Resorts for a late-season ski

1st April 2014, by Dave Watts

Chamonix is the launch pad for epic spring ski touring

Chamonix is the launch pad for epic spring ski touring

The prospects for skiing in April (including Easter from 18 to 21 April) look good if you choose the right resort. Most Alpine resorts have had a useful recent top up of snow and high resorts generally have a good covering which should last well until May. That said, mild weather is forecast this week with any precipitation falling as rain at lower altitudes but snow higher up (above 2500m say). So, as ever for April skiing, the message is aim high for the best snow. I have two April trips planned, plus one in early May. So which resorts should you head for? Here are 10 of the best.

Chamonix, France
Chamonix is renowned as an extreme sports Mecca, with some of the best off-piste skiing in the world. And late season is a great time to try it when the north-facing aspect of the cult Grands Montets area and the varied runs down the Vallée Blanche from the top of the Aiguille du Midi cable car have snow that is still in great condition. Chamonix is also the launch pad for epic spring ski touring and the starting point for the famous Haute Route to Zermatt in Switzerland. The Chamonix valley cuts deeply through Europe’s highest mountains and glaciers and the views of the towering, jagged peaks and tumbling glaciers are stunning, both from the mountains and the town. The resort is a big, bustling traditional mountain town with an atmospheric car-free centre.

Val d’Isère-Tignes, France
These two resorts share the vast, snow-sure Espace Killy 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.  I’ll be in Val for the week after Easter with the Telegraph Ski and Snowboard magazine reader trip.

Val Thorens, 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 after a week packed with fun events and concerts. 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 means the local lift system is now very impressive, with jumbo gondolas and fast chairs in most of the key places. The resort was well designed with a piste effectively running through it and nearly all accommodation benefitting from ski-in, ski-out convenience. And a lot of the newer hotels and apartments are in the 4- and 5-star category and very stylish and comfortable. There are some smart restaurants too (including Oxalys with two Michelin stars) as well as budget options.

The high Tirol ski resort of Ischgl closes on 4 May

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 Robbie Williams is the star attraction at the top of the mountain on 3 May. The WTSS team will be there in force. 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.

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.

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 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 runs in Zermatt are above 2500m

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).

Banff, Canada
If you fancy a late trip over the pond, Banff is worth considering.  It is spectacularly set in a snowy and mountainous National Park, and two of its three nearby ski areas have reliable snow until May. Sunshine Village, reached by a long access gondola from a base station 20 minutes drive from Banff, is by far the snowiest (thanks to its elevated position sitting on the Continental Divide). It relies on natural snow and has just two snow guns used only in early season – and we’ve had great powder days there in April. Lake Louise, 45 minutes drive from Banff, is the biggest ski area, has a lot more snowmaking and also stays open into May. Both areas have terrain to suit all ability levels. Banff is primarily a summer rather than a winter resort and has a wide variety of hotels and restaurants.

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

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