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.
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.
I am a great fan of the winter sports resorts in Graubünden, and will be spending the Christmas period in the canton. It is probably the most complete ski and snowboard destination in the world, but it caters well for ever type of visitor – including the budget conscious.
This season Graubünden once again has a range of excellent deals. The season starts on 18th October 2014 on the Diavolezza in the Engadine, which celebrates 150 years of winter tourism. On 22nd November, Corvatsch and Corviglia in St Moritz open. Progressively other resorts open, with Arosa, Samnaun, Flims Laax Falera and Davos Klosters opening in November.
A great deal for getting there is the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) offer, “Railhit 2 for 1” in which two people travelling together from Monday to Thursday only pay for one if they are hotel guests or in self-catering accommodation. The offer lasts from 8th December 2014 to 10th April 2014. RailHit is not valid on a handful of special services, including the pass associated with using the Preda-Bergün sledging slope.
For 35 SFr per person per day for visits of at least two nights, a ski pass is included with accommodation at participating hotels in and around St Moritz.
Arosa once again features the “Ski School Included” for youngsters staying in the resort, whereby lessons are available at no charge.
Now linked to Arosa, Lenzerheide gives you a free lift pass if you book a stay at any time between 28th of November to the 20th December.
Up until 21st December 2014 you also get a complimentary ski pass for slopes in Davos Klosters for every overnight stay in a partner hotel in the area. From 20th December until 6th April the resorts are also offering a local insider to accompany you and show you the best of the mountains. Remember also that Ski Club of Great Britain members still can ski or snowboard for free with a Ski Club representative.
More details on these and other offers are posted at the Graubünden Tourism website.
There are also the usual range of budget options if you are going to Graubunden, with some excellent hostels and budget hotels. Check out the Winter Sports Accommodation Guide.
Two of my favourite resorts are now linked together to create one of the most significant Alpine resorts – the largest in Graubünden, and one of the ten largest in Switzerland.
In some ways it is a con, much like Davos–Klosters or any number of resorts which simply have a lift joining separate areas. But it is a convincing con. A double cablecar now stretches between the Hörnli summit in Arosa and Urdenfürggli above Parpan, gateway to the varied Lenzerheide circuit. Lenzerheide is a fabulous resort, reputedly a favourite of Margaret Thatcher, and had initially opposed the link to gay-friendly and family-friendly Arosa. There are many goods reasons why, but the simple fact of the matter is that the larger resorts are doing better at the expense of smaller resorts, and Arosa felt the pinch sometime before Lenzerheide. However the strong Franc probably pushed the Gemeinde of Lenzerheide to go for the link.
Interestingly enough the valley between the two resorts is very skiable and part of a famous off-piste itinerary. There may be environmental objections to making it part of the extended resort, but I reckon it is only a matter of time before lifts serve pistes under the new cable car.
I visited the area last weekend, and I was impressed. The snow conditions were fabulous and Spring snow conditions only really affected the lower and South-facing runs. It has not been a vintage season, and generally I have gone high to find good snow conditions, but I was impressed with the quality of the pistes for April – and the fabulous bowl below Hörnli still had some great off-piste, particularly on extreme skiers right.
Both resorts offer a lot more than skiing and both have been favourites of people who simply like being in the mountains in winter. Neither has featured strongly on the ski package circuit, but with lifts up to 2865m, resorts above 1500m, great parks, fabulous scenery, a variety of activities, good apres-ski and a variety of North-facing runs, this is a ski and snowboard area everyone should put on their must-visit winter sports destinations.