Long-range weather forecasting is always a tricky business and few weather forecasters risk making such projections. So if you can't trust a long range weather forecast, to make your ski holiday destination decision, what can you choose?
Well the answer is, "Location, location, location!" In fact all ski areas will normally have good conditions from January to March, otherwise they wouldn't stay in business long. The times you need to be more cautious are November and December holidays or April trips.
During those times, if you're trying to plan your trip months ahead, you need to be sure the ski area you're heading to is either high in the mountains or high in the world (at a northerly latitude, like within the Arctic Circle of Finland or Sweden). Look for the height at the top of the ski area - ideally you want it over 2500m to increase the likelihood of a decent vertical if the snow is only above 2000m, this is more important than the village height as you can always take a lift ride up to the snow.
Snowmaking can help if it's cold enough, but in winter 2007-8 the very warm start to the ski season in the Alps meant that few snow guns could function as, despite technology advances, 99.9 percent of them still need temperatures consistently below zero to make snow. So it's a factor, but not a guarantee of good snow.
You can also check the forecasts for your chosen resort at OnTheSnow.co.uk
Here's a quick overview of the snowfall position of 20 of our most popular destinations:
One of France's large traditional ski areas, Morzine has quite a good snow record and more than 300 snow guns covering 120km of slopes, but it is quite a low village and the ski area above is one of the lowest of the major resorts in France.
At only a little over 600m above sea level Mayrhofen is one of the lowest major ski resorts in the Alps, but the ski runs do climb up to 2500m above, and it's also not far from the year-round ski area on the Tux glacier, one of Europe's largest ski areas. So long as temperatures are low enough, Mayrhofen has 100 percent snowmaking cover on its slopes too.
Zell am See is one of the lower ski resorts and ski areas in the Alps but is still a good gamble if you're looking for a traditional ski area, because the lift pass covers the nearby Kitzsteinhorm glacier above neighbouring Kaprun, which is open much of the year and is one of Europe's largest glacier areas. The bus between the two is also included, so if snow isn't great at Zell, at least you have a nearby back up, all included in your existing costs anyway. With 90 percent snowmaking cover it would take very warm weather to set Zell am See's own slopes from opening anyway.
One of Europe's highest resorts with a ski area stretching well up beyond 3000m, crowned by a glacier that offered summer skiing until recent years, Alpe d'Huez is quite simply one of the safest bets for season-long snow in the Alps.
Cairngorm and Scotland's other four ski areas are some of the most difficult to predict for snow cover in world skiing. Wildly fluctuating temperatures mean Scottish areas can sometimes open in October and stay open to June, and in other years hardly open at all before March. There's no snowmaking and your best bet is to watch snow reports for good conditions and arrive at short notice when conditions are good, if you can. If so try to avoid holidays or weekends, as when conditions are good, the ski areas are normally swamped. Cairngorm has had several good winters in a row (although unfortunately this doesn't guarantee another good winter!) and is usually able to maintain snow for nursery slopes at the top of the area even when there's not enough for skiing the main runs below.
A high resort with a high ski area, Val d'Isere has a good season-long reputation for snow cover and operates one of France's three remaining summer ski areas on its glacier - definitely one of the safest bets for good snow cover all season long.
The Arlberg region of Austria has an excellent snow record with a century long reputation for offering skiing from late November right through to early May. The area always starts and ends the ski season with discounted rates on lift tickets with Snow crystal weeks.
Sauze d'Oulx falls in the mid-range of snow reliability, with a quite high, but not very high ski area and the village itself is higher than many traditional villages, but 2-400m lower than most purpose built centres. They include its neighbour, Sestriere, some 600 vertical metres higher, with which it shares its ski area. Sestriere was a pioneer of snowmaking in Europe, having the most snow guns since the 1970s, and is still a leader with nearly 1000 of them pointing at the slopes.
Soll is one of Europe's lower leading ski resorts and the ski slopes are quite low too. It has had good early season snow the past two winters after suffering with most of the rest of the Alps in winter 2007-8. It is part of the giant Skiwelt, Austria's largest ski area that is also the country's biggest snow maker, so as long as it's cold enough, the snow gun arsenal has the fire power to cover 90 percent of the trails even if the snow doesn't fall from the heavens.
La Plagne is part of one of the largest ski areas in the world (Paradiski, with more than 425km of runs shared with Les Arcs) and its runs extend to 3000m including glacier skiing that was formerly open for summer skiing, so it is a safe bet for skiing at either end of the season. If you are concerned about being able to ski to your apartment door however, be sure to choose one of La Plagne's altitude resorts if visiting in December or April. Altitude resorts are as high as 2100m, some of Europe's highest.
Pal-Arinsal has one of the most snowsure locations in Andorra, with some of the country's highest runs and Arinsal itself quite high in the Pyrenees. The area also has more than 350 snow guns covering most of the slopes.
With Europe's highest ski lifts and the continent's largest glacier ski area, open 365 days a year, there can be few resorts in the world more snowsure than Zermatt. The famous Swiss centre has even invested in a new snowmaking system that can create snow within an internal chamber at positive temperatures before pumping it out on to the slopes. It's not needed in winter but the resort installed it in case there wasn't enough natural snow on the glacier in summer.
Europe's highest major resort is naturally one of the continent's most snowsure right from the start to the end of winter. Having a glacier, which was formerly open for a brief period in the summer too for snow sports, is an added bonus. Val Thorens is so confident of its snow cover it offers a snow guarantee. The terms are a little complex and involve the percentage of terrain open and booking your ticket a certain period in advance online, so may be of little practical help if you've booked with a tour operator and pick up your pass in resort as most people do, but it does reflect the resort's confidence in its snow cover.
Located beneath Western Europe's highest peak and with several glaciers in its ski area, Chamonix has a great snow record and is one of the safer bets for your ski holiday whenever you visit during the season. The village is quite low compared to the French purpose-built ski stations, but the ski lifts climb thousands of metres above, opening up the world's biggest lift served vertical, so even when there isn't snow at resort level, there's invariably plenty up above.
Obergurgl is Europe's highest traditional village and Hochgurgl higher still, with the two making a good deal of their snowsure conditions to be amongst the first in the Alps to open each winter from late November. If you're looking for a pretty, traditional village with lots of snow in the resort itself, perhaps for a guaranteed white Christmas, Obergurgl is one of your safest bets.
Formerly open year round, Tignes is still open for 9 months of the year for skiing on the Grand Motte glacier, one of Europe's largest summer ski areas, accessed by a fast and efficient underground funicular. The only ski area in France open in September, October and much of November, Tignes can reasonably claim to be the country's most snowsure destination.
Kitzbuhel is often referenced by studies on climate change as one of the likely early victims of rising temperatures, because both the village and ski area are rather low compared to most modern ski areas in the Alps. However after it did suffer (along with most of the rest of the Alps) a poor start to winter 2007-90 Kitzbuhel has fought back by making its earliest ever openings in its 80 year history for the past two successive seasons, thanks to great early-Autumn snowfall. It opened in mid November 2008 last season and was one of the very first non-glacier resorts to open for winter 09-10 in late October. The resort has also published detailed snow history statistics showing that if anything it receives more snow in modern winters than 20 or 30 years ago.
Bansko has expanded dramatically since 2000 thanks to huge investment by backers who believe in its long term potential. This should mean it is a good bet all season long, but last winter there was limited cover here before Christmas so best check the www.onthesnow.co.uk snow history for the week you plan to visit before you book.
Usually open by late November each winter, Grandvalira has six different bases, the highest and most snow sure of which is Pas de la Casa, on the French border, at over 1700m at the base of the ski runs. The region is one of Europe's leading snowmaking areas with more than 1000 snow guns, capable of covering more than 40 percent of this huge area's ski slopes with snow so long as temperatures are low enough.
Les Arcs ski area is one of the world's largest with some of Europe's highest skiing at the top of the area above 3200m on the Aiguille Rouge glacier. Three of the four resort villages are also located above 1800m, which basically means that Les Arcs normally offers top to bottom skiing over its huge 2000m vertical when it opens in mid-December each winter.