Skiing in December or before Christmas in Europe

The ski season in Europe normally starts in early December and runs through to the end of April depending on snow conditions. The beginning of the winter can bring a mixture of conditions and good snow is sometimes hard to come by, before Christmas.

The benefits of skiing before Christmas though are clear.
Much quieter slopes and cheaper accommodation in resort.
The downsides can include unsettled weather, less sunlight than later in the winter, poor snow conditions, limited amount of lifts operating and lack of après ski atmosphere.
Still, if it has snowed heavily then the benefits of having the mountain virtually to yourself, at knock down prices, out way the negatives.

If you have decided to ski before Christmas, in Europe, there are two ways to go about it:
Wait until the last minute to decide where to ski and keep an eye on snow conditions or book up in a resort that has a good record for early season snow.

If you choose the first option and wait until the last minute, there are numerous websites that provide information on snow conditions in The Alps. These include: The Ski Club of Great Britain, J2 Ski and Snow Forecast.com.

Remember to make sure that your chosen resort is actually open as some smaller ski areas are closed until the week before Christmas.

Accommodation is easy to come by at this time of the year (Before Christmas week – Saturday before Christmas Day). You could do well by calling directly and negotiating a pre-season rate with a hotel. Resorts in France and Switzerland tend to be more reliable for early season skiing, although Austria has some good options too. Norway also has good snow reliability early on but the light is poor at this time of year.

Planning ahead and booking up your accommodation early means less flexibility when looking for the best snow conditions, so it is important to choose wisely.

Here I have listed a few resorts in France, Switzerland, Austria and Norway that can offer good early season skiing:

France

Tignes: Possibly the world’s most reliable snow conditions. Tignes is a popular training base for national ski teams in the ‘off season’. The large glacier skiing combined with altitude and snow making means plenty of scope for all levels.
Downsides: can be expensive as there is no real ‘off season’.

Val Thorens: This high altitude resort opens in late November and continues to provide reliable early season snow. It’s also renowned for partying and even early on in the season the atmosphere, after the slopes have shut, is lively.
Downsides: Bad weather can close lifts.

Switzerland

Verbier: Often gets big early season snowfalls. If this is the case, then it can be the best time of year to experience this great resort without the crowds. The ski bums will insure that the partying is as lively as the skiing.
Downsides: You don’t get too many bargains in Verbier.

Zermatt: This iconic resort dominated by the Matterhorn is open for skiing all year round. The high altitude slopes combined with a large glacier insure good snow reliability before Christmas.
Downsides: Snow not as reliable as some other early season options and high winds can dominate the weather pattern.

Austria

Hintertux: This small resort, tucked away at the end of a valley, offers some great glacier skiing and reliable snow conditions early on in the season. It’s a popular destination for skiers looking to get some pre-season action in, before Christmas.
Downsides: Small resort means limited accommodation and après ski options.

Norway

Hafjell / Kvitfjell: Close to the Olympic town of Lillehammer, these 2 resorts are usually open for skiing in November. Accommodation options at this time of year are plentiful and the slopes are quiet. The quality of the snow if often excellent and this is all at relatively low altitude and without a glacier.
Downsides: Daylight hours limited.

These resorts are just a guide to possible early season skiing destinations.
They have good snow records and are generally open from late November onwards.

The following two tabs change content below.

Robert Stewart

Ski Editor at Snow.Guide

Robert has extensive knowledge and experience of winter sports and has been qualified to instruct and teach Alpine Skiing for over 20 years. He is also an experienced off-piste and backcountry skier and has competed in freestyle and freeride events around the world. Now a full-time ski writer and Director of Ski Press, Robert is Snow.Guide’s Ski Editor and contributes to many other snowsports, national and lifestyle publications.

Ski Equipment by Mountain

More Best Ski Resorts

 6 years ago

verbier-chalet-cablecar

Short ski break – Verbier in 3.5 days

 5 years ago

9 thoughts on “Skiing in December or before Christmas in Europe”

  1. Hi
    We are two novice South African families hoping to head for the slopes in late December 09 and early Jan 2010.
    Because of the 20101 world cup soccer in South Africa in June 2010 the school holidays are cut short this January ( longer June July holidays). We are thus limited to skiing in Late December and the first few days of Jan. We are novices and thus need ski instruction as well as nursery slopes. Two of the party also need other activities as they will not really ski!
    Any good advice and suggestions? The actual dates would be from 23/12/09 to 06/01/2010
    Thank you
    Johann

    1. @Johann Van Zyl
      Hi Johann,

      Glad to hear you have decided to go skiing this winter, just bear in mind, you will get hooked!

      You have chosen to go skiing on the Christmas and New Year holiday weeks. This has both advantages and disadvantages (like most things). I gather that you are pretty much tied to these dates but I will briefly give you the pluses and minuses anyway. On the upside, there will be a great atmosphere and you will be able to celebrate the festive season in fantastic snowy surroundings. Spending Christmas in the mountains in one of the best experiences you can ever have. On the downside, it will cost you a little more than in the middle of January and resorts tend to be busier.

      I know a little about travelling from South Africa to the European Alps myself, as I worked for Springbok Ski Club for several years. Based in Johannesburg, I helped to sell holidays to South Africans and then travelled to Switzerland where I taught the guests of Springbok Ski Club to ski.

      Choosing a resort in Late December is important as historically snow conditions can be un-predictable at that time of year. Saying that, the last several years have provided excellent snow conditions in December. But staying ‘high’ is the key to guaranteed snow. So choose a resort with altitude around or above 1500 meters above sea level. France and Switzerland have plenty of options in this area.

      For skiers travelling from South Africa to the Alps there are basically 2 options. The D.I.Y option, that is arranging everything yourself, or the Tour Operator route, where someone organises everything for you. This will and can include, flights, accommodation, ski lessons, ski lift passes, after skiing activities, transfers from airports and general help around the resort. If you arrange everything yourself then there are plenty of small independent companies offering resort accommodation in chalets (a house which runs like a small hotel providing breakfast and evening meals). Some of these do provide other services such as help booking ski lessons and lift passes, airport transfers etc, but not all do. Of course, you might pay more for the services of a tour operator than if you do it yourself.

      There are 2 companies I know of and can recommend in South Africa that cater for skiers travelling to The Alps. Both of these companies operate in Verbier, Switzerland:

      The Snow Skiing Centre (Formally Springbok Ski Club): http://www.ski.co.za

      The Snow Skiing Centre operate a ‘ski deck’ in Jo Burg where you can learn to ski before you go. They can help to arrange chalet accommodation in Verbier in excellent locations and have staff on hand in the resort.

      Verbier Skiing – George Skaris: http://www.verbier-skiing.com

      George has been in Verbier for about 15 years and as a South African himself knows exactly what is required to make your holiday run smoothly. They operate chalet accommodation in an excellent location at the bottom of the main ski lift station.

      There are so many resorts to choose from in The Alps and before I continue I will point out that I have absolutely no affiliation or reason to promote these companies or Verbier as a resort, but I can say that if you want a location that will give you everything you need in a resort, then you can’t go wrong with Verbier. As it is your first time skiing, travelling with a South African operator will make things easy for you regarding the organisation side of things.

      Verbier: http://www.verbier.ch

      I hope this helps.

  2. Hi
    We are concentrating our efforts for the moment on a chalet in Vebier or zermat.
    Budget constraints could force us to go a little wider.
    Transport from London to Europe Train? or Plane ?

    Johann

    1. @JOHANN Van Zyl
      Hi Johann,
      I’m always happy to try and help! My blogging has slowed over the last couple of weeks as we have just had a baby daughter. I understand how cold it can get inland in South Africa, did you know about Tiffendell? It’s a very small ski area in South Africa :

      Both Verbier and Zermatt are ideal for Christmas skiing. The best airport to fly to for both resorts is Geneva. There are many flights from London to Geneva at competitive rates. Book as early as possible. British Airways (London Heathrow), Swiss Air (London Heathrow), and Easy Jet (London Luton) have the best options. If you flying out Saturday on the Christmas period it does get busy, it costs a bit more and you should book early. The flight is about one and a half hours. From Geneva airport you can take a train to Verbier or Zermatt although if you can get a direct transfer from the chalet operator that would be easier. You can take a train from London to Geneva as well, but it’s very expensive and you have to change in Paris. I would fly.

  3. @Johann Van Zyl – Hi Johann, I’m a ski and snowboard mad Brit who’s Cape Town partner has been totally converted to ski holidays and mountains in general (climb up in the summer, slide down in the winter).

    If the rand is weak and you’r looking for a bargain, the cheapest ski holidays for you guys are not what Brits would find cheap – its because of where you’re flying in from.
    We can fly into a tiny regional airport and get super cheap skiing on a little-known mountain – you guys need to find a spot near a major int’l airport.

    But actually, I think that plays in your favour because it will make you look at value places in a major ski resort (always a better option than more high end places in a poor ski resort).

    Why not find a bargain spot in Chamonix – just an hour’s drive from Geneva airport – there are loads of companines (including mine) who can hook you up but in your case, I would suggest going with some local boys like my mates at Mountain-Base.com – Andy and Matt have been successfully giving people top draw ski accommodation for great value for ages.

  4. We are a party of 5 adults trying to go skiing on 19 December for 7 days so we need to go somewhere where there will be guaranteed snow. We are flexible about accommodation. In an ideal world we would like a nice village with good ski conditions but realise we might have to compromise and go more for the good snow conditions. Anyone have any reviews about Cervinia as we have heard it would be good conditions but an ugly village! Our other possibles are Zermatt or Obergurgl. All comments welcome

    1. @CHRISTINE SMITH
      Christine,
      Sorry for the very slow reply to your comment. Just had some time off from ski blogging! Anyway, back now…..

      Your comments about Cervinia are correct in regards to being an ugly village, but it’s a lot cheaper than Zermatt. Saying that, I would be cautious about snow conditions in Cervinia early in the winter. It might be high in altitude and close to Zermatt, but it does not get as much snow as on the Swiss side.

      Obergurgl in Austria is a possible option, as is Solden close by, pretty villages too. Both have good early season snow records / glaciers. In my article, I mention Tignes and Val Thorens (both reliable snow) but not very pretty villages.
      Hope this helps….

  5. @CHRISTINE SMITH – Zermatt is a superb choice for adult group skiing and snowsure conditions in early and late season up on the glacier – it can be expensive but there are some nice little bargains, especially if you want to be out in the evenings rather than needing super lux digs. Unlike Chamonix (mentioned above) it’s not better value to go independent in Zermatt as the package ski holidays remove all of the hassle and cost not more than booking things seperately yourself.
    If the ability of your group is really spread, then I’d always suggest going for one of the big linked ski areas so you get something for everyone – eg Les Troi Vallees has excellent beginner facilities in all of the major facilities but also spectacular mileage for the intermediates and experts who want to travel around the mountains and see a lot – Val Thorens is the highest ski resort in Europe so you can’t get much more snowsure than that! If you want a Brits and beer style of apres ski stay in Meribel, for Zermatt-style posh stay in Courchevel 1850, to ski into resort even in early season stay in Val Thorens, for incredibly cheap access to Les 3 Vallees stay in Brides Les Bains.
    The Tignes glacier also gives super reliable December skiing and you can always stay in linked Val d’Isere if Tignes looks a little too utilitarian for your taste.
    Have you ever skiied the “upside down ski resort”? Les Deux Alpes is the opposite of a regular ski area in that the easy beginner slopes are up on the glacier and the tough blacks are lower on the runs back into resort – this means the easy big mileage stuff is up in the snowsure region (just make sure you don’t miss the last lift back down if you’re a beginner!). The other bonus here is you can hire a guide for a day and go do La Grave for possibly the world’s greatest offpiste and a real taste of alpine wilderness (there are no pistes on the la grave piste map, only “severe danger” signs, so take a guide).
    If you’re stuck call one of the big online agents – they sell ski holidays from all the big tour ops, so they’re showing you the best, no simply the best from their own packages.
    So many amazing places for snowsure group ski holidays – you’ll have a great time!

Comments are closed.