Christmas Ski Conditions

I reported last week on the English Show that the warm weather and dry conditions were hitting the ability of resorts to make a decent base, and that even a cold snap in mid-December would be followed by unseasonably warm weather. A week later, my prognosis seems to have been borne out, and even Courchevel in France has cancelled events because of poor snow conditions. My advice remains “go high”. You can find which resorts have the highest runs at the Swiss Winter Sports and Snow and Rail websites – on the resort finders you can click on the columns to sequence the tables by any field. High resorts like Zermatt and Verbier, for example, benefit from high glaciers and villages above the ski line, so you can be sure you can ski all the way back into the village. Freezing levels seem to be hovering around 1500m, so any runs above that altitude looks fine, although the snow forecast for the next couple of days comes with warm weather so the snow may turn to precipitation on even some middle stations. The temperature then dips a little and gives way to a period of sunny weather over Christmas where you can be sure the resorts will desperately be churning out the artificial snow on runs where they can establish a base. The good news, or bad news if you plan to ski over the New Year, is that the weather will change after Boxing Day, with blizzards expected by New Year’s Eve and, although the temperatures will still be a little on the high side, this should ensure good snow cover right down to the high valleys into January.

Austria has some glaciers but on the whole the resorts and runs are low, and the country has suffered from too little or not enough snow, with temperatures too mild to use snow-making machines. Italy has fared a little better, and I have had good reports from Cervinia. France should be OK if you go to somewhere high like Tignes.

It is a shame for many resorts, as some visitors will surely cancel plans to ski or snowboard. There seems to have been something of a resurgence too, with most resorts reporting higher levels of planned hotel occupancy over Christmas than last year, especially in Switzerland.

Ski Pizol
I’m spending Christmas in Bad Ragaz for Pizol. The valley run to Wangs probably won’t be open or much fun if it is, but since I am on the other side of the mountain, that is no great loss. There is also an easy backcountry run from the top of Pizol you can walk up to without skins, although you will need to carry your skis or board beyond the last lift. I also plan to spend a few days in Chur which has easy access to some of the best resorts in Graubünden ahead of the New Year – plenty of altitude nearby in resorts like Flims/Laax.

Many pages at my web site have webcams so you can check out the snow conditions for yourself. If they don’t follow the links to the resort web sites in case they have any other web cams set up.

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Where is the Cheapest Place to Ski?

The Crystal Ski Industry Report 2014, produced together with Post Office Holidays in the UK, has assessed a number of ski resorts popular with UK package tour travelers. They have worked out average costs in resort for a package consisting of lift pass, rental and ski school and also for an average lunch. As a result they have come up with their idea of where the cheapest place to ski is. I don’t claim to be surprised with the outcome. I have applied an index to the figures based on an average of 100 to come up with relative prices. Essentially you can read it this way: you can get almost three days in Bansko for the price of one in Zermatt. Since Zermatt is much more likely to give you good snow conditions, has better scenery, apres ski and food, is easier to get to and has five times as much piste you could actually argue Baski is over-priced, but I have had some great ski holidays in Bulgaria and I wouldn’t knock it. However I think the independent traveller, with or without a family, doesn’t need to go to Eastern Europe to find value for money.

The top American resorts seem over-priced compared to the best European resorts, and add to that the cost, time and ecological impact of getting there from Europe, it seems wise to leave them to the natives. Again, I have had some great skiing in North America, but I lived there at the time and it was on my doorstep.
Matterhorn in Zermatt
So the eternal debate is, where is the best value resort to ski or snowboard in the Alps? Italy does well, and can only be faulted on the longer transit times required to get there. For a great ski experience on a tight budget, it is probably the best value. My personal favourite in Italy – if you are watching the pennies but want a great experience – is Madesimo. The best of Austria and France seem comparably priced, with a small price premium associated with Switzerland down to the strong Swiss Franc.

The report actually showed Switzerland gaining market share in 2013/4 over 2012/3, with 6.5% of the market – largely at the expense of France. The report claims prices are going down, but that is surely down to the strong pound since all prices are converted to sterling. Overall the report doesn’t change my perspective, which is that you get what you pay for. The ski and snowboard market is very competitive and the biggest mistake you can make is not about how much you pay, but that what you pay delivers what you want. I would never recommend Zermatt to a family of beginners, but for a competent skier I would recommend you put it on the list of places you visit before you die.

Anyway, on that sobering note, here are the indicies:


Resort Country Index
Bansko Bulgaria 54
Kranjska Gora Slovenia 62
Ellmau Austria 64
Livigno Italy 66
Soldeu Andorra 68
Sestriere Italy 73
Morzine France 75
Ruka Finland 78
Val Gardena Italy 84
Les Deux Alpes France 87
Mayrhofen Austria 87
Serre Chevalier France 87
la Thuile Italy 89
Kaprun Austria 89
Courchevel France 104
Val d’Isere France 104
Kitzbühel Austria 111
St Anton Austria 116
Tremblant Canada 117
Saas-Fee Switzerland 118
Wengen Switzerland 122
Winter Park USA 125
Banff Canada 136
Breckenridge USA 141
Zermatt Switzerland 142
Whistler Canada 146
Vail USA 155
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Indoor skiing in the Netherlands

Researching for my new Dutch language ski website, I found that the Netherlands has a few indoor ski and snowboard areas. Of course, they do not compare to the Alps, but they have real snow and give you a good opportunity to try out a couple of turns. What’s more they are relatively inexpensive and try to have something of a ski resort ambiance.
Red Run in Snowworld

There seem to be ski areas in a number of areas – see Most convenient for me is the Snowworld ski and snowboard centre at Zoetermeer, on the route between Den Haag and Utrecht, so I checked it out one lunchtime.

The ski area is well signposted once you get to Zoetermeer, and boasts three slopes – a blue run, a park with rails and jumps and what is classified as a red run (20% incline). There are nine lifts and good long opening hours throughout the year. Conveniently the Snowworld web site is in English as are some of the brochures. Four hours would set an adult back 40 Euros, and a child or senior 34 Euros, with equipment hire between about 4 and 12 euros for the same period depending on what you want etc. As you would expect there are bars, restaurants, various discounts, specials, ski and snowboard school and even a hotel if you want to stay over.
Entrance Lobby at Snowworld
The downside? Well for an experienced skier or snowboarder only the rails and jumps would set your pulse racing, and the runs are too short to really improve an already advanced technique, but it is good for finding your ski legs or for checking out some new kit. It is real snow, and so it is cold and you do need to bring a hat, gloves and winter clothes if you want to avoid getting cold. And, of course there is no sunshine – the entire complex is roofed.

For beginners, early intermediates and people wanting to perfect their technique in the park, however, it is ideal, and a nice way to prepare for the real thing.

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