less pompous. "Trails" (American-speak for runs or "pistes") have names like "Show-Off Alley," "Bottoms Up", "Kleenex Corner" and even in Top People's Vail - "Wow", and on a particularly tricky run "O.S!"

And if the guy behind you in the ski-line (not queue) - always orderly, never like the French versions which are fights to the death - asks, "Are you single, Ma'am?" it's not a chat-up, but a sensible invitation to share a double ski-lift. If you find US ski-lifts without safety bars, they'll try to convince you that it's safer that way on take-off and landing.

They won't admit it, but in most Rockies resorts, the skiing is easier than in Europe, with immaculately groomed, man-made trails, few moguls, even traffic lights, and planned in such a way that even the real skiing rabbit can come down (a much longer way) from the same peak as the expert.

Colour-coding is different from the European - from easy green runs to double-black diamonds for experts. In my experience an American so-called difficult "black" is equivalent to the European intermediate-red. Remember that every American resort, ski-lift company and instructor is terrified of being sued for $10bn damages if anyone even strains an ankle - which explains the excessive caution in every aspect of the winter-sport activity!

With the possible exception of Austria (where there can still be a language barrier), the US children's ski schools are the best organised, never too many in one group and very much planned with the children's wishes in mind. In both Breckenridge and Vail, my own children never had more than eight in their classes, and the emphasis was on fun as well as technique.

"How about it, guys," their instructor (who wore a different stetson each day) would greet his charges. "The Lost Gold Mine, the Indian Tepee or shall we meet Goofy? Let's hear it."

Every morning the groups decided a plan of action whether it was animal tracking in the forest, whizzing over bumps or timing themselves on the slalom course. So it isn't surprising that the child drop-out rate in the US is almost non-existent, while in some of Europe's over-formal, over-large children's classes, it can be up to a third.

Forget all the glitzy state-of-the-art ski wear that even skiing duds in Europe prance around in; In the US, while the equipment is excellent (remember the threat of lawsuits!), clothing is informal and anything but trendy - jeans, stetsons and colourful shirts are the form, and bulky puffy jackets. But you will find that even that lowest form of ski resort life - the ski bums - are usually students who are excessively polite, welcoming and helpful.

But it's not all good - you'll find few cosy mountain huts in the Rockies where you can linger over long lunches and afternoon gluhwein sessions, thus putting off those slippery slopes ahead of you in a thoroughly satisfactory manner. Americans reckon that 15 minutes, a hot dog and a paper-cup full of coffee consumed while standing up will do - and you'll have to stand in line to get those. But no hard alcohol like beer or wine, in case you sue for damages if you over-imbibe and fall.

On the whole the apres-ski can't compare with Europe; Ideal Home style condominiums (American-speak for apartments) for a large proportion of the accommodation, and families particularly spend a lot of their evening time "indoors".

This doesn't apply to some big resorts such as Aspen or Vail which can match Europe for bars or nightclubs, with the addition of "Western" saloons, musicals, political satire and rock.

Drink laws which forbid the serving of alcohol to the under-21s, and the constant request for IDs bring forth loud complaints from those used to the more liberal European attitudes. Alcohol for the under-21s equals Big Sin in the US.

While food is much cheaper, and the apartments with their dishwashers, TVs and every mod con a dream (you could probably fit half a dozen French apartments into most US living rooms), the prices of ski passes can be juddering.

The Thomson brochure quotes six-day lift passes in Breckenridge, a very popular medium-sized resort, costing from pounds 145 in low season to pounds 157 in high season, children paying between pounds 54 and pounds 72. In Vail, the respective costs are pounds 179-pounds 194 for adults and pounds 132-pounds 144 for children. In Canada's Whistler these come slightly lower at pounds 103-pounds 135 for adults, and pounds 58-pounds 73 for children.

In Europe, although some passes such as the Trois Vallees are expensive, the areas covered are much more extensive. The Val d'Isere Pass for example costing pounds 119 for adults and pounds 83 for children covers 100 lifts and is valid for all lifts not only in Val d'Isere itself, but also La Daille, Tignes plus one day in either Les Arcs or La Plagne.

A pass in the Italian Superski Area would cost approximately pounds 80-pounds 100 per adult, pounds 60-pounds 70 per child.

While snowboarding and ski equipment hire tends to be slightly more expensive in the US, standards are higher and more care is taken with fitting and safety standards (again, remember the threat of law suits!)

You'll also have to budget up to pounds 20 more per head for... insurance.