Dreaming of a White Ski Slope: Best Resorts for Early Snow

The ski season in most resorts doesn’t really push off properly until the beginning of January, but if your white Christmas dream includes Jack Frost nipping at your heels as you plummet down a ski slope, then there are some resorts where the snow settles under the trees like an early Christmas present.

While some skiers and snowboarders are content to wait until the weather at home gets really dismal before they head off to embrace winter on the slopes, there are some resorts, with nearby glaciers or north facing slopes, which, if the snow fall is favourable, can build up decent runs by the end of October or November. There’s access to the Hinterlux, which has just the right kind of north facing slopes, from Mayrhofen - the terrain on a glacier is going to be steep - very steep, but equally exciting on the Gefroreme Wand, and the freestyle areas on the Hinterlux usually open in October. Saas Fee has access to the robust Allalin Glacier at 3,500m and is open all year, if it starts to look a bit feeble they beef up the show with a few blasts from the snow cannons. The only problem is that you have to dodge the race teams who practice on the snowiest runs alongside the glacier, but if their speed is a bit intimidating this early in the season try out the world class freestyle park instead. Tignes has the best early access to the Grande Motte Glacier and its highest runs start at 3455m. Tignes is mostly blue and nursery slopes, but experts may want to have a crack at Les Trolles. The rest of L’Espace Killy opens in November.

In January people can fuss over lift queues, night life, and company on the slopes, but in December all that comes second to snow – a resort either has it or it doesn’t. The scientifically inclined skiers look for the average snowfall, and if the average is 300 inches or above there’s a good chance of early snow. Cervinia, conveniently located under the snowy, scenic, 3,480m Matterhorn, gets regular snowfall off the mountain and its high altitude runs build up snow quickly. Most of the higher runs are red and blue pistes but the off piste regions higher up the mountain get more than the magic 300 inches a year and will help more experienced skiers get into shape at the beginning of the season in relative private so they can shoot out of nowhere right across the paths of the rest of us in a months time. Eighties star Obergurgl has been less popular in more recent decades, but it has one of the best snow records in Europe. Its 110kms of piste are good for intermediate skiers and its après ski is good for lovers of the eighties, think cheesy discos, cheesy dumplings, beer and schnapps, but lifts have been updated since then and good ski runs never go out of date.

In the US, Alta, is known for having big bowls full of dry powder and has been open in November for 90% of the seasons over the past 50 years. Grand Targhee and Aspen have similarly promising records. Aspen’s an upmarket resort, but as well as the shopping, there’s skiing all the way up the mountains between altitudes of 2,440 and 3,810m, another good sign, with 120 runs just for intermediate skiers.

The same science based reliability applies for most resorts over 2,000m. Val Thorens at 2,300m is the highest resort in Europe and sits comfortably above the treeline. Its lifts ferrying people up to 3,100m where the runs under the Peclet Glacier, which has a prophylactic cover to protect it from too much sun, have some cover almost year round. Two neighbourhood mountains have peaks at cloud halting heights of over 3,000m, which stop the snow clouds in their tracks right over the resort.

There are other advantages to spending Christmas on the slopes, as well as a guaranteed winter wonderland, a lot of resort towns put on charming Christmas Markets, and you can get some home away from home seasonal cheer where you don’t have to do the washing up, thrown into the bargain. And speaking of bargains the early bird rates could be another Christmas gift. Chamonix ticks a selection of the above boxes, with its glacial skiing on Le Grandes Montets and access to Mont Blanc, but it’s the lift passes that stretch to an impressive 11 skiing areas that can make the difference and because it’s a proper town if the snow dries up at least you’ll have something to do besides sitting around listening to Christmas Carols, like you'd be doing in the packed shopping centres at home.

Top Ski Resorts all season

Comments by other travellers

Some of these resorts may be high, ith early/late snow, but they can be FREEZING/windy in Dec/Jan!!

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