Skiing in April may be considered a low season. Bah humbug. As long as you choose the right resort, a spring ski break can bring some great times and memories. Sunshine, too.
What are the advantages of a spring ski break?
So what are the perks of the spring peaks? As long as you don’t ski over the Easter holidays, spring is not a peak time so you’ll find fewer skiers on the slopes, which means shorter lift queues and more skiing time. Skiing in April is easier on the wallet – the price of a lift pass falls in spring and hotels battle for your buck so you’ll find plenty of deals on accommodation.
Beautiful sunny days and longer lift opening times are other advantages of skiing in April. And while April snow quality may not be quite as good as mid-winter, big snowfalls in April are actually very common. On top of this, you have a whole winter’s worth of snowfall as a good base.
The warm, sunny weather makes for ideal apres-ski conditions on the mountain terraces. You can also supplement your skiing in April with alternative outdoor activities, like walking, climbing and snowshoeing in the afternoons.
Yves Ancrenaz, ski instructor and mountain guide at the ESF ski school in Chamonix, has some tips for those interested in skiing in April. Ancrenaz says, “Spring skiers should hit the slopes between 9 a.m and 1 p.m, not too early so as to avoid the ice and not too late to get the best spring snow. 1 p.m is also a great time to have lunch on a sunny terrace, but don’t forget your sun cream.”
The key to a perfect spring ski holiday is finding the right resort. So where’s the best snow in Europe in April? Michael Brabin, senior product manager at Crystal Ski says there are three factors to consider when choosing the best resort for skiing in April:
1. Altitude (high – ideally with a glacier)
2. Northerly latitude (Norway, Finland, Sweden)
3. A reputation for lots of snow (machine-made or natural)
Brabin says, “A combination of any two of these factors normally ensures skiing success and the best snow in Europe. Combining all three is a little tricky because mountains tend to get lower the further north you go. The higher the altitude of the ski area, the colder it is, and therefore the longer the snow lasts, so you should aim for resorts that have skiing at 2,000 metres or above and ideally with north-facing slopes or glaciers.”
Here are eight of Crystal Ski’s best-selling resorts for skiing in April:
1. Tignes (2,100m) and Val d’Isere (1,850m)
The Espace Killy ski area stays open until early May so is definitely one of the safest bets for good snow cover in late season. Val d’Isere benefits from its north-facing slopes while Tignes has high-altitude skiing on its Grande Motte glacier (3,400m) allowing it to remain open nine months of the year. The combined 300 kilometres of high-altitude slopes attract everyone from families to freeriders.
2. Val Thorens (2,300-3,200m)
This is Europe’s highest major resort and one of the most snowsure right from the start of the season through to May. It is part of the huge 600-kilometre Three Valleys ski area and the majority of its slopes are above 2,000 metres. Having a glacier, which was formerly open for snow sports in the summer, is an added bonus. Val Thorens is so confident of its snow cover it offers a snow guarantee.
3. St. Anton (1,304-2,450m)
In the Arlberg region of Austria, St. Anton has an excellent snow record. It offers skiing from late November right through to early May. With many north-facing slopes, the resort manages to hold the snow well despite the strong spring sunshine. The south-facing slopes are supplemented by snow machines. This pretty town boasts some of the best freeriding in Europe and some fo the most energetic apres-ski. It also starts and ends the ski season with discounted rates on lift tickets during Snow Crystal Weeks.
4. Obergurgl (1,930-3,082m)
It is the highest parish in Austria with broad open slopes that merit a late-season visit. It is Europe’s highest traditional village and neighbouring Hochgurgl is higher still. If you’re looking for a pretty village with lots of snow in the resort itself, Obergurgl is one of your safest bets.
5. Ischgl (1,377-2,872m)
Ischgl is able to stay open until early May despite not having a glacier. The resort is high, and all the pistes (except those into the resort) are north facing and above 2,000 metres, making for great snow quality. Ischgl also boasts one of the best terrain parks in the Alps and plenty of untracked off-piste. Each year Ischgl puts on its legendary Top of the Mountain Easter Concert, which is the biggest spring party in the Alps.
6. Verbier (1,500-3,330m)
This high resort is known for its good late-season snow. Despite having south-facing slopes, Verbier manages to retain good snow cover thanks to its extensive snowmaking installations, especially on the lower slopes. You can also find consistently good natural snow on the upper slopes of the Mt-Fort glacier.
7. Zermatt (1,620-3,899m)
Home to Europe’s highest ski lifts and the continent’s largest glacier ski area, Zermatt is open 365 days a year. There can be few resorts in the world more snowsure than Zermatt. The famous Swiss resort 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.
The Paradiski area offers extensive, uncrowded skiing up to 3,250 with everything from tree-lined runs to glacier skiing above the clouds. Adventurous skiers can cover some serious ground (425 kilometres in total), but be sure to choose one of the higher villages in either resort for top-to-bottom skiing in spring.
There are a bunch of options for April skiing in North America, but it’s probably only worth a trip across the pond in April if you want to combine it with sight-seeing or other kinds of visits to the US and Canada. Still, consider spring skiing in Colorado at Arapahoe Basin, the so-called “King of Spring Skiing” that usually has more than 700 acres open into May. Snowbird in Utah holds onto its snow and sometimes stays open into June. Mt. Bachelor in Oregon is a good choice and is one of the few resorts that runs its ski school until the day it closes. North of the border, ski on the Horstman Glacier at Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia, offering up perhaps the longest ski season in North America. The World Ski & Snowboard Festival at Whistler — 10 days of competition, fun and concerts — is a great way to end your season.
Attitude and altitude make spring skiing and riding memories
Altitude is key because that’s where you’ll find the late-season snow. Attitude is important during the warm, sunny ski days of April. Adjust it by knowing you won’t likely be skiing a full day as the snow changes its structure as the day goes along. Figure on a good morning on the slopes. There’s usually plenty of fun in the villages after that as apres-ski fun kicks in early in the spring. Just focus on the full experience and don’t try to compare it to mid-winter holidays.