Pete Tyler has spent over 25 years in the action sports industry. He’s MD of active holidays specialist Neilson and it’s hard to work out what his biggest passion is – skiing, sailing, surfing, yacht racing, mountain biking… or food and drink.
If you’re booking in advance for early or late-season ski holidays, picking a snowsure resort is vital. Of course, altitude is important in determining how reliable a resort is, and a glacier is always a big help. But there are other factors to consider too: for example, resorts in the heart of the Alps are often more snowsure than those on the edges. So if you’re trying to decide on a ski resort for Christmas or Easter, or just want to be absolutely certain of cold, grippy snow on your pistes, here are the ten I’d look at first (not in any particular order)…
Solden’s reputation for snowsure skiing comes courtesy one of the adjoining Tiefenbach and Rettenbach glaciers. Together, they offer one of Austria’s largest areas of glacier skiing, and the Rettenbach is steep enough to host the first races of the World Cup season, at the end of October – at a time when most ski resorts are still completely snowless. To reach the them, you need to jump on a gondola which spans the Rettenbach valley, and offers some of the most spectacular views in the Alps.
Snow-wise, the rest of the ski area is no slouch, either. Buried in the heart of the Alps, this is, in any normal winter, a reliably cold destination, and aside from the glaciers the top lift reaches all the way up to 3058m.
Ski stats: Solden itself is at 1377m, ski area size 146km.
Stay: Hotel Tyrol is situated in the centre of the resort and is ideally placed for Solden’s nightlife, as well as being located halfway between the Gaislachkogel and Giggijoch gondolas to access both sides of the valley.
2. Obergurgl and Hochgurgl
1950m is high for an Austrian resort: and that’s just the altitude at which the hotels are set. Here, the top lift rises to 3082m, and there are snow cannons covering 99% of the pistes in case Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. It’s no wonder, then, that Obergurgl is usually the first Alpine resort without glacier skiing to open each winter.
Ski stats: Obergurgl is at 1950m, ski area size 110km.
Stay: Hotel Austria in Obergurgl is set slightly above the resort centre and metres from the slopes‚ with wonderful views across the valley. Facilities include a large spa area and indoor pool in the interconnected Hotel Bellvue.
The Kitzsteinhorn is the star of the show for the neighbouring resorts of Zell am See and Kaprun. Set not far from Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner, it has its own glacier, as well as a battery of high-altitude pistes which drop from 3000m down to 1900m. There’s usually skiing on offer here from early autumn until the end of June. What really distinguishes it, however, is the range of skiing experiences on offer during the main ski season. Responsible freeriding by properly-equipped skiers and snowboarders is encouraged, with weekly low-cost guiding sessions for first-time off-pisters as well as a training centre for transceiver use. Plus, the terrain park is home to Austria’s largest super-pipe.
Ski stats: the village of Kaprun is at 970m, ski area size 138km.
Stay: Alpenhaus is in the heart of Kaprun village‚ two minutes from the slopes. It has a pool and an extensive spa area.
4. Les Deux Alpes
Les Deux Alpes is home to the buzziest summer-skiing scene in the French Alps: thank to its broad glacier and wide range of freestyle and race camps. In winter, it’s a very intermediate-friendly place to ski, and there are nursery slopes on-site as well, which make it popular with families.
Ski stats: Les Deux Alpes is at 1650m, ski area size 223km.
Stay: Hotel Aalborg has slopes outside the door, an in-house ski hire shop, and a childrens’ club.
This is arguably the most snowsure resort in the Alps, thanks not only to its glacier – which rises to 3456m – but also its fantastic north-facing piste, Double M, which stays cold in all but the steamiest spring thaw. Easter is a great time to ski here: there are pistes facing in almost every direction around the valley, which means you can follow the sun as the day progresses, hitting slopes just as they start to soften, but before they turn too mushy.
Ski stats: Tignes is at 2100m, ski area size 300km.
Stay: Chalet l’Armoise is set between the lake and Val Claret, and is 500m from the nearest lift with the ski bus stop 50m away.
6. Val d’Isere
The resort has some of the best skiing and snowboarding in Europe with excellent on- and off-piste opportunities. The Pissaillas and Grande Motte glaciers are high enough to ensure good snow conditions throughout the winter and the fact that the resort gets snow from Italy as well as the north and north-west helps enormously too. Interesting to note that during what was a tricky Christmas in 2014, Val had some of the best conditions in the entire Alps.
Ski stats: Val d’Isere is at 1850m, ski area size 300km.
Stay: Hotel Le Brussels is one of the best situated in the whole resort, as it’s set right at the foot of the slopes and close to the main street with all its shops, bars and restaurants.
7. Val Thorens
The resort itself is the highest in western Europe, and the lifts rise to 3000m at several points around its vast cirque of peaks. So it’s no wonder that Val Thorens guarantees snow cover from November to May. Let’s not forget that it’s part of the Three Valleys. too. Next door are Les Menuires and Mottaret – both of which are at a decent altitude – and together they create a refuge of reliable snow that’s usually a joy to ski.
Ski stats: Val Thorens is at 2300m, ski area size 600km.
Stay: Hotel Le Fitzroy has just been completely revamped to offer the ultimate in chalet-style luxury. It is in a great position right in the centre of Val Thorens and with direct access to the slopes.
8. Cervinia (and Zermatt in Switzerland)
The skiing stretches through three valleys and two countries: and a total of 26.5km of pistes stay open for summer skiing. It’s not unknown for skiers to enjoy a powder day up here in July. Cervinia is the cheaper of the two main access points (Zermatt is the other), and its slopes are home to some lovely restaurants, as well as Red 7: one of the best intermediate pistes in the Alps.
Ski stats: Cervinia is at 2050m, Zermatt at 1608m, joint ski area size 350km.
Stay: Hotel Principe delle Nevi is right on the piste in Cervinia and is one of the resort’s stopping-off points for lunch and apres-ski drinks. Hotel Alex is in Zermatt village centre and is decorated in an unusual Alpine-Byzantine style.
The remote ski area dubbed “Piccolo Tibet” is one of the highest ski villages in the Alps and has an excellent snow record. It is situated on the Swiss border and is a traditional Alpine village offering a friendly atmosphere and duty-free shopping. The satellite village of Trepalle claims to be Europe’s highest inhabited parish.
Ski stats: Livigno is at 2315m, ski area size 114km.
Stay: Hotel Galli is one of the best small hotels in Livigno and it’s right opposite the ski school lift‚ making access to the Carosello side of the mountain quick and easy.
10. Passo Tonale
Passo Tonale is situated at the western end of the Val di Sole and its high altitude makes it one of the most snowsure resorts in Italy – as well as having an above-average number of sunny days. In early summer and autumn there’s skiing on the Presena Glacier, too.
Ski stats: Passo Tonale is at 1883m, ski area size 100km.
Stay: Hotel Adamello is a cosy, family-run place 200m from the village centre with a ski bus stop outside.
See also our feature on How to Find the Best Snow in a Ski Resort.