Early snow: where's the best for skiing in the Alps?

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 14/12/2016
Amazing powder and an even more amazing view of famous Swiss mountains. Photo: Shutterstock

Due to unusually early thick dumps of snow, ski resorts across the Alps began opening in mid November this year. But where has the best snow? Sarah Stirling investigates.

The good news: a decent base of up to 160cm of snow fell on slopes across the Alps in November. The bad news: it hasn't snowed since 25 November. Fingers crossed for more snow soon. In the meantime, here's our pick of the places that have seen the best snow coverage so far.

Grands Montets, France

Chamonix's biggest and most infamous ski area opened on 19 November. The last time this happened was 1999. To put that in perspective, it hasn't snowed so much so early here since Salomon launched their first twintip, the 1080, and skiing started getting cool again. I was there, falling on my face with excitement like it was indeed 1999, and I can confirm from close-up that a pretty good base was put down for the season. 150cm on the upper slopes, to be precise, the most that has been measured anywhere in France this season (apart from the little resort of Valfrejus near Paris, which apparently received 280cm). 

Top station: 3,275m
Vert: 2,023m
Find out what lifts are open.
Check out the snow on the webcams.
Piste map.
Lift pass prices.

Courmayeur, Italy

The week after Chamonix's optimistic early opening, a foehn wind blew the town dry and warm. When that happens, handily it's often snowing on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. Indeed, we were in luck: just through the Mont Blanc Tunnel in Courmayeur snow was falling, just in time for Courmayeur's early opening weekend on the 26th, and there was plenty of powder to be found: 80cm of snow cover was recorded on the upper slopes. There's a big mountain feel here, overlooking Mont Blanc and a dozen other 4,000ers, and a typical laidback and friendly Italian vibe. Whereas a coke and plastic cup will set you back five euros at Grands Montets, over here the pizza, pasta and red wine are delicious and cheap. It hasn't snowed here since 26 November.

Top station: 2,760m
Vert: 1,560m
Find out what lifts are open.
Check out the snow on the webcams.
Piste map.
Lift pass prices.

We bumped into Lorne Cameron who was having a nice time, check out the photos on his blog:

Verbier, Switzerland

Verbier opened ridiculously early, on 12 November to be precise. Was there enough snow? Check out the video of Ross Hewitt below. Verbier is part of the Four Valleys, one of Europe's biggest ski areas, and has a much glitzier and slicker atmosphere than either Grands Montets or Courmayeur. It's a good place to find out which expensive fur-lined white one-piece ski suits are in vogue this year, and empty your purse at expensive bars and restaurants. It hasn't snowed here since 21 November. Apparently 80cm of snow fell on the upper slopes.

Top station: 3,330m
Vert: 1,830m
Find out what lifts are open.
Check out the snow on the webcams.
Piste map.
Lift pass prices.

WATCH: Ross Hewitt skiing powder at Verbier in November

Val Thorens, France

Like Chamonix, Val Thorens officially opened on 19 November, but a massive dump of snow the following week meant that the 26th was the weekend things really got into full swing, although Cat 4 avalanche risks kept most people on the pistes. Situated at 2,300m, Val Thorens is the highest resort in Europe, and connected to the huge Trois Vallées ski area, which also includes Courchevel and Méribel. I love this very French story: there used to be some controversy over whether VT was the highest 'ski village' because it didn't have a church, which meant it didn't officially classify as a village. So the locals built one. There was a reported 135cm of snow on the upper slopes, but it hasn't snowed here since 25 November.

Top station: 3,230m
Vert: 930m
Find out what lifts are open.
Check out the snow on the webcams.
Piste map.
Lift pass prices.

Cervinia, Italy

Cervinia have received a good amount of snow already – 160cm on the higher slopes – but it hasn't snowed here since 25 November. Cervinia is a good place to head for high altitude cruising; it's essentially a bowl under the southern face of the Matterhorn (known as Monte Cervinio on this side of the border) and best for beginner to intermediates, but it's also linked to Zermatt, where there's more challenging (and colder) skiing. Zermatt has reported 105cm of snow on its upper slopes.

Top station: 3,488m
Vert: 930m
Find out what lifts are open.
Check out the snow on the webcams.
Piste map.
Lift pass prices.

READ: Record early snowfalls is it going to be the best winter ever in the Alps?

Recommended reading for off-piste skiers: Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper.

The BMC's Off-Piste Essentials DVD in association with The National Mountain Centre at Plas y Brenin contains essential skills and techniques for back country skiing, ski touring and ski mountaineering - inlcuding avalanche awareness.

WATCH: The trailer for BMC Off-Piste Essentials on BMC TV


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*Policy details: Discount is valid on all annual multi-trip European Alpine & Ski cover up to age 69. Offer ends 31 October 2017.


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1) Anonymous User
14/12/2016
" the little resort of Valfrejus near Paris " ???
I think you qualify for a BMC navigation course
2) Anonymous User
14/12/2016
Nicely researched! Let's think of a few big mainstream resorts that opened early.
And ignore all those small resorts near Paris, or even just over the Italian border near Rome that have far better snow ready for this weekend!
Lazy!!!

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