At long last, winter seems to have arrived. Even here at the coast we had a covering of snow. The ducks have had fun skating on the pond, leaving the poor heron to gaze longingly at the fish who were swimming about in safety under the ice. So, while a few cms of slush brought the usual headlines screaming ‘New Ice Age is Upon Us’ from the tabloids, the rest of Europe and North America carried on as usual through proper winter weather of blizzards and bone chilling cold. Quite a change from a couple of weeks ago when there were tales of doom and gloom coming from the snow-starved ski resorts in the Alps.
Which got me to thinking, when exactly IS the best time to arrange a ski trip to the mountains in winter?
Many of us, of course, are limited to travel during school holidays, when prices are at their highest. In practice, this means Christmas, New Year, February half-term or Easter. Of these dates, Christmas and Easter tend to have lower prices than the other holiday times. I guess the reason is partly weather related, since early season snow can be very hit and miss (this year being a prime example), and if Easter is later in April (again, like this year), the risk is that rising temperatures, long days and stronger sun will melt the snow. Another reason may be that some folk are reticent to put skiing before being at home with their family at Christmas.
When not encumbered by fixed holiday dates, most people would choose to ski when there is the best chance of the perfect mix of good snow and good weather. In this regard, February is a good bet. You’ve heard of February fill dyke? Well, that same tradition means that February is often the snowiest month in the Northern Hemisphere since the atmosphere is at its coldest at this time. Also, the days are significantly longer and the sun is getting a little bit more bite than in December and January, so it certainly feels warmer when it makes an appearance. March too can be a great month, especially if you choose a higher resort, say 1600m+, preferably with access to altitudes of 2500m or more.
Those are general rules of thumb,
but the weather will do what the weather will do. I skied in Italy at Christmas 3 years ago, and the runs were closed for 3 days due to avalanche risk following a 2-metre snowfall. Twenty years ago I remember skiing in February at over 3000 metres on what can only be described as a vertical frozen waterfall, so poor was the alpine snow!
These days I can be reasonably flexible with which school holiday week to go away, so will leave it until the last minute to see what the weather is like. I also like to try and bag a bargain! If you hold your nerve, you can often get an outstanding deal. The Christmas deal I referred to above in Italy was a full board deal for our family of four. I reckon it was almost as cheap as what we’d have spent had we stayed at home!
So, in a nutshell, aim for mid-season. If you have no kids, avoid school holidays at all costs, the queues can be horrific! If you’re planning on going early or late season, aim high, preferably in a resort with access to a glacier.
Alternatively, try a wild-card destination. The Rockies of North America are snow-sure all season long, as is Scandinavia. Both can be very cold, but my experience of Scandinavia is that -30 there is nowhere near as terrible as it sounds. New England is also a destination to consider. A relatively short hop across the pond to Boston, followed by a couple of hours drive, and you’re there in the mountains. There are literally dozens of ski stations to choose from. We are heading there this year, so watch out for our recommendations.
Planning your trip is half the fun, so what are you waiting for? The snow is finally here. See you in the mountains folks…
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