Early season skiing
If you’re dying to get back on skis as soon as possible next season, where should you head for?
In Europe, several glaciers are open now including Hintertux and Stubai in Austria, Zermatt and Sass Fee in Switzerland. Tignes in France is due to open from 1 October. But the areas open are relatively small and confined to the glacier slopes.
Personally, I wait till early December to go skiing, when several European areas generally have substantial amounts of terrain open. In North America, many resorts aim to have lots of slopes open by the Thanksgiving holiday (24 November in 2016). Even if natural snow doesn’t fall in time, many resorts can open using man-made snow.
Last season I enjoyed an excellent few days in mid-December in the Sella Ronda area of Italy, skiing on entirely artificial snow.
In previous seasons, I’ve had excellent December trips to:
• The Arlberg in Austria, skiing in St Anton, Lech, Zürs and Warth-Schröcken. All these resorts will be fully linked for the 2016/17 season thanks to huge investments in lifts to link the St Anton and Zürs ski areas. These will create the biggest linked ski area in Austria, with 305km of slopes and 87 lifts. The area is due to open on 2 December but I’ll probably wait until January to check it out this season, to make sure any teething problems with the new lifts are sorted.
• Val d’Isère and Tignes, where a smart new 10-person gondola will speed access to the Solaise area of Val d’Isère for 2016/17. On this trip I also went to Val Thorens and Les Menuires. This season the Val d’Isère-Tignes link and Val Thorens are due to open on 26 November, Les Menuires on 10 December.
• Courchevel and La Tania. This season most of the 3 Vallées links are due to be open by 10 December. Click here to read one chalet owner’s experience of December snow in Reberty.
• Breckenridge and Vail in Colorado, USA. Again I’ve hosted several very successful December reader trips to each of these and never had to suffer poor snow conditions. Normally, we’ve skied several other nearby resorts on these trips to, such as Copper Mountain, Keystone and Beaver Creek.
In all the above trips, large amounts of terrain were open. But you can’t expect the whole area to be open in mid-December – in my experience some pistes will still be closed and the off-piste can be scratchy.
There are plenty of other resorts that you could consider for a December ski trip. I’m hoping to make it to Sölden and Obergurgl this December. Sölden’s glaciers are open most of the year and will host the opening World Cup ski races of the season from 21 to 23 October; its non-glacier lifts and pistes are due to start opening from 19 November. Obergurgl is due to open on 17 November.
Other resorts to consider include: in Austria Ischgl due to open on 26 November with a huge concert, Obertauern due to open 3 December and Kaprun due to open its glacier again on 15 October; in Switzerland Saas Fee dues to open for winter from 1 November, Zermatt due to open for winter from 26 November; in Italy Cervinia due to open for winter from early November and Bormio due to open from 26 November.