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Christmas Snow and Easter Skiing

Aug 18, 2007
Indeed the seasons are changing, no one can argue that the snow is coming later, but few will realise that it is also staying for much longer. We are seeing some of the best snow arriving mid to late march, and lasting well into April and May. Maybe skiers need to start changing their habits for their annual ski holidays?

From my own observations over the 20 years that I have been immersed in the industry, the snow has not degraded over the past two decades; it has simply chosen to start coming later on. But not so late that it has wiped out the traditional and favoured time of year to go skiing, which is of course Christmas.

Ten years ago the temperatures would drop in late October and the first snow would arrive in late November. A base layer would have formed by the first week in December, allowing skiers to enjoy cold, dry snow from early December on.

In those days Easter skiing was a luxury only afforded by those who could justify the expense of an elite "high altitude" destination such as Tignes and Val d'isere. Snow around the rest of Europe did not last much beyond the end of March.

Easter is a different kettle of fish nowadays. The temperatures are remaining cold and the snow is falling heavier than ever during the first two weeks of April. Last year I enjoyed one of the best ski holidays I have had in 23 years up in Les Arcs 2000 over the 25th of April.

Early season however was not so great. In the past few years, the ground has not been reaching it's critical level of freezing until early December, which wipes out the relevance of any late November snow flurries that excite the press in the UK and encourage early season skiers to hit the mountains with such aplomb.

Above 1500m we are seeing bases form by mid December, which means that unlike times past, the Christmas week is now the first really decent week of the season for ski holidays.

But let's not forget times past. A look at the history books will tell you that we have seen all this before. I have spoken with countless locals during my time in France who have lived for much of the last century in these alpine farming villages; villages that have now become major ski resorts.

These locals are not worried at all. They have seen it all before: "Snow comes and goes in cycles", they say. "You get the good years and the bad years".

In 1988 the consistency of snow was so flaky (excuse the pun) that only one run on the famous Arare in Avoriaz was open all season. Meribel was not skiing at all below 2000 metres, and Courchevel was in a similar pickle. This of course was before the age of snow cannons, and skiers were had to take off their skis and walk the rest of the grassy slope down from1850 metres.

But the resort locals are not ignorant of the effects of the British press sounding off about changing seasons. Nor their dependency on the great British skiing public for their livelihood. They also realise that British skiers are traditionalists and Christmas week is our favourite time of year to ski.

They are fighting back with snow cannons, learning new ways of producing fake snow, even experimenting with bacteria that will crystalise in plus degrees Celsius.
Their techniques of "pisting" the mountain are evolving to cope with the demand in Christmas ski holidays. Piste bashers (tractors that shovel snow) are working all night to store snow at altitude where it will last the season before being used on the lower slopes.

They are keeping their pistes in better condition and spending their summers preparing the ground to hold the base layer more effectively in those early winter weeks. In sub 1500 metre resorts, slope preparation is becoming an art in order to retain their piece of the demand for those Christmas ski holidays?
About the Author
Shaun Parker has been at the forefront of the Ski Holidays industry for 15 years and oversees 10,000 client placements per year. For more information visit http://www.alpineelements.co.uk
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