22 February 2011
With the Northern Hemisphere’s ski season coming into the final two months and reports of very little snow in some European resorts, Wexas Ski Expert Joe Legate explains how to get the best out of the rest of the season.
For some the end of the ski season is the wrong time to go for a winter sports holiday. The general perception is that the warm weather and limited snow can lead to pistes being in an awful condition. However - I don’t know a skier or snowboarder out there who does not enjoy a long lunch in the sun at a mountain restaurant perched high on the slopes. With a bit of flexibility you can almost certainly find exciting skiing in a resort with great snow conditions.
With careful research you can find a holiday and resort perfect for you. Here is my advice for getting the most from the end of the season:
For the avid skier
If, like me, you want your holiday to be all about exciting skiing you’ll need to consider a few things: snow, lifts, size of ski area and equipment.
For the experienced piste skier you’ll want somewhere with kilometres of pistes and a quick lift system. Typically this means you’ll be looking at one of the big linked ski areas such as the Three Valleys in France, the Milky Way in Italy and the Ski Welt in Austria.
But the key thing to consider is the altitude. Even with very little snow a high altitude resort will be able to keep it’s slopes in good shape all the way to the end of the season. They’ll be at their best in the morning and in the afternoon you may need to ski in any available shade to avoid slushy conditions.
If you are hiring your skis you may also wish to consider going for a more "all-mountain" type ski, as this will make managing choppy and slushy conditions much easier. Ask your rental store for a ski that is at least 78mm wide under foot as typically this guarantees a ski that is as good in pisted conditions as off!
In Europe base yourself in Val Thorens, part of the Three Valleys ski area, it is the highest resort in Europe and you can easily hop over to Mont Vallon in the Meribel ski area which also offers high altitude skiing. All lifts are currently open with 90cm of snow on the lower slopes and 160cm on the upper slopes
In North America consider the Banff Lake Louise ski area with access to three mountains (Lake Louise, Sunshine and Mt Norquay). With extensive snow making you’re sure to find enough runs to keep you busy. Lake Louise in particular has extensive, challenging off-piste options in the back bowls. The ski area currently has 156cm of snow on the lower slopes and 206cm on the upper slopes.
For the gastronome
Eating on the slopes is one of the delights of a ski holiday and in the spring it is at best. You’ll be sure to enjoy meals out in the sun with a cool glass of wine or beer, which provides the perfect balance to a morning’s hard skiing when the conditions are best.
For those who really enjoy their food you could do a lot worse than cruising the beautifully groomed runs of Courchevel in the morning before spending the afternoon over a long lunch.
With 12 Michelin stars shared by 8 restaurants, there are more than enough places to occupy you for a week.
Cortina D’Ampezzo in the Italian Dolomites is a food lover’s paradise. You’ll find everything from haute cuisine to the humble pizzeria and plenty of wine bars as well. Notably Ristorante Tivoli is Michelin starred, while Croda Café offers simple pizza.
Fernie in Canada offers less fine dining on the mountain but in the evenings any number of cosmopolitan restaurants can be found. From the Curry Bowl you can enjoy a variety of delicious Indian and Thai meals, while Yamagoya offers accomplished Sushi. The Old Elevator, also downtown, offers wild game, steaks and seafood, but is known for its wine cellar of over 200 wines.
Courchevel has 71cm of snow on the lower slopes and 82cm on the upper slopes.
Cortina D’Amprezzo has 15cm on the lower sloes and 110cm on the uppers slopes - so stay high!
Fernie has 281cm of snow on upper and lower slopes.
For the family
Family holidays are all about convenience. In Switzerland there are plenty of resorts within a short train ride of Geneva.
For me though you could do a lot worse than visiting Sauze D’Oulx in Italy. With just over an hour-long flight from London to Turin and then an hour transfer, it is one of the quickest resorts to get to in Europe.
Reasonable prices for food and drink in resort also make for a cost effective holiday and the rolling tree lined pistes provide fantastic beginner and intermediate runs. Even eating on the mountain is satisfying and doesn’t break the bank.
Sauze D’oulx has 80cm of snow on the lower slopes and 140cm on the upper slopes.
Learning to ski in the spring is great for beginners; the warm weather means you are not distracted by visibility or inclement weather. North American ski resorts provide great conditions for learning. Wide groomed runs and English speaking instructors ensure nothing is lost in translation.
As the travelling distance is so great I would advise taking a 10- or 14-day holiday, which allows for a decent amount of time to learn.
Kimberley in British Columbia offers beautiful slopes for beginners and piste-side accommodation in the Trickle Creek Lodge.
Breckenridge, Colorado also offers fantastic beginners’ skiing and also the highest chairlift in North America, taking you all the way to 3,913 metres above sea level. There is also great intermediate and advanced skiing and plenty to do in resort meaning you are sure to have a great holiday if you have a group of mixed ability.
Kimberley Alpine Resort has 100cm of snow on upper and lower slopes.
Breckenridge has 221cm on the upper and lower slopes.
Wherever you go skiing late in the season don’t let the weather frustrate you. Concentrate on a long morning’s skiing when the snow is at it’s best and shaded runs if you ski later in the day. Use the afternoon to catch up with friends and family in the sun and enjoy great food and drink, all combined with those spectacular mountain views. Oh, and don’t forget your sunglasses.