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:
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.
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.
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.
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.