The ski season in the Northern Hemisphere has well and truly started, but the snowline has retreated in recent days as warmer weather hit the Alps. Most of the resorts with skiing and snowboarding on glaciers have opened. Verbier, open at weekends to date will be fully open from this weekend.
The weather has caused havoc with the winter sports schedule, with a number of World Cup events re-scheduled. However the higher resorts are gradually opening, and colder conditions and snowfall are due this week. Les Diablerets, for example, is currently enjoying temperatures around 10 degrees Celcius, but will be below freezing by next Monday.
The World Meteorological Organisation says there is a 70% chance of El Niño developing for the ski season this year. If so, it will almost certainly bring colder temperatures and more snowfall than normal to the Alps.
For those looking ahead to Christmas, ski conditions look promising. Zermatt, for example, will see fresh snowfall most days ahead of the Christmas break.
When I was a younger skier, glued to the BBC’s BBC Ski Sunday for its dreadfully short season, the most successful ski racer of the time was Pirmin Zurbriggen, He seemed unstoppable and almost single-handed kept the Austrian challenge at bay. He retired at the peak of his career aged 27 to return to his roots in Saastal, in German-speaking Wallis/Valais.
During his career he won he won four World Cup titles, an Olympic gold medal and 9 World Championship medals. Who knows what else he would have won if he had continued.
I know his family runs a hotel in his home town and rumour has it that if you stay there you have a chance to explore the local slopes with the great man. Anyway, the reason I bring him up is that there is an interview with him at Powder magazine, including some footage of him racing.
Despite all the controversy over the football world cup, the men’s Alpine world cup schedule for 2015-16 was announced in Bulgaria last week by the International Ski Federation (FIS) without a whiff of controversy. Indeed the mood was celebratory as the 50th birthday of the FIS World Cup was announced with 24 venues and 47 events.
Sölden hosts the first races on 25th October, with all the classic ski races in the New Year, starting with Adelboden on 9th January. Wengen, Kitzbühel, Schladming and Garmisch-Partenkirchen follow, then circuits in South Korea and Japan have been added before the schedule reverts to Chamonix.
The World Cup finals round off the season in St. Moritz from March 16-20th – St. Moritz will also be hosting the 2017 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
Ski Sunday abandons the season in February, the FIS World Cup season climaxes in March (this season at Lenzerheide, on 20th March) and most of the continent stows away skis and snowboards after Easter. So what for those who want to prolong the season? is there decent skiing anywhere through April and May?
The simple answer is yes. For many freeriders this is the best time of the year to tour, and for those who prefer to stick to the pistes or use lifts to get off-piste, there is still fresh snow. Essentially the very best places are high, so resorts with lifts to about 3000m are promising. The Aletsch Arena, Belalp, Val D’Annivers, and Lauchernalp are not well known but passes are relatively cheap, they are rarely crowded and make good destinations for families, beginners and for weekend escapes. Val D’Annivers is a little known gem, with Zinal in that area offering the most challenging off-piste and Chandolin the best pistes. Samnaun gives access to the huge Silvretta Arena which has all but the valley runs over 2000m and consistently has good snow conditions throughout April. The Jungfrau stays open until after Easter with good pistes still available down to Wengen, Mürren, Kleine Scheidegg and Holenstein through until mid-afternoon. Diovolezza in the Engadin, near Pontresina, is the highest valley run in Switzerland, with a bottom station above 2000m and lifts open until late May. Davos and Klosters should offer good skiing on the higher runs on the Parsenn until the lifts close on 1st May. The 4 Vallées (centred on Verbier), Flims/Laax and Les Diablerets have glaciers and stay open until early May this year, and Engelberg will stay open until the end of May – although I doubt the valley run will last quite that long. St Moritz, Saas-Fee and Zermatt offer the very best late season skiing, with Saas-Fee and Zermatt providing some limited glacier skiing right through the year. Once you decide on the place you are going, make sure you capture all the exciting moments. The best way to do that is using a drone. Don’t forget about radio, check this comparison to decide which one is better for you.
There are other things to do in the tail-end of the winter sports season in Switzerland. Over the week ending 20th March are the FIS World Cup at Lenzerheide, the Zinal Freeride contest and the Nissan Freeride World Tour 2010 in Verbier (on the Bec de Rosses). On 19th March the longest torch-lit downhill skiing procession in the world takes place down the 2000m, 12 km descent from Titlis to Engelberg – meeting point is at the Valley Station at 6pm with dinner on Mt Titlis at 9.30 pm.