The 5 best places to ski right now – with plenty of snow and no crowds

Cervinia Italy ski skiing holiday - Getty
Cervinia Italy ski skiing holiday - Getty

While the world’s attention might be preoccupied by a certain tournament being held in the desert, avid skiers and snowboarders are focusing their attention on much colder climes – the only question on their minds: is there any snow yet?

It has been a turbulent time for snow hunters. Many may have been alarmed in recent weeks by the postponement of ski season’s commencement in key European resorts such as Val d’Isere and Val Thorens. The memory of destinations not opening their glaciers for October half-term training camps is still fresh too.

“There was very little natural snow,” explains Fraser Wilkins from the website, which tracks conditions on the mountains. “Most years they could have supplemented it [the natural cover] with artificial snow, but it has been an exceptionally mild autumn, so this wasn’t possible.”

As we approach December however, skiers are breathing a sigh of relief as resorts welcome the first storms of the winter and push on with preparations, firing up their snow cannons as temperatures drop and brace themselves for visitors.

Across the Atlantic, in American and Canadian resorts, the story couldn’t be any different to that of bare slopes in the Alps. “Western USA is the best place to ski right now, for sure. Thanks to heavy snow in late October and early November,” says Wilkins.

Val d'Isere ski season skiing holiday - Getty
Val d'Isere ski season skiing holiday - Getty

Today, Whistler Blackcomb, the continent’s largest ski resort, opens with 70cm of snow on the ground and more in the forecast during the rest of the week. So great is the situation in America, that 13 resorts operated under the Ikon Pass umbrella (of more than 50 in total), spanning California, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Idaho, and Canada, were able to open ahead of schedule.

The solution to skiing in Europe before opening the first door on an advent calendar? Glaciers. Fortunately, following the turmoil of summer heatwaves and a warm autumn, many of Europe’s most popular glaciers have reopened and are in “good shape” according to Wilkins. This includes Sölden, Stubai and Zermatt.

Skiing in November or early December can be logistically difficult. Ski operators are yet to start their programmes, so you will most likely need to book independently. Resort websites are a good starting point for recommendations on travel and where to stay – always make sure you have adequate insurance in case plans are forced to be changed. Flights are running regularly to the likes of Geneva, Innsbruck and Lyon with British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair.

If you’re tempted to drop everything and run for the hills, here’s our lowdown on the best places to ski right now.

Zermatt skiing Switzerland ski holiday
Zermatt skiing Switzerland ski holiday

Is there snow right now?

In short, yes – particularly in Austria and Italy in Europe – and things are only going to get better.

“Snow conditions are now looking better than they did a few days ago thanks to the snow that has fallen across virtually all parts of the Alps in recent days,” explains Wilkins.

“Tuesday saw snow for most parts of the Alps – it was heaviest in the central Austrian Alps, in resorts like Obertauern, and the Dolomites, where there was 30-50cm locally.” Close to 50cm fell above Arabba and around the Marmolada glacier in Italy.

“Wednesday saw further modest snowfalls for north-western Alps, in resorts like Tignes and Val Thorens.”

There’s unusual early-season joy in America. “Utah has done particularly well, with 5ft of snow in Alta in early November, allowing about 80 per cent of the area to now be open – unusual in recent years,” adds Wilkins.

Obertauern ski lift Austria skiing holiday - Getty
Obertauern ski lift Austria skiing holiday - Getty

Some are calling it one of the best starts to the season – skiing is now on offer in Colorado, California, Idaho, Utah and Washington in the USA, as well as British Columbia and Alberta in Canada.

“The glaciers are mostly in good shape, but otherwise it’s been a case of things gradually improving with snow starting to accumulate especially at altitude, but more would always be welcome.”

Is there snow in the forecast?

Reassuringly for those planning to travel in the next week, Wilkins describes the current conditions in Europe as “improving”.

“Up to and including Sunday there will be a lot of dry weather around with just a few flurries now and again close to the northern fringes of the Alps,” says Wilkins.

“On Monday we should see some more widespread but still relatively light snow in the north-western Alps, including resorts such as Tignes, Verbier and Engelberg.”

Tignes resort ski skiing holiday France - Getty
Tignes resort ski skiing holiday France - Getty

What is the outlook for the rest of the season?

“Before we can say it’s a convincing start to the winter season, more snow will be needed, especially lower down,” says Wilkins.

“Things are a bit slow but getting there at altitude. Resorts could do with a couple more widespread snowfalls to lower altitude to really set things up though. That said, it is nothing to worry about yet, as some great seasons haven’t got going until well into December. It’s slow, but we are heading in the right direction.”

The top 5 places you can ski right now

Obergurgl, Austria

Top snow depth: 50cm

When it comes to skiing this early in the season, especially in Europe, it’s tough to find a snow-sure resort that doesn’t rely on a glacier for early-season thrills. The Austrian resort of Obergurgl is therefore something of a rarity. The resort opened on November 17, and now has a base of 50cm on its highest slopes.

As part of the Ötztal Super Skipass visitors also get the perk of being able to explore the slopes in nearby Sölden (20 minutes down the valley), which boasts two glaciers and a further 145km of slopes, which are all now open with snow 136cm deep at the summit.

Stay: You can’t get more convenient than the luxury ski-in/ski-out TOP Hotel Hochgurgl, at 2,150m, for snow-sure guarantee. Find more of the best accommodation in Obergurgl here.

Cervinia, Italy

Top snow depth: 110cm

This Italian resort, which shares the high-altitude glacial slopes of the Plateau Rosa with Zermatt, has a highest point of 3,480m – making it a firm favourite with ski schools, national race teams and eager early-season skiers. Lifts on the glacier have been turning since late October, allowing for skiing on the Swiss side, and on November 25 the rest of the resort’s area will also open – making it the first major resort in the Italian Alps to kick the season off properly. Snow depths vary from 15cm at lower altitude to 110cm on the highest slopes.

Stay: A lovely rustic ski-in/ski-out hotel on the slopes just above the resort, the Mon Reve has a shuttle service to and from town. Find more of the best accommodation in Cervinia here.

Whistler Blackcomb, Canada

Top snow depth: 72cm

North America’s most popular ski resort celebrates the start of one of the longest seasons on the planet today (November 24), with plans to remain open until May 22 2023. To kick off proceedings the ski area has 70cm of snow so far. Long-term weather forecasters in Canada are predicting that it will be another great winter for powder hounds with the arrival of the third consecutive La Niña weather pattern – brilliant news for anyone planning to explore the resort’s two linked mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, which share a huge 8,171-acre ski area.

Stay: Whistler’s first hotel, dating back to 1986, the Crystal Lodge is right by the main gondola lift and all the shops and restaurants. Find more of the best accommodation in Whistler here.

Hintertux, Austria

Top snow depth: 80cm

One of the highest ski areas in Europe remains open for skiing 365 days a year – notably Hintertux was one of only a handful of glacial resorts not forced to close their slopes due to the turmoil of a summer of heatwaves. Around 80cm of snow currently sits on its highest slopes (3,250m) and over half its ski area (60km) is open. Updates from the resort show a mixture of bluebird days and heavy snowfall – the perfect recipe for the start of winter.

Stay: Hotel Vierjahreszeiten is located close to the lift station and is a small family-run four-star with an indoor pool and spa.

Alta, Utah, USA

Top snow depth: 124cm

Western America is boasting one of the best starts to the season in recent years – Utah in particular has fared well during recent storms. The resort of Alta, which shares its slopes with Snowbird, has 4,700 acres of slopes and is a 20-minute drive from Salt Lake City – lifts starting turning on November 18 with fresh powder and no queues. The resorts are renowned to be among the snowiest in the world, receiving more than 14m a year, twice as much as some resorts in the neighbouring state of Colorado.

Stay: The four-star Hyatt Place Cottonwood, 10 miles from Salt Lake City, makes an excellent base for exploring the various ski areas, with a free shuttle to the bus depot for onward journeys.

Where next?

Looking ahead, all eyes are on France’s biggest resorts. Val Thorens will be the first resort in the Trois Vallées to start proceedings on this Saturday (November 26). Tignes will also welcome skiers this weekend, followed by neighbour Val d’Isere on December 3, albeit a week later than planned. Les Deux Alpes also opens on December 3.

In Austria, Obertauern and Saalbach will open in the next week (December 2). The next Swiss resorts to swing into action will be Laax and St Moritz (November 26).