If you’re counting down the days until the chairlifts come out of hibernation, it sounds like you could do with some early-season skiing. With less-crowded slopes, Christmassy vibes and much shorter lift queues, heading out early can be the dream – and you’ll also have the rest of the season to do it all over again.
Be picky when choosing a resort though, as the best snow conditions are usually found in resorts with high altitudes, glaciers or brilliant snow-making. That said, here are our top picks for early-season skiing.
TIGNES & VAL D’ISÈRE, FRANCE
This ski area is home to two glaciers, the Grande Motte and the Pissaillas. Both peak at way over 3,000m, and tend to be open for skiing during the summer, so snow in December is almost always guaranteed. What’s more, Val d’Isère has the largest artificial snow-making plant in Europe – it could fill an Olympic-sized pool in just 30 minutes – so even if mother nature hasn’t done her part, lots of the slopes will still be up and running.
While most Italian resorts miss out on early snow because of their low positions, Cervinia’s altitude makes it one of the most reliable for snow cover. Ride up the highest cable car in the world, the Klein Matterhorn, for great December snow, or ski the Theodul Glacier, shared with neighbouring Zermatt. You can even ski both Italy and Switzerland in one day, if you fancy it. Most of the slopes are wide and cruisey, and they’re quietest in December. And wherever you are on the piste, you’ll have picturesque views of the iconic Matterhorn.
With access to two glaciers – the Tiefenbach and Rettenbach – Sölden is one of the largest glacier regions in Austria, with high-altitude skiing up to 3,340m. The Tiefenbach has wide, gentle slopes that are great for beginners, while the Rettenbach is host to more challenging runs and the softest powder on the mountain, so there’s early-season skiing to suit all.
Whistler gets covered in an average of 2.3m of snow in December alone. It’s also got the Horstman Glacier, with lots of expert and intermediate terrain – from groomed slopes to mogul runs and snow parks. December also sees the resort decked out in fairy lights and Christmas trees. The cherry on top of festive events is the Dress Like Santa day, where skiers don their best Santa suits and take to the slopes.
VAL THORENS, FRANCE
Sitting at 2,000m, Val Thorens is Europe’s highest resort, so it’s no surprise that the season starts in November and doesn’t finish until mid-May. Its resident Glacier de Peclet peaks at 3,561m – so even if the lower slopes are looking a bit sparse, there are lots of high-altitude intermediate and expert runs to explore.
While Ischgl can’t claim glacier status, it sits at a pretty high altitude, so there’s a hefty amount of skiing early in the season. Open from November, the resort has lots of north-facing slopes, so when snow falls, it tends to stick. Its snow-making facilities cover up to 60% of the slopes, so a quick top-up is never far away. Après fans will love the glitzy bars and clubs, from the famous Kuhstall to the stylish Fire & Ice bar.
Obergurgl’s slopes are also high altitude, making it the most snowsure non-glacier resort in the Alps. Even better, 99% of the mountain is covered by artificial snow cannons. Churning out around a million cubic metres of powder every single year – enough to fill 11 ½ Royal Albert Halls – they’ll keep you flying down the piste whatever the weather.
Can’t wait to get on the slopes? Grab your chance to make some fresh tracks in the December snow and book your early-season ski holiday now.