Are you a family fed up of limited availability, crowded slopes and sky-high prices in February half term?
How much more relaxing and better value to go skiing in the October half term instead? (OK, you probably won’t be able to resist a second trip in February, but you can worry about that later).
In most cases, early season skiing is limited to glaciers, but on the upside you’re likely to have the slopes pretty much to yourself. You’ll be able to travel through quiet airports, be the first to try the new season’s equipment and time your trip to coincide with a World-Cup race.
The first of the World Cup races take place in October at Solden, Austria. You can get all the excitement of seeing the world’s best racers in action. Or why not attend one of the big ski test festivals laid on by the resorts each autumn? If you’re a fan of park life, virtually all the early season ski areas have terrain parks. The parks are as good in autumn as mid-winter.
The best early season skiing in Europe
Read our guide to the best ski resorts to hit up early in the season, between September and December, to avoid the crowds and high-season prices.
Where to ski in September?
Just six ski areas are likely to be open for early season skiing. So where’s the best September snow in Europe? Two year-round ski options include Zermatt (3899m) in Switzerland, which operates Europe’s highest lifts, and the Hintertux glacier in Austria’s Ziller Valley. Zermatt’s neighbour Saas Fee opens mid-July each year. So by the start of autumn it is already two months into its 10-month-long snowsports season!
Pitztal, with Austria’s highest lifts, closes in mid-May and re-opens in mid-September. Its sister resort, Kaunertal, operates a similar schedule. Italy’s Val Senales normally opens at the start of September (subject to weather conditions). The cable car will get you to the station at Hochjochferner in just six minutes for a five-mile (8km) downhill run linked by chair lift to additional trails.
Where to ski in October and November?
Early season skiing in Austria
Austria has up to eight ski areas open in mid-October for early-season skiing. The precise dates depend on conditions, but they are often tied to the autumn beer festivals to offer a full-on party feel.
Along with Hintertux, Kaunertal and Pitztal, there are yet more autumn glacier options: the Kitzsteinhorn glacier at Kaprun, the Mölltal glacier, the twin glaciers of Solden, the Stubai glacier close to Innsbruck and the Dachstein, not far from Schladming.
Solden and the Stubai may have already opened in early September if there’s enough snow. Obergurgl, thanks to its altitude, is generally one of the first non-glacier areas to open. It can often offer top-to-bottom skiing in November.
Early season skiing in Switzerland
Besides Saas Fee and Zermatt, several more Swiss glaciers open from October for early season skiing. The four other choices for skiing in October or skiing in November include: Glacier 3000 between Les Diablerets and Gstaad, the Titlis Glacier above Engelberg, the Vorab glacier at Laax and the Diavolezza glacier in the Engadin Valley close to Pontresina and St Moritz.
Early season skiing in France
Tignes is the only French resort open in the autumn. It normally reopens around the last weekend of September – a few weeks after the close of its summer skiing on the Grande Motte glacier. It’s France’s best bet for skiing in October or skiing in November.
Besides Tignes, Les 2 Alpes traditionally opens its glacier for 10-days at the end of October. Les 2 Alpes claims to have Europe’s largest glacier. Its pre-opening features a snowsports festival with fun events and new season gear testing. It then closes again until the main season starts at the beginning of December.
Early season skiing in Italy
In Italy, aside from Val Senales, Cervinia usually opens at the end of October. It offers access from the Italian side to the Klein Matterhorn glacier paradise above Zermatt. A third option for early-season skiing in Italy, is the summer ski centre at Passo Stelvio. Stelvio is normally still open in October and the base (2760m) is the highest bottom ski lift in Europe. It stretches up to 3450m with around a 700m vertical. This is divided into 10 runs served by half-a-dozen drag lifts.
Early season skiing across the world
Of course, Europe isn’t the only place for early-season skiing. The southern hemisphere’s ski season will be in ‘spring skiing mode’ by September. Many of the centres in Australia, Argentina, and Chile will be closing at the end of the month. A few resorts in New Zealand, most notably Mt Ruapehu, are likely to last into October and perhaps even what they term ‘Snovember’.
In North America, only Timberline on Mt Hood in Oregon stays open year-round (except for a few weeks’ maintenance closure in September). If it’s a cold autumn the snowmaking guns will start at some of the world’s highest resorts in Colorado.
Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone and Loveland all open in October if conditions are right. North of the border Norquay, Sunshine and Lake Louise around Banff are usually the first to open in Canada and sometimes as early as Halloween.
Back in Europe, Scandinavia is first to open non-glacier slopes for early season skiing. Ruka in Finnish Lapland, claims the longest non-glacier ski season in Europe and usually opens mid-October to mid-June. Two of Norway’s small summer glacier ski areas often stay open into October or November: Galdhøpiggen operates on Scandinavia’s highest peak at 2469m (8,098 feet) and Folgefonn has a reputation for a very deep snow base. Both have a kilometre of slopes to enjoy.
Best places to ski in December in Europe
For the best skiing in December, head high! At the start of winter a handful of the big-name, high-altitude ski resorts begin to crank up their ski lifts.
Read more here: The highest ski resorts in Europe