As the nights draw in and temperatures drop, we skiers and snowboarders are getting increasingly itchy to hit the slopes. So why wait?
Picture it – empty slopes, eager staff brimful of enthusiasm for the season ahead, and a joyful escape from the inexorable build-up to Christmas. Early-season skiing offers all of this and the perfect opportunity to brush up on skills for the subsequent trips many of us keenies will already have booked. There are so many reasons that make an early escape to the mountains so appealing (not least the cheap holiday prices) and the good news is that you can go much sooner than you might think.
Many consider the new season to start on the week covering Christmas and then going into overdrive the following week for New Year. In terms of sheer numbers of snowsports enthusiasts descending upon the mountains, this is true, and for many lower resorts it would be impractical to open earlier as the risk of poor snow coverage is too great. But the good news for snow junkies is that many of the highest resorts open far earlier – in the case of the French resort of Tignes, in just a few days’ time. So if you really can’t wait to get your downhill fix, you don’t need to – not for very long anyway.
The caveat is that the area open might be limited – the earlier you go, the greater the risk. That’s why tying in an early season trip with tuitionis a such a good idea, because a restricted ski area won’t limit how much you learn.
The first ski school out of the block is Snoworks, which offers a range of recreational five-day courses in Tignes, starting from October 14, and running throughout the season. The Warren Smith Ski Academy follows close on its heels with its early-season five-day courses in Cervinia starting on November 5 and the last on December 3.
Veteran ski instructor Pat Zimmer has been running Premiere Neige performance clinics in Val d’Isère for 30 years in conjunction with holiday operator Le Ski. The five-day course starts on December 2. Just sneaking into the early season category, the Ski Club of Great Britain offers a five-day progression course exclusively for over 55’s to Val Thorens, departing December 9.
If you can’t get away pre Christmas, no matter, as Snoworks and The Warren Smith Ski Academy offer some excellent one-day courses in UK snowdomes too.
Let the season begin. Early.
Five of the best early-season ski resorts
Thanks to high altitudes and glacier skiing options, these destinations are bankers for good-quality snow cover
1. Tignes, France
Opens September 30
Tignes shares a giant ski area with neighbouring Val d’Isère, with 300km of pistes reaching from 1,550m to 3,456m. The Grande Motte glacier in Tignes opens on September 30, with the link to Val d’Isère opening around November 25 (snow conditions permitting). The Val side also has a glacier, the Pissaillas, and the stellar altitude of the slopes makes this a safe bet for a snow-sure break.
2. Cervinia, Italy
Opens October 28
Because of its altitude and its proximity to Switzerland – the ski area is linked across the Matterhorn to Zermatt – Cervinia remains one of the most reliable resorts for European snow. The resort sits at 2,050m, with lifts going up to 3,820m, and the joint ski area with Zermatt is the highest in Europe. Along with glacier skiing options, this means snow cover is guaranteed between November and early May.
3. Verbier, Switzerland
Opens November 4
This is the freeride capital of the Alps, attracting powderhounds from all over the world. With a top lift at a heady 3,330m, snow cover is pretty much guaranteed at altitude, although the lower half of the resort can suffer in an early season snow drought. The ski area extends into three neighbouring valleys, with 400km of linked pistes covered by one lift pass.
4. Val Thorens, France
Opens November 18
At 2,300m, this is the highest ski resort in Europe. The highest lift goes to 3,230m, the top point of the whole 600km Trois Vallées ski area, and this lofty altitude ensures decent conditions from November until early May. Val Thorens opened 40 years ago as an ambitious experiment in purpose-built resorts, and today it has a justified reputation for quality slopes and fine living.
5. Ischgl, Austria
Opens November 23
With a base village at 1,400m and a top height of less than 3,000m, this isn’t your typical snow-sure candidate. However, as you move east across the Alps, Austrian resorts don’t need the same super-high altitudes as French ones to get good snow cover. Ischgl also has a snowmaking system that’s so sophisticated it can almost dispense with nature altogether. Famous for its lively après, the resort starts and ends every season with a huge mid-mountain concert.