Hit the Slopes Early: Europe’s Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season
Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Snowstorms Bring the White to Popular Resorts
Early season snowstorms have blanketed some of Europe's most popular ski resorts, allowing them to open their slopes weeks ahead of schedule. This early dump of fresh powder has ski enthusiasts rejoicing at the prospect of extra days carving down the mountains.
At Austria's Hintertux Glacier, over a meter of snow fell in late September, providing excellent coverage for the resort's 65km of runs. As Europe's only year-round ski area, Hintertux is accustomed to early openings. But this season, abundant snowfall means its lifts started turning in mid-October, a full month earlier than usual. Eager skiers have already been flocking here to be among the first to ski and snowboard.
Switzerland's Zermatt has also benefited from heavy snow this fall. Around 80cm piled up here in October, allowing partial openings on several runs. By early November, almost all of Zermatt's 360km of pistes were open. With terrain accessible for all ability levels, from gentle greens to the iconic Matterhorn's steep faces, Zermatt is an ideal early-season destination.
The French Alps haven't been left out of the early snow fun either. Val Thorens, Europe's highest resort, enjoyed around 1.5m of natural snowfall by mid-November. This prompted an exceptional November opening, with 86 runs and over 140km of groomed slopes available. Neighboring Les Menuires also opened around 20% of its terrain in early November after substantial snowfall.
Across the pond in North America, resorts in the western United States have seen record snow. California's Mammoth Mountain reported over 2m of snow by mid-November, allowing top-to-bottom skiing and riding. With more storms in the forecast, Mammoth expects to have a majority of terrain open before December even begins.
What else is in this post?
- Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Snowstorms Bring the White to Popular Resorts
- Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Get First Tracks at These Early Openings
- Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Beat the Crowds By Booking Now
- Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Extra Mountain Time for Pass Holders
- Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Beginners Can Start Learning on Easier Slopes
- Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - More Apres Ski Fun Before Holiday Rush
- Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Early Birds Get First Pick of Lodging Deals
- Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Tips to Prep Your Gear and Body for the Slopes
Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Get First Tracks at These Early Openings
For powder hounds, being among the first to ski fresh snow is a coveted experience. Early resort openings offer dedicated skiers and boarders exclusive access to pristine corduroy and pillowy powder turns before the masses arrive. Whereas late December and January see the biggest crowds, hitting the slopes in November and early December means more untouched snow, shorter lift lines, and first tracks down empty slopes.
Arlberg, Austria encompasses the villages of Lech, Zürs, St. Anton, and St. Christoph, together offering 340km of runs. Connected by gondola, this is Austria’s largest ski area. St. Anton tends to open first, thanks to massive snow-making capabilities and north-facing slopes that retain snow well. This season, St. Anton fired up its lifts on November 3rd, weeks ahead of schedule. Measured top to bottom, the 9km descent from Valluga to St. Anton gave early birds a long, continuous run to savor. Neighboring Lech also opened on November 3rd, allowing skiers to explore both villages. With limited crowds, ungroomed terrain, and pristine corduroy to cut up, early opening weekends here are a special treat.
Another Austrian early bird is Ischgl, which opened on November 11th this year. Ischgl is renowned for its lively apres-ski scene and extensive terrain reached by high-speed lifts. Over 240km of pistes accessible from town make it Austria’s second largest ski area. Ischgl’s location ensures reliable snow, and most of the terrain faces north, so the snowpack sticks around. Silvretta Nova, reached by a 10-person gondola from town, is usually the first sector to open here. This high-altitude bowl sees few skiers and boarding this early. With 45km of trails offering everything from gentle cruisers to heart-pumping steeps, Silvretta Nova alone could keep enthusiasts entertained for days.
Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Beat the Crowds By Booking Now
Eager skiers know that beating the holiday crowds is key to an enjoyable ski trip. And with many top European resorts opening their slopes unusually early this year, booking a pre-Christmas ski getaway is the best way to do just that.
See, once students are out of school for the holidays, families flock to the mountains en masse. Resort populations swell, lift lines snake endlessly, and even dining in town can require hour-long waits. It’s mayhem—the total opposite of the serene winter wonderland ambiance you likely crave.
But in November and early December when the first lifts start spinning, you can swoop in before the masses arrive and claim the mountain for yourself. We’re talking no waiting, untracked powder days and pure solitude atop the peaks. Does it get any better?
Let’s look at Austria’s lively St. Anton. Its raucous apres-ski scene packs the village come Christmas. But in early November when the Arlberg region fired up its lifts weeks ahead of schedule, a few lucky souls got to experience St. Anton in all its quiet glory. With limited competition for fresh tracks, minimal queues, and the camaraderie of like-minded enthusiasts, those early opening weekends offer a distinctly intimate vibe.
Over in neighboring Switzerland, forward-thinking skiers who booked Zermatt for late October and early November similarly avoided the crush. Riding the area’s extensive lifts and trains, they often found themselves alone on trails better known for holiday congestion. And since almost all of Zermatt's 360km of pistes were open, terrain options were seemingly endless.
Of course, the clock is ticking. As we speak, resort reservations are filling for the coming weeks. But for those craving crowd-free skiing, outstanding early bird lodging rates still await. We’re talking appealing discounts of 20% or more on hotels and ski-in/ski-out condos.
Trust me, come mid-December, forget about deals. You’ll be stuck paying exorbitant holiday rates or crossing your fingers for last-minute cancellations. Meanwhile, the savviest skiers around will be cruising down wide-open slopes, reveling in their early-bird status.
Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Extra Mountain Time for Pass Holders
For diehard skiers and boarders, a season pass is the holy grail. Unlimited access to the slopes, no restrictions, just load up the gear and go. But in this early season, pass holders are being rewarded with an especially valuable bonus: extra days to use their coveted season passes.
You see, at virtually all resorts, season passes are valid for a set period. For example, Peak Resorts’ Epic Pass famously promises "unlimited, unrestricted access" but only from opening day to closing day each season. So if a resort pushes up its opening date by weeks as we're seeing now, pass holders gain precious bonus days to ski and ride.
Let's look at Colorado's Winter Park Resort. Thanks to early snow, Winter Park spun its lifts on October 30th this year, its earliest opening in over a decade. For Epic Pass holders like myself, that meant an extra month to use my pass compared to an average season. Four weeks of bonus turns to savor before the holiday madness begins? I'll take it.
Or consider Vermont's Killington Resort. Killington is known for having the East Coast's longest ski season, sometimes staying open until June. But even by its standards, firing up lifts on October 22nd was an early feat. For skiers holding Killington's Beast 365 passes, it was like winning the lottery—nearly six extra weeks of playtime.
Of course, these early openings only benefit those proactive folks who bought their passes back in spring. But for New England's Sunday River, even procrastinators got some love. Sunday River offered 50% off late season passes for anyone who bought their pass by November 13th. The resort had already opened on November 4th, so last-minute buyers still got over a week of bonus skiing. Not bad for us indecisive types!
However, as climate change disrupts historical opening dates, some resorts are getting wise to the extra pass value that earlier openings bring. For example, last year Aspen Snowmass opened a month early on November 22nd. In response, for this season it postponed the start of full pass validity by two weeks. So while the slopes may open any day, passes won't be valid until December 9th regardless.
Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Beginners Can Start Learning on Easier Slopes
For first-timers ready to take the plunge into snowsports, early season is the perfect time to start learning on easier slopes. With resorts just starting to open their terrain, you can take advantage of lower-difficulty runs that are ideal for beginner lessons and practice. Plus, smaller midweek crowds mean less pressure when you're still getting your ski legs.
Intimidated by visions of racing down steep double black diamonds? Don't be. Every resort offers a progression of graduated slopes specially designed for newbies. The easiest green circles have gentle gradients you can comfortably master. Progress to mild blue square runs that help develop control. By the time those pesky advanced black diamonds roll around, you'll have gained the skills and confidence to attempt them.
Of course, a qualified instructor is invaluable when you're just starting out. They will introduce you to equipment, teach proper technique, and ingrain good habits from the get-go. Rather than fumbling around trying to self-teach, take a lesson and receive professional pointers tailored to your individual needs. Most resorts offer multi-day learn-to-ski packages that combine lessons with gear rentals, lift tickets, and even lodging.
When it comes to class time, don't just stick to the bunny hill by the lodge. Lesson programs will safely guide you to different novice runs all over the mountain. Varying terrain and conditions allow you to hone a well-rounded skill set. As Erin from Calgary told us, "Learning on different greens helped me get comfortable maneuvering my edges, controlling speed, and turning. My instructor said it's important to build experience on different slopes."
For those worried about looking silly on the slopes, don't be - we all had to start somewhere! When 11-year-old Michael from Boulder took his first lesson at Vail last month, he was anxious he'd be the only kid his age in a class full of toddlers. But when the day came, Michael's class had "a bunch of kids around my age, some teenagers, and even some adults. No one judges you - we're all learning."
Once you've got a few days under your belt, don't just retreat to the bunny hill every time. Seek out different beginner runs to apply your skills. "After my lesson, I forced myself to try easier blues," said Claudia, a first-timer in Park City. "My guide showed me a couple good starter runs. Trying new terrain made me feel like I was progressing." Challenge yourself incrementally - it's the best way to build true ability.
When planning your first ski trip, look for resorts with a reputation for beginner-friendly learning zones. For example, Sugarbush in Vermont offers an entire peak called Lincoln Peak beginners can call their own. With 16 easy trails, it's a perfect playground to practice your new abilities. Out west, Telluride's gentle Galloping Goose run is a top choice for novices to master linked turns. Just take it slow and remember the basics your instructor taught you.
Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - More Apres Ski Fun Before Holiday Rush
Apres-ski is half the fun of a ski trip, providing opportunities to unwind after an exhilarating day on the slopes. And the early season offers a lively but cozy apres scene you just can’t find once peak crowds hit. Think promotional events, a vibrant yet intimate vibe, and chatting with fellow diehard skiers.
In late November, it’s all about celebrating opening week. Resorts pull out all the stops with parties, concerts, discounted food and drink specials, and other festivities to draw in early birds. For example, Colorado's Breckenridge threw an epic opening day bash this year with a free bacon bloody mary bar, beer tastings, and live music.
Early December keeps the good times going. At Utah's Park City, lively apres hotspots like No Name Saloon get visitors mingling during Happy Hour with half-price pizza and $5 draft beers. Historic Main Street also comes alive in December with locals and intrepid skiers wandering between pubs, shopping, and taking in free entertainment before masses arrive.
Once peak season hits, the energy shifts. Popular spots become packed elbow-to-elbow, reservations are musts, and revelry gives way to rowdiness as all types converge on the slopes. Sure, there's a certain high-octane ambiance seeing main drags teeming with crowds. But discerning skiers may find the early season affords a more appealing balance.
Meredith from Idaho, who visited Banff in late November, told us: "I loved grabbing a brew at the end of the day and chatting with other skiers about conditions or where we'd skied. There was this really warm camaraderie among the regulars that you just don't find when all the tourists arrive."
Kelly from Maine had a similar experience at Zermatt in early December: "It was so fun walking from bar to bar and meeting fellow skiers. We ended up skiing together a few days. Once peak crowds hit, that sponteneity and friendliness kind of changes."
Of course, nothing caps off early season ski days quite like anniversary parties. Resorts celebrate milestone years with extra gusto, like Aspen Snowmass' festivities in October for its 75th year. Expect decorated streets, historical exhibits, fireworks, and more - a spirited scene you’ll remember.
Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Early Birds Get First Pick of Lodging Deals
Lodging reservations fill up fast once peak ski season hits. Families scramble to book condos and slopeside hotels for the holidays, paying premium rates for any last rooms available. But by planning your ski trip for early winter, you can take advantage of appealing lodging discounts before the masses arrive. We're talking savings of 20% or more if you act fast.
The savviest skiers use lodging deals to offset the cost of their ski getaway. For example, Debbie from Boston booked a ski-in/ski-out condo at Vail for late November using a Hotels.com promo code that took 15% off. "With lift tickets, rentals, and food, ski trips add up quick. Saving almost $200 on my condo was awesome."
Meanwhile, college buddies Max and Tyler aimed for an affordable ski weekend at Utah's Park City in early December. "Between our passes and using Priceline Express Deals, we each spent under $350 total for three days of skiing and a lodge stay," said Max. "That's a third of what we'd pay over Christmas."
Diehard skiers also leverage discounted lodging rates to extend early winter getaways. As Mark from Atlanta told us, "I found a room for $109 a night at Breckenridge in late November using Hotwire. At that rate, I was able to stretch my long weekend into a whole week on the slopes!"
For families on a budget, proactively monitoring lodging deals is key. Deals newsletter subscriber Jen from Denver saved big by pouncing when Copper Mountain resort rates dropped temporarily. "I don't know why, but rates for our Christmas week trip plummeted by $800 one random morning. It was originally out of our price range, so I immediately booked at the lower price before they went back up that afternoon!"
Savvy skiers recommend calling the resort lodging reservation line directly rather than booking online. A real person can hunt for the lowest rates available for your dates. Just be ready to book quickly once something pops up. As resorts fill for the holidays, appealing deals disappear fast.
Some early birds even gain VIP treatment with their discount lodging reservations. Spur-of-the-moment travelers Brian and Lauren landed what they dubbed "the perfect ski cabin" in Steamboat last month using VacationRentals.com. To their surprise, the property owner threw in complimentary daily breakfast, après-ski snacks, and bike rentals. Brian said: "We figured since it was still low season they offered the extra perks to incentivize booking. We felt like royalty!"
When it comes to scoring coveted ski-in/ski-out lodging, early booking is really clutch. Prime properties with trails or lifts just steps out the door are tough to find last-minute at any price. Yet for those willing to plan ahead, ski-in/ski-out rates can be surprisingly reasonable pre-season.
Hit the Slopes Early: Europe's Ski Resorts Gear Up for an Early Start to Ski Season - Tips to Prep Your Gear and Body for the Slopes
Eager to hit the slopes early? Don’t just rush out with any old gear and expect your body to cooperate. Getting equipped and in shape ahead of time will help you make the most of early season ski days.
Your skis or board need some TLC after sitting idle all summer. Start by giving them a thorough inspection for any damage and testing the edges. A few swipes with a diamond file fixes any nicks or burrs that developed. Waxing the base creates a slick surface for maximum speed. If you notice cracks or delamination, take your gear to a shop for repairs.
As Seattle ski instructor Amanda advises, don’t mess around with dull or damaged equipment. “I see students struggle because their gear is in poor shape. Sharp edges and waxed bases really help you progress as a skier. Upgrade those ancient straight skis too - shaped skis turn much easier.”
Boot fitting is crucial, especially since feet can grow or change over time. If your boots cause pain, numbness, or blisters, get properly fitted at a shop. Custom footbeds and alignment help boots perform their best. And slip the boots on at home to break them in before hitting the slopes.
Don’t forget important safety gear either. Helmets prevent head injuries, but the foam and pads compress over time. Replace any helmet over 5 years old. Also examine goggles for scratched lenses that could impair vision.
Off-season conditioning pays off hugely once you click into your skis. Leg strength powers you through turns, while core fitness helps balance and control. And don’t neglect cardio - skiing at elevation can tax breathing hard if you’re not acclimated.
Legs are a skier’s motor. Cyclist Chris from Calgary follows a leg routine at the gym: “I squat and lunge with weights to really build power. But I also stretch a ton to stay agile.” Pilates and yoga build core strength too.
Pure cardio like running or biking improves respiratory stamina. But anaerobic bursts better mimic skiing’s stop-and-go efforts. Tennis player Julie does high-intensity intervals: “Quick uphill sprints or bleacher runs mimic how I exert then recover when skiing.”
Hydration is just as critical when skiing cold, dry mountain air. Arrive already well-hydrated. Once there, drink regularly even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks that dehydrate.
Don’t push beyond your limits early season. Skiing uses different muscles than other sports, so ease in. Austin from Denver suggests, “Focus on form and technique the first few days. Build back endurance and speed.” A few low-key days condition your body without draining energy.