Ski special: Late season snow

Hankering for some late snow before it all melts? Patrick Thorne points you up the right peaks
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The Independent Travel

There's something in the human psyche that makes us long for warm, sunny spring days, just as we hoped for snow by Christmas a few months earlier. In response to this urge, most ski resorts stage Rites of Spring events in the first half of April. This normally involves lots of beer, loud music and strapping young bucks peeling off their skiwear and trying to ski across a meltwater pond.

Happily for those of us not yet ready to put our skis and boards away for another summer, a hundred or so ski areas soldier on providing snow sports late in to the spring, even summer. With Easter later this year (16 April), most of the major tour operators are offering trips through to the end of the month.

The Alps have had healthy snowfalls since the start of the year and operators may consider offering additional trips not in their brochures if the snow and the demand is there.

However tours are already available right through to the end of April in any case to some of the most snow-sure destinations. There is also of course the option of independent travel; it is well worth checking ski resorts' own websites for late-booking bargains if the snow looks good by Easter. Most will provide spectacular deals on accommodation with lift tickets - you just have to get there.

When deciding where to book for an Easter week, or later, the key elements to look out for are of course altitude (high - ideally with glacier) or latitude (northern) and a reputation for lots of snow (machine made or natural). A combination of any two of these factors normally ensures spring skiing success. Combining all three is a little tricky, because mountains tend to get lower the further north you go.

"High" typically means a good proportion of the skiing you're hoping to enjoy is above 2,000m and ideally the upper limits touch on, or pass, 3,000m. Check on the ski map that you can reach higher ski slopes from the resorts quickly, ideally by a funicular, gondola or cable car. Having to rely on a drag lift to make the trip up is clearly not good if there's no snow for it to drag you over, but most major resorts have long since upgraded to chairlifts on such crucial links.

Several of the best-known resorts in the Alps offer glacier skiing in the summer. Those glaciers are melting at an alarming rate - sadly you can watch them dwindling if you visit in the summer. In late April or early May however, these are your best bet for fine winter snow conditions all day, rather than the typically hard frozen slopes of the morning followed by sticky slush after lunch that is the norm at lower altitudes in the spring.

In France, Val Thorens, Europe's highest resort, can confidently run its season through to May, and re-open for glacier skiing in the summer. Low-season accommodation and lift ticket deals are available from mid-April. Erna Low is one of the latest British tour operators in resort; its last departure is on 29 April.

Another good choice is Les Deux Alpes, with one of the largest glacier ski areas in the Alps accessed by fast modern lifts. The last week of the season begins on 22 April for the tour operator Peak Retreats.

Tignes used to be open every day of the year, but now closes for a few months from 8 May before reopening for summer skiing. Here independent travellers can pay from €876 (£626) for a four-bedded studio for a week including lift passes and a covered parking space; that price is based on two adults, two children aged under 12.

For something more luxurious, the Ski Collection offers departures for packages in four-star apartments up to 22 April. A week in a brand new two-bedroom (three-room) apartment costs from £233 per person based on four sharing and including return Eurotunnel crossing from Folkestone to Calais with a car - but not lift tickets.

Both Les Arcs and La Plagne have skiing above 3,000m and lodging right up to 2,000m so you should be ensured of at least 1,000m of vertical and doorstep skiing right through to the end of their season in late April. Erna Low, UK representative for both resorts, operates trips to both through to a final departure on 22 April, returning 29 April - the penultimate day of the season for both resorts.

Switzerland is home to Europe's highest ski lifts (3,899m) and Zermatt aims to remain open for skiers 365 days a year. The resort offers heliskiing and off-piste touring right through to the end of April.

Neighbouring Saas Fee also boasts spectacular scenery and a pretty, car-free village. It is open for summer, though its lifts close for a short while in late spring and early autumn. On 16 April the resort's "Schneegaudi" Easter party is staged at 2,400m. There's an inevitable water-slide contest followed by non-stop music with dancing in the top lift station, which will be converted into a disco.

Most Swiss resorts are linked directly by rail to Geneva or Zurich airports making it easy to get to them independently. If you prefer a package, Thomson offers Saas Fee and Zermatt departures up to 22 April. Other snowsure resorts include Engelberg, Davos, St Moritz and Verbier, final departures to which are on 15 April.

In Austria, the Alps tend to be lower than France and Switzerland. Even extensive snowmaking won't be much help if it's too warm by Easter, so be wary where you book. There are notable exceptions where glacier skiing continues through much of the year, including Solden, Tux and the Stubai.Ischgl makes the most of its high altitude to push a full-on spring skiing season building to the now famous Top of the Mountain end of season concert.

This year the resort is planning two big gigs on the final two weekends of April. Status Quo will be performing at at Alp Trida (2,488m) on Sunday 23 April. The star for the closing concert on 30 April is yet to be announced - one year Elton John performed after his grand piano had been delivered by helicopter. If you have no such luxury, you'll need to make your own way there, though, unless Inghams adds more trips beyond the last scheduled departure date, 8 April. Crystal's final departure is a week later.

Italy doesn't make the late-destinations list for most operators but there are high ski areas should you wish to make your own arrangements. The country's most celebrated resort, Cortina d'Ampezzo, is one of the more snowsure and recently offered summer skiing on a 2km slope in the Tofana sector thanks to accumulated snowfall of 3-4m that had lasted to June.

In Scandinavia the ski season can last from October to June thanks to consistently low temperatures meaning that snow that falls doesn't melt. This year a few resorts, notably Hemsedal in Norway, had little snow by mid-January so it is worth keeping track of snow depths.

The leading Finnish resorts are up by the Arctic Circle and thus a pretty safe bet. Crystal has trips to Iso-Syote and Pyha up to 15 April - and to the rapidly expanding resort of Ruka on the 22 April.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

Cortina d'Ampezzo (00 39 0436 3231; www.cortina.dolomiti.com)

Crystal (0870 160 6040; www.crystalholidays.co.uk)

Erna Low (0870 750 6820; www.ernalow.co.uk)

Inghams (020-8780 4444; www.inghams.co.uk)

Ischgl (00 43 5444 5266; www.ischgl.com)

La Plagne (00 33 4 79 09 79 79; www.la-plagne.com)

Les Arcs (00 33 4 79 07 12 57; www.lesarcs.com)

Les 2 Alpes (00 33 4 76 79 22 00; www.les2alpes.com)

Peak Retreats (0870 770 0408; www.peakretreats.co.uk)

Ski Collection (0870 770 0407; www.skicollection.co.uk)

Saas Fee (00 41 27 958 1858; www.saas-fee.ch)

Thomson (0870 606 1470; www.thomson-ski.co.uk)

Tignes (00 33 4 79 40 04 40; www.tignes.net)

Zermatt (00 41 27 966 8100; www.zermatt.ch)

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