Early Season Skiing in the USA

US West Coast Ski Resorts
Faced with the prospect of Autumn in the USA, I was interested to know if early season skiing was going to be a possibility. Generally European resorts don’t open until December, and often not until Christmas week. This last season there wasn’t enough snow for some well known resorts to open even for Christmas.

I have managed to track down opening dates in North America for last season, and it looks pretty encouraging. Most major resorts seem to open in November. In Colorado Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone and Loveland opened on 7th November with Winter Park opening on 11th and Aspen, Vail and Beaver Creek later in the month. Arapahoe Basin opened on 17th October and Wolf Creek is a perennial early season opener.

Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood in Oregon seems to have a history of opening early.

The major resorts in Canada, on the East Coast and around Lake Tahoe open during November, as does Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Utah resorts open a little later, in late November through early December. Typically resorts have opened when they have enough snow to ski on, so season opening dates are pretty fluid.

I need to do some more research on opening dates for the upcoming season and find out a little more about early season snow and weather conditions, but the prospects of getting some turns in during the Fall look promising!

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Lift Operators experience dismal early season

zinal chairlift
The Swiss Cableways Association recorded a dismal start to the 2014/15 season with a decrease of 28.2% in lift use and a decline of 12.9% in revenue in the period to 31st December. The season started brightly in November but the warm conditions in much of December meant many lower slopes were not even able to use their snow cannon and some lower resorts delayed the traditional opening in time for Christmas, reports Andreas Keller, the Assocaition’s Head of Communication Division. Not surpisingly, higher resorts in the Engadine and Valais fared best. However Keller is upbeat about the prospects for the rest of the season, with improved conditions leading into the New Year.

By region this was the picture for the early season compared with the same period last season in percentage terms:

Area Volume Revenue
Graubuenden -19.9 -11.8
Central Switzerland -25.8 -12.4
Eastern Switzerland -53.4 -44.8
Bernese Oberland -38.1 -17.9
Vaud & Fribourg -17.2 -7.3
Valais -28.6 -6.5
Ticino 124.8 27.3
Total -28.2 -12.9

The resorts of Eastern Switzerland did the worst, probably from a combination of a lot of low runs in these resorts and the allure for many Zurchers of seasonal shopping as an alternative to being in the mountains. Ticino’s unexpectedly upbeat position is simply a reflection on how dismal thigs were last year when many lifts were closed early in the season and avalaanche risk was high.

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Celebrities hit the piste

Roman Polanski was seen skiing in Gstaad over the holiday period. The famous film-maker and paedophile is 81 and still skiing, which gives me encouragement of a few more years yet. Madonna was also seen skiing in Gstaad, with one report that she had gone heli-skiing with her kids, presumably looking for virgin snow.Madonna skiing in Gstaad
Olivia Palermo was also photographed in Gstaad, although I am not sure if she was skiing as the pictures of her seem to be of her shopping. Indeed, the skiing over the holiday period has been less than spectacular, and I suspect Gstaad, as a low lying resort apart from the Glacier 3000 section of the Gstaad Mountain Rides, fared less well than most of the big name ski areas.
Prince Andrew and Pixie Lott, meanwhile, are enjoying higher altitude Verbier (not together I hasten to add, although the prince is turning out to be a bit of a dark horse).
The festive period was characterised initially by a shortage of snow below 1800m, then high winds above 1800m and finally snowfall amidst plummeting temperatures – the temperature was -18C on the Jakobshorn at Davos on 30th December when I visited.
Olivia Palermo in the Swiss Alps

In fact I managed to visit several resorts between Christmas and the New Year. Pizol, Savognin, Arosa-Lenzerheide, Sedrun and Davos. In addition I managed to get in some great train journeys, a visit to a spa in Bad Ragaz, a walk around sites famously associated with Heidi, an interesting cocktail made with Aperol I tried for the first time on the Jakobshorn for only 1 franc a glass (who says Switzerland is expensive?) and a bunch of other stuff. Updates to resort pages and video footage, as well as details of what I got up to will follow.Aperol cocktails at 1 franc apiece in the Swiss Alps

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Montreux for Skiing and Snowboarding Holidays

Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva is also in the heart of the Alps
Montreux is most famous for the Montreux Jazz festival, that takes place in the town every summer, or perhaps the fabulous climate or the beautiful walk from Vevey to Castle Chillon alongside Lake Geneva. For the winter sports enthusiasts, however, its location at the bottom of the Vaud Alps makes it a fabulous destination to use as a base for a holiday.

The town boasts a very good Christmas Market in December, when the best nearby slopes at Glacier 3000 have already been open for several weeks, but other resorts are also starting to open at this time nearby in the heart of Vaud and the Valais, including Verbier, Gstaad, Leysin, Les Diablerets and the resorts of Les Portes du Soleil – all roughly an hour away by rail or road. However all of the resorts of the Valais are reasonably accessible from Montreux. There is also a small ski resort just above Montreux at Caux and Rochers de Naye which can be reached by a funicular from Montreux, conveniently very close to the excellent youth hostel (which we use as our base for the Jazz Festival).

If you are planning to do a ski holiday in Switzerland and use rail to get about, Montreux is perfect. It is easy to get to by train or road from Geneva, itself served by an International Airport with a railway station actually inside the airport. Nearly all the great ski resorts in the region can be reached by train from Montreux, but also you can cut across to Lucerne and visit the resorts of the Bernese Oberland and Central Switzerland by taking the spectacular Golden Pass Line, a panorama train that operates between Montreux, Gstaad and the Bernese Oberland with onward connections to Lucerne.

More information on Montreux can be found at the Swiss Winter Sports web site.

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