The ski season starts here: Three more months
Saturday 12 March 2011
After a promising start at the end of 2010, the ski season in the Alps and Pyrenees stalled for two months with little fresh snow. That's changed now, with big falls – up to a metre in 48 hours – in recent weeks. So the last two months of the season are looking excellent. Snow depths at Engelberg (
engelberg.ch) in the Swiss Alps are above 3.3 metres and touching 2.5 metres at the snowiest resorts in the French Alps, such as Flaine (
And tour operators are keen to salvage the season and stretch it to our late Easter and even the royal wedding/May Day bank holiday, with plenty of discounted deals.
April: The Alps
Snow conditions are great at most Alpine resorts, but the advice for later in the season is, as every year, aim high – preferably to a resort that offers skiing on a glacier.
A good candidate in this category for France is Tignes ( tignes.net), which in the past was open for snow sports for 365 days a year; it still manages about nine months of every 12. Chalet operator Hundred Hills (0191 406 6160; hundredhills.com) has a discounted week starting on 24 April in its Chalet Ushuaia, near central Tignes, for £250 per person including breakfast, afternoon teas, dinner and drinks for six of seven nights. (Minimum booking two people; excludes flights.)
Another good French choice is La Plagne ( la-plagne.com), which has glacier skiing to 3,250 metres. Here, specialist operator Powder Beds (0845 180 5000; powderbeds.com) has a deal on seven nights at the slope-side three-star Residence Sun Valley in Plagne Soleil, starting on 2 April. The entire six-person apartment is available for £394 (must be booked by 23 March). Guests get the added benefit of using the spa, pool, sauna, steam room and hot tub next door at the Hotel Vancouver. Flights are extra.
In Austria, Ischgl ( ischgl.com) is always a safe bet, open to the very end of April. Ski Total's (01252 618 333; skitotal.com) Chalet Hotel Abendrot is just £425 for the week beginning 17 April, including flights from Gatwick, transfers and seven nights of catered accommodation with cooked breakfast, afternoon tea and four-course evening meals.
May: North America
Most of the big ski areas in North America tend to close early, in the first half of April, even if they've got plenty of snow. It has been a bumper year here thanks to a La Niña effect, which has brought massive snow storms. But North American resorts maintain their high service standards by employing a lot of people; when the income from skiers isn't enough to cover wages, they close – or switch to golf.
However, there are exceptions. Mammoth ( mammothmountain.com) in California, which has topped the "world's deepest snowpack table" with a six-metre accumulation for most of this winter, is likely to stay open until Independence Day celebrations on 4 July. (You can check current snow depths live, along with who has had the most snow in the past seven days at skiinfo.co.uk.)
Squaw Valley, above, by Lake Tahoe ( squaw.com) makes a big thing of its "spring season", which normally lasts until late May. Ski Independence (0131 243 8097; ski-i.com) offers a week from 4 May in a deluxe room at the Squaw Valley Lodge for £1,099 per person, including flights from Heathrow to San Francisco and a week's car hire.
In Canada, Whistler's ( whistlerblackcomb.com) glaciers are a safe bet and Banff's Sunshine ( skibanff.com) ski area is open until 23 May. Ski Independence also offers a week in the Banff Mount Royal for a way from 5 May, including flights from Gatwick to Calgary and transfers, from £649 per person.
June: South of the Equator
If you're busy until summer, the southern hemisphere's ski season gets underway in the latter half of June in Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Conditions below the equator in the early season are just as unpredictable as they are in the northern hemisphere in December, but one of the safer bets is Mount Hutt ( mthutt.co.nz) in New Zealand which, along with a good natural snowfall (averaging 4.5 metres each winter), has one of the largest snow-making arsenals in this hemisphere. The centre, which opens on 12 June, also offers one of the few multi-area passes in the region, with Queenstown resorts Coronet Peak ( coronetpeak.co.nz) which opens on 5 June and The Remarkables ( theremarkables.co.nz), below, which opens on 19 June, available on a joint ticket. The area is 100km from Christchurch but is reported to be unaffected by the recent earthquake.
In Chile, Portillo ( skiportillo.com) will hope for a bounce back after last season's uncharacteristically low amount of the powder snow for which it is known. The resort kicks off winter 2011 on 18 June (snow permitting) with a child-stays-and-skis-free promotion for under-12s sharing their parents room. Package prices (excluding flights) are from US$750 (£500) for a seven-night stay including four meals per day, lift tickets and access to fitness and entertainment facilities.
The last day of the season
Music concerts, clothes-optional skiing and trying to ice-water-ski are all popular end-of-season crowd pleasers at the world's top resorts.
Skiing naked (or nearly naked), is usually an impromptu rather than officially organised event. Crested Butte ( skicb.com) in Colorado was best known for this before it all went pear-shaped in the late 1990s, when drunken, naked skiers threw beer bottles at police.
Subsequently the "bikini slalom" and "ski-a-thong" have come to the fore. Jiminy Peak ( jiminypeak.com) is one of those staging just such a race as part of its spring fling season-ending extravaganza.
If being half-naked on snow isn't enough, then many resorts throw in the option of trying to ski across a pool of melted ice water at the base of the slopes too. One of the best known is the Slush Cup at Sunshine Village, Banff ( skibig3.com), which takes place for the 83rd time on 23 May. Category prizes on offer include those for Awesome Air, Best Belly Flop and Excellent Enema.
Finally, if you'd like to ski out of winter 2010-11 with a song rather than a thong, Ischgl ( ischgl.com) is the place to be. On 30 April at 1pm, The Killers will play the now-traditional giant Top of the Mountain concert on the Idalp, to end the five month ski season. An estimated 20,000 fans will see it free: all you need is a valid lift ticket.
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