As winter ski holidays surge in popularity post-pandemic, a late season break is just the ticket, discovers Carolynne Dear
Picture-perfect Easter skiing in the Swiss Alps.
The Swiss ticket collector looks confused. “The train will depart on time from the platform indicated,” she insists, in perfect English.
It seems that unlike the UK where train departure boards seemed to be more of a rough guide than an actual timetable, travelling by rail in Switzerland is more akin to Asia’s ever-punctual MTRs and MRTs.
Following a short flight from London to Zurich, our destination is Klosters, which will involve two connections. I’m travelling with my teenage children, at the invitation of friends, to spend a late-season week skiing. It’s Easter and we’re crossing our fingers that the snow is plentiful enough to make a few runs, at least.
Sparkling mountain scenery, a vibrant apres-ski scene and great food make the European ski season a huge draw-card, even when you live thousands of miles away in Asia. Much of next year's high season is already booked up, but hanging back until early spring pays dividends. Longer days, quieter slopes and a little more warmth make this an attractive time of year to hit the slopes. But just how reliable is the snow?
Unfortunately, unlike its public transport system, Switzerland’s snow this winter has been operating a little less like clockwork. Global warming made its presence felt across Europe, with resorts that usually sparkle under fresh powder in the Christmas run-up digging out the summer-season mountain bikes to keep guests entertained. Chi-chi resorts like Gstaad looked distinctly green on Instagram in the festive run-up as influencers desperately tried to jazz up their ski content.
On top of the world in Switzerland in April.
The inclement conditions followed a hotter than usual summer across the continent that left just one glacier open for summer skiing. The statistics are stark. Forty years ago, there were around 50 glaciers operational as ski destinations over the summer months.
Climate conditions mean the ski season in Europe is now around a month shorter than it was fifty years ago and the snowline is rising. By the middle of this century, experts believe that ski resorts below 1,200m may not have the snowfall to function. But while winter conditions are becoming ever-more unpredictable globally, there are tricks to ensuring you get some reliable Easter snow. High altitude resorts are obviously going to be able to guarantee snow more confidently than lower level resorts as the higher you climb, the colder it’s going to be. So as climate change takes hold, the further up skiers are going to need to head.
Soaking up the spring sunshine at 3,300m in Tignes, France.
However, just before our arrival in Klosters in April, we're told there's been a massive powder dump across the Alps. This was followed after our arrival with blue skies and sunny days; in other words, perfect ski conditions.
Changing climate conditions seem to be indicating that you're just as likely, or not, to see snow at Christmas as you are at Easter. And Europe offers a plethora of high altitude resorts with plenty of great accommodation and practically guaranteed powder as you crack open your chocolate eggs.
And if all else fails, snow cannons, which have the capacity to rescue a season, are now commonplace in most resorts. Snow-making technology has improved dramatically over the last few decades and many resorts use snow cannons to improve conditions. The Dolomites in Italy, for example, which receives less snow than the Alps in northwestern Italy, have been relying on snow cannons since the 1980s. More than 1,000km of slopes are peppered with fake snow.
These sky-high resorts are safe bets for plenty of the white stuff
Val Thorens, France
At 2,300m Val Thorens in France is the highest resort in Europe, with skiable glaciers at more than 3,000m. Val Thorens is a purpose-built resort in Les Trois Vallées ski area. It offers plenty of ski-in, ski-out accommodation and a wide choice of runs for beginners to experts.
Tignes is linked with France’s famous Val d’Isere ski resort and reaches as high as 3,456m at the Grande Motte glacier, its highest point. The lower reaches of the resort are at a snow-friendly 2,100m. Ski-in, ski-out accommodation is abundant and Tignes resort has plenty of dining and apres ski options scattered around the slopes.
Zermatt is home to the Matterhorn glacier ride, the world’s highest aerial cableway and the highest viewing platform in the Alps at a dizzying 3,883m. Summertime skiing is available on the highest glacier runs. Winter conditions are reliable; try the 21km Klein Matterhorn run that begins at 3,820m and descends all the way to the resort.
The exclusive resort of Lech (Princess Diana was perhaps its most famous patron) is one of the highest snow resorts in Austria, offering world-class skiing. The picture perfect village - think horse-drawn carriages and twinkling lights - showcases traditional Austrian hospitality with well-groomed slopes, although it’s more suited to intermediates than beginners. Although Lech village is at just 1,450m, the resort receives up to twice as much snow as many of its French counterparts.
Snow bunnies in Thredbo, Australia.
Of course you could eschew Europe altogether and head down to Australia for some snowy action, where the 2023 ski season is just revving up.
Thredbo Resort in Victoria, one of the country’s most popular ski stations, has now revealed details of its winter programme. The season starts on June 10 and runs until October 2 alongside an action-packed events calendar.
Lift passes provide access to Thredbo’s entire lift network, including Australia’s only alpine gondola and ski terrain for all levels, with a dedicated beginner area and the country’s longest runs.
The events’ line-up covers live music, kids festivals, fireworks nights, mountain dining experiences, ski and snowboard events and more.
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