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Family Ski News | October 7, 2022

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Size matters on piste

Size matters on piste
Teresa Fisher

What’s the true length of pistes?
How are pistes measured?
And just how accurate are they?

When it comes to size, lots of us might be guilty of a little exaggeration now and again. But now the latest Where to Ski & Snowboard guide has uncovered the biggest whopper of them all: the long and short of piste measurements.

When choosing your resort, most avid skiers and boarders will into their choice the total length or area of the available runs – generally speaking that’s total km in Europe, and total acres in North America. According to Where to Ski and Snowboard, these numbers are produced by the resorts. They’re normally compiled by the lift companies, who often grossly overestimate the figures.

Co-editor Chris Gill, says; “Throughout the time we have been producing this book – perilously close to 20 years, now – we’ve had trouble accepting the claims of certain resorts. Among those that come to mind are Courmayeur and Monterosa in Italy, Les Deux-Alpes in southern France and the 4 Valleys area in Switzerland, in which Verbier is the senior partner. As it happens, two of these cases were resolved over a year ago – the two Italian resorts have conceded that they were exaggerating”.

Christoph Schrahe, one of the best-known German authors on winter sports

Christoph Schrahe, one of the best-known German authors on winter sports

So now the truth is out. And it’s largely thanks to German ski resort expert Christoph Schrahe, who has measured the slopes of most of the major resorts in Europe and North America, and found that most of them exaggerate the extent of their pistes, and by amounts that will shock many snowsports fans.

Gill continues; “We were intrigued when German writer and consultant Schrahe applied digital tools to measure the pistes of the world’s 50 biggest ski areas. In a small number of cases, such as Kitzbühel, Schrahe’s measurement and the resort’s match closely. However, the majority of the resorts tested were found to have exaggerated the piste extent by amounts ranging from 7% to over 150%”.

So how does Schrahe, a German lecturer in ski resort management, manage to measure the slopes so accurately?  He simply uses a digital mapping system, GPS and Google Earth to measure the length down the middle of the pistes, following each of the slopes’ twists and turns.  You can read more about Schrahe and his methods on his website pistelength.com.

Where to Ski and Snowboard Co-editor, Dave Watts added; “We find it difficult to believe that all these resorts are simply lying or mistaken about the size of their mountains, so we have made some attempts to find out how they arrive at figures that seem to overstate their piste extents. Currently the 4 Valleys are re-measuring everything and are preparing a report. So we wait with bated breath to hear more. The Grand Massif (Flaine and neighbours) told us that its measurement is almost exactly the same as Schrahe’s but it adds on 57% to take account of the fact that you make turns, rather than going straight down the slopes!”.

Some saints (where the claimed total more-or-less equals the measured total):
Kitzbühel
Lech-Zürs
St Anton-Stuben
Saalbach

The Vars ski area - guilty of grossly exaggerated kms of piste

The Vars ski area – guilty of grossly exaggerated kms of piste

Some sinners (where the claimed total is more than double the measured total):
Vars
Isola 2000
4 Valleys (Verbier etc)
Les Sybelles

Some big areas (where the claimed total exceeds the measured total by over 50%):
Portes du Soleil (Avoriaz etc)
Milky Way
Grand Massif (Flaine etc)

Schrahe also measured the piste km of major North American resort areas and his results enabled the Where to Ski and Snowboard editors to check their extent ratings, which cover both European and North American resorts: only one or two changes were needed. According to Schrahe, Whistler is joint number five in the world league table, alongside Zermatt–Cervinia, both with 252km of runs. There are five other North American ski areas in the top 30 in the world.

With so many variations out there, if you really want to get the best – and the biggest – fun from your snowsports holiday, it pays to consult the brand new, completely revised 18th edition of Where To Ski and Snowboard. Where to Ski and Snowboard 2014 is published on 2 September 2013 by NortonWood Publishing, priced £18.99. The book is available from all good bookshops and many equipment shops, or online at a heavily discounted price from the Where to Ski and Snowboard website.