Deciding when to go skiing can be as important as choosing where to go. Fitting in around school holidays and ensuring good snow cover are key in making or breaking your holiday, as are whether you are willing to brave cold mid-winter conditions or save your skiing for spring sunshine.
Understanding the timeline of a season – its ebbs and flows – a critical to ensuring you can nab a good deal but give yourself and your family the skiing you deserve!
The Alps begin to come alive as early as October, when some particularly high resorts look to open and the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup kicks off. Skiing will still be limited to high, glaciated resorts or those with good snow making infrastructure up high but the first heavy snowfalls of the year begin to build the snowpack.
By late November, more “normal” service begins as cold temperatures bring in good snow and preserve the embryonic snowpack. Some of the best value skiing can be found in a number of iconic resorts during this period, although don’t expect full areas to be open – the Grand Massif, for example, opens in mid-December a few weeks after the highest resort, Flaine, as do to the links between Tignes and Val d’Isére.
Celebrating Christmas in the Alps can be heaven for many people. Traditional celebrations, such as carol singing in the woods and piglet racing at Klosters, draw skiers and non-skiers alike to the mountains. For good value skiing with the whole family, this is often the best time to go, as the lingering early season snow uncertainty means good deals can still be found.
The season really begins to shift through the gears in January, with children back in school and mid-winter weather bringing excellent conditions across the Alps. Peak weeks in mid-January are often some of the busiest non-school holiday periods but good skiing often abounds across all elevations.
Half term holidays kick off in February across Europe, with the middle weeks of February – coinciding with holiday dates in the UK as well as Alpine nations such as Switzerland – being the busiest weeks of the season. Expect busy slopes and peak pricing, but good skiing conditions as the snowpack will be deep and solid by this point.
If you are tied to half term skiing due to children, there are several things to consider. Book early to get access to early bird deals, and head to some of the bigger resorts where good infrastructure can absorb the crowds. Many ski schools, including ESF in France, offer week-long instruction camps, really pushing and growing your child’s skiing development.
With the onset of March comes Easter and Spring. Similar to January, mid-March presents some of the busiest non-school holiday periods in the season. People are heading to the mountains for spring sunshine, to sit on the terrace of their favourite restaurants with a glass of wine for the afternoon; to party away at one of the myriad of music or comedy festivals that take place; or to free the heel and ski tour, setting off from the lifts each morning or skinning from hut-to-hut across the Alps.
This is also the time of school Easter holidays and can be the perfect time to get children into skiing. Not only is it cheaper – with holidays more spread out than one week in February and less surety of snow in lower resorts – but the warmer weather means less chance of children becoming cold and uncomfortable!
Just because the season comes to an end doesn’t mean the skiing has to. Summer skiing has been drastically impacted by climate change in recent years, turning the certainty of glacier stability into anything but. However, a number of resorts still aim to offer summer skiing for around six weeks each spring and summer, with Hintertux in Austria still offering skiing 365 days a year.
When planning where to go, consider the following: