When is the Ski Season? – A Beginner’s Guide
BY - Tim Latimer, 16 March 2023, ARTICLES
BY - Tim Latimer, 16 March 2023, ARTICLES
There’s a lot to think about when planning a European ski trip. From selecting a location that fits your party’s abilities to choosing the perfect luxury chalet to suit your needs, even the most experienced skiers need to do their homework before booking. One of the most important things you need to get right is picking the right time of the year for your snowy getaway.
After all, you want to choose a location and time where there will be plenty of snow. From a social point of view, you’ll also likely want to select a time when your desired location is bustling, but not uncomfortably busy. This is why it pays to understand traditional ski seasons across the continent.
As a general rule, in Europe the ski season runs between the last week in November or beginning of December to the middle to end of April. While there are a few exceptions – for example, a number of resorts in Scandinavia, which remain skiable until June, and some resorts that have a glacier which can offer year round (but very limited) skiing – it is this four to five month period that is known as the ‘ski season’ in Europe.
Although there is a margin of a few weeks either side of this date, most European ski resorts will have experienced significant snowfall by the middle of December. While some resorts do open at the end of November, most open fully during the early weeks of December.
With this informal point in the calendar entrenched in the minds of eager skiers all over the world, nowadays most resorts even have contingency plans in the way of extensive artificial snow-making capabilities. These plans are put into action if the level of snowfall is below usual levels. This means, although the best snow tends to be found in January and February, most resorts can offer good conditions even in December.
For the best natural snow conditions in December, high-altitude resorts such as Zermatt, Switzerland and Val d’Isère, France are your best bet. The opening weeks of the season also tend to be some of the quietest many resorts experience all season. Plus, as demand for the luxury ski chalets in those early/mid December weeks is lower, the rates are also relatively low compared to the much more sought-after weeks of Christmas, New Year week or the school holidays. This makes it a great time for skiers to go and take advantage of emptier slopes and cheaper prices.
The downside of going skiing during those first couple of weeks of the season is that the snow cover can be less reliable than later in the season as it has had less time to build up, and the days are shorter in December.
For the majority of European ski resorts in the Alps, the end of the regular ski season comes in mid-April, usually at the end of the Easter school holidays. The higher altitude ski resorts keep their lifts operating until the end of April and even into the first week of May.
Once again, there are a number of pros and cons to booking a skiing vacation later in the season. As the weather gets warmer as the end of the ski season looms, there is of course a risk of some patchy snow cover, particularly on the south-facing slopes. You can also expect slushier snow conditions in the afternoons as the days warm up. But don’t let that put you off. The ski resorts are masters at keeping the pistes skiable even well into spring when the grass is showing through in the meadows beside the pistes.
On the upside, skiing in April means longer days, warmer temperatures and more sunshine. More daylight usually comes with extended lift opening hours and more outdoor après ski activities on offer. Think lunch on sun-drenched mountain restaurant terraces and relaxing in the warmth of the evening sunshine on the balcony of your luxury ski chalet at the end of the day. Bliss.
Put simply, the is no ‘best’ time to go on a skiing holiday. Instead, there are pros and cons of travelling at almost all times of the ski season. For example, if you are looking to travel before Christmas, you may experience emptier slopes, but snow coverage is less reliable. Similarly, if you book after the New Year’s rush in mid to late January, the conditions are likely to be excellent, however, it can be very cold and the time of the year means days are shorter.
February is a popular time of the season. This is because there tends to be a good balance between cold temperatures and good snow during this month. Days are also slightly longer than at the very start of the year, meaning more daylight. However, February can also be busy on the slopes during the school holidays, especially around the middle of the month.
March can be a great time to book a ski getaway. Days are getting longer and warmer and slopes tend to be emptier after the February school holidays come to an end. However, at the end of March and going into April, the slopes can start to get busier again due to the Easter school holidays (usually the first 2 weeks of April). By April, the warmer weather usually means slushy snow conditions during the afternoons. This is particularly common in lower resorts and on the south-facing pistes with a southerly aspect.
When it comes to chalet rental rates, the most expensive weeks to book a luxury ski chalet are normally the week over New Year and the main school holiday week in the middle of February. During these periods, don’t be surprised to see rates double their off-peak equivalents. When it comes to the best value for money, rates tend to be at their lowest for the pre-Christmas weeks and between the middle and the end of January.
Unsurprisingly the ski slopes tend to be busiest during school holidays – Christmas, February half-term, and Easter. The weeks in between these holidays are typically quieter and less crowded. This is something to bear in mind when booking a luxury ski holiday. Naturally, fewer people means smaller queues and emptier slopes.
As with the time of the year you choose to book, there are also a range of advantages and disadvantages to each resort. This is to say, there is no one ‘best’ resort. However, to give you an idea of some resorts that remain popular all-season long, check out the following options. From outstanding conditions to elite facilities, these destinations tick a lot of boxes.
Touched on above, this high-altitude Swiss location is perfect for early season skiing. Built for both beginners and experienced skiers alike, ski season starts early in this popular resort. From wide open green slopes and scenic red intermediate slopes to the infamous Black Mamba piste for experienced skiers, Zermatt has something for everyone.
Located just below the Matterhorn, on the Italian side of the border, Cervinia boasts one of the best snow records in Europe. This allows for a long season that runs between November and May. With a fantastic selection of nursery, green and red slopes, Cervinia is perfect for beginners and intermediate skiers.
Another high-altitude resort, Val d’Isère enjoys one of the longest ski seasons in Europe. With runs located between two glaciers reaching a staggering 3,456m, conditions are usually strong from the end of November onwards. On top of excellent slopes and off-piste routes, this French resort also offers one of the best après ski social scenes in the Alps, making it an ideal location practically all season round.
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