Where to ski at which time of year? We asked six seasoned Fall-Line writers to present us with a realistic(-ish) master-plan for winter 2017/18
Winter presents skiers with a bewildering range of possibilities in terms of destinations and timings. Working out when to go where, or when conditions are likely to be prime in a particular destination, can be more of a brain tease than an advanced sudoku puzzle.
To help break down the options we asked six of our most experienced writers to come up with a plan for where they would chose to ski at various times of year.
Richard Fincher, Fall-Line publisher
I’m planning on getting some turn practice in locally. With Milton Keynes, Hemel and Tamworth an hour away, I can get the family warmed up for the season and book in some fun freestyle taster sessions to get the children fired up for the snow. Freestyle coaching is £29 for two hours at Castleford or MK, or a full day at Tamworth for £114 for da yoof. Might even join them – after all, I haven’t seen the inside of a hospital for at least 6 months…
Christmas/New Year: Plan Peisey
We’re cheating a bit here, by sneaking out just before Christmas week to save about eight million quid and 17 hours of queuing. I’d pick somewhere that I’d not normally entertain, with masses of lifts, plenty of altitude and generally a bit busy for my liking. Plan Peisey is jolly, feels small enough, hooks straight over to La Plagne if you need more, and has a couple of my favourite tree-lined French runs on either side of the Vanoise Express – Ours (rather marvellously pronounced ‘whores’) on the Arcs side, and anything off the Roche de Mio heading down to Montchavin in La Plagne. Good prices on grub in these lower resorts, too!
January low-season: Engelberg
I’d wait for the snow and hope somewhere like Engelberg was in condition. There are still some folks’ gardens I haven’t skied through (a slight mix-up with the piste map and an ‘off-piste itinerary’). Once you’ve worked out what links to where, the hors piste (pronounced ‘oar’) is varied, relentless and rarely skied out by the lunatic Swedes claiming the resort for their own.
I hear the rather hard beds at the desperately cool Ski Lodge have been softened slightly, so that’s my kippage of choice. Money no object or no, I shall still be bringing duty free to tame the bar bill.
February half-term: San Martino di Castrozza
This means Italy. In fact half term normally means anything other than skiing for Family Fincher, because it’s just too busy, but if pressed I’d head for the red rocks of the Dolomites – which are generally in full winter mode in Feb. San Martino di Castrozza is a wonderfully charming joint which could be as famous as Cortina but happily isn’t. It’s not hugely connected, so ski-in ‘n’ out isn’t part of the plan, but classy, nipper-friendly bars, great mountain food and some quirky piste planning means that a crap-looking map delivers some belting skiing, including some very excellent off-piste from the Rosetta cable car.
Early spring: Alta
Utah. Basing myself in Salt Lake and heading for Alta and Brighton over the first couple of days would set the scene nicely. None of the pitches are mightily long, but it stays cold here in early March and the snow is fantastic. By this point the snowpack is deep and should be stable, so you just start at one end of a basin and drop a line, back up, shuffle round five yards, drop the next line, repeat until shattered. Most skiing would be weekdays, because unsurprisingly the locals have these places pretty figured. This one is for me, by the way…
Easter and beyond: Kronplatz
For the family fun fest, we pick somewhere with rock solid snowmaking, stuff to do around the resort, a mini-park, trees and familiarity. That’ll be Kronplatz. The kids know it well enough to zip around on their own, and I’m allowed out by myself too, now I’m older. Food is great value, there’s a town full of gear shops, bars and eateries to klutz around, two of Reinhard Messner’s Mountain Museums to poke about and great skiing, whatever the conditions, because the snowmaking is better here than anywhere I’ve been. Feel free to challenge me on that. And then if it does snow, which it always does after Easter, I’m going touring. Probably to Norway, with Headnorth, who have a bundle of great itineraries and some excellent huts and hotels up the sleeves of their fishing sweaters. And there might yet be time to catch that sleeper up to Aviemore for some late season Scottish snow. Winterhighland.com is your source for insider tips here.
Eric Kendall, Fall-Line writer and co-owner of Ski Zinal
You can’t beat being on the spot for the winter’s first big storms. Skinning from home for the first turns of the season is a ritual which is more exciting than anything should be by the time you’ve reached my age. If it’s a dry start, we have to make do with artificial snow in Zinal where international teams race-train from early November, and they let punters up at the weekend.
Christmas/New Year: Turracher Hohe
Surprisingly quiet if you find the right spot – preferably a place which, with a bit of snow, looks like a fairytale. Carinthia is peppered with tiny resorts. Bad Kleinkirchheim (Klammer’s home town) is the known name, but I’ll head to Turracher Hohe. If snow’s thin, the excellent Molltaler Glacier is within reach, as is Nassfeld – extensive skiing on the border with Italy. New Year you can keep.
January low-season: Zinal
My favourite time of year for the low-angled sun, which makes everything look amazing and leaves the powder in good nick – though it’s not a time I can venture far from home in Zinal. Luckily, the Valais has loads of options. I want to get back to Rothwald for epic tree skiing and to Moosalp – that’s just about an hour away.
February half-term: Greece
A great time for a change of continent, or at the least a change from the Alps. Japan has been on my list for ages but before I get there, it will probably be Greece for some ski touring. They often get tons of snow but you don’t want to leave it too late in the year.
Early spring: Dolomites
There’s a bit of everything to be found, snow-wise. I can seldom get away at this time (and I’m not moaning – it’s great at home) but Italy beckons, particularly the Dolomites, maybe day-touring out of Fanes Hut near Cortina. Or a Canada trip, hunting out anywhere like Castle Mountain, one of my all-time favourite ski days on that continent.
Easter and beyond: Norway
It’s got to be Norway. Not just the obvious – Lyngen, Lofoten – but anywhere. I want to explore more of Fjordland, where there are so many mountains to go at it will last you several lifetimes. One of these days I’m going to drive up from the Alps and rent a cabin for a month or more. I might never be seen again as I head steadily north, following the snow.
Amy Marwick, Fall-Line writer and Level 4 ski instructor
Pre-season: Saas Fee
If there’s one way to sharpen up your ski skills before the start of winter then it has to be race training. Even if you’ve never tried ski racing, training in and out of the gates with a race mentality is the perfect way to tune in to exactly what your body is transmitting through your legs and feet to your boots and skis. I like to head to Saas Fee’s north-facing glacier at 3600m where the pistes are pristine and the lift queues are short. Check out Ski Zenit ski school (skizenit.ch) who have a brilliant team of highly experienced coaches.
Christmas/New Year: Zermatt
I love a classic alpine ski resort at Christmas time with twinkly lights and cold weather. Nowhere does this better than Zermatt. It’s going to be expensive in the Alps at this time of year wherever you go, so why not enjoy the Matterhorn in all its glory and guarantee yourself some quality snow?
January low-season: Espace Killy
I would head somewhere snowsure this time of year and the chances are you can snap up a great deal on apartments or chalet holidays up in Tignes and enjoy exploring the entire Espace Killy at a quieter (and cheaper!) time of year.
February half-term: Lauchneralp
If I wasn’t tied to ski school at this time then I’d sneak away to a quiet corner of the Swiss Alps where I’d be likely to find untouched powder and awesome freeride. Lauchneralp in the Lotschental is a small ski area in the Valais where I spent a weekend exploring, hiking and riding a few years back. I’d love to spend some extended time there. The terrain is incredible and the small lift-served area opens up miles of backcountry and touring opportunities.
Early spring: Scotland
This is the time when Scotland comes into its own. The bitter winter weather has receded, the days are longer and the spring cycle is well underway, meaning creamy corn descents are on offer across the Highlands, so long as you are willing to don your hiking boots. My favourite spot is in Glencoe at Stob Coire Nan Lochan, with the perfect camping spot in the corrie and a few days’ hiking short but playful lines.
Easter and beyond: Arolla
It’s touring time in the Alps and there are so many options. I got very lost a few years ago as a total rookie ski tourer in Arolla, another quiet Valais corner. So perhaps I’d like to head back here and successfully locate the Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges and spend a few days exploring these mountains.
Will Robson, Fall-Line writer and photographer
I’ll be heading to the Pacific Northwest for a steep skiing clinic with Extremely Canadian in Whistler. The region has beaten Europe hands-down for early season snow in recent years, so despite the long flight time, it should be a fine start, on something other than cannoned snow. The exchange rate is on the way up too.
Christmas/New Year: Alpbach
It’s hard to beat Austria for festive atmos and St Anton is great: especially if you like fireworks and beer. And the newly linked Arlberg is now Europe’s largest ski area, which means a better chance of getting to fresh powder. Then again, I also like smaller yet perfectly formed Austrian resorts, so a gasthof in the Tirol’s Alpbach may be a more tranquil option.
January low-season: Barèges
If snow has materialised there I’ll head to Barèges in the Pyrenees. This spa town is more attractive and interesting than La Mongie on the other side of the Grand Tourmalet ski area. The long off-piste run from the Pic du Midi observatory back towards Barèges is a must, but the sidecountry terrain also offers plenty of options . Prices are low and the food is great. On January down days, try a mud bath at the traditional spa!
February half-term: Italy
I prefer not to be where the world and its offspring are skiing, but if I did go at this time, Italy is the place. It’s generally the cheapest in the Alps and they don’t have half term – double bonus. I’d head for the likes of Alagna, Madesimo or the Sella Ronda, to find seriously good off-piste terrain – but not without a guide at that time of year.
Early spring: Pralognan la Vanoise
This is a good time to introduce someone to ski touring. The days are long enough and the snow is more likely to be fun on the descents. I discovered Pralognan la Vanoise, near the three valleys, last season (see page 62). There’s a new but ‘proper’ mountain hut for a first timer’s overnight and the terrain is dramatic yet accessible. I’ll be seeking something similar this spring.
Easter and beyond: Norway
I have unfinished business with the Jotunheimen range in eastern Norway, after a cancelled trip last season. It’s a 2500 square mile national park and home to Norway’s highest peaks. The touring is legendary but relatively unknown outside Scandinavia and a select band of British guides.
Yolanda Carslaw, Fall-Line co-editor
What to do with such a dud recent early snow record? To be certain of worthwhile turns for my cash I would opt for a brush-up course in Tignes with Snoworks. It’s early enough that I won’t expect amazing conditions, and there are flights aplenty to Geneva.
Christmas/New Year: Zermatt
I’d book a flat over Christmas in Zermatt, where they’re brilliant at getting swathes of mountain open, on the Italian side too, even if there’s nary a natural flake. Pistes are quiet as so many visitors don’t ski, and many skiers deem Switzerland too pricey. The ski pass costs a bomb, but you get amazing action no matter what. There’s always wider availability over Christmas than at New Year, when slopes do fill up.
January low-season: storm chasing
I’ll book 10 days off, waiting till last minute to follow the snow – hopefully to somewhere I’ve long hankered after. Heiligenblut, the Pyrenees, Whitewater… I will be patient, and end up somewhere exciting. Even a few days in advance, flights in January can be cheap. Or if I spot a late package to wherever snow is falling, even better.
February half-term: Dolomites
Generally to be avoided, but if we take my teenage stepchildren my top choices will be the Dolomites (Italy doesn’t have half-term) or Switzerland (largely uncrowded), for a few days and not travelling at weekends. The teenagers want to go where their friends have heard of so I may be outvoted, but in Switzerland I’d opt for Zinal or Andermatt: underrated, quiet outside weekends and ideal for budding off-pisters.
Early spring: Val Maira
Time for adventure! Last year my husband and I spent a long weekend in Gressoney with friends and had three days’ guiding, plus a night in the Orestes hut. Next time I’d stay every night in a ‘soft-core’ mountain hut (with showers and double rooms) and explore with a guide each day. Right up my street would be Val Maira, which Martin Chester raved about last year (FL150).
Easter and beyond: North America
My favourite time to take the stepchildren skiing, with long days and reliable snow. Last year we succumbed to a clamour for Val d’Isere, which was fine, but never again will we travel in that valley at a weekend. No, this year I’m pushing to cross the Atlantic. Aspen. Jackson. Telluride. Or a California road-trip, taking in Tahoe and Mammoth, where they often ski into July. If has melted, we’ll go surfing instead.
Matt Clark, Fall-Line digital editor, based in Innsbruck
Pre-season: Stubai then Siberia
Living in Tirol, I’m lucky enough to ski from mid-September until late June (on the glaciers) here at home, so I’ll approach this from the perspective of my ultimate ‘dream season’. I’ll start here on the Stubaier Glacier in October to warm my legs up, as I just can’t resist the dreamy golden autumn light. If I’m lucky I’ll get a spot of powder ski touring in too when the early storms hit the (closed and ungroomed) ski resorts. However when November rolls around I’d head to Siberia, again ski touring. Not many people know this, but Siberia gets blasted by the same weather patterns as Hokkaido, and most years it’s neck deep before winter even starts stirring elsewhere.
Christmas/New Year: Japan
Shortly after Christmas Japan will be on the cards, and I’d spend the first six weeks of the new year gorging myself on JaPOW between the beautiful birch trees.
On my way back to Europe I’d make a pit stop in Gulmarg (Kashmir) to see out the last two weeks of February when conditions are at their best in the Himalayas – think deep powder on huge faces and in stunning old-growth forests, with no competition for first tracks and the best curries on the planet every evening.
Early spring: Austria
Around this time I think I’d be hankering for schnitzel and good beer again, so I’d head back to Austria for March. March is the best month to ski the Alps in my opinion: snow depths are near their peak and the days are long. Plus the weather is typically cold and snowy (more powder!) or warm and sunny (slushy moguls and beer on the terrace!), and either one counts as a win in my book!
Easter and beyond: Georgia then Norway
April is where decisions get more difficult. Heliskiing conditions will be prime in Alaska, but so will the touring conditions in Lofoten, Norway. Unable to choose, I’d head to Georgia for some heliskiing instead (it’s the new AK anyway, with fewer down days) for the first few weeks of the month. When the thwack thwack of rotor blades starts feeling too ‘Apocalypse Now’ I’ll head up to Lyngen and Tamok in Norway (where winter will hang on into June) for some peace and quiet, ski touring until mid-May or so. At this point it’s back to where it all began for sun, slush-surfing and afternoon beers on the Tirolean glaciers. Then… on to South America?