I’ve always loved early-season skiing. But I’ve never loved it more fiercely than now, as we wake up after nearly two years of confinement – and discover we don’t have to wait a moment longer to go skiing. Thanks to the ski areas based around Alpine glaciers we can do it right now.
Are you tempted? Here are six reasons you should grab your skis and go.
1. The pre-season is off to a flying start
It’s much too early to talk about winter. The Alpine climate is too flukey for that. But what we do know is that the pre-season is off to a flying start, especially in the eastern Alps. As I write this, I’m back in the Zillertal, skiing the Hintertux glacier, which last week had 90cm of new snow in two separate storms, on November 1 and 4.
This is on top of the 30cm of snow they had on October 6.
According to the current mid-range weather forecast, there’s a little more to come next Sunday and Monday. Here’s the 24 hour snow forecast from Meteoblue to 3pm next Monday (November 15).
This is how the Hintertux looked yesterday morning at 3,000m, where the cover is, in places, already 135cm deep.
It doesn’t just look good. It feels and sounds good too: soft and squeaky when you walk over it in your ski boots, firm and grippy when you ski. It’s the kind of snow that begs you to get up on your edges and start carving.
My guide, Stefan Eisenmann of the Tuxertal Ski School, made it look easy in his fat Fischer powder skis – a whopping 11.5cm wide under his boots, but hell, that didn’t stop him.
There may still be some thaws down the line, which may affect the quality of the snow. But fundamentally this cover is here to stay, and you can already ski through 1,220 vertical metres, down to the Sommerberg lift station. 43km of pistes are already open.
2. Hardly anyone is here
In October, the Hintertux hums with activity. Because of the steep pitch of some of its highest slopes, it’s the preferred early-autumn training ground for several national ski teams, and in the school half-term breaks they’re joined by families, clubs and freestylers (because the jumps and bumps of the Betterpark are open too). This year, October was busier than ever, as news spread of that first snowfall, and snow-starved skiers flocked in from Europe.
Now, suddenly, it’s much quieter – despite the fact that the snow is even better now. Stefan told me the weekends are busier. But at 10am on Monday hardly anyone was out. The national ski teams have gone. The kids are all back at school, and although more skiers emerged as the morning progressed – British snowboarders, a group of Russians, a mad-keen team of Slovakians – you just had to wait a moment for them to pass and you’d have the slope to yourself.
3. If you’re lucky, you’ll ski powder too
We were lucky. Which is no surprise really, given that the Hintertux has just had 90cm of fresh snow.
Bear in mind, however, that lower down the mountain the snow isn’t deep enough to properly cover all the rocks. Even if you can’t see them, they’re still lurking just below the surface, ready to scratch your skis to ribbons if you don’t know where you’re going. Higher up, there’s the danger of skiing into a crevasse too. So make sure you’re with a qualified guide and kitted out with avalanche safety equipment.
4. It’s the perfect moment to fine-tune your technique
I’ll be writing more about this over the next couple of days, as Stefan shows me some of the ways rusty technique can hold you back after a long break. Because a glacier in November is the perfect place to book some tuition. Are you putting enough weight on your outside ski when you turn? Are you trying to generate all your downward force using just your knees and ankles – and forgetting about your hips? With the pistes so empty and the snow so soft, even a single half-day lesson is going to make a big difference.
5. The scenery will blow your mind
It’s hard to overstate how beautiful the Alps look beneath a cloudless blue sky. If all you normally see are city streets it’s hard to comprehend the sense of scale too, when first you lay eyes on them. My London brain certainly struggles to cope. I may say “wow”. But it doesn’t seem real.
And then all of sudden I tune into my surroundings. Somehow I feel the depth and the height as well as seeing them. It’s like staring into an outdoor swimming pool on a glorious sunny day, just before you dive in.
6. Even a radler will make your head spin
It doesn’t take much. It’s November, after all. Back home, everyone’s beginning to hunker down in preparation for Christmas. And here you are in a world of bright white light and big, fast carving turns – feeling like you’ve woken from a deep sleep and remembered who you are.
Even one glass of radler – the local version of shandy – is going to make you giddy.
A few words on getting to the Hintertux…
For a group, hiring a car is the most cost-effective way to get from the airport to your hotel/apartment. Most people stay a few miles from the lifts so you can use the car to commute each day as well. The car parks at the bottom lift station are free.
Shared minibus transfers to and from Munich airport are available from Four Seasons Travel. There are free local Tuxer Sportbus services for skiers running along the valley to whisk you to the lifts each day. They run every 20 minutes during the morning and afternoon, but only once an hour at lunchtime.
Current covid regulations in Germany do not require travellers heading to Austria to fill out a locator form on arrival, providing they can provide proof of their transfer/car hire and an accommodation booking in Austria for the duration of their stay – plus details of their return flight. At the border they like to see printed forms rather than screen shots of these documents. See here for details.
Always check the latest entry requirements before you book and again before you start your preparations to go – for both Germany and Austria. At the time of writing, everyone aged 12 and up needs to be double-vaccinated to make the trip, with QR codes to prove it.
For more information on current Covid-safety protocols in the Tirol (home of the Hintertux) check out Welcome.Tirol.
When it comes to accommodation, there’s a lot to be said for staying near the lifts. I’ve had very comfortable nights at the Hintertuxherhof hotel, which is a five-minute walk from the lift. But my new favourite hotel in the valley is the Tirolerhof at Lanersbach, a ten minute drive down the valley. The rooms are big and comfortable, and the staff always charming. But it’s the delicious and bountiful food that really marks it out – as well as the soothing outdoor heated swimming pool in its new spa wing – the perfect day to stretch your back out after a busy day’s skiing. I’d go back there like a shot.