Many ski areas wind down their seasons by the end of March and most by mid-April but a handful of the more snow-sure destinations make a feature of their late-spring skiing in May.
By early May fewer than 50 ski resorts are open anywhere in the world – and it’s still a month or so before the southern hemisphere’s ski season kicks off – so if you ski in May, you know you're one of the lucky few on the planet.
If you decide to ski in May, you’ll find a relaxed vibe, warm temperatures and long, sunny days. It’s normally a case of getting up earlier for the best of the snow conditions (hard packed first thing, perfect by mid-morning, getting stodgy by early afternoon) and perhaps finishing your day by mid-afternoon. But on the other hand wintery weather can blow in and fresh powder is not a rarity, and if you head to a resort at higher latitude you can still find wintery weather.
“You can’t beat T-shirt skiing in late spring, with longer days and lots more sunshine. Choose a classic glacier skiing resort like Tignes, where you’ll find crisp mornings have refrozen and sticky snow, and gloriously cruisy afternoons in the sun end only when the snow gets too heavy for tired legs,” says Richard Sinclair of specialist ski travel agency sno.co.uk
Our top 10 resorts to ski in May:
Why? 1,000m+ vertical, fast lifts
Open: 365 days a year
One of only two ski resorts open 365 days a year, Hintertux is one of the largest skiable areas in the Alps from April to November when it endeavours to open every day (weather permitting) and is accessed by its fast, modern, high capacity series of glacier bus lifts. There is normally at least 40km of piste open still in May and in good-snow years often as much as 65km. In the spring there’s an excellent terrain park and a near constant series of festivals and parties each weekend to keep the atmosphere fun. International football teams arrive here sometimes for altitude training and a bit of R and R.
Ruka, Lapland, Finland
Why? 24-hour daylight, Europe’s longest non-glacier ski season
Open: Until mid-June
Ruka in Finnish Lapland boasts the longest ski season for a resort without a glacier in Europe, keeping the main slope open (thanks to snowmaking) until mid-June then re-opening about 100 days later in early October. Ruka usually has five or six runs and a terrain park open in May. Finland is a very different place by May from the cold, dark land it is in mid-winter, instead near 24-hour daylight rapidly arrives and the woodland comes alive for the short summer. On the slopes race teams arrive to train and there are normally terrain park features to enjoy.
Whistler Blackcomb, BC, Canada
Why? Glacier guarantees good spring conditions
Open: Last weekend in May
By May, the famous BC resort has invariably clocked up at least 10 metres of snowfall and base depths are usually spectacular. Skiing is concentrated on the resort’s glaciers where several hundred acres of terrain remain open and the resort provides a world-class terrain park too. The resort’s glacier skiing, which remains open into June, is complemented by a surge of summer activities further down the mountain.
Why? Longest season in France, fast access to the slopes
Open: Until mid-May
Formerly open year-round, Tignes is still open for nearly three months longer than any other French resort and stays open well into May. As the season winds down at the start of May it is often still possible to ski the full vertical back to the resort and, in a good snow year, there can still be more than 100km of piste available. The high-altitude village has fast access to the Grand Motte glacier via the underground funicular which quickly whisks you to the snow-sure slopes.
“There are few more satisfying ways to end a day’s skiing than sunbathing in La Folie Douce, before jumping on the Tommeuses lift back up to Toviere for the ski down to your digs in Tignes,” says sno.co.uk’s Richard Sinclair.
Squaw Valley, California, USA
Why? Spring ski pass deals, spring chill-out session at High Camp
Open: Until mid-late May
Marketing itself as the ‘spring skiing capital of North America’, Squaw normally remains open at least until mid-May (it occasionally opens for snowsports on Independence day – 4th of July). The amount of terrain open in May depends very much on the amount of snow accumulated through the season but there can still be 1,000 acres in a good year. Squaw really takes its spring skiing seriously with a low-cost spring skiing pass and an afternoon party atmosphere at High Camp, its mid-mountain station, where facilities include a freeform swimming pool and a giant 25-foot hot tub. One of the big events in spring skiing silliness is staged here at the end of April or early May – the Lake Cushing Classic, a pond skimming contest.
Passo Tonale, Italy
Why? Deep snow base, challenging runs
Open: Until July
Passo Tonale, in the tellingly named Valle di Sole, invariably has either the deepest, or one of the deepest snow bases in Italy. This translates to a ski season that lasts to July up on the 3,000m glacier. Along with a great relaxed Italian atmosphere, Tonale is unusual for glacier ski areas in that it offers steep red and black runs right through to summer (most ski areas close their more challenging terrain in favour of the gentler slopes by the time Easter is past). In May however, much more terrain is usually open, often as much as 50km of slopes remain accessible and in a good snow year there’s still top to bottom skiing.
Why? Stunning scenery, bikini slalom
Open: Mid-late May
All three of Banff’s ski areas stay open into May, with Norquay and Lake Louise open to the first half of the month and sunshine normally open into the last week or so. All three ski areas try to keep all their terrain accessible right through to the end of their seasons and generally there’s so much snow accumulated, this isn’t a problem. The scenery at Lake Louise is spectacular from the slopes: the famous Lake melts from steely grey in mid-winter to turquoise blue as you look out across the valley. There are lots of fun events organised at this time of year including the annual bikini slalom (mid-May) at Sunshine raising money for breast cancer charities.
Why? Long daylight hours, affordable heliskiing
Open: Until June
Riksgränsen is a very special resort, 1400km north of Stockholm and 250km inside the Arctic Circle, it’s too dark to open until February and then the snow remains in great shape right through to June. What makes it more special still is that the ski area is one giant terrain park, and from late May there’s 24-hour daylight and the lifts run in the small hours for you to enjoy skiing or boarding under the midnight sun when the entire resort is normally fully open.
Mammoth, California, USA
Why? Reputation for deep powder, Californian surf culture vibe
Open: At least until June
In snowy years up to 90 percent of the US ski areas that stay open into May and June are in California, but the resort packing the most snow depth and the most terrain open is almost always Mammoth Mountain. Mammoth unveils new spring terrain parks, for those who love their park life, organises weekend spring ski and board events, and there’s great hiking and biking terrain for later in the day, or you can just relax on the deck and soak up some rays. Normally the resort remains open top-to-bottom in May with around 1,000 acres to enjoy, sometimes more at weekends when there are more skiers and boarders around to enjoy it.
Why? Europe’s highest lifts, ski over to Cervinia
Open: 365 days
You can’t get much more snow sure than a ski area which is open every day of the year, and you can even ski over the border to Cervinia until the second week of May when more than 100km of cross-border piste is usually available. Once Cervinia closes this can drop to nearer 60km in the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise side above Zermatt. The Matterhorn in spring is an even more magical, awe inspiring sight than in winter. The efficient Klein Matterhorn cable car, Europe’s highest, accesses an area where snow retains its high quality until late in the season and fresh powder falls year round.
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