Hit the snowsure slopes of Tignes this autumn - ©Tignes Tourism

Hit the snowsure slopes of Tignes this autumn

Copyright: Tignes Tourism

As summer ends and the temperatures drop, stoke for the impending ski season begins to steadily ramp up. Fall signals the start of snowmaking in North America and a handful of Europe’s leading ski areas open their gates for early season skiing.

“Having worked in the ski business for many years, I am often surprised by how few people take advantage of the opportunities for early season skiing in October and November,” says Katie Waddington, boss of ski tour operator Zenith Holidays. “You will enjoy uncrowded slopes, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with the national ski teams as they prepare for winter and best of all you’ll be paying less for accommodation and lift passes. All in all, a five-star experience at three-star prices.”

In most cases, early season skiing is limited to glacier areas in Europe, but on the upside, you’re likely to have the slopes to yourself. You can travel through quiet, empty airports and be the first to try out the new season’s equipment. The first of the World Cup races will be taking place in October at Solden, Austria. As an added bonus, the big ski test festivals are laid out by the resorts each fall, and if you're a park rat, virtually all of the ski areas offer open terrain parks.

Autumn skiing on the Hintertux glacier, Austria - ©Tuxertal Tourism

Autumn skiing on the Hintertux glacier, Austria

Copyright: Tuxertal Tourism

Where to Ski in September?

At the start of fall, six ski areas are almost guaranteed to be open for early season skiing.

Zermatt in Switzerland, which operates Europe’s highest lifts (two T bars that only open summer and fall) reaching 3,899 meters, and the Hintertux glacier in Austria’s Ziller Valley are both open year round. Zermatt’s neighbor, Saas Fee, opens mid-July each year, so by the start of fall it's already two months into its 10-month-long ski season.

The fourth option is Pitztal, which closes in mid-May but reopens in mid-September each year for an eight-month season; its sister resort, Kaunertal, operates on a similar schedule. The sixth choice is Italy’s Val Senales, which normally opens at the start of September (subject to weather conditions) and provides a cable car that will lift you up to the station at Hochjochferner in just six minutes.

Apart from operating their country’s respective highest lifts, Pitztal and Zermatt have another thing in common: they both own a revolutionary snowmaking system designed by an Israeli company, IDE, which is capable of making snow in above-zero temperatures. Both resorts have this system ready in the fall if temperatures are high on their glaciers and there’s no fresh snow.

October skiing at the Pitztal glacier, Austria - ©Pitztaler glacier

October skiing at the Pitztal glacier, Austria

Copyright: Pitztaler glacier

Where to ski in October & November?

Austria 

Austria normally has more places to ski or board in the fall than any other single country, with up to eight areas open by mid-October. The precise opening date each winter depends on snow conditions, but in any case, many resorts combine the traditional fall beer festivals of the region with the first skiing of the season to create one big party atmosphere.

Along with Hintertux, Kaunertal and Pitztal, Austrian fall glacier ski and ride options include Kitzsteinhorn glacier at Kaprun, Mölltal glacier ski area, the twin glaciers of Solden, Stubai glacier and the Dachstein (not far from Schladming).

Solden and Stubai may open in early September depending on conditions. Obergurgl is normally one of the first ski areas that doesn't rely on a glacier to open each winter, thanks to its high base and very high slopes above.

Switzerland

Besides Saas Fee and Zermatt, several more of Switzerland’s glacier ski areas open in early October each year. The four other fall choices, which may only be open on weekends until the main winter season begins, include Glacier 3000 between Les Diablerets and Gstaad, the Titlis Glacier above Engelberg, the Vorab glacier at Laax and the Diavolezza glacier in the Engadin Valley, which is close to Pontresina and St Moritz.

Zermatt Glacier Paradise - ©ZBAG

Zermatt Glacier Paradise

Copyright: ZBAG

France

Tignes is the only French ski resort open for almost all of fall, and normally re-opens around the last weekend of September a few weeks after it had closed its summer skiing operation on the Grande Motte glacier.

Besides Tignes, Les 2 Alpes traditionally opens its glacier ski area, which it claims is Europe’s largest, for a 10-day period straddling the end of October and start of November.

Italy

In Italy, apart from Val Senales, Cervinia usually opens at the end of October offering access from the Italian side to the Klein Matterhorn glacier paradise above Zermatt. A third option is the summer ski center at Passo Stelvio, normally open at least into October.

The Rest of the World

Of course, it’s not just the Alps offering early season skiing in the fall. The southern hemisphere’s ski season will be in spring skiing mode by September and many of the centers in Australia, Argentina and Chile will be closing at the end of the month. A few resorts in New Zealand, most notably Mt Ruapehu, are likely to last into October and perhaps even what they term, ‘Snovember.’

In North America, only Timberline on Mt. Hood in Oregon stays open almost year round, but normally closes for a three- or four-week maintenance check of all its equipment in September, usually re-opening at the end of the month. If it’s a cold fall, the snowmaking guns will start at some of the world’s highest resorts in Colorado at ski areas like Arapahoe  Basin, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone and Loveland. North of the border, Norquay, Sunshine and Lake Louise around Banff are usually the first to open in Canada in the first weeks of November.

Back in Europe, Scandinavia is first with the non-glacier slopes, with Ruka in Finnish Lapland claiming the longest non-glacier ski season in Europe, typically from mid-October to mid-June. Two of Norway’s small summer glacier ski areas usually stay open into October or November: Galdhøpiggen operates on Scandinavia’s highest peak at 2469 meters (8,098 feet) and Folgefonn has a lot of beaches nearby and a reputation for a very deep snow base.

And if you can’t get to the slopes of a conventional ski area, don’t forget the UK's indoor skiing centers in Manchester, Tamworth, Castleford, Glasgow, Hemel Hempstead or Milton Keynes.  

 

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