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Early Season Skiing: The Best Resorts in France and Switzerland.

18 Nov

Early season skiing and the magic of a white Christmas are on the top of many a wish list, but which are the best resorts to go to in France and Switzerland?

THE BEST EARLY SEASON SKIING IN THE FRENCH ALPS.

Tignes & Val D’Isère – Opens November to April.

One of the top destinations for early season skiing in the French Alps is Tignes, which sometimes opens as early as October with skiing available on La Grand Motte glacier at 3,456m. Tignes is part of a larger ski area which also incorporates Val D’Isère, home to one of the largest man made artificial snow systems in Europe which ensures early season skiing. Each year it hosts the Criterium de la Première Neige World Cup skiing event in early December, when the world’s best ski racers descend on the resort. This year’s dates are 7-16 December 2018.

Early season skiing at La Grand Motte glacier Tignes

Tignes

Resort altitude – 1,550m

Highest skiing – 3,456m

Geneva Airport – 2 hours 45 minutes by car.

Val D’Isère

Resort altitude – 1,850m

Highest skiing – 3,456m

Geneva Airport – 2 hours 45 minutes by car.

Tignes & Val d’Isère

Formerly known as the Espace Killy, the shared ski area is a vast 10 mile stretch of skiing, with 300km of runs connected from Val d’Isère’s Pissaillas Glacier to the Grande Motte Glacier above Tignes. There are 154 pistes, 79 ski lifts and 320 snow cannons.

Val Thorens – Opens November to May.

Val Thorens is another firm favourite for early season skiing in the French Alps. A rival to the Tignes & Val d’Isère ski area, it generally tries to open a week beforehand. Purpose-built for skiing at a height of 2300m, there is reliable resort-level natural snow cover early in the season. Val Thorens boasts the title of being the highest ski resort in Europe, which means it is more than likely that you will enjoy a white Christmas, and be able to ski directly into the village. While it does not have the same resort atmosphere of a traditional ski resort, there is no denying the quality and breadth of its skiing. There are 150km of ski runs in Val Thorens with 31 lifts and 68 pistes and the resort sits at the top of the largest ski area in the world, The 3 Valleys.

Early season skiing in Val Thorens

Val Thorens

Resort altitude – 2,300m

Highest skiing – 3,200m

Geneva Airport – 2 hours 30 minutes by car.

The 3 Valleys

The 3 Valleys is home to 600km of skiing with 180 ski lifts and 497 ski runs. Depending on the snow conditions, early season skiers will be able to access the extensive ski area of The 3 Valleys and visit Courchevel, La Tania, Les Menuires, Mèribel and St Martin de Belleville. The main ski area of The 3 Valleys normally opens from mid-December.

Les Deux Alpes – Opens October to May as well as a few weeks in the summer.

Les Deux Alpes is a unique early season ski resort because if you time it right you can ski on the glacier for a few weeks in the summer when there can be up to 17 pistes open. You can return in October, when the resort opens for just a week of pre-season skiing before officially opening its doors at the end of November. Les Deux Alpes benefits from north-facing slopes at the top of the glacier, though it is worth noting that in both 2017 and 2018 the glacier was unable to open for the pre-season October week as there was not enough snow coverage.

Early season skiing on Les Deux Alpes glacier

Les Deux Alpes

Resort altitude – 1,650m

Highest skiing – 3,400m

Geneva Airport – 2 hours 40 minutes by car.

Les Deux Alpes

Les Deux Alpes lays claim to the largest skiable glacier in Europe, and the resort itself offers 223km of ski slopes, 47 ski lifts and 224 snow cannons to ensure a longer than average season.

THE BEST EARLY SEASON SKIING IN THE SWISS ALPS.

Zermatt – Opens September to May as well as summer skiing on the Theodul Glacier.

A wish list for early season skiing destinations in Switzerland has to be headed up by Zermatt, which lays claim to two titles; Europe’s highest lift system and the longest ski season in the Alps. This is partly due to its altitude but also because Zermatt has a snow making system that churns out snow from mid September.

Summer skiing on the glacier provides numerous ski teams from around the world the opportunity for pre-season training, and it’s fairly common to see some famous faces on the pistes. It is worth noting however that the glacier skiing in the summer months finishes early in the day to preserve the snow coverage.

Early season skiing in Zermatt view of the Matterhorn

Zermatt

Resort altitude – 1,620m

Highest skiing – 3,882m

Geneva Airport – 2 hours 40 minutes by car.

Zermatt ski area

Zermatt provides 394km of skiing on 59 pistes with 40 ski lifts including an underground funicular. Famous for the Matterhorn, its traditional charm and the length of its ski season (8 months), Zermatt is also one of the few resorts in Switzerland to offer dual-country ski areas, with linked pistes to Cervinia in Italy. Because of the resort height, skiing down into the village is normally possible throughout the ski season.

Saas-Fee – Guaranteed snow all year round.

Because of the height of the top slopes at 3,500m on the glacier, Saas-Fee  qualifies as one of the highest resorts in the Alps. In terms of early season skiing Saas-Fee guarantees skiers snow most of the year, with skiing on the glacier throughout the summer months when the non-glacier pistes are closed. Early season skiing does not come any earlier than summer, and the same is true for late season skiing! Saas-Fee ticks both boxes.

Early season skiing on the Saas-Fee glacier

Saas-Fee

Resort altitude – 1,800m

Highest skiing – 3,500m

Geneva airport – 2 hours 45 minutes by car.

Saastal ski area

The resort of Saas-Fee is relatively small with 100km of pistes making it better suited to beginner and intermediate skiers. There are 35 pistes and 23 ski lifts. It is however part of the Saastal ski area, offering access to 159km of skiing on 56 pistes with 35 ski lifts in Saas-Almagell and Saas-Grund.

Glacier 3000 – Opens November to May.

Glacier 3000 sits between Les Diablerets and Gstaad and offers early season skiing in the Bernese Oberland. It is particularly well known by freestylers all over the world for its high altitude snow park that sits at 3000m.

Early season skiing Glacier 3000 snowpark

Glacier 3000 ski area

Resort altitude – Les Diablerets, 1,200m

Highest skiing – 3000m

Geneva airport – 1 hour 30 minutes by car.

The Glacier 3000 ski area has 15km of ski slopes and 10 ski lifts, and if you are a keen freestyler the snow park is second to none. The glacier provides early/late season skiing to the Gstaad, Les Diablerets and Villars-Gryon ski areas.

Verbier – Opens November to April.

Verbier is one of the most famous resorts in the world, both in summer and winter. Early season skiing is possible for some weekends in November and the resort is noted as being one of the premier resorts for back-country skiing in the world, annually hosting a World Freeride event. Verbier’s ski area has 70 pistes and summits at Mont-Fort at an altitude of 3,330m. It is part of the world-famous 4 Valleys ski area which includes the resorts of La Tzoumaz, Siviez, Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon and combined they offer 412km of skiing.

Early season skiing on Mont Fort, Verbier

Verbier

Resort altitude – 1,500m

Highest skiing – 3,330m

Geneva airport – 2 hours by car.

The 4 Valleys

There are 412 km of pisted slopes in the 4 Valleys with 205 pistes that are interconnected from Verbier through to Veysonnaz and Thyon-les-Collons. The area is connected by 92 ski lifts. Depending on the snow conditions early season skiers in Verbier will be able to access a vast area of skiing on the doorstep. The official opening time for the 4 Valleys is mid-December.

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