Snow Calendar: Timing is everything in the mountains
Some dates for your diary. Check out the snow calendar for where to go and when you'll get the best out of your trip
Sunday 06 November 2011
From today, the Austrians will have eight glacier ski centres open. That's more to choose from than in any other country.
And some have already clocked up more than a metre of fresh powder, according to the snow reporting agency Skiinfo.co.uk. Austria is also where you'll find the first non-glacier ski slopes to open in Europe each winter, at Obergurgl (obergurgl.com), the country's highest village (1,850m). Snow has been falling here since since August and the slopes open on 17 November.
French resorts open en masse and Europe's highest, Val Thorens, celebrates its Big 4-0 this winter. Along with two new pistes and a swish new funitel lift (a kind of super-stable gondola hanging beneath two parallel cables instead of one), Val Thorens offers a snow guarantee. It promises always to have the best snow cover you'll find ("terms and conditions apply").
St Moritz is known for its glitz but it is also one of the highest resorts in the Alps at 1,850m. In January, its lake is frozen thick enough for polo matches to be played on it. All this is aided by a miraculous green heating system employed by the famous Palace hotel. It sucks "heat" from the lake water to warm the hotel, saving vast volumes of heating oil and thickening the ice all in one smart move.
The fluffy powder for which western Canada is famous is usually in prime condition by February. Fernie in British Columbia is one of the few resorts installing a new lift this winter, actually increasing its lift-served vertical (rather than just upgrading an existing lift), so you can access more of that white stuff.
The days are getting longer and warmer but most resorts should have built up their optimum snow packs just as the cusp of the annual thaw begins. Over the past few years, some of the deepest March snow has, remarkably, been reported by Europe's most southerly resort, Sierra Nevada in Spain, which has had as much as 5m (nearly 17 feet) lying. This winter there's a new terrain park to enjoy there, too.
Many resorts closed a week early last April, which was annoying given that Easter fell on its next to latest possible date at the end of the month. But whichever year, once spring has sprung, it's always wise to aim high. Austria's Oberauern, which featured in the Beatles' 1965 film Help!, celebrates its snowy reputation with a treasure hunt in the snow – and the keys to a top-of-the-range car, such as a Porsche, are up for grabs. The resulting media attention that this brings helps drive end-of-season business.
Rest of the year
May is the final hurrah for the world's high-altitude or most northerly latitude ski areas. Nowhere more so than in Riksgransen in the Swedish Arctic. It comes into its own about now with low-priced heli-skiing offers and, by the end of the month, lifts that run under the midnight sun for a totally surreal experience.
By June, most ski areas in the northern hemisphere will have closed. Although resorts such as Mt Hutt, in New Zealand, will be aiming to open early this month, they may be thwarted by unseasonably warm weather. Year-round glacier resorts such as Zermatt, which operates Europe's highest slopes at 3,899m, are the safest bet.
Surprisingly, in July there's a bigger choice in the Alps as a dozen or so areas reopen for summer skiing. But the southern hemisphere's ski season should be well under way by now, and one of the first to open is tiny Afri-ski in Lesotho. By now, its slopes have full snow-making cover, though natural snowfall can be abundant, too – on the opening day earlier this year the access road was blocked by snow.
August is peak season in the southern hemisphere and the powder should be perfect on slopes of the Andes. One of the best-loved resorts is Portillo in Chile, which is famed for its heli-skiing and offers enticing themed weeks all winter, such as "wine week" and "gourmet week".
In September, the season winds down south of the equator and, with just a few places to ski in the Alps, perhaps this is the month to try one of the UK's six indoor snow centres to "get your ski legs in". The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead can offer a video analysis of your technique as an add-on to private tuition.
By October, most southern hemisphere resorts are closed (except perhaps Mt Ruapehu in New Zealand, which often makes it to what they call "Snow-vember"). In the US, some of the world's highest slopes in Colorado will be battling it out to be the first to open for 2012-13 – it's usually between Arapahoe Basin and Loveland. And in the Alps, Sölden in Austria will be staging the first World Cup ski races of the season in the middle of the month.
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