Early Bird: Best European Resorts With Early Season Snow
Are you sick of this Europe-wide summer heatwave? Pining for some clean, fresh alpine air? Well, the winter season is right around the corner. For those that simply can’t wait for their altitude fix, we’ve found the 10 best early season resorts in Europe. Ditch the boardshorts and bikinis and pack the snowboard and ski jackets. Winter is coming!
The chic and epic car-free resort that lies in the shadow of the famous Matterhorn has the Theodul glacier that provides year round snow cover. The altitude is the key here. There is nowhere else with T-bars that reach an astonishing 3899 metres above sea level. The glacier and high altitude combine to provide 16 miles of skiing and a snow guarantee as good as any in Europe. The Gravity Park features a half-pipe, kickers and rails, all with incredible views of the world’s sexiest mountain, the Matterhorn. Quick tip though, you might want to send that Christmas present link for that Mens Ski Jacket a little earlier this year. Like in September.
Known as The Pearl of the Alps, Saas-Fee has 18 peaks measuring 4,000 metres and higher that loom above the pretty Swiss villages. The majority of these slopes are north facing, meaning light powdery snow collects here earlier than at other resorts. It might be time to update that Mens Snowboard Jacket, or Womens Ski Jacket for Saas-Fee’s high altitude. The Morenia Winter Park too is a massive drawcard offering every line from beginners to experienced snowboarders and free skiers. Add Saas-Fee’s legendary laid back vibe and relatively small crowds and you start to see why this might be the perfect resort to kick start your winter.
The French resort of Tignes shares a huge ski area with next-door Val d'Isère resulting in over 200 miles of skiable terrain topping out a whopping 3,456 metres above sea level. The resort, open all summer courtesy of the Grande Motte glacier, often open its winter doors as early as November depending on conditions. The town itself, built in the 1960s, isn’t known for its traditional charm, but the stellar altitude of the slopes, the easily accessible glacier and the huge range of terrain make Tignes one of the safest snow-sure bets.
With access to Zermatt’s Theodul glacier (although strong winds can often cut off access), the winter season in Cervinia traditionally kicks off in late October and expands down the mountain as the snow allows. In the last few years much of the mountain has been skiable by the end of November. Italian hospitality, crazy 1980s fashion (your new season Snowboard Jacket and Salopettes will never feel so goddamn contemporary) and great food is assured. Away from the weekends the often sun-bathed slopes also tend to be quiet and lift queues rare.
The Hinterlux Glacier is Austria’s only year round ski resort and offers riders some of the best snow-sure runs 365 days of the year. In autumn, the true winter frothers who simply cannot wait for their altitude fix flock to Hinterlux groomed pistes to scratch the itch. However as soon a winter shows its first signs, the Glacier merges with the resorts of Zillertal including Eggalm, Rastkogel, Finkenberg, Penken/Mayrhofen and Ahorn. Called the Zillertal 3000 it is 120 miles of pistes all accessed by a single pass. Way before the wine is mulled, it’s entirely possible to be getting face shots on the incredible freeriding slopes in Hinterlux.
Unlike its Austrian cousin Hinterlux, Obergurgl doesn’t rely on a glacier to offer premium snow conditions early doors. While Europe’s summer heat wave probably doesn't have you scouring the net for a new snowboard or ski jacket, the traditional Tyrol village base is one of the highest in Europe at 1950 metres. That means its 25 lifts crank into action as early as mid-November. We’d advise you started shopping for your Mens Snowboarding Jacket right now. It isn’t a huge ski area, but what it lacks in size is compensated by serious off-piste quality, a low crowd factor and bucketfuls of charm.
At the risk of banging the same nail, the key to any successful pre-Christmas mission tends to revolve altitude. In this Val Thorens, located in France’s Savoie region, comes out, uhm, top. As the highest point in the 3 Vallées ski area it is also Europe’s highest resort. As it is backed up by high tech snowmaking it usually opens a week earlier than its rival Tignes/Val d'Isère. In the early season you can hit the compact, but still exciting Val Thorens runs, before mid-December when the whole 3 Valleys and its 600 km of runs opens up.
Off the radar a little, but the Pitztal Glacier is the highest point in all of Austria topping out at a staggering 3,440 metres above sea level. You know that new Womens Ski Jacket or Mens Snowboard Jacket you thought you didn’t need? Well, you’ll need it in Pitztal. The altitude results in an eight-month season that runs from September to May across the three resorts on the hill. Blue skies often come with the very affordable lift passes while crowds, even at peak times, aren’t really an issue. We’d advise you get there soon before the word gets out.
So down are they in Iscghl with their early season start to the winter season they celebrate it with a now legendary concert. Elton John, Kylie Minogue and Stevie Wonder have played the opening gigs, while this year on November 24 Jason Derulo headlines the show. Of course it’s not just about the music. Iscghl offers 238 kilometres of perfectly groomed slopes that reach all the way into Switzerland. It’s been an early opener staple for decades offering everything from big jumps in the Fun Parks to freeriding in the powder. You should be so lucky.
Want to test out that new Mens Snowboard Jacket in some of the best early season freshies in Europe? With Verbier’s Mt Font topping out at 3,330 metres, Verbier traditionally opens its gilt edged pistes and its serious super accessible backcountry at the start of December. With views that reach the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, and 80 lifts that serve more than 400 kilometres of runs, there’s a reason Verbier is iconic in the mountain world. Not so good for beginners, but for those who want an early season shot of altitude infused adrenalin Verbier is sure hard to beat.
Written by Ben Mondy, author at the Adventure Sports Network for Two Seasons.