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01 October 2014

Early snow, parties, beards and the circus...

The snow is falling in the Northern Hemisphere, and people on mountains across Europe and North America are devising ways to celebrate. Join them for big name bands, ski film screenings, circus acts, ski tests, and a little bit of beard-trimming on the side

The first snowman in Heavenly, California

Here we go — it's snowing in the Northern Hemisphere! Wax your skis and air your long underwear — it's time to plan your first ski trip of the season. For those who are keen enough, flush enough, or have use-it-or-lose-it annual leave to dispense with before 2015, an early season ski trip is just the ticket.

Most resorts are closed at the moment, having an autumn breather in which to catch up on mending, building, cleaning, hiring and the like, but many are opening this weekend and next, and there's nothing like the first turns of the early season, and the excitement of a newly opened resort, with the smell of fresh paint on the icy breeze. Even the resorts that don't open for a while are beginning to send out pictures of their first snowfalls — these ones are from Heavenly at Tahoe, and Banff, Canada.

Thanks to the glaciers of Europe, many of the resorts have been open for a while, and there are big opening parties planned over the next few months. Read on to see the best, and some of the strangest. Anyone fancy entering a beard cutting competition or visiting some black-nosed sheep?

Most resorts offer great deals for their opening weekends. Click on the links in the text and see if you can be tempted to take your skis for an early whirl.


North America and snowmen

Banff in Alberta, Canada, has already had over eight inches of snow. Mount Norquay is set to the first to open on 31st October with Lake Louise to follow on 7th November and Sunshine Village on the 14th November.
The Winterstart Festival runs from November 8th - December 21st, with World Cup events to watch.
This little snowman comes from Heavenly at Tahoe, California, who have seen a coating of snow this week. They open at the end of November, and have a bunch of opening week events called Winter Ignite, including music, casino shows and ski film showings.

Hintertux's big beer party

Austria - sausages and beer, of course!

Stubai Glacier is open already, and if you get a move on you could join them next weekend for their Octoberfest - beer, sausages and music at 2900m, on the 11th and 12th of October.
Hintertux is open, and their snow park kicks off this weekend - the first in Europe. Next weekend they have a Pow(d)er Party featuring, you guessed it, beer and sausages. And, with luck, powder.
Pitztal Glacier opened on the 20th of September, and they're holding a weekend festival on the 18th/19th of October. These Austrians - they're all at it.
For something to do after the beer and sausages, you might like to see James Blunt bring the mountains alive with the sound of music, on the 29th of November. He's the latest in a long line of big names to see the season in at Ischgl.

If you're more of a club kid, Soelden's Electric Mountain Festival might be for you. The first of their events is on the 22nd of November - see this video for a flavour of what to expect.

From the 7th-9th of November, Kitzsteinhorn and Kaprun have the brilliantly named WOW Glacier Love party with all sorts of parties, DJs and jib battles.

Obergurgl, further up the valley from Soelden, doesn't have a glacier of its own, but it's so high up that they open there early too, with ten days of events from the 13th of November, including a gastro day with inn keepers, and a whole lot of music.

France - roll up, roll up

France gets going in December. Val d'Isere and the Espace Killy opens at the end of November, with a ski test of the new season's equipment.
Those Isereians are very much more smooth and relaxed than Austria's bouncy parties, at least if their opening weekend video is anything to go by...

Over the hill, Tignes' glacier is open from October the 4th, and their video is back on track - a 30-second party with flying cars. Their events are a little more unusual though - you could attend their Festival of Entrepreneurs, an Olympic training week, a varsity event, or an outdoor circus. Tignes are definitely thinking outside the box.


Les2Alpes opens for a week from the 25th of October, and then closes again until the end of November.

Beard cutting competition

Switzerland - open as usual, with extra beards

Zermatt and Saas Fee are both open right through the autumn, but open fully for winter at the end of October. With typical laid-back self confidence, they don't need to yell about it. Neither seem to have any big parties planned, although in Zermatt you can test skis up until December or if you happen to be there over the next two weeks, you can take a break from glacier skiing to hike up the mountain and meet the famous local black-nosed sheep! You get cheese, meat and wine from the farmers too. Who needs James Blunt, eh?


It gets weirder. The resort of Engelberg is showing its tough, no frills, mountain man reputation with the AÄNGELBÄRGÄR beard cutting competition. Glacier skiing begins on the 4th of October.

Italy - eat, drink and make as merry as peasants

Val Senales opened in mid September, and the winter season begins in earnest this weekend when they have a bunch of events including DJs, a fashion show, and a peasant dinner! Cervinia, on the other side of the Matterhorn from Zermatt, has a whole month of opening events. There will be events going on every weekend throughout November from sports to food, nature, tradition, art and music, they say. September snow in Lake Louise, Alberta
September snow in Lake Louise, Alberta, by Shannon Martin

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