Make your own tracks at dawn

Alf Alderson advises you to rise with the lark if you want to enjoy the best skiing

Few of us like getting up before the sun – particularly if the temperature outside is sub-zero. But if you're a skier, and if it's snowed heavily overnight, an exception has to be made. All the discomfort is worth it if you can be the first on the ski lifts – and it's easy to ignore cold toes as you ride a chairlift through fresh Alpine air with bright early sunlight glittering on a smooth, untouched layer of sparkling snow crystals. For skiers, the urge to get to the top is as exciting as Christmas morning is to a six-year-old.

Getting up early means you can hoon back down the mountain through all that fresh powder, smug in the knowledge that the slackers who stayed in bed five minutes longer than you will observe your fresh tracks with envy as they follow you up the mountain.

Once you've arrived at the top station there's the frenzy of ensuring boots are buckled and gloves, hats and jackets are fastened tight and then you're off into the sublime environment that big, fat modern freeride skis were designed for – powder that, for now at least, is pristine.

Even if your skills on skis are not quite up to searching out the best powder, you can still enjoy freshly groomed pistes that will both flatter and improve your technique. Lots of skiers look down their nose at rising before the lark to ski pisted runs, but that's their loss.

For instance, I hit "M" piste above Courchevel at 9am one Saturday morning and got in three runs in perfect grippy corduroy before fewer than 20 people had even bothered to hop on the lift. That's 1,740 vertical metres of wide, open slopes virtually to myself: all before 10am.

You can now access M and the other rack of great red and black runs off the top of 1850 even more quickly although, ironically, it's from Méribel thanks to the introduction last season of the fast new Saulire Express gondola, which gets you to La Saulire's summit (the meeting point of the two linked resorts) a minute quicker than residents down in Courchevel. That may not sound much – but when there's fresh powder around, a minute is a long time, especially if you're the one sitting on the lift watching someone else rip it up.

Some resorts, particularly in North America, help you score the best snow with a "first tracks" programme, whereby a limited number of lift tickets are sold early, allowing first risers to hit the slopes for an hour or so before the public.

For example, Whistler's "Fresh Tracks Breakfast" involves boarding the Village Gondola at 7.30am and heading up for a big breakfast atop the mountain at the Roundhouse Lodge after which you get to blast back down through the "pow".

Mont Tremblant in Quebec offers a similar programme: you're on the slopes by 8am with the option of ripping it up on freshly groomed pistes or enjoying coffee – my advice would be to hit the pistes, the coffee will still be there a couple of hours later; the untracked snow won't.

I've also enjoyed the first tracks programme at Steamboat Springs in Colorado, with just a handful of us playing in the resort's much hyped "champagne powder"(TM – yes, they really have trademarked it) in bright early morning sunshine; it was as near as you'll get to the solitude of cat- or heli-skiing without costing a fortune.

Back in the Alps, Les Arcs offers an option for just €10 every Thursday outside high season.

Of course you can beat the crowds without even getting on a ski lift if you choose a ski in/ski out chalet or hotel. Resorts such as Courchevel, Avoriaz, Flaine and Obertauern offer slopeside accommodation that will at least let you enjoy a short run before the hoi polloi get on it.

Or you could really push the boat out and stay right on top of the mountain: the ultra-luxe Eagle's Eye Suites at Kicking Horse Resort in British Columbia sit 7,700ft up at the summit of the resort. A night here ensures you get first tracks the following morning. Your own ski instructor is included in the price: a hefty C$1,750 (£1,035) per night. Being on the slopes first doesn't always come cheap.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Front of House Receptionist / Receptionist

    £21K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Front of House Receptionist to provide th...

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders