There’s nothing like a cheeky early season ski trip to get your legs in shape before winter really kicks off!
It’s that time of year again: the winter chills are setting in, down jackets are getting busted out, and the Alps are luxuriating in their first real snowfall of winter. If you’re anything like us, staring at webcams all day, the itch to go skiing really needs to be scratched soon!
Early season skiing requires a little more thought than normal ski trips though. The majority of resorts won’t start spinning lifts until a week or two before Christmas, and even the resorts that do open early are by no means guaranteed to have good snow. Sure the glaciers normally have a decent base down by mid-November, but there are downsides to the altitude too: they’re bleak and miserable in a storm, and generally don’t have particularly varied skiing.
So what to do? Well, there are two solid approaches to planning an early season trip to a non-glacier resort. If you’re flexible, just keep an eye on the forecast and the book flights as late as possible – ideally no more than a couple of days before travelling – to wherever looks to have the best conditions at the time. If that sounds a bit risky, here are some of our favourite tried and tested resorts for pre-Christmas skiing.
- 24 lifts, 110km pistes
- Altitude: 1800m to 3080m
- Low season day ski pass: €48
- Opens: 16th November 2017
- Closest airports: Innsbruck 97km/Munich 244km
Obergurgl is located right up at the far end of the Ötztal, surrounded by 3000m peaks and a number of glaciers (though the resort itself isn’t glaciated). It’s always one of the first non-glacier resorts to open in mid-November, with a long season running well into May. With it’s position in the northern Alps but at the southern end of a long valley it picks up snow from both the north and south, and is just up the road from Sölden if you fancy a bit of variation.
- 45 lifts, 238km pistes
- Altitude: 1377m to 2873m
- Low season day ski pass: €48
- Opens: 23th November 2017
- Closest airports: Innsbruck 100km/Zurich 228km/Munich 230km
Ischgl is one of the most snow sure resorts in the whole of the Alps. It’s in the snowy north west corner of Austria, but importantly also has a lot of skiing above 2000m on shaded north-facing slopes. The resort staff and lift company also make a big effort to open as much terrain as possible as early as possible (compared to neighbouring resorts like St Anton), bashing any early season snowfalls straight away to conserve the snow for the November opening.
3. Val d’Isere
- 96 lifts, 300km pistes
- Altitude: 1850m to 3550m
- Low season day ski pass: €50
- Opens: 25th November 2017
- Closest airports: Chambéry 144km/Geneva 177km/Grenoble 210km
Val d’Isere and Tignes together make up the Espace Killy ski area, and while both technically have glaciers they also have a huge amount of non-glaciated terrain that opens up early in the season. One of the reasons it’s particularly good early season is the sheer altitude: 60% of the skiing is over 2500m, much of it north-facing. Additionally, unlike other Tarentaise resorts which only pick up snow from the west/north west, due to its proximity to the Italian border Val d’Isère also benefits from retour d’est systems and gets snow from the east/south-east too.
- 19 lifts, 150km pistes
- Altitude: 1524m to 3450m
- Low season day ski pass: €41
- Opens (daily): 28th October 2017
- Closest airports: Turin 118km/Milan Malpensa 160km
Cervinia is in the north west of Italy in the Aosta Valley, surrounded by big mountains like Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn. It has by FAR the greatest amount of high altitude skiing in Italy, and is also linked to the snow sure glaciated terrain in Zermatt (but is much cheaper to stay in!).
5. Val Thorens
- 31 lifts, 150km pistes (600 in the whole 3 Valleys)
- Altitude: 1800m to 3230m
- Low season day ski pass: €4
- Opens (daily): 19th November 2017
- Closest airports: Chambéry 122km/Lyon 199km/Geneva 201km
At 2300m in the Tarentaise Valley, Val Thorens is the highest resort in Europe – and given 99% of its skiing is over 2000m it’s clear why it’s one of the most snow sure resorts early season. In fact, while most resorts have fairly limited openings before Christmas, Val Thorens generally aims to get 80% of its slopes open (though this is of course weather dependant) – and many of them are shaded north or north-west slopes that hold snow in good condition even in sunny weather.