Gallic Mountain Disney

Cold Front
Gallic Mountain Disney

French ski areas have long embraced the country's free-love ethic-they'll jump at any opportunity to hook up with a neighbor. Take, for example, the arrival this winter of a 200-skier-capacity, 1.2-mile, double-decker tram that combines Les Arcs and La Plagne into one megaresort, dubbed Paradiski. The merger grants skiers access to a staggering 175 lifts and 264 miles of terrain (only two other resorts in the world offer more)-with just one ticket. The new tram also makes Paradiski one of eight resorts in France to rank among the 10 largest lift-linked ski areas in the world (and they were opposed to Disney, why?). The biggest is Les Portes du Soleil, which straddles France's border with Switzerland, connecting a half-dozen resorts for a ridiculous 403 miles of pistes.

It's easy to sneer at the French for breaking the boundaries of garishness. But, at the same time, all that terrain is irresistibly tantalizing. Here in North America-home of Super Wal-Mart and supersized Freedom Fries-we have, count 'em, zero top-ten colossal resorts (see chart, right). So why aren't we seeing any stateside hookups? Say, a tram linking Vail to Summit County, or a poma from Stowe to Smugglers' Notch?

The most obvious obstacle is topography. Besides national parks, we just don't have the glaciated, above-tree line slopes found throughout Europe. "If you go over a ridge in the Alps, there's another ski area right there," says Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. "If you go over the ridge at Aspen Highlands, there's a whole lot of terrain between it and the next area." Even when two areas share a nearby boundary and common ownership, the big embrace often requires negotiating a minefield of environmental regulations, most of which exist for the perfectly sound reason that more clear-cuts won't do wildlife any good.

"I think the ski-circus approach will evolve in North America over time," says Berry, who cites a connection of Alta and Park City as a remote possibility. "But nothing over here will ever compare in size to the Euro standards." In the meantime, there's always France. If we could only find a way to keep all the cheese-eaters from stepping on our ski tails, now that would be