Where to ski late in the season

4th March 2017, by Dave Watts

The French ski resort of Val d'Isère on 9 April last season — photo by Dave

The French ski resort of Val d'Isère on 9 April last season — photo by Dave

March and April are my favourite months for skiing. The sun is strong and if you choose the right resort with lots of high-altitude skiing, the snow is usually good until May.

This has been a poor season for snow in the Alps. But as I am writing this snow is falling lightly in most resorts and a lot more is promised. But if you are planning a trip now for late March or April (Easter is 14 to 16 April this year) my advice is to go for a high snowsure resort.

In contrast to the Alps much of North America has had very good snow this winter. But many resorts close ridiculously early (eg Jackson Hole which has had stupendous snow this season) closes on 9 April. Telluride and Aspen’s Buttermilk mountain close on 2 April.

Over in California, things are very different. After a series of dry years (remember the Californian drought and forest fires?) 2016/17 has been a record year for snowfall at many resorts. Mammoth Mountain traditionally tries to stay open until American Independence Day on 4 July and announced it would do so this year way back in January. Now Squaw Valley and neighbouring Alpine Meadows have announced that they too will stay open till 4 July. Don’t expect all the trail to be open then or snow conditions to be wintery by then. But conditions there in April should be great.

So which resorts should you head for in the Alps? Here are some of the best. Last April I went to Les Menuires and Val d’Isère. And in late March this year I am planning a trip to Zermatt and Cervinia.

Val d’Isère-Tignes, France

These two resorts share a vast, snow-sure ski area which includes two glaciers where summer as well as winter skiing is possible. The terrain is excellent for confident intermediates and experts – with lots of easily accessible off-piste as well as on-piste challenges. The après-ski in Val d’Isère remains lively too, with lots of bars and clubs staying open into April and the Folie Douce rocking up on the mountain and Cocorico at the foot of it for Austrian-style après-ski. I had a great time in Val last season from 6 to 9 April checking out Inghams new chalet-hotel Savoie (a former 5-star hotel) – see my blog here

Val Thorens-Les Menuires, France

Val Thorens, set at 2300m, is Europe’s highest resort and its slopes reach 3230m – meaning guaranteed good snow until the end of a long season which ends on 9 May. It is at one end of the Three Valleys – the world’s largest lift-linked ski area with 600km of largely intermediate pistes to explore. Massive recent investment here and in neighbouring Les Menuires means the local lift system is now very impressive, with jumbo gondolas and fast chairs in most of the key places. The resorts were well designed for ski-in, ski-out convenience. As well as easy access to Val Thorens’ high slopes and the rest of the Trois Vallées ski area, Les Menuires has its own shady La Masse area which reaches over 2800m which is often delightfully quiet.Last season, I stayed in Les Menuires from 2 to 5 April checking out Powder n Shine’s chalets – see my blog here

Ischgl, Austria

The ski area is high for the Tirol, with all the slopes except the runs back to the resort between 1800m and 2870m and most runs in the local Ischgl sector facing north-west, so snow stays in good condition. There’s lots of snowmaking too. Après-ski is very lively, starting on the mountain and moving on to numerous bars and clubs in town. The resort is famous for its opening (in November) and closing parties which are held outdoors and feature big name artists – this year Italian superstar Zucchero is the star attraction at the top of the mountain on 30 April. The slopes are linked to those of the duty-free village of Samnaun in Switzerland and most are wide, well-groomed and ideal for intermediate cruising. And the lift system is very modern, with 80 per cent of the main lifts being gondolas or high-speed chairs. Read my late-season blog from 2014 here.

Freshies in Ischgl on 4 May 2014 — my best day of that season

Obergurgl, Austria

Obergurgl is one of Austria’s highest and most snowsure non-glacial resorts. The village is at 1930m, the slopes reach over 3000m and the resort claims snowmaking covers 99% of the pistes. So good snow cover is assured; that and comfortable 4-star hotels, together with some jolly après-ski, ensure repeat custom from a loyal band of visitors who book a year in advance to avoid disappointment. The pistes are mainly gentle, making it a good choice for leisurely intermediates and beginners. I skied there before Christmas this season and, though natural snow was lacking, the pistes were in great condition because of the snowmaking.

Cervinia, Italy

Cervinia is one of the best resorts in the world for gentle cruising in spring sunshine on mile after mile of easy, snowsure, well-groomed pistes. The slopes are among the highest in Europe (reaching almost 3500m) and snowmaking goes pretty much top to bottom on the main slopes. It is linked by lift and piste directly to the highest (and easiest) of Zermatt’s slopes just over the Swiss border.  But you pay good value Italian euro rather than Swiss franc prices; eating and drinking is almost half the price on the Italian side.  Accommodation is cheaper too.

Livigno, Italy

Livigno’s pistes are mainly easy, above-the-treeline cruises which suit intermediates well. And the vast array of nursery slopes means it is good for beginners too. The snow is usually good due to the altitude (most of the skiing is above 2000m and a lot is above 2500m) and the extent of the snowmaking – giving a long season lasting until May. Prices are relatively low by ski resort standards and it is a duty free area – so booze and cigarettes are especially cheap.

Saas-Fee, Switzerland

We once worked out the average altitude you spend your time skiing at in all the major resorts of the Alps. Saas-Fee came out on top by a mile – at 1800m the village is not exceptionally high, but most of its slopes are between 2500m and 3500m. What’s more, they are almost entirely north-facing, and a good proportion are on glaciers. There is year-round skiing and riding at the top here, so April snow is assured; indeed March and April are the best winter months to visit here because the village gets little sun in early season. The slopes are gentle and ideal for beginners, early intermediates and those not looking for much of a challenge. There are some very comfortable hotels and après-ski is lively.

Most of the slopes at Saas-Fee are between 2500m and 3500m

Zermatt, Switzerland

The mountains here are rocky and have a relatively dry climate. But high altitude and snowmaking more than make up for that; the resort boasts the highest piste in Europe (3820m), most of the runs are above 2500m and there’s lots of snowmaking from above 3000m down to resort level. Intermediates and experts will enjoy the terrain most. The resort is linked to Cervinia in Italy, where the slopes are just as snowsure and offer mainly gentle cruising. Zermatt’s mountain restaurants are simply the best in the world (but pricey). The scenery is spectacular too, with the famous Matterhorn in view from pretty much everywhere on the mountainside. And the town is car-free and reachable for visitors only by cog railway (cars have to be left down the valley at Täsch). I’ll be there this season for my annual holiday with my wife and a couple of friends in late March.

Looking for a last-minute ski deal? Check out our bargains section for lots of April offers.


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