Best ski resorts for guaranteed snow
The season is almost upon us, which means it’s time for the winter sports resorts of Europe to begin the annual guessing game: will there be tons of snow at Christmas? Or will it be a mud bath rather than the anticipated winter wonderland?
If you’ve booked a high resort, breathe a sigh of relief. Good conditions are pretty much assured. The beauty of high resorts is that you’re unlikely to be disappointed whether you’re booking early or late season. And resort height isn’t the only thing to look for – high-altitude lifts, glacier skiing, north-facing slopes, extensive snow-making facilities and historically reliable cover are all key to perfect pistes and a decent depth of powder.
Here are 10 resorts where you shouldn’t be disappointed, whether you’ve booked early or are planning to travel late in the season.
Unless stated otherwise prices are per person for seven nights in the cheapest available week. Prices include flights, transfers, and half-board accommodation and are based on two people sharing a double or twin room.
Val d’Isère-Tignes, FranceAltitude
Slopes up to 3,456m
These two contrastingly different but linked resorts share a giant ski area with 300km of pistes reaching from 1,550m to 3,456m. Val d'Isèrehas a dominance of chalets and four- and five-star hotels mainly clustered around a 17th-century church and a central shopping street. Tignes is a series of purpose-built stations de ski with apartments and a few hotels at different altitudes. Aside from the Pissaillas glacier above Val and the Grande Motte glacier on the Tignes side, the stellar altitude of the slopes in general ensures that this is a snow-sure destination. Val has the largest artificial snowmaking plant in Europe. Le Snow Factory could fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in 30 minutes or cover Wembley Stadium to a depth of half a metre in just one hour.
The five-bedroom Chalet des Pentes is close to the lifts in the Val satellite hamlet of La Daille. The chalet owner is a cabinet maker, so the property is as beautifully finished as a showroom. From £570 per person for seven nights' chalet-board, YSE (yseski.co.uk).
Val Thorens, FranceAltitude
Slopes up to 3,230m
At 2,300m, this is the highest village ski resort in Europe. The highest lift goes to 3,230m, the top point of the whole 600km Trois Vallées ski area, and the resort's lofty altitude ensures that decent snow conditions prevail from late November until early May. Val Thorens opened 40 years ago as an ambitious experiment in concrete, purpose-built resorts. But down the years it has developed into a much more aesthetically pleasing place, with a justified reputation for quality slopes and fine living. It is such a snow-sure destination that Telegraph Ski and Snowboard is running its early-season reader holiday there this year, from December 11 to 18 2016.
Residence Oxalys has a swimming pool and spa facilities and is ski-in/ski-out. The Jean Sulpice two-star Michelin restaurant is in the building. From £846 for a one-bedroom self-catering apartment sleeping up to four, accommodation only, Erna Low (ernalow.co.uk).
Slopes up to 3,330m
The freeride capital of the Alps is essentially a ski town that attracts powderhounds from all over the world. With a top lift at a heady 3,330m, snow cover in Verbier is pretty much guaranteed at altitude, although the lower half of the resort can suffer in an early season snow drought. From the resort at 1,500m the ski area extends into three neighbouring valleys, with 400km of linked pistes to explore covered by the 4 Valleys lift pass.
Chalet Sherwood is a penthouse apartment sleeping 10 people, with five bedrooms and designer interiors, close to the nursery slope and five minutes’ walk from the centre. Ski Verbier (skiverbier.com) has packages from £15,400 for the whole chalet (£1,540 per person) for seven nights' chalet-board, including all drinks and 24-hour in-resort driver, excluding travel.
Slopes up to 2,870m
Ischgl is an attractive Tirolean farming community that embraces international tourism with unbridled enthusiasm. With the village at 1,400m and a top height of under 3,000m, it is not your typical snow-sure candidate. However, as you move further east across the Alps, resorts don't need to have the same super high altitudes as those in France to get good snow cover. Also, so sophisticated is Ischgl's snowmaking system, it can almost dispense with nature altogether. Ischgl is famous for its lively après activities and opens and closes every season with a huge mid-mountain concert with a world-class headline act, watched by a crowd of up to 25,000.
Hotel Solaria is in a quiet yet central location. It has an indoor swimming pool and has recently been completely refurbished. From £969 per person, Inghams (inghams.co.uk).
Les Deux Alpes, FranceAltitude
Slopes up to 3,570m
This high glacial resort, with slopes from 3,570m down to 1,650m, opens for winter in early December – although the glacier is open much earlier for autumn skiing. The big innovation last season was a new blue run providing an easier, safer return to the resort. Les Deux Alpes has 200km of groomed slopes and over 200 snow guns protect a large chunk of the area.
The self-catering Chalet Le Pont is wood-panelled throughout and has its own covered swimming pool. It sleeps up to 12 people in five en-suite bedrooms. From £2,377 for the whole chalet for one week (£198 per person), including Eurotunnel Plus crossings for one car, Peak Retreats (peakretreats.co.uk).
Slopes up to 2,450m
This upmarket village in the Voralberg region shares a lift pass and – from this winter – a link with neighbouring St Anton, but historically has superior snow cover. Lech is also linked to Zürs and Warth-Schröcken. This little-known neighbouring resort enjoys the distinction of having the highest average annual snowfall of any resort in Europe – 10.6m. The top lift in the area is at 2,450m with runs dropping down to Lech at 1,450m. North-facing slopes and snow guns help to keep the 185km of runs in good condition throughout the season.
Four-star Chalethotel Elisabeth is conveniently situated in a quiet position that is still close to the centre of the village. It’s got a pool and a wellness area with hot tub, sauna, and steam room. From £590 Ski Total (skitotal.com).
Cervinia, Italy and Zermatt, SwitzerlandAltitude
Slopes up to 3,820m
Italian resorts often miss out on the early storms. However Cervinia, both because of its altitude and its proximity to Switzerland – the ski area is linked across the Matterhorn to Zermatt – remains one of the most reliable resorts for European snow cover. The winter season usually opens in early November, but Cervinia's glacier means the resort stays open for summer skiing too. Cervinia is at 2,050m and with lifts going up to 3,820m. The joint ski area with Zermatt is the highest in Europe. This ensures snow cover is guaranteed between November and early May.
All-inclusive full-board packages at Club Med’s resort in Cervinia (clubmed.co.uk) start from £943 per person for seven nights, including lift pass, equipment hire, five days’ tuition, après activities, child care, a teenage club, flights and transfers. The hotel has an indoor swimming pool, spa, gym, and Pilates classes.
Jackson Hole, WyomingAltitude
Slopes up to 3,185m
Last season, Jackson Hole opened for its 50th year in November with some of the best conditions in North America. Its rivals for snow depths are Telluride in Colorado and Whistler in Canada. During a short season – it closes in early April – the resort averages 9.4m of snow. The highest lift in the 2,500-acre ski area is at 3,185m, ensuring reliable snow cover for its steep couloirs and sweeping powder bowls.Stay
The four-star Snake River Lodge is a few minutes’ walk from the Aerial Tram lift and the shops and restaurants of Teton Village. It has an outdoor heated pool and spa. From £1,455 per person for seven nights' b&b, including flights and transfers, Ski Safari (skisafari.com).
Whistler, British ColumbiaAltitude
Slopes up to 2,285mResort report
The most popular ski resort in North America with British visitors has 3,300 skiable hectares to explore. Whistler’s maritime climate can be harsh and changeable. Precipitation rolls in from the nearby Pacific, often falling as rain at the 675m resort base and as powder snow around the top lifts at 2,285m.
This attractive purpose-built resort is divided into two central areas, Whistler Village and Blackcomb. Unless you stay in one of the satellite areas linked only by ski bus, location is unimportant. The two mountains have gondola access at their bases and are linked by a further gondola at mid-mountain. The big news is that Vail Resorts, which already operates 11 resorts in North America and one in Australia, is set to acquire Whistler at the beginning of this season – but it's unlikely that there will be any noticeable changes until 2017/18.
The Glacier Lodge is set behind the Fairmont Chateau Whistler at the foot of Blackcomb and has a selection of shops and restaurants underneath. There is an outdoor heated pool and two outdoor hot tubs. Ski Independence (ski-i.com/whistler) has packages from £1,017 per person, room only.
Slopes up to 3,250m
This strung-out resort in the Otz Valley was a venue in Spectre, the latest James Bond film. Its two glaciers and glass-walled Ice Q mountain restaurant feature in the movie. With visitor numbers already substantially up, the Bond association could prove a canny one for a resort that is bent on changing its international image from snow-sure bargain basement to hedonistic penthouse. Sölden officially opens in late November, but the 10 lifts on its two 3,250m glaciers that guarantee snow cover run through the autumn.
Five-star Hotel Das Central is located, not surprisingly, in the centre of town. Bedrooms are decorated in modern alpine minimalist style and have open-plan glass-walled bathrooms, and there is a sumptuous spa and pool. From £1,445 per person for seven nights' half-board, including flights and transfers, Snow-wise (snow-wise.com).